Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Mussels recipe

Rapeseed oil to cover the bottom of a big frying pan - a hooch of dried oregano and a good skelp of cumin seed in; low flame while you prep.

Peel and chop a fair dode of sweet potato; into a big bowl with salt, pepper and a glugette of oil and microwave for about five minutes.

Chop a leek into chunks and fling it in the pan, wee stir and leave the flame low.  Get a big chunk of ginger, peel it and chop it up - chop it so it's all in wee chunks - and fling it in with the leek.  Turn the flame up to about half.  Chop up a few courgettes and fling them in.  A largiveous dode of soy sauce follows, a good stir, and put a lid on the pan.  Chop up half a dozen tomatoes (quarters will be fine) and add them, putting the lid back on.

Get the mussels prepped.  Fine to use a commercially prepared garlic broth type thing warmed in the pan.

Sweet potato out of microwave and mix it into frying pan, crank heat right up and put lid back on - should take about five minutes - two minutes later add a slug of balsamic vinegar, stir and get the lid back on.

Shallow bowls to serve - fried veg first, plenty of it - followed by the mussels and the broth, serve.  Marvellous.

Spare veg is cooling for tomorrow's lunch - looks fabulous.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Twitter

When I was a lad, a primary school pupil, my dad took me out campaigning.  I was a shy kid and didn't exactly put myself forward but I was spat on by Labour activists.  These weren't the dainty spits of a lady disposing of an insect which had found its way into her mouth, these were great gobs that were summoned from their feet, that echoed in the top of their nostrils and the back of their throats, that produced green and sticky and unpleasant stuff.  And these grown men gobbed on me - a boy, a primary school pupil - and smirked with satisfaction and walked on to hand out leaflets to people who had watched them do that.

There was a guy with us who was a bit less quick understanding things in life.  They taunted him until his father took him home - time after time.

When I was an election agent a dead cat was nailed to my door with SNP leaflets in its mouth.  When I was a candidate shit wrapped in my leaflets was posted through my door.

I've seen polling station boards stolen or burned or urinated on, I've seen activists hounded off of polling stations through threats of violence to their families.  I've seen voters told that Labour would know how they voted.

I've seen bad things happen in elections but I'm just glad that I grew up before Twitter was here because someone might have said something bad about me!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Updating CBI Scotland

I've been meaning to update an old post of mine for quite a while now.  It's a post from three years and four days ago about how the CBI doesn't really represent many Scottish businesses at all (90 Scottish members, 62 of which were companies - that was the January 2011 membership).  When I went back to the CBI Scotland website to update the figures the directory had disappeared, gone, vanished, disapparated, desubstantiated, dissolved into nothingness, shrugged off that digital coil, shuffled into the shadows, never to be seen again.  That seemed strange - why would an organisation that used to be so proud of its members suddenly get so coy?  Once it flaunted its membership with an online directory, now it primly hides that membership behind its skirts.

Intrigued, I emailed CBI Scotland to ask - here's the exchange:
To CBI Scotland on 7/9/12 
Hi,
I was wondering how many Scottish companies are CBI members. You used to have an online directory but I can't find it now, can you help?
Calum

To CBI London on 13/9/12 
Hi, 
I sent this request about a week ago to CBI Scotland and haven't had a response, I was wondering whether you could help me?
Do you have figures for how many CBI members are headquartered in Scotland and what sectors they're in?
Cheers
Calum

Reply from CBI Scotland on 14/9/12 
Dear Mr Cashley,  
Thank you for your email enquires below which have just been passed to me; I apologise the delay in responding. The CBI is a private membership organisation and we do not disclose details of our membership, however it does include companies from all sectors and of all sizes, large and small, including manufacturing and service sectors as well as parent and subsidiary companies, plus trade associations. We held our Scottish annual dinner in Glasgow last week and were delighted to welcome almost 600 to the event. Our public policy positions are decided by our 45-strong elected CBI Scotland Council and informed by our various policy sub-groups and the wider membership. I do hope this is in order and thank you for getting in touch.  
Best wishes,  
David Lonsdale 
CBI Scotland


Both of my emails were below the CBI Scotland response; it was sent when CBI London said an answer should be sent.  It is an utterly empty response lacking any information.  No response on how many CBI members are headquartered in Scotland or how many Scottish companies are CBI members.  I thought this was a bit strange, given the previous flaunting of its membership so I asked friends of mine who live south of the Rio Tweed to ask for the same information in different ways from CBI HQ and we've not had any luck in getting any information whatsoever from the organisation that claims to speak for Scottish businesses / British businesses (and, I take it, Welsh businesses, North of England businesses and so on).

So, with this once braggart organisation becoming shy over its membership, I can't update that post in the way I wrote it but I think I can make an assumption or two and go from there.  I think it's safe to assume that the membership isn't growing - notice, even in the answer which was eventually sent to me that the inflated membership numbers that CBI Scotland used to claim in public (in, for instance, evidence to Holyrood committees) have become untenable and have disappeared.  Everything is private these days.  Let's assume that CBI membership is declining because that seems likely; belts are being tightened, non-essentials are being dispensed with, things that don't do your business any favours don't get the time of day.

That's not all; TIE, which was a member of CBI Scotland, has been wound up and no longer exists - it and Lothian Buses now make up Transport for Edinburgh (I kid you not) and Lothian Buses never wasted money on CBI membership.

Food Trade Association Management has made an application to be struck off so that will no longer be a member of CBI Scotland.

If ConocoPhilips is still a member of the CBI then it's keeping it quiet and, while it still has an operational base in Aberdeen, its UK headquarters now appears to be in London.

Chance Associates was dissolved last year.

James Barr was bought by London company GVA in October.

Laura Gordon Associates was dissolved in 2011.

SI Associates has been liquidated.

McGrigors merged with Pinsent Masons - the new HQ is in London.

Elphinstone Holdings is in administration.

WF Watt (Contracts) was wound up in 2011.

Memex Technologies had actually been bought by an American company (SAS) before I wrote the original post, so I overshot with the number of Scottish companies represented by CBI Scotland by at least one at that time.

It's actually quite a sad list that indicates some sad losses in Scotland's business base, but we should remember that there are plenty of other Scottish companies that are doing well - including some of the ones which were members of CBI Scotland in 2011.

What's clear, though, is that CBI Scotland still doesn't represent any great swathes of Scottish business opinion (and since public pronouncements made on behalf of CBI Scotland have been denied by members in the past, it doesn't seem to even represent the opinion of its own members) and its influence, weak as it is already, appears to be in further decline.  It's a shame that CBI Scotland, with probably less than 50 Scottish companies as members, feels that it needs to be so secretive about its membership - especially when it seeks to influence Scottish public policy so much on behalf of 'Scottish business' - and it's a shame that it has reacted so negatively to the constitutional debate.  It appears, however, that CBI Scotland is a bell wi nae clapper that stills rings too loudly.  I'd blow a raspberry if I knew how to write such a thing.

Maybe we should hear a lot more from the Federation of Small Businesses with its 19,000 Scottish businesses.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Those pesky international treaties

Remember the hooha, the kerfuffle and the keich about all the international treaties that Scotland would have to renegotiate after independence?  Was it 14,000 or so that was claimed?  Treaties that included those about navigating the Rhine last century and addressing some issue that was important when Victoria was busy being unamused, leaving less than a quarter having any relevance today, most of which Scotland could accede to without having to do much more than say "aye, we agree to that"?

Well, they include an awful lot that are about reciprocal medical treatment.  How do I know?  Well, I was standing at a bus-stop and a chap sidled up and whispered "pssssst, you'll be interested in these" and he handed me a couple of links.  I rushed home and shoved them in the back of the computer, wound up the key and had a look.  The first one is a terribly interesting agreement between the UK and New Zealand about being decent people to each other's people in that if I pop over to NZ for a wee look round and get sick the health service in that fine country will treat me and bear the cost.  Similarly, if one of the All-Blacks forwards gets mown down by a Scottish scrum half and ends up in hospital then the poor fella will get treated in one of our hospitals and we'll bear the cost.  That's what decent people do, isn't it?  Interesting that this agreement was signed by Thatcher's Government.

The other link - well, the other link shows that this wee treaty is not alone.  Medical treatment resulting from bad boogying in Barbados, crap karaoke in Kyrgyzstan or a misbehaving molar in Moldova will be supplied free or awfy cheap.  Armenia, Azerbaijan,  Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Gibraltar, Serbia, Montenegro, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and others have agreements with the UK - as well as, of course, the 31 EEA countries and Switzerland.

So what?  Well, under the charging plans that the London Government (Lib Dems and Tories) is planning for Accident and Emergency departments (are they still called A&E?  It didn't get changed while I wasn't looking?) are nurses and doctors expected to check whether the person in front of them and in desperate need of medical help happens to come from one of the many states with which the UK Government has a reciprocal medical assistance treaty in place?  Will m'learned friend hanging around saying "I know she's slipping in and out of consciousness but you can't treat her until we find out whether she is from a country with a treaty or not"?

I don't think that I'll be terribly off-target if I assume that the current Scottish Government has decided that it doesn't consider this to be a very good idea so I'm just assuming that it won't be happening in Scotland.  Having a wee ask about, though, I came upon a friend of mine who turns out to know a thing or two about medical things and they said "GMC rules mean that Doctors have to treat the sick or injured person in front of them.  If they refused on grounds of charging or failure to pay or any such nonsense there is a good chance they'd find themselves struck off - and quite rightly so."  I think GMC is the General Medical Council and they regulate medical types.  That would create an interesting tension - the Government which is the paymaster for NHS salaries saying "don't treat this person" while the regulatory body is saying "if you don't treat this person you won't be a doctor any longer."  Well, the tension is interesting for me in an abstract kind of a way; I'm sure it wouldn't be very interesting for the doctors so much as an inexcusable Catch 22 and a ridiculous position for any employer to put its employees in, never mind the lack of decency inherent in thinking that it's fine to leave a sick or injured person suffering while we have a health service perfectly capable of treating them.

Seeking a reasoned and considered opinion, I turned to The Ranter (so called for the measured and mellow tones with which opinions are delivered) and received something like this in response:

"You've got to look at what the endgame is here for the Tories and the Lib Dems, they want to effectively remove wholly socialised medicine and replace it with partially socialised medicine and then a market on top while at the same time portraying their position as protecting the NHS.  Being upfront about completely marketising the NHS would be a PR disaster and political suicide so to get their way without becoming utterly unmentionable everywhere outside of their own houses they are salami slicing it away.

"Think about it - and really think about this time you lazy sods - to introduce any form of upfront charging regimes for these terrible foreign types would require some mechanism to determine what the charge should be for each kind of procedure or treatment or assessment or suchlike.  You've got to assume with this lot that the charges will be based on full cost recovery (materials, staff costs, accommodation, food while on the premises, and so on).

"That's not going to be easy, is it?  It's going to need a bureaucracy - and those costs will get added in as well.  It will probably need to be an organisation doing something similar to NICE, so that charges can be refreshed regularly and kept at arms length from government for appearances' sakes.  Charges would need to be consistent across England, of course, otherwise you'd create a perverse incentive for the foreign types to shop around.

"So to deal with these foreigners you now have an apparatus in place which establishes charges for treatment on the NHS - and they can even introduce 'extras' and 'luxuries' that can be added on like you might do in a good hotel.  Hey, seeing as that charging system is place anyway why don't we make sure our glorious NHS isn't being abused by scroungers, so you still get free healthcare folks but shouldn't the cash going to the hospitals reflect the patients they get?  So let's have the money follow the patient, let's have real national insurance where if you're in work then sure your treatment is free because you deserve it; and pensioners, well they've contributed all their lives, and kids as well, just because we're nice.

"But see these benefits scrounging types, well, they're just taking the piss aren't they?  So obviously they'd get emergency treatment if they really needed it but maybe if they don't take that job or do that workfare scheme or we assess them as scroungers then they should get restricted free primary care and so on.  I mean, if they're not contributing to the pot why should they get to take out of it?

"And hey, since we're on the subject, do you want treated faster, or with a particular doctor, dentist, hospital, clinic?  Well, you can wait or, if you want, pay the small top up charge that we promise won't go up the way that tuition fees went up.  And that wee charge, well that's good for everybody because the additional profits made from that will go into the pot to pay for general patient care...

"That's my read of the long term goals but I'm doubtless just being paranoid because it's not like following the recent health legislation in England that certain treatments are no longer freely available in NHS England, is it?"

Sometimes I think The Ranter needs to get out more, sometimes I think the opposite, but I nearly always find myself thinking "yeah, I can see that coming to pass" and it often does.  Maybe it's keeping chickens that gives you that insight.

Anyway, given that the London Government seems determined to head down this road, who'd want to be a medic in England in the next few years?  Scotland, I hope, will keep our NHS as a public good and for the public good.

The question is how do we protect it and ensure we keep it?  The answer - well, make up your own mind but have a read of this while you're doing it.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Lib Dems - it's you that's doing it

On Tuesday night I had a Lib Dem on twitter telling me that the pension facts in this Bella Caledonia piece weren't accurate because some people in the UK can afford to save large amounts for their old age.  I tire of pointing out to Lib Dems what seems so simple to the rest of the population so I'll just say this; if you're a Lib Dem your party isn't taking the edge off the Tory excesses, it's facilitating them.  If you wanted to curb the power of the Tory Government you would have left it to form a minority government where it would have had to negotiate the passage of every measure without the certainty of having Lib Dem MPs whipped in to support them.

So if you're a Lib Dem, you did this -

You're responsible for the economic and fiscal policies which see 1 in 6 Scottish children going to bed hungry and massive pressure piling on their parents.

You're responsible for policies which have created a massive increase in the number of people relying on foodbanks.

You've driven people to desperation, to the very ends of their tethers, to the point where they feel they have no options left, nowhere left to turn.  You're responsible for disabled people being threatened with eviction.

It's your Government that's thinking about cutting benefits for people under 25.

You're spending billions of pounds on nuclear weapons.

In spite of all that you still have the cheek to tell Scotland that we can't govern ourselves, and using this Eeyore to do it.

Inequality, Dickensian poverty, crushing communities - the Lib Dem legacy.  It isn't someone else doing this; it wasn't a big boy who did it and ran away.  You aren't keeping Cameron and Osborne in check, you're part of what they're doing.  It's not that someone else is doing this; you're doing this.  When Osborne speaks he's your man, what he does is your doing.  When Iain Duncan Smith is cutting benefits it's you that's doing it.  Those xenophobic immigration policies are yours, that determination to roll back human rights is yours, those 'go home' vans were yours, those cuts in Scotland's budget are your cuts, all of the horror of the UK Government is yours - it's your doing.

Anybody else would feel a burning shame but I suspect that the average Lib Dem doesn't understand that feeling.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

How hard do you work, Darling?

Yesterday I had a look at how much money Alistair Darling MP makes outside of politics (although it should be noted that he can only earn this money because of the privileged position he held in UK politics) and it turned out to be a substantial amount - substantially more than he earns for his work in politics.  It struck me that his flying around the world to speak to big corporations must take up a fair bit of time and I started wondering whether that leaves him enough time to do the job we pay him to do so I had a wee look.

Ministers don't ask Parliamentary Questions (that would just be them asking themselves questions and would just be daft) and don't sign motions except Government motions (when a Minister speaks they're giving a Government position) so I've looked at the period since the 2010 UK general election.  In those 41 months since he stopped being chancellor of the Exchequer and was able to ask PQs again Mr Darling has asked 57 questions.

As a comparison, Helen Eadie MSP has asked 265 PQs of the Scottish Government in the 29 months since the 2011 Scottish general election.  Alistair Darling, facing the Tories, could only think of a question to ask once every three weeks while Helen Eadie, facing the SNP, asks a question every three days (that's counting weekends, days she's on holiday, Christmas and New Year's Day).  One question every 22 days to the Tory/Lib Dem Government in Westminster, one question every three days to the SNP Government in Holyrood.

It strikes me that just about anyone in Scotland would have more than one question every three weeks to ask the current UK Government, never mind a former Chancellor who should know how Government works and where to go sniffing about.  Maybe he's too busy promoting his book, writing newspaper articles and trousering fees for speaking engagements to bother doing the job he gets paid to do?

Maybe Helen Eadie would do the better job in Westminster?  Eadie to leadie!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Ali D Indacash!

There's a lot of sense in Stewart Hosie's point that the argument that says "stay part of the UK, there'll be another Labour Government along sometime" is the equivalent of saying "18 years of Thatcher and Major was worth it for 13 years of Blair and Brown".  The SNP MP for Dundee East was correct to point out that it really hasn't done us much good over the piece, but Labour is now making that case even more clearly.  So, after Labour promised at the weekend to be tougher on benefits recipients than Tories (fewer bedrooms than you need, maybe, or scourged through the streets on a daily basis), I thought I'd take a wee look at the earnings of the Labour chap telling us all we'd be better off staying in the UK and waiting for a Labour Government, Alistair Darling MP.  Now a backbencher he was once Chancellor of the Exchequer at a time when banks were going bust, the economy was going down the pan big style and it was being revealed that large companies and the wealthiest individuals in the UK were paying sod all tax.

I had a wee shuftie through Mr Darling's Register of Financial Interests to see how well he was doing.  I've pasted three extracts from the register below.  I think they cover the whole period, though.

In the year to the end of September this year Ali D sooked in £185,039 for making speeches and £3,384 for writing articles for newspapers - a nice wee soaking of £188,423 for the year to add to his salary as a backbench MP of £66,396 taking him to £254,819.  That's more than he got paid as Chancellor.  In fact, it's more than David Cameron gets paid to be Prime Minister (he gets £142,500 including his MP's salary).

Between getting horsed out of office in 2010 and August 2012 he cornered another £447,268.43 in speaking fees, writing fees, gifts, travel and accommodation.  That's £635,691.43 in declared outside earnings since the 2010 general election.  Add on his £263,610 of salary for the job he should have been doing while he was speaking, writing, travelling, wining, dining and accepting gifts and the total rises to £899,301.43.  By Christmas he may have broken the million pounds barrier.

Tough on benefits?  They've got no idea how tough it is to be on benefits.  Kicking the poor from a position of affluence and power, and they have the affrontery to suggest that other people might be less socially just than they are, the sheer brass neck to say that other people have their sums wrong, the smug arrogance to say "wait a few years and a change in Government in London will make it all better together."

Some face.



Excerpts from Register:
30th September 2013

Remunerated employment, office, profession etc

Contract with Atlantic Books, Ormond House, 26/27 Boswell street, London WC1N 3JW for publication of book. (Registered 25 March 2011)
All fees listed below between 1 May 2011 and 28 May 2013 include VAT. (Registered 24 June 2013)
Fees for speeches paid by JLA Associates, 80 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7NW:
6 September 2012, I received a fee of £10,200 for speaking at a conference organised by Aberdeen Asset Management. Hours: approx 3 hours, plus travelling time. (Registered 18 September 2012)
27 September 2012, I received a fee of £12,240 in respect of speaking at a conference organised by Apollo Management International LLP. Hours: approx 2 hours, including travel time. (Registered 11 October 2012)
19 November 2012, I received a fee of £12,240 for speaking at an event organised by British Property Federation, in London. Hours: approx 4 hrs. (Registered 26 November 2012)
11 December 2012, I received a payment of £12,240 in respect of a fee for speaking at an event organised by Slaughter & May LLP, London. Hours: 4 hrs. (Registered 20 December 2012)
11 December 2012, I received a payment of £12,240 in respect of a fee for speaking at an event organised by Scor Insurance, London. Hours: 4 hrs. (Registered 20 December 2012)
25 January 2013, I received a fee of £12,999 which included £249.60 in respect of travel costs for speaking at a seminar organised by Pru Health. Hours: 5 hrs. (Registered 8 February 2013)
22 March 2013, I received a fee of £12,240 in respect of speaking at an event organised by BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Ltd, in Hampshire. Hours: approx. 6 hrs, including travel time. (Registered 28 March 2013)
22 March 2013, I received a fee of £12,240 in respect of speaking at an event organised by the Automotive Fellowship International Ltd, in Buckinghamshire. Hours: approx. 6 hrs, including travel time. (Registered 28 March 2013)
28 March 2013, I received a fee of £10,200 in respect of speaking at an event organised by Credit Agricole Group, in London. Hours: approx. 4 hrs, including travel time. (Registered 28 March 2013)
28 May 2013, I received a fee of £15,300 for speaking at a conference organised by JP Morgan Chase & Co in London. Hours: approx. 4 hrs. (Registered 6 June 2013)
28 May 2013, I received a fee of £15,300 for speaking at a conference organised by Global Absolute Return Congress in London. Hours: approx. 5 hrs. (Registered 6 June 2013)
13 June 2013, I received a fee of £10,200 in respect of speaking at a conference organised by Price Waterhouse Cooper LLP, accountants.  They paid for overnight accommodation at a cost of £210.  Hours: approx. 18 hrs including travelling and overnight stay.   (Registered 24 June 2013) 
1 July 2013, I received a fee of £8,500 for addressing a conference organised by Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, London. Hours: approx. 4 hrs. (Registered 12 July 2013)
1 July 2013, I received a fee of £12,750 for speaking at a conference organised by Incisive Financial Publishing Ltd in Monaco. Travelling costs of £1,234 and overnight accommodation costing £278 were met by Incisive Financial Publishing Ltd, Haymarket House, 28/29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4RX. Hours: approx. 26 hrs including travelling and overnight accommodation. (Registered 12 July 2013)
12 July 2013, I received a payment of £8,500 for speaking at an event organised by Jefferies Bauch in London. Hours: approx. 3 hrs. (Registered 19 July 2013)
20 September 2013, I received a fee of £7,650 in respect of speaking at an event organised by Ashurst LLP in London. Hours: approx. 4 hrs. (Registered 26 September 2013)
Payments from MGN Ltd, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP:
5 September 2012, I received a payment of £600 in respect of an article published by the Daily Mirror. Hours: approx 2 hrs. (Registered 18 September 2012)
Payments from Guardian Newspapers, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GO, for writing articles for the Guardian newspaper:
8 December 2012, I received a payment of £342 Hours: 2 hrs. (Registered 20 December 2012)
28 March 2013, I received a payment of £342. Hours: approx 2 hrs. (Registered 28 March 2013)
22 May 2013, I received a fee of £600 for an article in The Times newspaper. Address of payer: The Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1TT. Hours: approx 3 hrs. (Registered 6 June 2013)
2 September 2013, I received a payment of £750 from Associated Newspapers Ltd in respect of an article published in the Mail on Sunday. Address of payer: Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT. Hours: approx. 4 hrs. (Registered 26 September 2013)
23 September 2013, I received a payment of £750 in respect of an article in The Times newspaper. Address of payer: News UK and Ireland Ltd, PO Box 151, Peterborough, PE7 8YT. Hours: approx. 4 hrs. (Registered 26 September 2013)

11. Miscellaneous

Unremunerated Director and Chairman of BetterTogether 2012 Ltd (from 1 June 2012). (Registered 21 June 2012)


2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc

Contract with Atlantic Books, Ormond House, 26/27 Boswell street, London WC1N 3JW for publication of book. The contract provides for a total advance payment of £75,000 prior to publication.
10 May 2012, I received a payment of £23,879.28 in respect of royalties from the sale of my book. No additional hours worked. (Registered 30 May 2012)
14 June 2012, I received a payment of £4,775.86 in respect of VAT due on royalties from book sales, registered on 30 May 2012. No additional hours worked. (Registered 21 June 2012)
In respect of the contract with Atlantic Books I have attended the following events . No fee was paid to me but transport and accommodation costs were met as follows:
3 February 2012, Winter Words Book Festival, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Pitlochry, Perthshire. Accommodation provided for my wife and me; value £104. This was met jointly by the festival and Atlantic Books. Hours: approx. 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 5 February 2012)
11 March 2012, Aldeburgh Book Festival, 42 High Street, Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Transport costs for me and my wife of £94 were met by Atlantic Books and £60 by the festival. Hours: approximately 2 hours plus travel. (Registered 26 March 2012)
25 March 2012, Oxford Book Festival; transport costs for me and my wife, total £65, paid by Atlantic Books. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 26 March 2012)
9 June 2012, Hay Book Festival, 25 Lion Street, Hay-on-Wye; hotel accommodation for me and my wife; cost £225, and our return flights from Edinburgh to Birmingham; cost £259.62, were paid for by Atlantic Books. Car transport from Birmingham to Hay-on-Wye; cost £400 return, was paid by festival organisers. Hours: 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 21 June 2012)
15 June 2012, Althorpe Book Festival; transport costs from London to the festival and on to Edinburgh for me and my wife; cost £359.68, were paid by Atlantic Books. Hours: 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 21 June 2012)
Payments from News International Trading Ltd, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1TT:
20 February 2012, I received a fee of £600 for an article for The Times. Hours: 3 hrs approx. (Registered 2 March 2012)
Fees for speeches paid by JLA Associates, 80 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7NW:
24 January 2012, I received a fee of £15,300 for speaking at an event organised by Grant Thornton accountants in London. Hours: approx 5-6 hrs. (Registered 5 February 2012)
16 February 2012, I received a fee of £20,400 for speaking at an event organised by Thompson Reuters in Hong Kong. Thompson Reuters, 30 South Colonnade, the Reuters Building, London E14 5EP paid for my return flight from London to Hong Kong; cost £2,942.43, and hotel accommodation including transfer from airport to the hotel, return, for myself and my wife; cost £713.10. I met the cost of my wife’s travel. Hours: 4 days, including travel, preparation and the event. (Registered 2 March 2012)
27 March 2012, I received a fee of £15,300 for speaking at an event organised by Linklaters, solicitors, in London. Hours: approx 4 hrs. (Registered 13 April 2012)
20 April 2012, I received a payment of £20,400 for speaking at a conference in Dubai. Transport costs of £2,669.82 and hotel accommodation at a cost of £326.07 were paid by the organisers, Falcon Group Administrative Services (UK) Ltd, 30 St Mary Axe, London EC3A 9BF. Hours: approx 2.5 days including travel time. (Registered 2 May 2012)
8 June 2012, I received a payment of £12,750 for speaking at an event organised by JC Flowers & Co UK Ltd. Hours: 3 hrs. (Registered 21 June 2012)
19 July 2012, I received a payment of £12,240 for speaking at an event organised by Emap/Retail Week in London. Hours: approx 3 hrs. (Registered 24 July 2012)
6 September 2012, I received a fee of £10,200 for speaking at a conference organised by Aberdeen Asset Management. Hours: approx 3 hours, plus travelling time. (Registered 18 September 2012)
27 September 2012, I received a fee of £12,240 in respect of speaking at a conference organised by Apollo Management International LLP. Hours: approx 2 hours, including travel time. (Registered 11 October 2012)
19 November 2012, I received a fee of £12,240 for speaking at an event organised by British Property Federation, in London. Hours: approx 4 hrs. (Registered 26 November 2012)
11 December 2012, I received a payment of £12,240 in respect of a fee for speaking at an event organised by Slaughter & May LLP, London. Hours: 4 hrs. (Registered 20 December 2012)
11 December 2012, I received a payment of £12,240 in respect of a fee for speaking at an event organised by Scor Insurance, London. Hours: 4 hrs. (Registered 20 December 2012)
8 June 2012, I received a payment of £1,200 from Associated Newspapers Ltd, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry street, London W8 5TT, for an article in the Mail on Sunday. Hours: 4 hrs approx. (Registered 21 June 2012)
Payments from MGN Ltd, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP:
22 June 2012, I received a payment of £720for an article published in the Sunday Mirror. Hours: approx 3 hrs. (Registered 25 June 2012)
5 September 2012, I received a payment of £600 in respect of an article published by the Daily Mirror. Hours: approx 2 hrs. (Registered 18 September 2012)
8 December 2012, I received a payment of £342 from Guardian Newspapers, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GO, in respect of writing an article for the Guardian newspaper. Hours: 2 hrs. (Registered 20 December 2012)

11. Miscellaneous

Unremunerated Director and Chairman of BetterTogether 2012 Ltd (from 1 June 2012). (Registered 21 June 2012)


2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc

9 October 2010, I received a fee of £150 for speaking at the Cheltenham Book Festival. Travel and overnight accommodation was provided for myself and my wife. Address: Cheltenham Festivals, 109/11 Bath Road, Cheltenham GL53 7LS. Hours: 3 hrs approx. (Registered 2 November 2010)
22 October 2010, I received a fee of £500 for reviewing Tony Blair’s book ‘A Journey’. Address of payer: Guardian News and Media, 1 Scott Place, Manchester M3 3GG. Hours: 3-4 hrs. (Registered 2 November 2010)
5 November 2010, I received a fee of £500 for appearing on BBC television programme ‘This Week’. Address of payer: BBC, PO Box 480, Manchester M14 OEL. Hours: 1 hr. (Registered 24 November 2010)
7 December 2010, I received a bottle of malt whisky, estimated value £125, from Hermes Focus Asset Management Ltd, 1 Portsoken Street, London E1 8HZ, for addressing investment managers at a dinner on 15 November 2010. Hours: 3 hrs. (Registered 17 December 2010)
Contract with Atlantic Books, Ormond House, 26/27 Boswell street, London WC1N 3JW for publication of book. The contract provides for a total advance payment of £75,000 prior to publication.
3 March 2011, I received a payment of £25,000 being the first instalment of an advance in respect of contract. Hours: 400 hrs approx. (Registered 24 March 2011)
7 July 2011, I received a payment of £25,000 being the second instalment of an advance in respect of contract. Hours: 600 hrs approx. (Registered 8 July 2011)
15 September 2011, I received a payment of £25,000 being the third instalment of an advance. Hours: 400 hrs approx. (Registered 2 October 2011)
13 October 2011, I received a payment of £10,000 as VAT due in respect of the second and third instalments of advance. (Registered 4 November 2011)
In respect of the contract with Atlantic Books I have attended the following events . No fee was paid to me but transport and accommodation costs were met as follows:
11 September 2011, Dun Laoghaire Literary Festival, 137 Hillside, Co Dublin, Ireland. Transport costs of £616.30 for myself and my wife met by Atlantic Books. Accommodation paid for by the festival organisers; cost £105. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 2 October 2011)
16 September 2011, Woodstock Literary Festival, 301 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 3NY. Transport costs for myself and my wife of £132.60 paid by festival organisers and £43 paid for by Atlantic Books. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 2 October 2011)
19 September 2011, book signing organised by the Edinburgh Bookshop, 219 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh EH10, who met costs of £109.50. Additional cost of £48 met by Atlantic Books. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 2 October 2011)
21 September 2011, Ely Book Festival. Transport costs £264.72 paid by Atlantic Books. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 2 October 2011)
30 September 2011, Henley Festival. Transport costs £264.65 paid by Atlantic Books. Festival organisers paid for additional transport and a gift of wine; total cost £82. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 2 October 2011)
5 October 2011, Wimbledon Book Festival, 1 Archway Mews, 241 Putney Bridge Road, London SW15 2PE. Transport costs of £58.15 plus VAT for my wife and me paid by festival organisers. Flights Edinburgh to London paid by Atlantic books; cost £138. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 15 October 2011)
8 October 2011, Cheltenham Book Festival. 109/11 Bath Road, Cheltenham GL53 7LS. Transport and accommodation costs of £183.15 for my wife and me paid by festival organisers. Hours: 24 hrs. (Registered 15 October 2011)
13 October 2011, event organised by City Books, 23 Western Road, Hove BN3. Event costs of £770 (plus VAT) plus transport and refreshment costs of £69 for my wife and me paid by Atlantic Books. I also received a book token worth £50. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 15 October 2011)
22 October 2011, Durham Book Festival. The cost of return transport for my wife and me from Edinburgh to Durham; estimated cost £159, and our overnight accommodation; estimated cost £109, was paid for by East Coast Trains and Radisson Blu Hotels respectively, in their capacity as festival sponsors. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 4 November 2011)
28 October 2011, Hebridean Book Festival, Stornaway. Air transport from Edinburgh to Stornoway for my wife and me provided by Atlantic Books; cost £426.12. No accommodation costs. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 4 November 2001)
4 November 2011, Lennoxlove Book Festival, Lennoxlove House, Haddington, East Lothian. Accommodation provided for my wife and me; value £225. Hours: approximately 2 hrs plus travel. (Registered 4 November 2011)
27 November 2011, Cambridge Wordfest Winter 2011, 7 Downing Place, Cambridge CB2 3EL. Transport costs from Edinburgh to Cambridge and on to London were paid by Atlantic Books at a cost of £185 for myself and my wife. Overnight accommodation was provided; value £205. (Registered 28 November 2011)
Payments from The Times newspaper, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1TT:
28 March 2011, I received six bottles of wine, approximate value £89, from The Times, in respect of chairing a session at a conference organised by the newspaper. Hours: 3 hrs approx. (Registered 6 April 2011)
8 July 2011, I received a fee of £600 for an article for The Times. Hours: 3-4 approx. (Registered 8 July 2011)
Fees for speeches paid by JLA Associates, 80 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7NW:
20 October 2010, I received a fee of £9,350 for addressing the Association of Financial Markets in Europe. Hours: 6-7 hours approx. (Registered 2 November 2010)
26 November 2010, I received a fee of £10,200 for addressing a seminar organised by Dewey & leBoeuf, solicitors, London. Hours: 6-7 approx. (Registered 9 December 2010)
1 February 2011, I received a fee of £12,750 for speaking at The Centre of Political and Foreign Affairs in Paris. Transport from Edinburgh to Paris and returning to London was provided for myself and my wife; total cost £1,902. Accommodation was also provided for myself and my wife; total cost £1,345.77. Hours: approx 48 hrs. (Registered 13 February 2011)
7 April 2011, I received a fee of £10,200 for addressing a dinner organised by Cinven, London. Hours: approx 6 hrs. (Registered 25 April 2011)
7 April 2011, I received a fee of £12,750 for addressing a dinner organised by Macquarrrie Group, London. Hours: approx 6 hrs. (Registered 25 April 2011)
23 June 2011, I received a fee of £15,300 for speaking at an event organised by Bloombergs in London. Hours: 6-7 approx. (Registered 8 July 2011)
16 November 2011, I received a fee of £10,500 for speaking at an event organised by the Bank of New York Mellon/Pershing, in London. Hours: approx 5-6 hrs. (Registered 28 November 2011)

6. Overseas visits

Name of donor: Meridiam
Address of donor: 5 Allee Scheffer, L-2520 Luxembourg
Amount of donation (or estimate of the probable value): train fare and accommodation in Paris; total value £937.61
Destination of visit: Paris
Date of visit: 26 April 2011
Purpose of visit: attending seminar
(Registered 17 May 2011)

Monday, 30 September 2013

It's not the Bedroom Tax, stupid!

It's not a tax
It's neither a "spare room subsidy" nor a "bedroom tax", it's a benefit cut.  It's not a subsidy because a subsidy is something paid to you in order to gain a benefit (real or perceived or, indeed, imaginary) for society and it's not a tax because a tax is something you pay to government to allow it to pay, in turn, for societal benefits.  It's a cut to a welfare benefit, those tiny payments we collectively make to ensure that our society does not break down.

Calling it a tax lets the politicians off the hook.  Those who are cutting benefits want to pretend they are cutting a subsidy, those who are opposing want to call it a tax.  It's not a subsidy; there is no societal benefit in someone having spare bedrooms (nor is there likely to be much of a personal advantage, given the extra costs inherent in having extra rooms in your house) and there has never been an argument put forward for one.  It's  not a tax; there is no payment from the welfare recipient to government here and to suggest that there it is a tax is to suggest that the recipients have an income from which can be deducted a tax.  "Bedroom tax" is a handy short-hand but hides the horror of the policy of cutting Housing Benefit.  When did we collectively lose the ability to see and call it for what it is?  It's a benefit cut and it's an attack on the most vulnerable members of our society.  At the heart of this policy debate is a void where humanity should be.

The cutting
The principle behind welfare benefits, surely, is that we do not leave any member of society without the means to afford the basics of survival; shelter, warmth, food, clothing.  The amounts paid do not add up to a living, merely survival and it cannot be easy even to survive on those amounts.  Nowhere can I find any research done by the UK Government into how much it costs to survive in any of our communities nor what benefits might accrue to society from paying them or varying the payments up or down.  I can find plenty that successive governments have said about the costs of welfare, nothing about the effects of investing these resources in people and communities.

The cuts to these benefits which have been implemented and those still planned surely slice into the very heart of the principle behind them. Without any indication of the effects on people, both those receiving the welfare payments and those of us lucky enough to be in work, or on the communities in which we all live, the UK Government bill for welfare is to be cut.  10% is the target because that is the general target across UK Government departments.  We are beginning to see some of the effects of some of these benefit cuts but there are still more to come - more cuts and more deleterious effects.

Housing Benefit cut
Why, though, has the opposition to these cuts focused so strongly on the cut to Housing Benefit and, to a great extent, ignored the other cuts?  A jaundiced observer might suggest that it's because evictions are a striking visual for media coverage while the effects of other cuts are less obvious and harder to see, or that the heuristic "bedroom tax" makes for a good soundbite.  It may be that the Westminster political game is more easily played where no flank is left open for the opposition to attack; no opportunity to be called profligate or the dreaded "tax and spend" label applied.  The twisted logic of the search for a political soft spot in attack and the determination to armour every inch in defence leaves politics sclerotic and the people ignored.  Principle has been abandoned in the heat of the scuffle in Westminster and democracy is the poorer for it.  Budgets drive policy instead of policy driving budgets and the order is "we shall spend this, what can we do with it?" rather than "this is what we need to do, how much do we have to find?"

The history of this Housing Benefit cut shows this.  It was introduced under the Labour Government of Tony Blair with pilot schemes starting in late 2003 and went national under the Labour Government of Gordon Brown for private sector tenants and is still called Local housing Allowance for tenants in the private sector.  The Tory / Lib Dem Government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg extended its reach to the social rented sector and this has become the policy football.  Interestingly, it was the Tory/Lib Dem Government which introduced the extra bedroom for a carer in the year before they extended it to social rented housing.

Along the way the justification has always been cutting expenditure on Housing Benefit, sometimes joined by a diversionary hint at fairness.  An example of the latter is the decision of the Labour Government to limit the number of bedrooms that can be paid for to five, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell saying that it was being limited because some people out of work were staying in houses they could not afford if they were in work.  This, of course, missed the point that some Housing Benefit claimants are in work but cannot afford their rent.  It also ignores the fact that limiting household bedrooms may lead to overcrowding.

Mitigation
While making the latest round of Housing Benefit cuts in this sequence, the current UK Government offered up resources to local authorities to make discretionary payments to support households adversely affected by these changes.  This was a fraction of the money it was cutting from Housing Benefit provision, of course, and it transferred responsibility for sorting out the mess created from Whitehall to town hall.  In Scotland COSLA and the Scottish Government came to an agreement to fund the shortfall from their own limited budgets, the Scottish Government providing half of the money from its scarce resources, Scotland's councils finding the rest from within theirs.

Some Scottish councils have updated their policies and pledged to ensure that they will do whatever they can to avoid evicting tenants who fall into arrears as a result of this Housing Benefit cut, others have still to commit.

Labour's Bill
Labour repeatedly called for the Scottish Government to support its Bill to mitigate the effects of this Housing Benefit cut.  Neither the Bill nor a proposal for such a Bill existed for months after such calls started and, while the proposal has appeared (strangely, lodged nearly a fortnight after I pointed out that it didn't exist and quite clearly written in a hurry) there is still no Bill in spite of the proposed change being a simple one to write.

The proposal as written is an exercise in political posturing but I thought it worth taking a look at it in any case.  The proposal is that the 2001 Housing Act be amended so that arrears resulting from the cut in Housing Benefit would be disregarded by the court for the purposes of eviction proceedings, with the tenant proving how much of the arrears was caused by the benefit cut.

That's a procedure that would take extra court time and create extra legal fees on both sides and would, as laid out in the proposal, leave landlords to pursue that debt as any other debt would be pursued.  I find myself wondering how many Housing Benefit tenants have the wherewithal to pay off other debts, no matter how accrued, but I also know that most social landlords work hard to find solutions before even considering eviction and the route to court is not an easy path for them to take.

Housing associations in Scotland run very tight ships.  They keep their rents low by keeping good control of their voids (empty houses) and doing all they can to make sure that tenants keep up with rental payments and by keeping management costs down, these are not businesses, they are not seeking to make profits.  Of all of the professional housing officers I know and have known who work in housing associations I cannot think of one who goes willingly to evict a tenant and I cannot think of one who does not try to resolve tenancy issues at the earliest stage.  To take that commitment and throw it back in their faces by insinuating that they would do otherwise is insulting and demeans those who have suggested it.

On top of that the additional costs to housing associations has to be considered.  When a housing association faces additional costs by an eviction process being dragged out, knocking its voids out of control and increasing legal fees its costs go up and it will be forced to put rents up, affecting all of its tenants.  Since most tenants of housing associations are at the lower end of the income scale, this would have a serious effect on other tenants who would see more of their wages going to cover housing costs.

This facile and disingenuous proposal is political campaigning, not an attempt to find a solution.  It is the armour of saying "we tried to do something" and the seeking of a soft spot with "they wouldn't join us in the thing we sought to do", it is a moral fraud by the bankrupt and a clear example of what is so clearly wrong with the politics in Westminster and we can do without it being imported.

Devolving Housing Benefit
The UK Government recently leaked a proposal to devolve control of Housing Benefit to Scotland if there was a No vote in the independence referendum.  Leaving aside the fact that Scotland would take control of Housing Benefit after a yes vote anyway, the case for accepting this at face value is flawed.  There is a general consensus in Scottish politics that this benefit cut is wrong - a consensus which is increasingly being mirrored in England - the SNP pledged some time ago to restore the payments after independence when Scotland has control of her own resources and Labour eventually came on board last week with Ed Miliband finally being forced into saying it.  He should have said it much earlier but he was balancing the armouring against being called profligate with the possible political advantage (I bet Labour spends a fortune on polling before making a decision like that) and there appear to be suggestions that it may not be among the first priorities if Labour wins a UK General Election at some point in the future.  Both parties are on the same side of the argument, though, so where's the problem with devolving it?

Let's assume that the money spent on Housing Benefit at the time of this change would also come to Scotland (and there is no guarantee of that).  That would mean that the cuts were already made to the budget so any Scottish Government intending to reverse the cuts would have to find additional money from elsewhere in the Scottish budget.  Given that the Scottish budget is not exactly flush with spare cash, what would it cut?  Health, education, social work, justice, local government finance, pensioner bus passes, what should be cut to put extra money into Housing Benefit?  Given that some of these areas will be under additional pressure as a result of the less mentioned benefit cuts and the collateral effects of benefit cuts, where is the money to come from?  Unless Scotland takes control of finances and can adjust the whole raft of government spending and financing where do we find the resource.

It is an example of the UK Government armouring itself against the charge that it is imposing this cut on Scotland and seeking an opposition soft spot by offering control over the policy without control over the budget.  It's a political bear trap with still no thought given to the issue of how to house those who cannot afford to house themselves.

A devolution issue
The Housing Benefit cut and the political manoeuvring around make up an example of just what is wrong with devolution.  Policy control without revenue control is a power mirage.  While changes can be made they are far less significant than they could be with the ability to vary the revenue and expenditure streams to adapt public spending to suit the policy intentions.

Without the flexibility to change the large areas of expenditure still controlled in London Scottish resources cannot be directed to best serve the people who live here.  Similarly, without the flexibility to adjust where all the income streams are coming from the burden cannot be lifted from those who can't afford it.

I see Labour activists often calling for the SNP Scottish Government to mitigate the effects of this cut, saying that this was why the Scottish Parliament was reconvened.  Much as I marvel at their lack of ambition for Holyrood, even with the limited power it has, and wonder why this is the one benefit cut that they want mitigated, I find myself wondering a few things -

Why should a Government just mitigate what is being done to the people who elected it rather than trying to change the circumstances that are causing the pain?  Mitigation is only a reduction in severity - if your hand was burning on a cooker top would you just put ice on top to mitigate the pain or would you take your hand away?

If Holyrood had been here with these powers in the 1980s and had mitigated the effects of the then UK Government would we still have half of Ravenscraig?  Would it have been able to afford to have mitigated that at all?

If the next UK Government target is cutting benefit payments to young single people, should we mitigate that as well?

Should the Scottish Government be mitigating the cuts to the armed services in Scotland by setting up a rival army?

How do we mitigate against the effects in Scotland of the UK Government's asylum and refugee policies?

How do we mitigate against the UK Government abandoning the ECHR?

The Scottish Government is already mitigating against the damaging economic policies of the UK Government but it can't do enough, it doesn't have the power nor the resources to do enough.  Should Scotland just shrug our shoulders and say we tried?

How do we mitigate against the void at the centre of policy making where humanity should be and how do we mitigate against a damaged political system that poisons the well of democracy?

It's time to stop mitigating and start acting.

Friday, 13 September 2013

When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
GARL has become a political Banquo, rising to haunt Labour's Macbeth.  GARL, once Glasgow Labour's greatest friend now looks as if it will be the spectre to haunts that party into madness (OK, that's a wee bit dramatic, but give me a bit of licence).  Yesterday JoLa tottered onto her pins in Parliament to spin an outrageous untruth that the Government had bought land for GARL and later sold it back to the chap who had originally owned it at an enormous loss which was, of course, a gain for the chap who had sold it and bought it back again and that there was something dodgy about it.

Well, JoLa was protected by the absolute privilege afforded MSPs during Parliamentary proceedings, which is lucky for her because the businessman involved, John McGlynn, was beelin that his honesty had been called into question and was ready for a battle.  I know nothing much about the chap at all but he certainly looked angry when he was interviewed for the news broadcasts which made it all the more surprising to see the way that James Kelly represented Labour on Newsnicht.  In the gallant JaKe rode to defend the honour of someone or something or besmirch the honour of someone else or something else (it wasn't quite clear, you see) and he flung caution to the wind, casting out aspersions (never aspirations) hither and thon, wantonly throwing his own career on the pyre that JoLa had built.  He appeared at some points to suggest that the Scottish Government was credulous and Mr McGlynn had taken nefarious advantage of it.

Given that Newsnicht doesn't offer privilege to guard against an action for defamation, JaKe may be in a spot of bother and he can be fairly certain that his good mate JoLa won't be repeating her allegations outside of the protection of Parliament.  Good luck there, JaKe, we salute you, brave and senseless soldier.

Glasgow Council
I'm told that there were claims similar to JoLa's made in the rarefied atmosphere of Glasgow Council where the heady intoxification of debate led Councillor Alastair Watson to make the same criticisms of the Government and, I suppose, thereby of Mr McGlynn.  That surprised me because AlWa should have known better - he was on the board of the organisation that actually bought the land.  Not really a bit-part player, either, he was Chair until he stood down for health reasons in 2010.  Good to see he recovered quickly enough in 2010 to take a senior role and to stand for re-election in 2012 and take up a senior post as Executive Member for Sustainability and Transport, allowing Glasgow to benefit from his enormous experience on the board of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.

SPT
The land at the centre of the hoo-ha was actually bought by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport in 2008 when AlWa was Chair, so how did he not know about it?  Well, let's be fair, there was a lot to do on the board of SPT in the spring of 2008 when the purchase was made.  They had to prepare for the trip to Manchester to watch Ranger in the UEFA cup final, for example, and there was an awful lot of expenses claims to be made for all kinds of busy trips abroad.

Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
It could all have been avoided, you know, if only Labour had asked someone in the know.  AlWa's memory is obviously a bit suspect but they could surely have asked someone at SPT, some friendly face or other.  JoLa could have asked, she could have asked Archie, Archie's on SPT on behalf of Glasgow Council, she could have asked him - Councillor Archie Graham, Depute Leader of the Council, Executive Member for the Commonwealth Games, SPT board member.  He wasn't there at the time of the land purchase but he's there now and could ask.  Why ask Archie?  She's married to him - it would be easy.

Instead the day was foul but not fair, Labour's horses will be wild and eating each other.  I'm sure JoLa will be looking forward to a time when the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost and won.  She could just resign as leader of the opposition now and make it easier on herself.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Labour's lies and the liars without shame

The Bedroom Tax Lie
More than a week ago Labour boasted of its 'action' on the Bedroom Tax, Jackie Baillie repeated that she was bringing forward a Bill to end evictions for these arrears.  We've seen what Labour's actual action on the bedroom tax is, and we know how confused Labour is over it, but let's leave that aside for the moment and remember JaBa's Bill, this legislation so fiercely touted.

Labour politicians have been seeking to put pressure on SNP politicians by demanding they support the Bill.  Their Deputy Leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, even brandished a copy of the Bill during the STV with Nicola Sturgeon, demanding that the DFM sign the Bill there and then.  AnSa, it would appear, let his spin-doctors' sense of the dramatic cloud his better judgement.  There's a bit of a problem with this Bill, though.

It doesn't exist.

As of 19.20 on the 12th of September 2013 it does not appear in the list of current Bills on the Scottish Parliament website.  Some may say "but it's a proposed Bill" but then I'd have to direct you to the list of proposals for Member's Bills which also, quite clearly, lacks any Bill of that description.  No Bill exists nor does a proposal nor even a draft proposal.  That is a cruel deception played by Labour, to pretend to care, to suggest there may be succour and hope for those currently being affected by the Bedroom Tax and those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax in the future.

While JaBa and AnSa take their comfortable salaries and go home at night safe in the knowledge that the roofs over their heads are likely to stay there, they appear to find no compassion for those who are really facing the effects of this policy.

The Scottish Government is doing what it can to mitigate the effects of this UK Government policy and SNP councils the length and breadth of Scotland are doing what they can for the people affected and none of them are claiming it's a full solution.  Labour's lies in this instance are cruel beyond belief.

The smear at FMQs
That indication of how low Labour politicians are prepared to stoop is, perhaps, the worst, but any idea we might have had that this was not going to be a tactic used by many Labour politicians was dashed today at First Minister's Questions in Holyrood.  The transcription is in a pdf but will be up on the site in the normal way tomorrow.

Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland (except Falkirk, apparently), Johann Lamont, asked about a deal where land had been bought for the proposed Glasgow Airport Rail Link and later sold after GARL was cancelled.  JoLa's contention was that there was something dodgy going on.

The land had been bought from a businessman, Mr John McGlynn for £840,000, according to JoLa, and sold back to him later for £50,000, giving him a £790,000 profit and she inferred that it had been a dirty deal.  Here's a direct quote from her -
The land was bought in 2008 for £840,000 from a businessman called John McGlynn, who was then a donor to the Scottish Conservative Party. Since then, of course, Mr McGlynn has been on something of a political journey; he now supports the yes campaign. Since then, he has been appointed to the Scottish Government national economic forum and he has bought back the land from the Scottish Government for £50,000 and made a profit of £790,000. Is there some connection here or has Mr McGlynn just benefited from the First Minister’s gross incompetence with public funds?

She later made sure that there was no mistaking her allegation -
the Scottish Government bought the land for £840,000; it was signed off by the Scottish ministers; and the Scottish Government then sold the land for £50,000
and -
how does the First Minister justify buying a piece of land for £840,000 and then selling it back to the person he bought it from for just £50,000?
and -
Can the First Minister explain to them either why the issue has nothing to do with him or how he managed to buy a piece of land with their money for £840,000 and sell it for just £50,000?

By 5 o'clock Mr McGlynn was demanding an apology for the slur, Herald political journalist Tom Gordon had discovered a document showing that the land had been bought by Labour councillors on Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, and it had become clear that Labour had already been told this during the answer to the first question of General Questions last week.  Here is an excerpt from last week's questioning -

Mark Griffin: ... the last plot of Glasgow airport rail link land was sold back to the original owner for £50,000, which, at almost £800,000 less than they were originally paid, highlights the folly of the Government’s scorched-earth policy on GARL. What cumulative loss was made by the Government in disposing of land that had been purchased for the GARL project?
Keith Brown: First, I welcome Mark Griffin to his new position. I also congratulate him on his engagement over the summer.

Mark Griffin’s question has a fundamental flaw. The land that was purchased that he mentioned was initially purchased by Strathclyde partnership for transport, not by the Government, although the Government subsequently bought it from SPT. He might wish to address some questions to SPT about that.

So Labour's leader knew what the truth was - or should have, if she had taken the trouble to ask her Transport spokesman - and still made the allegation.  JoLa was trying to score petty political points but, in doing so, she make serious allegations about the conduct of Scottish Government Ministers and the First Minister in particular when she knew that there was no substance to them whatsoever.

That is something that politicians might be expected to accept as being part of the job in the rough and tumble of politics - although it shouldn't be - but her equal implied attack on Mr McGlynn who was not in Parliament to defend himself had no such justification.  It was shameful and shoddy.

JoLa, JaBa and AnSa have shown once again over the past week that they are not fit to hold public office.  They may not be in Ministerial office, they may not have any power, but opposition is also laden with responsibility and those offices should also be held with honour.  People who are not prepared to act with honour have no place in our democracy, they should all think on their recent actions.

JoLa as leader of the opposition, though, should shoulder more responsibility than most and, given that she has so spectacularly failed, she should resign.  I don't expect her to do so, nor do I expect any of them to consider their behaviour; they have no shame.