Wednesday 30 September 2009

combien coûte ce chienchien dans la fenêtre?

Pardon my French. Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP has been told that the Edinburgh Tram Project might cost as much as £750 million and not be in place until 2013 (nine years after the original start date), leaving Edinburgh to find £250 million when finances are getting chokingly tight as a result of the cuts coming from the Labour Government in London.

Jenny Dawe (council leader) and TIE have both poo-poohed Ms Somerville's news (obviously not Blackadder fans). Who to believe? Well, it was Shirley-Anne who revealed that 1b was being cancelled - and that was denied at the time as well.

A wee shame.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

In the brown stuff

They let Gordon Brown make a speech to Labour conference. He didn't do as badly as I thought he would, but let's a have a wee look at some details:

Because what let the world down last autumn was not just bankrupt institutions but a bankrupt ideology. What failed was the Conservative idea that markets always self-correct but never self-destruct. What failed was the right wing fundamentalism that says you just leave everything to the market and says that free markets should not just be free but values free.

Remind me, just for a laugh, who was in Government and pursuing this "bankrupt ideology" that supposedly belongs to the Conservatives? If "right wing fundamentalism" was at fault, who was the Chancellor who drove that fundamentalism into the financial markets? Who created the FSA, eased banking regulations, encouraged debt growth, and destabilised the financial markets? I put it to you that at fault was one Gordon Brown MP!

Like most families on middle and modest incomes we believed in making the most of our talents.
But we knew that no matter how hard we worked free education was our only pathway to being the best we could be.

Then why did Mr Brown and the Government of which he was part take away free education? It was Labour that imposed tuition fees (which we only got rid of in Scotland with the election of the SNP Government and which they still have in England), and it was Labour who took away student grants to replace them with loans (Conservatives started Student Loans, but they didn't remove grants - Labour did that).

So we will pass a new law to intervene on bankers’ bonuses whenever they put the economy at risk.
Couple of questions - how do you judge that bonuses are putting the economy at risk? Taking risks is part of building an economy, if it's not at risk it's really at risk! More importantly, why just bankers? Politicians whose actions put the economy at risk must be as culpable as bankers - and I'm sure there are other professions who can put the economy at risk.

this coming election will not be a contest for a fourth term Labour government, but for the first Labour government of this new global age

Wow! Year zero!

So we will create a new national investment corporation to provide finance for growing manufacturing and other businesses; our £1 billion innovation fund will the back the creativity and inventions that are essential to the economy

That'll be copying the SNP's Scottish Investment Bank. Well done Brown.

From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes

Locking up teenage parents? Somehow being 16 or 17 is the problem rather than the behaviour exhibited by some people! There are perfectly responsible teenage parents, hard-working youngsters doing well by their children and by society with a good family support network around them, and child benefit is a universal benefit so every parent is at least entitled to support from the taxpayer, so how big will these parent prisons be and why only 16 and 17 year-olds? Surely he's not trying to steal the BNP vote?

They told me debt relief for the poorest was impossible – but we refused to give in and now thanks to debt relief and aid 40 million more children across the world are going to school.

No-one ever said that debt relief was impossible, just that many people doubted that the politicians of the time had any real intention of allowing debt relief. It would seem that they have been proven correct, as the IMF is busy increasing the debt of the poorest countries and the G20 countries, including the UK, are failing to live up to their promises.
This image is from the Jubilee USA Network report linked to above.

How appropriate the lyrics to the song that was played as he left the stage:

M People - Moving on Up

You've done me wrong, your time is up
You took a sip (just a sip) from the devils cup.
You broke my heart, there's no way back.
Move right outta here baby.
Go and pack your bags.
Just who do you think you are?
Stop acting like some kind of star.
Just who do you think you are?
Take it like a man baby if that's what you are.

Mind how you go!

Labour's Independence debate

Have a wee read of Iain Gray's speech to Labour conference (you've nothing better to do, have you?). I've selected a tidbit or two for your delight and delectation (just one or two because the Belle of Bellegrove has done an in-depth job on it) - and added my wise and sober comments ...
Alex Salmond refused to debate with Jim Murphy – because, he said, he debates with me, every Thursday.
What’s so special about Thursdays Alex? How about St Andrews day? Clear your diary. Debate my vision of Scotland against yours. Tell us which side you are on. I dare you.

That'll be Labour's next business day in the Scottish Parliament taken care of then. If I may quote a former holder of his cubicle - "bring it on".

In the Scottish Parliament from Opposition, we delivered 8000 apprenticeships, stopped the unfair, unworkable Local Income Tax, and forced the strongest climate change legislation in the world on the SNP.

Actually, it's businesses that deliver apprenticeships - and recessions curtail them. Governments provide training places - which the SNP has done, and we removed the apprenticeship training places which should never have been apprenticeships in the first place but were inserted by the last lot in order to say "look, lots of apprentices"...

That's both the Lib Dems and Labour now claimed to have forced the climate change legislation through - I wonder why they never did it in their eight years in power when it would have been so much easier? The truth is that it was the SNP Scottish Government, working alongside our dear friends in the Green Party (no, honestly, I do like them - even if they think that running a train down the middle of the road is a good idea).

The peach, though, Local Income Tax is unfair and the Council Tax is better? A Labour leader (or sub-leader or whatever he is) saying that progressive taxation is unfair when compared to a tax based on the value your house might have had if you'd sold it 18 years ago! Through the looking glass with Iain Gray.

Up one would not want to make it!

Mind how you go.

Apples and oranges

Since O2 lost the exclusive contract for the iphone Orange has popped up as an alternative supplier - meaning that Orange will now be marketing Apples ...

It's almost like listening to a Gordon Brown speech ...

Monday 28 September 2009

Another investment in Scottish education

The SNP's manifesto commitment on school buildings in 2007 was to match Labour's plans "brick for brick". Labour's 2007 commitment (the manifesto with the spectral children) was to re-build 250 schools 2007-2011 (page 26, funny bar at the right-hand side). Rebuilding is either substantial refurbishment or new build - both count towards that target. 159 schools have been completed since May 2007 and the current programme will see the 250 target met by the 2011 election. Another SNP promise fulfilled.

With the process streamlined now and accelerated, cabinet Secretary for Education, Fiona Hyslop MSP, has announced a further extension to the building programme with the first 14 secondary schools of the next wave, soon to be followed by the next wave of primary schools - taking us into 2013 - planning for the future, excellent stuff.

Mind how you go!

Marches 'straining' police budget

I see that the councillors who serve on the Strathclyde Police Authority will receive a report which will say that the force's budget is being stretched by having to police too many marches and parades and, specifically, that:
more than 1,000 events last financial year took nearly 50,000 police hours at a cost of £1.7m.
More than a third of this was spent on the main Orange parade in Glasgow.
The reports said a "disproportionate number of officers" were being deployed with "no means of cost recovery".

I like to help out where I can, there's a means of cost recovery easily found. After all, Strathclyde Police weren't slow in demanding extra money from football clubs for policing their events, why should the Orange Lodge be any different? Any organisation which is so proud of its history and which pledges to uphold the law but takes up so much of a police force's budget would be delighted to make a contribution in respect of that expense would it not? I wouldn't be surprised if the Orange Order was already formulating plans to offer a contribution to off-set the policing costs, especially given that they're opening swish new premises in Glasgow.

Of course, given that another report to be considered at the same time (also mentioned in the BBC story) tells of a catalogue of crimes committed during these marches this year, perhaps Glasgow's Code of Conduct for marches should be invoked? South Lanarkshire already says that consideration of whether to allow a march would include consideration of
whether the march (either alone or with other events would impose too great a burden on the police
North Lanarkshire has a more lax code of conduct but still has the same right to restrict parades as the other two councils. It would seem that costs could be curtailed as well as recovered - if there was a will to do so.

Council tax freeze

Now that the STUC has joined the Lib Dems in calling for an increase in Council Tax, perhaps we should be clear about how Council Tax has been frozen since the SNP came to power. The Scottish Government offered councils the opportunity to relieve some of the burden on Council Tax payers with a funding package. 32 local authorities took separate decisions about whether to cut, freeze or increase their Council Tax every year - they're the people best placed to know what their council needs. All 32 councils voted to freeze the Council Tax in each year in which the option was available, it's up to each council whether to continue that.


"The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing." - former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

"The SNP are not a government, they are a campaign," - current Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray (should have been 'is' rather than 'are', of course).

Careful now!

How did it go?

As expected, really. Wee debate on Thursday as previously mentioned - Paul McBride had pulled out (apparently to visit an old friend in London - David somebody ...) and was replaced by Yapping Yousuf. A wee bit irritating because I had had dinner with a senior member of the faculty of advocates the night before (quite fortuitously, we both appeared at the same event and ended up seated at the same table) and I had a few wee darts to fling.

Ach weel - Chris Harvie engaged in an extended historical lecture on the faults and foibles of the UK. Bill Butler replied with a peroration on how a working-class Glaswegian has more in common with a working-class cockney than she does with a middle-class Glaswegian and other suchlike things, protesting his belief in the right to self-determination. I had a wee rant on how Scotland would be better off independent, able to take her own path in the world and rejoin the family of nations, and Yousuf rattled out Labour's stats on oil and deficits.

Then the audience had a chance to contribute - and not one of the contributions from the floor mentioned anything that any of the four of us had said! That punctures the ego balloon a bit. The straw poll at the end was about 75-25 against independence - slightly better than I was expecting from that audience.

Yousuf was actually not bad, considering he'd come in at the last moment after a text in panic from the organiser. Got to learn to put forward his own arguments as well as use party figures and to accept that if Scotland's economy is in a mess at the moment it's Labour's fault - Labour forms the government with control of the levers of economic power and has been in that position for 12 years. Labour's incompetence isn't an argument against Scotland's ability. Other than that, he was fine. Except ... that jumper's got to go - burning's too good for it (and when I know it's a bad jumper, you can guarantee it's a bad jumper):(For illustration purposes only, nicked from the Bad Sweater Guy blog - must be related to Yousuf ...)

I got in a wee tussle with Bill Butler - I remember him being opposed to Labour party members working with any other political parties' members in organisations like Scotland United and I had that confirmed by a former Labour party member who suffered a bit during that period. In fact, I have a memory of Bill being one of those opposed to devolution. Bill denied it in quite strong terms on Thursday. I would hate to think that I had miscalled him, but I'm fairly certain I'm right - anyone else remember either way?

Part of my speech on Thursday revolved around the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (simply because that was the subject matter when I last spoke in an ESU event at the tender age of 14), and I compared the daring to dream of the anti-apartheid campaigners of South Africa to the daring to dream of Scottish nationalists. Bill thought I was comparing the oppression rather than the ability to dream a better country, I thought I'd made it clear, here's the passage:
"the people involved in the anti-apartheid campaign did not restrict their ambitions, they dreamed of the nation they wanted and they set out to get it. They went through suffering that we can’t really imagine, but the big things weren’t the suffering and the pain, they were the ambition, the imagination and the dreams that sustained them.

They were the embodiment of Parnell’s observation that “No man shall have the right to fix the boundary to the march of a Nation.” It’s that ambition that drives nations forward, it’s that belief and those dreams that not only sustain a nation but let it grow. That’s what Scottish nationalism is, it’s the dream of what can be, of how our nation can advance ..."

I was partly inspired by the conversation I had with Kumi Naidoo as we drove him from SNP conference in Aviemore one year to catch his flight at Glasgow Airport as he told us tales of his adventures in fighting apartheid (including how to evade passport control - before the added security we've got now); how much he loves Scotland and his wonder that Scotland doesn't dream more about what she can be; and how his friend had told him that the greatest thing you can do for your cause isn't to die for it but to live the rest of your life for it. He told the same story at the launch of Every Human Has Rights in Cape Town in 2007:

Kumi's gone on now to drive another challenge (he organised Civicus after apartheid, and helped start the Make Poverty History campaign) which should help make another difference in the world. He's an inspiring bloke (forgot his notes for the SNP event, scribbled half a dozen key words down on a sheet of A4 and spoke for 45 minutes with no interruption, deviation, or repetition) - if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, grab it with both flippers!

Mind how you go.

Thursday 24 September 2009

McBride legs it

I'm told that Paul McBride QC has pulled out of the debate tonight. He must have heard that I was his opponent and thought discretion was the better part of valour! I'm informed that his replacement is a Young Yapster.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Lib Dems can't win here - Vince Cable

Ah, Vince Cable, sage of the Liberal Democrats, hailed by his party as clairvoyant and by his centre parting as forging through, made a claim at Lib Dem conference about government in two years' time. According to the seer of Twickenham, the Conservatives will be in Government in Westminster in September 2011, and the SNP will be in power in Scotland in September 2011.

If you look carefully you'll see where I've twisted that just a tiny bit. It was compounded later when Lib Dem 'sources' told the Scotsman that they believed that the SNP could be in a majority after the 2011 election.

Referendum - Jim Murphy says "bring it on"

Well, not quite, but our current favourite Secretary of State for Scotland has said that "most Scots no longer want independence". He'll not be worried at all about a referendum, then , will he? In fact, he's bound to want to have one to get it out of the way, isn't he? Isn't he?

Mind your step there.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

I do like a good debate

I speaking in an English Speaking Union debate on Thursday evening, it’s open to the public and anyone can pop along and hear the pearls of wisdom. The topic is

“This House Supports Scottish Independence”

The running order is:

1. Christopher Harvie MSP (1st Proposer)
2. Bill Butler MSP (1st Opposer)
3. Calum Cashley (2nd Proposer)
4. Paul McBride QC (2nd Opposer)
Chair is Professor John Curtice.

Should be fun, I think. The ESU’s premises are in the basement of the last building in Atholl Crescent, just underneath number 22. Doors open at 6.30pm and the debate starts at 7.00pm. The speeches will be 8 minutes long followed by a floor debate.

See you all there?

I'm feeling sorry for Kevin Lang

Poor Kevin Lang, Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh North & Leith. His party appears to be determined to rid itself of all that its members believe in - and do away with any prospects it had of winning seats - and in the meantime his party leader is slagging him off.

Wee Kev, you see, had a cracking wheeze: He'd call for the Lib Dems to support a referendum on Independence, get in the papers, get some publicity, and everybody gets out alive. Except oor Tav never saw it that way, describing him first as "desperate to get your face on the television" and then as being drunk at the time:
"Inevitably during a conference the heady sea air, and possibly one or two pina coladas, get a little too much for one or two colleagues.
"The serious point here is that the Liberal Democrats are absolutely united in opposing independence. That's been the absolutely key discussion behind the scenes among all of us."

I say leave Kevin alone, Tavish, he's got a deposit to lose!

Bit daft of the Lib Dem whip to impose a gag on the issue, though, I would have thought that would be counter-productive.

Mind how you go!

The Challenger always wants the debate

There's a wee rule of thumb that the weaker candidate in an election challenges the stronger to a debate, the candidate in the stronger position is usually the incumbent and it's the aspiring candidate that challenges. The theory goes that if the stronger candidate accepts then the weaker is elevated to the same level as him or her, if the stronger candidate declines then he or she is scared to debate. So when you see one politician challenge another to a debate you'll know which is in the stronger position.

Jim Murphy has challenged Alex Salmond to a debate ...

Monday 21 September 2009

Lib Dems lurch to the right - I think

I was riveted by the oration of Dashin' Tav (I've seen him dance; smooth as a very smooth person and nothing like John Travolta with a sprained ankle), leader of all things Lib Demmery in Scotland (and in Shetland, too), at his party conference - in England somewhere (Bournemouth, I think). You can read it yourself for your own delight and delectation, but I'd like to pick out just a wee bit to examine, and it's this bit:

Research I am publishing today shows that - over four years - the SNP will have spent £950m on a set of distorted priorities and hand-outs that give more to the rich than to the poor. Because this is what you find:

If you have two children and earn £100,000 then you will have gained £802 per year from the SNP. But if you have two children and you earn £15,000 then you will have gained just six pounds and seven pence.

So that’s enough champagne and lobster every night for the rich. A fish supper for the poor.

The grammar is just from the way that speeches are written, but let's have a wee look at the claims. I've managed to acquire a copy of the "research" (It didn't appear on the web at so we can have a nice cup of tea and discuss it - it turned out that Jeremy Purvis was involved, so the figures are bound to be wrong. I'll leave aside the issue of paying six quid for a fish supper while £2.19 gets you champagne and lobster (I'm taking it that Tavish doesn't do the shopping in his house - either for fish suppers or for his champagne and lobster). There are Scots living from hand to mouth 12 years after the coming to power of the 'poverty-fighting Labour party' and eight years after the Scottish Executive of which Tavish was a member introduced its Social Justice Milestones (then quickly dropped them when they started moving in the wrong direction - last was in 2003, a couple of years after they were launched).

Anyway, this 'research'. If I knew how to put it up here I would, you'll have to trust me that I'm quoting accurately, copying and pasting:

By 2011-12 the SNP will have spent £950million on four headline-grabbing manifesto policies.
Who has really benefited from the SNP give-away? The SNP has said that it is not possible to cut taxes under a fixed budget. But that is precisely what they have done with £950m. And the people who have gained most have been the richest people.
· A high income family will have gained £802.37 per year from these policies.
· A low income family will have gained £6.07.
This research looks at the four headline policies:
· Council Tax freeze
· Free prescriptions for all by 2011
· Free school meals for all P1-P3 children by 2011
· Abolition of bridge tolls.
These four policies will have a cost a total of £900million by 2011-12.
The benefits have not been felt evenly across income groups.
The richer you are, the more you will have gained.

Of course, we all spotted straight away that they started off talking about £950 million and finished the introduction by talking about £900 million - the more the Lib Dems speak the better the value from the SNP Government.

Four policies they want to concentrate on, then, Council Tax freeze; prescription charge cut; Free school meals; abolition of bridge tolls.

Here's the families they're looking at:

A Low Income Family, earning £15,000 per year. They live in a Band A house. More than 40% of Scottish households earn less than £15,000 and most of those that do live in Band A homes.

A High Income Family, earning more than £100,000 per year. They live in a Band G house, the second most common Band for the highest earning households.

Each family has two children in P1-P3 of primary school.

I'm sure you noticed it - the low income family lives in the most common house band for low income families, the high income family lives in the second most common banding for high income families. That'll be because the numbers didn't work if you used the most common banding.

Council Tax Freeze
The analysis assumes that the Low Income household lives in a Band A property, as 130,000 of the lowest income households do[1].

You might, like me, wonder where that figure of 130,000 households comes from. It's a Parliamentary Question (I've put the link in the footnote marker) asked by one Tommy Sheridan and answered by Tavish Scott - in 2004 - 5 years ago and calculated using data that was two years old at that time (from the Family Resources Survey). None of the children in either family would have been born at the time the data was collected. They could have looked at the Households Below Average Income statistics produced every year by the DWP to find the percentage of children living in poverty and then turned to the General Register Office for household numbers. But they didn't, they just used old information - so old that it's from when they were in power.
The Low Income Household is entitled to receive a rebate of 100% on Council Tax through Council Tax Benefit[1]. The High Income Household does not receive any rebate.
The source they used (again in the footnote number) is Glasgow Council's benefits generator - you have to go through the calculation, so I did - and the low income family doesn't receive 100% benefit at all, the figure from Glasgow was 60% benefit, so the low income family was still paying 40% Council Tax - Glasgow's Band A is £808.67 (before water and sewerage), so the family would be paying £323.47. Just covering the money given by the Scottish Government to cover the Council Tax freeze this year would mean rises of 10.7% in Council Tax across the country (£210 million on top of the £1.9 bn billed), quite clearly costing the poorest households most. The Lib Dems calculate that the better-off family saves £138 (an underestimate based on inflation rather than actual costs - which means that they think that the Scottish Government has been giving councils too much money) - they should have supported our Local Income Tax and removed this unfairness.

The poorer family currently pays 2.1% of its income in Council Tax - even with CT Benefit, and that would go up to 2.5% without the Scottish Government money. For a family that's living on the edge of poverty that's a rise they'd be better off without. Table 2 of the Council Tax stats shows that in-year collection is improving - even better if we could get rid of it altogether though.

Free School Meals
Prior to the change to free school meals, a person could claim free school meals for their children if they were receiving Child Tax Credit with income less than £15,575[1]. This means that the Low Income Family is currently entitled to free school meals.
[1]. Source:

I've just left the link here because it doesn't actually go anywhere (and, considering they just published the paper today it really should), but you can find on the Scottish Government website that it's actually a higher amount:
Who is eligible for free school lunches?
You can claim free school lunches for your children if you are receiving:
Income Support (IS)
Income-based Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA)
Child Tax Credit (CTC), but not Working Tax Credit, and your income is less than £16,040 (in 09/10 as assessed by the Inland Revenue)
If you are between 16 and 18 years old and receive any of these benefits in your own right, you can claim free school lunches for yourself.

The Lib Dem paper then says
The savings for each family are calculated using the average cost of a standard school meal in Scotland, found by the Scottish Government to be £1.48 in 2007[1], and a 5-day school week over a 38-week term. That is, annually, £281.20 per child or £562.40 for two children.

The link, you'll find, goes to the 2007 edition of the school meals statistics and doesn't have an average cost for Scotland. I wonder why they didn't use the 2009 figures? Well, it might be that they found that, of the 5 local authorities which took part in the trial of the free school meals programme, two found their costs reducing and only Glasgow saw a substantial increase in costs (£2.5m)?

Prescription Charges
The individual adults in the Low Income Family qualify for full free prescriptions already through the NHS low-income scheme

The source the Lib Dems used for this was HC11 – Help with health Costs (2004). You'll note that this is the English scheme and that the leaflet pointed to has been superseded - they should have gone to the Scottish scheme - which, of course, they used to be jointly responsible for running. They then go on to say that they are assuming that only one adult gets any prescriptions but that the Scotland-wide average is 14 prescriptions per year - and they point here - which shows the average to be 15. They might have been better looking at these figures from that document:
Total cost of prescriptions dispensed 1066.95
Net ingredient cost 882.98
Dispensing fees & allowances 183.98
less Charges paid by patients 49.50
Exchequer cost prescriptions dispensed 1,017.46

(they're in £millions). We already pay by far the biggest chunk of prescriptions and the link between poverty and ill-health is well rehearsed. How many people not on benefits and not eligible for the low income scheme forego prescriptions to avoid the cost? What's the economic cost of that to the country and the financial cost to the NHS of having to treat more serious conditions down the line? Never mind the personal and societal costs.

Bridge Tolls
In 2007, the number of crossings made by private and commercial vehicles over the Forth and Tay Road Bridges were 10,820,000 and 4,163,000 respectively[1]. Those vehicles paid tolls of £14,150,400. There are 2,332,000 such vehicles in Scotland[2]. That implies an annual toll charge of £6.07 per vehicle in Scotland[3].
If both families – Low Income and High Income – each have one car then, they each save the average £6.07.
[1]. Scottish Transport Statistics: No 27 - 2008 Edition
[3]. Transport Series Statistical Bulletin Main Transport Trends

That link they gave doesn't tell you that there are 2,332,000 such vehicles in Scotland, it says:
The total number of motor vehicles licensed in Scotland was over 2.6 million at the end of 2007

If you look at the detailed stats it tells you that the figure the Lib Dems used for all vehicles in Scotland is the figure for private and light goods vehicles rather than all vehicles which paid tolls.

Then there's the common sense bit about a nurse who lives in Dunfermline because the family can't afford to live in Edinburgh and has to drive to work at odd times of the day when public transport isn't available getting more benefit out of the abolition of bridge tolls than the consultant surgeon who lives in the Grange will ever get.

I wonder what Willie Rennie thinks about Tavish Scott - his own party colleague - saying we should put tolls back on the bridges?

I wonder what other Lib Dems will say about their party saying they'd prefer to increase the Council Tax rather than seeking to abolish it?

I wonder how many Lib Dems are happy to go along with the idea of removing free nutritious school meals from children aged 5-7?

I wonder how many Lib Dems will baulk at telling pensioners that they should go back to paying for prescriptions so we can run a huge charging bureaucracy for a small income?

I wonder whether the Lib Dems will mind how they go?

Sunday 20 September 2009

Lib Dems and tuition fees

Charles Kennedy has warned Nick Clegg (he's the leader of the Lib Dems these days) that his party risks 'losing its heart' by giving up its opposition to university tuition fees. He's right, of course, but the question that has to be asked now is whether the Scottish part of the Lib Dems will continue to seek to portray themselves as believing in free education.

Hmmmm .....

Thursday 17 September 2009

Trams - antisocial behaviour vehicles

More news from the Dublin tram crash where a bus was just going about its business when it was mugged by a tram. The bus proceeded when given a green light and the tram went wheeching right into the side of it.

That brings the Luas tram accident tally to 13 road traffic incidents, 12 incidents which involved “minor contact” with pedestrians and two derailments in four and a bit years. In that time not one Lothians bus has been derailed.

There was a tram crash in Llandudno a couple of days ago as well, when one tram rammed the back of another. Dangerous animals, trams.

Mind how you go.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Trams - and why not?

So there was I, being me, looking in wonder at the state of the tram finances - Edinburgh Council is £29.9 million short of what it needs to hit the old total construction figure (it has £15.1 million out of a committed £45 million):
though in the long term the anticipated levels of contributions are expected to be realised

I did like some of the answers given by Phil Wheeler:
Until the key issues are resolved through the current contractual and legal process the estimated cost cannot be confirmed.

That's going to be a while then.
The Council have undertaken two separate external review’s of its funding proposals, once in December 2007 and again in August 2009. Both of these reviews have reported that the Council’s funding strategy is sound.

How can the Council undertake an external review of its own funding proposals? Since the same answer indicates that the funding strategy is coming up short by two thirds of the initial level of funding required (i.e. before the increases that are piling on), how can the funding strategy be described as being sound? The rogue apostrophe is in the original, by the way, I didn't insert it.
Given the current issues with the BSC consortium and the contractual and legal process tie Ltd are now engaged in, a revised estimated outturn cost cannot be provided at this point

So how can the funding strategy be sound?

There's a shortfall, how to bridge that gap -
the Council will look at the possibly of a controlled amount of prudential borrowing with debt repayments being funded through Transport Edinburgh Limited (TEL) profits. The recent review of the TEL business plan indicated a long term growth in profits for the integrated tram and bus business that could support a controlled level of borrowing.

Few problems here, firstly that would burst the Prudential Indicators for Edinburgh Council. Leaving aside the questions about why Edinburgh's Capital Financing requirement exceeds £1 billion every year, how the councils financing costs are nearly 10% of income (how many decades has this council been mismanaged?), and why City Development is grinding more capital provision than education year after year, prudential borrowing for capital expenditure on the tram would require the Council to lay out how much they need (which they don't know) and how quickly it will be paid off (which they don't know). Or, as CIPFA puts it:
Where a local authority invests, or plans to invest, for periods longer than 364 days, the local authority will set an upper limit for each forward financial year period for which the authority projects the maturing of such investments. These prudential indicators will be referred to as prudential limits for principal sums invested for periods longer than 364 days and shall be calculated as follows:
Total principal sum invested to final maturities beyond the period end
Projected average cash balances in the period.

Additionally, CIPFA rules prohibit councils 'round-tripping' - borrowing for the purposes of investment or on-lending. Edinburgh Council cannot, legally, borrow to fund the tram. If borrowing for tram capital projects is required it will have to be done by TEL (Transport Edinburgh Limited) - and since private investment for the tram couldn't be found at the outset when everything looked much rosier than it does now, I doubt whether any banks or financiers are likely to offer attractive interest rates. Then, of course, there's the flawed business case, the already admitted years of losses for tram (and Lothian Buses) that are coming, and the fact that the design still isn't finalised.

Additionally, as COSLA noted, prudential borrowing should have an identified income stream (page 4) - and there will be no income stream from tram for years - if ever. Additionally, also as noted, Treasury rules mean that overall public debt cannot be skewed (they excuse London by making it a debt belonging to the whole country instead of just London), the Scottish Government would have a responsibility to step in and cap Edinburgh's borrowing if it was out of kilter with other areas - the Treasury would do it if the Scottish Government didn't.

Phil Wheeler has an answer:
TEL is wholly owned by the Council. It is therefore open to the Council to use any available profits to assist the Council in achieving its transport aims.

That is absolutely wrong. He might have meant to say that the Council can borrow using its 100% shareholding in TEL as collateral to borrow and then grant this to TEL - but it would be a grant, it wouldn't be tended by future tram income, and the risk would lie with Edinburgh's council tax payers. Further, and Mr Wheeler should know this as a former banker, it isn't open to the owner of a company simply to raid the profits of that company for their own purposes, so it is not "open to the Council to use any available profits", especially when the company is a publicly-owned company.

In the midst of all that, my kind and considerate colleagues sent me a link to the sad news of another tram crash in Dublin where 21 people were injured, three seriously, and the Luas driver had to be cut from the wreckage. The myth that tram is a safe way to travel is wearing very thin - how many people have been injured on Lothian Buses in the past few years?

Mind how you go!

Monday 7 September 2009

Oh what a night

A fantastic fundraising dinner on Friday night - many, many pounds raised for campaigning in Edinburgh North and Leith. I had a great night but I'm assuming that no-one else did since I was speaking. It looks remarkably like I haven't fastened the collar of my shirt in those photographs - must be a trick of the light...
Expertly chaired by Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP and expertly organised by Ria Donaldson, it was one of the smoothest- running fundraisers I've been to in quite a while.
Kenny MacAskill was our guest speaker and his speech was so good that he got a round of applause before he even started - and a standing ovation for taking us on a journey around the world, engaging with the Scottish Diaspora from Nova Scotia to Auckland, from the southern states of the US to Hong Kong, Adelaide to Gujarat, and his contention that we should be proud to be part of the same nation. Some decent jokes as well!
Thanks to Martin Robertson for his photography.

Mind how you go!

Thursday 3 September 2009

What does the public think?

How do you judge what the public thinks of Kenny MacAskill's decision to release al-Megrahi? Well, you could study opinion polls; judge by the flow of correspondence; trust me when I tell you that when I'm campaigning people tell me that the decision was right or that they disagreed with the decision but thought he made it properly and they respect him for it (a few think that there shouldn't have been a decision to make); or you could listen to how people react to Kenny at a public National Conversation event. The clip is hosted on the Steamie where David Maddox has a different take on it.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Opposition parties "disgusting" - British diplomat who'd vote SNP

The former British Ambassador to Libya, Sir Oliver Miles, said on today's Scotland Live on BBC Radio Scotland:
“If I can make a personal comment on this, I find this rather extraordinary and rather disgusting because it seems to me that it was never intended, by the court for example that Megrahi should die in jail. The sentence he was given if he had had a normal life span it would have meant that he would’ve been considered for release in the future. To say that ‘he should have died in the prison’, seems to me the polite equivalent of the barroom language of ‘hanging is too good for him, throw away the key’. Now, I am frankly shocked, shocked, that all of our UK parties seem to by vying with each other to be more vindictive of the other. It’s enough to make me vote Scottish Nationalist, and I’m as English as they come.”

Here for the next 7 days:

US praises Libya

I see the United States is praising Libya for its work in Sudan.

Another good quote

In midst of the petty pomposity and the high moral tone that is masquerading as debate today, Patrick Harvie's speech was good and Malcolm Chisholm's speech was good, but I'd like to highlight a quote used by Tricia Marwick MSP:
Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?'
Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?'
Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?'
But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?'
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.
Martin Luther King

A free quote ...

When the debate is in full swing today, here's a few quotes to bear in mind:

While debating the legislation under which Kenny MacAskill released al-Megrahi, Peter Fraser, Lord Fraser of Carmylie, as a Conservative Minister of State at the Scotland Office said that the Government had
"no intention of penalising a short-term prisoner released on compassionate grounds if, for example, he unexpectedly recovers his health."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 1992 ; Vol. 537, c. 870.]
Gordon Brown, while in opposition, said in the House of Commons on the 9th of June 1993:
My message to the Prime Minister is that he may be able to eliminate compassion from everything that goes on in 10 Downing Street. He may even, by a temporary legislative diktat at Westminster, abandon caring and compassion in his legislation. But he will never persuade the British people that caring and compassion should not be right at the centre of social policy in this country.

Gordon Brown to the RCN conference in May 2009:
I think you judge a country, and you judge the people of a country, not by the size of their wallets but by the breadth of their compassion, by the depth of their generosity, by the width of their goodness.

Iain Gray in a speech to the Co-op party, June 2009:
A parliament is not just about the policies it chooses. It is also about the values which drive that choice

And within that Parliament we should set ourselves a standard to work to that embodies our values and our vision so we do not lose our way.
Annabel Goldie in the chamber, 15th January 2009:
Annabel Goldie: Does the First Minister agree that the Scottish criminal justice system must be seen to demonstrate integrity, impartiality and fairness to the victims and to the accused? Can he assure the Parliament that any political decisions taken about the release of Mr Al Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, will be consistent with those principles?

David Cameron in the Conservative policy document 'built to last':
First, we ourselves have to change. We must be a modern, compassionate Conservative Party.

David Cameron accepting the leadership of his party:
"If you want to build a modern, compassionate Conservative Party, come and
join us."

Oh aye, some English guy (from memory - studied for my English O Grade, forgive any mistakes, will you?)

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle dew from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightier than the mightiest;
It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temp’ral power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of god himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's when mercy seasons justice.

Careful now!

Do you think they regret it?

It occurred to me that some people might be regretting the way they have behaved recently. If Iain Gray and Richard Baker had not been so desperate to make political capital out of the decision on compassionate release, perhaps Bill Rammell's comments would have remained secret (it was Rammell who actually signed the deals), perhaps Gordon Brown's anxiety over not getting his way would have remained hidden, perhaps Jack Straw's wheeling and dealing would have stayed under wraps. Instead, they have shown the cynicism at the heart of Labour's UK Government and the humanity and honour of Kenny MacAskill. Gray and Baker forced information into the public domain which damaged their own party leaders and showed that the Scottish Government acted strictly within the rules. If their consciences don't turn on them they may not have to wait long for their friends to turn on them.

I hear that Mr Baker was on Newsnicht (I was working) and did not exactly cover himself in glory. As his performance was explained to me, I couldn't help thinking of Spitting Image for some reason. In memory of Tony Hart, here's the gallery:

Mind how you go!

Megrahi documents

The documents relating to the Megrahi decision have been released and are all available on the Scottish Government's website - fascinating, I propose that everyone takes a wee while and has a read ... all done? Good, let's discuss! I'm sure everyone is in agreement that the documents make it clear that Kenny MacAskill MSP did everything by the book - by every chapter, page, paragraph, sentence, word and letter of the book. If not, feel free to disagree, but in the meantime, let's head on down to some details.

First, let's turn to the meeting in Greenock prison, you'll find it on page 14 of 21 of the notes of meetings. Present were the Justice Secretary, two fairly senior civil service officials, al-Megrahi and the prisoner's solicitor, Tony Kelly. Here's an interesting question that just occur ed to me - if Labour MSP James Kelly was to take part in tomorrow's debate would he have to declare an interest in that his brother is the solicitor for the prisoner in question? I'm fairly certain that Tony Kelly's professional demeanour would ensure that no details of the case were discussed with his brother, but would James still have to declare the interest? Just a thought.

Anyway, back to this meeting, I'm sure that paragraph 12 will be of interest
Mr MacAskill stated it was necessary to highlight that when he makes his
decision on prisoner transfer , he can only grant a transfer if there are no
court proceedings ongoing.

Richard Baker, so ably described by a person who terrifies peat, will hold this aloft like a prize without pointing out the next bit:
Mr MacAskill stressed that this was a decision for Mr Al-Megrahi and his legal team alone.

See, the thing about Richard Baker isn't really that Labour is being insulting by having someone of so little ability in a shadow cabinet position, it's that Labour is being insulting by having someone of so little ability standing for election in the first place.

You'll also note the further details on the security implications of keeping the guy in Scotland - 30 police officers to make the house ready for him, 48 to guard him when he got there - if he lived on his own and never left the house, if his family stayed with him there would be additional security risks and if he had to go out - like to the hospital, considering he's dying of cancer - the police would need a convoy and more police at the hospital. One must admit that one is surprised that Ms Goldie would like to see regular convoys of armed police officers through Newton Mearns and armed police officers at the hospital ...

If, of course, the conditions of the licence are not adhered to, the extradition treaty with Libya covers the revocation.

There's also a wee thing about the family. If you look at page 4 of the documentation about contacts with the Libyan Government, you'll find paragraph 15 indicating that the prisoner's family have difficulty visiting him because they had difficulty securing visas and permits to come to the UK.

It seems to me, even taking into account my partiality, that Kenny MacAskill has been shown to be a statesman here and the opposition parties have called this badly wrong. I understand that their amendments to Kenny's motion to be debated reek of political opportunism. Kenny's motion was published in Tuesday's Business Bulletin and reads
S3M-4748 Kenny MacAskill: Decision on Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi—That the Parliament notes the decisions by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to reject the application by the Libyan Government to transfer Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi under the prisoner transfer agreement between the United Kingdom and Libya and to release Mr Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds; notes that the decision on compassionate release is in accordance with the recommendations from the Scottish Prison Service and the Parole Board for Scotland, and endorses the decision as being consistent with the principles of Scottish justice.
Supported by: Nicola Sturgeon

Richard Baker's amendment will, apparently, seek to remove the entire second half of the motion about compassion and replace it with allegations with no rationale about mishandling, conflicts of purpose, inappropriate precedents, and queries about the medical advice, and finishes with a 'don't agree with compassionate release' flourish. The amendment from the Conservatives is supposed to agree entirely with the Labour one while adding something along the lines of 'should have probed his medical condition and other ways of looking after him', while the Lib Dems are complaining that they should have been told about the decision first. There was also, apparently, a Green amendment which wasn't accepted by the PO calling for an enquiry - I assume that it must have called on the UK Government to do something, that would have been ruled inadmissible.

We can only hope that Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems rediscover the shreds of decency they used to have before the debate kicks off - they can withdraw their amendments and act with some dignity, and perhaps save just a little of the societal regard they seem intent on throwing away.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

In praise of young Maddox

That chappie with the Scotsman masthead tattooed on his posterior to show his undying loyalty to his employer, David Maddox, has scribed a piece in today's paper which is well worth reading. Herewith a few excerpts:

the SNP coming out stronger
the events of the summer have been an important rite of passage for the SNP in Government, which, while painful, it has come through
One comma too many in there, but I'll let him off.

nobody can accuse Mr MacAskill of lacking moral courage or dignity
it is obvious that he actually made [his decision] based on his view of compassion and justice.
[Nicola Sturgeon's] cool and assured handling ... left many in England wishing she was their health minister
Mr Swinney has dealt with the crisis in the sort of measured and constructive manner that is typical of the way he conducts his ministerial business
There's lots more in there as well, I suggest you pop out and get yourself a copy (or wheech down to the library for a swift peruse). An excellent piece of column-writing and one I can thoroughly approve of!

Mind how you go.

1,000 more police - another promise kept

In our manifesto in 2007, the SNP promised 1,000 additional police officers in Scotland. Today there are 1,044 more than in 2007 - promise delivered a year and a half early. Not bad, I think.

Actual figures - 16,234 police in May 2007 and 17,278 now.

Jolly good show, what?