Tuesday 30 October 2007

Sporty - oh yes I am

Some people just never take a telling.

Some time ago, Labour's Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear his support for a single GB football team.

Not all the time, he said, just for the Olympics.

Some people weren't best pleased with that idea:

Labour and the British Olympic Association (BOA) were told that this might not be viewed as being desirable by some Scotland fans and were asked to kindly withdraw the suggestion.

Now the BOA has said it's going ahead and imposing a GB team on us. I feel a campaign coming on ...

And while we're on the subject of all things sporty - the Scottish Government has announced a £29 million development for Ravenscraig which should be just the ticket for encouraging sporting endeavours over there. Well done the Scottish Government!

Monday 29 October 2007

Shameless theft

Nicked with no shame whatsoever from Douglas Fraser's blog:

Angela Constance, SNP MSP for Livingston, sent her apologies for non-attendance,
explaining she has just given birth to Cyrus. Her message read:
"Like the Scottish Parliament, Cyrus was conceived under Labour rule, and after a period of difficulty, he has been delivered under an SNP government".

And I agree with what he says here (although I'd apply it to all who post such stuff, whatever their political affiliation, and it's only a tiny minority in any party - and there are unsavoury comments from both sides on there):

A colleague came up to me with a mischievous glint in his eye, asking if I had read the comments posted after a sketch I wrote for the paper. He hinted this might be slightly less than complimentary.No, I said. But I have now. You can read them too. See what you think.

What puzzles me is how nationalists seek to persuade people of their cause with cretinous abuse? If you dare to suggest that Alex Salmond is anything short of godlike, it seems you're a traitor to Scotland. If I were in the party leadership, I'd be ashamed at the ugly venom of this small group of insomniacs, unleashed on newspapers websites through the night from behind the cloak of anonymity.

Having read the sketch itself, I found it quite funny. I always did have a strange sense of humour, right enough.

How fast can you exonerate a Government?

There's a chap called Alex Salmond - he's an SNP MSP and is currently First Minister of Scotland, leading the first SNP Government - who claimed yesterday at his Party conference (and I know 'cos I was there) that there were Government figures coming out which would show that Scotland would be better off independent.

He said:

"I am releasing figures compiled by the Scottish Government which demonstrate that with control of our own resources, with independence, Scotland would move from 10th to third in the European league of prosperity.
"Only Luxembourg and Ireland would be above Scotland in wealth per head. In the world, we would be sixth."
That's fine, point made, moving swiftly on you would think.

Except for those dafties in the Labour Party - again.

Enter stage left the villain of the piece, Jackie Baillie, Labour's Business Manager in Parliament.
She said:
"There are very clear rules which stop civil servants being used for party political purposes.
"In this case, there is a very real worry that the SNP may have misused civil service resources."
There was a full investigation and within an hour and a half (less time than it takes Scotland to beat France at fitba if you include half time), Scotland's heid bummer Civil Servant and general impartial type (John Elvidge, for it is he) was said by a Scottish Government spokesperson type to be

"completely satisfied that the information was not provided specifically for use at the SNP party conference".

"Therefore, there was no misuse of civil service resources for purely party political purposes, the figures are as quoted, and a full analysis will be published in due course."

An hour and a half!
I don't know how many times I've got to tell you - check the facts first and you won't look so daft. It's not difficult! Then you won't end up praying for the pain to stop:

Blinkers on and tally-ho down a tramline

Last week - on Thursday to be exact - Labour, Green, Conservative and Lib-Dem councillors on Edinburgh Council voted to go ahead with the City's tram fiasco.

Just for clarity - every councillor outside of the SNP group voted to continue with the trams lunacy after the SNP councillors laid out the case against the tram proposals, demonstrating exactly why the Final Business Case is flawed as well as why the Tram Proposal itself is flawed.

The 12 SNP councillors voted to end the project, while the 15 Labour councillors, the 3 Green councillors, the 11 Conservative councillors and the 17 Lib-Dem councillors voted to keep it going.

It's fairly clear now that the project won't come in on budget and will never make money and we'll all be picking up the tab for it for years to come.

For posterity's sake, here are some highlights of the case the SNP made:

· The Final Business Case (FBC) indicates the importance of an interchange with the rail network – a pity, then, that there will be only one stop on Princes Street and it won’t be at Waverley.

· The cost estimates were withheld from the council with the excuse of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

· Construction prices are not fixed because the design is not finalised. Increases can be expected as design changes take effect.

· The price quoted is dependent upon ‘Value Engineering’ – basically doing the thing on the cheap. Those Value Engineering innovations have not been found yet.

· The utilities diversions already underway are based on a fixed rate contract which means that the final cost will vary according to how much work has to be done. The estimate that is being used is based on the information available about the current state of the utilities and, as first results have shown, that information is woefully inadequate.

· Some utilities will have to be moved by the utilities companies. There is no way of telling just how much these utilities diversions will cost.

· Compensation for depreciation (property owners can claim compensation if their property value is affected by the tram section 32 of each tramline Act) cannot be quantified until the claims are made and settled.

· There’s no provision for noise insulation grants either (section 63 of each Tramline Act).

· Land cost estimates are subject to interest (in other words they’re guaranteed to be underestimated).

· Developers’ contributions were to be in the order of £26.6 million. The council has only banked £2.2 million – £176,000 of which came from the schools budget. The Council still has £36.6 million to find.

· The sources of funding which tie wants to plunder for building tramlines include The Cities Growth Fund (currently used for affordable housing, parks, gardens and culture); the Capital Investment Programme (thus holding back investment in other areas of council operation); and further Capital Receipts (selling off more of the city’s assets). Unfortunately, the FBC makes it clear that this is ultra viries.

· As well as having an enormous capital expenditure bill to carry, the council will have to forego the dividend from Lothian Buses (currently £2 million p.a.) for at least three years. While the assertion made is that the dividend will be adjusted in other years to compensate, a Business case which is so weak cannot be relied upon to deliver those extra resources.

· The Revenue and Risk Report demonstrates that tram revenue generated would be matched by a drop in bus revenue.

· There will never be any repayment of the capital expenditure.

· The FBC relies on revenues increasing as passenger numbers increase over a three year ‘ramp-up’, but “Experience from Nottingham and Dublin suggests that three years may be a conservative assumption.” In other words, the only way the Business Case can be made to work is by falsifying the foundations upon which it is based.

· Swingeing cuts in bus provision are planned to ensure that trams are profitable, further harming the publicly-owned bus company.

· Significant risks still lie with the public sector and may impinge directly on the council according to the FBC.

· The risk report will not be made available until after contract close – in other words when it is too late for councillors to do anything about it – for reasons of commercial confidentiality.

· Apportionment of risk remains the subject of negotiations. This means that the risk register is unstable.

· Some major risks are not included in the risk register – they’ll be reviewed after the completion of the works and the beginning of operations - honestly, I'm not making this up.

· There are a number of design related matters to be finalised – in other words they’re still working on the design. Out-turn costs will increase as a result, and tie proposes to report back on these in December before contract close (when call-off will be impossible) in January.

· The integration with the new rail station at Gogar is not included in the costs and will have to be added. These costs have not even been assessed and will need separate funding.

· I quote: “The TEL Business Plan does not specifically provide for the major replacement expenditure which will be required after 30 years.”

· Information received from the bidders confirms that the costs in the business case for the maintenance of the tram infrastructure and vehicles and half-life refurbishment “are conservative”. In other words, the costs are understated.

· I quote again - “It is a fundamental assumption that TEL’s tram operations will participate in the national concessionary ticketing scheme in a manner equivalent to that of bus operations”. We know that’s not happening (Labour refused it before the election), so we can predict a shortfall of 14.72% of the tram revenue - £500,000 in the first year of operations rising to about £1 million five years in.

· That also knackers through-ticketing as concessionees will travel on buses and not trams.

· 30% of demand between Leith and Haymarket and 50% of demand between Haymarket and the airport is from development which isn’t in place yet. In other words, the customers don’t exist.

· The council holds the risks on revenues, operating costs and the long-term maintenance of the tram system – all the issues which are suspect.

· As soon as the Final Business Case is approved (December) the agreed funding is to be released. The Council does not have it and cannot rely on the Government’s contribution because that’s released on a pro-rata basis (council has to pay about 8.25% of whatever is paid out – just over £30 million before tie comes back for more as the project runs over budget).

· If the Scottish Utilities Companies are slow in approving designs, utility diversion works will be delayed, increasing the costs of those, and the building of the infrastructure may be delayed – leading to financial penalties. Considering the records of utilities companies in getting anything done, this would seem to be rather a major risk – but it’s not quantified.

· The Infraco contract is fixed price, meaning that variations cost massive amounts of money, but the design is not yet finalised. Since the design is not yet finalised but the contract will be closed in January – by which time only ‘further work’ on the design is promised – this is not so much a risk as a guarantee of an escalation in cost. Third parties like Forth Ports can also demand changes in the design.

· The prior approvals is to be complete by March in order to avoid cost over-runs, but the contract close is in January, so not only will the planning committee be facing a massive task to approve each bit of the tramline, they will be under pressure to accept the plans as brought forward to avoid massive cost over-runs. Not only is this bad practise, it could lead to planning appeals grinding on (and causing massive cost over-runs as well as legal fees) on the perfectly understandable grounds that the planning authority was not in a position to take an impartial view. Additionally, since this will in essence be the council applying to itself for planning permission, any objection from a member of the public sends it straight up to Ministers – and that takes ages.

· Two skelps of land that are needed for the trams owned by Network Rail and BAA are being leased instead of purchased. Apart from what happens if the long leases are not renewed, the owners could close down tram operations whenever they liked – a right good waste of public money.

· Section 75 Agreements indicate that only £6.77 million will come in from developers, leaving the council having to charge Section 75 fees for years after the tramline is built.

· The two main contractors are seeking letters of undertaking from the council in advance of contract signing for full payment undertaking. This means that if the council proceeds to approve the business case it is obliged to pay the full amount – even if the tram is cancelled at a later date. It may be possible to make this subject to grant release by the Government – as suggested in the FBC – but that would still leave the council with millions of pounds committed expenditure.


Wednesday 24 October 2007

Voting and the fun it brings

News from London - Gordon Brown, Prime Minister and big chief of the London Parliament, got a telling off from the Speaker of the House of Commons - he's the referee down there and called a foul when Big Gordo accused Davie Cameron of telling porkies about the report into the mess over the voting at the Scottish Parliament election in May.

Give wee Duggie Alexander his due here, he said sorry for making a mess. Good on you Douglas - you won't often hear me saying that.

In Edinburgh Alex Salmond, First Minister and big chief of the Scottish Government, said he accepted all the recommendations of the Gould Report. Good on you as well, Alex.

In other news, Richard Lochhead, Scotland's Agriculture Minister (well, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, but he's the fermers' meenister) laid out details of a compensation package for Scottish farmers over the foot and mouth outbreak, juggling an already tight budget to find money to keep farmers in business.

You'll remember that the London Government was meant to pay out compensation but changed its mind when Gordon Brown decided not to call the election. English farmers still got their money but Scottish farmers lost out. I hope Hillary Benn takes a leaf out of Douglas Alexander's book, apologises and pays up - that would be the honest thing to do.

I'm hearing a rumour about Edinburgh's Tram project (due to come before the council tomorrow). Developers building near the tram have to pay a fee towards the tram costs. It seems that there's a school building which has to pay the fee - taking money from school pupils to pay for Labour's vanity project. It never ceases to amaze, does it?

Tuesday 23 October 2007


The Gould Report into the mess in the election in May was published today - the greatest political whodunnit since we asked who knifed Ming Campbell.

Normally you would expect it to turn out to be a big boy who did it and ran away, but this time it was two wee boys who did it and forgot to run away.

Douglas Alexander (wee Wendy's brother and erstwhile Secretary of State for Scotland) gets it in the neck along with Jack McConnell for focussing on 'partisan political interests' instead of looking at what was in the best interests of the people of Scotland. Gould also said

What is characteristic of 2007 was a notable level of party self interest evident in Ministerial decision-making (especially in relation to the timing and method of counts and the design of ballot papers). The timing and impact of policy decisions taken by Ministers also seem to be a critical factor.

Seems fairly clear - Labour tried to carve up the election for its own ends and instead found its own end - as it were...

As a post-script to an earlier post, I've just found out that Jeremy Purvis, Lib Dem MSP, has said that the SNP Government's decision to scrap the Graduate Endowment tuition fee is a "missed opportunity". I know the tuition fee was introduced by a Lib Dem Minister (Jim Wallace), but I fail to see how Jeremy can call its abolition a missed opportunity.

Perhaps Jeremy should just go back to scaring pensioners?

Nuclear weapons again

Maybe it's just me, but I was sure Wendy Alexander refused to have an opinion on stockpiling weapons of mass destruction in Scotland because "that's a matter for MPs in London".

Last night on Newsnicht I'm sure I saw the Valiant Major Joyce, fresh from a fortnight in a roadside ditch by the nick of him, refusing to have an opinion on nuclear weapons - and him a Labour MP.

Brian Taylor - fine BBC journalist with an unfortunate predilection in football teams - looks at the issue from a perspective even more neutral than mine and says
"Equally, it is rather bogus to say that there is absolutely no time whatsoever
to consider Trident, even though it is reserved, for as long as other manifesto
promises remain pending. If that were simplistically true, then ministers would
never do anything at all, for fear of neglecting something else."

I hadn't realised that the Liberal Democrats were opposed to the operation of democracy as well, though, until this was pointed out to me - Nicol Stephen saying "Once again the SNP will spend government time and money squabbling with Westminster, rather than getting on with the job they were elected to do". Ach well - the Free School Meals Pilot has started and the Graduate Endowment Abolition Bill has been published. How's that for just now Nicol?

A wee edit here just to say I should have read Tartan Hero's blog earlier - he makes some decent points about Nicol Stephen's volte-face on Trident

Tuition fees to be abolished

Good news for Scottish education today as the Bill is published which will finally remove the Graduate Endowment tuition fee which was imposed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in 2001.

A good day for Scotland as we move back towards access to education based on the ability to learn rather than on the ability to pay.

Monday 22 October 2007

When the man from the Ministry turned up

The SNP Scottish Government held a Trident Summit today. The Summit was to look at ways of ensuring the removal of Trident from Scottish waters.

The shrill denouncements came thick and fast, of course, with Wendy Alexander at the head, refusing to have an opinion herself but standing on her very tip-toes to shriek that no-one else in Scotland should be discussing nuclear weapons.

Then there was David Cairns MP (one of the junior bods at the Scotland Office) saying the SNP Government should be busy sorting out the mess in Scotland created by the Labour Party before seeking to make the world a better place. Something about walking and chewing gum comes to mind, but shouldn't David Cairns be busy fighting Scotland's corner in any case? It takes us back to the old question of whether the Scotland Office represents Scotland in the London Government or represents the London Government in Scotland.

All in all, a veritable feast of opposition to people in Scotland having their say - except from the MoD, the Ministry of Defence. They went to the Summit - officially. The man from the Ministry turned up and engaged - now there's a lesson for Labour.

Opinion polls in Scotland consistently show support for the principled SNP position in opposition to keeping nuclear weapons here. It's time to rid Scotland of these weapons of mass destruction once and for all.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Wee Wendy - what is she talking about?

I was watching television today - excellent invention - and Labour's great hope in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, was the star of the show.

Trident - those big nasty bombs that live in Scotland's waters - weapons of mass destruction in our own country - what's her opinion? Ah well, she didn't think it was right to have one.

That's right - defence is reserved to London, she said, the Scottish Parliament is not supposed to rule on defence, so nuclear weapons shouldn't be discussed in Scotland. If I followed her argument properly (it weaved about a bit), she didn't want English MPs to tell her what to do on education, so she wouldn't tell Scottish MPs what to do on Trident.

Give Glenn Campbell his due, he kept a straight face, but she didn't give an inch. Labour's leader in Scotland refuses to have an opinion on what of the most important issues of modern politics. Everyone I know has an opinion on nuclear weapons and whether they should be in Scotland.

Nearly every adult in Scotland has an opinion on nuclear weapons - and a majority want them removed from Scottish waters.

But not Wendy Alexander who officially doesn't have an opinion.

So that's that then, we can't expect Labour in Scotland to engage in the debate about nuclear weapons.
Just as well some of the rest of us are still willing to debate all of the issues that are of national importance. Grant Thoms, the Tartan Hero points out that it's a breach of the non-proliferation treaty to be bringing in Broon's New Bombs and urges us to get along to the March Against Trident on November 3rd.
Of course, if you can't make it to the march, or you don't want to, you can always have an opinion.

Friday 19 October 2007

Lib Dems leadership race

John Hemming has accepted that he can't get enough support from Lib Dem MPs to mount a bid for leader, so that leaves the Lib Dems with a choice between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne - both on the right wing of the Lib Dems, both Orange Bookers.

No change of direction for the Lib Dems, then, and no attempt to rescue themselves from a drift onto the ground being fought over by the two big London parties. That's a shame for any Lib Dem members who wanted to see their party stand on a clear, distinct and distinctive policy platform - it may not be the coronation of one person, as with Gordon Brown - but there's no real choice between the two main contenders.

There's always that wee hope of rescue, that Charlie Kennedy is playing cute by saying that it is unlikely he will run. Kennedy is perhaps the Lib Dems' best hope of recovery. I'm backing Clegg and Huhne, of course ...

Free Personal Care

Woulda thunk it? Wendy Alexander got it wrong again.

Labour attacked the SNP Government for not being represented at the recent court case on free personal care.

Turns out the decision to not be represented was taken by the Labour / Lib Dem administration before the election - and that the decision given in the case matches almost exactly the guidance on free personal care issued by ... yes, that's right ... Labour.


Top tip, Wendy - before you speak, check your facts.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Interesting times

It would seem that we live in interesting times.

There’s a Labour Government playing up to the cameras about an election before having a quick look into the abyss and back-pedalling furiously while nicking Tory policies on tax and inviting Maggie Thatcher back into number 10 while Tony Blair does his best impression of Banquo at Gordon Brown’s feast.There’s a Conservative opposition who looked in absolute disarray a month ago, ready to tear itself apart in the style we have all become accustomed to finding itself rejuvenated by Brown’s hamfistedness and a fine “free sweeties” performance by George Osborne. In the background lurks Michael Ancram harrumphing about a lost legacy – but he’s more Rentaghost than Banquo.

In the Lib Dem corner, meanwhile, the knife has passed to a new generation (with thanks to Charlie Kennedy) as another leader gets done in. Ming Campbell went down late on Monday and Chris Huhne had his leadership website up and running by Wednesday as Guido Fawkes observes, it’s almost as if they were ready before Ming went. Et tu Brute?

The three declared candidates are ‘rising star’ Clegg (how long does he remain a rising star?), Chris Huhne (53), and John Hemming. Clegg and Huhne are both Orange Bookers, looking to take the Lib Dems to the right – surely that ground is fairly crowded with Labour and the Conservatives both hanging wide there?

I think we can rely on John Hemming to provide some fun in this contest though. He says on his blog under ‘Nominations and the Leadership Election’, “The two front runners don't really have any political strategy differences” – John Hemming is annoyed, and this time it’s personal. He does have some pictures of kittens on his blog though, so he has a nice side too.

Another bout of Lib Dem fratricide would appear to be in the offing – roll up and take your seats. May you live in interesting times.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

We’re Backing Calum!

Davie Hutchison -
Candidate for Westminster 2005 and Holyrood 2007.
“Edinburgh North & Leith needs a dynamic and energetic MP who will stand up for this area’s interests and stand up for Scotland. Having campaigned with Calum in a number of elections I know that he can be that MP and I urge you to vote for him.”

Councillor Steve Cardownie –

Forth ward, leader of SNP group on Edinburgh Council.
“I campaigned with Calum Cashley in the local council and Scottish Parliament elections in May of this year. His hard work, dedication and imagination are exactly what we need in an MP to represent North and Leith.”

Alyn Smith MEP
“I've campaigned with Calum knocking doors all over Edinburgh and have no doubt that his political instincts are sound, he has a track record as an effective campaigner and his work rate is second to none. I recommend him as clearly the best candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith in the forthcoming Westminster election.”