Monday, October 30, 2006


My new book, The Scottish Secretaries, is now available, and the associated website has also just gone live. You can have a look at that by clicking on my name David Torrance.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Edinburgh launch

I had the Edinburgh launch of my book, The Scottish Secretaries, on Wednesday at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh. It was a pretty awful evening weather-wise but there was a good turnout despite the wind and rain. Lady Younger (George's widow) was there with her son Charlie; Lord and Lady Balfour of Burleigh drove from Clackmannanshire to be there (Lord Balfour is the grandson of a former Scottish Secretary and Lady Balfour is otherwise known as Janet Morgan, who edited Dick Crossman's Diaries in the 1970s). Tam Dalyell was also there, who has reviewed the book for December's edition of The Oldie magazine, as were a few Conservative MSPs, Green MSP Robin Harper and (briefly) the Labour MSP Richard Baker. There was an excellent turnout from former private secretaries - Kenneth Mackenzie, Rev Norman Shanks, Peter Mackay, Archie Rennie and Sir William Kerr Fraser, also a former permanent under-secretary at the Scottish Office - which was especially pleasing as they were so helpful when I was researching the book.

The photograph shows me making a very brief speech after Hugh Andrew, the publisher, introduced me. The launch also earned me a mention on the Scottish Political News blog, which you can read by clicking here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Poll Tax

The Edinburgh Evening News very kindly ran an article by me on the historical background (and some historical revisionism) to the infamous Poll Tax. You can read the full article by clicking here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Peggy Herbison

There's an interesting display in the Houses of Parliament at the moment (in the Peers' Gallery) of selected papers of Margaret "Peggy" Herbison, who was an under-secretary at the Scottish Office from 1950-51.

It seems someone who currently works in Parliament discovered the papers in an old desk back in December 2005, including copies of letters to constituents, political pamphlets and a desk diary from 1947.

Herbison was the first female minister at the Scottish Office, followed by Lady Tweedsmuir in the early 1960s, and Judith Hart under Harold Wilson a few years later. Peggy, as she was known, was responsible for education under Hector McNeil, the Scottish Secretary, and modernised many old Victorian buildings.

Herbison's cousin, Karen Whitefield, currently sits in the Scottish Parliament for roughly the same Lanarkshire seat once represented by her relative.

Ben Wallace

There's an interesting spat between the Scottish Executive and the Conservative MP (and former MSP) Ben Wallace in today's Scotsman. You can read the full story by clicking here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Blunkett Tapes

David Blunkett's much-publicised diaries include an interesting insight into the fragile relationship between John Reid, Scottish Secretary in 1999, and Donald Dewar, who had just become First Minister of Scotland.

July 1999
I had a drink with John Reid [Secretary of State for Scotland] - I had a glass of wine and he had a Coke - and discussed how to repair relations with the Scottish Executive. He was pretty robust about what he thought about Donald Dewar, but I pointed out that he was pretty lucky himself to have got out of Transport just before the whatsit hit the fan. Lucky politicians always get out at the right time.

Of course, relations between the two got much worse later on, particularly over the Lobbygate affair which involved Reid's son Kevin.

Tax Reform Commission

The Tax Reform Commission chaired by former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth finally reports today. Widely trailed (or leaked) in the media, it contains a number of interesting suggestions, including raising the personal tax allowance, cutting the basic rate of income tax and abolishing (and replacing) inheritance tax. You should be able to read the report in full by clicking here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The 'Katy Question'

A good piece of publicity for my book in today's Sunday Times (Scottish edition), regarding the return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland, and the inspiration behind it. You can read the full story by clicking here.