Friday, 30 May 2008
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Banking reform bill
Measures to allow the Bank of England, Treasury and Financial Services Authority to intervene earlier to prevent another Northern Rock-style bank crisis.
Covers: Whole of UK.
Saving Gateway bill
New savings scheme for the low-paid, with a government contribution for every pound saved.
Covers: Whole of UK.
Business rates supplement billThere's a technical term for this - a slippy shoulder. It's slipping a responsibility from your own shoulder to someone else's. Not only does this move responsibility for economic development squarely into the court of local government, it forces local government to do the tax-raising. I'm sure some will compare the move to a BID levy, ignoring the cooperative element of BIDs
To give county councils, unitary authorities and the Greater London Assembly powers to levy a surcharge on the business rate for local economic development.
Covers: England and Wales only.
Marine and coastal access bill
Simplify management of coastline and open it up to more leisure activities.
Covers: Some parts will cover whole of UK, others some parts of the UK. Government will work with devolved administrations on responsibilities in their areas.
Heritage protection billWell, when they published the White Paper, the cultural provisions were gone (a pity - they're needed), leaving this Bill a housekeeping exercise just tidying up heritage protection across England and Wales and a wee bit about the marine environment.
More transparent and simpler system for management of historic sites.
Covers: Whole of UK for cultural provisions, England and Wales only for heritage protection.
Education and skills bill
Promote "fair access" to schools and improve performance of weakest schools. Give parents the right to regular information on children's progress, grant workers the right to ask employers for training, create an independent qualifications system.
Covers: Some parts whole of UK, some England only, others England and Wales only, or England, Wales and Northern Ireland only.
Streamline 40 years of piecemeal laws covering sex, race and religious discrimination. Increase transparency and improve enforcement and allow political parties to use all-women shortlists until 2030.
Covers: England, Wales and Scotland.
Welfare reform bill
Long-term unemployed forced to start training courses or face benefit cuts - all unemployed people to have their skills assessed when they first claim.
Covers: England, Wales and Scotland. Government will work with Northern Ireland Executive on its responsibilities in this area.
Policing and crime reduction bill
Plan to cut police red tape, clampdown on anti-social behaviour and binge drinking in public places, more local control of police through directly elected representatives, improve recovery of criminal assets.
Covers: Some parts cover whole of UK, others do not.
Transport security bill
UK airports forced to tighten up security. Creates new offences relating to acts of terrorism at sea, including using a ship to transport weapons of mass destruction. Giving Royal Navy new powers to tackle piracy.
Covers: Whole of the UK.
Communications data billSee this? It's supposed to incorporate EU Directive 2006/24/EC into UK law, but that directive makes it clear that data should be "erased or made anonymous when no longer needed for the purpose of the transmission of a communication, except for the data necessary for billing or interconnection payments", and the plans of the UK Government are for exactly the opposite - the plans are, apparently, for a database logging the details of every phone call made and email sent in the UK.
New procedures for gathering and retaining data from internet service providers and phone companies for the purposes of investigating serious crime and terrorism. Incorporates EU directive on data gathering into UK law.
Covers: Whole of UK.
Law reform, victims and witnesses bill
Introduce different degrees of homicide including provocation, diminished responsibility, complicity and infanticide - subject to consultation. More video links in court to protect vulnerable witnesses. Prevent criminals profiting from memoirs. Strengthen data protection by giving Information Commissioner more audit powers. Sentencing Commission to monitor prison population and advise courts.
Covers: Will vary for different parts of the bill.
Citizenship, immigration and borders billHousekeeping.
Support setting-up of UK Borders Agency and earned citizenship scheme. Streamline existing immigration laws.
Covers: Whole of UK.
Coroners and death certification billIs this a knee-jerk reaction to some recent difficulties? A reflection on Shipman? A need to be seen to be doing something, perhaps.
Establish national coroners service, with full-time coroners working to minimum standards and right of appeal for bereaved families. New medical examiners to examine cause of death given by doctors.
Covers: England and Wales only, with some minor provisions applying in Northern Ireland.
National Health Service reform billTinkering at the edges of the NHS reform that went through on Blair's watch. I'm interested by the idea of rationing funding by performance using patient experience. I see queues of patients waiting for their demob interview before going home - leaving times would exceed waiting times. What happens when you ration hospital funding? Do patients get 45 minutes of dialysis instead of an hour? Does your leg get sawn half way through when it needs amputated? Do the patients in the better-funded hospitals get two hours dialysis instead of one and both legs off instead of one? What a ridiculous idea.
Link hospital funding to performance by using patient experience to measure quality of care. Publish NHS constitution, greater autonomy for Primary Care Trusts, more choice for patients - subject to recommendations in Lord Darzi's review to be published in the summer.
Covers: England only.
Constitutional renewal billAgain, it's a housekeeping measure, not a policy development.
Independent Commission for the Civil Service to protect impartiality. MPs given final say on treaties. Stripping Attorney General of right to intervene in prosecutions. Reducing role of Lord Chancellor in appointing judges below High Court level. Stripping prime minister of role in appointing Supreme Court judges. Removing restrictions on protests in Westminster.
Covers: England and Wales only, some provisions extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Community empowerment, housing and economic regeneration billNone of this needs legislation and with the exception of the streamlining, none of it can be done by legislation.
Involve communities more in design and delivery of local services - including possible right of response to petitions. Streamline regional governance and boost economic role. More cooperation between local authorities. Improve operation of construction contracts.
Covers: England only but construction provisions apply to England and Wales.
Geneva Conventions and United Nations personnel bill
Fulfil commitment to adopt new humanitarian emblem (a red crystal) and ratify the Third Protocol of the Geneva Convention signed by UK in 2006. Extending the protection afforded to UN personnel to workers delivering humanitarian, political or development goals.
Covers: Whole of UK.
Sunday, 25 May 2008
"When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?"
"When the hurly-burly's done,
When the battle's lost and won."
"That will be ere the set of sun."
"Where the place?"
"Upon the heath."
"There to meet with Macbeth."
"I come, Greymalkin!"
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair:Hover through the fog and filthy air."
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
Sunday, 18 May 2008
[my father] brought us up to study the great texts, to believe that the size of your wealth mattered less than the strength of your character;
That explains the removal of the 10% tax rate then. He's not punishing the poor, he's strengthening their characters.
There are many passages of gibberish in the speech, but quite early on there's this bit:
And I have never forgotten the lessons I learned in the manse of a parish in a
medium-sized town in a nation that has given so much to the world:
- the sense of an interwoven fabric of life and the strands within it:
- the powerful linkages that clubs and societies - many church-related - brought to those who joined them: boys and girls, men and women, young and old;
- the spirit of neighbourliness - with the Church, for many, at the centre of it;
- the recognition that, yes, we cooperate out of need but, yes also, we have a human
need to cooperate.
The last of these is the only one which approaches a lesson, firstly - how is it a lesson to get a sense of the society around you or to notice that clubs create links between people, and, most bizarrely, how is a spirit of neighbourliness a lesson? In the fourth and last place, how is the recognition of human cooperation a lesson? It appears to be little more than a very clumsy attempt to compare and contrast physical and psychological interdependence - surely we're entitled to better from a Prime Minister?
I would respectfully suggest that our country is fairer today than in the past
As a son and now a father I believe in the Parable of the Talents my father taught me:
that everyone has a talent,
everyone should have the chance to develop that talent,
and everyone should be challenged to use that talent and given the best chance to bridge that gap between what they are and what they have it in themselves to become.
Friday, 16 May 2008
Thursday, 15 May 2008
Answer on the back of a £10 note please.
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
I have been asked how long it took me to photoshop the roundabout that appeared on yesterday's posting. I didn't - that is an actual photograph of a road junction in Swindon called the Magic Roundabout. The thing came to me via an intermediary from a Green chappie - I therefore consider it to be a devilishly fiendish Green plot to force us all out of our cars. Here's the roadsign before the junction:Who's budging on the budget?
While I'm meandering through pointlessness here, let's have a look at the budget. Darling's decision to start handing out tenners here and there is interesting for a couple of reasons:
Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Simple, isn't it? Just think of it as an eightsome reel for the chronically unbalanced.
Just to make sure we're all clear, Labour's Constitutional Affairs spokesman Malcolm Chisholm (looks like the job titles change daily too) said:
At the mercy of Labour's Parliamentary tactics ...
"We believe that the Scottish people have right to have a say in the future of Scotland but as we made clear all of last week we are not going to give the SNP a blank cheque on the question, the voting system, the time-tabling or scrutiny of any bill.
"The SNP have turned down the chance to end the uncertainty facing Scotland and now will be at the mercy of Labour's Parliamentary tactics.
Like the Budget? The Government accepted Labour's amendment so Labour ... erm ... abstained.In La-La-Labour land last week never happened. How much more pain will they put themselves through?
They should ask themselves "What Would Helen Do?" WWHD.Helen Eadie would take a deep breath, admit she'd made a mistake, realised that she can't turn the clock back, admit that there's going to be a referendum in 2010, and look for their best case scenario. They can insist that the referendum is between Independence and the out-turn of the Calman Commission, and they'll have two and a half years to make the case for staying in the UK. I've never heard anyone make a positive case for staying in the UK, so that would be refreshing.
Incidentally, though, one of the big beasts of the Conservative party, having shaken the disbelief out of his head over Wendibles, insisted earlier on that Westminster was going to be the place to watch for Scottish developments over the next 7 years.
7 years? Negotiations will only take a couple of weeks!
Ah, the quotarium:
Duncan McNeil, Tuesday 6th May
"No one in the room had any complaints about the decision that has been taken and we are now in a position where, as a group, we will not vote down any Referendum Bill that comes into the Parliament. That's the change in the Labour group's position today."
Wendy Alexander, Tuesday 6th May
"I was delighted that at the Labour group today not a single colleague advocated the position that we should walk into the lobbies and vote down Scotland's right to choose.
Wendy Alexander, Sunday 11th May
Labour Group 'will not vote down the opportunity for Scotland to speak'
Tune in tomorrow for more exciting adventures!
Monday, 12 May 2008
Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East) (Lab): At the outset, I refer members to my entry in the "Register of Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament" as a Co-operative and Labour Party sponsored member.
Derek Brownlee spoke of the beam above his head. As I sat having a coffee this morning, I heard the almighty noise of a compressor going off directly above where I was sitting. I thought of him when that happened, and we said so to the staff, who immediately started investigations. Who knows what earth-shattering things are happening today?
It is interesting that, when I left the chamber last night, members were speaking about Supporters Direct, the mutual approach to football for supporters across Scotland. This morning, we again focus our attention on a debate about mutualisation of the water industry.
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Ms Alexander: I have no doubt that the judgment of history will be between those, such as me and my colleaguesAh, get over yourself, Wendibles, you're just a politician, you'll be forgotten in a few years.
Friday, 9 May 2008
I welcome your comments ...
Glenn Campbell: Do you agree with Ken Calman that his proposals for revising devolution may or may not need to be tested in a referendum, that it depends how radical it is?
Wendy Alexander MSP: Yes.
Glenn Campbell: And what would be your point, what would you regard the point at which a referendum was required? How radical would the proposal need to be?
Wendy Alexander MSP: Well I think we have to wait and see what he comes up with.
"What I want to hear from the opposition party, what is the fundamental duty of a opposition party, is to propose a clear, consistent and key message in providing solutions or alternatives to proposals from government"What? How dare he? Doesn't he know that Wendy is the leader of the opposition and Wendy is an honourable woman?
"Sadly I think that's not happened through various changes in stance from the Labour party just now."
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.
3. The Presiding Officer received a letter from Jim Gallagher on behalf of the UK Government on 25 March (copy already circulated to SPCB members) informing him that Professor Sir Kenneth Calman has been appointed to chair the Commission. Further announcements are expected in the near future on the other members of the Commission. I met Sir Kenneth and Jim Gallagher last week to discuss how the Commission was intending to operate. This report to the SPCB draws on those discussions.
4. Sir Kenneth has agreed that the Secretariat support for the Commission will be based in the offices of the Scotland Office in Melville Crescent, Edinburgh. The UK Government is in the process of appointing someone to head the Secretariat. This appointment is expected to be confirmed within the next week or so.
9. It is proposed that a Clerk Team Leader be seconded to the Commission Secretariat, initially until the end of 2008. The situation will be reviewed at the end of this period. The Clerk will work with the Secretary appointed by the UK Government to provide the range of support required by the Commission.
13. It is not possible to quantify the resource implications at this stage beyond the salary of the proposed clerk secondment – circa £50,000. Once the full Commission membership has been established and Sir Kenneth has had longer to consider how he envisages it operating, we should be in a better position to estimate the likely costs. It should be noted that we expect these largely to be existing staff time and overhead costs such as accommodation for events, but it is possible that the Commission may request a budget, for example, for research. I will, of course, report back to the Corporate Body as soon as I have more concrete information.
7. I understand that the Commission will aim to produce an interim report before the end of 2008, with final completion of its work by around the Summer of 2009.That should mean a referendum round about ... 2010?
Thursday, 8 May 2008
Asked on an issue as important as the future of the United Kingdom, was the country not entitled to a simple yes or no answer to whether the Prime Minister wanted a referendum, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had answered the question in his own way.
Asked what the difficulty was with a simple yes or no answer, to whether the Prime Minister favoured a referendum as his answer could not be understood by any member of the public, the PMS replied that he thought it could be understood by members of the public. The Prime Minister was asked this question, there was a debate taking place in Scotland at the moment between the various political parties, and that was a very live debate. Separately there was a review taking place by Kenneth Calman looking at this, so the Prime Minister thought it was right that we should wait for the Calman Review and review progress in light of that.
"There is absolutely no contradiction between what Gordon Brown said about Calman and what Wendy Alexander has been saying about a referendum," he said.
"Of course we need a choice, but we also need to have the Calman Commission to review, and I believe extend, the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the UK."
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Most of us can console ourselves with the thought that this, too, shall pass. For some, however, those fears do become horrendous reality. Following hard on the heels that any Labour Member's Bill on an Independence referendum would require the permission of the Scottish Government comes betrayal in London (I've chopped out the boring bits):
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Labour’s leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, says that there should be a referendum now on Scottish independence. Does he agree with her?
The Prime Minister: That is not what she has said. The Conservative party, the Liberal party and the Labour party have joined together in setting up the Calman review, the commission on devolution. I hope that we can see progress in that commission, and we will review the progress before making any further decisions.
Mr. Cameron: I think the Prime Minister is losing touch with reality. This is what Wendy Alexander said: “I don’t fear the verdict of the Scottish people,” she told BBC Scotland on Sunday, “Bring it on.”
What else could that possibly mean? Can I ask the Prime Minister again? Does he agree with Wendy Alexander or not? It is not much of a leadership if no one is really
The Prime Minister: What the leader of the Labour party in Scotland was pointing to was the hollowness of the Scottish National party, which said that it wanted independence, said that it wanted it immediately, and now wants to postpone a referendum until 2010–11.
That is what she was pointing out. She was making it clear that what the Scottish National party was doing was against its election manifesto.
That followed this from the morning briefing with Gordon Brown's official spokesman (PMS):
Asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with what Wendy Alexander had said on the issue of independence for Scotland, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that we had gone round this course many times yesterday and as he had said, there was a debate taking place in the Scottish Parliament on the timing of any referendum on Scottish independence. The Prime Minister had always been confident of the strength of the argument in favour of the Union and believed that a referendum on Scotland leaving the Union would be defeated.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the timing of an early poll, the PMS reiterated that there was a debate taking place between the various political parties in Scotland at the moment. Asked if the Prime Minister would be joining that debate at any point, the PMS repeated that the debate was taking place in Scotland.
Put that the Prime Minister might want to comment on the issue if he was in Scotland, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister's physical location was neither here nor there.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought that the rest of the UK should have a say on Scottish independence, the PMS replied that at the moment there was no particular proposal for a referendum and when there had been previous votes on the issue, they were votes that had taken place in Scotland. The PMS added that people were getting slightly ahead of themselves, as the position at the moment was that there was still a debate going on in Scotland about the timing of any potential referendum.
So he wouldn't help her out even if he was standing beside her? With friends like that who needs enemas? The SNP commitment is a manifesto in 2010 - check page 8.
UK General Election? Bring it on.
Tuesday, 6 May 2008
In the political equivalent of resigning before you're sacked, Wendy Alexander has gone the whole hog. This one, in fact, might be a wildebeest since el Gordo is refusing to back her on this one, his official spokeschappie repeatedly saying
"The position taken by the Labour Party leader [Wendy Alexander] is a matter for her."
Translated into English, this means "I'm not taking the blame for that one, she's on her own."
So let's see where she is now and where she's been - absolutely opposed to independence, a referendum or any increased powers for Scotland's Parliament in May 2007; still opposed to independence and a referendum but now convinced of the need for more powers in November 2007; still opposed to independence but now convinced of the need for a referendum and more powers in May 2008.
I see a pattern - every six months she gives a little more - she wants a referendum before she ends up supporting independence herself! Gotta get it in before November - only six months before she turns independenista...
A few points arise out of Labour's spin as well - they claim to not be afraid of a referendum, but why would anyone be afraid of a referendum? What's to be frightened of in a ballot paper? What a strange thing to say.
Another thing is, Labour can't count. Simon Pia, quoted in this morning's papers, when talking about a referendum in 2010 said
"It is not in Scotland's interests to delay (a referendum for] another three years. The SNP should not have four years of fraying the relationship (with the UK] in Scotland's name."
It's only two years, old bean.
Then there's Wendy's assertion that a Bill takes nine months to pass through Parliament - erm, no it doesn't. Abolition of Bridge Tolls Act - introduced 3rd September 2007, passed 20th December 2007, became law 24th January. Graduate Endowment Abolition Bill - 22nd October 2007, 28th February 2008, 4th April 2008.
I was puzzled about this - she used to be a Minister after all - so I looked at her Ministerial career: Communities Minister 1999-2000, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning 2000-2001, added Transport to that 2001, resigned in 2002. The only Bill she saw to completion was the Graduate Endowment (tuition fees) Act - and Nicol Stephen started it. She was never responsible for seeing a Bill all the way through the process - that's why she doesn't understand how Parliament works.
Alternatively, she's including the consultation in those nine months. The consultation for the Referendum Bill is called the National Conversation.
She has now been quoted as saying
"I certainly hope that other opposition parties will reflect on the fact as to whether it is in Scotland's interests to vote down the right of the people in Scotland to choose on this issue."
That is breathtaking, is it not? Wonderful as well, though, like a trapeze artist hurtling from one shifting swingometer to another, spinning in mid air, putting on the air-brakes and spinning again. We can but marvel. I'm sure the Conservatives and the Libdems are very pleased as well, considering that a couple of days ago they had her agreement that they would all vote down the right of the people in Scotland to choose.
I'm told she has promised that she would
not lead Scottish Labour into the lobbies to vote down the right of the people of Scotland to speak
Her generosity knows no bounds, how can we ever repay her? I bet some Labour MPs are asking the same question.
Leaving aside whether she is actually on a conversion route which will see her putting her shoulder to the wheel for independence, I think we can now safely say that there is no tactical or strategic thinking in Labour's ranks.
Wendy has sold the pass on a referendum, handing Labour's votes over to the SNP Government with nothing in return - a remarkable achievement, refusing to negotiate with a minority government while handing them everything they need to win.
Having now promised to bring Labour in step in support of a referendum, Wendy Alexander cannot now fail to vote for it without Labour paying a penalty at the ballot box which would make last May and last Thursday look like the gold old days.
I look forward to her Member's Bill with great anticipation.
We can win a referendum this year or we can wait until the people of Scotland have a chance to have their say in the National Conversation. It would be better if the arguments have all been properly aired so that Scotland votes for independence with everyone having had their say and knowing what they're voting for, but I'll take it this year knowing that it's right and no-one will regret it.
Monday, 5 May 2008
The latest cunning plan from the mistress of cunning plans, her Wendibleness, would seem to have cut her last cunning plan off at the pass - even the Marx Brothers couldn't come up with this script - unless, of course, I was right all along and the Calman Commission is to be an Independence Commission after all.
Where does that leave Ken "we can't look that way because we're looking this way" Calman and his Big Brother commission? Is he going to have to back down and have it look like he was the one in the wrong for the sake of saving face for Wendy? It would seem that he didn't have a clue about what was going to happen when he took the chalice in his hands.
He may well be a little bemused at present.
That, though, is surely nothing compared with the Scottish Conservatives. While we are used to seeing the Libdems outside the door of office whining like a mongrel caught in the rain, it's seldom that the Conservatives find themselves in a similar position.
In fact, Goldie's troops tend to keep to the well-travelled road, merely observing the battlefields around them. How must they feel now, then, having been tempted onto the field by the promise of seats on a commission to try to hold back Scottish Government policy without debating it in Parliament and the protection of the London Government and now finding themselves up to their necks in glaur? Especially now that the Daily Record is reporting that Wendy Alexander planned this move nine months ago (honest, it's not just knee-jerk guv).
There's a possibility that their involvement in this nonsense could now cost them votes in a Westminster election while the Cameron brigades in the south run riot destroying Labour majorities. That's got to be a thought that will focus the minds of Conservatives across the country - whether they can find a way to extricate themselves from the Wendy disaster is a question which will vex them for a while. Whether they can find ways to put distance between themselves and the meltdown which is Labour before the election is going to be something which will keep Conservative strategists busy for a while.
Meantime, the Nationalists will continue doing what's best for the country.