Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Scottish Secretary

It has gone almost completely un-noticed amid the wider coverage of Gordon Brown's first Cabinet, but Scotland now has a new Scottish Secretary, its 41st since the Scottish Office was created in 1885.

Des Browne now adds the Scotland Office to his existing job as Secretary of State for Defence. Surprisingly, a widely-expected rejig of Government departments did not result in a Ministry of the Nations and Regions, instead the post of Scottish Secretary was simply detached from the Department for Transport and joined instead with the Ministry of Defence.

Sources tell me that Browne isn't exactly delighted with his new duties, bringing as they undoubtedly will trouble in the form of SNP First Minister Alex Salmond. You can read the Scotland Office press release on his appointment by clicking here. Presumably, unless things change tomorrow, David Cairns will remain in situ as an under-secretary at the Scotland Office, in addition to similar duties in the Northern Ireland Office.

On today's (29 June) Good Morning Scotland, Browne defended his dual post. You can read more about that, and his communications with Alex Salmond, by clicking here.

Council of Economic Advisers

It emerged today that Sir George Mathewson, the former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, is to chair the Scottish Executive's new Council of Economic Advisers. Sir George, of course, was unveiled during the recent election campaign as a high-profile supporter of the SNP.

Sir George is no stranger to Scottish government. In the early 1980s he was appointed chief executive of the old Scottish Development Agency, the more successful predecessor of Scottish Enterprise. In that post he struck up a good working relationship with the Scottish Secretary George Younger, who would later recruit Sir George as chief executive of RBS while Younger was chairman. When Lord Younger retired, Sir George succeeded him as chairman.

You can read more about this story by looking at BBC Scotland online.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Douglas Alexander is campaign supremo

Much speculation in today's press that Douglas Alexander's appointment (by the new Labour leader, Gordon Brown) as Labour's election campaign co-ordinator means there's an early election in the offing. The ever-reliable Bill Jacobs, however, in today's Edinburgh Evening News, dispels such rumours.

There is also some crystal ball-gazing in the papers about Alexander's future under the Brown premiership. Some are touting him for Alistair Darling's job at the DTI, but my hunch is that he'll remain at the Department for Transport, although shorn of his Scotland Office duties. With his new goal of delivering a fourth Labour election victory, he'll have more than enough on his plate.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind

The former Scottish Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has called for a review of the law which bans the sale of alcohol at football matches. Sir Malcolm imposed the ban in the wake of the 'battle of Hampden' in 1980 when he was an under-secretary at the Scottish Office. Old Firm supporters armed with iron bars fought running battles after Celtic won the Scottish Cup final.

But now, in light of the ban having been lifted at rugby games by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Sir Malcolm believes it should be reviewed, although he maintains that the original policy was a great success.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Scottish Secretary to be scrapped?

There are a few reports in today's Sunday newspapers regarding the future (or lack of) for the Scotland Office and the post of Secretary of State for Scotland after Gordon Brown becomes prime minister on Wednesday. The consensus seems to be that the Cabinet position of Scottish Secretary will be scrapped and replaced by a Secretary of State for the Nations (according to the Sunday Mail this will be Des Browne), with the current Scotland Office under-secretary David Cairns becoming the first Minister of State for Scotland within the new Department of the Nations. Tom Gordon also has some more speculation in the Sunday Times (Scotland) but it doesn't seem to be online.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lords Forsyth and Baker

Interesting to see that Lord Forsyth is stepping up the rhetoric over the SNP's plans to scrap the graduate endowment in Scotland. There was a debate entitled 'Universities Scotland' in the House of Lords on 20 June in which Lord Forsyth and Lord Baker (Kenneth Baker, the former Home Secretary) challenged the education minister Lord Adonis about the implications of the SNP's policy for students in England and Wales. Peter MacMahon devoted his column to the debate in today's Scotsman.

You can read a full transcript of the exchanges by looking at Hansard online. It's also interesting to note that Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, a Tory MSP until May) contributed to the same debate; perhaps an indication of his intention to spend more time in the Upper House speaking on Scottish affairs for the opposition?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Stone of Destiny

An interesting story in yesterday's Scotland on Sunday about plans to film the story of the audacious theft of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1950. You can read the full story by clicking here.

The theft of the Stone occured during the tenure of Hector McNeil as Scottish Secretary, and he actually favoured its return to Scotland when the aftermath was discussed by the Labour government of Clem Attlee. However, when the Tories returned to power in 1951 the plans were shelved. Ironically, it was a staunchly Unionist Scottish Secretary, Lord Forsyth, who finally repatriated the Stone in 1996.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lord Forsyth and Barnett

Interesting to see that (perhaps) the last Conservative Scottish Secretary, Lord Forsyth, has stuck his head above the parapet and called on the prime minister-t0-be, Gordon Brown, to scrap the so-called Barnett formula and replace it with a needs-based assessment of expenditure throughout the United Kingdom. Otherwise, he said, Brown risked feeding the 'worm of separatism which is growing at the heart of the Union'.

Lord Forsyth, who as Michael Forsyth was Scottish Secretary from 1995-97, made his remarks at a dinner on Thursday evening to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Union. Henry McLeish, the former Scottish Office minister and First Minister, has since waded into the debate, and accused Westminster of picking fights with the SNP in Edinburgh, as opposed to the other way round.

You can read more coverage of this story in today's Herald by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Brown's plans for Scottish Secretary post

Both the Herald and the Edinburgh Evening News carried stories today to the effect that the prime minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown, is so dismayed by the Westminster/Holyrood spat over Lockerbie that he's planning to restore the position of Scottish Secretary (currently cojoined with that of Transport Secretary) to a full Cabinet post. The Evening News tips the Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths, pictured left, to take the job once Brown becomes prime minister. Nigel, who resigned as Deputy Leader of the House a few months ago, is no stranger to Dover House, the London home of the Scotland Office, as he shared basement offices with Leader of the House Jack Straw before he left the Government. The Herald also devoted its lead editorial to the story, which you can read by clicking here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Brian Wilson

The former Scottish Office minister Brian Wilson has an interesting column in today's Scotland on Sunday. In it, he analyses the Government's handling of the so-called Memorandum of Agreement the Prime Minister negotiated with Libya and argues that the Scotland Office's failure to spot the danger of not consulting the Scottish Executive sprang, in part, from its downgrading post-devolution. He also argues, uniquely among commentators I think, that the post of Secretary of State for Scotland should be restored to its autonomous position within Cabinet. You can read the whole article by clicking here.

Harry Ewing

A few newspapers today have news of Harry Ewing's death, including Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Mail. Lord Ewing of Kirkford retired from politics quite a few years ago and rarely attended the House of Lords, but he played an active role in Scotland's constitutional history in two ways: as the first designated Minister for Devolution (within the Scottish Office) from 1974-79 and as co-chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the late 1980s.

I interviewed him several years ago at his home in Leven for my book, The Scottish Secretaries, and he was a charming and lucid interviewee. You can read Brian Wilson's obituary of Lord Ewing in the Herald by clicking here. The Scotsman also carried an obituary by me, while the Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Independent (by Tam Dalyell) also carried obituaries.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sir John Gilmour

The former Scottish Conservative MP Sir John Gilmour has died at the age of 94. Sir John, 3rd Baronet, was the eldest son of the 2nd Baronet, also Sir John, who served as Secretary for Scotland and Secretary of State for Scotland from 1924-29. You can read his obituary in the (Dundee) Courier by clicking here. Tam Dalyell also has a very personal obituary in today's Independent, which you can read by clicking here. In addition, I wrote an obituary which appeared in both the Scotsman and the Herald. The Times also has one which you can read by clicking here, while a rather late obit by Brian Wilson appeared in yesterday's Guardian.

Sir John remained active in public life until just a few years ago, and was diligent enough to correspond with me while I was researching a short biography of his father for The Scottish Secretaries. Another bit of trivia: Sir John was a cousin of the 3rd Viscount Younger of Leckie, and therefore related to the late George Younger and also John Purvis, one of Scotland's two Conservative MEPs.