The thistle or the rose

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by Hazel Lewry

One week to go, and the differences between the two main protagonists could hardly be more marked.  A clear case of golden yellow aspiration against a blood red dedication towards desperation and a negative national balance sheet.  Our fiscal lifeblood haemorrhages south through Tory cuts against which first the feeble fifty and now the forlorn forty have proven themselves totally useless.

That this is not a Westminster election is obvious, for in that vote the UK electorate broke three ways, there was a far right party advocating immediate drastic cuts.   This party won and ushered in this forlorn “age of austerity”.   Then there was a middle right party advocating the same cuts but a bit more slowly, although they refused a practical rainbow coalition that might have had other thoughts on an age of austerity as it included Scots and Welsh nationalists.  Then there was a third middle right party who seemed unsure of much except “no to student fees”.  That pledge evaporated before the ink was dry.  Power as they say, corrupts.  Especially in Westminster and Lib Dem circles it would seem.

In this Holyrood election London and Labour would have us believe we’ve the same choices, basically middle right bunglers under England’s red rose, not quite so far middle right self defined liars campaigning under a yellow rose, or an even farther middle right group under a blue rose who will at least apparently do what they say and more, but to Hades with the consequences for the rest of us.  Nobody seemed to want to acknowledge the thistle thrown into the bunch, a strange species of thistle maybe, with more a yellow flower, not so much purple blue, but a thistle for all that.  The Nats.

So do we Scots choose a rose or a thistle in 2011, for the colour of rose matters little.  With red roses being rather more plentiful, and a direct comparison of rose and thistle seemingly called for, I’ll use red.

In the end London is waking up to this Scottish election.  The Unionists may be slowly realizing what’s happening, but still they get a failing grade in the following areas.

Reacting to adversity and demonstrated strength of character: In this the thistle is represented by Alex Salmond in a statesmanlike, businesslike and pragmatic fashion.  Take what comes, allow others a courteous space in which to fashion a noose, bide your time then pull the cord tightly as you score points.  Alex Salmond is demonstrably one of the most consummate statesmen of his generation with a quality supporting cast.  These attributes are acknowledged by friend and foe.

In the corner of the rose we find Iain Gray, self acclaimed hero of the empty “killing fields”, the Glasgow galloper of Union station after grumpy geriatrics ganged up on him just to have a gab.   This was followed by the retreat to Bannockburn at the mere rumour of SNP activists in Stirling, before the most recent Asda abandonment when it became known his rival for an upcoming job was inside.  So flustered was Labour’s leader he even had to do a rather smart about face in the entrance or lose his minders altogether in the panic.  Panic is not too strong a word to use for a man who is apparently so intent on fleeing he can’t even answer a polite question “Ye no gonnae hang aboot?” from someone he hopes to represent.

The prickly thistle still appears excellent at catching others unawares in quiet strength, better so than a wilting rose demonstrating by the ASDA entrance the U Turns aren’t over yet.

Crime: As a policy knife crime was integral to Labour’s first stab at the SNP.  Not only did they get their facts wrong, apparently forgetting that it increased under the last Labour administration and dropped under the current SNP tenure, they also ignored how much knife crime is linked to alcohol, while resorting to leafleted scare tactics in an attempt to spike failed policy.  By voting down minimum pricing for alcohol Iain Gray’s party effectively sabotaged a substantial portion of its own chosen weapon of attack against the Nats, leaving them without a credible means to defend their position.

In the final analysis there’s the “Throw ‘em all in jail” attitude of Labour which costs a small fortune.   Their numbers were so far out as to demonstrate they can’t be trusted with basic sums.  The SNP path of minimum alcohol pricing to start attacking this issue could have resulted in saving potential victims, reducing costs to the NHS, freeing up jail space, less social work overtime, rehabilitation requirements and tying up of financial resources.

Additional revenue from minimum pricing could have been used for a multitude of government projects if we so decided to legislate.  Powers which Labour again prevented both at Holyrood and Westminster.

Clearly the rose appears to equal additional taxpayer costs and “criminals”, while the thistle shows a potential of more government revenue to fund better services.

Energy: Nuclear power to be precise on this 25th anniversary of Chernobyl.  This week marked the actual anniversary.  I had opportunity to speak to two Ukrainians on the day itself and the most striking thing they had to say to me was about the gift of choice in the Ukraine for years afterwards.  Not jeans, games or other items we in the West request at Christmas, but Geiger counters to take to the market to check what food was safe to buy.

Fukushima 2011, the saga continues.  Nuclear power, Scotland doesn’t need it, can export energy without it, and stands to lose almost the entire country with it.  It only takes one accident. The SNP are committed to re-energizing Scotland with green technology.  The most recently announced project being the new tidal infrastructure to be deployed around Islay.

On the surface at least, with nuclear five times and more the price of green energy it appears the way of the rose is primed for potential devastation, while selecting the thistle could release the potential of self sufficient green power for generations.  

Council Tax freeze: After a dramatic U turn Iain Gray elected to change his stance (rumour having it he’s not always running): after saying councils needed to raise taxes, he’s promising a two year tax freeze just in time for the election.  Alex Salmond is committed to maintaining the present freeze for five years.  COSLA, a chief Labour supporter, has also attacked Iain Gray over his “council social caring” stance, very publicly.

Do we want a rose for another possible U turn or are we anticipating the thistle will provide another stable commitment.

Jobs: Scotland is doing remarkably well at present, outperforming many industrialized countries in growth and jobs and looking towards a reasonably solid future after four years of a minority SNP administration.  The SNP have announced plans for apprenticeships as part of re-industrializing Scotland.  Apprenticeships are only useful if there’s a job at the end.

The Nats have helped bring four of the world’s leading turbine manufacturers to the country, with another rumoured to be on the way.  That would mean five of the seven biggest entities in the field who are now expected to focus the high paying research and development jobs here, those should need engineering apprentices to sustain them.  

Pages of Google search detailed only promises, no corporate names under manufacturing entities which “Scottish Labour” has encouraged to re-locate.  The same for the SNP quickly brought forth Amazon, Mitsubishi, and others launching investment with a plethora of business leaders acclaiming the party’s quality time in government.

Do we go with the rose for potential promises based on a track record of failure or stand by the thistle for a quality history and sound industry backed proposals going forward.

Health Services: Labour’s attempting to defend a strategy of closure, consolidation, prescription charges, forced sales, hidden waiting lists and PFI/PPI that have taken the health service to the brink of disaster.  Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP policy’s have ended prescription charges, eliminated hidden waiting lists, reprieved units scheduled for closure and reportedly improved morale.  The rose appears to stand for more public debt and higher fees, the thistle for improved efficiency, better morale and reduced waiting time.

Disabled health services: Labour have pledged funds to assist the disabled, the infirm, the elderly, the carers.  Yet almost all appear at odds with what they have been unable to achieve in the past.  They have created additional stresses and hardships on many good people with “wars on benefit scroungers”.  They reduced financial assistance to many disabled and invalided, and have no loudly broadcast new plans for assistance for those maimed soldiers returning from their foreign wars.  The SNP have pledged to form a type of disabled advocacy group with direct access to MSPs and ministers amongst a raft of other options aimed at making life a bit simpler for the caregivers in our society, as well as the disabled.

A healthy thistle supporting our own or a wilting rose, the option remains ours.

Pensions and the elderly: Alex Salmond’s group are committed to maintaining free bus passes for anyone over 60.  Labour is rather silent, but the remaining Unionists are revisiting or increasing this age limit.  Westminster has reduced many pension benefits, raided pension schemes, bungled asset management and generally placed obstructions in the path to retirement.  The Scottish representatives of their parties have not stood against this.

Thistle or the rose, it’s perhaps as simple as social principles against capitalist cronyism and greed.

Infrastructure: Under Labour, London wouldn’t release funding for a new Forth Bridge, widely acknowledged as a national requirement.  Labour in Scotland prior to losing control of the government were discussing it costing around £ 4 billion, the Nationalists reduced that price to a negotiated fixed cost of less than £800 million, with extras like access roads expected to increase the total to somewhat over £1 billion.  That’s a long way from £4 billion.  Much of the saving is to be invested in alternative schemes to benefit the nation and our youth that would never have seen the light of day under Unionist control.  The money may well have been quietly sent back to Westminster, again.

Canny thistle or the extravagant rose, tick the box accordingly.

Contract management and service value:
There’s everything from PPI/PFI (to be investigated by a new SNP government), schools, hospitals, the Edinburgh trams (no fixed price, no effective payment scheduling) forming a rather damming indictment of Unionist policy and ability, just like the parliament building itself.  These aspects do not account for the gift of billions of pounds of Scotland’s seabed by Labour or the continual largesse towards Westminster with Scotland’s natural resources.

It could easily be argued a rose is the choice for ineptitude and a thistle for a reasonably solid decision making process.  

Trust and faith in the Scottish people: Labour and the other Unionist parties have consistently argued against a referendum for any extra rights for the Scottish parliament, up to and including full sovereignty.  In the final analysis they state two things by this stance.

Firstly that they do not trust the Scots to make a fair and informed decision of what is best for the Scots.  They do not trust those that elected them.  Secondly and equally as important is that they’re also saying they do not trust themselves to wield any more power, that they have enough control over their land and are happier for someone else to take the weight of decisions from their shoulders.

This declaration is simple by those standing for parties from the land of the rose, and is uttered by their actions.

“I am not fit to govern, for I do not believe I have the ability to make an informed decision”

Looking at the above it is almost impossible to see how any Scot could place a cross against a rose of any colour, for a rose is a rose is a rose, and a Scottish rose by its actions has no faith in either itself or us.