La Belle Dame sans merci

This is the October Editorial.

As I watched First Minister’s Questions this week, the quote came to me “Oh what can ail thee knight-at-arms, alone and palely loitering”  I suppose it was looking at the Labour benches, who sat, in thrall, as in the poem, but definitely not enthralled, as their leader dragged them doggedly further and further into the mire.

We had been expecting some sort of a fightback from the Unionists, making a case for staying in the Union, but this was a very strange way to introduce it, and it flies in the face of reality.  We have had five years of an SNP Government, five budgets piloted through by John Swinney, and we have always remained under budget – ie no overspends, no profligacy, and we have delivered most of our manifesto.  So how can we be accused of deception?  We said we would abolish tolls on the Forth and Tay Bridges, and we did, we said we would give free prescriptions, and we did, we said we would abolish tuition fees and we did.  We did not put in free personal care for the elderly, Labour did that, but we endorsed it, and the same with bus passes.  Labour also put in the smoking ban, having first thrown out the Private Members Bill by SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell in the preceding Parliament;  they knew a popular move when they saw one, and no way could anyone in the SNP be seen to be ahead of them.

One issue we could not do was put in a local income tax, but that was frustrated by the Treasury, who refused to allow our pensioners attendance allowance, some £400 million per annum which they would have deducted from the block grant.  To offset this, we froze the Council Tax for the five years;  this contrasts with a 60% rise under Labour and the Liberals.  The Unionists claim it is unsustainable, but the SNP has pledged it for this Parliament – and Labour also promised this in their manifesto for 2011, forgotten when they lost heavily.

One other issue we could not deliver in the last Parliament was the dualling of the A9; it was in our manifesto, £500 million, dependent on scrapping the Edinburgh Tram Project.  The Unionists ganged up, we were a minority government with 47 seats, so the Unionists all voted for it – imagine all these Glasgow and West of Scotland Labour MSPs  voting to spend money in Edinburgh!   There is no doubt that the greatest unifying influence in the Unionist world is hatred of the SNP.  Now they bleat about money being misspent on the Council Tax freeze, when the whole £500 million was spent on a vanity project and Edinburgh council taxpayers will have to find at least the same sum again to finish the project they neither asked for nor wanted.  Visitors are aghast, as Edinburgh looks like an archeological site;  having mentioned visitors, the two most popular attractions in Edinburgh are Edinburgh Castle and the Zoo – and the trams will not come within a mile of either, and if Labour had their way they would not have come within a mile of Princes Street either!

I digress, as is my wont, but the sheer hypocrisy of the Unionists, complaining about delays in dualling the A9, enrages me.  All this because Labour wants to take away benefits from the people who need them most in a period of austerity occasioned by the financial profligacy overseen when they were in government at Westminster, abolishing boom and bust, but only getting it half right.  They worshipped the bankers, courted them, knighted them even, and now that the bills are coming in they expect the disadvantaged to pay them.  I always said that  Labour put themselves up as the champions of the poor and the dispossessed, and did their damnedest to make sure they stayed that way.

Ms Lamont may believe she was speaking the truth about what can be afforded but she did not complete the case.  What she was actually saying was that the way things are going for the United Kingdom life will get even tougher, which seems a bizarre to defend the Union?

Her premise is undoubtedly true, but as more powers for the Scottish Parliament have effectively been ruled out by the aforesaid Unionists, then the only alternative is independence.  We saw outriders from Labour at the march and rally for independence last Saturday – Ms Lamont may have tentatively found the road to Damascus and is studying it in a cynical way – or is she complying with a Westminster diktat?


PFI Scandal

In the December SI  we published the horrific costs of the Private Finance Initiative, a Tory policy derided by Labour, then renamed Public Private Partnerships  and they went gaily on, going into areas where even the Tories would not venture.  Gordon Brown, the Labour Chancellor, in love with the money men in the City of London urged them on everyone – the only game in town.  We had Labour in the Scottish Parliament boasting about how many schools and hospitals they built, on PFI terms (but not about the 8 council houses) and severely critical of the SNP’s  Scottish Futures Trust, a not for profit company.  Public money is now being invested wisely and not for the benefit of the bankers.  Labour’s dash to build schools and hospitals on the never-never is now costing the Scottish taxpayer £876 million per year, and this will rise to £1.077 million per year by 2022-23, as Labour’s profligacy pushes vast sums to the banks and finance houses.  Over a billion a year  – puts the £57 million of free prescriptions into perspective.

Now here’s a thought, the law of Scotland is undergoing changes, double jeopardy, corroboration, to name but two.  This is criminal law.  All the PFI deals are apparently tightly sewn up, legally, and many of the deals are putting money into the banks which we, the unwilling taxpayer, had to bail out.  If we can change criminal law, backdated, surely we can change the civil law, and back date that?  Some regard them as criminal anyway.



Last Thursday the Scottish press was  awash with a report from the Committee for Public Policy in the Regions  (They regard Scotland as a Region)) which had dire warning about oil, with cries of support from Ken Macintosh for Labour and Ruth Davidson of the Tories.  They were jumping up and down with glee at the report hailing it as “Goodbye Independence”, not in so many words but you get the idea.  That was Thursday; on Friday, before Thursday’s Herald had even reached the recycle bin, we had BBC Scotland trumpeting about Statoil, the state owned Norwegian oil company, investing £4.3 billion in the Scottish sector of the North Sea.  While I always enjoy a good dose of schadenfreude for the Unionists, I find the timing strange.

I am quite sure that the investors from Statoil did not just wake up on Friday morning and say to themselves.  “Quiet day, why don’t we just splurge some of the vast reserves of spare cash into the North Sea – how much –   well a few billion anyway.”  They had obviously been planning this for quite some time, so there had to be some awareness of this in economic circles , including the CPPR and the Office of Budget Responsibility, so why make a big splash of an alleged shortfall when the should have known this was in the offing?  Dirty tricks somewhere?


Moore’s fingers rapped

I think we may have been a shade to quick in publicising Michael Moore’s stumbling and bumbling appearance before the House of Lords Committee, who expressed incredulity that Mr Moore had not planned any scenario for post independence.  He no doubt believes that it will never happen, so why bother?  However, we do know that Westminster has set up thirteen committees to oppose independence (significant number that), and the Scotland Office is not represented on any of them.  Does this not seem strange, as it is supposed to be at the “heart”  of what is going on in Scotland?  We know there have been changes at Dover House, the plush offices occupied by the Scotland Office in Whitehall, principally that Mr Moore has been ejected from his office which is now being used by Nick Clegg, but as I think these costs are met out of the Scottish Budget we will get a refund – I jest.

We wonder then if Mr Moore is being told anything;  could this be because he is not trusted by his Tory colleagues, or is he not bright enough to grasp what is going on?  Mind you when the Better Together lot can put out garbage on the Barnett Formula, we also speculate if any of that lot are bright.  Alastair Darling, the leader of their campaign, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seems abysmally ignorant of the aforesaid Barnett situation – this makes the banking bail out and the economic mess more understandable.


Scottish Parliamentary Business

There was an outcry this year when Alex Salmond made a correction to the Official Report.  He had inadvertently given a wrong figure in answer to a question;  the correction was made according to the rules.  The Standards Committee have now agreed that any such correction will be published prominently in the Parliament’s  Official Report.

When it is considered that every correction so far made has been made by SNP MSPs, is it not time that the other parties availed themselves of this facility?   Every week there are errors and mis-statements from the opposition, but they are never corrected.  Surely time for some nonaligned person to be given the job of scrutinising Parliamentary business with a view to recording and publicising the various mis-statements.  Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.


Assistant Chief Constables appointed for Police Scotland

The six Assistant Chief Constables for Police Scotland, the new service which will take on Scotland-wide responsibilities from 1 April next year, were announced on 24th December 2012 by the Scottish Police Authority.

They are:

* Assistant Chief Constable, Local Policing East – Mike McCormick;
* Assistant Chief Constable, Local Policing North – Derek Penman;
* Assistant Chief Constable, Local Policing West – Wayne Mawson;
* Assistant Chief Constable, Serious Crime and Public Protection – Malcolm Graham ;
* Assistant Chief Constable, Crime, Serious Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism – Ruaraidh Nicolson; and
* Assistant Chief Constable, Operational Support – Bernie Higgins.

They are expected to take up their new roles shortly. All will be based in the interim headquarters for Police Scotland at Tulliallan Castle – although the Local Policing Assistant Chief Constables in particular will spend a significant amount of time in communities.

Vic Emery, Chair of the SPA, said: “Our focus as an Authority is to ensure that the new police service is ready operationally, legally and financially for day 1. Appointing a command team to provide the Chief Constable with the support he needs has been a top priority.

”The new team is taking shape, and the appointment of the Assistant Chief Constables marks another big step forward. Each of them will play a major role in working with us to ensure the people of Scotland continue to get the best possible police service within the resources available.”

Chief Constable Stephen House said:

“The six Assistant Chief Constables who have been appointed will play critical roles in the future of policing in Scotland. The team will now drive forward local policing, deliver operationally on organised crime, major incidents, counter terrorism, public protection and operational support.

“They will work closely with the Deputy Chief Constables to shape the best possible service for communities to keep people safe.”


All six posts will share the same core responsibilities of supporting the Chief Constable in the achievement of the stated aims of police reform and in upholding the principles of Police Scotland.

Mike McCormick has been appointed Assistant Chief Constable, Local Policing East. He is Local Policing lead in the National Police Reform Team, and was previously Deputy Chief Constable in Dumfries and Galloway.

Derek Penman has been appointed Assistant Chief Constable, Local Policing North. He is acting Chief Constable of Central Scotland, and ICT lead in the National Police Reform Team.

Wayne Mawson has been appointed Assistant Chief Constable, Local Policing West. He is a Chief Superintendent in Strathclyde, where is currently Divisional Commander and is responsible for local policing strategy in Glasgow North East and East Dunbartonshire.

Malcolm Graham has been appointed Assistant Chief Constable, Serious Crime and Public Protection. He is a Chief Superintendent in Lothian and Borders, where he is currently Divisional Commander for Edinburgh.

Ruaraidh Nicolson has been appointed Assistant Chief Constable, Crime, Serious Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism. He is temporary Deputy Chief Constable in Strathclyde.

Bernie Higgins has been appointed Assistant Chief Constable, Operational Support. He is Assistant Chief Constable in Strathclyde.

Police reform provides a unique opportunity to improve services. The new service will eliminate duplication by working more effectively and efficiently, saving £1.4 billion over 15 years and supporting a single Chief Constable and one senior management team. At the end of year five, we expect estimated savings of £106m.

In police there are currently eight Chiefs, nine DCCs and 13 ACCs costing around £4.8 million a year. The new service will have a much slimmer command structure of one Chief, four DCCs and six ACCs – costing less than £2 million a year.

All Assistant Chief Constables have been appointed on a permanent basis. The salary will be between £90,726 and £105,849, subject to experience.