10 January 2008

A Constitutional Pork Barrel

I've been following the Comments thread in my last post very carefully, and I've been mulling over my response. I've opted to start a new thread for it, and compare it with an additional development.

So firstly, I'm afraid I must disappoint Julie: there is little in the way of 'totty' in Holyrood. John Lamont (Con, Roxburgh & Berwickshire) is quite striking but tottydom requires the presence of one clear, visible chin - no more (unfortunately for your blogger) and, unfortunately for Mr. Lamont, no less.

Anyway. One of the key points of the discussion is whether or not Labour feeling free to introduce legislation in committee would lead to a rise in 'pork barrel' politics, where MSPs take locally-popular decisions in a bid to get re-elected over and over again, and whether that would lead to a decline in principle and ideology.

To be honest, I see anything that reduces the apparent strength of party whips - as any such development would - as a good thing. And I would also suggest that Holyrood's electoral system mitigates against the fear raised that such a move would make give certain MSPs a job for life. Take Glasgow Anniesland: yes, Bill Butler could stand for re-election to the seat claiming that he'd voted in his constituents' interests. But Bill Kidd was the SNP Candidate here, and he's now a Regional MSP for the city. He could claim the same thing as Butler. So could Bill Aitken, the Tory Candidate for the seat, and the Conservatives' Regional MSP for Glasgow. Constituency MSPs, therefore, could still be unseated, albeit by Regional MSPs. And woe betide any MSP who did listen to the Whips more than any of his or her neighbours: he or she would be at great risk at a subsequent election.

However, there are some occasions where principle has to win out: the debate over Scotland's constitutional position has to be one of them. Which is why I am unimpressed by Nick Clegg's support for further powers for Holyrood. Clegg argued that: "by just blocking further progress to devolution you strengthen the hand of the Nationalists."

Well, firstly, that may or may not be true, but the reverse certainly is not: by advancing such progress, you do not weaken the SNP's hand. Remember that George Robertson predicted that devolution would kill the SNP stone dead - some death!

And secondly, the small matter of how a country is governed ought to be beyond party political considerations. To gerrymander Council, Holyrood or Westminster electoral boundaries is bad enough, and to gerrymander an entire electoral system is worse still. But an entire constitutional system?

How can a party seriously advocate any changes to how Scotland is governed based on wishing to shaft the SNP?

And on that basis, his willingness to attack "the often highly opportunistic siren call for full independence" has no credibility at all. It's also rich for him to say that politicians should "show devolution is a process which is ongoing and not shut the door and in effect say we have gone as far as we want.", when his party opposes independence - and eventually will have to say that they have indeed gone as far as they want.

He says he wants to leave the debate to Nicol Stephen and Scottish politicans. That may well be the smartest thing he's said on the matter.

Though his viewpoint on British constitutional change ought to be left to someone else as well, given that his own - and his party's - approach to the Scottish constitution, makes this line look a little bit hollow:

"If Brown and Cameron are interested in holding cross-party talks... which would really lead to root-and-branch reform of the political system, no one would be more delighted than me. "But if they're not interested in that and only interested in playing games or picking off one or two issues that would be convenient to them and would ruin the rest, I'm simply not interested in that whatsoever."

So party political self-interest is good enough for the future of Scotland, but not the future of Britain as a whole?

Not a good start to Scottish affairs.


Julie said...

yes, have flicked through the photos and come to the sad conclusion that there is no tottie at Holyrood; the kind of chap i'm looking for tends to be along these lines http://www.alexander-the-great.co.uk/images/rory_mccann_2.jpg

Ted Harvey said...

Your posting is heartening in-that it demonstrates how we are still very much in devolution-as-a-process mode for the foreseeable future. We are also in a genuine period of flux and potential – there are no certain right answers on several important aspects of our system and potential system. (Of course, I say that because I have not yet figured out all the right answers).

I sympathise with your point about anything that frees up the awful thuggery of the Whips. However, I have to counter that with my past experience of pretty appalling and reactionary intentions of individual local authority councillors being brought to account and halted by only the actions of the internal party Whipping. I know that that sounds hardly credible but it does reflect my experience.

There again I do warm to your point about how the diverse (and diverging?) avenues into MSP positions might mitigate the worse excess of local pork barrel politics.

I’m also increasingly intrigued by what are the seemingly increasingly marginalised Westminster MPs are going to do in all of this in Scotland? For Scottish Labour I think the unthinking numpty loyalists among them are sleepwalking into a self-inflicted disaster on their Government’s betrayal with the re-start of the nuclear power station building programme.

These MPs are going to be increasingly adrift; playing supporting roles to the pro-nuclear policy that is to be played out in England, meantime Scottish opinion will probably remain hugely opposed if the Westminster establishment cannot be bothered to do anything about this, given that they won’t be building any stations in Scotland. All of this will further highlight their increasing detachment from what ‘is really going on in Scottish politics’.

The whole Labour spin scenario on nuclear has been very predictable following Westminster’s decision. First, someone woke up Des Brown to make another of his inane insults to the Scottish electorate when he accused of Alex Salmond of ‘immature politics’ on the nuclear issue. (Brown presumably meant that Salmond was being ‘immature’ in reflecting overwhelming Scottish popular opinion on the issue). The next predictable step is for that other nuclear promoter, Tom Harris Glasgow Labour MP, to come out with some Westminster-centric statement on the matter.