Personal

My Speed Awareness Course Experience

10 Apr 2018 at 09:00

This is from September 2009.

This morning I attended a two and a half hour long speed awareness course, having been caught doing 37 mph in a 30 limit in Brixton at 3am one morning in early June. I will admit to being slightly sceptical of what it would entail, but I have to say I found the whole thing very useful. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was enjoyable – that would be going too far, but it held everyone’s attention and people approached it with an open mind.

Twenty of us gathered in a rather odd building next to Bromley Station. We were encouraged to arrive by train due to “limited parking”. That was of course a complete lie, as there was free parking right about 50 yards away. As I was buzzed through the door, six or seven others were waiting to be let through another door in an ante-room. “It feels like queuing up to be processed in a prison,” I blurted out, causing a small titter from the others. “Not that I would know,” I added quickly.

What surprised me was the social make-up of the twenty people present. Twelve were women and virtually everyone was over 40. There wasn’t a boy racer in sight.

We all had to do a computer test to start with, which proved to be an interesting experience for the two female pensioners who thought a mouse was something to be frightened of. It included some videos where you had to click when you thought you were the right distance away from the car in front, or when you spotted a hazard which could cause an accident. Most of the questions were designed to see what kind of driver you are. It won’t surprise you to know that when I got the results, I was rated as driving ‘very much faster than average’, even though I hadn’t had a speeding ticket within the last three years and haven’t had an accident either. I also drive further away from the vehicle in front than average. I have a faster than average reaction to potential hazards, which will come as a great surprise to my partner, who specialises in trying to brake even when he is a passenger in a car with me as he thinks my reactions are very slow! I have a slightly higher than average ‘emotional reaction’ while driving and can become easily distracted. I have an ‘extreme tendency to sleepiness’. So the lesson is, if I offer you a lift home after doing a late night paper review, say no!

The main point of the course was to drive home the difference between driving at 30 mph and 40 mph, and from that point of view it was highly successful. OK, it stands to reason that the faster you drive, and you hit someone, the more likely they are to die. But when you are told that at 30 mph the person has a 90% of chance of surviving, while at 40 mph they only have a 10% chance of surviving, it does make you think. Everyone on the course had been caught doing between 30 mph and 40 mph.

We were all asked why we had been caught. In my case, I hadn’t realised I was over the limit. One person said she was rushing someone to hospital. The course leader said that 15% of people who drive too fast to get someone to hospital, end up there themselves through having an accident.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic was when we were told that if you break down on the motorway and decide to sit in your car on the hard shoulder your life expectancy is reduced to 12 minutes – 12 minutes!!!

Here’s something else I didn’t know. We were asked what percentage of collisions occur on urban roads, rural roads and motorways. I guessed 50-30-20. The true statistics are 71%% on urban roads, 25% on rural roads and a mere 4% on motorways. In terms of deaths 40% occur on urban roads, 54% on rural roads and 6% on motorways. It’s because if you have a serious crash on an urban road or motorway you are likely to be taken to hospital within an hour, whereas on a rural road it may be hours before someone even finds you.

How many speed cameras are there inside the M25, do you think? Most people thought between 2-5,000. The number is actually 651, with another 187 at traffic lights. Each one costs £40,000. The course leader was at great pains to point out that they were only erected in places where there had been four accidents causing serious injury or death. I still find this assertion difficult to believe, thinking of the location of some that I know. I questioned whether it would not be better to spend the £40k on eight of the flashing speed signs, which I have to say have a much better effect on my driving than speed cameras do.

So, in short, I am glad I attended. The course held our attention throughout, even if at times people probably felt as if they were being spoken to as if they were naughty children. But it never felt as if we were being lectured at. Perhaps the least credible part of the course was when the course leader asserted that she never, ever speeds. No one believed her. Until she told us that five years ago her 13 year old daughter had been hit by a motorist doing 37 mph in a 30 limit. She survived but is still receiving treatment for the injuries she suffered.

We all stared at our feet. As well we might.

A thought occurs to me. Why don’t we make everyone who takes a driving test take one of these courses before they can drive on the roads? Charge them the going rate so there’s no cost to the taxpayer. Wouldn’t it be better to get them young, rather than wait till they have transgressed?

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Iain Dale interviews LBC legend Brian Hayes

On LBC's 40th birthday

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Interview

FROM THE ARCHIVES: In Conversation with Adam Boulton

9 Apr 2018 at 08:00

THIS INTERVIEW IS FROM EARLY 2010.

Adam Boulton is a legend and I have huge respect for him. He probably spends more hours live on air than any other political journalist. He has an incredible knack of explaining complex political issues to the Sky News viewers, he can be combative and is also increasingly opinionated. He’s been at Sky News since its launch in 1989 yet shows no sign of being bored or complacent. It was he who was the driving force between the Sky News campaign for prime ministerial debates and he is a constant source of innovation on the channel. One of the most striking TV scenes of the 2010 post-election period was the moment when Adam Boulton completely lost his rag, live on air with Alastair Campbell. Having conducted this interview with him only a few weeks prior to that, it didn’t especially surprise me. There’s clearly little love lost between them. His interviewing style is the opposite of that of Jeremy Paxman, but he arguably gets more out of his interviewees by allowing them to speak without being interrupted every two seconds. Boulton clearly loves politics but carefully maintains his independence from the politicians he mixes with. I’m a fan, as you can tell.

How did you get into politics and journalism in the first place? What sparked your interest?
I realised when I was late teenage years, that I wanted to be a journalist. It was largely because, looking at my general interests, I thought analysis, précis and having a wide range of subjects you could deal with was good for my talents. What really made me do it was that one of my best friends’ fathers was a Sunday Times insight journalist and to be honest, it sounds like a terrible thing to say, I’d not really thought about people who went to university who were educated becoming journalists. I suppose I had a rather sleazy image of a bloke in a dirty mac bothering people.

Hey, that’s you!
I suddenly realised it would be consistent with going to university and studying things so I did English at Oxford and then I did a degree in America in international relations. And by that stage, I decided I wanted to go into broadcasting rather than print, because I wasn’t interested in doing partisan journalism. I was lucky that I came at the ‘80s from America at the time when the new television channels were starting out, Channel 4, TVam and others. So I didn’t have a political grounding but the ‘83 election came along pretty soon and I got involved in that, so after that I tended to be asked to do politics.

So you didn’t actually go into it saying “I want to do politics”?
No, or news strangely enough. I think if you’d asked me, I’d have seen myself as a kind of a Panorama producer or something like that – doing detailed reporting. But what I realised very quickly was that that the technology was rapidly undercutting current affairs. When things like Channel 4 News and Newsnight came along you could do fairly detailed work on the day also I was interested in, having been in America in what you could do live. In 1983 when Greg Dyke was running breakfast television, I worked on the election with people like Diane Abbott, Marks Damazar and Jackie Ashley. Immediately after that, simply because I’d done some work with live outside broadcasts, I ended up doing By the Seaside with Chris Tarrant. So it was a fairly mixed if chaotic learning on the job type apprenticeship.

Have you ever thought about going to the other side, because a lot of journalists do drift into politics. Has that ever crossed your mind?
No, it hasn’t. Genuinely it has not crossed my mind. I do see what I’m doing as analogous a bit to being a sport commentator. There aren’t many sport commentators who qualify for a premiership side. Something dies inside me when I see a journalist becoming a candidate.

Do you think the Westminster lobby is an outdated institution?
I don’t really. I’ve been chairman of the lobby, and I’ve defended the lobby on occasions. We’ve had to fight continuously for access to the Commons and elsewhere and I feel if one said “Okay, well the lobby’s a terrible idea, let’s try something else” we’d be worse off. I think it’s certainly the case that the whole process has got a bit debauched during the New Labour years. There are some people who say that dated back to Bernard Ingham, although I would say he was straight operator compared to what came afterwards. There’s also a question about who is admitted to the lobby, because you’ve now got new media appearing. Since I’ve been in the lobby, it’s always been a fairly organic institution and people or organisations who were big figures in the lobby have faded away and new ones have come in. I know we’re just starting to see some of the online people come in, but I think the principle of having right of access on behalf of your news organisations to parliament because a lot of people often think it’s a deal between the government and the lobby, it’s not. The lobby is a parliamentary institution, it’s not a governmental institution. I personally think that is quite important, and I’ll be honest with you, I am one of those journalists who thinks that in a lot of areas that we can afford to lift our game. By which I mean that I would say there’s quite a significant chunk of my colleagues who I think are not primarily interested in politics, the decisions which parliament is taking, how it’s going to affect individuals. They’re interested in Westminster as a source of gossip and secondary stories. Sometimes I think we do need to think “why are we doing this?”

You said you thought that print media was more to blame for this than broadcasting. Couldn’t you also argue that 24 hour news channels are to blame because they’ve got so much time to fill?
Sometimes I think you get bushfires, but I do think if they’re not very significant they tend to burn themselves out quite quickly. I think what we can do on 24/7 media is do things in more depth. Likewise we can show 20 minutes or half an hour of a news conference or a statement to parliament. That is how we fill the time.

You’ve been at Sky News since the beginning, how has your job changed in the years you’ve been doing it?
Over time, the nature of television news has changed. The formal two or three or minute package has become rarer. You do more stuff on the hoof so over time on air I’ve really evolved to doing almost exclusively live stuff, live interviews, presenting programmes and live commentary and building this machine. We’ve gone up from four people working in Westminster when we started, and we’ve now got about 30. It’s always changing, we’re now going to completely revamp and rebuild our offices for HD and change again, so I think it’s almost the restless nature of it that’s kept me in the same place. The other thing that happened is that we’ve gone online. There was a period in the middle of my period at Sky, where I was practically illiterate. I didn’t write anything down. But obviously with the growth of online I’m now writing much more really than I ever have done before in my career, in various forms. So that’s been a rediscovery of a lost art.

How do you see 24 hours news developing in this country? There are one or two people at Sky who would like it to develop into much more of a Fox news operation – much more opinion than straight reporting. Is that a route you’d like to see Sky go down?
I think there are big questions about television as a whole because the bar to entry has been lowered so much by digital technology. There’s a lot of competition coming. If you’re going to continue to be influential in the cacophonous marketplace, you need to have very strong relationship with your audience. You can go in different ways on that. In America, Fox News has identified a section of the audience, a section of the electorate and it caters to their needs and because there isn’t one dominant broadcaster providing its signal for free, you can make a great deal of money that way. While people want greater choice, they do want to look to their news providers for authority. Opinion polls show they trust broadcasters. I think if you just became another voice in this news market, in this news culture, I think you would rapidly disappear. It’s noticeable that – not at Sky – when other people have tried to do very strong opinionated news, they haven’t taken root to the extent that in other cultures talk radio has.

I certainly think that you and Jon Craig in particular have become slightly more opinionated. I don’t mean in the party political sense at all. I just mean that you do give your own opinions more than you did ten years ago, or am I imagining that?
I think there’s an element of truth in that, and I think that’s partly presuming on the relationship of trust you’ve built up with the audience, that they can take it. But one of the problems in political broadcasting is that we’ve grown up in a culture where balance is a bit from Labour, a bit from the Conservatives, a bit from the Liberals. I’m very conscious of trying to be fair, but sometimes the nature of the debate does involve being more explicit, and I think there are some areas where you can take a different position. Jon Craig is of the old school of “snouts-in-the-trough, how can MPs behave like this, let’s expose them, they deserve what they get” and that’s fine. But when I’ve been doing commentary I’m more concerned to try to explain to people how this had happened and almost to relate to it as human beings, how would you behave if you’d been in those circumstances.

Would you agree that the media often operate as a herd? We’ve all seen examples of Nick Robinson, you, Gary Gibbon and Tom Bradby expressing views and the print media falling in behind you all. Do you think that’s healthy?
I had a very bumpy relationship with Alastair Campbell, but he did say to me once that the difference about you – i.e. me – is that if you express an opinion you try and attribute it. I do see that as being quite important. I wouldn’t go on air and say “that David Davis speech, I was falling asleep” I would go on and say: “That David Davis speech, I saw quite a lot of people in the audience falling asleep.” They amount to actually pretty much the same thing, but I do think there’s a difference. Nick and Gary and Tom and I, we do work in isolation and we don’t actually see that much of each other because television tends to take you away a bit from the pack a lot of the time. But there are certainly occasions when big things are afoot where we do just in the margins in either side of going live at Downing Street, just say “what do you think, how soon do you think this is?”

So it’s like the sketch writers cartel where they basically sit together and decide how to carve it up!
No, we don’t do that and actually quite often, we might bump into each other and we might say “how are you doing it” which is a kind of reality check. It doesn’t mean we just sit down and say “right, definitely take this line.” And I think it’s been noticeable at the moment as elections come on that the BBC does have this quite strong balance tendency. It’s been pretty clear that ITN for quite a long time or ITV News has wanted to be very vigorous or very characterful in what its saying. And I would say, we’re somewhere in the middle precisely because in 24 hour news you are always a marketplace.

What’s the competition like between you? Because 10 years ago, Sky and all the BBC felt they had won if they got a story on the screen quicker than another. Whereas I get the feeling that now that’s changed and the competition is a bit more subtle than that?
I would say that we’ve always wanted to get things on first, but we’ve always wanted to get them on right in the sense that we would break a story, but we wanted to qualify it with saying “this is the best information we have at the moment” or “more on that story”. I think there was a period when Roger Mosey very much wanted to just compete on that basis as to who is doing things first. And I think it got a bit slack with people just rushing to break things all the time and getting things wrong. I would say the BBC got it wrong more than we did. I think the BBC News Channel is probably less of a priority for the BBC than it was a few years ago and that therefore has given us a bit more space.

How much influence does Rupert Murdoch have in what you do? How often do you see him or speak to him? Does he ever ring you up?
No, I’ve never been rung up by Rupert Murdoch. I’ll now be dropped from the Guardian’s 100 most influential people in the media! The truth is that I think in more than 20 years at Sky, I’ve probably been in the same room as Rupert Murdoch about half a dozen times. And I’d say I’ve probably had three conversations with him.

Do you ever feel used by politicians?
I do think that’s part of the deal, at one level. John Lloyd said that journalism has three functions: it has reporting, it has analysing and it has commenting, and a lot of 24 hour news, a lot of the news business is reporting. It’s getting to people, finding out what they want to say, pushing them that bit further to say what they really mean and getting that across. So you know, politicians don’t have a right to get on the airwaves, but part of our job, I think, is to facilitate them and to say what they’re doing. But if politicians lie to me I do remember it.

Give me an example.
Well, I always resented the fact that Nick Raynsford lied to me about running for London mayor. I had asked him in an interview: “If Frank Dobson comes into the race, you’ll pull out in his favour, won’t you?” He flatly denied it and then I think eight days later he opened the Frank Dobson campaign with the words “everyone’s always known I would always support Frank if he came into the race.” I just feel that kind of thing is unnecessary. If someone flatly denies something and says “that’s not true” and subsequently you read in their memoirs or somewhere “tough interview but I think I managed to brush him off” that annoys me.

You must get that every day though? What about Alastair Campbell’s briefings? You only need to read his diaries to see how many times he would mislead the lobby.
While I have admiration for a lot of Alastair Campbell’s professionalism, I think the problem was that he introduced a culture where it was OK to lie. There were occasions when he actually said to me, while he was still in the job, “Oh, sorry about that Adam, but you know why I did it” and I just think there are some lines you shouldn’t cross. And I think that became a culture which is satirised brilliantly in The Thick of It. It’s not just Labour but there are some people who think the job of press officers or spin doctors or special advisors is to lie. Call me naive, I don’t think that is the job and I think it’s corrosive.

The Sky campaign to get the party leaders to debate each other has been a massive success for Sky. How did it come about?
Well, we also did the BBC and ITV a favour as well. Had there not been the Sky campaign concentrating minds on all sides, I personally don’t think the debates would have happened. That’s me beating Sky’s chest but I think you can ask other people and they might well agree with that. It was quite simple. John Ryley, the head of Sky News, is a thinker and he sent round a paper saying that he was concerned about the lack of political engagement which we can see in the decline in our audiences for elections and obviously you can see it in voter turnout and all the rest of it. He canvassed ideas for what we should do about it and I think we concluded that it wasn’t our place to campaign for turnout or to run celebrities saying “use your vote” or whatever because that would be a kind of intrusion in the market place. We ended up with a campaign which basically was us saying “listen, we think there should be a debate, we’re going to stage it. Be there or be square” and of course Cameron and Clegg said very quickly they would take part.

Will the debates dominate the whole campaign? Each debate will probably take up three days’ news agenda – so it’s 9 days out of the campaign which will be dominated by them.
I don’t know. I think we’ll have to see. But the print boys are quite sulky about the whole thing. I’ve been surprised talking to the parties how little they are varying their timetable of battle busses and news conferences.

Are you surprised the two main parties agreed to let Nick Clegg in on all of them. Because I’ve been told by someone on the Liberal Democrats negotiating team that they didn’t expect to be let in on all three of them and that they would have been happy with two, but the other parties didn’t even mention the possibility.
I was surprised that it wasn’t such an issue. As you said it wasn’t basically discussed and I give credit frankly to the other parties on that. What I think happened was that separately, everybody looked at what the possibilities were and basically concluded that realistically within the bounds of possibility on the basis of number of seats contested, shares of votes, credible shares of votes, that there were only three people who could be Prime Minister after the next election and everyone seemed to have reached that same conclusion therefore there wasn’t that much discussion of it.

Do you think it’s a shame that the format is so rigid and there are so many rules? Would it not have been better, at least in one of them, just to plonk the three of them on the stage, have no moderator at all and let them have a dialogue with each other and the audience?
Listen, it’s taken us fifty years to get here! Certainly for Gordon Brown and David Cameron, it has involved conceding quite a lot of ground or potential advantages certainly passed in the direction of Nick Clegg. Therefore, I think it’s only right that there should be a bit of a softly, softly approach this time round. Secondly, as I’ve said, just to get it done and to get it done away from the election campaign there was a strong desire to negotiate with the broadcasters as a block. Therefore I think it’s understandable that this time around people have gone for similar formats. What I think will happen is that the debates will look and feel very different. ITV, BBC and SKY have very different styles in the way they do things. I think that will come through. I think once people become more familiar with what’s going on there will be developments in what goes on. The big issue that we’ve had this time around has been the issue of the audience. People are used to BBC Question Time and regional shows which basically end up pitting the audience against the panel and I do think it’s a different concept this time around. You don’t want them forming a panel against an angry public. So I think that’s a new dynamic which we’ve got to explore.

You’re moderating the SKY debate. Do you still get nervous about these things like that or do you take them in your stride?
Oh yeah. It certainly gets the adrenaline going. It’s a big gig. You always wonder when you first open your mouth if there’s going to be a dreadful croak which is going to come out. And for me personally, because it’s been a SKY campaign and I’ve been very invested in trying to get debates going, I desperately, desperately want the debates to succeed and to be successful and useful and informative, and all those things are things which are going to be on your mind.

What kind of campaign do you thing we’re going to have this time. Do you think it’s going to be a very dirty campaign?
I think we’re going to have a personalised campaign partly because there is big convergence between the parties in a lot of areas and almost where they are most different is in the personal contrasts of David Cameron and George Osborne, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. So I think there’s going to be a lot of that. What I hope is going to happen is that it’s going to be less gimmicky because there is a sort of yawn yawn factor now when there is another poster launch or even another clever internet viral, or whatever, and what I hope the debates will do is just engender a culture of people and politicians actually trying to sit down and tell people how it is and what the consequences are going to be. I’m not sure that that is necessarily going to happen.

Where do you stand on paid for political advertising? If parties can buy slots in cinema why shouldn’t they be able to buy slots on SKY News?
Well I think SKY has a position on this which is that we’re not opposed to it, so that is where I stand. I do think that money is a big issue and if you allow a total free for all then I don’t think you necessarily improve politics, particularly in a system where we’ve got such a strong party structure. Would the world be a better place if instead of spending 20 million pounds each party spent half a billion pounds? I just think there might be better things to do with the money overall.

You’ve got a problem though after the next election though whoever wins because there’s going to be between probably 250 and 300 new MPs. How on earth a) will that effect what you do and b) what kind of parliament do you think it’s going to be?
Well we thrive on change and actually where I think SKY has been good and where hopefully I’ve been good as well is actually trying to make sense of what’s going on rather than going by any preconceived notions of who matters and who doesn’t matter, so in that sense it’s going to be a bit of free-for-all – I’m looking forward to that. I think we do need fresh blood and different types of people. And one thing that we’ve been doing at SKY is meeting quite a lot of the PPCs from all the parties. I do think they are different types of people who are coming into politics and I that’s a good thing. The era of the special advisor becoming a cabinet minister is drawing to a close and I think that’s probably a good thing. In the end I do think that all politicians would be well advised to work towards a system where Parliament and the government are slightly more separate from each other and Parliament has slightly more of a scrutinising role. I detect that a lot of the new people coming in just won’t accept as many three line whips.

How many hours a week do you work when Parliament is sitting?
I’ve not quite worked it out. I don’t know sixty? Something like that.

Whenever a big job at the BBC comes up, your name is always in the mix. I’ve always thought that you’d hate to work at the BBC because you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do what you do at SKY.
Yes there’s a lot of truth in that. I’m not at the BBC am I? I would say that there are three people, all men I regret to say, that have jobs as good as me, in the totality of what they do. And that would be Jon Snow, David Dimbleby and Jeremy Paxman. This job is as good as that, but it obviously means that there are a lot of people who might say ‘why don’t you go and do that’ but I’m just not really that interested.

Do you prefer reporting presenting or interviewing? At the moment you’re doing all three, but which do you get the most kick out of?
Well presenting and interviewing they go together. I like all three. To me what is good about what I do in whatever form I do it is that it’s raw and it’s first hand. I think there’s been a slight problem, it doesn’t bother me, but perhaps in people assessing me, in as much as we’ve tended to have this hierarchy that you know you’re a reporter and then you graduate and you become a presenter and an interviewer and so its seen as a step up, whereas I’ve managed more in the American style to mix the two and therefore I don’t really have that strong a preference. Probably the television skill I’m least good at is reading the autocue.*

*I’ve always thought it’s really weird on your Sunday show when you’re not there they don’t actually have another one of the political team doing it. They seem to pick random people to do it. Or in fact they don’t even do a proper programme they just make it into a news programme – I’ve never quite understood the logic of that.
Well it’s always good knowing that you haven’t got a great substitute.

When you married Anji Hunter did you find that you had a bit of a problem with Conservatives at that point because they felt that maybe that was a signal that you were closer to the other side.
Not to my face. No I never had any problems. When I met Anji I think I did have an independent track record doing what I’m doing. In fact the day that all the gory details were all over the front page of the Mail on Sunday, I was interviewing Ian Duncan Smith, then the Tory leader and you know before we went in I said, ‘you might want to see this’. And he said ‘it doesn’t make any difference to me. I know you, I know what you do, and I hope it works itself out’.

Some people, and you read this a lot on blogs, think that SKY News is a New Labour dominated institution and there are other people that think it’s completely right wing. The lazy answer is to say that you must be doing something right to have offended both sides…
Yes, that is the lazy answer. Or another answer is that everyone knows that New Labour was very right wing. Look I think that I would have two answers to that. One is the standard sticks and stones answer. But the other one is when people make criticism of you, at least to entertain it. As I’ve tried to explain, I don’t really think in party political terms personally. My view about New Labour, as I said in the book I wrote about Blair is that so far it’s been the political story of my lifetime. I’ve known these people all the way from before they were cabinet ministers and before they were in Parliament all the way through to when they’ve become ex-cabinet ministers. And so inevitably I’ve known a lot of people in that world, I’ve known a lot of New Labour people. Likewise, in terms of my background in public school and Oxford and all that, it’s not as if Tories are an unknown species to me and, or Liberals either. So I just think that you have to take it on. I think it would have been a bit different if I’d married Alastair Campbell.

Completely different. For all of us.
I think Anji has an independent record of her own and she’s been out of politics since 2001.

What does she make of your book? I remember going to the launch and she said that she point blank refused to talk about the book while you were doing it. I assume she’s read it.
I’m not sure she’s read it cover to cover. She respects the book. I said to her right at the beginning that it might be difficult for us and I could not do it. She said ‘no, I think you should do it’. A lot of the things in it she got quite cross about. She was very unimpressed when the paperback serialisation went to the Mail on Sunday. And I told her on the Saturday before the Saturday.

I can imagine her being unimpressed by that.
So she generally supports me in my work as I support her in her work, but people find it hard to believe, but she doesn’t have much influence beyond that.

Is it an issue do you think sometimes when journalists can get too close to the political set? I don’t know whether you have or not. I know some journalists have spent the night at Chequers for example… have lunch…
I’ve spent the night outside Chequers. You can be drawn in. Journalists are only human beings and I think you can be drawn in to something and I think that New Labour was that kind of entity. It was quite intoxicating at one stage. People did get… I’m not saying you did, but I think some journalists did get drawn in too much. I think there is a fact that you could want to be…. you get so close to people that you want to be a cheerleader for them and all that. You have to be aware of that.

That’s enough about Kevin Maguire…
One of the things I’ve noticed as the election has got closer is that, without blowing smoke up your arse, I would exempt your site, but actually a lot of the Tory sites, or Tory leaning sites I think have become a lot less worth reading. I think Guido has been poor, Coffee House has been poor. I think ConservativeHome has become poorer than they were 18 months or two years ago. Because clearly they have an investment in this outcome.

What did you get out of your time in America last year? To me, you did something very different in that period where you were doing mini documentaries. I thought they were absolutely first class. Did you gain an appetite to do more of that sort of thing?
Well I know people won’t believe this. It wasn’t my idea to go to America. It basically came from the editorial people at SKY who just said that Obama was a big story and they wanted some way to marking it. They asked me if I thought that we would have an election at the beginning of 2009 and I said no chance and so I was very happy to be asked to go there for four months and it happened to coincide with Anji being between jobs so she was able to come too. I always relish doing things which take you out of your comfort zone and which develop new skills. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy doing sport and entertainment interviews on my Sunday show. Would I like to do more of that? Yes. I think varying the pace of what you do if you have the opportunity is always exciting. But you have to remember that this is a competitive environment and you don’t want to give up the day job. A special project is normally one stop from the door.

When you had that blow up interview with Gordon Brown last year, when he stomped off in a huff, what went through your mind at the time?
What you want to do when you interview someone, particularly politicians, is to make a connection. Because politicians are interviewed all the time and the last thing you want to see is them walking out with their advisors and saying ‘that went well…. there was nothing in it’. What you’re trying to do is to make a connection which involves pushing them away from the line to take at a certain time and getting under their skin and within that you have your own style. What I want to do is to ask them a question that makes them think and to give me a reply that isn’t premeditated. Therefore, with Gordon you could see I’d made a connection and so I was pleased by that. When he said I’d become a campaigner I was also quite interested in that as well but there is a certain kind of way in which journalists are conniving little bastards. If you’re interviewing someone and they’re making a fool of themselves, it’s not your job to stop them. If they’re given the opportunity to express themselves or they’re losing their temper, again, it’s probably not good if you lose your temper as well. It’s best to keep them calm. In that sense, I just felt that it was an interesting interview. I was sure that there was some outside thing not to do with me but to do with the fact that this was the morning after The Sun had switched its allegiance. If I get a response from someone, I don’t blame them for it necessarily.

Did you think “we’re never going to get an interview with him again”?
No. I didn’t think that. I didn’t think he’d think that either. The only person who won’t do interviews with me is Prescott. But in Prescott’s case it seems to be more to do with the fact that we broke the story of the punch. I still think that a deputy Prime Minister shouldn’t go around belting the electorate. It still seems to annoy him.

Who do you find the most difficult to interview?
The most difficult class to interview are people who don’t want to engage. People who just basically turn up and say “I’ve got my message I want to get out”. Consistently the most difficult class of people to interview are actors, because in their own right a lot of actors don’t actually think a great deal for themselves. They’ve waited for someone to write the script.
When there’s been some awful disaster or awful tragedy, it’s actually not that difficult to interview people. Bizarrely, people do want to talk about it. I hope I’m a professional interviewer, I don’t find it extraordinarily hard to interview people. Just occasionally you might be doing an interview with someone and you just realise that you’re basically on completely different planets that they are worried about their next meal, the roof over their head they don’t really know who Gordon Brown is.

What’s the worst moment you can remember live on screen when something went wrong or someone said something that they shouldn’t have?
I love live television and I think that when things go wrong, the autocue goes down, the lights go out all of that pumps the adrenaline. It’s never a good moment when you get someone’s name wrong, or you say “Mr. Johnson” and he says “no, actually it’s Robinson” or when you’re interviewing someone and you’ve just got to the key question, so you say to her “are you going to resign” and they give you an answer but you don’t hear it because someone says in your ear “one minute to go Adam” and then you have to recover from that. One disaster was interviewing Sarah Myles and asking her if her memoirs were true and she started crying. This was a moment where you felt that perhaps this has not been a triumph.

QUICKFIRE

What book are you reading at the moment?
Game changer – about the American 2008 campaign.

Your favourite view?
Probably somewhere in Northwest Norfolk, on Brancaster beach or something like that

Favourite food?
Peanut Butter

Favourite holiday destination?
I want to go back to Sicily

Best friend in journalism?
This is a chance to offend millions of people. Probably Michael Brunson

What is the music that makes you dance?
I’m not a great dancer. Usually those things that it’s compulsory to dance, like Scottish reels. Agadoo, I’ve always liked Agadoo.

Last film you cried at?
I know people think it’s terrible, but the Burning Issue, the Sandra Bullock film has its moments.

Ever thrown a Nokia?
Yes, by accident. I was doing a “quick draw” on my phone out of my pocket and sent it flying. So yeah. I’ve gone through a few Nokias in my time, but more in sorrow than in anger.

Favourite interviewer?
I do think Melvyn Bragg is a very good interviewer.

Journalistic hero?
Sam Donaldson

Favourite hate figure?
There’s a classics don called Mary Beard.I think she’s the worst of kind of modern liberal. Or you could widen it to the London Review of Books

And finally, guilty pleasure?
Strip cartoons

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Iain Dale asks: Why is the Media so fascinated by Islam

Why the media divides and rules

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Interview

FROM THE ARCHIVES: In Conversation with Alex Salmond

8 Apr 2018 at 09:00

This was the first In Conversation interview I did for Total Politics, back in July 2008, nearly ten years ago. I met Alex Salmond in his House of Commons office and talked for close on two hours. It was a strange experience as he twice had to go to vote, which meant that we continued the conversation walking through the Commons corridors with me holding my recording machine under his mouth. We finished off the interview in full public view just off Central Lobby. Alex Salmond is a politician’s politician. He’s deeply tribal, yet maintains genial relations with many people who don’t share his views. He’s got a very well-developed sense of humour and this shines through here. The interview created quite a storm when it was published, mainly because he committed the treasonous act of maintaining that Margaret Thatcher wasn’t all bad. The Scottish media went into full ‘outrage mode’ and the story led the Scottish news agenda for a couple of days. It was difficult for Salmond to maintain he had been misquoted because the interview is a verbatim transcript. When I saw what was happening I almost doubted my own recording so I went back and checked that the transcript was 100% accurate. Luckily – for me – it was.

When was the last time you said sorry for something?
Personally, I said to my wife on Saturday morning, the holiday we’ve just booked, may well have to been unbooked. I didn’t say sorry once. I said it a hundred times. When you’re First Minister you probably don’t find it wise to own up to mistake after mistake…

But people quite like a politician who has the guts to say sorry, don’t they?
That’s right. If you do change your mind on something it’s best to admit it. I haven’t had many disagreements… Macmillan once got into some dreadful trouble with the Tory Party and kept losing the Conservative whip until he became leader. After that, things became considerably easier. People didn’t try to expel him any more.

It didn’t quite work for Iain Duncan Smith.
Well, it’s been my experience in the SNP. I was always getting into trouble before I became leader. And then my troubles stopped! I got expelled from the SNP in 1982 as a rather brash young man, and probably rather insensitive to other people’s opinion. I’ve often reflected that there was a considerable amount of fault on my side. In 1988 I was given a seven day suspension from the House of Commons and all I was doing was intervening in the budget speech. I thought I was hard done by and it was very unfair…but I just got on with it. I lived to fight another day.

You are probably more forgiving now than others were to you at the time, possibly?
Yes, I’ve often reflected that you should avoid political disciplinary action for political reasons. Fine, if people run off with the church funds, you’ve got no choice in the matter, but wherever you can you should avoid using procedures of the party as a means of suppressing political dissent.

Why were you expelled?
The formal reason was for forming a political group within the SNP. This was called the ’79 Group. We tried to get round a ban on this group by forming the Scottish Socialist Society. Seven of us were expelled – most of them have done well since! Being expelled can be no bad thing. It didn’t stop me becoming leader.

Let’s talk about leadership. When you decided to return to the leadership, did you really think you could end up as First Minister?
Oh yes, absolutely. I certainly thought it wasn’t odds on but I thought we had a fair chance of winning.

How do you think you have changed as a leader second time around? You seem a lot calmer, a lot more at ease with yourself. You’ve shed the chat show Charlie image. You had a reputation for enjoying life, being the life and soul of the party, whereas now we see a slightly different Alex Salmond.
Older and wiser. Certainly not sadder! Things could not have worked out better, but this was not calculated. Nobody calculates “I shall resign”. I resigned when we were ahead in the polls, but I felt ten years was long enough. With the press reaction to the SNP, I was becoming the issue – they weren’t seeing past me. Despite the fact that every newspaper was fiercely anti SNP, they had never quite managed to stop me and I got the feeling that I had become a block on the SNP getting a fair shout. I thought someone else might get a fair shout. Actually, I was quite wrong because John [Swinney] got treated far worse than I was. Even Neil Kinnock used to moan about the papers but at least he had the Mirror and the FT on his side. We had nothing. I thought someone else would get a honeymoon, get a better press and it would be better for the party. I didn’t calculate “I’ll resign, come back again, win the 2007 election”, nobody can calculate like that.

You came back and stood for a seat for the Scottish parliament which you might easily not have won. That, if I read it rightly, has given you far more of a mandate than you might have dreamt of.
I said I’d stand for a seat in the North East of Scotland – so it’s very familiar but it was the kind of seat we had to win to win the election. I thought we could win the whole thing and if I won my seat we’d do just that. I thought the party needed a fillip. We’d lost a lot of elections and we needed a boost. Winning Gordon would give us that boost. If I stood there it would encourage everyone else to believe we could win overall. I started from third place, after all.

When you walked into the First Minister’s office for the first time what did you think? When Boris walked into the London Mayor’s office for the first time, there was this slight sense of disbelief that he had done it. Did you have any of that or did you immediately sit down and start barking out orders?
It was a bit different because it’s not until 12 days later than you’re elected by the chamber. That moment of saying “my goodness, we’ve done it” doesn’t come till some time later. Even though I knew there was no combination to stop us, it’s not until you get the vote read out that is the defining moment. That’s the equivalent of Boris going into the Mayor’s office.

Emotionally, how did you feel? Euphoric? Tearful? A proud moment in the Salmond family…
My family were up the gallery.

If it was me, I wouldn’t have been able to look up to them as it would start me off…
My wife, my wee sister and my Dad were there. My Dad had never seen me speak in a parliamentary chamber. He didn’t really approve of me setting foot in the House of Commons. My mother often came down, but it was the first time my Dad had seen me in the Scottish parliament chamber.

So proud on two counts.
Oh yes, very. It was a hell of a moment.

Were you daunted at all by the job? Most politicians, although outwardly self confident, have elements of self doubt. They think: “I’ve got the job now. Am I up to it?”
I don’t do daunted. The one moment I would say in my year in office that I did feel a bit daunted was the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport. It was the day of the Royal opening of the Parliament on 1 July. I had gone back to Bute House with a few friends, with Sean Connery actually, and was watching TV coverage when it came on. The daunting bit is, you might watch events but with this it wasn’t just about watching, I was expected to do something about it. The civil service are very good at telling you ‘what happens now, this is what you need to coordinate’. You don’t have too much time to fret about being daunted. The decisions you have to make are quite interesting. You have to think about the consequences of what happened and how the rest of society is going to feel about it. So you take decisions like going to the airport the next day – something which wasn’t universally applauded, but nevertheless you have to go, and then going from the airport to the central mosque in Glasgow with leaders of every religious group in Scotland and Strathclyde Police, making sure society doesn’t fracture as a result of a terrorist assault. That’s the daunting bit, when you realise it’s not some other person that’s behind the eight ball, it’s you. It’s not really a moment you can go and consult your special advisers, you’ve just got to get on with it. I suspect if you asked the present Prime Minister, or his predecessor, or his predecessor’s predecessor [John Major] who was a nice guy, I suspect their ‘daunted’ moment was to do with war, deploying troops.

I suspect with Tony Blair it was Princess Diana’s death, because if he had got one word wrong he would have been characterised by that for the rest of his term in office.
Quite. On the Glasgow attack, I did interviews at the airport and I wanted to get points across as carefully as I could without prejudicing the investigation that the perpetrators were not part of the fabric of our Asian community in Scotland. It was a vital message to get across as early as possible to prevent any stories of ‘the enemy within’ developing.

The SNP gets quite a lot of support from Asian community, doesn’t it?
We get huge support from them, but whether we did or not, that message had to be put. It was the duty and responsibility of the First Minister to communicate it in the interest of public order and the fabric and community of the realm of Scotland, regardless of what any junior Minister in London might think.

Is there any kind of turf war in these circumstances between Edinburgh and London? Gordon Brown was seen to have reacted well to the incident, but it was on your territory.
None whatsoever. The transfer of the suspects south of the border was a law officers’; decision, nothing to do with politics.

Did you and Gordon Brown talk?
Within seconds of it happening. He was literally just in office, his first few days. He arranged the COBRA meeting. I arranged our equivalent meeting in what we now call the Resilience Room. It was called the Emergency Room but it’s very difficult if you are trying to be calm to do an interview in a room in front of a bloody big notice which says EMERGENCY! We now have a Scottish Government Resilience Room!

How much contact do you have with Gordon Brown and how do you get on with him?
Quite a lot. Most recently during the fuel dispute at Grangemouth, but initially we had quite a lot of contact. More than I had with his predecessor. If you remember, he didn’t phone or write when we took power.

You must have found that quite insulting.
No, I found it great. Another miscalculation. I thought for the master of presentation it was an extremely foolish thing to do. Maybe it was because he was demob happy so he didn’t care any more.

Your relationship with Brown is presumably businesslike rather than particularly friendly?
You wouldn’t expect us to be bosom buddies, walking arm in arm to the pub for a wee snifter. Let’s put it that way. You wouldn’t expect us to be bosom friends when we both have high stakes to play for. On national emergencies there’s no question you have to operate together. There has never been any suggestion that I have noticed north or south of the border that – well, maybe the odd junior minister in the Scotland Office, but for everybody serious, political differences get put to one side. Secondly, there are genuine political differences. I believe in independence for Scotland, clearly the Prime Minister doesn’t. No amount of words or meetings or rapprochements will bring us together on that issue. And that applies to a range of other issues too. We have a genuine political disagreement. The best we can do is let the people decide that. There is also a third area, which is why I have been keen to get the join ministerial committees back, which is policies which are not essential to the ethos of either government. An example is the Marine Bill. Both governments believe in environmental control, clean seas. No one argues it is a bad idea, so for these things you need an institution which gets agreement where agreement can be got. I am anxious to avoid unnecessary disagreements as they are a complete waste of time. The Joint Ministerial Committee hasn’t met for six years but it met again recently under Jack Straw’s chairmanship and it was a good meeting. I am not expecting great things but I am hoping for progress in a range of areas.

If he loses the Glasgow East by election, do you think he’s toast?
I think there are people in the Labour Party who will be less than supportive of him in these circumstances.

I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ then…
I have seen many people carry on under the same circumstances and even recovered so I am very wary about being certain. I think the problem is not so much, is Gordon close to his party, it’s whether he’s close to the electorate. That’s his underlying problem. There are aspects of Labour just now which look to me like John Major in the 1990s, and for some of the same reasons. I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I suspect that Gordon is very aware of the problem he’s got, with a track record stretching over eleven years. When Major came in at first, although he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary nobody seriously believed he had been at the epicentre of the Thatcher project so he was almost there without form.

How many seats are you aiming to win in the next Westminster election?
A minimum of 20.

That’s a fairly high bar, as you have never got more than half way there.
Not quite true. We got 11 in 1974. As an economist I am good with figures. I think that is a reasonable objective.

From your agenda of independence for Scotland, what is the best result of the next election?
A hung Parliament. Absolutely. Let’s call it a balanced Parliament.

It seems to me that the Conservatives are cosying up to SNP in quite an overt manner in many ways and that you are showing a bit of ankle yourselves. Would I be correct?
[affects to look affronted] Showing a bit of ankle?! We don’t use such terms in Scotland!

I’m sure you have your own phrase!
It is certainly true that of the other parties in the Scottish Parliament the Greens – who have been very constructive – and the Conservatives have been the opposition parties who have understood best the advantages for opposition of minority government and they have got most out of the political situation in my opinion. The Labour Party have just been heads down and charging and usually missing, bypassing the matador and heading into the crowd somewhere. And the Liberals? I just cannot fathom the Liberal Party, but that may be a statement which can be applied generally. But in the Scottish Parliament I have no idea what they are doing. I don’t think they do either. In politics you are either believe for good reasons that circumstances will change in your favour at some point in the future and that principled opposition will get you whatever reward you are looking for or alternatively you take the opportunity for administration because you believe you can help change things for the better. The Liberal Democrats actually managed to turn down administration in three Parliaments in the space of a few weeks.

Some sort of record.
They turned it down in Scotland, they turned it down in Wales, and depending on how you interpret the Ming Campbell/Gordon Brown meeting, they turned it down in Westminster as well. It would tend for me to indicate some sort of psychosis going on within the Liberal Democrats.

Your party has traditionally been very antagonistic towards the Conservatives but there has definitely been a change of mood. Is this because you can see David Cameron, to quote the famous phrase, as someone “you can do business with”?
I have spoken about the Tories in the Scottish Parliament, where they have been more constructive than other opposition parties, but I think you wouldn’t have to scratch very hard in London to see real anti-Scottish antagonism from many elements of the Conservative Party – there’s a whole range of quotations, so I don’t think the leopard has changed his spots.

Cameron has been very pro Scottish in some of the comments he has made.
Maybe the wrapping has changed somewhat but I think the leopard is still there.

But if there is a hung Parliament where the Conservatives are the largest party, is there any conceivable circumstance where you could see SNP MPs going into coalition with the Conservatives?
None at all

So you completely rule that out.
We have a policy on that. We don’t have a policy preventing a formal coalition with the Labour Party but I don’t see circumstances where we would be in a formal coalition with the Labour Party either, right now. In a hung Parliament we wouldn’t be trying to enter a coalition, we’d be trying to exert influence. Believe me, the best way to exert influence in Westminster is not to be in a formal coalition.

So it would be on an issue by issue basis.
Yeah, you would maximise your influence. A good example of what is possible is to look at the DUP on the 42 day vote. The SNP could not have done a deal on this because we had a principled objection. You can’t mortgage your political soul but the DUP weren’t in that position. They could make a good argument for being in favour of 42 days detention. But without the engagement they wouldn’t have been in favour of it as they turned out to be. Even in a Parliament with a majority of 66 circumstances can arise where a small party can be extremely powerful in a vote to save the Prime Minister’s bacon. In a Parliament with a much smaller majority or no majority at all it is going to happen more often, and that’s what we would do.

I perceive that the SNP has changed a lot in the last ten years. The Conservatives were seen as a terrible enemy by you and the SNP was seen to be a very left wing party by the Conservatives. It seems to me that you have copied Bill Clinton – I’ll be careful where I go with this analogy – and tried to create a big tent for the SNP, so you can attract ex Conservative voters who had previously felt put off by some of the more left wing ideas of the SNP.
I suppose I have tried to bring the SNP into the mainstream of Scotland. We have a very competitive economic agenda. Many businesspeople have warmed towards the SNP. We need a competitive edge, a competitive advantage. That side of SNP politics – get on with it, get things done, speed up decision making, reduce bureaucracy. The SNP has a strong, beating social conscience, which is very Scottish in itself. One of the reasons Scotland didn’t take to Lady Thatcher was because of that. It didn’t mind the economic side so much. We could see the sense in some of that. But we didn’t like the social side at all. One of the most famous phrases in Scottish history is the ‘Community of the realm’ – I used it earlier. This idea that there is a community of interest stretching across the population. It’s a very Scottish concept and Scotland doesn’t like people who regale against it.

Doesn’t that illustrate the problem that Scotland is seen as having quite a big public sector, a bit too much of the Nanny State, and as the country of Adam Smith it is no longer seen as the country of enterprise. Or am I betraying English prejudices by even daring to suggest such a thing?
I think you are betraying Adam Smith. He was not just a friend of economics. He was a moral philosopher. Margaret Thatcher had only ever read the Penguin edition of Wealth of Nations and she missed out the moral sentiments. I would absolutely defend the reputation of Adam Smith against the Adam Smith Institute.

You’re a better man than I am.
I said to Eamonn Butler [Deputy Director of the ASI], if Adam Smith could sue, you’d be in real trouble.

*What can you do as a government to ram home the message that Scotland wants the world’s business? We only ever see in London, mainly because the London media rarely reports anything about Scotland unless it’s bad, things like the Donald Trump incident where it seems he wants to take his bat and ball home because he can’t get planning permission for a £2 billion golf project.
He hasn’t quite taken his bat and ball home but I am conflicted from commenting on it because it’s in my constituency and I am “cup-tied”. I can’t prejudice the results of the public inquiry. But on the broader point I don’t think Scotland has an international projection problem welcoming business. We’ve had a very good reception in the US. Against a very difficult investor climate we have done spectacularly well in key sectors. That will be exemplified even more in our Year of Homecoming, and we expect you to take part in this, Iain. This is for first, second, third, fourth, fifth generation Scots.

I am a quarter Scottish.
There we are, we’ve got you. There are 100 million Scots around the planet.

I am a descendant of one of Robbie Burns’ bastard children…
Iain, you are perfectly positioned to celebrate the 250th anniversary of your ancestor. That only happens every 250 years!

Indeed.
Therefore I am instructing, nay commandeering 100 million people to come back to Scotland at some point during 2009 to enjoy the festivities.

Preferably not all at once.
No, because we have stretched the events from Burns Night to St Andrews Day. We have five themes. Burns himself, Scottish history of enterprise and innovation, the enlightenment, Adam Smith, Golf, Scottish history, genealogy, the gathering of the clans to Edinburgh. All the transatlantic flights have already been booked.

It’s all becoming clear to me now. That’s why you want the referendum in 2010 so you can sweep to victory on the back of this tide of nationalist euphoria which you will unleash in 2009.
You’ve got it. You’ve seen through me again.

That’s why Wendy Alexander wanted it now. Now I get it!
I didn’t get to the fifth theme, whisky.

We’ll gloss over that one. I don’t drink.
Can I welcome the change in direction of the Conservative Party, but I have to say the Conservative affection for whisky was about its only redeeming feature.

Don’t take me as typical of the Conservative Party, in oh so many ways!
I think I had already worked that bit out, Iain.

What is the future of the bases under an independent Scotland?
One thing that never comes up when you talk about the Barnett Formula, in public expenditure terms, Scotland gets 7% of defence expenditure, so if you held defence expenditure at the same level, you could generate more jobs. We won’t have the next generation of nuclear missiles. Hans Blix wouldn’t have much trouble in coming to Scotland and finding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He’d have managed that in an afternoon. I don’t think it’s reasonable to have that for the next forty years or so.

Nuclear power?
We’re against any renewal of nuclear power for Scotland, but we’ll have it until 2020.

The UK government is going hell for leather for nuclear power.
We’re going hell for leather for renewables. We’ve also just signed a contract for £700 million with Scottish Coal. Scots coal will now be burnt in Scots power stations. We can get the clean power investment we’re looking for. And at this rate we can get down to zero carbon emissions using clean coal.

You’re not going to waste money on wind power, are you?
We’ll have comparative advantage in wind power, lots of wind. Offshore wind has a lot going for it. In the Murray Firth we have a utilisation of 53% – I don’t know of any land based wind turbines with more than 30%. But we also have a comparative advantage in wave energy and tidal energy. It’s going to be big in the future. The Pentland Firth is the Saudi Arabia or tidal power, potentially. I notice Gordon Brown has nicked that phrase – very naughty of him. I launched the world’s largest innovation prize in Washington in April, the Saltaire Prize, which will be judged by scientific luminaries throughout the world. You have to demonstrate the device in Scotland. You can enter yourself, Iain

Hmmm. I can demonstrate good use of wind, but let’s not go there.
The idea is to establish Scotland as the marine renewables centre of the universe. We had a full page headline in Fortune Magazine – Scotland Rules the Waves. I loved that! My view on energy is that you position yourself where you have a natural competitive advantage. We don’t have it in nuclear technology. We’d have to buy it from France or somewhere else. We’ll get to 30% renewable production, 50% by 2020 and bigger after that if the technology fits into place. It will because the economics are dictating it. And we have to address to the outrageous entry costs to connect to the grid.

Is it a frustration for you being First Minister than you only have powers over certain areas and not others. For example, you don’t have full control over economic policy. You have limited tax raising powers which you choose not to use…
Once upon a time they were called the Towering Heights of the economy…

You mean Commanding Heights…
Indeed. Yes, it is a frustration, of course it is. Can you do nothing about the economy, no I don’t agree with that, but you are boxed in to enterprise policy, business incentives and supply side initiatives. However, we have done something dramatic for small businesses with the elimination of business rates for example. But for Commanding Heights intervention on adjustment of tax then you are heavily restricted and that is a real frustration, of course it is.

Do you think you will ever use the tax raising powers you’ve got?
I don’t see that in the foreseeable future.

A subject dear to my heart is an English Parliament, which you presumably approve of…
I am right behind you. I’m surprised at Ken Clarke’s lily-livered report.

Are you? It’s a compromise, isn’t it?
I was being ironic. Certain compromises you can muddle through, but if I was producing a way to protect the essential integrity of the United Kingdom – which, I’m not – I wouldn’t produce that. This in and out rubbish is a lot of nonsense. You have to think about the whole constitutional structure and come up with something a bit more elegant.

Do you agree that there is a resurgence of an acceptable form of English nationalism and that a lot of English people feel disadvantaged?
I have huge sympathy with the political argument. As you know, by choice, SNP MPs have abstained from every vote on English legislation which dies not have an immediate Scottish consequence. And when we have intervened it’s usually on the side of the English majority. If you’re asking me should people in England be able to run their own Health Service, their education system and a variety of other pieces of legislation then my answer is yes. They should be able to do it without the bossy interference of Scots Labour MPs. We had this in reverse through the 1980s. Because I believe in independence for Scotland I also believe in independence for England. I know there are a lot of doom mongers who say that England couldn’t stand on its own two feet. I deprecate that sort of talk.[laughs]. I have great confidence in England’s ability to be self governing.

  • We are so grateful!*
    Sometimes it helps for people to see the wood from the trees to talk like that. Nothing makes me more angry than people who deprecate the abilities of their own country, their own people. You can’t deprecate a country’s abilities without having an effect on the people within the country. It’s insidious and damaging. Patriotism is said to be the last refuge of the scoundrel. The reverse is the last refuge of the scoundrel in politics.

Does it irritate you when you read things in the English newspapers – and I get it all the time on my blog – about what a miserable Scottish bastard Andy Murray is? How the English shouldn’t support him because he said he didn’t want England to win in the World Cup?
I don’t think that the plain people of England would think that. The sort of people who think that are the sort of people who go on your blog! [roars with laughter].

Thank you! But let me put the reverse point to you. I always want Scotland to win at any sport. It’s partly my country too. But there are plenty of Scots who revel in an English defeat of any sort – even against the Germans, for God’s sake!
I have form on this matter. You’re not talking to the First Minister who supports other teams against England in the world cup – that was my predecessor [Jack McConnell]. I think that individuals have every right to a bit of banter.

But it goes beyond banter.
When you become national leader you’re under a different set of rules. Anything I say can be interpreted as the view of the country. People should back your own country. No one is obligated to support anyone else, but I don’t think you should get your kicks and thrills by some proxy. It’s pathetic. I have never indulged in it. If you go into a TV room in the House of Commons when England is playing, all you have to do is look at the phalanx of Scottish Labour MPs cheering on whoever they are playing against. And you think to yourself, there’s the Scottish Unionist Party. These are the people who want to have their country run from somewhere else!

In May 2011 you will be up for re-election. What do you want the Scottish people to be thinking about your four years in government. What will guarantee you your re-election?
Remember we will be having a referendum in 2010. I want our record in government to reinforce the popularity and trust in the SNP. By our deeds we shall be known. People do not expect miracles. They do not expect a minority government to have transformed the country in the space of twelve months but most people seem to be happy with what they have seen so far. The trust in government as expressed in the Social Attitude Survey has risen by twenty points – from 50% to 70%.

It was important for you in the first year to display competence, I suppose, as none of you had any experience of running a government department!
The SNP Cabinet has people in it who have worked for Standard Life, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Scottish Amicable. They’ve done a few things.

It must be a relief to have got through the first year with a reputation for competence.
It was a desirable objective. As you probably have noticed, I am not short of confidence, so relief is the wrong phrase, but I was determined that that should be done. So much so that I banned their holidays last Summer and said look, you’re Cabinet Ministers, make your mark. And they did.

My point is that the Scottish media is against the SNP and apart from the Labour Party most other people in politics have said quite nice things about you.
If you get complimented by your critics then that is better than just being complimented by your friends. But we have a lot of achievements to be complimented on. We have a new style of government. We slashed business rates for small companies, freezing council tax, abolished tolls, saved the hospitals, reduced prescription charges. We’re now trying to get to some of the more underlying structural challenges – reshaping the relationship between central and local government. If we can do that, there will be a big gain. We’ve already abolished more than 60 ring fences. We are attacking on the binge drinking culture, which is an even bigger problem than it is in England. This is difficult because we are tilting against vested interested, the power of which you would not believe.

So how do you think you’ve done overall?
Well, I’m not going to do a Wendy Alexander and give myself ten out of ten [laughs].

QUICK FIRE

James McAvoy or Sean Connery
Has to be Sean Connery, but I would never pit two fantastic Scots against each other.

Oatcakes or Haggis
Oatcakes win, but only marginally.

Favourite View
Culloden Bay. If you haven’t seen it, you must. A couple of Tory MPs have holiday homes there. It’s fabulous.

Wendy or Douglas
Wendy

Last time you cried
[pauses] I shed a tear recently. There was an episode of Star Trek that was particularly poignant [collapses in giggles].

What music makes you dance?
My guilty secret is that I like country and western music. I am a devotee of Tammy Wynette. I went to Scottish Ballet recently. Wonderful, but in the interval I had to give a speech. I told them it was the first ballet I had ever been to so they were thinking I was a complete philistine. I then told them I was the only frontline politician who had once starred in an opera, and it’s true. I had a lead role in an operetta. My musical tastes are wide. I have also done a duet with Sandi Thom.

Favourite food
In the early part of June you can get Duke of York potatoes, fresh sea trout and Scottish asparagus. Usually they are out of sync, but sometimes you can get them all in season together.

Favourite comedian
Elaine C Smith, the wife of Rab C Nesbitt.

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Iain takes on Katie Hopkins

He accuses her of stirring up dark emotions

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Interview

WATCH: In Conversation with Jeremy Thompson

7 Apr 2018 at 22:11

The very brilliant Jeremy Thompson, talking about his career in news and his autobiograhy which I had the honour of publishing. Buy the book HERE

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Joan Rivers

48 minutes of comedy chat with the Queen of Comedy, Joan Rivers.

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Personal

A Letter To My 16 Year Old Self

7 Apr 2018 at 08:00

I wrote this in 2010. I wouldn’t change a word of it now…

Dear Iain,

This could turn into a 100 page epistle, if I am not careful. As you know, you have had a perfect childhood – brought up by two loving parents in a wonderful rural environment. I know you know how lucky you have been. Life isn’t always this perfect, as you are about to find out, as you enter adulthood.

My first bit of advice will not come as a surprise. You need to develop a harder edge. You can’t be liked by everyone, no matter how hard you try. There are people out there who will want to do you down and slag you off. You cannot win everyone over and there’s no point in trying. You know that throughout your school days you have been bullied by various people and yet you’ve never stood up to them. Now’s the time to start. Do it once and it becomes very easy the next time. You know you give the impression of being an extrovert, the life and soul of the party and willing to speak up in a meeting. Yet you and I both know that you have an inate shyness which you constantly seek to repress. Few people know the real you. Keep it that way. Those who want to dig beneath the surface will do so. Those who are only interested in you for what they can get out of you won’t bother. There will come a time when everyone seems to want to know you. To want a bit of you. Beware of those people. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who look over your shoulder at a party to see if there’s anyone more important there. What I am saying is that you should be very careful of loving the spotlight a little too much. Fight your natural disposition for your head to get that little bit too big. It’s a fight you will probably never win, though!

My second piece of advice is about your future career. You and I both know that you knew you didn’t want to be a farmer from about the age of eight, even though everyone in your wider family expects you to take over the farm. We also know how difficult has been to carry on the pretence that you would be going to agricultural college. But getting ungraded in Physics O Level and Grade D in Biology was a pretty good indication to everyone that this was not a direction in which you are headed. You feel you are letting your parents down, but you’re not. They want what’s best for you and will support you in whatever you do. You know that deep down. At the moment, because you’ve suddenly found out that German is the only subject you excel at, you intend to be a German teacher. Fine, you think that now, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Your career is likely to take a very different direction. You recently joined the Liberal Party and have discovered an interest in politics. If I told you now that Margaret Thatcher would have a huge influence on your future life and that you would write books about her, you’d probably laugh. Throughout your career you’ll come across people you feel inferior to or that in some way they are better than you. You will envy the self assurance and confidence of those who have been to public school and Oxbridge. Fight it. You know deep down they are no better than you, but it is true that you will always have to fight that bit harder than they do to get where you want to be.

You know as well as I do that you are, and will be, under tremendous pressure to conform – not just to what is expected of you career-wise, but also in your personal life. People will expect you to get a girlfriend – indeed, a succession of them – and get married and live happily ever after. Just like most of your friends and cousins (except most of them end up divorced!). Life ain’t like that, as you are already coming to realise. You don’t have to pretend to me. I know the inner feelings you’ve had since the age of eight, and so do you. You know that society in 1978 demands you should feel ashamed. But you don’t. And you’re right not to. So far so good.

The Britain of 2010 is very different from that of 1978. You won’t believe me now, but one day you will somehow summon up the courage to be open about exactly who – and what – you are. The path won’t be smooth and one or two people will be hurt along the way, and it may well mean that you don’t achieve what you want to in your career, but you will have no regrets. No one you care about will shun you, you just need the courage to say ‘accept me for who I am or do the other thing’.

You’re scared. That’s natural. You won’t make the first move. You carry on the pretence for some time, and break a number of female hearts along the way. You’re not playing them along – you genuinely care about them, but deep down you know that there’s something not quite right, that you need more. So you get to a certain stage and won’t go further. One day – and it’s some time off, everything will fall into place. I promise you that one day you’ll find what you’re looking for. And you’ll be happy.

You have a wonderful life to look forward to, one which most people would envy. It’s not all smooth sailing – it would be boring if it was, wouldn’t it? But if it’s any consolation, you’d probably settle for it now.

Bonne chance

Iain

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Video: Iain interviews Boris Johnson in 2007

18 Doughty Street - Boris Johnson's first interview after he was selected as Tory candidate for London mayor.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Gang Grooming & Why Theresa May Could Fight the 2022 Election

6 Apr 2018 at 16:00

So far this year there have been 51 murders in London. If the rate continues we will have close on 200 murders in 2018 compared to 130 last year. That’s quite an increase. The mayor of London is completely devoid of ideas as to what to do and jerks his knee by blaming police cuts for the rise. The right instinctively blames the fall in the number of Stop & Searches, while the left – in the form of Diane Abbott – blames social deprivation. David Lammy says a lot of it is down to drug gang turf wars. In truth, there is no single cause, and if we’re honest it’s probably in part down to all of these things. There is no short term ‘single bullet’ solution. I had a teenage caller on my programme on Tuesday who said one of the long-term solutions is to get rid of ‘gang grooming’. He reckoned that it’s schools who hold the key to stopping 12 or 13 year-olds joining gangs. Gangs give some kids the feeling of belonging and family that they may have lacked in their home lives. The reality of gang life needs to be explained to young boys, especially young black boys, at a very early age. It’s a truth we all need to recognise.
*
By Thursday night at midnight every company in the country with more than 250 employees had to file gender pay gap information to the government. I may not like this nanny state approach to the issue, but it’s thrown up some very interesting information. It may be a blunt instrument but it does show how much work there is to do on the subject of equal pay and opportunity. Airlines complain that of course there is a big gap with them because most of their employees are cabin crew, of which 70% are women and much lower paid than pilots, only three per cent of whom are women. Perhaps they ought to ask themselves why only 3% are female and then do something about it. There’s no intrinsic reason for women to shun the opportunity to train as pilots.
*

Someone asked me this week if I thought it was now possible that Theresa May could fight the 2022 election as Conservative leader. Most people assume that she will step down after Brexit is complete at the beginning of 2021, giving her successor time to bed in before an election. If her performance continues to improve, as it has done in recent weeks, then she may be able to demand the right to continue. I’d say there was only a 10-20% of her still being in Downing Street in 2022, but that per centage may well grow over the coming months. Watch the betting markets. As the local election campaign gets underway – and has anyone noticed? – it will be interesting to see if Labour’s anti-semitism woes have any effect on voting patterns. There has been a remarkable dearth of opinion polls in the last fortnight so we have no evidence to go on, but it would be remarkable if Labour hadn’t lost a couple of per centage points. The last poll showed a three point Tory lead. If by the end of the year there is a 6 or 7 point Tory lead, I suspect Theresa May will have every right to say she ain’t goin’ nowhere.
*
I had a week off last week and started watching Game of Thrones. I must admit it took quite a few episodes to really get it into it. There are so many characters that it’s quite difficult to follow who’s who and how they relate to each other. It all fell into place when I realised that the Queen was actually shagging her own brother. And the series isn’t even set on the Isle of Sheppey, a place where the family trees apparently don’t fork to often. Or so rumour has it.
*

Isn’t Turkey a member of NATO? Why then is it buying defence systems from Russia? This week Turkey’s President held a summit with Putin and Iran’s President Rouhani. I think of it as the Summit of the Three Monkeys. Hear no evil, see no evil, and evil. I’ll leave you to guess which one is which.
*
The Greatest Showman has possibly the best ever movie soundtrack. Discuss.

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Former Footballer Leon McKenzie Discussions His Depression With Iain

An emotional discussion

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Video

WATCH: CNN Talk: Can We Wean Ourselves off Plastic?

6 Apr 2018 at 13:11

Can we wean ourselves off plastic? That was our question today. If you want a good laugh make sure you watch the first few minutes when I expose Ayesha’s coffee cup habit!

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Iain reacts to a caller who calls gay marriage a stain

Oh dear...

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Personal

Forty Things That I Loved About the 1980s

6 Apr 2018 at 09:00

1. Margaret Thatcher

2. Labour couldn’t win an election

3. Putting the Unions back in their box

4. Enabling millions of people to buy shares for the first time

5. A-ha & Alphaville

6. Audi Quattros

7. Ejecting the Argentinians from the Falklands

8. Enabling hundreds of thousands of people to buy their own homes

9. Ronald Reagan & Mikhail Gorbachev

10. The Mullett

11. Ian Botham

12. Airplane

13. Trevor Brooking & Alan Devonshire, Tony Cottee & Frank McAvennie.

14. Winning the Cold War

15. Trivial Pursuit

16. Tina Turner

17. J R Ewing

18. Nena’s 99 Luftballons and her hairy armpits

19. The Conservatives winning three elections in a row

20. The advent of Sky TV.

21. The ZX Spectrum

22. Apricot computers

23. Shoulder Pads

24. The Pet Shop Boys

25. Mrs Mangel

26. Sue Ellen’s quivering lip

27. Anne & Nick

28. Frank Bough’s jumpers

29. Gyles Brandreth’s jumpers

30. The vanquishing of Arthur Scargill

31. Big in Japan

32. The smell of the Sunday Times magazine

33. The VW Scirocco

34. Wired for Sound

35. Vincent Hanna

36. Wogan

37. Gregory’s Girl

38. Squarials

39. Krystal Carrington

40. Limahl

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton John discusses her new cook book and her career in entertainment.

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UK Politics

If You're Standing in the May Elections, Here are 20 Pieces of Advice...

5 Apr 2018 at 09:00

A few years ago I wrote this in relation to people who stand for Parliament. It got quite a reaction. So if you’re standing for your local council in the May elections, quite a lot of this applies to you too!

1. You can’t do everything yourself. Let others take the strain. You are the leader of the campaign. Act like it.
2. Keep your cool. There will be moments in the campaign when you want to scream your head off. Resist the temptation. Count to ten. Then count to twenty.
3. Your campaign workers are volunteers. They don’t have to turn out to help you. They do it because they want to. Motivate them. Treat them well.
4. Make sure all your literature is proof read. Three times. And not by you.
5. If you have a campaign blog, never write a spontaneous blogpost. Always run it by someone else first. Be incredibly careful what you tweet. Imagine your name in bold print in the Daily Mirror. If you hesitate before pressing SEND, it probably means you shouldn’t.
6. Make sure you keep to your normal sleep patterns. You may think you are Superman/Superwoman, but you’re not. You need your sleep. Make sure you get it.
7. You don’t need to hold a long campaign meeting every morning. Three times a week is usually enough. Make sure that the only people who attend are those who really should. Restrict meetings to half an hour.
8. Posters do not gain extra votes. But they make your local party feel good and give your campaign the appearance of momentum. Do not put them up too early. And do not put them up all at once. And if they get ripped down, make sure your campaign team has a strategy for replacing them within 24 hours.
9. Personalise your Sorry You Were Out Cards. Include your ten campaign pledges on them. And include an apparently handwritten message and signature.
10. Do not drive anywhere yourself. Especially, do not drive your campaign vehicle. Appoint a PA who will drive you everywhere and cater for your every whim.Tell them to make sure you eat properly, and regularly. McCoys, Coke and Mars Bars do not a healthy diet make.
11. If Party HQ offer you the chance of a visit from a politician even you have barely heard of, turn them down. Even if you have heard of them, consider turning them down. Visits from national politicians use up too many resources and rarely attract a single extra vote.
12. Don’t canvas before 10am or after 8.30pm. It looks desperate and annoys people. And be very careful about canvassing on Sundays. People don’t like it. Use Sundays to catch up on deliveries in areas with no deliverers.
13. Resist the temptation to strangle the next person who asks “How’s it going?” or “Are you going to win?”. They’re only being polite.
14. If you’re in a high profile marginal seat which the media find interesting, avoid spending half your day giving them interviews. Your only media focus is local. Ignore Michael Crick. He’s not there to help you.
15. Avoid the natural desire to believe what voters tell you on the doorstep. Most of them will tell you what you want to hear in order to get you off the doorstep. If they say “I’ll see how I feel on the day” you can safely put them down as a Liberal Democrat.
16. Your Get Out The Vote operation is more important than anything else you do during the campaign. Satisfy yourself that your Agent and Campaign Manager have it in hand and they know what they are doing.
17. Ignore those who tell you not to appear at your count until it is well underway. It’s your moment. Relish it. Prepare your speech. If you lose unexpectedly, you will be remembered for how you react. Act graciously towards your opponents during the counting and in your speech.
18. If you lose, you will be tempted to blame someone. Your party leader. Your local party. Anyone but yourself. Don’t. Whatever your personal thoughts, no one likes a bad loser. Be dignified and take it on the chin.
19. If you win, hubris may take over. It really wasn’t all down to you, you know. And make sure others know you know that.
20. Make sure you write a personal thank you letter – and I mean write, not type – to all those who helped on your campaign. Do it within a week of polling day. You really could not have done it without them.

Good luck, and try to enjoy it!

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Iain interviews Kirsty Wark

Kirsty Wark talks about her new novel.

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Video

WATCH: CNNTalk - Can the Gender Pay Gap Ever Be Bridged?

4 Apr 2018 at 21:07

A feisty discussion, which turns rather heated towards the end! With Ayesha Hazirika, Liam Halligan and me, with Hannah Vaughan Jones presenting.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Simon Jordan

Former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan discusses his book BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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