Friday 29 October 2010

Questioning Question Time

I was so irritated by Question Time last week, I actually took the bother of emailing them rather than just grumbling as usual.

"I was deeply offended and disappointed by last night's edition of Question Time, in particular by Mr Dimbleby's quite deliberate marginalisation of issues of importance to Scotland.

It seems to me that by moving Question Time to various locations allows viewers to gain an insight into topical debates in the Nations and regions which make up the United Kingdom. I would find it interesting to hear what is going on in Wales, for example, and feel that for viewers elsewhere, it might be interesting to hear what is being debated in Scotland.

This week Scotland saw a significant change in the law, arguments over priorities in education, the proposed closure of military bases and maintaining of aircraft carrier contracts; meaty issues all. None of these were discussed.

Furthermore, hosting Question Time around the UK gives an opportunity to hear from Scottish politicians from a range of parties (including the Greens, who have been represented in the Scottish Parliament for eleven years now) and from the Scottish Government.

Quite disgracefully, Nicola Sturgeon was consistently interrupted by David Dimbleby, and was not allowed to present the positions of the SNP and the policies of the Scottish Government. The SNP have a serious contribution to make, which was not reflected in the manner in which Nicola Sturgeon was treated by Mr Dimbleby. Comments by other panellists also struck me as having more than a hint of patronising sexism, which went unchallenged by the host.

The issue of Megrahi was dropped into a debate quite purposefully and deliberately by Mr Dimbleby, who then called for comment by the four other panel members but not Ms Sturgeon, whose Government took the quite legally and morally correct position to release a dying man. The last time Question Time was in Scotland, the issue was also raised, seemingly with the purpose of attempting to embarrass the Scottish Government. It was not a 'current' issue in the press, or a matter which required further debate; the decision has been made and is final! I find it quite unacceptable that your programme makes it seem as though this is the one and only issue significant in Scotland.

I find it unacceptable that Scottish issues have no outlet in UK-wide programmes such as Question Time. Scottish issues are never debated when programmes are held outwith Scotland, and when the programme is held in Scotland, apparently we're not allowed to debate Scottish issues then either.

Health, education, crime, and a whole host of other issues irrelevant to devolved parts of the UK are debated week in week out on Question Time without proviso or clarification. It's about time that the rest of the UK got a proper opportunity to glean information about what is important in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and each of the English regions. If hosting in different locations is not to be an opportunity to do this, there's little point in the show moving from London at all.

I hope for better, but thus far and increasingly more often, I am left disappointed.

Kind regards,

Alison Thewliss"

The response just arrived, looking remarkably similar to that issued to Joan McAlpine:

"Dear Ms Thewliss

Thanks for your feedback regarding ‘Question Time’ broadcast on 28 October 2010.

We appreciate some viewers felt chairman David Dimbleby showed anti-Scottish bias by reminding Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about the programme’s wider UK audience.

‘Question Time’ approaches every edition with a broad and wide-ranging remit, covering the major events in the political landscape during the week. We travel across the UK, and local examples are often cited by audience members to highlight a wider point. However this does not mean that the programme seeks to discuss only regionally-specific matters.

On this occasion the panel were expressing their sentiments on the announcement of the most recent GDP figures for the UK. During this discussion Deputy First Minister Sturgeon said “there’s another point on growth, it’s important for a Scottish audience”.

David simply interjected to remind Deputy First Minister Sturgeon that not only was she speaking to the studio audience in Glasgow but also to viewers across the UK.

One of his key roles as chairman is to keep panellists to the specific question under discussion and not to potentially divert to other party political points. He was not stopping her from raising a regional/national point - as has been heard in recent weeks with the al-Megrahi case or the Corus steelworks matter - but simply reminding her of the core programme need for this point to resonate with and be relevant to a UK-wide BBC One audience.

Thanks for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

BBC Audience Services"

I despair.

I spoke to Tory Councillor David Meikle yesterday, and he described the long conversation he had with a member of the Question Time team before getting selected to attend. He's not a nat by any stretch of the imagination, but felt there were plenty of Scottish issues to discuss, all of which were ruled out by the member of BBC staff he spoke to. A letter in today's Herald describes a similar conversation.

This evident anti-Scotland bias is unacceptable, and it has to stop.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Another good reason to get out of the UK

There are many many good reasons to get out of the UK, but another one emerged today, with the release of the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. Following the expenses scandal, the UK has dropped to 20th and now rates at 7.6.

By contrast, a group of relatively small, independent states, where elected representatives are closer to the people have come out on top:

"Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are tied at the top of the list with a score of 9.3, followed closely by Finland and Sweden at 9.2."

I wonder how Scotland would fare if taken out of the UK - i's certainly a shame that our reputation around the world is being tarnished by association with the Westminster regime.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Battling the booze

I attended a meeting last week which was rounding off a local alcohol campaign in my ward. There was a lot of partnership working between GCSS, Strathclyde Police, Land and Environmental Services, Health and Licensing Officials and youth providers to crack down on public drinking and youth disorder. The results of the work are quite impressive.

Over the period of the initiative, from April to October, there was a reduction in anti-social behaviour by 11%, and a reduction in youth disorder by 22%. Sixty-eight drinking dens were identified and removed, and over 450 visits were made to licensed premises to ensure that under-aged and agent selling was being challenged and shop staff were aware of their responsibilities.

Most impressive of all was the haul of alcohol confiscated from people drinking in the street - a total of 467 litres! This was broken down as over 250 litres of cider, over 100 litres of beer/lager, over 90 litres of wine (of which, I understand, a particular tonic wine forms a part), and over 30 litres of spirits.

I wouldn't want to claim that my ward is representative of Scotland as a whole or al fresco drinkers as a group, but it certainly seems that of those people likely to be caught drinking outside and causing anti-social behaviour, most are drinking low cost, high volume drinks - cider and beer. These are the drinkers and the drinks that minimum pricing would target, and by this evidence rightly so. That particular wine is a problem but, in the inner East End of Glasgow, it's certainly not the problem Labour claim it is.

Partners are now discussing the actions which were taken over these past months, and what aspects they can afford to pursue. There is still much work to be done.

Saturday 16 October 2010

SNP conference

Lack of much phone signal in Perth Concert Hall has put the hems on my idea of live tweets from SNP conference, and despite being told that there was wifi signal in the hall, my laptop isn't really entertaining the idea of connecting to it. So much for politics in the web age!

Anyway, I'm now into my second day of conference, having been to the Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Board on Thursday instead. There were a few important papers on Finance coming to the Board, which I felt warranted some questions. While we all know that cuts are likely, I felt that taking any decisions before the full implications are known is a wee bit rash. The (Labour) majority on the Fire Board were differently minded.

Yesterday was pretty good - excellent speeches by John Swinney (more of which later) and Kenny MacAskill, and some interesting resolutions on PFI, Business Rates, Banking Reform, Public Finance, Languages, Diego Garcia, and Afghanistan, and topicals on Royal Mail, pensions and the Commonwealth Games. I was hoping to speak on the latter but time was getting tight and wasn't taken. Hopefully will get to speak at some point during the weekend!

I also got to see the new party broadcast, under the slogan Funky music, encouraging and positive concept; negativity is not going to inspire the Scottish people, but the idea of pulling together to work our way out of cuts is one I believe has some traction.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Iain Gray - not a statesman!

Something to consider for the Scottish Parliamentary elections next year: Iain Gray isn't much of a statesman.

Regardless of whether the Scottish Parliament is independent or not, it's surely a matter of common courtesy and respect not to demean other nations for party political gain. Again and again, Labour politicians are more than happy to slag off other nations in order to demonstrate how poor, wee and stupid they believe Scotland and her people really are.

The trouble is, these other nations might hear Mr Gray. They might not be too impressed. If Mr Gray was in charge of Scotland, such public denouncements might even result in damage to Scotland's trade and diplomatic relations. After all, would you want to deal with a man who clearly has no respect for you?

Mark Coleman, the Economics Editor with NewsTalk in Dublin and columnist with the Sunday Independent, can be heard on the iPlayer (around sixteen minutes in) giving his rather pointed reaction to Iain Gray's comments at this weeks FMQs. He says:

"...Looking at 10 years of Labour leadership has left Scotland unfortunately with a GDP per capita that's significantly lower than the EU average and the EU, so perhaps the credibility of that remark should be filtered through that simple fact.

"All I will say is that Ireland's population is a million higher than it was 14 years ago; we have a quarter of a million more employed, a quarter of a million more in work than we did a decade before; we have a quarter of a million people in Ireland now working from other EU countries, a GDP per capita 30% higher than the EU average...

"...Have we taken a blow, we certainly have. Are we still standing, we absolutely are."

Labour's argument is painfully backwards - it's obvious that despite their current difficulties, Ireland isn't interested in rejoining the UK, Iceland isn't going back under the wing of Denmark, and for that matter none of the small successor nations of the former USSR are looking to cede their hard-won sovereignty back to mother Russia. Yes, some nations are facing hard times but none of them are questioning their independence.

Managing your own finances is just one of the many things that normal independent nations do every hour of every day. Scotland is not uniquely incapable of doing the same, despite what Labour would have us believe. The main barrier to independence is Scotland's own self-doubt.

Until independence comes around, we need someone to fight Scotland's corner, to win friends and gather as much support for the development of our nation and our economy. Building solid relationships with our neighbours and other smaller independent states is a good start.

I've decided to reproduce Iain Gray's questions from FMQs. You can judge for yourself whether this man is capable of leading Scotland.

Iain Gray: It was one of those clear autumn mornings this morning when we feel like we can see for miles. Where should we look for the First Minister's arc of prosperity today: Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Iceland or Ireland?

The First Minister: I think that we should take a variety of international examples in following best practice in Scotland. As Iain Gray knows, I recently visited Norway and made a number of announcements about renewable energy and collaboration in Scotland. One thing that particularly impressed me as I visited Norway was the £200 billion oil fund that that country has accumulated by having access to its own natural resources. Would that Scotland had been in the same position over the past 30 years.

Iain Gray: The fact of the matter, of course, is that Norway's oil fund has been built up because Norway—

Members: Is independent.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Order.

Iain Gray: It is because the Norwegian state still owns its oil and gas industry. If the First Minister is proposing to nationalise the oil and gas industry, he should probably tell us. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Iain Gray: It is no surprise that when the First Minister is asked about Ireland nowadays, he talks about Norway. The First Minister once said:

"I am sure that most of Europe's Finance Ministers would give at least one limb—possibly more—to have Ireland's problems".

Today, the cost for Ireland of bailing out the Anglo Irish Bank reached €34 billion. The finance minister warned that its failure would destroy Ireland's economy.

Which limb would the First Minister give to have that problem?

The First Minister: Iain Gray will forgive me if I correct him on his understanding of the Norwegian oil fund. The Norwegian oil fund was built up from

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revenues from oil—not just from Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company, but from all the major oil companies exploiting oil in the Norwegian sector. It is unbelievable! I thought hitherto that Iain Gray opposed the concept of Scotland benefiting from its own natural resources because he wanted Westminster to have them. I now realise that it is because he did not even understand the proposition. I will send Iain Gray a paper on the Norwegian oil fund. Given that so much is changing in Labour and given that new Labour is buried, despite Iain Gray's attachment to it, if all the policies are changing, who knows, maybe Labour will be in favour of an oil fund before long.

I point out two things to Iain Gray. First, on direct capital investment in the Scottish banks, currently the Treasury is making a profit, given the current share price of Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland. [Interruption.] That is a fact nonetheless. Secondly, Ireland, like many countries, has substantial economic problems at present, but I note that its wealth per head is actually higher than that of the United Kingdom.

Iain Gray: It was an Irishman who said that there are none so blind as those who will not see. Ireland is teetering on the edge of collapse, and Scotland's banking sector is 10 times the size of Ireland's. The Royal Bank of Scotland alone had a balance sheet 15 times the size of the Scottish economy. The investment in saving those banks was £470 billion. Will the First Minister admit that, in an independent Scotland, RBS and HBOS would have collapsed and the Scottish economy would have collapsed with them?

The First Minister: Just as Iain Gray confused Statoil with the Norwegian oil fund, he is confusing capital injections into banks with general support for the financial and monetary system. The capital injection into the Scottish banks is now making a paper profit for the UK Treasury.

Iain Gray says that the Irish economy is on the brink of collapse. Judging from Labour's conference, I thought that it was the UK economy that was on the brink of collapse. The Labour Party has argued, with some justification, that the UK Government is risking a double-dip recession because of an approach to an austerity programme that goes too far and too fast in its cuts in public spending. I agree with that proposition on the basis of the evidence from Ireland. If that is the argument that Iain Gray is putting forward—that, unless an alternative policy programme is agreed, the UK risks moving into a double-dip recession—does that not support the argument that we should look to European countries such as Norway, which have avoided that by mobilising their natural resources to power

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their economy forward? I would that we could do the same in Scotland.

Iain Gray: Support for the Scottish banks was £470 billion—£70 billion capital injection, £100 billion special liquidity scheme, £100 billion credit guarantee, £200 billion asset protection scheme and £10 billion in fees. The Government may get some of that back, but if it had not had it at the time when it was needed, we would have suffered the consequences. Everyone in Scotland knows that, in a separate Scotland, our two biggest banks would have gone and, with them, all the jobs, savings, pensions, mortgages and salaries. Everyone in Scotland knows that we would have tipped over the edge on which Ireland teeters today. Is Alex Salmond the last man in Scotland who does not realise that his personal obsession with independence is daft, deluded, deranged and downright dangerous for this country?

The First Minister: Alex Salmond realises that it is only with economic powers for this Parliament and this Government—the economic powers that would be delivered by independence—that we will have an alternative to 10 years of despair and public spending cutbacks in the United Kingdom.

As they also say in Ireland, if I was going there, I would not start from here. That applies to Iain Gray's questions. He has confused the capital injection into the banking sector that is taking place in Ireland at the moment with general financial support for a monetary system. The two things are entirely different. It is not me who claims that there is a profit to be gained from the capital injection into Lloyds and RBS; that is in the Treasury documents—not just the Treasury documents of the new coalition, but the Treasury documents that were produced by Iain Gray's old boss, Alistair Darling.

Ed Miliband evoked a new atmosphere of consensus at the Labour conference when he said that he would not attack policies to restrict short-term sentences and say that people were being soft on crime. As Ed Miliband moves in a sensible political direction and supports the SNP Government's policy on crime, which has been so successful, will not Iain Gray eventually realise, in that changing atmosphere, the obvious, inarguable point that only in our having economic powers and growing the Scottish economy is there any alternative to being at the mercy of coalition cutbacks, two thirds of which were started by his own party?