It was worse than chucking out time at the Queen Vic

WILLIE: You lied! NICOLA: You’re a pathetic attention seeker! KEN: Leave it out, the pair of you! Bit early for EastEnders, I thought, checking my watch. No, this was First Minister’s Questions, from the hallowed chamber of the nation’s parliament, and Nicola Sturgeon was in the middle of a slanging match that would get her…

There’s been a murder… of open government

‘You have the right to remain silent,’ intones the detective when he finally gets his man. It’s a familiar scene from US cop shows and, from the end of the month, police in Scotland will mimic the procedure when placing suspects under arrest. If Nicola Sturgeon ever decided to pursue a criminal record — beyond…

Why has the SNP inflicted this video on us?

I don’t know where people get the idea the SNP is intolerant of criticism. Scotland’s most open-minded party has released a new video that appears to be an attack on one of its critics dressed up as a party political broadcast. The video depicts a group of thirtysomethings gathered for a house party. They are Scottish but…

Labour’s beleaguered moderates must act now before it’s too late

When is left-wing not left-wing enough? Veteran Labour organiser Ann Black is finding out the hard way. Yesterday morning, she was the respected chair of the disputes panel, the party’s internal disciplinary committee, and responsible for investigating anti-Semitism and other accusations against members. Now, she is the respected former chair, ousted in a Momentum-led coup…

Hugs and puppies? Not a chance in Nicola’s bleak Brexit forecast

The threat of another independence vote is becoming an annual tradition in the SNP calendar. It seems to come round earlier every year, bringing joy to the world of nationalism and a bleak midwinter to the rest of us. Nicola Sturgeon has again raised the spectre of Indyref2, telling Andrew Marr that she will decide…

A digital toolkit for young Tories

OMG. New Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis has announced a ‘digital toolkit’ to help young right-wingers battle the Left on social media. Lewis wants ‘more of our activists and people who support some of the principles we’re outlining… getting out there in the digital world saying so and spreading that message with us’. To that end,…

Donald Trump is the least American president in US history

As a schoolboy, George Washington transcribed 110 Jesuitical maxims later published as Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.  In this pamphlet he counsels a regimen of behaviour so meticulous it forbids blowing on a spoonful of soup to cool it and specifies the proper method for dipping bread in sauce. Presidential…

Poorly? Just be grateful you’re not in Wales…

MSPs returned for the inaugural First Minister’s Questions of 2018, rested and refreshed over the New Year and sporting the finest in Christmas-gift fashion.  Johann Lamont snuggled under a fetching ivory woollen scarf while a radioactive tangerine tie threatened to ignite around Jackson Carlaw’s neck. Angela Constance essayed a cranberry painter’s smock that suggested a…

Facts are talking down Scotland again

The problem with exceptionalism is that sooner or later everyone wants in on it. The Romans claimed to be exceptional and none but the most contrarian observer of history would seek to refute that. The British at the height of the Empire considered themselves a uniquely bold and industrious force, settler of far-off lands, world…

Israel’s revival of the death penalty would be a grave mistake

One of the many problems with the effort to bring back the death penalty in Israel is that it never went away in the first place. Israel is only a partial abolitionist, banning the death penalty for ordinary crimes in 1954 but retaining it for war crimes and offences against the state. The last execution…

Two deaths and why lawless social media must now be brought to heel

A two-hour drive from Tokyo, just north-west of Mount Fuji, lurks the sombre sprawl of Aokigahara forest. The Japanese call it Jukai, the ‘Sea of Trees’, for it is dense with softly swaying thickets and devouring tides of silence and solitude. Across 12 square miles of lava rock, Mongolian oaks and hinoki cypresses loom over…

Iran’s uprising exposes the left’s shameful double standards

Why is Jeremy Corbyn silent on the protests in Iran? A cynic might say that the Labour leader could hardly be expected to bite the hand that fed him £20,000 for appearing on the state’s propaganda channel. But Corbyn’s motivations are not financial. He and those who share his worldview simply cannot stomach being on the same…

In defence of Toby Young

Turmoil in the Middle East, a reshuffle rumoured at Westminster, and Toby Young is offending the liberal establishment. So far, 2018 doesn’t seem all that different from 2017. The occasion for the latest sputtering is the Speccie columnist’s appointment to the board of the Office for Students. The OfS is the new regulator of Britain’s…

We won’t solve rail chaos by handing SNP a new train set

Like bad Christmas cracker jokes and rows with relatives, train disruptions seem to be part and parcel of the festive season. Passengers travelling between Glasgow and Edinburgh yesterday morning were left stranded after a signalling fault played havoc with the timetable. On what was for many the first day back at work after the Yuletide…

Yes, First Minister, there is a Santa Claus

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes many forms but none so cruel as Ruth Davidson. Nicola Sturgeon had one final First Minister’s Questions of 2017, an unkind year in which the SNP leader ask Father Christmas for Indyref2 but got a lump of coal in her stocking and Alex Salmond on Russia Today. Any hope…

SNP could become hooked on tax-raising drug

Raising income tax ‘would not be radical, it would be reckless. It would not be daring, it would be daft.’ Evidence showed ‘it could actually reduce the amount of money we have to invest in our National Health Service and our public services’. Given the need for ‘stable and predictable revenues’, tax hikes were ‘a…

Raising taxes would only reward ten years of SNP failure

Prepare to learn this week that you are callous and unfeeling. It will be implied, hinted, and even openly charged that you are selfish and mean-spirited; that you care more about your Tuscan villa and the winter home in Gstaad than those scraping by on the breadline. Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivers his draft budget…

What a Twist! It’s Artful truth Dodger Nicola

All that was missing was the empty bowl and the raggedy mite mumbling, ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard forwent the conventional Q&A format of First Minister’s Questions in favour of an amateur dramatics production of Oliver Twist. Attempting to pin down Nicola Sturgeon on the future of local government…

Remembering Jerusalem

The Israelis, whom I love more than life itself, are doing it again. That thing they do when someone, anyone, even a total nishtgutnick like Donald Trump, comes along and tosses them a few warm words. Their little hearts leap to be told that, on balance, all things being equal, they have a right to…

Time to hit the brakes and admit it’s been a bumpy ride, Nicola

‘Stop talking down Scotland’ goes the perennial cry of the Scottish Nationalist, which roughly translates to ‘Stop pointing out unpalatable facts about Scottish Nationalism’. It’s not enough that the SNP governs every aspect of our lives, from how much tax we pay to where tobacconists can display their shameful contraband, they expect us to be…

Nicola Sturgeon’s credibility gap is impossible to bridge

Ratting on your colleagues is a daily hazard at Holyrood but it’s not every day you see a First Minister brief against herself. Nicola Sturgeon breezed into FMQs and outlined plans to shut a lane of the £1.35billion Queensferry Crossing for repairs. Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie asked when ministers learned the bridge would close….

Why fake news is not about Michael Gove being beastly to a bichon frise

Michael Gove doesn’t have the look of a cat-strangler. You could leave your miniature dachshund in the care of the Environment Secretary and, at worst, it might find itself embroiled in a hapless Tory leadership plot.  There are, however, a great many people out there — perhaps millions — who think Mr Gove would gladly…

Nicola nipped by Yorkshire terrier’s bite

As Kezia Dugdale was put through her paces on I’m a Celebrity, her successor Richard Leonard, salt-of-the-earth Yorkshireman, was making his debut at First Minister’s Questions. Miss Dugdale found herself crawling through a tunnel of fish guts deep in the Australian jungle. Fish guts? Luxury! Richard Leonard could only dream of having a tunnel of fish…

A £2billion windfall but the SNP is still overdrawn at the bank of grievance

When is a £2billion windfall a cause for righteous indignation? When you’re the SNP and eternally overdrawn from the bank of disgruntlement.  Philip Hammond unveiled the additional money to cheers from the Tory benches during yesterday’s Budget. Three hundred miles northwards, Derek Mackay seethed. The Scottish Government Finance Secretary greeted the boost to his coffers…

Walking the Green Line

Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel Ian Black Allen Lane, pp.606 If books about the Israeli-Arab conflict were building blocks, the Palestinians would have their own state already and then some. Most volumes bring little that is fresh or challenging, so selectivity is key. Daniel Gordis and Benny Morris are essential,…

Oh Richard Leonard

Oh Jeremy Corbyn, your takeover of Labour is all but complete. Left-winger Richard Leonard has triumphed in the Scottish Labour leadership, defeating moderate rival Anas Sarwar. The Yorkshireman and former GMB official becomes the party’s sixth leader in ten years and takes over from Kezia Dugdale, who abruptly quit the post in August for the…

Holyrood sketch: No more Mr Nice Guy… The return of Angry John

To Holyrood for First Minister’s Questions, where there is a distinct lack of a First Minister. In her place sits John Swinney. Zimbabweans have ousted Robert Mugabe after a long, colourful tyranny. Could a military coup have claimed our own snazzily-dressed megalomaniac? Nicola Sturgeon would be blissfully unaware if there were tanks in the streets…

How bounders, chancers and charlatans took over politics

They can’t hide it anymore. The contempt in which the political class holds the rest of us has erupted from the confines of the bubble and oozed its way across the entire body politic. The worst politicians no longer pretend they respect us or seek our approval. Ego is all and the best interests of…

Tax talk sends the Sturgeometer into overdrive

The Sturgeometer, the most reliable scale of outrage in Scottish politics, was pealing full pitch.  A growing part of the First Minister’s job involves condemning things that are already deplored and don’t require her opprobrium but which she must be seen to be against all the same. So she summons all her lamentations and informs…

America’s unheeded prophet

Catholic, conservative, controversial — US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas seldom speaks but when he does journalists’ notebooks flip open.  Recently he gave a rare interview in the course of which he diagnosed the malaise afflicting America. He asked: ‘What binds us? What do we all have in common anymore? I think we have to think about that. When…

Whenever politicians call for consensus, hide your cash

Whenever a politician calls for consensus, hide your wallet. Nothing good ever comes of the words ‘cross-party cooperation’. Working together is the surest sign they’re up to no good because, for all their grudges and enmities, the one thing they agree on is that more of your money should be in their hands. Nicola Sturgeon…

Neither bank of the Jordan

‘Two banks has the Jordan,’ runs Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s verse of Revisionist Zionism. ‘This is ours and that is as well.’ The Betar leader’s vision of Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah exists today only in songs sung by old men who remember, barely, when the lyrics carried possibility rather than lament. Even on the nationalist Right, the East…

The First Minister is like Judith Chalmers in reverse

Willie Rennie is a Lib Dem for people who otherwise view Lib Dems with suspicion. He spurns sandals in favour of sensible brogues and does not have the look of a man who carries an emergency supply of lentils on his person at all times. I doubt a spoonful of muesli has ever passed his…

They may lean to the Left but today’s millennials are the real reactionaries

Trigger warning. This column contains ideas you may disagree with and pursues arguments that could cause distress to your existing worldview. Those of a sensitive disposition are advised to find a safe space.  Such advisories are becoming commonplace, another layer of cotton wool for a civilisation insulating itself to the point of suffocation. Last week…

Stop picking our pockets

Bad ideas in politics bubble up from a murky soup of groupthink and received wisdom. Research lays out the pluses and minuses of a given course of action. Policy wonks focus on the findings they consider most palatable to the government of the day. Senior civil servants anticipate ministerial preferences and trim back recommendations accordingly….

Strepsil Sturgeon wheezes on but it’s the same old story

Right from the start she was heading Left. Nicola Sturgeon, suited up in Kremlin red, marched on stage to rouse the masses from a podium branded ‘progress’. The First Minister had got herself one of those radical visions that are all the rage these days. Socialism is now so mainstream they’ll be selling it in…

A pantomime for the party faithful – Oh yes, it was…

Party conferences are the pantomime season of political life. Star turns and bit players tread the boards, competing for the limelight with hammy monologues and broad humour. There are in-jokes, knowing looks, the familiarity that nods through gags that would otherwise be considered a bit on the edge. Everyone has a hearty laugh, heads down…

Progress is bashing Tories and Labour at the same time

Like a sharp-suited shark-hunter, John Swinney dumped the chum in the water and waited. The blood pooled out, the scent spread, and the feeding frenzy began. It was the first day of SNP conference in Glasgow and Nationalists were having a right old time tearing chunks out of the opposition. The Deputy First Minister got…

Can Nicola Sturgeon talk her way out of a P45?

Theresa May’s Manchester meltdown was unfolding on live television, like a particularly excruciating Fisherman’s Friend advert, and Nicola Sturgeon was watching nervously 200 miles to the north. The First Minister fired off a tweet: ‘Spare a thought for those of us still to deliver our conference speech and now fretting about all the things that…

What’s the story? Manchester Tories need to find a new oasis of capitalism

There is no rule that says all great things must come from Manchester, it just seems to work out that way. The Warehouse City lays claim to some of England’s finest writers, from Jack Rosenthal to Howard Jacobson, and from its post-industrial streets emerged sounds to define generations of British pop. Without Manchester there would…

Sturgeonspeak: A guide to dodging tricky questions

Mairi who?  It was halfway through First Minister’s Questions when the Presiding Officer called a backbencher. The name sounded like ‘goujon’, though that might have been because lunchtime was approaching. From the din of desk-thumpers behind Nicola Sturgeon — She Who Must Be Applauded At All Times — up popped Mairi Gougeon, who it turns…

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee in America’s culture war

American football is rugby played badly but they seem insistent on it. Place kicks and end-runs are as bound up in American identity as mom, apple pie and the flag. As such, NFL games are occasions for overt displays of patriotism that are probably benign but nonetheless unsettling to British audiences. The most ostentatious of…

Our faith in politics vanished as dunces replaced firebrands

Sir Teddy Taylor. The name was enough to return a resounding ‘hear, hear’ from Tories and a gasp of horror from liberals. The MP for Glasgow Cathcart and later Southend East, who died on Wednesday, was the sort of politician the euphemism ‘colourful’ was invented for. He was also a man of strong, if not…