Saturday 28 February 2009


There was a blog I came across but which I can't find any longer, I think it was called something like nomoreadiaspora - anybody help?

Friday 27 February 2009

Iain does a Wendy

I was intrigued by Iain Gray's poor performance at FMQs - missed the spot again - and this time he forgot to check his flanks and opened his own party up to a bit of a roasting. He wanted to try to link Fred Goodwin's pension to Alex Salmond, forgetting that Darling had already blown the gaffe on the deal, and his own record in administration. Has Iain done a Wendy?

1. Alistair Darling has accepted in the House of Commons that Fred Goodwin's pension was considered by the Government but that it did not understand the arrangements:

"We had previously understood that his pension commitments were an unavoidable legal commitment," he told MPs during a statement to MPs about new support for Royal Bank of Scotland.

“We didn't know and it was only very recently that we became aware that the decision of the previous board of RBS to allow Sir Fred to take early retirement had the effect of increasing his pension entitlement and that might have been a discretionary choice."

2. A report highlighting Gordon Brown’s links with Fred Goodwin:
… the Prime Minister had strong links to the RBS chief for nearly a decade and they remained close even after the ABN takeover that Mr Brown has attacked as 'irresponsible'.In 1999, Sir Fred, then group deputy chief executive, chaired a Treasury taskforce on credit unions. he became a regular visitor to 11 Downing Street and a valued adviser to the then chancellor.In 2004, Sir Fred received his knighthood, on the advice of Mr Brown, for services to banking. Two years later he was a member of the chancellor's International Business Advisory Council.

3. Gordon Praises Sir Fred Goodwin's business expertise: As Gordon Brown departed for China last night, he launched a broadside at the lack of reform in Europe, and promised he would sell British financial services and universities in the Middle Kingdom."We have got British financial expertise to put at the service of Asian economic development. We want more doors open for British firms. I believe Sir Fred Goodwin, of the Royal Bank of Scotland, is out in China at the moment," the Chancellor said. Daily Telegraph, 14 October 2005

4. From the Evening News, 20 November 2002 – “GRAY WOOS AMERICAN MONEYMEN” Iain Gray, the Scottish Finance Minister, has been speaking to major leaders in finance in New York on the benefits of setting up in Scotland.Mr Gray, during a talk at the New York Stock Exchange, called that city "the financial capital of the world" but outlined the case for Scotland, saying it was a "cornerstone of an industry which is one of the most vibrant in Europe, employing 200,000 people. Not bad for a country of five million people". "The strength of the sector is demonstrated by this incredible fact - from the end of 2000 to the present date, the financial value of funds managed in Scotland has risen by 200 per cent to 350 billion pounds," he told his audience.He added: "Scotland is a serious player in the world of financial services. We have a highly skilled workforce - flexible, motivated and experienced in financial services."

Edinburgh Tram design finalised

Mind how you go!

Wednesday 25 February 2009


I'm not Émile Zola but I wish to cast a stone - or perhaps even two. In this great city of Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, is a farce on a scale which even Joe Orton could never envisage. The Tram, the epithet-inducing Tram; the disaster which stalks our streets and blocks our streets; it is a travesty of political shenanigans gone wrong; an ivory-coloured mammoth; a vast, sloshing money-pit; a veritable monster of vanity and ego; and a mistake.

This travesty of a construction project is being managed by a company called Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) which lists as its achievements on its website;
  • Edinburgh Trams - thus turning on its head the daft idea that you might want to actually achieve something before claiming it as an achievement
  • Edinburgh Airport Rail Link - cancelled
  • Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway - taken over by Transport Scotland
  • Ingliston Park and Ride - a car park
  • Edinburgh Fastlink - 1.5km of concrete bus lane (that's less than 1 mile, a solitary mile is 1609.75m)
  • Congestion Charging (promoting and delivering) - lost the referendum 74% to 26%
  • One-Ticket - TIE entered into an agreement to manage and promote a ticketing system for public transport

With achievements like these who needs failure? An organisation so bereft of ability needs an effective media management strategy just to survive so they've engaged Mediahouse whose strategy over the current nonsense appears to be to blame "Johnny Foreigner" with the continual references to the fact that the contractor is a German firm. Let's nail a few things:

  1. The contractor did not walk off the job, TIE told the contractor to stop working.
  2. The contract provides for the contractor to be compensated for delays caused by other parties.
  3. The guy who took over in December admitted that costs would rise - although he didn't think it would be much.

The contractor appears to me to be confident that it is TIE that is in the wrong and it would seem unlikely, to say the least, for international companies to risk their commercial reputation and the chance of securing further work for the same of some petted-lip foot-stamping. It would appear that TIE has run out of money and that is the real reason why work has been halted. It also strikes me that the positions being taken by the two sides don't look like positions that are being taken by people who are talking constructively - there is no agreement pending.

This is not a position that we should be in with public money on the line. I believe that the entire project is flawed and should be abandoned now with negotiators being sent in to see whether there is anything that can be salvaged from the breakage rather than continuing to pour money into this crazy scheme and leave Edinburgh with a massive debt that we'll be paying for decades.

If the intention is to carry on with the scheme (howling mad though it is), then we should at least have the figures out in public. TIE will claim 'commercial confidentiality' and 'sensitive discussions' and seek to hide the effects of mismanagement on a grand scale. This is the company who told me on the 19th of December 2008 that the global costs of line 1a hadn't changed since the 7th of December 2007 - which would mean that no risk had been managed off the register in that full year, no risk had passed at less than full impact, no risk had increased in cost and no risk had decreased in cost, that there had been no fluctuation in prices and that estimates had been spot on - in spite of the fact that the design wasn't due to be finalised until about now. There is the possibility that the changes have compensated for each other perfectly - but that in itself suggests horrendously poor management.

If TIE wants to carry on with this scheme, let's have some honesty - let's get the truth about the contractual delays and the penalties due; let's get the proper costs out in the public domain so the people of Edinburgh know how much we're going to be expected to pony up as a result of this thing being foisted on us when 73.6% of the population don't want it. No more hiding, no more misdirection, obfuscation and discombobulation from the company which we, as the public, own - just a straight deal please.

We already remember a few things that we should keep in mind over the next wee while:

  • We know that Edinburgh's education department had to pay £176,000 towards the tram for daring to build a school close to the proposed tramline.
  • We know that the letters of undertaking for the tram oblige full payment in the event of breakage - but we don't know if that's limited to the £512 million estimate.
  • We know that two skelps of land that are needed for the trams owned by Network Rail and BAA are being leased instead of purchased.
  • We know there is a £23 million deficit in the Developer Contributions
  • We know that the Infraco contract (the one the current dispute is over) was closed in January 2008 at a fixed price meaning that any alterations would be massively expensive and that the design wasn't finalised until about now (if it has been finalised) - guaranteeing lots of changes and massive cost increases.
  • We know that MUDFA (utilities diversions) started off late, came in late and found far more to divert than was expected (still not finished) - we don't know how much over budget it was.
  • We know that the council holds the risks on revenues, operating costs and the long-term maintenance of the tram system – all the issues which are suspect
  • We know that the integration with the new rail station at Gogar is not included in the costs
  • We know that some of the Council's spending was to be financed by the sale of land which has plummeted in price.
  • We know that currency fluctuations added millions to the cost a while back, that the contracts were negotiated in Euro - and that TIE didn't hedge currency.
  • We know that the cost estimates were based on finding some "value engineering" savings (doing it on the cheap) - we don't know if those savings were ever found.
  • We know that projections for completing the build are now suggesting the track can't be finished before 2013.
  • We know that there has been no modelling of the deleterious environmental effects of building across the flood plain at Gogar.
  • We know that Architecture and Design Scotland said that the design was guff.
  • We know that track-laying work was supposed to start in April 2008 and hasn't started yet - and that the work in Leith Walk which was supposed to be finished by March 2008 is scheduled to continue until July. Interestingly, all the old stuff has disappeared from that website.
  • We know that line 1b was cancelled ages ago but that TIE kept quiet about it.
  • We know that project costs were shifted onto other budgets to make it appear less expensive than it is.
  • We know that TIE knew that it had funding problems but didn't have a clue how to address them.
  • We know that some politicians have been entertained by the Tram Project.
  • We know that all the previous FOI releases have been removed from TIE's website.
  • We know that there have already been problems with contractor relations.
  • We know that tram fans were already angling for more Government cash in spite of having been told there would be no more.

Trams? Huh! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing!

Tongue firmly in cheek?

The Local Government Committee has called on the Scottish Government to cut down on jargon and to
publish an "assessment matrix of candidate national developments against the national development criteria"


Go Gettysburg

It's the lack of intellectual rigour in Labour's ranks that surprises me most. Take, for example, the former Labour spad Mike Elrick as he spits bile in the direction of Alex Salmond for not criticising Abraham Lincoln while addressing an audience in the United States of America.

Here's a wee flavour of it:
Ironic isn't it, that Alex Salmond, a politician who has dedicated his political career to tearing Scotland out of the Union that is the United Kingdom, travels 3000 to lavish praise on the greatest unionist politician of all time.

Memo to First Minister: Homework on flight back to Scotland. Must read the Gettyburg Address.
Missing words and spelling mistakes aside, Mr Elrick has either never read or didn't understand the Gettysburg Address. Here's the text (Bliss version):
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
It's a nationalist text - "a new nation"; "those who here gave their lives that that nation might live"; "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom" (the Hay and Nicolay versions don't mention God). This short speech is a celebration of a young nation in the midst of the pain of a civil war, spoken with the folk memory of the battle for independence still fresh.

Four months earlier Lincoln delivered his "Response to a Serenade" in which he spoke of the victory at Gettysburg and the root of the Civil War:
we have a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal
Nothing about secession, then. Mr Elrick might have been better to point to Lincoln's second inaugural address:
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it--all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
That said, though, there's the small matter of Lincoln's Address in Independence Hall:

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
The difficulty for Mr Elrick is that Abraham Lincoln was quite clearly an American nationalist...

Spike Milligan lives!

How do Lib Dems win votes in Parliament?

Excellent story - I laughed.


Just over two and a half years after gaining her independence Montenegro is applying for membership of the EU.

Well done those chaps!

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Singalong to the sound of trams

All together now:

When you go will you send back a letter from Edinburgh?
Take a look up the tramtrack from Stockbridge to Morningside

Broke off the contract the other day

I spent the evening thinking
About all the cash that flowed away.
Across the table to the white elephant

I wonder how more we'll spend until we reach the promised end.

When you go will you send back a letter from Edinburgh?
Take a look up the tramtrack from Stockbridge to Morningside

I've looked at the roadworks
Tried hard to imagine
The way you feel when you're diverted
From the West End to the Meadows.
We should have stopped them
We should have told them

But you know their sense of timing
They got away too long.

When you go will you send back a letter from Edinburgh?
Take a look up the tramtrack from Stockbridge to Morningside.

Smooth travel no more
Patience no more
Buses no more
Tram stop no more!

Smooth travel no more
Patience no more
Buses no more
Tram stop no more!

Smooth travel no more
Patience no more
Buses no more
Tram stop no more!

I wonder my bus
Will you ever return
To help us make our way back to a living capital city?
Do we not love her
I think we all tell you hard stories

Do we have to roam the world to prove how much it costs?

When you go will you send back a letter from Edinburgh?
Take a look up the tramtrack from Stockbridge to Morningside.

The Castle no more
Princes Street no more
Leith Walk no more
Shopping no more.

The Castle no more
Princes Street no more
Leith Walk no more
Shopping no more.

The Castle no more
Princes Street no more
Leith Walk no more
Shopping no more.

The Castle no more
Princes Street no more
Leith Walk no more
Shopping no more.

Sorry about that - and apologies to the Proclaimers, and to musicians who are now rocking back and forward and saying "make him stop".

Mind how you go!

Journalists, who'd have 'em?

That pesky pair, Hamish Macdonell and Magnus Gardham have suggested that Alex Salmond's meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was kept quiet and have scurrilised (it's a neologism) variously about the reasons (you'll have to search down the Steamie's page, I can't find a way to link to individual posts on it).

If only they'd done the sensible thing and looked at the forward diary for the US State Department they'd have found it was promoted ahead of time:

Daily Appointments Schedule for February 23, 2009
Washington, DC
February 23, 2009

12:45 p.m. Meeting with The Right Honorable Alex Salmond, M.P., M.S.P., First Minister of Scotland.

Behind closed doors as well, I see - was that a FIFA ruling?

Tsk tsk tsk!

Can we? Are you sure?

There was a visitor by the name of "Aye We Can" (no indication of what, exactly, they can - beans, perhaps?) who left some comments on an earlier post. He or she or they appear to be suffering from Coprolalia, so I've tidied the comments up below (where the spaces are). I would normally just delete them but there's a point or two of clarification which is worth making (I didn't bother correcting the spelling):

Change this mince record calum
There is no cut - look at your own budget.
Campre the block now with the block next year - its up!
And it will be up even more - by a billion or more after Darling's april budget
Attack real isues - and there are buckets of them. Dont fall for this statistically provablly wrong garbage, spun from your Treasury team and wee EcKs office
Your Government ______ up on LIT ( and a good few other things) . Dont let them compound their own mistakes with this drivel
Scotland deserves and needs better.
Honesty is the best policy. And facts dont lie

Alistair Darling, of course, has already indicated that he will be cutting resources across all of the spending departments which he oversees - which includes Scotland.

Unless the mysterious commenter is a senior Treasury Civil Servant, of course, he or she or they cannot tell us what will happen in April's budget. Even the senior Treasury Civil Servants could only, at the moment, give you a rough idea of where it might be headed (if you could induce them to talk at all). Even Mr Darling would not be able to provide the actualite at the moment, I think, since he'll still be wrestling with the ramifications of his recent interventions.

Attacking issues is never a good idea, addressing them might be - which is why John Swinney addressed the problems with Local Income Tax and deferred its implementation meantime. The SNP believes in the principle of progressive taxation and will continue to press for it at all levels. In the meantime we're stuck with a regressive property tax, but at least JS has decided to seek to freeze it for the whole life of this Parliament.

Facts, I'm afraid are not the verities that Aye thinks - ask a physicist, especially one of those strange ones who study particle physics. Or, indeed, ask a politician, or a statistician, or an accountant, or a police officer, or a census taker, or me - yup, ask me, that's always the best thing to do.

What with this pre moderation stuff - how new labour have you guys got in my absence?
Even the Scotsman and Tom Harris dont pre moderate. I thought Id left thing _____ behind when I left the parly - George Reid's parly!

I think Aye has demonstrated the importance of comment moderation in one respect. There is also the law of defamation to consider - anything that goes up on my blog is published by me and any defamatory remarks therefore leave me liable (a point that all bloggers should bear in mind) and I'm not prepared to leave myself open to that. I'm not against defaming people altogether but if there's any defaming to be done on my blog I'll be the one doing it and I'm not particularly concerned with how the Scotsman or Tom Harris run their affairs. Have at you sir!

My blog is personal, it doesn't belong to Parliament - it's mine I tell you, all mine! Parliament doesn't belong to George Reid either, it belongs to the people of Scotland - who are, I understand, massively grateful to Mr Reid for the excellent service he rendered our country as Presiding Officer, making sure that Parliament became an institution respected domestically and internationally. He's a fine wee chap.

I think I should make it clear that I don't have the first scoobie-dan-doo who Aye We Can is.

I think that covers it - time for a cup of tea. Mind how you go!

Monday 23 February 2009

It's a trama, true enuff. If Dougie wass here he would tell you...

Never let it be said that research is easy ("if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research" - some guy called Einstein). In seeking the very best travel solutions for my nation's capital city I have travelled far and wide (some would say too wide but I haven't had to buy two seats yet) and I have examined intracity transport systems with great interest (maps - why can every other nation produce maps for their public transport, even in the wee towns, but we're left with a dodgy schematic?) and much musing upon the most satisfactory means of travel.

When the local amateur trama company decided upon the 'train on a road' single line (except not quite a full line) snarl-up-the-traffic system for Edinburgh, I took an extra interest in how our European neighbours did things.

I travelled on the new trams in Paris - slow when going uphill and rattling fit to wake the dead (or even a snoozing Parisien), noisy, uncomfortable and slow - and brand new. I suspect that Paris indulged in a little "value engineering". One big shame is that Paris is an excellent city and this blight upon its cityscape detracts from that.

Deterred? Not me! I tried Strasbourg - quiet, at least, but uncomfortable and not very fast - and they've slapped the tramlines right through la Place de la République! What were they thinking? How can you contemplate Mother Strasbourg in peace now?
Brussels - noisy things, but at least they use them for city centre freight and garbage collection instead of expecting human beings to be the only ones to suffer.

Berlin - shiny and new and so much like the Paris ones that they must be the same model, but without the 'value engineering'. Comfortable, but I could have walked there quicker - you would need to ban all the other traffic from the roads that the trams use. That'll be your cue for your close-up then ...

Budapest - shake, rattle and roll, came off second best in that contest, I'll tell you.

Basel - I nearly got killed by a tram - never heard it coming and was too busy munching a bretzel ... Obviously a bad system, so I never tried it.
Amsterdam - noisy, uncomfortable and cold.

From the German border beside Colmar into Freiburg - now there's a tram! Superb, quiet, fast, comfortable, spacious, warm; an excellent way to travel - probably because it was off-road and ran like a train, but why quibble?

Far better than any tram system were the overground and underground rail systems in Paris, Berlin, Budapest, and Brussels, and I would highly recommend any such mode of transport to any fine young people adventuring abroad.

All of this research, of course, makes me an "expert" - of a sort - and I can heartily recommend that we never have trams anywhere near Edinburgh. They'll clog us up, box us in, and break down twice a day. It was with some circumspection, then, that I contemplated the news that the Tram Project had suffered another blow with the main contractor stomping off in the huff - just because they're not getting paid (some people want paid for everything these days - including doing their job).
On the one hand, we could have expected this to come about - the project's been badly managed from the start - but on the other our city is like a building site, traffic is chaotic, and businesses are suffering. Some people have lost long-established businesses during this farce of a project, some have lost more recently established but equally important businesses. That's not just livelihoods going, that's part of the community being stripped away - and all for the vanity of some egotistical politicians wanting to leave a "landmark legacy".

Well, while tie and the contractor fight over whose lollipop it is and the council scrutiny team stand uselessly by, here's what I think is happening:
The funding from the Scottish Government is staged for each financial year.
The construction costs are paid in four-weekly stages.
It's six weeks to the end of the financial year.
There was a £60 million black hole in tie's finances in August.
The project has been badly managed so that the contractor is now asking for the contracted penalty to be paid.
With a current projected overspend of some £268 million, the Tram Project managers have been spending as much as they can as fast as they can before the project hits the buffers (so apt) - in order to have a substantial sum spent to bolster the argument that "you can't stop now, not after spending eleventeen million pounds" and blackmail the government into cutting other services to fund the Tram.
In short, there are no more pennies in the tie biscuit tin until the new financial year and they want the contractor to continue without getting the penalty payment until mid April (assuming it is only the penalty payment that is at risk) to keep the project running.
Cancel it now, I say, they're taking us for a ride - and it's not in a tram! We should be told, though, whether this publicly-owned company is, indeed, broke, and how much trouble the public purse is in as a result of this folly of epic proportions.

"Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused."

The first cuts are the deepest ...

It strikes me that Labour MPs - including the most senior Whitehall Ministers - are getting more and more verbose about the cuts Ali Darling wants to impose on Scotland. The Head Boy himself was pitching for sainthood this weekend, suggesting that Scotland's Government should be delighted to have £1 bn worth of cuts imposed on the Scottish people - and that the Scottish Government should be looking for additional cuts to hurt Scots even more.

That, of course, would include the Head Boy's own constituents - how can he justify that? Here's how -
We've said we need to get £5bn worth of efficiencies out of the system. When you're spending over £600bn a year, most people will think if they're pulling in their belt, why can't Government?

Compared to £500 million from a 'predicted Scottish budget' of £30 bn. So that's 1/120 of the UK budget to be saved as opposed to the 1/60 that he wants to cut from Scotland's budget. 0.83% of the UK budget or 1.67% of the Scottish budget.

Thank you Darling!

While we're on the subject, there's a continuing whoosh about Labour's claims that somehow Labour Ministers in London have given the SNP Government far more money to play with than they ever gave a Labour administration in Edinburgh - particularly the claim that Dewar's Ministers had to take turns busking in Princes Street in contrast with the current bunch who could afford to decorate Derry Irvine's front room. Let's lift the stone, eh?

Dewar's first year as First Minister (1999-2000) saw a budget total line of £16.302 bn. I know, I know, Labour keeps saying it was £14 bn, but who are you going to believe, me or them? Besides which, that's a figure from a budget published by Dewar's administration.

So was it a sudden and enormous leap in cash when the SNP came to power? Well, no. Take a look at last year's Consolidated Fund Account for last year which, fortunately, has the figures for the last year of Labour control alongside. It's delightful, honestly ...

Money from London 2007-08: £24,616 million
Money from London 2006-07: £21,752 million

The total cash from the Consolidated Fund for the two years was just under £24 bn and just under £27 bn (there are other income streams). For the coming year the cash grant will be £28.7 bn. Note that this includes (in all three cases) non-domestic rates, repayments of funds, pensions contributions, EU funds, etc. - we're not talking London largesse here.

There was, of course, £100 million clawed back by London last year and £101 million clawed back the year before (dinna fash, there's loads of ways they take 'government' money out of Scotland - we'll get to them some other time). What about all those extra £billions in the Comprehensive Spending Review? Well, take the time and enjoy yourself by immersing yourself in the massively exciting Government Financial Reporting Manual which will, I promise you, rock your world. You'll find out about spending notional money, counting it as it comes in as well as when it leaves. My personal favourite, I think, is the quantification of opportunity cost in the accounts - imagine a sole trader trying to get away with it - makes bankers look like boring beancounters really.

So anyway, getting back to the point ...

The big increase in money from the Labour Ministers in London was to Labour Ministers in Edinburgh - before the SNP won power. That might have been to cover additional expensive responsibilities like, for example, financial assistance for post offices and the provision and regulation of rail services (2000); the funding of rail services (2001); more railways (2002); and financial assistance for shipping services (2002).

None of that will matter to Messrs Brown and Darling - Darling wilfully ignoring the efficiency savings already forming part of the Scottish budget as a result of his squeeze while calling for more pain for Scotland. It's funny how often there's another side to the Labour meltdown - and another side and another side. Labour spinning so much it's becoming boring.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Excellent opinion poll

The latest Times' Populus opinion poll is fantastic. The Scotland sample, with an enormous population of 136 unweighted, is excellent news for the SNP, bringing us in at 31%. Even better is when the sample is weighted and drops to 85 (yup, below a tenth of what you need for a decent result), and the results are:

SNP 42%
Con 20%
Lab 19%
LD 15%
Green 2%

There you have it! Crank up electoral calculus and you get a Scotland result of

SNP 47 seats (including North & Leith)
Con 3 seats
Lab 1 seat
LD 8 seats.

That'll do fine, thanks. If only real elections were this easy ...

The wee things:
Labour would keep only Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
How would the Lib Dems manage to hold onto 8?
Cons would take out Jim Murphy and Russell Brown.
Nats would be Nat-tastic (of course) all across the country, removing Danny Alexander, Malcolm Bruce, Des Browne and Gordon Brown.

An excellent poll, even if the confidence interval might be *ahem* a little on the large side. Having said that, I was at a meeting of about 1,000 people in October where everyone was intending to vote SNP - conference is very unified these days.

Just for a laugh, let's put the poll results through the European election:
SNP 42%
Con 20%
Lab 19%
LD 15%
SNP first seat (highest vote) SNP calculation is 42/2 = 21
SNP second seat. SNP calculation is now 42/3 = 14
Con third seat. Con calc is now 20/2 = 10
Lab fourth seat. Lab calc is now 19/2 = 9.5
LD fifth seat. LD calc is now 15/2 = 7.5
SNP sixth and final seat.

SNP three seats, each of the other parties one. I think 2% probably underestimates the Greens, though, let's give the Greens another couple of points from the Lib Dems (the Greens quite often take votes from the Lib Dems):
SNP 42%
Con 20%
Lab 19%
LD 13%
SNP first seat (highest vote) SNP calculation is 42/2 = 21
SNP second seat. SNP calculation is now 42/3 = 14
Con third seat. Con calc is now 20/2 = 10
Lab fourth seat. Lab calc is now 19/2 = 9.5
SNP fifth seat. SNP calc is now 42/4 = 10.5
SNP sixth and final seat.

SNP 4 seats, Conservatives 1 seat and Labour 1 seat. I like that!

Mind how you go!

Monday 16 February 2009

Murder rate soaring?

The Sunday Times carried a story this week about Scotland's murder rate soaring, saying it had gone up by 34% over the 2005 - 2006 period, according to a UN report.

If only someone had bothered to check the Parliamentary Questions they would have found one which was answered in January and makes a few things clear. The number of homicides did go up from 94 to 119 but it had been 137 the year before it dropped to 94 and it dropped again to 114 the year after the 119. In fact, Scotland's homicide numbers have bobbed about a fair bit since 1990, as low as 63 and as high as 150.

Scotland has not suddenly got more violent, with such a rarely occurring crime the population would have to be very much larger in order to make year-on-year changes significant, it would be long-term trends that should be looked at - and that looks stable (if unwelcome). It was the comment of Ricky Baker, Labour's crime spokesperson, that arrested my attention:
We doubled the maximum sentences for possession of a knife and tightened bail provisions, but this report shows we need to go further.

Actually, the figures in the Parliamentary Question would suggest that that policy was an abject failure.

Mind how you go!

Friday 13 February 2009

The mark was missed

Local Income Tax was dropped this week - for very sensible reasons. Darling's raid on the Scottish coffers of future years means that the funding to implement this far fairer taxation system will be missing. Imagine the Chancellor doing that to his own constituents! On top of that there isn't, currently, a majority in Parliament for progressive local taxation.

While it was the sensible thing to do, the sensible use of Government resources, it did open up the opportunity for Labour to score a palpable hit. Missed completely, though, as Ian Bell pointed out.

Will it stop evolution?

US researchers think they've set medical science on the path to curing the common cold by mapping the 'family tree' of the rhinovirus. Good news you would think, but perhaps not. It seems that viruses could be one of the drivers of evolution, and an explanation for why there have been interesting discoveries like the presence of snake DNA in cattle and gerbils. Stopping viruses infecting us might be stopping evolution dead in its tracks and rendering future generations inviable.

Unintended consequences indeed.

Macwhirter driving forward

Iain Macwhirter won the election to become Rector of Edinburgh University with 69% of the 7004 votes cast. Well done that chap! Some strange ideas, but he is a journalist, and they're all very strange, so we can forgive him.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Addiction is a terrible thing

Iain Gray's got form.

Am Fear Liath Mòr was in fine fettle today, ripping up the SNP's 2007 manifesto (well, just the cover - and it had been precut, but there you go) in a dramatic gesture of the type he is most definitely unsuited to. He's done it before, though:

"I thought I could handle it, I thought 'maybe just the one', I didn't think it would turn into a habit, now I find I've got my eyes on a couple of other Scottish ones and then, maybe, I'll have to turn to the Portuguese stuff."

Hide your phone books, I say!

Going out with a bang

Danger Will Robinson.

A satellite crash which may endanger the space station - and you thought Gordon Brown's recession/depression was going to be hard. Satellites like that would be travelling at around 5 miles per second, and the relative crash speed would be about 3600 miles an hour.

Communications satellites falling out of the sky - will that be bad pollution?

Tuesday 10 February 2009

The Pitch Drop Experiment

There's a physics experiment that's been going on in Australia (in Queensland, not one of the territories currently suffering the bushfires) - and it's been going on since 1927. In short, pitch is being allowed to drip through a funnel. In 2007, 80 years after the experiment began and 77 years after the stem of the funnel was cut, the ninth drop was forming.

Professor John Maidstone hopes it will run another century though.

Excellent stuff. Mind how you go!

Who'd steal those?

There's kleptomania and then there's just weird. Someone has stolen all the copies of Edinburgh University's student newspaper (imaginatively titled Student) from both Teviot and Potterrow. When did any student newspaper become valuable enough to lift one copy, never mind all of them?

I just don't know why anyone would go to all that bother. This conservative-type blogger chappie seems to have terrible suspicions - I don't believe that, do you?

Monday 9 February 2009

Almost as good as me

It turns out that Alex Salmond is almost as good a singer as I am:

More bull from the SNP

I just wanted to use the headline - the SNP Government has extended the Bull Hire Scheme while the details of a new scheme are worked out. If you need to know why someone would want to hire a bull I suggest you ask a crofter.

A new MSP

It's just been confirmed that the candidate stepping up to become MSP in the wake of Bashir Ahmad's death will be Anne McLaughlin.

Following him will be quite a task. Good luck to Ms McLaughlin.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Bashir Ahmad MSP

With deep sadness, the Scottish National Party announced that the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Mr Bashir Ahmad MSP passed away earlier this evening.

First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party Mr Alex Salmond led the tributes. Mr Salmond said:

“Bashir Ahmad made history as the first Scots-Asian member of the Scottish Parliament, and therefore gave it something indefinable – he made it representative of the whole country for the first time. Bashir was also the kindest, most decent human being it has ever been my pleasure to meet. And lastly – although he would have considered it to be first – he was the most patriotic of Scots.

Bashir was a credit to both his faith and to his country, and my condolences are with his family at this desperately sad time.”

Deputy First Minister, Depute SNP Leader and fellow Glasgow MSP Ms Nicola Sturgeon said

“Bashir Ahmad was an exceptional person, and I will miss him deeply. He will be an enormous loss to Parliament, to Glasgow, and to Scotland, as well as to his party.

“Bashir had a loving family, and countless numbers of friends from all walks of life, because he was such a warm and generous man, and my thoughts are with his wife and children.

“He made all of us immensely proud when he took his Holyrood seat wearing traditional Pakistani clothing, swearing in using both English and Urdu. Bashir represented the best of Glasgow and the very best of Scotland.”

Bashir Ahmad (68) was born in India on 12 February 1940, and brought up in Pakistan. He came to Scotland aged 21, and worked as a bus conductor and bus driver before buying his own shop. He subsequently owned shops,restaurants and a hotel before retiring from business. He was President of the Pakistan Welfare Association five times.In 1995 Bashir founded Scots Asians for Independence. He was elected to represent the Pollokshields East ward on Glasgow City Council in the 2003elections, and became an MSP for Glasgow in May 2007.Bashir leaves a wife, five daughters and two sons

Friday 6 February 2009

Who wants consensual politics?

Good to see Dave Maddox down at the Steamie loves the scent of political blood in his nostrils. The post titled "FMQs - end of the cosy consensus " - I can't find a way to link to just one post on the Steamie. I've always suspected that politics watchers get bored by the consensual stuff that goes on for 90% of the time in Parliament - good to have my suspicions confirmed.

If I were Lindsay Roy

I'd be furious about the missing marked up register from Glenrothes. I'd march into Jim Murphy's office and say "listen, pal, you're responsible for the conduct of parliamentary elections in Scotland, so this mess is your fault, get it sorted." Then I'd steal his Tunnocks Teacake (probably a registered trademark).

Right, so the running of Parliamentary elections in Scotland is reserved to Westminster (even the Scottish Parliament elections, bizarrely), and Jim Murphy's ample neck is on the chopping block, what can he do? Well, he could always have the corresponding number list checked. Oho, whassat? Exactly the question I asked m'learned friend when he expounded upon the possibility. I've been involved in elections for many's the year and I've spent all my money on leaflets and gear, but I'd never heard of the corresponding number list.

Turns out it was the replacement for stamping and counterfoils - the number of the ballot paper is preprinted on the list and the electoral number of the elector receiving that ballot paper is written beside it. Kaching! There's another version of the Marked-Up Register - and it will be kept with the used ballot papers - it's sealed like the ballot paper account. So there we go, simply open the envelope, copy the list of electoral numbers and release that as a Marked-Up Register, keeping the ballot paper numbers secret. What could be easier.

Wee problem - you'd need the court to order it opened and the court will only do that if there is an election petition under consideration or as part of an investigation into electoral irregularities. Foiled! Except ...

The House of Commons has a residual power, left over from the days before courts handled election petitions (they were handled by Parliament - obviously because there's unlikely to be any vested interests there ... ), to order that election documents be opened and scrutinised. shrieval scrutiny of the Corresponding Number List could be ordered by the House of Commons.

Time to storm back into Jim Murphy's office and say "listen, pal, you're responsible for the conduct of parliamentary elections in Scotland, so this mess is your fault, get it sorted, and here's how - have the Commons order the opening of the Corresponding Number Lists for shrieval scrutiny, get the court to copy those lists and have them published as a Marked-Up Register."

I can't understand why Lindsay Roy is hanging about on this one, he should be desperate to clear up any confusion over his election.

Mind how you go!

Away in a manger ...

A new blog has been born. It seems like he'll be a stright-talking chap.

Wednesday 4 February 2009


Budget sneaked through...

On tenterhooks

I'm on tenterhooks - fair enough, I hear you say, I'm from Dundee and knew a couple of tenters as well as a few stowers and the odd weaver (weavers are all odd), although shuftin was automated by the time I was wheeching aboot.

Anyway, we're all on tenterhooks here waiting for the budget votes to see if the budget will pass today after a week of tense negotiations.

Oh, it's tense ...

Tuesday 3 February 2009

In distress?

Downing Street flew the Union Flag upside down during a ceremony with the Chinese Prime Minister. This is traditionally a sign of distress ....

Those lost registers

The Glenrothes registers which have been lost are causing a bit of a stushie. Labour's bit:
Scottish Labour backed calls for a probe into why "an SNP government department lost confidential personal data again".
OK, it's the Sheriff Court, so it could be argued that it belongs to the SNP Government. I prefer to think of it as the SNP Government being current custodians rather than owning the state, but it's a difference of approach.

Secondly, I think it's the first time that Scottish Government 'owned' data has been lost since May 2007, so the 'again' is wrong. Thirdly, the data isn't confidential, it's left open for public scrutiny for a year. I'm surprised that Labour doesn't understand our election systems

It was the last part of Labour's quote that got me, though:
"The ballot papers were counted fair and square in front of the eyes of the world."
Who ever said they weren't? What a curious thing to say.

Update: There's another bit to the Labour quote in the Scotsman story:
The marked register is provided for the convenience of political parties.

No it's not. It's provided to allow members of the public to check a few things, things like whether their own name is marked as voted or not voted - or that of anyone else on the register - and, should the elector wish, to count the names scored off and check whether this tallies with the number of votes cast as announced by the Returning Officer.

It's about giving the voting public an assurance that their elections are run properly, not for the convenience of political parties (what convenience, exactly, anyway?) Confusing the proper running of elections with the convenience of political parties is a mark of contempt for the election and for the democratic process.

How strange

It would appear that the marked-up registers fromt eh Glenrothes bye-election have disappeared, meaning that there is no record of who voted on November 6th.

United ...

Bobby Buirds, Unite Union's regional officer for Scotland, writing in the Scotsman, lays great emphasis on the importance of the Blue Book.

Surprising, then, that in 2005 Amicus, one of the fore-runners of Unite, negotiated a deal for building Wembley stadium that burst the Blue Book agreement - and it was done with a company that never signed up to the Blue Book.


Greens in favour of capital punishment

In Mexico, anyway

Monday 2 February 2009

That Labour xenophobia

Labour's apparent distrust of anyone from anywhere else in the world is becoming quite marked. As more sensible Labour people try to damp it down, Duncan McNeil is off on one. The news release issued in his name by Labour's spin doctors at Parliament is below. You'll notice that there is not even an attempt to justify what is being said, just a bid to latch onto anti-foreigner feeling which is playing on the fears that people justifiably have during this economic depression.

Gordon Brown might have some wriggle room over his "British jobs for British workers" guff - not the awful spin that Labour has tried to put on it that he wanted to make sure that people were trained, but he can be forgiven for just not thinking it through, making what he thought would be a clever political point, and failing to appreciate that a signal like that from a Prime Minister gives the green light to racism - but Duncan McNeil's rant, completely devoid of any attempt to rationalise what's being said and lacking any clear thought as it is, is simply xenophobic.

I know a few people in the Labour party and a few in the wider movement. They'll be horrified at the angle that their party is taking on this, and I hope that they'll make sure that their displeasure is known within their party so the line can change. No politician should be comfortable on the territory that Labour appears to want to make its own and this intolerance should have no place in our society. It's even worse when it's tagged onto the back of the economic problems, but it's not acceptable under any circumstances.

Labour's news release:


Foreign workers are likely to benefit from future Scottish public works because of funding delays caused by the SNP government.

Labour has warned the SNP that hold ups in new public investment projects could result in a skills shortage in Scotland, and that will see the amount of foreign workers increase significantly when the market picks up again.

Labour has accused the SNP of storing up problems for Scotland's construction industry and making it less likely for Scottish workers to benefit from investment.

Labour's Duncan McNeil said:
"My concern is that the present situation doesn't look like improving and indeed may actually get worse.

"European labour currently accounts for five per cent of the workforce but this could rise to 20 or 30 per cent in future if the SNP does not listen to the concerns coming from industry leaders.

"The sector is calling for capital investment projects to be fast tracked to help the industry ride out the economic storm.

"Speed is of the essence – funding needs to be in place and we need to see projects coming through. A steady flow of work is critical for the survival of the Scottish
construction industry.

"Further delays will lead to a jobs black hole and the only way to fill the gap in the future will be to employ foreign labour.

"With more than 20,000 jobs lost during 2008 and many more expected in 2009, there is concern that Scotland will not have skilled workers to build projects such as Forth crossing and Southern General hospital in Glasgow.

"Construction workers who are concerned about their jobs in this difficult situation need to be taken seriously.

"The SNP government needs to ensure that Scotland has the capacity and skills in order for Scottish workers to fully benefit from the significant investment being planned in our public works."


Some or none?

Winner of the Edie Environmental Personality of the Year Award 2008 (no, I didn't make it up - intriguing acceptance speech), former co-convener and moulder of the Green Party, has called for children to be limited. To two per family, that is. To do a Gordon, of course, and save the world. He even said that the government must improve family planning, even if it means shifting money from curing illness to increasing contraception and abortion.

Couple of things:
1. If limiting it to two bairns each is good, surely banning procreation is even better? No children, save the world! Might be a difficulty or two as Homo sapien dies out, but the planet will be safe.

2. OK, that first idea was extreme, but since the fertility rate in Scotland is low and the fertility rate in England is still below 2 in spite of some growth, what's the problem? The replacement rate is about 2.1 if memory serves.

3. Surely larger families actually have a smaller per-person use of planetary resources? I'd also argue that that becomes a life-long habit. The more people under one roof sharing resources the better, surely? Aye, it's a Brave New World, indeed.

Well, the good Green Social Engineer is a member of the Optimum Population Trust which is, of course, opposed to coercion in family planning, but wants to get rid of 4 billion people from the world and reduce the UK population to around 21 million - Scotland's population, one would imagine, would float in around 2 million.
OPT proposes immigration caps and a reduction in unplanned pregnancies (surely the clue is in the word 'unplanned'?) in addition to central direction of family sizes. There are some cracking 'population policies' and 'migration policies':
  • One-child population policies should be the last resort, limited to emergencies such as so-called “demographic entrapment” where the environment of a region is so damaged as to approach being uninhabitable.

  • Government agencies should develop joined-up action by co-ordinating all the stakeholders, to avoid wasteful duplications and gaping omissions.

  • SRE programmes should present all choices in contraception, including what is sometimes termed “saving sex” – not having sex yet.

  • LARCs such as "forgettable" contraceptive implants, injections and the intrauterine methods should be made much more readily available to young people.

  • Clearer interpretation of UK obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and if necessary the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, to prevent further abuse of the ECHR by economic migrants seeking a way to enter signatory countries by claiming asylum.

  • Reintroduction of UK border controls, with computerised logging of all those entering and leaving the country, with intra-EU cross-checking of passport and visa details to check validity.

  • Clear guidance for employers, including those using agencies and subcontractors, on how to check documentation to ensure that employees are not illegal workers, with penalties for employers of illegal migrants.

  • Tougher penalties for solicitors who dishonestly assist illegal immigrants to obtain legal services or documentation, or otherwise knowingly assist in fraudulent asylum claims.

  • Introduction of a centrally cross-checkable system of names, addresses, date of birth, national insurance numbers and work permit details for all UK residents, with strict data protection legislation.

  • Universities could be encouraged to raise the fees they charge to overseas students to a level which reduces the inflow of students while maintaining total fee income.
Personal choice, liberties and the sharing of common human experience - where are they? How do we share the wealth of the world, with aid and handouts rather than trade and fairness? Well, there's some policies that would improve freedom of choice in the list - but only freedoms within the parameters chosen by the OPT, the right to choose your contraception, not the right to choose your behaviour.

Some of the news releases this organisation sends out show an underlying intolerance of their fellow human beings. Some people would impose their views on others rather than debate them, some would restrict the liberties of others rather than grow them, and some would seek to pull up the drawbridge rather than allow others into their country. Those of us who believe that civil and personal liberties are quite important must continue to argue that case - it's only that continued insistence on those rights that keeps them alive.

Labour and xenophobia

One hears that Labour is stepping up the xenophobia about foreign workers in spite of Peter Mandelson's wiser counsel and that further details will emerge tonight.

It looks bad

News this past weekend that Edinburgh may be the test-bed for electric cars. Good news, I thought at first. The I noticed it was being promoted by Ash Gupta and supported by Councillor Phil Wheeler - they've got form together, remember, Gupta appearing in the Councillor's Register of Interests.

There may be nothing in it, but Councillor Wheeler should be more circumspect when dealing with lobbyists.

Sorting out journalists.

Dave Maddox in the Scotsman:
The MSPs' tower has five floors
No, it has six. 5 is the highest number in the lifts, sure, but don't forget the ground floor...
other parties cannot sneak up to bargain with them
Erm, telephone, email, meet somewhere else?
The Climate Change Bill will only get Green backing with real carbon emission reduction targets and a commitment to tackling air travel.
That'll be the SNP Bill that will carry the support of the four main parties because of the subject matter.

Then there's Kenny Farquharson on the SoS saying the Scottish Government should now get involved with the Commission to Repaint Devolution when the Scottish Government has been involved with the Calman Commission since May last year.

Kenny also wrote;

The SNP has been consistently scathing about Calman, branding it a Unionist conspiracy.

Where? When? I've only ever seen the Commission to Repaint Devolution described as a unionist conspiracy twice - once by Kenny as above - and once by Eddie Barnes writing in The Steamie on the 10th of January. It would seem that it's the fine upstanding employees of Scotsman Publications who are referring to Calman's tea party as a unionist conspiracy - nationalists don't pay it that much attention.

A couple more points from Kenny's piece;
Using the considerable resources at his disposal, the First Minister should present the intellectual arguments in favour of transferring individual powers from London to Edinburgh.
Do try to keep up, Kenny!
The past week – a bad one for the Nationalists by any and every measure
No, really, it wasn't. Apart from anything else it showed that we're the only party that's election ready; it showed that we one of the two parties in Parliament taking the budget seriously rather than posturing and making party political points; it showed that the SNP Government got on with governing during a time of high political drama (there was a lot of other stuff going on); it showed that the SNP was the party that was prepared for all possible outcomes - as the Labour and Lib Dem groups sat staring in disbelief, SNP Ministers were on their feet making announcements about the way forward; and it was the SNP that led Parliament though a rapid maturing process. All in all a fine week for us.
If Labour's idea on apprenticeships is timely and affordable – the answer is yes on both counts
See, the thing is, apprenticeships are demand-led and you need the employers before you can have apprenticeships - journeymen to help train the apprentices. Unless, of course, Labour wants to boost the numbers studying apprenticeships in non-traditional areas - like working in a call centre.
Instead of reaching out to other parties to see what common ground can be built on, his approach is simply to try – usually in vain – to bulldoze the SNP manifesto through Parliament.
What havers! There's quite a lot of the SNP manifesto being delivered, and it's being delivered because others have been persuaded of its value. Trying to force legislation through with only 47 MSPs would just not work - and it wouldn't even look like bulldozing.

Take 100 lines and share your sweets with the class.

The casual abuse of government

Hazel Blears spoke to a load of Labour candidates recently, and Progress magazine covered it. The story has been covered in quite a few media outlets, but mainly because of her strange comment;

Campaigning is like sex – if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not doing it right.
They missed some of the other stuff that I think is quite important. Let's have a look:

1) Use Labour’s incumbency to your advantage. You may not be the MP, but can the MP get in to see ministers to present petitions? Or take constituents to Downing Street? Or have their photo taken with the chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary, or prime minister? They can’t and you can. So don’t start out as the junior partner. Act like the MP – getting things done for local people.
Really? Is it the position of this Secretary of State that Labour candidates get preferential access to Ministers? Can she really be saying that Labour candidates will be allowed to use Government properties for party political campaigning? Well, it contravenes the Ministerial Code, for one thing;

i. Ministers must not use government resources for party political purposes
Back to Hazel;
4) Make use of new media: your website, blog, twittering, facebook, etc should all work to project your image and reach out to voters. But be careful: because every word you write or utter will be scrutinised by our enemies, and you don’t want to become a national story like some of the Tories.

Mind how you go!

Sunday 1 February 2009


Well, soon, anyway.

I had a wee look at Electoral Calculus and was delighted to find that I'm predicted to win in Edinburgh North and Leith - and good news comes our way today as well with a fine polling performance for Westminster.

I believe the phrase is "bring it on!"