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Conservatives

<em>Picture: Images_of_Money</em>

Picture: Images_of_Money

Political parties and money are like bears and woods or Popes and the Catholic faith: there really should be no surprise when they are linked together. So what was really surprising about this week’s revelations in the “donors for dinners” scandal was how surprising people found it.

But what did all those people who expressed outrage really believe? Did they think donors give money to political parties for the sake of the nation? To make the world a better place? For selfless, altruistic reasons?

Donors give money to political parties for influence. They want to influence policy, whether they are wealthy capitalists, trade union barons or bus tycoons with rather old-fashioned views on homosexuality.

What was different about this week’s scandal was the foolishness of Peter Cruddas, the now ex-deputy treasurer of the Conservative Party, who boasted about the influence those donors could secure over government policy.

This was a mistake and a big one, because it gave the opposition something clear and definitive to beat the government with. Mr Cruddas’ mistake was to say publicly something which should have been (and always has been) done with a nod and a wink.

Although the Tories are up to their necks in this one at the moment, they will survive with a sizeable but not devastating dent in their poll ratings. The reason they will emerge from it is that none of the other parties can bash them too hard. They are all almost as bad as each other – and that includes the SNP.

Brian Souter, the Stagecoach owner, gave the SNP £625,000 in 2007, the biggest donation the party had received up to that point. The money helped the SNP win that ground-breaking election. Oh, and soon afterwards the SNP dropped its policy of regulating the bus industry.

Then we have today’s news that Colin and Chris Weir, who won £161 million on the lottery, were invited to have tea with the first minister at Bute House – and, four days after their chat with Alex Salmond, they gave £1 million to SNP coffers.

Mr Salmond publicly criticised David Cameron for having donors round to his flat for dinner, but neglected to declare that he had the Weirs round for tea, claiming somewhat disingenuously that the meeting did not come under the categories of dinner or reception.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has also criticised the prime minister for his private donor-dinner links, but how often does Mr Miliband meet and have dinner with the trade union leaders who help bankroll his party?

Labour MSP John Park defended Labour’s union funding record on Twitter yesterday, arguing that union members could vote to change the rules and vote to stop donations to Labour if they wanted.

But he knows and everyone in politics knows that is very unlikely. The Fire Brigades Union did so, but none of the big, powerful unions are going to sever their links because they get too much out of it. Not only do they have a hefty say on policy, but having elected Mr Miliband as leader they expect some form of payback.

Even the Liberal Democrats (many of whom wish they had big-money backers to court) are not immune from criticism, as they have yet to pay back the money they received from convicted fraudster Michael Brown.

But what no one seems to have asked is whether it is wrong for political parties to solicit donations in the first place. All those who call for the state funding of political parties seem to assume that giving money in return for the hope of influence is a bad thing. But is it?

The Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement, so it seems only right and proper for those very same unions to financially support the party which represents their views.

It is the same with business. If the Conservative Party is unashamedly pro-business, as George Osborne declared in his Budget last week, then why shouldn’t businesses donate to the Tory Party to further their interests?

The SNP may have taken money from Mr Souter and then conveniently changed their policy on bus regulation – but, if that was the price they paid to win the 2007 election, many in the party may well see it as a price worth paying.

The issue here is not the money or where it comes from. The issue here is the nature of what is being promised by the parties in return for these donations.

Mr Cameron’s problem was that he used a government not a party venue (his Downing Street flat) and the donors were promised access to a government (not a party) policy-making body. It is this blurring between taxpayer-funded services and party donations which should cause concern, not the money itself.

If anybody wants to meet the prime minister or the Labour leader it can be arranged, if the right money is produced – none of the parties have ever hidden this fact. Give the Tories a sizeable cheque and ask to meet Mr Cameron and you will be invited to a dull rubber-chicken reception at party conference time and you will get to shake his hand and have a few words.

This has always been done and it always will, whoever is in power at Westminster – and the same goes for the parties at Holyrood, too (although the going rate to meet Johann Lamont or Ruth Davidson is probably in the hundreds rather than the thousands, and as for Willie Rennie…).

The point here is that money and politics are inextricably intertwined. That in itself is no bad thing. State funding would be a mistake and placing a cap on donations is a temporary political wheeze which will suit some and not others and is only being proposed to for partisan reasons.

The answer is not to ban or cap donations, but to allow them all while making everything as transparent as possible. If donors are being invited in for private suppers in Mr Cameron’s flat, these events should be declared openly and clearly; and if the UK’s most successful lottery winners are invited in for tea with the first minister before offering the SNP a huge donation, that should be declared, too.

It is the appearance of subterfuge, sneakiness and secrecy which makes this smell bad, and the politicians only do it because they fear public opprobrium.

But if we brought everything out into the open and accepted the very basic political truth that politicians need money and those with money want influence, then we could progress without the mock shock this week’s events have induced.

We should all accept the link between money and politics and demand only that our politicians are honest with us in return. Then, we could reassure them, we will not act with feigned surprise when we are presented with the political equivalent of bears squatting in the woods.

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snp1SNP strategists believe there will be no need for a “devo max” option in the referendum if they can make independence appear as reasonable as possible.

Senior SNP figures have revealed that their plans for an independent Scotland – which will be published in detail before the referendum – will be deliberately moderated in a bid to appeal to wavering Scots.

The proposals will stress the continuation of many aspects of British life in an attempt to do away with any need to put “devo max” or “indy lite” on the ballot paper.

Alex Salmond has offered a three question referendum: independence, “devo max” and the status quo. And he has challenged his opponents to come up with a form of “devo max” which could then be put to the people.

However, Mr Salmond’s offer has been knocked back by all three main unionist parties, who believe the first minister is laying a trap for them.

They believe Mr Salmond only wants “devo max” on the ballot paper to give him a fallback position in case outright independence isn’t successful.

But it has now emerged that the SNP strategy will be to make independence appear to be reasonable, not only so that there will be no need for a “devo max” option, but also to win over all those Scots who might have voted for “devo max”.

Indeed, the version of independence that will be put to Scots will look remarkably similar to those versions of “indy lite” which have been trailed by the SNP in the past.

The plans will adopt a “best of British” theme. They will include:

● Keeping the Queen as Scotland’s head of state and the royal family.

● Keeping the pound as Scotland’s currency.

● Relying on the Bank of England to anchor for that currency.

● Allowing interest rates to be set by the London-based Monetary Policy Committee for the whole of the UK.

● Creating a new “social union” between Scotland and England to replace the existing parliamentary union.

● Keeping UK embassies as joint UK/Scottish bases.

● Keeping most BBC programmes in their usual places – so Scots can continue to watch EastEnders and their other favourite shows at the usual time.

● Allowing British defence forces to use Scottish bases and to work alongside Scottish service personnel.

● Setting up only the most minimal control posts on the Scottish–English border.

● Keeping the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency as the body organising driving licences for the whole of the UK, including an independent Scotland.

● Keeping the same sort of vehicle number plates in an independent Scotland as in the rest of the UK.

A key SNP strategist said: “People think we are being clever by allowing a second option of ‘devo max’ to be put on the ballot paper for the referendum, but they miss the point.

“Look at what we are saying about the currency, the royal family, the social union, the BBC and so on. We are going to present a view of independence which is so overwhelmingly reasonable that there will be no need for ‘devo max’.”

David McLetchie, for the Conservatives, said: “However the SNP dresses it up, separation is separation. It is the Nationalists who are scurrying around trying to find this way or that to sell the unpalatable. It won’t work. The SNP prescription of so-called independence in Europe – and the euro – is a recipe for ruin.

“The majority of Scots are content and proud to be Scottish and British. It is the way we are. Scotland is better off in Britain.”

And Iain Gray, Scottish Labour leader, said: “It is as if Alex Salmond is giving up on separation and trying to replace it with some kind of federalism, so he should be honest and admit it.

“His problem is he knows the majority of Scots oppose separation so he keeps trying to rebrand it in some watered down sense as ‘devo max’ or ‘indy lite’. But no matter what window dressing he puts on it he cannot escape the hard facts about what separation will mean and how the uncertainty over it already threatens investment.”

And Mr Gray added: “No matter how much the SNP try they cannot avoid key questions such as what would be the effect on pensions, benefits, tax rates and EU membership.”

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Composite satellite picture of Europe. <em>Picture: Albertane</em>

Composite satellite picture of Europe. Picture: Albertane

In vetoing changes to the EU, the Prime Minister has torpedoed the UK’s relationship with Europe. And he has done it to protect the City of London from the kind of sensible regulation that would have prevented the global financial crisis.

Don’t be led astray by the bulldog-breed guff from Eurosceptics. This is not about protecting Britain’s interests. It’s about shielding the institutions of the Square Mile from scrutiny.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, made this clear: “We consider … that a very large and substantial amount of the problems we are facing around the world are a result of lack of regulation of financial services and therefore can’t have a waiver for the United Kingdom,”

Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity” has often been mocked since the financial crisis broke. Well, thanks to David Cameron, the UK is now part of a “hypotenuse of irrelevance” along with the only other country to veto the proposed treaty changes, Hungary.

Beyond the familiar vista of little Englander Conservatives warring over Europe, there are real implications here for Scotland’s relationship with the continent.

It has long been claimed that an independent Scotland would be somehow kicked out of the EU, with a stramash about exactly what the legal position of the country would be. This misses the point. Whether or not an independent Scotland remains in the EU or not will be a political decision much more than a legal one. That choice will be made by governments and governments are run by politicians, not lawyers.

In their zeal to protect Mammon, Cameron et al have jeopardised Europe’s attempts at weathering the global financial storm. The Eurosceptic government in Westminster is dragging the UK down a path that could lead to the UK leaving the EU. At this rate, Scotland may find itself outside of Europe even if it remains within the Union.

That would be disastrous for our country, which has always shown itself to be more politically pro-Europe than England. One reason for this might be that Westminster politicians are terrified of being ruled by an arcane bureaucracy hundreds of miles away that does not understand or care about solving their problems. Scots are used to that.

In light of that, can anyone seriously believe that the EU would kick out six million citizens for exercising self-determination? Would Ireland vote to expel an independent Scotland? Would Denmark, Holland, Belgium – or the countries that rediscovered their national identities after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Would France and Germany glance askance at our distancing ourselves from Westminster after what has been wrought by the ConDems?

Another myth has been torpedoed today: the idea that small, independent Scotland would be an irrelevance at the European table without the weight of Westminster behind us. After what has happened, the First Minister could dress up as one of Santa’s elves, clamber into a rowing boat, anchor himself in the middle of the Atlantic and still have more political influence in Europe than the Prime Minister does this morning.

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The Laxey Wheel, Isle of Man <em>Picture: Jim Linwood</em>

The Laxey Wheel, Isle of Man Picture: Jim Linwood

In all the scrabbling around for ideas on what “devo max” would look like, nobody, it seems, has looked on Scotland’s doorstep – or not until now at any rate.

SNP MSP Kenny Gibson has spent the last few weeks looking in depth at the islands round England’s coast to see how they co-exist with Westminster – and he is encouraged by what he has found out.

The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, Mr Gibson reckons, represent a pretty fair approximation of what “devo max” would mean in practice.

He also believes, with some justification, that using real examples within the British Isles would take the “fear of the unknown” away from the issue and make “devo max” much more acceptable to the Scottish people.

Unsurprisingly, his ideas have been treated coolly – in public – by the SNP leadership which doesn’t want to encourage any deviation from the main aim of independence.

But privately, senior SNP strategists are delighted that someone has at last come up with a formula for “devo max” which is cogent, coherent, workable and virtually autonomous.

Ever since Alex Salmond said he wanted the option of “independence lite” or “devo max” put on the ballot paper as an alternative to independence, there has been confusion as to what this might mean.

The Isle of Man may well provide that answer. The island, as is also the case with Jersey and Guernsey, is virtually autonomous, controlling all fiscal levers including tax rates and only relying on the UK for immigration rules and defence.

Jersey and the Isle of Man have control over customs and excise, postal services, telecommunications and social security, yet remain self-governing dependencies of the British Crown.

Mr Gibson has now tabled a motion at Holyrood demanding that Scotland be given the same powers and the same autonomy as these islands.

Mr Gibson and some of his SNP colleagues are particularly taken by the Isle of Man’s relationship with Europe. The Isle of Man is an associate member of the EU, which means it is not officially part of the United Kingdom member state, does not have to implement EU directives, but enjoys economic benefits with a series of trade deals.

“This is a real and practical example of ‘devo max’ in action,” Mr Gibson told the Times. “It should crystallise plans for ‘devo max’ and show it can work within the British Isles.”

And he added: “It should eliminate the fear factor about ‘devo max’. Here are a series of examples just off our coast which not only work and work well, but which enjoy more prosperity than we do.”

These semi-autonomous islands off England’s coast have small populations, ranging from 65,000 to 93,000, but they enjoy significantly higher standards of living than Scotland, with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita rates up to two-thirds higher than in Scotland.

The islands also have fewer natural resources than Scotland but much greater power to determine their own domestic policies.

Like his SNP colleagues, Mr Gibson wants full independence – but he also wants a second option on the ballot paper, one that would attract those who are not quite ready for full independence.

He defended the decision to come up with an option which falls short of full independence. “It would be wonderful to think that everybody would vote for independence,” he said, “but there will be those who are not quite sure. This option would get us 90 per cent there.”

Dr Nicola McEwen, an expert on governance at the University of Edinburgh, said Crown dependencies had many advantages but they also tended to lack clout in the big organisations they were members of, like the UK and the EU.

“Crown dependencies or federacies offer just one model of a middle way between the status quo and independence,” she said. “There are other ways of enhancing devolution, but these are being crowded out in a debate that is becoming increasingly polarised between supporters and opponents of independence.”

The main opposition parties have so far been unwilling to endorse a second question on “devo max” on the independence referendum ballot paper – despite several offers from the first minister for them to do so.

The Conservatives oppose it outright. The Labour leadership opposes the idea but some senior Scottish Labour figures – including former first minister Henry McLeish – believe the party should embrace “devo max” and start taking the momentum away from the SNP.

The Liberal Democrats have set up a commission under former leader Sir Menzies Campbell to decide its approach to the issue.

But none of them is as yet willing to take up Mr Gibson’s suggestion and call for Scotland to become a Crown dependency like the Isle of Man.

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Endurance <em>Picture: Frank Hurley / Royal Geographical Society</em>

Endurance Picture: Frank Hurley / Royal Geographical Society

By John Knox

“She’s going down,” Ernest Shackleton told his men as he ordered them to abandon their ship, Endurance. They had indeed “endured” the Antarctic winter of 1915 trapped in the ice when their leader was finally forced to adopt a Plan B. We are still waiting for our own leaders to adopt a Plan B, and meanwhile the watchword is “endurance” as we face a winter of many discontents.

It is clear from the UK party conferences that there is to be no end to the age of austerity. The government cuts are going ahead and the private sector is still iced up in near-zero growth. To add to the gloom, the trade unions are planning a series of demonstrations, and balloting for strike action, over pay freezes, job losses and increasing pension contributions.

We now have to see what the Scottish parties will make of all this in their upcoming conference season. And, more importantly, we have to see what the 32 local councils will do in the face of the biggest freeze in their budgets since devolution. It is the councils, after all, who will have to do most of the cutting and most of the after-care.

Nearly £500 million has been cut from council budgets, 5 per cent, and the council tax has been frozen hard, like the Antarctic ice. The unions are predicting that 10,000 jobs will have to go and many council services will sink like the good ship Endurance. They are calling for a Plan B in which the government spends more now to get the economy back into growth and pays off the debts later by taxing the rich and the avoiders. Alex Salmond has his own Plan MacB in which we spend more now and the future will look after itself in an independent Scotland.

There is however a Plan C emerging. It is to centralise the public services like police and fire and – only hinted at so far – care services and education. The thinking from the SNP, Labour and the Conservatives is that centralising services will save money by avoiding the duplication of back office functions such as personnel management, wage payments, insurance, training and procurement. In the case of police and fire services, the government estimates a single force would save £130m a year in the long run.

But Plan C, to my mind, is either cunning or concerning or just plain crazy. Cunning, because it is a power-grab by Holyrood, replacing local councils in effect but keeping them as a human shield when things go wrong. Concerning, because centralisating usually turns out to be an expensive business and when mistakes are made at the centre, the whole country suffers not just one council area.

And crazy because, ultimately, the same amount of work has to be done – streets patrolled, fires put out, elderly folk looked after, schoolchildren taught. If there are savings to be made in personnel management or procurement etc, then they can be made locally – it is called “efficiency”. Any worthwhile computer system would allow a local manager to shop around or manage his wage bill and learn lessons from his colleagues in other councils.

We all have our own Utopia. Campbell Christie has his, it is called the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services. This worthy report laments the fact that “the public services system in Scotland is often fragmented, complex and opaque”. It finds it too top-down, unresponsive to the needs of individuals and communities and too short-term.

But the Commission has largely been ignored. Partly because it failed to provide a route map to its solutions and partly because it did not recommend what was expected of it, namely more centralisation. Instead Dr Christie’s Utopia seems to consist of many smaller councils (he points out that in Scandinavia there are three times as many as in Scotland) tailoring services to individuals – particularly the disadvantaged – and a massive transfer of resources from acute services to preventive measures: from hospitals to care in the home, or from universities to early learning, or from prisons to community service.

It is true that the finance secretary John Swinney did allocate an extra £500m to preventive measures, but that is over three years and is 0.5 per cent of his budget. Clearly Mr Swinney is not heading for the same Utopia as Dr Christie – or if he is, he is travelling at 0.5 mph.

The other parties are not going anywhere fast, either. Labour just want to go on with the system as it is, but with a third fewer cuts. The Conservatives want to privatise as many services as possible and leave the rest to local boards of enterprising individuals. The Liberal Democrats and the Greens are keen on local co-operatives and charities running services. And indeed I share their enthusiasm.

But my Utopia lies much further away. I would like to see our existing councils given back the services they once ran at a local level and given the freedom and the budgets to do their own thing. Let local managers manage. Local Health Partnerships, for instance, are showing the way forward, where health boards and local councils are working together to integrate hospital care with care in the home and care in the nursing home.

In the longer term, I would like to see the 14 regional health boards abolished and their staff and budgets passed to local councils so that health can be integrated with care services, social work, education and sport.

I gather that the councils in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are experimenting with what they call “a single public authority model” in which the council takes responsibility for all public spending in its area. This makes sense. It should end the “silo mentality” so heavily criticised in the Christie report.

In the long run, I would like to see this devolution applied to Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Water, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Visit Scotland, Scottish Sport and the 20 universities and 41 colleges. This would be a huge shift in power, responsibilities and resources, away from Holyrood and out to the districts. But it is what devolution – or “subsidiary”, to give its European name – is all about. The central government should be there just to regulate, inspect, advise, crisis-manage and make the overall laws. The councils’ job is to “do”, to actually deliver the public services to their people, efficiently with local knowledge and sensitivity.

It’s also a matter of quality jobs. There is a talented and experienced workforce out there in the 32 councils which is being second-guessed – or worse still, directed, by a highly paid bureaucracy at the centre who have no hands-on experience. I am not saying that each council should work away in its own “silo” – there can be cross-border co-operation where it is sensible. Smaller councils may want to join forces for certain purposes. But it should be on an ad hoc basis and only when it suits each council.

Happily, there are already signs that my Utopia is not far away, like the twigs brought back by Noah’s dove. Even in the justice secretary’s plans for a single police force, there is an admission that each council will have to have its own superintendent – in effect, its own chief constable. Many of the great quangos of state have local offices. The government has tried intermittently to end the ring-fencing of budgets so that councils can order their own priorities. It is just a pity that when they do so, they are criticised for creating a “postcode lottery”.

So there is my alternative to Plan C. Let us call it Plan D, for devolution. It does not have to happen overnight, it is more a direction of travel. But I believe it would keep employment up, job-quality up, and deliver better public services. It could be done within existing budgets – indeed it has to be so in this age of austerity. It might even be a rescue plan, as daring as Shackleton’s and almost as dangerous. But remember, the ship is going down and something has to be done.

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A proper Scottish riot, Glasgow 1919 <em>Picture: CDLR</em>

A proper Scottish riot, Glasgow 1919 Picture: CDLR

By Stuart Crawford

Why no riots in Scottish cities (yet)? I tweeted the question a couple of days ago and only got one reply, which shows that nobody is really interested or – more likely – nobody reads the tweets of a nobody.

Whatever the reason, my sole respondent suggested that – and I paraphrase here – it might possibly be because we have a more cohesive, homogeneous society built around our two main political parties, both of which tend to portray themselves as left of centre. Accordingly, there is little of the friction, politically speaking, between right and left, representing haves and have-nots, that there is south of the border.

Well, there may be a point there, but I rather suspect that the SNP has, with its latter-day widespread support from all sectors of Scots society, moved somewhat to straddle the centre of Scottish politics. A bit like New Labour did under Tony Blair, although I’m sure I won’t be thanked for suggesting it.

In the Venn diagram of Scottish politics, the right wing of the SNP now clearly overlaps with the left wing of the Scottish Tories – what remains of them, anyway.

Or, as my SNP activist friend put it at the beginning of the year: “If you put Jim Mather and Murdo Fraser in the same room it would take them quite a while to find something to disagree about.” I liked that one.

However, I don’t think it can only be our different political landscape which can explain the fact that, to date, hordes of disaffected youth and ne’er-do-wells have failed to cause mayhem in Scottish cities. There must be other reasons. What are they?

The first reason to spring to mind as to why we haven’t seen torrents of young Scots running through the streets is because most of them are only just about fit enough to run as far as the nearest fish’n'chip shop, and then only if it’s raining. By the time they had run up and down, say, Sauchiehall Street, they would be too knackered to break into a bag of crisps, let alone into the local branch of BHS. And, if they did, the polis would hardly have to break into a trot to nab them.

The next reason is that, over the years, we have done to riots what the Japanese did to the transistor. We’ve miniaturised them. The Scots don’t do riots any more, nothing like the on scale of the George Square riots in 1919, with tanks on the streets and machine guns on the rooftops. No, like all species, we have evolved and specialised. We don’t riot any more. We “rammy”.

Now, the rammy can mean many things (and I risk treading in Betty Kirkpatrick territory here), from the traditional “stairheid rammy” of yore, when neighbours in tenement closes knocked bells out of each other over the landing, to rammies in pubs – usually, but not exclusively, on Old Firm match days.

Then there is the very epitome of the Scottish domestic disturbance, the wedding rammy, where the groom traditionally batters the bride’s faither and Strathclyde’s (or Lothian’s, or Tayside’s, etc) finest take care of the wedding party and guests for the rest of the night. Even the infamous Scottish Cup Final riot in 1980 was actually no more than a large-scale rammy with a few police horses thrown in for good measure.

Another reason why our city centres aren’t currently being trashed by assorted misfits is because most of the buildings have been destroyed already. A combination of poverty, neglect, wanton low-level vandalism and council architectural indifference has transformed Scotland’s once proud Victorian civic centres into post-apocalyptic wastelands where there is precious little left to destroy. And not just the ones in poorer areas, either. Take a look at Princes Street in oor ain capital city and you’ll see what I mean. A mélange of ugly modern buildings full of tartan tat.

But the major reason we haven’t seen shameful scenes in Bonnie Scotland is, I’m afraid, because the Scottish youth of today just cannae be bothered. It’s too much trouble. Why go to all that effort of getting out of bed before midnight and having to put on proper outside clothes – and maybe having to buy a balaclava, or get your gran to knit one – when you can slob at home in trackies all night watching TV, smoking fags and drinking Buckie? No contest, Big Man!

So I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised at the lack of riotous behaviour up here, for now anyway – although the fact that half of London seems to be in Edinburgh at the moment may have some bearing. Or maybe the natives are busy preparing for Hogmanay, or even the next Old Firm game?

Only time will tell when the next big rammy will happen north of the border, with indignant red faces, strong words and finger-pointing, minor scuffles and fallings-out in public, all dutifully reported by the Scottish media.

Mind you, parliament reconvenes at Holyrood on 5 September…

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Burnt-out bus, Croydon <em>Picture: GeorgeRex</em>

Burnt-out bus, Croydon Picture: GeorgeRex

Alex Salmond was today described as “unhelpful” and “small-minded” after he tried to distance Scotland from the “English” riots.

The first minister told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that he was frustrated that the four days of unrest were been characterised as UK riots when they had nothing to do with Scotland.

“We have an obligation to help if we can and that is what is being done,” Mr Salmond said. “We are not complacent. We have already had resilience meetings of the government over the last few days.

“We know we have a different society in Scotland. One of my frustrations yesterday was to see the events being described as riots in the UK.

“Until such time we do have a riot in Scotland, what we are seeing are riots in London and across English cities.”

The first minister’s comments were derided by both the Conservatives and Labour, with David Mundell, the Scottish Office minister, warning Mr Salmond not to make “political capital” from the riots.

“I welcome the fact Scottish police forces will be deployed to help assist other UK forces,” Mr Mundell said. “We need to band together in times of adversity and many Scottish families will be worried about the safety of relatives and friends living in London and other English cities.

“It is a good example of the UK banding together and putting resources where they are needed and times like this show the values we share across the UK rather than the differences between us.”

And he added: “That is the positive side of the first minister’s comments this morning. What is unhelpful is the tone he has adopted in trying to make political capital out of a terrible situation. It is a parochial and petty view to say he was frustrated by media descriptions of ‘riots in the UK’ as if that was the most pressing issue we currently face. I think most Scots would prefer to see the Scottish government concentrate on providing practical assistance as part of the UK rather than scoring cheap points.”

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, also intervened to express his “disappointment and embarrassment” at what he described as the first minister’s “small-minded” reaction to the riots.

“The first minister’s reaction to the riots is small-minded and embarrassing,” Mr Gray said, “if he really thought the most important thing was that they should be called ‘English riots’ on TV. Surely he could have seen his way to expressing solidarity with the communities devastated by this criminal violence first and foremost?

“My daughter marries a young man from Manchester this week and I spent the afternoon showing his family round the Scottish parliament. These visitors to Edinburgh are worried about events in their city. I was proud to show them the Scottish parliament but embarrassed by the Scottish first minister’s keenness to distance himself from their concerns and portray the riots as an English problem.”

Mr Gray added: “Alex Salmond does not seem to recognise that there are many parts of England that are luckily untouched by riots like Scotland and that an argument about their geography helps no one.

“He has let himself and Scotland down badly trying to push his narrow party political point at a time of crisis.”

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Burnt-out bus, Croydon <em>Picture: GeorgeRex</em>

Burnt-out bus, Croydon Picture: GeorgeRex

Alex Salmond was today described as “unhelpful” and “small-minded” after he tried to distance Scotland from the “English” riots.

The first minister told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that he was frustrated that the four days of unrest were been characterised as UK riots when they had nothing to do with Scotland.

“We have an obligation to help if we can and that is what is being done,” Mr Salmond said. “We are not complacent. We have already had resilience meetings of the government over the last few days.

“We know we have a different society in Scotland. One of my frustrations yesterday was to see the events being described as riots in the UK.

“Until such time we do have a riot in Scotland, what we are seeing are riots in London and across English cities.”

The first minister’s comments were derided by both the Conservatives and Labour, with David Mundell, the Scottish Office minister, warning Mr Salmond not to make “political capital” from the riots.

“I welcome the fact Scottish police forces will be deployed to help assist other UK forces,” Mr Mundell said. “We need to band together in times of adversity and many Scottish families will be worried about the safety of relatives and friends living in London and other English cities.

“It is a good example of the UK banding together and putting resources where they are needed and times like this show the values we share across the UK rather than the differences between us.”

And he added: “That is the positive side of the first minister’s comments this morning. What is unhelpful is the tone he has adopted in trying to make political capital out of a terrible situation. It is a parochial and petty view to say he was frustrated by media descriptions of ‘riots in the UK’ as if that was the most pressing issue we currently face. I think most Scots would prefer to see the Scottish government concentrate on providing practical assistance as part of the UK rather than scoring cheap points.”

Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, also intervened to express his “disappointment and embarrassment” at what he described as the first minister’s “small-minded” reaction to the riots.

“The first minister’s reaction to the riots is small-minded and embarrassing,” Mr Gray said, “if he really thought the most important thing was that they should be called ‘English riots’ on TV. Surely he could have seen his way to expressing solidarity with the communities devastated by this criminal violence first and foremost?

“My daughter marries a young man from Manchester this week and I spent the afternoon showing his family round the Scottish parliament. These visitors to Edinburgh are worried about events in their city. I was proud to show them the Scottish parliament but embarrassed by the Scottish first minister’s keenness to distance himself from their concerns and portray the riots as an English problem.”

Mr Gray added: “Alex Salmond does not seem to recognise that there are many parts of England that are luckily untouched by riots like Scotland and that an argument about their geography helps no one.

“He has let himself and Scotland down badly trying to push his narrow party political point at a time of crisis.”

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poll14By John Knox

Now that Alex Salmond’s government is under way and the excitement of the election campaign is behind us, it’s time for the losers to think again about their future.

Looking back on it, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives failed to offer two important things on 5 May: hope and defiance. The SNP, by contrast, offered both in abundance – hope that the spending cuts could be avoided and defiance that, if they did come from London, they would be fought on the beaches, in the fields and in the streets.

The Scots are in denial about the cuts, like the Irish, the Icelanders, the Greeks and the Spanish. And quite rightly. Why should ordinary people pay for the banking collapse? In answer to that, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems said, in effect, “Because you have to. The national debt is costing us all £120 million a day in interest and your mortgage payments will soar unless we bring that debt down.”

Labour had a slightly less cruel answer: “We can pay off the debt more slowly, but we still need to go ahead with two-thirds of the cuts.”

Only the SNP offered the Scots the prospect of “growing” our way out of the recession and the debt crisis. Never mind that it may turn out to be a false prospectus. It depends on the performance of the private sector – which, so far, does not look encouraging.

The point is that people wanted to believe the SNP. They wanted their promises to be true… that they could stimulate the economy, keep public services going without compulsory redundancies, and still afford free higher education, free personal care, free bus travel for the over-60s, free prescriptions and no increases in the council tax for five years.

The election result was a refusal to accept the received wisdom of the elite that the crisis could only be overcome by the sacrifices of the ordinary citizen and the poor. The unions tried to suggest an alternative, that £120 billion a year could be raised in uncollected taxes. Others suggested we could go the American way and run an even larger government deficit until the recession is over. Still others suggested the banks should be left to collapse and their bonus culture could rot in hell with them.

Perhaps this was grasping at straws, but people wanted their government to find a better way out of the hole the bankers had dropped us into. It’s worth remembering at this point that the turnout in the election was only 51 per cent – so nearly half the population were puzzled as to what to do next, and/or they did not trust the politicians to be able to do anything about our predicament.

So Alex Salmond is left with the task of living up to that hope and that defiance. He may be able to turn those expectations into support for independence, we shall see. I think it more likely he will muddle through with the help of a pay cut in the public sector. But meanwhile, the opposition parties have to offer some hope of their own.

Labour have the choice of going back to the class war or marching on into the brave new world of New Labour, socialism for the middle classes. It means further public service reforms and cutting the welfare bill. The Scottish Conservatives have to hope the private sector will respond to the mighty challenge it has been posed – to invest in new manufacturing, energy production, public services etc and create a quarter of a million new jobs. Their social agenda depends entirely on this.

And, as for the Liberal Democrats, they have to do something really radical to avoid oblivion. The first thing they must do is pull of out the coalition, preferably in a row over bank bonuses. But they need to do much more than that. They need to re-interpret liberalism for the modern age. That is, they have to spell out what “decentralisation” means in a world of global economy and free information. And they have to redefine “individualism” when there are six billion people on the planet and finite natural resources. They need to go local and go green.

For instance, does decentralisation mean more power for local authorities or not? The Liberal Democrats were unsure about this during the election campaign. Does individualism mean that every citizen has the right to pollute the environment with their motor car if they want to, or live in a remote, traditionally Liberal Democrat constituency?

As the campaign unfolded, it became clear that none of the opposition parties had done this fundamental thinking. They were all about tactics – mimicking the SNP on council tax and the NHS, police numbers, class sizes, spending on green energy and various gimmicks for tackling alcohol abuse and crime. None of the differences were substantial. And none of the opposition parties was able to use those differences as illustrations of their overall message, as the SNP were for their message of hope.

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First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament


This address was given to the Scottish parliament by Alex Salmond on his re-election to the post of First Minister for Scotland, 18 May 2011.

When Donald Dewar addressed this parliament in 1999, he evoked Scotland’s diverse voices: “The speak of the Mearns. The shout of the welder above the din of the Clyde shipyard. The battle cries of Bruce and Wallace.”

Now these voices of the past are joined in this chamber by the sound of 21st-century Scotland. The lyrical Italian of Marco Biagi. The formal Urdu of Humza Yousaf. The sacred Arabic of Hanzala Malik. We are proud to have those languages spoken here alongside English, Gaelic, Scots and Doric.

This land is their land, from the sparkling sands of the islands to the glittering granite of its cities. It belongs to all who choose to call it home. That includes new Scots who have escaped persecution or conflict in Africa or the Middle East. It means Scots whose forebears fled famine in Ireland and elsewhere.

That is who belongs here, but let us be clear also about what does not belong here. As the song tells us, for Scotland to flourish then “Let us be rid of those bigots and fools / Who will not let Scotland, live and let live.”

Our new Scotland is built on the old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society.

Scotland’s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem Scotland Small, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotypes. “Scotland small?”, he asked. “Our multiform, our infinite Scotland, small? Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner. To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’”

The point is even the smallest patch of hillside contains enormous variation – of bluebells, blaeberries and mosses. So to describe Scotland as nothing but heather is, said MacDiarmid, “Marvellously descriptive! And totally incomplete!”

To describe Scotland as small is similarly misleading. Scotland is not small. It is not small in imagination and it is not short in ambition. It is infinite in diversity and alive with possibility.

Two weeks ago, the voters of Scotland embraced that possibility. They like what their parliament has done within the devolved settlement negotiated by Donald Dewar. They like what the first, minority SNP government achieved. Now they want more.

They want Scotland to have the economic levers to prosper in this century. They are excited by the opportunity to re-industrialise our country through marine renewable energy, offering skilled, satisfying work to our school leavers and graduates alike. But they also know we need the tools to do the job properly.

This chamber understands that too. My message today is let us act as one and demand Scotland’s right. Let us build a better future for our young people by gaining the powers we need to speed recovery and create jobs.

Let us wipe away past equivocation and ensure that the present Scotland Act is worthy of its name.

There is actually a great deal on which we are agreed. The three economic changes I have already promoted to the Scotland Bill were chosen from our manifesto because they command support from other parties in this chamber.

All sides of this parliament support the need for additional and immediate capital borrowing powers so we can invest in our infrastructure and grow our economy. I am very hopeful that this will be delivered.

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and many in the Labour party agree that Crown Estate revenues should be repatriated to Scottish communities. We await Westminster’s reply. Our leading job creators back this government’s call for control of corporation tax to be included in the Scotland Bill.

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland – a Conservative – supports the devolution of this tax, and the cross-party committee of this last parliament agreed unanimously that if the principle was conceded in Northern Ireland then Scotland must have the same right.

But these are not the only issues which carry support across this chamber. There are three more constitutional changes we might agree on. Why not give us control of our own excise duty? We have a mandate to implement a minimum price for alcohol. We intend to pursue that in this parliament come what may.

However, our Labour colleagues agree that it is correct to set a minimum price for alcohol, but they were concerned about where the revenues would go. Gaining control of excise would answer that question. It means we can tackle our country’s alcohol problem and invest any additional revenue in public services. So I ask Labour members to join with me in calling for control of alcohol taxes so that we together we can face down Scotland’s issue with booze.

Another key aspect of our national life controlled by Westminster is broadcasting. All of Scotland is poorly served as a result. If we had some influence over this currently reserved area we could, for example, create a Scottish digital channel – something all the parties in this parliament supported as long ago as 8 October 2008.

We agree that such a platform would promote our artistic talent and hold up a mirror to the nation. How Scotland promotes itself to the world is important. How we talk to each other is also critical.

These are exciting times for our country. We need more space for our cultural riches and for lively and intelligent discourse about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be.

Finally, many of us agree that, in this globalised era, Scotland needs more influence in the European Union and particularly in the Council of Ministers. At the moment that is in the gift of Westminster.

Sometimes it is forthcoming, more often it is withheld. We in the Scottish National Party argue for full sovereignty – it will give us an equal, independent voice in the EU.

However, short of that, the Scotland Bill could be changed to improve our position. When the first Scotland Act was debated in Westminster in 1998, there was a proposal, as I remember, from the Liberal Democrats, to include a mechanism to give Scotland more power to influence UK European policy. It was defeated then, but why not revisit it now? Let Scotland have a guaranteed say in the forums where decisions are made that shape our industries and our laws.

I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy.

I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better.

Norman MacCaig observed that when you swish your hand in a stream, the waters are muddied, but then they settle all the clearer. On 5 May the people of our country swished up the stream and now the way ahead is becoming clear.

We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity. A change is coming, and the people are ready. They put ambition ahead of hesitation. The process is not about endings. It is about beginnings.

Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours. We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands

My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment.

So let me finish with the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who addressed this parliament in 1706, before it was adjourned for 300 years. He observed that: “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.” This much we know. But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser,” we are all diminished. His fears were realised in 1707.

But the age of empires is over. Now we determine our own future based on our own needs. We know our worth and should take pride in it.

So let us heed the words of Saltoun and “Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum