Thursday, May 31, 2012

Holyrood honours the Queen

I've just been reading through the Parliamentary Debate which honoured the Queen's Diamond Jubilee yesterday. Each Party leader, including Patrick Harvie, made a short speech and I felt that they captured what the Queen means to Scotland and its people. Even though they weren't all united - Patrick wanted to discuss the possibility of an independent Scotland not having the Queen as Head of State. I'd have quite liked to have seen that pressed to a full debate, just to see whether the SNP would have held together. You get the impression that some of them aren't so keen on the "don't scare the horses" strategy taken by their leaders.

For the record, I would quite happily see us do away with the Monarchy. I'm not into inherited position. However, I realise that I'm in a significant minority. I have two options. I can sit and strop because I'm not getting my way, or I can appreciate the hard work that the Queen and members of her family do. The second option isn't really that hard to choose.

Having said all that, Alex Salmond gave a really good and warm speech. I loved the references to the previous Diamond Jubilee, of Victoria, in Scotland - and how there was a plot afoot to embellish Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen but it was his genuine appreciation of the Queen's relationship with Scotland that made me pleased.
Of course, many things do change. Over the six decades of the Queen’s reign, Scotland has altered dramatically and for the better. Constants have been the Queen’s dedication, impartiality and service. On her coronation day, the Queen said to her people:
“I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
Perhaps the highest praise that can be given to the Queen is that, throughout her reign, she has lived up to that pledge. 
Today, the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to place on record our respect, admiration and gratitude for that service. In doing so, we recognise that, although the Queen is the head of state of 16 different nations and the head of the Commonwealth of 54 nations, she has always been a particular friend of Scotland. Indeed, she is more than a friend—she is family. She performed her first official opening duty here in October 1944, when she opened the Aberdeen sailors’ home. On one of her first engagements following her coronation, more than 60,000 Scots packed into Hampden park to welcome her on a visit to Glasgow. We look forward with particular pleasure to welcoming her back to Glasgow and Hampden park in 2014 for the opening of the Commonwealth games.
Willie Rennie gave a really sympathetic insight into what the Queen's life has been like, even talking about the risks she's faced, her own daughter being kidnapped in the Mall and finding Michael Fagan in her bedroom that morning. He talked about her bringing "real joy" to people's faces.

 I thank the First Minister for the gifts that he has chosen, which I think will gain widespread approval across Scotland. They are appropriate for the occasion, and I thank the First Minister for choosing well.

The Queen did not choose this life. Neither she, nor her father before her, expected to fulfil the role of monarch. It is against that backdrop that we judge and admire Her Majesty’s commitment to public service. I enjoy going to events such as the Fife show or to places such as Carnegie College. I enjoy meeting people on such occasions, but I think that I would find it hard if I faced doing that almost every day for the next 42 years, as I would have to do to match the Queen’s diary. If I particularly enjoyed a visit, I would not be able to extend it to find out a bit more about what went on behind the scenes, as I can do as a private citizen. If I did not like something, I would not be able just to nip off early and go to something else or go for a cup of tea. I would have to stay, do my duty and do the right thing, as the Queen has done for the length of her service. She has committed so much in personal duty and service.

My point is that although, from the outside, her life might look fantastic with all the palaces and the jewels, she took the role on at the age of 26 and could have given it up when she was 60, 70 or 80 but did not. She has chosen to carry on and to continue her service, despite the evident downsides. In 1974, her daughter was almost kidnapped. The security threats are real; she has faced intruders in her home.

Even today, after 60 years, the Queen brings more to public life than people ever expect. When we leave the Parliament late in the evening, we see people from all backgrounds leaving the Palace of Holyroodhouse after enjoying a reception in the palace or its gardens. It is clear that her hospitality goes way beyond what people expect. Across the country, when the Queen goes on visits, she brings joy to people’s faces and manages to create excitement and a real sense of celebrity. We should never ignore and should always admire that.

We should also remember how well judged her attendances at the Scottish Parliament always are. She displays poise and her speeches are always of the best class. The Queen always delivers much more than people expect. Therefore, after 60 years, on her diamond jubilee, it is right that Parliament takes time to mark and appreciate the service of Her Majesty.

I wasn't particularly struck by either Ruth Davidson's or Johann Lamont's speeches on this occasion. They didn't say anything  bad - more that they didn't say much at all. There just didn't seem to be any heart in them. 

I liked the presents that have been given - frugal by royal command - a redesigned garden at Holyrood Palace, a donation to a veterans' charity and an app celebrating the Queen and Scotland. I'm assuming it's the one called Queen of Scots which is free. Having looked at it, I could have done more with it given half a chance. It's a bit thin on detail - and there's nothing about Balmoral, or Crathie or the Braemar Gathering, for example. 

This weekend I'll certainly be raising a glass to toast a remarkable woman who has been at the forefront of the nation for all my life and beyond.  The first time I ever saw her was when she came up to take Prince Edward to Gordonstoun. I must have been 4 or 5. I remember being in a crowd queueing near the station in Inverness to see her. When I spent my Summers in Braemar working at the Youth Hostel, it was an everyday occurrence to see various royals driving or walking around the place. She has been prepared to change with the times and listen. I wish she'd do the one thing she's never done, though. I think an interview about her life would be absolutely fascinating. I hope that at some point we will hear what she has to say on the main events of her reign. 

The final proof that I was right over Yes Scotland's web scam - attacked by Newsnet Scotland

So, Yes Scotland has been forced into a third climbdown and has said it will no longer harvest the details of its Twitter followers. In the future, those pictured on the website will have signed up actively in some way to support the campaign or have signed the Declaration of Cineworld. I get a mention in the article in the Herald. I take slight offence to not getting any credit in the Scotsman article. 

For me the final proof that I actually had a point comes from a post on that Cybernats' Haven, Newsnet Scotland.  When I went to the Political Innovation day in Edinburgh in November 2010, Joan McAlpine was waxing lyrical, at length, about how fabulous this website was. This is the same Joan McAlpine who thnks that if you don't agree with SNP policy, you're anti Scottish and that the union compares to an abusive relationship. This is also the same Joan McAlpine whom Alex Salmond refuses to sack despite her outbursts and also discourtesy to Parliament.

The Newsnet article is hilarious. It accepts that NationBuilder counts Twitter followers as supporters, a point still being denied by Yes Scotland as recently as yesterday, but it tries to portray it as a denial of what I was saying. They also spell my name wrong.

Harvesting people's personal information without their consent, then creating them a profile that they didn't know about and putting their avatars on the front page of a site under a banner which implies support is devious and underhand, whoever does it.

I've been accused on Twitter of not attacking Labour for doing the same thing when they apparently used similar software. You can bet your life that if I'd ever been made aware that I was being used to promote the Labour party that I would have been as livid, but to my knowledge this has never happened. Nobody ever told me they saw me on the Ken for Mayor site, even though I was following him on Twitter.

It's hardly like I have any input at all in whatever software Labour use anyway.

The comments on this Newsnet Scotland piece would also be funny if they hadn't been made in all seriousness by people:

The YES campaign needs to be whiter than white until or unless there is a Damascene conversion in some of the MSM and a more balanced presentation of the issues is made. I will not wait for that to happen though (Hell and frost come to mind).

So they shouldn't behave with integrity because it's the right thing to do, but only until the media starts to agree with them and then they can unleash whatever dark arts they like? Lovely.

I know, though, that this is only a passing story. This is not the stuff of discussing Scotland's future, as The Shoogly Peg has pointed out. But I think it is important to spend some time ensuring that the ethical basis on which the campaign is being fought is fair and right. At least a woman's voice has been heard somewhere in the vicinity of the referendum campaign. And The Burd and I have plans to up the quality of the debate on the actual issues over the Summer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on Yes Scotland's dodgy digital dealings #yesscam

So, after my mother of all blog rants about Yes Scotland portraying its Twitter followers as supporters, and its son, in which I told you that they had at least partially climbed down by altering their site, there have been more developments today.

Last night they altered the wording near the photographs to read that they were followers on Twitter and Facebook. Today, in a further climbdown, they have removed the words "Powered by people o'independent mind like you." They've also changed the wording to "Already thousands have followed Yes Scotland. Here are some of them."

While yesterday's statement from Yes Scotland had an element of bluster about it, their latest is at least a little more humble: is an organic site which is constantly evolving and improving to keep up with demand and great ideas as it is powered by the people who use it. We welcome all feedback and are constantly striving to improve the site.
As it happens, I don't think they've gone far enough, even with their latest improvements. I won't be happy until they are only including the photos on their page of people who have in some way actively signed up to support them, joining the website directly or signing the Declaration of Cineworld. I still think it's a bit misleading and could lead to confusion as it is.

This has been getting some coverage across the media, too. First of all there was the Scotsman article. Then the STV website did this report which has an interview with Yours Truly.

And finally, with a bit of a melodramatic headline, I wrote the whole thing up at Liberal Democrat Voice. I tell you this more than anything as an excuse to show you what Lord Bonkers tweeted about it. Made me howl.

It's good to know that should I ever be banished to a cellar in Brute House (the First Minister's residence for those of you south of the border), that Jonathan would come to my rescue.

And, finally, and I'm really sorry about this, Kate, it seems that Yes Scotland can't even keep their actual supporters happy. There are clearly gremlins in that Nation Builder software, as Kate Higgins tweeted earlier:

Complaint upheld against SNP's Rob Gibson, caught using expenses to fund SNP candidates

Just a quick update on a story I brought to you last month about SNP MSP Rob Gibson. He used adverts, funded by the Scottish Parliament, for his surgeries which included some heavy duty promotion of his staff who at the time were standing as candidates for Highland Council. Both were subsequently elected.

At the time, Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott complained to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body. The minutes of their most recent meeting have been published and show that:
The SPCB agreed to uphold complaints received about adverts placed by Rob Gibson MSP on the grounds that the adverts breached the guidance on the use of parliamentary resources. The SPCB also agreed to consider the wider issue of surgery advertising at a future meeting.
A spokesman for Tavish Scott and the Scottish Liberal Democrats said in response to this:
This was a clear breach of Scottish Parliament rules. Mr Gibson must have known that he could not promote SNP candidates using taxpayers’ money but chose to give it a go and hope that no one would notice.
People did notice and the Scottish Parliament has rightly ruled against him. It will be interesting to see how the SNP candidates in question account for the cost of these ‘adverts’ on their election expenses.
I'm sure a close eye will also be kept on the election expenses of every SNP candidate in Central Scotland after this advertisement appeared in the Metro the day before the Council election.
As there are no national campaign expenses during a local election, the cost is surely attributable equally among all candidates in the circulation area.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

So, Yes Scotland's failure is my fault....even though they've altered their site

Apparently, if I don't like the fact that Yes Scotland want to take my photo, stick it on their site & imply I'm backing them, I should 'gie's some peace' and stop following Yes Scotland's Twitter account. That's the feedback I got from one Nationalist tweeter. Here's a novel idea - why don't they simply stop misrepresenting people's views. It's quite simple! The number of e-mails circulating with variations of the theme 'cheeky so and sos' between people in the same boat has been quite amusing. It takes some nerve to manipulate the intention of people who have legitimate professional or political reasons for keeping tabs on them. The Yes Campaign have tonight issued a statement: is open to all people who want to find out about the many benefits of an independent Scotland, including 15,000 supporters who have already signed the Yes Declaration and followers, people of 'independent mind', who are not counted as supporters, and who have connected with Yes Scotland through our website, Facebook page or twitter account simply to find out more."
This is garbage. There is no distinction on the site between followers and supporters and they should remove the Twitter photos until only those who have signed up as supporters or signed the Declaration of Cineworld are shown. Interesting, too, that only 15,000 have signed when SNP has over 20,000 members.

  G's Spot has Willie Rennie's reaction:

They tried to rig the referendum, now they are rigging the website.   “Following an individual or group on Twitter should not be misrepresented as support.   “The Yes Scotland website fails to make this distinction and implies that everyone who follows the campaign supports the campaign.   “This is an underhanded way to pad out numbers to make it look like more people support the break-up of the UK than is actually the case.” 

 Thing is, this lot have form on, er, portraying the most optimistic view of their support. Remember when it was revealed that the Scottish Government's consultation was accepting multiple anonymous responses? 

They have now changed their site to add in that the pictures represent people following on Facebook & Twitter. I don't think that's enough. A Twitter follow is like a tracking device. A Facebook like is, for me, more of a statement of positive intent. That's not how others see it, though, as the feedback I've had on Twitter suggests that others use Facebook likes as another way to find out what's going on. To put it beyond doubt, Yes Scotland should restrict the photo sharing to those who signed the Declaration of Cineworld. That would be the honest thing to do.

Yes Scotland must be desperate.......

Now, dear reader, you may not know me very well, but I would have thought that you would have realised that I was, to say the least, unlikely to be supportive of independence.

Why, then, in the name of the wee man (no, not our First Minister), is my photo appearing on the Yes Scotland website under a caption saying "Powered by people o' independent mind, like you"?

There I am, fifth from the left.I have to thank Jamie Glackin for disturbing my nice peaceful lunch by telling me about this.

Now, it's my Twitter avatar, which made me realise that they must be feeding in the photos of everyone who follows them on Twitter. Nice way to massage your numbers, people!

I mean, I follow lots of people on Twitter that I don't agree with:

  • Mitt Romney
  • Larry the Downing Street Cat
  • Ed Miliband
  • Tom Harris
  • Louise Mensch
  • Nicola Sturgeon
are just a few examples.

I even follow some people I absolutely can't stand. That'll be you, Lewis Hamilton and Daily Mail.

Following on Twitter should never be taken as an indication of support.

I mean, it would be different if I'd signed the Declaration of Cineworld, or liked them on Facebook, or something, but I haven't and I never would. 

What's even funnier is that they've made me a profile page on their website - which I was never, ever aware that they were going to do - which awards me "political capital" points for tweeting about them. So far, I've amassed 50. But I was taking the mickey out of them, because one they've posted is about me being amused about their launch being on Towel Day.

The idea that I am somehow powering the independence campaign is ridiculous. Apart from anything else, we all know it's being financed by rich mainly men, some of whom don't even live here. That'll be you, Mr Connery. And then you had Brian Cox and Alan Cumming speaking the other day, and they don't live here either, though Cumming is, admittedly, coming  back at some point. I guess they need every vote they can get. If Connery moves back prior to 2014, we'll know they're really toiling for support.

So, beware when you hear the Yes campaign bragging about how many supporters it has. They are counting the electronic equivalent of someone taking a leaflet off them in the street. I guess with the recent poll showing that only 27% of women and 33% generally are in favour of independence with a whopping 57% against. 

This is the latest instalment in the tragicomedy of errors which has marked the launch of the Yes campaign. First there was the virtually all male line up in the dingy cinema and now the wishful thinking of their NationBuilder software.

 Not an inspiring start. It makes it all the more important that the pro UK campaign is competent, positive, balanced and engaging.

Nick Clegg in secret courts victory - but the debate is not over

If you doubt the Liberal Democrat influence in this Coalition Government, look no further than today's news about how the Government has moderated its plans on secret courts in three important ways at the insistence of  Nick Clegg.

The key concessions won by the Liberal Democrats are:
  • inquests have been removed from the plans 
  • judges rather than ministers to make call about whether secret evidence can be used
  • the definition of when they can apply is narrowed from public interest to national security
Now, I'd say most liberals and Liberals will still feel very queasy about plans to use the "Closed Material Procedures" at all. They would come into play during any civil case where evidence from the security services would be required and it was deemed that national security was at stake. This evidence would be only heard by the Judge and a Government appointed Special Advocate. The person who brought the claim against the Government would not be present, nor would they be allowed, ever, to find out what was discussed.

The whole point of our Court system is that both sides have the chance to test all of the evidence. You make your claim, for example "that big boy hit me and ran away". You would tell how that happened, showing pictures of your injuries, explaining the circumstances. The big boy (or his lawyers) then has the right to trash your story, say it was someone else and he was three miles away eating a McDonalds at the time or whatever and  his claims are then tested in turn.  You know the drill. We've all watched enough Rumpole, Crown Court or Silk. This procedure is used in a limited number of immigration and other cases and the proposal to extend it across all civil proceedings is worrying. It would make it so much harder for claimants to prove Government wrongdoing such as complicity in torture.

While I don't feel comfortable with the changes at all, I am glad that the Liberal Democrats have made significant changes to the original plans which limits the Government's scope for hiding what they have been up to. 

"Nick Clegg made clear that he would not let security concerns erode the principle of open justice. t Quote"He wants to encourage continued debate during the passage of this bill to ensure that the difficult balance between security and liberty is got right."
So, despite the concessions he has managed to get, Nick Clegg will still be looking for further changes during the passage of the Bill.

One thing I'm not so clear about - I've heard a few civil liberties this morning talking about how the old system of Public Interest Immunity certificates could continue to be used instead. Now that the test is national security rather than public interest in the proposed Bill, would that not mean that an amended Bill would be preferable?

There need to be more safeguards - particularly with regards to the Special Advocates who, according to Liberty, are less than happy with the way the system operates in the few cases where it applies now. However, we need to remember this hard won Liberal Democrat stamp of authority when we write up our "Horrors of a Tory Britain - what might have been" book ahead of the next election.

Why I always stay in the cinema till the very last credit has rolled....

Last night Scotland Tonight was looking at the best Scottish movie of the Queen's reign and came up with the harrowing and gripping Trainspotting. I watched that on video on a Sunday afternoon and was traumatised by it. It always tops these sorts of polls and it deserves to, having been nominated for an Oscar.

It's hard to argue with that choice - although for me, first love never dies and Gregory's Girl (and that penguin).

But if you're looking for Scots born input into movies, may I introduce you to a man called Peter Lindsay who's worked on the sound on some pretty iconic films of the last couple of decades? From The Wings of the Dove to Brassed Off to Batman Begins to Miss Potter to the Queen to Mrs Henderson Presents to Salmon Fishing in Yemen and Sherlock Holmes, he's amassed quite a CV which you can see here on IMDB.

And, if you're wondering, yes, he is a relation - my uncle. He's lived in Northern Ireland for a long time now, but he was brought up in Inverness. When I was a little girl I used to love it when he and my Auntie Barbara used to come over for visits and take me out. He's also a massive F1 fan and I really enjoyed chatting about this very exciting season at my sister's wedding last month.

Anyway, you now know the reason I never, ever leave a cinema until I've read every single credit. There's a huge crew behind a movie but often it's only the lead actors we acknowledge. There's a crew of hundreds behind them and I feel that if they've put the work in, then the least I can do is see who they are.

Monday, May 28, 2012

UK Uncut should not have been protesting at Nick Clegg's house

I have been absolutely appalled by some of the stuff I've seen from supporters of UK Uncut in defence of their protest outside Nick Clegg's house.

Some people think that, because children are having to suffer the impacts of cuts in benefits, that Nick Clegg's children are fair game. Like they had any influence in the tough decisions of Government that have to be made. Have a look at some of the comments on Richard Morris' New Statesman piece. 

Others think that it was just an innocent street party and 400 people turning up in a quiet residential street was just fine. The Clegg family was not home - but what if they had been? What about their neighbours? Whatever you might think about Government decisions, politicians' partners and children should not have had their lives disrupted.

Imagine if they had been home when these 400 people descended? The children are 10, 8 and 3. To a 3 year old, people outside having a go at your daddy, however nice they think they're being, could be really scary, the stuff of weeks of nightmares.

Now, note that I am not saying that such protests should be illegal, but with rights come responsibilities. UK Uncut have done their cause no good whatsoever this weekend - and that's a shame because when it comes to some of the welfare reform cuts, as you know, I agree with them.

UK Uncut will have had to have distributed Nick Clegg's private address to a fairly large number of people, for a start, the 400 there and anyone they tell. How can they guarantee the conduct of every single person who would turn up. It was ok this time, but at some point, if this continues, someone will turn up with malevolent intent.

I have an extremely low opinion of The Scoundrel Formerly Known as Sir Fred Goodwin, but when protesters attacked his house in Edinburgh, they were not making a point. They were committing acts of vandalism.

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens, told me on Twitter to get a grip when I suggested that Saturday's protest was completely out of order. I wonder how he'd like it if they were outside his house and he needed to go somewhere. But then Patrick Harvie has never taken any Government responsibility in his life.

My local SNP Councillor Andrew Miller took a different view on Facebook. He's happy for me to quote him here:
Surely being a politician is his job, not his life. Protest, harass and harangue him all you like when he's at his job but leave him alone when he's at home or any other personal time. 
People have an easy target in politicians but how would anybody here feel if it was decided to be acceptable that customers from your every day work were allowed to come to your house?
 Nick, himself, has been much more measured about the whole thing than I am. He said on Andrew Marr yesterday that he didn't really feel he should comment on it, but said that he and his wife had deliberately decided not to move into a Government flat because they wanted their kids to have a normal life. It would be a shame if they had to disrupt their lives because of the intimidating and bullying tactics of protesters. And that's what it is.

All Governments are protested against - and so they should be. When it turns personal, and private worlds are invaded, including those of innocent neighbours and family members, it goes too far. It becomes intimidation. That's not the sort of country we want to become, whatever the issue.

Apparently, according to some, the protesters are justified because the people live in £1 million houses. That they think they're fair game makes it all a bit more sinister.

Many of the people who've lost their ESA or will lose DLA have a point. I would be there with them. But never, ever outside a private home.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nick Clegg on Andrew Marr this morning - Eurozone, human rights, immigration and vested interests

Another superb performance from Nick Clegg on Andrew Marr this morning. As befits someone who was there when the Euro was born, working for then EU Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittain, he showed that he really knows his stuff on the decisive reforms needed to sort the crisis out.

I did for a moment think that I'd have liked him to say that we wouldn't put up with any stupid Tory ideas to curb immigration, but his take on this was to try to calm the "breathless hysteria" of the press. Picking a fight with Theresa May on live tv maybe wasn't the best way to accomplish that. I have confidence that he'll allow common sense to prevail.

Other highlights were a very clear statement that he didn't think a free vote on equal civil marriage was necessary as religious people weren't being asked to sacrifice anything and an attack on vested interests in politics and how 2 years in Government has made him even more convinced of their pernicious influence.

He didn't say that much about the demo outside his house yesterday. He really just said that he and Miriam had decided that their kids should have as normal a life as possible and that's why they hadn't gone and moved into a Government flat when he became Deputy Prime Minister. For what it's worth, I think UK Uncut went too far. Politicians' houses should be off limits. Yes, they have a right to peaceful protest, but they should exercise it with some responsibility.

Anyway, here are my tweets from the interview, as is my custom, in a wee Storify thingy. Hope you find them useful.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cut Tim Farron a bit of slack over accreditation!

As you know, I am very much opposed to accreditation for party members for our Conference. When I had the chance to vote on it as a member of FFAC, I opposed it and would do so again - every time. This afternoon, Tim posted on Liberal Democrat Voice that he had secured exemptions for those who had "identity related concerns". this would include transgender colleagues & people who needed to be sure previous identities were not revealed. I will let you into a little secret. I knew this was planned. When I was told about it, he very first thing I said was that people would have to out themselves & that the idea should be run past LGBT+. I was assured that it had been & they were happy with it. I was a bit surprised, but what do I know? LGBT+ will always know better than me and if they were happy, who was I to argue? It turns out that people are just as opposed, if not more, to this proposal, which is fair enough. Please, though, give Tim a bit of credit for trying to come up with something that would help the people who felt that accreditation would be dangerous for them. He didn't just pull the idea out of thin air. He consulted extensively with the organisation which is the party's expert on this. He may well have to go back to the drawing board, but he did the right thing. I was also much happier with the tone of today's article. Tim had the decency to apologise for Monday's which was well out of order.
Firstly let me say sorry for the tone of the original Lib Dem Voice article – reading it back last night and reading everyone’s comments for the second time in a week (I have to say I like reading but not commenting myself!) it really did strike me that the tone was very off; so let me apologise for that.
That's pretty unequivocal. Not everybody would acknowledge their mistakes (and it was only a third his) and say sorry. I'm impressed. We're not done with the accreditation process & I expect Tim will be having further discussions with people over the next few days. Watch this space. I wish we could just ditch the whole thing but I'm not hopeful of that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Some white men spoke in a cinema. #yesscotland

So the Yes Campaign has been launched for the Independence Referendum.

Before the question has been agreed. What if it ends up being "Do you want to be a part of the United Kingdom?" Mr Salmond will look a bit daft then. 

But, jokes aside, I actually felt a bit disappointed. I'm never going to support this lot, but I wanted them to come up with something I could feel jealous of. Instead loads of blokes spoke in a dingy cinema. For a campaign supposedly offering something liberating, fresh and new, this was just more of the same male, pale and stale politics we're used to. I know they don't want to scare the horses, trying to say that life in an independent Scotland would be much the same with the same money and the same Queen, but they had an opportunity to do something different and flunked it.

The keynote speakers were Alex Salmond, Patrick Harvie actors Brian Cox and Alan Cumming, Blair Jenkins, Tommy Brennan and Denis Canavan. and Liz Lochhead. There were songs from Dougie McLean and Lou Hickey. Sean Connery, a rich man who doesn't live here, sent a video message and Elaine C Smith, who does, sent another video telling everyone to sign the Declaration (of Fountainbridge)?

Regular readers will know how steamed up I get about predominantly male tv show discussion panels. I was surprised to see such a male dominated line up.  That is one very unhealthy vibe. It gives a signal that men have all the power in that organisation. If there's one thing I am determined to do over the next couple of years it's to ensure that women's voices and views are hardwired into this debate and on my side. The SNP know fine, though, that their message tends to persuade more men than women, so are they deliberately seeking to firm up male support?

I've had a wee look round their website which is pretty basic given the amount of time they have had to prepare. And I wonder if they are trying to annexe us to the USA, given that they're asking for State and Cell (Phone) numbers.

And one interesting observation. If you look at the Becoming Independent page, you find this:

The consultation on the rules and question for the referendum has now finished and the results will be published later this year. The Scottish Government will introduce the Referendum Bill into the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of 2013 and it will become law by the end of that year.
Note question, singular. Does this mean that they have conceded that there will be only one question?

 I had a bit of a giggle to myself when I realised that they were launching their campaign on Towel Day. This annual event to honour the memory of Douglas Adams encourages fans to carry a towel around all day. Apparently, according to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's the most practical thing in the universe if you're planning a crazy, unpredictable intergalactic voyage. 

Timing is everything. I don't get the desire to smash up a successful monetary and political union at a time when working together intra- and inter-nationally has never been more important, as we face the worst economic circumstances of our lifetimes. The union as it is is far from perfect, but if I have something that doesn't work as I want it to, I try to fix it. I don't break it up into pieces. 

Nothing I have seen from anyone in the SNP has come close to persuading me that there is any need for independence other than they want it. As a highlander, I have as much of an issue about being told what to do by Edinburgh as I do London. 

When we're seeing Greece fall apart, Italy ruled by technocrats, Spain's banks in a mess, all of which is going to have a huge knock on effect on the European economy, is it the right moment to cut loose? What will we be able to do as a new independent country? Are we not better to weather the storm as one nation while balancing the relationship between its member states? That sounds like the best of both worlds to me.

It's a very risky environment out there - and, frankly, a newly independent country, trying to find its feet in the world, would need more than a towel to cope with the economic storms which nobody expects to subside for  a good while yet.

Advocates of independence would say that's "talking Scotland down". It's not talking me down to suggest that I can't climb Everest. I wouldn't even try. I wouldn't want to. Just because something isn't a good idea for you, that doesn't mean that you are in any way deficient. I don't want to stay in the UK because I need Westminster to look after me - I just think that the partnership makes sense for both. 

Anyway, we have at least 27 months to have that debate - today, though, was a disappointment. I had expected better.

Willie Rennie calls for enquiry into Lockerbie prosecution

Willie Rennie used his slot at First Minister's Questions yesterday to call for an enquiry into the way the Lockerbie prosecution was carried out. I think this is very sensible given the six concerns raised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Governments are not very good at admitting to their mistakes - and most especially, justice systems are amongst the worst offenders. People can be deprived of their liberty for crimes they didn't commit. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, and when concerns are raised about the validity of prosecutions, it's really important that they are held to account. We've all seen cases where it's gone wrong - the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four.

With the Lockerbie prosecution, so much doubt remains over things like a break in at Heathrow where the luggage from Flight 103 was in transit, queries over the identification of Megrahi by the Malta shopkeeper and other things.

We need to be sure that the Crown Office and the Police did everything they should have done and if they didn't, there needs to be consequences and change.

What was interesting about their exchange yesterday is that Salmond was quite serious in his response. There was none of his usual bluster and point scoring and he actually answered the question:

Willie Rennie: The First Minister will have seen the open letter from 40 leading figures that calls for a Scottish public inquiry into the Lockerbie prosecution. The group made it clear that it wants a Scottish inquiry, whether or not there is an appeal.

The Scottish Government’s Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission identified six grounds for appeal, including the conduct of the Crown Office, withheld evidence and doubt about identification.

The First Minister has said that he would be prepared to co-operate with a United Kingdom inquiry. If he has no objection in principle to an inquiry, will he agree to hold the Scottish inquiry that the group wants?

The First Minister: The place where an individual’s guilt or innocence is determined is a court of law. As Willie Rennie should know, the relatives of Mr al-Megrahi have the ability, if they so choose, to go back to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and seek further leave to appeal. That is the process that can be followed. The Parliament would do well to take the view that a court of law is not just the best place but the only place to determine guilt or innocence.

Willie Rennie described the SCCRC’s report. The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is part and parcel of the Scottish judicial system. It exists to provide checks and balances in the system. It is right and proper for the SCCRC to refer cases back to the court of appeal, if it thinks that there is reason to do so. That does not automatically mean that cases will be successful on appeal—we should look at the record to see that.

Mr Rennie should in fairness note that, now that we have the full detail of the SCCRC report—as he knows, I campaigned for years to have it published—we can see that the forensic trail that led to Malta and Libya was upheld in the SCCRC’s exhaustive review. That is not always clear in the reporting about the report.

Willie Rennie: This is not just about guilt or innocence; it is also about the conduct of the Crown Office. Surely, a liberal society should be prepared to look hard at its justice system, even if it is worried about what it might find. Whether or not that is determined surely cannot be left in the hands of a family somewhere in Tripoli. If the First Minister chose to act on the inquiry, he would have the support of Desmond Tutu, Terry Waite, John Pilger and many others.

This is not a normal case; it is Scotland’s biggest terrorist atrocity. These are serious questions that have been raised by serious people, and the world is watching. Will the First Minister act?

The First Minister: I have no axe to grind as far as the Crown Office of 10 years ago is concerned. This Government was not in office then. There is no reason for me to be unreasonably protective of law officers, the Lord Advocate and members of the Crown Office from that time. However, the basis on which we must proceed is to see whether the appeals are exhausted within the system. It is not something that we can shrug aside and say that it should not be up to the family of Mr al-Megrahi whether they want to go back to the SCCRC. That is the process of Scots law. That is what the SCCRC is there to do. 

Given the exhaustive nature of the SCCRC report, the evidence that it compiled and the witness statements that it took over a period of years, we have every reason to suppose that it will do its job properly, as it clearly has done before. 

I ask Mr Rennie to remember that the SCCRC is part and parcel of our judicial system. It is not something that is outside the judicial system. The SCCRC is part of the judicial system.

The people whom Mr Rennie cited genuinely believe that Mr al-Megrahi was innocent. That is why they are arguing that case. The place to determine guilt or innocence is in a court of law. Other people who want an inquiry into Lockerbie are not looking for an inquiry into the points in the SCCRC report; they are looking for an inquiry into the ultimate responsibility for Lockerbie. That touches on matters of huge international import, and it would be beyond the ability of a Scottish inquiry to summon witnesses and compel evidence and so on in that context. That is why we have said, clearly, that we would co-operate with any such inquiry. However, if an application to determine the guilt or innocence of Mr al-Megrahi comes forward, that is a matter for the SCCRC, which is an independent body, and that is the process by which things can be properly pursued.

I don't think an investigation into the conduct of our prosecuting services should be dependent on whether Megrahi's family decides to appeal. If they have done things wrong, it's important for all of us to identify weaknesses in the system. After all, you might find yourself charged with something you hadn't done one day. You would want to be confident that you could expect a fair trial.

Willie said:
“A liberal society should be one that is prepared to look hard at its justice system, even if it is worried about what it might find.

 “I have called for a Scottish public inquiry into the Lockerbie prosecution. “The First Minister has the opportunity to shine a light onto the conduct of the Crown Office, which for years has been left blemished by the six separate grounds of appeal identified by the Government's own Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. “On matters which relate to the integrity, fairness and justice of the Scottish justice system, it is simply not good enough to leave this to a family in Tripoli.
"An inquiry into Scottish justice is not a matter to be left to a UK inquiry. It has the backing of 40 leading figures, is about Scotland's biggest terrorist atrocity and potential flaws have been identified by the Government's own review body. We need the First Minister to act."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Forget Paxman - which Liberal Democrat Voice editor featured at Leveson yesterday?

Everybody's talking about Jeremy Paxman's evidence at Leveson yesterday, where he described how Piers Morgan explained to him at a lunch how to hack somebody's phone and how people would be very stupid not to set a code. He wasn't telling us anything that wasn't already in the public domain, though. Piers Morgan talked about that himself in the first instalment of his own memoirs, The Insider, as far back as 2004.

The really interesting stuff from a Liberal Democrat Voice point of view happened when Andrew Marr gave his evidence. He was talking about the authority and credibility of the political blogosphere. Top left on page 83 if you don't want to read the whole thing.
"You look around and a lot of the most influential highly respected political commentators aren't newspaper journalists, actually, they are bloggers. I'm thinking of people like Tim Montgomery on Conservativehome or Mr Pack on the Liberal website."
Well, actually, Mr Marr, it's Dr Pack, but we'll let that one pass seeing as you were so nice.

It got me wondering what our Mark has said about Andrew Marr over the years.

In January this year, when Marr interviewed Nick Clegg, Mark commented t hat he must have been bidding for the highest number of topics in one interview.

Marr's comments yesterday were a big change from Autumn 2010 when he described bloggers as "inadequate, male, pimpled and single." Mark reminded him at the time that most bloggers are in fact female.  Now that Marr's  admiring the genre, he might want to diversify his reading list. He can start with Jennie

It appears to me that seeing as Mark has been cited as one of the most respected political commentators in the country, it wouldn't be a bad idea for him to head along to Leveson himself, especially as he has his own, liberal, perspective on how the media should be reformed post Leveson.

In the meantime, I guess it's chocolate milk shakes all round....

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It rained a bit...

Not very exciting, I know, but bear with me.

It's been a gorgeous day here. I, sadly, have had way too much to do to be out in it. But it was fine. When Anna went to Drama at 4:30, I'd lie out in the sun and read the book my Mum recommended & I have been wanting to read for ages. That, by the way,is 'Before I go to sleep' by S J Watson. There may even be sipping of Chardonnay.

So, I was just putting the finishing touches to my work when I heard a rattling in the conservatory. I realised it had gone from gorgeous sunshine to pouring rain in seconds.

I managed to rescue the bed linen from the washing line before too much harm had been done. Then the heavens really opened. Soon the water was almost ankle deep. The accompanying thunderstorm was very loud & very scary.

I texted Bob to commiserate that our night in the garden was not going to happen. He was mystified. He was barely 3 miles away & there was no sign of the storm. He couldn't believe the extent of the deluge!

I'd not seen as violent a rain storm in this country. It's the sort of thing I associate with Spain in May, not Scotland.

The heavens opened again as I went to pick up Anna. When I'd dropped her off, people had been enjoying barbecues in Howden Park, now it was a deserted, sodden, gloomy mess.

Facebook blames two things for this freak storm. Firstly, Anna's old primary school having its sports day tomorrow. Secondly, somebody organising a barbecue for tonight.

The moral of the story is not to waste a moment's sunshine. If it comes back tomorrow, I'll be out there with my book. After Free Practice from the Monaco Grand Prix, of course.

What's on Willie Rennie's Kindle?

There aren't very many people I know who don't have a Kindle or some other e-Reader. I have the Kindle App on my iPad but don't tend to use it very often because it's not really that comfortable. My main reason for avoiding getting my books in electronic form is because I worry about the effects on bookshops. I could spend a whole day quite happily browsing, picking up various books, admiring the covers, having a sneaky read. There is no greater therapy. What happens to them if we all download our books in the same format? It's not great for diversity.  I suspect I will have to succumb at some point, though because there simply isn't enough room in my house to accommodate all my books.

With that in mind, I caught up with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie who's loving the Kindle he was given last Christmas. What, I wondered, did he have on it?

It was the name Machiavelli that first caught my eye. Yes, our leader is reading The Prince. Everyone who has an interest in political philosophy has, though, haven't they?

As you'd expect from the leader of a Liberal Democrat party, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty is on there.
Willie is a very keen runner and is a regular competitor in the Scottish Coal Carrying Championships. It's no surprise, then to find to books on not just running, but serious, hardcore running. The first is Born to Run, the account of how Christopher McDougall learned about endurance running from the Tarahumara people in Mexico. The second, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all night runner  by Dean Kamazes chronicles the author running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. I guess leading the Scottish Liberal Democrats must feel like a test of endurance at times - but the indications are from reading these books that you get there in the end and are better for it.

Modern day politics next, former Labour MP's Chris Mullin's acclaimed diary, A View from the Foothills is next, and then the book The Coalition Chronicles by Ian Martin. The cover says it's "satirical, scatological and sexually explicit" so don't, whatever you do, buy this thinking it's factual.

I never really saw Willie as much of an Oscar Wilde fan. I love The Importance of Being Earnest but its inclusion on Willie's list was  surprising. Maybe he's more literary than I give him credit for.
The final selection was from the series that everyone's talking about, the first book in  Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

There's quite a balanced selection there, from literature to sport to fiction to politics - and the inclusion of a modern satire signifies the ability to laugh at yourself even in the current climate.
When  I go to people's houses, I invariably look through their bookshelves. I've quite enjoyed this 21st century equivalent. Perhaps I shall go and find some more Kindles to inspect...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Clegg has a right go at Lib Dem Peers over Lords Reform

I saw precious little of Deputy Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon. The phone rang even before it started and then I had to go off to do the school run.

However there were some wee gems in the few minutes I did manage to watch.

First of all, Nick Clegg was attacked on Lords Reform and reminded that some of our Peers are less than helpful on the subject. Nick decided that this was not a time for tact and subtlety:

"The power of a whiff of ermine on a person's views on this subject never ceases to amaze me."

I suspect that will seriously annoy certain  members of the House of Lords - not just those who are being obnoxiously stubborn in their refusal to go along with party policy. There are plenty others who feel unloved and unappreciated by the Party Leadership. A disdain for the institution doesn't necessarily have to mean disrespect of the people you put in it. There are a lot of good people in there and, a bit like the AV campaign painted all MPs as lazy, remote imbeciles who needed to work harder, Clegg's statements about the Lords in recent weeks does not reflect the hard and effective work they put in.

Having said all of that, I'm glad to see him come out with some robust statements, not just on this, but on Beecroft. When asked at DPMQs whether the Government was secretly planning to implement regional pay, his answer was a swift and emphatic "No." I just think that his language just needs a bit of fine tuning to reflect both the need for reform and the work of the many lifelong public servants who have done so much to enhance the laws of the land. Yes, of course they should be elected, but trashing our current Liberal Democrat incumbents can be ounter productive.

I have had enough of Liberal Democrats being horrible about other Liberal Democrats for one day.

Accreditation: the aftermath

I'm sure Duncan Greenland, Andrew Wiseman and Tim Farron were under no illusions that their announcement on Liberal Democrat Voice that accreditation has been approved would be met with universal acclamation within the Party. If they were, they'll probably be crying into their beer now. The lack of sensitivity, the inference that those of us who oppose accreditation don't care about the safety of staff came straight from the Jeremy Clarkson School of Charm. It was only ever going to outrage people.

So, a few observations.

However livid I might be with Tim Farron for putting his name to that deeply hurtful LDV article, you can't deny that when there's flack going round, he doesn't hide. He was out there facing his critics last night. And given that he'd just chaired a meeting of the Federal Executive, you have to admire his stamina. There was one fairly robust exchange with my fellow Federal Committee accreditation refusenik, Justine McGuinness.

He did, however, sit on there for hours and hours answering people and asking them to e-mail him.

Elsewhere on  the blogosphere:

Dan Falchikov does not mince his words;

Gareth Epps is as shy and retiring as ever. He also points out that some FCC members were not happy at the decision being made by FFAC and FE. They had expected to consult and then make the decision themselves on Saturday. I had thought that FCC had kicked it on to FFAC which could be seen as a wickedly clever move. Why make an unpopular decision when you can get the least accountable Committee in the Party, which has more MPs than elected representatives, to do it for you? Maybe I was being unfair in that assumption. However, I am in no doubt that if FCC had decided not to implement accreditation, somebody else, whether FFAC or FE, would have become involved.

That Saturday meeting of FCC seems like it's going to be interesting. Will there be resignations? We'll have to wait and see.

Complicity argues that the need for accreditation could actually put some people in danger.

Liberal England is not impressed by the insinuation in the LDV article.

Jennie remembers the words which brought her into the party.

A View from Ham Common says that Tim Farron is playing the Shirley Williams role.

Stephen Glenn says the case for accreditation is unproven.

Nick Barlow says that this issue is worth taking the time to consider.

The Widow's World laments "a disappointing decision made in an unsatisfactory fashion"

And, finally, I made up a Storify thingy which took the best of the comments on both sides from Twitter last night.

Lib Dems see off Beecroft Report

Tough though these last two year have been, there are some times I am really glad we are in there holding the Tories back.

Make no mistake, the proposals for employers to basically hire and fire at will, and for public bodies to privatise services without protection of employees' rights, having been received by the Government  last October, would have been in the Queen's Speech this May if it hadn't been for the Liberal Democrats.

It strikes me as very odd that people think that the reason we are in this mess is because our workers are lazy. I thought the evidence pointed to destructive and unwise actions of bankers out to make money for themselves. And then continuing to award themselves humungous bonuses.

Vince Cable was pretty clear yesterday when he said:
"British workers are very co-operative and they are very flexible, so we don't need to scare the wits out of workers with threats to dismiss them. It is completely the wrong approach."
Now Nick Clegg has made it clear that he opposes the plans:
 I don't support them and I never have, for the simple reason that I have not seen any evidence yet that creating industrial scale insecurity amongst millions of workers is a way of securing new jobs.
But my absolute very favourite is the unnamed Liberal Democrat MP who told Total Politics that the report was, frankly, s**t and started to pick on grammatical and spelling mistakes in it. Pure, dead, brilliant. There are so many of our lot that this could be, and I would certainly expect our lot to be as robust as that. It's nice when it happens though.

Thankfully, Beecroft and his mad ideas to make more money for the rich at the expense of those who actually do the hard work are set to be consigned to the recycling. Should the Tories ever find themselves governing alone, these will be back.

I think it would be good, though, if Vince employed Jennie as his SpAd. We'd have to get rid of that union proposal, of course, but her point is that it's possible to simplify regulations to the workers' benefit is a good one.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Who voted against Conference Accreditation?

As Treasurer of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I am a member of FFAC.

The Chairs of the Federal Executive, FFAC & Federal Conference Committee have explained on Liberal Democrat Voice that they gave decided to bow to Police demands that party members who register for Conference must go through Police accreditation.

Last week FFAC held a special meeting to discuss the issue of accreditation. I am not going to give a blow by blow account of what was a serious, intelligent discussion. That would breach confidentiality & it would be wrong of me to do that.

The minutes, however, say that the motion to agree accreditation was passed with one dissenting voice. Do you want to take a wild guess who that was? I tried, people, but I wasn't persuasive enough.

I am, however, deeply hurt at the inference in the Liberal Democrat Voice article that those who care about the safety of others, including party staff would choose accreditation.

Some of the people I care most about in the world will be at Conference. Some are there because they have no choice. I would never, ever put them at risk. And I don't believe, given all the evidence I have looked at over the past year, that accreditation makes anybody any safer.

I've tried to make my case with fairness and authenticity and without attacking others' motives. I genuinely feel this is the wrong choice. For me, it's the physical security that keeps us safe, not a bureaucratic exercise that gives the Police unwarranted influence over our internal democracy.

I was coping with being in a minority of one. I kind of expected it. I just feel incredibly sad and disappointed at the wording of that article tonight.

Let's do something to stop Glasgow subway photo ban

Cross Posted from Better Nation.

So, you're on the Glasgow subway with some friends and one of them does something cute or funny or otherwise worth recording for posterity. You take out your phone to capture the moment.....

What should happen next is....nothing. Life should go on as normal. However, if Strathclyde Partnership for  Transport gets its way, new bye-laws could mean that you're on a slippery slope to a £1000 fine. The operator has put their new proposals out for consultation and they include the controversial clause 12.1:
Passengers must not take photographs, or make video audio or visual recordings on any part of the subway.
There is a get out clause - but it involves you obtaining the written permission of SPT in advance. So much for spontaneity.

This brings to mind the situation under the last Labour Westminster Government when amateur photographers were apprehended by Police under the controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. This report from the Independent summarises how people innocently taking photographs of public buildings, tourist attractions and even a fish and chip shop found themselves being stopped and searched. By and large, although the law applied in Scotland, it was largely ignored. I wrote in 2010 that while over 200,000 people had been stopped south of the border, only 79 searches had been recorded here.

I always tend to take the view that if an authority is given a power, it will use it.That's why we need to make sure that any powers they have are both necessary and proportionate. Why, then, do SPT want this photo ban? According to Amateur Photograper, SPT said:

Our company policy has always been that consent must be sought prior to any photography taking place, and this is in line with security restrictions at any major transport hub, including railway stations, airports etc.
It also allows us to ensure that any such activity does not disrupt the operations of the network in any way.
How on earth the group of friends in my example could potentially disrupt the operation of the network in any way is beyond me.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was quick to condemn the proposals:
Whichever bright spark came up with this needs to be told to drop it. This kind of nonsense distracts from the real fight against crime and terrorism.

We have seen what happened in the past under the old Labour government. People were arrested under terrorism laws for wearing t-shirts lampooning Tony Blair or for shouting ‘nonsense’ at a conference. Strathclyde needs some strong liberal voices to shout ‘nonsense’ at this plan.
On Twitter, Education Secretary Mike Russell described the plan as "Utterly daft."

I'm sure that many people who aren't involved in politics will agree that this restriction is ridiculous.

It doesn't have to be this way

Happily, there is something we can do about this. If you agree with me and the many others on Twitter yesterday who thought the proposal is a piece of nonsense, you can respond to the consultation on it and the rest of the bye-laws by 15th June. 

The photography ban is only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the other proposed  bye-laws, also carrying a potential £1000 fine for their breach, are equally questionable. Failing to report lost property to a member of staff, singing, using musical equipment in a way which might annoy a reasonable person, being drunk (which isn't defined, but may well apply to a fair few people taking the subway home on a weekend night) or going the wrong way up or down an escalator all carry the same penalty. So does trying to get on a train before the last person has left and trying to jump the queue. These things can be rude, but deserving of a four figure fine?

Have a read of the proposed rules here and make sure you send your response to the consultation by 15th June. It needs to go to:

FAO: Joanne Gray
Glasgow Subway Byelaws Consultation
Transport Policy Directorate
Area 2 D North
Victoria Quay

or e-mail joanneDOTgrayATtransportscotlandDOTgsiDOTgovDOTuk

Subway Snap-In

Such authoritarian proposals are crying out to have fun poked at them. A few of us were discussing on Twitter yesterday that we should encourage everyone to take as many photos as they can on the subway over the next few weeks and post them on Twitter, using #subwaysnapin. I've created a Facebook page as well. Be as creative as you can. Add in a campaign slogan or placard if you like, but let's show off a Glasgow institution at its best. 


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