Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A-list, not Z-list

If you are a Scottish Labour supporter, this week’s Survation poll makes for further grim reading. 

Not only is the SNP likely to increase its Holyrood majority next year, but Labour looks set to lose all its first-past-the-post MSPs.

A fair guess would be to assume that the Nationalists will get 70-plus MSPs, while Labour will be reduced to between 25-30 List members, at best.

In these circumstances, Kezia Dugdale – who is almost certain to be the next party leader – will be tarred as an election loser and come under pressure.

However, a number of senior party sources have told me an opportunity lurks in this likely crisis.

According to these well-placed insiders, Kez’s top priority should be to transform a poor Holyrood group by getting rid of the under-performers and replacing them with the party’s brightest and best.

A talented group of 27 is better than a below-average contingent of 38, so the argument goes.

The problem is the looming contest to determine the internal list rankings.

Current MSPs – some of whom are judged not good enough to be councillors – will go head-to-head with defeat MPs and the usual assortment of timeservers and relatives of senior party figures.

In its place, sources say, Kez should create a panel with the specific objective of weeding out the has-beens and never-gonna-be.

David Cameron, in the teeth of opposition, introduced an A-list of candidates when he was opposition leader.

If you weren’t on the A-list, you couldn’t get a candidacy in a winnable seat.

Folk believe the new Scottish Labour leader should introduce an A-list and force a change of personnel on the Holyrood group.

A caveat would be that such a panel was used by Scottish Labour before the first Parliament election in 1999.

Individuals like Susan Deacon struggled to make the cut, while the principle of Buggins’ turn seemed to prevail.

This time,  sources say, there should be only one requirement for making it onto the A-list: talent.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Scottish Labour succession

A consensus is emerging that Scottish Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale should replace Jim Murphy unopposed.

Her supporters point not only to her performances at First Minister’s Questions, but argue that the party does not need another leadership contest five months after the last one.

Their preference was for Murphy to lead Labour into the next year’s Holyrood poll  – due to the belief that it is almost unwinnable – but the leader’s resignation has scuppered this plan.

However, I understand close Murphy ally Ken Macintosh MSP is mulling over a possible run.

Macintosh went for the job in 2011 and lost to Johann Lamont.

Ironically, Dugdale was one of his supporters.

This is setting tongues wagging for a number of reasons.

Given Macintosh’s closeness to Murphy, does the latter approve of the former’s leadership ambitions?

And would, as some party insiders fear, Murphy be an influential figure if Macintosh won?

As a caveat, I understand Ken would not stand if Kez did.

Even so, Labour Kremlinologists should look at Murphy’s exit speech on Saturday for a few clues.

Other than resigning, he said he would bring forward a bold set of internal reforms to transform his party.

No detail was offered, apart from numerous references to why there must be one-member-one-vote (OMOV) for future contests.

If Murphy believed there was going to be a coronation, why would he major on the rules and terms of a contest?

His focus on OMOV is interesting for another reason.

In December, he told me OMOV was already a done deal in Scotland, following the party’s Collins Review.

“The Scottish Labour party already agreed to make these changes,” he said. “The unions voted for it north and south of the border”.

Despite saying five months ago that OMOV had been pushed through, Murphy is now trying to make it the centrepiece of his reform agenda.

One final thought on Macintosh’s previous attempt at securing the leadership.

Although Lamont triumphed in the electoral college, she did not win the section for party members, whose views would prevail in a OMOV system.

The members voted for Ken.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

United they stand?

A hallmark of Scottish Labour’s general election campaign from hell was the low profile of deputy leader Kezia Dugdale.
This was not Kez’s choice. Leader Jim Murphy made the campaign all about himself – and nobody else got a look in.

All that changed on Friday morning during the post-disaster press conference.

While Murphy had flown solo during the campaign, Dugdale was wheeled on stage as the ex-MP's co-pilot during a question and answer session.

Asked whether he would be resigning, Murphy said: “Myself and Kez became leader and deputy leader of our party five months ago...”

In other words, although the campaign was entirely a Murphy operation, failure was collective.

Since Friday, trade unions, MSPs and defeated candidates have called for Murphy to quit.

However, John McTernan – Murphy’s chief of staff – linked the leader and his deputy last night on Twitter.

Intervening in a row between a party MSP and a councillor, he said of Murphy’s critics: “....and they are calling for Kez to go too.”

On Murphy facing a no-confidence vote at a meeting of the party's governing body on Saturday, he wrote: “A no confidence vote is no confidence in the Leader and the Deputy.”

These comments are extraordinary for two reasons. 

Firstly, I don’t know anybody who is calling on Kez to quit. She has performed well at FMQs and is more popular internally than her boss.

Secondly, a motion of no-confidence would explicitly be about Murphy, not his deputy.

So what is going on?

Party sources tell me that Dugdale replacing Murphy is a question of “when”, rather than “if”.

However, Murphy has power over the timing of a succession.

Kez’s supporters would prefer Murphy to lead Labour into what will likely be another election defeat at the Holyrood poll next year.

The plan would be for Murphy to then hand over the reins to the Lothians MSP.

An immediate Murphy exit would mean Kez leading Labour into defeat – an outcome that would make her dead woman walking.

It seems Kez is being dragged into someone else's leadership crisis.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Eck's earnings

WITH former First Minister Alex Salmond having written a book about the referendum, as well as penning regular newspaper columns, attention has inevitably turned to his outside earnings and where the income is going.

The mystery has been solved. According to the MSP’s register of interest, he is the shareholder in an unlimited company called The Chronicles of Deer, a vehicle set up to handle the fees from his writings.

Here is the full story.

 By Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond is to use a private company to receive his outside earnings from publishing, potentially cutting his tax bill.
The former First Minister is the sole shareholder in a new firm, The Chronicles of Deer, it has emerged.
The company will be the vehicle for Salmond’s flourishing career a writer, which includes newspaper columns and his best-selling referendum diary The Dream Shall Never Die.
The company already holds the copyright on The Dream Shall Never Die.
The arrangement, which is not unusual for authors, could potentially reduce Salmond’s tax liabilities.
Instead of being subject to higher rate income tax of 40% or 45%, money going to a company can be subject to corporation tax at just 20%.
Money can then be withdrawn gradually as salary and dividends, reducing income tax and national insurance.
One of the two directors of Salmond's company is an accountant who specialises in “tax efficient investments”.
However, any benefits derived from using a company may be offset by operating costs, and authors are advised to take professional advice on the matter.
Despite Salmond starting his newspaper columns in February and his book coming out in March, the firm has yet to receive any money, raising questions at Holyrood about whether Salmond has arranged his affairs to avoid publicity before the general election.
Sources close to Salmond, who is standing in Gordon on May 7, deny this.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Why is Alex Salmond being so coy? Surely it would be best to simply declare what he has earned from his book sales and newspaper columns now? What has he got to hide?”
Salmond, who is the MSP for Aberdeenshire East, declared the new arrangement in his Scottish Parliament register of interests earlier this month, and it was finally published on Friday.
It states: “From 2 March 2015 I have owned an ordinary shareholding worth £1 in Chronicles of Deer, a company for publishing books and writings. This constitutes 100% of the issued share capital. 
"As at the end of financial year 2014/15 (6 April 2015) no monies have been paid into the Chronicles of Deer company account from any source and it has a zero balance.” 
The Chronicles of Deer was incorporated as a private unlimited company on 13 February 2015.
Its directors are solicitor Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and accountant John Cairns.
Ahmed-Sheikh, the SNP’s candidate in Ochil & South Perthshire, is Salmond’s lawyer, while Cairns is Salmond’s accountant.
Salmond thanks them both in the acknowledgements of The Dream Shall Never Die. 
Because the new company is unlimited rather than limited - meaning Salmond has unlimited liability for any debts - it is not required to file annual accounts at Companies House.
However Salmond has told the parliament he will voluntarily update his register of interests each month to declare all income as it arrives.
Cairns is a partner at chartered accountants French Duncan.
According to his profile on the firm’s website, he specialises in "advising owner-managed businesses and their owners on a wide range of tax matters, including: acquisitions and sales; reorganisations; share valuations; succession planning; shares schemes; tax efficient investments and inheritance tax planning".
The name of the company is a play on The Book of Deer, the first book to use both Scots and Irish Gaelic, which was produced in the tenth century by the monks of Deer Abbey near Salmond’s home in the Aberdeenshire village of Strichen. 
Salmond’s spokesman said: “Mr Salmond has updated his entry in the register of interests according to the rules. The entry notes that as at the end of the financial year 2014/15, the company account had a zero balance with no moneys received, either from book sales or journalism.
“It is common practice, indeed the norm, for writers to establish companies to separate earnings from journalism and books from other income and the fact that the company is unlimited merely reflects that it carries no risk of default and that Mr Salmond as the 100% shareholder is willing to meet all company obligations in all circumstances.
“Clearly given Mr Salmond’s willingness, in the interests of transparency, to declare all company earnings within the relevant timescale, this goes far beyond the declarations that would be made in company accounts the following year making the claim of lack of disclosure simply absurd, indeed it is the complete reverse of the truth.”
The spokesman also pointed out that Salmond had made a large number of charitable donations from other income, including giving his First Minister’s monthly pension of £2598 to the Mary Salmond Trust for community and youth causes in the North East of Scotland, dividing a £12,500 speaking fee from Bank of America between four Scottish charities, and distributing  £39,750 raised from the auction of First Ministerial gifts.
It is understood The Chronicles of Deer may also make charitable donations.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

French connections

THE general election in Scotland has become dominated by a bizarre row over what First Minister Nicola Sturgeon allegedly said to a French diplomat.

According to  a leaked memo obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Sturgeon told France’s UK Ambassador Sylvie Bermann that “she'd rather see David Cameron remain as PM”.

If true, this would have been hugely embarrassing: the First Minister has said publicly she wants Cameron out of Downing Street and Ed Miliband in.

The story unraveled after Pierre-Alain Coffinier, France's consul general in Edinburgh, as well as Bermann's spokesperson, both denied the Cameron claim.

The original newspaper report wasn’t helped by the fact that the memo was written by an official in the Scotland Office who wasn’t even at the Sturgeon meeting.

However, the memo also noted the First Minister saying she "didn't see Ed Miliband as PM material".

So, are the French diplomats also denying this part of this document?

When the Sunday Herald spoke to Coffinier yesterday, he repeated his denial about the Cameron claim, but was far more uncomfortable being quizzed on the Miliband section.

Here is the exchange with Monsieur Coffinier:

Shown the section of the leaked memo regarding Sturgeon’s views on David Cameron and Ed Miliband, he said: “Well, yes, that is not accurate.”

Asked if any of it was accurate, he said: “I’m not going to disclose that. My comment is very clear. There has been no preference expressed regarding the outcome of the elections.”

Pressed on whether Sturgeon said Ed Miliband was not Prime Ministerial material, he said: “No, I’m not going to answer. No comment… I don’t want to answer that. I don’t want to answer that.”