Monday 26 April 2010

To the barricades!

M'learned friend is squaring up to Auntie (not his auntie, he's scared of her) and is currently engaged in a most interesting legal case. The question to be settled is whether the BBC is in breach of its duty to be politically impartial by screening the leaders' debates in Scotland. It costs a fortune, apparently, and there's a wee appeal out for funds - it's already past the half-way point so dip in your pocket and shell out a shilling for the cause of fairness. I'm told that any amount will be welcome and that the spirit of Voltaire is knocking on the door of the BBC.

In other news, the leaves are back on the line with a secret weapon in tow.

Mind how you broadcast!

Thursday 22 April 2010

Lib Dem cuts

Ever wonder what a Lib Dem Government would look like? Well, where Nick Clegg promised 'savage cuts' Vince Cable has laid it all out for us. Here's the Lib Dem plan for cuts:

  • £2.4 billion a year cut from public sector pay
  • 25% cut in salary for highly paid civil servants
  • Ending national pay bargaining (in Lib Dem speak, decentralised bargaining and independent pay reviews)
  • £1.35 billion a year reduction in family tax credits
  • £5 billion a year cut in child benefit
  • Higher retirement ages brought in quickly
  • £500 million a year cut from the Child Trust Fund
  • £28 billion a year cut from public sector pensions
  • Dismantling Contactpoint (English system that helps professionals care for children) - £40 million a year
  • Scrapping ID cards (but not biometric passports) to save an unidentified amount of money somewhere between £5 billion and £20 billion (big capital costs)
  • £50 million a year cut from England's NHS IT scheme (Barnett consequentials will apply, of course)
  • Save £6 billion by scrapping a communications database that has only been discussed and not costed
  • £500 million by using freeware
  • £2.3 billion cut by scrapping England's Regional Development Agencies
  • £200 million by scrapping the Export Credit Guarantee Department
  • £500 million cut to England's skills and training budgets
  • Unspecified amount to be cut from agriculture support £1 billion cut by scrapping England's Audit Commission and other watchdogs
  • £2 billion cut by scrapping the Government's regional offices in England (they deliver things like the Supporting People Programme for vulnerable people, tackling social deprivation and encouraging local enterprise)
  • £200 million by scrapping English Strategic Health Authorities
  • £600 million cut from England's education budget
  • £5 billion cut from maintenance and upgrade on military aircraft
  • £22 billion cut from military aircraft purchase (didn't the Lib Dems criticise Brown for not providing enough aircraft?)
  • £7 billion cut from military vehicle purchase
  • £70 billion saved by not buying the Trident replacement - offset by the Lib Dems' intention to buy other nukes.
  • £1 to £2 billion cut from military procurement by privatisation
  • £2 billion cut from England's NHS budget

There's an awful lot of Barnett consequentials in there...

Then they want to raise money:

  • Privatise Royal Mail
  • Privatise Royal Mint
  • Seek other Government enterprises to sell
  • Sell the Highways Agency (that'll be England's roads then) and allow them to be tolled
  • Sell the shares in the banks early (rather than wait for a good price)
  • Sell off any public properties they can find

Can I just ask - what will they do next time there's a problem?

Mind how you go!

Friday 16 April 2010

A wee thanks

Before the election consumes us all I thought I might just put on record my gratitude to the fantastic team we have at SNP Headquarters who seem to be working every hour of the day providing us with excellent support. Thanks very much, your efforts are appreciated.

My campaign team as well - you're all wonderful (well, most of you anyway). Thanks very much - three more weeks and then you can sleep!

Mind how you go.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Greens - do they practise what they preach?

When I left my office tonight I noticed that the Greens had left their office lights on - I had to go in and turn them off. Honestly, if the environment police are slipping up what hope is there? Everyone should complain to James.

To far more serious matters, I hear that the Greens are coming on a storm down Norwich South way and there's a possibility we may see the first Green MP elected in May. That'd be something, wouldn't it?

Monday 12 April 2010

Campaign launch in Edinburgh North and Leith

The SNP's short campaign (the last three and a half weeks) was launched in Newhaven today with the First Minster, Alex Salmond MSP, rousing our activists from all over Scotland to get out and campaign for victory in seats the length and breadth of the country. Then he came campaigning with us in Stockbridge and the reception he got was as good as the reception we're getting on the doorsteps. I think, though, that it's the first time I've seen people queueing up to meet politicians campaigning.

2007 saw a sea-change in Scottish politics, 2009 confirmed the SNP as Scotland's biggest party, 2010 is going to show that Scotland keeps moving forward.

Mind how you vote!

A wee message


Friday 9 April 2010

Neigh bother!

Have a laugh, go on. In the midst of an election where some candidates are being rude, some are telling lies, some are getting caught being twits with tweets, and some are taking themselves far too seriously, a wry smile and a wee chuckle helps things along. Politics is a serious business, just like comedy and tragedy, and there's enough faux gravity around. A bit of levity is in order.
This lovely poster was sent to me (as was the 'fire up the quattro' one) and I thought I'd share.
Mind how you vote!

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Nukes away

Only one day after I write about nuclear weapons having no place in our world, the US publishes its plans to reduce its nuclear capability. Good to know they're paying attention over there. I like these bits:
  • No development of new warheads
  • Change of attitude to nuclear engagement with a conventional attack no longer leading to nuclear reprisal
  • Presumption against using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries
  • Reduction in SDVs
  • ICBMs reduced to carrying single warhead

There are a couple of disappointing points but by and large it's a step in the right direction. Interesting that the US is intending to just refurbish its nuclear weapons rather than build new ones while the UK is still ruminating about replacing Trident.

Ach well...

Monday 5 April 2010

No nuclear weapons here, thank you.

Nuclear weapons, created during the Second World War, used only twice in anger (both times against a nation which had not managed to develop nuclear weapons - although this could not be known at the time), and displayed ever since as totems of state virility, have no place in modern weaponry and we should be doing all we can to rid our world of them.

Leo Szilard, the physicist who first properly developed the concept of nuclear weapons (purportedly after reading an HG Wells novel) and it was his urging, supported by Einstein, that moved the US administration down the path that led to the Manhattan Project. Szilard worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons (Einstein was refused security clearance and never worked on it) and petitioned the US President not to drop the bombs on Japan but to allow them to observe a demonstration of the power of the bombs, thus persuading them that they should surrender. His views were made clear after the war:
Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?

He wasn't the only one of the scientists involved in the development of nuclear weapons who opposed their use. Joseph Rotblat resigned from the project when he found out that the Germans had not made a nuclear weapon and Klaus Fuchs shared information with the Soviet Union to ensure that there was parity of knowledge - a move that may have led to proliferation but certainly led to the stand-off of Mutually Assured Destruction which may have focused minds and helped hold off a nuclear holocaust.

They weren't the only people whose opposition to nuclear weapons might be termed surprising. Colin Powell, for example:
The one thing that I convinced myself after all these years of exposure to the use of nuclear weapons is that they were useless. They could not be used.

Mountbatten argued that nuclear weapons had no military utility, Kissinger said they risked the destruction of civilisation, Gayler said:
There is no sensible military use of any of our nuclear forces. The only reasonable use is to deter our opponent from using his nuclear forces

They were bested by Field Marshal Lord Carver who asked of Trident:
What the bloody hell is it for?

Nuclear weapons are ludicrously expensive and singularly useless pieces of military hardware.

There can be no moral justification for such an indiscriminate and deadly weapon; not only would nuclear weapons affect non-combatants, their very nature suggests that they are designed to target civilian populations, designed to inflict damage on non-combatants rather than to give a military advantage.

In fact, one of the reasons for the choice of targets in Japan during WWII was that these places had escaped the worst of the fire bombing we had already inflicted upon that country and it would be easy to see how much damage could be done to a city by a nuclear weapon. I can see no justification for their use and, therefore, no justification for their existence.

Interestingly, an Observer story last year indicated that the UK was the only one of the established nuclear powers to have increased its arsenal between 200 and 2009 - - not only is there talk of replacement in the UK Government, there also appears to be growth in the nuclear arsenal.

While other areas of spending, even other areas of defence spending, are being squeezed until the pips are squeaking nuclear weapons appear to be untouchable - the UK's virility totem is protected while public services suffer but would-be international statesmen demand the mojo. If only they had the moral strength to work towards what is right rather than what they think makes them look tough...

I was delighted when the SNP Scottish Government set up the working group Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons even though defence, and therefore control over these things, is reserved to Westminster - defence may be reserved but morality and common human decency cannot be reserved. I look forward to seeing our Scottish Government continue to seek to drive the issue forward. I want to see nuclear weapons removed from Scotland and I want to see disarmament across the world, and each of us has to do our bit to try to make sure that that happens.

Friday 2 April 2010

Victor Meldrew I presume?

Leith Business Association sent out its regular news update today and one of the pieces of news had me in full Victor Meldrew mode. LBA invited the tram contractor to attend a committee meeting to allow the businesses to better understand the project. You would have thought that this was a reasonable thing to do, wouldn't you? TIE vetoed the request on the grounds that Bilfinger Berger might accidentally breach the confidentiality agreement.

So the businesses which are being badly affected by the fiasco formerly known as the Tram Project are being denied the opportunity to get a bit of knowledge about what's going on. TIE regularly attends LBA meetings but they don't want the contractor to go and 'accidentally breach the confidentiality agreement'. It would appear that having someone tell the truth about the project isn't helpful to TIE's way of thinking. Could it possibly be because the project has run into the sand, hundreds of millions of pounds over budget, years behind schedule, about to be truncated and fast reaching the position where it will have to be cancelled?

TIE still hasn't returned with a date for the briefing on the project that it promised for candidates. I suppose candidates might accidentally tell someone about it.

Thursday 1 April 2010

And there's more

Where was I? Oh yes, additional responsibilities and powers from 2002 back to 1999:

Agency arrangements for Kyoto responsibilities;
Agency arrangements for responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (information gathering on the import, acquisition, release or marketing of genetically modified organisms, maintaining the public register, and commercial confidentiality exclusions); receiving and processing applications for the release and the marketing of GMOs; Air Quality Limit Values regs; and Control of Ozone-Depleting Substances;
Promotion and construction of railways:
Financial assistance for shipping;
Funding rail travel franchises;
Regulation of social landlords;
Electricity and Utilities;
Agency arrangements for controlling ozone-depleting substances;
Agency arrangements for CJD surveillance; control of medicines; and seven different parts of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981;
Transfer of staff, property, rights and liabilities from the National Audit Office to Audit Scotland;
Temporary speed limits; Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors boards; child care regs for tax credit purposes;
Agency arrangements for air quality standards; ozone monitoring; the sulphur content of liquid fuels; and "The function of taking steps preparatory to the implementation of Directive 96/62/EC of 27th September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management and the legislation provided for in Article 4 thereof";
Financial assistance to post offices; strategies for rail services; provision and regulation of rail services; strategies for air services; and a wee bit on pesticides;
Wireless telegraphy for crime fighting purposes; intrusive surveillance; compulsory purchase and compensation for gas supply pipes; partial regulation of electricity generators; and poisons;

That's back to the beginning of 2000 (I might have missed something). The transfers in 1999 will have been, by and large, part of the starting of devolution so shouldn't be regarded as being additionals, I think. The links are here if you want to look at them:
this one is a modification of the reservation schedules:

I haven't even looked at the stuff sent to me by other people yet, so there may be more. There is the obvious caveat that some of the orders will have replaced others and some of the movements are relatively small administrative changes. I think, though, that the increase in responsibilities of the Scottish administration from 1999 onwards is clearly enormous. Most of these transfers appear to me to include expense and some would leave the Scottish Government incurring substantial additional expense. Many of them have transferred functions but not powers (particularly the agency arrangements), placing burdens on Scotland without us having the ability to alter those burdens.

Having considered the increase in expenditure which these burdens would create I find myself thinking that the siren cry of Labour politicians of "there's twice as much money coming to Scotland now as there was in 1999" a rather hollow jibe. Indeed, looking at it I can only surmise that double the money isn't nearly enough, it should be doubled again. Scotland is being short-changed by the Labour Government in London and it's time it stopped! I suppose it would be a good thing if someone quantified that, and I'll applaud anyone who does - or we could just have fiscal autonomy just now and be satisfied.

Mind how you go.