Airdrie Hustings 01/06/17: No-Show Neil Gray

Tonights Panel. Empty chair just out of shot…

Tonights General Election hustings in Airdrie was the first to be held in the town for many years and was long overdue. The right of the electorate to cross examine candidates is a key feature of our democratic system and it was hugely disappointing that SNP candidate Neil Gray refused to take part. I was not alone in holding the view that Neil Gray was extremely disrespectful in boycotting the hustings; Independent Councillor Alan Beveridge who organised the evening read out Mr Grays whiny refusal which cited his concerns that the evening would be quite partisan, and with that the hustings was underway.

You Sir. The gentleman with the blue tie…

Last minute chair Peter Winnie introduced himself and then the candidates were given five minutes to give their pitch. Ewan McRobert of the Lib Dems led off with his reasons, Brexit being the primary one, while not seeing the irony in the fact that his opposition to a second independence referendum would deliver Scotland a future outside the EU. Labour’s Helen McFarlane cited her experience in the NHS as one of the reasons to support her; claiming that the “wool wouldn’t be pulled over her eyes”. She was very positive about Jeremy Corbyn and his manifesto, but I was concerned that her party nationally and locally have been working to remove Jeremy Corbyn; the Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale is anti Corbyn, as are numerous Airdrie members and councillors. Oh, and she was strongly against a second referendum. Finally we had Jennifer Donnellan, the Conservative and Unionist candidate who opposed another referendum, backed Theresa May as the strong and stable leader needed for Brexit negotiations, attacked the SNP’s obsession with independence, their inability to get on with the day job, their record on education and health, and oh, yes, she did she mention she was opposed to another referendum?
I was allowed to ask the second question of the evening and used the opportunity to make a point: given that health, education and the like were devolved, could we actually stick to reserved issues during the discussion, and by and large the audience and the candidates obliged, with questions ranging from Brexit to ethical foreign policy and the international arms trade to workers rights and the anti-trade union laws.
Candidates were also questioned about how they would make Airdrie a better place to live and work, and a crucial question which none could adequately answer was surprisingly simple: ‘If there was a policy which your party implemented which was directly detrimental to the town and people of Airdrie, would you oppose it?’ No one could give a satisfactory answer. Over the course of the two hours it became apparent to me that while likeable, the Lib Dem candidate was a complete lightweight, with some knowledge of party policy and no knowledge at all of other areas (he was unable to say whether the Lib Dems opposed or supported renationalisation of the railways, while his personal opinion seemed to be to oppose it).

I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue…

The Tory candidate was strong on opposing a second referendum, but was utterly bereft in other areas and was even laughed at for her inability to answer questions on subjects such as Tory policy on selling arms to Saudi Arabia. If this is the quality of George Osborne’s former special advisors it’s no wonder he failed time and time again to meet his own targets. At one point she was asked by an audience member who was in receipt of Unicersal Credit if she would join him tomorrow at his next foodbank appointment. After looking to a colleague in the audience she declined. Not a surprise. Labour’s Helen McFarlane came across as the strongest of the candidates; knowledgeable, experienced and confident. Credit must be given to her in answering the penultimate question of the night. She could have joined in with Tory criticism of the SNP for their management of the SNHS; instead she rounded on UK Tory policy of creeping NHS privatisation in England, and over the piece if there were only three candidates then she would walk it.
There are however four candidates. Neil Gray refuses to put himself up for public scrutiny, and nion  is to Airdrie what Theresa May is to the UK: a poor public debater who won’t allow himself to be subjected to fair and open scrutiny by the general public. Can he read a pre-prepared statement in Parliament: yes. Can he explain policy, and debate it with ordinary voters? No-one knows. To my knowledge he has NEVER had to. In a way his absence was a probably a blessing as the other three candidates were put under more scrutiny than they otherwise might have been, but his refusal to debate won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
My apologies must go to the last minute substitute chair Peter Winnie. His inexperience as a chair did show through and I was rather rude to him for his refusal to allow people to come back in to make follow on points or to have something clarified. While he admitted this was a first for him, he certainly can’t be accused of being unfair or biased, and credit must go to him for presiding over an informative and enjoyable hustings.

Airdrie Hustings for the 2017 General Election

Candidates:

Conservative
Jennifer Donnellan

Scottish National Party
Neil Gray

Labour
Helen McFarlane

Liberal Democrat
Ewan McRobert

Tomorrow night sees the first election hustings in Airdrie for many years, I think perhaps around 10 years have elapsed since the last one. All the candidates have been invited and as far as I am aware all are attending. Except one…

As I understand it Neil Gray of the SNP has yet to confirm he will attend. I’ve asked him directly on Twitter if he’ll attend. He didn’t respond. My wife asked him on Facebook. He didn’t respond.

It’s entirely up to Neil Gray to decide to attend or not. It would be courteous if he would respond to a simple question about whether or not he will attend.

If he won’t attend then the unionist candidates get a free hit at the SNP with no one to defend them. He SHOULD be there and it will be extremely disrespectful to the electorate in Airdrie if he isn’t.

He can’t say he doesn’t know about it, he was informed weeks ago as were all the other candidates, and he’s been asked about it on social media. He can’t say he has parliamentary business as there is none. So his only excuse left is to say that a family emergency or engagement prevented him from attending. Even the excuse that he was out knocking on doors will be a weak one: that’s what his team is for.

7pm tomorrow night will see whether he has the decency to attend or whether he’ll weasel out.

#airdriehust

 

Ruth Davidson: Playing The Sectarian Card

Jeremy Corbyn seems to be suffering an incredible amount of coordinated attacks regarding his stance on terrorism. Depending on the sources Jeremy Corbyn ranges from being soft on terrorism to a terrorist mouthpiece, all the way through to an appeaser of terrorists. It’s been revealed that he was the subject of MI5 interest  over his stance on Ireland and the IRA, and it’s this which has ramifications on the Scottish political scene.

I’m not a great fan of Mr Corbyn. He supports a united Ireland but not an independent Scotland. So no matter how attractive some of his policies are, for me they are trumped by Scottish independence. Jeremy Corbyn offers a sticking plaster on a constitutional question which requires major surgery, a temporary solution to a more permanent problem. Take fox hunting as an example. Banned by Labour, it looks set to be legalised by the Tories; legislation is not permanent and can be undone by future governments. The Scottish Parliament can similarly be removed by a future UK government, if that government is strong enough to ride roughshod over Scotland. That future is looking increasingly more likely, with a Tory majority in England highly likely and a vocal element rallying to the Scottish Tories as a purely unionist party. Combine that with a compliant press and media and you have a recipe for Scotland apparently “demanding” that Holyrood be closed down and Westminster complying with our “wishes”.

The Tories in Scotland have cast their net out into the sectarian pool for votes and have dragged in a large haul, and this has led to their fielding quite a few dubious characters, and I can only expect this to grow. Not only will this grow but as those numbers grow you can expect to see policy change, simply because they are targeting a group of people who have a specific set of views and will bring those with them to the party. It will be become more unionist orientated rather than Conservative and Unionist.

In the lead up to the 2014 referendum the Yes movement didn’t cast it’s nets into a narrow pool of opinion, but into a far wider one, and in the 2014 post referendum flood of new SNP members there were no doubt many supporters who had dubious backgrounds too. That’s to be expected. Some of these people supported a united Ireland, and to be honest I can see no reason why if the people of Ireland wanted such a thing that it should be denied to them. But that’s something to be achieved through the ballot box, not by guns and bombs. Yet there are people within the Yes movement who see no problem in praising and celebrating terrorists and terrorism in an Irish context, but who decry it elsewhere. That’s not an acceptable stance. It’s also one which is being seized upon by some extremist Tory supporters to try to brand the whole Yes movement as somehow an “Irish republican YeSNP” movement. Pictures of one Glasgow councillor in an Irish republican flute band are passed around as though they represent all of Yes or the SNP. Old photographs of Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon posing with Martin McGuinness are often shared as if if to say “See! Here’s the proof!” while conveniently ignoring pictures of the Queen and Mr McGuiness together. Or ignoring the fact that the Tories actually have a former IRA member serving as a councillor in London.

Terrorists are the lowest of the low. Celebrating their attacks on civilians is as low as it gets I suppose, and people who hold these kind of views should be exposed for their views wherever possible. If a candidate for a party I supported had such a background I certainly would not vote for them. The problem for the Tories is they are specifically targeting and recruiting from what would appear to any independent observer to be sectarian and extremist groups, albeit British Nationalist ones. So while the charge made by those extremists that the SNP or Yes are pro-IRA/ Irish Republican in nature fails to hold up, the reverse is certainly true of the growing Tory/British Nationalist movement.

In England they don’t have the same trouble with sectarianism as we do in Scotland. They do have a problem with xenophobia though. In the attempts to portray Jeremy Corbyn as a friend to terrorists in the English media, this will have an inevitable ripple effect here. For Ruth Davidson, using the union flag as a dog whistle to attract support is one thing; going full on bigot is another.

 

North Lanarkshire SNP: Grabbing Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory

IMAG0680Letter to The National, 23/05/17

Dear Sir,

In today’s Nation Alex Neil MSP alluded that some kind of back room deal had been done between Labour and the Conservatives to block an SNP administration from taking control in North Lanarkshire. It’s hardly surprising that the Tories would vote against the SNP, considering that across Scotland they are campaigning on a single policy: Stop the SNP. This is not proof of a deal. He points to the convenorship of the Audit Committee and it’s £29,000 salary going to the Tories, yet Labour Group Leader Jim Logue twice said during last weeks council meeting that he had not only offered the post to SNP group leader David Stocks, who refused to take the position he had previously held until the elections, but that he was disappointed that he wouldn’t reconsider his decision. It seems to me that the SNP had realised before the meeting that the game was up and that with victory clearly out of their reach they would go down a petulant road of not co-operating, refusing to take places on committees and refusing to even pose for a group photograph, all so they could fashion a narrative of a Tory and Labour stitch-up.

Alex Neil failed to mention that there was one independent Councillor who voted against the SNP, Councillor Alan Beveridge. In 2015 Councillor Beveridge resigned from the SNP citing a “climate of fear, bullying and intimidation”. Perhaps if Nicola Sturgeon had dealt firmly with the issue back in 2015 it would not have snowballed into the Monklands McMafia fiasco, they would have retained the huge number of members who joined in 2014 and would have gone on to hammer a final nail into North Lanarkshire Labour. Instead they gained a pyrrhic victory, petulantly gifted the Audit Convenors job to the Tories and have in all likelihood blown their last chance to take control in North Lanarkshire. Alex Neil is now the unionist poster boy for BREXIT. His election agent and Airdrie SNP councillor Michael Coyle was quoted in the Herald saying that the reason the SNP lost the council elections was due to headquarters obsession with independence! With such a level of ineptitude it appears the voters of North Lanarkshire may well have dodged a bullet, and for now a Labour administration may be seen as the lesser of two evils by many. So put your own house in order Mr Neil, because for now within Independence circles in North Lanarkshire, you are unwelcome, as are your opinions.

Yours,

James Cassidy

Put The Sweet Sherry Down and Step Away From The Keyboard…

Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 240517

I was taken aback at the Advertiser editorial this week; it was, on so many levels, weapons grade nonsense. In recent years we’ve become more used to minority governments, coalitions and the like; indeed Scotland’s electoral systems are designed to create consensual governments which reflect the broad picture. So to see the Advertiser paint Labour taking control of North Lanarkshire Council as somehow akin to North Korean politics was utterly jaw dropping; indeed it read more like a drunken late night Facebook rant than an actual newspaper editorial which left me wondering how it actually made it in to print.
Some actual analysis wouldn’t go amiss here, and as The Advertiser has singularly failed to do so, let me help. Labour and the SNP were within one seat of each other, with the SNP having the slimmest of margins over their rival, but far short of a majority. To have a workable authority the SNP would have to rely on support from somewhere, and for that they would have to make concessions. SNP group leader David Stocks said that he had written to Jim Logue offering an SNP/Labour coalition. I’m sure that I’m sure if they had been willing to come and go on the names being put forward then that may have been an acceptable compromise. That offer was not accepted and we are left to draw the conclusion that the SNP’s proposals were so poorly thought out that Jim Logue was left either with the option of taking a gamble that the Tories would back Labour to block the SNP out of hand, or with entering a formal coalition with the Tories. Given that there is absolutely no evidence of the latter, except in the fevered mind of Alex Neil, we have to conclude that Labour didn’t form any such coalition. Pointing to the Tories being given the Audit convenorship as proof doesn’t stack up either. The previous Convenor was David Stocks of the SNP, and this was because the post goes to someone from outside the ruling body and as the SNP refused to take any of the posts offered by Labour they had to be filled by Tories! So Megan Gallacher left the council chambers £30K a year better off thanks to the SNP’s petulance and David Stocks left £30K worse off. Is it any wonder he’s bitterly complaining?

Councillor Stocks was quoted as saying “We won the election but people ask why we are not in power.” That’s a very good question and I’m glad he asked it, however I don’t think he’ll like the answer. The SNP were expected to romp the election, but didn’t. The Labour vote collapsed, but not primarily to the SNP. Hard core British Nationalists were seduced by Ruth Davidson’s rhetoric, abandoned any working class principles and sold out to a party ready to stick the knife into pensioners, the poor and the disabled at the earliest opportunity; never mind the policies, smell the flag. They then used their second and third votes to vote for Labour to block the SNP; quite simply Tory voting strategy was well briefed out to their supporters. But these voters were never going to vote SNP in any case, so what about those who were among those who could be persuaded?

Independent Councillor Alan Beveridge hit the nail on the head when he said that the SNP were fighting like rats in a sack, and it is this reason and this reason alone that the SNP did not gain the convincing win they should have done. Councillor Stocks apparently didn’t campaign at all during the election and actually came second to his novice running mate Nancy Pettigrew who preceded him alphabetically on the ballot paper. That shows a clear lack of voter management strategy. Airdrie South was no better where the Team Coyle leaflet campaign undermined actual SNP candidate Paul Di Mascio. Airdrie North was struck by a social media debacle and Coatbridge was racked by internal disputes too. The only part of North Lanarkshire to deploy an effective voter management strategy was in Cumbernauld, where the SNP swept the boards, and it raises the question: why aren’t they in charge of the group? They know what they are doing, are cohesive and work well as a team, everything North Lanarkshire SNP isn’t under David Stocks.
The SNP now have five years to get their party in shape to win convincingly in North Lanarkshire. It will require them to honestly appraise themselves and they must be prepared to clear out the dead wood and hangers-on who cost them victory. The current plan seems however to be not to carry out that self critical analysis but to fashion a narrative of a secret Tory/Labour coalition and to shout it for the next five years. As a plan of action it is unsustainable and is reveals a complete lack of self belief and vision. If I were an SNP member I would be asking these critical questions at every opportunity, as clearly the elected representatives will not. If they don’t, they’ll be asking in five years time, and that’s five years too late.

The Elephant In The Corner (Of North Lanarkshire)

Letter from Councillor Tom Johnston; The Herald, 20/05/17

Letter to The Herald, 22/05/17

Dear Sir,

In his letter in Saturdays Herald, Councillor Tom Johnston, Depute SNP Leader alluded that some kind of back room deal had been done between Labour and the Conservatives to block an SNP administration from taking control in North Lanarkshire. His proof was the voting pattern displayed, whereby the SNP were on the losing side of every vote by a margin of 41 to 33. It’s hardly surprising that the Tories would vote against the SNP, considering that across Scotland they are campaigning on a single policy: Stop the SNP. This is not proof of a deal.

The SNP point to the convenorship of the Audit Committee and it’s £29,000 salary going to the Tories, yet Labour Group Leader Jim Logue twice said during the meeting that he had not only offered the post to SNP group leader David Stocks, who refused to take the position he had held until the elections, but that he was disappointed that he wouldn’t reconsider his decision. It seems to me that the SNP had realised before the meeting that the game was up and that with victory clearly out of their reach they would go down a petulant road of not co-operating, refusing to take places on committees and refusing to even pose for a group photograph, all so they could fashion a narrative of a Tory and Labour stitch-up.
Councillor Johnston noted that there was one independent Councillor who voted against the SNP, Councillor Alan Beveridge. In 2015 Councillor Beveridge resigned from the SNP citing a “climate of fear, bullying and intimidation”. Perhaps if Councillor Johnston’s group had dealt with the issue back in 2015 it would not have snowballed into the Monklands McMafia fiasco, they would have retained the huge number of members who joined in 2014 and would have gone on to hammer a final nail into North Lanarkshire Labour. Instead they gained a pyrrhic victory, gifted the Audit Convenors job to the Tories and have in all likelihood blown their last chance to take control in North Lanarkshire. With such a level of ineptitude it appears the voters of North Lanarkshire may well have dodged a bullet.

Yours,

James Cassidy

The British Nationalist Delusion

It really was ironic that Ruth Davidson used her invitation to the Orwell Society to display Doublethink in action. According to Davidson, nationalism is divisive, while patriotism is uniting. Yet by stating that “if it came to a choice between the country or the party, for me, it’s the country every day of the week and twice on a Sunday.” she demonstrates beyond all doubt that she is a nationalist, albeit a British one. For someone who apparently isn’t a nationalist she does a very good impression of one.

Up until now it has all been fairly harmless, if you ignore the use of terms like “fratricidal conflict” and ignore her parties courting of sectarian groups and right wing extremists. Ruth has played the fool, posed with any number of animals and armoured vehicles, all with a patriotic union flag backdrop. But now the gloves are off and Davidson is becoming clumsy. Her attempts to link support for Jeremy Corbyn with the IRA are seen by many as trying to stir up sectarian support ahead of the general election and are a new low in Scottish politics from a woman who should be mindful of the pool she is dipping her toe in.

Her u-turn on Brexit was a perfect example of her arguing on a principle, then abandoning it because it threatened her British nationalist perspective. Her announcement this week of a Tory u-turn on free prescriptions was a particularly ham-fisted abandonment of principle, considering that it was made to woo voters in a Westminster election, yet health is devolved to Holyrood- the parliament she actually sits in!

In short, Davidson is a woman who has no principles, other than her nationalism, and the more scrutiny she receives, the more apparent that is. The question the Scottish electorate have to ask themselves is; can we trust this woman? The answer among those who aren’t hard line British nationalists is no, we can’t. This is why there may be some gains by the Tories in the June election, but not enough to unseat the SNP. That won’t stop poor, delusional Ruth though; she will claim the few SNP scalps as an outright victory, and will no doubt use what scraps she gets as proof that Scotland rejects a second referendum, when in actual fact the SNP gaining a majority of seats again will be an endorsement of the decision the Scottish parliament has already taken: to support a Scottish referendum and to take us back into Europe when the rest of the UK has left.