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Yes, our system favours the established parties. But it is not invulnerable to change. This could be the start of a breakthrough.

When you leave a political party to which you have remained faithful for the whole of your adult life, and set out to form a new grouping, you have no idea what is going to happen.

Many observers of the departure of seven MPs from the Labour Party say that because the Social Democratic Party, founded in March 1981, failed to win the 1983 general election, the new grouping must be doomed to failure.

And it is certainly true that under our electoral system, new parties find it very difficult to establish themselves. The last to do so at Westminster is Labour, its rise assisted by the split from 1916 in the Liberals.

But that is not quite the end of the argument. In recent years, UKIP has failed to establish itself as a party of government, but it did force the Conservatives to promise a referendum on EU membership. The No vote in that referendum has destabilised both main parties, and may well have created the conditions for a major realignment.

And whether or not such a realignment takes place, the SDP deserves a subtler verdict than outright failure. Labour survived because it adopted many of the SDP’s policies. The 1983 Labour manifesto was from the point of view of the SDP intolerable, but the 1997 manifesto on which Tony Blair led Labour (rebranded as “New Labour”) back into power was in many respects a tribute to the SDP.

The success of Jeremy Corbyn and his friends can in turn be seen as a kind of belated revenge by the Labour Left on Blair. After decades of being marginalised, the Left has seized control of the party.

Its domination has led to the present rebellion. The seven MPs who lead it – Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith and Gavin Shuker – are evidently not such heavyweight figures as the Gang of Four – Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers – who founded the SDP.

But a rebellion of this kind can benefit from being underestimated. The unremarkable nature of the seven MPs may lead Corbyn and his friends to tell each other that no change of course is needed.

And a movement of this kind does not only depend on its leaders. One might even say that the SDP was hindered by having too many leaders.

What matters even more is the volume and enthusiasm of the followers. The creation of the SDP revealed the existence of a large number of people who were totally fed up with the existing parties, but were prepared to throw themselves body and soul into a new movement.

When Rodgers was wondering in the summer of 1980 whether to break with Labour, he records in his memoir, Fourth Among Equals, that

“David Marquand…urged me to make the break even if only three or four MPs were to follow. By staying, I might, he said, be able to keep the Labour Party from total self-destruction but I would not save it. The most I could achieve was ‘a ten-year (or 20-year) labour of Sisyphus, endlessly pushing the boulder up the hill only to see it roll down again’. It was a convincing image given the legitimate left’s continued tolerance of the wreckers, and the lack of stomach for the fight of Hattersley and others like him.”

In January 1981, when Rodgers, along with Jenkins, Williams and Owen, signed the Limehouse Declaration, in which they declared their intention to “rally all those who are committed to the values, principles and policies of social democracy”, and added that “the realignment of British politics must now be faced”, they could not tell what would happen:

“We knew that eight or nine other MPs would immediately join us and believed that we would soon get 100 names from amongst the great and the good to endorse our Council for Social Democracy. But otherwise we were in the dark about the response we would provoke, expecting to build steadily over a period of months to the launch of a new party. But the publicity given to the Limehouse Declaration brought a snowstorm of letters, which became an avalanche when the names of the first signatories to our Declaration for Social Democracy appeared in The Guardian on 5th February. I had letters from old school friends, former civil servants and, more predictably, men and women who had supported the Campaign for Democratic Socialism 20 years before. Instead of having to recruit, like Garibaldi, a thousand political irregulars with whom to start our bold campaign, we found that we had placed ourselves in the leadership of an army already formed and waiting…we decided to bring forward the launch to 26th March.”

Such things are inherently unpredictable. So are the changes and chances which may be offered in by-elections. When the Warrington by-election came up, Jenkins stood for the SDP, and astonished almost everyone by finishing in a strong second place, with 42 per cent of the vote.

Had Williams been the SDP candidate in Warrington, she might well have won, and become the new party’s leader, with a wider appeal than Jenkins. She was instead returned to Parliament at the Crosby by-election in November 1981, with Jenkins following at Glasgow Hillhead in March 1982.

Those were famous victories, which few would have predicted when the Limehouse Declaration was signed. Disappointment followed when at the general election of 1983, the SDP gained 25.4 per cent of the vote, but only 23 seats, while Labour, with 27.6 per cent, had 209 seats.

But although the obvious lesson of this is that the first-past-the-post electoral system favours the established parties, that law should not be regarded as immutable.

There comes a tipping point, not quite attained by the SDP in 1983, at which an insurgent party finds that first-past-the-post works in its favour. In the 2015 general election in Scotland, the SNP won 56 seats, compared to six in 2010, while Labour won a single seat, compared to 41 in 2010.

Our politics can be astonishingly volatile. If Corbyn and his advisers treat what happened yesterday as insignificant, it is all the more likely to turn out to be the start of something big.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Meghan Gallacher: The SNP is breaking its election pledge to limit Council Tax rises to three per cent

Cllr Meghan Gallacher is the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Group on North Lanarkshire Council.

Local authorities, regardless of area, are the bread and butter of the government structure. After all, Councils provide basic necessary services, which we all use on a daily basis. As local government is devolved to Holyrood, it falls on the Scottish Parliament to set their yearly budget allowance.

Last year, the Accounts Commission, which polices local government finances across Scotland, published a report outlining that the Scottish Government had cut funding for local authorities by more than seven per cent per cent in real terms between 2013 and 2019. Since 2007, North Lanarkshire’s core budget has been cut by over £230m. This, despite Scotland receiving £1,300 more per head due to the UK Barnett formula.

The financial climate within Councils across Scotland is bleak. We have Councils, such as Clackmannanshire, which is considering reducing the hours children are taught within their secondary schools in an attempt to save £29 million. Within North Lanarkshire, we are facing a budget gap of over £36 million as a result of the Scottish Government’s draft plans for local authority funding. Although North Lanarkshire Council will receive £5.7m more than their initial cash settlement from the Scottish Government, front line services will still need to be reviewed in order to balance the books.

Following the Scottish Parliament Budget debate which took place on 31st January 2019, the revised budget, which received the support of the Scottish Green Party, includes an SNP broken election manifesto promise not to increase Council Tax beyond three per cent. The Council tax cap is set to increase from three per cent to 4.79 per cent. Furthermore, Councils will also have the ability to implement a levy on workplace car parking places. This means that North Lanarkshire residents could see their Council tax increase substantially and also be taxed hundreds of pounds a year for taking the car to work.

However, budget preparations are currently underway. Given the current financial climate, the North Lanarkshire Conservative Group – alongside Labour and the Independent Councillors – has joined a budget sounding board in order to share information outlined by Council Officers. However, the SNP has decided to go it alone because ‘they won’t work with the Tories’. In my view, I think they are embarrassed to sit alongside opposition parties because they know that it is their Scottish Government which is delivering this savage cut to local government. Further proof – if needed – that North Lanarkshire SNP is arrogant and unwilling to work with others in a difficult situation.

Another challenge in terms of the upcoming budget is “Club 365”. For anyone who is not aware, “Club 365” is a project introduced by the minority Labour administration to ensure that Primary school pupils – who are eligible for free school meals – can receive a free meal 365 days of the year. The meals are provided at community hubs and also include activities, such as painting and sports. Whilst I believe that this idea is noble, it has already cost the Council £414,000 and this is set to increase to £1.5m per year. Our group has been wrongly criticised for questioning this project as we have called for a funding model – the fiscally responsible option. However, as always with Labour, they have a “spend now, think later” attitude and my concern is that we will have to cut vital front line services in order to fund “Club 365”.

As always, the North Lanarkshire Conservative Council Group will stand up for hard working people to protect the services they value.

 

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Henry Hill: SDLP link-up with Fianna Fail has a rocky start as senior MLA quits

SDLP ‘on back foot’ after senior resignation over merger

The alliance between the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Northern Ireland’s smaller and more moderate nationalist party, and Fianna Fail suffered a blow this week when the former’s most high-profile MLA resigned.

Clare Hanna, the SDLP’s Brexit spokeswoman, resigned from its Assembly group (although not her actual party membership) after a special conference on Saturday approved the new ‘policy partnership’ with the Republic party, the News Letter reports.

She said that: “I remain unconvinced that an exclusive partnership with Fianna Fáil is the right vehicle to deliver the non-sectarian, transparent and social democratic new Ireland I believe in”.

SDLP members backed the proposal at the conference, although 30 per cent voted against it. There apparently remains a lot of uncertainty around what exactly the new relationship entails, with senior figures being coy as to whether it would mean a joint manifesto or similar.

Hanna may not be the last to leave: Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, was reportedly warned that a group of members were “considering their options” after the link-up was approved.

In other Irish nationalist news, Sinn Fein have reiterated their belief that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a border poll in Northern Ireland.

According to the Guardian, Mary Lou McDonald described such a vote as a “democratic necessity” in the event that Britain left the EU without the backstop in place – but declined to say when a referendum should be held.

Writing on this site today, David Shiels has warned ministers that by talking up the prospect of a border poll – in a bid to shepherd unionist MPs behind Theresa May’s withdrawal deal – they are playing into the hands of the republicans.

Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, continues to insist that such a Brexit can be avoided – even has he refused to negotiate with the Prime Minister during her visit to Dublin earlier this week. However Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, did meet with his Irish counterpart on that Friday, as well as meeting separately with senior figures from the Democratic Unionist Party.

Sammy Wilson, the MP for East Antrim and DUP Brexit spokesman, has had to insist this week that his party remains united in its opposition to the backstop. The News Letter reports that Arlene Foster had earlier refused to be drawn on whether or not she was still demanding its complete abandonment.

Backlash grows against SNP’s new tax

Teachers have announced that they will demand compensation out of public funds if they are subject to the Scottish Government’s new car park tax – in a move the Tories estimate could cost £1.7 million in Edinburgh alone.

According to the Daily Telegraph, this move by the unions comes as part of a growing public backlash against the proposals, which would see charges levied on private car parks such as those operated by businesses and other places of work.

There was also outrage when it was revealed that such a tax is liable for VAT if the cost is passed on to employees, pushing the cost to workers up to around £500 per year.

Derek Mackay, the SNP’s Finance Secretary, accepted an amendment tabled by the Scottish Greens introducing the levy in order to win their support for his budget, which could not have passed without them.

Opposition parties have also this week criticised Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, for talking up the prospect of independence whilst on an official trade trip to the United States.

This prompted Stephen Daisley, writing in the Spectator, to urge the Government to re-assert its prerogatives over foreign affairs and start attaching conditions to the Scottish Government’s use of public funds outwith its remit. Probably too much to hope after ministers’ foolish retreat over post-Brexit devolved powers, but definitely a good idea for a bolder, more imaginative leadership to consider.

In other news, the Scottish Conservatives have reportedly declared victory in their campaign to stop Boris Johnson becoming Tory leader. I wrote about the significance of ‘Operation Arse’ earlier this week.

Labour AM apologises for ‘unacceptable’ comments about Jews

Jenny Rathbone, a Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, has apologised and been issued a formal warning over “unacceptable” comments she made about Jewish communities.

Wales Online reports that the Cardiff Central AM said it was “really uncomfortable” how certain security-conscious synagogues now resemble ‘fortresses’, and that “siege mentalities” might be driving this change. She will now undergo antisemitism training by the Community Security Trust.

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the new First Minister, is apparently trying to ease out Wales’ most senior civil servant in order to get a “fresh start”.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May bores for Brexit, and has hopes of dividing and ruling

The Prime Minister’s demeanour, during her frequent statements to the House on Brexit, is that of a teacher who refuses to make her lessons any less repetitive.

Some of us cannot help feeling a reluctant admiration for Theresa May’s pedagogical methods. Her willingness, despite signs of restiveness in the Brexit Studies class, to stick to tried and tested clichés commands our involuntary respect.

If she has said it once that if you do not want no deal you must vote for her deal, she has said it a million times. That is how rote learning works. Here is a leader who is prepared to bore for Brexit.

And yet behind her impermeable facade of double negatives, change can be detected, and even an understanding that she needs to make what she is offering less repugnant.

So today she told Jeremy Corbyn, “I welcome his willingness to sit down and talk with me.” And she went on to suggest that she and the Leader of the Opposition are united in their determination “not to allow any lowering of standards in workers’ rights” when we leave the EU.

Corbyn leant over to consult Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary. Perhaps he wished for advice on how to deal with this implausible claim, or perhaps he just wanted to check what Labour policy is.

May meanwhile suggested that under the Conservatives, “the UK has a proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights”.

This led to an outbreak of hilarity among the Opposition. Chi Onwurah, sitting on the bench behind Corbyn, laughed with particular delight. May had said something so absurd – that the Conservatives are the workers’ friend – it was impossible for Labour not to burst out laughing.

The Prime Minister proceeded to say, less humorously, that “we now need some time” to complete the Brexit negotiations, and “we now all need to hold our nerve”.

Corbyn said he had only received the prior copy of her statement to which he is entitled as he left his office: “I can only assume she entrusted it to the Transport Secretary to deliver.”

That joke went down well. Corbyn proceeded to accuse her of “more excuses and more delays” while she runs down the clock, “plays chicken with people’s livelihoods”, engages in “the pretence of working with Parliament”, and claims to care about workers’ rights, although for many Conservatives, “ripping up workers’ rights is what Brexit is all about.”

Ian Blackford, for the Scottish Nationalists, was ruder. He said the Prime Minister’s deal is “a fraud”, and “a catastrophe for Scotland”, and called on her to “put an end to this economic madness” under which the Scots are being “dragged out of the EU against our will”.

As May began, in a somewhat patronising tone, to correct these assertions, Blackford could be heard shouting “that’s not true”, and then “liar”. The Speaker, John Bercow, made him withdraw the word.

Vince Cable, for the Liberal Democrats, said that after reaching out to the trade unions and to Corbyn, May was “no doubt better informed on how Trotsky might have dealt with the Brexit crisis”.

So the Opposition are divided into Trotskyites and anti-Trotskyites. For May, this is promising. She has no need to plunge an ice pick into the back of Corbyn’s head. She can just hope to separate some of his MPs from him by indicating that she is in a better position than he is to produce economic benefits for the workers in their constituencies.

On her own benches, she got mixed reviews. Ken Clarke said we could do a better trade deal with Japan by remaining in the EU, and Anna Soubry accused her of “kicking the can down the road yet again”.

But Owen Paterson thought what she had said was “really encouraging”, and Sir Nicholas Soames declared: “Can I reassure the Prime Minister that I’m holding my nerve like anything.”

So the Prime Minister can still hope to bore her way through to an implausible victory. She remains, one might say, the only game in town, which is exactly what she set out to demonstrate when she stood up today.

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Conservatives should take their Scottish colleagues’ fears about Johnson seriously

On Saturday, the Scotsman ran a story about the Scottish Conservatives’ campaign – which has been declared a success – to thwart Boris Johnson’s ambitions to lead the Party.

According to the paper, Scots Tories have mounted a “whispering campaign” of behind-the-scenes lobbying to persuade their parliamentary colleagues that the former Mayor would do serious damage to the Party’s prospects north of the border.

This assertion is apparently based on private polling, but whilst YouGov still reports Johnson as the most popular Tory with their respondents the idea that he might not play well in Scotland doesn’t seem hard to credit. That Ruth Davidson greatly dislikes him won’t have helped, either.

And yet… it remains the case that he is apparently amongst the most popular Conservative politicians in the country. YouGov’s data reinforces the findings of our own monthly survey, which finds Johnson comfortably ahead in our “Who should be leader after May?” question – although as we acknowledge, this may simply reflect that stasis has set in now that the Prime Minister’s position as leader is secure for the time being.

Since we must still assume that Johnson would at the very least be a contender for the leadership if he made it to the membership vote, the Scottish Conservatives’ focusing their efforts on persuading MPs makes sense.

But whilst ‘Operation Arse’ may have been declared a success, it would be extremely presumptuous to rule Johnson out of the running whilst the timing and circumstances of the next leadership election remain completely unknown. Which poses a question for both him and his supporters: how much does is matter that the Scottish Tories think he’d be a disaster?

It certainly ought to matter, and not just for principled unionist reasons. The Government has only held onto office because of the Conservative rebound in Scotland at the last election – a rebound brought about by people who stuck with the Party through two very lean decades indeed, some of whom have suggested they would not stick with it through a Johnson premiership. Winning a majority at the next election will require broadening the Tory tent, not shrinking it.

Nor should we forget that, with Labour in the doldrums, Davidson’s Conservatives are the principle bulwark against the SNP’s ongoing drive to break up our country. Brexit may so far have discredited the idea of the ‘fragile Union’, but that’s no excuse to risk handing Nicola Sturgeon the Holyrood majority she’d need to mount another push in the 2020s.

The Scottish Conservatives’ deep reservations about Johnson aren’t new. Yet if he’s made any effort to reach out to Scottish colleagues, or to tackle his negative impression amongst Scottish voters, both we and they have missed it. And that, perhaps more even than his actual unpopularity in Scotland, is a problem.

With both the membership and MP selectorate overwhelmingly English, it would be relatively easy come the next leadership contest for the concerns of the Scottish party to be marginalised. But the Tories owe it to both the country and their own political interests to choose a leader both willing and able to reach out beyond the faithful. If Johnson is still that candidate, he should prove it.

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Craig Hoy: The SNP’s high-tax agenda could give the Scottish Tories an opening

Craig Hoy is a former Lobby Correspondent and a member of the Scottish Conservative Party

There’s an old joke about a hapless politician’s library catching fire, and the punchline is something like “and in a statement [insert name] said he was very upset because he hadn’t finished colouring in the second book”. This has them rolling in the aisles at Burns Suppers from Ayr to Angus.

I’m not sure how comprehensive Derek Mackay’s library is, or whether it includes any crayons. But I doubt it has many economic textbooks.

In case you’re not aware of Mackay, he’s Scotland’s finance minister. By all accounts he’s nice approachable bloke. But watch your wallet when you’re around him. In his recent budget, which is causing political mayhem in Scotland, Mackay launched a triple tax whammy.

After some serious horse-trading with the Scottish Greens, the SNP unveiled its £34 billion budget plan.

Councils get new powers to impose a levy on workplace parking, the cap on council tax increases from three per cent to 4.79 per cent, and local authorities get new powers to introduce a tourist tax. Mackay’s latest raid on middle-income Scotland breaks some of the cardinal rules of tax and spending, but does it make good politics? I don’t think so.

Firstly, as the AA said, the parking levy is “stupid”. Forcing teachers and police officers to pay up to £400 a year to park at their work is a massive own goal which will come back to bite the SNP. For the lowest-income groups it amounts to the equivalent of a 10p in the pound increase in income tax.

Low-paid workers who have to drive, including many in rural areas, will have no other option but to pay and will cough up reluctantly. Others will vote with their feet. The move will increase competition for parking spaces in residential areas near to factories, offices, and schools. Official car parks could well sit empty while residential streets get busier still. The policy makes no sense, and Mackay will live to regret caving in to the Greens.

The increase in the Council Tax cap will hit households across Scotland. Mackay could have increased direct funding to councils, but instead he sits on the generous settlement allocated from Westminster and forces councils to increase bills.
This comes on the back of a very crafty increase in 2017 when the SNP legislated to increase the multiplier for the top four council tax bands – meaning the average Band H household paid about £10 a week more in tax.

The SNP’s record on income tax is equally duplicitous and depressing. Rather than risk unpopularity by increasing the basic rate of tax, Mackay has fiddled with rates, bands, and thresholds to secure more tax from 1.1 million ordinary hardworking Scots.

The SNP previously slapped a penny on the pound for anyone earning the new intermediate rate of £24,000 andright through to the top band at £150,000, where the rate is now 46 per cent. This means more tax for the many and not the few. To divert attention, in a prior budget, the government introduced new Scottish “starter” rate of income tax of 19 per cent. It applies to the first £2,000 of taxable income, and is thus worth roughly £20 pounds per year.

Much more significant is the decision not to match UK increases to the higher rate tax threshold: a move which pushes more and more Scots into the 41 pence in the pound bracket. Scots now pay higher rates of income tax at lower levels of income. It’s smoke and mirrors on speed, and someone earning £50,000 per year in Scotland will pay £1,500 more than someone on the equivalent salary in England.

Mackay has also ignored warnings that the rich are pretty smart when it comes to avoiding higher taxes. Those with considerable incomes could easily drift south of the border, leaving ordinary households – which includes teachers, police officers and health service workers – bearing the brunt of the SNP’s tax assault.

I doubt if Mackay is aware of the Laffer Curve, which illustrates the theory that the more an activity is taxed, the less revenue is generated. He has been warned that forcing more people into the upper tax bracket could actually reduce the overall contribution. Arthur Laffer’s theory worked for Ronald Reagan and Nigel Lawson, and if it works here then making Scotland’s taxation system more competitive could increase the amount of money the Scottish Government brings in. Yes, a tax cut could increase the tax take.

Mackay’s approach to tax is cynical. But it is also quite political. In Scotland there’s traditionally been a sense that people are willing to pay a bit more tax providing it’s targeted towards issues such as free long-term care, education and the NHS.

Despite the opening paragraphs above, it’s safe to say Mackay is no fool. I don’t believe he grasps the fundamentals of economics, but to date he has understood politics. By increasing taxation and spending, Mackay may have thought he had set an elephant trap for his opponents.

A future Conservative manifesto which pledges “fiscal rectitude” in Scotland could be cynically mis-characterised as a ‘Tory cuts’ manifesto. The extent to which this strategy works will be determined by how over-taxed Scots feel. If the pips are starting to squeak then voters are likely to be attracted by the prospect of tax cuts.

But if polls show the people aren’t quite ready to revolt, then there are some risks in focusing on tax – because tax cuts would be misrepresented by our opponents as inevitably leading to cuts to front-line services. This would be untrue, but when does truth matter in an election?

In positioning terms, we need to shift the needle of public opinion here. The SNP probably believes a ‘Tory cuts’ counter-offensive would work. I would traditionally have agreed, but I now have my doubts. Such an attack would fail to address a very uncomfortable truth for the SNP: across Scotland, they are spending more and delivering less. We see the effects of this in schools, hospitals, and on the roads and railways every day.

If the Conservative Party can effectively hold the SNP to account over its record, then we can change the conversation and turn things to our advantage.

We need to explain why reducing tax would make Scotland more competitive and a better place to live, work, and invest in. We need to explain how smarter spending and more effective policy reform in our public services could increase education outcomes, enhance healthcare, and improve living standards.

Notwithstanding the party’s obsession with independence and a second referendum, I get the sense people are growing very restless with the SNP, and Question Time from Motherwell this week confirmed this. The party’s record on healthcare, education, and crime is not favourable. They are mismanaging our finances and our public services. That’s a pretty toxic combination.

This gives Scottish Tories the opportunity to open up new lines of conversation with the Scottish people. Conversations about how we improve our schools, reduce waiting lists, and make our streets safer. And, yes, conversations about cutting taxes too.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Thomas Kerr: Why the people of Scotland deserve a Council Tax freeze

Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.

It won’t be a surprise to many of you reading this today that times are tough, especially for local government. As budgets get tighter our services get strained and in Glasgow that is the position we find ourselves in as we draw ever closer to the council’s budget on 21st February.

So what are the options facing our city and how did we get here. The story begins as all major economic failures do with a previous Labour administration and, while normally that saying is used to pivot the blame, this time the finger is pointed and extremely accurate.

In 2006 Glasgow took the decision to bring in a new pay and grading scheme – a scheme I may add which was supported by officers, unions and the opposition parties. Its introduction however, created more problems than it solved and to cut a long story short we ended up in a position where the new system disproportionately penalised female workers. The council and trade unions fought this in the courts for years and while Labour, the beacon of equality that it claims to be, refused to settle it was left to the new intake of 2017 councillors to sort out their mess. Glasgow’s budget this year and for years to come must find a way of paying out around £500 million in equal pay settlements, money which these women are entitled to but which will leave us having to face many tough decisions in the years ahead.

The Scottish Government would love nothing more than to be able to blame Glasgow’s financial problems on the previous Labour Administration – for as we know there is nothing the SNP like more than to engage in grievance politics and play the blame game. This time however they can’t. Despite their claim that “Tory Austerity” is the cause of all of Scotland’s problems, the reality is that the SNP mismanagement of Scotland’s public purse is endangering the public services upon which my constituents rely. Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay have decimated local government budgets throughout the country and the blame for this lays squarely at their door. Combined with the equal pay bill, these cuts are set to devastate local services.

Scotland’s block grant has been rising in recent years but the SNP are still cutting council budgets, why? It’s because they have no respect for the services that councils like Glasgow deal with. Enough is enough, this isn’t the “Westminster Tory Government’s” fault this is yours First Minister and it is about time you and your Government accept some responsibility. This Scottish Government should hang its head in shame for the complete contempt in which they hold Scotland’s local authorities. As a Glasgow MSP, Nicola Sturgeon’s apathy towards the city is evident on a daily basis – and her cohort of councillors are scarcely any better. Glaswegians expect their governing party in the City Chambers to be fighting our corner but in this administration, we see the exact opposite.

The Council Leader, Cllr Susan Aitken, is not Glasgow’s voice in the SNP and she never has been. Rather she is the SNP’s cheerleader in Glasgow and that must change.

That brings me to the now – Glasgow is facing a £50.9 million shortfall to makeup and the options we are now seeing include higher council tax for fewer services that just isn’t on. The makeup of Glasgow City Council means two parties need to come together to agree on a budget. Glasgow Conservatives were elected to oppose the SNP’s obsession with Scottish Independence and we will continue to do so every step of the way. Given the financial circumstances that have been imposed on Glasgow, we’ve made clear five key priorities for any budget that we would need to see in any budget for us to consider supporting. These are:

  • Safeguarding addiction/homelessness services: We believe in protecting the most vulnerable in our society – and that includes those suffering from addiction and those who find themselves homeless. We are therefore asking the administration to protect and enhance funding towards these vital services.
  • More investment in our roads/pavements: Our city is heavily reliant on roads and pavements to ensure not only that Glaswegians can get to work and live their lives but also to make sure that visitors to Glasgow enjoy the transport links that a world class city deserves. The Conservatives are therefore calling on the Administration to use capital funding to bring our road network up to a standard fit for the modern age.
  • Taking the non-residential parking levy off the table: Removing the current threat of the administration introducing a non-residential parking levy. Such a proposal would hurt business, workers and commuters and is completely unacceptable. For any talks to be serious the SNP administration must take this proposal off the table.
  • More support for small businesses: Small businesses are the backbone of any economy – especially Glasgow’s. However, under Susan Aitken’s leadership, small businesses have not had a champion within the city chambers. We are offering the administration a chance to reverse this record by supporting small businesses and changing a culture that is driving investment away from our city.
  • A council tax freeze: Over the past couple of years Glaswegians have seen their income and council tax bills rise. We say enough is enough. No more should Glasgow’s taxpayers have to foot the bill for SNP spending cuts to local government. Our constituents have seen increases in their taxes but no improvement in local services. This is why Conservatives are standing up for hard-working families by opposing any further increase in council tax at February’s budget.

Glasgow Conservatives are showing the SNP, Labour and Green Parties what effective opposition looks like. For too long Glasgow politicians have been ducking the hard decisions. Our five priorities are common sense and realistic and we would urge the administration to take them seriously and engage constructively. We as a party believe in a common sense approach to dealing with our city’s problems that is why we are willing to find common ground on issues for the greater benefit of all Glaswegians.

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Henry Hill: Trimble raises over £10,000 for legal challenge to the backstop

Architect of the Belfast Agreement rallies support for challenge as UUP call for direct rule

The News Letter reports that Lord Trimble, the Northern Irish peer who helped negotiate the Belfast Agreement, has managed to raise more than £10,000 to mount a legal challenge against the mooted ‘backstop’.

An appeal by the “informal group” supporting his efforts has apparently elicited a strong response, backed by an online crowdfunding effort.

Trimble, who served as First Minister of the Province whilst leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, backed Brexit and has been a public opponent of the Government’s approach to Northern Irish issues during the Brexit negotiations – particularly its habit of giving false credence to Dublin’s assertions that the Agreement required an invisible border.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the legal basis for the challenge is set out in this Policy Exchange paper from Lord Bew, who also set out his thinking in the News Letter  and on this website.

Outside Trimble’s circle there is a great deal of scepticism about his case’s chances of success. However, that one of the two men who won the Nobel Prize for the Belfast Agreement felt moved to take this step illustrates once again the depth and breadth of political unionism’s opposition to Dublin’s demands in the Brexit negotiations.

All of this comes in a week when the Democratic Unionists sent out their own, somewhat contradictory signals over the backstop.

Whilst the Financial Times reported that Arlene Foster was hinting at ‘flexibility’ over making a deal work, Sammy Wilson – the DUP’s Brexit spokesman and most vocal Brexiteer – declared that the party would vote against “any” backstop proposal.

He added that Eurosceptics had been “surprised and annoyed” when the Prime Minister used a speech in Belfast to reiterate her commitment to the backstop – in the same week that the Times reported Angela Merkel’s intention to try to pressure the Irish Government into softening its own stance. Meanwhile Jacob Rees-Mogg told a DUP meeting that even a no-deal departure need not require a hard border.

In commentary this week, Ben Lowry claimed that it was a “massive failure of civic unionism” that the backstop got so far with so little criticism; Henry Newman set out 12 reasons the backstop makes “no sense at all”; and Eilis O’Hanlon alleged that Ireland was in the “grip of Anglophobia“.

Labour vote against SNP-led inquiry into Salmond

Scottish Labour yesterday voted against plans for a Scottish Parliament inquiry into the botched handling of the allegations against Alex Salmond – because the Nationalists would lead it.

The Guardian reports that under Holyrood’s rules the SNP is entitled to chair the next committee established, and that Nicola Sturgeon has declined the option of relinquishing control. Moreover, she has appointed to it four ex-ministers who served in her predecessor’s administration.

In an attempt to reassure MSPs and regain cross-party support, the Nationalists highlighted that one of these, Linda Fabiani, is currently Deputy Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. But despite voting for the proposals alongside the Liberal Democrats and Greens, the Conservatives insisted that they would still prefer the governing party to cede the leadership of it to another group.

Elsewhere this week Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary, insisted that his party was united around a controversial new parking tax he included in his budget to win the support of the Scottish Greens, after a Nationalist MSP had to perform a very public u-turn on the subject. Earlier this week business leaders said that they had been “humiliated” and “dismayed” by the raft of new tax measures the left-wing, separatist-inclined party had managed to extract from the Scottish Government.

Ulster Unionists call for direct rule in the event of a no-deal Brexit

Robin Swann, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, has said that Theresa May must introduce proper direct rule over Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal departure from the European Union, according to the News Letter.

The North Antrim MLA said that the Province would require “political leadership and direction” to navigate the challenges posed by such a scenario. He added that the Prime Minister had apparently been extremely reluctant at their meeting to discuss progress towards restoring Northern Ireland’s devolved institutions.

Ulster has been run by its civil service, operating on effective autopilot and without direct political accountability, since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly in January 2017.

Karen Bradley has been criticised for saying that getting the devolved institutions back on their feet was her “top priority” despite the dearth of any pro-active efforts by the British Government to do so.

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James Bundy: A Department for the Union would strengthen our United Kingdom

James Bundy is a student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, the national chairman of Conservative Future Scotland, and the former chairman of the St. Andrews Conservative and Unionist Association.

Our proud Union has been the envy of the world for over 300 years. Our monarchy, our courts, our universities and our parliamentary democracy are known as some of the finest institutions the world has ever produced. Our Union, however, is under grave threat. Scottish nationalists are doing their utmost to tear away the fabrics that bring our union together. Northern Ireland feels like it is slowly moving into the hands of reunification with the 26 counties of the Republic. Poor Wales is never mentioned in the national media unless its sports teams are doing well. The debate surrounding our departure of the European Union has brought an emergence of English nationalism which would shamefully break up our United Kingdom if it ensured a clean break from Brussels.

As Conservatives and Unionists, we must do all we can to protect, defend and strengthen our United Kingdom. We must recognise the greatest threat to our Union and do all that we can to respond to it. A patriotic campaign which promotes British culture is required, but we must also come up with practical solutions to ensure that our Union is suitable for the future. The creation of the Department for the Union in Whitehall – first advocated by the MP for Stirling, Stephen Kerr – is an approach which fulfils both these requirements.

Leaving the European Union is the greatest threat to our Union today, but our departure will also save our United Kingdom in the long-term. This sounds like a contradictory statement, but it is not. Membership of the European Union has saw our Union slowly drift apart and this would have continued if we decided to remain. British culture has been evaporating bit by bit and has been replaced by a European culture which embraces secularism and republicanism. The drastic drop in those who believe in Christianity, the decline of Christian moral values and the growing calls for a future republic all demonstrate this culturally change.

Without our wonderful and unique British culture, the United Kingdom would stand for very little, if not nothing. Our Union, which used to be the envy of the world, would be known as simply another European country. Pride in being British would diminish much further and people would desperately seek identity of any sorts – be it Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Mancunian, Scouse and so on. An environment like this would have played right into the hands of the nationalist movements. Our decision to leave the European Union brings an opportunity to halt the dilution of our culture, creating a level playing field in the long-term battle of identity. This battle is one we must win to preserve our United Kingdom.

After we leave the European Union, we may end up in a scenario whereby European standards are not the minimum standards. The SNP have already cried ‘power grab’ when the UK Government announced plans to maintain common standards in fishing and farming across our United Kingdom. The terminology ‘power grab’ is absurd, as these powers lay in Brussels – not Holyrood – but it does highlight that there is potential for a constitutional crisis. Some Unionists have argued that this is why we must remain members of the European Union, but no country should rely on an international organisation to maintain its internal market. Rather than hide and wish the problems go away, we must confront the challenges that are before us and do so convincingly.

A Department for the Union would allow the Government to address both the cultural and constitutional aspects of our United Kingdom. The department would be responsible for promoting the British brand across the country – and there is a lot to promote. A permanent member of the UN Security Council, being of the sixth largest economy in the world, the second biggest military budget in NATO, membership of the Commonwealth, a country that meets the UN’s aid spending target, and an arts and sporting sector which pushes above its weight, to name a few. The new department would be responsible for cross-Governmental cooperation between Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and our Overseas Territories. Protecting our internal market and ensuring that all parts of our United Kingdom work together post-Brexit rather than against each other.

As Unionists, we must do all that we can do to make people feel proud to be British. As Conservatives, we must do all that we can do to ensure that our United Kingdom functions properly. Our departure of the European Union was a cry from the British people for national renewal. As Conservatives and Unionists, let’s deliver this national renewal by creating the Department for the Union.

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Henry Hill: Sturgeon warns SNP to brace for early election if budget falls

Sturgeon warns SNP to brace for early election if Budget falls

Nationalist officials have been told to prepare for an early Holyrood election if the Scottish Government fails to pass its Budget today, according to the Scotsman.

The SNP apparently enter today’s crucial vote without having yet secured a majority in the Chamber, meaning they risk defeat on their spending plans for the year ahead. Alex Salmond threatened a snap election when his minority administration lost its 2009 budget, although his successor is being more conciliatory today.

Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary, has been wooing the hard-left Scottish Greens, whose demands reportedly include a further hike to income tax north of the border. Such a move would be grist to the mill of the Tories, who are already attacking the so-called ‘tax gap’ created by the Nationalists’ divergence from Westminster policies.

However, Nicola Sturgeon’s motives may not be entirely related to this: there are also suggestions that she needs, or at least wants, a fresh mandate from the electorate to demand another referendum on Scottish independence. (The divisions arising from the previous one are helping to box her party in on the budget question: the separatist Greens are currently the only viable deal partner for the SNP, who can no longer woo unionist MSPs as they did before 2011.)

Following the fallout from Salmond’s arrest, which we covered last week, the First Minister has been forced to insist that his fall will not overshadow the broader movement for breaking up the UK. Her party came under fresh criticism this week after an SNP politician was chosen to chair an inquiry into how the Scottish Government botched its handling of complaints against the former First Minister. There have even been concerns that saturation coverage of the case may impede a fair trial.

On that front, this week a Nationalist MSP warned his party not to try to bounce the electorate into a second referendum.

Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s defence spokesman, warned his colleagues against simply re-running the same ‘Yes’ campaign that was defeated in 2014, warning that the party needed to comprehensively review its case for independence (this week export figures highlighted once again the paramount importance of UK trade to Scotland) and consider the timing of any new referendum very carefully.

DUP throw weight behind ‘Malthouse Compromise’

The Government has been accused of trying to block moves to introduce abortion reform to Ulster (via amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill) in order to keep its Democratic Unionist allies on-side.

This comes as the Northern Irish party makes a fresh effort to push the Government to adopt its own, very aggressive approach to political negotiations in an effort to exploit what it sees as a new ‘logical flaw’ in the EU’s backstop position – namely a very obvious split between Brussels and Dublin over what will happen to the border in the event of a no-deal exit.

In related news, security experts have reportedly rubbished Leo Varadkar’s warnings that troops might need to be deployed in the event that Britain leaves the EU without the backstop in place, and Dominic Raab has attacked the Taoiseach for allegedly leaking falsehoods from confidential meetings between the then-Brexit Secretary and the Irish Government.

The DUP have also thrown their weight behind the so-called ‘Malthouse Compromise’ this week, and their votes secured the Brady Amendment.

Cardiff Conservative councillor in row over homeless’ tents

A Tory councillor was suspended – and then reinstated – from the Conservative group on Cardiff City Council this week after making controversial comments about homeless people’s tents.

Kathryn Kelloway attracted huge ire after she tweeted to urge Huw Thomas, the council leader, to ‘tear down’ tents belonging to homeless people in the city centre. She then attacked her critics as “virtue signallers” who were unrepresentative of public opinion on the subject.

However, she was reinstated after a meeting which confirmed that removing the tents remains Conservative policy – and that the current Labour administration in city hall had expressed similar concerns, albeit in different language, that distributing tents was actually cutting the number of people the council was getting off the streets.

Kelloway herself defended her tweets, arguing that there was more than enough hostel accommodation in Cardiff to cater to the entire homeless population and thus there was “no reason for anyone to sleep rough here”.

Divisions deepen inside SDLP over merger plans

The News Letter reports that proposals for Northern Ireland’s smaller, more moderate nationalist party to merge with one from the republic are a source of increasing tensions.

Senior figures, including ex-leader Mark Durkan, have refused to publicly endorse plans for a partnership with Fianna Fail, whilst one former MLA warned that it would make unionists wary of working with the party in Stormont.

Meanwhile the Northern Irish Office is hiring a strategist to try to break the logjam and get the devolved government back on its feet, according to the Belfast Telegraph. This comes after Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State, had to bring forward a direct-rule budget for the Province for the third consecutive year.

In other SDLP news, the party helped to deliver a vote on Londonderry council condemning the recent car-bombing. The motion passed by only a single vote after Sinn Fein and independent republican councillors tabled a much weaker one which only ‘opposed’ – but did not ‘condemn’ – the action. Some of those arrested in the wake of the attack are members of a new, unregistered republican party.

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