Monday, 29 October 2007

SNP Conference

I got back from SNP Conference last night, and I've not yet had a chance to think about how to blog on this topic. There's just so much to choose from!

The conference was so busy. Each year, I vow to attend more fringe meetings, take part in and listen to more debates, and catch up with more of my friends. Inevitably, there just aren't enough hours in the day.

I did, however, speak to the motion on the SNP Government's 'National Conversation' on Scotland's constitutional future. More on that in a future blog...

I also attended a couple of noteworthy fringe meetings. One was organised by Save the Children and Scottish Refugee Council, which concentrated on the experience of asylum seeking children. The other, was organised by the Scottish Social Enterprise coalition. Again, I will endeavour to share my experiences of those with you soon.

I would like to share a couple of observations right now though. Firstly, like many people, I assumed that we would hardly see the Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers at conference given their immense workload. But, on the contrary, those who run our government took part in a range of debates along with other delegates, they mingled with delegates and observers in the canteen and were generally accessible for anyone who wanted to talk to them. Not that I should be surprised really. I have worked for most of the MSPs who now form our government, and I know what value they place, not just on party members, but on really listening to those at the grassroots.

I was also struck by just how the SNP has grown, not just in terms of membership, but in terms of maturity and quality of debate. The quality of contributions from delegates and politicians alike were a joy to behold. Yes, some people did mention the results in May once or twice, but there was no real sense of triumphalism, but one of sober professionalism. For years, I have appealed to people on the doorsteps to give the SNP a chance to show what we can do. And that is very much the focus of the party. We may have won the election, but we still need to prove ourselves in government and make the case for independence.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

David Cairns - What was he thinking?

I have just read the comments of David Cairns in today's Scotland on Sunday...

In response to the Scottish Government's bid to obtain observer status to international talks on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he has said that Alex Salmond:

"seeks to cavort across the world stage with his discredited looney left policies."

Excuse me!?!

Is he suggesting that people who want to rid the world of nuclear weapons - weapons of mass destruction, capable of obliterating millions of lives at a time - are part of some discredited loony left? Does he include members of his own party in that description...?

A majority of Scottish Labour MPs, a majority of MSPs and a majority of Scottish citizens do not want nuclear weapons stored in Scotland. Does David Cairns realise how insulting his comments are to all of these people?

Maybe. Maybe not. He seems much more interested in attacking Alex Salmond for daring to aspire to something better for Scotland, and attempting to represent Scotland's interests in the international arena. The likes of David Cairns actually does his own party a disservice with such vicious and misguided remarks - especially on such an important issue. There are many members of his own party who hold much more progressive views on nuclear weapons.

More importantly, though, he does the people of Scotland a disservice. All Alex Salmond has done is try to ensure our voice is heard in the international community, on an issue that the people of Scotland obviously feel strongly about.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Menzies Campbell Resignation

So, the inevitable has happened and Menzies Campbell has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, after a series of terrible poll results and endless attacks on his leadership.

He may not have been the most inspiring political leader in history, but the constant references to his age were disgraceful. If some one was to suffer from such blatant ageism in the workplace, we would be condemning such remarks.

Would attacks on a political leader be laughed off if they referred to some one's gender or race?

I know this will be the last thing people are thinking about as the race to succeed Campbell takes off, but I do hope that some lessons will be learned from this. Because, ultimately, ageism did play a part in his downfall.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Inheritance Tax

Am I the only person both outraged and dismayed by the political discourse emanating from Westminster at the moment?

While one fifth of our population languish in poverty, and many hundreds of pensioners in Scotland die of cold-related illnesses each winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes on the miserly state pensions set by Westminster, the Tories and the Labour Party are scrapping over how many hundreds of thousands of pounds will be exempt from inheritance tax. Just how detached from reality are these people? Maybe £600,000 isn't much to some of them - but it's a veritable lottery win for the rest of us!

Frankly, I believe that the tax bill for people who inherit in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds shouldn't be the priority for any government. There are far more pressing financial issues that politicians of all persuasions should be focused on - such as sorting out the fiasco that is the tax credit system, which has left many families in crippling debt, and the disgraceful levels of state pensions, for a start.

Tax cuts for the wealthiest or investment in the most vulnerable people in our society?

I know what my priority would be.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Campaign Launch

Today was spent campaigning in the constituency. Well, I say campaigning, but all political activists know that a more accurate (and far less glamorous) description would be 'chapping doors'.

I spoke to a surprising number of people today - it seemed everyone was at home, and happy to talk, which is always good. I got such a great reception, and was feeling all set for a snap election and then I switched on the news when I got home. Gordon Brown has postponed! Oh well, at least that gives me even more time to speak to as many residents in the constituency as possible. Got many thousands of people to try and contact, so the more time available the better. It also seems that I am the only candidate selected for the constituency so far. The other parties are yet to select their candidates...

Also have my new campaign website up and running (thanks for all your help Euan!) - check it out.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Faith in democracy versus political expediancy

I must admit to being rather concerned about reports of impending ballot chaos in the event of a snap election. Tartan Hero doesn't seem to be concerned. He believes the contingency plans in place should avert disaster. I hope so. I agree that actually producing the ballot papers, polling day arrangements and counting the votes shouldn't be too much of an issue if an election is called quickly. But there are issues about the accuracy of the electoral register, and a snap election would also deny so many the chance to organise a postal vote.

If we were to see any level of disenfranchisement due to a snap election, after the chaos of the Scottish Parliament elections in May, that would be inexcusable. A growing number of people are already cynical about politics, which slowly undermines confidence in the democratic process. Apathy is not just frustrating for political parties trying to motivate people to cast their vote, it is also potentially very dangerous.

Government is the product of a contract between the citizen and the state. The fewer citizen signatories there are to the contract that is the foundation of our society, the poorer and more fragmented our society becomes.

I'm not going to rake over all the apparent reasons for the rise in apathy, or at least apathy with the conventional political processes - many have analysed this trend more coherently than I could here.

I am acutely aware, though, of the responsibility I have as somebody active in politics to help restore faith in political parties and the political process. Now that I am a candidate, I feel even more responsibility in this respect.

I do hope that when Gordon Brown is considering the timing of the Westminster election, he will weigh up any perceived party advantage of a snap 3 or 4 week election against the need to instill confidence in the democratic process. If he does call a November election, when it is so obvious that he is doing so to give the Labour party an advantage over the Tories, he may win the UK election but he may lose so much more in the long run.