Friday, July 27, 2007

University as Lobbyist

Those who, like RRR, have an interest in the Caledonian MacBrayne tendering issue should have a look at this blog, section headed "The EC-subsidised private lobbyists".

Having read the "academic" report in question, RRR would have gone much further in his condemnation of the so-called Professor who, in exchange for the 40-pieces-of-silver, evidently was happy to sell to private shipping concerns the last remaining vestige of any intellectual respectability he may once have commanded. As far as RRR is concerned, those undertaking such crass political lobbying from within a Scottish University are guilty bringing the academic profession as a whole into disrepute and do not deserve the title of "academic" far less that of professor.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ring the Changes...

RRR was delighted to learn yesterday that Professor David Bell of the University of Stirling has been confirmed as adviser to the Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament. This is, to be sure, a first rate appointment. As our regular readers will understand, RRR is equally pleased that - in this publicly funded capacity at least - Red Midwinter has been kicked into the long grass from where, no doubt, he will continue his role as adviser to the West of Scotland's Anti-Democracy Party.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fishing for a fight

OK - he's been in Brussels, he's met the EU Fisheries Commissioner and already Groanar Brankin is baying for his blood. His crime? That is to insist that Scotland takes the lead on behalf of the UK in future Council of Ministers sessions dealing with the Common Fisheries Policy. Outrageous, screeches Groanar by way of measured response. She continues:

"The UK coastline is shared between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland - all with major fishing industries. So the notion that Scotland should have the sole right to speak for the UK on fisheries matters is fanciful nonsense."

In fact it is Groanar who, in her unseemly though entirely predictable haste once again to pounce on the elected government of Jockland with all the elegance and grace of an elephant wearing wellies, is getting this wrong - possibly because she has never had any reason to read what the relevant concordats actually say (well, much easier to be told by London), far less that what it was that Ecky actually said last evening.

On the latter, it is clear that Ecky was seeking the right to 'lead' the UK delegation at the aforementioned Council, not be a substitute for it. And under Article 203 of the EU Treaty this is pefectly permissable - this Article having been inserted by the Maastricht treaty revision back in 1993 to placate the irritated (and more mature than Groana) German Lander who were seeing their legislative powers gravitate to Bonn as more and more devolved competences came under EU policy activity.

On the more esoteric issue of the procedures elaborated in the 1999 Memorandum of Understanding to ensure Scotland's EU-policy related voice is heard in Whitehall when UK Government is shaping the national negotiating position viv-a-vis an EU proposal it will represent in the Council of Ministers, Articles B4.12 to B4.15 clearly provide for attendance by Ministers from the devolved administrations at these Council meetings. But here control matters - not rights - in that the decision as to who appears where and when in EU Council meetings rests entirely with UK Government. Scotland's Ministers with responsibility for the devolved matters under EU-level discussion have to be 'invited' to attend the EU Council meeting by the lead UK Department (Minister) on a case-by-case basis. They have no right of attendance. This seems to RRR the imperious language of a by-gone era. Surely it is entirely wrong that the decision as to when a Minister from the Scottish Executive attends EU Council meetings rests solely with Whitehall? It must be for the Scottish Executive to rank EU-related issues according to their domestic importance, and attend when s/he decides this is necessary? After all, I can't imagine there will be an excessive enthusiasm for enduring hours of multi-lingual debate unless the matter is a pressing one. BMI is unlikely to profit much from that particular gravy-train!

Ms Brankin clearly is from the old one-party-state school of thought, of which the established doctrine is that "whatever you do, do nothing". Heavans, even Donald Dewar accepted that the inter-governmental arrangements involving the governments of this Queendom would have to be adapted to suit new challenges and different contexts. We have new challenges and we are in a different context: and there is an urgent need to re-visit these EU-related concordats in order that Scotland's voice is properly heard in the corridors of Whitehall and the EU Council in Brussels. If not, then it won't be a case of Ecky picking fights with London, but rather the Bailiff's London team picking fights with Ecky. After recent head-to-heads, and on present form, not a smart move Bailiff.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Passchendale blues

Tomorrow Queenie Brenda Windsor will travel to Ypres where she will form part of an international gathering to mark the 90th anniversary of the third battle of Ypres – more popularly known as the battle of Passchendale. She will be accompanied at this event by representatives of the devolved administrations. Oor Eck is already in Brussels wining and dining with the EU's big Commissioner boys and girls in readiness for the day when he rules the roost in an independent Scotland. And as a consequence of Rhodri M’s unfortunate health blip, the devolved Welsh government will be represented at the commemorations by the newly sworn-in deputy first minister of the Assembly and leader of Plaid Cymru, Ieuan Wyn Jones. RRR is unsure if Northern Ireland will be represented at the event – though if so then Brenda might well find herself accompanied by a Scottish nationalist, a Welsh nationalist, and quite possibly a former leading light in the provisional IRA. As Ollie might be heard to muse on the vagaries of constitutional reform...“that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into Mr Blair.” All of this to be followed next week by a meeting of the British-Irish Council...strange, though interesting, days.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Bondbloke and I are somewhat peeved to discover that we are sharing our hotel for the last couple of days of our mixed work/holiday stay in Malta with an EPP-ED Study Day on EuroMed, Maritime Policy and Immigration. Admittedly the former two headings are not areas of European politics where I could legitimately claim to have more expertise than most MEPs, although I am supervising a thesis which is empirically, if not theoretically, focused on the Euro-Med. However, what peeves us most is that we have just returned to our room to find a card from the hotel management pushed under the door, informing us that our normal breakfast restaurant is unavailable for the next three days (this only affects us tomorrow as we are away early on Thursday). Ordinary hotel guests are going to find their buffet breakfast served in a smaller restaurant, which doesn't open out straight onto the pool terrace, and is infinitely less pleasant for breakfast. If we can't have our breakfast outside under a nice umbrella tomorrow morning, toys may be thrown... European politicians...who'd have 'em in the same hotel?

Always check your sources...

With the creation of a raft of new Ministers for the (English) Regions, it is becoming fairly clear that Bailiff Brown is determined to review (and revise) the basis of the current intra-UK financial allocations to the devolved administrations. Just how he goes about this is unclear, although it is likely to be based on a UK-wide ‘needs assessment’ exercise. Despite the fact that we know from past experience that this type of computation is bedevilled by methodological difficulties, even those with no political axe to grind are coming to regard Barnett’s demise as inevitable – e.g. see here.

Developing a successor to Barnett will require clear thinking concerning the economic and the politics involved – the type of approach that is hardly apparent in this astonishing rant by President Bruce in today’s Herald. Have the Liberal Democrats lost their collective marbles entirely? But my favourite bit in the piece is the quote attributed to (right wing historian) Arthur Herman by a smug President Bruce where Herman opines:

"By surrendering her sovereignty the first time in 1707, Scotland gained more than she lost. She has to be careful that, in trying to reclaim that sovereignty, she does not reverse that process."

This the same Arthur Herman whose book on Joseph McCarthy published in 2000 was somewhat critically reviewed by Ellen Schrecker in the following terms:

"For the work under review, the European historian Arthur Herman did not gain access to any important new archives or uncover any new aspects of McCarthy's past. On the contrary, his research is perfunctory, to say the least. With a few excursions into some Army files and oral history interviews, he relies almost entirely on the standard published sources. There is nothing new here-and more (I assume) sloppy factual errors than a reputable piece of scholarship should contain...But, sloppiness is hardly a cardinal sin. Far more unsettling is Herman's misuse of his sources...Rather than scholarship (or at least adequate scholarship), this volume seems to be an exhaustive attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of "America's Most Hated Senator," as the book's subtitle describes him."
Ouch...Read the remainder of the review here. Quite - let's just switch "McCarthy" with "Union"...RRR would suggest that President Bruce checks out the credibility of his sources before citing them as self-evident truth. As EH Carr said, if you want to understand history first you have to understand the historian!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fanfare for the common (wo)man

Before the news broke about the horrific attack on Glasgow airport, RRR spent a pleasant, if somewhat damp, day enjoying the festivities that surrounded the opening of the third session of the Scottish Parliament. In part as a diversion from the rain, RRR decided to rank our political parties on a ‘mingling index’ according to which their score is determined by the number of a party’s politicians (relative to their overall parliamentary representation) spied mingling in the worsening weather with the great Scottish public in preference to partaking in the various ‘official’ receptions which were available indoors! The highest score by far was achieved by the governing party, with many SNP’s MSPs (including those occupying the very highest office) opting to brave the increasingly inclement elements and enjoy the entertainment on offer outside the Parliament building. While the Liberal Democrats’ score was buttressed by what seemed to be hordes of young Stephens, nonetheless the timely appearance of Cpt. Mainwaring did much to lift them into fourth place behind the Tories (3rd) and the Greens (2nd) – the latter managing to have a staggering 50% of their elected number out and about (Mr. Harvie – Patrick, that is. Sadly RRR's 'law of small numbers' denied the Greens top spot - they'll understand). Labour came in a lowly fifth as RRR saw just one member of the Labour opposition taking the outdoor air, and he didn’t look too happy (must have been the weather…). On the individual rankings RRR’s highest score – a perfect 10 – goes to Rob Gibson, MSP. For Robi G not only braved the hostile elements for the entire afternoon, he remained out there in front of the stage supporting the entertainers as the rain lashed down and men and women of lesser mettle (RRR included) huddled some distance away sheltering under the Parliament’s protruding roof. And this stunning performance comes only a week after the same Robi G had been spied by RRR stoically braving the even more miserable weather (not to mention mud) to take in much of the splendid music (though criminally high refreshment prices) on offer at the Outsider Festival in Aviemore. Well done Robi G!