Beware what you wish for when casting your tactical vote

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AT THE 1992 General Election I recall casting a tactical vote for the first time, putting a cross against Donald Gorrie of the LibDems’ in Edinburgh West. However, another decent man, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton clung on for the Tories.

I’ve never written about my voting record before for the same reason I eschewed carrying any party card; I saw no reason, as a journalist, to carry a hostage to fortune, but before 1992 I voted Labour. In 1997 my second tactical Gorrie vote was successful and helped Scotland become a Tory-free zone.

So I am not here to cry foul at the new wave of Unionist tactical voting against the SNP which is now evident from the polls. It’s a legitimate, democratic tactic (although, frankly, odd in council polls when schools and bin collection are subsumed into the constitutional question).

So if you are a true blue Tory and staunch Unionist, have at it. And if you are someone who has voted Labour or LibDem previously but is up for giving Nicola Sturgeon a bloody nose, that is your right.

All I ask is that you please think first, not just about what you will be symbolically voting against,  but what you will actually be voting for.

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Don’t take the word of a socialist who’s in favour of independence. Read the words of journalist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris. For those of you behind the Times pay wall I include a couple of extracts.

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And later:

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Sure, a vote for the Tories will be a blow to the SNP, but they’ll  still have a clear majority of Scots seats at Westminster and their Holyrood mandate. And you? You’ll have another regressive UK Government, more privatisation, further war on the poor, and brutal payback for upstart Scotland. Enjoy.

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NHS Improvement, an oxymoron

NHSII RECALL conversations with Labour friends during 2014 who were critical of the Yes side playing the NHS card during the independence debate.

They argued that it was dishonest because health was already fully devolved and therefore irrelevant to the Yes/No question. I disagreed, arguing that as NHS funding was squeezed South of the Border this would come back to haunt Scotland through reduced Barnett consequentials, assuming that the Barnett formula even survived the backlash after a No vote.

Well, as we say in these parts: “Ye ken noo.” Segue forward three years and look at the state of the NHS  in England — a recurring car crash on a weekly and monthly basis. I sometimes thank providence for the unwon battle for a Scottish Six, for it is only by receiving our daily fix of London-centric BBC news that we are reminded what a mess the Health Service is in South of the Border. Imagine if the only news we were getting was Opposition carping at Holyrood devoid of the relative picture of NHS crisis elsewhere on this island?

And so to today’s toxic news courtesy of The Times that the English body and comedy gold oxymoron, NHS Improvement has detected a “golden opportunity” to borrow £10 billion from hedge funds. Shall I repeat that? Borrow £10 billion from hedge funds. It’s as if the saga of PFI has been sent down Winston Smith’s memory hole.

The story says this would be spent on a hospital repairs backlog and improved GP care. The Treasury may or may not approve this, but if it goes through it would constitute health spending in England which will bring no consequential funding to Scotland. It will accelerate the slide towards the Scottish system being coerced towards the ultimate goal of the US healthcare model.

Negotiating the corridors of power

Negotiating the corridors of power

RECENTLY I got involved in a Twitter debate, one of the joys of social media.

Kevin Williamson, doyen of Leith socialists, asked, not unreasonably in my view: “What do SNP loyalists have to say about ScotGovt decision to allow foreign tax dodgers & shadowy offshore corporations to own Scottish land?”

I tweeted agreement with his sentiments and then mountain man Cameron McNeish offered a counter-view, saying: “It’s a lost opportunity but don’t necessarily blame #ScotGov Blame the lawyers and civil servants?”

At which point I weighed in: “That’s a wee bit of a cop-out. Ministers heading for a 3rd term ought to have learned to stand up to them.”

All good natured stuff, but as the debate continued, with some saying it was wrong to blame the Sir Humphreys and others indicating hope that a long game was being played by Ministers, I got a private message.

This led to a chat over coffee which I admit gave me pause for thought. How did any of us know, across the whole field of Scottish Government activity, the level of interaction between Ministers and civil servants?

If, for example, a Minister decided to reject legal advice and proceed with a course of action, we might never know. If Government lawyers were sent away and told to come up with alternative advice, we might never hear of it.

In short there will be be all manner of negotiation going on in the corridors of power between civil servants and politicians, of which we remain unaware. Sure, at times the former may be more cautious than the latter, but it certainly isn’t as simplistic as wily Sir Humphreys pulling the wool over the eyes of naive Jim Hackers.

Of course if this is true, the buck really does stop with the Ministers.

A successful search for Willie McIllvanney

A successful search for Willie McIllvanney

I RETURNED from my regular morning walk with an added spring in my step today, thanks to the recently departed Willie McIllvanney.
He was a regular visitor to The Scotsman features department when I worked there in the eighties and always the most fantastic company. He was generous, broad-minded, full of anecdotes that didn’t centre on himself. What is the opposite of bumptious? Not just unbumptious but actively anti-bumptious. That was Willie, holding court, but modestly. That cliche of the thriller blurbs was apposite: “Women want him. Men want to be him.”
I didn’t have that much contact with Willie over the next decades, brushing briefly during the occasional literary/political interface. But to know him and his wonderful, smooth malt voice — even through broadcasts such as the re-run of a beautiful  Janice Forsyth interview this week — was to think you were close, a tangible link with the word on the page.
His politics — non-partisan socialist and supportive of independence — were mine too, but the beauty of Willie and evident in his passing was that you did not have to share his views to admire him as a writer and a man.
The evidence was there in the wake of his death at the weekend, when writers as diverse as Alex Massie and Kevin McKenna united in magnificent tribute.
So why the spring in my step mentioned above? His passing made me realise that while I had read all of his novels I had never read his poetry, an omission I thought to put right. On my morning walk I dropped into the Oxfam bookshop in Stockbridge and there was In Through the Head, his 1988 collection of new and collected verse.
I open my new purchase, read: Love’s counterfeits are endless and a bore. I’m in.