Conservatives and the Union

September 30, 2008

Just a couple of days after Gordon Brown was nicking SNP policies and passing them off as Labour policies in his conference speech, now the Conservatives do the same.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has just announced the Conservatives will introduce a freeze in Council Tax in England.

Of course, this successful SNP policy in Scotland was opposed by the Scottish Conservatives in the May 2007 Scottish election.

They argued for a reduction in council tax for pensioners instead.

Just how will they take the new Conservative policy in England?

And there is the rub.

No matter how much David Cameron says he believes in the Union, the Scottish Conservative Party and the UK Conservative Party are becoming more out of sync.

Of course, with devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland policy divergence between the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party (and for that matter the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party) and its UK counterpart is only to be expected.

And the longer devolution makes policy decisions that are only applicable to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the greater this policy divergence will become.

So it seems to me that it would be better for the Conservatives just to have done, and liberate their devolved partners and instead become the English Conservative Party.

This case applies more to the Conservatives who only have 1 MP in Scotland, and 3 MPs in Wales; than Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

That would leave the English Conservatives room to strongly argue the case for an English Parliament, or even ending the Treaty of the Union altogether.

It already has been the most dominant of the main parties giving proposals to try and answer the West Lothian Question. For example here and here and here and here and here are just some of the Conservative proposals. Yet English votes for English matters may just bring about the end of the Treaty of Union anyway.

And ditching its support of the Treaty of the Union could make an English Conservative Party the main party of Government in England for decades to come.

David Cameron may be against Independence for Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales now, but if the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland doesn’t end up with Scotland leaving the UK, he may find that Labour will once again regain control of the UK purely because of its Scottish and Welsh MPs.

And if the West Lothian Question has not been answered by then, the pressure on his party to change position may become unbearable.

Surely taking a long-term view it is better to change now whilst ahead in the polls and in a position of strength?

Right now, their professed support for the Union in words isn’t backed by their actions.

For example, their plans for a high-speed rail network that only goes as far north as Leeds.

Now David Cameron may say that he will run the line up to Scotland at a later date – he doesn’t say when – but I doubt it will convince Scots voters.

Again, a high-speed rail link was SNP policy, but obviously they planned for the service to go between Edinburgh and London.

The Conservatives need to come clean on their view of the Union:

They need to back up their words with actions.

Or will they steal another SNP policy? Independence?

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The tide is turning

September 29, 2008

Its been announced today that major new tidal energy projects will be launched in the Pentland Firth, the Sound of Islay and the Antrim coast.

The Pentland Firth in particular has been described as ‘the Saudi Arabia of tidal power’ and could provide Scotland with half its electricity [Robert Gordon University estimate] (Over 15 TWHrs per annum).

Tidal farms around Orkney and Shetland may produce 25 000 MW (73 TWHrs per annum).

Although the annual needs are measured in TWHrs, the actual plant machinery is measured in MW or GW. It is then factored into how much electricity it can provide in a year, taking a third as a load factor.

For instance,

A 6 GW plant provides 6 x 365 (days in a year) x 24 (hours in a day) x 0.33 (load factor)

i.e. 17.2 TWHrs.

Installed nuclear plant has 2.09 GW, (July 08). [6.1 TWHr]

Installed renewables plant have 2.96 GW (Sept 08 figure). [8.64 TWHr]

In total, Scottish electrical plant from all fuel sources has 10.3 GW [30 TWHr]. As you can work out from the Robert Gordon figure, this pretty much equates to what Scotland uses in electrical requirement.

But, as you can see with the figures talked about regarding the Pentland Firth and the Northern Isles alone, Scotland has far more energy potential than it needs, it has the capability to export vast amounts of electrical power.

Just using tidal energy alone. And tidal energy is ‘always on’ unlike wind power (36.5 GW estimated plant). And I haven’t mentioned Wave Power (14 GW estimated plant) either.

The nuclear argument is a red herring. As long as we build over 2 GW of renewable plant by the time the last Scottish nuclear plant Torness is decommisioned (expected in 2023), we should replace the nuclear output with ease.

Scotland doesn’t need it.

The tide is turning.

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Burying bad news

September 28, 2008

It seems that Jack McConnell has been plunged into a gay rights row in Malawi. The Malawian Gay Rights Movement MAGRIM are desperately awaiting his arrival.

Jack McConnell in his pin-striped kilt

A spokesman said: “We are anxiously waiting for the arrival of Jack McConnell. He supports gay rights and we believe he will use his influence as High Commissioner as well as his close working relationship with President Bingu Mutharika to put in place friendly legislation for homosexuality.”

As I have commented before on this blog, Jack McConnell is due to take over from Richard Wildash when he leaves his post on January.

That means there is pressure on Jack McConnell to quit as a Scottish MSP to allow a suitable handover to take place.

Now it seems that Labour are considering holding a snap by-election in Jack McConnell’s Motherwell and Wishaw constituency on November 6th.

The same day pencilled in for the Glenrothes by-election.

The date of November 6th, being two days after the American Presidential election, is already seen as a good day to bury bad news; as the media will be focussed on the new American President.

Having two by-elections on the one day may also split the SNP campaign activists. Labour activists were vastly outnumbered by SNP activists in the Glasgow East by-election.

Gay rights is a hot topic in Malawi. Homosexuality is banned in the country.

One politician Aden Mbowani MP of the Malawi Congress Party, dismissed any change in the law, saying:

“This man you call McConnell, he will not influence any policy in this country”

I think he must have studied Scottish politics! As First Minister of Scotland even fellow Labour MPs did not know his name.

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Settling the Act of Settlement

September 27, 2008

According to new reports Gordon Brown may be preparing to ditch the Act of Settlement, the centuries old English law that bans Catholics from being King or Queen. It was later included as Article 2 in the Treaty of the Union when Scotland lost its independence.

A move that has championed by Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, said: “I welcome these moves. The Act of Settlement is an 18th-century anachronism that has no place in a modern 21st-century constitution. The SNP first raised the issue over a decade ago, the Scottish parliament united in 1999 to call for this long overdue reform, and I hope the prime minister follows through in early course.”

This is one of latest policy u-turns Gordon Brown has done, frequently stealing SNP policies in the process.

Cynics interpret that this is Gordon Brown’s attempt to try and shore up the Catholic vote for Labour, as its suggested that Catholics are leaving the Labour Party in droves. A blatant piece of electioneering to try and secure a fourth term when the policy will be put before Parliament.

Critics of the move suggest that ending the Act of Settlement may start a movement towards the disestablishment of the Church of England. The UK monarch is Head of the Church of England, and gives an Oath of Ascession to “maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government” in Scotland.

As a result the Church of Scotland is not a state church, as in England. It is entirely free and neither the Westminster or Scottish Parliaments are involved in the Kirk’s appointments.

The question is – how could a Catholic monarch be either the Head of the Church of England or give the Oath of Ascession to Scottish Presbyterianism?

Both would doubtless need to change.

It would see the separation of the Church of England from the state, as the Church of Scotland is.

And although, it is possible that a Catholic monarch could promise to uphold Presbyterianism, and leave the Oath of Ascession unaltered, its far more likely that a new Oath of Ascession would be more inclusive and tolerant to all religions.

Or even scrapped altogether.

For me, I would like religion and the state to be separate.

The Act of Settlement must go. It is an outdated discrimanating law. Not just to catholics but jews, hindus, muslims etc.

And agnostic and athetists. I’d much rather have an athetist monarch personally, I think that would be even-handed to all religions!

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Welcome to Scotland

September 26, 2008

This is a map of Scotland in 1153, at the end of the reign of David I.

David I's Scotland

Note that where it says ‘England’; the line below it was then part of Scotland. The border moved north by 1286.

In fact, David I liked Cumbria so much, he moved his royal court to Carlisle.

So its with interest that I note an artist has erected a ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign before people reach Carlisle travelling north.

The intention being to ‘reignite the debate’ as to whether Carlisle should be part of Scotland.

Its not been long since Berwick-upon-Tweed voted in an unofficial poll to join Scotland again.

Its nice to be popular, isn’t it.

We must be doing something right!

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Glenrothes – mining new depths

September 25, 2008

Well, it seems that the media are now convinced that the date of the Glenrothes byelection will be November 6th. The date, it is supposed, will be so close to the US Presidental election, that it will limit the damage to Gordon Brown.

Glenrothes, originally envisaged as a mining town, would have been a safe Labour seat in the past.

Not so today.

Labour’s own canvassing put the SNP 5000 votes up, and a recent poll of Unite trade union members resulted in a majority of those votes going to the SNP. Of course, Unite members will be affected by the proposed takeover of the Bank of Scotland by Lloyds TSB. Labour activists are preparing for a voter backlash against Gordon Brown’s handling of the economy that led to the collapse of the Scottish bank.

It seems that Labour are banking on the memory of John MacDougall, their previous MP, to shore up their vote.

John was, by all accounts, a popular MP who died of an asbestos related condition. He was though suing the Labour Government for refusing to pay him compensation for his illness.

The Fife Labour Party have set up a condolence webpage for his memory.

But as Jess the dog points out, it looks like the Labour Party are willing to use Glenrothes constituents that leave a message, as targets for their electioneering.

Something that Guido Fawkes noticed happening in the Crewe and Nantwich byelection too.

Well.

At least it’ll save those stories about Labour’s dodgy election software and database that couldn’t handle those pesky Scottish flats in Glasgow East.

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A British century?

September 24, 2008

“This is no time for a novice” said Gordon Brown in his conference speech.

Those words came back to me when Ann McKechin, the new Scotland Office minister – having taken over from David Cairns, was trying to explain – on Radio Scotland’s Scotland at Ten – why Gordon Brown was talking about implementing policies in England, that are SNP policies in Scotland. It didn’t sound like she convinced interviewer Derek Bateman, nor anyone else listening I suspect.

Gordon Brown’s SNP-lite policies:-

“So our plan is next year to abolish all prescription charges for everyone with cancer.” That’s in April 2009. By that time, the SNP Prescription charge will be £4 to everyone, and those on extended care with PPCs will pay £38 per year. The scheme will further reduce costs in 2010 and be free to all in 2011. I think the SNP are ahead of the game here. Although everyone is playing catchup with Wales, where they are already free.

“Greater visibility for people doing community payback” That means offenders working in the community. Something that Kenny McAskill, SNP Justice Minister, has championed.

And the SNP have pointed out that Gordon Brown’s flexible GP surgeries are already done in Scotland under this SNP Government.

Likewise his carbon emission target.

And his financial help for the elderly. Its already free in Scotland. That was brought in by the previous executive, and maintained by the SNP Government.

Well they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Or is Gordon Brown just trying to steal the SNP’s clothes?

One thing is for sure. How Gordon Brown can come out and say that this will be a ‘British century’ with devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is extraordinary!

The SNP are in power in Scotland. Their popularity shows no signs of ending, and look favourites for the coming Glenrothes byelection.

They also plan to hold an independence referendum in 2010. Hardly a sign that Britain is united!

Plaid Cymru are jointly in control in Wales. A recent poll shows 70% favour devolution, with the majority of those wanting more powers.

Both Scotland and Wales provide powerful arguments to why Brown’s Britishness agenda is dated. Not to mention the demand for an English Parliament in England. Even Cornwall has a political party advocating self-government.

If the 21st century is to be a ‘British century’ it will surely mean that each nation will finally have its own voice.

In fact, as The Telegraph reported earlier this month, even his ‘British century’ idea is not new. Brown used it in the 2007 TUC conference as well.

No wonder I was bored with the speech.

I wasn’t the only one. Check here. And Here. And Here. And Here.

And more especially here, for a nice picture of one of the Labour delegates at conference!

All in all, even the standing ovations reminded me of Iain Duncan Smith’s last Conservative conference in charge. He managed 17 in total then was hurled out on his ear!.

I don’t think Gordon Brown is fooling anyone. At best he has bought some time.

Even the Labour Party must realise it.

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