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Healing the rift?

Brian Taylor | 13:55 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2007

There now, that wasn't that hard, was it?

Gordon Brown has finally phoned Alex Salmond to say "well done" on becoming first minister.

Tad late, perhaps. In fact, a fortnight late. But there you go.

Strictly, I suppose, the phone call should have come from the Prime-Minister-in-Office rather than the PM-in-Waiting.

But Mr Salmond says he isn't bothered.

I guess he'd rather talk to the guy in (potential) charge rather than the one on an extensive farewell tour.

Does any of this matter? Not vastly, no.

It was somewhat rude and curmudgeonly of Downing Street, 10 and 11, to ignore the new elected FM in Scotland.

After all, in their years in power they will have gritted their teeth and conversed with political leaders they disliked.

Difference was Alex Salmond had committed the unpardonable folly of defeating Labour on their "own" territory.

More to the point, where will power now lie?

Will Gordon Brown co-operate with Alex Salmond?

Answer: yes, where it's needed.

See previous blogs as to why the "Brown will snub Salmond" canard was always bogus.

They're both democrats: They'll work together where they share a common perception of the public interest.

Where will they differ? Independence.

Alex thinks it's a grand wheeze, Gordon thinks it's dumb.

That cannot be elided - so it will simply have to be factored into whatever relationship they develop.

More to the point, again, where does power lie in Scotland?

Ever so gently - and with wit - the first minister reminded MSPs yesterday that the executive cannot be constrained by everyday, ordinary parliamentary resolutions.

The presiding officer later confirmed that the exec could only be bound by .... formal legislation or a vote to vary Scottish income tax.

Oh, and one more - a vote of no confidence in the first minister and his government.

It's showdown time right away.

The FM wants to scrap the Edinburgh trams and airport rail link. The other parties want to go ahead.

Parliament has legislated approval. But the executive controls the money.

Alex Salmond now says he'll produce financial evidence - which will undoubtedly show that the trams and rail link would require largesse on the scale of the South Sea Bubble and the Darien Scheme combined. (Memo to civil service: If it doesn't show that, stand by for one unhappy FM.)

Then the crunch.

The only serious sanction available to MSPs if the executive refuses to fund the new transport projects is to lodge a confidence motion.

Earlier, a reader asked me what happened if the SNP lost a by-election. Herewith the answer.

The SNP executive is brought down the moment its first minister suffers a defeat in a formal confidence motion.

And by no other means. Losing individual Holyrood votes doesn't do it.

But think on.

For the opposition parties to use this option, they would have to be certain of having a replacement FM in mind - one who could command a majority in Holyrood.

Otherwise, it's down the big snake to square one - and a rerun election.

Can't see the voters liking that.

This is a tough one.


  • 1.
  • At 04:59 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • Ross wrote:

Great insight as always Brian!

I am still struggling why no-one has questioned the outrageous scaremongering tactics of the Labour machine in the election. It is so clear now that the majority of that was to intimidate the electorate and hence why they lost power. The Labour party used to be everything good about Scotland, now they are an embarrassment to themselves and their country

your right getting beat on their home turf has sent shudders. The leadership of the Labour party have shown their true colours when refusing to congratulate AS, the DEMOCRATIC first minister of Scotland. Simply Shocking!!

  • 2.
  • At 05:02 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • derek barker wrote:

It's clear A.S wants to talk to someone,it's clear that G.B. will be the next P.M.and you know what! on personal private political belief,these two are not that far apart,IT JUST MAYBE THE START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL. Who would you like to do business with SALMOND or a McConnell.Let's wait and see what kind of relationship develops here?

  • 3.
  • At 05:50 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • ratzo wrote:

Not that tough, Brian. The Tories won't play along; the libdems would be voting for extinction; and no-one wants Jack back, not even Jack. The nats can call their bluff.

  • 4.
  • At 08:46 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • scothighland wrote:

Smoke & mirrors GB only called the first minister to score points over blair.Tony blair was after all a laughing stock at FM's questions.cant wait till that numpty brown is PM,I for one think sparks will fly!!!

  • 5.
  • At 12:32 AM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • douglas eckhart wrote:

Roll on a vote of no confidence I say!

And watch the SNP return with a vastly increased majority and the lib dems dwindle to nothing (by which time Tavish Scott will have made his move and taken over).

The Scotsman's hysterical pro-labour slavering about the trams showed just how much they are part of the big labour gravy train. No wonder there are lots of 'business interests' in the trams... they were all getting backhanders in traditional labour style.

Sorry boys! the gravy train's drying up!

Funny how the pro-tram people go quiet when you suggest that the people of edinburgh decide themselves in a referendum.

Could it be because they know that the vast majority of Edinburgh citizens will vote against it?

  • 6.
  • At 08:19 AM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • Clamjamfrie wrote:

Isn't it ironic, that under devolution, it is the nationalist Alex Salmond who has been willing to engage positively with the British Prime Minister, or PM elect, while it is the PM and PM elect, the unionist develutionists, who have not responded positively to the circumstances of devolution? Maybe the problem is they never actually believed they had to come to terms with devolution. They knew New Labour and the Lib Dems in Scotland were never really going to rock the boat.

But given the tardy call from Gordon Brown, I feel he may have lost some of the good will otherwise due to come his way for the traditional first 100 days. I fear that rather than a honeymoon it is a test of character that awaits. He said he will engage with Salmond for the sake of jobs in Scotland. Seems to me that together they need to sit down with BP and get the carbon capture development back on stream. Let's see you live up to your own words Mr Brown.

  • 7.
  • At 10:47 AM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

The bow wave of embarrassment was growing and growing, once day one had passed it became more and more difficult to lift the phone, with more and more questions being asked at to why not; media representatives were complicit insomuch as the infantile questions most often shouted at the Chancellor produced nil responses which were open to interpretation; so unlike the media to add their spin to such a situation.

The Chancellor I think always felt the need to prefix any relevant statements he made with his Unionist caveat, although journalist proved too infantile to wait until he had made his statement before asking him their follow up questions.

These politicians have their own survival and longevity of office too much to the fore of their minds to leave themselves open to accusations of placing the interests of Scotland and its people at risk; where there is no independence theme there will be every need for both to appear to be working for the common good that is Scotland.

A non event that hopefully lessons will be learned from.

I feel that it was the fear of the big snake, the potential for accusations to be laid for throwing the wrong dice that caused those potential challenges to some of the election counts to abandon their causes; whilst I think voters in Scotland are understanding they will clearly identify acts of political sabotage which could either be contrived to force either a new First Minister or a failed First Minister upon them, or to force them back to the polls.

  • 8.
  • At 01:58 PM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • John MacLeod wrote:

Excellent blog as ever, Brian - really helpful. Forgive me for asking what may sound like a stupid question - it's been on my mind since the sad death of a newly elected councillor in Aberdeen.

Under our new, Single Transferable Vote electoral system in Scottish local government, will there be a by-election? If so, how would it be conducted?

  • 9.
  • At 04:12 PM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • David MacDonald wrote:

>(Memo to civil service: If it doesn't show that,
> stand by for one unhappy FM.)

Good to read political commentary that understands how government and the civil service actually work together.

"Yes, First Minister..."

The SNP might not be going around saying in public we are zee masters now but you can bet that the top brass in the civil service know who's in charge.

BTW: what is the generic term for a top civil servant in Scotland? Mandarin sounds very Whitehall.

How about Hiheidyin? Fyrst scribler?
Does anyone else have any suggestions?

On another note:

>Earlier, a reader asked me what happened
>if the SNP lost a by-election.

And what happens if Labour lose one?

Answer: Jack will be joining Henry on the golf course.

Or the LibDems?

Answer: pressure to form a coalition will increase.

What do you think Brian?

  • 10.
  • At 06:46 AM on 03 Jun 2007,
  • Brian wrote:

If we have a re-run of the election then things will just get worse for Labour. My whole family have just collectively cut our party membership cards in half in disgust because of the arrogant, ungracious way that senior Labour figures treated our new FM. No - I didn't vote for Mr Salmonds party but I respect him for winning the election. This attitude has even filtered down to local level here in Renfrewshire where the comments about the new council administration that have been made by the local Labour leader - Ian McMillan - are shameful. It takes a man of substance to admit he's wrong and accept the will of the people. Men (and women) of substance seem to be thin on the ground within the Labour party.

Brian, you're being far too kind to the outgoing Dear Leader, Mr. Blair. The day after the French elections he not only phoned Sarkozy but even found time to post videos on YouTube congratulating him.

Yet when a new premier is elected within part of his own country, under a devolution settlement fashioned by he himself, he... ignores it. This is a spectacular diplomatic snub by any standards, more redolent of an unpleasant and petulant small boy in a playground than the Prime Minister of a G8 country.

It doesn't surprise me that this has passed completely undetected under the radar of the London media, but surely you shouldn't just allow it to drift past unnoticed either?

  • 12.
  • At 01:52 PM on 03 Jun 2007,
  • John Lawrence wrote:

I think the Labour leaderships behaviour is just a carry on from their election fiasco.
I am not clear what their policies are, they just appear to be name calling everyone else. Even Douglas Alexander on election night was extremely negative.
This not phoning business just makes Labour look petty and silly, and worse, it looks like they have no respect for the people of Scotland. This is hardly likely to win them any new friends.
John Lawrence

  • 13.
  • At 12:57 AM on 04 Jun 2007,
  • Neil Henning wrote:

Just have to say from a young-gun Glasgow Student, that these blogs really hit home about what's happening at Holyrood. Keep them coming!

  • 14.
  • At 07:50 AM on 04 Jun 2007,
  • Joseph, Maastricht, The Netherlands wrote:

At last Gordon gets round to congratulating Alex, the lack of manners by Labour is breathtaking.

My huge concern is this is how Gordon will treat Alex when Gordon starts his 'unelected' leadership of the Labour party and the English Parliament.

Do not think for a minute that he will allow Mr Salmond a moment of respite from the normal Labour policy of 'Spin and Lies', Mr Salmond can look forward to attack after attack by the Labour spin machine, I just pray that the Scottish public will be able to see through the distortions and lies spread by Labour and it's left-wing friends in the press (BBC included).

Watching the UK political scene from the safety of Holland it is clear that the UK has huge problems with it's left wing PC media, it is a source of merriment to my Dutch and German colleagues why no UK politician will answer a question and more concerning why the left wing seem to be given so much air-time!.

Also let me point out that the BBC coverage of Scottish affairs is so poor that most of my colleagues were unaware of the remarkable election win of the SNP, from watching the BBC coverage of the UK elections they were all under the impression that Labour had won Scotland, England and Wales!.

The economics of the Borders railway line are no less shaky than the tram or the airport rail link. In fact they are arguably far more creative in their presentation.

Principal among them is The 750,000 car journeys that Holyrood were told would be taken off the roads from the 22,000 commuters who live in Midlothian and the Borders. This relates to slightly over 1,440 people a (working) day using the train service to get to work in Edinburgh from the Borders and Midlothian. So roughly 6.5% of commuters will get out of their cars and onto the trains

The economic case for the railway showed it making an operating loss even after five years. To me the case seems very flimsy - even allowing for tourists and other one off trips. As an estimate revenue from the commuters might amount to £5.5 million per year (£15 return fare) – official estimates say £6.17m after five years. Even at their level the line will still be making an operating loss. On current cost forecasts for building the railway that amounts to something over 31 years just to repay the capital costs of construction, ignoring any operating costs.

Why would we build something to lose money? I know the environmental arguments but surely we should be planning something 'fit for purpose' that makes money? This project is all about the Lib Dems pushing for it, along with Scottish Borders Council who want house building in the central Borders.

In 2000 the costs of restoring a railway was estimated at £73m. When MSPs voted to restore it in 2006 the costs quoted were £155m. Now we are told that the costs will be £178M - but don't worry. According to local MSP Jeremy Purvis said "detractors of the rail project had been proved wrong, and maintained: It will be delivered on time and on budget." Apparently the reason for the increase in the last year are due to a, "much more detailed technical assessments. These identified that significantly more work was required on structures such as bridges and tunnels than originally estimated. In addition, costs have increased due to general increases in track, signalling, earthworks and other factors such as environmental mitigation, some land acquisition and design and management. In addition to inflation, there are also new costs such as landfill tax that has now been built into the revised cost estimate.

Unconfirmed reports have it that the cost has now reached £200, 000,000.

Next stop Holyrood?

  • 16.
  • At 10:01 PM on 04 Jun 2007,
  • W McMeechan wrote:

I have the feeling that our Brian is far too cosy with the trough users. Surely after the Stevenson revelations it is time for some hard -hitting comment on the gravy train that is HOLYROOD. There are 129 MSPs it was supposed to be 100 by now,of course Turkeys will not vote for Christmas. List MPs are creaming the Edinburgh Housing Allowance, witness the ones for Central Scotland: Neill, Fabiani etc, I am almost sorry to say I voted SNP.These creeps now have the temerity to tell us how much alcohol we will be able to buy,before we set the curtains on fire.

  • 17.
  • At 02:08 AM on 05 Jun 2007,
  • Neil Henning wrote:

It is shocking that Blair hasn't phoned the First Minister yet, but I personally think Labour is just in a total loss right now. If nothing happens during this SNP term, its because a minority government was squeezed, thus SNP look good. If the minority government works well, the SNP were the crafters of it and get the credit too! Labour are in a right mess at the moment, and only calling for a referedum themselves (and if they are right, that said referedum failing) would really stop the SNP ship dead in the water.

  • 18.
  • At 11:19 AM on 05 Jun 2007,
  • Darran wrote:

Thanks Brian,

Now that i live in New Zealand I need as much insider info as i can as Scottish politics never gets a mention down here.

  • 19.
  • At 12:40 PM on 05 Jun 2007,
  • john d wrote:

Just wanted to add that finally , we have a FM that cares about Scotland and is prepared to stand up and speak and act on what is best for scotland. No more will we have to listen to shaky McConnell being used as the mouthpiece for London.

Far to long has this Nation wanted to believe that being part off the union is best, no more! we are a proud nation with proud heritage and a wealth off technology and resources.

The sooner we have complete independence the better!.

  • 20.
  • At 04:00 PM on 05 Jun 2007,
  • Medusa wrote:

"Memo to civil service: If it doesn't say that, stand by for one unhappy FM."

We're here to do our jobs without fear or favour, not to pander to every politician who manages to get him- or herself elected to a fancy job title every few years. The figures produced will tell the truth. Ir FM wants to do a Rumpelstiltskin, that's up to him, but it won't earn him any respect from Executive staff.

  • 21.
  • At 09:59 AM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

It is such a shame that tapping minesterial phones is illegal. It would have been great to hear that phone call where Brown has to congratulate Salmond.

  • 22.
  • At 03:43 PM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • sven wrote:

Your 'fishing for favours' entry isn't accepting comments right now, so I'll post it here.

Fishing is a vital issue for the SNP if they want to retain their North East heartland. They were able to gain a foothold in the North East precisely because of fishing.

If they make the slightest suggestion that they are prepared to compromise over fishing, then they will lose their north east heartland. If Westminster pulls rank, then they must use this as an issue to promote the cause of independence, or else they lose their power base. They cannot reach a deal whereby there is some sort of compromise (somebody else gets our fish while we get something else) because if they do, then they will eventually lose their power base.

Scotland within Europe is a reasonable policy, but only if they insist, as a condition for our post independence entry into Europe that Scottish waters are Scottish for the purpose of fishing, just as they are UK waters right now for the purpose of oil.

This makes things more difficult, of course, but the obstacle should not be insurmountable. After all, Edward Heath was able to negotiate the waters as British for purposes of oil, so the principle has already been established.

If they don't do that, then they are doomed to lose eventually.

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