The House of Lords’ Select Committee examining the Barnett Formula has put its latest evidence session online, featuring Sir Brian Unwin and Lord MacGregor, the Scots-born former Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Today’s Scotland on Sunday has an interesting feature to mark the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the Poll Tax (in Scotland) on 1 April 1989. There’s also a short picture gallery of images from that period, which you can see by clicking here.
Finally, my own take on the enduring mythology surrounding the Poll Tax in Scotland is the subject of a column in today’s Scotsman.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the no-confidence debate in the House of Commons which brought down James Callaghan’s government. I have a piece on this in The Times (unfortunately not online) while BBC Parliament is devoting this evening to original coverage of the dramatic events, as well as new documentaries.
For real anoraks you can read the full Hansard record of the debate by clicking here.
BBC Parliament broadcast audio highlights of the no-confidence debate last night, including the speech by Donald Stewart, the SNP’s then Parliamentary leader, while Jim Naughtie did an excellent report on Saturday morning’s edition of Today on Radio 4.
A fascinating article in yesterday’s Observer magazine by Roy Hattersley, remembering the downfall of James Callaghan’s government 30 years ago this week. Although Hattersley is always an entertaining writer, his memory often fails him. For example, he recounts the following story:
“Plaid Cymru was safe and solid in its support. But the Scottish National party had declared political independence from the government. On the evening that their decision was announced, Donald Stewart, their genial leader, had argued with me on radio about the wisdom of trying to bring the government down. After the broadcast was over, he had bet me £5 that, in the general election which he hoped to bring about, his party would double its number of seats. Being a man of honour, he paid up within 24 hours of polling day. But he had to send my winnings through the post. Like every other SNP candidate, he had been defeated.”
Perhaps Donald Stewart did have to send Hattersley’s winnings through the post, but not because he lost his seat. In fact, Stewart remained the Western Isles’ representative in Parliament until 1987, as did Gordon Wilson in Dundee.
Today’s Observer ran a rather pedantic letter from me correcting Hattersley’s mistake…
I have an article in today’s Scotsman to coincide (roughly) with the 30th anniversary of the SNP’s 79 Group. It also features on David Maddox’s blog the Steamie. And for real political geeks, here’s the full text of Alex Salmond’s 1982 letter to the Scotsman that I quote from in the article:
Sir, – I have always been impressed by the ability of most of the regular contributors to your correspondence column to maintain a high standard of coherence in their political arguments. Unfortunately the eccentric Mr Fee – the “Blue Mole” of the SNP – does not fit into this category.
His letter of June 22 displays rather a further hotchpotch of misinformation and prejudice. No doubt Jim Sillars in 1977 argued that the SNP should not move Left in the Scotland of the 1970s when it was assumed that nationalist pressure would deliver a Scottish Assembly.
Unfortunately the “all things to all men” approach, further muddied by the voting habits on [the issues] of our Parliamentary Group, drove us to complete defeat in the class-dominated election of 1979 and continues to be irrelevant in the Scotland of the 1980s.
There is no harm in being wrong if you are prepared to learn lessons and indeed many people have allowed the force of events to alter their opinions on how the SNP can best serve the Scottish cause in the political atmosphere of 1982. Others continue to cling to the safe political nostrums which have prevented the SNP from bridging the gap between being a movement of protest and a party capable of achieving power for Scotland.
The reality of Scottish politics in 1982 amounts to the following. We face as a nation the prospect (and as George Foulkes’s letter confirms this is increasingly accepted in the Labour Party) of a Labour Scottish majority permanently isolated from power in Westminster. In these circumstances two things may happen.
First, the Labour Party itself, and this is the process argued by Messrs Foulkes, Galloway and others, could move decisively in a nationalist direction to meet the frustration of their supporters. That strategy faces formidable problems and opponents.
Secondly, the SNP could position itself to be a real alternative to Labour – not by borrowing voters as in the past, but by winning activists, shop stewards and stable political support to the Leftist nationalist programme which meets the aspirations of the majority of the Scottish people. That strategy also faces problems, not least of which is that under the influence of Mr Fee and others the party is currently running away from political reality.
It should be noted, however, that these two trends – the nationalist one in Labour and the Leftist one in the SNP – are not mutually exclusive and indeed could be of substantial benefit to each other and to Scotland.
There is the further issue which Jim Sillars has correctly brought to the SNP’s and Scotland’s attention of what will be done when Westminster says “No” to a Scottish demand for self-government whether expressed through the SNP or the Labour Party.
In these circumstances only a party willing and able to call for civil disobedience, primarily through organised labour, will be able to effectively back a democratic Scottish majority for a Parliament. At present the SNP are neither able nor willing to face that eventually while Labour are probably more able but certainly less willing.
Finally to deal directly with part of the misinformation in Mr Fee’s letter. He implies that the “settled conviction” of the SNP is an “Independence – Nothing More” approach. This is, in fact, neither settled nor the conviction of all but a minority in the party. For example even Gordon Wilson, who was set-up so expertly by Mr Fee and others to dish the Left at Ayr, is publicly declaring (STV, June 7) the SNP as “moderate Left of Centre”.
Mr Wilson’s problem, of course, is that while he has correctly defined the SNP policy position over a considerable period, most people in Scotland remain unaware of it and he seems hardly in any position now to strengthen the party’s radical image.
Nevertheless his chairman’s Leftist deviations must be a worry for Mr Fee, who will, on his destructive track record in the SNP, respond to an opposing viewpoint by conspiring to purge it from the party. In a party of one Mr Fee would indeed be king.
West Lothian SNP
News just in that Sir Nicholas Henderson, the UK’s former ambassador to the United States, has died aged 89. He was ambassador to France when, in 1979, his valedictory memo (‘Britain’s Decline; Its Causes and Consequences’) was leaked to the press, who seized upon the line about Britain being ‘the sick man of Europe’. The full report was declassified in 2006 and can be read at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website.
The Daily Telegraph, quick off the mark as ever, also has an obituary online.
I was amused to see George Younger’s name taken in vein in Iain Gray’s speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference on Friday:
“When I was elected leader I contrasted my story with Alex Salmond’s. Both Scottish, but our stories different. I studied science in the centre of the Scottish enlightenment. He studied economics in the centre of Scottish monetarism. I taught children in a council scheme and then in Mozambique. My Minister was Graca Machel – now Graca Mandela. He worked in the Scottish Office as an economist. His minister was George Younger.”
Gray’s argument seems to be guilt by association, the implication that Salmond is both a monetarist and a Tory on the basis that he attended St Andrews University (where he was a Nationalist, not a free-marketeer like Michael Forsyth) and worked at the Scottish Office (where he was an impartial civil servant).
The Scottish Labour leader also repeated the old myth about the SNP “ushering in” 18 years of Thatcherism by voting against Callaghan’s government in the 1979 no-confidence motion. Clearly, the then Labour government’s record had nothing to do with it!
A very good report on today’s Scotland Today (it’s about 14-and-a-half minutes in) by my colleague Jamie Livingstone to mark 25 years since the beginning of the Miners’ Strike. Excellent archive and very balanced.
Two interesting obituaries of the civil servant Sir Michael Quinlan in the Independent (complete with my two cents’ worth) and the Daily Telegraph. Although better known as a defence specialist – he was permanent under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence in the late 1980s, Sir Michael was also one of a team of civil servants who handled devolution at the Constitution Unit (under Michael Foot) in the 1970s.