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Labour Leader, Ed Miliband

It’s Spring – and the Party Spring Conference Season is almost over. In the week that saw the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, aspects of her legacy linger on. Scottish Labour for instance is determined to remind voters that there IS such a thing as society. Indeed, it will be a key theme for the Party’s UK leader, Ed Miliband, when he calls for a “new settlement” to heal economic and social divisions in Britain.

Eden Court Theatre CroppedThe Scottish Labour Conference is meeting over the weekend in Inverness. Delegates there will hear Mr Miliband say that this settlement will combine “proper rights to work with a real responsibility to do so”. He believes that the people of the UK need a new start, comparable to that offered by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. He will argue that she gained power because voters wanted change. He believes the same is true today, that people are tired of failed economic policies and mistaken welfare changes.

The question of independence will also figure strongly at the conference. Scottish Labour is a unionist party; but it also favours greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. So we’ll see Mr Miliband argue that independence is a divisive policy, while the party’s Devolution Commission, set up last year, believes there’s “a strong case for devolving income tax in full” to the Scottish Parliament.

The commission was made up of MPs, MEPs, union members and academic advisers. It’s been examining whether to give Holyrood responsibility for raising roughly half of the £30 billion it spends every year. Its report says that there is a case for devolving income tax but with some reservations, quite big ones. So if they led to a cut in the money coming to the Scottish Government or charges were proposed in the so-called Barnett Formula which defines Scotland’s share of UK funds, that would be a step too far.

As the report explains, “it is important to consider the stability of funding for public services. This is an issue to which the proponents of other models of fiscal devolution have given insufficient consideration. We have no wish or desire to make Scotland’s public services poorer.” It adds: “We would not want to devolve income tax in a way which would increase the administrative burden on employers, and individuals.”

However, party officials say the report is just “the start of a debate, not the end of it”. That’s because these recommendations are controversial. There have been suggestions that some Scottish Labour MPs would stay away from the conference in protest. They believe that such a full transfer of income tax would be a step too far, one on which they had not been sufficiently consulted.

With a theme of ‘The Influence of Women’, 380 women from across Scotland will celebrate International Women’s Day at the Scottish Parliament this weekend. The organisers argue that women far too often underestimate their ability to inspire and motivate others. By bringing groups for all over the country together, the Scottish Women’s Convention aims to explore what women do and the impact this has on communities, towns, cities and Scotland as a whole.

elaine smith MSP 2The Parliament’s Deputy Presiding Officer, Elaine Smith MSP, welcomed the planned visit and congratulated the Convention on its 10th Anniversary. “This forum,” she said, “is important in bringing women from all walks of life into their Parliament to discuss issues that affect them in their everyday lives. This year’s debate will celebrate women who have overcome barriers in education, employment, social and political life to influence the world they live in. The inspirational line-up of speakers seeks to encourage all women to support each other, challenge inequalities and realise that they too can make a real difference at local, national and international levels.”

The Convention was set up by the then Scottish Executive in recognition of the need to ensure women’s voices are reaching the policy makers. It continues to work to develop ways in which to ensure women in Scotland can influence the policies which affect them and their families.

Agnes Tolmie, who chairs the Convention added that women needed “to celebrate their achievements – they need the time, space and confidence to acknowledge the difference they make on a day to day basis. liz_lochheadBy bringing women together in the unique setting of the Scottish Parliament, the SWC aims to ensure that those attending achieve this through listening, talking and participating during the day.”

A key participant in event will be Liz Lochhead – Scotland’s Makar (left). She said she was delighted to be taking part and also to be reading “some fierce and polemical pieces of my old rhyming satire which unfortunately remain all too relevant thirty years on.”

The former MP, Maria Fyfe, pointed out that, in this rational and scientific age, “we still have people exercising powers who believe the ability to run any organisation is an inherently male characteristic, thus demonstrating their own incapacity for lucid thinking. I am looking forward to getting together with the SWC at their International Women’s Day event when we honour what women have done, and do today, to make a better world.”

For Mette Kindberg, the President of UNI World – Europe Women’s Committee, it was a proud moment for her “to speak at the SWC’s event around International Women’s Day. I have great respect for the way the SWC organise their event and help to put focus on women’s issues – not only in Scotland but over the whole world. I’m glad for the solidarity the SWC hereby show all the world’s women. With women like you, there is hope for the goal of equal rights and opportunities for women to be achieved.”

Never mind the Olympics, the Sensational Alex Salmond Band is about to present its “nightmarish vision of the future in Scotland”, Oliver Pissed, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Here, to whet your appetite and in an attempt to help you contain your excitement, is a preview of some of the toe-tapping, show-stopping songs, various of which will be familiar to regular readers of these pages:

The show opens on 1 August and runs until 26 August, 9pm each evening apart from 7 and 21 August. It’s on as part of the Scottish Comedy Festival at the Beehive, and has to be better than all that Seb Coe / Jessica Ennis / Gary Lineker / McDonald’s-and-Coca-Cola carry-on.

The news that the prime minister and his good lady wife temporarily misplaced their young daughter Nancy in a Buckinghamshire pub has prompted the latest offering from the Sensational Alex Salmond Band, a reworking of that old Sam & Dave classic: Hold On, I’m Comin’.

On the subject of things that shouldn’t slip your mind, the SASB’s Best Of 2011 album remains available and The Caledonian Mercury is proud to present a video taster with extracts from all the tracks.

No sign. Picture: Gail Williams

Picture: Gail Williams

I wonder if I have stumbled across the “Scotland Says No” campaign website’s name.

I merely ask because I note that various domains with the name scotlandtogether were registered by someone at the House of Commons on 5 April. The Who Is information for the .co.uk address can be found here – courtesy of DNS Stuff. The .com record’s details appear to protected by Identity Protect Limited (as shown on the Who Is info for the .org address on 123-reg.co.uk) – a company that masks clients’ details from searches such as the one I’ve carried out.  (Another client of theirs appears to be the English Defence League – if this Who Is entry is correct.)

Regardless of the masking of Who Is information of several of the scotlandtogether domains, they were all created on 5 April this year, suggesting some coordination.

Of course, it might be a coincidence. Maybe there’s a registration error somewhere or maybe someone at the House of Commons is planning a Scottish startup that happens to have that name. (That said, I failed to find any company called Scotland Together at Companies House.) Or maybe it’s just an individual registering domains that may or may not be useful in the future.

But the name would make sense for the “Scotland Says No” crowd, as would the timing and, of course, the Westminster link.


Sadly, my packed social diary means I will be unable to attend any jubilee street parties. I have a busy weekend planned, mostly consisting of hiding in a darkened room.

And I will not be alone – not that you’d know it from the wall-to-wall mediagasm that gives the impression we’re all rampant royalists eager to roll out the barrel and do perplexing things with bunting. Along with the millions of people throughout the UK who don’t hold with the hereditary principle I shall be avoiding the telly, radio or other mainstream media outlets.

I appreciate that there are many people who revere Queen Elizabeth I (as she should correctly be termed as she is the first Elizabeth to rule the United Kingdom). I get that they want to celebrate 60 years of being subjected to her. I wish them all the best through the Jubilee weekend. I hope they have a fine time eating red, white and blue cupcakes and waving Union flags (though Scottish royal standards are also available).

But I don’t share their enthusiasm and am not really sure where being “a fan of the Royal Family” ends and “slightly weird stalking behaviour” begins. And I will not be indulging in any rousing choruses of the music-hall ditty that encouraged its audience “rebellious Scots to crush”.

If I lived in Surrey I might trot along to St George’s Hill and raise a libation to the Diggers. Of course, 17th century agrarian commune is now a millionaires’ private estate so security would bundle me off quite quickly. Strangely appropriate, don’t you think?

I might saunter along to the Wallace monument and remind myself that there’s a darker side to all that pomp, circumstance and kowtowing. But I don’t want to get caught up in any crown-based celebrations.

I probably will not repeat my tactic for avoiding last year’s Royal Wedding: heading up Ben More Assynt and sinking pints in Ullapool.

Instead, I shall repair to the garden with Dick Gaughan on the iPod, pour myself a large Ardbeg and leaf through Tom Paine’s Common Sense. (And I might add a dose of Tolstoy to leaven the mix.)

I shall be paying particular attention to Paine’s Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession section. Written, 176 years before Her Maj became Her Maj it suggests that this kings and queens stuff is not such a great idea. It surprises me that this, well, common sense idea has not gained more traction.

Perhaps, if you share my scepticism that some are born better than others, you might like to do something similar. No street parties are required, no flags, no obsequiousness, no unhealthy obsessing about the lives of people you’ve never met. Just a little bit of common sense.

The latest offering from the Sensational Alex Salmond Band concerns the Leveson Inquiry cross-examination by Robert Jay QC (or is it Elvis Costello?) of the popular former prime minister: Tony and the Hand Jive.

Subject to the usual injunctions and other legalities, the SASB’s Best Of 2011 album remains available, not distributed by News Corp, and The Caledonian Mercury is proud to present a video taster with extracts from all the tracks.

This week’s sphenisciform offering from the Sensational Alex Salmond Band concerns a notable result from the recent Edinburgh council elections: Professor Pongoo.

The SASB’s Best Of 2011 album – suitable for humans and penguins alike – remains available, and The Caledonian Mercury is proud to present a video taster with extracts from all the tracks.