Friday, 29 February 2008

Warming up

Remember Labour criticising the SNP Government for the way the central heating scheme was being run?

A couple of parliamentary questions have been answered (S3M-09771 and S3M-09772) which contrast the number of central heating units installed in the last three months of 2006 under Labour with the number installed in the same period last year under the SNP.

85 were installed under Labour's management, 2,877 under the SNP. That's the SNP proven to be 33.847 times better than Labour.
Parliament passed the Graduate Endowment Abolition Bill yesterday - another SNP promise delivered. Labour (except Elaine Smith) and the Conservatives voted to keep charging Scottish students a tuition fee, but the SNP Government's position prevailed and the charge was abolished. It seems a bizarre decision.
For Labour, though, it fits into their blinkered attitude to opposition. Rather than seeking a constructive relationship with the Government they will vote against anything that the SNP proposes. That led to them voting against taking forward the recommendations of a report into the management of people who commit sexual offences against children. This was the resolution that was passed:
That the Parliament recognises the importance of making further progress on the 33 recommendations published by the Justice 2 Sub-committee on 15 December 2006 in connection with the management of registered sex offenders; believes that ensuring public safety is paramount in the management of registered sex offenders; further recognises that appropriate utilisation of DNA samples and fingerprints can play an important role in identifying offenders but that it is vital to strike the right balance between prosecuting criminals and protecting the innocent and notes the review that the Scottish Government has commissioned from Professor James Fraser; rejects the blanket retention of DNA samples and fingerprints; recognises the extensive powers already available to the police in monitoring sex offenders and ensuring public safety, and notes the Scottish Government's liaison with the Home Office as disclosure pilots progress in four English police areas and the Scottish Government's proposal to monitor the outcomes of these pilots to determine what lessons there might be for Scotland, and welcomes the Scottish Government's proposal to write to the Convener of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee to report progress on each of the 33 recommendations made by the Justice 2 Sub-committee report J2SC/S2/06/R1.
I don't believe that any Labour MSP wants to put children in danger or thinks that we should not make progress on the recommendations of the report, but the passing of the amendments caught them off-guard.

Much as Paul Martin (Labour's Justice bod) can't think on his feet and is a bit of a lumbering plodder, it shouldn't be beyond the collective wit of the Labour party to work out the possibilities of the various votes in advance.

That way they could avoid the farce they walked into on the budget and they could avoid voting against moving forward on child sex offenders. Then again, maybe they're just not very good.

More Lib Demmery

News hotfoots it down from Aviemore.

On that Human Trafficking motion, the person moving the motion couldn't find a seconder and no-one else wanted to speak. Welcome to farce. M'learned friend has been sending me screen-grabs of the conference as well.

Here's the entire crowd when Horlicks was speaking, the cream of the Lib Dems:
And when Jo Swinson was speaking:
Looks exciting!

Oh what a week.

And now, the weekend is near;
And so I face the Friday curtain.

Quote of the week has to be Christina McKelvie MSP during the Graduate Endowment Abolition debate when Rhona Brankin intervened and Christina replied:
I believe that Rhona Brankin is trying to engage me in a battle of wits, but I will not go into combat with someone who is unarmed.
Meanwhile it's hud me back time in Aviemore where the dynamic Dems are gathering for their spring conference. I've had a wee look at the agenda - Jings!

Motion 1 welcomes the role of Lib Dem MSPs in supporting the SNP to remove the Graduate Endowment and witters on about further spending commitments that the Scottish Government should make on education. Why didn't the Lib Dems implement those changes during their eight years in charge?

Motion 2 calls on the Government to carry on running the Justice system - it has an amendment to move a couple of bullet points to a different heading. Oh, the high drama of politics in the raw...

Each of these motions has a 40 minute debate scheduled. That will be scintillating!

Speech by Horlicks Clegg at 3 o'clock today then right back into the cut and thrust of debate -

Motion 3 calls on Government to carry on providing the services it does to victims of human trafficking. It actually has an interesting idea in it though - copying Italy's reflection period. Only a 20 minute debate - half the time given to the earlier motions and a fraction of the 55 minutes to be given to the next and very important motion on ...

Excess packaging! Motion 4 is calling for a tightening up of the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations. There are four amendments in for this motion - including one to have the Wendy Commission examine the case!

A spot of rest and recuperation is required after such an exhausting schedule before tomorrow's riveting debates following an hour's consultation with Ian Smith on Scottish Broadcasting.

Motion 5 is calling for more houses - a 45 minute debate for goodness' sake.

Woohoo! Speeches by Alistair Carmichael and Nicol Stephen.

That's all for Saturday, Sunday comes roaring out of the agenda with a stunning motion (number 6) recognising that North Sea Oil brings in a huge wodge of dosh. Back to a 20 minute debate, I see.

Motion 7 is a 50 minute debate (50 minutes? That's very nearly an armful) on the Right to Buy legislation which the Lib Dems used to defend when they were in Government. Now they want it reformed, bits of it expunged and councils given control over other bits. I'd stay up late to watch that debate.

There's a wee speech by Malcolm Bruce and then everybody goes home.

I can't understand why it isn't live on all the TV stations. I'm going to have to go to Aviemore!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Wendy Buddha Comes ...

Remember Wendy Alexander saying she applies a Buddhist doctrine to her politics - "is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind".

She called his Eckness some names in chamber today, including Fat Boab (Oor Wullie's rotund pal). I was, of course, horrified. Glad to see a new definition of good, necessary and kind, innit?

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Out of the darkness ...

Poor Labour - struggling with the weight of failure, casting around for a saviour to ride to the rescue of a once-proud party, and all that appears is Paul Nolan.


With knights in shining armour of that quality, who needs enemas?

On a lighter note, I'm delighted to see that the Scottish Government has played its part, along with the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate Gallery in securing the d'Offay collection. Mr d'Offay deserves great credit for his generosity, and the Scottish Government deserves credit for making sure the deal went through. The collection is to be shown around the country (part of the conditions), so I'm looking forward to seeing parts of it everywhere - and to having tea at the table:

Edinburgh Budget - excellent piece of work

My anonymous friend has been sending me love letters again. Rather than publishing this great praise of me as a comment, I thought I'd bring it right up front so we could all have a wee laugh together.


Here it is, a fine example of impoverished thinking:

Calum (or is it "A Voice from Scotland"?)

Sorry, this just proves you're talking total MINCE.

I assume you're referring to Appendix 2 of this report:
http://cpol.edinburgh.gov.uk/getdoc_ext.asp?DocId=108017

That's the 2008/09 resource allocations - the clue is in the title to the Appendix - and has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with any previous Labour administration. It's adjusted by the 2008/09 unringfenced monies - try reading paragraph 3.14 and 3.15 for an explanation and then blog an apology.

Now, PLEASE - stop your propaganda; take off your Party blinkers; and accept that there are some serious problems in your local colleagues Edinburgh budget - such as:
- £10K CUT from EVERY Primary School
- £50K CUT from EVERY Secondary School
-£350K CUT from Youth Services
-£850K CUT from Community Education
-over £2million CUT from Voluntary Sector Grants.

Workings shown, so please publish.
Thank you.

Oh dear - I do hope this isn't a Labour councillor or Labour is in worse trouble than I thought and we really need them to shake themselves up and become a proper opposition, no-one gains when the opposition is as weak as it is just now.


You will see that there is no justification offered for the allegations of decreased funding - the reason being that there is no diminution in resources for front-line services, there's an increase - as pointed out in Labour's budget motion (loved the signatures of the proposer and seconder, by the way). Let's look at the first four points of Labour's motion:

1. To note that the priorities of this budget is to set a sustainable budget which meets and protects the needs of vulnerable people, supports the desire of schools to maintain the level of progress achieved in the last 20 years and to provide the impetus for further economic growth including investment in key infrastructure projects.

2. That additional resources of over £21m has been provided in Children and Families, and Health and Social Care to meet various pressures including those of demand led budgets.

3. To note that Council Tax will be frozen at 2007/08 levels, Band D £1,169, which will attract funding of £6.9m from the Scottish Government in accordance with the Scottish Government/COSLA Concordat.

4. A balanced budget is shown over the three year period and unallocated general reserve at 31st March 2011 is provided at a level which is in compliance with the Reserves report from the Director of Finance. This has been achieved despite limited efficiency savings proposals provided for 2009/10 and 2010/11 by a number of departments.
See point 2? Labour acknowledging that the new administration had indicated the injection of an extra £21 million in two areas of frontline services.


Point 4 - a balanced budget with limited efficiency savings.


All of this was before the administration announced additional resources on budget day, so with Labour already impressed by the administration, and stunned by how much more efficiently a council runs when Labour is removed, more wonderfulness was brought to the table. Let's have a look at the rest of Labour's budget motion -


Point 8 noted that there was additional funding in priority areas and then called for that £1 million to buy Princes Street (hands up, the SNP does not believe that Princes Street can be bought for £1 million, but if Ewan Aitken knows how that deal can be done I'm sure there will be a queue of people offering him the resources).

Let's compare and contrast some of Labour's budget ideas with the administration's budget. The administration is made up of SNP councillors in coalition with Lib Dem councillors. These points are in the order they appeared in Labour's motion, showing Labour's priorities:


Tattoo stands - Labour said spend £3 million.
The budget said £3 million if the other funding was coming, no point in spending the money if the project wouldn't happen.


Affordable housing - Labour said an additional £1.9m.
The administration budget motion said - £3.6m for housing regeneration, £36m to increase the supply of affordable housing and £32m to upgrade existing stock.


Vulnerable people - Labour wanted to put just over £5m into various programmes.
The administration said improvements of £5.8m for vulnerable children, £6.2m for care of the elderly, and £1.3m for adults with learning difficulties.


Education (yes, after the tattoo stands in Labour's priorities) - Labour wanted £1.875m for consultation on building 5 schools, £8.75m to 'take forward the design' of those 5 schools, and £12m to refurbish and build nurseries, schools and community centres across the city.
The administration budget was - £19m for school fabric and £33m for rebuilding and refurbishing schools.


Sport and Leisure - Labour said £5.35m for Glenogle Baths (as opposed to the £6m Ewan Aitken talked about in his leaflet to community groups), £21m for Sporting Facilities including the Commonwealth Pool, £2m for parks, pitches and pavilions, £420k for the climbing centre.
The real budget said £5.3m for Glenogle, £21m for the Commonwealth Pool and Meadowbank, £5m in parks, pitches and pavilions, £.7m for supporting key events, and £3.5m for a new library at Drumbrae.


Festivals and Museums - Labour said £242,000 extra for the International Festival, and £6m for the Kings Theatre.
The real budget said £542,000 extra for the International Festival to bring total support to £2.4m, £800,000 for the Winter Festival, £200,000 for other festivals, £6m for the Kings Theatre, £115,000 additional investment in museums and arts services to reverse long-term decline and open on Sundays, £500,000 for the Assembly Rooms, £520,000 for the City Arts Centre.


Labour's budget motion also went on to reject the administration's moves to cut red tape and bureaucracy in education, planning, and social services and to ask for reports into various things like repairing roads and pavements.
The real budget presented by the administration didn't call for reports into fixing the roads in Edinburgh which were neglected for decades under Labour, it just went ahead with £60m for roads and pavements, £2.4m for cycling and walking routes and for safer streets, a further £.5m for cycling projects, £1m on supported bus routes, £.6m on Bustracker and further work on the South Suburban Line.


Before budget day, Labour sent a scaremongering leaflet out to community groups (read it here). Leaving aside the fact that Labour can't even spell coalition, let alone understand the new politics, there was an admission that they wouldn't have any provision for building new schools in this budget. It was Labour's failure to apply for funds when in power that left the school building programme in such a mess to begin with, now they are admitting that they have no idea how to go about getting schools built in Edinburgh.

Here's something else interesting, though - the difference between what Labour councillors presented to the budget and Labour was saying to community groups through its scaremongering leaflet:


Transport - in the leaflet; restore bus service support, invest in cycling, create a roads inspection team. In Labour's budget motion; nothing, absolutely nothing.


Vulnerable people - in the leaflet they promised £2.5m extra for care for the elderly, £750,000 investment in home care, £3m on respite care, and £750,000 for vulnerable young people. Care for the elderly and respite care were forgotten in Labour's budget motion and the home care investment had been turned into change management funding.


Leisure - Labour promised £2.5m for pitches and pavilions and £6m for Glenogle Baths. By the time they got into the council chamber Labour was cutting that to £2m for pitches and pavilions and had added parks into that budget line, and £5.35m for Glenogle.


Labour councillors quite obviously can't count, are not consistent, and just are not very good at being councillors. Just as well we have the SNP to make things better, isn't it?

By the way, can anybody tell me what the "Voice from Scotland" quip was about?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

That superb Edinburgh budget

I've just been looking again at that fantastic Edinburgh budget. I admire those councillors who brought home the prize of a balanced budget which begins to repair the damage that Labour did, puts money back into the reserves (imagine a city the size of Edinburgh having reserves of only £37k - dangerous as well as bizarre), and continues to fund front-line services well.

Education, for example, where the council administration factored in an extra rise of £0.8million to Edinburgh schools to take account of rising fuel prices.

Add the £19m over three years for improving school buildings and the £33m over six years for the Wave 3 schools, no closures of Community Education centres, £100,000 for activities for school pupils during the holidays, and saving £2m a year in central bureaucracy to plough back into our schools.

Well done those councillors.
There's a person who keeps leaving anonymous comments about the budget - I'll do you a deal, I'll accept your anonymous posting, I appreciate that some people don't have the courage to stand up and be recognised. If you want your comments published on my blog, though, provide the evidence for them (show your working in other words). I'll give you an example of how to do this:

In the Policy and Strategy report to the budget, Appendix 2 shows how this budget amends the budget left by Labour (each budget covers three years). You will see that the first line in each year is for Children and Families. Labour's budget (passed last year) intended just under £311.9 million for C&F, the amended budget passed by the SNP with Lib Dem help (that should annoy someone) gives that budget line £346.4 million - the actual rise (using the extended figures from the budget) is £34.567 million.

That's the current administration putting 11% more into Children and Families than Labour wanted.

Easy really - all the papers are online.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Wendy Alexander playing with her donor

Anyone reading the Sunday Times yesterday would have come across a story (unfortunately not online) about Wendy Alexander and one of her donors. The donor was a company called Spark of Genius which uses public money to provide some educational services.

When the company was giving evidence to a committee on which Wendy Alexander was sitting, she failed to note her interest, in breach of the rules, and asked how government policy should be changed to give the company more public money.

Here's a clip:

As an interesting aside, today's Herald carried a follow-up with 'a spokesman for Ms Alexander' claiming that the donation had been registered. Er, no it wasn't. I do hope Simon Pia isn't offering an alternate version of the truth already.

This kind of contempt for the actualite might be why some of the eminent scribes of the Scottish political press pack have been reminiscing about the good old days just after Wendy had mislaid a couple of spinners when she borrowed staff from other Labour MSPs and thus had Kezia Dugdale and Russell Gunson working for her. As it was put to me, "at least they had the decency to look embarrassed when they tried to sell you cheese" (OK, I'm paraphrasing when I say cheese). Journalists apparently found honesty and a bit of integrity refreshing in a Labour spinner. Take a bow Kez!

A song for Europe

Now that Alyn Smith MEP has secured for us our rightful place in Europe - an entry in the Eurovision Song Contest - we really must select a champion to sing for us. I have a cunning plan!


Ireland has selected Dustin the Turkey - a fine choice:

We should select Dustin's long-lost twin, Scotland's favourite music-hall act and Lord of all he surveys - wee Geordie Foulkes:

All we need to know now is whether he can dance like Dustin:


Sunday, 24 February 2008

Unintended consequences

I want to tell you a wee story about my office.

I was sitting in my office last week and, just absent-mindedly, I started singing the Loch Tay Boat Song.

From the office next door came a voice saying "hoi, there's a tune to those words, you know."

Shocked and stunned and not a little amazed, I switched to singing Now Westling Winds.

Again that wee voice "at least you knew the words to the other one."

Perfectly curfummelled by now, I fell back on singing Hermless.

No joy "help, help, there's a song being murdered here - I'm calling the police."

Fast as you can imagine, I shot back "I didn't mean it, there was no intentional wrong-doing."

There was a long pause before the voice answered "that's a watertight defence, godmamit."

SNP froze my Council Tax

Along with all the other goodness coming out of the Edinburgh budget there was the capital city's council tax freeze. After a couple of decades of Labour profligacy and poor financial management, John Swinney's deal was accepted, the council books are being balanced, and the people of Edinburgh will not see their bills rise this year.

I've been out speaking to people who are delighted to see the freeze - amazing, eh? Among the people I've met is a Primary School Head who's delighted at the idea of the cut in the bureaucracy in the education department (it will save £2m as well). Good to know people at the front end of delivering services already appreciate what the budget means - even better to know that there's a welcome for the action that's being taken.

People wonder how Edinburgh got into the Labour Party mess that the SNP Government and new council administration are now sorting out. Well, the previous Labour administration used to sell off capital assets to fund revenue programmes (a bit like selling off parts of your house to buy groceries), Labour never looked to see whether the money they were using (our money) was being used properly or being put to best effect, and Labour never had any idea of how much their madcap schemes were costing the city.

Let me give you an example of how divorced from reality Labour councillors in Edinburgh are. The most cunning wheeze they've given birth to recently is the plan to buy Princes Street from all the people who own it - a kind of mini-nationalisation of one of the world's most famous streets - for £1 million a year. Princes Street is worth £1,350 million.

Ironic that it may be an oil fund which buys Princes Street, isn't it?

Friday, 22 February 2008

Come away wee Geordie!

House of Lords Register of Interests
FOULKES OF CUMNOCK, Lord
*12(a) Parliamentary consultancy agreements
A political and parliamentary consultancy with Eversheds LLP. Payment of £3000 per calendar month (excluding VAT if applicable) for consultancy services for 36 days per annum (all fees are paid to Carrick Court Associates Ltd - see 12(g)Chairman of Editorial Board of Govnet (a client of my company Carrick Court Associates), £10,000 per annum
*12(f) Regular remunerated employment
Member of the Scottish ParliamentRegular Weekly Column in Edinburgh Evening News on Football, all proceeds of which are to be distributed to support youth and community sport in the Lothians (5 February 2008)
*12(g) Controlling shareholdings
Owner of 100% shares of Carrick Court Associates Ltd. Private Limited Company as consultancy
*12(i) Visits
Visit to Dominican Republic (1-7 September 2006) as a guest of the Government of the Dominican Republic and partly financed by the Caribbean Britain Business Council (CBBC) of which I am PresidentAttended a Conference on the "International Promotion of Democracy" at Wye Plantation, Maryland USA (15-17 November 2006) - organised by the Ditchley Foundation who paid for travel and accommodation


Feorge Foulkes’ Scottish Parliament register of Interests
Remuneration:
I am a director, as is my wife, of Carrick Court Associates Ltd, a consultancy business. Carrick Court Associates receives remuneration of between £45,001 - £50,000 per annum for my work from Eversheds LLP and GovNet Communications (as Chairman of the Editorial Board). I work approx 3 days per month in relation to the consultancy. As a Director of Carrick Court Associates I estimate that I will receive between £15,001 and £20,000 per annum in expenses and dividend. [Registered 24 May 2007, Amended interest 4 July 2007, Amended interest 13 July 2007].
On 3 May 2007 I ceased to be a consultant representing the interests of coal producers for the Confederation of Coal Producers (COALPRO) of Confederation House, Thornes Office Park, Denby Dale Road, Wakefield WF2 7AN, West Yorkshire. I previously received remuneration of between £5,000 - £10,000.
I am a Member of the House of Lords for which I receive no salary but estimate that I will receive allowances and expenses of between £35,001 and £40,000 per annum. I undertake this work whenever my Scottish Parliament and constituency duties allow. [Registered 6 July 2007, Amended interest 23 July 2007]
I write a weekly column on football for the Edinburgh Evening News, a newspaper company, of 108 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AS. I began this work in mid January 2008. I do not retain any of the remuneration of between £5,001 and £10,000 per annum as this is distributed to support youth and community sport in the Lothians. [Registered 31 January 2008]
Interest In Shares:
I hold 100% of the issued share capital of Carrick Court Associates Ltd a consultancy business, these are ordinary shares.



From the Code of Conduct for MSPs:
5.1.6 The section of the Code on General Conduct (Section 7) sets out the standards expected in relation to acceptance of hospitality, gifts and benefits. In addition to this and the statutory provisions in the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, Members:
• should not accept any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on Parliamentary affairs or on how to influence the Parliament and its Members. (This does not prohibit a Member from being remunerated for activity, which may arise because of, or relate to, membership of the Parliament, such as journalism or broadcasting, involving political comment or involvement in representative or presentational work, such as participation in delegations, conferences or other events.)

Thursday, 21 February 2008

When will Labour get something right? Anything will do!

When I was a young lad there was a very cruel chant that was sometimes used to mock those who were less than excellent at any given activity. It went like this:

You're no very good,
you're no very good,
you're no very, you're no very,
you're no very good

It was terribly cruel and I, of course, never took part in it (from either direction), but it was brought to mind today when I watched another Labour farce in Parliament.



The Sage of the Age rose imperiously to her feet (oh, it doesn't take that long - behave yourself. It's not that far to travel) and gave vent to her wrath. As an aside, and before I go any further, can some Labour personage please tell her to stop going so high-pitched please - it hurts my delicate lugs.



Anyway, Wendibles brought out her shroud and waved it about again, accusing Edinburgh Council of cuts left, cuts right and cuts centre. The poor would suffer, the young would suffer, the weak and the vulnerable, she claimed. If Wendy got her way the services would be cut, the police would be missing, the swimming pools would go short of water and houses would vanish. Chicken-licken walked past claiming the sky was falling and George Robertson felt vindicated - his cunning devolution plan had obviously worked - nationalism had been deaded.



Ah well, if only Wendy had picked up a copy of the Edinburgh Evening News on her way to her ritual condemnation of all things Scottish she might not have looked such a fool.

The Edinburgh Evening News - not a journal known to forgive SNP councillors for much - was carrying the tale of what was actually being delivered in Edinburgh's budget. For your delight and delectation, here is a small sample from the article headed "Council splashes out on new beginning" -

  • Increased investment in crumbling schools, sports facilities and roads

  • Services for pensioners and vulnerable children boosted

  • Dozens of extra police officers are set to be recruited

  • £21 million to meet the funding shortfall for a revamp of the Royal Commonwealth Pool.

  • A record £60m over three years for roads, pavements and streetlights – a rise of £4m a year.

  • £6m to help get a refurbishment of the King's Theatre off the ground.

  • £3m for between 80 and 90 new Edinburgh police officers.

  • £19m over three years to repair broken school windows, roofs and other facilities.

  • £13m extra funding for vulnerable members of society, including children in foster care, adults with learning disabilities and pensioners.

  • A promise of £33m over six years towards the refurbishment and rebuilding of five new schools.
Edinburgh's roads will be getting repaired again - celebrate! Money invested in streetlighting - safer streets! More police - safer communities! I'm delighted Labour is no longer in power in this city.

I just know that George Foulkes will be desperate to welcome this excellent budget. Come along, wee Geordie, get it out there laddie, you'll want to welcome these improvements:

  • £5.8million a year for vulnerable children

  • £6.2million a year for care of older people

  • An extra £1.3million a year to support adults with learning disability

  • Investing £19m over 3 years in our school buildings

  • Re-build or refurbish all 5 schools in the Wave 3 scheme, allocating £33million for this

  • Greater transparency in the budget allocation to schools, no indirect cuts, and additional resources of £0.8million to coverenergy costs.
  • £2million reduction in costs for senior education management posts

  • Reducing bureaucracy and maximising delivery of front-line services to local communities

  • No Community Education Centres to close as a result of this Budget
  • £100,000 for activities for children during school holidays to be determined and delivered locally

Just as John Swinney made sure that the SNP's national budget delivered for Scotland, our councillors in Edinburgh have been part of delivering this excellent budget.

No more scaremongering, thank you!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Angst in an empty house

On the 6th day of December 2007, Parliament resolved the following :
That the Parliament, recognising mainstream public opinion in Scotland, supports the establishment of an independently chaired commission to review devolution in Scotland; encourages UK Parliamentarians and parties to support this commission also and proposes that the remit of this commission should be:
"To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to better serve the people of Scotland, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and that would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom",
and further instructs the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to allocate appropriate resources and funding for this review.

It hasn't half caused a lot of sleepless nights and stampie feet in London (a house on the Thames, for example). Why? Why are they so daft? Let's look at the motion -

Firstly, it hands the Commission thing over to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB). The SPCB runs Parliament here in Edinburgh - it's members are nominated from each party which has a seat on the Business Bureau (one each) and the Presiding Officer. Gordon Brown can huff as much as he likes, it's got nothing to do with him - thanks to this motion which was in the name of - Wendy Alexander.

Secondly, it has to be independently chaired - sorry Ming... No apparatchiks of any party.

Thirdly, this resolution is more than two months old - where's the action?

Fourthly, the SNP has a seat on the bureau, that means the SNP has a say in how this Commission will function.

Fifthly (I'm hoping to get to eleventhly), the SPCB member with responsibility for things like Commissioners is the Lib Dem Mike Pringle MSP

Sixthly, the Chief Executive of Parliament agreed to report back to the SPCB in January

Seventhly (getting there), there're no minutes of SPCB meetings in January

Eighthly, I've run out of things to say and won't reach eleventhly godammit!

Come back Jack McConnell - they need to up their game!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Mr Martin - what are you up to?

I thought that the current hunting season on Labour MSPs would have them all cleaning up their acts and tightening up their declarations.



Nope.



Sunday's newspapers carried the first rumblings, but me old mucker Grant Thoms the Tartan Hero has pointed out that the Speaker of the House of Commons, one Michael Martin esquire has been reported to the Standards Commissioner type down in old London Town for his *ahem* imaginative use of Air Miles obtained on official business. He diverted those freebies (that we all paid for) away from official business and into the sweaty palms of his nearest and dearest - including, of course, his son Paul.

Why's that important? Well, Paul is an MSP and as Louise pointed out in a comment left on Grant's blog, Paul Martin MSP should have declared the gift on his Register of Member's Interests.



Eh what says you, surely this is a gift from his father? Couple of things on that - no it wasn't, it was a gift from his father's office which is, of course, a public office, so it was our money - and even if it had been a gift from his father, he would have had to declare it.

Let me take you to a piece of legislation you may have heard the odd thing about recently - the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006. A fine - and very short - piece of legislation which governs what MSPs have to declare.

'Ere you go, squire - section 2:

2 Registrable interests
(1) In this Act, a “registrable interest” means a registrable financial interest.
(2) The schedule sets out the circumstances in which a member has, or had, a registrable financial interest.
(3) A financial interest is defined for the purposes of paragraph (a) of section 39(2) of the 1998 Act as a registrable financial interest.

Paragraph 6 of the schedule is the bit that says that gifts have to be registered if they exceed 1% of an MSP's salary rounded down to the nearest £10 (£520) - and it meets the prejudice test. The prejudice test? Allow me:

An interest meets the prejudice test if, after taking into account all the circumstances, that interest is reasonably considered to prejudice, or to give the appearance of prejudicing, the ability of the member to participate in a disinterested manner in any proceedings of the Parliament.

Even if it looks like you might not be disinterested (as distinct from uninterested) in the proceedings of Parliament you should declare it.

Important question - did the gift taken from the pockets of the taxpayer exceed the £520 threshold? Paul Martin, his wife and two children @ £360 each - £1,440 (gross times ten don't you know and nearly three times the limit - and note the proper use of the @ symbol, that's my smugness quotient increased).

Hang on, says a Labour voice - the schedule specifically excludes flights paid for by the MSP's father (or mother or child or spouse, civil partner or cohabitant and so on). Fair enough - but that's only for travel outside the UK.

Guilty on all counts, m'lud - I think that's a £5,000 fine and exclusion from Parliament.

You know what strikes me - Labour members truly don't intentionally break the law, they just don't bother finding out what the law is in the first place. I'm sure that saves their consciences.

All together now -

Those magnificent men in their flying machines
They go up tiddly up-up, they come down diddly oun-down
They entrance all the ladies and steal all the scenes with their up tiddly up-up and their down diddly oun-down.

Monday, 18 February 2008

What a tangled web we weave...

Matthew Marr, one-time Labour spinner extraordinaire, went down in a tired and emotional state, flinging a very bad epithet at the First Minister of Scotland (His Eckness).
Since then, Wendy Alexander (leader of the opposition in Parliament - in terms of number of MSPs in her party, anyway) has been searching for a replacement. Two of the requirements in the person specification for the job have made it a struggle finding someone - "must be quotable without asterisks" and "must be capable of acting with decency towards politicians in other parties".
How has Wendy made sure that her new spinner will not be nasty to politicians in other parties? Simple - she's appointed someone who doesn't think much of her - Simon Pia.

From his Scotsman diary:
September 1, 2004, - Wendy Alexander's entry on the Parliament's website but found there was not a mention of her ministerial career. Stalinism is alive and well
April 3, 2001, - ONE of the great political issues of our age, ie the last 15 minutes, is this: has Wendy Alexander spun out of control and can she be reined in again?
May 18, 2000, - Gruppenfuhrer Wendy Alexander wants to know every last detail of the make-up of management committees like the local mother and toddler groups
May 16, 2000, - SPOTTED in the executive lounge at Heathrow waiting for the shuttle were a senior Labour MP and his researcher. Huddled over their papers they were attracting attention with the odd guffaw. Could it have been another one of Wendy Alexander's policy papers they were reading?
November 15, 2001, - Far be it for us to suggest anyone is two sandwiches
short of a picnic, but Wendy Alexander has a thing about biscuits.
November 15, 2001, - We could have had a "fruitcake" running a nanny
state.
January 25, 2001, - One reveller recalls: "I'll never forget looking out the window and the sight of Wendy trying to climb over the back wall with a carry-out so that she could sneak in."
May 26, 2000, - THE prying eyes of Wendy Alexander have been shut by the Diary, which last week exposed Big Sister's nebbing into the sexuality of the guid folk of Craigmillar.
January 23, 2002, - it was our man on the spot at Radio Clyde who caught Wendy sighing into the microphone that she was the minister for so much that "I cannot remember my own title".
Hungry Caterpillar anyone? Mind you, given that Wendy employed Gavin Yates after he said things like this:
Wendy Alexander, a former Minister who fell from favour with the so-called Labour ‘West-Coast Mafia’ is in pole position but her abrasive style might not prove popular with everyone. Also, she is seen very much as a Brown acolyte and that won’t go down well with MSPs that want a separate Scottish Labour identity from Westminster.
Meanwhile, Labour find themselves still stuck in a post -electoral malaise with a lame-duck leader.
The former Labour MSP and Health Minister, Susan Deacon, told the Herald that Labour had failed to develop any platform and said: “Labour has to develop a more positive narrative that defines it as a party and Scotland in a UK context. I fail to understand why it was thought an effective strategy during the election to take such a negative stance and scaremonger about what would happen if the SNP were
elected.”
There is no chance of Labour carrying out her advice soon.
It might just be that Wendy is a masochist when it comes to employing staff. Or perhaps Simon Pia was recommended to her for his musings on her colleagues - George Foulkes as a has-been perhaps:
August 15, 2005, - Indeed, it seems the Scottish Premier League, as much as the Lords, is the elephants' graveyard for once promising politicos of Cook's generation, with sinecures in the boardroom for George Foulkes ...
Or perhaps his own sycophancy towards her and her younger sibling:
August 15, 2005, - Where, then, are the young Turks to take up the mantle of Cook's generation: step forward the Alexander brother and sister, Douglas and Wendy. However, there are few others of note and, believe it or not, we have heard murmurings of a Tory revival in the Scottish universities.
Maybe it's his excellent judgement of political ability:
April 18, 2005, - we reckon voters are fed up with cheesy charisma and we prefer the soubriquet "sober" for the likes of Brown and Darling. While the term "Edinburgh lawyer" does not necessarily conjure up a pretty picture, Darling possesses the best of the beast's traits: very able and a safe a pair hands
Or his candour:
September 16, 2004, - A Scotch whisky official confided: "We had Alistair Darling at a reception and he couldn't understand why whisky costs twice as much in Scotland as it does in Spain. We tactfully suggested he ask the Chancellor."
It must be his unerring support for her policies:
October 22, 2003, - A POSSE of Edinburgh councillors - Trevor Davies, Lawrence Marshall, Tom Ponton, David Guest and city development head honcho Andrew Holmes - put on their anoraks yesterday morning for a bit of "tram-spotting" in Strasbourg, Lyon and Montpellier as part of their "looney tunes" plan to bring back the trams.
Another stunning appointment by Wendy Alexander - perfect judgement.
I've lost the email that this cartoon was sent in - can I just say thanks again.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

No wonder Gordon supports Wendy

News reaches my lugs that Gordon Brown has been reported to the Westminster standards chap for breaking the rules about his constituency office.

Aye, aye, no wonder he supports Wendy Alexander's flagrant disregard for the law - he's at it as well.

Jings!

Friday, 15 February 2008

Oh no, another breach - she canna take it cap'n!

On the 20th of December 2007, Leader of the Opposition, Ms Wendy Alexander, for it is she (currently), asked of the First Minister of Scotland:
Ms Alexander: I return to the question whether it is routine for a constituency MSP to bypass the planning directorate, go to the chief planner, and secure a meeting for developers in 12 hours and a call-in within 24 hours. I ask that because I want also to know why Mr Salmond's Government has been refusing since August—a period of more than three months—to meet the developers that are proposing a £1.2 billion development to regenerate the Rosyth naval dockyard.
Verily she did ask thus, and most readily did he answer:
The First Minister: I am just being told that the chief planner is meeting those developers, as he meets other developers in Scotland, which is also part—
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Six months later.
The Presiding Officer: Order.
The First Minister: Wendy Alexander should, just occasionally, check her facts before she asks a question.
I am looking at the ministerial code. Not only in the MSP code of conduct are MSPs encouraged to represent their constituents, but the ministerial code says that, on planning decisions, ministers may write to ministers, may advocate a point of view and may lead deputations—I am sure that Duncan McNeil has led a few deputations in his time. All those things are what effective MSPs do. Wendy Alexander should accept that, as detailed in the letter from the permanent secretary, no official in the Government has acted with anything other than total propriety and that no official has been asked to do anything improper. Will she now accept the words of the permanent secretary?
A right to-do and a barney to boot! As I pointed out recently, Helen Eadie has gone and went and done what Wendy Alexander said couldn't be done and got a meeting with the Chief Planner for a developer with a major development proposal in her area, proving that any MSP can do it and that Helen Eadie is better than Wendy Alexander. Of course, His First Ministership was saying that in chamber in answer to Wee Wendibles (the bit about the meeting, the rest is mine, mine I tell you), but she wasn't listening - as is her wont.

As I pointed out, though, the developer in question here is Scarborough Muir - fine folks I'm told - who have, quite openly and above board, contributed to the Labour party, £1,350 to Gordon Brown's constituency and £2,500 to Scottish Labour.

So what says you, aha says I, thereby hangs a tale -

Section 3 of the Code of Conduct requires that you make an oral declaration of an interest before taking part in any proceedings which affect that interest. Wendy's defence to this is a good one - that the money was given to the Labour party rather than to her so she didn't have to declare it - and I agree with it in spite of the prejudice test coming in strongly on the side of declaring, I think she squeaks this one.

Section 4 of the Code of Conduct, however, precludes paid advocacy, which is defined thusly:

4.1.3 Unlike the provisions of the Act relating to the registration and declaration of interests (which are designed to ensure transparency and do not inhibit Members’ participation in the proceedings of the Parliament), the provisions of the Act relating to paid advocacy provide that a Member may not, in consideration of any payment or benefit in kind, advocate or initiate any cause, or matter, on behalf of any person or urge any other Member to advocate or initiate any cause, or matter, on behalf of any person.

4.1.4 “Any payment or benefit in kind” means any payment or benefit in kind which the Member receives and which may reasonably be considered to result in some benefit for that Member (except a vote for that Member in an election to the Parliament). This also includes any payments or benefit in kind which the Member’s spouse, civil partner or cohabitant receives and which may reasonably be considered to be provided in connection with the Parliamentary duties of that Member and to benefit that Member in some way.

4.1.5 Section 14(3) of the Act describes the kinds of assistance which Members may receive without being in breach of the paid advocacy provisions. Those provisions do not apply to assistance provided to a Member in the preparation of a Member’s Bill, or assistance with amendments to any Bill, or a debate on subordinate legislation or a legislative consent motion (formerly known as a Sewel motion).

Now one may say that it would be a harsh judgement upon Ms Alexander to have to take such consideration before attacking the First Minister. I would simply remind them that Labour party Members were not slow in calling for David McLetchie's head when he signed a motion about Edinburgh Airport when the legal firm for which he still did some part-time work was representing one of the parties in a dispute.

Calling Victor Meldrew

I don't believe it! Remember a wee while back Wendy Alexander found herself reported to the procurator fiscal for committing the offence of not registering her dodgy donations in her register of interests? It was the end of January, February 1st at the latest.

Remember how the offence is taking part in proceedings of the Parliament while having an unregistered interest?

You would have thought, considering all the trouble she's been in, that she would have registered those interests quick-smart in order to avoid being in continued breach, wouldn't you? I mean, this time the defence of "I never knew" is definitely bogus, and section 6(2) of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 only allows 7 days to register a late interest from the day the MSP becomes aware of it.

Wendy Alexander's entry in the Register of Interests still reads:

Remuneration:
Until 31 December 2006 I was a Visiting Professor at the Business School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. I was paid an honorarium of between £10,001 and £15,000 per annum.
Between January 2006 and 10 January 2007 I wrote a weekly column in the Daily Record newspaper which is based at 1 Central Quay, Glasgow. I received remuneration of between £5,001 and £10,000 per annum.

Related Undertaking:
NONE

Election Expenses:
NONE

Sponsorship:
NONE

Gifts:
I received a donation of between £501 and £1000 on 28 December 2006 from the Transport and General Workers Union towards local campaign work.
I received a donation of between £501 and £1000 on 13 March 2007 from the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians towards local campaign work.

Overseas Visits:
NONE

Heritable Property:
NONE

Interest In Shares:
NONE

Miscellaneous:

Voluntary:
I am a Visiting Professor at the Business School, University of Strathclyde (unremunerated).
I received donations in November/December 2006 towards to production and posting of a 2007 calendar from the following: Reid Kerr College (£500), Chivas (£500), Braehead CSC Retail (£200), Capital Shopping Centres UK Property Group (£300), Abbotsinch Properties (£300), Phoenix Car Company (£300), CK Heating (£200) and WK Malcolm (£200).
I received, in February 2007, a benefit in kind for postage of a shared letter to Linwood constituents about Linwood Regeneration. The value of the benefit is estimated to be up to £500. Postage was jointly shared by Wendy Alexander and Denvir Marketing.
I received donations in November/December 2007, all banked in December 2007, towards production and posting of a 2008 constituency calendar from the following: Chivas Brothers Limited (£500), Abbotsinch Properties (£200), Phoenix Car Company (£300), WH Malcolm Ltd (£200), George Wimpey West Scotland Limited (£300), First Scotrail Limited (£200), Lomond Motors Limited (£200), Porcelanosa (Scotland) Limited (£300), Park Lane Developments (£300) and Tesco Stores Limited (£500). [Registered 21 December 2007]

Nothing there about her leadership donations, nothing. That's a continuation of the first offence if she speaks in chamber or committee, lodges question or motions, or takes part in any other Parliamentary activities before registering. Unless we're about to be told that the clerks have failed to update the register (because it's always someone else's fault these days), there's also a second offence being committed - the failure to register within seven days of becoming aware of the need to register a late registration.

Sometimes I just wonder.
This Sunday I shall mainly be reading the Sunday Times and the Sunday Post - fine journals.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Changing the map

SNP will win extra seats at the next Holyrood election - thanks to the Boundaries Commission's proposed new constituencies. Let's look at Edinburgh, for example.

Edinburgh East would lose Musselburgh and Leith Links, both strong areas of SNP support, but would pick up relatively strong areas in the south of the city. With the work going on there under Kenny MacAskill, Edinburgh East should stay in the comfortable embrace of Scotland's Party.

North and Leith would swap the New Town, Stockbridge and Inverleith for Leith Links and Easter Road, which would have been enough for us to win the seat even without the enormous amount of work we're putting in now.

Edinburgh Central would lose ground around Stenhouse and gain the New Town and Stockbridge. That should leave Central as a marginal. Again, with the work going on there and the positive effects of the spectacular SNP Government, the SNP should come in ahead.

There you have it - two extra seats for the SNP and that's just in Edinburgh. I'm sure that other people will be examining the rest of the country and coming up with a whole lot more seats that the SNP will win.

Westminster first though - that should be fun.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Here's something interesting

Well, it interests me anyway, and it has nothing at all to do with Wendy Alexander.


I would bet that it's worrying the bejasus out of Labour and the Lib Dems as well.


Being an anorak kind of guy, I checked on the regional votes cast in the May 2007 election.


We, us SNP types, Scotland's Party, won some surprising victories - we won the regional vote in Edinburgh North and Leith, for example, as well as Edinburgh Central and Edinburgh East.


In fact, the SNP won Edinburgh (all six city seats combined). Here's the result -
SNP 46,137
Labour 44,359
Lib Dem 30,952
Conservative 30,634
Green 16,923

Marvellous. So here are the 28 seats where the SNP won on the regional vote (not in any kind of order, I've just numbered them so you don't have to count them)
  1. Edinburgh North and Leith
  2. Edinburgh Central
  3. Edinburgh East and Musselburgh
  4. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
  5. Ross, Skye and Inverness West
  6. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine
  7. Dumbarton
  8. Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale
  9. Aberdeen Central
  10. Aberdeen North
  11. Aberdeen South
  12. Kilmarnock and Loudoun
  13. Argyll and Bute
  14. Central Fife
  15. Stirling
  16. Dundee West
  17. Dundee East
  18. Cunninghame North
  19. Glasgow Govan
  20. Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber
  21. Moray
  22. Western Isles
  23. Livingston
  24. North Tayside
  25. Perth
  26. Angus
  27. Banff and Buchan
  28. Gordon
Some crackers there, eh? Wait! I hear you holler, surely the Lib Dems did well as well? Nope -
Orkney, Shetland, Edinburgh West and North East Fife were the only ones they won. Doesn't bode well for them in the Westminster election, does it?


Tory chaps? Not bad considering where they've been climbing from -
Pentlands, Ayr, Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, and, of course, Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Four seats.


Even more fun - the SNP was in second place in a further 41 seats and third in only four - Dumfries, Eastwood, Ayr, and Roxburgh and Berwickshire - we didn't come lower than third anywhere - the only party to manage this.

Interestingly, the Greens beat the Lib Dems and the Conservatives in two Glasgow seats - Govan and Maryhill, but didn't do so well in Lothian which was their original seat capture - only in Edinburgh North and Leith did they climb above 5th, edging out the Conservatives.


The Lib Dems came fifth in Govan and fourth in another 41 seats, third in 18 and second in only nine seats. There were only 26 seats where the Tories were fourth or fifth, and they picked up 36 third places and 7 second places.


Labour - 37 wins, 16 second places, 13 third places and 7 fourth places.


Looks like the SNP is best placed. Now then, let's replicate that at Westminster...

Helen Eadie needs a deputy

It has been pointed out to me that I have been remiss in fulfilling Helen Eadie's dream to lead the Labour party to a memorable victory in Scotland.

Will Patterson has pointed out to me that I have failed to find her a deputy. In the spirit of co-operation and renewed vigour which is sweeping our country, Will has pointed me in the direction of the obvious candidate, a man who unites people, a man, in fact, who has managed to unite people from across the country and across the political spectrum.

He is a man who has become the very personification of Labour in Scotland, a man who brings unity wherever his gentle tread takes him - unity against him, right enough, but unity nonetheless.

Who is this colossus, this hero of the hour, this redeemer of lost virtues, this cleaner of Aegean stables?

Step forward councillor Terry Kelly!
In chorus, now:
El Tel Kel, el Tel Kel, el Tel Kel.

What a man, what a man, what a man
What a mighty good man
What a man, what a man, what a man
What a mighty good man
What a man, what a man, what a man
What a mighty good man
What a man, what a man, what a man
What a mighty good man

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Down on the farm

This is Wendy Alexander scaremongering at Gorgie City Farm
This is a Jersey Cow
See any similarities?
It takes a real stroke of genius to get Wendy photographed beside a Jersey coo at the moment.
Take a bow Gavin Yates!

Catch the Hamster

We all have those days when we just want to protect something, don't we? I'm always cheering on those who are willing to go to the barricades to mount a sturdy defence of some animal less fortunate than themselves.

That's why, when I was reading the regular newsletter of Catherine Stihler MEP (Labour), I was delighted to find the headline
Confronting Hamster Hunting
Oh yes - you people may mock but this is a serious issue for the active hamster population in (as Ms Stihler has it) Hungry and Poland.

Aye, where do you go when you're Hungry in Budapest?
She's serious about defending them, you know -

Goddammit!

Not my work. Made me laugh though:

Monday, 11 February 2008

Bring it on back Wendy, Wendy, bring it on back to ...

Sorry, got carried away there. Much and merry have been the messages pouring in - comments on the post from yesterday, emails, text messages and a right strange phone call. Let me be clear, as the invisible man said, I'll fire these thoughts out into the ether and you can do with them what you will.

Ashflame
The Ashflame donation was declared to Parliament but not to the Commission (it was one penny under the limit for the Commission). Any politician who really did have honesty and integrity written through them would surely have declared it for the sake of clarity - even if it was a penny under. The Electoral Commission doesn't have the right to decide what it publishes and what it doesn't - declare a donation and they must publish.

Wendy Alexander - the donations and the Electoral Commission
On that point - Under Section 69(5) of PPERA (as applied by Paragraph 15 of Schedule 7), where any donation is reported to the Commission it shall cause details to be entered in the register in respect of the donation "as soon as is reasonably practicable". It still hasn't published the donations which Wendy Alexander claims to have reported to it when her donations scandal broke.

The Commission's obligation is to publish the details as reported to them under the donation report. It has no power to delay publication of the details of any donation. The phrase "as soon as is reasonably practicable" has been strictly interpreted by courts over the years. In this case, it simply recognises that there will be a very short delay between receipt of the report and the entering of the details from the report in the register.

Either Wendy Alexander lied about making the declaration or the Commission has failed in its statutory duty.

Dodgy Dinners
Labour sources claimed that the rip-off dinners were not direct fund-raisers for Ms Alexander, they were business networking dinners and, if they returned a profit, that money was used to help Labour candidates - so why has no-one else declared a contribution as a regulated donee?

Indeed, since the SIF was doling out dosh, why wasn't it a registered third party?

Intentional wrong-doing
I'm beginning to believe Labour about "no intentional wrong-doing". When Wendy Alexander gave her "Electoral Commission said I didn't do no wrong, George" press conference she did it in a Parliament Committee Room - which is against the rules. Maybe there is no intentional wrong-doing because Labour never bothers to think about the rules before ploughing ahead.

Buddhism
Ms Alexander claims to apply a Buddhist mantra of "is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind" - I think she misunderstands mantras and Buddhism - although I may be wrong.

A mantra is a spiritual lead, and it is the vibration of the sound that is important, it exists to help focus, not as a guide to right and wrong.

Maybe it's just the Buddhists I've met and spoken to and the writings I've read, but Buddhists don't seem to me to be much concerned with truth necessity and kindness. Buddhist concerns appear to be more about harmony on the road to enlightenment. Perhaps Wendy is the monk who did not physically lift the woman but is still carrying her, or perhaps she has a koan for all of us?

Working Mother
We were treated at the weekend to a long whinge from Ms Alexander about how hard she was finding being a working mother and a politician. Her husband only works part-time, so I'm sure she's in a better place than couples who both have to work full-time to make ends meet or single parents who have no-one else to rely on. She complains she has to employ a nanny for 40 hours a week as well as help to look after her house - I'm sure that there are some other mothers who would gladly swap places.

There are thousands of other parents in this country who just get on with it. Even among politicians there are plenty of parents who just get on with the job. There are parents in more senior positions than Wendy Alexander in Parliament who cope and there are plenty of parents around her who just cope. Most of those politicians who are parents also do everything they can to keep their children out of the public eye and would never dream of using their children as a shield - most of them would never mention the two twins.

She complains that she isn't always there for her children's bedtime. The same is true for parents who do things like clean Parliament buildings, work in pubs or garages, or even on the checkout in supermarkets.

Oh, the poverty
Ms Alexander claims that she is poorer now than at any time in the last 20 years. Like the little matchstick girl she can only look through the windows and marvel at the wonders. Aye, right.

The last eight years she was a member of the Scottish Parliament and so had an MSP's salary. OK, for some of that time she had a Ministerial salary as well, but that's the rub of politics - when you lose you lose - get over it.

Immediately before she was elected she spent a bit less than two years as a Special Adviser to Donald Dewar - less of a salary than an MSP.

Before that she had some time as a graduate recruit to Booz Allen & Hamilton - a grunt in an international consultancy which takes in about 1,200 recruits a year. That's only listed as being 1994-1997. We know that she was away by June 2007, so that might be three years.

There were two years before this when she was a student. A student better off than an MSP? I think not.

From 1988 to 1992 she was a researcher for George Galloway. Politicians' researchers really don't get paid very much - and certainly not more than an MSP.

So, in order for Wendy Alexander to be worse off now than at any time in the past 20 years she must have some devilishly expensive habits and her husband's part-time earnings as an academic must be terribly poor.

A high-flyer
Part of the claim about her genius is the constant assertion that she was a high-flying business consultant. She was a graduate recruit for three years - she never even got off the ground.

One of her erstwhile colleagues says "there was always a trail of destruction in Wendy's wake" - indeed. She has signally failed to achieve anything in politics - even when she was a Minister. The one thing she is remembered for is the section 2A debacle when she ignored all the principles of change management and rushed at it, determined to be the irresistible force, with the result that she raised the hackles of everyone on both sides, drove the issue into impasse and had to be relieved of responsibility for it.

There's some comment that she supplied the ideas for Donald Dewar's devolution dreaming. I have seen no evidence of any great intellect in Ms Alexander, but Donald Dewar was her father's friend for 50 years so perhaps he knew better.

Her performance leading suggests that she just isn't up to it, though, the budget nonsense was remarkable. She claims that what people will remember is the budget outcomes rather than the Parliamentary tactics - how the Dickens does she think those outcomes are reached?

Social Justice
Ms Alexander claims that she is staying in her job to deliver social justice for Scotland. Can I just point out her party's had since 1997 (at least) and has failed dismally.

Wendy Alexander herself was a student at the British-American Project for the Successor Generation - Baby Bilderberg - not exactly the beating heart of social justice.

Rant ends
To return to Buddhism for a moment, it is time for her to let it go and get on with the rest of her life.

Never forget, though - If you meet the Buddha on the road - kill him!

On the Trail of the Lonesome Eadie

In these times of trial and tribulation for the Great Wendy Alexander, we should never forget that other great leadership hopeful - yes, that's right, Helen Eadie, she of the tasteful floral blouse and rapier-sharp wit.

Word reaches me from Fife across a bridge with no tolls that Helen's been hard at it. Work I mean.

In the pale yellow corner (imagine a bad case of jaundice) were the doughty two - Willie Rennie and Jim Tolson like a latter-day Batman and Robin (was Robin Batman's batman?) came out snarling about the plan by the Scarborough Muir Group to develop land it owns at Rosyth waterfront - I think they want to build houses (are those nuclear submarine carcasses still stored at Rosyth? What a selling point that would be.)

In the floral corner is the heroine of the hour, MSP extraordinaire Helen Eadie. Who says:
“I think they have had to be brought kicking and screaming to the table to comment on this.
“It’s only when I have been so pro-active on the issue that they now have been forced to take a position.
“It’s a great pity that they didn’t join the discussions that the Rosyth Waterfront Liaison Group appealed for earlier in the year and it’s a great pity that they’re not having any regard for the people of Rosyth’s views either and are only looking at the business interests.”
“Very clearly at the public consultation events, the people have spelled out what their desires are and if they want to ignore the views of local people, I certainly don’t think that’s wise.”
Can't really argue with that, can you? No, I didn't think so.
On the 16th January, Helen Eadie had even gone to the trouble of arranging a wee do in committee room 6 of Parliament for supporters of Scarborough Muir's development.
That wasn't her finished, either. She also made sure that Chief Planner Jim McKinnon would be meeting the developers at the end of the month. Yes, that's right, in spite of all the nonsense, any MSP can get a meeting with the Chief Planner for major developers.

That's the way to do it, you show them Helen! Eadie for leader. I know where she can get funding for her leadership campaign - and from people who will be quite glad to be public about it.

I'm sure she will have forgotten, but in May 2006, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Labour Party (Gordon Brown's constituency as well as Helen Eadie's) received a most generous donation of £1,350 from a company called Muir Homes and in August last year the Labour Party's Scottish branch received an equally kind donation of £2,500 from a company called Scarborough Muir Group Ltd.

I'm sure they'd be delighted to sponsor the Eadie to leadie campaign.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Wendy Alexander and the dodgy fundraising

The Scottish Industry Forum - what larks, eh?
As reported on the front page of today's Sunday Times, Wendy Alexander has been at the naughties (read it here). Excellent piece of investigative journalism.

Naughty as in "This way sir, table for two? Yes, it's a very worthy cause, it's perfectly alright, I'll look after your wallet for you. Pardon? Oh, yes, all about improving the local area. Thanks very much."

Slip to the hip and nothing left behind. If you're far too busy to read the article (written by Tom Gordon who will no doubt have a stalker by now), what she was up to was this - she had a Labour front organisation known as the Scottish Industry Forum (it used to come up with cracking wheezes like organising surveys which showed that nine out of ten unionists opposed Independence) and she used the SIF to organise a couple of fund-raising dinners. The dinners were fund-raisers for Wendibles but the guests never knew - the guests thought they were attending fund-raising dinners to help fund the regeneration of their area rather than slip £12,000 into Wendy's pocket. That's why members of the Conservative party and members of the SNP were there as well as others who don't support Labour. I'll have to check with m'learned friend but I believe that this is slightly outwith the usual run of fund-raising activities.
There are the usual question about why an MSP was in need of a £12k bung, but let's leave that on one side for a while (left side or right side, I don't really care, I'm not sure it matters) and take une petite peek at something that was mentioned only in passing in the Sunday Times article - Ashflame.

Actually, Ashflame was only in the paper edition rather than in the online edition. Here's what it says (in its entirety):
In 2004 Alexander's office received £1,000 from Ashflame, a local property developer in her constituency, but did not declare it. As the threshold is "more than £1,000", the donation was a penny below the wire.
Who or what is Ashflame? Well, let's zoom in a bit. Ashflame has six planning applications into Renfrewshire Council - applications to build on Phoenix Retail Park - some of the applications seem a little dated. Lovely development, I'm sure - 8.37 hectares I think, thousands and thousands of square metres of retail units.

How much will it be worth? Well, Ashflame paid almost £28 million for the place in 2005 - before any development, and the bits already leased out bring in rental income of £709,280 a year - so far. I do hope that all donations will be properly declared before the applications are considered or were properly declared before the applications were considered.

You would think, though, that a politician who had a development of this size in their patch and got a wee bung from the developer would want to declare it even though it was a penny under the threshold, wouldn't you? Just for the avoidance of any doubt and the desire to maintain a reputation for honesty, you understand ... How do I know all this? That would be telling, wouldn't it? Anyone who wants to unburden themselves about Wendy's doings and movings should feel free to drop a line or two to paisley.pattern@gmail.com - nothing to do with me, but I'm assured he'll do what he can to sort out politics in that area of the country.

A proper Renfrewshire Renaissance.

Friday, 8 February 2008

An interesting discussion

So there we were, m'learned friend, young grasshopper, Uncle Fester and I, in the club last night watching Newsnight, amazed that Wendy Alexander had taken to referring to herself in the third person (as in "well, Wendy has taken ...") as well as her strange delusion that she had done something good or actually achieved something by persuading the Electoral Commission that they didn't have enough evidence to refer her to the beak - she really needs to take a break for her own health and peace of mind.

Conversation after the programme turned in an interesting direction. Following on from the bit in the Electoral Commission's statement that said that prosecuting in this case wasn't in the public interest, I got to asking "how do they judge that?"

Not just in this case - other cases are deserted because prosecuting them further isn't in the public interest. How does a prosecutor (again, I'm assuming it's usually the proc fisc) decide which prosecutions would be in the public interest and which wouldn't.

M'learned friend tells me that the procurator fiscal has guidance from the Crown Office about the public interest test. I set off in search of that guidance - of which more later. The Electoral Commission, of course, doesn't have that guidance because it is not a prosecutor and really shouldn't be taking decisions about what is and is not appropriate for prosecution, but once an investigatory body like the Electoral Commission is set up such anomalies will occur.

Anyway - how to decide whether it's in the public interest to prosecute:

First, open the Prosecution Code
Turn to page 6 (8 of 16 in a viewer window)
You'll find things laid out there, not a flowchart or anything of that nature, but a list of things that have to be considered. There's quite a bit of detail, but these are the headings:
(i) The nature and gravity of the offence
(ii) The impact of the offence on the victim and other witnesses
(iii) The age, background and personal circumstances of the accused
(iv) The age and personal circumstances of the victim and other witnesses
(v) The attitude of the victim
(vi) The motive for the crime
(vii) The age of the offence
(viii) Mitigating circumstances
(ix) The effect of prosecution on the accused
(x) The risk of further offending
(xi) The availability of a more appropriate civil remedy
(xii) Powers of the court
(xiii) Public concern
There's very little that actually gets said in the document about what decision the procurator fiscal should make, most of it is couched in terms like this:

(xiii) Public concern
In assessing the public interest the prosecutor will take account of general public concerns as well as local community interests.
Arrangements can be made to enable local community representatives to discuss general matters of concern with the Procurator Fiscal although the final decision is the responsibility of the prosecutor.

Once the Procurator Fiscal has decided not to prosecute and advised the accused person accordingly or stated this publicly, there is no way to reverse that decision. Whether a decision of the Electoral Commission falls into the same category or not is an interesting question, but since the Crown Office has said today that there doesn't seem to be any basis for further inquiry it would seem that the case is dead.

Except that it isn't in the public domain yet. Justice must be seen to be done, after all - I'm sure some scribe of a great public organ is already beavering away.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A fine fellow is Tom McCabe

Oh yes he is. He got caught up in the Wendy Alexander scandal through no fault of his own and he'll have to declare those donations on his register of interests as a partner in that partnership, but he is a fine, upstanding member of the community.

That's how I know that the entry in his register of interests which reads
I own a flat in Edinburgh with a market value between £150,001 - £200,000 and receive gross income between £0.00 - £5,000 per annum.

couldn't possibly relate to the property he bought using public money as pointed out by -
Douglas Fraser in the Sunday Herald:
Tabloids seized on the story that the parliament minister and Labour chief whip had added to his £83-per-night Edinburgh hotel allowance with a £9500 allowance to pay for his own flat in the capital. And all this just 50 minutes' drive from his home near Motherwell, with a government-funded chauffeur at his beck and call.

Tom Brown in the New Statesman:
Tom McCabe, the minister for parliament (equivalent of the chief whip and leader of the house at Westminster), has scandalised Scots by negotiating himself a £9,500 annual allowance to buy a flat in Edinburgh - although his constituency home is only a 50-minute drive from the Scottish Parliament and he can claim an £83-per-night hotel allowance if unavoidably detained.

Tom Peterkin in the Telegraph:
An exception to normal rules governing expenses has been made for Mr McCabe, who has been criticised for being entitled to a £9,000 allowance towards buying a new house in Edinburgh.
Normally, the allowance should go only to MSPs who live more than a 90-minute drive from Holyrood. However dispensation was granted to Mr McCabe because of his ministerial workload. Mr McCabe was given the allowance on the basis that it would save on travel and hotel bills.
But yesterday it emerged that the cost of him staying overnight in the capital to work was much less than the £9,500 allowance. His bill for travelling from his Hamilton constituency and staying in Edinburgh hotels was £5,605.

And even the Daily Record said he should give the money back:
A HUGE 97 per cent of Record readers think perks scandal MSP Tom McCabe should hand back his pounds 9,500-a-year allowance for a second home

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Budget

SNP budget passed.

With the budget now passed into law and the SNP spending plans being put into effect, Scotland is moving ahead again with progressive and far-sighted policies to encourage business growth, counter the poverty and disadvantage caused by the Labour Government in London. An excellent budget for Scotland.

Labour's voting was bizarre. The SNP Government accepted a Labour amendment because it neither added nor took away from the motion (in terms of impact), so the Labour amendment was passed. Then Labour refused to vote for the budget - Labour MSPs abstained (with the exception of Cathy Craigie who voted against).

Who, exactly, thinks it's a good idea to win your amendment and then not vote for the motion? It's like making your dinner and then throwing it at the wall instead of eating it. Iain Gray justified it by saying doing that meant that Labour won their amendment but didn't have to vote for the SNP budget. We can all only aspire to those giddying heights of intellectual supremacy ...

Helen Eadie must have taken over as leader and no-one told us.

Go on, tell me if this makes sense to you

Some people say my anorak is glued to my ears. There I was gently leafing through the Register of Interests of MSPs, happily saying "ho" and betimes "hum" until I came to Paul Martin's return which stopped me in my tracks:
Since my election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 I have received sums of money from an anonymous donor or donors, requesting that I donate the money to Stobhill Hospital. These monies are addressed to me at my Constituency office or the Scottish Parliament and are accompanied by letters and newspaper cuttings referring to health matters, in particular Stobhill Hospital. Despite following various avenues of enquiry I have been unable to identify the donor or donors hence these donations have not required to be declared. From May 1999 until November 2003 I received the sum of £130.00 which I passed to Stobhill Hospital Endowment Fund. In June 2007 I passed the sum of £519.88, which had accumulated over a four year period, to Marie Curie Hospice who are currently running the Big Build Appeal to build a new hospice within the grounds of Stobhill Hospital.
[Registered 27 August 2007]

What? There is a case to be made about anonymous donations but naff that, I just want to marvel at this fantastic meringue construction.

It takes some incredible degree of talent to write something like this. I'm awe-struck.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

To London they will go, to London they will go

One of those voices sidled up to me earlier and whispered "Tavish Scott's in London today - word is that it is the Lib Dem equivalent of the laying on of the hands."

Oho thinks I, what's he up to?

Then word reaches my delicate shell-likes that Wendy Alexander is in London this evening, ostensibly to attend the Labour group meeting.

Interesting methinks, and I pondered upon the significance of two of Scotland's finest politicians being summoned to Londinium by their masters.

That be not all, as another pigeon lands and I'm told that Cathy Jamieson, cruelly lampooned as the Member for Badly Fitting Trouser Suit from Matalan West, is also promenading on the banks of the Thames. She's still Labour's Deputy Leader in case you haven't seen much of her during Wendy's tribulations (trials come later).

By this point I'm considering that Tav may be there to be annointed or might not but it matters little compared to the summoning of the leader and deputy leader of Labour (Scotland branch).
The real question now is this:

Will Wendy Alexander be saying "et tu Cathy?" or will Cathy be bearing Wendy back to Scotland to say "Gordon is an honourable man"?

If you now have the same mental image as me you'll appreciate why I now have to go and have a lie down in a darkened flannel...

What kind of a loyalty test is that?