Since his days as a radical young Labour activist in Dundee, through to becoming Labour MP for Hillhead, being expelled from the party over his stance on Iraq and winning election in Bethnal Green only to lose again, Mr Galloway has never been far from controversy. From performing as a cat on Celebrity Big Brother to performing in front of bamboozled United States senators, he has always relished publicity.
Now he has publicity galore again and, with his usual gift for hyperbole, described his victory as “the Bradford Spring”, a none-too-subtle reference to the uprising in Arab countries last year which led in some cases to the revolutionary toppling of old regimes, an example this third-time MP clearly hopes will be followed in the UK. Although the overthrow of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats may not be as imminent as Mr Galloway would wish, his victory has send a clear message to Westminster. Voters in Bradford are clearly disillusioned with the old politics and with Labour, which previously held the seat, in particular.
Claims that Mr Galloway took the seat by playing to the Muslim community do not stand up to scrutiny. Labour’s candidate was an Asian Muslim and, with his previous courting of Saddam Hussein, Mr Galloway has probably alienated Shia Muslims. There was clearly more to this than race. Labour, under leader Ed Miliband, is no longer seen as a credible opposition party. This result comes after a disastrous week for the Tories, and yet Labour was hammered at the ballot box.
The Tories gloated at Labour’s discomfort, but they should not be too smug – their candidate took less than 10 per cent of the vote, a drop of more than 20 per cent since the general election. Even in mid-term this sends a message. Voters are as disillusioned with the Tories as they are with Labour. As for the Lib Dems, their paltry share (less than 5 per cent) is a judgement on their role in the coalition.
If voters south of the Border are disillusioned with the mainstream parties, what does this mean in Scotland? The electorate, we believe, is not fond of Labour, shares the scepticism on the Lib Dems, as the Holyrood election showed, and has written off the Tories. However, Scots do not have to turn to the likes of Mr Galloway to register a protest vote.
In government at Holyrood they may be, and whether they are justified in presenting themselves in this light or not, the SNP frequently present themselves as a party of opposition – to London and the London parties. Rightly or wrongly, were there to be a Westminster by-election here we suspect the votes would go not to a maverick like “gorgeous George” but to the Nationalists.
Don’t panic! Unite has it all under control
Don’t panic. No, really, do not panic. There probably was never any need to, and there certainly is no need now. The threat of an Easter strike by tanker drivers has been lifted by their union, Unite, while they join talks at the conciliation service Acas. There is, therefore, no need to queue for hours at filling stations to top up petrol tanks. If drivers behave rationally, the queues will disappear and we can get back to normal.
However, if, as we hope, normality is resumed that does not mean the issues which led to the strike have gone away. Unite has said it reserves the right to go ahead if the Acas talks fail. We hope they do not. There are two major problems to address. One is a claim that drivers’ health and safety training has been neglected, the other that final salary pensions are being reduced.
We have said here before that if there are flaws in the training of how to work with potentially highly dangerous liquids like petrol, it should be addressed. We have also pointed out most private sector employees face pension reform, painful as that may be. We must hope these issues are resolved by negotiation at Acas and the unions accept compromise.
More generally, Unite must be pleased with its week’s work. With only the threat of a strike it exposed the Westminster government as incompetent and incoherent, with ministers putting out confusing messages on everything from how much to top up petrol to whether or not to store it in jerry cans. The union may have got cold feet as the amount of disruption their action would have caused became obvious, but without doing much they got the better of the government.
Beavers have plenty to chew on
Here’s yet another cause for our intrepid First Minister to take up in his next summit with coalition Prime Minister David Cameron: the discriminatory campaign against Scotland’s “Braveheart” beavers who it is feared will cross the Border to do, well, what beavers do.
The English-centric Angling Trust has called on Westminster to halt the march of the Scottish beavers by trapping and lethal control. It says they “have the potential to create great damage to our river systems and spread diseases and potentially lethal parasites”. Armageddon indeed. Clearly a joint high-level cross-Border beaver policy group now has to be set up.
What are the implications for the Shengen Agreement? After Barnett Consequentials, could there now be Beaver Consequentials? Scottish beavers, clearly disorientated by the independence referendum debate and the process of post-devolution constitutional deconstruction, may now be Scotland’s “lost tribe”, searching for a new paradigm narrative to combat the onset of declinism.
The major issue for the Scottish beavers to get their teeth into is this: should there be one question or two? A Condorcet Gateway and subsequent devo options?
Surely the Angling Trust should show some understanding of the complex existential dilemmas with which the Scottish beaver community now has to wrestle!