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Could we be heading for Tory-Lib coalition for UK, Lab-Lib for Scotland?

Posted on 24 November 2010 | 12:11pm

Despite a chest infection (the doctor said it was much worse than man flu but I just keep on keeping on manfully) I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at Glasgow University last night. I was the guest speaker at the annual Chancellor’s dinner; no, not George Osborne, he was busy helping Ireland, where his family has considerable interests and UK banks have considerable exposure.

The Chancellor in question was University Chancellor Sir Kenneth Calman, former Chief Medical Officer and the name behind the Calman Commission into the next steps for Scottish devolution.

He was a charming and engaging host who made a big fuss of my brother Donald, who among other things is the University’s piper, and an even bigger fuss of my Mum, who came along not least because Glasgow was where my Dad trained as a vet. As a result he met my Mum on a visit to the farm where she grew up, so I was able to kick off with a spectacular piece of crawling in saying I owed my entire life to Glasgow University.

We also shifted a lot of my books, with the proceeds going to the University’s world-beating leukaemia research centre.

It was interesting to listen to the principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Anton Muscatelli, and in particular his upbeat focus on the university’s centrality to Scotland’s economic, scientific and cultural life.

In my own remarks, I had made the point that there is barely a high profile organisation or individual in the country who feel they get a fair or accurate profile for what they do. That is because we live in a culture of media negativity.

But Prof Muscatelli clearly comes from the same school as I do … if you have a story to tell, tell it on your terms. And he made a compelling case for the good work the university does for the country, not just its students, and a powerful call for the continuing support of politicians, policymakers, business and the community at large.

If there was an elephant in the room, it was politics, and the decisions confronting Scotland’s politicians about future funding of the university sector, and the same issues of tuition fees and graduate tax that are so toxic in England, with another set of protests today.

All the main parties in Scotland know that whilst free education for all and forever is great in theory, it is not sustainable in practice. They also know that whilst it is terrific to have so many of England’s brightest and best applying to Scotland’s universities, it is a bit of a no-brainer not to be making a bit more money from them.

But what was clear from last week’s Scottish Budget is that the SNP may know the tough decisions are coming but they are not too keen on spelling them out this side of May’s elections. Labour also know the decisions will have to be made, but face a tactical battle to avoid being put on the wrong side of a big argument by a canny opportunist operator like Alex Salmond. And the universities are keen for the politicians not to pin themselves too firmly to a fixed position. Oh democracy works in funny ways sometimes.

The gloss does seem to be coming off Salmond though and with the independence argument well and truly parked in a bay marked ‘no chance’ sinced the economic crisis, the so-called bread and butter issues will dominate the campaign. I am not a betting man but I did suggest to those who are that it might be worth taking a punt on the distinct possibility of a Tory-Lib coalition in Westminster alongside a Labour-Lib coalition in Scotland after May 5.

As people kept saying last night, we really do live in interesting times.

  • How about a Tory government for England and a Lab for Scotland? That’s how the last election went.

  • NorrieMac

    Interesting times indeed. Labour in Scotland would form a coalition with the Tories if they thought it would prevent the SNP of forming a Government next May.Ed Miliband will limp along untill next election,lose it and be replaced.In the meantime in Scotland the SNP will win at Holyrood and have a historic majority then have a Scottish referendum on Independence. Now thats interesting.

  • Phil Gordon

    Whatever happened to Salmond’s arc of prosperity? It is true that the independence question is parked, but LAbour needs to keep talking about it as a way of reminding people what Salmond is really for and really about. Last week was a major moment because it showed the SNP cannot face the difficult decisions government ultimately is about

  • Harold Lindsay

    Glasgow does well but some of the lesser known universities face a real fight for their future. We also have to make the argument that universities are not just about educating the young; they are places where we are now in direct competition with the emerging economies of the world – for ideas, brains, innovation, technology and so forth. China and India are on the march on this front as on so many others, so I am glad to hear the Principal was making the economic case as well as the educational one

  • Olli Issakainen

    The so-called Basque option would give Scotland tax-and-spend regime. It would, of course, be less than full autonomy.
    It is true that now only a minority of Scots want full independence. But most want greater devolution. And independence will also follow soon – that is my view.
    Some say Scotland is too poor – but it has oil. And the population of Scotland is bigger than that of Denmark!

  • Richard

    Another hopeless display from dEad Moribund at PMQ’s today, grasping his “blank sheet of paper” as he leads you all towards the political wilderness. Coalition is not a word you need worry about for at least a generation, Al, as you will be the third party until you retire.

  • Scotsman

    It’s unionist propaganda to believe only a minority want independence.

    The May elections can’t come quick enough for unionists, every day of cuts is another lost voter to the libs, and not to Labour either, gray will not be first minister.

    The greens are in for gains, but otherwise if the SNP dont get smashed a referendum is certain

  • Chris lancashire

    I often wonder if you believe what you write. The SNP know tough decisions are needed (code for Cuts) but aren’t keen on spelling them out. Scottish Labour also know about the tough decisions but they, of course, won’t say anything because “it would put them on a wrong side of a big argument”. Oh, that’s OK then.

  • Gilliebc

    I’m not overly keen on Ed Miliband, but I don’t think he did too badly at
    PMQ’s today.
    Richard, for you to say that Labour will be the third party is just ridiculous. The Lib/Dems are and will remain the third party, assuming
    of course that they can even exist in any credible way after helping the
    Conservatives inflict their proposed cuts on our front-line services. Most of these cuts are unnecessary, unwise and short-sighted

  • Robert L Jackson

    I envy your being in Glasgow.

    Worked there off and on, esp 1987(?) when the Glasgow Garden Festival was returning confidence to the city centre. Seven weeks there that year.

    Then in 1997 for the Rotary International Convention – so proud seeing TB’s photo in pole position in the convention booklet welcoming guests from all over the world wearing his Rotary badge. Have a feeling Donald Dewar spoke or made a recorded contribution – again so proud.

    All of this coming after the damnable Thatcher 80’s when to get to read sanity in the pages of the Glasgow Herald was unparalleled joy.

  • A Scot

    Remind me of what decisions Alex Salmond could not face please.
    If you mean the VRT then you do not know what you are talking about. He wrote to Moore of the prostitute party, explaining what happened and that Spud Murphy had known that this tax had been cancelled when labour were in control.

  • A Scot

    Shame about how Glasgow has turned out since then. I, like you smelt a breath of fresh air after the witch years. It is a pity that power corrupts, Blair becoming the most hated man in the UK, and Dewar being a Tory in the labour party.
    If the mainstream media were honest and the BBC impartial then the SNP would romp the next election. They dont just have labour and the prostitutes to beat, they also have the press to beat.