Thursday, 30 October 2008

Presidential Election 2008 - Prediction Time!

Well, I am going to be away next week so I thought I would put my neck on the line and predict how the states are going to go in the Presidential election.

My Prediction is Obama to win by 375-163. This is a high prediction and I will explain the States that may prove me wrong at the end.

My Predictions
Alabama - R
Alaska - R
Arizona - R
Arkansas - R
California - D
Colorado - D
Connecticut - D
Delaware - D
District of Columbia - D
Florida - D
Georgia - R
Hawaii - D
Idaho - R
Illinois - D
Indiana - D
Iowa - D
Kansas - R
Louisiana - R
Maine - D
Maryland - D
Massachusetts - D
Michigan - D
Minnesota - D
Mississippi - R
Missouri - D
Montana - R
Nebraska - R
Nevada - D
New Hampshire - D
New Jersey - D
New Mexico - D
New York - D
North Carolina - D
North Dakota - R
Ohio - D
Oklahoma - R
Oregon - D
Pennsylvania - D
Rhode Island - D
South Carolina - R
South Dakota - R
Tennessee - R
Texas - R
Utah - R
Vermont - D
Virginia - D
Washington - D
West Virginia - R
Wisconsin - D
Wyoming - D

Potential Mistakes

This is an optimistic prediction in that I have gone with most of the Toss-Up States (using CNN and Congressional Quarterly as guides) going for Obama - this could be a tricky one with Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina in particular.

Indiana has a long Republican history, but I think that Obama can win it due to his home state being next door and the support of prominant natives of the Hoosier State such as Evan Bayh.

Polling indicates a 2 point lead for McCain in Missouri, however the state is almost infallible in voting with the national winner, so I think this lead will be erased - it's within the margin of error anyway.

North Carolina is probably the biggest risk - it has a long-standing Republican tradition, although on a State level, Democrats hold the Governor's office and 7 of the 13 House Seats. I think that it will be swept up in the Obama fever sweeping the nation, along with seeing a big turn-out from its African American population, and will vote for the Democratic Party nominee - this would be a massive coup for Obama.

Interestingly, there are a couple of States (North Dakota and Montana) which are listed as toss-ups (and with polling indicating a lead for Obama in ND) but which I have placed in the Republican column. Although these States are definitely in play, and potential support for Libertarian candidate Bob Barr may eat into McCain's support in a Nader-esque type manner, I expect both to stick with their Republican leanings.

So, there are my thoughts, I am interested to see the predictions of others - take a risk and guess how the States will fall.

And then come back post-election and laugh at how wrong my predictions were... =)

Conviction Politics

This is the kind of leadership that you want to see from a politician:

Nice punch from the Czech PM - obviously big John Prescott has been hiring himself out as a consultant to leaders of other countries!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Battle of the Bulges

So the MSPs have given a good doing to the journalists of Scotland, both figuratively and literally.

I refer of course to the Battle of (Little) Hampden; the Rumble in the (Mount Florida) jungle; the Slaying of Wee Chick (honest, I support St Mirren and my visceral dislike of Celtic has nothing to do with my support for the Gers) Young. (

Now, I've played football with John Park MSP before, and he is not one to take prisoners. Interestingly, in our game (at Scottish Labour conference, Young Labour vs the Elected Reps) it was me who carried out the 'mis-timed' tackle on Mr Park, so maybe it is actually my fault for teaching him new techiniques! (For the record, the reps won 6-1, with me getting our consolation goal. In our defence, we weren't beaten by a bunch of unfit politicians - most of their team should have been playing for Young Labour!)

The fundamental problem is that the match-up of John Park, rooted in the environs of Rosyth, against Chick Young who has been softened by years of the high life on license-payers money, has only one inevitable outcome. Chick Young was never going to come out on top, and is lucky that he is still alive to write complaints about it in the media!

On a final note, the article in the Herald reads like a who's who of the hard core element of the Scottish Labour Party - Park, Redmond, McAveety, Kelly. OK, to be fair Cllr Paul Kelly is a friend of mine and isn't really that hard, but it bodes well for his political career that he is in with such Labour luminaries. Well done Paul! Certainly, it is a clear sign that the Scottish Labour Party shouldn't be messed with - not if you want to retain full use of your limbs anyway...

Monday, 27 October 2008

Scottish Conservatives?

Had a lunch with a good friend on Thursday who always provokes stimulating discussion. We rambled through a variety of topics, most of which I fully intend to plagiarise for this blog, but one topic that's had me thinking all weekend is the Scottish Conservatives.

Now, I'm not a member of that political party so it may seem a bit strange for me to be discussing the role that they can play in Scottish politics, but I am first and foremost a democrat and democracy works best with a range of viewpoints contributing to the political discussion. I think Scotland needs a strong centre-right perspective in order to best develop policies which can take the country forward - the wider the debate the better the conclusions.

If you listened to the media then you could be forgiven for thinking that Scotland is a completely left-wing country with no expression of right-wing politics anywhere. This impression has been sustained by the dominance of the Labour Party over the past half century, and the recent advent of the SNP who, at least on a surface level (and in specific parts of the country) bill themselves as a centre-left party. Indeed, out of 129 MSPs only 17 come from a recognisable centre-right perspective. Hardly prime ground for the success of a party going against the political consensus.

But this picture doesn't reflect the situation accurately. In much of Scotland - Dumfries & Galloway, the Borders, Edinburgh and the Lothians - there is a significant proportion of the population who hold conservative viewpoints. Within living memory (well, admittedly not my living memory, but it's not completely lost in the mists of history quite yet), the Conservatives were the dominant party in Scotland, with MPs across the country, including industrial urban hubs such as Glasgow.

The biggest problem the Conservatives face is that they are seen as being Thatcherites Who Attack The Scots. I apologise for the crude acronym that this makes, but it is a word that I have heard being applied to them on numerous occasions. Part of Cameron's resurgence has been that people in England have really started to forget Thatcher, and indeed in some cases here rehabilitation has commenced. Not so in Scotland. She possesses a part of the Scottish psyche, a loathing which will not be dropped for many many years - if indeed ever. One only has to look at the feelings that are still held about Edward I or 'Butcher' Cumberland to see that Scots are willing to hold grudges for centuries, even when people haven't actually read the history behind it. The Scottish Conservatives possess a popular leader and some competent MSPs, but they are still seen as Thatcher's weans. This is a major hurdle to try and overcome.

Talk has been made of trying to rename the party in order to escape its history, but this would be unsuccessful and a mistake. Unsuccessful because the public are not so daft that they would be tricked into thinking its a different party, and a mistake because they would be cutting off a long and proud history which may present the roots of a recovery in Scotland.

Because they have been making a recovery. With the continuing dwindling of the Scottish Lib Dems, who appear to be sliding into obscurity, and the struggle of the smaller parties to regain the ground they lost at the 2007 Parliamentary elections, the Conservatives are the main alternative to the SNP and Labour in Scotland. In fact, they are the only major party who are outlining significantly different policy visions for Scotland - their problem is that people don't necessarily like these policies. But still, difference is a selling point in politics, particularly when your main opponets are the governments in Holyrood and Westminster.

The other crucial area for the Conservatives is that they are the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party - this provides them with the opportunity to try and become the 'Defenders of the Union' in the ongoing constitutional wrangles. Labour can argue that it really presents the best defence of the union (I'm still not convinced that Cameron wouldn't sacrifice it if he felt it would assist him) but there is a strong tendency towards separation bubbling below the surface amongst elements of the party - it would only take a Conservative administration at Westminster to see more calls for independence from some Labour members. The Conservatives don't really have this issue and so can claim undivided loyalty to the Union as a selling point.

Underpinning all this has to be a return to a key part of Conservative, and indeed conservative, political policy - pragmatism. For in many ways Thatcherism was a revolution in Conservative history, an upheaval which was not necessarily welcomed by all of the party's members. Thatcherism was a major ideological approach to politics, rooted in a view of the world and a desire to reshape it according to that view. Conservatives for decades had prided themselves as pretty much being above the petty mess of ideology - they were rather rooted in a desire to see the world continue to function successfully. A return to a proper pragmatism could be popular with the public - I don't mean the 'pragmatism' of the Lib Dems, which can at best appear indecisive and at worst fencesitting in the extreme - but rather a principled pragmatism based on a consistent ethic of small government, devolution of power from the centre to the community and empowerment of individuals. This could appeal to a part of the Scottish identity and stand in contrast to much of the consensus which exists at present. Would it see a Conservative administration at Holyrood? Unlikely, however it would see the Conservatives playing an even stronger role in the devolved establishment and a clear representation of a consistent element of Scottish public thought.

The Scottish Parliament needs debate and disagreement - the people of Scotland deserve it. They may not be quite ready for it yet, but the Conservatives are a part of this process - the question is whether they can deliver and break away from the legacy of Thatcher.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Scotland's Shame

I watched Girls Behind Bars last night, a programme which has been following some of the inmates in Cornton Vale, Scotland's female prison. Quite frankly the whole programme has been completely depressing if informative, with the almost inevitable reoffending; the ease of access to drugs within the prison; and the lack of any sort of hope for the inmates upon release clearly showing how damaged and failing our prison service is.

But last night's sickened me beyond even those failures.

One of the key stories in the episode was about a girl from Aberdeen who was in the prison due to the crime of trying to kill herself. In public. We, as a society had witnessed that she obviously had serious issues and decided that the best course of action was to lock her in a prison.

I think it was Mother Theresa of Calcutta who said that you can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable, and this is a stunning indictment of our failure.

This girl should not be in prison. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she is need of serious counselling support and therapeutic intervention - and yes, given the seriousness of her situation and self-harm (which was at levels that were terrifying) possibly to be taken into a controlled environment for her own safety while she received support. But to throw her into a prison, with only the half-hearted attempts of a psychiatrist to intervene is criminal - if she was to successfully kill herself in that situation then we as a state would be an accomplice to the act.

The prison guards who had to watch her 24 hours a day and who repeatedly had to remove ligatures from the girl commented on the fact that they knew they should be shocked by the self-harm they were observing, but that they had become immune to it since they see so much of it in their job. How can any support be given to individuals such as this if the very staff, who are not trained for that role anyway, have had their emotional responses deadened and blunted.

We complain about the levels of our prison population, and yet we seem to do little to deal with the epidemic of self-harm and mental illness that is rampant in our prison system. We complain that drugs is the root to the majority of the crime that inmates are in for, and yet drugs are commonplace, easily accessible for the inmates - in fact, some of them become hooked for the first time in prison, cementing their place in the criminal justice system.

And some inmates reoffend in order to get back into prison, where they are safe and surrounded with friends. We offer these inmates no hope and no support when they leave the prison at the end (or long before the end) of their sentences. Being tossed out of a prison where there is access to TV and creature comforts in the rooms; where there is support from friends; where is the comfort of routine; into some hellish bedsit not fit for habitation with no job or prospects - it is quite frankly a miracle if anyone manages to stay off drugs or avoid reoffending in such a situation.

The prison system needs to be reformed, drastically. We need a complete review of the current approach to sentencing, removing imprisonment from crimes where it is not a suitable response. We need to increase funding for counselling services in the prison system, for both inmates and staff in order to support them and try and deal with some of the issues which may contribute to antisocial behaviour. We need to crack down on the dealers of drugs, implementing strict punishments which reflect the parasitical nature of these criminals and their role in damaging society.

As a society we are failing those who need our support and creating problems for ourselves. We need to change this system so that people can escape it rather then be thrown away, lost forever with the daemons of their own past. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime - it's great rhetoric, but we need to see some action to back it up.

Surely he isn't that stupid...

I refer of course to George Osbourne, Shadow Chancellor in Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition. I don't agree with the guy, but surely he couldn't have been so stupid as to solicit donations from a Russian billionaire.

Could he...?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Devolution's Test...

Getting a bit nippy between Holyrood and Westminster, isn't it!

I mean, we've had the fun fighting since the SNP came to power - it was inevitable under any situation where there were different parties in control, and has been heightened by Salmond's bombast and the need of a minority Government to use rhetoric to keep itself in power. Heck, let's be honest and impartial - it's also been used by a majority Government in Westminster to keep itself in power, often with greater desperation.

The public have pretty much enjoyed this. It's fun to see a Scottish Government 'sticking up for us' even if we don't actually know what it is they are doing. It's making a change from the 'business as usual' of the first two SPs, and keeps political commentators in employment.

Things have changed now though - it's all got a bit serious. Suddenly major Scottish banks are in trouble, the UK economy is hurtling (or at least trickling - never sounds as impressive though) towards recession and the world is on the edge of the abyss. And other apocalyptic signs of poor journalism which fill our media sources like some sort of Biblical plague inflicted on the modern world.

Now, we want our politicians to be, well, politicians. Y'know - boring, serious, dedicated and understanding of the concepts that we as the public do not want to bother with. We don't really have time for the playground politics which parties normally engage in.

Of course, this doesn't stop them from happening. We had a wonderful moment, the kind you tell your grandkids about (poor Baby Cooke hasn't even been born yet and I'm planning the next gen!) where the parties agreed. There was an awkward moment where they all sat round looking at each other with nothing to say, unable to be pleased about their consensus but also scared to break the silence.

Luckily the break came. Not entirely sure who is responsible - I'll leave everyone to make their own partisan accusations - but politics sparked back into life. "We completely support the decision but...", "This is not the time for party politics, however..." et cetera et cetera.

The apocalypse hasn't come, normality has been resumed.

But whilst I love this witty banter as much as the next man/woman/child/animal/inanimate object, it has to be kept under control in the current climate. The public are looking to their politicians to deliver, and are vaguely aware that we're probably in this mess in the first place because of them. Petty arguing between Holyrood and Westminster does neither the Union nor the cause for independence any credit - it instead leads to the situation of a curse on both their houses.

It is important, nay vital, that Holyrood and Westminster, and the different political parties, argue and debate and propose the best ways forward. But now is not the time for name calling and face pulling. Those delights can be saved for the future - for now, we're all in this together.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

We're Pregnant! =)

Yep, Baby Cooke can be announced to the world! Cat and I are ecstatically happy at the news, can't wait to welcome the bambino/a when it arrives - due for April 29th. Which isn't far away at all! *Gulp*

Had the scan yesterday at the Princess Royal Maternity Unit at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen to witness Baby Cooke doing somersaults and waving to the camera - a natural born entertainer if ever I've seen one! =)

The Rock of Stability

I thought Gordon Brown was great in his press conference yesterday morning.

Two caveats before I proceed. Firstly, I am a fan of Gordon Brown, so admit to not being impartial. Secondly, this whole credit crunch/squeeze/armageddon malarky is rather beyond my basic grasp of economics (which essentially amounts to knowing that 100p=£1) - he therefore could have been talking complete cobblers but it sounded good to me.

Actually, my second caveat contains two crucial observations about the credit crisis (amazing how these things randomly occur!). Firstly, public understanding of the whole situation borders on the non-existent I believe. We, Joe Public, are aware that there is something going on that is 'not good' and that we are likely to be forced to bear the brunt of any mistakes that other people have made. We see the sackings of banking staff (and if we are honest don't cry ourselves to sleep over it) and the collapse of 'financial institutions' (what does that mean - are they banks or not?) which we are lucky if we've ever heard the name of, let alone have money in. So we worry about what the post-apocalyptic future will look like until we are then told that commodity prices will fall due to the crunch...that's a good thing isn't it? It's very confusing.

The second point is that the key issue of Gordon Brown's dramatic intervention wasn't really the actions he took or the money he invested, although they have a vital role to play in freeing up credit and lending. No, what was key was restoring confidence in the markets, making the financial experts feel that it was safe for them to keep doing whatever it is that they do.

The rescue of the global economy from this mess is psychological in nature. What is needed, and what the global bounce in stockmarkets is indicating worked (at least for just now), is a collective feel good factor, which helps everyone be confident enough about spending and lending. I found it hard to believe how much human psychological fraility comes into play in the global economic market - I had believed the free market rhetoric about the 'invisible hand' and the dog-eat-dog nature of economics, accepting that markets were run according to strict principles of profit and loss, supply and demand with no space for human considerations (hence the problems with exploitation etc).

But this is wrong. Economics is rooted in human confidence and fear, panic and herd mentality. I'm not quite sure whether this reassures me or terrifies me.

Certainly changes need to be made. GB reassured the financial sector that bonuses wouldn't be outlawed - this was probably the root of the immediate bounce in the FTSE. Fine, I don't have a problem with bonuses rewarding hard work and success. But bonuses for when you muck up? The head of Lehman Brothers got millions of $ for destroying his company - I would have done that for a fraction of the price! If I fail in my job, I get sacked and get nothing. Should be the same rules for the Execs I'm afraid - not much of a free market if there are not punishments for failure alongside the numerous rewards for success. The current situation with failure not being a problem mean that the incentives for risk taking are overwhelming - you wouldn't think twice about taking said risks - and I think we are seeing where that kinda behaviour gets us.

So we the taxpayers of the UK are major stakeholders in RBS, HBOS and Lloyds - lets make sure that we are now the ones who get 'value' for our money. This has been a brave and bold intervention by GB, one which if successful may be a root back from the abyss in which he and the Party have been living in. We just need to make sure that the rock of stability doesn't turn out to be a 'Northern' one...

Friday, 10 October 2008

Power to Protect

Reform Scotland, an independent think tank, yesterday launched a new report called Power to Protect, which explores recommendations for reforming Scotland's justice system in order to make it function more efficiently and successfully. The report is available at and I highly recommend it for a read.

It makes some interesting proposals which are argued would improve the workings of the Scottish Justice system, most notably by scrapping sentences under 3 months and by making Procurator Fiscals directly electable by the public, both of which have provoked a response from the media and political commentators.

I personally think that there is much to the report which is to be welcomed and seriously considered. The criminal justice system in Scotland is creaking under the weight of imprisonments, with the prison estate incredibly overcrowded - currently there is an average daily prison population of 7,376 despite the fact that the design capacity of the prison estate is only 6,400 (Power to Protect, p.18). It is obvious that changes need to be made - we cannot fit any more prisoners into the system and new planned prisons in Addiewell and Bishopbriggs will only try and bring it towards parity rather than solving the problem. Kenny MacAskill, the SNP Justice Minister, has already had to concede that prisoners may have to be released early if anything caused a reduction in the prison capacity, a situtation which is a potential disaster in the making, and which strongly undermines public confidence in the justice system.

Part of the problem with the system is that we don't seem to know what purpose our prisons serve. Are they institutions of punishment, rehabilitation or protection for society? Currently it can be argued that their purpose is very muddled - mostly punishment with some unconvincing protection thrown in. Rehabilitation goes out the window when it comes to overcrowded prisons, and is further compounded by short term prison sentences which leave no time for working with prisoners - instead, the time is only useful as a means for encouraging said prisoners to become further entrenched in criminal lifestyles. The main support structures which help to avoid reoffending are family, housing and employment, with rehabilitation training thrown in for good measure. A short term sentence helps to ensure the loss or alienation of the main three supports, with no training made available in the prison - the sentence becomes wasted time and wasted skills.

Scrapping short term sentences under three months would therefore make sense for both cutting the number of unnecessary prisoners and hopefully helping to contribute to avoiding reoffending. I think that this needs to also be coupled with scrapping imprisonment, as much as possible, for fine defaulters and the like - ending up in jail costs the tax payer a huge amount of money for very little return, and as stated above, makes it more likely that the offender will be drawn into other criminal behaviour. If instead the offenders had to undertake punishments which were of value to society (not watered down community service which has no meaning but rather quantifiable work which directly benefits the community who were affected by the criminal behaviour) then they would have an opportunity to sustain their support structures whilst properly repaying their 'debt' to society.

The issue of the election of Procurator Fiscals is a more contentious one, which Richard Baker from the Labour Party has condemned. He is understandably concerned about the politicisation of the service, but I think that if the system was protected from partisanship then the introduction of elections could raise the public accountability of the service. Elections would hopefully force the candidates to explain their ideas for the area in a manner which the public could understand - this isn't a dumbing down but rather an opening up of the process to the wider community. It is certainly a policy which requires consideration and an examination of the implications for the criminal justice system - the US can presumably provide case studies of the system in action.

The final aspect of the report which I want to comment on is in relation to early release. Currently prisoners on shorter term sentences (less than four years) are automatically released after serving half of their term. This is a ridiculous situation - it is not related to good behaviour or participation in educational schemes (as is the case for longer sentence prisoners) and therefore provides absolutely no motivation to prisoners to behave or engage with rehabilitation. If a crime deserves a sentence of four years, then prisoners should serve four years - anything else critically underpins any public confidence in the system and makes a mockery of society's judgement on criminal or undesirable behaviour. At the very least, early release should be directly related to behaviour in the prison and should only be accessible for certain low or no risk crimes - the time off should also still be connected into a period of legitimate community service to ensure that the person is still contributing to society for their crime. So for example, if a prisoner serving a five year sentence for a no risk crime has behaved well in prison and engaged fully with the rehabilitation services, then it may be appropriate for them to be released from prison slightly earlier. However this time would include service to the community rather than just immediate freedom, perhaps utilising new skills developed in prison which benefit society and allow the prisoner to further develop his or her abilities and experience.

Furthermore, we need to ensure that sentences are appropriate to the crime committed and the inherent risks of reoffending. I believe that crimes which are rooted in psychological conditions which are at present 'untreatable' in the sense of eliminating the offender's risk to society (i.e. sexual crimes against children, predatory sexual crimes against adults etc) must lead to the offender being removed from society in order to protect it. Short term sentences which then rely upon the ability of an overworked police force to monitor the offenders place communities in danger and are a disgrace. I am not necessarily suggesting that such crimes should involve imprisonment without release (I can hear the strangled gasps of disgust from liberals everywhere) although the idea is not without its attraction. However, there must be measures put in place which allow the correct screening of offenders and assessment of the level of threat they pose, with a recognition that if there is a legitimate threat then we must respond to it appropriately.

So, as I've said there is a lot in the report which requires attention and serious consideration (I should clarify that the last part of my post about locking up sexual offenders is my own thoughts) and I recommend a read of it. I know that some will dismiss the report as being of the right - the organisation does explore the Broken Windows theory ( in other publications, which is a criminology concept which I support, but which is rooted in the right realism school of thought. However, I think that it is important that we take the opportunity to bring together as many different approaches and thoughts on the criminal justice system as possible so that we can meet this critical problem in the best way possible. Reassessment of how the system works is a crucial job and one that we need to undertake now, before we hit a crisis which forces responses upon us.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Engaging Scotland's Ethnic Minority Communities

This is an article which I wrote for the next edition of the West Dunbartonshire CVS magazine, thought I would post it in case of interest.

At the last Census carried out in the UK (2001), Ethnic Minority (EM) people made up 2.2% of the Scottish population, a figure which has almost certainly risen in the period since. Yet this population is not adequately represented in the political structures which make decisions on its behalf. At the current time there are 11 elected representatives from traditional EM communities in Scotland – one MP (out of 56), one MSP (out of 129) and 9 councillors (out of 1222). In addition there is not an EM Member of the European Parliament for Scotland (out of seven) and never had been. All of the elected representatives are men, all of them come from either the Pakistani or Indian communities, and eight of them are from Glasgow, meaning that only four of Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities have EM representatives – cities such as Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Dundee do not have anyone.

In a research report which CEMVO Scotland is currently undertaking (to be published in early 2009), we have identified the disconnection which exists between many EM people and the democratic process. A majority of respondents to our research do not regularly vote; a tiny proportion are members of political parties or actively engage with their elected representatives; and very few have positive views of either politicians or the democratic structures of which they are members.

Lack of representation plays a key part in this disconnect. If EM members of the public view political structures as “not being open to people like them” then they will be less likely to engage with those structures or to choose to put themselves for election. By not having representatives of EM communities living in their constituencies, democratic bodies miss on out important contributions which those communities can bring to their workings and struggle to truly represent all of their constituents.

So what can be done to try and overcome this democratic deficit? More work must be carried out to increase awareness of how the democratic structures function. At CEMVO as part of the Inclusive Democracy Project we have been undertaking information sessions across the country. To date (we are in year two of a three year project funded by the Electoral Commission) we have interacted with over 1000 EM people across Scotland, working to increase their knowledge of democracy and politics and to empower them to interact in greater depth with the systems. Alongside this knowledge, it is vital that EM people are given the opportunity to meet with their elected representatives, to learn more about what their role is in making decisions on their behalf. A common complaint from the public (and one that is common to all communities, not just minority ones) is that they only hear from politicians when there is an election looming – the rest of the time they are content to hide from public view. Elected representatives must strive to increase their connections with EM communities in the areas that they are elected to serve, so that they can properly represent their interests in the relevant bodies.

Political parties have to increase their outreach work to both encourage EM people to become members, and, crucially, to encourage them to play an active role in the inner workings of the parties that they join. To attend a political party meeting for the first time can be a daunting experience for anyone – to do so in the knowledge that you are likely to be the only EM person present is doubly so. Parties must seek to demonstrate that they want EM people to be members, and to support them when they do join so that they can be as active in the party as they wish. Generally politicians are elected as members of political parties (although this is not the only way) and increasing the number of EM people who are members of political parties is one way to increase the number of elected representatives.

EM people and communities also need to be aware that elected representatives are very important. As a representative democracy, our elections in Scotland and the UK are used to choose people who make decisions affecting every aspect of our lives. If EM communities want to ensure that their priorities and voices are heard and contribute to the ongoing debates, then they must be active participants in the system. This does not just involve joining a political party or standing for election, but also includes activities such as contacting elected representatives; taking part in protests; contributing to consultations; and of course, utilising their votes when elections take place.

Participation is important for all the community, minority or otherwise, to ensure that our democratic bodies truly represent the people. By working for greater diversity, we can create vibrant structures which are open to all and which will help to contribute to stronger and more inclusive communities across our country.

The Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO) Scotland is a national intermediary organisation committed to serving the needs of Ethnic Minority communities in Scotland through a programme of social regeneration designed to enable the EM voluntary sector to become self sufficient and sustainable in the long term.

Funded by the Electoral Commission, the Inclusive Democracy Project (IDP) aims to increase knowledge of democracy amongst Scotland’s EM communities through a series of learning and outreach events. With this knowledge, EM people in Scotland will have more confidence in interacting with the democratic system and participating in it, allowing them to play a role in shaping the country’s future.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Confession of an Obama agnostic

November is looming and McCain's White House bid is failing - surely we are witnessing the end of the Bush/Republican years and the dawning of a bright new world where the Messiah leads us all into peace and prosperity?

Right, better start with a terrible confession - I'm not that fussed about Obama.

There, I've said it. Obamabots across the globe (and beyond - I believe he is the first truly intergalactic super-politician) will have collectively gasped (at exactly the same time in a slightly cultish manner) at my apostasy before returning to chanting the 99 forms of change in a hypnotic manner. It's not that I've sold out to the Dark Side and become a Republican, although I do have a lot of time for John McCain and Sarah Palin is kinda attractive in a school marm/librarian type way (although that's reason enough to vote against her - politics is meant to be reserved for us ugly folk who can't do anything else!). Nope, I wouldn't be voting for them even given the chance. And to be fair, I thought Obama's speech at the Convention was good, outlining some useful policy and fleshing out his 'change' thing a bit more.

It's just that I don't get the whole Obama=Jesus, Buddha and Tony the Tiger rolled into one. I am a Clintonista, so admit to some bias in this. But still, I struggle to see how he is quite so popular. Admittedly coming after Bush would make anyone popular but much of the other adulation seems a bit misguided. Having watched the first Presidential debate, I thought he was passable at best. McCain was terrible too, probably worse, but I thought Obama, for such a gifted speaker, was stilted and hesitant.

Will he win? Yes, barring a major terrorist incident/foreign policy crisis. Do I want him to win? Yeah, but more by default than through a deep rooted conviction that he is the best man for the job. Of course, when in post he would surround himself with talented experts who would make up for his own lack of experience. And certainly his elevation will help to repair some of the damage down to America's image over the past eight years in a manner which McCain couldn't.

But I am not convinced that it will be the Messianic arrival which so many people are expecting. He has limited experience, has done little of note in the Senate and essentially has a primetime career rooted in his speech at the Democratic Convention four years ago (don't get me wrong, it was a nice speech, but...). I've been told he's attractive but don't see it myself - but to be fair, we'd all be more worried if I did! His message is rooted in a desire for change - a very effective tool for beating Hillary in the primaries and which has helped to set the tone for the general election. However, it is still rather unclear quite what this 'change' means, other than a change from one political party to another. He is proud of his bipartisan work, which is greatly to be welcomed, especially if it can actually be sustained in office (remember when GW was all for bipartisan working?). But in reality the bipartisanship is pretty limited, with McCain having at least as good a claim to it as Obama does, if not better. So all in all, not necessarily the most impressive C.V. for becoming the most powerful man on the planet.

With an increase likely in Democratic control of both the Senate and the House, the party will have an incredibly strong chance to set the agenda and implement their policy. But in itself this will give the GOP the chance to fight back, pointing out every liberal utterance from the White House and/or Congress to remotivate a disillusioned core. This election marks a pause for breath in the ongoing fight for the US - the Republicans expect to lose so any gains will be massive shocks. Presuming the shocks are absent, President Obama will enter the White House with a chance to change his country, and by default the world. But his opponents will be waiting, and someone elevated to such a high pedestal has a greater distance to fall.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Demonising our Young People

Now, I know it's a bit strange in the early days of a new blog by a Labour member to praise a member of another political party, but hey, I'm a bit strange. So, praise where praise is due, I was impressed with Murdo Fraser, the Conservative Deputy Leader during the debate the other day in Holyrood about the SNP's alcohol proposals.

Annabel Goldie remains every non-Tory's favourite Tory (seriously everyone seems to love her, even if they don't agree with her politics - and nothing compares to her sparring with Nicola Sturgeon on QT!) but Murdo Fraser is demonstrating that he is a very able politician. He highlighted the illogical issues with the SNP's proposals, with his point about the soldier returning from active duty being unable to buy champagne to celebrate with his wife being particulalry telling.

To be fair, I don't want to overegg his abilities - the SNP proposal is so lacking in coherence that my cat was able to clearly point to the difficulties with it. We already have so many discrepancies in our system between what young people can do at 16 and 18 - adding in an additional layer of confusion (with the potential for very controversial court cases) merely makes the system even more unworkable. Off licences can obviously present a contributory factor to the alcohol problem in Scotland, but I would be surprised if, amongst young people, they are a bigger contribution than cheap booze in pubs and clubs. Furthermore, to identify young people as being the sole target implies that they are the problem, that older people do not. Of course, the highest alcohol rates seem to be amongst middle class households who can afford to purchase regular alcohol, but to pick on young people is unfair and counterproductive.

However, the SNP Government is right to highlight that it is not enough for opposition parties to merely criticise their proposals (although that is a key part of their role) but that they also need to put forward sensible alternatives. This is a key chance for the other parties, particularly my own Labour Party, to demonstrate that they have coherent and workable policies.

I believe that we need to target our young people as a key part of the strategy, but not by demonising them. Rather we need to increase education about alcohol and, crucially, education which removes the mysterious allure of alcohol for young people. It is not appropriate to just point out potential difficulties and medical issues - these not only don't put people off everytime but also appear hypocritical to young people. I like alcohol, I drink wine, beer and various other things and enjoy doing so, as do many other healthy people. Alcohol in itself is not 'bad' - it is the problems of dependency that are to be countered. Much of it is a bit of a cliche, the attitude towards alcohol on the Continent has much to recommend it. There alcohol is seen as something to be enjoyed, with children given watered down glasses of wine at early ages. This demystifies alcohol, so that is less of a sign of rebellion to be consumed in massive quantities, and more just another pleasure to be enjoyed.

But we also need to work with society in general to break alcohol's hold on many of our communities. Whilst, as I said above, alcohol can be something to be enjoyed, it is also a drug with destructive capabilities. We need to work to clarify this is the public's mind, so that they are aware of the potential hazards of alcoholic addiction. We need to work to publicise the stories of people who have had alcohol addiction, and also to publicise the resources of various charities and organisations which exist to support those who may have difficulties.

Realise that time is flying by now, so will have to head. Will try and return to this issue later - but feel free to share your thoughts with me. Alcohol is a massive problem for Scotland and this is an issue which all the parties have to discuss and overcome.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Oh Mandy...

So the Prince of Darkness has returned, the New Labour project is renewed and I hear Tony Blair is to be announced tomorrow as the new Deputy Prime Minister...

Well, let's not get too carried away. Mandy's return may be an amazing decision, one which puts us back on the road to recovery. It may be a disaster, the final straw which confirms our removal from Government. But more likely, it will be forgotten about in a week or so, a la Comrade Digby.

The point is, Mandy's return is a fantastic way for GB to claim the news headlines. We (well at least anyone who was sad enough to follow such things) had been subjected to the usual hacks who happily informed us exactly what was going to happen in this reshuffle - Gordon could not do anything to shock them. Except of course he could, and did.

Mandelson, along with Margaret Beckett's return, brings some much needed experience to the Cabinet. GB's speech to Conference was well received, and the comment about not needing a novice at this point did seem to hit some chords with the public. Election winner? No, but enough to at least reverse some of the difficulties which the Government was experiencing, demonstrating that it was possible for Labour to pull back some polling points and for the Conservatives to actively win the election rather than just waiting for us to give it to them. I applauded GB's Cabinet which he put together - the promotion of people such as Jacqui Smith to such a crucial brief was a masterstroke - however, it did leave itself open to accusations of being rather lightweight. The reshuffle today (and let's not forget that there will probably be a bigger one next year) strengthened the Cabinet's collective experience and there is no doubt that Mandy briungs some major strengths to his brief, particularly given his time in the EU. Furthermore, it demonstrates a welcome (and hopefully permanent) end to their rift and a demonstration to the public that we can work together as a party.

Of course, his appointment also brings potential pit falls. Having to resign twice from Government is hardly the pinnacle of political achievement and doesn't help alleviate allegations of sleaze on our behalf. The return of such a prominent figure from the TB years can be seen as an example of a lack of ideas in GB's Government and/or a last desperate attempt to hold on to power by using previous success. And of course it really gets the left of the Party boiling with anger!

Personally, I believe that he will be a successful Business Secretary but his arrival will not win or lose the next election. What I hope it indicates is that GB is taking the fight to the Tories, working to overcome his own rifts with some key players in the Party and putting together a strong and coherent plan for Government which will demonstrate to the people of the UK that he is the man to continue leading our country. We will have to wait and see how that pans out...

In cyberspace, no one cares if you scream...

Blogging, the last refuge of the person with too much time and not enough proper hobbies.

I've tried this malarky before, but my blogs were so sporadic that their brilliance slipped through the cracks. Well, that's what I tell myself - the reality is of course that in a super saturated environment, yet another well-meaning blog is lost in the multitude.

So why start again?

Well, I am passionate about politics, and I believe that it is important to work actively on that passion. Cyberspace provides a good opportunity to meet and debate with a number of people, some who share your views, many who disagree and an even bigger number who are just plain bonkers. I want to try and share some of my thoughts with those who might be interested, leaving myself open to challenges and disagreement in order to improve my own political knowledge and coherence.

Who am I, I hear you all asking. (Anyone?) Well, my name is Jamie Cooke and I live in God's own city of Glasgow. I work in the field of democratic education (seriously, it's more fun than it sounds! Well, for me anyway - I wouldn't want to speak on behalf of the participants!) encouraging greater knowledge and participation amongst Ethnic Minority communities in Scotland. Oh, and I'm a Labour Party activist.

Yep, the one person who is actually reading this has just given up, haven't you? Please don't go, I'm not all bad. My Labour Party activism is rooted in my desire to make the world a better place and improve chances for all - surely we can agree on the aims if not on the means? As well as being active in Labour, I am a member of the Fabian Society, the Henry Jackson Society and the Electoral Reform Society - quite an eclectic mix, I'm sure you would agree. I feel I have a broad approach to politics, believing that it is important to explore the ideas of political opponents - just because they are in a different party doesn't mean they don't have any decent ideas that I can stea...I mean implement.

My intention for this blog is to try and use it as an opportunity to talk about politics, democracy, citizenship and much much more. Of course, the devil is in the detail and it may well turn out that nobody reads/I get bored and it goes the way of so many other blogs. However, I am keen to try and stick it this time. I've chosen the title because I will try and talk a lot about Scottish politics - I believe in the Union, but I also believe that there is a lot of important work going on in Scotland which doesn't always make it into the consciousness of the Westminster Village elite. I'm sure plenty of other topics will come along (for example the US Presidency etc) but hopefully we'll manage to explore some Scottish topics.

Anyways, I should really stop typing now. If anyone does read this, feel free to say hi, introduce yourself, bookmark me or anything that may demonstrate that I am not alone in this big bad world.

Till next we meet