Selling off Scotland

'I'm amazed that an SNP government would be so intent on turning our country into some kind of heath

I'm at home. This doesn't happen. I'm never at home. I never have time to look in all my cupboards and dust. (As it turns out, there's quite a lot stored in my dust.) I've been in my own flat for almost two weeks. Good God, this is unheard of and had I not been strapped into my big black typing chair and imaginary places for almost all of this - I did have an outing to Perth for a reading - I would probably be deep into cabin fever by now.

Then again, I may have just spent the small and larger hours of every day battering out allworkandnoplaymakesJackadullboy over and over. I'm not really in a position to judge. I have an impossible amount of work to do and in order to finish the short stories, the newspaper bits, the emails, the drama fragments and treatments and films to which I have committed myself (quite possibly to no avail) I have to behave impossibly - which is to say, by not sleeping, typing, eating toast, typing, doing Tai Chi and (I didn't know people genuinely did this) pulling my hair out and typing. My chair is surrounded by a ring of fallen hair, scribbled-over manuscripts and discarded mugs. And, strangely, I'm having the time of my life. It's exhilarating: all this pacing and typing and puzzling and skin-of-the-teeth deadlines and shouting at my walls - and when I meet real live people in the streets on the way to buy more toasting bread I TEND TO SPEAK VERY LOUDLY AND FAST BECAUSE OF THE CAFFEINE. I may have a stroke quite soon.

And, of course, I'm entirely pleased by the election results in the US. For the first time in three presidential races, a majority of the American states has voted for a Democrat and actually ended up getting one. Who knows by what margin he really won, given the shameless voter purges and rigged ballot machines?

The senate race has also been dirty and dodgy: for example - oops - 50,000 suspected Democrat voters have been reported as blocked from voting in Georgia. Ain't democracy a grand thing? But I'm still cheery - despite the possibilities of Republican philibusters to come - any man who mentions giving a puppy to children in his presidential acceptance speech is okay by me. And if I see that puppy crapping on the Whitehouse lawn I will believe those campaign promises and good feelings for at least a month or two. And I will be able to ignore the never-ending references to the Kennedy brothers whenever Obama appears. We all know these are just mediaspeak for "We think you're going to be shoot in the head soon. Sorry. And sorry for unsubtly suggesting this so very, very often. But it will be a great story. For us. Not so good for you, or your kids, or your wife, or that puppy. Is the puppy cute ? Will it be in the funeral cortege?"

Oddly a UK pal of mine wrote me an email on Wednesday morning that mentioned being "exhausted by hope" after watching Obama's victory. How appalling is it that we should find hope exhausting - even when it's second-hand?

Less of a big huzzah when I found out that my local Scottish politicians have just decided to bend over and let Donald Trump do whatever he wants with a huge and rather lovely chunk of Aberdeenshire.

I'm amazed that an SNP government would be so intent on turning our country into some kind of heathery play park for the super rich and plausible. Not that Trump is that plausible - if we wanted to get into bed with a millionaire couldn't we have picked one the other millionaires didn't laugh at? - one whose millions were a little more, shall we say, convincing and whose current business schemes were not rumoured to be quite so dependent on future business schemes in what looks horribly like an over-leveraged and apocalyptic chain of fiscal dominos. And what have we just learned about those, boys and girls ? Nothing apparently. So, well done, Mr. Salmond. Next time I see your noble visage and melting brown eyes I shall hear the delicious and perfectly sane Mel Gibson's voice yelling,"They will never take our freedom!" Yeah, right. We'll just sell it them for pocket change and promises and a couple of photo ops. Can I see that puppy now, please? - I'm getting depressed.

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Northern Ireland's election: Will Arlene Foster pay the price for a domestic scandal?

The wind is in Sinn Féin's sails. But both parties have to work together after the poll. 

Will voters use the forthcoming elections to the Northern Ireland assembly to punish ministerial incompetence?

After all, these elections are all about the Democratic Unionists’ Arlene Foster and her disastrous mishandling of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, the energy subsidy she previously introduced as enterprise minister without putting cost controls in place, thus racking-up a £500m liability for the Northern Ireland Executive.

Her refusal to stand aside as First Minister and allow an independent investigation triggered a sequence of events that collapsed the power-sharing executive that runs Northern Ireland, necessitating this poll.

The electorate offers its verdict on Thursday.

So far, there has been a predictable rhythm to the campaign. Cautious and insular, the parties have all been here before and know how to harvest their vote. Elections in Northern Ireland are effectively a race to see who can shore up their core the most, (made harder by the overall reduction in seats from 108 to 90 across 18 multi-member constituencies).

Foster knows she is fighting for her political life. Her woeful handling of the RHI scandal, exposed her severe limitations as a politician. Brittle and stubborn, she further damaged her reputation at the DUP’s manifesto launch by refusing to take any questions from journalists on the basis she had "man flu".

Her pitch was a sectarian "Project Fear" warning that Sinn Fein might overtake the DUP as the largest party and push for an early referendum on Irish unity. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams joked after the launch on Twitter: "Just for the record, I didn't give Arlene the flu." 

Foster’s campaign might be ugly, but in Northern Ireland’s hyper-tribal polity, it could prove effective. If the DUP suffers a reversal, however, her colleagues may yet think twice about re-nominating her for First Minister/deputy First Minister.

Meanwhile, as Sinn Féin’s new "leader in the North" Michelle O’Neill finds herself in exactly the same situation as Foster was 12 months ago at the last assembly elections - taking over from a male predecessor who had been a mainstay of the political process for years.

O’Neill is so far proving formidable. She benefits from the fact the wind is blowing in Sinn Féin’s sails. After all, the reasons for this election - the DUP’s incompetence - will play well among republicans and nationalists. 

Sinn Féin’s pitch is therefore about ensuring "equality, respect and integrity", with O’Neill claiming this is "the most important election since the Good Friday Agreement". The Shinners are pushing for the strongest possible mandate in what O’Neill describes as the "short, sharp negotiation" that will take place after the elections. She says she doesn’t want a new agreement, "just the implementation of previous ones".

In terms of the other parties, Mike Nesbitt, a former television journalist turned leader of the Ulster Unionists, deserves credit for trying to appeal beyond the tribe. He has offered his second preference vote to the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party. Tactically, he has to try something to dislodge the UUP from the political sediment.

Both the UUP and SDLP are essentially fighting for relevance in these elections. They constantly claim the electorate has had enough of the SF-DUP duopoly and wants change, it’s just that the voters never vote for it. 

Following Thursday’s results comes the hard bargaining, if the parties are to get power-sharing up and running again and avoid a period of direct rule from the Northern Ireland Office. Both Foster and O’Neill need to be seen to strike a hard bargain. Foster will be desperate to claim she is still in control of events. O’Neill, the newcomer, will want to show she is no pushover.

If she is smart, Foster will  push for an early restoration of the executive and try to put this mess behind her. If, on the other hand, there is a lengthy delay, the election could become a running sore. After all, as the DUP may yet have to be reminded, power-sharing lies at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office.