Wednesday, 1 April 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

A lot of hard work has been going on behind the scenes, as regular readers know, but the good news is that individual letters are scheduled to go out soon to all Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) clients in North Lanarkshire Council.

The letters will explain the impact recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached with North Lanarkshire Council over equal pay and will deal with the period from 7 January 2007 up until 31 March 2015. 

The settlement does not resolve with the outstanding 'First Wave' claims of A4ES clients which are returning to the Employment Tribunals for the reasons explained in a previous post to the blog site dated 20 March 2015.

All A4ES clients will receive detailed legal advice from Fox and Partners Solicitors which has been representing A4ES clients in the recent Employment Tribunal hearings.

A separate part of the MOU deals with the period beyond 31 March 2015 and requires North Lanarkshire Council to re-evaluate various female and male council jobs which may trigger a further payment going forward, depending on the outcome of the re-evaluation process.

Any further payments due as a result of this re-evaluation exercise will be fully backdated to 1 April 2015.   

So the best thing to do is to sit tight and enjoy the Easter weekend because things are scheduled to start moving in week beginning Monday 13 April 2015. 

NLC Update (20/03/15)

I've had a barrel load of emails from readers in North Lanarkshire which is hardly surprising given the news that the Council has finally signed the MOU on equal pay.

I don't have the time or resources to respond to all of these on an individual basis, but I will try and deal with wider or group issues via the blog site over the next few days.

A number of Equal Value (EV or former APT&C) claimants have been in touch and apparently there is some concern that claims prior to 2007 have been forgotten about, or even given up, which is not correct.

The Employment Tribunal has already decided in favour of this group and the only outstanding issue is the size of the award for that earlier period which is going back to the tribunal for an adjudicated decision, because North Lanarkshire Council has not agreed to the settlement proposals put forward by Action 4 Equality Scotland.

So there is no reason for EV claimants to panic or feel despondent since the pre-2007 element of people's claims is going back to the Employment Tribunals only because our advice is that an adjudicated decision is likely to produce a better outcome for claimants.

More posts and individual letters will follow in the days ahead although it would be helpful if claimants did not bombard the A4ES office with phone calls and emails at this stage.

Elephants and Equal Pay

The Sunday Mail ran an interesting story last week about a trade union campaign to tackle some of the issues surrounding zero hours contracts.

Now what I find intriguing about this piece is that the fight for equal pay in Scotland affected somewhere between 120,000 to 150,000 low paid council workers, employed by large Labour-run councils like Glasgow City Council, North Lanarkshire Council and South Lanarkshire Council.

Yet never did the STUC mount a campaign against widespread pay discrimination in Scottish councils, nor did the individual unions in the shape of Unison, Unite or GMB lead the fight for equal pay - or even once threaten industrial action to draw attention to the scale of the problem.

So if you ask me the craven attitude of the trade unions in failing to stand up for their lowest paid members is the real national scandal. 

Especially when you consider that the biggest problems with zero hours contracts are concentrated in non-unionised areas of industry whereas the failure to pay 'equal pay for work of equal value' was going on in the the trade union's back yard, in the public services, in some of the biggest Labour-run councils in the land.

Strange isn't it that the unions now want to make zero hours contracts such a big issue in areas of industry where they have relatively little influence while ignoring the bigger issue of equal pay which was right on their doorstep, so to speak.  

It's all bound up with politics of course because that's the only reason to explain why the trade unions deliberately ignored the equal pay elephant in the room for all this time.   

War on workers: 100,000 Scots are now trapped in brutal zero hours contracts in high street of shame

By Mark Aitken - The Sunday Mail

DESPERATE employees reveal how they miss out on redundancy money, sick pay and pensions and can't get credit references, loans or mortgages.

100,000 workers are affected by zero hours contracts

MORE than 100,000 Scots are trapped on zero hour ­contracts without fixed hours and stripped of basic workers’ rights.

Many are forced to use foodbanks despite having jobs with some of Britain’s best-known firms.

The contracts mean employers can avoid offering redundancy pay and ­pensions, with workers often unable to obtain credit references, loans or mortgages.

The NHS, charities and some of the country’s biggest fast food chains and high street stores use the controversial contracts, which allow them to hire staff with no guarantee of work.

On Wednesday, Sports Direct, owned by Newcastle United owner and Rangers shareholder Mike Ashley, will be ­questioned by MPs over the issue.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress, who are launching a campaign to help exploited zero hour workers, branded the contracts a “national scandal”.

The Office for National Statistics estimate that 60,000 people in Scotland are on zero hour contracts, up from 46,000 the ­previous year.

But the STUC believe the real figure is more than 100,000.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the STUC

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Zero hour contracts enable employers to dictate the number of hours a worker must undertake – anything from zero to over 40.

“Employees are completely unable to estimate how many hours will be ­available in a given week, how much money they will receive and whether they can undertake a second job to ­supplement their income.

“The working tax credit for a single person can only be claimed if an ­individual works 16 hours a week but whether an individual exceeds these hours can vary from week to week, often leading to delayed payments and increased uncertainty and pressure on household incomes.” Half of all zero hour workers earn less than £15,000 a year.

The Trussell Trust, who run a network of foodbanks across Scotland, said zero hour contracts were forcing workers to seek their help.

Ewan Gurr, the trust’s manager in Scotland, said: “The No1 one driving factor for people presenting at food banks is low income.

“Underlying causes include the rising costs of food and fuel, minimal ­employment opportunities for those seeking work and insecure employment for those in work.

Ewan Gurr, Scotland Development Officer for The Trussell Trust

“We are coming across an increasing number of people in our foodbanks who describe the pressure zero hour ­contracts and static incomes have put on them and their families.”

Last month the Institute of Directors described zero hour contracts as an “extremely attractive proposition” for employers and workers. The CBI claimed they help keep unemployment in the UK lower than in other countries.

But Citizens Advice Scotland said: “We regularly see clients on zero hour contracts whose hours vary considerably week to week, leaving it impossible for them to budget and building up debt as a result.

“We’ve even seen people having to go to a foodbank because they’ve been given no shifts for weeks.

It’s very difficult for workers on zero hour contracts to enforce their rights at work.

“Bureau staff have advised ­people who have been stopped from taking any holiday, or aren’t given sick pay so are unable to go into hospital for a necessary operation.

“If they try to complain about how they’re treated, it’s far too easy for their employer simply to stop giving them any work – basically dismissing them without any process being followed.”

According to research, 44 per cent of zero hour contract jobs last two years or more with the same employer and 25 per cent last five years or more. Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Zero hour contracts are a ­disgraceful employment practice that leave workers in limbo.

“People don’t know if they have a job or income from one day to the next and that’s no way to live.

Labour leader Ed Miliband

“The ranks of the working poor in Scotland and across the rest of the UK are swelling and zero hour ­contracts are a part of the problem.

“Their practice should be banned as part of a wider improvement of ­employment rights so that work does indeed pay and we can start to properly tackle the glaring income inequality gap.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband has ­promised to change the law on zero hour contracts if his party win the General Election in May.

Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, last year tried to introduce a private ­member’s bill proposing that zero hour workers have similar rights and ­conditions to those offered to regular workers.

He told the Sunday Mail: “Not ­surprisingly it didn’t get support from the Government.

“But I have had ­discussions with the Labour leadership, who have assured me that they will put forward legislation in the next ­parliament if they form a government in May.

“I am opposed to the exploitation of zero hour contracts and want to see workers given a guaranteed ­minimum number of hours.”

Zero hour contracts emerged during the recession of the early 1990s. Since 2000, they have risen across the UK from 225,000 in 2000 to 697,000 in December last year.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has defended the contracts but said ­exclusivity clauses, which prevent ­people from looking for extra work ­elsewhere, would be banned.

The STUC are launching a new ­campaign to support those suffering from zero hour contracts, low pay and other poor employment ­conditions.

Jihadi Runaways

One of the best news stories of the past week exposed the brazen behaviour of Abase Hussen who had the bare-faced cheek to blame the police for his daughter's decision to run away and join the Islamic State (IS).

Various newspapers covered the story, but not the BBC or other TV channels which is a real shame if you ask me, because the allegations against the police were given lots of publicity after the family's appearance before a group of MPs at the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. 

Yet all the while the father had taken part in an Islamist demonstration organised by the notorious and now banned Al-Mahajiroun terror group. 
Dad of runaway Jihadi bride who ‘blamed everyone else’ caught at banned terror group rally

THE FATHER of a jihadi bride schoolgirl who blamed police after his teenage daughter absconded to join ISIS has been unmasked as an apparent radical who marched at an Islamist rally alongside hate preacher Anjem Choudary and Lee Rigby killer Michael Adebolajo.


GETTY • PA Abase pleaded for his daughter Amira to come back from Syria

Astonishing video footage has emerged of Abase Hussen, father of 15-year-old Amira Abase, demonstrating with a banned terror group in London in September 2012 with the two Islamist radicals behind a banner reading: "The followers of Mohammed will conquer America."

Standing next to him is a man burning an American flag as Mr Hussen chants "Allahu Akbar" (God is great).

He is now accused of rank hypocrisy after he publicly blamed THE POLICE for not flagging up his daughter's radicalisation. The police even issued an apology.

The rally was part of a wave of demonstrations involving thousands of people protesting against a little-known film called Innocence of Muslims, which was criticised for ridiculing Islam.

Mr Hussen is clearly seen in the video of the London rally - organised by banned terrorist group Al-Muhajiroun - where more than 150 protestors clashed with police outside the US Embassy in Mayfair as they chanted "burn, burn USA" and "Allahu Akbar".

The revelation comes after Mr Hussen made an emotional video plea clutching a teddy bear for his daughter to return to the UK after fleeing with her two best friends, Kadiza Sultana and Sahima Begum, to join Islamic State in Syria last month.

They are thought to have gone there to marry IS fighters.

The east London father, originally from Ethiopia, addressed MPs at the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this month and told them he had no inkling, "not at all", his daughter was involved in radicalisation or had been radicalised.

Mr Hussen, along with the families of the two other girls, has blamed the police for "misinformation" and not handing letters directly to the parents warning them of a fourth school friend who had gone to Syria to join Islamic State in December 2014.

APThe three Jihadi schoolgirls fled the UK to join Islamic State in Syria last month

Hannah Stuart, an expert in domestic extremism and radicalisation at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said: "He said he couldn't recognise the symptoms of extremism but he's clearly seen in the rally organised by Al-Mahajiroun - a proscribed terrorist organisation.

"Mr Hussen put himself in the limelight and criticised the authorities and has blamed everybody else including the internet but it's highly likely being the daughter of a man who attended this rally she didn't need to go online to be radicalised."

Ms Stuart added that the families' lawyer Tasnime Akunjee has blamed the authorities.

PAHate preacher Anjem Choudary led the rally in London

Mr Hussen told MPs: "I know my daughter. She is the kind of girl who, if it is sunset, she will call me to pick her up. How on earth she travelled abroad to join ISIS, is a very difficult question for us to answer."

He added: "I don't know the symptoms [of radicalisation] even - what radicalisation is."

Earlier this week Mr Hussen travelled to Turkey with the families of the other two girls and has since returned to the UK.

Tieless But Clueless

Image result for syriza without ties + images

Vicky Pryce was hard done by in my view when she received the same jail sentence as her husband, Chris Huhne, after agreeing dishonestly to accept his penalty driving points over a dumb speeding incident.  

But Pryce is a smart woman and a good economist which she demonstrates in this article for The Independent in which she calls on the leaders of Syriza to grow up and stop acting as if the rest of the world owes Greece a living. 

The people responsible for the mess of the Greek economy are Greek citizens who dislike paying taxes and previous Greek Governments which encouraged the voters to believe that the days of cheap money and low taxes (or no taxes) would never end.

Now as Pryce points out that kind of thinking is dangerously deluded, as is the notion that Greece's European neighbours should pick up the tab.  

How to fix Greece: A seven-point plan for economic salvation

As Vicky Pryce's native land lurches from one crisis to the next, the threat of an exit from the Eurozone is still very much in the air. However, there is some hope remaining – if only her compatriots would follow her plan

By VICKY PRYCE - The Independent

All eyes are on Greece, again. After six years of austerity that drove some four million Greeks on to the breadline as economic activity declined by 25 per cent, citizens are holding their breath, watching as the newly elected leaders present their case to the powerbrokers of the eurozone. Ordinary Greeks have endured huge economic hardship as previous governments implemented the austerity economic programme demanded as a condition of the bailout by the "troika" of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2010 – and then again in 2012 – to address the country's debt crisis.

Now, Greece finds itself yet again in the eye of a financial storm that is once more threatening to bankrupt the country. Leaders of Syriza, the radical left-wing party that leads the coalition – clever academics; idealistic, appealingly tieless but often clueless in terms of political and economic strategy, due to their inexperience – must negotiate an economic strategy that satisfies their eurozone neighbours and offers up a vision of a better future to a people who elected them on the slogan "Hope is on the way".

At stake is continuing support from the rest of the eurozone to a country that seems not to want to play by the rules of the game, particularly since electing a government that pledged to end austerity, renationalise utilities, rehire sacked public servants, reverse cuts in the minimum wage and ensure that healthcare provision is restored to those who lost it due to becoming unemployed.

And, of course, write off at least part of its unsustainable debt of some €310bn (£225bn), the servicing of which costs the economy some 4 per cent of its GDP annually and is crippling any chances of proper recovery.

But things have proved very difficult since Syriza took control, propelled to power by what was mostly a protest vote. At the time, I thought the relatively small lead for Syriza since it came top in the May 2014 European elections would probably disappear as the normally conservative Greeks would be taking a risk on national election night by voting for anything other than the status quo. But to my surprise, I had underestimated the wish to see change, however small. As elsewhere in Europe, there was a populist desire to punish ruling elites and to shift the balance of power away from the technocrats of the hated "troika", and back to elected politicians accountable to Greek citizens and no one else.

The Greeks dislike and mistrust authority anyway – a leftover from the 400 years of Ottoman rule that ended in the early 19th century. But even so, they didn't vote overwhelmingly for Syriza. The populist leftists got just 36 per cent of the vote. The bizarre Greek electoral system favours the largest party by allocating 50 extra seats to it, so that it has the chance of securing a majority in parliament. All the same, Syriza still fell two seats short of a majority in the parliament. So it formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a small right-wing populist party whose leader once said: "Muslims, Jews and Buddhists do not pay taxes."

Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel in Berlin (Reuters)The trouble is that Greek spending was for the most part not covered by sufficient revenues and had to rely on international borrowing to fund it. So, without defaulting – having a panic run on banks that would be like endless Northern Rock queues, and leaving the euro and probably the EU – there is nowhere else for the Greeks to turn to. There is talk of help from Russia, but so far this seems to be more a half-hearted attempt to force the Europeans' hand.

So what should Syriza do? The situation is desperate. The economy has gone into a nosedive. No one is hiring, tax revenues are collapsing as people have cut down on spending, banks are finding it harder to get people to service their debts and there have been mini bank runs as people have withdrawn funds – an estimated €20bn since December.

Everyone I speak to there is just praying for some return to normality. So, as an expatriate Greek, but also as an economist, here is my list of suggestions:

Get the publicity right

In a crisis, dialogue is key. The inexperience of Greek negotiators shows. Instead of picking fights, Syriza should be reminding the world of the progress Greece had made, albeit at great cost. The improvement in its deficit position and the beginnings of a recovery that were seen in 2014 as the country benefited from record tourist receipts had begun changing perceptions. Greece was growing again in 2014, and the government forecasts were for further expansion of nearly 3 per cent in 2015. Even though that was slightly on the optimistic side, the improved sentiment allowed Greece to tap the markets again last year, for the first time in years paying less than 5 per cent interest.

Unfortunately, all this was lost when the EU ministers last autumn rejected the 2015 budget presented to them by the previous coalition government, led by the centre-right New Democracy prime minister, Antonis Samaras, for not imposing even more savage austerity cuts. Unlike, say, the UK, where debt and deficit have run free and the Bank of England has been printing money in best Keynesian style, the eurozone was trapped in a pre-1914 ideology that demanded debtless growth. Mr Samaras may have expected some understanding from his fellow conservative leaders, especially Germany's Angela Merkel. He got none and the eurozone ideologues forced Greece to an early election in January 2015, which resulted in Syriza leading a coalition, having promised to throw the troika out of Greece and to reverse austerity. Greece was once again shut out of the markets and dependent on the ECB and the Europeans for liquidity.

Get on with reform

By voting out New Democracy and their coalition partners, Pasok, the Greeks finally turned their backs on the clientelist, elitist structure that favoured the rich, privileged and well connected. Revelations of massive tax avoidance and evasion through, among other methods, the use of Swiss bank accounts, shook the Greeks.

Syriza must capitalise on this and make clear, shouting as it were from the top of Mount Olympus, that there will be no more delays on reforms needed to make it a more competitive economy and ensure sustained growth in the longer term. Indeed, the Swiss authorities are now talking with Athens about returning some of the money that was lodged in Swiss bank accounts to avoid tax.

Berne is showing more sympathy and understanding for Greece than Brussels is.

Syriza has already promised to tackle tax evasion. In its pre-election demagogy, it also wanted to deal with the undue influence and privileges enjoyed by the Greek oligarchs and extend the tax base to sectors so far largely excluded, such as the shipping industry. But in particular, the government needs to show how it will tackle an antiquated administrative system that hinders competition and breeds a culture of corruption and nepotism, as well as demonstrate what steps it will take seriously to slim down a bloated public sector that crowds out real entrepreneurship, competition and innovation. Sad to think that "technocracy" is a Greek word, after all, combining skill with governance. The measures being worked up over the weekend still lack sufficient detail in these areas.

The immediate priority is to have sufficient liquidity so the government can carry out basic functions such as paying wages and pensions. Greek banks are now entirely dependent on the ECB for survival, having seen a huge outflow of deposits – at least €20bn over last couple of months – as the message from the eurozone is unremitting in hostility.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (Reuters)

Restructure the debt (but not yet...)

It will have to happen, but as an early negotiating tactic, it has failed. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has moderated his demands, at least for the moment, to get the European countries, the IMF and the ECB (the old "troika" of lenders, which now, between them, hold most of the debt that Greece owes, of which €240bn is the sum of the two bailouts) to write off part of the debt, now standing at a huge 175 per cent of GDP. Everyone knows it is unsustainable. And it won't be solved by selling assets cheaply – the original troika plans to collect €50bn from privatisations by 2020 had already been reduced to half by the second bailout of 2012 and is now unlikely to be anything like that much. Tsipras has already dropped his promise to renationalise the small number of entities privatised.

But Syriza is right to object to "fire sales" to oligarchs or foreign entities of public-sector enterprises valued at rock-bottom prices due to the economic recession that Greece has lived through. So, for the moment, promise as much privatisation as possible, but wait to see what the lie of the land is later.

More importantly, promise anything to shorten as much as possible the "review" period during which the "group" of creditors (as the troika is now called) scrutinise Greece's economic plans before disbursing much-needed money. Greek bonds are not rated high enough to be eligible to be bought under the quantitative easing (QE) programme just started by the ECB to pump liquidity into the banking system and prevent deflation in the eurozone.

Countries that are in a bailout arrangement can still, in theory, get round this rule and be eligible, too. But not if they are under "review", which Greece is at present! The emphasis now has to be on getting that review period out of the way quickly so that Greece can also have its bonds bought under the scheme. Hence the sense of urgency in Athens these past few days, hammering out the details of the proposed reforms. While it remains outside the scheme, Greece is in the surreal position of finding its own lender of last resort, the ECB, discouraging Greek banks from buying Greek debt of any form and accentuating the government's liquidity crisis.

Make the European Commission your best friend

It is clearly much more favourably disposed towards Greece than the politicians, who always have one eye on their own voters' reactions. But at the same time...

Work on Merkel

Don't worry too much about Germany saying no, initially. It originally said no to the bailouts, and we have since had four – five if you count the two bailouts to Greece separately. It said no to the ECB embarking on QE. We now finally have it, despite various attempts by the German constitutional court to stop it. It tried to stop the ECB becoming a lender of last resort and objected to the sharing of risk between the member countries, as it believed that would create moral hazard – countries would misbehave if they thought that others would help to foot the bill. Yet the ECB is now effectively the lender of last resort and QE itself will have an element of mutualisation of the risk in it after all. So, work on Chancellor Merkel as much as possible. There is nothing much that can be done about the opposition from other "periphery" countries' governments, which are themselves fearful of rising anti-austerity opposition at home. For the moment, focus on what matters most.

Avoid a referendum on the Euro

Syriza has already dropped or moderated its pre-election promises. No matter. The party has increased its popularity since the elections to some 42 per cent of the popular vote, up from 36 per cent at the time of the election, although Tsipras's own ratings have come down somewhat from the 80 per cent he enjoyed for a brief period after his win. Don't squander that advantage. Some 80 per cent of the Greek population want to stay in both the euro and the EU.

A "Grexit" plebiscite would be destabilising. But be mindful of any attempts to force Greece into imposing capital controls to prevent capital flight and bank runs.

Learn that Image matters

Finally, tackle the charge of amateurism that risks undermining a government still in its honeymoon period at home and abroad. Though the strained dialogue so far has made a "star" of the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, it has also left observers worried that there is too much emphasis on style rather than content. The Greek problem needs to be taken seriously elsewhere in Europe. "Grexit" – or "Grexident", as exit by accident is now termed – would be a calamity for Greece and Europe as a whole. It would encourage the idea that exiting Europe was possible, even desirable, as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen argue in Britain and France.

The European leaders surely know that a Greece expelled by design or by accident from Europe would be prey to Russian designs and destabilise still further the unhappy geopolitical disequilibrium in the Mediterranean region. That is probably Syriza's strongest card yet in the current negotiations – and I suspect it will be used to greater effect in the weeks to come.

Vicky Pryce is the chief economic adviser at the Centre for Economics and Business Research and author of 'Greekonomics' (Biteback Publishing, £9.99), published in 2013. Her latest book on the forthcoming UK elections, 'It's the Economy, Stupid: Economics for Voters', with Andy Ross and Peter Urwin (Biteback, £15.99), is out now.

California and Caledonia

I heard on the news this morning that Joni Mitchell is in hospital intensive care after being found unconscious at her Los Angeles home.

Now the Canadian singer is one of my favourite performers, an enormously talented wordsmith whose musical style has changed over the years.

I hope she pulls through and here's one of Joni's most famous tracks: California from the album Blue which speaks of a longing to return to her adopted home with such great affection and poignancy.

Few songs have ever matched the emotional intensity of California although for most Scots Dougie MacLean's famous ballad 'Caledonia' would give it a run for its money. 

Caledonia (04/08/13)

A new version of Dougie MacLean's great ballad 'Caledonia' has taken off in a big way via the internet - so here it is by a a group called The Libations. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

End of an Era

Image result for end of an era + images

I wouldn't call Magnus Linklater a fan of the SNP, but even he seems to sense that the political mood of Scotland is changing and that we may well be witnessing the end of an era at Westminster.

I believe this to be true and if the Westminster Parliament does not reinvent itself after the May 2015 general election, I suspect Scotland will vote to become an independent country within the next ten years.

Triumphalist thousands wake up to their nationalist calling

Delegates during the SNP conference at the SECC in Glasgow - PA:Press Association

By Magnus Linklater - The Times

One should never judge the national mood from a party conference. They are exercises in self-congratulation that exist in a bubble of their own making and are a false barometer of public opinion.

This one may be different. For one thing the SNP conference in Glasgow was, by a mile, the biggest that Scotland has ever seen. Never has the SNP witnessed crowds like it. The SECC can house 3,000 delegates, and, for the big speeches, every seat was taken. Outside, in the corridors and the bars, members poured through in a torrent of yellow ribbons and beaming smiles. The SNP is in triumphalist mode; this is more than just a political party — it is becoming a cult.

“Even I am a bit overwhelmed by it,” admitted the former education secretary Mike Russell. He remembered his first conference, some 20 years ago, when the delegates could have fitted into a corner of the hall, and you measured attendance by the number of faded kilts and moth-eaten sporrans. This, he said, was different. “Scotland has woken up,” he pronounced.

It has certainly woken up to Nicola Sturgeon. The party leader’s appearances on the platform yesterday were greeted with pop-star ecstasy and standing ovations. She wore red: red dress, red lipstick, red shoes. She will not, I hope, mind me mentioning it. It was, after all, as much a political statement as an exercise in fashion. Her every pronouncement was greeted with whoops and cheers. The message that she and every speaker wanted to convey was that this moment in Scotland’s political history marked the point at which the SNP broke out of its Scottish enclave and became a big player on the UK stage. With poll predictions suggesting that it could win as many as 40 or even 50 seats at the general election, the party intends to hold the balance of power at Westminster.

Does this, however, mark a genuine shift in the mood of the country, or is it just a spurt of hyper-nationalism? Alex Salmond is probably not the best man to answer this. His role was intended as loyal acolyte to the new leader. It didn’t quite work that way. A question-and-answer session to help to sell his book, The Dream Shall Never Die, was intended to take place in a modest space to the side of the main stage. The crowd was not having it and insisted that he move centre stage. “This,” he announced from there, “is a real change in the psyche of our fellow citizens. It has changed the nation.”

It was time to try out that proposition on the citizens themselves. One thing is true — there is no lack of strong opinions. They fell into three categories: that the Yes campaign lost because of the hostility of the national media, and in particular the BBC; that political debate since the referendum has energised the country; and that the SNP is now seen as the pre-eminent social democratic party in Scotland and not just as the party of independence.

“There is an umbilical link between independence and social democracy,” said Christine Grahame, the Nationalist MSP.

Tommy Sheppard, a lapsed Labour member and now an SNP candidate, said he thought the SNP was now more than just a political party, it was a movement. “We have to show some humility,” he said, “because now we are carrying a torch for the majority of people.”

“We are not a political party, we are a community of interests,” said Pete Wishart, MP for Perth & North Perthshire. “It consists of people who have never been involved in politics before but who see us as a home for aspirations.” Among women, the election of Ms Sturgeon as leader is a plus for a party previously seen as male-dominated. “She’s not only a woman, she speaks our language,” Sheila Irvine said. “I feel I could sit down with her and have nice cup of tea and a chat.”

Ms Sturgeon showed not only that she had stepped out of the shadow of her predecessor but that she was taking the party into territory that he had never contemplated. If the SNP does become a commanding presence, not just in Scotland but in the corridors of Westminster power, the credit will be hers.