Comment :Local Authority, Where It’s At

One area of politics that I have always thought more important than it is ever given credit for is local government.

Local Councillors wrestle with huge decisions on a weekly, if not daily, basis. While central government does provide the budget to a huge extent, it is your local councillor who has to interpret the allocation, fit that into national policy, but also allocate the funds to reach not just that national policy but more importantly local priorities.

Local government is maybe not the sexy end of the political sphere, no offence to any Dundee Councillors, but it’s importance to the well being of Dundee should never be underestimated. While I won’t pretend that I agree with how my local council does things in every area, especially around how it consults and reports back to local people, I understand that local councillors have to try and be everything to everybody.

Dundee is an evolving city overall but if it is to thrive then more people need to take more interest. Local councillors also need to communicate better, esp around how decisions are reached and why they need to be made, but we need to give them more credit for the difficult decisions they have to make.

Sitting in Holyrood and Westminster might be fun, might provide status, however in my opinion it will never be as important as sitting in Dundee City Chambers, that is where the important decisions are made, the decisions that effect our day to day lives.

The State Opening of Parliament and Tights

So our unelected Head of State will travel through London today in a Gold Carriage surrounded by hundreds of armed men on horseback, dressed in a variety of regalia, and will have a fancy crown put on her head.

A man in tights known as ‘Black Rod’ is then dispatched to summon MPs from the Commons. The doors to the Commons chamber are shut in his face: a practice dating back to the Civil War, symbolising the Commons’ independence from the monarchy. The man in tights strikes the door three times before it is opened. Members of the House of Commons then follow the man in tights and the Speaker to the Lords chamber, standing at the opposite end to the Throne, known as the Bar of the House, to listen to the speech not written by the unelected Head of State who will also be surrounded by 785 unelected members of the House of Lords, yes I said 785 UNELECTED members. There are only 650 elected members of parliament. Some democracy huh.

Now all this pageantry and ceremony is designed to remind us of the glories of our history, the majesty of our nationhood, the wonderful and brilliant United Kingdom. Dennis Skinner the Labour MP might shout out something not very funny that all of the media will fawn over and the Tories will criticise. All of this just makes me switch off and to be honest I regard it as mostly nonsense but also a reinforcement of how undemocratic our country actually is.

The extent of our undemocratic system allows the Queen and Prince Charles a Royal Veto over legislation which was used on 39 different pieces of legislation in the last year or so. This has ranged from education, child maintenance, pensions and national insurance contributions. The Royal Family, far from being just ceremonial, have a direct influence over our so called democracy and all the pomp and costly privilege of todays opening of Parliament for me is about keeping people in their place. We live in the 21st Century but you would think that we are living in the 18th Century, and now with a majority Conservative Government we may soon find ourselves living in the conditions of the 18th Century with a further fall in our living standards and an increase in things like foodbanks. David Cameron may have indicated today that tax is frozen until 2020 but with the freeze of in work benefits the wealthy continue to get wealthier and the poor poorer, you have to wonder who votes for these people.

Throw in the exemptions from freedom of information for the Queen and Prince Charles and you very quickly understand that democracy in the UK is what a very small number of very wealthy people want to tell you it is. When Steve Hilton, a former strategist for David Cameron said “When the corporate bosses, the MPs, the journalists… all go to the same dinner parties and social events, all live near one another, all send their children to the same schools (from which they themselves mainly came), an insular ruling class develops.”

Our democracy is broken, from the pomp and influence of the unelected Head of State, to the Conservatives being a majority Government on 36% of the vote all demonstrate that we need reform in this country. We need proportional representation in elections and we need to have a real debate and vote on the nature of our Head of State, personally I want to see the Head of State be elected. The hereditary principle is something that we should be ashamed off in the 21st Century and works to keep ordinary people in their place and our so called betters in theirs.

Why We Still Need The Liberal Democrats

Those of you who read this blog when you have nothing better to do will know that I came out as a Liberal Democrat, and even went as far as joining the Liberal Democrats at the worst possible time in their short history.

I joined the Liberal Democrats because I believe that Liberalism still has a part to play in our country and can offer in many ways the common ground between the differing political views in our country. I probably come from the social liberal side of the debate. I accept that we require a market economy, but I want to see one that puts decency and fairness at the top of the agenda not the bottom. While the Conservatives, and to a degree Labour were/are happy to see the markets dictate and be left to their own devices, I believe that we need the state to provide much need security and protection from poverty, from crisis, from unemployment, and from the markets. The state can provide the opportunity to education that facilitates an environment of empowerment, where the individual can succeed by themselves, by their own efforts and reach wherever they wish to get to, but also recognising that we need to ensure that they have the same rights as everyone else. The Liberal Democrats should be there to protect people from the worse excesses of the markets using the state for the betterment of all.

The Liberal movement is here to protect your right to believe what you want to believe, to protect your right to free speech, to sexual orientation, to political beliefs and to religious beliefs. I believe that we need to trust people to come up with the solutions to their own concerns and problems, that involves devolving as much power as practical to the lowest possible level. I have commented before that I believe that lets say a local authority wants to borrow 50 million pounds to build new schools, given that the local tax payer will pick up a large chunk of the bill in local taxes the local authority should have to consult and have the explicit support of the community before they can do that. There are many Liberals who are against referendums, they are wrong. The danger is not in giving people the right to choose, the danger is in the vested interests who deny the right of people to make an informed choice. The Liberal Democrats can work to make sure that happens.

I believe in proportional representation where every vote counts. I don’t accept the view that this system removes the MP from the constituency. How many MPs even live in the constituency they represent, a lot don’t and in local government it is even worse. We have to work to engage people in politics, it’s too important to be left to the politicians, as we all know, they more often than not get it badly wrong while representing the minority over the majority. The Liberal Democrats should be fighting every minute of the day to bring about this system. I believe that devo max or full federalism, whatever you want to call it, has to be part of the debate. I personally have no issue with independence but recognise that many people desire federalism and I would be happy to accept that system. The Liberal Democrats can fight to keep this issue alive, to ensure that the debate is not just between independence and the union, there is more to it than that and people need to be able to make an informed choice based on the facts. Not lies, not fear, not some utopia, the facts.

The Liberal Democrats can and should be there to hold people to account. We should be promoting the politics of respect, of supporting the good ideas and pointing out the flaws in the not so good ones. We should never look at things through the prism of everything is BAD and look to find common ground while working to try and keep Government honest. But to do that we have to be honest ourselves, hold ourselves to account and not accept a fall in our own standards, that will require change but the Liberal Democrats can play a positive role in our country, can reach out to our communities. We can talk to people and we can listen with respect and with dignity. We can show people that everyone has a part to play and a responsibility to play it.

The Liberal Democrats can and should be out there protecting the poor and vulnerable, while also protecting those with the most from themselves, while encouraging them to appreciate that they have a responsibility to those with the least. The Liberal Democrats can be the party that enriches the lives of every man, woman and child through a politics of hope, a politics of fairness, of honesty and of decency.

I believe that being a Liberal is not about being to the left, to the right or slap bang in the centre. Being a Liberal is about knowing what is right and what is wrong and acting accordingly. I want and believe that the Liberal Democrats can be that party in Scotland, but as I have said the party requires to change. It has to accept that it has made mistakes, that it has to be accountable, that the politics of lies and deceit, of hate and rejection of other political beliefs will kill it stone dead from which there will be no fight back, no resurgence in it’s fortunes.

The Liberal Democrats still have an important role to play in Scotland and in the UK. It’s not about SNP social nationalism with a small n, it’s not about the Conservative/UKip right or Labour right of centre, it’s about equality, it’s about dignity, about liberty, about freedom, it’s about human rights and the knowledge that everyone can play a full role in their community. So while many out there want to see the Liberal Democrats die as a party, Scotland needs a reformed and re-focussed Liberal Democratic Party.

Comment: It’s A Long Road Back

Having just joined the Liberal Democrats in the last week I have learned with Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichaels admission today that he approved the leaked ‘ Sturgeon memo ‘ when Scottish Secretary that it is going to be a long way back . Mr Carmichael possibly lied when he said that he was only aware of it when it was raised by a journalist, his actions, while not becoming of an MP , are more than a serious breach of protocol and demonstrate that the Liberal Democrats in Scotland have a long long way to go to ever earn back the public trust. The enquiry into this affair has no doubt cost a fortune at a time when people are fighting for their jobs and others go hungry, and it would appear that Mr Carmichael has come clean due to the report being due to come out today. I do not accept that this is either a part of politics or an error of judgement.

While I won’t jump on the bandwagon shouting for Carmichael to go I do however feel he can play no part in the re-building of the Liberal movement in Scotland. The politics of lies, of muck slinging, of abuse and of cover ups are not good enough anymore. As long as I am a member of the Liberal Democrats I will never condone or accept this type of politics, we have to change, we have to demonstrate that we can not only be trusted but that we have a part to play in the future of our country. Alistair Carmichael made that fight a lot harder today and I don’t thank him for that in any way.

I’m a Liberal, No going back now

I have always considered myself a Liberal Democrat and have blogged about this a few times:

https://grumpyscottishman.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/im-a-liberal/
https://grumpyscottishman.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/im-a-liberal/

However I never felt that I could join the party so joined the SNP and voted YES in the referendum. The Liberal Party for myself were anything but Liberal and their actions and language with Better Together was very difficult to stomach. Their coalition with the Conservatives, even though I suspect they were harshly judged, was also very difficult to watch. Danny Alexander smiling at every bad news announcement and Vince Cable not reforming the banks to the extent he said he would all felt like betrayals to Liberals everywhere and something I wanted no part of.

But I never really felt like I was a part of the SNP due to my Liberal beliefs so never got actively involved. Although I voted SNP and congratulate them on their unbelievable election success, the SNP was always a means to an end for myself. They deserve their success due to their hard work and now have to live up to the expectation that this success brings. The voters have trusted them so it’s up to them now, but I don’t think their first week has went well, it’s all felt like a school trip to Westminster but I wish them well and hope that they use this mandate to forward the interests of Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats had a very bad election, no one would deny that. I won’t miss Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy or Jo Swinson as I felt they lost touch of why they were there but did feel sorry for Michael Moore whom I considered a decent man. This defeat however means that the Liberal Democrats now need to re-build to a huge extent and I decided I want to be a part of that.

I appreciate that it won’t be easy to influence entrenched views but Scotland needs a strong Liberal Party. One party politics is dangerous, it’s not good for the SNP and it’s not good for Scotland. I will continue to vote for independence if Federalism remains off of the agenda but I will argue for Federalism in all its glory as I believe it’s what a lot of Scotland wants.

I would be happy to continue to share sovereignty around defence and foreign affairs, happy to share a national bank,  but I believe that everything else must be decided in Scotland and elections fought under proportional representation. 

I am looking forward to being involved in the local Liberal Democrats in Dundee. I have met a few of the members and they seem really nice and involved for the right reasons. I will not get involved in gutter politics and rubbishing the SNP or the other parties, I did not like what Willie Rennie tweeted about Alex Salmond this week, those politics have to end. I have done that myself and it’s not something we can do anymore. The public are sick of nasty politics, by all means be critical, I certainly will continue to do that, but the rest let’s put aside and consign to the gutter.

I want to thank the SNP for having myself as a member, I hope I didn’t waste your time but I suspect I did not as I never got involved. To the Liberal Democrats I am looking forward to what I hope will be an interesting and engaging political debate  as I move forward as a member.

To anyone who feels I am a sell out please don’t judge me harshly, I have never hidden my political beliefs and my being a member of the SNP was actually my denying them. I feel that I have now joined the party where my beliefs belong, where I will grow politically and continue to learn. In some ways it’s a relief to finally and publicly acknowledge in all its glory that I’m a Liberal.

My views on the Labour Campaign

I think it is fair to say that Labour have been in meltdown for a long time now. Many people would say that in Scotland their demise started when they elected Tony Blair but I believe that it started a long time before that.

In this election I believe that Labour was always going to be up against it. They were starting from the low point of the leftovers from the referendum, the baggage of Better Together and campaigning with the Tories. The last memories that voters had on the doorstep was the Labour Party talking down Scotland at every turn and telling them that they could not be independent without Westminster aid. Not a good starting point at all. They also had Ed Miliband who just did not come across well, he spent very little time campaigning in Scotland which came across that possibly he thought it was sown up as far the votes went. Labour then made the huge mistake of electing Jim Murphy as branch leader and Kezia Dugdale as his deputy.

Jim Murphy has to be one of the most divisive Labour MPs in a long time; he flipped his views and his personal history more than Alistair Darling flipped his houses on our tax money. Unionists, but in particular Jim Murphy and Labour in Scotland, for some reason were still fighting the referendum from last September. The last few weeks of the campaign were all about the referendum and the next referendum when there was little evidence of any appetite from the YES Campaign for one anytime soon. The referendum agenda was being driven by the unionists and the media, which meant the voters saw that Labour were fighting something they weren’t hearing from the SNP.

Murphy and Labour then resorted back to the “a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Conservatives”, people already knew that a vote for Labour was a vote for Conservative policies so what exactly did Scottish voters have to lose. I suspect that many people took the view that at the very least the SNP would talk up Scotland and do their best to defend Scotland from any Conservative ravages that were to come, I don’t think anyone believed that Labour would do that as they hadn’t seen Labour do that for the last 30 years. Murphy and Dugdale talked about no cuts being implemented in Scotland, no seats would be lost, and the largest party always formed the government. All dishonest.

Add into the mix the hatred that Scottish Labour has for the SNP, the names that YES voters have been called by Labour and the media. Calling voters who previously voted for you in huge numbers Nazi’s was not the best election ploy, Labour were not only attacking the SNP they were attacking their own core vote from 2010 and the years before. They had taken the tactics of the Better Campaign of fear and assumed that it would work again. They just never took on board that Scotland is a different place now, that Scottish voters are far more informed than they have ever been. Voters can see Labour, no matter how much the media try to cover it up, for what they are and they didn’t like it and won’t support it any longer.

The campaign fought by Labour also put their sitting MPs back in the public eye. Margaret Curran, Iain Davidson, Douglas Alexander, Cathy Jamieson and Jim Murphy. People who had milked the system for so long, had enriched themselves on the backs of the poorest Scots. When they had to show some humility and admit their failings in Scotland you had Curran on about poor broadband, poor broadband will not put food on the table in Shettlestone in Glasgow. They were out of touch, rude, they had become the very elite that many in Scotland have had enough of. Labours time had come to an end.

The way back for Labour is going to be a very long one. Murphy refusing to step down, Dugdale having little life experience and even less presence will not help them in Holyrood. Throw in people like Jackie Baillie and the blame game that is about to start, possibly even in fighting as Labour MPs who have just lost their seat try to get on the list for Holyrood and you have a mess. The Labour Party leadership campaign might also see a major shift to the right and the election of another upper class and out of touch leader and Labour in Scotland will not recover for a long long time. The campaign was certainly the worst I have even seen from Labour, it was full of hate, it was tired, it was easy to spot the lies and the messengers were poor, no wonder they were almost wiped out and I suspect there is more pain to come.

When The Dust Settles

So, my prediction and nearly everyone else’s predictions were a bit off the mark, the SNP did better than some of us could ever have hoped and the Conservatives did better than most of us feared they would. Because of the horrible fixed term Parliament Act we will probably now have to suffer a Tory Government for the next five years minimum, their majority in parliament will see attacks to boundaries to benefit the Tories themselves, continued attacks on the poor and vulnerable, the slow but sure privatisation of vital public services, and possibly the result of this Tory agenda will be the return of major riots on the streets of Britain as the return to a Victorian Britain picks up pace.

The SNP will need to be heard now but whether they are heeded will be a different matter. While I suspect some minor changes to the constitutional settlement, I am not expecting anything major or ground breaking. The SNP have adopted a slow and safe approach to this issue and who knows they may be right. I wish the 56 all the best, and while I am sure there will be ups and downs, for maybe the first time in my lifetime Scotland’s voice at Westminster will at least be loud. I hope the SNP use this trust well, with dignity, with intelligence, and with wisdom. As a member I supported Chris Laws successful bid to become an MP, and I hope that Chris does a better job than Jim McGovern ever did for Dundee West. However, and as I have never hidden from anyone, I have always been an uncomfortable member of the SNP. Being a member of anything is maybe the thing that I am uncomfortable with, I also have the misfortune of considering myself to be a Liberal Democrat with no home, so my days as a member of the SNP probably are coming to an end, but my desire for an Independent Scotland never will due to the failure of the United Kingdom to truly embrace federalism.

The Labour Party have no one to blame but themselves for their failures, this failure might actually be the opportunity for a once proud party to return to its roots and become truly the party of the poor and vulnerable. While many of us would hope they seize this opportunity, what we have heard the last few days indicates that they will not. Jim Murphy, no longer an elected politician thankfully, staying on as leader of the Scottish branch will do further damage to the party in Scotland. We have also heard people like the toxic Jackie Baillie MSP, continue to blame the SNP and the 45% for all that is wrong in the world. This view shows that the Labour Party in Scotland are filled with a hate that possibly only a total wipe-out and bankruptcy will possibly start to solve. When you think about it though it looks like only the total death of New Labour will bring about the left of centre, socialist like party in Scotland that many crave for. Maybe it’s time for the SSP to rise from the Tommy Sheridan affair and become that party of the left, although I suspect they may have to move to the centre to achieve it and maybe that would be a step too far. Labour however won’t even start to recover until they admit they themselves are to blame for their failure, and for the Scottish branch, they should start by breaking away and becoming a fully independent Scottish Labour Party, possibly even embracing the SSP if that is possible. What they should not be allowed to forget though is that their failure over the last 18 years has brought about misery for many in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats also have an opportunity now to have a long look at what they actually stand for and believe. Liberals used to believe in equality and equal opportunity for all. It was a movement that allowed the opportunity for everyone to be the best they could be, while protecting the weakest from the vulgarities of the elite. It was a party of decency, a political movement that recognised that federalism was the way forward for Britain while recognising that there was still common ground that we could unite under when needed. I don’t think it was the failure to stick to a promise on tuition fees that killed them, it was the glee with which they grasped the Tory vision of greed, and the joy the likes of Alexander took in the misery of the many that killed them. They, like Labour, also continue to suffer from people like Clegg and Tim Farron, Willie Rennie and Carmichael in Scotland, who don’t know what they actually stand for and again blame the SNP for all that is wrong in their world.

Most people I believe are liberal in nature, I certainly am, and I believe there is a way to find that middle ground that allows people to be all they want to be while protecting the weakest from the vulgarities of poverty in all it’s spheres, protecting them from an elite who don’t care while also protecting that elite from themselves with a strong Liberal vision that is built on common sense and cares about all. People being successful and wealthy is not a bad thing, it’s when that success and wealth corrupts everything they stand for, when it’s at the detriment of the poor and vulnerable, and the less well off. In a Liberal country the most successful would accept they have a duty to protect the poor and vulnerable because that is the right thing to do. Call me an idealist but it’s what I believe.

Will we ever achieve this vision, probably not, but we will never achieve it in any way without a proper Liberal Democratic Party and a proper Labour movement working alongside the SNP to make Scotland a better and fairer country to live in. When the dust settles and the Conservatives start to do their worst the need for the consensus that Nicola sturgeon was calling for will be even more vital, we are certainly living in interesting times.

Thank you for continuing to read my clumsy writing, I am always flattered that anyone takes the time to read my opinions.

My prediction for what it’s worth

So here we are, at the end of the one of the worst election campaigns that I can remember. We have had wall to wall media coverage of the worst kind, we have learned little from the media, they have challenged little, and generally been pretty poor while encouraging anti-Scottish feeling at every turn. I think we can now understand what it felt like to be Irish in Britain in the 1970’s.

Locally in my own constituency it has been pretty poor. Conservative, Labour and Liberal activists appear to be dressed in Royal Mail uniforms as the only literature I have received has been delivered by activists wearing Royal Mail uniforms. Chris Law, the SNP Candidate, has been very active and I have had a few leaflets and letters etc. I would say he was beating the rest 4-1 and the information was all hand delivered by SNP activists not dressed in Royal Mail uniforms. I think Chris has a good chance of winning the seat from Jim McGovern (Labour) who is both standing down and was pretty useless anyway.

Nationally, my prediction is based on nothing scientific just my gut feelings, and what I have seen, heard and read in this campaign. My feelings are I suspect that David Cameron will scrape through the doors of number 10 with the help of the Liberals, DUP and whoever UKip might get elected. I suspect that the Liberals will get around 20 seats, DUP 8 and UKip 1 or 2. The Conservative I really think will just make it. The main reason I suspect that they will is that the Labour campaign and Ed Miliband have been woeful.

Ed Miliband has reacted to every taunt and set up that the Conservatives and the media have thrown at him. While his meeting voters across England in q and a’s has been far better than Cameron’s refusing to answer questions, his tablet of commitments and his anti-Scottish bandwagon rhetoric will have punished him. It also doesn’t help that he is supported by the hapless Balls, Alexander and Murphy, some of the worst and most loathsome politicians you could ever meet. Ed Miliband just does not cut it, better than Cameron, no contest there, but he comes across as weak and out of touch. Clegg with his I am not apologising and tactical voting will pay a price but not as much as people suspect.

Scotland is where the real interest is. The polls show an SNP landslide of maybe every seat. That is not going to happen, first past the post is a fixed system of election and tactical voting will ensure it is not a total wipe out for the other parties. I think that out of the 59 seats the SNP will get around 30 (up from 6), Labour possibly 22 (down from 40), Liberal possibly 6 (down from 11) and Conservatives 1(stay the same). As I’ve said this is based on nothing more than what I have noted above.

For the record I hope the SNP do take every seat and then sit back and watch the fun as the Conservatives, if I’m wrong, fight it out with Labour and maybe even just try to go it on a minority Government. The disgusting Fixed Term Parliament Act means that David Cameron can sit in Number 10 until such time as Parliament passes a vote of no confidence, and who would bet on Westminster vested interests in the three Tory Parties ever doing that, not sure they have the guts.