Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Good job it was the Euromillions...

In the wake of the weekend Tory 'cash for access' sleaze scandal it's perhaps not surprising that a related story has surfaced in the Holyrood context. Thus it's reported that Alex Salmond entertained zillionaire Euromillions winners Chris and Colin Weir at Bute House shortly before the couple donated megabucks to the SNP's election and referendum campaigns.

But the Telegraph's piece seems to concentrate on the fact that the first minister used his official residence Bute House to have tea with the Weirs, which was a bit naughty because he shouldn't be in effect using public resources for party political fundraising. Thus much is made of the fact the engagement involved only tea rather than anything more appetising, and to that extent the Weir's visit didn't have to be recorded. Hence accusations that this was done so that the meeting could be kept secret, but on the other hand there's no mention of whether Tunnock's caramel wafers were consumed - à la Rupert Murdoch - and whether or not this might have affected the classification of the sustenance provided.

But all this smacks of nitpicking. Is it such a big deal precisely how and where Alex Salmond met the Weirs? Indeed there's certainly nothing to suggest that the couple could in any way benefit from SNP policy, unlike Sir Brian, say. And in the unlikely event of their tax position being adversely affected by Scottish independence they could always do a Sir Sean or a Jim McColl and wave the saltire from a jurisdiction offering a more favourable fiscal regime.

No, the bigger issue is surely how democracy can be effectively bought by the rich and powerful by enabling parties to finance glossy and glitzy election campaigns. Never mind the independence issue and illegal referendum, just concentrate on the glamour shoots in the SNP's 2011 election brochure, er, manifesto.

Moreover, the Nationalists are very good at telling us what an increasingly unequal society the UK is and how Alex would wave his magic wand and make it all alright, but here we have the SNP benefitting from what is effectively the most regressive tax around, one which makes very many poor and desperate people just that little bit worse off in order that a tiny number of people can be made obscenely rich.

Which perhaps begs the question, would an independent Scotland have its own inequality-increasing lottery? Or perhaps retaining the UK National Lottery has never been in dispute, social Union and all that.

But it was perhaps fortunate that the Weirs landed their £161 million jackpot in the Euromillions lottery rather than the UK variant. Of course, knowing the SNP if the Weirs had won the UK National Lottery then I'm sure the party could have found a way of having a dig at the whole thing while taking any donation anyway.


Fourfolksache said...

What utter bollocks

Stuart Winton said...

Yes, we're all unhappy that we haven't won it yet, but there's no need to be like that.

Anonymous said...

No amount of utter bollocks will cover the stench of corruption and incompetence reeking from No 10. The Weirs were SNP supporters long before the SNP were in government, and long before they won the lottery. Your straw grasping article is as was said utter bollocks.

Stuart Winton said...

Seem to have hit a bit of a raw nerve here.

I mean, who's trying to defend No 10?

And what has how long the Weirs have been supporters of the SNP have to do with anything? I said in the article that they had nothing obvious to gain from cosying up to the SNP other than effectively buying democracy - well, they can afford to, can't they? But to the extent that the obscenely rich can influence democracy in such a way I think it's corrupting to whole thing, don't you think, and surely worth debating?

And, for example, now that Rupert is done with Westminster clearly he's attracted to Mr Salmond's neocon tax proposals for Scotland and to that extent also unduly influencing the process via his newspapers, so surely these things are worth debating rather than being dismissed as 'bollocks'?

As I've always said, there's no point having a Scottish Parliamenet and/or independence if all that's being done is creating a mini-me version of Westminster, and of course the more power accrues to Holyrood the worse these things will become. Power corrups, absolute power...blah, blah.

Braveheart said...

Stuar, you are dead right about Souter and Murdoch. And of course the Archbishop's m0ney-man Tom Farmer.

They're all trying to buy influence in an "idependent" Scotland.

And the Nats are taking it any way they can...

Angus McLellan said...

"Neocon tax proposals"? Well done, you've come up with your very own thought-terminating cliche there Stuart.

Back in the real word, politics needs money. And lots of it. Unless you want the taxpayer to fund political parties - and I don't - things won't change much.

And unlike most, I don't have a problem with the concept of Cruddas's cash for dinners deals. It was just a deluxe version of the usual fundraising dinner. Where it went too far was when he offered to ignore the ban on foreign money. Since Wendy resigned over that, and rightly so, Cruddas had to go too and did.

Barbarian of the North said...

I think the article is fair, and bit more thought put into it rather than the highly imaginative "utter bollocks". (Write that down Captain Darling, I want to use it more in conversation".

Anyway, the SNP are no different than any other political party, in that they will do whatever it takes to get more money or publicity.

The Weirs made a private donation, which is perfectly acceptable. However. had they donated to the Labour party, the cybernats would have been frothing at the mouth.

Stuart Winton said...

Thanks for the comments, Braveheart and BotN.

Thanks also Angus. Yes, the term neocon was slightly hyperbolic and sarcastic, but as usual can you imagine the Nationalist reaction to the SNP's stance on corporation tax if the Tories were proposing it but Alex Salmond wasn't?

Indeed, wasn't Alex Salmond's (in)famous Budget speech interruption all these years ago about a Tory tax proposal to reduce corporation tax?

Not sure if I quite share you stance on party political funding either. I simply just don't like the idea that the wealthy can so directly influence democracy, ie that to an extent we're living in a plutocracy rather than a democracy, Brian Souter's ability to organise a private referendum perhaps being a case in point, if a slightly unusual one.

Of course, you're right that politics does need money, but does it really need "lots of it" in the way you claim? I mean, much of it is effectively spent on meaningless bollocks like gloss 'brochures' and huge soundbite-based advertising hoardings.

Of course, there are no easy answers, but perhaps if spending was better controlled then state funding could be looked at, or at least greater controls over spending, which would obviate the need for huge donations.

And if to that extent the parties had to streamline the way they communicate with voters and thus cut down on the gloss and glamour then would that really be such a big loss to democracy?

Angus McLellan said...

As we can see, Dinnergate didn't last a week before the press found new nonsense to fascinate them. And then look at who wants reform. Nick Clegg's support is the kiss of death. So nothing is going to happen.

You can take the view that something can be done to "fix" political funding and reduce the influence that money provides in campaigning, but looking around the world that doesn't seem likely. As for reducing the influence of big business on the political process, again there's no obvious role model to follow there.

There are degrees of influence - cash for passports and peerages scores worse by my standards than exclusive candlelit dinners with Dave - and the best that I would expect is that illegality should be stamped out. No hope of that at Westminster. So I'm for trying something else. Your mileage may vary.

Stuart Winton said...

Ah yes, Angus, more than a tad of the realpolitik about your post there.

Which in turn is why I'm more than a tad sceptical about Project Independence more generally ;0)

Angus McLellan said...

I can give a concrete example of reform being more possible here in Scotland, with no dead weight of tradition, than it has been at Westminster.

Electoral systems. Westminster imposed the dual constituency/list system on Holyrood elections. Westminster has constituencies, so everyone needs them. But Labour and the Lib Dems in Scotland managed radical change, adopting single transferrable vote for council elections.

Even when Westminster did consider reform, rather than adopting STV or another "open" system it was the meaningless AV non-reform which ended up being put to a vote.