Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Michael Moore needs to toughen up at Scotland Questions

To my shame, I have to confess that today was the first time I've ever watched Scotland Questions all the way through in this Parliament. I have usually been way too disorganised to find out when it was on and just caught the end when switching on for Prime Minister's Questions.

In the last Parliament, I got heartily fed up of listening to then Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy spouting pure poison, using the word patriot as if it were a political weapon and putting the emphasis on bashing anyone who dared disagree with him rather than actually answering questions in a constructive way.

Mike, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme, being ministerial and statesmanlike and not lowering himself to brash politics, apart from a couple of half digs about the deficit. He put in a competent performance asking the questions, but let both the SNP and Labour away with way too much. I'm thinking particularly on the issue of fuel duty. This Government has done more in 8 months on that issue than the last one did in 13 years, so Mike should take no nonsense on it from Labour.  And as far as the SNP is concerned, they dragged their heels and procrastinated, doing precious little to help George Lyon MEP build a case for derogation, as I wrote last year. If we don't pull them up every time they criticise, they will, by shouting loud enough, create the impression that they're the only ones who care about the issue when in fact, actions (or lack of them) speak much louder than words.

Bill Clinton needed a robust rapid rebuttal operation in 1992 to nip in the bud all sorts of nonsense that the Republicans were spreading about him. We need to do the same for the whole of the next 4 and a bit years, but especially in the run up to the Holyrood elections in May.

Other highlights of the session included questions from Mike Crockart (who resigned as Mike's PPS over tuition fees) and Mark Lazarowicz on whether the Green Investment Bank could be established in Edinburgh, a question on whether Prestwick Airport could be re-named Robert Burns Airport (sadly, not the Government's choice, but not a bad idea, to be honest) and Bob Smith securing a meeting with Mike over delays in high speed broadband in the north east.

There were plenty questions on the visit of the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister and the trade agreements which were made. I've written before that, however cute their pandas are, I feel quite uneasy about the amount of trade we're doing with them without challenging them on human rights. It as particularly galling today it took an English Tory to raise that as an issue. I was annoyed that there were comparatively few Liberal Democrats present. Jo Swinson I know had a school visit, but a few of them were missing.

It was, however, satisfying that those who were there did actually ask proper, testing questions, with no obsequious plants. Alan Reid added to the fuel duty angst, quite rightly, and Charles Kennedy pushed Mike quite hard on the effects on Scottish universities of the tuition system.

One final point, it was good that Mike kicked off proceedings with a tribute to former MSP and MP Phil Gallie who, one Labour MP said was more working class than most Labour MPs today. I didn't know him, but I've heard reports that he may have had some strange ideas, but he was essentially a good guy. It was a nice touch of Mike to pay such a warm tribute to him.


Anonymous said...

I knew Phil Gallie a bit - I first met him when I stood in our school mock election in Ayr in 1992 and my best mate was the Tory candidate. Phil came to visit and said hello to me.

I also dealt with him a bit when he was my local MP, especially when he became a minor anti-hero for abstaining on the vote to raise VAT on fuel from 8% to 15%, scuppering Ken Clarke's plans. He got a bit of a reputation as an almost-bovver boy/garagiste supporter of the Tory Ministers in the Commons during questions. I have a letter from him telling me that a Freedom of Information Bill would be a "bureaucratic nightmare", which I remember telling him about later when he was an MSP and Jim Wallace introduced it. And in 1996 he, Brian Wilson and I spoke in a debate on the Constitutional Convention proposals at the Station Hotel in Ayr before the (don't laugh) Grand Orange Order.

And in 1997 I was Clare Hamblen's (as she then was) agent in Ayr against him. It was obvious he was going to lose: he had a majority of 85, the Labour tide was massive and to add to it all, boundary changes had turned it into a notional Labour seat by about 2,000. Of course he had some silly right-wing views but I felt a little bit sorry for him then - he was clearly a hard-working constituency MP and he was a country mile better than Sandra Osborne, who won for Labour at a canter. She is regrettably a classic example of the dross Labour puts up in its safe seats. Fourteen years now in Parliament and I can't remember a single useful or memorable thing she's done.

But despite this Phil kept up his spirits and was warm and generous company. I don't think the Tories really knew what to do with him - he was real working class, not a snob at all, and hadn't even made himself a millionaire before becoming a Tory. I think he was more of the classic Orange unionist, perhaps more suited to a raft of Tories in the Glasgow seats from a generation or two beforehand (like Teddy Taylor).

I think most who knew him would think of him as a really nice and genuine guy, prone to the occasional rant in debates, and holder of some odd views, but who really cared about politics, about the Commons, and the area he represented. If Mike conveyed that today then I absolutely agree.

DougtheDug said...

Mike, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme, being ministerial and statesmanlike and not lowering himself to brash politics...

Ah yes. The statesman who wrote a letter breaking the confidentiality request to John Swinney which accused the SNP of letting the SVR power lapse in 2007 and not keeping up the payments.

No mention that it was the Lib-Labs who let the power lapse in 2007 and that the HMRC wanted £7 million for an upgrade they'd made and as it turns out couldn't make the system work even if they'd been paid the money from the start. Michael should have checked more carefully with his Treasury buddy Danny Alexander before he wrote the letter.

Not a very ministerial episode but very Lib-Dem.

Richard Thomson said...


With respect, this is an issue for Westminster. Lib Dems are in Government, you have a Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury representing a large rural seat, yet still, no application has been made to the EU to obtain this derogation.

I'd be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one if it weren't for the fact that the only significant movement on pricing policy has come from the Tories, who miraculously, now appear to see benefits in the 'Fuel Duty Regulator' that the SNP's Stewart Hosie has tried to insert into each of the last 5 Finance Bills.

Your party spent the last election tipping cold water over the idea of a regulator, at the same time as punting this derogation as the answer to high fuel prices in rural mainland Scotland. Now, we find, it will only apply to Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and the Isles of Scilly.

That might be worthwhile in itself, but when are the Lib Dems going to fess up to the fact that none of Danny Alexander's constituents, nor any of the Aberdeenshire petrol stations I fill up at, are ever going to see the benefits of any rural derogation?


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