Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: An apology.

    2010 will always be, for me, the year of apology, the year of humble pie,  the year I go it wrong.  Yes, I know: I get things wrong all the time - I’m a political journalist after all.  But this was different.  During the general election campaign in May, I suggested that in certain key marginal seats, like Edinburgh South,  voters should consider voting for the Liberal Democrats.  Why?  Because I thought there was a chance that, by levering in more LibDems,  we might finally see a fair voting system in this country, proportional representation.  There was a good chance that a Liberal-Labour coalition - for that seemed the only credible outcome of a hung parliament -  would finally end the first past the post voting system that handed too much power to Number Ten and not enough to the House of Commons.  I also hoped that the  Liberal Democrats might act as the radical conscience of a Liberal Labour coalition.  Hadn’t they stood alone against the Iraq?   I even commended the Liberal Democrats to students since they -  and only they - had given cast iron pledges not to increase tuition fees in England or introduce them in Scotland. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2011: the End of Work.

  And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Or so sang John Lennon, the 30th anniversary of whose death was commemorated this month.  Can it really be that long ago?.  Curiously, the music and image of the former Beatle doesn’t seem dated, even though he is a figure from digital prehistory.  Lennon died before there were mobile phones, personal computers or the internet.  He was a product of the mass media, but that media has changed in ways he could never have comprehended. 

   If you compare the world as it is now, in 2010, even with how we lived only a decade ago, at the Millennium, the differences are striking enough.  Flat screen TVs, mobile computers, sat nav broadband  and WiFi have transformed our work and leisure.  Social networking - Facebook, Twitter and the rest - has changed the way we relate to each other to such an extent that we don’t really know what the word “friend” means any more. We had email ten years ago, but it didn’t dominate our lives . And while blogging was on the horizon, no one thought that the newspaper industry would face a crisis because of it.   Digital technology has accelerated the pace of modern life.  We live in a real time world, where information is no longer something you have to spend time finding, but is ever present in one electronic form or another. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

2010: Year of Protest.

 It all started with a carnival atmosphere, as tens of thousands of students and six formers took to the streets to protest about the state of higher education and inequality in society.  Students carried placards with witty and sometimes obscure slogans such as “Be realistic, ask the impossible” and “Under the paving stones, the beach”.  But it all turned violent as groups of anarchists seized buildings and confronted the police. Pretty soon, there was an atmosphere of revolution.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Result. SNP rules out tuition fees.

Who said protest never changed anything?  The bill to introduce £9,000 tuition fees in England may last week have passed in Westminster, despite the  demonstrations by students, lecturers and school pupils.  But Scotland is another country, and it look as if the students have had a result here.  The SNP government has now unofficially committed itself to keeping Scotland fee free.  No up front fees, no graduate contribution, no endowment no graduate tax.  Zilch.  In Scotland, higher education will remain open to all, on the basis of ability to learn, not ability to earn. That is the substance of briefings given by Alex Salmond this week.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuition fees CAN be stopped in Scotland.

  What happens now?  The bill to triple student fees in England became law on Thursday,  even as Parliament Square itself was ablaze, and the heir to the throne besieged in his limousine by angry demonstrators.   Is that it?  Will the students now go back to their rooms to study while the nation indulges in the usual orgy of Christmas consumerism?   No way!   The students should not abandon their intifada,  but take it north to Scotland where fees are still free - but perhaps not for long. 

     The 2010 student uprising is the biggest show of popular discontent since the poll tax demonstrations twenty years ago.  The poll tax became law too, but not for long. Mass protests made the law unworkable, and its author, Margaret Thatcher, was brought down by her own cabinet in large part because of the unpopularity of the community charge.    The students can do the same.  They have lost the parliamentary battle, but won the argument.  They must now demand that the Scottish government sticks to its pledge not to reintroduce tuition fees, nor any "graduate contribution" which amounts to the same thing.  A victory in Holyrood will make Westminster think again. The May Parliamentary elections in Scotland should be turned into a referendum on tuition fees.  And a funeral for the Liberal Democrats. 

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

    Sorry, but I am getting heartily sick of the Great Girn, the endless moaning about the weather.  We’ve turned into a  nation of whinging children desperate for someone to blame. Stuff happens.  Weather happens.  But instead of just getting on with it, and using the gift of community to adapt to the challenge, we adopt the mantle of victimhood and start looking for politician to hold responsible. Instead of ‘keep calm and carry on’ it’s find me a lawyer so I can make a spurious negligence claim. 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Calman tax powers are a milestone to Scottish independence, not a millstone for Holyrood.

If there was a twinkle in the eye of Alex Salmond last week, as he scoffed at the new tax powers being offered in the Scotland Bill , it may be because, under the table, he was pinching himself.   I’m pinching myself.  I still can’t quite believe that a Tory-led coalition government in London is introducing the widest and deepest extension of Scottish constitutional powers since devolution, even if they are flawed. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Swinney didn't lie about tartan tax

 The world held its breath as conflict erupted between North and South Korea; Ireland braced itself for civil unrest as its government imposed a crushing austerity budget;  British students and school six formers took to streets and occupied universities over tuition fees.  And Holyrood spent the afternoon rowing over the unspent cost of collecting a tax, the SVR, that no one intends to raise and is about to be abolished. Cover up? Abuse of power?  Grow up. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gray man v ginger rodent

 Just Iain Gray’s luck.  He makes his best conference speech since becoming leader, and is upstaged by a ginger rodent.  Harriet Harman’s extraordinary attack on the Liberal Democrat finance minister, Danny Alexander, as a redheaded rat inevitably stole the headlines at the Scottish Labour Conference in Oban.  There was no way that the Iain Gray was going to be able to top that.  But he did at least try.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

CSR: forget it, Osborne isn't serious

 It’s one of Westminster’s favourite cliches that a budget that looks good the day it is delivered usually falls apart by the end of the week.  George Osborne’s CSR lasted about four hours.  That was how long it took the Institute for Fiscal Studies, to contradict the central claim that the deficit reduction plan was progressive and shared the burden equally across all income groups.  It clearly wasn’t.  It didn’t take a genius to work this out since most of the cuts announced last week hit people on benefits,  who are by definition the lowest income group. 

   Actually, the unfairness of the spending review isn’t really much of a political worry for the Tories.  They think, and there is ample polling evidence to confirm this, that the British people now have much less sympathy for those at the bottom of the heap than has been the case in the past.  All those press stories of families receiving £95,000 in benefits, plus the fact the welfare budget has risen by 45% in the last ten years, has made us much less soft-hearted as a nation.   The latest YouGov/Sun poll confirms this, indicating that nearly 60% believe the welfare cuts were “unavoidable”.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Osborne's CSR and the ghost of Gordon.

  We were warned in advance that it was going to be the most savage round of public spending cuts since the Geddes Axe nearly ninety years ago. An unprecedented  25-40% reduction in departmental spending.  The state would be reduced to a forest of bleeding stumps, forecast Labour,  after George “slasher” Osborne had swung his Condem chopper.   In the event, the headline cuts in departmental spending were only 19% - which is actually less than the former Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling had planned.  How they guffawed  on the Tory benches as Labour’s shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson tried to respond to one of the cleverest, and arguably the most cynical spending statements since, well, since the days of Gordon Brown.  
     George Osborne’s CSR had a remarkable similarity to one of Brown’s classic budget speeches. The hectic delivery,  the gratuitous self-congratulation, the blizzard of spending initiatives from Crossrail to the widening of the A11 around Norwich, which for some reason provoked cheers from Tory benches.  Cuts? What cuts? Pensioners are to keep their winter fuel allowances and free TV licences.  Child benefits for 18 year olds remain. Museums and galleries stay free.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Broken promises: what would the Greeks have made of it?

As the general election campaign drew to a close in May, I wrote that the political parties were playing a game of bluff with the voters.  They didn’t want to tell us the truth  and we didn’t want to hear.  All of them knew that the deficit was running at around £150bn and that this is represented an extinction level event for many public services.  But they went right on and, well, lied about it.   I have thought carefully about using that word, which is of course unsayable in parliament. But I can’t think of any other way of encapsulating the scale of the misrepresentation. 

   David Cameron promised not to cut child benefits, free bus passes and winter fuel allowances for old people. Well child benefit has gone and just watch the others go in short order.  He also said the Tory plans “didn’t involve an increase in VAT” when they clearly did, for no sooner was Cameron in the door at Number Ten than he announced that VAT would rise in January by 2%.  The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg also promised not to raise VAT, which he called the “Tory tax bombshell”.  Then he dropped it.

  Yes, all politicians break promises,  but the Coalition has set a new benchmark in infamy.   “No more pointless and disruptive reorganisation of the health service” said David Cameron solemnly, before launching the most radical upheaval in English health care in decades.  Next will likely be  charges for “hotel” costs while people are in hospital.  Then what about road pricing, legal aid, pension taxes...

     However, all of this pales against the LibDem behaviour over tuition fees. Before the election, their MPs actually signed a pact that they would vote against any increase in fees, only Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader seems willing to honour it.   Vince Cable said upping fees would be a  “disaster”.  Not any more, for in the Browne report he is endorsing the biggest increase in university fees in modern history.  In any other walk of life you would be able to sue people who behaved like this.  And don’t tell me he changed his mind when he ‘opened the books’ - he of all politicians knew exactly how bad the books were.  All that's changed is that he is in government.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tuition fees - bigger than the poll tax?

   It is one of the most cherished myths of Scottish national identity: the lad o’ pairts.  The image of proud Jock, of peasant stock, striding out of the kailyard with his bag of meal in one hand and his bible in the other. Whistling a Man’s a Man while preparing to take on the  upper classes  thanks to the free Scottish university system.    Like all myths, the “Democratic Intellect”, as George Davie described the Scottish tradition of open access higher education, involves an element of pure fantasy.  Scottish universities in the 19th Century weren’t free, for a start, though fees were very low and most students received bursaries courtesy of the Carnegie Trust.

   Nevertheless, there was some truth in the lad o' pairts myth, and cynics ridicule it at their peril.   At the end the 19th Century,  nearly 25% of Glasgow University students came from manual working class backgrounds, something inconceivable in  the English system,  which was the exclusive preserve of the upper classes.   The belief that higher education should be based on ability learn rather than ability to pay is deeply ingrained in Scottish  culture.  Universities have been seen here as national public institutions which should be mainly financed out of general taxation.  This is confirmed in opinion polls, such as the recent Scotsman/panelbase poll of 1001 Scots which this month showed that two thirds of Scots reject a graduate tax related to earnings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now I know why Cameron wears that condom

I’ve never quite understood the cartoonist Steve Bell’s caricature of David Cameron wearing a condom over his head, except for the rather obvious suggestion that he is, well, a male member.  However, following the row over how many children benefit claimants should be allowed to have, I finally do get it.  Vote Tory and stop one. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Iraq: Labour need a truth and reconciliation commission

 So, it did turn into a ‘geek’ tragedy after all, at least for David Miliband.  Just as we were all digesting Brother Ed’s rather dull but worthy address to conference on Tuesday, and thinking that Labour had  put the past behind it, a huge, ugly crack suddenly appeared in the facade of Labour conference unity.   In a fatal lapse of self control, the defeated David  turned to admonish his colleague, the deputy leader, Harriet Harman, for applauding Ed Miliband’s admission that the Iraq war had been wrong.  “Why are you clapping?” said Miliband D,  “You voted for it”. 

  Those eight words echoed around Manchester as David Miliband walked out of the shadow cabinet, the only action he could have taken.   Had he remained, there was a real risk that a kind of civil war could have broken out.  David Miliband wasn’t the only former minister to be outraged by Ed’s condemnation of their collective action over Iraq.   Every member of  the shadow cabinet  is going to have to submit to the 'were-you-clapping' test now brother Ed has finally admitted on their behalf that Iraq was a disaster.  How many, like Harriet Harman, privately agreed with him?   Why did they allow it to happen?  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Who will lead Labour's Star Trek convention? Spock or Sulu

 Watching the five Labour leadership candidates enter the final straight this week,  I couldn’t help remembering David Cameron’s wicked quip about a Star Trek convention.  There is indeed a hint of the Starship Enterprise with David Miliband as Mr Spock - austere, rational, borderline autistic,  and Ed Balls as Captain Kirk - bumptious, over-promoted, lacking emotional intelligence.  Diane Abbott is of course  Uhura, interjecting every now and then from left field and being largely ignored. I see Ed Miliband as navigator Lieutenant Sulu, who knows the way ahead but sometimes has difficulty explaining it..  Andy Burnham, like Ensign Pavel, is the one whose name no one can remember. 

  The Labour hopefuls shouldn’t be too bothered -  the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, always regarded it as a political allegory.  Nevertheless, the sense that the entire leadership cadre of New Labour are not on the planet is something of a handicap in an election race before a very down to earth media. But what is it about the Labour leadership candidates that makes them seem just a little other-wordly?  I think it stems from the fact that all five are essentially policy wonks, career politicians who've risen to prominence in a party that has lost touch with  any kind of mass popular movement. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vince is about as Marxist as Adam Smith

 ‘’Vince Cable “not a Marxist”’said a BBC headline yesterday on the eve of  his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool.  Indeed, he is not.  Vince Cable is an economic conservative, who has long advocated free market capitalism and cutting the state.  . Cable was a prominent contributor to the LibDem “Orange Book” which argued  for market reforms in the public sector, including the NHS.  He is an enthusiastic advocate of the Chancellor, George Osborne’s deficit reduction programme

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nick Clegg: an apology.

  I suppose I should apologise.  I was one of those McChattering hacks who urged Scottish voters to consider backing the Liberal Democrats, tactically, last May.  Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  The LibDem surge seemed like a unique opportunity to break the dead hand of the two-party monopoly in Westminster and introduce fair voting. It was time, I said, to bring an end to elective dictatorship once and for all.

    But look where it’s landed us: with the most conservative government in modern times pushing through the most swingeing programme of public spending cuts since the “Geddes Axe” of 1921.  And declaring war on welfare and the NHS (in England at least).  And what have we  Liberal Democrat fellow travellers got in return?  A referendum on the Alternative Vote method of proportional representation, which it isn’t actually proportional and which will very likely be defeated anyway.  Ok , they have got things like scrapping identity cards and a raising of tax thresholds, but these are small beer.  And now Nick Clegg has declared that there is "no future" for the Left in the new, Tory-friendly LibDems.  All those election promises about Trident, taxing the bankers, not increasing VAT, hammering CGT tax avoiders, abolishing tuition fees...all sacrificed in the interest of getting Liberal Democrat bums on cabinet seats. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is the Pope really a Catholic?

   So, atheists are Nazis according to Pope Benedict, speaking in Edinburgh today. This is just a little rich coming from a former member of the Hitler Youth. I don't believe that the Pope is or was a Nazi, but I think it was a peculiarly inept and thing to say.  It was offensive, also,  to the majority of people in this country who do not believe in god.   

The Pope's exact words were these:    "Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.  As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny."  

   This is very dubious history. Adolf Hitler was a Christian, a Catholic who remained so all his life, though he wasn't very devout.  Nevertheless, he repeatedly invoked god and Christianity in his war against "faithless communism" and the jews.   In his Proclamation to the German Nation in February 1933 Hitler said  that "The National Government regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of our national life".  German soldiers were required to wear belts bearing the legend "Gott Mit Uns",   "god with us".  The SS was supposedly based on the Jesuits.  In the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of 1933 Hitler agreed to outlaw secular schools and have all teaching based on faith. 

  Now, just because Adolf Hitler believed in god, I don't conclude that Roman Catholics are Nazis.  But the pontiff really does suggest that atheists are morally responsible for fascism.  Following the remarks from, Cardinal Walter Kaspar, one of the Pope's senior advisers about Britain being "a third world land" full of "aggressive secularists", where Christians are victimised for wearing a cross, it rather suggests that this state visit is turning into a public relations disaster.  The Holy Father and the Roman Catholic leadership is becoming detached from reality. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Independence - Is that it?

As Alex Salmond’s flagship referendum bill sank beneath the waves last week, there were precious few mourners at the quayside, even amongst the SNP. There were even fewer criers of ‘betrayal’ - though the godfather of fundamentalism, the former SNP deputy leader, Jim Fairlie, remarked that: "at the mention of the word 'independence', a shiver ran through the ranks of the SNP, frantically searching for a spine to run up."

    The opposition parties snorted about broken promises and nails in the coffin of  Alex Salmond’s credibility, but it was pretty routine stuff - as if the abandonment of the independence referendum bill was just another item on the list of lost manifesto commitments along with local income tax, the Scottish Futures Trust and abolishing student debt. But it is much more than that.  Only two years ago, at the height of the SNP honeymoon, people were seriously talking about the momentum towards Scottish independence becoming unstoppable.  August bodies like the Constitution Unit at UCL in London were holding conferences on the mechanics of separation -  one referendum or two? how to split the national debt? It was more or less assumed that an independence referendum would happen, somehow. Not any more  

Friday, September 10, 2010

I have been naked with William Hague

   I can't keep this secret any longer.  It has to get out.  I have been naked, on several occasions, in a room with William Hague, who was also  without clothes.  Yes, I realise that this latest bombshell will re-ignite the whole two-men-in-a-bedroom scandal, but I can no other.  I have to get it off my chest.   I know my phone is tapped but I want to sell my story before they do.  

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Poor Tony: domestic abuse drove him to the bottle. A Journey is misery literature for the political classes

  So that explains it:  Tony Blair was pissed half the time.  One of the most extraordinary revelations in the former PM’s foray into confessional literature, “A Journey”, is that he was, by many medical definitions, a problem drinker.  A stiff G and T (3 units) and up to half bottle of wine (5 units) each night put the PM way over the government’s safe limit of 21 units a week.  Did it addle his brain? make him careless? affect his judgement?  Actually, I doubt it. By the standards of his predecessors in Number Ten, notably Winston Churchill who began his day with a large Scotch, had a bottle of  Pol Roger champagne for lunch and kept himself liberally topped up throughout the day, Blair’s imbibing was purely recreational.  However, it is a curious thing to highlight in a political  memoir. 

   But then, as its title suggests, “A Journey”  is a very modern   memoir - aimed at a media culture of confessional womens magazines and celebrity journalism.  What better way to get noticed, and divert attention from the real issues - like Iraq -  than to get onto the therapy couch and admit to having a little bit of a drink problem - just like countless middle class, middle aged men and women.    Just like his hero George W. Bush, in fact -  though Dubya gave up the bottle after he found God.  Tony lied too - and was “manipulative”, he tells us. But always in a good way.Amd of course he never felt comfortable in Scotland because it was Gordon country.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Expenses: MPs in the right, shock.

  MPs were in the doghouse again last week - or should that be the duck house - over  their expenses.  Employees at the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who process MPs’ expenses claims, say they have been threatened, insulted and abused. Called  “ idiots” and  “monkeys” by irate MPs one of whom described their computerised system as a “ abortion”.  Mind you that’s nothing compared to the language voters used about MPs when their expense abuses became known last May. However, in this case, MPs aren't wholly to blame.  IPSA is being called to put its own house in order

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Edinburgh: how "Dodge City" really makes its money.

    Summertime and the living is easy - at least for Edinburgh’s commercial classes.   The Festivals are jumping - heading for two million ticket sales across the 'cultural olympiad'.  The warm weather is stuffing the pockets of hoteliers and those Edinburgh folk who famously decamp for the summer in order to charge inflated rents to festival goers.  Where else could you see a caravan being offered at £800 a week? 

   But it’s not just the Festival that’s putting a smile on the faces of Edinburgh’s business class.  Somehow, the financial crisis that was supposed to turn the capital city into a soup kitchen for bankers seems to have completely passed it by.    Edinburgh house prices rose 20% in the year to February 2010;  unemployment at 3.3% is way below the Scottish average.  New business start ups are up 33%, planning applications are pouring in, commercial property is recovering.  Even the tram chaos seems to be passing, to be replaced by something worse:  an endless traffic jam of new Range Rovers and BMW as Edinburgh’s new money pours into the car showrooms. If you’re looking for austerity, you won’t find it here.

   But there’s a slightly shifty quality to this prosperity - as if the benefiaries feel just a little guilty about it.  One prominent Edinburgh financial commentator has taken to calling Edinburgh “Dodge City”, such has been its ability to side-step the banking collapse, the economic recession and now the government’s austerity drive. The city that was at the centre of the financial cyclone seem to be making a fortune out of it.  But  the catch is that their good fortune is almost entirely built on other peoples’ taxes. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What goes up... Mobility isn't very social

 I’ve always been just a little suspicious of people who advocate social mobility as a cure for society’s ills, as the answer to  inequality.   It isn’t.    When Nick Clegg said last week that social mobility is “the badge of fairness in society” he is missing the point.  The very image of “social mobility” is one of those loaded metaphors like “housing ladder” which implies that we can can make it to the top if they have enough drive and are given the right opportunity.  This has always been a myth.  

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Long Live al Megrahi

    Will the Queen be sending a telegram to Abdel Basset al Megrahi when he reaches a hundred?   

       Has this man no decency?  Doesn’t he realise that by clinging on to life he is daily destroying the credibility of our own Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill.  Tony Blair - whose ‘deal in the desert’ with the Libyan dictator began the process that led to Megrahi’s release - is in the dock of American opinion. I mean, sales of Blair’s autobiography, The Journey, could seriously be affected.    If only Megrahi could see the distress he’s causing I’m sure he’d top himself. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jimmy Reid's failure

 Many and various have been the tributes to Jimmy Reid, hero of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in in 1971.  The  occupation was a success, the yards saved, but politically it was downhill all the way from then on for Scotland’s favourite communist.  I don’t mean that to sound negative or unsympathetic:  Jimmy had a great life and was much loved by friend and foe alike.  He became a national institution: successful journalist, university rector and genuine working class hero.  Latterly, like many on the Scottish left, he gravitated toward nationalism, became an influential voice in the home rule movement and ultimately joined the SNP.   So, no tears necessary, and he wouldn’t want them. He’d want us to reflect instead on the history and politics of his times.  But it’s not a comfortable history for the Left.  

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gordon is Back - thanks to Mandy

   Peter Mandelson’s memoirs may have achieved the impossible:  kick started the rehabilitation of Gordon Brown’s political reputation.  By rushing into print while the wounds of defeat are still raw, by cashing in shamelessly on his insider knowledge and displaying breath-taking disloyalty, Mandelson hasn’t just discredited himself.  He has raised fundamental questions about Tony Blair’s integrity. For a start, he reveals that Blair really did promise to step aside for Gordon and then went back on his word.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Liar Loans: SFA from the FSA

You’ve heard of locking the stable door when the horse has bolted. Well, the Financial Services Authority, has gone one better and promised to do its job properly only after it's been closed down.  Yesterday, the boss of Britain’s financial watchdog, Lord Turner, grandly announced that the FSA was going to put an end to “liar loans”, 125% “suicide” mortgages and other scams from the great housing bubble.  Bit late your Lordship.    Last month, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the FSA is to be scrapped and financial regulation returned to the Bank of England.

    Perhaps if the FSA had done its job six or seven years ago, we wouldn’t be in the state we are in now.  Ah, but that’s just being wise after the event isn’t it?”  It’s easy to criticise with 20/20 hindsight.  Wrong. As readers of this column will be aware, perhaps painfully so, I have been banging on about irresponsible mortgage lending for most of the last decade.  In 2004 I warned that house prices were an unsustainable bubble. In 2005 I fulminated against the irresponsibility of lending five or six times income.  IN 2006 I railed against Northern Rock’s “Together” mortgages where the bank loaned first time buyers 25% more than the value of their property, thus placing them in negative equity even before they got the keys.  After Northern Rock collapsed in 2007, to demonstrate what was happening,  I applied for and was offered a £200,000 mortgage after telling the broker I had a disposable income of only £18,000.  Sheer madness. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Free personal care saves money - axe top salaries instead.

     So who pays?  What gets cut? Well,  hardly a day seems to go by without a story in the press claiming that the cost of free personal care for the elderly is “out of control” and “unsustainable” .   There are repeated calls to axe near-free prescription charges; to restore the graduate endowment and bridge tolls.  Let’s end free bus passes; shut swimming pools and libraries.  Museums - who needs ‘em?  Clearly, everything has to be looked at.  But there’s a real danger that we start from the wrong end, axing relatively cost-effective front line services rather than cutting administration.  That is where the real savings are to be made ina public sector which is highly labour intensive.  Great damage could be done to the quality of peoples’ lives, and the dignity of vulnerable groups, by slashing services that don’t actually cost very much while protecting the public sector bureaucracy.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Pension apartheid: just how bad are private pensions?

 It’s war.  Public sector unions have promised strikes and hinted at civil unrest if the government tries to cut their “gold plated” final salary pensions.  But the £1 trillion unfunded pension liabilities of the public sector, as reported in yesterday’s Herald, are simply unsustainable. This is going to be an epic struggle.   The unions are right on one thing though: the real scandal is the poor state of PRIVATE sector pensions. 

   The average public sector pension, according to the TUC is a modest £7,000, but look over the other side of the fence and you’ll find that the average private sector pension is much less - around £1,700 a year, according to the Pensions Policy Institute. And of course around a third of all employees aren’t saving anything at all for their old age. But to cap it all, most low income earners who do save into private pensions will lose out in the Pension Credit trap. It is a national scandal.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Turn AV day into Constitution Day.

Calamity Clegg rides again.  The Liberal Democrats have been inviting ridicule by proposing a referendum they could easily lose on a voting system they don’t actually support.  The proposed AV referendum on May 5th, the same day as the Scottish parliamentary elections,  will be held at the height of the cuts controversy, with unemployment rising amid a wave of public sector strikes, and may simply provide an opportunity for disgruntled voters to register their disenchantment with the ConDem coalition.  And it’s not even as if the Alternative Vote is proportional. 

  Then there is the Scottish question.  I can understand why Alex Salmond is livid about having the Holyrood elections upstaged by a Great Debate on electoral reform.   Just as in the May general election, the campaign will likely be dominated by televised debates generated by the London media and featuring prominent Westminster politicians like Nick Clegg, David Miliband, David Cameron.  This could drown out the Nationalists just as they are trying to get a fair hearing for their case for re-election in Holyrood on May 5th. 

Don't mess with union laws.

There's a rather ugly swagger about the Lib Con government right now.  Like insecure playground bullies, they're puffing out their chests and giving it large.  Danny Alexander says 25% cuts aren't nearly enough. No, I want 40%!  Year!  Look at the size of my cuts.   George Osborne and David Cameron are jeering at trades unions and threatening to tighten laws against striking.  Come on you Simpsons and Crows. If you think you're hard enough.  Just try and take us.
  But if ever there were a time to try to change the law on strike ballots, this is not it.  The cabinet hard nuts should remember Ted Heath and the Industrial Relations Act. The Tories in 1971 tried to take on the unions in an economic crisis and failed because they misjudged the public mood.  Voters then were unhappy about the power of trades unions, but they did not want them victimised
 and they didn't like seeing trades unionists in court and union funds sequestrated.

  Trades unions today are a shadow of their former selves.  In the 1970s most of the workforce, 12 million, were in unions.  Today, little more than half that number are organised, and the laws on strike action are much, much tougher.  The public are less willing to support unions today because they tend only to represent public sector workers and their privileges.  I do not believe there would be much public sympathy for any wave of strikes .But the surest way to create it, and reignite trades unionism as a moral force, would be to come down hard with the law.  So put down the baseball bats. guys. You're beginning to look stupid.



Sunday, July 04, 2010

Turn the AV referendum into a Constitution Day

 Calamity Clegg rides again.  The Liberal Democrats have been inviting ridicule this weekend for proposing a referendum they could easily lose on a voting system they don’t actually support.  The proposed AV referendum on May 5th, the same day as the Scottish parliamentary elections,  will be held at the height of the cuts controversy, with unemployment rising amid a wave of public sector strikes, and may simply provide an opportunity for disgruntled voters to register their disenchantment with the ConDem coalition.  And it’s not even as if the Alternative Vote is proportional. 

Friday, July 02, 2010

Mad Max Budget - but is he serious?

After a stunned silence after the most draconian budget in modern times, the country is waking up to what the new age of public austerity will actually mean.  Commentators paint a picture of a Mad Max dystopia - a country plunged into depression and decay.  Crumbling schools, empty swimming pools, leisure centres boarded up.  Feral children running riot as police numbers are cut.   Potholes in the road filled with rubbish uncollected.   A million public sector workers sacked;  families evicted after losing housing benefits; strikes and civil unrest returning to the streets of Britain after nearly thirty years.  Yes, it’s pretty grim. 

    So grim in fact that people are beginning to wonder if  George Osborne really means it.  Was the budget just a ploy to sound tough?   Will it all be quietly laid to rest before the comprehensive spending review in the autumn spells out exactly where the cuts will fall?   It’s actually very difficult to know how you go about cutting departmental spending by 25% in real terms.  Do you throw a quarter of prisoners out of jail?  Close a quarter of all libraries, museums, schools? You can't just sack social workers when there are statutory responsibilities like child protection.    Health and overseas aid are the only departments given a clear exemption from the cuts, but even here there will be cost implications of the increase in VAT to 20%.

Osborne's Bullingdon Budget

  Prepare for a hot autumn, comrades: the class war starts here.  Labour have hoist the red flag over Westminster and are preparing bonfires for the Liberal Democrat “collaborators”.  This budget, they say, was  Bullingdon Man taking his “ideological” retribution against the state using the coalition as cover.  It will hit people on low and middle incomes hardest, throw hundreds of thousands out of work, create fear and insecurity among benefits claimants and the disabled.   But the question is: was there any alternative, given Britain’s wrecked finances? Or was this, as the Chancellor put it, the “unavoidable budget”?   

  It is certainly a radical, even a revolutionary budget.  A 25% real terms cut in non-protected government departments in four years. A fiscal consolidation of nearly £120bn by 2015.   The rollback of the state implied by this Budget is simply unprecedented in modern British history.   We are talking tens of thousands of public sector jobs going, services like education, housing, transport, police and social work slashed.  Margaret Thatcher never tried anything so ambitious. George Osborne said he was seeking a deficit reduction on the ratio of 80% spending cuts to 20% tax increases.  She only managed about a fifty fifty split in her early budgets, and public spending actually went up during he 1980s. Can he be serious?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oil spill? Sorry Guv, I just work here.

 “ I’m really really sorry for this accident. I really really regret that my car left the road, killing eleven people and causing massive environmental damage.  

  Do you take full responsibility? 
  Well, that’s a matter for the inquiry. 

  But you were driving the car were you not?
  Of course, but I wasn’t around when the key decisions were taken on the design of the car and the safety measures so I can’t really be held responsible for this terrible and tragic incident.

   Who is responsible. 

   Well, that’s a matter for the inquiry and we mustn’t pre-empt that in any way... I’d like to help, really, but my hands are tied”

    It looks like ‘Hapless Heyward’, as the boss of BP is known after his appearance before the US congressional energy committee inquiry into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, may get his wish.  He said he wanted his life back, and after last week’s performance he will assuredly get it -  minus his job.   It was a  dismal display, in which the BP CEO - one of the highest paid executives in Britain -  sounded evasive and a bit dim, like a middle ranking manager of a small engineering company rather that the leader of one of the greatest economic forces on the planet.  How many companies in the world could agree to pay out £20bn in compensation and then see their share price actually go up?  

   Mind you, I didn’t find the congressional hearing particularly edifying.   The sub-Paxman questioning by drawling and self-important congressmen.  Not so much grandstanding as an Olympic display of synchronised indignation for the benefit of the voters back home.  The inquisition was led by the marvellously sneering  Henry Arnold Waxman, Ca, a man Time Magazine once described the  as “the scariest guy in Washington”.  He certainly looked the part with his flaring nostrils and pitiless moustache.   The purpose was clearly not to get at the truth but, in President Obama’s phrase, to kick ass.  Heyward’s ass certainly made a target rich environment and the congressmen didn’t miss.  But the episode reminded me a little of the show trials that Stalin used to stage in the 1930s to humiliate political rivals. 

   The astonishing thing was the latent chauvinism that the affair uncovered on both sides of the Atlantic.   Special relationship?  You’d be pushed to tell, as the Americans laid into “British Petroleum” and the tabloid press in Britain ran peevish  headlines like the Daily Mail’s two classics:  “America’s ALWAYS tried to do down Britain” and “When disaster strikes, the US will NEVER take the blame”.    Really?  Did America try to do us down in the war fascism in the Second World War?    Okay, American companies didn't exactly leap to take the blame for disasters like the Torrey Canyon or Piper Alpha, but there is a question of scale here: this is America's worst ever environmental catastrophe

     Tory MPs practically accused President Obama of stealing the pensions of millions of elderly Brits and Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, came right out and accused Obama of being “anti-British”.    Wisely, David Cameron ignored appeals to “stand up for Britain” and kept his comments brief, unemotive and to the point.  In doing so, he rather got one over Barack Obama, whose comparison between the Macondo spillage and the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11 was just a little over the top.  The two episodes hardly compare either in body count or in international significance. 

   Nevertheless, this was an epic disaster and almost certainly avoidable.   BP knew this was a “nightmare well”  as email traffic confirmed.  It certainly looks as if they took risks because the reward was so high and the BP leadership was so remote from the well-head.    Tony Hayward’s “wasn’t me guv” attitude reminded me of the Wall Street CEOs who appeared at the congressional hearings into the financial disaster.   Yes they were sorry - terrible catastrophe...deep regrets...but they weren’t responsible for all those dodgy collateralised debt obligations because they weren’t around when they were introduced and anyway no one understood them them.    Like BP,  financial institutions were working at the limit of human comprehension, but no one asked whether this was safe just so long as the money was rolling in.   Deepwater Horizon is also reminiscent of the way politicians rationalised an illegal invasion of Iraq on the basis of weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist.      All those Labour leadership candidates insisting that they weren’t really around when the fateful decisions were made.  Or rather they were around but they didn’t think to say anything.

  But the the Macondo disaster could have wide ramifications for the future of world energy.  It was part of the drive to find new sources of oil deep beneath the surface of the earth.  Most of the easy-to-get oil in the world has already been exploited, and the rate of new discoveries has slowed to a crawl.  It was this that led leading businessmen like Richard Branson to declare, earlier this year, that we are about to reach “Peak Oil”, after which the black stuff will rapidly run out.  Branson said that the crunch would come within five years and that governments should be preparing now for the end of the oil age. 

   Now the idea Peak Oil has been  highly controversial ever since it was first forecast by early environmentalists in the 1970s and the attitude of governments and the oil industry has always been that new technology will come along and allow difficult oil to be extracted, either from far below the oceans or from deposits like tar sands in Canada.  But the Deepwater Horizon episode could be the moment when oil really does peak.  Like nuclear power, which stopped in its tracks after the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1978, this could be the end for deep sea drilling, at least for the next two decades.

    On the principle of never allowing a good crisis to go  to waste, President Obama, has declared this the moment when America must wean itself off the black stuff and start looking seriously at renewable energy like wind and solar.  The halt to deep drilling will leave America even more dependent on hydrocarbons from the Middle East - hardly a comforting prospect given the march of Islamic fundamentalism.  Really, America has no choice but to go green now. Let’s hope the British government takes note and, unlike the BP boss, takes responsibility now instead of avoiding it later . 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sorry guys: the debt has to be paid,

 They don’t call it the dismal science for nothing.  You could forgive politicians of all parties for despairing of economics.  Take the great deficit row.  On the one hand we have all the economic analysts in the City, saying that Britain’s budget deficit is much too high, the largest peacetime deficit in history,  and has to be cut.  If you don’t cut the deficit, then the cost of debt interest will shoot up above £70bn and Britain will have a Greek tragedy. This is why the chancellor, George Osborne, is planning an epic austerity programme in next week’s emergency budget. 

   But on the other hand we have another group of economists, like Nobel laureates  Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who say no! no! no! -  cutting the deficit is the last thing we should do. At least not now, while all the EU economies are doing the same thing. The combined austerity programmes will plunge us all back into recession as demand falls and trade grinds to a halt.   Government debt will actually rise because of the increased cost of mass unemployment and the loss of tax revenue.  The latest rise in unemployment yesterday to 2.5 milion suggests that this is a real problem. We were already having a jobless recovery - swingeing cuts in public spending could make it a jobless slump.  Labour’s interim leader, Harriet Harman, tore into the “Tory cuts” at prime minister’s question time yesterday accusing David Cameron of “talking down the economy” for ideological ends. 

     So there you have it: the deficit is going to go up if we cut public spending and it’s going to go up if we don’t cut spending.   Brilliant!  Britain is on the fast track to default, and in a hand cart to stagflation, whatever we do.   Might as well grab a gun and a bag of gold and head for the hills.     Fortunately everyone is agreed on one thing: economic growth is the only way ultimately to bridge the deficit - just as you have to get a job earning good pay in order to pay off a mortgage. Everyone, Labour and Tory, also agrees that the deficit has to come down.  The question is basically one of when and how.  The neo-Keynsians say that you need to keep spending high for the time being to replace the demand destroyed by the downturn/  The fiscal conservatives say that we are already nearing the limits of borrowing and that Britain’s debt crisis will spiral out of control if we don’t convince the bond markets that the government is serious about balancing the books.  After all, our deficit is larger than Greece’s right now, and the about only reason financiers and firms are still buying our government debt is that Britain has a relatively good record of paying it back.

   It’s really a question of just how much debt can we take.  Britain’s national debt is relatively small right now at 60% of GDP  and is scheduled to rise to something like 90% .  After the Second World War,  America had a budget deficit of 120%.  Which was a good thing according to the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott. “Far from being burdened with unpayable debt” he wrote this week, the baby boomers in the late 40’s and early 50’s were the most blessed generation in history”.  Well, some might disagree with the beatification, but what is really wrong with this analysis is that,  er, we aren’t at war,  and hopefully won’t have to be.  

    It’s true that rearmament ended the Great Depression and  America boomed after the war.  But this was largely because the dollar became the world’s reserve currency, and America, on the back of that, became the world’s greatest industrial and military power.  It could dictate the terms of trade, and still does.   War isn’t a get out of jail free card mainly because  it is not possible to replicate the wartime conditions in peace. The government can’t go around freezing bank accounts, seizing property and dictating to industry.  And Britain after the war was a very sorry place indeed,  afflicted by rationing, deflation and manufacturing decline.     I don’t believe that people could go back to that.   

   The peacetime debt record is held by Japan, which is scheduled, according to the IMF, to borrow 250% of GDP by 2015.   But this colossal spend hasn’t been much of a stimulus - Japan’s economy been stagnant since the property crash nearly twenty years ago.  Japan is able to run massive deficits because the Japanese people are fanatical savers.  The British public doesn’t save a penny, in fact we are so addicted to debt that we owe, in personal debts, more than our entire annual national income.  Any way you look at it, Britain simply cannot risk going much further into debt. We are heading for a trillion pound national debt; a trillion pound public sector pension liability piled on top of a trillion pound bank rescue and personal debts of one and a half trillion.  There’s no way of laying this off, pretending it’s not there, wishing it away.    Nor is default, or declaring national bankruptcy, an easy way out because that just raises further the cost of borrowing. 

   I’ve thought a great deal about this issue in the last couple of years, and I’m afraid I have to part company with the neo-Keynsians.  Actually, Keynes didn’t support unlimited public spending and argued for balanced budgets in the 1930s.   The most important political reason for cutting the debt, Keynes argued  is that it will ultimately be paid, not by the rich, but by the working class.  Public spending is unique in that it is paid entirely out of the taxes of ordinary working families or through inflation. 

  These are scary times.  As European countries like Greece and Spain topple under the weight of their own debt, there’s a very serious risk of  a wave of sovereign defaults across the euro zone. These are countries only recently emerged from dictatorship where democracy has yet to be tested by serious economic hardship.  If the politicians here and abroad get it wrong, spending too much, printing too much, devaluing too far, we could end up like Weimar Germany.  And what’s worse, Germany could end up like Weimar Germany too. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

So Scots have a death wish?

 We’re doomed. Doomed. Get out now while you still can. It’s a wonder there’s anyone left in Scotland so terrifying are the headlines about Scottish mortality.   97% of us are living dangerously unhealthy lives according to a report last week in BMC Public Health.  A boy born in Glasgow can expect to live thirteen years less than a boy born in Chelsea, according to the Office of National Statistics. Twice as many of us die from alcohol abuse than in England - that’s if we aren’t murdered first. Half a million of us have coronary heart disease, according to CHASS -  one of the highest rates in the world.  Diseases like multiple sclerosis are off the scale. Two thirds of us are overweight or obese.   

Friday, June 11, 2010

Labour leadership candidates: 'wasn't us guv'.

 The odd thing about the Labour leadership contest, nominations for which closed yesterday,  is that the leading candidates all appear to have been elsewhere during the last 13 years of Labour government.  How else can we account for their disowning so many of the policies pursued by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

    The former cabinet secretary Ed Balls has recently discovered that the government of which he was a prominent member was letting in far too many immigrants. And the Iraq war was a “dangerous mistake for which the country has paid a heavy price”.  Well he kept that to himself.   David Miliband agrees that immigration got out of control in the Labour years and that the government let down Labour voters.  Oh, and the former foreign secretary never supported the policy of regime change in Iraq . 

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

CGT - more welfare for the wealthy

 Is there any group in society more jealous of its privileges, more militant in defence of its perks, more determined to avoid paying tax than the ‘hard working’  British middle classes?  The howls of anguish at the proposal  to tax capital gains as income, part of the ConDem coalition agreement, illustrates how difficult it is to tackle what is called the middle class welfare state.  People who complain about welfare scroungers and benefits tourists see nothing morally wrong with avoiding  tax. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

David Laws: no sympathy, no excuse.

Let's be absolutely clear: this has nothing to do with David Laws' sexuality.  It is about his failure to follow the rules on parliamentary expenses.    These rules are very clear: “housing allowance must not be used to meet the cost of renting a property from a partner”.  Mr Laws has no excuse for not being aware of these rules after years in which parliamentary expenses have rarely been out of the news. He has done a huge disservice to his party, the Lib-Con coalition, his constituents and the country and he should have resigned immediately. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Queen's Speech: why Scotland's laughing.

 Ok, someone has to say it: last week's Queen’s Speech was really rather a good deal for Scotland.  Even the SNP have been struggling to find things to complain about.   And no - I’ve not become a spokesman for the ‘Condem’ coalition or been offered a gong in  Cameron’s next honours list.  We 're so suspicious of Westminster perfidy that we sometimes fail to see when it is playing straight.  The only cries of pain I have been hearing are from Tory MPs bending over backwards not to say anything offensive about the Scots. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Great Lib Con

  It’s called the Great Lib Con.   You voted for an end to foreign wars, nuclear power, Trident and for a more positive attitude to immigration and Europe.  You got a Tory government.  On Tuesday,  many liberal-left voters in Scotland were incoherent with rage when they discovered that they’d actually voted for David Cameron when they thought they were voting for Charles Kennedy.  How the F@@k did that happen?  I’ll never vote Liberal Democrat EVER again! were some of the more moderate comments on the new political order.  

  Now, as someone who urged tactical voting to change the electoral system, I suppose I have to take my share of the blame for this.  Before the election, a number of people asked me if there wasn’t a danger of “letting the Tories back in” if they lent their votes to the Libdems.  My reply was if we took that attitude, nothing would ever change.  We’d be left for ever  with a reactionary two-party duopoly in Westminster.
 Bumping up the Liberal Democrat vote, which  seemed to be building nicely during the campaign thanks to Nick Clegg’s TVcoup,  seemed the surest way of delivering a fatal blow to the corrupt and undemocratic Westminster system.  But tactical voting isn’t an exact science.  The Liberal surge faded fatefully on polling day, and that fatally weakened the third force.  Labour rejected a “coalition of losers” and the rest is history. 

   So, am I eating my words in the cold aftermath to the Great Lib Con?  Is it humble pie time for misguided, too-clever-by-half hack?  Perhaps - but I’m not alone: electoral reformers like Billy Bragg have also been seen with pastry crumbs on their chins.  Others, including journalists on the Guardian and Independent newspapers, have been eating hats and running naked down high streets.  No, I really didn’t expect that there would be a formal coalition between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.  My forecast was that there would either be a Tory minority administration after a hung parliament, or a Liberal-Labour progressive alliance.  In the end - ha ha ha - we got the Nick and Dave show.  George Osborne in charge of the public finances.  Iain Duncan Smith in charge of welfare.   Liam Fox with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Five non returnable years of Conservative government. 

   It was a shock certainly.  If you think Tory government is the end of the world - and who knows it might come to that - then you’re probably right to think that we’ve all been lib-conned.   But the inconvenient truth is that the coalition deal, if you study it, is actually a rather good one.  It wasn’t just the five cabinet seats or the fifteen junior ministerial posts.  Or the referendum on AV, which isn’t actually proportional representation.  No, reading the document, I can understand why the Liberal Democrat negotiators were astonished when they saw what the Cameron Tories were offering them.  An elected House of Lords with PR, curbing the power of the executive in the Commons, repealing Labour’s anti-civil liberties legislation, reforming the banks, the £10,000 tax threshold, scrapping ID cards, tax powers for Holyrood, no third runway at Heathrow, etc.  Also, the Liberal Democrats negotiated opt out on clauses things like nuclear power, married couples allowance.  

  Yes, the penalty  is that the Libdems have to sit - metaphorically at least  - alongside the “nutters” as Nick Clegg described the Tories' far right partners in the European Parliament.  Libdems will have to accept a cap on immigration, the renewal of the Trident missile system, savage cuts in public spending, probably withdrawal of benefits from many lower income families.  There may be all manner of nasties lurking in the Tory in-tray that we don’t know about.

  But was there an alternative?   The Lib-Lab progressive realignment that we all talked about was a non-starter, and not just because Labour MPs like Tom Harris and Douglas Alexander refused to sup with the hated Nats. On Tuesday it became clear that there was not only a deep mistrust of the Liberal Democrats on the Labour benches, but a profound antipathy to thoroughgoing political reform. Senior Labour figures like John Reid and David Blunkett ensured that no deal would be struck by launching very public condemnation of the talks even as Labour and the Liberal Democrats were sitting in Number Ten trying to find common ground. This wasn’t isolated indiscipline either: the ex-ministers were clearly speaking for many on the Labour backbenches. 

   No guarantees on electoral reform or the rest of the reform agenda were forthcoming.  So, what were the Libdems to do?  Accept no deal from Labour or a great deal from the Cameron Conservatives? Difficult choice, I know - and one I’m glad I will never have to make.  The Tory offer was carefully calibrated to deliver genuine and far reaching reform in exchange for stable government - stable Conservative government. The Liberal Democrats may end up as human shields for Tory cuts, and they have a hell of a job justifying themselves in Scotland.  But here’s a thought: Alex Salmond only managed to secure power, and the first nationalist administration in history, by doing a deal with the Tories.  Sometimes, party leaders have to deal with the devil. 
  Last week reminded me a little of the 1992 general election when everyone expected the Tories to be wiped out in Scotland, and they returned with an extra two Scottish seats, as well as retaining control in Westminster.  There were howls of anguish and gloomy forecasts of the end of civilisation as we know it.  Five years later the Tories really were wiped out, such was the force of the Scottish tactical vote against them.   That led to an irreversible process of constitutional reform which led to Scotland regaining its parliament after 300 years.  

   I’m not saying that’s going to happen again. But what we can say is that the process of political and constitutional revolution that was begun in the Scottish Parliament has now moved south.  Westminster will be radically changed under this coalition. And so will Scotland,  because the Calman reforms and other constitutional changes, will take us much further down the road to federalism.   Of course, many suspect this Lib-Con deal was cooked up before the election by two public schoolboys seeking to edge Labour out of power for a generation. But if so, all you can say is that Labour fell for it hook, line and plonker.