Thursday, 20 December 2007

Graduate Endowment No More!

Great news! MSPs today voted to scrap the Graduate Endowment, albeit narrowly.

I know I should be more charitable, given that Christmas is fast approaching - but I simply cannot believe the twisted logic that was presented as arguments against scrapping this unfair tuition fee.

Yes, universities could always do with more funding. When I was at university (an increasingly long time ago now), they were crying out for cash. They are crying out for more cash today, and I'm sure they will be doing so from now until the end of time.

All of our public services, for example, could do with more cash. The NHS would benefit from more money. Our schools could do with more money too. Scotland has suffered from massive underinvestment in our infrastructure for decades - public transport needs a massive cash injection, and so many of our roads are downright dangerous. We need investment across the board to make Scotland a better place to live - but we only have a certain amount of money to allocate.

So, yes, I get it - universities would like more money. But why does it follow that students should be getting into more debt to pay for it? Students already have to shoulder a huge amount of debt, just to get an education. Tuition fees and a steady erosion of student grants has massively contributed to the culture of debt that is now endemic in our society. This is not a simple matter (as many argue) of ensuring that people who are able to access higher education contribute financially to the cost of that education, in return for the 'benefit' they receive from it. If people earn more because of their education, then they will contribute more back to the state and wider society through higher taxes. If they don't benefit financially from higher education relative to what they might have earned otherwise, then they won't pay higher taxes. The idea is progressive taxation. It's something that the Labour Party once believed in. Why should a social worker pay the same back to the state in the form of a tuition fee than someone who becomes a high-earning lawyer? The Graduate Endowment was a regressive tax.

And for Labour's Rhona Brankin to argue that "abolishing the endowment does not tackle access issues and it does not tackle issues of student poverty" is missing the point entirely. Scrapping the Graduate Endowment does not, on its own, ensure that access to universities is widened or that the issue of student debt will be solved. Indeed not. But it's a start, and it's more than the Labour Party would have done for students had they been returned to government in May!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Lib Dems Cheated?

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Given Nicol Stephen's astonishingly snide attacks on Alex Salmond (when he has patently done nothing wrong), here comes an SNP blogger to throw some mud back...

Not at all.

I am in fact referring to the coverage about the election of the UK Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg today. The media reporting of this so far has been very subdued in tone. Rather than a big 'unveiling of the new leader' style reports, it has been more ' oh yeah, and the Lib Dems elected the latest of a long line in leaders today, and he only won by the skin of his teeth...' They just can't catch a break. :o)

But then, there isn't really a lot of interest in the Lib Dems beyond the political anoraks, and even then the Lib Dems are only of interest to many because of how they will position themselves relative to the other parties.

And this is what I find so depressing about Nicol Stephen at the moment. While he was a Minister in the previous Lib-Lab Executive he was notoriously 'lazy' (in the words of civil servants in his department), and he lacked any zeal for his job. Now, he seems to have sprung to life in his quest to smear Alex Salmond and the SNP. I think this is quite telling about his character. He is clearly more motivated by a desire to damage a political foe than he is about governing Scotland well.

I just can't get over how spiteful he is allowing himself to appear, and I'm afraid that his conduct will only lower the opinion that people have of politics and politicians even further. As I have said before, the worst thing about Labour's donor woes for me was the damage it may do to politics in this country. Labour's donor problems are a legitimate issue of concern, and have to be publicly addressed. But it is wholly irresponsible to stoke up controversy over an issue like the Trump project purely for political point scoring, and perceived party advantage. I cannot understand why people think there has been any wrong doing on the part of Alex Salmond or the Scottish Government, other than because people like Nicol Stephen have been slinging mud.

N.B. I do hope I managed to make my point there without throwing any 'mud' at Nicol Stephen. The 'lazy' comment sails a bit close to the wind, but that is opinion rather than an accusation, so I hope that doesn't count...

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Independent Future

Yes, the flat is still in disarray after our recent ceiling disaster - but this story is worth taking a few minutes to pass comment on.

It certainly is good news that support for independence is growing, and it is interesting to note the even higher levels of support among younger people. It does remind me of a conversation I once had with somebody about this. When I asked them if they supported independence, they replied, 'well, about 20 years ago I would have, but I'm too old now.' [The emphasis is mine of course] I thought that comment was interesting on a couple of levels. Firstly, that the individual associated independence with being younger, and seemed to suggest that they no longer had either the energy to make it work or the capacity to care anymore. Secondly, I thought it was a very bizarre way to look at the world - that just because you are getting older, you don't care about what happens to younger generations.

Having spoken to a lot of pensioners about politics over the years (especially when I was doing research on pensions), I don't think the view above is common among older people. I had many a conversation with people campaigning for higher state pensions, who were very clear that they did not want that increase to come at the expense of childcare, or help for students, for example. As an aside, they were quite happy for higher state pensions to come at the expense of daft plans for ID cards and dangerous nuclear weapons...

Anyway, the point I am trying to make, is that lower support for independence among older people is unlikely to be because they care less about Scotland's future - after all, most have children and grandchildren.

I don't know how to explain it, other than to note that the increased support among younger people would seem to indicate a generational shift in attitude towards the union in which Scotland finds itself in the 21st century. A union that, to many, seems to have outlived any relevance it may have had. But in the context of globalisation, and the development of supranational bodies like the EU, then self-government becomes a must-have. The nation-state is the entity through which we engage with the rest of the world. For people growing up in modern Scotland, the limits of being classed as a 'region' within the wider UK state are becoming clearer - particularly when small nations like Malta have more say in the EU than Scotland.

But just because the benefits of independence seem to be clearer to Scotland's younger generation, this doesn't mean they will be the only ones to benefit from a future in which Scotland is independent. Independence will give us the powers we need to build a better future for our nation and everyone who lives here, and it will take time to build some of the more lasting foundations for success. But there are many things that we will be able to do almost immediately with those powers, such as introduce a Citizen's Pension - a policy that would benefit every pensioner in Scotland.

I do hope that, in the same way that Scotland's older citizens demonstrate their concern for younger people, that those young people who support independence will inspire Scotland's older generations to ensure that they make a positive contribution and leave a lasting legacy for Scotland - and choose independence.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Exclusive: Sky Falls Down Under The SNP!

Well, not quite. It is in fact our living room ceiling that is in the process of falling down at the moment. The plaster has developed a sudden attraction to the carpet for some reason, and this has unleashed a bit of chaos in the Hepburn household, as we have had to clear everything out of the room in preparation for the scaffolding (!).

Still, at this time of year, it is only right to spare a thought for those less fortunate...

Wendy Alexander, Charlie Gordon...

Seriously though, I can't believe this whole saga is still rumbling on. Am I the only one bored of revelation after revelation? It seems that Labour's strategy is to hang on to the main protagonists in this episode until the media, other political parties and everyone else in Scotland is too bored to call for resignations anymore.

After such continued exposure to Labour's sleaze, there is a danger that the natural outrage that people initially feel is diluted over time. Charlie Gordon may eventually have to resign as an MSP once the investigation is complete, but I suspect Wendy and co. may ride this storm.

This is a worrying state of affairs for the Labour Party, which will bear the scar of this debacle for some time. However, it is more worrying for the principle of accountability in politics. As I have stated before, when people makes mistakes, they should be accountable for those mistakes. To hang on, in my opinion, shows the contempt that the current Labour leader in Scotland has for the people of this country.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Wendy Alexander and THAT cheque

Well, I have tried to avoid blogging on the whole donorgate affair - but it now seems that's all anyone is talking about!

I have no aspersions to cast I'm afraid, no insider information from the corridors of the Scottish Parliament and definitely no gossip - sorry :o(

Unlike a lot of people, I am not revelling in the misery of the Labour Party. And despite my immense dislike of Wendy Alexander as a politician (I don't think she is nearly as bright as the hype) and my low opinion of the Labour Party these days, I just can't muster the outrage that others feel.

Instead, I just feel disappointed. I don't understand why people break the rules, especially when they are in trusted positions and put themselves forward as leaders in our society. This whole affair won't just damage the Labour Party, it also damages the image of politics as a whole and all other politicians. It further undermines the faith of our citizens in politics, and ultimately damages our democracy. I can just hear the cries from sofas across the country:

"Well, it's no surprise really - they are all at it."


"Politicians - they are all the same. Liars the lot of them."

I can also imagine that many members of the Labour Party are feeling disillusioned right now. They have a right to expect more from their elected representatives and leaders. I personally couldn't be a member of a party that had become so rotten at its core, and abandoned all its founding principles.

I understand that Wendy Alexander is hanging on to act as a protective dam against the tide of damage that her resignation would cause in London. Given that Tom McCabe has already admitted that Wendy Alexander has broken the law (either intentionally or unintentionally), I think the longer she stays as leader of Labour in Scotland, the more damage she does to Scottish politics as a whole.

Politicians aren't perfect. They are just people. Most of them try their best to do a good job for the people they represent and fight for the ideas they believe in - whatever their party. Sometimes they make mistakes, as human beings do. But when they do, they should take responsibility for these mistakes and do the right thing by their conscience.