Friday, 13 September 2013

Fit for purpose?

There are many facets to the independence debate, one of the most gnarly is press bias in favour of the status quo generally and Scottish Labour in particular. But every now and again and example comes up that is so obvious, so cut and dried, that even I feel like highlighting it.

This... Johann Lamont, I've mentioned Johann before, she's the leader of Labour in Scotland. Among other things, this means she is responsible for holding the Scottish Government to account. The only part of the previous sentence which has any connection with reality is that I've mentioned Johann Lamont before, the rest is bilge - yet - its what we're all expected to accept. In any case, saying Johann Lamont is the 'leader of Scottish Labour' is a bit like saying I'm the leader of...

... the World Champion Cheer-leading team of 2013 - its just not the case.

As usual, I digress.

Johann Lamont's preferred method of holding the Scottish government to account is to throw as much mud as she can and hope some of it sticks. Unfortunately, Johann's throwing arm isn't that great.

This week at FMQ's (First Minister's Questions for the uninitiated) Johann had a mud pie to throw. Here's the gist of it: Back in 2007/8 land was bought near Paisley for £840,000 for the then Labour/Lib Dem GARL project (Glasgow Airport Rail Link.) The project was subsequently scrapped by the SNP administration in 2009 due to a shortage of funds related to the global melt down of 2007/8 and subsequent cuts coming from Westminster which cascaded down through the Scottish Parliament. The land was bought from a company called Airlink Group ran by a chap called John McGlynn.

Fast forward to this year, the land - no longer required and much devalued - had to be sold under UK Government rules

The parcel of land was put up for sale with a reserve price of £50,000. I have no idea how land is valued, presumably some one turns up with a theodolite and a clip board and gives the owner a price way below what they expected.

In any case, the land didn't sell. Lawyers for Airlink with John McGlynn still at the helm bought it back for the reserve price of £50,000 with a nice profit of £790,000 in the deal.

I know what you're thinking...

What hell is going on here?

Which is what Johann thought too. She said, John McGlynn - who used to be a Tory donor but has since shown support for 'fiscal autonomy' had...

"...been on something of a political journey" adding: "Now he supports the Yes campaign. Since then he's been appointed to the Scottish government national economic forum."

Although John McGlynn is not a member of any referendum campaign or party - his support for independence is equivocal, the fearless Johann went on to suggest...

"Is there some connection here, or has Mr McGlynn just benefited from the first minister's gross incompetence with public funds?"  

I mean, this looks terrible doesn't it? Finally Johann has a mud pie that's going to stick and stick badly to Alex Salmond and the SNP government he leads...



We need to look at it from a different perspective, instead of the most recent sale price, we need to have a look at the price paid and the circumstances around the purchase back in 2007/8.

So, the land was purchased from Airlink by the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority at the height of the property bubble, we can't blame them for that. The SPTA was under the direct control of the local authority which in this case was Labour controlled Glasgow City Council, with that in mind, it was stuffed with Labour Councillors. At that point the Scottish Government had nothing to do with GARL - it was all down to the SPTA (now known as Strathclyde Partnership for Transport) and the Labour dominated Glasgow City Council.

And guess what.

Johann Lamont's husband...

Archie Graham, who is also a Glasgow Labour Councillor (for Langside) was a board member of SPTA.

The Scottish Government at the time had nothing to do with the purchase of the land, it was managed by the SPTA and its officers. Local Authorities get a fair bit of leeway when it comes to how they comport themselves, they are after all overseen by democratically elected councillors, for MSP's to wade in on an as-and-when basis would be seen - quite rightly - as meddling.

Meanwhile The Herald is running with the story here. The facts are as they are, they can't really be argued with, occasionally it can be a bit grey, but in this instance? Its pretty clear. Johann Lamont's mud pie has backfired, this wasn't a Scottish Government thing, it was a Glasgow Labour thing. That John McGlynn profited to the extent he did is a bit difficult to swallow, but the SG followed the rules exactly as set out on its inception, it had to - by law - sell the land. The problem wasn't in the sale of the land, it was in the purchase of it - the SPTE could have put in place a Compulsory Purchase Order - they're doing it with enthusiasm for the Glasgow Common Wealth Games - but they didn't.

People tend to read the headlines then skim down the story, if they look at the details at all. In this instance, what most Herald readers will see is this:*

Salmond in row over claims land deal benefited supporter of independence

Or this from the BBC news website:*

Concern raised in Holyrood over Scottish government land deal

And this from the execrable Scotsman:*

Apology demanded over Lamont’s SNP land deal claim

And Johann as the leader of Scottish Labour will see her job as done.

Do you still think the press in Scotland are fair and impartial? Let me put that another way, do you still think I'm the leader of a world class cheer leading team?

* The headlines are correct at the time of publication. The press have a habit of changing headlines retrospectively - presumably once they feel sufficient damage has been done.


  1. Johann was elected by the party (including myself) on the platform of strong leftwing credentials including:

    - reforming the party "root and branch"
    - supporting universal welfare entitlements and
    - pushing for significant further devolution

    As a card carrying member of Scottish Labour I often am left wondering if I'm the only member sitting thinking 'what the heck is she on about now?' and 'That wasn't her tune when trying to become leader'

    Depressing times.

  2. Hello Dean.

    The thing is, these days, I should be voting labour. I'm embarrassed to admit, when I was a good bit younger I was a bit of a Tory. I used to think you made your own way and that unions were a form of cheating, I suppose you'd call it libertarian lite or some equally naive thing.

    Now though, I totally get unions, social democracy & stuff like universal benefits and decent welfare.

    I cannot however vote for a party that is so blinded by dogma, that trades on lies and untruths. So, I vote SNP, bit of a nanny party with a penchant for draconian methods re. children and the odd knee jerk law re. everything else.

    I really hope Labour pull through, but its going to need more than root & branch reform, I think its going to need replanted.

  3. First, let me say that I enjoy your digressions, almost as much as I enjoy your main points.

    What I hate about all this is that it sets Scot against Scot.

    I mean, this was a pile of rubbish to begin with. It should never have been FMQ material. It was not designed to get to the bottom of why the deal went the way it went. It was designed to blacken the name of Alex Salmond.

    As you point out, the trouble was with the buying of the land. It could almost certainly have been bought cheaper.

    That it was bought at a premium from a bloke who apparently used to be a Tory, may or may not throw some questions at the buyers of the land...which was not the SNP government.

    The businessman bloke is probably still a Tory. He certainly hasn't said that he's an SNP supporter. He has also said, I believe, that (in common with a majority of Scots) he wants more powers from Edinburgh...but that's only what Johann (Scotland deserves better) Lamont has been saying.

    He has, again I believe, said that he will vote for Independence if Devo Max is not on the ballot, because the status quo is the worst of all possible worlds.

    He advises the Scottish government on business, along with a shedload of other people who have different and no political affiliation. It's normal. The government has advisors who have Labour histories.

    OK...we do need to look at how someone managed to make around £3/4 million on a land deal, but, as I said, it was not a matter for FMQs.

    And once you start looking at the ins and outs, you find that not a single thing can be thrown at the government (or rather the legal department which deals with these things). In all matters, it appears to have acted in accordance with the law, whether our law or Westminster's regulations.

    Why is Lamont trying to blacken the name of the FM, and the current government, with lies?

    Is it because there's not a lot to say FOR the union and the only way to convince people that UKOK is by inventing scandal, because there is no REAL scandal to be unearthed?

    For heaven's sake, surely she could see that this was likely to come back and bite her arse. Yeah, the headlines look bad as a compliant press rush to make Salmond look like a crook. But even the most odious organs of the press have to draw a line somewhere in their slavish service to the union.

    And they seem to have done so.

    The trouble is that there is real hatred brewing because of the lies that are being told.

    There was bound to be division. Even people who say that they will leave the country if one side or the other wins. Most of course don't really mean it. They almost undoubtedly won't. But the enmity that is building up because of the viciousness of the campaign is frightening.

    I wonder what kind of country we will leave behind, regardless of outcome.

    I used to think that I was a Liberal, then I decided that I was a social democrat... so as the Liberal party has become a hard right organ in thrall to the Tories and Labour has decided that the only way to win power in London is to appease the right wing voters of the SE of England, I have no political home in Scotland.

    I hope that, job done, the SNP will continue to operate as a left of centre democratic socialist party, or that Labour will grow a pair and start acting like a Labour party again.

    Of course freed from the hold of REAL WORLD POWER as America's lieutenant, who knows what these parties will become in the future.

  4. Thanks Tris, normally my digression make more sense than the main point I hope to make.

    While I was cleaning my pom poms I had a thought though, if that is the best Lamont/Labour can come up with it begs the questions, are the SNP perfect in government? I mean, no political party is, so why do Labour feel the need to fabricate stuff?

    Even Willie Rennie manages to ask the odd pertinent question (Davidson is still a gonk though.)

    Surely there must be things the SNP ARE doing wrong? Or is it the case, in Scotland we have the world's first truly perfect government?

    I really can't buy that.

  5. The most depressing part of the whole thing has been the confirmation of how biased the media are.

    Imagine if Alex Salmond had accused Johann Lamont of corruption in a similar manner and for a similar deal and it had then turned out that it was an SNP council that had bought the land and that Labour had sold the land under Treasury rules at public auction.

    The story would have been headline news for weeks with the BBC leading the charge. There would have been orchestrated calls for Alex Salmond to resign for his unsubstantiated and false allegations and the media pressure would have gone on until he did resign.

    Contrast this with what did happen. The media tried to use the story to get Alex Salmond and when it became clear that it was going to be Labour in the frame not the SNP then they buried it.

  6. True.

    The press in Scotland - especially the BBC - are totally without integrity in this area. They must drink a hell of a lot of Ovaltine at night.

    In this instance, hardly anyone watches FMQ's so the initial coverage was going to be small anyway, so it was easy to bury.

    It was press bias that made me proactive in the debate, since I am a disappointingly average person, this kind of thing would inevitably turn more people away from the union if they were to find out about it.


Thanks for comment as always and I apologise if you have to jump through any hoops to do so. Its just that, I'm still being spammed by organisations who are certain I can't get it up or when it is up its not big enough or that I don't have anyone to get it up for.

Who knew blogging could be so bad for ones self-confidence?