Thursday, 31 December 2009

All around my head ...

Some things:

1. I have heard that Gordon Brown's lack of respect for our armed forces was shown in his home patch recently. The Black Watch marched through Kirkcaldy on December the 11th to mark their return from Afghanistan. Kirkcaldy is in Mr Brown's constituency but he wasn't there. To be fair to him, he could have been in Copenhagen, but he could at least have sent a message of support.

2. I've worked out who Nick Clegg reminds me of - David Steel's Spitting Image puppet:

If only I could think of someone in the Lib Dems with the stature of David Owen ...
You'll note that it's the puppet that Nick Clegg reminds me of - the real David Steel disagrees with Clegg, especially on nuclear weapons:


3. Jim Murphy is a genius. No, honestly, Jim knows that there was a shrinkage in the global economy in 2009 (yup, even before the year is out and before Government statisticians have given him figures). He's beaten a few 'experts' to the punch, too, experts like the IMF which doesn't have global economy figures for 2009 yet; or the World Bank, similarly behind the times; the OECD can't keep up with oor Jim; nor can the UN. He's even outstripped his pals in the UK Government, even Darling's Treasury. Jim Murphy is Mystic Meg.

Happy Hogmanay, mind how you go!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Disappointed by CBI Scotland

You may come across a story about CBI Scotland being disappointed by the excellent performance of the SNP SCottish Government. You will, of course, notice that the reported comments of Iain McMillan bear little relationship to the text of the actual release by the CBI, suggesting that the Director of CBI Scotland has gone off on his own on this one, tilting the release and giving additional comment to prop it up. If you were a director of a company paying good money to the CBI would you not be questioning why the director was trying to pick fights with a Government that is quite clearly keen to listen to businesses? Then again, I wondered why he was allowed to show partiality by joining the Calman Commission.

The actual CBI document being referred to is the response to the Scottish Budget which makes terribly interesting reading. The document actually praises the Scottish Government time after time (like when it notes that the Scottish Futures Trust is a great idea and should be expanded) and notes that the London Government is imposing severe cuts on Scotland.

Labour, in the wobbling frame of David Whitton, has been quick to leap up and say that this is a 'vote of no confidence' in the Scottish Government. Let's look at the vote of confidence that Labour wants from CBI Scotland:

1. Paragraph 26 - Reinstate GARL - a project which has a business case almost as wobbly as the Tram project. Interestingly, part of GARL funded by public money was to be road realignment and a new multi-storey car park at Glasgow Airport, and since the GARL project was cancelled, this private enterprise has announced plans to upgrade access to its business at its own expense. In the meantime, the airport's managing director has called for the rail link to Prestwick to be removed - it would seem that the real consideration is business advantage for BAA, nothing else.

2. Paragraph 15 - cut public sector pay.

3. Para 15 - cut the number of Scottish Local Authorities.

4. Para 17 - privatise Scottish Water; Highlands and Islands Airports; and Scotland's forests. Interestingly, there's a wee caveat in the CBI's document that says that the Statement of Funding should be reviewed to ensure that there is sufficient incentive to ensure sell-off. If only the CBI had actually read the statement, perhaps it would have been clear that all capital receipts go straight back to the Treasury, there is no incentive at all for the Scottish Government to flog assets unless it is to cut running costs - and the record of cutting running costs from privatisation proves it to have less substance than a JK Rowling tale.

5. Para 19 - outsourcing services; in particular, privatising "hospital services, hospital catering and cleaning, GP services, prisons etc". The CBI appears to think that this will make public services less expensive in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

6. Para 20 - all public bodies to contract out payroll and "other back-office work" to private firms.

7. Para 27 - University funding for innovation to be handed over to private businesses.

8. Para 31 - reintroduce the Air Route Development Fund that was ruled illegal by the EU. It's almost like the CBI has never read the Scotland Act and doesn't know that the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament is obliged to gold-plate EU regulations.

9. Para 32 - reintroduce student grants.

Does Labour support these proposals? Really? Tsk tsk tsk.

Mind how you go.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Predictions

It's Yule-tide donchaknow, and it's time to make predictions for 2010. Here's mine -

1) In February Malcolm Chisholm MSP will join the SNP and will be warmly welcomed. Kezia Dugdale will be persuaded to contest the nomination for Labour candidate for 2011 but her conscience will get to her before the selection is completed and she'll be torn between continuing there or coming to join the SNP. I'll just link here to make it easier for her. I'm not sure about George Foulkes' prospects, though, I don't know whether our policy of "nae lords in this party" applies to those who are already lording it when they join or not.

2) When the election comes the SNP will win 28 seats. One of the most interesting victories will be in the constituency formerly known as Eastwood and now known as East Renfrewshire where the subtle and understated campaigning techniques of the quiet man, Gordon Archer, will remove the Labour incumbent. Jim Murphy will then cast his beady eye upon the halcyon politics of Holyrood and Ken Macintosh will get the bum's rush as wee Jim looks for a way in. What a battle that 2011 seat will be!

3) The Referendum Bill will be published; there won't be much movement until the Stage 1 debate appears on the horizon and a few members of each of the other parties will support it as their old democratic tendencies give them a kick in the bahookie. It'll pass on to Stage 2 where there will, finally, be careful and considered debate on Scotland's constitutional future and the right of people to determine it for themselves. This is when a consensus will emerge and the Bill will pass with overwhelming support at Stage 3 and members of all parties will campaign for a YES vote in the referendum - Bill Aitken will work particularly hard in Glasgow hand in hand with Yapping Yousuf; Jim Millar will pound the streets of Arbroath; Linlithgow's streets will echo to the tread of Stephen Glenn; Caron Lindsay will be putting in a West Lothian shift as well; John Lamont will fight for every YES vote down in the wild borderlands; Helen Eadie will leadie the campaign in Fife (except Central Fife which, of course, will be marshaled by Tricia Marwick); Wendy Alexander will bring it on for a renaissance in Paisley; Jamie Stone will be selling cheesy lines across the Highlands in support of independence; and lots of others will join the campaign.

4) With Labour losing seats all across Scotland and being left with no seats north of the Tay; none in Edinburgh; East Lothian lost to the SNP as well as the two seats that set into West Lothian and Falkirk; and seats taken by the SNP across central Scotland and the west of Scotland, Labour in Scotland will look at Iain Gray and say "you're not the man for this job, you're on course to lose your own seat in 2011" and the cry will go up "Jack, Jack lad, you know we never meant it, come back to us, Jack, come back and lead us once again". With his diplomatic job now vanished, Jack will swagger back in and say "are you joking?" Eyes will turn to the street-fighter wing and Charlie Gordon's rehabilitation will be complete - Charlie Gordon to be leader of the Labour party in Scotland by the end of 2010, mark my words!

5) The independence negotiations will be complete by this time next year and Hogmanay next year will be marked with a double celebration - a new year and a newly rejuvenated country.

Mind how you go!

Deficit? Scotland? With our reputation?

I read a story that suggested that Scotland's doomed, doomed I tell you. Well, actually, Labour has been *ahem* creative with Government stats to show that Scotland runs a deficit in public funds - £23.5bn since 1980. Labour politicians, of course, rush to claim that this means that Scotland could not survive as an independent nation.

A few points, sir?

1. If Scotland's economy is in trouble, is that not the fault of the Labour Government in London which has managed to create a quite amazing economic melt-down?

2. You'd have to be daft to take this story at face value. Firstly, the report referred to isn't available on either the Scotland Office website or the Treasury website - if it's so important, wouldn't it be published to allow it to be independently reviewed?

3. Countries run deficits, very few countries don't run deficits - and the UK runs an enormous one; have a look at the Public Finances Database. The Government paper is alleged to indicate that Scotland would have "a massive £3.5 billion budget deficit" - the UK deficit last year was £49.3bn. Scotland has about 9% of the UK population, so our population share of the UK deficit would be £4.44bn, so Scotland is performing better in economic terms than the UK. Since 1980 Scotland is supposed to have an accumulated deficit of £23.5bn, but the UK has carried a £353.2bn deficit over that period, and Scotland's population share of that deficit would have been£31.79bn. So what the Scotland Office / Treasury report actually shows is that Scotland performs better than the UK economically. Independence cannot come soon enough!

Mind how you go!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Excellent photo

I've stumbled across an excellent photo but don't have the permission to show it here. You can see it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/definitivepicture/4182146483/

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

Iraq and Afghanistan have been military misadventures on a grand scale, disastrous hubris and thoughtless posturing. We've heard about the lack of proper equipment and the lack of political direction, men and women putting their lives on the line, placing themselves in danger's path with no proper in-going campaign plan and no exit strategy. The mission in Iraq changed regularly - the search for weapons of mass destruction, seeking stability in the region, regime change, and so on; the mission in Afghanistan was never that well defined - the war on terror, a search for Osama bin Laden, the release of the people from repression, and so on. With the exception of regime change (invented after the fact) none of these objectives has been met. Apart from anything else, how do you wage a war on terror?

There's something, though, which I have found takes this casual disregard for the lives of our service personnel to another level. It isn't the admission of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he intended going to war no matter what - a statement that made me think that his deliberations at the time were restricted to remembering the boost in domestic popularity that Margaret Thatcher got after the Falklands conflict - nor his apparent disregard for the consequences of his actions. It's not the blustering of the present Prime Minister boasting that the troops serving in theatres of war to which we sent them will be provided with helicopters in 2014 - five years from now when, presumably, he thinks they'll still have to be fighting there and he's committing a future government to delivering on his promise - ignoring the ongoing needs of the troops currently on the ground. It's not the sight of the Chancellor squabbling with bankers over bonuses while there is a lack of proper equipment for people we have sent into real danger, nor is it the shame of having a Secretary of State for Defence who is quite clearly not capable of serving in that office with any kind of distinction.

It's the fact that no cabinet member or junior minister turns up to honour the sacrifice of those who have lost their lives in the service of their country when their bodies are repatriated. A little humility, a tiny mark of respect, just standing in silent tribute as those coffins come off the back of the transporter at RAF Lyneham. The people of Wootton Bassett have shown dignity and decency as they have paid their respects; surely it's not too much to ask that members of the Government can do likewise?

Instead we see a Prime Minister whose public engagement with these losses is restricted to letters to the families and formulaic phrases in the House of Commons and a Defence Secretary who mutters platitudes while saying that we mustn't be deflected by these deaths.

Many families will be missing members this Christmas as a result of these actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, their losses cannot be undone but at least we should be able to expect that the Government that sent them into harm's way should respect the sacrifice they have made.

We should remember them and not forget those who are still serving and will be serving. Perhaps we should even drink a toast to them:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere, et dulcissimum pro patria bibere. Ergo, bibamus pro salute patriae

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Banking on high fliers

What a pity Flyglobespan didn't have access to the billions of pounds of public money made available to the banks. The £34 million that was withheld from the company would hardly even be noticed in the bank bailout - it's about one third of one per cent of the current estimate for the final figure for the bailout.

Interestingly, that final figure is £10 billion to bail out the banks (so the Chancellor says) - which is exactly the extra amount the Chancellor has decided to squeeze out of Scotland's oil fields over the next six years. Couldn't afford to bail out our banks? Funnily enough, the Chancellor says otherwise.

Mind how you go!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Who's that?

I saw this BBC story and couldn't help thinking "who's that guy beside the Transport Minister?" He turned out to be a Scotland fan:
The California governor has praised Scotland's carbon-cutting targets, saying they had sent a message to the rest of the world that swift action was needed.
For some reason, though, I was reminded of Ode to Joy ...

Support for independence

There's an opinion poll out from Angus Reid showing that only 36% of Scots want the Scottish Parliament to remain as it is (only 44% across the UK). The drill-down figures show that 53% of Scots would be 'happy' or 'satisfied' with an independent Scotland. Excellent news.

Mind how you g0!

Don Quixote

A wee nudge and James comes up with the goods. Here's what he said in his comment, republished here for ease:
Patience, dear boy, I don't spend all day fact-checking your latest anxiety about trams ...
Do they cause cancer? Will they somehow reduce Scotland's chances of winning the World Cup?
... or indeed wind turbines. Here's the best work I've seen, but it's a bit old. Short version, up to 100 times the then install capacity would be required before there's any chance of any identifiable effect, and even then it would lead to a "near-zero change in global mean temperature".
Furthermore, if we ever did make a change: "The direct climatic changes that are due to wind power may be beneficial because they can act to reduce, rather than increase, aggregate climate impacts."

Of course, what he meant to say was that he was now persuaded that running a train down the middle of the street is barking mad, but the wind turbine article is quite good and worth a read. It's a wee bit dense but readable enough.

While we're on climatic things, news reaches my delicate lugs that the estimable Alyn Smith MEP is in Copenhagen and he seems to have been making sure that people from all over the world know what Scotland's been up to.

Well done that chap!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Greens - who'd have them?

No, no, not the ones you get with your dinner, the eco-activist type. There I was sitting happily at my desk 29 hours ago when along comes Oor James to tell me that there was lots of evidence about the effects of windfarms on the environment. "Excellent" said I in my sage-like way, "Can you send me the link? I'm interested in reading about it." James assured me that it was no bother at all and he'd send it as soon as he got back to his desk - 35 hours ago...

Huh!

Anyway, a wee while back, our group in the European Parliament (Green/EFA - SNP is an EFA member party) went to Copenhagen to raise awareness of some issues ahead of the current beano there (videos are available). Part of the trip was to the Little Mermaid as below:
I'm told that there was a conversation during this event between two MEPs that went something like this:
"She's a mermaid, right?"
"Yes, well spotted."
"Do you think she's really concerned about rising sea levels?"
"Good point - it was the life preserver I was confused by though..."

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Daft question

I like windfarms, I like the aesthetics of them, I think they look good - especially when they're moving - and I like the scale of the individual turbines (not the ones in back gardens, the ones in fields). Leaving aside the electricity generation, I like wind farms.

Something that struck me earlier tonight, though - back in the olden days when I was at school studying hard (of course), my thorough investigations into O-Grade physics (oh, look it up you young people) led me to understand that energy is never created, it only changes form (ignoring particle physicists and their field of study known as alphysy, of course, which appears to have more connection with Michael Scot of Balwearie than Napier, Craig or Dewar) so if you use a wind turbine you're reducing the amount of energy that the wind has. Does this have an effect on the environment? I appreciate that each wind turbine takes a miniscule amount of energy when noted against the total wind power in the world, but we keep getting told that tiny events can have massive effects, so is there an effect from wind turbines? Has anyone worked out what the volume of wind turbine activity would have to be to have an actual effect? Is it off-setting one of the side effects of deforestation? (I think it was Douglas Adams who compared planetary tree nudity to a skater spinning, but I'll quite happily take the credit). I suppose that there are similar questions to be asked about tidal power, wave power, hydropower, and (probably) solar power. It would be interesting to know whether any work has been done on it - particularly by climatologists.

I would like to make it clear that no physicists were harmed in the writing of this blog post and that I have respect for these strange beings who do strange and fascinating things...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Deeply Philosophical Question

Is Silvio Berlusconi the first head of state ever to be slapped with a model cathedral?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Lib Dems in trouble?

Those of us campaigning on the ground in Edinburgh have seen the Lib Dems' support shrinking markedly over the past couple of years, it's collapsed in North and Leith, practically disappeared in Edinburgh East, vanished in Pentlands (they call it Edinburgh South-West for Holyrood but that's such a boring name), doon the pan in Edinburgh South, and creaking into oblivion in Edinburgh West to the extent that that seat looks like being a Conservative / SNP marginal in 2011. Oftentimes people have chided me and suggested I might be being just a little disingenuous. Me, of all people!

Today's Edinburgh Evening News should make a wee startling then - Margaret Smith, the incumbent MSP, has won reselection as the Lib Dem candidate for 2011 and the tiny tale ends with the sentence
Ms Smith is also expected to put her name forward for the Lib Dems' Lothian list.

That's something she didn't feel the need to do in 1999 nor in 2003 nor in 2007. You would have been forgiven for thinking that 12 years building an incumbency factor might give her more confidence rather than less. Perhaps someone has seen the writing on the wall and run for cover - that person being John Barrett - and that has alerted Ms Smith to the parlous state of her party's fortunes in the wild west of the capital?

The danger she faces, of course, is that heading for the list when she has spurned it on the three previous occasions makes it clear that she's in trouble. Slipping it out as an afterthought to a reselection story might be a way of trying to bury it (sorry about that), but I'll lay odds she tries to retract it in the next couple of weeks (probably blaming a journalist) as someone in the Lib Dems points out that she's just making a bad position worse.

Mind how you go!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Quite Tasmanian

Oh that wee spinnin de'il! Labour's oldest spinner in town has lifted himself up another gear and is now moving so fast his feet are in danger of catching light. In the aftermath of George Foulkes referring to Alex Salmond as Il Duce, Simon Pia (brought in by Wendy Alexander just in time to see her fall, retained by Iain Gray) sidled up to an SNP MSP and insisted "that was my idea, I said it first, he's just copying me"; a young SNP researcher received an email a couple of hours later from Signor Pia saying that he "was the first to compare the FM to Mussolini – also Fat Boab from Oor Wullie when I was at the Scotsman and it was read out in the chamber"; to put a bonny wee ribbon and a pretty bow on it all, when Iain Gray ran into trouble at the weekend over Labour's misuse of public property, his spindoctor came snarling out with an email to a journalist that said
If anyone one's got red face, it's you for writing that pish

All mistakes (c) Simon Pia (I wouldn't use language like that on my blog unless I was quoting).

Descending into insults seems to be the order of the day for Labour just now, though - Iain Gray sunk that far while asking questions of Alex Salmond earlier today. A sad way to go for the guy who aspires to be First Minister.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Great News

There's good news from the last Ipsos MORI poll. Westminster voting intentions (change from 2005 General Election in brackets) are:
SNP: 34% (+16)
Lab: 32% (-8)
Con: 15% (-1)
Lib Dem: 12% (-11)
Other: 6%

Send it through Electoral Calculus and it shows that the SNP, on those figures, would take ten extra seats to add to the six we won at the last UK General Election and that another six Labour seats would be within a 1% swing. There's another five Labour seats within a 1.5% swing, and none of this takes into account the work being done in individual seats like Glasgow East, Edinburgh West and Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East (CKK is one seat) which could see them fall to us.

There's even better news, though, great news - Edinburgh North and Leith is one of the seats that comes to the SNP, as is Edinburgh East.

On these figures, the SNP takes new seats from Labour in:
Edinburgh North and Leith
Edinburgh East
Dundee West
Kilmarnock and Loudoun
Aberdeen North
Stirling
Ochil and South Perthshire

and we take new seats from the Lib Dems in:
Inverness Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey
Gordon
Argyll and Bute

Conservatives would take Dumfries and Galloway from Labour.

These are the seats within that 1.5% swing:
Aberdeen South
Glasgow North
Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Edinburgh South
Ayrshire North and Arran
Paisley and Renfrewshire North
East Lothian
Dunfermline and West Fife
Midlothian
Edinburgh South West
Lanark and Hamilton East

Dunfermline and West Fife carries an obvious health warning thanks to the 2006 by-election, but there are also other seats where local issues might play strongly like Falkirk, Livingston and Glasgow South and seats like East Dunbartonshire where the swing for us to take it from the Lib Dems is only around 2.45% and a wee local issue might help us.

Even in Renfrewshire East we've closed the gap so the swing we need between now and the election is 5.8% - and there are only seven Labour seats safer than that. Only three Lib Dem seats need more than a 5% swing on these figures - Ross, Skye & Lochaber, Fife North East, and Orkney & Shetland.

Game on, one might say.

Mind how you go!

Trams claim first victim

The BBC reports that the tram track on Princes Street has upended a cyclist (one of six) and, as a result, TIE is to offer a cycling proficiency test. If I may quote:

"The training is being organised and carried out by independent specialist instructors, and is aimed at training and advising cyclists on how to ride safely in the vicinity of tram lines."
Firstly, how did Edinburgh manage to attract the only cyclists in the country who don't know that tram tracks are absolutely lethal for bikes? Don't they remember Kirkpatrick McMillan's famous exhortation - "Trams? Trams laddie? Gonnae no dae that, just gonnae no?"

As for TIE proposing to organise one cyclist training session - less of the PR fluff, just get some warning signs up wherever the tram traps are going to be, it doesn't have to be complicated, just something like "Here be tram tracks - no eco-friendly means of transport welcome!"

You'll see the rapid degradation of the road surface alongside the tram tracks - I assume that's just because it's a temporary surface laid to get the road open for December but I, of course, wouldn't be at all surprised if the tram tracks destroy road surfaces wherever they are laid.

Before apportioning blame, though, let's look at the guy who fell off his bike - he's riding one of those 'feet in front of you' low-slung things that keep you below most of the sight lines of drivers in cars (never mind larger vehicles) his road discipline, as shown on his website, is incredibly poor, and he has been knocked off his bike by a bee before... Still, at least he appears to have a proper front light, not one of those flashing things.

I prefer Danny MacAskill's style

Mind how you slide!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Labour reported to Electoral Commission - again

I hear that Prestonpans branch of the Labour Party, the East Lothian CLP, and the Prestonpans Labour Club have all been reported to the Electoral Commission for breaching the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

I understand that the donations, set up when Labour was running the council and stopped by the SNP, were illegal because any political party; accounting unit of any political party; or Members Association (like a club) of a political party should check the permissibility of any donation, including whether the donor is a permissible donor. Councils are not permissible donors and the three parts of the Labour Party were accepting these donations illegally for at least the nine years since PPERA was introduced.

The donations were always illegal but it's not clear (to me, anyway) whether it was illegal to accept them before 2000. Perhaps m'learned friends can advise on the legality of accepting a donation which was being given illegally? In any case, it would appear that Marx was correct about history repeating itself.

Mind how you go!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

No intentional wrong-doing?

Once upon a time Wendy Alexander said there was no intentional wrong-doing over donations to her campaign to lead Labour in Scotland. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, as a chap with a beard once said. Iain Gray must be hoping he was wrong as the dealings of Prestonpans Labour Club start to come to light. That club made a donation to his leadership campaign and offered him the space to launch his bid.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Was it wise?

When Gordon Brown was busy trying to defend his inheritance tax cut on Wednesday, one of the insults he chucked at David Cameron was:
I have to say, that with him and Mr. Goldsmith, their inheritance tax policy seems to have been dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton.
Was that wise? Does it matter where someone went to school? It's not as if going to a private school is a quintessentially Tory thing to do, is it? For example:

  • Iain Gray MSP, Labour's leader in Scotland, went to George Watson's, a private school in Edinburgh.

  • Alistair Darling MP, Labour's Chancellor of the Exchequer, went to Loretto, a private school in Musselburgh (as did Fergus Ewing MSP).

  • Harriet Harman MP, Leader of the House, went to St Paul's Girls' School, a private school in Hammersmith.

  • Jack Straw MP, Labour's Justice Secretary, went to Brentwood School, a direct grant school at the time.

  • Hilary Benn MP, Environment Secretary and son of Tony, went to Norland Place School (a private school for early years - Conservative George Osborne also went there) and Westminster Under School, a private prep school before completing his schooling at Holland Park School (not private).

  • Ed Balls MP, Labour's Education Secretary, went to Nottingham High School, a private school in Nottingham - which is probably where it got its name.

  • Shawn Woodward MP, Northern Ireland Secretary, went to Bristol Grammar School

  • Tessa Jowell MP, Paymaster General, went to St Margaret's School for Girls, a private school in Aberdeen.

  • Jim Murphy MP, Scottish Secretary, went to Milnertown High - a fee-paying school in Cape Town, South Africa (that may be normal in SA, though, I don't know - and the poor guy had to put up with being in a country with a racial divide).

  • Peter Hain MP, Welsh Secretary, was educated at Pretoria Boys High School, a private school in South Africa and Emanuel School, a private school in Battersea.

  • Lord Adonis, Transport Secretary, went to Kingham Hill, a private school in the Cotswolds.

  • Richard Baker MSP, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary in Scotland, went to St Bees, a private school in Cumbria.

  • Jackie Baillie MSP, Shadow Health Secretary in Scotland, went to Windermere St Ann's, a private school in the Lake District.

  • Des McNulty MSP, Shadow Education in Scotland, went to St Bede's, a private school in Manchester
Of course, there was Tony Blair who went to Fettes College, as did Ian McKee MSP.

Where your parents sent you to school and whether they paid a fee to send you there doesn't matter a hoot in politics. What does matter isn't where you came from, it's where you're going. What school tie you wore is massively unimportant compared to what your policies are and what you intend to do with power. It doesn't matter whether your policies were conceived on playing fields or fancy restaurants, it's whether you're a desperado.

Image source

Mind how you go!

Putting the record straight

I have seen, recently, two pieces stating, quite categorically, that the McCrone report written for the UK Government in the 1970s was released under the 30 year rule. One was Jim Sillars' paper (not very good) and one was a BBC production (passable).

For the sake of decency and history, can we be clear. This report wasn't released under the 30 year rule and it wouldn't have been. It was the result of the inspiration of a guy called Davie Hutchison who used the Freedom of Information legislation to dig deeper and deeper into the archives, using references in some archives to ask for other documents until he found a gold mine. I know this because I am fortunate enough to be his friend and lucky enough to have been one of the team that worked on his discovery before it was released. I was also the guy who got the text messages while Davie was in the archives, they went something like this:
DH to CC: What did we say about oil in the 1970s?
CC to DH: Dunno exactly, I was just a child.
DH to CC: I was several years away from being born, what did we say generally?
CC to DH: We had a campaign "its Scotland's oil" saying there was a lot of wealth in North Sea Oil and it belonged to us.
DH to CC: And they denied it?
CC to DH: As far as I remember, yes.
DH to CC: I've found something that might be interesting, I'll be up as soon as I've copied it.

I went back to work thinking Davie had got over-excited about something that 'everyone' knew about. Davie, meanwhile, spent about half of what he earned in a week on the huge charges for photocopying at the National Archives and brought us the stuff that has now become famous.

Having grown up in Dundee East, I was delighted to be able to send an embargoed copy to my father for him to share with Gordon Wilson who fronted the 'Scotland's Oil' campaign years before Davie Hutchison was born.

The 30 year rule works on the basis of the date that the last document was added to the folder. If my memory serves me right (and you can check it at the National Archives in Charlotte Square) the last document added to that folder was 1992 so none of it was due for release until 2022 (providing nothing else was added to extend the date). There was nothing blacked out - I'm fairly sure the Scotland Office didn't know what they were releasing - and I think that some people do a good job in keeping it available.

Davie Hutchison, though, deserves respect for the work he did and the dedication he showed. No-one should think that this was an easy release under the 30 year rule.

Mind now!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

SNP in massive, unassailable lead!

Well, OK, 2 percentage points up on Labour: SNP 34%, Labour 32%, Con 15%, Lib Dem 12%, other 6% for Westminster, it's 36%, 32%, 12%, and 12% for the Holyrood constituency vote. Interestingly, 12% is the lowest figure that Ipsos Mori have ever reported in Scotland so the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are both in some serious trouble.

What's really strange, though, is the quote from the Labour spokesman as reported earlier today - "If there was a general election tomorrow, the poll shows Labour would beat the SNP handsomely, and that we lead at Holyrood too".

How does that work? Is someone there not paying attention?

We really must improve education in this country.

Independence day

I see that the United Arab Emirates will be celebrating 38 years of independence from the UK today. I wonder how such a small country can have survived on its own for so long - a population of less than three million in 2000 and now only approaching six million - how have they got by without the UK?

Truly amazing...

Friday, 27 November 2009

Transports of Joy

How the Tram will destroy Lothian Buses

The Tram Business Case (oh yes) indicated that the Tram wouldn't make a profit and would be reliant on the money made by Lothian Buses to stay afloat. This was a plan written in easier economic times and with an awful lot of optimism as has been discussed by myself and some others at some length, so lets look at it a different way.

The tramline is being laid on the number 22 bus route because the 22 is the busiest route in the service, so we can assume that its the most profitable. The tour buses must make a profit or they'd be disposed of; they're not core to the business. The Airlink buses must make a profit or their frequency would be reduced.

Given that Lothian Buses profits have been healthy (until recently) but not huge, I think that they must be just about the only three services that make profits. The tram is intended to replace the 22 and the Airlink and not make any profit at all - removing two profit sources and replacing them with one loss source. Marvellous, eh?

So we now have a project which is massively over budget and behind schedule, where the organisation delivering it (after a fashion) is in denial about the state of the project, where the council can't find the money it was supposed to put into the project when it was on budget, never mind all the additional money it's going to have to find as the project costs go into orbit and where borrowing isn't an option because money borrowed for a transport project has to be repaid within two years.

If the tramline ever gets built Edinburgh Council will have an enormous capital costs bill to settle £250 million and rising, there will no longer be any dividend paid from Lothian Buses to the council because the combined tram/bus company will be making losses and because the bus service will no longer be making a profit it will need greater subsidies for the social responsibility routes - something we've seen starting already - and from the position of a couple of years ago where our award-winning, publicly-owned, profitable bus company was providing money to our council, well be facing a situation where the council will be seriously in hock for the tram and shelling out on a regular basis to cover the deficits in running the combined company.

If you became leader of Edinburgh Council in 2012 and you were faced with that situation, what would you do? The simple answer, and the answer that every single politician would get to, is that you dispose of the loss-making services and realise some capital receipts to off-set the costs. Short-term fix? Yup. The alternative is to continue loading losses onto the council budget while dealing with the costs of the huge debt incurred.

Continuing with the tram project will mean that the council will be forced to sell Lothian Buses - probably at less than its worth. If we want to save our bus service in Edinburgh we have to stop the tram project.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Glasgow Council temper tantrum

I have been passed an email which was circulated around senior officers of Glasgow City Council yesterday. I've removed the names and other identifiers to protect the officers involved:
From: _________
Sent: 25 November 2009 12:31
To: ______; ______; _______; ________; _______; _____; ____________
Subject: NEW DIRECTIVE
Please note that all future communications should now refer to the Scottish Executive and not Scottish Government.
___________
Communications & Support Manager
______ Services
Glasgow City Council
231 George Street
Glasgow G1 1RX
Phone 0141
Phone 077
Fax 0141
Email _________@glasgow.gov.uk
http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/

I've never seen a council go in a huff before!

Relax, don't do it

Jack McConnell, well known for his sartorial excellence, did Frankie Goes to Holyrood yesterdayYes, that man wearing eau de vagrant used to be Labour's First Minister.


All together now:


Relax don't do it
When you want to go to it
Relax don't do it

Good to see the former First Minister loud and proud.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Minimum Pricing - who supports that?

You know the Scottish Government supports minimum pricing to tackle Scotland's alcohol abuse and the other parties oppose it? You know how the Lib Dems have been vociferous in their opposition? You know how the Lib Dems face different ways in different areas of the country or different levels of legislature?

Lib Dem MP Willie Rennie is, at this very moment, hosting an event in support of minimum pricing in Westminster, with the BMA in attendance to bolster the case. The Lib Dem - the only animal in all of the known world that can sit on the fence and keep an ear to the ground on either side ...

Also in attendance at the minimum pricing reception (I wonder what drinks they're serving) is one Kenneth Calman...

Mind how you drink!

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue is a former drill hall, now a performance space, in Dalmeny Street in Edinburgh. This Saturday it's the venue for a free conference-type event on independence. Might be worth a wee nip along - especially for anyone who doesn't yet believe in independence. Details are below, including the link to the entry on Bella Caledonia's blog:

http://bellacaledonia.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/building-a-movement-for-yes/

BUILDING A MOVEMENT FOR YES!
Saturday 28 November 2009
10.30 – 6.00 @ Out of the Blue
As the plans for a referendum on Scottish independence are announced a gathering looking at why we need a Yes vote and what are the positive visions for an independent Scotland?

Media, Communication and the Union 11.00 – 12.30
Pat Kane on The Democratic Interact: the challenges of social media to Scottish Self -Determination. Pat is a musician, blogger, author, columnist and has been involved in the politics of independence from Scotland United days. More at The Play Ethic.

Joe Middleton on Why Scottish Independence Matters. Joe is a member of the Scottish National Party, the creator of the Scottish Independence Guide website and Press Officer of Independence First, the referendum campaign.

Shona McAlpine on We Can’t Win It Without Them – Enthusing the Under 30s. Shona McAlpine is an SNP activist and manages the Scottish Independence Convention’s website. Professionally she is a Secondary Computing teacher and has also been a nightclub and bar manager.

Peace & Alternative Futures 1.00 – 3.00 pm
Janet Fenton on How Scottish Women Might Disarm the UK Government
. Janet started co-ordinating the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre after lots of political, feminist theatre, community arts and direct action, and a few years with a community eco-shop/gallery/drop-in project in Portobello.

Justin Kenrick on Self-determination as an assertion of interdependence: restoring resilience to communities, societies and ecosystems. Justin teaches at the Sustainability Institute at St Andrews University and is the co-ordinator of the Holyrood 350 Campaign.

Economics and Outlook with Scottish Left Review & Our Kingdom 3.30 – 5.30 pm
Gerry Hassan on The End of Britain
. Gerry is the author of The Modern SNP from Protest to Power (EUP) and is a columnist for Our Kingdom

Robin McAlpine on Imagined Futures. Robin is editor of Scottish Left Review and author of Is There a Scottish Road to Socialism?

This event is free – all welcome.

Monday, 23 November 2009

I'm no fan of Jim Murphy

I’m no fan of Jim Murphy MP, currently occupying the position of Secretary of State for Scotland. I don’t like his superciliousness; I disdain his contemptuous dismissal of people who don’t agree with him; I think his politics are unremittingly negative; I think his ideal of keeping Scotland thirled to a failing UK is dangerous for our well-being; I don’t like politicians who deal in untruths; and I think his blog is terrible. That said, his particular brand of political operation, unsavoury as it is, has a degree of efficacy which his predecessors lacked entirely – he clothes himself in other people’s issues, he gives quotes which journalists are likely to use, he holds his line, and he puts himself about a bit. I would like to see him and his party removed from office, I think they do Scotland enormous damage (which can most charitably be put down to ignorance rather than intent on their part), and their choking hands still the ferment of Scottish aspiration.

I will contend with Mr Murphy and other members of his party on each and every issue upon which we disagree; I will call into question the hagiographies which they spin around themselves; and I will seek to release Scotland from the retardation which Labour imposes upon us. Scotland removed from them in 2007 the brevet which they carried as the governing party in the Scottish Parliament and I would like to see that change extended, with Scotland using the UK election to remove many more of the ineffectual and deadening from our politics. I will work to bring that about, and I will use the most effective means I can find to do that, I will quite happily mock opponents and use humour to prick their pomposity; I will contest their arguments (on the odd occasion we can find them) and I will poke at their claims in the hope of rousing truth. What I won’t do is pour vitriol on their person nor will I fling epithets with no foundation. I sometimes aim at the politician rather than at the politics, but that’s when I feel that it’s the politician who deserves it and I’ll be delighted to aim a brickbat or two in Mr Murphy’s direction. I won’t be making unfounded allegations about his domestic life (about which I know nothing) nor accusations about his behaviour which cannot be proven. The political face he leads with and the politics he espouses are enough of a target without resorting to wild creativity.

Likewise, I believe that describing him in profane terms on my blog would be counter-productive, leading no-one to change their mind to side with the party I support and perhaps obscuring the actual arguments being led so well by so many members of the SNP. Mr Murphy and all who sail with him can expect their arguments to be holed below the water-line but they can also expect the torpedo to be polite, mind its manners, do its job with minimal collateral damage, and provide life-rafts on the way out. I want Scotland to be independent and I find difficulty in tholing the negative and unproductive politics of those who blindly oppose independence but we are in the process of building a country and we will need an independent Scotland to have political opinions of all hues if we are to build a better country. In an independent Scotland we will need all to debate, to contend, and to think on improving our nation without the diminishing effect of empty epithet. We need to create a better politics to build a better country and we can’t do that with ignorance, nor by suggesting that our opponents are part of the pudenda of Scotland. I’m glad that members of the SNP eschew that kind of language in favour of the positive and we must do more to encourage others to do similar.

I’m no fan of Jim Murphy but I’ll treat him to a bacon roll and a cup of tea the morning after the count, and I’ll encourage him to pick himself up and dust himself off after a crushing defeat, and I’ll tell him that he needs to turn his mind to the kind of Scotland he wants to see when we’re independent. If we can turn the talents of Jim Murphy away from the negative and the down-treading that he’s engaged in at the moment and encourage him to speak positively for Scotland then we will have had a result which benefits all of us. We’ve got what it takes, now we just have to apply it.

MPs up before the beak?

Police have reported some MPs for their expenses claims. No-one should get too carried away, though - remember that the CPS thought that prosecutions in Labour's Cash for Peerages scandal were not in the public interest, and it may consider that to be the case again.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

9 - 8!

An enormous margin of victory! Right, I have some Australians to call ...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Labour to take food from children


Well, if Stephen Purcell gets his way, anyway. He called today for free school meals to be abolished to pay for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. What is it with these big kids and their train sets? Here's a thing, though - GARL, like the Edinburgh Tram, appears to be aimed primarily at improving the profitability of the airports, especially when you consider the supporting documents from the legislative process. Why isn't BAA picking up the tab? In the Promoter's Statement there is a vague allusion to BAA paying some of the cost but when it was cancelled it was revealed that compensation payments were to be made to BAA as well as us paying for the airport to have a new nursery, car rental facilities, multi-storey car park and fuel farm.

Why should the public purse be subsidising a very profitable private business so heavily?

Something else - have a look at the route from Paisley out to the airport and you'll find it crosses an industrial estate when it could easily have avoided built-up areas. Why would anyone want to build where you were having to pay out additional compensation? Why would anyone want to disrupt businesses?

Most of all, though, why would anyone want to take food from the mouths of children to fund a rail line? Where is Charles Dickens when you need him?
Stephen Purcell

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Manuscript of Monte Cassino

It's being reported that The Manuscript of Monte Cassino, the Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture, is to return to its current place if the tramworks are ever finished (it will only be moved if the tramworks ever get going, right enough). This is a good decision - as is the decision not to split it up (some folk had wanted it spread down Leith Walk) - the sculpture reflects on the battle of Monte Cassino and those who died there and has resonance for the Scottish-Italian links, including the sculptor's father, grandfather and uncle who were interned and sent to Canada at the outbreak of war and who died when the Arandora Star was sunk in the Atlantic en route (the teenage Eduardo Paolozzi was interned in Saughton at the time).

The sculpture is, therefore, something of a war memorial - it should stay where it is and most certainly should not be broken up - just like the Hearts memorial should go back in its place as soon as possible.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

How did they spend that?

I nearly forgot - all that money that went to TIE - all getting spent on building half a tramline from Gogar to St Andrew's Square, yes? Erm, no ...

Go to the Edinburgh Trams website to see what you're getting for Christmas. Nope, sorry, not the removal of roadworks and barriers on Leith Walk, but a most generous offer to spend some more of our money, this time on Edinburgh Sparkles which it describes as
a UK-wide campaign, designed to promote the city's unique winter offer more effectively than ever before

I'm not sure I can stand the suspense. I do love this bit:
The event which has been made possible with additional funding from Essential Edinburgh and tie Limited will allow people to share the Princes Street space that will be created as the tram works conclude and before buses return to Princes Street at 5 am on Sunday 29 November

They will allow us to use the street we own - I can hardly hold back the glee.

Edinburgh Sparkles? What is there left to say?

Trams - the figures

I was in the supermarket in the late afternoon, enjoying myself reading labels and snorting at prices when a shopping trolley hove into view containing a small child who was complaining about his imprisonment. Arms aloft, he was repeating one word "Free! Free!" An inspirational wee fella, I thought.

Anyway, while everyone's attention was focused on some small electoral contest somewhere over in the west, here in the nation's capital there was a meeting - don't tell anyone - that happened to have a report or two in front of it about that chaos theory experiment that's going on in Edinburgh, the one that's got that that funny codename; Tram.


Ready? Good...

The Audit Committee of the Council had a look at the audited accounts wherein they will have read (if, indeed, they were so brave) the foreword from the Director of Finance who, strangely, didn't do a Private Frazer, but did say:
Capital Expenditure for the year totalled £391.900m, as shown on page 37 of the Statement of Accounts. Of this amount ... £241.953m was spent on tram works, roads and other infrastructure.

Page 37 actually tells you very little about trams (although it does point out that professional fees for capital projects totalled £24million ....)

Page 34, though, shows that the payments of capital funding to TIE in the year to April 2009 totalled £87.086 million and the year before £68.333 million (2007-08).

That's very interesting because the money claimed from the Scottish Government for the Tram project totalled £69.919 million in the year 2007-08 (all paid in the one month) and £82.231 million for part of the later year. So what? Well, the agreement between the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council is for parallel funding (it's referred to in that answer to the Parliamentary Question). The Government's funding is capped at £500 million but pays only 91.7% of each bill - in other words, if TIE has a bill for £100 the Government should pay £91.70 and the Council should cough up £8.30.

If the Council had been paying its share of the bills, the capital investment should have been £76.248 million and £89.674 million. Where's that £10.503 million gone? Come to think of it, why was more claimed than paid in one of those years? The agreement has quite clearly been breached. What happens now?

There's more, though, if you go to page 46 of the Council's accounts you'll find TIE's turnover - £58.673 million in the year that £69.919 million was claimed from the Scottish Government and £68.333 million was handed over to TIE - there's more than £11 million missing somewhere, someone had better check down the back of the sofa.

Ah, but in the year just gone TIE had a turnover of £127.201 million and it only got £87.086 million in tram payments. Its website suggests it's only got the tram project on the go just now - did someone find £40 million down the back of the sofa?

On page 16 of the Auditor's report it's stated that £138 million was spent on the tram in the year, £120 million from the Scottish Government. Those figures don't appear in the Council's accounts - when are we going to get some honesty about the state of the tram project? Page 29 of that report indicates that the tram project now poses enough of a threat to the running of Edinburgh Council to appear on the Corporate Risk Register.

No wonder the Greens think a single tramline is a waste of money.

Some other wee details, though - the Council is now £1.1bn in debt and its PPP commitments now total £1.147 bn.

Nothing there to worry about, is there?

Mind how you go!

Polls bad for Labour

I see Political Betting is reporting two polls showing Labour is still tanking in UK-wide polls - 14% behind the Conservatives. Interesting from my point of view is that the figures for 'others' are sitting quite high - that's where you find the SNP vote in UK polls, I look forward to the details!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Cheer up

After a result like that, might I recommend a little magic to lift your spirits courtesy of the great Solomon Burke?



Now that's got your pulse going, have a wee laugh:




Here's the spiel that goes with it:
This video was made by Michael Marra & Mick McCluskey to complement the re-release of the brilliant Saint Andrew album, The Word on the Pavey.For more information visit Saint Andrew's Websicht at http://www.saintandrew.biz - The Saint Andrew Websicht is hosted by http://www.musical1.com
Mind how you boogie!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Radio star

I'll be on the radio later, addressing an audience of millions. Oh yes, Radio 5 at 02.30! Where's my coffee?

Tramfinder General

Who said:
we want:
...
- improvement of existing public transport, rather than spending millions on a tramway

The Green Party.

If it's a waste of money in Liverpool why would it not be a waste of money in Edinburgh?

Mind how you go!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What do you want from the liquor store?

This is an awfy time of night to still be working, so here's a musical interlude from Ted Hawkins -


Of course, when he asks "What do you want from the liquor store?", he's actually saying "I intend to visit a purveyor of fine wines and elegant spirits who disdains deep discounting and encourages responsible drinking, would you care for a light refreshment?" and when he says "I'll buy you all that your belly can hold" he's actually saying "I'll pick up a curry on the way over as well."

Monday, 9 November 2009

Stand up Green!

There's a rumour that the Green Party will be standing a candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith. If confirmed, this is excellent news, democracy is better served the better range of opinions on offer, and there is an added bonus from the Greens - in this time of big environmental promises the presence of a Green candidate will keep the rest of us honest on the environment. Surely that's a good thing?

Mind how you mow!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembering

I intended to write a post for Remembrance Sunday, but I can do no better than point you in the direction of David Kerr's post on the Steamie.

Me - spot on yet again

At the time of the Gray reshuffling, I speculated thusly:
Here's a thing, though, why stop John Park talking about apprenticeships and move him into a mute role? Might it be that the Labour Government in London will be cutting apprenticeship funding in the budget and so John has to be silenced well in advance in the hope that no-one will remember he made a big thing of it?

From the Observer:
Gordon Brown stands accused today of misleading the public over his much-vaunted plans to help young people through the recession. Leaked documents show the government is planning drastic cuts for its flagship plan to train a new generation of apprentices.
Confidential papers obtained by The Observer show that, while Brown and his ministers have suggested they are raising investment in training, skills and apprenticeships, behind the scenes they are preparing some £350m of cuts for 2010-11 that will slash the number of training places on offer by hundreds of thousands.

It's just as well I'm incredibly modest.

Talking about modesty, I have been chastised for saying that Michael Martin's house and erstwhile constituency office is in Glasgow. It seems that this particular building is in Jo Swinson's constituency and in a different council area to boot. Ach well, sic transit gloria.

Mind how you go!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

MPs' expenses

There's something that I think has been missed in the storm over MPs' expenses. The expenses system for MPs exists to cover "expenses necessarily and wholly incurred in the course of their parliamentary duties" - that's why it pays for accommodation in the form of a second home allowance. Surely those Members who hold an office which entitles them to a grace-and-favour pad in London have been provided with the second home and therefore should not be claiming the allowance since that is not an expense necessarily and wholly incurred in the course of their parliamentary duties? To have claimed the second home allowance when the taxpayer is already providing them with a grace-and-favour residence would be fraud, surely.

So, whether or not someone reports them to Yates of the Yard, those with the right to occupy these properties should repay the money.

Gordon Brown should be repaying all the money he claimed against his second home allowance (ignoring the flip he made to transfer the allowance to his house in North Queensferry for now) over the past 12 and a half years when he had the right to use Downing Street. We don't have figures for the full period but the claims for the four years' from 2004/05 to 2007/08 come to £73,056.00

Alistair Darling moved into Downing Street when he became Chancellor, rented out his London flat, designated Downing Street as his main home and charged us for the upkeep of his Edinburgh family home. That came to £7,537 in 2007/08.

John Prescott had a flat in Admiralty House until the summer of 2007 but managed to claim second home allowance amounting to £43,720 in the three years before he moved out.

Michael Martin, the former speaker, who wasn't shy about spending public money on his grace-and-favour apartment, Speaker's House, also managed to claim £41,503 in second home allowance - presumably to pay for his Glasgow home wherein was his constituency office for which he charged us in spite of it not being in the constituency, or his "small flat in London".

Wrap up warm, now, and avoid this flu - it's a stonker, I lost a whole week, feeling roughly how I imagine a watermelon feels after being hit by a truck. Mind how you go!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Banks to be sold

Plans are being made to break up and sell off the public stakes in the banks. Part of the deal will be that the purchasers must not be banks. Maybe it's just me but is excluding possible purchasers from the market, especially purchasers who know the market, the best way to get a good price?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Whispers

One hears - and so do I - that Labour's reshuffle was even more botched than it appeared (quite an achievement). The whispers, as yet unsubstantiated, say that not everyone who was asked to serve agreed. Amongst those who are said to have refused are Ken Mcintosh, Margaret Curran, Hugh Henry and Wendy Alexander. I wonder why they would refuse - if they did, of course.

In other interesting developments we have news coming from CJ and from a chap with the ould interests that 4,000 previously unidentified electors have appeared on the electoral roll in Glasgow North East, taking the total up to 64,000 or so - that would mean that, for every 15 voters who were on the register there was one hiding in the lobby press... It would be interesting to see the distribution of these new arrivals - are they entirely new households being added to the register or are they additions to households that were already on the register? Why did we have to wait until November for the contest to fill the vacancy?

Postal votes are up as well - by an extra couple of thousand, 1200 in the last month, 600 applications delivered by Labour on the last day. Terribly nice of Labour to save all those people the awful trouble of posting the form themselves - hopefully they'll be around to post the ballot papers back as well, save the voters any trouble at all. I wonder how many of those people newly on the register have also just become postal voters?

Vote early, vote often!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

He forgot

Remember when Labour's reshuffle was announced and I pointed out that there was no shadow minister for transport nor one for climate change? Want to know why? They forgot. Yesterday when a story was breaking about ferries, Labour was asked for a comment from their transport spokesperson and they said "um ... hang on a minute", climbed into a cupboard, hasty a hasty confab and then announced that Charlie Gordon was in transports of delight and Cathy Peattie was responsible for climate change (and you thought it was greenhouse gases!). Anyone would think that this reshuffle was done in a panic.

You can understand why Labour might want to forget about transport given their record on trams in the capital but Climate Change? Does no-one in the Labour party read the newspapers? Sheesh! Here's a thing, though, Iain Gray was saying that he was sure that Wendy Alexander would return to a front bench position without actually promoting her to a front bench position - then he promoted Charlie Gordon, the guy who brought about her downfall. Does he really dislike her that much?

I was right as well - James Kelly has been promoted (although it's community safety rather than transport).

Here's a thing, though, why stop John Park talking about apprenticeships and move him into a mute role? Might it be that the Labour Government in London will be cutting apprenticeship funding in the budget and so John has to be silenced well in advance in the hope that no-one will remember he made a big thing of it?

Here's another interesting thing - the SNP Government has 6 Cabinet Secretaries and 10 Ministers; a total of 16. The old Lab/Lib Scottish Executive had 22. If there was a terrible calamity and Labour took power today they would have 26 (assuming their junior whips don't get Ministerial posts). Not only more Ministers than the SNP, but more Ministers than they shared with the Lib Dems back in the bad old days - along with the Ministerial salaries, of course...

One more thing too; for the sake of decency I would have thought that Lewis Macdonald's name would be spelled correctly on his own party's website. And to think they want to run the country.

Wrap up warm now, mind how you go!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Tuition fees

I've just heard Andrew Cubie calling for post-graduation tuition fees to be reintroduced for Higher Education scholars in Scotland. His argument is that graduates get a higher lifetime income as a result of being graduates so they should pay a consideration towards their education costs.

I think he'll find it's called income tax.

Mind how you go!

Soft Shoe Shuffle

More on Labour's plan to run around and look like a crowd. At the time of writing Labour still doesn't have a transport spokesperson to replace Des McNulty; and there's no-one in Labour's ranks been tasked with addressing climate change.
Here's a laugh, though, who shadows whom? Labour has 11 members of its shadow cabinet to shadow the six members of the SNP Government cabinet, but it's not quite that simple ...
  • Salmond v Gray - standard stuff, but Salmond has cabinet responsibility for culture and the constitution and Pauline McNeill's in the Hank Marvin Cabinet with those responsibilities for Labour, so she shadows Salmond too. That'll scare him!

  • Swinney v Kerr - seems JS was having too easy a time of it because Michael McMahon has lumbered onto Labour's front bench for local government - and David Whitton has responsibility (but not front bench responsibility) for *ahem* Finance and Sustainable Growth. Three against one - did I just hear John Swinney laugh?

  • Lochhead v Boyack - straight fight, except Karen Gillon is Sarah Boyack's deputy and responsible for Rural Development which is entirely Richard's responsibility in Government, so he's got a double-upper.

  • MacAskill v Baker - wee Ricky's left without a tag-team member. The poor wee guy looks like an aperitif.

  • Sturgeon v Baillie - looks like a straight wrestling match until you remember that Ms Sturgeon (hey, I'm only brave once in a while) is also Deputy First Minister, so Johann Lamont is coming charging in from behind and Cathy Jamieson is Labour's Housing and Regeneration personage in cabinet so three of Labour's Shadow Cabinet members are there to deal with Nicola Sturgeon - that's more than a quarter of their cabinet! Jings, crivvens and help ma boab!

  • Hyslop v McNulty - what will Des do next? Well, actually that's a good question because Claire Baker has responsibility for tertiary education, Ken McIntosh schools, Karen Whitefield children and early years, Karen Gillon (again) skills, so what, exactly, is Des doing? Is he the mild-mannered janitor?

  • That leaves one member of Labour's shadow cabinet that we haven't accounted for - John Park - he has no equal! Well, actually, he's doing a party job (elections and campaigns) as a part of Labour's parliamentary shadow cabinet. I do hope he'll not be using any parliamentary resources for that job; like his parliamentary office, his computer and other office equipment, telephone, blackberry, expenses for shadow cabinet away-days, and so on. Parliamentary in this instance obviously covers anything paid for by Parliament whether it's on the Parliament campus, in the constituency office or even wee and portable!
Still with me? Right well, there's also the Ministers, 12 shadows to 10 real ones, but it's not that simple:
  • Crawford v Martin - only one against Bruce Crawford? With his reputation?

  • Russell v McNeill - except Pauline McNeill's in the shadow cabinet so it's an SNP Minister against a Labour shadow cabinet secretary. She'll have to split her time - Salmond saved from Dennis Healey - type mauling.

  • Robison v Simpson - except Shona also has sport, so Frank McAveety gets added to her load.

  • Neil v Mulligan - except Cathy Jamieson has the same portfolio as Alex but at cabinet level (is it a job creation scheme?). Like Des McNulty, though, what is Jackie Baillie actually responsible for in Labour's ranks? Her deputies fill all the responsibilities for her.

  • Mather v Macdonald - can Lewis Macdonald keep up with Jim Mather on the move? Can he mind-map while he does it? And why is this job listed under Environment in Labour's list?

  • Stewart Stevenson gets a walk-over, no-one in Labour's ranks has responsibility for tackling climate change or transport. There has to be a suitable successor to Des McNulty, surely? Of course there is - James Kelly! Go on, Iain, give the man a job!

  • Brown v McIntosh - it was always going to be a walk-over for Keith, so Barbie's beau gets Karen Gillon as a pal on skills (surely that's a typo on Karen Gillon's job? Rural Development, Economy and Skills and all under the environment portfolio?)

  • Ingram v Whitefield - Karen Whitefield (ignoring the conflict of interest with a party spokesperson chairing a committee which handles her spokespersonish duties) has shown a distinct lack of empathy for the subject matter and Adam Ingram has a detailed knowledge and a real desire to deliver for the children of Scotland. Karen will have to settle for being Robert McNeil's muse.

  • Ewing v Martin - yup, Paul Martin's got two jobs, one dealing with Bruce Crawford and the other trying to keep up with Fergus the Furious, famed Viking warrior (or something like that). It's almost like Labour's given up on making any impact in Justice - Iain Gray's put forward one Richard Baker and half a Paul Martin to take on MacAskill and Ewing. I bet he's looking forward to cheering on Third Lanark against Barcelona.

  • Cunningham v Murray - a contest strictly for rubber-neckers, one presumes.
That's half of Labour's group with shadow ministerial posts (and that's without counting those appointed whip, one on the Corporate Body, and committee convenors); is it a case of the leader having to avoid offending people? That's a sign of weakness, a sign that all is not well in the Labour leadership camp. It's time to dust off an old slogan - Eadie to Leadie!
Mind how you go.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Labour - shuffling along

Iain Gray has reshuffled his pack and it's come up jokers again.

Rhona Brankin's out of the education portfolio - and a good thing too, she never had the good grace to acknowledge the smallest ever class sizes, the school buildings pledge met a year and a half ahead of schedule, the introduction of the baccalaureate, the record support for Scottish students, the record funding for our colleges and universities, or any of the other successes in education. That portfolio is no place for a small-minded and bitter person, Scotland needs and deserves better. Still running that Labour party literacy commission (no it's not an oxymoron, don't be cruel) which was launched by Wendy Alexander more than a year ago and still hasn't done anything. Des McNulty comes galloping in to add some va-va-voom to the job. Fiona Hyslop will have to stay awake and pay attention to every detailed nuance from Des's desultory dialectics.

Andy Kerr becomes Shadow Secretary for Finance & Economy because that will free him up, he having been Shadow Secretary for ... erm ... Finance and Sustainable Growth. Right ... Anyway, he's been swinging wildly and catching air for two and a half years, maybe losing sustainability is just what he needs. John Swinney will spare time for a quick guffaw before launching back into the serious business of running Scotland's finances and ensuring sustainable growth in spite of the incompetence of the Labour Government in London

Cathy Jamieson is sacked from health and brought back in Housing and Regeneration. Earnest but uninspiring, at least Cathy still has some principles at her back. Alex Neil won't be worried, though, Cathy's been too principled to tell lies so far, so she's likely to actually welcome the good job that the SNP Government is doing.

Jackie Baillie flies back to front at health, shadowing Sturge the Unstoppable. The Health Secretary has been outed recently as a secret fan of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers, surprising those of us who thought she led an ascetic life - will the additional pressure of Jackie Baillie crush her will to win? The race is not always to the swift - but that's where the smart money goes.

Richard Baker stays at Justice. It's almost cruel to put that poor wee laddie up against Kenny MacAskill.

To be fair to Iain Gray he didn't really have much to choose from; his barrel has been scraped until the ground is showing through it. Henry McLeish may be right that Labour is "intellectually exhausted" and "time is running out for Scottish Labour". Perhaps that's why Iain Gray's MSPs have begun a whispering campaign against him.

They've still got a photograph of the wrong cabinet up on the website though.

America? I'm ambivalent

Having watched the gyrations of politicians desperate to curry favour with the President of the United States of America - my good buddy Barack (honest) - including the embarrassment of a 'world leader' lurking in the kitchen disguised as a commis chef because he knew that POTUS (pretentious? Moi?) likes nothing better than a sneaky after-cake, I took a wee trip down memory lane to a passage I particularly liked as a boy:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it - It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.
Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her
politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
President George Washington's Farewell Address, 1796 - and I was delighted to find it online - Yale's a good university - I thought I was going to have to type it up.

He goes on to say that the US should remain neutral in Europe's conflicts - a position I'm glad the US has drifted from at times as the world has developed - but the substance of the passage chimes with my vision of nationalism and how we should relate to other countries; an equidistance, friendly with all, subservient to none.

As old George says:
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

That's what I call a special relationship.

Mind how you go!

Monday, 26 October 2009

MacAskill launches anti-submarine technology

Kenny MacAskill MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, launched some anti-submarine technology on Friday - in Partick subway station. Don't worry down there on the clockwork satsuma, it's not about to flood and The Nautilus isn't likely to be coming the other way, it's all about metal detectors! No, no, not the ones you see people using in fields wearing headphones and an intense look that suggests that Roman legionnaires buried their treasure here last week, these detectors are for knives.
High-tech equipment to help the police in the detection of carriers of bladed weapons, the Ferroguard poles come from a system which was developed to help with safety in MRI suites using technology which was developed to detect submarines.
Not only will it help the police to detect those carrying weapons to allow them to decide what the risk to public safety is and take appropriate action, it also means that no-one will be able to carry concealed submarines in Scotland! A result all round.

Mind how you beep!

Civic nationalism

From the exalted watch-tower of Bradford University, Professor Tom Gallagher has cast his beady eye at the activities of Alex Salmond and declared that Salmond is in the process of “junking civic nationalism for an emotion-laden ethnic variety”. This surely can't be the same Professor Tom Gallagher who used an article in the Washington Times in April 2008 to argue that "Mr. Salmond is mobilizing different campaigning groups and minorities and promising them multicultural rights designed to sharpen an ethno-religious rather than a civic identity", can it? Is it the same Professor Tom Gallagher who recently wrote
But in light of the Scoto-American splat that has developed over the fate of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al- Megrahi, convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, it may now be time to sell Scotland abroad on account of its cussedness. ‘Welcome to Scotland the Land with Attitude’ springs to mind. Perhaps the Highland Stag could promptly be replaced with the Porcupine as a defining national symbol.

and
By contrast to the US democracy with its access points for citizens, the relatives of the eleven killed in the small Scottish town over which the plane exploded, have no effective access to political power.

and into the realms of humour with
But don’t expect much investigation or analysis from a largely supine Scottish media. Not a few of the BBC’s political journalists see their job as merely a preliminary posting before they use their political connections to secure a parliamentary seat, with the SNP being the favoured choice. The Scotsman newspaper, supposedly Unionist in orientation has as its features page editor an SNP parliamentary candidate who ensures that the opinion pieces in the newspaper cause few problems for his party. Increasingly many Scottish journalists see the need to defer to the SNP because, as its grip on power tightens it might become their employer while some of their own newspapers might go out of business,

A supine Scottish media? Where, exactly? But he can enter the bizarre as well:
The 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation is not having a penny spent on it by Alex Salmond: it emphasises the British link.

I tried to work out how he could get to this thinking but just couldn't - the Reformation was Scotland creating its own church and, as a result, influencing other Presbyterian churches around the world.

It would seem that self-publicisation through the peddling of prejudice, mistruths and misconceptions rather than serious academic research informs the good professor's forays into the media. He appears to have some special loathing reserved for Alex Salmond, though, almost as if the First Minister used to nick his sweets in the playground.

Professor Gallagher has been answered by Iain McWhirter and by he who worries peat today and has been addressed in the past by Gerry Hassan, but it may be instructive to note how one of his peers interprets his views on democracy:
Tom Gallagher fears that unrestrained political debate could be too much for East Europeans to handle: ‘Agreement about the management of political competition is essential if nascent democracies are not to be tested beyond endurance by heavily adversarial parties’

and
Tom Gallagher writes that Western civil society is necessary, otherwise Eastern states are merely ‘adapting the outward forms of north Atlantic democracies’.
A wee touch of xenophobia there perhaps, or imperious snook-cocking? How can it be argued that only we have the ability to handle political debate and that others must learn from us? The vaulting vanity of that is quite breath-taking.

You'll notice in the herald piece that Professor Gallagher claims to have been sympathetic to the SNP until the 2007 election. His ardour cooled quickly. By the beginning of August he was critical of the First Minister attempting to ensure that conflict did not result from the attack on Glasgow Airport and allowed his quite clear dislike of Islam to colour his judgement on the rally which was organised by young Muslims. He also attacked Osama Saeed, but he can defend himself. The interesting bit of Professor Gallagher's piece is where he makes it clear that his personal enmity towards the SNP has lasted for at least a decade and it's difficult to see how his recent comment that he was “broadly sympathetic to the party up to its assumption of office” chimes with his 2007 comment that "The SNP is a grievance party par excellence".

Let's be charitable and assume that he just has a shockingly bad memory, shall we, rather than suggesting that he uses the truth sparingly. Either way, though, the book he's promoting with his vitriol can't be very good, can it?

Mind how you go!