Sunday, September 04, 2011

Loch Ness Monster Raving Loony Party

The title is one of the suggestions for new names the Scottish Tories might adopt if leadership favourite Murdo Fraser is successful in persuading the faithful that effectively disbanding the party is the only possible means of reviving the right as an electoral force in Scottish politics.

While I trust this re-branding will be unsuccessful, the proposal at least has the virtue of attempting to confront the fact that Tories in Scotland really are an endangered species. The story caught my attention because I was told a few months ago by one of the aforementioned dwindling band that this was the way that Murdo Fraser was intending to go. According to him, Fraser is not entirely unsympathetic to the idea of something approximating full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, or even actual independence because he thinks that having to raise the taxes which they spend is the only way the Scottish Parliament will be confronted with the fact - or as we might say, the view - that the state is too large in Scotland.

One of the interesting features of this is the way that the parties who were the most sceptical about devolution seem to have been quicker to grasp its implications. For the Nationalists, devolution did not go far enough but the basic political position of their party means that they had by definition no issue with forming a distinctly Scottish electoral identity.

The Tories were fundamentally opposed to the devolution project in its entirety, yet it's worth remembering that while they are obviously in a fairly dismal state, proportional representation has actually revived their representation compared to where they were after the pre-devolution 1997 Blair landslide.

Whereas one could argue that Labour and the Liberal Democrats, despite being ostensibly the most pro-devolution parties, are the ones that have fared the worst because of their failure to distinguish themselves from their respective Westminster machines. This is particularly the case with the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It really is impossible to over-state the extent to which mere association with the coalition has brought them to the edge of electoral oblivion north of the Border.

This last point illustrates the scale of the problem Murdo Fraser faces - for while he grasps the dire straights the Tories are in, it does not follow that his suggested remedy is tactically wise or likely to be successful.

For one thing, while some Tories have made generally approving noises about this proposal, others will see it as an admission of defeat and will be implacably opposed. Dividing an already small party in this way doesn't strike one as being a very good idea.

The other more fundamental point that most of us would argue is that the problem is not primarily one of poor presentation. Rather, the Nasty party is seen as such because we think it really is quite nasty. There's something about the Scottish - and the Welsh, and the Northern English - experience of de-industrialisation that I think people living somewhere like London simply cannot grasp. Because here recession changes the very landscape. Towns dominated by a single industry become full of ghosts as now idle industrial enterprises acquire the eerie desolation that one associates with dystopian sci-fi. Like the way the grass breaks through the concrete that still carries a memory of the days when ships were built there.

But it isn't my purpose to indulge in sentimentality. While I wouldn't do so personally, one could reasonably argue that such a process was inevitable or necessary - or both. But what you don't get to do is sneer about it - not if you want people to vote for you again, that is. It's this, I would suggest, that is the Tory problem in Scotland.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

On the 'squaddies to teachers' programme

The Phoenix free school in Manchester is planning to employ a staff entirely solely of ex-soldiers. I wouldn't imagine getting approval for this idea from the DofE was too difficult as it fits perfectly with Gove's belief that ex-military can provide the strong discipline and positive male role models that are supposedly lacking in English schools.

Now there's a number of fairly obvious criticisms anyone could make of this particular plan but I'll restrict this to one or two. The first thing that occurs to me is that this will be presented as a welcome shift away from wet liberal 'progressive' educational practices that seeks to rationalise bad behaviour rather than dealing with it. But in as far as this stereotype has any bearing in reality - and it does to some extent - this is merely a species of the same problem. It is the hard-nosed side of the same coin that sees schools primarily as agencies of socialisation rather than learning.

The other point is that in as far as there is Tory support for this, it strikes one as being rather hypocritical. Because those who take a rightwing position on education - and I include amongst these a depressingly large number of supposed lefties - are always complaining that advocates of comps are supporters of schools they wouldn't dream of sending their own children to. In contrast, the average Tory would be absolutely delighted to send their child to an enterprise of this nature? Aye, that'll be right. It's a personal prejudice on my part but apart from anything else, it's the name. Whenever I hear of a school with 'Phoenix' in the title, it gets mentally filed in the same category I reserve for those with 'community' in their name - under 'too crazy'.

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