30 April 2010

Reasons for the SNP to be cheerful...

I watched last night's leaders debate bobbing on my coracle  in the middle of a corrie-loch, whose hollow was scooped from the side of old Ben Tom-na-Weir by glacial action thousands of years ago. The lip of the tarn was corked by terminal moraine - this water is going nowhere. So I sat, meditatively, sure that any motion I made would be firmly within the brutal stone grip of the watersides. As the debate slid to its end, my portable telly sputtered and fizzed as the media commentary exploded. Much of it was merely fatuous, but it was frenetic - these debates have clearly got them wildly excited. To them is attributed any number of good things - a chance to engage in an extended discussion of policy, a chance for voters to engage with politics, quite literally staged in a dispute between "the" three leaders. A trial by encounter, an existential ordeal laying naked the essential substance of each man before the scrutinising gaze of the public. Each theory, whether charismatic, substantive, psychological - each had its expressive turn in somebody's comments.

My overwhelming feelings were summed up in 140 characters or fewer. "To be honest," I said, "the slow burning anger I feel about all of this is almost eclipsed by how depressing I find the whole thing." Carking crows flapped darklingly overhead, their cynical cawing seeming to form the taunts any Scottish Nationalist must get used to - "chippy Celt", "moaning", "gripe", "grievance", cark, cark, cark! Corbies can be a corrosively cynical lot - and hide the fatuousness of their disdain behind their black-velvet-air of lofty good conscience. They take too much pleasure in looking down. Cark, cark, cark! Hearing so many of those gravel voices from the luminous gloom last night merely tightened the melancholic noose knotting my throat. Since, I've been trying to work out why. 

I think I may have uncovered the answer. Or at least, my answer. Fundamentally, I want to make a positive case for independence. I want to look before us, say these are the choices we can make, the possibilities we can realise. The wonders we can perform, the more virtuous Republic we can bring into being. At the margins, this obviously shades into critical observations on the current dispensation - its wars, its bombs, its pandering to racism, its air of vilification and suspicion towards the vulnerable and the down on their luck. These are arguments we can pursue, should pursue, and any soul who tells you that honest disagreement in politics should be transcended is hawking bunkum. They're merely rising above politics for political advantage, and we should be wise to their tricks. These arguments may be critical, but they're not, to my mind, the elements of an acute negative case. They're views held in an open, democratic sensibility that takes as its primary concern the labour of making political connections where now reigns silence. To point at the gaps in the webwork of our state and politics and cry possibility, naming the unnamed "mebbes". That is what I understand to be my primary political motivation. Independence and autonomy opens up those fields of possibility. 

All that being so, in my innocence, I don't think I quite anticipated the extent to which the London-based media just doesn't care about what it is doing to our democracy, just doesn't recognise its own agency as it glorifies a withered paradigm of pre-devolution politics. Others will detect the dead hand of conscious Unionism, working away in the shadows. The psychology those critical nationalists impute to broadcasters will not be misunderstanding of post-devolution politics but more or less conscious attempt to screw Salmond over and silence the SNP's message. The malevolence of the coverage isn't just in the debates - isn't perhaps even primarily the debates themselves - but the discussions which follow. These endless reactionary gobsworth encounters, and the persistent use of the words our, the choice, the options. The strangling, constricting feeling derives from the precise sense that the media garrotte is looped everywhere, about every throat.  It tells in the three-way rasp of every sentence, in every mouth, from every commentating tongue. It throttles our Green friends as they bravely strive to elect their first MP in Brighton and in Norwich. We well know the sensation of its chafe in Scotland.

I've been using lots of violent metaphors, but my mind is full of the parallels of asphyxiation. And what depresses about that is that I lean towards the explanatory school of indifference. This whole escapade seems to be better accounted for by the want of circumspection, a lack of understanding by our broadcasters - a culpable shrug that isn't much bothered what happens in the unknown political bogpatch of the Scottish political Other. They don't get it, and aren't really interested in finding out. Some of you will no doubt believe that I'm naive to attribute more agency to limited imagination and limited concern than the malicious hand of conscious manipulation. Ultimately, however, it matters not a jot either way. Whether the injury is done by negligence or by intent, whether you show yourself to be persistently aggressive or simply persistently indifferent to the fate of your fellow man - the same conclusions follow. You put both the red man and the  negligent man out. You move on, for your own health and happiness.

That is why, although these events can exercise a  depressive force on Nationalists like myself, who envision even a British state with the imagination and ethical sensitivity to realise a decent, honest democracy - such gloom should be resisted. So too should the temptations of negativity. The skallcrows are always perched at our shoulder, quick to carrion-caw. The heart of the appeal of independence for me has always been in the positive substance of possibility, peaceableness and a prosperous, sincere politics and society. Faced with that vision, the dulcet crooked birds can only blink, uncomprehendingly, their rasps diminishingly poignant, decreasingly sure of their cynical appeal. That is one very good reason for the SNP to be cheerful.

28 April 2010

Sod it... Holyrood to abolish sedition!

... although I prophesied light and airy blogging, I can't resist mentioning the important and substantive business afoot in Holyrood's Justice Committee. They are considering amendments at Stage 2 to the many-headed hydra that is the Criminal Justice  and Licensing (Scotland) Bill. In their earlier session, on the casting vote of Baillie Bill the divided Committee supported Labour amendments to introduce a quasi-sorta-ish-mandatory presumption that those carrying knives get the jail for at least six months. They also opposed and voted down the progressive, sensible and radical SNP policy of shifting tack by enshrining in law the presumption that Scotland's shrieval and justiciars' benches shouldn't hand down sentences of less than six months. At the final vote in stage 3, it seems likely that both of these decisions may well be reversed by the full house. Although the official report of yesterday's Justice Committee meeting has not yet been published online (as I rattle this out, that is), the Scotsman clearly had an odd-bod in the room, taking notes. Important indicative decisions from the Committee here on important questions of wide concern, including how long the police should be allowed to retain the DNA of those who are not convicted of any offence - or what minimum age an accused person should attain before they're hauled in front of the nation's sheriff or even high courts. I'll probably come back to this, once I've a heartier text to feast the eyes on.

There were also a few interesting touches in the Committee's session last week which I couldn't resist sharing with you. After reviewing a roll of grim concerns - prostitution, people trafficking and any number of horrors - the Committee surrendered to a crackle of mirth over curious historical legal gewgaws which will be of some interest to those antiquarians amongst you, interested in the crooked historical timbers of Scots law, many beams of which are still technically the law of the land. At last! Holyrood is going to abolish sedition!  Journalists need fear the fate of Robert-Francois Damiens no longer, for lèse majesté is also following sedition into the consuming stomach of legal forgetfulness. I can almost hear Thomas Muir's cheers resounding from the mouth of his melancholy grave in France. As ever, Baillie Bill presided with his usual air of adenoidal levity -

Fergus Ewing: Amendments 114, 189, 192, 194 and 196 allow me to pay tribute to the Liberal Democrats—not in this Parliament, but at Westminster.  It was Dr Evan Harris MP who first raised the continuing existence in England of the offences of sedition and seditious libel during the passage through Parliament last year of the Coroners and Justice Bill. As he said, although it would be unthinkable for the state to use the offences today in the way that they were used against the likes of John Wilkes in previous centuries, they remain part of our law. Theoretically, every time that a journalist harangues the Government or a comedian insults the Crown, they are liable to be arrested.

The provisions are more than a mere theoretical curiosity to amuse law students. More importantly, the fact that the UK has such laws is used as a convenient excuse for repressive regimes worldwide to have, and to use, their own. In such countries not only is there a chilling effect—people being too afraid to air criticism of the authorities and elites—but citizens are regularly prosecuted for speaking out. The UK Government was seized of the force of the arguments and tabled amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill to sweep away the offences of sedition, seditious libel, obscene libel and defamatory libel in the rest of the UK. We believe that it is appropriate for us to follow suit and lay finally to rest the Scots law offences of sedition and leasing-making, which is what amendment 114 does. That will help give the UK greater moral authority when dealing with repressive regimes.

Angela Constance: It would be interesting if the minister could explain leasing-making when he winds up.

The Convener: I am sure that he will do so. While he is being advised, I should say that there is a delicious irony in a Scottish National Party Government minister—a representative of a party that I have always thought to be a seditious bunch—moving that that part of the law be removed and those of us of greater ilk being denied the protection that the law presently allows against being traduced in such an unseemly manner.

Stewart Maxwell: I am not sure that that meets the criterion for being respectful to other members of the Parliament. [Laughter.]

The Convener: Mr Ewing, would you like to sum up?

Fergus Ewing: Indeed. I was not aware that every time a journalist harangues the Government, he is liable to be arrested. Had I known that, convener, history might have been somewhat different. However, as a habitually loyal colleague, I am happy to move the amendments. When I read out the words "leasing-making", I wondered whether a typographical error had crept into my script; that is why I paused momentarily. However, there is no error—one does not expect errors from one's officials—and it means lese-majesty, or the act of making critical remarks of Her Majesty, so I am happy to have lodged the amendment. I am pleased say that, according to the current edition of Gordon, there have been no reported prosecutions for leasing-making since 1715. Members can draw whatever conclusions they wish from that fact.

The Convener: Yes—we are entitled to some light relief after a heavy morning.

One bundle of weights pressing down on the Committee's collective mind were the sections of the Bill which will introduce offences of directing serious organised crime and failing to report serious organised crime. In particular, Robert Brown (Liberal Democrat) had a number of apt questions about the breadth of these provisions that needed asking. He didn't press his amendments, however, and further analysis of the detailed wording continues on into the stage 3 deliberations. Add to that possession of extreme pornography and voyeurism. As the Bill was introduced, extremity was defined in the following charming fashion. If you are unfortunate enough to be a soul who specialises in necrophiliac bestiality in Scotland, you are soon to be out of luck.

34 (6) An image is extreme if it depicts, in an explicit and realistic way any of the following—
(a) an act which takes or threatens a person’s life,
(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in a person’s severe injury,
(c) rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity,
(d) sexual activity involving (directly or indirectly) a human corpse,
(e) an act which involves sexual activity between a person and an animal (or the carcase of an animal).

I should also add, thank heavens I wasn't in the committee room when this was being discussed. I'm not sure if I could have survived the ordeal of listening to Fergus Ewing's repeated references to "so-called up-skirt voyeurism"...

27 April 2010

Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym: "Do your homework!"

In other amazing technical innovations found in modern Scotch bothies, we also get YouTube up here. And if your eyes tire of lingering on the close peaty texts that your candle light is gloating over, you might well gloat over this joyous, immolating section of BBC Newsnicht last night when Jammy Paxman got into a fearful wax, and melted.

Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym is not, perhaps, a household name. Nor is he a particularly prepossessing looking chap. He is, however, an economic advisor to our Welsh friends Plaid Cymru. And Paxo thought it'd be spiffing fun to tear into him, sneer figures, allege fiscal illiteracy and generally singe the Welshman's eyebrows. As is so often the case with those who play with fire and statistics - its all too easy to scorch your own fingers if your opponent avoids getting flustered and knows the documents inside out. When the devil detail turns on you, you are left like the egregious rubber-faced Paxman was yesterday evening - huffing like a miffed teenager instructed to complete an unloved chore, at last reduced to pitiful hectoring he looks longingly and petitioning for the end of the interview. Paxo almost whimpered farewell. A joy.

My thanks to Love & Garbage for bringing this to my attention.

Update from a Bothy...

My hands and entrails warmed by a rich, gummy Tappit Hen broth, frog-spawned with barley, I sat in the dark, utterly jiggered. Having supped my supper, I lay down, pillowed on the copy of the Natural History of Gallinaceous Birds; with a memoir of Aristotle (1843) which I'd managed to snatch before I left civilisation. After a mighty day out flyting the clods, my thoughts were only of rest and of the crumbly arêtes of tomorrow. In my half-stupor, imagine my surprise to find my repose interrupted by the steady throbbing of a tiny light. Investigating this with peat-stained fingers, I discovered to my shock and awe that my sheltering bothy, out in the wilds, boasts a steady wireless connection! It seemed only right to use its powers for good and not for evil, so...

By way of clarification, to alert the interested, some of you may recall that over the weekend I mentioned the Review of the Hamilton & Airdrie Youth Courts (2010) and the Review of the Glasgow & Fife Drug Courts (2010). Perusing the reports' findings - they were hardly stellar. Although mostly indeterminate in terms of these specialised court's efficacy at reducing recidivism among the young and drug use among addicted person, they did have good things so say about the tribunals' procedural felicities, their comparable speediness and virtues identified by the personnel who work in them. Obviously, to supercharge law's lethargic engines requires continuous, rather expensive tweaks to the process. In that context, I speculated that Scottish Ministers, aiming to trim a few pounds from about their waists, may have been tempted to cut the programs - with political consequences. It may be in time that they will do just that. Cue Labour fulmination. Equally, one can compellingly argue that the Reviews' indeterminacies present a good reason why the exploratory pilot processes should go on - let the matter fully unfold, and we'll see whether the promise of better, a more effective criminal process can be realised.

If I'd been a more diligent servitor in your interests, however, I'd have noticed that Fergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety, didn't just publish the Reviews on Thursday - but also delivered the Scottish Government's answer to the question which rested (particularly in the case of Youth Courts) on the reports' verdicts - would their experiments continue? Expand? Would the Government foot the bill? Here is what he said, in a parliamentary answer (S3W-33309) to the SNP's Nigel Don:

Nigel Don (North East Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will publish the reviews of the drug courts and youth courts.

Fergus Ewing: The reviews of the drug courts in Glasgow and Fife and youth courts in Airdrie and Hamilton have been published today (Bib. numbers 49573 and 49574). Following broadly positive evaluations, I have decided to extend funding for both drug courts and youth courts for a further two years until 31 March 2012. During this period, we will continue to work closely with local partners to ensure best value for money and that resources are targeted at the most effective interventions. We will also draw on the best practice and lessons learned from specialist courts to develop a toolkit for other courts, and we will be consulting the judiciary on the scope to extend the problem solving approach into mainstream courts. Proposals under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill to introduce scope for ‘progress reviews’ of the new Community Payback Orders reflect the aim for a more offender focused approach. There are no plans to fund additional drug courts or youth courts.

26 April 2010

Gone peat worryin'...

"Have you packed your flauchter?" The question every apple-cheeked peat worrier's mother asks him as fidgets at the door, eager for the off. Being an orderly fellow, he will have already pulled up his thigh-length knitted socks, donned his Tom Weir bobble hat and refilled his hip-flask with a generous slosh of the Water of Life. His large unwieldy pack may look as if it will press the poor urban rustic into the soil, one trudge at a time - but its expansiveness is very necessary.

If peat worrying is authentically to be practised, the relevant texts must be kept forever at hand - and who can tell which of his hand cast tools he will find very necessary, out in the wilds? Equally, as he snuggles into his bothie of an evening, he will want some light reading to illuminate the inky watches of the night. Traditionalists would perhaps stick with the obligatory MacTavish's Guide to the Corrie Lochs of Kinlochbuie (1902). Those of a radical persuasion, keen to make the ancient art of peat worrying relevant in the 21st Century, might well prescribe John Baird's indispensable sedimentary pamphlet of 1887: Gritty Paps: Scotland's Story Through the Eyes of its Shale Bings. For light relief, as midnight approaches, our worrier  might well lay this aside and resort to a soothing verse or two from the traditional compendium - the Edinburgh Book of Crypto-Gaelic Verse. Pulling his mackintosh over his sleepy and lonely form, the bothie might hum for a moment with the musical lines of that favourite Highland love ode to a brassica-faced lassie, "My Tumshie Darlin'"

All of which is one way of saying that I'm going to be exceedingly busy over the next seven days, so anticipate the lightest of light blogging here.

25 April 2010

"Cameron promises to deliver coherently broken society" (Redux)

I can't help but notice that we're not hearing much from Tories in these simmering electoral days about Cameron's erstwhile, fevered analysis of Britain's Broken Society. Somehow, this once-kaput collective has fixed itself up in Conservative rhetoric - being rejuvenated and expanded - so now we just hear about the Big Society, which will tamely hold the hands of the Great Ignored. Lest we forget this particular bit of nonsense, this busy working Sunday I thought I'd dredge up this news story from the pages of the Kinlochbervie Chronicle. Quite why it wasn't picked up by the rest of the quality press, I haven't the foggiest.

Cameron Promises to Deliver Coherently Broken Society

In a bid to stave off pervasive and continuing critical ignorance of Conversational Party policy, David Cameron PM (Aspirational) has today launched a short film in association with the Daily Express newspaper. Striking a three-figure deal with kitchen-sink director, Ken Loach, the challenging sixty-seven minute “On the side of the Angels” documents New Labour’s failure to deliver a coherently “broken society”. Shot over a ten year period in the 1980s, the camera follows the appalling living conditions of seven former mine workers from Hampstead, forced from their jobs and stripped of their livelihoods - all through the eyes of Princess Diana.

“That bitch? She promised us the world.” complains Happy, reclining on an all-too familiar stool in Putney Job Agency. “And what did she do? Ran off with yon coke-piping Judas. Tit-teasing cunt-jockey. And - then - then she got hitched and potted by that other poor bugger. - Not that I’m bitter. Not bitter at all. In fact, I’m glad she left. We’re better off out of it.” Due to chronic scrotal arthritis, Happy hasn’t worked since the Achondroplasia Ltd minesite closed in ‘86. Choking back tears of disillusionment, the former gemcutter confides how his ex-wife of twenty years, Vera, is “forced to eke out an existence on fraudulent abortions, tax credits and national assistance, and not necessarily in that order.”

As the film continues, the incomplete extent of Britain’s cultural degeneracy is powerfully brought home. Narcolepsy undiagnosed led Sleepy to become involved in a series of industrial accidents that left him paralyzed from the legs down and the neck up. Sleepy’s physician, Doc, was subsequently arraigned before the General Medical Council and struck off for malpractice. His present occupation remains unknown. Grumpy fared somewhat better. A cocktail of mood-altering drugs now staves off his chronic depression permitting him to work eight days a week installing food in the provendermonger Messers Tesco & Son in Barnsley city centre.

Clerical worker Bashful is currently serving out a ten year prison sentence in Wormwood Scrubs, convicted in 2001 of domestic abuse. Former TUC representative, Sneezy, unable to live with his condition, was successfully euthanised a Swiss clinic in 2004. His estate is misunderstood to be pursing the successor company Achondroplasia PLC, now arms manufacturers, for negligent provision of poorly-ventilated office accommodation, which they allege contributed to his early death. The estate is expected to run out of money and give up some time in the Spring 2012 when the case will be heard before the High Court, London.  Dopey found the instant fame which the documentary imposed upon him particularly difficult to endure. Falling in with film stars and MPs, he was unable to resist the predations of the infamous champagne, cocaine and blini fuelled North London lifestyle. Baby-faced Dopey undertook an extensive portfolio of remunerated dictatorships before he was tragically killed in car crash in Paris in 1997.

“Although the names and all actual details of events have been changed for legal reasons, rendering any actual resemblance to real persons or facts purely coincidental, I think it is obvious from this film that Brown’s Britain, although well intentioned, essentially doesn’t come up to snuff,” Chris Grayling, Shadow Secretary for Urban Decay instructed Brighton pensioners last week. “We must bring home to the public the full extent of the underclass of hardworking families in Britain today.” The film represents merely one element of the continuing renovation of the Conversative Party in preparation for a potential May General Election. In a further announcement, it was revealed that the unpopular ‘oak tree’ symbol is to be scrapped and replaced by a “down-and-out teddy bear, shivering in the snow.” Seen as a further repudiation of his party’s Cameronian legacy, a spokesman for the shadow leader viviparously defended the new logo, saying:  “We feel that this second symbol better represents our party’s distinctive aspirations for Britain.”

24 April 2010

Saturday's light reading...

So we don't get too dazzled by all the besuited razzmatazz and personality politics of the election, I thought it only fair that I fill your Saturdays with scholarly joy, and mention a few pieces of research which have emanated from the Scottish Government over the last few days. The first, wonderfully ideosyncratic piece doesn't have the most creative or opaque title in the history of social research - it merely wishes to generate an  Understanding Why Some People Don't Use Buses (2010). Although it is easy to make light of such things, its easy to forget that particular modes of travel aren't just one way of facilitating movement from A to B. In many cases, it is the necessary condition for some folk to make any voyage across their towns and communities at all. A bus can stand like a metal sentinel before the portals that lead to life's richness and connectedness. 

It is dowdy, for all that, not a heavenly chariot. But we shouldn't be surprised. We'll always find more justice in small things, close to home, than we will scrutinising the cyan vaults of heaven. On point, someone recently related an appalling story to me of a  physically disabled woman, who lives in Glasgow, but who never now uses its buses. In the days when she tried, regularly she said, the driver slowed up at her stop - took one look at her waiting there and calculating that his sloth mattered more than this woman getting accessible access to the bus on equal terms with her fellow citizens - sped off instead of stopping, leaving her standing there. Scandalous and contemptible. Like justice, injustice too makes itself felt in these little places of life - even in bus stops.

The second couple of publications I wanted to mention concern reviews of two innovative approaches in criminal justice in Scotland, Drug Courts and Youth Courts. Review of the Glasgow & Fife Drug Courts (2010). With penny-pinching in the air, these well-intentioned and imaginative attempts to take new tacks with stubborn social ills begin to look precarious. Pilot Drug Courts were introduced in October 2001 in Glasgow and in August 2002 in Fife. Obviously, money isn't everything about these processes - and not all goods are reducible in a straightforward way to coin of the realm. What will become of the project - i.e. if it will continue to receive Scottish Government funding hereafter - remains to be seen.

With similar themes in mind, the Review of the Hamilton & Airdrie Youth Courts (2010) is also worth a look, primarily for the substance of the thing itself, secondly because it has political dimensions. The pilot Youth Courts' goals are:
  • To reduce the frequency and seriousness of re-offending by persistent 16 and 17 year old offenders (and some 15 year olds who are referred to the courts).
  • To promote the social inclusion, citizenship and personal responsibility of these young offenders whilst maximising their potential.
  • To establish fast track procedures for those young offenders appearing before the Youth Courts.
  • To enhance community safety, by reducing the harm caused to individual victims of crime and providing respite to those communities who are experiencing high levels of crime.
  • To test the viability and usefulness of a Youth Court using existing legislation and to demonstrate whether legislative and practical improvements might be appropriate.
A bit of background on the whole project furnishes us with some helpful context - and also references the political ballyhoo that may be to come concerning non-renewal or expansion of this particular project. The Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament are very committed to the notion of Youth Courts. Any non-renewal would be like catapulting an Arctic fox into the midst of a colony of nesting Terns ~ met with much screeching, pecking and ruffled feathers all around.


1. Pilot Youth Courts were established at Hamilton Sheriff Court in June 2003 and at Airdrie Sheriff Court in June 2004. The Youth Courts were evaluated by external consultants whose report was published in April 2006. The report concluded that the Youth Courts had been successful in meeting their objectives, as far as could be assessed at that time. The particular strengths of the Youth Court were noted as being the fast-tracking of young people to and through the court, the reduction in trials, the availability of a wider range of resources and services for young people and ongoing judicial review. It was too early at that stage to ascertain whether the Youth Courts had had an impact on offending behaviour.

2. In November 2006, the previous Administration announced continued funding of the Youth Courts for a further 3 years, with a view to their position being reviewed in Spring 2009. This review would assess the Youth Courts' impact on reoffending rates, with regard to the impact on the Youth Courts of the recent reforms of summary justice. The current Administration announced in January 2008 that a decision would be made about any further Youth Courts in the light of this review.

Perhaps the stickiest, albeit caveated conclusion of the report is that "Overall, the analysis, whilst not conclusive due to low sample sizes, suggests that the Youth Courts have not been particularly successful in terms of reducing reoffending." This might not make very compelling reading for a Government which will be eager to find areas where extra expenditure can be cut, without apparent decrease in overall efficacy.  The image of Youth Courts emanating from this Review reads as a classic in that genre. The report finds that the cost of fast-tracking amounts to £1,812 extra cost, per offender, per process, compared to the more stately pace which prevails in your ordinary Sheriff Court. Which, as the authors make clear, is not to say that dedicated Youth Courts don't have positive aspects. Merely that the connection between these good things and diminishing re-offending seems limited. Given the foregoing, given that this will be on Kenny MacAskill's desk for decision, Youth Courts with fast tracked processes may not be an experiment in justice which we can afford.

23 April 2010

A Tory Atlas, juggling human rights...

"To protect our freedoms from state encroachment and encourage greater social responsibility, we will replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights."

That is the only reference in the 130-odd pages of the Conservative manifesto to their policy on the 1998 Act and its proposed replacement. It appears under a heading - I kid ye not - Restore Our Civil Liberties. Doesn't it have a marvellous doublethink quality? The two corners of the first clause do a  tremendous feat. On one hand, the Tories are apparently suggesting that the Human Rights Act stands in the way of state encroachment, hence a British Bill would be a sturdier defence. On the other, that sniffish aside about social responsibility is doing a lot of work, puffing away heavily on the dogwhistle appeal of abolishing the Act. The levity of the deed is what strikes me most keenly. This isn't a painful policy reconciliation, taking the weight of the world on their collective Conservative shoulders. In this vision, the Tory Atlas Juggles the issues, the globe in his hands no longer an unwieldy object, but a dainty gewgaw flicked and spun with dazzling prestidigitation. Our Atlas winks at the audience too, the old lecher, making great play of his legerdemain. In their Foreign policy section, the manifesto has the bare faced cheek to claim that ~

"A Conservative government’s approach to foreign affairs will be based on liberal Conservative principles. Liberal, because Britain must be open and engaged with the world, supporting human rights and championing the cause of democracy and the rule of law at every opportunity.

Surprisingly, they also suggest that ~

"A Conservative government will always speak up for freedom and human rights."

Nota bene: "always" for the present purposes, being defined as in every circumstance excepting p. 79 of this manifesto where we explicitly speak out against the Human Rights Act. Its tempting, terrifically tempting, to write all of this off as appalling Janus-faced rubbish, dishonest and pandering at home, patronising and pious abroad. But could a plausible account be reconstructed where the Tories could consistently hold both positions cited above? One possibility which suggests itself is the argument that the Human Rights Act doesn't really represent human rights. It has a misleading label, cooked up by sinister New Labour types, who wanted to hoodwink the goodly public by labelling their project in domination in a positive way. For human rights enthusiasts, it is a false friend. This leads to the quaint argumentative structure that abolishing the Human Rights Act is a way of realising human rights. Plausible? Not terrifically. Arguable? Well, they seem to be arguing it here. I say seem - as these brief asides are too constrained a policy prospectus to give us any real idea what they actually mean to do, if they get into government.

A hung parliament may settle their intentions for good, of course. But we can pose some of the questions they'll have to face right now, if they want to abolish the legally binding standards based on the European Convention evenly across Britain. I notice that Alan Miller, the Chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission has a piece over at the Guardian mentioning some of them. Devolution poses an undeniable problem to the Tory policy. Its worth being precise about how this would work. The problem isn't the Human Rights Act itself. Even if that were repealed - its the  European Convention Rights and not the Human Rights Act simpliciter which is part of the Scotland Act. It constrains ministers, it constrains the legislature. In case you won't take my word for it, here are the sections of the Scotland Act which make the distinction clear:

Legislative competence.
29. (1) An Act of the Scottish Parliament is not law so far as any provision of the Act is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament. (2) A provision is outside that competence so far as any of the following paragraphs apply ... (d) it is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.
 57. (2) A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.

That being so, it seems that even if the Human Rights Act was done away with, these sections and their lawful effect would remain. So would the Tories also amend this out of the Scotland Act? Herein the political difficulties rear their angelic heads. By trying to repeal the Act or tamper with this aspect of the devolved settlement, the Tories would prompt the Scottish Parliament's considerable ire. Holyrood has a clear, even a resounding majority in support of the Convention rights and the Human Rights Act. What would the Tories in government do? Ask Holyrood and abide by their wishes? Not ask Holyrood and legislate anyway?  Is that the Respect agenda in action? Alternatively, it may be that the circumstances envisioned by Alan Miller come about. The Human Rights Act is abolished - but Scotland retains its legislative provisions on the Convention. It'd be an interesting conclusion to the inevitable debate.

Owing to an understandable but loose way of talking, I think folk believe that the Scotland Act merely contains the Human Rights Act - with the latter whole enactment being more or less easily repealed at a stroke. Not so.  If the Tories have convinced themselves that that is the case, they should disabuse themselves hastily.  The angel is in the accidental detail. 

21 April 2010

How innocuous is the phrase "London parties"?

Just how innocuous is the phrase “London political parties”? It’s a familiar rhetorical trope used by Plaid Cymru and the SNP to describe the totality of Tweedles dum, dee and dem. Three words, but in a Nationalist mouth, probably denoting a distinction between the three UK-wide parties and the SNP, currently emphasising an argument that the real choice is between the SNP and any of these parties, perhaps invoking the idea of rule from London as a distant and oppressive mode of governance without popular participation or check. For some, the phrase might dimly recall words of Sir Walter Scott, in a pointed section in the Heart of Midlothian ~

I dinna ken muckle about the law, answered Mrs Howden; but I ken, when we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament-men o' our ain, we could aye peeble them wi' stanes when they werena gude bairns - Bit naebody's nails can reach the length o' Lunnon.

For others, this is the least of it. The funereal Jim Murphy sprung a pre-plotted sententious diatribe when Angus Robertson merely referenced the term on last night's brisk debate on STV. Its noteworthy that this popped up in the section on public finances and that Robertson was making an argument about party policy on Thatcherite-grade spending cuts all the while investing oodles of loot in new nuclear technologies. The only man in the room who took this as a hurtful goad at identities was Jim Murphy. I transcribe the whole of his spontaneous little speech.

“Angus spits this London Parties thing out. I'm not sure where he gets the insult from. I don't think any of us are from London, Angus. I'm a patriot. I'm proud to be Scottish. Don't try to capture this sort of politics of patriotism with the St Andrews flag as if you were Angus ... We're all Scottish and we're all proud to be Scottish, Angus. So don't spit this London thing out at us.

Watching this last night, it struck me as a rather bizarre little hobbyhorsing riposte by Murphy - since it plainly wasn't warranted by what Angus Robertson actually said. Nobody mentioned patriotism but Jim. The crucial point about this is that the phrase London parties can't simply be chalked up with a single meaning. It doesn't necessarily mean that the SNP hate the English, Londoners or anyone south of the Tweed. I'm often surprised - but increasingly less so - at how the Labour party seem to yearn for a xenophobic SNP, how readily they reach for epithets which characterise us as spittle-flecked moonies, who dream fond dreams of border posts, army uniforms for our future military President and tartan apartheid for all Sassenachs found in the country after Independence Day. Its a curious question - one I've never been able to satisfy myself with a plausible answer to - why does the Labour party so desperately want the SNP to be racist? If you have a theory, do let me know.

Equally, it should strike us as immediately ironic that Murphy allegation of identity politics is itself a use of identity to scotch a legitimate ideological position. The SNP's argument is that Scotland should exercise self-determination, we should have a care for our own affairs from Edinburgh - and that England and Wales should be able to do likewise. London Parties don't fit into this picture of good governance for Scotland, by Scotland. Legitimate so far? Sure, you might disagree - but few folk would say that this is a radically unacceptable thesis in a modern democracy. So what does Jim do? Jim suggests that if you have a  problem with rule from London, this immediately equates with blood and soil nationalism. If you want to exercise self-determination, want to persuade the people of your argument - Murphy will shoot you down as greasy little Saltire-waving Chauvenist. An incredible position to adopt.

Or so I thought. Not incredible enough not to find an echo in Edinburgh's finest daily number. Rather than using their wits and wiles to unpack Murphy's toadstool diatribe, the Scotsman decided to take their cue from the cadaverous Secretary of State for Scotland, using this morning's editiorial to make this extraordinary claim of the SNP manifesto that it...

Regrettably ... opened with an underlying tone of xenophobia with the SNP's main rivals – the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems – referred to as the London parties, a blatant and dishonourable attempt to re-write history and ignore the Scottish antecedence of the main UK parties.

Helpfully, we've got a copy of the manifesto before us. So what particular opening reference to "London parties" got them in such an indignant wax? Surely some great horror to prompt the scribblers to scrounge up this pretty scandalous suggestion. Lets have a look at the Maximum Eck's introduction. Certainly, one can spot the reference to 'London Parties' - but look at the context. 

This election is about ensuring a strong team of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons - a team of SNP MPs. Local champions, who will be there working hard for you, your community and Scotland. The London parties all offer the same thing - the wrong priorities for our nation. They aren’t talking about the issues that matter most to people or offering the solutions and ideas that will improve life here in Scotland. For them the needs of our families, neighbours and communities are a second thought. Scotland deserves better. The SNP cares about Scottish success. We are Scotland’s Party and here at home, and in the parliament in London we offer Scotland a stronger voice. When the SNP is successful, London listens.

So, this sneaking tone of isolationism and racism detected by the sensitive lugs in the Scotsman - amounts to a statement that Westminster is in London, that the SNP want to participate in that institution in the short term, and what is more, that the parties aren't talking enough about ideas to improve life in Scotland. And who the devil mentioned history, anyway? Since when did the historical provenance of a movement become the agreed upon and final standard of reference? We might consider, for example, where the parties are based now - Manchester? Leeds? Oh no. Wait - the Labour Party Head Office is in Victoria Street, London. The Conservative Campaign Headquarters – formerly Conservative Central Office – is in Millbank tower in another SW1 address, while the Liberal Democrats’ headquarters are on Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB. They are, in this sense London Parties. Does that make me a xenophobe for pointing it out? Or does it suggest that the phrase London Parties has none of the necessary evil which Murphy and his press cronies impute to it? Wouldn't it suggest that we should examine around the context of the remarks to understand what they denote? Wouldn't that require the press to actually find a killer, xenophobic quote - instead of resorting to the lazy tropes of all conspiracy theorists and flat-headed cynics? 

- The xenophobia is sort of in its tone, where they put that comma there - I can almost smell it - no, no, its nothing he said exactly, but I can see clearly that it is the case, despite the total absence of evidence and his strenuous objections to the contrary...

Iain ♥ MacWhirter back in business...


The stuffing has fallen out of my will-to-comment over the past few days. Unless there is some fun angle, an  obvious gag or some wider policy morsel to tempt my weak appetite - tyrannical lethargy overcomes me, pouring over the giddy scoosh of words on offer. As I suspected, I'm not too much truck at this election blogging business. Still, the SNP Manifesto has launched. So I'll return and take a concerted look at that a bit later, once I find the time to give it the indicated once-over. So for now, I just wanted to mention a bit of good news that has bugger all to do with the hirpling political squadrons in yellow, blue, red and orange. Oh blessed relief!

In February, popular Herald columnist and Rector of the University of Edinburgh, Iain MacWhirter revealed on his blog that he had fallen prey to the predations of that traditional Scottish ailment - a gummy heart. I'm sure all of the Scottish blogosphere wished him well as he faced his heart-bypass operation and anticipated his return to the bright, interesting and balanced coverage of Scottish affairs. Although it initially sneaked past me, I've been pleased to note that a new column appeared in the Herald on the 11th of April and another on the last Sabbath. I suppose the saving grace of this painful procedure (and I understand equally complex period of recovery) is that Mr MacWhirter must be one of the few members of the media able to produce clear eyewitness testimony to confirm that indeed, he has a heart after all. In any case, it is a welcome return. Perhaps his prose he might succeed in perking up my own slumping election spirits.

20 April 2010

That SNP GE2010 manifesto in full...

I find .pdfs immensely irritating to navigate my way around. I’m sure many of you will have some sympathy with my plight. Thus, in the spirit of spring-bourne sympathy, no doubt coaxed into full flower by the bright blue sky above me today, I’d distilled the freshly-launched SNP manifesto into this more happily accessible block of text. For those of you terrifically keen on casting a judicious eye over the style, or speculating on the hidden meaning of the font chosen – the document itself can be scrutinised here. I've also not precisely followed the format employed in the original document. On questions of emphasis, therefore, my version of the Manifesto might read a little differently from the party's. For those creditable souls who, like me, are just interested in the text, here it is. Some eight and a half thousand words worth of it…

SNP Manifesto 2010 ~ Elect a local champion.

Introduction 4
Scotland needs champions 6
More Nats, Less Cuts 8
Winning a better deal
for Scotland 11
Building a new partnership 17
Supporting the Scottish
Government 23

~ Alex Salmond

This election is about ensuring a strong team of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons - a team of SNP MPs. Local champions, who will be there working hard for you, your community and Scotland. The London parties all offer the same thing - the wrong priorities for our nation. They aren’t talking about the issues that matter most to people or offering the solutions and ideas that will improve life here in Scotland. For them the needs of our families, neighbours and communities are a second thought. Scotland deserves better. The SNP cares about Scottish success. We are Scotland’s Party and here at home, and in the parliament in London we offer Scotland a stronger voice. When the SNP is successful, London listens.

So at this election, with your help, we can secure big gains for the people of Scotland. Our plans would mean 60,000 new green jobs by 2020; a fair deal for pensioners with pensions rising in line with earnings and a guarantee to protect free personal care and concessionary travel; and a new phase of capital acceleration so we can create almost 5,000 new jobs this year. We will press for the scrapping of Trident nuclear missiles and a halt to their replacement, demand a fair fuel regulator to protect motorists from soaring fuel prices and work to make sure Scotland is part of the first phase of the UK high speed rail network.

And we can make sure Scotland’s communities are heard. That is important on polling day, and even more important once the votes are counted and decisions are being taken at Westminster. Scotland’s voice must be heard, because if it isn’t, the people of Scotland will lose out. As a party and as Scotland’s government, our focus is first and foremost on winning the best deal for Scotland. We are ambitious for you and your family and confident in Scotland’s ability to succeed, now and with independence. We are focused more than ever on building the stronger, more successful nation we know Scotland can be. This manifesto sets out many of the steps we can take here in Scotland, and with hard-working Scottish MPs in the House of Commons, to protect what really matters. We are working hard for economic recovery and new jobs and opportunities for families and communities. However the London parties’ proposed cuts pose a threat to this recovery. That is why Scotland needs champions and why our local communities need champions too. At this election, more votes means more Nats, and more Nats means less cuts. Local services and recovery can and must be protected.

These are challenging times, and as Scotland’s Government and Scotland’s Party in the House of Commons, we are determined to do all we can to make our nation healthier, safer, fairer, greener, smarter and wealthier. These elections are about giving you and the people of Scotland the strongest possible voice in the decisions that will be taken in London. It is about choosing the strongest local representation. It is about electing local champions - MPs who will stand up for the people they represent. Our MPs will speak up for Scottish values and argue to scrap the £5 billion ID card project, the £100 billion replacement for Trident, the £100 million House of Lords and the near £10 million Scotland Office so we can instead protect the vital public services we all rely on and make the investment we need for economic recovery. Our MPs will work to ensure that Scots get the opportunity to be consulted on our own constitutional future. Incredibly, the Labour Party now propose an early referendum on the alternative Vote and the House of Lords while they seek to block the Scottish Parliament holding a referendum on Independence.

Running through this manifesto is the SNP vision of a new future for Scotland, independent, socially just and economically secure. The real alternative to the discredited Westminster system is a fresh, independent future for our nation. Elections are important. Too often it is the hard-working people and families who are left out and forgotten. So if you care about Scotland and your community, don’t just vote for a politician, elect a local champion.

~ Alex Salmond SNP Leader

Scotland needs champions
Your vote on May 6th is important. Our nation needs a strong team of Scottish MPs working for our communities in the House of Commons. SNP MPs who will be local and national champions - working hard for people in all parts of Scotland. We need national champions who will stand up for Scotland’s interests and oppose the London parties’ agenda of cuts that will be so damaging to Scotland’s recovery and vital local services. The Labour Party now threatens cuts that will be ‘deeper and tougher’ than under Margaret Thatcher and the Tories plan an additional £1 billion cut on Scotland each year by ripping up the current funding deal without the consent of the Scottish Government or Scottish people.

The Tory and Labour agenda is effectively the same – the wrong cuts at the wrong time. Their actions will threaten recovery and cost Scottish jobs. Scotland needs SNP MPs in the House of Commons who can make sure our nation is protected. And we need local champions, because at the moment Westminster isn’t working for the communities and people of Scotland. The system is failing our nation. Every SNP candidate will sign a pledge of accessibility, accountability and openness – it will be their Community Commitment. It will be their guarantee - their contract with the voters - and it will set the standard for their work on behalf of the people they represent. It will include guarantees on publication of expenses, on regular constituency surgeries and consultation with voters and community groups.

The London parties are part of the same metropolitan political machine – a machine that leaves the ordinary men and women of our country on the outside. at this election we don’t need more of the same. Instead we can choose strong local champions. SNP candidates who will stand up for local interests and work to protect vital local services.

SNP MPs will take forward the issues that matter most in local communities, whether that is creating jobs, securing lower fuel prices, protecting local post offices or ensuring safety barriers are installed on level crossings.

SNP MPs will make the case for a fairer voting system and for reform of Westminster expenses so that it matches the higher standards of the Scottish Parliament. The more SNP MPs elected, the stronger Scotland’s voice will be in the House of Commons and the better we can protect Scotland’s people and Scotland’s interests.

We are the only Party that will put Scottish interests first. SNP MPs will provide strong local representation – working for Scotland and working for you.

More Nats, Less Cuts
In this time of fragile recovery from recession it is more important than ever to have SNP MPs working in the House of Commons to protect public spending and investment in recovery so we can create jobs for communities across Scotland.

We believe that now is the wrong time to cut public spending because cuts will put the recovery at risk. The Tory plans to cut spending this year are dangerous and economically unsound. We believe that, like virtually every other country across the world, we need further economic stimulus. economic growth is essential for job creation and is the key to recovery in government revenues. Cutting off stimulus at this stage simply doesn’t make sense and yet that is what Labour, the Tories and the Liberals want to do. While other nations are acting now to stimulate their economies, the UK financial plans - according to the Treasury - mean that spending cuts will take 1% off economic growth in 2010.

And for Scotland, stopping the stimulus will see £400 million removed from our budget this year, a decision that will cost 5,000 Scottish jobs. Failing to support economic recovery now will also make it more difficult to reduce the UK’s debt burden in future. Today, the UK has a huge and growing debt burden as a result of Labour economic mismanagement. The way to recover that position is to recapture some of the lost growth of the last two years. each fall of 1% in growth costs the exchequer £20 billion but each rise gains a similar amount. Therefore we must sustain the economic stimulus to promote recovery this coming year.

We must not raise taxes on job creation since these will lower employment and revenue in the future. We must recycle government efficiencies to protect frontline services. We should cut the projects that the country doesn’t need and can no longer afford such as Trident, ID cards and deep storage nuclear dumps.

We must not allow the UK parties to jeopardise Scotland’s recovery. We must protect Scotland from Labour’s plan for ‘deeper and tougher’ cuts than Margaret Thatcher and from the Tories’ plan to impose a £1 billion cut targeted specifically at Scotland.

Protecting the things that matter
We believe different choices on cuts must be made. Instead of cutting spending on the things that really matter like recovery and local services – as the London parties propose – we believe the axe should fall elsewhere. We should protect spending on health, education and jobs and instead cut projects like the £100 billion replacement for Trident, the current nuclear deterrent, the UK’s deep depository for nuclear waste and the remnants of the ID card programme.

Savings should also be made by scrapping the House of Lords and the unnecessary Scotland Office. We believe that the Scottish Government should deal directly with the relevant UK departments on issues like employment and the economy, rather than having to go through a department that has no direct influence on the decisions that need to be taken. The Scotland Office currently costs us almost £10m. If we abolish it, we could direct the savings towards worthwhile investment in Scotland and in services that will improve the quality of life for ordinary Scots.

And the UK should follow the example of the Scottish Government and make real efficiency savings so resources can be directed towards the frontline. So far in Scotland we have delivered the same amount of efficiencies in one year as the UK has managed in two, with these Scottish savings invested in record high spending on health and schools. As we move forward senior salaries in government will be frozen, including for ministers. We believe those who earn most in the public sector should play their part in these difficult times, while those on lowest wages continue to get pay increases.

There will be a 25% reduction in the number of quangos saving £40 million each year, a 50% reduction in the Scottish government marketing budget and a 5% reduction in administration costs. As a result of SNP action in government we are saving £160m through smarter public procurement, £82m by managing our assets better and £12m through the sharing of back office services across the public sector. These are the right choices – cut Trident, spend less on government and on PR so we can create jobs and protect the services that are such an essential part of Scottish society.

At this election the choice is clear. Only the SNP is working to protect recovery and investment in public services here in Scotland. More votes means more Nats, and more Nats means less cuts.

Winning a better deal for Scotland
SNP MPs in the House of Commons will work hard to win the best deal for Scotland and our communities. We will work in partnership with our allies in Plaid Cymru to secure important gains for the people of our nations as set out in the 4Wales, 4 Scotland agreement. We will not enter any form of coalition agreement with the London parties. Instead, as we know from the experience of governing in Scotland with a balanced Scottish Parliament, we will seek to secure key concessions for Scotland on a vote by vote, issue by issue basis. There is much we can achieve for our nation and for our communities:

Fair funding
New, fairer funding arrangements, including fiscal autonomy for Scotland, will be one of our key priorities, allowing us to do more to support jobs and create a more competitive business environment. Given the economic challenges we face, this is crucial for Scotland’s future success. It would give us the ability to lower corporation tax. This is a policy lever that has been used in similar nations across Europe and the result has been higher levels of economic growth, more high-paid jobs and higher tax revenues. It is a win-win policy that Scotland should be able to implement.

And similarly, it would enable us to save a proportion of our growing energy wealth – from oil and gas today and renewable energy in the future - in an energy Fund. This fund would act like a national savings account – or as the Norwegians describe their fund, a national pension fund - and would deliver greater financial security and an income for Scotland well into the future.

In the meantime, we will press for the fair application of the Barnett formula. That includes a new independent appeal process so that we move away from the current position where the UK is judge and jury in any disputes between the devolved governments and Whitehall. That would stop the Treasury from subverting the Barnett formula. For example, we believe that funding for regeneration around the London Olympic site should be subject to the Barnett Formula, which would mean that Scotland gets additional resources worth at least £165 million to support regeneration investment across Scotland.

Winning a better deal for Scotland
This approach is supported by the governments in Wales and Northern Ireland because the current arrangements are designed by the government in London to by-pass the long established rules. The SNP will also continue to lead cross-party calls for the return of £150 million lottery funds diverted from Scotland to help fund the London 2012 games. The return of the diverted funds would turn a good legacy for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games into a great legacy.

Focus on jobs and recovery
We will urge a further acceleration of capital spending, a move that would support almost 5,000 Scottish jobs and provide much needed economic stimulus in the short term. This should be a central part of any post-election Budget or spending review and will help us strengthen and support Scotland’s economic recovery. And SNP MPs will join with the Scottish Government to press for Scotland to have the ability to borrow, just as Northern Ireland does, to allow additional investment in infrastructure and jobs. It makes sense for us to be able to spread the cost of new roads or hospitals over a longer period, in the same way as families do with their mortgage. It would mean thousands of additional Scottish jobs.

We will look to improve current efforts on employment. We will argue for Scotland to have greater responsibility for employment policy so we can bring together the work of Job Centres and our skills agency to make sure local communities benefit from skills and employment support that is fully co-ordinated. That simple move would enhance the existing partnership arrangements, reduce bureaucracy and overlap and mean more time and resources are available to help people into work.

Protecting local services and the most vulnerable
In the next Parliament public spending will be squeezed and we will argue that action to reduce the deficit is based on what is important to people here in Scotland. Cuts should be made to the things that matter least so we can continue investment in vital local services. One of our top priorities in the new Parliament is to ensure a fair deal for Scotland’s pensioners. SNP MPs will vote in the House of Commons for the restoration of the link between the State Pension and earnings, bringing a much needed £110 million boost for Scottish pensioners. Such a move will help many of the most vulnerable Scottish pensioners. We are fully committed to fair and effective policies such as the concessionary travel scheme for older Scots and free personal care. We will protect these from the spending cuts that will be imposed by the next London government.

And we believe Scots must not lose out as a result of policy decisions for England. That means there should be no new taxes or contributions, or changes to attendance allowance or Carer’s allowance that will impact on Scots, to pay for reform of care for the elderly down south.

We will argue for a fair deal for motorists. There should be a fair fuel regulator so that when oil prices increase motorists are not doubly punished with soaring taxes and prices at the pumps. and the UK should also adopt the same sort of tax derogation on fuel sold in our island and remote communities as exists elsewhere in the EU.

And we will work to protect postal services across Scotland by opposing any changes to the Royal Mail that will weaken the universal delivery obligation. We support the creation of a post bank to enable Post Offices to provide a greater range of banking services for many of our smaller towns and rural areas.

We believe that those who have put their lives at risk fighting for our country should be entitled not only to our respect but more importantly to our support and as a result of representations from SNP MPs, the Scottish Government is now exploring options for the introduction of a Veterans Card in Scotland to improve access to services for Scotland’s veterans.

SNP MPs will work to put renewed focus on efforts to narrow the gap between the haves and have nots in our society – generating wealth so we can improve the quality of life for all and end the scandal of child and pensioner poverty. The benefits system should be designed to provide incentives for work, rather than barriers to work. It should also more closely meet Scottish needs and circumstances and be easier to access. We will press the UK government to investigate new approaches such as a maximum combined withdrawal rate for benefits and also call for reform to the hugely problematic employment Support allowance and changes to the system of cold weather payments so it more closely reflects Scottish needs and circumstances and increases support for individuals in Scotland. And we believe the minimum wage should increase in line with earnings.

Action to help the green economy
Scotland has enormous green energy potential and the SNP is determined to make the most of this opportunity for our nation. We need to maximise investment in the research and infrastructure so we can turn potential today into tens of thousands of green jobs tomorrow. Our aim is to increase low carbon employment in Scotland by 60,000 by 2020 as part of our low carbon strategy, with renewable energy supporting 26,000 jobs, emerging low carbon technologies a further 26,000 and environmental management 8,000 more. At Westminster we will be demanding the release of the Fossil Fuel Levy money so it can be used to deliver £200 million new investment in renewables. This fund can only be used for investment in green energy projects yet the London Treasury still prevents that money from being put to good use to create employment in communities across Scotland.

And we will work to remove obstacles to further investment in wave, tidal and wind generation in Scotland by ending the discriminatory transmission charging regime – a system that sees Scottish generators paying far more to connect to the grid than companies elsewhere in the UK. A generator in Scotland can pay £20 per kilowatt hour while companies in the south of England receive a subsidy. The SNP has worked with the Scottish energy companies to produce an alternative to the current discredited system and remove what has been described by one as a ‘major barrier to investment’.

Taking forward the green economy is of course about more than renewables and that’s why Scotland must be part of the first phase of the proposed UK high speed rail network. This move will boost business and reduce carbon emissions by delivering an effective alternative to domestic flights. It will take 30 years for high speed rail to reach Scotland under Labour or Tory plans and this is not acceptable.

Support for business growth
Our efforts will be focused on promoting Scottish economic recovery. We will work to ensure that growth industries in Scotland, like the games industry, are given the same sort of support as in competitor countries and for incentives for further investment and exploration in the North Sea, helping extend the lifetime of this valuable Scottish resource. We will also oppose Labour’s proposed hike in National Insurance because, as a tax on jobs, it will hinder the effort to get people back to work. It will also cost public services at a time when budgets are already tight. The bill for the NHS alone will be £36m. The total jobs cost for Scotland will be 10,000. If tax rises are required then they should be progressive and fair and open and honest.

We believe the banks should be doing more to support rather than inhibit growing businesses. The UK government should use its influence as a controlling shareholder in some of the UK’s major banks to ensure increased access to credit. It is right that action is taken to reform the banking sector. We support calls for an international bank tax. and we will support steps to limit bonus payments as part of wider regulatory reform that encourages a return to prudent banking – banking that protects customers and taxpayers from the casino style risk taking that characterised some investment banking before the credit crunch. We will provide a strong voice for our fishing and agriculture sectors, holding the UK government to account while they represent these economically important industries in Europe. And, to protect the incomes of many of our farm businesses we will oppose UK plans on CAP reform, which would see the removal of the important First Pillar funding.

Standing up for what is right
We will continue to lead the campaign for the scrapping of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. We, like the majority of Scots, do not want the obscenity of weapons of mass destruction on Scotland’s shores. We have no doubt that our nation would prefer to see resources spent properly equipping our troops in Afghanistan and invested in jobs, on meeting our international development commitments and on building a fairer, stronger society here at home rather than on nuclear missiles that can wipe out half the planet.

The early years are the most important and the SNP will support moves to extend paternity leave – it is right that both parents are able to take adequate leave in the first months of their child’s life. We will press the UK government to meet its international obligations including a continued commitment to meet the UN target of 0.7% of national wealth devoted to overseas development. The SNP believes international development must be a priority. As the Scottish Government since 2007, we doubled Scotland’s international aid budget and are building strong links with developing nations such as Malawi. We will oppose plans to repeal the Human Rights act. Our MPs will continue to support the efforts of organisations like the equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and stand up for what is right, arguing for example for the Home Office to end the practice of holding the children of asylum seekers in detention centres.

Building a new partnership
Every survey of opinion tells us that people across Scotland want to see the Scottish Parliament take on more responsibilities – for our representatives here in Scotland to have the ability to do more to make our nation more successful. The more responsibilities our parliament has, the more we can achieve and the more effectively we can respond to local concerns and community campaigns. If the decisions are taken here in Scotland it is much more difficult for politicians to ignore local issues because those issues are much closer to home.  The SNP wants Scotland to enjoy the full responsibilities of independence. We believe the 300-year old political Union is no longer fit for purpose. It was never designed for the 21st century world. It’s time for a new partnership on our isles – a social union that ensures Scotland and England are equal nations – friends and partners – both free to make our own choices.

Independence will create a new, more appropriate relationship. It will allow us to work together when that makes sense, and enable Scotland to take all the decisions we need to build prosperity and make the most of the many opportunities that exist for our nation. People recognise the areas where Scotland today is held back by decisions taken in London and there is a growing belief that we could achieve so much more if we were able to take these decisions ourselves. Some believe that the Parliament should only take on a small number of new responsibilities, including those set out by the recent Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution: on air weapons, drink driving and speed limits. The SNP supports the transfer of these additional responsibilities and in government has published the legislation that could make this happen quickly. The Scottish Parliament has backed early transfer but the Labour government in London said no. Others believe the Parliament can best serve Scotland by taking on substantial new responsibilities including over our economy and public finances. This would enable Scotland to respond more effectively to economic pressures, and speed our nation’s recovery. and, of course, with independence, Scotland would be able to achieve even more.

With independence we will be able to deliver a more successful Scotland, with greater prosperity for the people of our nation. With independence, we can remove the obscenity of nuclear weapons from Scotland’s shores and represent ourselves at the top table in Europe. And with independence we will be able to build on our efforts to support young families, with our ambition to match the universal childcare support available in similar nations elsewhere in Europe. The SNP believes that the people of Scotland should have their say on the future of our nation in a referendum on extending the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. That is why we are taking forward a Referendum Bill in the Scottish Parliament this year.

And because we recognise that a majority of Scots want the Scottish Parliament to be able to do more, there will be an opportunity during the Bill process for one or more of the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament to bring forward a proposal for further devolution to be included in the referendum. This would allow people to have their say on the status quo and on extending the responsibilities of the parliament to allow for further devolution and to allow Scotland to become independent. The referendum is all about giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to have their say on our nation’s future – to determine the sorts of responsibilities our parliament and government should have in the years ahead.

The SNP is proud to champion the people’s right to speak on this issue. The other parties support a referendum in Wales on more powers and the Labour government in London even supports a referendum on the alternative Vote and reform of the House of Lords, and yet they reject a referendum for Scotland. That shows how little they trust the people of our nation.

The SNP has long campaigned for fair votes and the removal of anachronisms like the unelected House of Lords. and we will continue to press for the abolition of the act of Settlement.

The world is full of opportunities for Scotland and our people. There are so many ways we can improve our relations with our neighbours and with peoples across the globe – with the benefit enjoyed here at home. And we can see Scotland’s values and priorities reflected in the actions we take on the international stage. The SNP believes that Scotland will be best served when we speak for ourselves to the world. Then we can choose to promote trade, culture, links with the diaspora and development as our top priorities and deliver a overseas service designed to meet these needs. We could become a voice for peace and progress in the world.

We believe a new approach is needed in the way Scotland is represented in the EU. Independence would give us our own seat at the top table of Europe, and until then, we will argue for Scotland to have an enhanced role within the UK, including leading on issues such as fisheries where Scotland has the majority UK interest.

And we will argue for Scotland to take responsibility for immigration so that we can develop a system here at home that more closely meets our needs. An ‘earned citizenship’ system, similar to those in Canada or Australia, would allow Scotland to attract high-skill immigrants who can add to the strength of our economy and help deliver growing prosperity for the whole nation. Scotland can be proud of its place in the world. Scottish troops have served in operations around the globe with distinction. Scottish aid and aid workers have offered a vital lifeline to some of the poorest people in need. And we are now building links with some of the nations most threatened by global warming. The SNP’s approach to international relations would be based on principles that define Scotland as a nation: compassion, fairness and humanity – and as such the SNP will always uphold the rule of international law. We believe these principles should also define the UK’s approach overseas. The actions of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in taking us into the illegal war in Iraq exemplify why we need this new approach – we can’t allow the mistakes that were made over Iraq to happen again.

The SNP believes that Scotland should join with the world community where necessary to preserve peace and security. We propose a Scottish Centre for Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution, to promote peaceful alternatives to armed conflict. Options for Scotland’s defence with independence are set out in the Scottish Government’s White Paper Your Scotland, Your Voice. And over the next few years, within the UK, it is important to have Scotland’s voice heard on these issues.

What is certain is that whoever wins the UK General election there will be a Strategic Defence Review which will look at all aspects of defence policy, from strategy to the structure of the armed forces, funding and equipment. an important part of any review is to incorporate the key and undisputed facts about current defence spending, military capability and footprint, including here in Scotland, and to reverse a trend that has seen Scotland losing out from UK defence investment. It makes no sense, when we have troops engaged overseas, to be threatening further cuts in bases, procurement or training, especially as current UK plans will see tens of billions wasted on a new generation nuclear deterrent. We are committed to retain all Scotland’s current bases and remain committed to the restoration of Scotland’s historic infantry regiments which were amalgamated in 2006. And given the increasing strains on service family life we believe that Scottish recruited units should be based as close to home as is practical.

The SNP has major concerns about the UK government’s approach to the current conflict in Afghanistan. With the death toll rising we have questioned why our soldiers have not always had the equipment they need and why there has not been a clear strategy for delivering peace or democracy. Once again the men and women on the frontline are doing us proud, while the leaders back in London are letting our soldiers down. The SNP does not wish to see Scottish troops committed without time limit, without being given a sense of their overarching goals, without a clear vision of what is being fought for, and without a consideration of the means that will be necessary to achieve such an end. That is why we must now have a proper review of the UK’s strategy and approach.

We have a moral objection to nuclear weapons and are firm in our belief that when the UK government is planning cuts in important budgets, they should not be wasting £100 billion on buying a new generation of nuclear bombs. We have been proud to stand alongside Scotland’s faith groups, the STUC and community campaigners in opposition to Trident and its replacement and we will continue to do so. The nuclear deterrent has employment costs as well. Research conducted by the STUC and CND actually found that the money spent maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent costs Scotland approximately 3,000 jobs. Faslane, the current nuclear submarine base, should be the base for conventional naval forces. This is the approach adopted by similar, independent nations. Norway for example supports a conventional naval fleet and conventional bases – with more people employed as civilians or service personnel than the current position in

Having full responsibility for defence matters would let the people of Scotland have their proper say on these issues – we could take the decisions on adequate protection of our troops. We would have been free to decline to take part in the recent Iraq War, based on its lack of a legal mandate. And we would be in a position to ensure the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland.

Why independence?

Scotland is a distinct community. Together we see ourselves as a nation and independence is the natural state for nations like ours. And as a community, we care most about our own success – we have the biggest stake in solving the problems we face, or making the most of the opportunities available to us. As a community and as a nation we are the best people for the job of making our nation the sort of place we want it to be. Independence is about updating the relationship between Scotland and England. It is about creating a new partnership of equals – a social union to replace the current political union. Scotland and England will share the same Queen, the same currency and as members of the EU there will be open borders, shared rights, free trade and extensive co-operation. The big difference will be that instead of only deciding some issues here in Scotland, independence will allow us to take decisions on all the major issues. That is the reality of independence in this interdependent world.

Independence runs like a golden thread through this manifesto and underpins the policies that will have the biggest impact on our prosperity and wellbeing. Instead of waiting for others to act, it would allow us to take forward our ideas immediately and with greatest benefit for the people of our nation. The fundamental appeal of independence is that it offers a different vision for our nation’s future. The Westminster parliament and system is discredited and too often works against the interests of the people of Scotland – the system is failing us and that is why we need a fresh start and a new approach. So we can address our own problems with our own efforts and make the most of the opportunities that exist in such abundance for our nation.

Supporting the Scottish Government
SNP MPs will be strong partners for the Scottish Government in London. We need MPs who will support Scotland, not argue against Scotland. MPs who will help win the best deal for our nation. That includes opposing the Labour and Tory cuts agenda that poses such a threat to the achievements of the past three years and the many projects designed to make Scotland wealthier, safer, smarter and healthier in the future. Much has been achieved and as we move forward, much to protect:

Economic Recovery
The SNP’s economic Recovery Plan has already supported 20,000 jobs and left Scottish families with more money in their pockets at the end of each month. This includes the extension of the council tax freeze for a third year, with the resources made available to freeze the Council Tax again in 2010-11. From April 2010, as a result of Scottish Government actions, Scottish business will enjoy a £220 million competitive advantage over companies elsewhere in the UK because we lowered the business rate poundage. This is £220 million that can be invested in growth and jobs. And we are extending the small business bonus, which means that more businesses in local communities – the sorts of businesses that form the life blood of local high streets – will pay no rates at all. Since the Scottish election the SNP government has implemented almost three quarters of our headline manifesto commitments.

These include:
• Freezing the Council Tax
• Introducing the Small Business Bonus
• Publishing a White Paper on Independence
• Abolishing tolls on the Forth and Tay Bridges
• Reversing the decision to downgrade the A & Es at Monklands and Ayr hospitals
• Delivering 1,000 more police
• Abolishing the Graduate Endowment Fee
• Ensuring the business rates poundage does not rise above England
• Completing the M74
• Accelerating the electrification of the central Scotland rail network
• Meeting the 2 month target for cancer patients to be diagnosed and

The Scottish Investment Bank also has a big part to play as Scotland moves into recovery and the SNP is committed to directing additional funds to support business growth through this important initiative. These will remain a key part of our economic strategy. We will be working hard to protect them from the threatened Labour and Tory cuts. We have learned lessons from previous recessions, where rising longterm unemployment created lasting damage to Scotland’s communities that carried across generations. We are determined that this time no community will be left behind. In Scotland we can act to make sure this happens, and at Westminster effective Scottish MPs are needed to ensure the London government plays it’s part too. Recovery is still fragile and there are undoubtedly still job losses and economic disappointments to come. However, even in these tough economic times, jobs are being created, many with Scottish Government support. Sainsbury’s has announced a further 1,300 jobs in Scotland by the end of 2010, Scottish and Southern energy has confirmed 250 new high quality jobs and safeguarded a further 70 at the £20 million Centre of engineering excellence in Glasgow and Tesco Bank has established their headquarters in Edinburgh as part of declared plans for 1,750 Scottish jobs.

And in the past month Ceridian has announced 200 new jobs in Renfrewshire, Total and Dong 500 in the Tormore gas field off Shetland and Integrated energy Systems International 400 in their proposed Biomass plant in Inverurie. The enormous potential of our energy sector has been confirmed by last year’s investment by Skykon in a new tower manufacturing facility in Kintyre and this month’s £14 million investment by BiFab to secure 400 jobs at the Fife energy Park.

We are directly supporting jobs in local communities through record investment in social housing, including the first substantial investment in council housing for decades. Our new initiative, the National Housing Trust, has the potential to provide thousands of new affordable homes to rent.

Connecting Scotland is also an important part of our approach to economic growth. The new Borders Railway will provide direct access for many communities to Edinburgh, boosting local jobs and local economies. Similarly, the faster journey times by train from Aberdeen and Inverness, the improvements on the A9 and A96 and the green light for the Aberdeen by-pass will also deliver social and economic benefits for communities in the north and north east. and we will take forward the crucial Forth Replacement Crossing, in the face of the cuts proposed by the government in London.

Education and Skills

Our economic Recovery plan is also supporting thousands of new training places, including 20,000 apprenticeships this past year, exceeding our target by well over 1,000. and through the Scottish budget this year, we have invested once again in modern apprentices and in our universities and colleges.

In the year ahead, Scottish students will get new financial support, with a £30 million package to increase their income through grants and loans. The SNP will not introduce tuition fees or top up fees and will oppose any changes in English fees arrangements that have the knock on effect of reducing funding for Scotland through the Barnett formula, as we have done previously. And we are strengthening education for young people through the 16+ Learning Choices to offer a place of learning to every young person as they reach the end of their compulsory school years. These initiatives are a crucial part of recovery, because it is only through a highly educated and skilled population that Scotland will truly flourish in the future.

And we are also working to improve the life chances of young Scots, with an increase in the number of free hours of nursery education. Class sizes in primary schools are at a record low and we are working with local government to make more progress to deliver our pledge of class sizes of 18 or less in P1 to P3. These are exactly the sort of important public services that our MPs will work to protect by offering an alternative to the London parties’ agenda of cuts. And we will protect our planned £1.25 billion investment in even more new and refurbished schools in the years ahead as we work to remove the backlog of repair and rebuilding that has grown up over the past decade. Since taking office, we have built or substantially refurbished schools at a faster rate than before - 260 schools across Scotland with over half financed using traditional borrowing or NPD.

Innovation and the industries of the future
We are also investing in innovation and the industries of the future. We have launched the £10 million Saltire Prize to provide the largest innovation prize for marine renewables, and established a new £12 million fund for research and development putting Scotland at the forefront of this emerging and potentially planet saving technology. The Saltire Prize has already seen 146 expressions of interest from 27 different countries, and we are proud to be working with experts from around the world and with National Geographic, one of the largest scientific and educational institutions in the world, to promote and develop this initiative.

Since May 2007 Scottish Ministers have consented 29 renewable and 1 non-renewable application under section 36 of the energy act – over 2 GW of consented capacity. We are approving projects more quickly than ever before – averaging 10 a year compared to just 4 in the final year of the previous administration.

Plans to harness over 11 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2020 could deliver up to 20,000 jobs across the supply chain, and over £30 billion investment in Scotland’s economy. and the recent announcement of 10 project agreements under the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters leasing round with Crown estate will generate 1.2 GW of wave and tidal marine energy off Scotland’s north coast, as well as the potential to create 2,600 jobs and investment of up to £4 billion by 2020. Our nation has no less than 25% of Europe’s offshore renewable resource. Scotland’s marine environment is undoubtedly one of our most prized assets and alongside incentives for new oil recovery we believe the offshore taxation regime should also support the development of Carbon Capture and Storage. Our vision is for Scotland to be an integral part of a North Sea CO2 storage hub – delivering the transportation links and storage sites and benefiting from the potentially multi-billion pound investment in research.

Scotland has the know-how and the geography to be a world leader in this - and other - offshore energy technologies and it is an opportunity we must take full advantage of in the decade to come. Investment today will deliver greater returns – in jobs and revenues – tomorrow. And it is clear, given this huge opportunity and potential to generate up to 10 times Scotland’s own electricity requirements there is no need for new nuclear power stations.

Supporting the rural economy
Scotland has huge strengths and enormous potential and that must be translated into greater prosperity and opportunity for hard-working families and individuals in communities across our nation. In the months ahead we will be taking forward the £1.5 billion rural development programme investment, with millions more invested in rural businesses and local economies across Scotland. Initiatives such as the Pack Inquiry are designed to maximise the impact of government support in our farming community and we will work with the industry to deliver a package that bests suits Scotland’s needs.

Fishing contributes hundreds of millions to our economy every year and provides tens of thousands of jobs. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) forces fishermen to throw away about half the whitefish caught at a cost of some £60m. These discards are at the heart of the CFP’s failure. They represent a moral and environmental obscenity and stopping these discards is one of the keys to securing a more prosperous and sustainable future for Scots fishermen. The Scottish Government is working with the fishing industry and environmental groups to take forward measure such as CCTV, selective gear and real time closures and we believe this is the way forward so our fishermen can land more and earn more without the damage to the stocks that discards represent. We oppose the CFP and believe it should be replaced so that there is a bigger say for our fishing communities, more regional management and power over fisheries returned to Scotland. And the ongoing review gives us the opportunity to present this radical case.

Clearly Scotland’s rural communities and economy have specific needs and the SNP is working hard for rural interests. That is why we have introduced road equivalent tariff on routes to the Western Isles, and will look to protect this important initiative from the proposed Labour and Tory cuts.

A healthier Scotland
Spending in our NHS is at record levels and it is to protect this funding that the SNP is offering an alternative to the planned Labour and Tory cuts. As part of our commitment to direct more to the frontline and protect the things that are most important, we will take forward vital investment including our £1 billion programme of new community health facilities through the Scottish Futures Trust and the £840m new Southern General hospital in Glasgow. Our new Patients Rights Bill will introduce new health rights for the people of Scotland including waiting time guarantees. This will build on a record that has already seen big reductions in waiting times. The waiting times for outpatient appointments and for inpatient/day case treatment are each down to a maximum of 12 weeks and we intend to go further - by next year, no patient will wait more than 18 weeks in total from being referred by a GP to receiving the treatment they need.

We have also reduced waiting times for cancer treatment. The NHS is now working towards a maximum waiting time for cancer of just 31 days from when the decision is taken to treat a patient to the treatment being started. We have also taken steps to improve the availability of cancer drugs.

We have trebled spending on tackling hospital acquired infections and introduced the first independent inspection regime to ensure the highest possible standards of cleanliness in our hospitals. This is a key priority for the SNP in government and we will work to build on the recent welcome reductions in infections. And we will move forward with our proposals to abolish prescription charges in 2011, as promised in 2007. We believe prescription charges are a tax on ill health and we are proud to stand for what is an essential principle of a health service free at the point of need. We will not let the London parties and their cuts undermine Scotland’s NHS.

We are also taking action to improve health, prevent ill-health and tackle health inequalities. We are acting to tackle obesity and promote physical activity. We are also acting to tackle the health impact of tobacco, with legislation to restrict cigarette displays and remove vending machines. And we are investing more than ever in rehabilitation so that drug addicts can kick the habit.

Safer Communities
When the SNP came to office in 2007 many of Scotland’s streets were not safe. So we have been working hard to make them safer. We are taking forward proposals to tackle alcohol misuse including a policy of minimum pricing that is targeted on the cheap alcohol that fuels so much of the anti-social behaviour and violence on our streets.

There is growing support, not only among health professionals and the police, but now also among the drinks industry including leading manufacturers and the licensed trade. And we are delivering additional policing capacity - more police officers, spending more time in our communities and on the beat. Currently, the number of police officers in Scotland is at 17,273 – 1,039 higher than when we came to office and more than the 1,000 extra we promised. Our MPs will do all they can to protect the funding for these officers who are making Scotland’s streets safer. And they will be working to protect investment in initiatives like the highly effective Violence Reduction Unit.

Under the SNP more knife carriers are being sent to jail and they are getting longer sentences. The average sentence for those sent to prison for carrying a knife has now increased from less than 4 months in 2003/04 to well over 8 months in 2008/09.

Scotland can be more successful
These are the sorts of initiatives – across the range of policy portfolios – that are important for the SNP and we believe for Scotland’s communities. They are designed to make Scotland the more successful country we know it can be.

They are initiatives we will continue to work hard to protect and deliver. At this election the people of Scotland are being asked to put their cross, not only beside a candidate, but beside a future. That is why, in this manifesto, we have set out a new vision for Scotland. Our nation deserves more than a decade of dismal cuts - a decade of wasted opportunities and lost hope. We can’t let the London parties make the wrong choices at the expense of Scottish communities. But there is another way. On polling day it is the people, not the politicians who have the power. And the people can give real power to Scotland.

This time, don’t just vote for a politician, elect a local champion, a national champion with the SNP.