BBC BLOGS - Blether with Brian

Archives for April 2010

Back in the day

Brian Taylor | 11:32 UK time, Friday, 30 April 2010


As a youthful journalist, the first artice - or "piece" as we aspirants learned to say - which I wrote for a relatively grown-up publication was a theatre review.

I have remained grateful to The Scotsman for publishing my tyro meanderings: a mercifully brief analysis of some dramatic masterpiece at the Byre in St Andrews. (The theatre, that is, not the cowshed.)

Later, I persisted in this adherence to the arts when employed by the P&J in Aberdeen.

Indeed, I recall provoking a distinct bout of Aberdonian disquiet when I rashly panned a show by local artists.

There was talk of running me out of town or blocking my supply of rowies.

The old habits returned as I attempted to analyse the last of the prime ministerial debates last night. There was pre-theatre tension.

How would Gordon Brown cope with the bad notices which attended his gig in Rochdale?

Clegg catchphrase

Would David Cameron learn to relax on stage? How about the new kid, Nick Clegg? Was his apparent success just novelty factor or was there real talent there?

And, of course, there was the dog in the night who was preventing from barking, Alex Salmond.

There were evident theatrical tricks on show. How about Nick Clegg making a fuss about finding exactly where the questioner was in the hall?

That was a stage device to suggest to the audience that they had his full, unsullied attention. That they mattered, they really did.

Or Mr Clegg's catchphrase: "There they go again", suggesting that his rivals formed a jaded cartel.

Again, though, it was relatively effective although perhaps without the salience which novelty provided in debate one.

Or David Cameron with his repeated, staged references to prolonged conversations with voters in the street. What could he mean? Rochdale, of course.

Tory pastiche

Or Gordon Brown's well-rehearsed prologue, apologising for Rochdale but insisting that he got far more things right, notably with regard to the serious business of the economy.

On policy, I suspect that David Cameron will be well pleased at having, at least, challenged Nick Clegg on a range of topics from the Euro to immigration.

Mr Clegg protested that the criticisms were a Tory pastiche of his true position. He rebutted forcefully.

But the points were made although it is perhaps a little late in the day for Mr Cameron to build the prolonged attack that is generally thought needed to sway voter opinion substantially. We shall see.

Gordon Brown hit Mr Cameron repeatedly over the economy, virtually ignoring Mr Clegg. No more: "I agree with Nick".

At one point, the PM said that plans by his opponents to limit the scope of tax credits would prevent any accommodation with . . . the Conservatives.

I suspect he meant to say the LibDems and David Dimbleby tried to clarify the matter, without success. What do you reckon?

On spending, perhaps the most effective contribution over the evening came from Alex Salmond during Question Time when he cited the Institute of Fiscal Affairs in evidence to the effect that the three Debate participants were all underplaying the extent of the cuts which are pending.

Back in the chamber

Brian Taylor | 13:22 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010


Excellent exchanges at First Minister's questions on the topic of spending.

However, they did appear to be taking place in a parallel galaxy - one where politicians are free to promise to protect services.

It all started with the First Minister working an exceptionally fast one on Labour's Iain Gray.

Mr Gray assumed the particularly dark visage which is seldom far from his features when confronting Mr Salmond.

His voice rising to a crescendo, he demanded - would the FM save frontline services like hospitals and schools, yes or no?

Not sure what he expected. Perhaps stumbling blether. Perhaps prolonged evasion. Perhaps a Rochdale-style apology.

He got neither. Mr Salmond replied: "Yes." And promptly sat down.

To be fair, Mr Gray rallied splendidly. What species of affirmative was that, he inquired. Did it tally with the promises previously made by the FM such as smaller class sizes and cash help for first-time home buyers? (NB: These are a) pending at best; and b) shelved.)

No, said Mr Salmond, his affirmative matched the 65 out of 94 SNP manifesto commitments delivered thus far.

Which he began to list, moving through scrapped bridge tolls to bobbies on the beat.
Which is where the disjunction from reality enters.

If Mr Gray is accusing the First Minister of "cuts", which he is, does he acknowledge the primary source of Scottish funding - the UK Treasury?

Would he remind us which party has had custody of the Exchequer for the past decade and more?

On the other hand, if the First Minister is stressing the voluminous extent of the cuts planned by rival parties, which he is, how does that fully square with his offer to shelter Scotland from the impact?

The answers generally offered? One, the SNP has squandered such resources as it has available and has not made good use of the block grant.

Two, Scotland can counter the worst of the impact by, among other things, releasing frozen funds and pursuing a growth strategy.

But if the Institute for Fiscal Studies is saying that the UK cuts will be far more extensive than currently conceded - with Scotland due to bear a proportionate share, via formula - then should not the political discourse focus on that, rather than competing promises to "protect" certain services?

Might not discourse in Scotland more productively pursue the avenue indicated by the Scottish Government's own independent review of spending which is that there needs to be a fundamental rethink of the purpose of public funding with nothing regarded as sacrosanct?

As to the other contributions, Annabel Goldie for the Tories inquired re: Mr Salmond's previous statement that he would not have considered the Dunblane killer Thomas Hamilton for compassionate release.

This, the ultimate of all hypothetical questions, might have discomfited Mr Salmond. But he deftly deflected it by requesting Miss Goldie to reflect on the first principle applying to such matters, inviting her to confirm its content.

She duly sidestepped this, only for the FM to remind her that it concerned the prospect that a convict might pose a further risk to the public.

For the Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott inquired concerning Mr Salmond's views on splitting up the banks following questions I posed to the FM last night on the telly.

No guile on this occasion. Mr Salmond offered the argument that matters were a little more complex than headlines might suggest.

Political setbacks

Brian Taylor | 14:40 UK time, Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Setbacks for two leaders today.

For Alex Salmond, a rebuff from the Court of Session over the televised debates.

For Gordon Brown, a self-made upset, also associated with broadcasting.

Ever resilient, Mr Salmond says he now anticipates seeking a judicial review on the principle underlying the debates, having been knocked back in his appeal for an interdict against tomorrow's BBC show.

It may be a little more tricky for Mr Brown or his aides to discern elements of consolation from the awkward aftermath of his encounter with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale whom he labelled a bigot as he was driven off, forgetting that he was still wearing a broadcast microphone.

To add to the PM's joys, he was then interviewed on the wireless by Jeremy Vine.

This being the modern world, the exchange was also recorded for the telly. Mr Brown is shown with his head in his hands as the tape is played. Contemplative mood, perhaps.

Ordinary voter

Politicians have been caught previously in unguarded, but taped comments.

One thinks of John Major condemning the "b******s" in his cabinet. Or Henry McLeish delivering comparable comments about his supposed comrade, John Reid.

However, those were criticisms of party colleagues, part of the common currency.

Mr Brown's lapse is of a rather different order. His remarks are aimed at an ordinary voter. You remember, the ones who will decide this election.

Back to Mr Salmond. He continues to condemn, vigorously, his exclusion from the televised debates.

But in a half hour interview with me, to be broadcast this evening on BBC1, he also contrives to add a little humour to the issue: brandishing an old-style TV test card with the legend "except for viewers in Scotland" and taking a satirical pop at Jeremy Paxman.

There's lots more, of course, on the economy and party strategy. Tune in, if you get the chance.

Day in court

Brian Taylor | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 27 April 2010


I'm heading for Edinburgh, where the SNP has lodged papers at the Court of Session in pursuit of their protest against this Thursday's final prime ministerial debate.

The case is being heard before Lady Smith at 1400 BST.

Issues which may come under scrutiny could include: is the BBC debate unfair to the SNP or have the Nationalists been afforded reasonable coverage elsewhere; did the BBC follow due procedure in reaching its decision about the membership of the panel; and should the SNP have lodged a lawsuit earlier, prior to the ITV and Sky debates?

Debate about debate

Brian Taylor | 11:55 UK time, Monday, 26 April 2010


So what's been happening during my Stornoway sojourn?

Umpteen cross-party debates, but not yet the one which the Scottish National Party wants.

The SNP has now indicated that it intends to mount a legal challenge to the BBC's Prime Ministerial debate, due to be broadcast on Thursday.

However pursued, the impact of this challenge would be to urge the BBC to review and amend its plans.

The sanction, should the plea succeed, would be to impede the broadcast as it stands.

What is the SNP's objection? That Alex Salmond has not been included in the panel which comprises Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

That this is unfair and a "stitch up" with the three "London parties".

Court route

Why not seek to interdict the earlier debates, held by ITV and Sky, which have already gone out?

Because, according to the SNP, there is a greater requirement upon the BBC to be impartial.

Why leave it until now? Because, according to the SNP, the party had to exhaust every other avenue, including an appeal to the BBC Trust, before pursuing a court route.

When might the hearing take place? The party is currently raising funds for its legal action and hopes to lodge papers tomorrow.

The hearing would take place shortly thereafter in order to clarify the position with regard to the scheduled Thursday transmission.

What has been the response from the BBC Trust? It said, in its finding, that the choice of contenders for this UK Prime Ministerial debate was appropriate; that there was "associated and clearly signposted" coverage afforded to the SNP and Plaid Cymru; and that the "approach to coverage of the SNP and Plaid Cymru was reasonable and adequate to maximise the achievement of due impartiality."

Over to you guys. And, possibly, to the Court of Session.

Viking spirit

Brian Taylor | 16:32 UK time, Wednesday, 21 April 2010


There was a definite Viking glint about Tavish Scott as he bounded aboard the good ship Calatria, berthed beneath the sunshine on Leith.

His buddy, Alistair Carmichael, who hopes to be returned as an island MP, also seemed to be adopting something of a shipboard sway - although that could just be the exigencies of campaigning.

The wicked media, of course, were ready with droll advice. There was much cheeky talk of the Vital Spark.

I'm not sure, but I think that one of my colleagues indulged in a few bars from Captain Pugwash.

Myself, I rather enjoyed the wee trip, seeing the distaff side of the Royal Yacht Britannia, glancing at the apartments where the shipyard used to be.

It was all designed to highlight the LibDems' notion that Scotland is placed to gain thousands of jobs from marine renewable energy and the construction contracts therewith.

Back on dry land, the party faced a few awkward questions about its policy regarding VAT on housing.

Housing industry

Interviewed for BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Scott denied that there were any changes to VAT at all.

This changed. Mr Carmichael said that the overall burden on the housing industry would not change.

But it would be reprofiled to "even out" the tax.

That is, cutting the cost on repairs, levying the tax on new build. Not surprisingly, the construction industry is less than impressed.

But the LibDems say that evidence from elsewhere is that the combined impact on the industry is positive.

More generally, the LibDems say they have a fully costed programme for realistic cuts in public expenditure allied to reformed taxation designed to stimulate growth and help the low paid.

For Scotland, they say that their plans would take 500,000 low earners and pensioners out of income tax altogether.

Still on tax, they're enthusiastic about early action to implement the Calman package, including fiscal powers.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Comedian, actor and celebrity runner Eddie Izzard joined the Labour campaign in Scotland, urging young people to vote on 6 May.

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond set out a five-point plan for supporting pensioners and the Tories' Scottish leader, Annabel Goldie, hit out at the Lib Dems' VAT policies.

Balancing act

Brian Taylor | 15:48 UK time, Tuesday, 20 April 2010


For Alex Salmond, a problem.

His party cannot win the election in the conventional sense of forming the next UK government.

By definition, they only contest seats in Scotland. By dint of simple arithmetic, that means they cannot enter Downing Street as the elected administration.

Solution? Do not fight this election in a conventional fashion. Present a manifesto which is a shopping list for substantive opposition rather than a programme for government.

By which means, the SNP would hope to enter Downing Street to negotiate with the new Prime Minister, whoever that might be.

The SNP would not enter a formal coalition. Firstly, because they rule out that option and, secondly, because nobody else would countenance them as coalition partners.

Rather, they would seek to win concessions on a day by day, issue by issue basis.

"Balanced" parliament

One senior strategist suggested to me that their clout at Westminster might even include an offer to absent themselves at key moments.

For example, say there was a key vote on, primarily, an English issue.

The SNP would usually not vote. But they might threaten to participate, citing Barnett consequentials or whatever. Their absence could thus be won by concessions on another issue.

It is all, of course, predicated on a series of developments. Firstly, a hung parliament.

Mr Salmond - who prefers the phrase "balanced parliament" - says such an eventuality is now "increasingly likely".

Secondly, that the SNP gain sufficient seats, in tandem with Plaid Cymru, to have bargaining clout. The Nationalist aim of 20 Scottish constituencies is notably ambitious.

Thirdly, that other parties agree to play; that they do not exclude the SNP from talks, perhaps because they do not trust them, perhaps because they dislike giving succour to a party which opposes the Union.

Naturally, the SNP's rivals are disdaining the prospect of Alex Salmond or Angus Robertson as kingmakers - or, more accurately, monarchical props.

But the SNP say that this is also a question of arithmetic. The more SNP MPs are elected, the greater the prospect of a hung parliament.

The greater that prospect, the more the SNP can lever out of Westminster.

The SNP was not the only party to launch its manifesto. The Scottish Greens outlined their aspiration to win their first Westminster seat, while the left-wing coalition group Tusc, featuring former Solidarity MSP Tommy Sheridan, also launched its election drive.

And elsewhere on the campaign trail, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray pledged to get 20,000 youngsters back into work, while the Lib Dems' Tavish Scott accused Labour of "leaving children behind".

The Conservatives Theresa May headed north to outline her party's plans to support older people

Grammatical choices

Brian Taylor | 08:39 UK time, Monday, 19 April 2010


Elections are frequently tense affairs. But it is somewhat unusual for the tense in question to be grammatical.

However, the Tories are about to change that.

Today, in the Borders, they're launching the Scottish version of their manifesto. The UK stuff is all in there - including the promise to reverse the planned increase in National Insurance for most people.

But they also dwell upon devolved matters. With a subtle difference. The promises with regard to issues controlled by Holyrood are in the conditional tense, rather than the future.

Hence, the promise re NI is that "the Conservatives will scrap Labour's planned increase in National Insurance".

Glance a little further down the Executive Summary and you find that a promise with regard to schools is that the Tories "would give head teachers more say". (My emphasis.)

Will and would. Those words are scattered throughout the document. But not randomly. Far from randomly.

The choice is grammatical - but also political.

NHS 'protection'

This is the Tory attempt to solve the conundrum that many of the issues which the voters want to talk about are actually run by the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster.

The Tories say they are setting out what they "will" do, if elected to power at Westminster.

And what they "would" do if/when the other parties at Holyrood would/will listen to reason and act upon Tory suggestions.

There is one exception in the document. They say that the "Conservatives will protect the NHS budget".

Presumably, they felt that this particular pledge was so central to their message that the conditional tense would seem like an unacceptable dilution.

There are other elements of the manifesto which straddle the border. For example, the Tories are promising to support a high speed rail link between Scotland and London, "to be built in co-operation with the Scottish government".

Nothing conditional

And they say the "will repair the damage done" to the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster.

That is part of the "respect" agenda promoted by David Cameron with regard to the devolved Scottish government.

More particularly, they "will fight to ensure Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom". Nothing conditional about that.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Labour' Jim Murphy used a speech to the STUC to say the Tories would devastate Scotland's industrial sector, SNP deputy leader and deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said her party would protect Scotland from "London cuts" to frontline services and former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell talked up his sucessor Nick Clegg's poll ratings.

All must have prizes

Brian Taylor | 16:25 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010


Just back from the Big Debate.

No, not that one. My very own Big Debate on the wireless, this week a constituency hustings from Kelso.

It was lively with an excellent audience who applauded and jeered with defiant abandon.

And that was only in response to the introduction. So what did you make of the other gig in Manchester? Most commentators and snap polls called it for Nick Clegg.

For myself, I thought it was a decent watch despite the party-imposed constraints such as the ban on applause.

Devolved territories

We know Alex Salmond's perspective upon the debate.

He billed it as "three machine politicians with nothing to say to three countries", referring to the devolved territories.

Now Labour reckons this was a "gaffe" by A. Salmond because his comments "suggest that he watched" the debate. (He had previously dismissed it as irrelevant.)
For pity's sake, of course he watched the debate.

Yes, his public comments have veered from demanding participation to playing down the relevance of the process.

As previously noted here, the Salmond strategy - born of necessity - is to suggest that the SNP campaign is somehow a different creature, distinct from customary, flawed politics.

But this was a substantive element of an election campaign in which the party he leads was participating. So he tuned in. There may well be gaffes galore in this election. That was not one of them.

Serious times

As to the participating parties, the LibDems are understandably chuffed at the apparent response to their man.

David Cameron acknowledged that Mr Clegg had a good showing but insisted that "a plague on both your houses" was a relatively easy message to sell.

The Tories said their man showed he was ready to govern, with ideas aplenty.

Team Brown reckoned the night indicated that their contender had the serious agenda for serious times.

All have won and all must have prizes.

PS: My BBC Radio Scotland debate is in Stornoway next Friday for another constituency hustings. If you want to take part, email

Cut to the elephant

Brian Taylor | 13:35 UK time, Thursday, 15 April 2010


As so often, the best gag emerged from Annabel Goldie.

Delivering the opening formulaic question, the Tory leader inquired when the First Minister would next meet the Prime Minister - "the current one, that is."

Not sure whether to credit her timing and delivery or her scriptwriter - but it was a decent wheeze during a slightly unusual session of questions to the FM.

Unusual, for two reasons. One, the overwhelming, looming presence of the UK General Election. Vince Cable would probably call it the elephant in the chamber.

Two, the huge impact of the Icelandic volcanic eruption upon travel in these islands. Especially the islands distinct from the main body of land.

On reflection, I imagine most MSPs would agree that this particular development merited a separate statement from the Scottish Government.

Alex Salmond turned his opening remarks to Labour's Iain Gray into a quasi-statement.

Hovering beast

Tavish Scott reflected his status not just as Lib Dem leader but as MSP for Shetland in pursuing detailed inquiries on the issue. He got detailed answers.

But, somehow, it was all a little unsatisfactory, a little muddled.

Still, back to the elephant: the General Election. The hovering beast made its presence felt. Tends to happen.

Mr Gray pursued the issue of knife crime: would the first minister seek to reverse the Justice Committee's support of mandatory prison sentences for carrying knives?

His attack was strong. There was no point, he roared, in recruiting extra police officers if the FM was going to let their quarries loose.

Mr Salmond said the issue would be settled by the whole Parliament, while noting that senior police officers who work in this particular field have spoken out strongly against compulsory jail.

So far, so devolved. But Mr Gray, of course, could not resist lampooning the SNP's "champions" campaign in the General Election.

Too prissy?

And Mr Salmond, equally, could not resist accusing Labour of planning damaging cuts in Scottish public spending.

I stress, I do not remotely blame them. They are politicians, seeking votes for their parties and for their chums who are standing for Westminster.

It did not, however, add much to the understanding of either the election campaign in Scotland or, indeed, the knife crime issue which will fall to be settled by Holyrood.

I know, I know - I am being far too prissy about these things. Guilty as charged.

However, the pedant in me points out that a General Election is not simply a loose plebiscite on a range of issues, devolved and reserved.

It is not an opinion poll.

It is an offer to elect representatives who will cast their votes on our behalf on issues that come before the House of Commons.

For Scotland, those issues are reserved matters, not devolved. The broad economy, not health. Defence, not education. Welfare, not policing.

Update at 1655: Parliament seems to have listened. An emergency statement on the volcanic cloud was made by Finance Secretary John Swinney.

Hi de Hi

Brian Taylor | 12:31 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010


A moment of shock and horror this morning as I broadcast to that portion of the astonished nation sufficiently alert to be listening to the wireless.

Shortly after wishing said Scottish nation Good Morning, my colleague Aileen Clarke invited me to ponder one underlying theme of the Conservative manifesto which is that "we're all in this together."

The shock and horror? For a moment, I thought she was going to sing. Still don't recognise it? That phrase is the title of a ditty from "High School Musical": an anthem which is notably uplifting or gloopily sentimental, according to taste.

What is more, Aileen and I were part of a noble BBC Scotland team deputed to sing and dance to this tune for Children in Need a wee while back.

As she intoned the phrase, I was instantly transported back to the rehearsals: as we struggled to learn the steps, our expressions as grimly serious as your auntie performing the Slosh at a Scottish wedding, concentrating on every step.

I have since consulted with Aileen. She confessed that she too had recalled those days treading (or rather stomping) the boards. With a shiver.

Of course, the phrase could be taken two ways. It could be, as the Tories intend, an invitation to the contemporary version of solidarity.

Troubled times

We're all in this together, what an adventure. Join us as we enter government.
Or the tone could owe more to the Rev I.M. Jolly.

Just try reading it slowly in his sepulchral voice. We're - all - in - this - together. And doom awaits.

In truth, there will have to be a bit of both in all the manifesto launches. Bounding on stage and yelling "Hi de Hi" (or, indeed, are you aaaaall right?) won't quite cut it in these troubled times.

All the parties are adamant, of course, that they are offering proportionate responses.

The Liberal Democrats, for example, insist that they are telling it like it is when it comes to the economy.

Nick Clegg may be less than inclined to repeat his promise / threat of "savage cuts". But Vince Cable does a passing imitation of a character in a Russian play, entering, stage left, to announce that cousin Mikhail has just hanged himself in the barn.

Admittedly, Tavish Scott was out to play today. He was visiting a Skatepark in Kirkintilloch.

Daily grind

Apparently, the town which was once famous for its absence of pubs is now the hub of youthful fun.

But Mr Scott's was a serious message: that the young must be fostered even in times of economic gloom.

In my mischievous way, I inquired in advance whether he would mount a skateboard: whether he would perform a flip, boardslide or grind. Sadly, no.

Instantly, I thought of another Lib Dem leader, Paddy Ashdown. Mr Ashdown, action man himself, was visiting a curling rink in, as I recall, Pitlochry.

Go on, Paddy, the wicked media urged from the safety of the sidelines. Get on the ice. Throw a stone.

No, he said, you just want to see me fall on my backside. Slowly, but as one, we nodded. It was true. All so true.

Elsewhere, the SNP was campaiging on health funding and Labour was backing older people.

Going into insurgent mode

Brian Taylor | 14:51 UK time, Monday, 12 April 2010


Distinctive thinking on two fronts today, reflecting the nature of this UK General Election campaign in devolved Scotland.

Firstly, Labour has produced a single transferable version of its manifesto for Scotland, blending pledges on reserved issues determined at this election with forward planning on ideas for implementation at Holyrood.

Those devolved ideas would be addressed now, if possible, from opposition but would, alternatively, form part of Labour's manifesto for the Holyrood elections next year.

This is a way of finessing the core conundrum of post-devolution Westminster politics in Scotland.

How to talk about the voters' concerns such as health and education while acknowledging, openly, that these matters are controlled at Holryood.

Labour has frankly been tripped up by this conundrum in the past. Today's approach is an attempt to resolve that.

Distinctive thinking, part two, this time from the SNP who were formally launching their campaign by the banks of the Forth, benefiting hugely from the sunshine on Leith.

Day job

Privately, SNP strategists acknowledge that, as they planned for this campaign, they contemplated a possible series of problems.

Problem One: their leader, Alex Salmond, is not a Westminster candidate, opting inevitably to concentrate on his day job as first minister.

Problem Two: even if they win every Scottish seat, they cannot take UK power. Problem Three: politics is in disrepute.

Problem Four the danger of a squeeze as voters focus on who might be PM.

So, in essence, the SNP cannot "win" this election in the conventional sense - and voters are scunnered anyway.

Solution: don't fight a conventional election, addressing both points in one.

Political protest

Alex Salmond even went as far as to suggest that voters endorsing one of his candidates would not be choosing a politician in the usual sense.

Instead, they would be picking a "champion" of both local and national interests.

Mr Salmond went further still. The SNP campaign, he suggested, would be like an "insurgency", a sustained protest against politics as usual at Westminster: such politics having, he argued, landed the UK in a mess and the reputation of politics in the mire.

In particular, Mr Salmond said the SNP would stand firmly against substantial cuts in Scottish spending.

Which, of course, begs its own questions. Won't the Scottish government face tough choices of its own on spending?

Can Scotland be immune from the impact of the UK deficit?

The answers to those questions are, respectively, yes and no. The SNP leader says that the UK cuts can be mitigated by, for example, scrapping costly programmes such as Trident. He says he would press to protect Scottish budgets.

But, more generally, for this campaign, Mr Salmond is in insurgent, not governmental, mode.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Demcrats' Tavish Scott unveiled his party's Highland manifesto, while the Tories campaigned on fair fuel prices.

The Twitter election

Brian Taylor | 15:44 UK time, Friday, 9 April 2010


Apologies for slight delay in blogging on this topic - I was engrossed in presenting my Big Debate on the wireless.

One questioner inquired whether this would be the "Twitter election". Certainly is for Labour in Moray.

(That particular issue arose during the debate, in a different context.)

Labour's candidate Stuart MacLennan has been sacked for posting abusive comments about rivals, fellow party members and indeed, it would appear, much of the public at large.

Pretty well everything, it would seem, upset Stuart. You name it, he had a pathetic comment to offer, tedious yet unpleasant too. Cicero, he was not.

'Anonymous bile'

Labour dithered about sacking him - but have now dispensed with his contribution to this election.

In the statement, Labour invited their rivals to do the same, should comparable circumstances arise. That goes without saying - and indeed should have gone without being said.

Simple contrition would have sufficed on this particular occasion - rather than an attempt to implicate others, however much Labour may feel members of other parties are similarly intemperate in spouting noxious, anonymous bile on the web.

PS: While waiting for this new post, my online colleagues kept open the responses to an earlier blog to allow you, our readers, to comment. As promised. As delivered.

Here one minute . . .

Brian Taylor | 13:24 UK time, Thursday, 8 April 2010


We had a launch on the Clyde today but not from one of the great river's remaining yards.

This was the "launch" of the Liberal Democrats' campaign in Scotland.

Of course, such a despatch is scarcely required. The campaign has been going for months. However, I suppose formalities must be observed.

Nick Clegg arrived late - and left a little too early for some of my Scottish journalistic colleagues who had wanted to ask a few more questions.

Both phenomena are customary in elections.

But still he had sufficient time to warn that the Tories would be obliged to increase VAT in order to fund their promises.

And to dismiss Alex Salmond as a "two bit" player in the context of this Westminster election.

Contemporary politics

Firstly, tax. It appears plain that the Tory offer to reverse most of next year's National Insurance increase is providing this campaign with all its early energy.

In truth, it is a relatively modest dispute. I stress, relatively. That is not to downplay the significance of the Tories' electoral offer but simply to note that, in the wider economic scheme of things, it is a comparatively small distinction.

That is, however, the nature of contemporary politics. In the absence of huge ideological arguments, relatively small disputes gain additional importance.

The LibDems, like Labour, believe that the Tory plan is uncosted and unaffordable. Vince Cable has gone further and described the Labour measure as a bad scheme - but one that cannot be reversed at this stage, given the state of the deficit.

The SNP has now broadened the debate, arguing that services could be jeopardised or damaged by Labour's hike in NI because it would fall to be paid by public sector employers and staff.

Labour's response is that a previous increase in NI caused no apparent damage to jobs - although that was at a time of relative prosperity.

Labour argues further that, by next year when the increase is imposed, the economy is expected to be growing well. (As witness, the OECD report on UK prospects.)

Still, the Tory initiative is driving the campaign at this early stage - with the others obliged to respond.

UK mandate

Also campaigning in Scotland today, William Hague of the Tories dismissed suggestions that VAT would rise and advised Mr Clegg to drop his claims.

Mr Hague also said that it would be an "important component" of a Conservative UK Government to have a "strong" presence north of the Border.

That is interesting in that it finesses the argument that a UK mandate is a UK mandate (c. Annabel Goldie and others.)

While arithmetically and constitutionally true, Mr Hague is acknowledging that the governing UK party would want to have a real presence in both the signatory nations of the Treaty of Union.

Re the Clegg comments on Mr Salmond. This is a somewhat blunter version of earlier attempts by the LibDems and others to insist that the SNP has no locus in this Westminster contest.

Indeed, it is reminiscent of the sort of jibe that used to be cast in the direction of past Liberal leaders.

On a journey

Brian Taylor | 13:31 UK time, Wednesday, 7 April 2010


Edwin Morgan's poetic scope stretched from Glasgow to Saturn.

Today, on the election trail, I travelled a rather shorter distance: from Newton Mearns to Govan.

But that sojourn prompted me to think, again, about the differential impact of policies: in particular, taxation and National Insurance.

As so often in politics, it is a question of perspective.

In prosperous, suburban Newton Mearns, one might expect to find a ready audience for the Tory plan to reverse most of the planned increase in NI due from next April.

By contrast, if you are in urban, struggling Govan - and lack a job at all - then perhaps that offer on NI might mean less.

Perhaps you might be more inclined to heed the argument advanced by the Prime Minister and Scottish secretary in the Commons today that such a cut cannot be afforded.

'Tax on jobs'

Against that, the Tories will argue that holding back the increase in NI will stimulate growth, helping Govan as well as Newton Mearns.

In response, Labour say that their NI increase will not take effect until next year, by which time they expect growth to have resumed relatively strongly.

They argue that, in the bygoing, the Tory plan will cut £6bn from public spending.

For the SNP, Alex Salmond indicated in his message to the Federation of Small Business Conference in Aberdeen that he opposed the NI hike as a tax on jobs.

For the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable has said that he deplores the planned increase in NI but believes that the Tories have comprehensively failed to demonstrate how they would fund the switch.

There is, of course, an added subtlety in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has, presently, no control over NI or indeed most taxation.

But it is responsible for the allocation of spending.

Barnett review

The SNP, of course, wants fiscal autonomy on the road to independence. But, for this election, their more immediate focus is upon the spending element of that Scottish dichotomy.

The SNP strategy, displayed again at Scottish Questions in the Commons, is to claim that substantial spending cuts will follow the election of either a Tory or a Labour government and that SNP champions are required to counter this tendency.

Mr Salmond is now pursuing a further aspect of this.

He is challenging the Tories to state that they would not instigate a needs review of the Barnett formula without agreement with the Scottish Government.

I suspect the SNP leader knows only too well that an incoming Chancellor cannot make such a pledge.

That would be to surrender control of an element of overall public spending, to offer a veto to Holyrood.

Robust defence

Mr Salmond's response to that will be to say that there is little point in the Tories talking about "respecting" the devolved settlement if they are planning to raid Scottish funds.

The Tories will dispute that interpretation.

Longer term, whoever wins, it seems likely that the Treasury will indeed instigate a needs-based review of spending across the UK, not least because, for example, the Barnett Formula has fallen out of favour in Wales.

Scotland could and would mount a robust defence.

I can hear you saying: aye, Brian, they talk of little else in Govan and Newton Mearns. But it matters. It matters.

And they're off!

Brian Taylor | 11:26 UK time, Tuesday, 6 April 2010


One election, four perspectives. At this early stage, the parties are trying to persuade us as to the form of choice we face.

That matters because they hope that, if we see the election choice their way, then we may choose them in the election.

So, for Labour, it is about "taking a long hard look at the Tories" and, thereby, contrasting Gordon Brown's experience in office with David Cameron who has never been a minister.

Intriguingly, Mr Brown again made an explicit pitch to the middle class vote, just as he did in his Glasgow conference speech.

This had two purposes. One, to the electorate, I feel your pain, I understand, I sympathise.

Two, also to the electorate, I'm an ordinary bloke, not an Etonian toff.

By contrast, David Cameron wants this election to become a referendum on Gordon Brown.

Spending cuts

Just before the PM announced the date, Mr Cameron told mustered Tories close to Westminster that Britain "did not have to put up with another five years of Gordon Brown."

The SNP has faced claims from rivals that it is irrelevant in a Westminster election. Alex Salmond plans to counter that with a relevance point of his own.

He will argue that it makes no particular difference who enters Downing Street, given the prospect that substantial spending cuts will be imposed on Scotland by either Labour or Tory.

That is a challenging message to sustain throughout a campaign - but Mr Salmond will address it thus: if invited to choose between Labour and Tory, he will say he chooses Scotland. That SNP MPs would be "champions" of Scottish interests.

The Liberal Democrats similarly know they need to avoid a squeeze in a tightly contested election - although, anecdotally, it seems that some voters may be undecided, unpersuaded, that they might be willing, given the extent of the economic crisis, to consider options.

But, to counter that squeeze phenomenon, the LibDems will seek to triangulate this contest - to pitch themselves in contradistinction to both Labour and the Tories, offering a message of sustaining social "fairness" while pursuing economic recovery.

PS: On another topic, must pay tribute to the mighty Dundee United, having rather neglected them on this blog of late. What a team! What a run of results! Put your hands up for Jon Daly.

In the chamber

Brian Taylor | 15:18 UK time, Thursday, 1 April 2010


And so the SNP pursues matters arising from the departure of the Glasgow Council leader Steven Purcell in the most straightforward manner possible - in the city chambers itself.

The SNP group on the council wants a full statement from the Labour leadership on the authority and an independent investigation.

Into what, precisely?

There, inevitably, a slight vagueness descends. SNP councillors reply, with some justification, that they cannot be certain what, if anything, has gone awry until an inquiry is held.

But, for starters, they want information as to who knew what - and when - with regard to Mr Purcell's personal crisis; what was done with that information; what impact, if any, these personal developments had upon council decisions.

Further, they question the operation of the arms length institutions set up by the council under Mr Purcell.

SNP questions

(Whenever I hear the phrase "arms length", I cannot help thinking of the government minister who was facing tough questions over the doings of a particular quango.

Challenged as to whether it would maintain its "arms length" status, he replied: "Yes. Just a shorter arm.")

Labour's response to the SNP questions. Go away and stop asking such exasperating questions.

They say the Purcell affair is a personal tragedy, that there has been no malfeasance, that Glasgow is a well-run authority and that the SNP complaints amount to a political smear campaign.

UPDATE AT 1654: The city council, with its Labour majority, has voted against holding an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Steven Purcell's departure.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.