Saturday, 25 October 2014

JoLa - A Farewell Tribute

I don't reckon Dolly Parton takes all that much interest in Scottish politics, but if she did her reaction to Johann Lamont's departure as manager of Labour's Scottish branch office might go something like this. Those of a musical bent who know the tune are welcome to sing it heartily.

JoLa, JoLa, JoLa, JoLa
I’m begging of you, please don’t step aside
JoLa, JoLa, JoLa, JoLa
Stay and watch your party’s prospects slide

Succeeding hapless Iain Gray
You thought they’d let you have your way
But that’s not in their DNA

They used you as a junior clerk
For policies out of the Ark
Dictated from Jurassic Park

It surely must have got your goat
Transcribing on a Post-It Note
The devo plans that Ed Balls wrote

Your face on Newsnight turning blue
Explaining what those powers would do
But you never had the slightest clue

JoLa, JoLa, JoLa, JoLa
I’m begging of you, please don’t walk the plank
JoLa, JoLa, JoLa, JoLa
Stay and watch those polling numbers tank

Though you were just a marionette
Your attributes we’ll not forget
In nightmares drenched with icy sweat

Your overblown debating skills
Your filthy looks that gave us chills
Your leaden jokes, like poison pills

Your stunning lack of bonhomie,
Your hatred of the SNP,
Your weird insistence things were wee

Your constant tinny little sneer
Dismissing hope and spreading fear
As Tories gathered round to cheer

JoLa, JoLa, JoLa, JoLa
I’m begging of you, don’t call it a day
JoLa, JoLa, JoLa, JoLa...

Stay and watch while we make Labour pay.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Forces Of EVEL

What a superb week it’s been in the Mother of Parliaments, as long as you’re enthused by buttock-clenchingly awful puns and not too concerned about democracy. The buzz-word on everyone’s lips was EVEL, the stench of which filled the House of Commons on Tuesday. But, as our imperial masters’ exchanges steadily eroded listeners’ will to live, it was an open question whether it really was a pun, or simply stood for “Egotistical Vultures Endlessly Lying”.

The debate was supposed to be about Scotland, but just for a laugh economy-sized Speaker John Bercow invented a new school rule that banned everyone from actually using the word “Scotland”, on pain of being forced to do gym in their underpants. This didn’t bother 90% of the participants, who weren’t planning to venture anywhere near the S-word, preferring to stick to self-righteous whining on behalf of constituents they ordinarily despise. However, it utterly discombobulated the embattled enclave of SNP MPs, who found their attempts to haul the discussion back on topic constantly smothered by pompous put-downs from the chair.

The three authors of the notorious Vow – that is, the guys who were happy for the Daily Record to print any old plop in their name as long as it was written on authentically scabby-looking parchment - were absent on snivelling coward duties elsewhere. So it was left to the Government’s one-man public address system, Wee Willie Hague, to announce in booming tones that new powers for Scotland would definitely arrive on schedule. Or maybe that was the 15:10 Trans-Pennine service from Wakefield, it was hard to tell.  Anyway, this is a bloke who once wore a back-to-front baseball cap and boasted about sinking 14 pints in a half-arsed attempt to look cool, so who fancies relying on that sort of judgement?

Not Gordon Brown, that’s for sure. Aghast at the public’s growing realisation that his planet-sized brain occupied a thumbnail-sized universe, and having been taken for an absolute mug by David Cameron, he was in full fidgeting and fuming mode. Still, you couldn’t help but feel he was focusing less on constitutional innovation than on panic-button damage limitation, now that Dave’s new-found fascination with curtailing Scottish MPs’ voting rights was threatening to rip the Labour Party’s knitting permanently to shreds. (It’s touching that Gordy thinks the Scottish public will be daft enough to vote for Labour in the first place, but I’m buggered if I’m going to be the one to tell him otherwise.)

Elsewhere in the chamber, MPs’ reaction to the Vow was as if they’d just opened the fridge and found a giant rat smirking at them. “Not in our name,” they spluttered, inconveniently for the Three Stooges and predictably for everyone else over the age of five. The Smith Commission cement mixer can chunter away as noisily as it likes, but its end results will still have to face the wrecking ball of Parliamentary scrutiny. Oh, and planning permission may have to wait while MPs fart about with a decades-long project to turn the UK into a federal paradise half of them don’t want, so don’t get yer hopes up, Jock.

Of course, advocates of “English votes for English laws” do have a point, as long as you can work out what an “English law” is without your cerebellum bursting like a clapped-out sofa. The West Lothian Question may have broken loose from the attic at a spectacularly inconvenient time, but it’s a serious constitutional issue. SNP MPs, uniquely, acknowledge this by voluntarily abstaining from votes that don’t concern them, which is why we never hear their views on the regulation of toad-sexing in Dorset.

At the risk of being inundated with furious tweets from constitutional experts with nothing better to do, I’d say that most sentient beings accept that the Question has three possible answers. The first, to abolish Holyrood entirely and line George Square with tanks to keep the peace, is probably a non-starter, though I’m sure Call Kaye could come up with several punters who think it’s a tremendous idea.

The second is devo-max bursting out all over, with all parts of Britain enjoying more autonomy and Westminster’s responsibilities strictly limited to defence, foreign policy and, er, belisha beacon maintenance around Whitehall. Sorry, I must have been inhaling my screen wipes again, that’s a pipe dream. 800 unemployable peers scraping a living as the world’s most exquisitely attired buskers? Civil service mandarins forced to move to areas where their neighbours might keep whippets? London property prices collapsing to merely extortionate? Never gonna happen to the UK, and by the same token never to Scotland either.

There is (ahem) a third possible answer, and I know it’s irritating for self-appointed commentators who’d like its advocates to get back in their boxes so they can apply padlocks. Independence is off the table for the moment, although, with odds shortening on the parliamentary Conservative Party morphing into a terminally Eurosceptic Tory-UKIP coalition, that may soon change. However, and I’m sure John Redwood, Vulcan ambassador to the Court of St James, would agree with me, as an answer to the West Lothian Question it’s perfectly logical.

In that light, you can see why the powers-that-be within the UK broadcasting cartel want to exclude Nicola from their General Election debates. She’d probably talk the other participants around to the idea in no time.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Cacophony of Cant

Fed up with the effin’ Tories, scunnered with scumbag Labour or pissed off with pusillanimous Lib Dems?  Hard cheese, viewers in Scotland. In the aftermath of the referendum, not only do the winners get to write history, but they’re given carte blanche to plaster their version all over your TV screens till your eyeballs spontaneously combust.

Unless you’re Mystic Meg, it’s tricky to write a topical blog without subjecting yourself to the occasional news broadcast, so watching the conference season is a necessary evil, which you survive by gritting your teeth and paying close attention to your booze-hangover balance. This year, however, with flag-waving triumphalism accompanying the usual cacophony of cant, it’s required the patience of Job not to hurl the telly down the nearest mineshaft.

How much more palatable the Labour jamboree might have been if we ordinary punters had been granted Ed’s magic powers of forgetfulness! As it was, we sat squirming as the faithful, oblivious to their looming “cost-of-lying crisis” in Scotland, gleefully rang the bells for their heroes returning from the battlefield.

Smirkers-in-chief included Alistair Darling, displaying all the magnanimity of a wasp with a bad case of piles, Jim Murphy, soon to publish his self-help book on surviving the trauma of everyday stains, and Douglas Alexander, still several voice-coaching sessions away from sounding as authoritative as his big sister. Just out of camera-shot, Johann Lamont struggled to get through security as the knives in her back kept setting off the metal detector. Meanwhile, on the positive side, we rejoiced in the disappearance of world saviour Gordon Brown, who had swept off aboard his chariots of wrath in search of a petition to hijack.

But there was still plenty to delight masochists, as Ed Balls pledged to maintain the Tories’ welfare cap, albeit with a more compassionate face, or at least as compassionate as his mad staring eyes would allow. A 91-year-old firebrand’s passionate defence of the NHS moved delegates to tears, which, for those who during the referendum campaign had denied it needed defending, should have been tears of shame. And dear deluded Margaret Curran undertook to discover how to regain the trust of Yes voters in the Labour heartlands.  Hi there, Mags, my suggestion would be, “Leave public life forever and take that ragbag of charlatans with you.”

Of course, as soon as Ed Balls started photocopying the Tories’ policies, it merely encouraged them to go further. The Tory conference was hard-core “We’re the Nasty Party, live with it” viewing all the way from the opening ceremony, which featured the creepily enigmatic Grant Shapps and serried ranks of Stepford ideologues in Union Jack T-shirts, to the finish, when David Cameron thrilled his audience with deficit reduction plans based on, ooh guess what, squeezing the poor. The only thing missing was Kenny Everett rushing on stage wearing a pair of giant hands and yelling, “Let’s bomb Russia!”

Ruth Davidson, who spent the conference grinning as if she’d bitten into a sandwich laced with Evo-Stik, was singled out as the new star in the firmament, eligible to be applauded even by old buffers without the slightest clue who she was. Immediately embraced as one of the family, she was awarded the place of honour next to SamCam as Dave romped through his keynote list of unfunded hand-outs to the middle class.

Sadly for Ruth, it’s unlikely the love will prove to be unconditional. Thanks to Dave’s bizarre impression that voting No means Scotland is full of embryonic Tories, welcoming the Osborne austerity agenda like turkeys writing letters to Santa, he’s now expecting her to work miracles at the 2015 General Election. When she inevitably disappoints him, he’ll have no option but to abandon her in a pub somewhere. The hallmark of the Tories is, after all, Ruthlessness.

But these days the party isn’t motivated solely by the urge to give Big Issue sellers a kicking and toss bricks to drowning people. An increasingly influential driving force, nibbling away at what passes for its soul, is dread of the relentless advance of UKIP.  Defecting MPs and councillors can always be replaced, since the well-spring of power-crazy numbskulls never runs dry, but once moneybags donors start jumping ship you’ve got a real crisis on your hands.  If some of the conference rhetoric seemed especially shrill this year, it may have been an attempt to divert the audience’s attention from the sound of Nigel Farage sawing away at the floorboards beneath them.

The policy arms race with UKIP is beginning to produce some spectacular collateral damage. A glaring example is the European Convention on Human Rights, good enough for Winston Churchill but not, apparently, addle-brained pipsqueak Chris Grayling. 

Grayling and his fellow hooligans are dismissing the ECHR as meddling frippery because it threatens to stop us handing people we don’t like over to torturers. But don’t fret, chattering classes, because when we unplug ourselves from that namby-pamby nonsense we’ll have our own British Bill of Rights! It’ll be drawn up by Daily Mail journalists in their spare time, beginning with “the right to shut up and applaud everything the Government does, until it’s your turn to be arrested”.

And so, with a heavy sigh, to the Liberal Democrats, unless since I started this post they’ve had an outbreak of honesty and renamed themselves “The Useful Idiot Party”.  Where the Tory conference came across as a resounding trumpet voluntary, the Lib Dem one was more like a comb-and-tissue-paper rendition of We’ll Meet Again, although in their hearts they know we won’t.

So, no tittering missus, here’s the Lib Dem case for the defence. For the last four-and-a-half years they’ve been driving a getaway car for a masked gang carrying bulging sacks marked “Loot”, and they’ve just become aware that these people may be thieves. Since they’ve never broken the speed limit or parked on a double yellow line, they reckon they're a moderating influence, and we should throw up our hands in gratitude and let them have the ignition keys for another five years. Oh, and depending on how things pan out they may suddenly decide to work for a different gang, but that’s none of our business.

As we considered whether "wasting voters' time" should be made a criminal offence, the post-indyref claptrap brigade came out in force: Alistair Carmichael, the “bruiser” who’s really his mammy’s big tumfy, administering a “stern rebuke” to Nicola Sturgeon for not ruling out independence for eternity; the waspish (and still is) Malcolm Bruce, comparing the Salmond administration to the Soviet politburo; and the gossamer-thin reality grip of Paddy Ashdown, classifying the SNP alongside various fascist, extremist or looney-tunes outfits in Europe.

But somehow this didn’t matter, for as they burbled on you could sense their imminent irrelevance, as if they’d taken a gulp of helium before speaking and their voices had gone all tinny and gurgly. This was a party enjoying a last picnic on the railway line, in blissful denial about the InterCity 125 of electoral oblivion hurtling towards them.

Less widely reported than any of the above, partly through their own choice but partly because their name contains a word that brings the BBC out in a nasty rash, was the gathering last Saturday of Women for Independence. 1,000 of its members packed out St Matthew’s Church in Perth more comprehensively than had been witnessed in decades of Sundays, and by all accounts had a whale of a time sharing experiences, floating ideas and laying plans.

Could this be the future? A forum where participation takes precedence over stage-management?  More concerned with changing things in future than name-calling about the past? Driven by hope, not fear, career advancement or competitive mania? Composed of individuals, not delegates, and with a thousand personal visions rather than one stifling party line? Not seeking power, just striving to improve things for the better?

Nah, it’ll never catch on, surely.  Will it?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Political Rehab

Guest post by Gary Baldi, a first-time blogger -  I do suspect that's a pseudonym, though - who I think should consider writing more often!

Those of you concentrating really hard may be aware that the Liberal Democrats are currently convening in Glasgow, in an appropriately well-protected shelter that goes by the name of the Armadillo.  They appear bullish about their electoral prospects, declaring that it’s up to the voters whether they form the next coalition with Labour or with the Tories. Presumably their manifesto is going to contain two different what-if scenarios, or perhaps they’ll dispense with it altogether and just sell lottery tickets.

Observers of opinion polls take a somewhat less optimistic stance, viewing Lib Dem MPs not as versatile political operators with a gentle hand on the helm of history, but as an endangered species, singing one last sweet but sad refrain before obliteration.

Such an outcome will, of course, be a mere career blip for the party’s high heid yins, such as Messrs Clegg, Cable and Alexander, established as they are on the gilded path to ermine goons, a well-upholstered red bench and a lifelong attendance allowance. But what about departing MPs of more modest talents, whatever colour their rosettes may be? There simply aren’t enough whelk stalls in existence for them to take over and drive out of business, so what’s their route to rejoining polite society?

For the answer, you’re welcome to join me on a visit to my state-of-the-art Political Rehab Clinic, tucked away in a delightful rural setting reminiscent of a People’s Friend calendar. We’ll have to make it a virtual tour, I’m afraid, unless you’d prefer to be blindfolded and drugged by our state-of-the-art taxi drivers.  We can’t take the risk of the electorate discovering its location and turning up in force with pitchforks and firebrands.

After an initial sluicing to remove residual oiliness, arriving ex-MPs are ushered into an echo chamber, to be educated out of needing to have the last word. Usually they adjust, if only through fatigue, within a few days. In the case of more persistent motor-mouths, sedatives may be administered. There’s also an emergency procedure known as the “George Galloway option” where the candidate is enclosed in a thick roll of carpet, taken to a nearby empty house and left to knock himself senseless in the inevitable fist fight.

Frequently subjects are unaware that, with the loss of Parliamentary privilege, ordinary laws apply to them once more. In extreme cases they may plummet from upper-storey windows under the misconception that they can still defy gravity. Our next de-programming step, therefore, is to put them through a gauntlet of Metropolitan Police officers, who periodically shove them to the ground, hit them with riot shields and prevent them from leaving the area for several hours. We tend to find that, after a few episodes of that, they know their place pretty sharpish.

Specialised highly expensive treatments are available depending on a candidate’s political history. Opposition politicians, used to simply slagging off the Government no matter what it does, are offered a brain transplant. Government politicians, accustomed to ramming their measures through no matter what the human cost, qualify for a heart transplant. Those eternally stuck in the middle, including the hapless Lib Dems, get an implant of courage to combat their feelings of uselessness and irrelevance. Of course, it’s all a pack of lies and we’re really just fooling everyone with hypnosis, but we should be OK as long as no-one notices we stole the whole idea from The Wizard of Oz.

Finally, and crucially, a team of orthodontists is on hand to wire our patients’ jaws shut. Sorry, but we simply have to stop them smiling at all costs. In fact this will probably happen automatically when they realise the days of 11% annual pay increases are over, but it’s best to err on the safe side.

It would be wonderful to be able to say that alumni of our clinic go on to play useful roles in the community. Though we do perform a valuable service that in my opinion deserves adulation and massive financial rewards, we’re not miracle workers, so that remains a distant aspiration. But all is not lost. In another part of our complex we’ve created the ideal work environment to keep these poor unimaginative drones occupied for the rest of their lives: a production line manufacturing huge numbers of baseball bats.

What do we need all the baseball bats for? Join me soon, and I’ll take you on a tour of our fabulous new treatment centre for bankers.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Beyond September

Even though the grass refuses to stop growing and my unprotected pate is sizzling gently in the Perthshire sun, I discover to my alarm that it’s the first of October.  It seems only fleeting moments ago that I started this blog, yet already here I am past the first part of its title, with an ocean of possibilities stretching into the vast Beyond.

Time, therefore, to consider my own response to the huge question occupying Yes supporters the length and breadth of the land.  Where do we go from here?

First and foremost, as if you hadn’t already guessed, this blog will be continuing. All the other bloggers on the indyref scene seem to be hanging in there, and several enviably energetic and eloquent new voices are also kicking down the door, so it would be crazy of me to leave the party now.

I’m even keeping the To September And Beyond title. I’d hate to confuse my faithful and growing readership by suddenly switching to another name and, more to the point, can’t currently coax my brain into formulating anything better. Of course, if the independence referendum that inevitably results from the Cameron/Farage junta yanking us out of the EU in 2017 is held in a month other than September, all bets are off.

It’s an impossible dream for this titchy wee blog to emulate the “market leaders” such as Wings, Wee Ginger Dug, Bateman and the rest, but I’d like at least to make a start down that path by updating it more frequently.  Naturally, this will be impossible for me on my own, given my inability to write the simplest of sentences without chiselling away at the words for hours as if I’m Auguste bloody Rodin.

So I’d like to issue a general invitation to bloggers out there, especially if you don’t have a site of your own, to contribute guest posts to fill the gaps whenever I’m helpless in the grip of creative angst. They don’t have to be humorous (especially if your jokes are better than mine), but it would be handy if they were readable without too much editing, and about, or with a slant on, Scottish politics. 

I can’t promise to publish all submissions, because (a) I may unexpectedly get swamped, (b) anything offensive, actionable, illegal or unhinged will have to go in the bin, and (c) I’m a complete control freak.  Those caveats apart, I’ll do my best, and if I can’t find a place for something I’ll see if anyone else I know can.  You’ll not receive any payment other than kudos, and the occasional brickbat if you’re unlucky, but then neither do I.

If you’d like to send me something, just drop a line to william_duguid [at], replacing the [at] with @ when you mail.  Or you can just copy and paste the e-mail address from the top right-hand corner of the blog! 

Now, something else important.

There’s a lot of discussion going on at the moment, as the grand panjandrums of the Yes movement figure out how best to enhance our “media presence”, about sharing and co-operation.  Newsnet Scotland, who made their own content freely available to all-comers in the run-up to the referendum, waxed lyrical about this on Monday in an article that gave a tantalising glimpse of the future.

That sounds a pretty neat idea, so in response I’d like to state, quite explicitly, that anyone is welcome to reproduce the posts on this blog without seeking advance permission from me.  (That includes guest posts, so be warned, aspiring scribblers!)  All I ask is that you credit the blog as your source and, if you possibly can, let me know when you’ve done it, so that I can Tweet the blazes out of it.  Hey, I’m a self-promoter at heart, not a total altruist!

Oh, and if anybody involved with plans for a brilliant new media platform needs any help or contributions from middle-aged fat blokes, yoo-hoo, I’m right here!  I’ll wear my bright yellow Yestival shirt through the winter so that you can find me in the fog.

That’s about yer lot, readers, apart from one or two surprises I’m hoping to inflict on you in the next few weeks, which are so secret even I don’t know about them yet.  Now I’m off to boak my way through BBC iPlayer coverage of the Tory party conference, about which I expect to unleash a rant some time before the end of the week.  After an extended session of word-chiselling, of course.

Ocean of possibilities, here we come.  Inflatable armbands at the ready!