Monday, 31 March 2008

Johann Hari is right-ish

A good article by Johann Hari in The Independent today, outlining why electoral reform is needed, but highlighting why AV would not be the solution.

Although the article doesn't mention STV as one possible solution, Hari's preferred option is the AV+ system recommended by Roy Jenkins. While far from perfect, this would certainly be a lot preferable to pure AV.

Wendy the turkey threatens to vote for early Christmas

I see that Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander is making noises about putting forward a motion of no confidence in the Gnat administration's local income tax policy.

The trouble is that this is just empty posturing. Alexander knows it's quite likely that if a new election to the Scottish Parliament was held any time soon, it would almost certainly mean the Gnats increasing their tally and Labour going even further backwards. I also suspect the Lib Dems would improve a bit, while the Tories would probably stay roughly where they are.

If Wendy Alexander really believes that her leadership of Scottish Labour deserves a perfect 10 out of 10, she's deluding herself. Labour has been all over the place in its opposition to the Gnats, and time after time it's been Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen who's been leading the fight against the Gnats, while also being prepared to work positively on areas where there is common ground, such as abolition of the council tax.

Making empty threats about such things as a vote of no confidence is not the way to convince people that Wendy really does have a clue about how to lead her party.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

A Trojan horse, not a gift horse

There has been some debate on Lib Dem Voice about the merits of the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections, in response to Labour's kite flying on the subject earlier this week.

Some Lib Dems think that a move to AV would be a welcome first step towards proper reform, namely the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote.

Before people glaze over completely, I should stress that the issue is not one of principle, but tactics to achieve reform. For Lib Dems, the principle is one of fair votes, with voters being given the maximum possible choice and having their preferences broadly reflected in the make-up of the legislature. This is why the vast majority of Lib Dems support STV, as the best means of achieving those goals.

The question is whether the introduction of AV would be a step along the road to STV or not. In my view, supporting the introduction of AV would undermine the case for STV and would be a retrograde step in itself.

Let's be clear about this: AV is not a proportional system. Indeed, as the Jenkins Commission highlighted a few years ago, it can be even less proportional than first past the post. Labour would almost certainly have had bigger majorities in both 1997 and 2001. And given the problems which Labour had at the time, I think it's quite likely that the Tories would have had bigger majorities in both 1979 and 1983, and possibly 1987 as well.

I don't understand why some Lib Dems think it's worthwhile swapping one non-proportional system for another, especially when the proposed solution is in some respects worse. The argument is that AV would get people used to preferential voting, that it would result in greater Lib Dem representation and power and thus break open the door to further reform.

I think this argument is dangerous nonsense. Firstly, while AV would indeed be likely to result in more lib Dem MPs, that's certainly not guaranteed. Even if it did, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Lib Dems would be in a position to force further reform. Would we really have had more power with increased Labour majorities in 1997 and 2001?

I also think that accepting AV would kill any demand for subsequent electoral reform, resulting in any move to STV being delayed for at least a generation and perhaps longer. Would my fellow Lib Dems really want to see another non-proportional system for maybe 50 or 60 years?

In Scotland we now have STV for local government, and it's also been in use in Northern Ireland for decades. In both countries it works well (and the evidence last May in Scotland was that people coped significantly better with STV for local government than they did the additional member proportional system for the Scottish Parliament).

Why add yet another electoral system to the many we already have (FPTP would be retained for local government in England and Wales, AMS for the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, party lists for Europe, STV in Northern Ireland and Scottish local government, supplementary votes for mayoral elections)?

The Lib Dems must make the case loud and clear that STV is the only system which comes in any way close to achieving our objective of fair votes. Accepting AV would be a move down a blind alley. As I've already said in the members-only section of Lib Dem Voice, it looks more like a Trojan Horse than a gift horse.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

My policy on comments

Following yesterday's minor controversy, I thought it might be helpful to outline my own policy on blog comments.

As this is my blog, I reserve the right to control what appears on here, which is why I have comment moderation enabled. However, as far as I am concerned, almost anything goes.

The only reason I would refuse to allow a comment on this blog is if it is inciting hatred against a particular person or group of people, or if it is extremely offensive. Thus far, I have not had to stop anything from going on the blog on that basis. Indeed, the only time I have failed to allow a comment through was when there was a duplicate posting of a mildly abusive comment towards myself - I decided people didn't need to read that twice.

As I believe that free, open and honest debate is important, I accept that sometimes that means people will express themselves in a robust fashion, so feel free to let me know that you think I'm talking bollocks. However, the more that postings tend towards contentless abuse, the more likely it is that I will post a sarky response praising your maturity or bravery. I will have far more respect for your opinion if you can provide reasoned arguments than if you just resort to abuse.

I also don't have a problem with anonymous comments. However, I do wonder at the mentality of those who feel the need to hid behind anonymity, especially when it is so easy to supply a name. The name could be anyone: I'm not going to know who you are if you call yourself Tom, Dick or Harry. What's the problem in supplying a name?

It might occasionally be the case that comments take a bit of time to appear, especially if I don't blog for a few days. However, I do try and deal with all comments at the earliest opportunity. You also have my pledge that once a comment appears, there are no circumstances under which I will withdraw it.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Bob Shaw and censorship

Over on the House of Cards, Bob Shaw is making a complete idiot of himself.

He's put up this posting about the Catholic Church's opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, which is stupid enough in itself. Comparing the Church's opposition to a particular bit of legislation with the Nazis' abolition of democracy in Germany is utterly ridiculous and many people would find it offensive.

If you go there now, you will see that there are two comments: one from me making this point, and a reply from Bob thanking me for taking the time to comment.

What you will not see is the fact that earlier on there were a total of six comments. Bob's original reply to my comment was to tell me to grow up. My reply to this was to say that the person who needed to grow up was the one making facile comparisons between the Nazis and the Catholic Church. Bob then asked whether I was really that dumb and accused me of play-acting worthy of a place on the stage. In a subsequent comment, he also asked whether I was a Catholic. My reply to this was to tell him to learn to read, as I'd clearly stated in my original comment that I had no religious affiliation. I concluded this posting by asking who looked dumb now.

For reasons best known to himself, presumably to try and make himself look less moronic, Bob has now decided to censor these comments.

Did you really think, Bob, that I wouldn't notice that you'd removed those comments? And did you think it would be all OK, that I wouldn't respond in any way?

Bob Shaw, your views on the Catholic Church's opposition to the HFE bill are ridiculous and by censoring the comments, you've proved what an illiberal idiot you are.

Out of sight, out of their minds?

There is an activity which is perfectly legal but has a proven ill effect on people's health. While its incidence has been reduced in recent years, more still needs to be done to stop people taking up the habit. In particular, stopping youngsters from taking it up must be a top priority and the temptation for them must be removed by taking it out of public display.

I am of course referring to New Labourism, in particular media appearances by ministers such as Nanny-in-Chief Dawn Primarolo. Her appearance on Radio Five Live this morning to justify the Government's ridiculous idea of banning the public display of cigarettes certainly had the effect of raising my blood pressure by several points. I think I also set a new world record for the five-minute swearing at a radio event.

I'm not a smoker, but listening to her almost made me want to start. She was saying that the idea of banning the public display of cigarettes would help to remove temptation from youngsters to start smoking. I don't know what planet Primarolo is on (is there a planet called Condescension?) but absolutely nobody starts smoking just because they can see cigarettes on sale in a shop.

This idea is wrong for so many reasons. Here's just a few of them:

1) It will be ineffective. Nobody will stop smoking as a result of not being able to see cigarettes on sale.
2) There will be a significant cost implication for retailers, particularly smaller ones.
3) While the smoking ban in public premises could be justified on the grounds of the harm which passive smoking can do, there is absolutely no such thing as passing viewing.
4) People start smoking largely due to peer pressure or because of the supposed glamorous image of smoking. This will do nothing to address that.
5) If we're going to ban the public display of cigarettes because of their harmful effect on health, why not also ban the public display of alcohol? Indeed, Primarolo was asked this question on Radio Five Live but couldn't give a coherent answer.
6) Extending the last principle, should we also ban the public display of chocolate on the grounds it causes obesity? Or of non-free range meat on the grounds of animal welfare? Why not also peanuts because of their effect on people with a nut allergy?
7) If this came into effect, I suspect there would be an increase in cigarette smuggling and/or black market cigarette dealing.
8) If banning things is the solution, why not just go the whole hog and ban smoking entirely?

It's unbelievable that anyone could think this was a potential solution to the problem of stopping people from starting smoking. The sooner we ban public utterances by New Labour ministers, the better off we will all be.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Gnats admit Lib Dems are doing well

I see that the Gnats are trumpeting some analysis of local government by-elections which they claim would result in more seats for them if repeated at a Holyrood election.

But what is most noteworthy about their figures is that they show the Scottish Lib Dems would be the most improved party in the Scottish Parliament, up five seats from 16 to 21. I wonder whether this means we would retake Gordon from one A Salmond?

I am delighted that even the Gnats are recognising that we're providing the most effective opposition to their string of broken promises.

Friday, 21 March 2008

More on the Gurkhas

Following my posting the other day about the Gurkhas' fight for justice, I was interested to read this piece by another Bernard.

Gnats lose it on booze

More evidence that the Gnats don't have a clue how to tackle Scotland's booze culture.

Following on from justice minister Kenny MacAskill's belief that shoving up taxes on booze will somehow solve the problem of binge drinking comes news that public health minister Shona Robison is considering increasing the age at which alcohol can be legally bought.

This is simply daft. Scotland already has a problem with thousands of under-age people buying drink every single week. Increasing the alcohol buying age from 18 to 21 will just make this problem worse, not better. Indeed, those aged 18-21 are likely to binge drink even more as a result, as they'd be denied access to pubs and would instead be drinking on the streets or at home, as many teenagers do already.

This is another example of the Gnats wanting to penalise everyone, in order to be seen to be acting tough on a problem which they don't actually have any real idea how to solve.

Not only would increasing the age for buying booze be ineffective, it's also unnecessary. Legislation already exists to take the licence to sell booze away from anyone found guilty of supplying alcohol to under-age people. Enforcing that properly would be a start, but that might mean the Gnats having to take action, rather than just thinking up gimmicks which won't solve the problem anyway.

And we ought to recognise that this obsession with under-age drinking can make us lose sight of the real problem: encouraging people to drink responsibly. At any age, including teenagers, you can find people who can drink sensibly while others just get out of it whenever they can.

Encouraging a responsible attitude to drinking requires a cultural shift which will take decades to achieve, but it is the only realistic way in which Scotland's binge drinking problem can be tackled. Gimmicks like raising the alcohol buying age are an irrelevant distraction.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Justice for the Gurkhas

I was delighted to see yesterday's protest by the Gurkhas, demanding equal rights with others who have served in this country's armed forces.

These are people who have loyally served this country for many years, and many of them made the ultimate sacrifice by laying down their lives for the UK. All they're wanting is to be treated the same as many of their colleagues in the armed forces, with equal pension rights and the right to settle in this country if they so desire.

Anyone who knows anything about the Gurkhas knows that they are loyal, brave, committed and entrepreneurial (anywhere that the Gurkhas are based is likely to see several decent Nepalese restaurants springing up). These are exactly the sort of people we should be welcoming to this country.

The Government's position on this is simply indefensible. To say that because the Gurkhas were based in Hong Kong prior to 1997, people who retired before then are not entitled to equal rights is bizarre. They may have been based in Hong Kong, but they were serving THIS country. Can anyone else think of another nation which allows people to serve in its armed forces, but doesn't give them the right to settle in the country?

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was absolutely right to say that the Government's position is immoral. I just hope that yesterday's protest will help ensure justice for the Gurkhas soon.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Nats attack local democracy again

I see that the Scottish Government has called in an application by Asda to build a new supermarket in Inverness. This was backed overwhelmingly by councillors in Inverness, although two of my Lib Dem colleagues opposed the plan.

This follows on from the calling in of the Trump golf and housing development and the SNP's proposals for a nationally-set rate of income tax to fund local council spending, thereby removing all local accountability for spending decisions.

The conclusion has to be that for the SNP government, local democracy is at best an inconvenient nuisance. At worst, it is something to be removed entirely.

The Daily Express: an apology

I am sorry, but I wouldn't wipe my bum with the Daily Express.

But now that the paper's got the hang of this apology lark, how about saying sorry for boring us all silly with its endless (inaccurate) stories about the death of Princess Diana? Here's a hint: she wasn't wearing a seatbelt in a car being driven at 70mph by a drunk driver. End of story.

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