Thursday, 24 January 2013

Empiricism v idealism

Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the cybernat triumphalism over David Cameron's promise of an EU referendum, which of course underlines their Little Scotlander/Jock McBull-ist attitude towards the UK union, as highlighted in this recent lengthy post. And they think the five-year wait for the EU vote underlines Unionist hypocrisy with regard to complaints about the uncertainty attaching to a two-year wait for the referendum on Scottish independence.

Indeed, even Alex McFarage (OK, maybe it won't catch on) made this point, but of course it's all a bit rich since he claimed to be ready for an independence referendum several years ago, but when he actually gets the chance he needs to delay it for yet another couple of years. And part of Cameron's problem is the state of flux in the EU and the uncertainty thereto, not to mention the no doubt endlessly protracted nature of any negotiations on the UK's future in the (super-) state of the unknown. Which indeed the SNP should know all about because they don't have a clue what Scotland's position would be vis-à-vis Europe, they've been demonstrably less than honest about this, they've only just got round to asking the EU for an application form, and unfortunately the Commission won't even talk to them.

But it wouldn't do to let the facts get in the way of a bit of posturing and selectivity regarding the whole scenario. And, for example, even the ostensibly sober-ish Ruth Wishart uses a Bellyache Caledoctrination piece to haver on about Tory "Europhobes", "headbangers", and an "obsessive compulsive disorder" regarding their attitude to the EU. Which on her logic makes us Scots only marginally less so, and indeed makes the average Bella reader an Anglophobic headbanger with an obsessive, compulsive disorder over the UK. Likewise, Ruthy also talks of "Scottish Europeans", whereas I reckon the average Bellyacher would be in full obsessive headbanging mode at the mere suggestion of dual British-Scottish identity/nationality (as demonstrated by its Union flag-burning editor in the past - wonder if he'll be ceremoniously burning the EU flag anytime soon ["Michty me, whit a fine heat ye get off an auld [EU] imperialist rag"]).

Onywey, another several years of this from the self-indulgent, self-absorbed, self-aggrandising denizens of Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels (and their hangers-on) will highlight how they've caused so many problems in the past, and now they'll spend a good chunk of my remaining years ignoring the bread and butter issues, which in turn merely underlines the rest of this post, most of which was drafted much earlier in the month.

Apart from the increasingly tiresome - and pointless - slew of articles about the need for a civilised/constructive debate on the indy question and previews of 2013 that seemed remarkably similar to reviews of 2012, there hasn't really been that much interesting material in the media recently.

So I bravely ventured onto the Telegraph website and found a couple of articles which, while relating to the UK/Westminster context and not specifically mentioning Scotland at all, seemed equally pertinent to the Holyrood/independence context.

The first is by commentator Peter Oborne and is well worth a read, but for those pressed for time and/or of a nervous disposition, a couple of the more insightful paragraphs are included here. Thus he says of politicians generally:
"Members of the political class consider themselves exempt from the routine constraints that apply to their fellow citizens. They feel certain that they are making extraordinary sacrifices, and therefore deserve exceptional compensation (this emotion is the psychological trigger that sets off a great deal of low-level corruption). Once in government, they are soon part of a parallel reality, in which they live and breathe a separate world than the one experienced by voters."
Oh yes indeedy!! And while Oborne states that the EU is even worse than Westminster in this regard, the relevance of such a critique to Holyrood should be obvious. Indeed, what he says about the EU per se is perhaps also of particular pertinence regarding the SNP's determination to be a member of the great Brussels bureaucracy. Oborne also critiques the whole European project and its self-evident 'existental' problems in the following terms, drawing on British v Continental intellectual/philosophical traditions:
"Anglo-Saxon empiricism and the idealism found on the Continent therefore prescribe directly opposite courses of political conduct. Empiricists are trained in scepticism and caution: if you put your hand in the fire once, you will not do so again. Idealists, by contrast, are much less likely to renounce a course of conduct or set of beliefs because reality gets in the way.
"Empiricists, alert to the lessons of history and conscious of man’s tragic imperfection, are wary. So they concentrate on specific rules – honesty, decency, accuracy, compassion to friends or care for a particular community. Idealists tend to embrace grand plans for social reconstruction or for general human salvation. They are much less worried by rule-breaking, especially if they believe that it serves the greater good."
Which again resonates with my own rather cynical/realist view of Holyrood generally, and independence in particular. And combining Oborne's view of the EU with my own take on Holyrood perhaps explains why the latter's tribunes seem more predisposed towards the former than their equivalents at Westminster.

The other Telegraph article that caught my attention was by Janet Daley, who (paradoxically, given the dominant view of Westminster's Tories from the Scottish perspective) essentially critiques the Conservative-LibDem as being a bit too lefty-liberal and touchy-feely:
"There is nothing inherently modern about the totemic modernising issues that are (as defined not by me but by the standard-bearers themselves) green policies, gay marriage and international aid. They are simply the preoccupations of a specialised metropolitan elite, which takes pride in regarding the anxieties of the great mass of the population with contempt.
"To adopt those issues as political priorities is modern in only the disreputable sense: it is designed to indicate that you have embraced the fashionable snobbery – a kind of post-democratic chic in which the concerns of ordinary people are unworthy or unenlightened. Is this where the party leadership wishes to position itself? What is attractive about cultivating the influential rich of Islington and Shepherd’s Bush? Especially if that means despising, or relegating, the problems and genuine fears of most voters about, say, mass immigration, crime and economic hardship? And that brings us to the other notable misuse of language in this phoney war: the policies inevitably identified as being demanded by “the Right of the party” are, in fact, the ones clearly, and unabashedly, favoured by most people in the country."
Of course, Scotland and the UK/England can hardly be characterised as identical in this regard, but from where I'm standing there's definitely certain parallels between what Daley describes as a "kind of post-democratic chic in which the concerns of ordinary people are unworthy or unenlightened" in London, and Scotland's uber-politically correct hoi oligoi, even if the pro-independence liberal left in particular would clearly baulk at such a comparison.

Onyhow, both Oborne's and Daley's articles seemed particularly apposite in view of Planet Politics' own existential crisis. And perhaps one reason for that is because it goes against the grain of Scotland's dominant political ethos (even ignoring the constitutional issue) and thus even after four years of tireless struggle this blogger's influence is self-evidently sub-marginal. And it's not even as if it's a case of trying to defend a minority viewpoint, because on the Ghandi scale - first they ignore you, then they call you a raving fascist racist bigot, etc - Planet Politics has never really gotten past first base!

But Peter Oborne's article in particular brings to mind this blog's original raison d'être, which - as the title and sub-title suggest - was to use my own personal experiences to hopefully shed a little light on some of the issues. But in recent times in particular even this has all but disappeared from the blog, with the vast majority of posts dealing with political process and other mainstream issues (perhaps because the level of interest in the 'real world' stuff is even less than that for the latter!) thus merely pontificating from the margins in an already crowded arena. [The remainder of this post in its original form, which wittered on at some length about the reasons for discontinuing this blog and also contained some observations and critique regarding Scottish politics and social media, was subsequently removed for brevity's sake.]

(And in other news, people with too much time on their hands have recreated how Alex Salmond looked before he bought lots of curries on his Westminster and Holyrood expense accounts. The graphic shows the young Mr Salmond contemplating his smash hit, "A Union's Nae A Union, For A' That".)

[Please note that this blog is no longer being updated.]

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Change the subject Mr Salmond, why don't you?

With the SNP on the back foot last year over issues like the currency, membership of Nato and the whole EU debacle, it was perhaps predictable that the party would try to both twist all this round to suit its agenda, and also try to deflect attention in other ways.

Thus in the space of just a few days the Nationalists have made major announcements which seem breathtakingly hypocritical in view of their demonstrable lack of preparedness, doubts over integrity and generally inconsistent and opportunistic approach to the likes of the Bank of England, the EU and Nato.

So after being slapped down in the wake of the SNP's assumption that Scotland could have a representative on the Bank of England's monetary policy committee and rely on the bank as lender of last resort, the party's Yes Minister Nicola Sturgeon is now asking Westminster to enter into negotiations on a "transition plan" about how independence for Scotland would be implemented. Of course, they knew full well what the answer would be before even asking the question, and in view of their presumptuousness regarding the Bank of England, the EU and Nato this all demonstrates that it all amounts to little more than trying to shift the blame for their own inadequacies, and clearly if Westminster can be made to look the villain of the piece then it's a good old propaganda double whammy for the SNP!

Likewise Alex Salmond's announcement regarding a Scottish constitution yesterday, which as well as detracting from his difficult period towards the end of last year seems to be attempting to elevate SNP soundbites and rhetoric to the status of constitutional principles designed to presage some kind of new world order. Indeed, the first minister's suggestion that the constitution could feature a ban on weapons of mass destruction simply underlines his party's unprincipled and opportunistic attempt to claim that Scotland could hide behind Nato's nuclear deterrent while at the same time sermonising the rest of the world on the issue.

And, of course, as well as confirming the SNP as a party of moralising and posturing which effectively uses the constitutional issue to deflect attention from its lack of vision and competence in adequately utilising the Scottish Parliament's existing powers, this latest move underlines the increasingly inadequate Holyrood as an institution of moralising and posturing as well.

Alex Salmond may fancy himself as some kind of Caledonian cross between Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. But if the public have generally given him the benefit of the doubt since his SNP administration started its journey to the Promised Land, surely they're now beginning to see through this McNero, who's desperate to spend years fiddling with constitutional issues while Scotland's myriad problems continue to burn.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Irvine Welsh encourages destructive neo-liberalism

Hadn't gotten round to reading Irvine Welsh's recent magnum opus on the independence question (although no doubt articulate, erudite and sometimes compelling, since it was published on Bellyache Caledonia its fundamental import isn't hard to fathom) but yesterday's minor stushie over an ostensibly 'pulled' article on an MSM website seemed to highlight one of his more newsworthy points.

Thus it seems the Scotsman group website published an article headlined "Irvine Welsh says young people better off dealing drugs than studying for ‘meaningless degree’", but then pulled it a couple of hours later, perhaps because on reflection it was considered a bit too Daily Mail-esque for the MacCommentariat to stomach. But cue the usual cybernat hysteria (whether genuine or faux - it's usually difficult to tell) about the disturbingly selective nature of the report, the highly sinister fact that it was published at all, then of course the unmitigated evil inherent in having second thoughts and removing it from the Scotsman website.

Of course, perhaps the reason for this cybernat paranoia - and also why the Scotsman considered the offending passage newsworthy in the first place - is because it maybe made for slightly uncomfortable reading for some, and not just for those who appreciate the opinion of the likes of Peter Hitchens and Melanie Phillips. (Indeed when I read the article and Welsh's reported comments I thought it was some kind of spoof that the Scotsman had published accidentally!)

Anyway, lamenting the UK's "destructive neo-liberalism" and the cost of a degree-level education, Irvine Welsh opines:

“I would choose to invest any resources I had in other directions; like many bright, eager young kids from poorer backgrounds now do, I’d probably buy a rock of cocaine, cut it and sell it. And repeat. It simply makes more economic sense.”

Well of course it does. It's difficult to think of circumstance where financially-motivated crime - such as theft, burglary and fraud as well as drug-dealing per se - would make the perpetrator worse off than they would be by more legitimate conduct. They commit crime to make themselves better off than they would be otherwise.

Thus Welsh is effectively saying that if you can't make it in the legitimate neo-liberal, market-based economy then if it enhances your financial position then why not try the illegitimate neo-liberal, market-based economy. Which is not just illegal per se, but avoids other aspects of the regulation of more legitimate markets, such as taxation and labour market protection for any minions or mules that you may exploit or even coerce into working for you.

And which of course makes mainstream neo-liberalism seems positively cuddly. Take Welsh's argument to its logical conclusion and you're effectively comparing greedy bankers to gangsters and organised crime. And even that's ignoring the destructive effects of drug addiction on the dealer's 'clients', which don't need rehashing here.

So Welsh is effectively denigrating "destructive neo-liberalism" but at the same time saying that even he would contemplate an even more destructive form of neo-liberalism if the latter suited his financial interests better than the former. And indeed he's also done rather well out of the sort of legitimate neo-liberalism he denigrates, since his Wikipedia profile says he made money from property speculation as well as his better known activities, and Welsh now describes himself as, "not so much middle-class as upper-class. I'm very much a gentleman of leisure."

(Interesting that he uses the example of cocaine rather than the perhaps more obvious heroin option, but even as a long-term resident of one of Scotland's neighbourhoods that he's alluding to I'm perhaps showing my naivety here! But I suspect he's just using the more upmarket cocaine example as a sort of euphemism for drug dealing more generally).

Of course, Irvine Welsh's comments on this on Bella Caledonia are as likely to change the course of history as my ramblings on this blog, but his attitude is symptomatic of a wider problem with Scotland's dominant lefty-liberal elite.

Thus drug taking has effectively been decriminalised by stealth, and the likes of heroin addicts - and even the kind of small-time dealers alluded to by Welsh - are treated as victims of an unfair and unequal society, as to an extent have criminals more generally.

But of course societies have always been unequal, unfair and hierarchical, and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that an independent Scotland would be radically different, tinkering around the edges with the likes of free bus passes for the elderly notwithstanding.  In particular, and despite the likes of Scotland's radical left, there's nothing to suggest that the nation as a whole would vote for a fundamentally redistributive society, which is why Alex Salmond and the SNP are proposing neo-liberal measures like cuts in corporation tax, and sucking up to the likes of Amazon, Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump (and despite Salmond's subsequent fall out with the latter!). Mainstream Scotland may moan about the bankers and to an extent sympathise with those scraping along the arse-end of society, but at the end of the day they want next-day delivery on their iPad and, rightly or wrongly, don't really see the likes of the Scottish Socialist Party or the Greens delivering on that ('scuse puns!).

However, the point is that treating those who do less well out of society than others as victims and to that extent excusing criminality just makes things worse. They take/deal in drugs, end up in court, become unemployable, then when it's too late to turn things round they end up in prison, or overdosed on a mortuary slab, or they themselves become victims of other criminals or maybe a fire caused by their 'chaotic lifestyle'. And then there's those trying to earn an honest living but who are also victims of such an environment (like yours truly), but of course normally excluding the hand wringing and sanctimonious commentators and decision-makers who create the mess in the first place.

Thus if it's accepted that neo-liberal economies are unfair and destructive, then there's no need to make things worse by using this to legitimise other undesirable forms of liberalism.

But perhaps Irvine Welsh makes a useful point when he appears to allude to the destructive 50%-must-go-to-university ethos of the liberal left, which results in "pretty meaningless" degrees and a "prison of debt" because the whole thing becomes unaffordable. Thus another destructive vicious circle encouraged by the liberal left - a drug-addicted criminal with a meaningless degree and a huge debt albatross round their neck doesn't cut the mustard in even a social democratic market-based economy, never mind a neo-liberal one!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Sanctus Espiritus, is this what we deserve?

The adverse publicity arising from Nationalist guru Stephen Noon's recent suggestion that the SNP might suffer an existential crisis in an independent Scotland probably did the independence movement more harm than good, but his thesis was probably born of Yes Scotland's attempts merely to distance itself from Alex Salmond and Co rather than anything more compelling.
Of course, in addition to attempting to portray the pro-independence movement as a broad church rather than merely an extension of the SNP, Yes Scotland's more existential approach to the question of Scottish self-determination also seemed designed to deflect attention from the SNP's difficulties regarding substantive policy detail, not to mention that arising when the likes of the socialists, Greens and the odd right-winger are brought into the equation.

But in his essay Stephen Noon couldn't resist having a few digs in relation to specific policy areas in the context of the UK, which is arguably where he came more unstuck than regarding the SNP's future.

For example, he claims: "And, most damaging of all, the failure of financial regulation on a massive scale, with a system designed to protect and promote the masters of the financial universe in the City while expecting the rest of us to pay for their mistakes."

While of course Alex Salmond said regarding this shortly before the UK's banking system nearly imploded:
“We are pledging a light-touch regulation suitable to a Scottish financial sector with its outstanding reputation for probity, as opposed to one like that in the UK, which absorbs huge amounts of management time in ‘gold-plated’regulation.”
And who was "one of Alex Salmond’s most trusted advisers for almost two decades"?!? Mr Noon followed his criticism of the UK's financial regulation by saying: "It takes a uniquely warped view of the world to believe that an independent Scotland couldn’t or wouldn’t do better than this."

Er, hello? "Uniquely warped" indeed. And isn't it the case that the SNP now wants the UK to continue to regulate Scotland's banking and financial services industries, even after 'independence'?

So Mr Noon's encroachment onto 'utilitarian' rationales for independence rather than his more 'existential' remit perhaps reminds us what he's been up to until relatively recently, which hardly does him any favours.

Likewise, Mr Noon's personal website (replete with .eu domain) informs us that he's recently completed a postgraduate degree on "The interaction between international law and European Union law", while he's currently researching for a doctorate on "Internal Enlargement of the EU: legal issues around Scottish independence". Which nicely brings to mind Alex Salmond's near-existential personal difficulties regarding the question of legal advice on Scotland's EU membership. No tittering, please.

Mr Noon also witters on at some length about the fact that the UK is now one of the world's most unequal societies, but that: "We know there is an alternative to this Westminster way of structuring society and dividing the spoils. We only have to look across the North Sea to the Scandinavian nations, countries that sit at the very top of world wealth, equality and wellbeing league tables. If we so choose, Scotland can move towards this fairer, more social-democratic way of living."

Which in turn brings to mind the fact that Yes Scotland is being bankrolled by Euromillion winners Colin and Christine Weir, who demonstrated their concern for the impoverished by posing for photaes spraying champagne around etc. Of course, we'd all like to win a huge dollop of cash and do something useful and fulfilling with our lives and not have to worry about money, and wish the likes of the Weirs no ill-will. But I'd be buying a few nature reserves rather than a garage full of Ferraris (say), and I certainly wouldn't be flaunting my wealth and rubbing others' noses in it à la the Weirs. And which in turn perhaps says something about the self-righteous and hypocritical nature of Yes Scotland.

Which by the same token underlines the near-ubiquitous otherworldliness of so much in politics, and there seems to have been a bit more of this around than usual recently. For example, in the same pages as Stephen Noon's ramblings another Nationalist with more brains than common sense - former MSP Andrew Wilson - havers on about optimists leading happier, healthier, wealthier lives than pessimists. Which I don't doubt for a minute, but it's almost certainly the likes of the Noons and Wilsons who've turned me from an optimist to a pessimist, and very probably curtailed my life expectancy as a result. Which of course concurs with Andrew Wilson's thesis, but not in the way he (presumably) thinks. On the other hand he does get it spot on when he says of Scotand's devolution project:
"Of course, no Rubicon had been crossed. For Scottish politics there was always a fast-track bridge back over the river to politics as usual. And as the klaxon sound of inter-party noise and fury has risen over subsequent years, so the connect with our hopes and fears has been lost."
However, he perhaps spoils this by appearing to claim the following regarding Scottish independence: "The opportunity now presents itself for all political leaders to play their part in positively framing the route they ask us all to take."

Which ironically has probably taken another few minutes off my life!

Then there's the likes of commentator Lesley Riddoch, who likes to think she inhabits the "real world", but this just seems to mean she's not a politician and is non-partisan. Her real world seems to consist largely of the comment pages of the Scotsman and the television and radio studios. Or the Scotsman's theatre critic Joyce McMillan, who cites Scotland's "thriving creative life" as presaging bringing "people together again, to fight for more democracy, more social justice, more real freedom for ordinary people, more respect for ourselves and others". But if she's referring to the likes of the arty-farty types at the National Collective, the Union Jack-burners at Bella Caledonia or the MacLuvvie community more generally, then I suspect their relevance to the great unwashed will be marginal.

As will the likes of the Radical Independence Conference attended by many of the elite of the MacCommentariat like Gerry Hassan and Andy Wightman, which is probably more likely to represent an awkward squad and occasional embarrassment for mainstream nationalism rather than something to enthuse the masses. For example, Andy Wightman recently cited this pretentious, elitist and inaccessible bullocks from an academic as an "excellent discussion", and in an essay advocating a "fairer and greener Scotland" suggested "leaving a lot of that North Sea oil untouched and a moratorium on further exploration".

Er, hello? Again. Of course, it was Mr Renewables himself - aka Alex Salmond - who recently bragged to the Scottish Parliament about our "enormous, ENORMOUS" oil and gas reserves (first minister's emphasis) and even this new year has claimed that Scotland's oil and gas sector is a "sunrise industry" and blawed that his SNP Government's strategy "sets out the aim of maximising recovery of oil and gas".

Then there's the likes of a radio interview - usefully transcribed on uber-cybernat blog Wings Ower Bath - with an Englishman who's moved to Scotland and has seemingly been converted to independence while living here. He says, inter alia:
"When I first came up here, I think I shared that view that a lot of the Scottish Parliament politicians were a bit second-rate, they were a bit ordinary and dowdy-looking – you think about people like Nicola Sturgeon and Joan McAlpine, and they’re the sort of people you imagine standing behind in the queue in the supermarket. But then I’ve come to realise that actually that’s what you want in representative democracy – you want people who represent their constituents, who ARE like us. You don’t want this kind of Teflon superheroes who are out of touch and belong to an elite class that have no idea about the price of a pint of milk."
Er, hello? Again. In fact the SNP cooncillors in my own ward don't even seem to know what's going on under their noses - or don't care - so what price the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Joan McAlpine? Perhaps Holyrood's "elite class" are slightly less "out of touch" than Westminster's, but elite and out of touch they surely are. However, perhaps the problem with the [insert politically correct term for an Englishmen living in Scotland and who's been converted to the independence cause] is that while the above might convey the impression that he's some kind of man of the people, he is in fact a medieval history lecturer at St Andras University. And here was me thinking he was sweeping the flares! Perhaps he should have stopped at the end of where he says: "I shared the view that a lot of the Scottish Parliament politicians were a bit second-rate."

Onywey, since the nation is clearly waiting with baited breath on Planet Politics' own future strategy mentioned in last week's post, the above is merely intended to underline the fact that mainstream political discourse doesn't seem to have much relevance to this blogger, which indeed provided the original rationale for this site, as the title and sub-title of the blog suggests.

So to put the nation out of its collective misery my next post will outline this blog's future direction. Once, that is, I've decided what it is!

(So there I was trying to think of a clever Dick title for the post and here was Dutch symphonic rockers Within Temptation's 'Our Solemn Hour' playing on my iPod. So I looked it up and it just about works in a slightly blasphemous sort of way, but maybe makes me seem more erudite than is perhaps the case. But it's certainly not that I've come over all religious or anything like that!)

Friday, 28 December 2012

2013: Looks like déjà vu all over again!

It hasn't taken long for things to get back to normal after the predictably brief cessation of hostilities over Christmas, and another short hiatus around the New Year will occur merely to allow a further bout of festive indulgence.

But this morning's news and views demonstrate that 2013 may largely be a rerun of 2012, unless of course something big happens in the meantime. But Cochers sets the scene in the Telegraph, claiming in his column that many Unionists "now see Wee Eck as the separatists' weakest link". So not much change there then.

In the Scotsman George Kerevan employs the 'economic levers of power' shtick for the other side, conveniently ignoring the fact that "seizing control of the fiscal and monetary levers" seems an unlikely prospect if the SNP get their way and Scotland is part of a currency/monetary union with rUK and/or an EU member, neither of whom are likely to be particularly enamoured by the prospect of fiscal divergence. Isn't Mr Kerevan meant to be an economist by profession?

Meanwhile, somewhere inbetween the two constitutional camps lies middle-class handwringing socialist Joyce McMillan, who chunters on about injustice, inequality and social collapse, presumably between penning theatre reviews. So no change there then either, but amazingly she manages not to use the term 'neoliberal' once!

The tiresomely predictable prize for today however must go to Newsnet Scotland, which seems to have managed regular articles over the festive break, despite claiming that the SNP press office, er, I mean its writers are enjoying a wee holiday.

Onyhow, this morning's is a classic of the genre, and arises from a tweet by Jack (Lord) McConnell suggesting that :"Sadly there are many who hide behind a guise of 'civic nationalism' but if you scratch beneath the surface..." and as clarification later: "You misunderstand me Andy - I absolutely meant there is a nasty underbelly."

A cybernat type then tries to stir things up by claiming that Jack (Lord) McConnell is insinuating that "we're all racist Nazis". And Newsnet conveniently links that to this from Jack (Lord) McConnell, thus implying that he claimed that many Nationalists are racist Nazis: "Andy - "many" is NOT 'all', but there are far too many I'm afraid."

But whether Newsnet just got confused or are deliberately misrepresenting what Jack (Lord) McConnell said, the giveaway is in his use of the word 'Andy', which confirms that he's referring to his earlier comments about many "hiding behind civic nationalism" and a "nasty underbelly". It was the other cybernat who raised the words "racist Nazis", and there's nothing to suggest - other than Newsnet's presumably misrepresented graphic - that Jack (Lord) McConnell in any way associated himself with the "racist Nazis" claim.

But perhaps that was what Alex Salmond meant when he claimed Newsnet was "ahead of the curve"!

Onywey, the purpose of this post is merely to point out that Planet Politics won't be continuing in its present form in 2013, but precisely how it will proceed hasn't been decided yet. Any suggestions on the back of a substantial cheque, please! Or even on the back of an unused postage stamp, which is also of significant monetary value these days.

But a belated festive greetings to my reader(s), and here's to something slightly different in 2013. Because the rest of Scottish politics looks like it will merely resume normal service as soon as possible (as the TV channels used to say in the olden days when they kept going off air!).

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

SNP's Europhilia demonstrates Anglophobia?

(5,000 word post alert!)

No peaking, but what does the following quote say about the politics of its author?
"I don’t get why others are so hostile to the idea and the reality of a strong, enduring and close economic, social and political union."
In fact it's the words of "Europhile", de facto SNPer and blogger/occasional media pundit Kate Higgins (aka The Burd). But of course the statement could just as easily be a clarion call for membership of the UK Union rather than the European equivalent.

Which in turn underlines the hypocrisy of many supporters of Scottish independence. A desperation to extricate Scotland from the shackles of the economic, social and political Union of the UK while at the same time demonstrating a huge desire to be part of the economic, social and political union of the EU.

Similarly, former SNP spin-doctor Ewan Crawford says:
"Here in Scotland the No campaign for the independence referendum has taken a slightly different tack. The rallying cry for the future is this: “Ask not what you or your country can do, but fear what other people are going to do to you and your country, then keep quiet and hope it won’t be too bad. Now run along.”"
Which is essentially a variation on the 'Scotland subjugated by London/UK/Tory toffs'-style of argument. But Mr Crawford then goes on to say:
"In relation to Europe not a day goes by without some obstacle or other, however feeble, being thrown in front of the possibility of Scotland retaining its membership of the EU."
So Scots should "fear what other people are going to do to you and your country" as regards London, but "other people" in Brussels aren't a problem, presumably.

This kind of political schizophrenia as regards the UK/EU comparison is indeed everywhere. For example, a former MEP recently wrote in the Herald:
"With a rabidly anti-EU English press owned by foreign owners it is quite likely that there will be an exit vote. So the real threat of separatism to Scotland is being dragged outside the EU by an increasingly reactionary political situation in England. Scotland has historically had close links to Europe and an independent Scotland would be better represented fully inside the EU rather than being misrepresented by a bunch of Eurosceptic Tories or not represented at all."
So presumably the author thinks an "anti-EU" stance is bad, but an anti-UK stance good. "Dragged outside the EU" bad, but dragged outside the UK good. Scotland "having close historical links" with Europe is good, but self-evidently even closer historical links with the UK bad.

Indeed, this sort of stuff is all over the place. Extricating the inherent double standard towards unions simply requires the reader to swap the rhetoric round a bit. For example, SNP MSP Christine McKelvie recently said:
"Mr Andor's comments show Scotland is valued by Europe just as we value our relationship with Europe. It is unfortunate this constructive relationship is being clouded by the growing, Tory-led Euroscepticism taking hold of Westminster. With MPs queuing up to demand the UK's immediate withdrawal from the EU, and all Westminster parties determined to outdo each other in their hostility to the EU, it is becoming increasingly clear the real threat to Scotland's membership of the EU comes from Westminster – not from Scotland."
And another SNP MSP - Clare Adamson - also said something broadly similar recently:
"Today’s events show the stark contrast between Westminster and the Scottish Government. While Westminster is putting up barriers to the rest of Europe and is becoming increasingly ignored, the Scottish Government is working with our neighbours to bring jobs and investment to Scotland. Moves by the rest of the EU to draw up a budget that excludes the UK are deeply embarrassing to the Westminster government. It is no wonder that David Cameron has today been sharply warned by the CBI over the threat that Westminster isolationism is posing to UK business. Every day that Westminster cuts us further adrift from our neighbours puts Scotland’s prospects of securing further investment in danger. As the threat to jobs posed by Westminster becomes an ever greater danger, it is clearer than ever that we need the power to speak with our own voice in Europe. Only a Yes vote in 2014 will give us that opportunity - and ensure that Scotland is not cast adrift by Westminster’s navel-gazing isolationism. Scots are increasingly realising Scotland would be far better off independent in Europe than isolated in the UK."
So anyone with sufficient fortitude to read all those quotes will have gotten the idea by now. Scottish "hostility" to the UK good, presumably, but "hostility" to the EU bad, "navel-gazing isolationism" vis-à-vis the EU bad, "navel-gazing isolationism" vis-à-vis the UK good, by implication. And consider the other rhetoric used by the two MSPs, such as "value our relationship", "working with our neighbours", "constructive relationship", "putting up barriers", "cuts us further adrift", "ever greater danger", "cast adrift", blah, blah.

Thus it seems that one form of "economic, social and political union" is inherently bad for Scotland, but another form of economic, social and political union is inherently good. So although Kate Higgins, Ewan Crawford et al effectively posit that different unions are inherently good and bad they don't offer any kind of real rationale for this beyond the rhetoric. It's effectively assumed that the UK is intrinsically bad, but the EU intrinsically good.

Of course, Scotland's choice between the UK and EU isn't a straightforward binary because Scotland is currently an EU member anyway as a constituent part of the UK. So Scotland is effectively a member of both the UK and EU.

But what is the attitude of the SNP where there is a simple choice between the UK and Europe? Perhaps the classic illustration is provided by one of the great macroeconomic levers, namely monetary policy, most commonly expressed in terms of the level of interest rates. So for a considerable period the SNP said that Bank of England interest rates were inappropriate for Scotland, because they were decided mainly on the basis of economic conditions pertaining in the dominant London and south-east of England economy. The SNP solution? Join the eurozone and have interest rates decided by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Which unsurprisingly will take greater cognisance of the dominant economies like Germany, as opposed to minnows like Ireland. Hence if Germany's economy is booming ECB interest rates will be high, but if Ireland's economy is in recession it needs low interest rates but gets the opposite. Therefore Ireland's recent recession was exacerbated by interest rates geared towards more healthy economic conditions elsewhere in the eurozone. But this kind of thing illustrates the folly of the whole single currency project.

Of course, now that even the dogs in the street recognise the economic illiteracy and electoral toxicity of the euro the SNP has turned full circle and the Bank of England is now the best thing since sliced bread. And senior SNP politicians point to the "wildly divergent" European economies to illustrate why euro membership wouldn't be appropriate for Scotland. Which in fact simply echoes the arguments made by opponents of the euro at its inception. Alex Salmond quotes Keynes, saying that when the facts change "I change my mind". But this is merely a euphemism for admitting he got it wrong.

Likewise Mr Salmond's - and justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's - approach to the European Convention on Human Rights. Recall last year and the aftermath of the Fraser and Cadder cases decided on the basis of the London Supreme Court's interpretation of ECHR. The SNP Goverment made its displeasure with this clear, and considered that the rights afforded by the convention should be interpreted by judges in Europe. Moreover, Mr Salmond questioned the motives and knowledge of human rights lawyer Tony Kelly and Supreme Court judge Lord Hope. Earlier, Mr MacAskill had attacked what he regarded as Supreme Court interference, and denigrated its judges' knowledge of Scots law as "limited to a visit to the Edinburgh Festival".

Thus since reference to the European Court of Human Rights offers no significant advantages over Supreme Court jurisdiction, the SNP's preference for the former over the latter seems born of a similar rationale to the Nationalists' preference of the European Central Bank over the Bank of England. Therefore the heart ruling rather than the head. And, as per the SNP's volte-face on the currency and monetary policy, messrs Salmond and MacAskill backtracked somewhat on the UKSC/ECHR choice when cooler heads thought about the issues on a more rational rather than emotional basis.

But if the EU is preferred to the UK on a more rational basis more generally, then what precisely is this? Recall that the Burd opined: "I don’t get why others are so hostile to the idea and the reality of a strong, enduring and close economic, social and political union."

So let's compare the UK and EU on that basis. The UK has lasted 300 years, enjoys fiscal and monetary union and is relatively stable. The EU at its current level of integration has existed for only a decade or so. Its currency union covers only part of the EU and is now in a state of almost perpetual crisis after just ten years of operation. It will require fundamental restructuring to keep it from falling apart. As regards the social union, the UK and EU are leagues apart. Of course the UK has its problems, but as compared to the EU it's surely an object lesson as regards "the reality of a strong, enduring and close economic, social and political union".

Thus on any objective and rational basis there's surely little to commend the preference of Kate Higgins, Ewan Crawford et al for the European Union as opposed to the UK one. A newly independent Scotland in Europe could surely be characterised as jumping out of the UK frying pan into the EU fire.

So if the case for a "close economic, social and political union" per se stacks up in favour of the UK rather than the EU, what other factors could rationalise preferring the latter to the former?

Of course, the elephant in the room is the politics and ideology rather than the concept of political union per se. The current Tory-led Westminster coalition justifies a more social democratic-preferring Scotland leaning towards Europe rather than the UK. And of course the whole European project always had a kind of pacifistic, communitarian, collectivist rationale to it, as even the single currency project did to an extent. (This debate has recently been cast in terms of Scotland preferring a 'utilitarian' rather than the more traditional 'existential' approach to nationalism, autonomy and self-determination.)

On the other hand, in terms of substantive policy and ideology Europe has always been a bit of a mixed bag as regards its appeal to a left-leaning Scotland. For example, the EU per se has introduced progressive measures as regards labour market regulation, while of course the human rights agenda is largely associated with the (technically separate) ECHR mechanism. But in other respects the EU takes a rather laissez-faire attitude to the economy. And if the left doesn't like the Tories' domestic austerity agenda, what about the EU austerity measures imposed on eurozone countries requiring ECB/IMF bail-outs?

Of course, there are other benefits posited for an independent Scotland as regards the UK/EU choice. One obvious one - which indeed represents Yes Scotland's basic argument - is that we'd be making decisions for ourselves, we could decide whether or not to join the EU, NATO etc, and we'd "have a seat at the top table". (Hence more the 'existential' rather than 'utilitarian' rationale.)

Which at first glance stacks up, but on closer examination does not seem so attractive. For example, imagine that Scotland had gained its independence at the time when the European project was more of a customs union and common market rather than a "close economic, social and political union", blah, blah.

So Mr Salmond got his way and Scotland joined the euro, and the economy boomed à la the Irish Celtic tiger, but then collapsed in the wake of the banking crisis, exacerbated by high interest rates set in Frankfurt. Scotland is bailed out by the ECB and IMF, and international bankers are effectively running the economy. And unelected EU commissars are sent to Edinburgh to make sure Scotland does what it's telt. So much for independence!

Thus it shouldn't be too hard to imagine a Scottish movement advocating withdrawal from the EU, a bit like a tartan UKIP or the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory party. Which would probably entail consulting the Scottish people in a referendum (unless Alex and Nicola considered that they could make such a decision themselves), and the "separatists" would chunter on about "forging our own destiny", blah, blah.

A referendum, forging our own destiny, making decisions for ourselves. Sounds familiar? So to that extent the EU would simply be replicating the UK as far as Scotland was concerned, and we'd simply be substituting UK subjugation/oppression for EU subjugation/oppression.

But of course we could choose to leave the EU whenever we wanted as an independent nation, they say. But we can choose to leave the UK whenever we want at present, or at least in a manner not dissimilar to that that would be required to leave the UK, ie a political movement, endless debate, a referendum, protracted secession negotiations etc.

So to the extent that Scotland could be "independent in Europe", Scotland is currently "independent in the UK", surely? And recall that UKIP stands for United Kingdom Independence Party.

And of course it wouldn't require economic calamity and subsequent rule by the EU/ECB/IMF to scunner Scots of the EU, as the current strength of UKIP and Tory Euroscepticism demonstrates south of the border. Moreover, those who think that Scotland is significantly less Eurosceptic than England should perhaps consider the opinion poll evidence, which suggests that the difference is marginal rather than significant.

Indeed, if a referendum on withdrawing from the UK is deemed necessary by the SNP, then surely Scots should be afforded a similar option regarding withdrawal from Europe? After all, opinion polls seem to demonstrate more support for the latter than the former.

Another existentialist-style argument often employed against the UK is that it's an 'unequal' union, and politicians like SNP MSP and Alex Salmond confidante Joan McAlpine make this point. Quite what this means is anyone's guess, because, for example, Scotland is represented in the House of Commons by around 10% of MPs, whereas in the European Parliament Scotland would probably have around 2% of MEPs. So much for any representative inequality, then.

On the other hand, all apart from the most delusional are aware of the democratic shortcomings of the 'Mother of Parliaments' at Westminster, so perhaps people like Ms McAlpine are alluding to something grander than merely a crude numerical comparison. But of course the European Parliament is largely a toothless talking shop anyway, and the all-powerful Commission is not directly elected. Representatives on the Council of Ministers are not directly elected in that capacity. And indeed even with a 'seat at the top European table' Scotland would be only one of around thirty member states, votes can be weighted on basis of size, and in any case in the world of realpolitik the larger nations tend to hold the whip hand.

Thus without getting into a detailed comparative study of EU/UK institutions and democracy, the former could hardly be said to represent a more democratic alternative to the latter. In fact probably quite the reverse. So to posit Scotland as suffering under an 'unequal' UK doesn't really hold up under comparison with the EU, in any way, shape or form. Indeed, it's surely plausible and compelling to take the opposite view.

Of course, there are other more general arguments made to rationalise the whole European project, one of which was underlined recently by the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to the EU, for "its role in uniting the continent after two world wars":
"[European Council President Herman] Van Rompuy paid tribute to the post-war leaders of France and Germany who had forged the EU by uniting their economic interests. He praised "the EU's secret weapon - an unrivalled way of binding our interests so tightly that war becomes impossible. It is better to fight around the table than on a battlefield," he said, quoting Jean Monnet, one of the EU's founders."
The naysayers find all this faintly ludicrous, of course. So an article on the Think Scotland website, for example, employs an ostensibly elaborate analogy of a boiler requiring regular maintenance to prevent it from breaking down. However, this is surely a tad, um, deterministic. Of course a boiler will break down eventually if left unserviced, because its parts have a finite life and will inevitably wear out or break down at some point. But surely the geopolitical dynamic is a bit more complex than that. For example, perhaps the nuclear deterrent has helped maintain the peace in post-war Europe, at least as regards the nations encompassed by the political project culminating in the current EU.

Anyway, that's all getting a bit away from the UK/EU comparison. But the point here is surely that if the EU has helped maintain peace and stability then dissolving the UK could take us back to the days of Longshanks v Robert the Bruce.

Maybe not, but if the EU can plausibly be seen to alleviate tensions between states then surely the domestic corollary is that splitting the UK could create conflict. Or perhaps the EU is causing tensions between member states - as critics of the Nobel prize award claim - particularly since the virtual collapse of the eurozone. Thus similar economic tensions in the UK context provide the kind of underlying rationale for Scottish independence.

Whatever, but of course whichever argument is employed the SNP's double standard regarding the UK/EU comparison is obvious. If EU membership ipso facto promotes peace and harmony then surely the UK entity does as well, while if intra-UK economic tensions are exacerbating disharmony between its constituent nations then surely that problem is also self-evident in the EU context.

But which is ironically perhaps linked to why the Commission President recently underlined to the SNP that Scotland won't seamlessly become an EU member on terms effectively dictated to Brussels. Brussels wants a more homogeneous EU to hold the whole thing together, whereas the SNP doesn't want to swap the UK with a United States of Europe.

On the other hand, when a year ago David Cameron alone stood fast against greater EU integration Alex Salmond claimed that he wanted Scotland to be "at the heart of Europe". Which again underlines the SNP's UK/EU double standard, and also demonstrates a contradiction between this and Alex Salmond's new found reluctance to join the euro and Schengen.

Another point relates to the oft-heard SNP rationale for why the EU would welcome an independent Scotland with open arms. Thus it's our oil, fish, natural resources, renewables potential, blah blah. Which means what, precisely? In turn this perhaps relates to the SNP's argument that an independent Scotland would be one of the wealthiest nations in the known universe. And the EU wants to move towards further economic integration to hold the euro together, thus in effect the wealthy nations subsidising the less wealthy ones. A Sunday Express article earlier this year claimed:
"European leaders are secretly hoping to seize control of North Sea oil and gas if Scotland votes for independence, the Sunday Express can reveal. Experts have warned that if the country has to reapply to join the EU, the £9billion a year industry would be up for grabs as a "common resource" - meaning that tax profits would flow to Brussels."
Sounds slightly far-fetched, perhaps, but surely consistent with the concept of a wealth-sharing political and economic union which could then rightly be characterised as an EU superstate? That Alex Salmond wants to be "at the heart of"? Which would in turn replicate the kind of arguments rationalising Scottish independence in the UK context - McCrone, London's 'theft' of North Sea oil etc - thus again out of the UK frying pan and into the EU fire.

Indeed, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon recently said:
"Why on Earth would they not, given the huge resources and advantages that Scotland brings to the European table? Our greatest asset as a nation always has been and always will be our people and their ingenuity, but Scotland also has enormous natural resources. And it is stretching credibility beyond breaking point to attempt to suggest, as some do, that Scotland – already an integral part of the club for four decades – would be excluded when we have such vast assets. Scotland has around 90% of the EU's oil reserves and a huge share of the Continent's renewable energy, as well as some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe. Would Brussels really want to lose such assets at a time when energy security is one of the dominating political and economic issues of the early 21st century? Would Spanish, French and Portuguese fishermen want to be blocked from fishing the lucrative waters in Scotland's sectors of the North Sea and West Atlantic?"
So why would Brussels want our oil? Isn't its price determined on world oil markets and governed by the laws of supply and demand (the OPEC cartel excepted) rather than any EU dimension? So if oil starts to run out in the global context then Scotland would benefit if it still had significant reserves, but how precisely would this benefit the rest of the EU? Or are Salmond and Sturgeon et al alluding to something else when they talk of bringing such riches to the EU table or, as a corollary, Brussels "losing such assets" if Scotland was excluded?

So perhaps there's evidence of a double standard as regards the perception of the UK's squandering of Scotland's oil riches with the more caring and sharing attitude that would be adopted with the EU? By the same token, my impression as regards fishing rights has always been that the Nationalists have been critical of the UK insofar as that they've accused Westminster of allowing the likes of Spain to plunder our fisheries. Yet according to Salmond and Sturgeon (even the names are a bit fishy!) such countries would be welcoming an independent Scotland with open arms into the EU because they could access such largesse. Share and share alike, presumably, except of course when it comes to England!

All of which also underlines another Nationalist double standard. The (UK) Unionists are dangling the prospect of more powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scots reject 'independence' in 2014. But the Nationalist argument is that this 'jam tomorrow' is uncertain in scope and probably wouldn't be delivered. But if there's uncertainty about Scotland's constitutional position in an ongoing UK, surely that pales into insignificance compared to how the EU will develop in the next few years. It's like betting £10 on an old nag called the UK compared with betting the farm on a donkey called the EU.

Another argument recently aired repeatedly in favour of Scottish EU continuity relates to the point that Scots have been EU citizens for several decades now, therefore it would effectively be impossible to deprive them of this, and indeed would amount to wrongdoing of great heinousness to boot. Of course, supporters of independence seem to have no trouble with the idea of depriving Scots of UK citizenship, and likewise don't seem to regard the practicalities and mechanics of this as problematic. It'll simply just happen if Scotland votes Yes, presumably.

A related argument regarding seamless Scottish membership of the European project states that it would be nigh near impossible to extricate Scotland from the EU. For example, a contributor to the comments section of a Better Nation post said:
"At heart this is actually a practical rather than a legal matter. Practically speaking it would be incredibly difficult for Scotland to leave the EU. The practical difficulties of leaving the EU explain, I think, why the Tories when they get into government always back down on their eurosceptic threats because it would be a nightmare to actually have to do it."
Er, so if the UK and/or Scotland couldn't realistically actually leave the EU, then, a fortiori, Scotland presumably can't leave the UK? Of course not. Either would clearly mean upheaval and uncertainty, would be difficult and protracted, but self-evidently neither would actually be impossible. But once again Nationalists are blind to fundamentally similar arguments purely because one involves the UK while the other relates to the EU.

Of course, that's not to say that if Scotland was to stay in the EU then it wouldn't be better to continue as a member as seamlessly as possible following independence. But that's a different argument to claiming that Scotland couldn't under any circumstances be taken out of or effectively expelled from the EU, since clearly pulling Scotland out of the UK isn't regarded by the SNP as more than a minor inconvenience on the road to political nirvana.

And coming back to the idea of citizenship per se, the Nationalist argument seems to assume that Scots value EU citizenship more highly than UK citizenship, which seems a dubious proposition, and indeed perhaps demonstrates why support for independence in the polls is a distinct and stagnant minority.

Moreover, what does the concept of EU citizenship actually mean? Well I wouldn't claim to possess even more than the vaguest of knowledge in that regard. But could it mean, for example, that if rUK left the EU and Scotland became independent inside it then I could go and work as a taxi driver in Warsaw, but not as an accountant in London? Marvellous! Perhaps it doesn't mean that kind of thing at all, but perhaps it's time we were provided with the hard facts rather than proffered little more than typically predictable feelgood rhetoric about citizenship and the like.

Thus for the numerous reasons outlined above a dominant strand of support for Scottish independence seems to demonstrate an essentially schizophrenic and indeed hypocritical approach to London/Westminster/the UK as compared to Brussels/the EU. Of course, it should go without saying that the fundamentally oxymoronic nature of the SNP's "independence in Europe" (former) mantra is obvious to many Scottish nationalists like former party leader Gordon Wilson, not to mention ex-deputes Jim Sillars and Jim Fairlie. Thus the former two recently claimed that Scottish EU membership would amount to a "transfer of sovereignty" to Brussels, and warned of the danger of signing up to a "United States of Europe" [wot, no EUSSR?].

So how can this double standard be explained? The Burd laments the "little Islander" approach, which seems to represent a UK-wide extension of the "little Englander" criticism aimed at the likes of UKIP and a significant section of the Tory party. Of course, the label 'Eurosceptic' is often employed in this regard, and the slightly more pejorative 'Europhobe' tag veers towards the term 'xenophobia'. Indeed, an even more extreme characterisation of this view regards opposition to the EU as racist, as this letter writer (third letter) to the Scotsman seems to allude.

But in the context of Scottish nationalist opposition to London rule, let's not go there. But as an equivalent to 'Eurosceptic' it's surely fair to say that mainstream nationalist thinking demonstrates 'Angloscepticism'. Thus since the term 'Europhobe' seems to be quite widespread in describing those in the UK desiring to withdraw from the EU, then surely many Scottish nationalists can be appropriately characterised as 'little Scotlanders' and 'Anglophobic'? After all, there's demonstrably little else to rationalise their differing approaches to the UK and the EU.

Indeed, prominent commentator Lesley Riddoch said in last weekend's Sunday Post that in an EU referendum the "Europhobic English could vote en masse to leave". Leaving aside the fact that this would make Scots only slightly less Europhobic than the English, the corollary of Lesley Riddoch's claim is surely that supporters of Scottish independence are Anglophobic? And, indeed, as far as I can tell, Lesley Riddoch herself?

The contemporary SNP has been keen to rid itself of the ethnic/'blood and soil' strand of nationalism in favour of the more inclusive and progressive civic approach, and to construct a narrative regarding the continuation of the 'social union' with the UK. However, prominent Nationalist MSPs like Joan McAlpine accuse Unionists of being "anti-Scottish" and some from the wider pro-independence movement put further flies in the civic nationalist ointment by talking in terms of "settlers" and "colonists" to describe English people working in Scotland. And perhaps mainstream nationalist attitudes to the UK and EU more generally are symptomatic of the same 'existential' problem, to put it as charitably as possible!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Parking issues

What have parking on pavements, the SNP Government's recent consultation on taxis and private hire cars, and the ongoing stushie over an independent Scotland's EU membership got in common?

Substantively, not a lot, but bear with me. Almost eight years ago Labour's Dundee City Council leader Jill Shimi kicked up a bit of a fuss over the issue of vehicles parking on pavements, citing the difficulties it posed to wheelchair users, the blind etc, and asking the Scottish Executive to sort it all out. Granted, the law on the issue was unclear - in particular, it's not specifically illegal to park on a pavement - but I recall thinking Mrs Shimi a bit hypocritical considering the city's illegal parking shambles more generally, of which the pavement parking problem was only one manifestation. And, even at that time, over the preceding years the migration of many vehicles from the road to the pavement had been fairly obvious, yet only when it had reached a certain level - and to that extent would be difficult to reverse - did the good councillor try to do anything.

Indeed, a couple of years later the Evening Telegraph published this letter of mine in relation to the vexed question of illegal and dangerous parking outside schools:
"As is often the case, it seems the council are years too late in attempts to control illegal and dangerous parking outside Dundee schools. Let’s not forget it was the council that presided over the almost complete disappearance of parking wardens, and now the chances of errant drivers being brought to book are minimal.

"And that’s just during the day. At night the city is strewn with illegally parked cars and enforcement activity is non-existent, with the odd police “crackdown” representing little more than tokenism. It’s hardly surprising the particular case of parking outside schools has gotten increasingly out of hand, and years of reports and letters in the Tele demonstrate the issue has hardly appeared out of the blue.

"The latest initiative is typical of the way officialdom deals with these issues — years of turning a blind eye sees the problem spiralling out of control, then we’re told the authorities are riding to the rescue with a “crackdown”, often accompanied by a bit of pompous terminology such as “multi-agency approach”. To that extent, even if the authorities do manage to exert some control over the issue, they deserve little in the way of credit. After all, they’d be doing little more than reversing the results of years of official inattention."
Naturally this kind of thing amounts to little more than tomorrow's fish supper wrappers, and indeed in the last year or so the Evening Telegraph has published literally dozens of news articles and letters on the issue of school parking and as part of a campaign, replete with the usual official responses about 'working groups' and 'crackdowns' etc, thus effectively a rerun of the process outlined in the above letter a few years ago. And which will no doubt be repeated again in a couple of years or so, as with so many other matters where words like 'crackdown' and 'clampdown' are mentioned - there'll be another one along in a while. Indeed, there's not really much in my letter from back then that I would change if sending another one to the Tele almost five years later (ironically the Tele titled the letter 'Years of inaction') although whether or not they'd publish it now is another matter!

Onywey, my other main recollection of Mrs Shimi's term of office is when she and fellow councillor Joe Fitzpatrick decided not to seek re-election to the council in 2007, which wholly coincidentally entitled Mr Fitzpatrick to a taxpayer-funded pay off of £10,000 (Mrs Shimi waived hers). Instead they went head-to-head for one of Dundee's Holyrood seats, and became involved in an unsavoury spat when Mr Fitzpatrick said he would donate his pay-off to good causes, but only on condition he was elected to Holyrood. Thus a small price to pay if he was in effect guaranteed a salary and benefits package of a quarter of a million pounds or so over a four-year term of office.

Oh aye, that's perhaps getting off the point a bit, because with some irony earlier this year Joe Fitzpatrick launched a Private Members' Bill to outlaw pavement parking, thus seven years or so after his sparring partner Jill Shimi raised the issue. And which of course was ignored by her Labour cronies on the Scottish Government (or a mere 'Executive' back then), and Mrs Shimi never got the chance to address the issue more directly as an MSP. Shame.

But Mr Fitzpatrick's Bill provided another couple of nice little ironies, at least for yours truly. I'd always noticed one car in a street I walk up occasionally, which was the only vehicle in the street which always parked half on the pavement. Granted, the pavement is wide here, but there seemed no compelling reason not to park wholly on the road, especially as no other cars in the vicinity used the pavement to park, and the road itself didn't seem particularly narrow.

But the car's owner was clearly a hardcore SNP supporter - saltire in the wee garden, pro-SNP stickers permanently on the car, now 'Yes' posters in the flat's windaes. And one sticker which was probably in the car's back windae for a couple of years specifically supported which Dundee politician? No prizes for guessing!

And at about the time Mr Fitzpatrick launched his pavement parking Bill along comes Dundee City Council and plonks a couple of those sticky-oot bus stops in the middle of the street, thus effectively forcing other cars onto the pavement (alongside the MSP's fanboy/girl/person) to alleviate the otherwise inevitable congestion that would result. (Whatever the other merits of the sticky-oot bus stops, their effect is often to completely obstruct the road to through traffic while buses are at the stop(s). At around that time I recall walking along another normally unobstructed Dundee street which was playing host to a line of completely stationery traffic several hundred yards long, due to a couple of buses parked for a minute or two at nearly adjacent sticky-oot stops. It took me several minutes to walk the length of the traffic queue, and I suspect it took at least ten minutes in total to clear the jam afterwards. And as well as the congestion, pollution and delays caused, it was ironically perhaps the inability/unwillingness of the council to stop cars parking in conventional bus stops which rationalised the revolution in bus stop design in the first place!)

But almost a year later and Mr Fitzpatrick has now handed his bill on to fellow SNP MSP Sandra White (this ostensibly because of his promotion to a government post), thus occasioning another round of press releases and headlines. Indeed, the Herald's report points out that the Lib Dems' Ross Finnie had also presented a Private Members' Bill on the subject before he lost his seat at the last election.

But the point is that the issue has been self-evident for many years now - as with the school parking shambles - but for various reasons nothing has been done about it, other than little more than huffing and puffing and procrastinating. Thus if these matters had perhaps been dealt with timeously then the problems wouldn't have gotten out of control. And as opponents of Sandra White's Bill make clear, her proposals would merely add to council bureaucracy, and would now be difficult to enforce, as opposed to action which could have nipped the issue in the bud some time ago. So to that extent even if legislation was passed the measures might to a degree amount to little more than window dressing and political posturing. So par for the course then.

So even if Holyrood has perhaps developed a reputation for grandstanding on big but largely symbolic political issues on the one hand, and low-level administrative tinkering on the other, the pavement parking issue perhaps demonstrates the bumbling and ultimately damaging procrastination attaching even to the latter.

Likewise, and as per my recent post on the subject, a couple of the handful of issues addressed in the Scottish Government's recent taxi consultation are matters I attempted to bring to its attention as long as a decade ago in response to a previous consultation. Therefore the SNP are just continuing where the previous Labour/Lib Dem administration left off.

Which has what to do with the EU membership stushie? Well I recently came across a 2008 post from that former scourge of the cybernats blogger 'Scottish Unionist', which demonstrates how little progress has been made on clarifying the issue since little more than a year after the SNP had taken the helm at Holyrood.

So as regards issues as varied as vehicles parking on pavements, the licensing of taxis and private hire cars and Scotland's EU membership, what we get is seemingly endless 'action' which in reality often takes years to as much as acknowledge a problem, never mind clarify an issue and get anything done about it.

But of course it all keeps the whole edifice of government in a job, and that often seems to be more important than the actual job of government.

(Anyone with the fortitude and tenacity to read this far might like to look again at my extremely clever Dick headline, which they might not have 'got' initially!)