A really interesting evening yesterday at the final 2014 Matters event in Edinburgh, where the panel was made up of Jamie Livingstone (Oxfam Scotland), Lorna Gold (Trocaire), Humza Yousaf MSP (Minister for External Affairs and International Development) and Jim Murphy MP (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development), chaired by Claire Stewart of STV.
The overall focus was on Scotland's contribution to building a just world, initially focusing on the idea of policy coherence - for those who are a bit bamboozled by the terminology, you can read the NIDOS report on this, but in brief, it's about ensuring that policies across governments are coming from joined up thinking, and there is no giving with one hand and taking with another, for example promoting fair trade but having unfair procurement practices/policy, or having policies on renewable energy to prevent climate change which are undermined by agriculture/transport/road building policies. A lot of food for thought, and a few jokes too. I was performing a useful health and safety function, stopping people tripping over the projector cable, having used a pile of hymn books (we were using a church as the venue) to raise it up - the skills you acquire/need in the NGO sector are very diverse!
Of course the real meat of the evening for most folk was the clash of two senior politicians, one SNP and one Labour, standing on opposite sides of the independence debate. In a wee discussion on the train home, the general feeling was that Humza (Yes) had emerged victorious, though Jim (No) had started very well, he just seemed to repeat some of the same argument over and over again as the evening went on - and given the good things he and other panel members were saying about the problems of the lack of a fair balance of power in the world, I don't think that focusing on 'you'll have less power in global affairs if you're independent' was the most effective one to use in the circumstances. As a frequent Labour voter it isn't easy for me to admit that an SNP politician 'won', especially as I stand more in the No than Yes camp. I should say that every time a senior Conservative politician opens their mouth I step further towards Yes, and am closer to it than I ever thought I could be, but there is still quite a way to go, and Humza's arguments didn't really push me any closer, for all they were generally stronger. His slightly throwaway remark about there being a 'fag paper' between many current Tory and Labour policies got a very good laugh from the crowd. I think that that is a good reflection of a core issue underlying one of their arguments, with Humza talking about the way that current Westminster policies (e.g. welfare, asylum...) are so unpopular and unrepresentative of many voters in Scotland, and Jim saying that if you don't like the current government, you don't need to change your nationality, just the government in power. A great principle, but the general powerlessness that many people in Scotland feel towards the current government makes that seem more a dream than a reality, with things like the growing popularity of UKIP and how far right Labour are having to go to try and stand a chance. We are faced with what seems a tiny voice and limited ways to try to oppose things, whether specific policies, or the assumptions underlying them, which many Scots find deeply offensive and often out and out wrong - of course those views are shared by many English people too, but even with them we seem to be a far too much of a minority to be able to change anything.
I should say that Jim definitely won the 'best facial expressions when you disagree with your opponent' competition, sadly I have few photos with them as I was sitting at the far end of the panel by the projector showing the live tweets (in case you are interested, search for #2014matters) and much of the time he was half hidden behind Humza. After the event Humza did his usual and spoke to lots of people, entertainingly saying that the first time he debated Jim he had lost badly (he said this was the 5th time they've debated I think), as he went very hard at a politician known for being reasonable and nice, and Humza looked like he was being nasty and argumentative, so has adjusted his oratorical style when debating Jim since. Due to a delayed flight, Jim had arrived late, having called ahead to see if someone could arrange a taxi to pick him up and get him from the airport to the venue as soon as possible, and then called again to say that Alistair Darling was on the same flight and was going to give him a lift, so it's nice to hear that my taxes are being spent effectively, and to minimise fossil fuel use! He was then on the train to Glasgow afterwards (thankfully not in the same carriage (I don't think), given our discussions!), as he was walking ahead of me down Buchanan Street and Gordon St as I headed for the bus home. A very entertaining journey, and I have some great blackmail against some SCIAF staff for future use... :)
I had a long lie this morning and was finally able to process some photos and back blip Sunday-Tuesday, after a very busy period of funding applications and reporting requirements, so here is one last back blip though I suspect that today's will also end up being posted tomorrow. Do look at yesterday's I am rather fond of it.