Beware what you wish for when casting your tactical vote


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.


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.

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 response to IS which doesn’t simply dig a deeper hole

A response to IS which doesn’t simply dig a deeper hole

I HAVE put off writing about the slaughter in Paris for two reasons. The first was a sincere wish to spare the world another of those “our hearts go out” or “we are all Parisians now” expressions of maudlin self-importance.
The other involved grave personal uncertainty about the appropriate response. And by that I mean military response. As I made clear in a previous post I’m no pacifist. I just like the fights carried out in my name to be justified and intelligent; to have more than a “shock and awe” entry strategy but an endgame which leaves the world a better place than when we intervened.
Or, to put it in President Obama’s sage words this week: “It’s best if we don’t shoot first and aim later.” OK, that’s a wee bit rich for a commander-in-chief whose forces recently bombed a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Afghanistan, but you get the idea.
The Islamist-Fascists of IS have, I believe, clearly declared war on ordinary citizens of nations they deem to be Christian or Jewish or atheist or generally hedonist. Since the latter two categories  affect me, I have started to thinking.
Clearly there can be no Western “boots on the ground” as the presence of “Crusaders” would be welcomed by Islamists. But as the MSF hospital bombing shows precision targeting can be anything but.
So limited bombing and drone strikes may play a part but can do only so much against a shifting enemy using guerrilla tactics, and must be conducted as air support of the enemies of IS on the ground, particularly the Kurds. Can pressure be applied to Turkey to stop attacking our best allies on the ground in Syria and Northern Iraq? As for economic weaponry, I commend Ian Bell today.

UN Security Council membership won’t feed bairns or keep pensioners warm

UN Security Council membership won’t feed bairns or keep pensioners warm

IS JIM Murphy the last man standing in defending the 2003 invasion of Iraq , now that the joint architect of the Bush-Blair policy has begun to back-pedal furiously as Chilcott finally looms?
A recent New Statesman article by Murphy made clear that he is once again urging British military intervention in the region, offering the startling revelation that he now thinks he should have resigned as Shadow Defence Secretary in August 2013 when Labour voted against UK air strikes in Syria.
The nub of his article is the following passage: “I respect conscientious objectors and the Quaker traditions . . . but conscientious objection isn’t a legitimate posture for a P5 nation in the face of Isis ferocity.”
There is one irritating condescension there and one disturbing corollary.  The “I respect conshies” line assumes that those who are concerned about military action are principled but useless idiots. In fact I am no conshie but I objected to the Iraq war on strategic and tactical grounds — fake pretexts for going in and a dismal lack of agreed goals which might have given us an exit strategy which did not leave behind desolation and increased misery for those on the ground.
The same applies to Syria now. We need clear goals and action compliant with international law. Above all, we need a realistic endgame, particularly given Russian involvement in the arena.
But look again at the nub of Murphy’s argument, the bit concerning “a legitimate posture for a P5 nation.” He obviously puts immense store on Britain’s status as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, regardless of what this may cost.
It’s what drives us to increasingly unaffordable Trident replacement and an absurd aircraft carrier programme, but coveted P5 membership won’t feed bairns or keep pensioners warm.