Friday, 19 June 2009

Euro poll dealt Brown body blow

Published in the John O'Groat Journal & Caithness Courier
What a month in the break-up of trust in British politics as the European Union election results dealt a near-fatal blow for Gordon Brown’s reputation. Then he was forced into a cabinet reshuffle by serial resignations of key cabinet colleagues and MPs many up to their necks in sleaze were axed from standing again. His dither and deep unpopularity made Mr Brown seek succour in diversionary tactics. Let’s discuss democratic renewal he thought. We should sort out the MPs’ expenses row, get the economy on course and set up major commissions to report back sometime.

Transparency was to be the order of the day. A week later, however, a secret enquiry into the Iraq war was announced which gave the game away. Hanging onto power in the elective dictatorship that is UK rule was after all Brown’s default position. Fortuitously Sir Kenneth Calman’s year- long Commission into Scottish government reported earlier this week, Gordon ticked a box in his sham review of Westminster by adopting Calman which he claimed as ‘bold and realistic’.


Let’s have a closer look at the aims of the PM and the Unionist-inspired Calman report. Its key aim is to show “how to improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, while preserving the economic Union and the social Union which define Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.”

How does this help us in Scotland to get a sustainable economy, a growing population and build a future on our huge natural and intellectual assets? Does it provide real tax powers and access to revenues of oil and gas? It does not.

Incredibly the Unionist balancing act emphasises Scottish government accountability, not normal tax powers. Giving the Scots Government more room to vary income tax is not sought by any party. Refusing to offer Scotland more than borrowing powers that local government already has keeps the purse strings firmly in the Treasury grip in Whitehall. This epitomises Whitehall control freakery.

This report tries to counter the SNP government’s widely discussed National Conversation. This week the First Minister spoke with an audience of around 170 people in West Lothian. He suggested that the SNP referendum plans for independence would be published on St Andrews Day and hinted that Calman’s minimum improvements for devolution could form a third question. Gordon Brown has admitted that ‘it’s the constitution, stupid’ that we must address.


What put Brown and Calman in perspective was the Euro election results which were a historic SNP victory in Scotland. Here in the Highland Council area the SNP vote rose by 8.6% on 2004 Euro result. In comparison the Lib Dems were up 6.1%, Labour down 6.3% and the Tories down 2.5%.

The SNP are the only party to make a significant advance at the expense of Labour, with a ten point surge since the last European election – it was the biggest anywhere in the UK and double the swing from Labour to the Tories UK-wide.

Sadly the Euro turn-out was far too low to compare results with the 2007 Scottish poll which returned the SNP minority government in Edinburgh. Here in the Highlands and Islands SNP still has a clear lead over other parties. Our all-Scotland approach of matching policies to meet local needs in tight financial times is appreciated by a growing support for the party of Scottish Government.

Our MEPs Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith were re-elected. In truth we were close to gaining the third Euro seat out of six which could only strengthen further the voice of the Highlands and Islands. Alyn’s work on the Agriculture Committee in Brussels has been widely praised. Ian has held the line on repatriating parts of the Common Fisheries Policy to Scottish control and both have championed the new industries in marine renewables which will come good for many jobs in our area that will migrate from nuclear decommissioning to wave and tide power projects.

The other backdrop to Calman is the newly published poll of Holyrood voting intentions YouGov for the Sunday Times published last weekend. SNP has doubled its poll lead over Labour in the Scottish Parliament constituency vote since the previous YouGov poll in April – and puts the parties and MSPs who support Scottish independence within touching distance of an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament: just five seats short.

This direction of travel in voters’ minds is for more powers to shape our lives by decision of the Scottish Parliament.


Getting on with good government, Richard Lochhead Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture unveiled a package of new measures to help livestock producers in fragile areas such as ours. The immediate 18% increases in payments to farmers and crofters in Less Favoured Areas hopes to stabilise sheep and cattle production. I’m sure this will help the quality products marketed through Mey Selections and also points to the need for cash to be targeted at producers instead of armchair agriculturalists who took Single Farm Payments decided at historic levels in 2001. They then cut production. This is tied up with another important issue, the steep decline of sheep produced from our hills and glens.

I know that a complex weave of estates with shooting policies, fuel costs, hauliers margins, the need for more local abattoir development and a closer targeting of scarce agricultural support funds all play their part. The general welcome for the SNP Agriculture Secretary’s proposals and understanding among farmers and crofters that they have allies in Europe is a sign that Scotland can weather the economic storm and produce more of the wholesome food our citizens need. Now to tackle the supermarkets which refuse to pay the proper price for such quality produce.

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