If Nicola Sturgeon thinks the BBC was biased in #indyref they should provide credible evidence.

Rather then reflect on the weak argument the SNP put forward for Scottish independence, Nicola Sturgeon appears happier to blame the BBC for her failure to win the referendum. Indeed, avoiding responsibility for failure is not unusual for Ms Sturgeon’s government.

From my perspective the BBC’s desire to offer balanced content was often what caused problems. All too often the opinion of world leading experts who questioned the SNP’s assertions were balanced with opinion from nationalists who lacked credibility, but had an abundance of partial statistics. However, the BBC presented these people as equivalents, viewers and listeners were left to decide who was right.

For example, the SNP’s Business for Scotland was presented as representing 200 Scottish businesses and was routinely used to counter the judgment of multinational employers and economic experts that dared to question the SNP’s independence proposals. No mention was made of the fact that Business for Scotland largely comprised sole traders with no cross-border business.

So Yes, the BBC did get individual reports wrong. However, if Ms Sturgeon has any credible evidence that such errors predominantly favoured Better Together she should share it.

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A fresh look at the Trident is needed in Scotland

As someone who is undecided about the need to renew Trident, I am hopeful that the debate on its renewal  that Kezia Dugdale has promised within Scottish Labour will involve the wider population and go beyond the use of party political slogans such as “bairns not bombs” by those who wish to polarise the debate.

Leading the campaign against Trident in Scotland we now have the SNP who estimate that Scotland contributed £100m to the system last year and that cancelling it will fund everything  from nursery places to bus passes. The reality is that £100m is not significant compared to the Scottish Government’s underspend last year (£444m), Scotland’s deficit (£9.8b) or even the SNP’s Full Fiscal Autonomy blackhole (£7.6b). Furthermore, it is entirely likely that any savings associated with cancelling the Trident renewal (£200m-£300m per year) will largely be recycled within the defence budget.

Other anti-Trident arguments are focused around the morality of the weapon and the environmental risk it poses. However, one could argue that no weapon is “moral” and that the environmental risk posed by the SNP Government “sweating” Scotland’s ageing nuclear plants well beyond their design lives poses a far greater risk.

The arguments for retaining Trident are equally unconvincing and focus on the uncertain future the world faces over the lifetime of the system (up to 2080). However, it is inconceivable that the UK would threaten the use of the deterrent outside a wider NATO action – what difference would we make? The second argument for retaining Trident is that it is a net benefit to the Scottish economy. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, is the really a good thing?

It is within this uncertain context that I welcome Kezia Dugdale’s fresh look at the subject,  and  I am hopeful that she can engage those of us who are interested in a genuine debate rather than party political posturing.

Education – Scotland is lagging far behind England, and the gap is widening.

Nicola Sturgeon’s request that we judge her on her record of dealing with educational inequality was rather startling. This is because she wants Scots to judge her on her future performance, not the failings of her government since it came to power in 2007.

The most recent data from UCAS shows that the number of Scottish school leavers due to enter university from the most deprived households has risen by 0.1% this year to just 9.7%. In England the proportion increased by 0.5% to 17%.  Scotland is lagging far behind and the gap is widening.

Ms Sturgeon’s government has tried to tackle this problem not by employing more teachers (there are 4000 fewer) or by increasing the grant for the poorest Scots (they cut it), but by having the universities set themselves targets.

The problem universities face in meeting these targets is that there is simply not the supply of good students from deprived backgrounds to enable them to be met. Universities are therefore forced to accept students from poor backgrounds who do not meet the normal entry standard.

As an academic who runs one of the UK’s top engineering programmes, I know of courses in Scotland  with empty places reserved for students from poor backgrounds that don’t exist, whilst those Scots who exceed the entry standard are being turned away. This is not progress, but it is the record Ms Sturgeon must be judged on.

There is no easy or cheap solution to closing the attainment gap in Scotland. The first step in solving the problem we face, however, must be for Ms Sturgeon’s SNP Government to be honest about their lamentable record in office.

The second thing Ms Sturgeon must be encouraged to do is work with the opposition parties, Scotland’s local authorities, teachers and parents to ensure every child reaches their full potential. In a keynote speech last week, Kezia Dugdale made it clear that she wanted to work with the SNP government to tackle educational inequality and offered solutions to Ms Sturgeon. Let’s judge Ms Sturgeon’s sincerity on these issues by her response, when it comes, to  Kezia Dugdale’s offer.

Can Scottish Labour give people hope for the change they desire?

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As an active member of Scottish Labour, I am fully behind Kezia Dugdale plans to rebuild the party in Scotland.

Kezia is exactly the type of leader we need to reach out to new supporters and activists, and she is clear that she will do that in an effort to find fresh faces and talent for the party. She wants people who also have experience of the real world. People who have held down real jobs, but want to do more to serve their country. People who are passionate about social justice, but have experience as nurses, engineers, planners, teachers, academics, parents or carers.

Kezia Dugdale and Alex Rowley also clearly want to change the tone of the political debate in Scotland. Simple anti-SNP and anti-Tory zealotry will not help Labour with the mountain it has to climb. Within this context, Kezia has set out quite clearly how education in Scotland is failing the most vulnerable Scots. Importantly, however, she has also offered constructive solutions and given a public commitment to work with the SNP Government to help ensure every child in Scotland reaches their full potential.

This does not mean that Scottish Labour will not hold the SNP to account on policing cuts, NHS waiting times and falling literacy.  However, it does show that delivering Labour values is at the core of  Kezia Dugdale’s leadership.

There is clearly an appetite for change across the UK. People want Scotland and the UK to become a fairer and more sustainable country which plays a positive role in the world. Scottish Labour’s challenge will be to give Scots hope that Labour values can deliver that change.

Jeremy #Corbyn’s visit to Edinburgh – his strengths and weaknesses.

Labour Leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn . Picture: Getty

During the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign the SNP’s Yes Scotland ran a series of informal events in church halls across the country. In these meetings problems in the UK were emphasised and a Yes vote was argued to be the solution. Jeremey Corbyn’s rally for the Labour leadership in Edinburgh used exactly the same approach, but Mr Corbyn was genuine and was willing to outline his proposals for solving the problems that Scotland and the UK faces.

As somebody to the left of the party, there were many ideas to get excited about.  There are proposals to bring the national grid and the railways back into public ownership. Furthermore, Mr Corbyn also has plans for everything from ending student debt to expanding social housing and investing in high-tech manufacturing.

Jeremy Corbyn and his smorgasbord of proposals is offering people across the country hope. Hope that the Scotland and the UK can become a fairer and more sustainable country which plays a positive role in the world. This is his strength.

Whilst this vision is admirable, it is perhaps heavy on idealism and light on realism. The proposals are comforting but, in many ways, are a parody of what one might expect from a socialist. The problem being that what was on offer from Mr Corbyn sounded like a shopping list, rather than a coherent agenda for seeking to change the UK. This is his weakness.

Indeed, at the event there was very little opportunity to ask any questions and those in the Labour party who are questioning Mr Corbyn’s vision were labelled as “the enemy”.  This fails to reflect that fact that everyone in the Labour Party is fighting for social justice, and the true enemy in that fight are the Tories and the SNP. We can’t deliver social justice with infighting

Furthermore, proposals on rent controls and the NHS showed that he’d made little effort to tailor his talk to the devolved set-up in Scotland. He also showed very little understanding of the situation  Scottish Labour finds itself in.

Despite these concerns, Mr Corbyn has managed to capture people’s appetite for change. The hope that he offers is powerful.

Scottish Labour’s new leader must regain trust and offer an alternative to shallow identity politics.

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The news that support for the SNP in Scotland now exceeds 60% is unbelievable. However, it was just as unbelievable when their support first exceeded 50%.  Nonetheless, the revelation that the same poll showed that there is widespread dissatisfaction with how the SNP have managed the NHS, education, policing and the economy raises serious questions about why Scots are backing the SNP.

The first and most obvious answer to this must be that the SNP are viewed as the best of a bad bunch. They have followed a populist agenda whilst the main opposition in Scotland has never regained the trust it lost when it backed the Iraq war. Whilst this situation is bleak for Scottish Labour, widespread dissatisfaction with the SNP may mean that its new leader will be able to begin to close the gap in the polls if trust can be regained.

However, to close the gap Labour will also have to counter the second reason the SNP has remained popular despite falling literacy, failures in Police Scotland and cuts the NHS – nationalism. The SNP have succeeded to some extend in linking voting intention with identity. For a growing minority of Scots, politics is no longer about competence in office. The focus for them now is their national identity and which party best reflects that. This transition from ideology based politics to one based on national identity is one every nationalist across time has sought to achieve. Everyone in Scotland should be concerned to see this raw and intolerant form of nationalism gaining ground.

The challenge for Labour’s new leader must therefore be to firstly regain trust in Scottish Labour and what it can deliver in Scotland. Secondly, the aim must be to move the political debate back to fixing Scotland’s problems and meeting its aspirations.  Labour’s recovery shouldn’t be about Scotland v England, rich v poor or even right v left. It must be about convincing everyone that social justice is in their interest.

Higher Maths and why the SNP Government should have acted sooner.

Nobody in Scotland could have been surprised to hear that the pass mark for the Higher Mathematics exam has been significantly reduced. My normally unflappable daughter took the paper and within a few minutes of the exam ending had raised her concerns with me. Before school bells rang to signal the end of the school day,  mathematics teachers right across Scotland were also raising concerns. Like myself, parents across the country were worried.

So whilst the reported moderation of the grading was clearly needed, what is of concern is that it took 11 long weeks for the Scottish Government to concede that there was even a problem with the paper.  Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon claimed in Holyrood that daring to questioning the integrity of the exam was “deeply irresponsible” and did a “great disservice to young people and teachers”.  Surely, rather than adopting this defensive position, the SNP Government  could have themselves offered support to the same young people and teachers by admitting at the earliest possible opportunity that there was a problem?

Yesterday’s exam results also contained one further interesting piece of data – some subjects have witnessed double-digit increases in the number of students passing.  For example, the Higher English exam saw the number of students passing increasing by an incredible 17.7%.  With an election approaching, cynics may suggest that this is a convenient statistic to counter that incontrovertible evidence that literacy is falling in Scotland.

Nonetheless, despite these concerns, we must congratulate every student in Scotland for the results they have worked so hard to achieve.  In particular, I’d like to congratulate my daughter for scoring an A grade in each of her five Higher exams – including the Mathematics and English exams mentioned above.

Why should Michelle Mone’s peerage be the catalyst for reforming the House of Lords?

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The House of Lords is long overdue reform. Labour started the process in 1999 when it removed the vast majority of hereditary peers and replaced them with academics, business leaders, trade unionists, former politicians and others from civic society. Nonetheless, as these people are unelected, the House of Lords remains an anachronism which must be modernised.

Whilst reform is overdue, I find myself questioning why Michelle Mone OBE’s peerage should be the catalyst for this change. I am no great fan of her politics, but I do respect her entrepreneurial zeal. When one reads the attacks directed at her right to be appointed to the House of Lords from Scottish nationalists on social media, it is clear that these focus more on her gender than her talents as a business leader. This is entirely counter-productive and demonstrates that whilst Scots may be overwhelming politically engaged, the level of the engagement is often in the gutter.

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Rather than attacking Michelle Mone, these  nationalists would be much more likely to see the reform of the House of Lords if they were to urge the SNP to back Labour’s proposal for a UK wide constitutional convention which will review the whole of our democratic processes. However, I have the feeling that the SNP and its support base are more interested in attacking UK institutions than seeing them reformed.

As an example of what a constitutional convention could deliver, one must look no further than Kezia Dudgale MSP. Rather than simply joining the chorus of calls for the House of Lords to be wholly elected, she has shown real leadership by suggesting that it should also be physically moved outside the Westminster bubble. Glasgow is her suggestion.

So yes, let’s reform the House of Lords. But let’s also use that reform as an opportunity to overhaul the whole democratic process in the UK from the methods we use to elect our representatives, to how we ensure government remains relevant and accountable to the electorate.