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.