Sunday, 16 October 2011

Two standards better than one?

The gay marriage debate gets a lot of coverage in today's papers.
Here's a longer version of my tale from the Sunday Herald about what looks like double-standards on the part of Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie.


Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

LIBERAL Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who has vowed to stand up to the Catholic Church in defence of gay marriage, is receiving personal support from an evangelical Christian group which is equally opposed to the idea, it has emerged.

Rennie’s Holyrood office is being assisted by the charity CARE, despite it describing the Scottish Government’s proposals for gay marriage as “deeply flawed and socially corrosive”.

The help currently includes free staff time from an intern working in Rennie’s office as part of the CARE “leadership programme”, which places Christians in “the world of policy and advocacy”.
Rennie, elected an MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife in May on a manifesto pledge to “extend legal marriage to gay couples”, was applauded at his party’s conference last week when he attacked the Catholic Church for trying to impose its hostile views on gay marriage “on everyone else”.
It followed Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley, warning the SNP government was in danger of losing touch with Catholics - and by implication their votes - because it backs same sex marriage.
“To threaten to invoke some sort of block vote is an affront to liberal democracy and one that we must challenge,” Rennie told LibDem activists.
“Challenging an organisation with 800,000 followers may seem difficult but we are prepared to be awkward and stand up for what we believe to be right.”
Rennie’s remarks were some of the most forceful yet in the political row over gay marriage, which has been raging since SNP ministers launched a public consultation on the issue last month. 
This suggested same sex couples, who at present can only formalise a union in a secular civil partnership, should also be able to get married, either in church or a registry office.
The government said it “tends to the view that gay marriage should be introduced” for reasons of equality and support for stable relationships.
Alex Salmond, the first minister, has also said he is personally in favour of gay marriage.
However ministers stress no faith would forced to conduct a same sex service against its wishes.
The same day the consultation emerged, CARE for Scotland issued a joint press release with the Evangelical Alliance condemning the proposal.
“The Scottish Government is making a grave mistake by seeking to redefine marriage,” said Gordon Macdonald, CARE for Scotland’s spokesman.
He said marriage was a relationship between a man and a woman, not two people of the same sex, and provided the best context for raising children and contributed to social cohesion - arguments also advanced by the Catholic Church.
Despite CARE’s unambiguous opposition to gay marriage, Rennie’s spokeswoman claimed there was no inconsistency in him accepting its help.
“This is a positive programme. It reflects that many members of evangelical churches are also members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats. “People on the programme volunteer to help the Liberal Democrats across a wide range of policy areas. They do not seek to impose any personal views. Previous participants have gone on to be Liberal Democrat councillors.”
CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) has run its leadership programme since 1993. 
Billed as an “unrivalled experience in the world of policy and an opportunity to see first-hand how key arenas of influence shape our culture”, it includes voluntary placements in politics, the media or third sector over three 13-week terms.
Although a way to foster useful contacts, CARE’s website states “programme members are at no time asked to lobby on behalf of CARE.”
It has also placed young Christians with LibDem and Tory MPs, and the Labour MSP Dave Stewart.

Footnote: After the Sunday Herald approached Rennie's office, the intern in question altered his profile on Twitter to remove a previous reference to his CARE placement. Presumably because it wasn't embarrassing or contradictory in the least.

Cool, calm, collected

As Paul Hutcheon and I report in today's Sunday Herald, the Scottish Conservative leadership contest has descended into acrimony and chaos, with three of the four candidates calling for an independent inquiry into alleged 'party bias' in favour of Ruth Davidson.

As an aside, here's the response we received from Davidson's camp when we asked for reaction to the inquiry.


Sent: 15 October 2011 16:24
To: Paul Hutcheon
Subject: statement from John Lamont


In response to your queries, here is the statement from John Lamont:

John Lamont MSP, campaign manager for Ruth Davidson, said: ‘The latest attempt to try to smear Ruth Davidson and her campaign with unsubstantiated, false and potentially defamatory accusations is both astonishing and deeply depressing.

No one should be in any doubt that this is a deliberate, vicious and, frankly, desperate attempt to discredit Ruth in the eyes of our members and the general public.

Further, it underlines the hugely disappointing fact that some people are prepared to embarrass the party in a shocking display of naked self-interest.

The accusations that there has been institutional bias by officials within the party towards Ruth and her campaign are utterly false. Those now pressing for an investigation have produced no evidence to support their accusations.

However, not content to let the matter rest, certain journalists have been briefed about private, internal party business in a further, desperate attempt to smear Ruth and her campaign team. 

Certain elements of the media, for their part, appear to be adopting the old tabloid technique of repeating a canard often enough that it eventually takes on the impression of truth.

Despite the growing number and frequency of personal attacks on Ruth, she has been determined not to be brought down to this level and has sought throughout to fight this election on the vitally important issues that currently face the party and our members.

She firmly believes that she is the right person to lead our party through the undoubtedly challenging times ahead as a new face and a new voice that can ensure the generational change we must embrace.

For the sake of the party, we would appeal to all to withdraw these unsubstantiated accusations, to desist from any further attempts to smear Ruth and to get back to engaging with our members on the issues that really matter to them.

Given the clearly unfair and vexatious nature of the campaign being mounted against Ruth by the Sunday Herald and its sister paper The Herald – a campaign driven and fuelled by political opponents – we have decided to bring this matter to the attention of the Press Complaints Commission since we are no longer prepared to put up with this unfair, unjustified and unnecessary distraction.’

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Labour pains worsen

The saga over Labour's candidate selection for Glasgow City Council takes a new twist today with the intervention of outspoken MP Ian Davidson.
Here's a slightly longer version of the story in The Herald.

Tom Gordon

A SENIOR Labour MP has condemned his party’s clear-out of ‘dead wood’ councillors in Glasgow as a rigged purge which could boost the SNP.
Ian Davidson, the chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee at Westminster, said he was “appalled” at the way hard-working councillors had been treated in the city.
He suggested some had been rejected because of internal machinations, rather than merit, saying “other agendas” were at work, with “selective leaking” used to undermine people.
Almost half of Labour’s 47 councillors in Glasgow face deselection after a ruthless vetting process last month designed to weed out poor performers and introduce new talent to the City Chambers.
The party insists the changes are needed to improve the candidates on offer to voters in next May’s elections, when Labour could lose control of Glasgow to the SNP.
However, many of the deselected claim the vetting was unfair, legally unsound and biased.
All those who failed vetting will have appeals heard by senior party members next weekend.
Mr Davidson, MP for Glasgow South West, will appear in support at the appeals of two local councillors, Tommy Morrison and Stephen Dornan.
He told the Herald: “I’m appalled at what has happened with the vetting of sitting councillors. “Labour faces a very difficult election in Glasgow in May given that the SNP was well ahead in the Scottish Government elections, and I don’t believe that the answer should have been to form a circular firing squad.
“I don’t believe that Labour can purge its way into power, and I think there’s obviously other agendas operating when good, hard-working and conscientious local councillors are being dumped from the panel [of would-be candidates].
“There should not be top-down, centrally imposed control in this way, with favourites being allowed through and others being rejected.”

Mr Davidson is considering whether to stand for the deputy leadership of the party in Scotland.
At the moment, the frontrunner is Anas Sarwar, although MSPs Lewis Macdonald and Elaine Murray have also put their hats in the ring.
“I’m told that the deputy leadership is all carved up, but I see that as more of a challenge than anything else,” he said.
“It is simply bad practice to have an important election like this carved up before any ordinary members or trade union members have an opportunity to express an opinion.”
Cllr Graeme Hendry, the SNP whip on the council, said Mr Davidson’s comments showed “a clear breakdown of trust” within Glasgow Labour.
“The chaos reflects the lack of local leadership. “Labour say their recent review will bring the party together, well good luck with that.”
Anas Sarwar said: “The selection process needs to take its course. Whatever happens we need to have a strong group of candidates.”
Asked if the deputy Labour leadership had been “carved up”, he added: “Absolutely not.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Being a labour councillor is not a job for life, and party members in Glasgow - who select the candidates to field - want change. Those people who do not get selected have the right of appeal but no-one should underestimate our determination to field the best possible set of candidates.”


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Alas Ruth and Jones

There's yet more trouble for Tory establishment candidate Ruth Davidson today.

The rival camps in the leadership contest are angry that party spindoctor Ramsay Jones may have been giving her a hand in defiance of the chairman's orders. 

Here's an extended version of the story in the Sunday Herald.

Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon

THE Conservatives’ top spin doctor in Scotland is under intense pressure over claims he has been advising a candidate in the party’s leadership election.
Ramsay Jones, who as head of media has to be neutral in the contest, recently attended a meeting at Ruth Davidson’s home with her campaign strategists.
He appeared at the gathering after the party’s chairman instructed staff not to take sides.
The revelation will confirm suspicions among the other candidates that 32-year-old Davidson, the least experienced of the four contenders, is secretly being aided by the party establishment.
It will also raise questions about Davidson’s judgment in allowing a supposedly neutral member of staff to participate in her campaign.
Early last month, the campaign team of another candidate, Murdo Fraser, raised concerns with party chairman Andrew Fulton about whether Jones was helping Davidson.
Fulton told Fraser’s campaign that the matter would be looked into.
The chairman then informed staff they had to remain “strictly neutral” during the contest.
Fulton also gave Jones the same message face-to-face.
It is further understood that another candidate, Jackson Carlaw, spoke to Jones directly about his concerns.
However, despite Fulton’s order, Jones attended a meeting at Davidson’s home in Glasgow's west end on Sunday September 18.
Jones lives in Dunbar, which would make his Glasgow visit a 150 mile round trip.
The session focused on various strands of the Davidson campaign.
Asked if he attended the September 18 meeting, Jones said: “I’m not going to comment.”

The Jones row is the latest blow to Davidson’s campaign.
Last month, she was forced to sack a parliamentary assistant after mobile footage emerged of him setting fire to an EU flag as a friend made sectarian taunts in a Glasgow street in November 2010.
The Herald also revealed Davidson was under investigation by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office after her team sent unsolicited emails to members’ private accounts.
Davidson was facing more questions last weekend for raising donations to fund campaign activity she was unable to guarantee, including canvassing almost 2000 members by phone for £365.
A source close to Davidson said she and Jones had been friends for ten years.
Carlaw said yesterday: “In all my 30 years in the party, there has never been any misunderstanding amongst the professional staff I’ve encountered that for internal party matters there must be a strict adherence to neutrality. Any divergence from this only undermines confidence.”
Liz Smith, Fraser’s campaign manager, said: “This is an important contest and there is, quite rightly, an expectation amongst the candidates, their campaign teams and the membership that the rules set out by the Returning Officer are adhered to and that party employees remain neutral.”
Jones, 51, has worked for the party since 2000 and is one of Holyrood’s most tenacious political survivors.
He is the Scottish Tory equivalent of former spin doctor like Alastair Campbell.
The former financial adviser worked for David McLetchie before his leadership of the Scottish Tories at Holyrood ended in an expenses scandal in 2005.
Since then, he has worked for Annabel Goldie and been one of her closest confidantes.
Davidson last night said there had been no “campaign team” meeting on September 18.
However, her team did not deny there had been a meeting which focused on campaign issues.
Asked if Jones had attended any meeting at her house on that date, a spokesman for Davidson said: “She’s not going to expand on that one.”
Asked if Davidson was denying that a meeting took place to discuss campaign issues, the spokesman added: “I’m just telling you there was no campaign team meeting.”