Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Borgen: a template for collegiate, consensual politics?

The latest issue of Total Politics has a couple of articles on television political dramas. The first covers the usual and very entertaining mix of 'The Thick of It', 'A Very British Coup' State of Play' Yes Minister' 'House of Cards' are mentioned and are of course very British examples of the genre. The second article is about the hit Danish political drama 'Borgen' that certainly had me tuning in regularly for its depiction of the challenges facing the newly elected Statsminister Birgitte Nyborg.
Oddly the article by Caroline Crampton suggests the reason for Borgen's success with British audiences was because it couldn't happen here. Crampton posits that it portrays a politics that is 'collegiate, consensual, egalitarian yet still passionate' and appeals because it is unusual to us. Maybe in England it is but in the asymmetrically devolved UK parliaments and assemblies with their proportional representation, coalitions  power sharing and plurality of parties perhaps the narrative of Borgen is not such a distant concept.
Scotland has been governed since 1999 by two coalitions, one minority government and now a majority government. Its pr system has produced one rainbow parliament and the representation of women has been light years ahead of Westminster and currently both the Labour Party and the Tories are led by women with both parties now on to their second woman leader. Nicola Sturgeon the SNP's Deputy Leader and Deputy First Minister is surely in pole position to take on the top job when First Minister Alex Salmond steps down from the leadership of the SNP.
During the period that the SNP governed as a minority John Swinney's deft handling of the budget process and the managerial diplomacy of Bruce Crawford showed that a collegiate, consensual politics was achievable even if the main opposition party rarely wanted to play ball. Scotland also has pr in local government which has seen most councils run as coalitions again leading to negotiation over policies and pragmatic consensus emerging along with decision making structures to accommodate that.
In the other devolved nations we have seen coalitions in Wales and finally in Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood a leader that could just be the Birgitte Nyborg of the piece (she'll love me for that I'm sure!).
If there is one devolved legislature which is probably most deserving of a tv drama it would have to be the Northern Ireland Assembly. A power sharing agreement between Nationalist Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party must provide fascinating material for drama with the history of the struggles and the IRA background of many Sinn Fein MLAs. The sensitivities of negotiation and agreement in the NI Assembly is surely a different politics which must have some degree of the collegiate and consensual in its pragmatism.   Though women play a less prominent role in NI politics there is a template from the Irish Republic with former Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.
Viewed from the London centric village of Westminster Borgen may well seem like an alien version of politics but perhaps what the fiction of Borgen portrayed is not that far removed from the newer and evolving politics of the devolved nations of these isles. Whether it is or not Borgen is must watch TV and I can't wait for the next series.

Update #1: Leanne Wood Leader of Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales launches a crowdsourcing initiative to build the next Plaid manifesto. Ms Wood said, “We need to open the 'source code' of the policy development process - because politicians do not have a monopoly on good ideas. The glass panes of the Senedd should not just be there to improve transparency - they should also allow ideas from outside in.
“I want the Party of Wales to lead by example and create the world's first wiki-manifesto, a manifesto created collaboratively by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales.
“This proposal will enable everyone to propose ideas, to debate and discuss. Those ideas will culminate in a special conference of party members and policy advocates where the product of our national creativity will be ratified as Plaid Cymru’s programme for the 2016 elections.”
This initiative again shows a creative collegiate approach to politics coming from a radical leader of a radical party. Perhaps it is Westminster that is over? 

Update #2: News today (22/11/12) of the formation of a pro-independence Green/Independent grouping in the Scottish Parliament is perhaps an early indication of a collegiate realignment of Scottish Politics. This grouping will give its members a seat on the Parliamentary Bureau and therefore a say in the business of the parliament. Cynics will no doubt dismiss this move as self serving. However it is important as an indicator of what may become more common - alliances based on common cause that work to enhance influence. In the future there will be a realignment of Scottish Politics and this move could be one of the first pointers of how new alliances will be formed. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Shacking up. Canada and Britain to share Embassies in the Brian Rix farce 'Better Together'

News came today of a frankly peculiar arrangement between the Conservative governments of Canada and Britain that will see them sharing consular addresses in certain countries.
This arrangement to co-locate consular services is all in the name of cost-cutting a beloved credo of conservative governments everywhere. What's not to like? You share a building with either your past colonial master or with a former dependency that is...well dependent again. It's like the teenage offspring that can't quite leave home.
The two Governments - Stephen Harper's Conservatives in Canada and David Cameron's ConservativeLibDems in Britain have warm words on the issue. Both countries 'share values'. That's ok then but wait a minute what are those values? Well there's the Queen and err...saving money.
Diplomacy is an important thing and keeping your independence in that diplomacy is surely the key thing. Kind of hard to keep some of your dealings confidential if another states consular staff see who's coming and going. Like many things in the respective governments recent actions there's a element of farce about this proposal.
In the past Britain refused the Hong Kong Chinese with British passports the right to reside in the UK while Canada welcomed them and benefited from their entrepreneurial drive.
It may be that with ideological driven right wing conservative governments in respective countries that this arrangement might work (if you overlook the absurdity of the premise) but what happens if and when the respective governments are of a differing hue? An indication has been given by the NDP opposition in Canada. Their foreign affairs spokesman Paul Dewar said 'I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this government is cutting severely on diplomacy'. Dewar also said ' We [Canada] shouldn't be a pawn in their [Britain's] diplomatic game.' This last comment a reference to the a view held on both sides of the Atlantic that the move is part of Britian's response to the EU's expansion of it's own diplomatic corps.
All in all it's an odd development and one that so far has given little detail. Much has been made on both sides of broadening diplomatic reach without without detail of where these new joint missions will be set up. Canada just closed its office in Iran so that's one country that won't be on the list and arguably a country in need of diplomacy.
What next? Where's the next saving to be made? Here's one. Harper is so taken with this new arrangement of master and servant that he does away with Canada's Maple Leaf Flag in favour of a return to the old red duster of Canada complete with its Union Jack. What about this Cameron loses the Scottish Independence Referendum and asks Harper for a new Union of 'shared values' - Better Together anyone? Only joking or you read it here first.

A rebirth for Fort Primary?

The news that steps are afoot to partially re-open Fort Primary School come as a welcome if not entirely unexpected surprise.
The pressures on surrounding primaries in the Leith area have necessitated this re-think with plans to look at opening a junior years primary. It should be said though that this could have been predicted. When I was local councillor for the Fort area I did warn the education officials and the then Children & Families Convener that pressures on surrounding primaries may lead to this situation. While I had concerns about the ability of Fort Primary to deliver a full curriculum to pupils with the low school roll that it had before closure I was mindful of the pressures not only on the intended receiving school - Trinity Primary but also on other schools in the Trinity cluster - Victoria and Wardie. That is why I argued right up to the decision  to close being taken that there should be a reprieve for Fort. I lost two internal votes at group meetings and abided by the group decision to proceed with closure. I did gain an assurance that as the Fort site would not be demolished or sold off it could be considered for re-opening should circumstances and demand for places  grow.
Indeed nursery provision at Fort has continued as neither Victoria or Trinity Primaries have nurseries attached and the Fort Community Wing has remained open as a community centre. A large part of the Fort campus has also provided much need temporary accommodation for Kaimes Primary Special School  following severe damage to the Kaimes building.
There are obvious benefits to the local communities in the areas of Fort (North Leith), Trinity and Newhaven if this proposal sees a rebirth of Fort Primary. Firstly it relieves very real pressure in early years in surrounding schools. Secondly if it operates as proposed as an early years junior school for the neighbouring schools in particular Trinity and Victoria then it could go a long way to breaking down the very real stigma that was attached to Fort Primary in the latter years of its previous existence. For that to be the case it is important that parents are fully involved in the plans for this new school to work co-operatively with the council to make it a success. Also with housing developments in Newhaven's Western Harbour increasingly attracting families and the redevelopment of the Fort House site right across from the school set to attract families too there is an opportunity for the wider locality to share in the rebirth. This plan in my view  deserves a fair wind and the support of the local community.
At a more strategic level questions need to be asked regarding the methodology used by the Children & Families department in predicting future intakes as from my experience and the experience, I'm sure, of many parents across the city there seems to be a problem that means that pressures are not predicted clearly enough. It is an inexact science given parental right to choose and people moving in and out of areas but there must be a better and more accurate way of planning for future accommodation needs than going through lengthy, painful and costly closure programmes only to rethink them in response to intake pressures so soon after closing a school.