BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian

Archives for July 2007

Flagging it up

Brian Taylor | 15:21 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2007

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An erstwhile editor of mine was wont to opine: “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.”

By this, he meant that we were free to take a bit of a risk with an item.

Trite, I know. Perhaps he’d seen Citizen Kane as a youth and never quite recovered. He’d have worn a green eyeshade if he thought he could get away with it.

However, I remember this particular editor with notable fondness. (I am, of course, harking back to the days when newspaper content was driven by editors and not the current marketing fad.)

I thought of him when I pondered the minor controversy over Caledonian flag-flying.

Fresh from leave (Crete, very warm, thanks for asking), I thought I’d investigate which flag we should run up our official flagpoles - and who might be inclined to salute.

Flags, apparently, are devolved. Holyrood rules on standards, woven and behavioural. Which means the SNP executive can issue guidance on which banner, with or without a strange device, should be flown – and when.

If, that is, they’re all that bothered.

There is a distinct lassitude on this issue in the environs on the first minister.

That is, of course, deliberate. (A Salmond doesn’t do coincidence or accident.)

Mr Salmond, of course, wants to furl the Union Flag once and for all in Scotland. He is against the Union.

Consequently, he is against its emblems.

However, he has calculated that you do not haul down a flag by fretting about the banner itself.

Politically, you focus on substance, not symbol.

Hence, the signals from St Andrews House are that ministers aren’t all that concerned.

They’ll fly the Saltire on government buildings, of course in line with guidance introduced by Jack McConnell.

They’ll fly the Union Flag on 18 designated days, mostly connected with the Royal Family - again in line with established guidance.

They’ll look again at whether the Union Flag should take precedence over the Saltire on such days. (Apparently, that simply means which flag is on the left as you look at the front of a building.)

They point out, further, that this issue was prompted by Gordon Brown’s desire to enhance the visibility of the Union Flag.

It was not, in short, an issue raised by Nationalists.

Of course, they protest - or, rather, demur - too much. For substantial swathes of the SNP, symbols matter greatly. Nationalist ministers are sensitive to that.

However, they’re equally sensitive to their external image.

They don’t want to be painted into a petty and petulant row, not of their making, over woven cloth, however historically and emotionally significant.

Run this issue up the flagpole, by all means. But don’t expect Alex Salmond to salute.

Holyrood holidays

Brian Taylor | 15:24 UK time, Thursday, 26 July 2007

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Brian has taken a break from his blogging duties during the Scottish Parliament's summer recess.

Normal service will be resumed when MSPs return to Holyrood in September.

Thriving economy vs economic deprivation

Brian Taylor | 14:13 UK time, Wednesday, 4 July 2007

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Two surveys, two pictures of Scotland’s economy - in its broadest sense.

One notes that Scotland’s manufactured exports are continuing their slow recovery. We are, it seems, contriving to sell goods, particularly drink and metals, to the world in greater quantities.

The other? A report from Barnardo’s depicting Scotland as close to the bottom of an international league table of child poverty.

As noted in other comparable studies, we score highly for education - but fall behind on relative poverty overall and issues like low birth weight and the prevalence of teenage pregnancy.

Are the two linked - or disparate? If the executive succeed in their ambition to improve Scotland’s historically low economic growth rate, will there be a matching improvement in the figures exposed by the Barnardo’s report?

Or will poor social cohesion continue to exist alongside relative economic well-being? Does Scotland’s record on child poverty also owe much to low self-esteem and social breakdown: the “broken society” identified by some commentators?

It is at least arguable that it is only with the resources provided by a thriving economy that we can tackle the elementary economic deprivation endured by many.

But perhaps it is also arguable that we need more than money alone. We need a collective sense of disquiet, of shame at the poverty among us: and a collective will to reverse the concomitant feeling of alienation.

Recognising grievances

Brian Taylor | 19:08 UK time, Monday, 2 July 2007

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For politicians, it’s a real quandary. An exceptionally sharp dilemma in a generally tricky business.

Put yourself in the place of our politicians. Say you’re a front bench spokesperson. You want to condemn terrorism without equivocation. It is criminal, abhorrent, utterly wrong. Yet at the same time you may want to spotlight - and seek to alter - circumstances in which you believe such terrorism might thrive.

How do you do that, how do you highlight the culture, the soil in which terrorism exists without appearing, to some degree, to exculpate the acts of terror themselves?

In the Commons this afternoon, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats tiptoed towards this quandary. He argued that, while we condemn terrorism without reservation, we should also recognise the grievances that exist in the wider Islamic community. Those might include Iraq and the conduct of Middle East policy.

Let me stress - as Mr Clegg did - that he was in no way condoning those who targeted Glasgow Airport or the London night club. Rather he was arguing that it is naïve to consider the extremist reponses without also considering the political circumstances in which such responses may develop.

It had been an occasion of unity. The new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was warmly praised on all sides for her steadfast and calm response to events. She told MPs that Britain would not be intimidated by terror.

And, in response to Angus Robertson of the Scottish National Party, she extolled the value of the co-operation she had received from the SNP executive, mentioning Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill.

In an impressive contribution, David Davies of the Conservatives endorsed the efforts of the police, the security services - and the public, including the civilians who intervened to help officers at Glasgow Airport. He said: “A real hero is someone who runs towards danger whilst others run away.”

To repeat, Mr Clegg did not depart from this united approach. Indeed, he nodded vigorously when the home secretary intepreted his remarks as seeking to isolate extremists from the wider, law-abiding Muslim community.
But perhaps he raised an intriguing political - and philosophical - point.

Why Scotland?

Brian Taylor | 15:05 UK time, Monday, 2 July 2007

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Why Scotland? Why now? Why target Glasgow Airport? Was it purely opportunity: did the perpetrators have access to an adjacent base?

Alternatively, was there a particular motive in selecting Scotland? Was it timed to coincide with the Queen’s visit to open the Scottish Parliament?

Or was Scotland chosen because our new prime minister, Gordon Brown, is himself a Scot? Did the perpetrators imagine that, somehow, they would undermine the PM’s resolve by targeting the land of his birth?

That theory has been advanced by observers – but rebutted by Downing Street who insist that terrorist attacks could happen anywhere in the UK at any time. They say the PM’s origins are irrelevant.

Further, this is emphatically not, repeat NOT, an issue being spotlighted by SNP Ministers in the Scottish Executive.

They say there is no excuse of any kind for terrorism – and that their concern is to bolster security while ensuring that, as far as possible, normal life can resume throughout Scotland and the wider UK.

Perhaps we will learn more about opportunity, if not motive, when the home secretary, Jacqui Smith delivers a statement to the Commons this afternoon.

'Resigned understanding' of Scots

Brian Taylor | 17:03 UK time, Sunday, 1 July 2007

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I traversed Glasgow today. By car, then by the subway, then on foot.

The roads were busy. Our subway carriage was crowded.

As a gentle rain fell, permanently threatening more, the city centre streets offered a diverse, swaying bustle to those who cared to glance.

While in one shop, the news came through that the airport had just reopened.

“That’ll be good news for Jean,” commented one woman, “she’s trying to get off to Florida.”

Another said: “I expect it’ll be tight security again, ye’ll no’ be able to take any shampoo in your case and that sort o’ thing.”

But it was said with resigned understanding - not anger or even indignation.

In a large shopping centre, my eyes fell upon patrolling police officers - and the mall’s own security guards.

Doubtless, they are always there. Somehow their presence seemed more pertinent, more salient.

I also couldn’t help but glance at passing members of our Scots Asian community: a few traditionally dressed, most following the new customary fashion of jeans and trainers.

I couldn’t help but worry whether there might be an entirely unwarranted backlash against that section of our Scots society, whether indeed it had already begun.

Alex Salmond put it rather well when he said that acts of terror are committed by individuals, not a whole community.

He appealed for calm, as have Scots Asian leaders. The new Prime Minister spoke for all - or, by sad definition, nearly all - when he urged resilience in the face of terror.

Glasgow, gallus Glasgow.

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