Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Hanging Time at the Westminster Gallows

Apart from the wag who said "If there's going to be a hung Parliament, who do we start with?", the prospect of a balanced Parliament (perhaps a better word than the hugely negative 'hung') raises many questions. Some say that the prospect would be a disaster for Britain; and that 'the markets won't like it'.

Frankly, I really don't care what the fat cats in the markets think of it, but I do care if people are falsely given the impression that this way lies disaster. Certainly not true for the minority government of Scotland, that has achieved so much by working toward consensus on an issue by issue basis. Certainly not true for many other countries where coalition is the norm. Why on earth could the 'mother of Parliaments' not operate when alliances need to be brokered and made?

But then we move on to the question of who, with whom? Here, we need, as an electorate, to take a reality check and appreciate that the constant bleatings of the media aimed at forcing one party or another to say who they would work with is complete and utter nonsense. No party could possibly be daft enough as to give away its negotiating position in advance of the final election result. And in any event, it is not until that final result that the influence any party may have can be seen.

But for Scotland, one thing is abundantly clear - as Alex Salmond says - quite simply, the more SNP MPs are elected, the more Scotland's position will be strengthened. It is an absolute fact of parliamentary mathematics that for each of the three main English parties, when it comes to working out who agrees to what deal in order to form a government, the minority of their seats are in Scotland. It will be anglo-centric policies that will be at the heart of negotiations - despite anything the Scottish Lib Dems may say. When push comes to shove, they will vote with their English colleagues, on issues negotiated for England. SNP members have no such divided loyalty. Their only potential allies their our friends in Plaid Cymru - together, they can be a powerful influence for both Scotland and Wales.

Never before has there been such an opportunity. Never before has the absolute relevance of electing SNP MP's to Westminster been so clear and present. It's a whole different question in the City of Salford, or the leafy suburbs of London. Let England get on and vote for the choices they have - and if that means the Lib Dems do well, then so be it. But in Scotland now, more than ever, Scottish votes must be votes for Scotland. This is no time to let this momentous opportunity slip through our fingers like so many grains of sand. Time to create a strong and influential group of National and local Champions. Time to grasp the chance.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gaelic Tokenism

I don't speak Gaelic (though I'm trying to learn ..... slowly) and I could, as a native English speaker, happily survive without Gaelic - but the language is at the very heart and soul of the history and culture of the Highlands, and creates the fundamental links with all of the Celtic Nations from Ireland through Wales and Cornwall to Brittany and beyond. The language is precious and its state of health is, as described today by Fiona Hyslop, fragile. An extra £100,000 has today been given to help promote early years Gaelic teaching. Yet another example of the SNP Government finding wee bits of extra money that can make a difference when all around bleat and moan. There will doubtless be some who cry 'waste of money' or 'how can we justify this in difficult economic times'.

I don't subscribe to this view. If this was always the approach taken, there would be no arts left; no culture; no sport - in short, if it wasn't seen as a crucial bit of front line service to citizens, it wouldn't get any money. I submit that nobody really benefits from such short termism.

Highland Council has what appears on the face of it to be an excellent gaelic language plan - even though there are some who constantly snipe and would do away with it tomorrow. But I do say 'on the face of it' ..... there are a couple of things though that really get my goat. First is when offices use dual language road sign policy as an excuse for doing nothing with a worn out sign ... 'ah yes', they say, 'but if we replace the sign, we'll have to upgrade it to dual language and that will cost lots more money, because the sign will have to be bigger, so the post will have to be stronger, so the foundation will have to be deeper!' Never mind if that's actually right or not - it sounds like a good story and it will keep councillors quiet.

The other is our tokenism in documents - where the title, and main headings are all shown in both English and Gaelic, but the rest of the document - all of the real content - is in English only. What's the point of that? Who benefits? It doesn't happen in Ireland and it doesn't happen in Wales, where routinely material across a broad front is produced in dual language format. Surely we can do better than this? OK, so to do this with all printed material would potentially double the number of pages (though not necessarily double the cost), but why can't we have a gaelic version? and why can't we have downloadable web based versions in both languages instead of these pointless little main headings. 'Comhairle na Gaidhealtachd' the logo proclaims. Isn't it time we started to be a Comhairle as well as a Council?

Monday, 5 April 2010

The REAL Lib Dem Roads Policy

So now we have it ... our local Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander loves to bleat on about how the Scottish Government has done nothing to dual the A9 and how the Scottish Government is delaying the Trunk Link Road around Inverness. This, of course, is the same Scottish Government that has put dualling the A9 firmly on the agenda, and the same Government that has already committed to funding the eastern section of the TLR - all after seven inglorious years of Lib Dem / Labour inaction.

Yet here we are, come general election time, and Lib Dem policy is to cut three thousand five hundred million pounds (£3.5 billion) or 90% from the roads capital budget and use £500 million to fund cheaper rail fares and £3,000 million to reopen or improve railway stations and lines, and build new ones.

This, of course, is all very well in the congested urban centres of Englandshire, where the balance between private and public transport is surely out of kilter, and getting worse. But here in the Highlands, I challenge Danny Alexander to come clean about Lib Dem plans for road building in his own 'patch' and to tell us exactly which stations and lines he would reopen, improve, or create from scratch. Would he seriously expect us to believe, for example, that electrification of the Highland Main Line would come anywhere other than close to the bottom of a Lib Dem wish list? Or would he, perhaps, re-open the Dava line? I don't think so! And what price Lib Dem promises about the A9 or the TLR now?

The bottom line is that it is the furthest reaches of the United Kingdom, with the most thinly spread of populations - West Wales and the Highlands of Scotland - that will never attain sustainable mass public transport systems, and will inevitably suffer most at the hands of this policy.

What we urgently need here in the Highlands are local champions who will stand up for local issues from a policy base of integrity, not politicians that try to face both ways at once. Only the SNP will stand up for the Highlands in Westminster. We need to elect John Finnie to replace Duplicitous Danny, Alasdair Stephen to displace the spent force that is Charles Kennedy and Jean Urquhart to usurp Viscount Thurso.