How Coronavirus could change everything

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History turns as much by chance as by design.

For every meticulously planned revolution, there is the daring shot that triggers a world war. The coronavirus pandemic is more than a medical emergency; it is a contagion that will spread to every cell and tissue of our lives. The way we live is going to change drastically in the coming months but the transformations could end up outlasting the virus itself. 

There are obvious alterations we will have to make. Gym-goers will have to content themselves with a brisk jog round the local park. Takeaway aficionados will have to rummage around for that old Delia Smith cookbook they got for Christmas years ago and teach themselves how to boil an egg. Like it or not, you will have to forgo pubs, clubs and cinemas in favour of — brace yourselves — spending time with your loved ones. Romantics predict a coronavirus baby boom; I suspect divorce lawyers will do a rare trade too. 

These are mere minor irritations. Coronavirus will disrupt the very assumptions upon which much of modern life rests. Individualism, personal choice, free movement, convenient consumption, universal healthcare and a passive state — each will be significantly tested or upturned. Lives and money are what matter most and what concentrate minds in Downing Street. 

Values hitherto seen as immovable will shift abruptly out of necessity and survival instincts. There could not be a more illustrative example than the latest pronouncement of a senior Iranian cleric. Iran does not recognise Israel — except when it is threatening the destruction of ‘the Zionist entity’ — and its citizens may not openly trade with Jerusalem. However, Israel’s legendary medical research labs are reported to be working on a coronavirus vaccine. So, last Wednesday Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi declared that, while it is ‘not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists’, an exception would be made if they produced an antidote to the infection. The pandemic has forced Tehran to recalibrate its priorities: Death to Israel (terms and conditions apply). 

In the UK, priorities will also be recalibrated. There is going to be a sustained period in which the NHS will not function as we know it. GP appointments will be done via Skype and Facetime; elective and even some non-elective surgeries will be postponed; patients will be urged to attend Accident & Emergency in only the most urgent scenarios. If this spurs us to recognise our over reliance on the health service, some of these behaviours might carry over to post-coronavirus Britain. Video appointments could become the norm, allowing patients to consult their GP without having to travel across town to the surgery. The graphic reality of misuse of A&E could prompt some soul-searching about what constitutes an emergency, though government would have to meet patients half way by giving more responsibilities to pharmacists and building more minor injuries units. 

We are also embarking on the biggest ever experiment in remote working. In many sectors, physical workplaces are an anachronism thanks to advances in technology and the availability of wifi and high-speed broadband. The workplace meeting can be replaced by the video conference, the cluttered desk and broken chair by a comfy sofa. Firms could reduce overheads such as rent, utilities and furniture and use messaging apps to keep track of progress and troubleshoot any problems. 

According to the TUC, more than four million Britons already work from home but a further four million would like the option. Understandably, some employers would be resistant on the assumption that at-home workers are less productive, but research shows the opposite. Employees appreciate the trust and freedom — as well as skipping stressful commutes — and report higher levels of motivation and productivity. Remote working isn’t just good for your staff’s wellbeing — it’s good for your bottom line, too.

Moving to remote working could also play a meaningful role in the fight against climate change. Research shows that Britons spend on average 10.5 days a year commuting to work and that, by doubling the number of remote workers by 2025, CO2 emissions could be dramatically slashed. In Scotland alone, it would mean the average person creating 1,248kg less CO2 every year. Save the planet, work from home. 

Science and technology won’t be our only saviours in this crisis. A return to lapsed values including respect, neighbourliness and compassion would go some way to easing this public health emergency. Grim though it is that it would take such an event, but the imminent deaths of a significant number of elderly people may traumatise us into rethinking our attitudes towards the over-65s. Scarcely a referendum or election goes by now without embittered activists from the losing side stigmatising older voters and even taking succour in their impending demise. 

On social media, Generation Z has rebranded Covid-19 ‘Boomer Remover’, a provocation that would carry more force if it weren’t issued by people who begin weeping when anyone calls a virus that originated in Wuhan the ‘Wuhan virus’. The reality has not yet dawned on post-millennials that their grandparents are the boomers who will be removed. 

If anything positive comes of this virus, it might mark an end to our callousness towards senior citizens and a revival of respect and social responsibility. Neighbourliness used to be popping round with a cup of sugar or taking in next door’s children after school. Today, there are stories of neighbourhoods in London where younger residents are using WhatsApp to coordinate grocery and medicine drop-offs for elderly neighbours. Total strangers are drawing up rotas for checking up on vulnerable locals and those who live alone. Neighbours are sharing hygiene supplies and keeping each other updated on the latest health advice. 

Trends in population, housing, income and attitudes have made for a more fragmented Britain but coronavirus is already rekindling an old-fashioned spirit of community and reminding us that we have a moral duty to others. 

By coincidence, the rabbi and philosopher Lord Sacks has a new book out, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. It is about the virtue of a ‘we’ society in the age of ‘I’. Asked last week if his book was pertinent to the impact of coronavirus, Lord Sacks said: ‘If we purchase our freedom at the cost of someone else’s, the result is not freedom. So I think coronavirus is going to test our capacity to work for the benefit of others. This situation of putting up with personal inconveniences for the sake of public safety is going to challenge and force us to realise that selfishness is not going to protect us.’

Selfishness won’t protect us; indeed, it will only make things worse. The more the fit and healthy panic-buy loo rolls and hand gel, the more sick and elderly people will contract the virus, the more the contagion will spread, the more pressure it will put on services, and the more prolonged the outbreak will be. It’s a vicious cycle, and a heartless one too. We are social beings, not just matter in motion. 

Ostensibly, coronavirus seems like a corrective to globalisation and free movement of people and goods. If we didn’t have relatively open borders, some may argue, this contagion would never have spread. This is wishful thinking. Deadly diseases swept the world long before the Common Market or the invention of the airplane. In fact, coronavirus makes the case for more globalisation, more trade and more opening up. 

In the naive Nineties, drunk on technology and optimism, we told ourselves the world was getting smaller thanks to global trade and instant communication. In fact, the world has grown more divergent and only the circles in which we travel have shrunk. We have retreated into tribes, online and offline, and cultures and identities have become hopelessly fractured. An event like coronavirus may make us fear a wide open world but it reminds us too that trade, cooperation, sharing knowledge and global neighbourliness are the way forward. 

The state will be more active in the next few months than we have seen it in generations. We would be wise to keep a watchful eye on such developments but for now coronavirus has paralysed party politics and put the national interest ahead of partisan positioning. Politicians will be no less ruthless, ambitious or self-serving but they will have to tame their instincts and pursue the common good for the time being. Lives and money depend on it. 

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

SNP risks tearing itself apart over trans rights

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One of the biggest dangers for a political party is to get too fond of talking to itself.

That might not be a problem for the SNP, since so many of them are barely on speaking terms these days. Scotland’s ruling party is having an ugly, public falling out over ‘gender identity’, of all things. That might seem an obscure dividing line but it is a furious one and it has opened up at the worst possible time for Nicola Sturgeon. 

There are two main camps in this dispute: transgender activists, who want the law changed to allow ‘self-identification’, and gender-critical feminists, who are sceptical of such a move. Nor is this rupture limited to grassroots activists: as the Scottish Daily Mail reported last week, MPs Joanna Cherry and Mhairi Black had a ‘blazing row’ at a recent parliamentary group meeting.

Rows over ‘gender identity’ are also  tearing the Labour Party apart, but disunity is nothing new there. In the SNP in recent years, this kind of factionalism has been unheard of, and is worrying for a leadership already struggling to placate activists over the failure to deliver another independence referendum. 

For those not au fait with gender theory, this debate can feel like a tornado of acronyms and assertions, bearing down ominously until you agree to stop asking questions and quietly acquiesce. The twin British impulses of politeness and wanting a quiet life conspire to make many keep their heads down to avoid saying the wrong thing or being branded ‘phobic’ towards something they were barely aware of until recently. 

This is not a helpful environment in which to debate changing the law on something as fundamental as what makes a woman or a man. In Scotland right now, there are two main articles of policy at issue. 

First are the Scottish Government’s proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act that will end the current procedure for obtaining a gender recognition certificate, in which you must receive a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and live as the opposite gender for two years. In its place would come a laxer system of self-identification, in which individuals can obtain a certificate without medical involvement. Instead, they need only declare themselves to be transgender and live in their preferred gender for six months.

The second issue is the 2021 census. The National Records of Scotland wants to include guidance that individuals can fill out the sex question according to what they consider their ‘gender identity’ to be rather than their birth sex. 

Transgender activists say the Gender Recognition Act must be changed because requiring a medical diagnosis before someone is deemed to have ‘transitioned’ is demeaning. They believe that an anatomically male person is a woman if he identifies and lives as one, and therefore must be afforded the same rights and services as a woman. As to the census, trans campaigners claim it would be humiliating to demand people answer with a sex which they do not feel they belong to. 

On the other side are a group of feminists who argue that gender is just a jumble of myths and stereotypes about how men and women should behave. There is no right or wrong way to be male or female, they maintain, and question whether those who believe they were ‘born in the wrong body’ are simply judging themselves against meaningless social conventions about how men and women should behave.

Gender-critical feminists warn that allowing men to self-identify as women risks collapsing women as a distinct group, undermining their sex-based rights under the Equality Act and compromising protected spaces designed to keep women safe.

Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, a group of feminist public policy experts, fear that weakening the census sex question puts Scotland ‘at risk of losing meaningful data on a key demographic variable used by policy-makers and statisticians’. The journalist Caroline Criado-Perez has argued in her book Invisible Women that not collecting data on women properly can have negative, even deadly, consequences. 

The debate over these legislative and policy alterations is utterly vicious. Feminists have been vilified on social media, had their meetings disrupted, and been physically threatened and attacked. Academics have been turned on by their colleagues and ‘deplatformed’ from university debates because they espouse the wrong views. Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, was recently uninvited from the Oxford International Women’s Festival after pressure from trans activists. 

The SNP too has been riven by bitter infighting. For journalists, it is jarring to see a party that operates on iron discipline stand by while female members, including MPs and MSPs, are abused from within the party’s ranks. 

It has certainly taught me a surprising new respect for Joan McAlpine, who was the first to speak out and urge caution about the proposed changes. She has been subjected to an avalanche of the nastiest, most personal bile on social media, much of it unrepeatable on a lavatory wall let alone the pages of a national newspaper. Shockingly, some of it has come from members and supporters of her own party, yet she has held her ground admirably and without resorting to the rhetoric of those demonising her. 

For a party failing so starkly to deliver on bread-and-butter issues like health and education, there is a last-days-of-Rome decadence to an internal conflict many voters would mistake for a Monty Python sketch. NHS queues are teeming with patients waiting long beyond ‘legally binding’ targets and the Nationalists are at each others’ throats over whether a woman can have a penis. It is the theatre of the absurd posing as a governing party.  

For the tiny fraction of the population affected by gender dysphoria, it is essential that their rights continue to be protected and their services provided. It is vital too that they are treated with respect and compassion. The law already does this but where reform might be required, it should be considered carefully, with cool heads and as part of a reasonable ordering of priorities.  

The SNP does not exist to legislate abstract gender theory or to redefine what it means to be a woman. It exists to achieve independence for Scotland. I would quite happily see the Nationalists spend their remaining time in government bickering over male and female pronouns because I have their worst interests at heart. 

What an increasing number of SNP members struggle to understand is why Nicola Sturgeon is willing to burn up her political capital to advance a contentious marginal agenda but not to further the independence cause by challenging the UK Government in court or organising a unilateral referendum. 

So far we have seen skirmishes in the Nationalist gender conflict but they threaten to break into civil war if the leadership is not careful. The SNP is stronger for being the party of both Mhairi Black and Joanna Cherry and it has to find a way to manage basic differences of opinion in a respectful manner. 

The problem is that in rushing to legislate another ‘Scottish first’, the Scottish Government has exposed a fault line that cannot easily be smoothed over. Either side sees its position as fundamental and not open to compromise. 

Nicola Sturgeon viewed gender recognition reform as an easy hit for her ‘progressive’ agenda: no virtue left unsignalled. But it turns out her plans might have a reactionary outcome for women and SNP women are more than entitled to resist such a policy. 

Ministers have already ‘paused’ this reform once and the best solution might be to do so again. Allow time for a proper consultation as part of a genuine national debate that involves the voters and not just Scottish Government funded third-sector organisations that, shockingly enough, echo the position of the Scottish Government. 

Nicola Sturgeon should heed these foreboding signs of strife and discontent and think again. The SNP will not allow itself to be torn apart by the agenda of a First Minister who will go to the mattresses for every cause but independence. 

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

Green leader’s eco salvo against Sturgeon

Screenshot 2020-03-06 at 19.31.54‘This week, the coronavirus spread to Scotland,’ Jackson Carlaw intoned. ‘The First Minister can be assured that the Scottish Government will have the full and engaged support of myself and all Scottish Conservatives.’

Gah. It was going to be one of those question times. You know the kind, where everyone falls over themselves trying to sound magnanimous and nobody wants to be accused of ‘politicising’ a crisis. I supposes it’s reassuring to know there is in fact an ethical red line in politics, even if it’s as modest as ‘will think twice about exploiting global pandemics for narrow political advantage’.

‘I thank Jackson Carlaw for his comments and for his statement about support from the Scottish Conservatives,’ Sturgeon replied, because what else can you say? It’s not like all those rampant polymeric molecules are going to stop dead in their tracks because the Tories put out a statement. ‘Call off the worldwide contagion, lads; Murdo Fraser’s come out against us.’

There followed some self-indulgent self-congratulation for the UK and Scottish Governments. They had managed to work together on this, don’t you know? Things have come to a pretty pass when actual grown-ups expect a gold star for not kicking off in the sandpit in the middle of an international health crisis.

‘Intensive hospitalisation’, ‘compromised immune systems’. Carlaw gave it the full Holby City, as though he hadn’t been Googling this stuff along with the rest of us all week. At times like these, we don’t need politicians’ commentary; we need experts on television at every opportunity telling us everything we need to know. Just the facts, ma’am, as Sergeant Joe Friday used to say. Instead, we got more politicians quizzing each other about a virus none of them know anything about. The tedium was infectious.

‘You have failed the homeless!’ The cry was so abrupt it almost startled some MSPs awake. ‘You have failed the homeless. You are giving money to arms companies.’ The disruption was coming from serial protestor Sean Clerkin, who like Marlon Brando in The Wild One is rebelling against whatever you’ve got. Down on the Labour frontbench, Iain Gray visibly twitched.

Clerkin was the picketer who forced him to seek shelter in a Subway sandwich shop during the 2011 election, killing Gray’s hopes of becoming first minister. The incident remains the closest Scotland has to a Kennedy moment. Do you remember where you were when Iain Gray hid behind a meatball sub?

Clerkin was escorted out of FMQs by police, though why they rewarded him I don’t know. The last remaining hope was Alison Johnstone. If anyone could resuscitate this comatose question time, it was her.

(If you’re not sure which one she is, she’s the only woman in the uber-progressive, equality-preaching Greens’ parliamentary group. Still stumped? She’s the Green leader who takes an interest in the environment and can thus be easily distinguished from the other one.)

Johnstone pressed the first minister on continued flaring at the ExxonMobil plant at Mossmorran in Fife. Thus far, Sturgeon’s response to the company has been an oft-repeated ‘just don’t let that ever happen again’, prompting Johnstone to suggest she was ‘too close to the fossil fuel industry to hold it to account’.

‘This is a serious situation,’ Sturgeon tutted, ‘and the tone of the question does not do justice to that seriousness.’

Johnstone’s comeback was fierier than the sky above Cowdenbeath: ‘With the greatest of respect, the First Minister’s expression of disappointment does not help people in the area sleep at night — it does not do justice to the seriousness of the situation.’

I’m told the regularity with which Johnstone’s performances are praised in this sketch causes some alarm and unease in the Green ranks. Naturally, I take a wicked relish in this but I commend her withering broadsides against a complacent first minister because so few can do it so well — from within the tent but stubbornly independent.

Yes, she might want us to live in a solar-powered barter economy with three lentils between the lot of us but at least she believes in something, and that’s admirable. Alison, my aim is true.

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

Family-friendly laws require a family-friendly parliament

46c72dad-6b42-4a05-96da-186638f40cfa-37498-00002da461366c65-3The period between rising star and yesterday’s man is growing shorter and shorter.

We already know that Ruth Davidson will be standing down at next year’s Holyrood election after ten years as an MSP. A decade is a long time in most careers but in politics it is barely a warm-up; after ten years in Parliament, Margaret Thatcher was still only Shadow Education Secretary.

Now Gail Ross has announced that she too will be leaving Holyrood. The MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross was only elected in 2016 but since then has shown herself to be smart and talented with a keen sense of what matters to Highlanders and a determination to fight for their concerns to be heard. She was often tipped for ministerial office and her absence from successive reshuffles was a curious oversight on the part of the First Minister.

The reason for Ross’s very early retirement should give us all pause. She explained: ‘I want to be able to spend more time with my family, to watch my son grow up and to be more involved in local issues, things I cannot presently do.

‘The sheer size of the area I represent also means that I am having difficulty in reaching every part of the constituency on a regular basis and I am not able to represent my constituents in the way they deserve and rightly expect.’

An MSP is giving up parliament before her political career has properly started because the demands of motherhood and a rural constituency are proving impossible to reconcile.

Some will have no sympathy. She knew what she was getting into and lots of people work jobs with much longer hours and for much less pay that also keep them away from home. This is true, but we should be trying to get away from these employment conditions so that working parents can spend as much time as possible with their children. Not only is that what parents want, there is a body of research that shows the importance spending time with younger children in particular.

If you want the world of work to become more family-friendly, you need people in parliament who understand from personal experience how hard it is to balance a career with raising children. The days when mum stayed at home while dad went out to work are long gone and, besides, most families simply cannot afford to have only one parent earning.

The stress and guilt this places on mums and dads is immense and the more they try to do to bolster the family finances, the worse they feel about themselves for missing school plays and sports days. Having mums in parliament keeps these issues to the fore when policy is being made — and mums in particular because, however politically incorrect it might be to say, women are still the primary care-givers in most families.

Ross is not the only political mum to open up about the challenges of raising children while in parliament. Ruth Davidson’s departure from the Tory leadership was in large part about wanting to spend more time at home with baby Finn. As she said at the time: ‘The party and my work has always come first, often at the expense of commitments to loved ones. The arrival of my son means I now make a different choice.’

Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman has also spoken out. She was rebuked in 2016 for bringing her two young children to a Westminster committee meeting after being unable to secure childcare. She even took her offspring with her when she went to vote in the division lobby, reasoning: ‘I have yet to work out what the House expects us to do with small children who are not allowed in the lobby. How do I explain to a two-year-old that she has to stay with adults she has never met so I can vote? The system is nonsensical and overdue for reform.’

I’ll be honest: as an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to parliamentary procedure, I used to be resistant to the idea of making either Holyrood or Westminster more family-friendly. Parliament isn’t a coffee morning; you can’t rearrange a vote on air strikes in Syria because little Johnny has a tummyache. But a parliament is only as good as the quality of member it attracts and if the status quo is going to cost us hard-working and capable MSPs like Gail Ross, then maybe it is time to look again at how parliament operates.

Technology affords us a wealth of potential solutions. Given the advances in video-conferencing software, it should be possible for members to participate in committees or chamber debates even if they are on the other side of the country. This would be particularly helpful to MSPs like Gail Ross who represent vast electorates where more time is spent driving from one meeting to another than is taken up by the meetings themselves.

There is also a case for the use of proxy voting. Members of the public can nominate someone to vote in their place on election day, so why shouldn’t the same option be open to MSPs, provided the proxy performs a purely functional role and doesn’t take any decisions themselves? The House of Commons recently introduced a proxy voting scheme for MPs on parental leave and there’s no reason Holyrood couldn’t fashion a more generalised version of that system.

The House of Commons provides an on-site nursery for MPs’ children, something absent from the Scottish Parliament. The Westminster experience is instructive, though. Because the Commons nursery runs like any other nursery, members’ children must be registered, long-term pupils, which doesn’t allow the kind of flexibility essential to good childcare. That has prompted MPs to call for a creche to operate alongside the nursery on a drop-in basis. There probably isn’t the space at Holyrood for a nursery and a creche but given the size of the Scottish Government estate, there should be space for an off-site facility nearby.

Politicians don’t cut terribly sympathetic figures. To the proposition that we make parliament more accommodating of political parents, many will say they should get on with the job they’re paid to do or go get another one. But this underestimates the value of having mums and dads at Holyrood, as well as MSPs from rural and island Scotland. Drive them away with unworkable conditions and you will end up with a parliament of Central Belt singles, unrepresentative of the country, unfamiliar with the challenges of parenting, and unresponsive to the concerns of families.

If we’re going to make Scotland a better place to raise a family, we need people who know about raising families making laws and shaping policies. Losing people like Gail Ross makes that all the harder.

*****

I was sure I watched the Tories win the election in December, but I’m starting to have my doubts. Boris Johnson’s government won’t be appealing the Court of Appeals ruling that its plans to build a third runway at Heathrow are inconsistent with its obligations on climate change. Cue much Tory bellyaching about ‘activist judges’, but who was the foreign secretary who signed the Paris Agreement? That would be one Boris Johnson.

Protecting the climate and economic growth need not be at odds but when government signs up to virtuous-sounding treaties without thinking through their implications they put the two on a collision course. The economic case for a third runway is sound. Growing the economy will expedite the arrival of technological solutions to climate change.

This government was not elected to bend to the regressive elitism of middle-class bog-botherers or the millenarian eco-communism of Extinction Rebellion. Not only should ministers press ahead with Heathrow expansion, they should build a new airport to declare Brexit Britain open for business. ‘Greta Thunberg International’ has a certain ring to it.

*****

Carrie Symonds has announced that she and the Prime Minister are expecting. A baby is always happy news but at this time of doom and gloom — Brexit, coronavirus, flooding — it’s especially welcome. It’s also a cause for celebration on the Opposition benches: finally, there’ll be somebody in labour living at 10 Downing Street.

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

Sturgeon, Whitney, Joe McCarthy… we didn’t start the fire

Screenshot 2020-03-02 at 16.11.25It must take its toll, all that phoney outrage, and, true enough, Nicola Sturgeon looked fed up being fed up.
At First Minister’s Questions, she did her usual shouting and deployed her familiar demagoguery but her heart wasn’t in it.
Not long before FMQs kicked off, one of her most promising MSPs, Highlander Gail Ross, announced she would be standing down next year because the job was keeping her away from her young son. Amid all the galloping balderdash that captivates Holyrood, it’s easy to forget what really matters. There is a life beyond the parliament and Gail Ross can’t be the only one tempted to head for the exit.
Jackson Carlaw did some shouting of his own. The Scottish Tory leader has promised his party will ‘up its game’ but so far he’s only upped his octaves. Yesterday, his ire was directed at John Swinney’s underhand approach to a report on falling pass rates in schools. Rather than being brought before parliament, the review was punted out at 8pm last Thursday, after most MSPs and journalists had gone home.
Carlaw boomed that the Education Secretary had snuck out the report ‘under cover of darkness’. This had the unintended effect of making Swinney sound like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape rather than Kenneth Williams in Carry On Teacher.
‘If Jackson Carlaw thinks that 8pm on a Thursday evening is late,’ Sturgeon scolded, ‘that says more about his work rate than it does about anything to do with the Scottish Government.’ I’m not sure Mr Carlaw’s evening routine — sweet sherry, The Archers, life-size Queen Mother jigsaw — is any of the First Minister’s business.
Anyway, Sturgeon had experts who said Scottish education was just dandy. ‘More young people are now leaving school with at least five passes at higher level,’ she boasted. ‘The First Minister has finally taken up the habit of her predecessor in regularly patting herself on the back,’ Carlaw sniped.
‘I am not patting myself or the Deputy First Minister on the back,’ she riposted. ‘I am patting on the back the young people of Scotland.’ Carlaw, on the other hand, ‘wants to talk down the Scottish education system’. The First Minister’s ability to go from the-children-are-our-future bromide-merchant to traitor-baiting hyper-patriot — from the Whitney Houston of Scottish nationalism to the Joe McCarthy — borders on impressive.
Richard Leonard’s subject of choice was out-of-hours GP services in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Leonard doesn’t ask questions, he piles verbless clause on verbless clause until his opponent buckles under the weight or the semicolon collapses from exertion. He’s so long-winded he sounds like he’s on loop.
Sturgeon explained how things were so much worse in Wales but not why there weren’t getting better in Scotland. The first minister thinks this a terribly clever answer because it frustrates Labour, but it increasingly makes her look out of touch — as if she’s pivoting to Wales because she has no idea what’s happening in the Scottish NHS.
Kilmarnock and Loudoun MP Willie Coffey wanted Sturgeon to agree on the ‘positive influence’ Biffy Clyro (a washing powder?) and Fatherson (new Netflix drama?) had on the youth of today. It turned out both were rock bands from Kilmarnock. (Anything after Alma Cogan and I’m clueless.) Sturgeon hailed both groups as ‘excellent and inspirational’ and said they ‘illustrate the importance of giving young people access to music’. In 26 out of Scotland’s 32 council areas, pupils now have to pay for music tuition.
Willie Rennie asked about the court decision delaying a third runway at Heathrow. Was she for or agin it? Suddenly, Sturgeon was a stickler for the rules. Heathrow was ‘not for the Scottish Government… not within our power or areas of responsibility’.
Rennie sunk into his chair, defeated, and ripped up the paper in his hands. If only they’d build a third runway in Cardiff, we’d never hear the end of it.

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

The Showdown in the New Town

Let’s get ready to rumble.

In the blue corner is Angus Robertson, former Westminster leader of the SNP, and candidate for his party’s nomination in Edinburgh Central. In the red corner, Joanna Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West and, as of Saturday evening, also a contender in Edinburgh Central.

This is no ordinary selection battle. For the SNP, it’s the equivalent of Ali vs. Foreman: the Showdown in the New Town.

Edinburgh Central is a temperamental seat, ditching Labour for the SNP and then the SNP for the Tories in the past decade. The incumbent, Ruth Davidson, won narrowly in 2016 but on current polling trends the constituency will likely return to the Nationalist fold next year. It’s a mostly affluent seat, voted No then Remain, and is centrally located — ideal for someone with their eye on the SNP leadership and keen to prove they can appeal to Unionist Edinburgh.

Robertson and Cherry are both spoken of as potential successors (or challengers) to Nicola Sturgeon. Each would deny any such ambitions — they always do — but the First Minister is already five years in the job and the Nationalists are no closer to achieving independence.

Last week, the BBC’s Nick Eardley reported on behind-the-scenes frustrations with Sturgeon, revealing that some party figures think the leader ‘might be in trouble – and might have to stand down in the summer’. Eardley added that ‘some are urging the leadership to think about a contingency plan to replace Ms Sturgeon with a like-minded figure if she has to quit’.

Eardley was subjected to a torrent of insults and invective on social media for his report but what was not forthcoming was a convincing rebuttal. The SNP grassroots demand another referendum. Their leader can’t deliver one. Something will have to give.

That is why the selection for Edinburgh Central could be a hinge-moment in the history of the SNP and devolution. Robertson and Cherry represent starkly different positions on the Nationalist continuum. He is the establishment candidate, continuity Sturgeon, the desired outcome of moderates who believe the party must bide its time until there is a government at Westminster willing to permit another vote on Scexit.

Cherry is the embodiment of the grassroots, politically aligned with Alex Salmond, and eager to test the legal waters on holding a plebiscite without Downing Street’s approval. A senior source from the moderate wing characterised the face-off as ‘Robertson fighting for the heart of the party and Joanna fighting for the heart of the zoomers’.

Whomever wins Edinburgh Central — the selection then, presumably, the seat — would not become just another MSP. The victor would be seen as next-in-line for the Nationalist crown, either inheriting it when Sturgeon chooses to resign, or taking it from her in a leadership challenge. As such the winner will shape the future of the SNP and the country (and claim the even grander honour of being my MSP).

Cherry’s statement entering the contest all but confirms this. ‘We must have the right to choose our own future and we need a strategy to get us to that point of decision,’ she said. ‘Scotland will be completely ignored at Westminster, the movement for Scotland to be an independent European nation can only be realised from Holyrood,’ she continued.

Finally: ‘SNP MPs at Westminster have never been there to settle down; I am for settling up.’ Statements like these are usually typed; Cherry opted to write hers with a flame-thrower.

As well as two independence strategies, two personalities will be on offer to SNP members. Robertson is a team-builder and consensus-finder; he’s personable with a light and easy charm. Cherry’s style is more abrasive and more certain. An insider describes her as ‘extreme and pompous’, but the extreme have been doing quite well in politics lately, and as for pompous, it’s hardly fair to hold her law degree against her. Cherry rubs some the wrong way but she’s also politically fiercer and more intellectually daring than her rival. Robertson would go down better at the Stockbridge Sunday market, Cherry at the Edinburgh Uni debates union.

Conventional wisdom marks Robertson as the favourite. He has leadership experience, more years of service, and is the institutional choice. However, that could hurt as well as help him. Aware that they may be choosing a new leader as well as a parliamentary candidate, the selectorate of Edinburgh Central will have to decide between a Sturgeon successor and a clean break with a leadership that has failed to deliver on its promises.

Even so, Cherry’s path will not be a smooth one. While she says she would stand down from Westminster if she became an MSP, she intends to remain an MP while campaigning for Edinburgh Central. Robertson jabs that the party needs a ‘full-time candidate’. (When will he be resigning as managing director of his pro-independence private company Progress Scotland, one wonders.) A radical feminist, she has also raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s rush to change the rules on ‘gender identity’, namely removing the need for medical evidence before someone born male is legally recognised as a woman, or vice versa.

Her criticisms have been met with ugly, personal rhetoric from some trans activists and their supporters inside the SNP. She can expect her nomination to be opposed vigorously — and viciously — by this faction but her refusal to back down to intimidation has impressed the growing number of party members fed up with gender-related bullying and the hierarchy’s failure to rein in the culprits.

That a selection contest in a Tory-held seat 14 months out from Holyrood elections is being spoken of as a proxy leadership race is a hallmark of these uncanny political times. On paper, Nicola Sturgeon’s position could not be more secure. She won a landslide of Scottish seats in the General Election and polls put her on course for a very good result next May. The opposition is divided and not terribly effective; her government is dogged by failings on health and education but they seem to have no impact on voting intentions.

Yet, appearing on Andrew Marr yesterday, Sturgeon was forced to say she intended to fight the next election and stay on as leader. Intend she might; whether she will is another matter. There’s a mood skulking in the corridors and cafes of Holyrood: no one can say when Sturgeon will go but everyone expects it.

No matter how many election victories she records, an SNP leader who can’t deliver independence is a failure on her own terms. The party will look to Edinburgh Central’s eventual MSP for a way out of this constitutional limbo. Expect this selection contest to be a bare-knuckle affair. Whoever wins will become the most powerful parliamentary candidate in the history of the SNP.

*****

Bruce Crawford’s decision to stand down at the next election will mean a keen loss for Holyrood. The Stirling MSP was one of the original 129 elected in 1999 and went on to serve in the Cabinet as chief whip and is currently chair of the finance and constitution committee.

His opponents speak highly of him: not only is he friendly and courteous to a fault, he’s also a thoughtful man who puts in a shift. I reckon the Scottish Parliament will most miss his spirit of public service. Make no mistake, Crawford is a true-believing Nationalist, but he has never allowed his tribal loyalties to cloud his judgement.

At a time when so many backbench MSPs seem content to be an echo, he has been a voice — asking tough questions of ministers and even getting the occasional answer.

Crawford, 65, says he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. After such a long and creditable career of public service, he’s more than earned it.

*****

Jeremy Corbyn — I’d forgotten all about him — popped up last week to say he would consider a Shadow Cabinet post if sounded out by his successor. Given his part in the biggest Tory election victory since 1987, surely he deserves a job in the actual Cabinet?

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

Ohhhhh, Ri-ich-ard Ly-le…

If you’re a regular viewer of First Minister’s Questions — there’s no shame; it’s either this or an Inspector Morse repeat on the other side — you might recognise this sound: oooorrrrhhhhh.

It sounds like Yoda with a heavy cold or a dinosaur that just stood on a Lego but is in fact Richard Lyle, the member for Uddingston and Bellshill and the biggest ham to grace the stage since since Noël Coward.

His theatrical vowels are deployed to taunt the opposition after some devastating put-down has been delivered by Nicola Sturgeon. As a company man, though, every punchline strikes him as more magnificent than the last and so his contribution most weeks is 45 minutes of Lanarkshire whale sound.

Lyle’s sonorous yawping came to a head as his leader was parrying charges from Jackson Carlaw that her latest budget criminally underfunded Police Scotland. How so, Sturgeon, riposted: in the past three years, capital funding for the boys in blue had gone from £20million to £40million.

From Lyle’s backbench bolt there came a familiar flatulent squall: oooorrrrhhhhh! It was Lyle’s most important contribution to yesterday’s FMQs, and that’s including the question he asked. Carlaw was right on it: ‘Hollow cries of “Oh!” from Richard Lyle do not pay for more police officers and do not pay to fix a broken police estate.’

Neither, it might be said, does an extra £20million in three years, a pittance in budgetary terms. No wonder Columbo wore that same manky old raincoat for 35 years straight.

If Carlaw thought she was starving the rozzers of resources, he should ‘bring forward credible proposals’, the First Minister said impatiently. ‘The First Minister needs to get up to speed with her Government,’ the Scottish Tory leader hooted. ‘We have come forward with credible proposals that have been communicated to her Finance Secretary.’ I think it’s fair to say the Finance Secretary has had other things on her plate.

This was Carlaw’s first FMQs since becoming Scottish Tory leader in his own right, and his jabs were noticeably sharper than before. ‘What is the First Minister’s advice to Police Scotland on how it should deal with this funding gap?’ he enquired, saltier than a sailor. ‘Should it cut officer numbers, continue to let the ceilings fall down in police stations?’

One line in particular really thwocked home: ‘The First Minister must increase police funding or she will be putting the public at risk.’ It was more than a little demagogic but it may well resonate outside this place, on the streets where crime is a matter of practice, not theory. These flashes of bare-knuckle politics hint at a rowdy 14 months leading up to next year’s Holyrood election.

Richard Leonard managed to shift out of neutral long enough to ask about threatened closure of GP clinics in Salsburgh and Tarbolton. This led, as questions about the Scottish NHS so often do, to a thrilling account of primary care provision in Wales.

‘Tarbolton is not in Wales,’ the Labour observed wryly, ‘it is in Scotland’. The First Minister spends so much time warbling about the Welsh Valleys, I can only assume she’s got a duet coming up on the next Max Boyce album.

Leonard reminded the SNP leader that her government was trying to dissuade patients from attending Accident and Emergency for ailments that could be treated at the local GP surgery. Wouldn’t closing GP surgeries only make the problem worse?

Scotland’s NHS was ‘performing better than the health service in any other part of the UK’, she told him, citing figures to show the A&E situation was much worse in a place she called ‘Tory England’. You’ve never heard venom till you’ve heard Nicola Sturgeon combine the words ‘Tory’ and ‘England’.

‘Richard Leonard wants to make it all about the SNP,’ she huffed. Sputters of laughter greeted her complaint and prompted a bewildered glaze across her face: she has transformed from Mother Teresa to Marie Antoinette without even noticing.

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

A rough road ahead for Scottish Tories but there’s hope too

When news of Jackson Carlaw’s victory came through on Friday, I was in a dentist’s waiting room nursing a jackhammer of a toothache. The announcement was welcome since it provided me with someone other than myself to feel sorry for.

After Kezia Dugdale won the Scottish Labour leadership in 2015, I told her my first reaction was wanting to hug her because she was in for a hell of a time. After Carlaw prevailed in his contest, my first thought was whether Clinton’s sold ‘Sorry You’ve Just Been Elected Leader of the Scottish Conservatives’ cards.

Maybe I’m just being a gloom-merchant, or maybe it’s the abscessed anguish talking, but I look at the odds Carlaw is up against and struggle to see how he can overcome them. This isn’t a reflection on the man: the party membership made the right decision (and by some margin).

Across many years and through some of its darkest days, Carlaw has been a faithful servant to the Scottish Tory Party. During Ruth Davidson’s maternity leave and the vacancy left by her resignation, Carlaw stepped up to lead amid political tumult on the national scene. He approaches First Minister’s Questions with an acid flair that sometimes gets him in trouble but more often puts Nicola Sturgeon on the back foot.

This is all very commendable but the next challenge is the biggest he has ever faced in his political life. In 445 days, Scotland will go to the polls to decide whether it wants him as first minister or whether it would rather stick with Sturgeon. The latter is far and away the favourite and even allowing for Harold Macmillan‘s reputed admonition, it would take some fairly extraordinary events to place the Tories on the government benches next year.

The best poll for the Conservatives so far this year had them trailing the SNP by 24 points. Yet Carlaw told readers of the Scottish Mail on Sunday that ‘the prize that is now in view’ was ‘to bring the era of nationalism to a close’. I suspect the definition of ‘era’ will prove to be as elastic as that of ‘generation’.

The new Scottish Tory leader has announced a policy review and insiders speak of it in the half-hushed, half-giddy tones of a no-sacred-cows affair, similar to Tony Blair’s zealous reform of Labour or David Cameron’s revamp of the Conservatives into a party of hoodie-huggers.

Change is certainly needed. After 20 years of devolution, and despite Davidson taking them into second place, the Scottish Tories have never secured even one quarter of the seats in a Holyrood election. Deep wells of suspicion run through much of the country and are filled with cartoonish folk memories of a woman who has been dead for seven years and out of power for thirty. For a great many Scots, ‘Tory’ is still the ultimate four-letter word.

Reforming the party to convince these voters that it represents their interests is a perfectly sensible idea. The Tories can’t be like the far-Left Labour council leader who was heard to growl at the height of Thatcherism: ‘There can be no compromise with the electorate.’ But Tories should understand better than anyone the dangers of hasty or ill-conceived change, the kind of change that leaves a party a husk of what it once was.

What the Scottish Tories must avoid in particular is remaking themselves as SNP-lite and Jackson Carlaw as Nicola Sturgeon without the extensive air miles portfolio. It would be very easy to rip up every policy the party has and replace them with faint tracings of the SNP’s own agenda but it would be cynical opportunism and it would be seen as such.

What kind of thing am I talking about? In general terms, the sort of populist, publicity-seeking junk policy that feels satisfying in the moment but proves unfilling in the longer term. One example might include embracing the SNP’s position on tuition fees. Some key figures in the Scottish Tories believe their current support for a ‘graduate contribution’, in which graduates would begin to pay back £6,000 in instalments once they were earning more than £20,000 per annum, positions them on the wrong side of Middle Scotland. The policy costs them the votes of students and their parents, so the thinking runs, and scrapping it would help shake off their image as market-obsessed Thatcherites.

Ruth Davidson indulged in a bit of this herself when she abruptly ditched the party’s opposition to ‘free’ prescriptions during the 2017 election. Notably, Davidson used her Mail on Sunday column to endorse ‘throwing out long-held policies and unveiling a more comprehensive platform’.

There may be sound reasons to reverse-ferret on tuition fees, as there might have been on prescription charges, but these have to be rooted in quality of service and cost-effectiveness. Doing a trolley-dash around the last SNP manifesto and grabbing shiny policies at random, like some political version of Supermarket Sweep, is not the approach of a serious party of government.

Davidson made another observation in her column yesterday. ‘As Conservatives,’ she wrote, ‘we never get the benefit of the doubt on motive.’ This is true and that is why an impulsively-assembled clanjamfrie of freebies and headline-grabbers risks alienating the voters even further. A party prepared to renounce deeply held principles on the off-chance it might bring electoral advantage will be seen through by the voters faster than you can say ‘naked opportunism’. They know how to count and they know anyone who promises centre-left spending on centre-right tax levels is for the watching.

This is the lesson of New Labour that its Tory admirers never fully learned: Tony Blair didn’t break with Labour’s core beliefs; he broke with their tradition of losing elections. For all the gnashing and wailing from the hard-Left, New Labour’s policy priorities — a minimum wage, tackling poverty, massive spending on schools and hospitals — were social democratic golden oldies. Blairism was Attleeism with a better spin operation. As the Scottish Tories embark on an agenda of change, they should learn from Blair’s example and modernise rather than masquerade as something they’re not.

The polls look bleak at the moment and they may portend an underwhelming result next May, but there are reasons to be cheerful and they come from Jackson Carlaw. Confirming his canny political sense, he made his first appointments as leader two rising stars. Rachael Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, was made party co-chair while Glasgow’s Annie Wells became joint deputy leader.

There will be time to talk about Hamilton later but Wells is the promotion to focus on for now. She has something — something still ineffable — and I can only describe it as a grit, something with a bit of edge to it. There is no artifice beyond what is necessary to the low-grade showbusiness that is politics, and even then not all that much of it. She is a working-class Tory, a walking definition of blue-collar conservatism, and the sort of person the party needs to win over if it is ever to see government in Scotland. It’s not enough that she has become the party’s deputy, she has to become its soul.

Jackson Carlaw could surprise us all and end up in Bute House after next May but I suspect not and he’s clever enough to know that it’s extremely unlikely. Even so, his leadership is an opportunity to do what he has always done: put himself at the service of the party he loves. Carlaw can be the leader who sets the Scottish Tories in good stead for 2026 and he can do that by principled policy change, honest costings, ushering in new talent, and putting in the strongest possible showing in 2021.

Whatever comes of his policy review, it will not lead the Scottish Tories into power. That can only come by fashioning a conservatism that is true to the party’s values and trusted by the voters. Scotland is a conservative country that has still to find a conservative party worth voting for. Jackson Carlaw will do the heavy-lifting for now, but it will fall to Annie Wells and others like her to shape such a party for the future.

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk. Contact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk.

Only one leader in race to replace Ruth

The next leader of the Scottish Conservatives will be announced on St Valentine’s Day, though there hasn’t been much love in the air during this campaign.

The contest between Jackson Carlaw and Michelle Ballantyne has been unnecessarily acrimonious and key figures on either side given to intemperate outbursts. More than enough knives have been plunged into backs and, come Friday, the only sharp objects on the move should be Cupid’s arrows.

The rancour of the past few weeks has been largely about personalities and positioning. There is no major ideological schism separating the two leads in the drama. Ballantyne is a Brexiteer and retro-Thatcherite while Carlaw was a young Right-winger who became wetter than a weekend in Blackpool as the years passed. Originally a Remainer, he eventually made his peace with Brexit. There are certainly differences of opinion but nothing to justify the bare-knuckle combat into which this poll has descended.

Much of the argle-bargle began with Ballantyne’s criticism of the Tories’ general election campaign, headed up by Carlaw and which saw the party lose more than half its seats. ‘We need to win,’ she said, ‘and to win we have to change people’s minds and to change people’s minds we have to move forward’. She also referred to Carlaw as ‘a safe pair of hands’ and added that the party needed more than that.

The election, she argued, boldly, was ‘a golden opportunity’ but ‘our party in Scotland lacked vision and ambition’ and had ‘failed to put forward credible proposals for fixing the public services that have been grossly mismanaged by the SNP’. A ‘policy vacuum’ had ‘handicapped our party’ but she would fill it, not least when it came to the Union. ‘I am a proud Unionist,’ she wrote in a newspaper op-ed, ‘but I did not get into politics to talk endlessly about the constitution.’

Team Carlaw’s response was rash and heavy-handed. The candidate marched up to the Holyrood press pack, flanked by MSP supporters like burly enforcers, and let into his opponent. He accused her of ‘attacks on colleagues, on our activists’ for criticising his campaign and, in reference to the fact that Ballantyne’s support has come from the grassroots rather than the MSP group, snipped: ‘If I had the confidence of nobody at all, it would cause me to pause.’

Carlaw’s reaction made him seem imperious, affronted that anyone would dare question him. He behaved as though Ballantyne had spoken out of turn at a coronation rather than made her case in a democratic election. The election campaign was light on policy and vision and did put too much emphasis on the constitution. In framing legitimate criticisms as ‘attacks’ on party activists, Carlaw pulled a trick straight out of the Nicola Sturgeon playbook. He was, in essence, accusing Ballantyne of ‘talking down’ the Scottish Conservatives.

This aloof attitude was only compounded by reports that Carlaw was preparing to sack Ballantyne from the frontbench should he win. One newspaper quoted a source as saying: ‘Jackson values loyalty above all else. If Michelle thinks that he will look at the result, think she has done well and give her a promotion she should think again.’

That is among the most spectacularly stupid statements I have encountered from a campaign, and I know something about spectacular stupidity: I have covered multiple Scottish Labour leadership elections. It made Carlaw sound like the godfather of a small-time crime syndicate threatening to whack a consigliere for criticising his bulk purchase of see-through balaclavas. If Carlaw is minded to sack anyone, he should start with whoever gave that quote.

There was a chance here to show the country what the Scottish Conservatives believe and what the party wants to do for Scotland. Instead, the country saw a rabble tearing lumps out of themselves like a herd of wildcats in the midst of a flea outbreak. Neither candidate comes out of this boorach looking good.

However, no one can credibly propose that the lapses of the past month have rendered this an evenly-matched contest. Frustration with tone and tactics is no excuse for false equivalence. Politics is a serious business and there is only one serious candidate in this election, someone with the experience and political nous to lead the Tories into next year’s election.

That election is set to be the most difficult the party has faced since 2011, when its constituency share of the vote fell below 15 per cent for the first time. Most media attention of late has been on polls showing majority support for Scexit, but another finding demands attention.

Two polls in January, by Panelbase and Survation, put the SNP on 50 and 51 per cent respectively on the Holyrood first-past-the-post ballot, the first time since March 2017 that the Nationalists have polled so high. These figures mark an increase on the 46.5 per cent the party secured in 2016, itself their best-ever showing in constituency votes. If the SNP hits or passes the 50 per cent point next May, it will be the fourth consecutive election in which it has surpassed its previous showing.

Few parties can sustain themselves in government this long and even fewer can do so while increasing their level of support. Thatcher’s Tories couldn’t; not even Blair’s New Labour could.

An SNP that wins an overall majority of votes poses some unavoidable questions. Would (or could) the UK Parliament continue to refuse another referendum in such circumstances? (The Prime Minister’s letter to Nicola Sturgeon did not cover this scenario and there are some weak-kneed Tories who believe it is democratically insupportable to keep saying No.)

Just as important is the matter of Scotland’s political pluralism. A dominant-party system is still a democracy but not always an ideal one. If the SNP is able to remain in government for decades — like Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party or Iceland’s Independence Party — the lack of democratic competition is liable to lead to bad policymaking and poor accountability. A healthy democracy is one where the government knows it could be out on its ear next time round.

The ideal person to stop this eventuality was Ruth Davidson, who, with a fair wind, could have done real electoral damage to the SNP. Alas, she is no longer an option and Holyrood 2021 is now a damage-limitation exercise for the Tories themselves. They need to hold on to as many of their 2016 seats as possible to tee up a credible challenge in 2026.

Michelle Ballantyne has stepped up and shown what she is made of, and while that is admirable, what she is made of is not the stuff of leadership. Turning up to your campaign launch promising a new policy on tuition fees just as soon as you’ve come up with it is not the stuff of leadership. Believing a Brexit election was a ‘golden opportunity’ to show Scots what the Tories offered them is not the stuff of leadership. Ballantyne is genuine and committed to the cause, but she is not a leader.

Tory Party members are voting now but next May the country does the voting and the country is very different to the Tory membership. The party needs a leader who can reach out to those who have never voted Conservative, to those who would balk at the mere suggestion. It needs a leader with a proven track record of holding Nicola Sturgeon to account at First Minister’s Questions and putting pressure on a government positively allergic to scrutiny.

Jackson Carlaw is not a perfect candidate and his leadership campaign has left a lot to be desired. But of the two contenders on offer, he is demonstrably the most capable. Carlaw works hard, he gets things done, he keeps the First Minister on her toes, and he appreciates the need to overhaul and rebuild his party.

If he isn’t victorious in this Valentine’s poll, the Tories will be sending Nicola Sturgeon the political equivalent of a dozen red roses.

*****

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.ukContact Stephen at stephen.daisley@dailymail.co.uk. 

Sunday Supplement: February 3 — February 9, 2020

A round-up of articles you might have missed this week.

Sturgeon can deliver every vote save the one that matters

My Scottish Daily Mail column on Nicola Sturgeon and independence.

Boris Johnson’s greatest challenge is nothing to do with Brexit

My Spectator piece on how the Prime Minister should begin responding to the threat of Scexit.

On a grim day at Holyrood, the light of a rising star

My Scottish Daily Mail sketch of this week’s First Minister’s Questions and the Budget.

Thank you for taking the time to read, like and share these articles.