Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Proud of Yourself Mr Welsh?



The Sunday Post reports that my local MSP Andrew Welsh managed to reduce two female civil servants to tears (not on the online edition I'm afraid)after a 30 minute rant during a Scottish Parliament Committee Meeting.

First of all, Mr Welsh is reported to have been upset that he had not received a report on Free Personal Care prior to the meeting. He was obliged to retract this after one of the civil servants pointed out she had hand delivered it to him six days before.

The report continues "Then, as he read the paper, the MSP's fury apparently boiled over as he accused the clerks who had written it of politicising the content."

Lord Foulkes is quoted as saying "he went off on a rant and said it had been polticised. He claimed the clerks hadn't reflected the views of the committee but would not explain what he meant by that."

"The clerks were reduced to tears by the end, one quite badly. I've never seen anything like it and I've been in politics for over 30 years."

The report goes on "Paisley South MSP Hugh Henry asked several people he considered not required there to be there to leave the room when the clerks broke down but stopped short of adjourning the meeting."

In the seven years I have worked at the Scottish Parliament, I have seen a few MSP's go into a bit of a strop. That said, I have never, ever, encountered such pathetic, bullying behaviour such as this.

I have always found Parliamentary clerks to be very non-political and professional, but even if on this occasion, this was not the case, is there any excuse for this kind of Victorian behaviour?

I hope Mr Welsh does the decent thing and makes not only a public apology over this disgraceful episode, but also writes to the two clerks concerned and apologises to them also. If he is not man enough for that, then one of his senior colleagues should 'encourage' him to do so. If not, do they condone this kind of thing?

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Knife Certificate

Next week, I am being presented with my Knife Combat Instructors Certificate. Though I have taught one or two different martial arts styles in my time, I have no intention of ever teaching knife combat.

First of all, I appreciate that there are some who would not approve of this. There are some indeed, who will try and twist this presentation for political means.

That said, I have campaigned for quite a long time now on curbing knife carrying, especially amongst younger people. The training that I have undergone in the martial arts over the past twenty years in general, and the edged weapons training I have undergone in the past few years, coupled with a few real life experiences, have led me to have a far greater understanding of the issue than many others who claim to know the answers to knife crime.

It is all of the above which has informed my argument against carrying a blade, and whilst it may seem unorthodox, thinking 'out of the box' is no bad thing. I will continue to do everything possible to curb knife carrying, simply because I am acutely aware of the dangers of carrying a blade and the profound, and wide ranging impact of using one.

Friday, 5 December 2008

From the Office of John Swinney MSP

Sometimes, it's best to read a press release before you issue it.
Then you won't end up asking journalists to delete it, as happened with this rather amusing one. The first is the original press release, the two beneath are requests to ignore it.

Obviously, I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary does like doing surgery's really.............

-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen.Carter@scottish.parliament.uk [mailto:Stephen.Carter@scottish.parliament.uk]
Sent: 03 December 2008 15:06
Subject: News Release from John Swinney




News Release from John Swinney MSP

Attn: News Desk
For Immediate Release
Photo Desk
Friday 21st November 2008

SWINNEY TO HOLD CONSTITUENCY SURGERIES

Mr John Swinney, SNP member of the Scottish Parliament for

North Tayside will be holding constituency surgeries in December.

John Swinney endeavours to hold surgeries around his

constituency as often as possible. He regularly has

appointments in his constituency office in Blairgowrie but

travels around North Tayside to meet those who cannot attend

meetings in the office.

John Swinney will be holding surgeries at the following

locations on Monday 15th December 2008.

Pitlochry, Town Hall – 10.00 – 11.00

Aberfeldy, Breadalbane Academy - 11.30 – 12.30

Dunkeld, Birnam Institute – 1.00 – 2.00

Scone, Robert Douglas Memorial Institute – 2.30 – 3.30

Coupar Angus, Town Hall – 4.00 – 5.00

Commenting on the upcoming surgery John Swinney said,

“God I hate these things!!!!!!!!!!

“These surgeries are an important element of my portfolio as a

representative of the people of North Tayside.

“They provide me with an opportunity to travel around the

constituency and meet those who are not able to meet me in my

constituency office.

“I encourage the constituents who wish to see me to come along

to one of the surgeries, to make an appointment to meet with me

simply phone 0125... .”

END
Contact: Stephen Carter
0125...

**********************************************************************

-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen.Carter@scottish.parliament.uk [mailto:Stephen.Carter@scottish.parliament.uk]
Sent: 03 December 2008 15:08
Subject: Previous Press Release

Dear All
Please immediately disregard the previous press release.
Yours Sincerely
Stephen Carter
-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen.Carter@scottish.parliament.uk [mailto:Stephen.Carter@scottish.parliament.uk]
Sent: 03 December 2008 15:10
Subject: Previous Press Release

Deal All
I would be very much grateful if the previous press release would be immediately deleted.
I am sorry for this inconvenience
Yours sincerely
Stephen Carter

**********************************************************************



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Monday, 1 December 2008

Knife Crime (yet again)

The SNP have announced another strand in the fight against knife crime. I have gone over my opinions on knife crime on numerous occassions, so won't re-hash those again now.

Nicola Sturgeon was delighted to report a new initiative where surgeon's with experience of dealing with the aftermath of knife incidents would go into schools and outline the difficulties of repairing the damage.

First of all, I welcome wholeheartedly any attempt to stop young people carrying a blade, and I absolutely commend any surgeon willing to give up his or her spare time to talk to kids about it.

However, I had heard of this move some time ago, under rather different circumstances. The story went that some bright spark had come up with the idea. The spark in question, working in the Violence Reduction Unit, has been previously reported to me as rather closed minded about new ideas and unwilling to promote anyone else's proposals. Rather amusingly, I was told that bright spark, on vocalising the idea, had been told 'not to be daft' (my own opinion will follow later).

So it was with some surprise that I read in the papers that the idea had forged ahead. Wonder how that happened?

Having people going into schools certainly works, according to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, who point out that education programmes were the most effective method of reducing weapons carrying on a local basis.

That said, they also point out that these programmes are effective when delivered by someone that the young people could identify with, rather than an individual who would be seen as an authority figure.

In my own opinion, for what it's worth, too many of these ideas are formulated by people with no first hand experience of street violence. Perhaps this is why we get crap like the proposal to introduce licensing schemes for non domestic knife sellers (my response this one is in an earlier post).

The kind of violence that can be encountered on the street is barbaric in the extreme. It's one thing reading about it, it's another thing entirely to experience it.

Let me tell you, that when you see someone lying in the gutter with the life ebbing out of them from a stab wound, it's not a good experience. Likewise, having a knife pulled on you in a dark alley is even more unpleasant.

It's these experiences that inform my views on knife crime, and it's the reason I get so frustrated at the fluffy solutions put forward by politicians who live in comfortable middle class conditions.

There are lots of good works on the events leading up to, and during a violent episode. If you are interested, do some research on the subject. It's fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

It is the brutal reality of the event itself that I believe needs to be taught to kids. And the brutal reality can only be really described by someone who has experienced violent crime at its worst.

The effects on a victim, can be profoundly long lasting, and not just physically. Many suffer from depression, loss of self esteem and some develop agrophobia. The consequences are far more serious than many appreciate.

So, given the research points to education programmes delivered by people kids can identify with (the kids who do, or are likely to, carry a blade) as being the most effective way to combat knife carrying, then why is it not being done?

In an earlier post on this subject, I ended up stating that I hoped civil servants, with a rather set ideology, were not having undue influence on Ministers. I gave a 'tail wagging the political dog' analogy. I had hoped it wasn't true, but some may think otherwise.

If you want to speak to someone who can graphically illustrate the scene of a violent episode, then give my friend Mr Mark Davies a call. I don't know anyone who can do it better.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Weekend

Friday was a holiday at the Scottish Parliament, and Girlfriend was off too, so we have had an enjoyable albeit busy weekend.

A chance conversation on Friday morning with a council colleague led us to the Christmas Market at Hopetoun House, near South Queensferry. Have to say it was pretty good, and there was a fair few people there, though interestingly, not many people buying.

There was quite a selection of stalls, though some of it was prohibitively expensive, and quite a lot of it just wasn't the kind of thing I'd buy anyway.

I did buy a few things though, such as a selection of Italian leather bound notebooks or 'journals' as stocking fillers, and (not for Christmas presents) some honey and jam, and this reindeer skin:


It's currently on my livig room floor, but will later be added to a 12th century costume before the re-enactment event in Arbroath in July.

Following the excellent advice of fellow blogger 1st Lady, we went to Castle Campbell on Saturday and we were pleasantly surprised that it was free for the St Andrews Day weekend.

I wish I'd taken the camera, as the scenery was breathtaking. There were also repairs being carried out to the castle, and the irony of Castle Campbell repaired by a firm of MacDonalds wasn't lost on us.

We followed some of the trails for a couple of hours and then went into a great wee cafe in Dollar for lunch.

As this is my first Christmas in the new place, we went to B&Q and got a bargain on Christmas decorations, as well as looking at greenhouses for Girlfriend's present.

Busy weekend, but a good one. I'll away and do the housework now before the cleaner comes tomorrow........

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Scottish Government Housing Con

Among other things, I take an extremely keen interest in social and affordable housing. So much so in fact that girlfriend thinks I'm a secret Trot, but I suspect she is simply assuaging her guilt for going out with a Tory.

Anyhoo, I digress. Today, the Scottish Government announced the second tranche of their £100m investment into affordable housing.

Good news I hear you cry, and even someone as cynical as me would get excited at this, despite the fact that so far, Angus isn't getting any of it.

The £100m has been announced by John Swinney et al, more often than Micheal Jackson has been in court, so lets look a little closer at it.

The £100m is not new money as many seem to think, and to be fair the SNP have sometimes, though not always, stated that this is accelerated spending from the year three budget.

But, (and there has to be at least one doesn't there?) a closer look at the detail reveals that only £60m is coming from the Scottish Government, the other £40m is coming from Local Authorities. What this means, is that all the councils in Scotland are expected to chip in £40m into John Swinney's central pot so that the SNP can continue to be seen to be acting with open handed benevolence to the masses.

Worse still, if, for example we found £1m to help out the SNP, we actually have absolutely no say in where the money will be spent. Despite an assurance that we will get the money back in some way. The big cop out from the SNP would be to simply to allow us to borrow more cash in 'prudential borrowing'. I'm not suggesting they will do that, but it's certainly possible. And if we are spending year three's money this year, where will the cash come from in year three for housing? The 'jam today' scenario is fine just now, but what about later?

Apart from the fact our finances were already tight, the council of which I'm part is facing an energy price rise of £2m, on top of what we might have expected to pay a while ago. Fuel costs are hitting us hard too (a bin lorry only does seven miles to the gallon, so you can see where I'm coming frome here). We are having free school meals foisted on us, which may have been agreed in the much talked about 'historic concordat' but this was not to be done for some time yet, and financing this could well be a major problem.

Worse still, the Scottish Government is drip feeding the announcements of who is getting the cash, and today was only the second tranche which brings the total up to £18m. Great from a PR perspective, not good for those involved in providing homes.

The organisation 'Homes for Scotland' is rightly calling for the SNP to announce where the rest of the money is to be spent before Christmas, so that developers know where they stand as they approach the end of the financial year.

The Scottish Government are also allowing local authorities to purchase 'off the shelf developments'. In reality, what this means is that we will no doubt be offered blocks of flats that were built for people seeking to enter the 'buy to let' market, and are now lying empty and unsold.

Given the fact that most local authorities already have lots of flats, then these kind of developments are a very low priority for us. Add to this, the fact that these developments invariably mean that the number of properties on them is disproportionally high to the size of the plots they are built on.

Thus, we may well be making exactly the same mistakes as we did decades ago when the solution to housing shortages were........lots of flats. That experiment failed in a grand style, so should we really revisit it?

Housing after all, is not just about the number of units that can be provided, it is also about building a mix of the kind of houses we need, in the places they are needed, it's just as important that we seek to build safe, sustainable communities that people can take pride living in. I'm really not convinced that under the SNP's plan that this will actually happen.

Perhaps a more sensible, albeit longer term solution, would be for the Scottish Govt to take advantage of low land prices and start investing in a land bank which would help social landlords and hard pressed local authorities to provide local solutions to local pressures.

Perhaps one reason that may explain what, on the surface appears to be a fairly joined up approach, but with some analysis, and indeed some knowledge of housing, is actually a disjointed and short term solution, could be lie in a source of mine within the Scottish Government who tells me that "Ministers are under intense pressure to do something, anything, that makes it look as though they are taking action". Actually that sounds about right, and it's something I will revisit when I come back from a weekends walking.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, 24 November 2008

E-Mail

Sometimes Spellcheck isn't all it's cracked up to be.

This morning, Hugh Henry MSP's member of staff circulated the e-mail below asking people to support a motion on oil prices.

He also also apologises for the 'incontinence'. Old age doesn't come alone right enough.


Can those who have signed up please do so again.
Sorry for the incontinence.
Paul

S3M - 02711 - That the Parliament calls on the oil companies to pass on to consumers immediately decreases in the price of oil; notes how quickly increases in prices are passed on to consumers as the world price of oil goes up, and believes that consumers should benefit as soon as possible as a result of the drop in price of oil.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Unusual Gifts

A friend came round with a couple of unusual gifts today. He brought me this Roman helmet:



And a replica Confederate American Civil War sabre.



The sabre looks quite plain, but the blade is beautifully engraved for almost two thirds of its length. It's bloody sharp too as I discovered.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Caravaggio's Works in Edinburgh



Two works by Caravaggio, one of them thought for decades to be a copy have gone on display at the Queens Gallery at Holyrood Palace.

They are part of an exhibition of 31 paintings and 43 drawings entitled the Art of Italy.

The Baroque is my favourite era of Art History, and Caravaggio is by far my favourite artist. When I started (though didn't finish because I couldn't afford it at the time) a PHD in Art History, it was on the work of Caravaggio and His Followers. Caravaggio really revolutionised the art world and broke all the artistic conventions of the time.

It's not just his work that fascinates me, his turbulent and fairly short life is well worth looking at too.

His works have an uncanny sense of movement in them, but possibly the best aspect is the almost three dimensional effect he manages to achieve.

My favourite example of this is the Head of Medusa painted on a parade shield.



It's in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. As you turn a corner in the gallery, it sits almost by itself and you first see it from a distance. As you get closer, it seems as though though the head is projected out from the shield itself. It truly is a masterpiece given that it is painted on a convex surface, which is perhaps why photo's never do it justice.

The talent of these old Masters perhaps throws into sharp focus the utter s**te that gets punted into galleries today and sold for ludicrous sums of money. Japanese investors got their fingers really burned a few years ago when they paid vast sums for European 'modern art' that they were assured would rise in value, only to find that the pieces they bought plummeted shortly afterwards.

Of course you could argue that modern artists are, in their turn, breaking conventions and challenging our perceptions, just as Caravaggio and other Baroque artists did. On the other hand, you could equally argue that they are turning out meaningless crap made from household rubbish, or worse still, simply moving the contents of their bedroom into a gallery and passing it off as some kind of artistic statement or comment on modern life as Emin did.



Anyway, I digress. I'll no doubt go and see this exhibition half a dozen times before it ends in March, and if you're in the area, I'd recommend it as well worth a visit.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Forth Road Bridge



In February, I was badly delayed heading up to Arbroath by an overturned lorry on the Forth Road Bridge. I blogged about it here.

Today's Evening News reports that lorry drivers who cross the Forth Road Bridge in high winds that could cause an accident are to receive a dreadful punishment.

What could it be you ask? A substantial fine that reflects the chaos that is caused when they overturn because they ignored the warning signs not to? Imprisonment maybe? Community service perhaps?

Nope. The punishment for driving a high sided vehicle across the Forth Road Bridge when the warning signs state not to do so is...........to be named and shamed!

Thats right, break the rules and they will send CCTV footage of you to the local media. Well, I don't know about you, but that's certainly put me off!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Tube

Some people really are stupid. Below is an excerpt from a Crown Office press release about a chap who put video footage of himself waving a sword in a public place, on his Bebo page.

Strangely, this footage provided ample proof of the crime:

An Ayrshire man who was seen posing with a sword on BEBO, the social networking internet site, pled guilty today at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court to possession of a sword in a public place.

19 year old Charles Bowman was convicted of a contravention of Section 49(1) of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 between 1 January 2006 and 14 July 2008. The offence came to light after the accused was seen posing on BEBO.

Bowman's case was reported to the Procurator Fiscal in Kilmarnock as part of Operation Access, the unique and ongoing campaign against violence launched in July 2008. This involves Strathclyde Police trawling the internet in a move to uncover criminal activity, supporting the drive to reduce crime and disorder across the region. Intelligence gathered in this way is then passed to the Violence Reduction Taskforce who work closely with local community police officers to identify those pictured online.

"This case demonstrates the benefits of using creative investigative techniques to gather evidence of crimes of violence and anti social behaviour. It sends a clear message that those responsible for such crimes cannot escape justice.

Anthony Bowman was fined £200.

Arbroath Abbey Photo

Boss' Wife took this great photo of Arbroath Abbey with a rainbow in the background.

I really like it.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Remembrance Sunday


In Flanders Fields
John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

Driving through Edinburgh this week I was waiting for the lights to change and a considerable gaggle of children on their way to school crossed the road. I was surprised that only one of them was wearing a poppy.

When I was at school, even primary school, someone came round with a collection box and poppies. We all wore them and had been made aware of their importance.

Walking down the High Street today, I was again surprised at how few adults were wearing them. Mostly older folk.

In many ways, as the First and Second World Wars slip a little further into history each year, and bearing in mind society changes, the relevance of Remembrance Sunday might not seem as great to each new generation.

And yet the money raised from poppy day helps those more recent casualties of the conflicts that we have been involved in post 1945 too.

Whatever anyone thinks about the rights or wrongs of any of these conflicts, the men and women that make up the Squadrons, Regiments, Battalions etc are people from our own communities.

Would it really hurt to sacrifice a few coins or notes to help and honour those who have sacrificed so much more?

Please buy a poppy and wear it with pride.

Glenrothes/Cybernats

I couldn't give a better analysis of the election result than Brian Taylor has done.

The subsequent rants of the Cybernats however has taken even me by surprise. Scottish Unionist has some choice examples here. Though you can find many more easily enough.

I appreciate that many recent converts to the Nationalist cause have considerably more balanced views and abhorr the kind of language used by these clowns on newspaper sites, but personally, I think there are more of these visceral type nats on the go than many would feel comfortable admitting. And they are not just the ones whose sole knowledge of Scottish history comes from repeated viewings of Braveheart either. Take the First Minister's former employee Osama Saeed, whose organisation recently benefitted from a substantial cash injection for an 'Islamfest'. In a comment on his blog, Mr Saeed tells us that "Holyrood is full of traitors".

A statement that is honestly quite alarming from someone who has, or had, a close connection to the First Minister of Scotland.

In my own home area, a rather sinister poster campaign has surfaced which has been described as "racist" and "xenophobic" by locals.

Little wonder there is concern among many about the kind of 'free' Scotland we would be living in if Salmond and the SNP get their way.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Norwegian Minister

Interesting article in the Daily Mail today:


Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Youtube

Hmmm seems not everyone shares my (lighthearted) admiration for Sarah Palin........

Mary, Queen of Scots II

Last week, I posted on a motion by Christine Grahame MSP on her motion to 'repatriate' the body of Mary Queen of Scots. The motion is below, and my post is here.

That the Parliament acknowledges the calls by campaigners to return the remains of Mary Queen of Scots to the country of her birth; recognises that Mary was an iconic historical figure in Scotland and that her return would help educate many Scots, from the north most to the south of Scotland, about this period of our nation’s history; notes the support that campaigners have had from the Catholic Church in Scotland; further notes that Falkland Palace, in which many contemporary chroniclers believed the Scots Queen spent her happiest days, was a place of sanctuary for Mary, and nominates this Fife palace as a possible location where her remains could be interned.

Tonight, after two council meetings, I checked my Parliament e-mails to find that the motion had been circulated again looking for support. Now this is an idea that hardly set the heather on fire, but I decided to check just how may MSP's supported the plan. Well, there was a grand total of er....... one.

I'll actually be interested to see if this develops further, but I suspect this may be the end of it. Personally, I hope so.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Joke

With the American election growing closer, a friend sent me this:

I asked my friend's little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?'

She replied, 'I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people.'

'Wow...what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'you don't have to wait until you're President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50.

Then I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.. 'She thought that over for a few seconds while her Mom glared at me, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, 'Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?'

I said, 'Welcome to the Republican Party.'

Her folks still aren't talking to me.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Parliament/Court

I was working from Parliament yesterday. It was quite quiet due to recess, but it was nice to catch up with some of my colleagues. Girlfriend and I were going to go out for dinner, but by the time work was finished etc, it was quite late and a couple of the restaurants we tried had finished serving so we ended up at a Carvery in Clermiston.

The food and the service were both good, but if I had fired the balls of stuffing from a catapult, I'd have done someone serious harm, but as I say, it was late.

I'm in court tomorrow (as a witness I hasten to add) over a licensing case. I went round the court during the 'Doors Open Day', but I have never been involved in a legal case before.

A fellow councillor was also a witness in a court case recently, and it seemed to be a fairly harsh experience for him, so I'm hoping it won't be quite so bad for me.

I'll go over the paperwork for it tonight with a large gin and tonic and see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Mary, Queen of Scots



An SNP MSP had lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament, calling for the body of Mary, Queen of Scots to be brought back to Scotland from England.

In a way, I could perhaps see the point in this if she was in some paupers grave which was targetted by malicious Morris Dancers. But she's not.

She's in this rather fabulous tomb in Westminster Abbey:



In fact she was buried in Westminster Abbey on the instruction of her son, King James. If that is the wishes of her next of kin, who provided her with a tomb that is sumptuous by any standards, then why on earth would anyone think it an acceptable idea to move the body, several centuries later?

Given that unemployment is on the rise, the threat of fuel poverty is greater now than ever before, and increasing numbers of Scots are facing the stark possiblity of losing their homes, is this really something worth pursuing?

Sunday, 19 October 2008

2009 Arbroath Event

The plans for this are going really well and it looks as though it will be spectacular.

With multi period living history all day, a procession through the town, a play on Angus history inside Arbroath Abbey and a Viking boat burning at night, this will be one not to be missed.

One well known blogger has already signed up for the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine (I have some spare chain mail and swords if anyone else is game!).

I have put together a new blog on the event so people can keep up to date on our progress. You can find it here.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Interesting............

SNP MSP Sandra White lodged this motion in Parliament:

Scottish Government Investment in Glasgow Housing
That the Parliament recognises that Scotland is facing a housing crisis characterised by a severe shortage of good quality affordable homes; notes with concern that one of the most serious aspects of this crisis is the existence of slum housing, particularly in areas such as Govanhill in Glasgow; condemns the slum landlords that preside over this poor quality and overcrowded housing; welcomes the substantial funding by the Scottish Government for improving housing in the city, totalling £177 million in 2008-09 alone, made up of £93 million to Glasgow City Council in for investment in the social and private housing sector and a further £84 million paid directly to Glasgow Housing Association, and believes that this high level of investment will play a significant role in the effort to tackle the deep seated housing problems, including slum housing, that afflict parts of Glasgow and should be welcomed by all with the city's best interests at heart.

Ms White seems to share my interest in social housing and must be thorough in her research given that she quoted my blog in a Scottish Parliament debate recently(thanks for that).

Some might suggest that the motion, condemning slum housing in Govanhill and slum landlords is somewhat ironic given that the Daily Record published a story accusing an SNP Councillor of being a 'slum landlord' in er.......Govanhill

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Banking Crisis

Where did Alex Salmond go? During the first round of the banking crisis in Scotland, we got the usual bombast from the First Minister. It was all down to 'Spivs' and speculators he claimed. According to him it would be different in a free Scotland of course. Money would be pulled out from some unknown source (the same place I presume that the money will come from to pay for free school meals), all would be well as long as Scotland was free.

Then some of his advisors were found to be of the short selling Spiv variety, and he went a bit quiet. The countries to whom he most often compares and contrasts with Scotland are suffering the same, if not more than anywhere else.

And then it looked grim for RBS. People have come to realise (including myself) just how worldwide and severe this crisis is and Salmond went beyond a 'bit quiet'. Where now his solutions to the problem?

Today, instead of the bluster and bombast, instead of more alternative solutions that we saw mooted earlier, Salmond has welcomed the Westminster proposals.

I would have expected more from him.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Closure Order

My department has been working with the local police and other agencies to curb anti social behaviour from a very small minority of council tenants.

When I was first elected over a year ago, I posted on the subject of those who lead 'chaotic lifestyles'.

A closure order means that the tenant is banned from their property for a period of time, in this case three months, and the property is boarded up and sealed.

The process is not taken lightly, and takes time to achieve. During the process, all manner of help and support is offered to the tenant, but if that doesn't work we are left with little option.

In this case, it was a 16 year old girl whose neighbours had complained about vandalism, noise, arguments, fighting, drinking and parties at all hours.

The police had been called to the address 36 times this year.

Now I appreciate that there may be (ok I know) that there are a number of sandal wearing, hand wringing apologists for those with chaotic lifestyles who make their neighbours lives a misery, and indeed terrify their neighbours. But personally, as someone who wants people to be able to live their lives peacefully and enjoyably, I have little sympathy for someone who has declined all of the (very expensive) help and support offered and continues to behave in a way that consistently has a profoundly negative impact on other people.

I think in some ways, the anti social behaviour, often fuelled by drink and/or drugs is not the problem, but a symptom of the bigger issue that we are living in a broken society, and that is not something that local authorities or the police can solve.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Alcohol Debate

The debate on raising the age limit for off sales to 21 took place this morning.

Good contribution by Murdo Fraser who seemed quite animated and presented a well constructed argument, as did members from other parties.

I have of course made comment on these proposals and was mildly criticised on another blog for raising the point of the Justice Secretary's own brush with the law which was allegedly fuelled by alcohol (ironically, he wasn't aged between 18-21 when this happened).

And yet when Mr MacAskill stood up to defend the SNP's plans, what did we get from him? Margaret Thatcher 'Milk Snatcher' and it was the Tories fault for not building any prisons. The latter point made by a Cabinet Secretary who is determined to let prisoners out early. A policy that is already having disastrous consequences for some.

It was almost inevitable that Mr MacAskill would make reference to the pilot schemes in Armadale etc, and it was absolutely inevitable that everyone else would highlight the experts, including a senior police officer and health statistician who had so competently blown holes through the SNP's spin on the results.

The Justice Secretary's performance on this, whilst robust, was less about competently defending the SNP's position, and more about finger pointing at everyone else. This was the SNP at national level resorting to the type that I have long seen at local level.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Conservative Business

It's Conservative business in Parliament tomorrow, with two debates, the first on local government finance, and the second on age limits for purchasing alcohol.

I'll be watching both with interest. Councils up and down the country are really struggling financially given the rocketing fuel prices (a bin lorry only does 7 miles to the gallon) and energy costs are hitting us hard too.

The second one is also interesting as the much criticised plans to raise the age for purchasing alcohol from off licenses will be under close scrutiny.

Two good choices from the tories that will hopefully result in a good debate.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Eurojustice

The Scottish Govt has announced that Edinburgh is to host the annual Eurojustice conference this week.

It tells us:

"Legal professionals from around Europe will arrive in Edinburgh this week when the city and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ? Scotland's Prosecution Service - plays host for the first time to the annual Eurojustice conference.

The 11th annual conference will focus on two themes, prosecutors' roles in securing public confidence in the criminal justice system and in the development of Information Communications Technology."


The Lord Advocate, the Right Honourable Elish Angiolini, QC stated "I am particularly pleased that one of the main themes this year is securing public confidence in the criminal justice system. It is vital that the principle that justice is seen to be done is at the very heart of our work and that we, as prosecutors, recognise our role in ensuring that the public have the greatest measure of confidence in the criminal justice system"

I couldn't agree more with the Lord Advocate about justice being seen to be done.

Currently I'd suggest this is absolutely not the case.

I have posted on this subject several times, so there is no need to rehash old posts, but the community is getting really, really fed up of lenient sentences and the judicial system is seen as hopelessly out of touch with society and society's expectations.

Non custodial sentences have their place, I wouldn't argue with that, but criminals are laughing up their sleeves at the kind of sentences that are being handed down. Worse still, this frustrates the law abiding majority of people who just want to get on with their lives without being victim to the kind of 'people' who spend their day vandalising things, stealing possessions from people who have worked hard to buy them and assaulting ordinary folk going about their business.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill recently trumpeted about the three new prisons that are in the pipeline. Tough talk indeed. But bear in mind that two of these prisons are to replace two that have already been demolished and the third one is a legacy of the previous administration.

I actually don't understand how this culture of hand wringing, furrowed browed concern at the needs of a criminal element who are utterly indifferent to others continues to survive in the face of a society that is struggling to cope with their activities.

Effectively, the message we get from the Scottish Govt is that 'prison doesn't work'. But if rehabilitation does work, then in my view it can be done in prison, and communities can be protected from a criminals antics at the same time.

I would very much hope that it is not the case that there are one or two civil servants with rather narrow views influencing Scottish Government thinking on Justice, perhaps a "tail wagging the dog" scenario. Perhaps this might be something Mr MacAskill and his colleagues should look into?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Squirrels

The members debate tonight will focus on Red Squirrels and the dangers they face from their grey counterparts.

It's a worthwhile debate of course, but I was reminded of a members debate in 2005 on the subject of beavers.

The Green MSP Eleanor Scott had this within her contribution:

"Some members might remember that, a while ago, it was possible to buy joke mugs with an inscription that said, "Save trees—eat a beaver." I have to say that that was a gross libel against beavers."

I recall some members at the time had a different interpretation of the inscription and much hilarity ensued. Ms Scott didn't get the joke.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

What do you think?



A sculpture of a lion that is currently in Edinburgh has been offered to Arbroath on loan. The photo above shows how it might look outside Arbroath Abbey.

The press release below explains more. Any comments?

A granite carving of a lion by Scottish sculptor Ronald Rae could be loaned to Arbroath when it is moved from Edinburgh and Arbroath Councillor Jim Millar is inviting people to comment on whether they would like to see the sculpture based in the town.

The sculpture, which took a year to carve is currently on display between the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace, but the exhibition of the work is due to end in 2010. Although never officially titled, it has been given the name "The Lion of Scotland" by the public and the name has stuck.

Cllr Millar said "The statue has proven to be very popular in Edinburgh and attracts a considerable amount of interest from visitors and locals alike. People are constantly having their photographs taken next to it and postcards of it have also been produced. Although 'the lion' has been offered to the Scottish Parliament, it was felt by the Art Advisory Group that it did not fit their criteria for acquisitions. I would very much like to encourage people to say what they think on the subject, and how they would feel about hosting the sculpture in Arbroath."

Mr Rae, who sculpted the lion by hand was visiting friends in Auchmithie who took him to see Arbroath Abbey and it was suggested that an area near the monument itself would be an ideal location for the sculpture. Mr Rae said "I believe the colour of the pink granite complements the red sandstone of the walls, and the subject matter has an interesting link given that King William the Lion, who founded Arbroath Abbey is thought to have been the first to have adopted the lion as the symbol of the Scottish monarch. As someone who works with stone, I felt a great empathy with those who built the abbey and it retains a spirituality that can still be felt today. I would be delighted to see the sculpture exhibited in Arbroath."

Rosalind Newlands of the Scottish Tourist Guides Associations petitioned the Scottish Parliament to retain the sculpture in Edinburgh stating "As tourist guides, we regularly take visitors on tour round Edinburgh, in coaches, smaller vehicles and on foot and, since this particular exhibition began, had noticed the amount of admiration it attracted. Specifically, visitors expressed their liking for the Lion of Scotland statue. This iconic sculpture attracted comment not just from adults but from all ages. Children in particular are attracted to it in numbers. "

Cllr Millar concluded "I would ask people to respond with their views either by mail to Jim Millar, Members' Services, The Cross, Forfar, DD8 1BX or via e-mail to cllrmillar@angus.gov.uk".

Sunday, 21 September 2008

2009 Event




We are getting a lot of interest in the multi period living history event that we are planning for next year.

We have a few groups on board now and we are in discussions with several more.

The latest group to join us is the Antonine Guard (pictured above). This is an excellent group that has done a lot TV work and are much in demand. I first saw them in the Scottish Parliament a few years ago. It was strange to walk into the canteen and see Roman soldiers having their lunch.

With the Antonine Guard taking part, this means that the historical span of the event now stretches from the Roman period through to the Napoleonic era which should make for a great day.

The chap that produced the play on the history of Arbroath Abbey, which was actually performed in the abbey ruins has agreed to so again, which is brilliant news.

Perhaps the hardest part of this though is getting someone to build a Viking longship to burn later on at night. Its not just the building of it that is difficult, it also has to be stored until the big event, but we'll work round that.

All in all, the event is really taking shape, so if you are at a loose end on the 4th July next year, you'll be more than welcome to come along.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Ubiquitous Cybernats

I had been meaning to post on this for a while, but was beaten to it by Scottish Unionist and Kezia Dugdale.

I have been quite concerned at the tone of some comments on The Scotsman and Herald websites. Douglas Fraser, in his parting post on The Herald's blog states:

"These online discussion forums have taught me quite a bit - rarely about politics, but much more about the disturbing results you get from the interplay of anonymity, group psychology and bullying. This is not unique to The Herald's website, or to Scottish politics, but as the content and tone of this conversation represents a daily injection of poison into the well of Scottish public life, we are all worse off for it."

Some of the comments seem a little less aggressive just now, but in the very recent past, some of them have been disconcerting in the language used by the commentators. Anyone not sharing the Nationalist view could expect to be called a traitor among other things, whilst some could be viewed as veiled threats to Unionists 'come the revolution'.

Perhaps the worst one I have seen however refers to a post I did on a 'house' someone had built into the caves at Arbroath. It was a fun story that caused a lot of interest and speculation locally.

After some footage of the cave was posted on youtube, two local wags (not the footballing variety) decided to dress in gorilla suits and 'buy' the cavehouse (complete with an estate agents sign with a 'sold' sticker on it).

You can see it here. Fairly harmless stuff eh? Well you'd think so, scroll down to the comments though and check out the 'contribution' from someone calling themselves 'Cybernat 1745'. He/She states "well it could be worse,at least they arent WHITE SETTLERS!!

SCOTLAND FOREVER "

Click on 'Cybernat 1745' and it takes you to his/her profile where he/she, somewhat unsurprisingly, has a picture of Mel Gibson as William Wallace in 'Braveheart', which is where I suspect some of these people get their knowledge of Scottish history.

Has it really got so bad that a simple, fun video on Youtube attracts comment from the ubiquitous and venomous Cybernats?

As one American said in a comment on The Herald "Is this what Scotland the Brave has become?"

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Scottish Labour's New Front Bench Team

GRAY ANNOUNCES FULL FRONT BENCH TEAM

Labour leader Iain Gray has announced the front bench team today to support his Shadow Cabinet at the Scottish Parliament.

Iain Gray MSP said: “I am delighted with my Shadow Cabinet I announced yesterday and believe the team we have assembled today to support them, offers the right balance.

“It covers a broad range of skills, knowledge, commitment and talent which will both take forward and develop Labour’s programme in Scotland and hold the SNP to account for their failures in not just their flagship policies such as Local Income Tax and Scottish Futures Trust, but the effects of cuts in health and education on hard working families and the poorest and most vulnerable people in Scotland.


SHADOW MINISTERS

Finance and Sustainable Growth
David Whitton, Finance

Education
Ken McIntosh: Schools
Claire Baker: Further and Higher Education
Karen Whitefield: Children and Early Years

Health
Richard Simpson: Public Health
Mary Mulligan: Housing and Communities
Frank McAveety: Sport

Justice
Paul Martin: Community Safety

Environment
Elaine Murray: Environment
Karen Gillon: Rural Development

Economy and Skills.
Des McNulty:Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change
Lewis Macdonald: Energy, Enterprise and Tourism

Whips
Rhoda Grant
James Kelly

Corporate Body
Tom McCabe

Monday, 15 September 2008

Leadership

Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting comments on the myriad leadership changes that have gone on of late, and wonders if Tory Leader Annabel Goldie is next.

For what it's worth, I'd say no, but the post does raise some interesting questions on leadership in modern Scottish politics.

As a former squaddie, I like and admire strong leadership. I admire a leader that can keep a group of people together, and make them relevant, ambitious and forward thinking, often in the face of adversity (whether in politics or not). It takes a personal touch that many people lack. Some people are natural leaders, others can be taught leadership skills to various degrees and some will always prefer to follow rather than lead, and this in itself is an important role.

Among the vast majority of people in Scotland, these political leadership contests have not raised any interest at all and this may be a reflection on Scottish politics today. When recent contests have been announced, commentators have struggled to identify a natural successor with very few standing out from the crowd, twenty or thirty years ago, I doubt this would have been the case.

Perhaps the media has played a role in dumbing down open party debate on policy or direction that we used to see, as an example, in Thatchers day. Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet with a different view on their party policy can expect to have it proverbially shot off very quickly, with the media (and other parties) seizing on it as some kind of major split.

History is littered with strong, remarkable leaders who are invariably strong orators too. In the past few years, passionate debate has too often been sacrificed at the altar of anodyne and pedestrian contribution or meaningless, snappy soundbites.

We rarely see the kind of leadership skills that single out an individual from the crowd. As an example, perhaps reports of some school sports days ditching competitive sports so that no one feels left out have contributed to this. One university I know of marks students exam results as 'A' for achieved or 'NA' for not achieved so that no one can be upset at having failed.

I'd like to see people who display natural leadership skills encouraged, whatever career they choose. We will all (including non leader types like me) benefit from it.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

New Event For 2009

I am putting together a big historical event for 2009. I have pasted the press release below. If any of you fancies getting dressed up as a Roman/Viking/Knight etc then feel free to get in touch!

Major New Event for 2009

Arbroath Heritage, the group that previously organised Medieval Fairs, two Viking Raids on the town and also produced a play on the history of Arbroath Abbey have announced a proposal for a major new event for 2009.

Arbroath Heritage Chairman, Cllr Jim Millar said “We are planning a one day, re enactment event that will cover many different historical periods that reflect Arbroath’s rich heritage.”

Mr Millar continued “Previously, we have largely focused on one historical period at a time such as medieval or Viking. Next year we plan to expand the programme to cover a much greater time period, and have already booked a Napoleonic group and we are in discussions with several others covering Roman, Dark Age, Viking and Medieval.”

The plans are at an early stage, but so far include a fish and farmers market, an action packed programme of living history and combat demonstrations during the day near the harbour, followed by a procession up the High Street to Arbroath Abbey where a play on the history of the abbey, first performed some years ago, but now specially extended will take place in the abbey itself. As the torchlit procession and Viking Longship burning have proved so popular in the past, it is hoped to add this as a grand finale.

Mr Millar continued “The date we have selected is the 4th July so that it extends the programme of summer events which draw people into the town such as the Seafront Spectacular and Seafest. Next year is the ‘Year of the Homecoming’ and we hope that people travelling to Scotland for that will be tempted to come to Arbroath and learn about the fantastic history of our town.”

Quick to lend his support to the plan is fellow Arbroath Councillor David Fairweather. Mr Fairweather said “This proposal is an excellent idea and one that I am delighted to be involved in. I know from speaking to people, how popular the Viking boat burning was at Seafest and the comprehensive programme we are putting together will have something for everyone.”

“I am also involved in the Seafront Spectacular and Seafest and these kind of events give a huge boost to the town during the summer months and I am confident that this one will be a very welcome addition to an already impressive calendar. We also hope that the event will boost the campaign to Secure World Heritage Site Status from the United Nations which continues to attract considerable support.”

Concluding, Mr Millar said “As well as having top quality re enactors from throughout the UK, we would also like to make this very much a community event and anyone who would like to get involved in any capacity would be more than welcome to do so.”

The organisers can be contacted by phone on 01241 873763 or by e-mail at cllrmillar@angus.gov.uk A website about the event is planned to go live within the next month.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Justice

Kenny MacAskill issued a press release today on Penal Reform.

In it he challenges critics "to stop carping from the sideline over proposals to tackle re-offending and help turn the tide of record prison numbers in Scotland."

He adds:

"There is something truly perverse about the fact that crime is falling yet we are locking up more and more people."

Oh really? Who'd have thought, when you lock up criminals, crime falls. So the SNP's answer, informed by The independent Scottish Prisons Commission is to indulge in non custodial sentences and rehabilitation.

Now, call me old fashioned, but when people commit crimes that justify a custodial sentence, then that's exactly what they should get. And guess what? Whilst they're locked up at Her Majesty's pleasure then the community is safe from their criminal activities.

In a previous post, I pointed out that at Arbroath Sheriff Court, only 36% of housebreakers receive a custodial sentence. I would argue that having your home broken into (bearing in mind that in Scotland housebreaking covers various acts) and the stuff you had worked so hard to buy stolen, then you might expect the thief to go down for it. This is made worse by the fact that victims of housebreakers often feel violated, suffer from prolonged anxiety and don't feel safe in their own homes.

Any yet the criminal sentenced in Arbroath faces a pretty good chance of walking free with some non custodial sentence.

The fact is in my view, the concerns of the community are not being met by the judiciary, and the Scottish Government is making it worse.

Below is a post from a blog that is linked in my blogroll as anti knife crime. The author is Mark Davies. I have known Mark for 20 years now, he was my first martial arts instructor when I came out of the army. He is a good family man that has worked the doors in some of the most deprived areas in Scotland. I consider him a close friend and value his opinion. In one post he states:

"We need to treat anti social behaviour & crime with the severity that it deserves & stop trying to be 'progressive' & warm & fuzzy with habitual offenders. There comes a point where the powers that be need to understand that some people aren't going to be rehabilitated & that the safety of society needs to come first. We have a family here in Arbroath who fall into this category. The entire family are constantly in the paper. Week in week out one of them has been charged or convicted of something. They do drugs, they break into houses, they break into cars, they break into sheds, and they attack people. Everyone I know is sick to death of seeing them constantly get sentences & fines that they are laughing at. These are the same types of folk who carry weapons without a seconds thought. No matter how 'illegal' it is or what the penalty is, they are habitual criminals- crime is what they do! Its people like them who commit the majority of violent crimes. If we want to see a drop in the rate of violent/knife crime we need to stop playing games with these people & GET THEM OFF THE STREETS!"

That's not to say that Mark, or I for that matter does not value the role of educating people against taking part in crime, he clearly states that earlier in the post. But when it comes to dealing with the kind of people that break into houses, assault people and all the other kind of crimes that destroy communities, then we should listen to what people like him have to say.

If we are trying to avoid the cost of prison places then a senior police officer thinks differently.

The old saying of 'justice must be seen to be done' is never truer than now. Beleaguered communities are sick fed up of hand wringing apologists in the judicial system that are happy to send criminals on their way with a talking to and a slapped wrist. The expectations of communities are absolutely not being met and Kenny MacAskill will only make things worse.

Weekend/Drink Pilot



I had a good weekend. Saturday night I watched 'Letters From Iwo Jima', the companion film to 'Flags of Our Fathers', both Directed by Eastwood. It's a brilliant film, one that I have seen before, but always worth another viewing.

It shows the battle for Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective and its fascinating. Girlfriend bought me a copy of 'Japan at War - An Oral History' at Christmas. It's horrifying and heartbreaking by turns. I'm glad I read it before watching the film as I got a lot more out of it.

Sunday I drove to Edinburgh and we went to the Renaissance exhibition at Holyrood Palace. It's more than worth the £5 entry fee and there are some unrivalled masterpieces there. I'd heartiuly recommend it if you are in the city.

The only fly in the ointment was some pretentious git stomping about stepping in front of other people who were viewing the paintings. There's always one at these things, usually with a condescending attitude as though they had painted the bloody things themselves.

Following on from my post last week on the proposed ban on off sales to people under 21, the tories put out this press release:

Lamont slams 'latest propaganda' for ludicrous SNP plan

Commenting ahead of the Minister for Public Health’s visit to Stenhousemuir tomorrow ‘to hear about the success of the Stop the Supply over-21s off-sales alcohol pilot’, John Lamont MSP, Shadow Minister for Community Safety, said:

“I have no doubt that this will be used as the latest propaganda from the SNP in an effort to convince us that their ludicrous plans to criminalise those under the age of 21 who buy alcohol are the way forward.

“The fact is that this plan was accompanied by a crackdown on existing legislation and a specific policing focus on this initiative. The SNP Government’s lamentable track record on justice issues thus far suggests this will not be the case if the scheme was rolled out across the country. Therefore the argument is being presented on a false premise.

“Scottish Conservatives will continue to lead the opposition to the suggestion a responsible, 20 year old adult who wants to buy a bottle of wine to take home and celebrate the birth of his baby is breaking the law; we will also fight against stigmatising the pensioner who wants to buy alcohol in the supermarket and would be forced to line up in a special ‘drinks only’ queue.

“Nothing is more likely to send out mixed messages than pulling age limitations in all different directions. No one is denying that Scotland's drink culture must be tackled - but the solution being heralded here is not going to make the required difference. The key is to target problem drinks and problem drinkers and a crackdown using existing laws to punish those who sell to underage drinkers. The SNP’s blanket approach simply does not do that.”

Friday, 5 September 2008

Over 21's Off Sales Pilot

Press release from the Scottish Government:

Public Health Minister Shona Robison is to visit Stenhousemuir on Monday to hear about the success of the 'Stop the Supply' over-21s off-sales alcohol pilot.

The Minister will meet local police and shopkeepers to learn more about the substantial impact the trial has had on anti-social behaviour and crime.

The visit also marks the end of the Scottish Government's consultation on its proposals for tackling alcohol misuse, which include setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, raising the off-sales alcohol purchase age to 21, ending irresponsible promotions and a social responsibility fee for some retailers.


There is no question that Scotland has what is often described as a "complex relationship with alcohol" and as a local councillor I get a lot of complaints about the anti social behaviour that invariably follows underage drinking, but I retain grave doubts about these plans.

It would be interesting to see if police activity over the period of this experiment was increased greatly as has happened during other similar projects. If so, and I have no doubt that it was, then this skews the results substantially and linking the reduction in anti social behaviour to a higher police presence on the street could be viewed as more probable than stopping the sale of drink from off licenses to under 21s.

A good friend of mine came round to see me the other day. His 16 year old son, let's call him X) had been taken home by police after collapsing drunk on the High Street in the middle of the afternoon. Where did he get the drink? It turns out that X had gone to a friends house where his friends Mother had given her son and various other 16 year olds plenty of alcohol. When X had got very drunk, the woman threw him out of the house where he tried and failed to get home. When my friend complained to the police, he was told they would not pursue this unless X complained himself (something that X was profoundly reluctant to do for fear of reprisals).

There are many examples of 'proxy purchasing' by adults for kids (often taking a 'cut'for themselves) or parents simply giving the drink to kids to get them out of the house. It is a well known, and arguably growing problem that the Government's measures do nothing to address.

The Government also wants to end "irresponsible promotions". From the press release, this is a bit vague. They have previously said they wanted to ban "3 for 2" offers and I'm not sure if they deem this to be "irresponsible" or not.

Personally, I like a drink and usually have a small stock of wine in the house. If I see an offer in the supermarket, I'm likely to buy it, just as I might take advantage of any other offer. However this could all end because a minority, and I firmly believe it is a minority, abuse alcohol. I'm also going to have to pay more for the wine I do buy per unit of alcohol. This won't bother the vast majority of us too much, but for those with a drink problem, and perhaps on a modest income (alcohol abuse is more prevalent in areas of higher deprivation), then it means more money from the household budget will be diverted, probably from food or heating, into purchasing drink which will only make the situation worse for the family as a whole.

Having argued against these proposals with several SNP supporters I have often received the mantra "it's worth a try" or "it's better to do something than nothing".

That may or may not be the case, but I'm not convinced that this rather blunt and simplistic legislation will do the trick. Our response needs to be considerably more sophisticated than it is at present and should include a presumption that anyone caught selling alcohol to underagers, or purchasing alcohol on behalf of underagers is actually prosecuted for it. At the moment, that's simply not happening.

The current ills of our society are manifesting themselves in anti social behaviour, alcohol/drug abuse and a general contempt for others.

I'd suggest we are a generation away from seeing major improvements, and even then, only if we are willing to take a comprehensive approach to what is fundamentally wrong and start to tackle the root problems of poverty and social inequality.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

They're Back and They're Bad

So, the MSP's have returned to Parliament (I'm quite glad to be back too) and the bunfights have started already.

Check out this corking press release from Labour MSP Frank McAveety:

FRANK MCAVEETY CHALLENGES SALMOND TO 100M SPRINT

Labour’s Frank McAveety threw down the gauntlet today to the First Minister Alex Salmond following an exchange in the chamber in which Mr Salmond claimed ‘I am not an expert on pie and beans; I leave that to Mr McAveety’.

Mr McAveety issued a challenge to the First Minister:

“I am prepared as part of our commitment to Sport and to tackling obesity to challenge the First Minister to a 100m sprint in which the winner will donate money to the Rainforest Fund charity.”

Frank McAveety added:

“I’m prepared to wear a Team GB shirt and I am sure we can find a team shirt that Alex Salmond could fill.

“I’m sure if Alex Salmond really doesn’t eat pie, chips and beans, which I very much doubt, then he won’t be hot and bothered by this challenge.

“I know Mr Salmond likes a bet so I am prepared to stake £100 of my own money on the race and I am urging all other MSPs to place a bet on who they think will win.

“I’m issuing that challenge to Mr Salmond today and I expect to hear back from him tomorrow afternoon when I’ll be speaking in the obesity debate in the parliament. I hope Scotland’s First Minister is up for the challenge.”

This was preceded earlier in the day with a more traditional war of attrition through the medium Parliamentary Motions and Amendments between Labours Margaret Curran and Tory Jackson Carlaw:

S3M-02456 Margaret Curran (Glasgow Baillieston) (Scottish Labour): Condemnation of the Comments of Andrew Lansley and Defence of the NHS in Scotland— That the Parliament calls on Conservative UK Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley MP, to withdraw his comments suggesting that health spending should be reduced in Glasgow and spent elsewhere in the United Kingdom; believes that Mr Lansley’s apparent conclusion that health spending is inverse to health outcomes and should therefore be reduced in areas of poor health is a perverse logic that risks denying people in most need the healthcare that they require and deserve and that this is an alarming indication of the Conservatives’ intention to cut NHS funding; notes with equal concern that Mr Lansley’s wish may already be being granted by the SNP government in light of the recently announced £42 million of cuts to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the fact that health spending in the Scottish Government’s budget fails to match the year-on-year increases of both the UK Government for England and those of the previous Scottish administration; further notes that, if this trend continues, Scotland’s historically higher health spending per head of population is at risk of being reversed within the next five years, and calls on members of all parties to defend the NHS in Scotland from further cuts and ensure that all people in Scotland of whatever financial means can access the healthcare that they deserve.

Text of amended motion:

That the Parliament is wearying of the parade of invitations to pay tribute to the former Lib/Lab administration, rejected by the electorate in May 2007; invites the Scottish Government to press on with evidence-based action to assist the people of Scotland to tackle health inequalities and to do so without fear or favour to the record of the Labour party, which having governed the people of Glasgow for decades has singularly failed to improve health inequalities within the city, and calls on members of all parties to measure success less by reference to health spending and more by reference to health outcomes while ensuring that all people in Scotland, of whatever financial means, can access the healthcare they deserve

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Poem Dropped

A poem about a knife carrying violent loner has been dropped from the GCSE curriculum in England after concerns about the subject matter given the rise in knife crime.

You can read the whole story here.



"The exam board said the poem had been a "popular choice" for pupils - allowing GCSE English students to debate issues about the state of mind of the poem's narrator.

But a spokeswoman said the board had received a complaint and against a background of fears over teenage knife crime had now decided to drop it from the anthology.

"People will have different views on this - but we have to make a decision in the light of what is currently happening," she said.

The exam board said the decision had not been taken lightly but that the selection of poems had to respond to current "social issues and public concern".



The poem is quite dark, but would it turn a young person into an axe wielding homocidal maniac? Actually I don't think so. I do agree with the exam board that it had allowed students to debate issues about the state of mind of the narrator. It would also allow debate about knife crime and mental health in general.

Strangely, when I was obliged to read Oedipus, I did not go out and kill my Father and marry my Mother. I don't think any of my class mates did either. Surely the principle is the same?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Hospital Car Park Charges

Good news for hospital patients and their families with the announcement that the Scottish Government is to abolish car parking charges at NHS hospitals across Scotland.

People have been campaigning against these charges for years, and no wonder.

Car parking fees quickly mount up when you visit a friend or family member in hospital. I noticed this myself when my Mum was kept in hospital for a while after her fall and my sister, Dad and I would take it in turns to go through the day and in the evening so that she wasn't on her own for long.

The hospital was a 40 mile round trip, and the car parking fees were a kick in the teeth given that individually we sometimes went twice a day and public transport wasn't really an option under the circumstances. It must be so much worse when its the family breadwinner in hospital and the family finances are already badly affected.

This is a good decision that will be welcomed by patients and their families across Scotland.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Arbroath Cave House

This well appointed 'house' has been found in a cave at Arbroath cliffs.

Like all good stories, it's shrouded in mystery!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

It Gets Worse..................




So, Lord Foulkes, having churned out a painfully sycophantic press release on the most appalling motion of recent times (you can read the press release in the earlier post below), you would think that no-one would touch it with a bargepole. You (and me) would be wrong.

This is the original motion:

S3M-02430 George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab): That the Parliament wishes Sir Sean Connery well on his 78th birthday;
recognises his contribution in the 1997 referendum campaign, which resulted in this proud Parliament's ability to deliver
for the people of Scotland, and, above all else, celebrates his ongoing lifelong contribution to the British film industry.


But step forward SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, an individual I recall less than fondly after he was my English tutor at University.

Just to make the whole thing go from the sublime to the ridiculous, Mr Allan has added this powerful and well thought out amendment to it:

S3M-02430.1 Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): As an amendment to motion S3M-02430 in the name of George Foulkes (Happy Birthday, Sir Sean Connery),
after “the people of Scotland,” insert “and hopes he will play an equally positive role in the next referendum, on Scottish independence,”.


Great. Welcome to the mature politics of the new Scotland.

Monday, 25 August 2008

What?

Sometimes I just cringe at some of the stuff generated in the Scottish Parliament. Today's wee gem is a press release issued by the Labour Party. It seems gaffe prone Lord Foulkes has tabled a motion in Parliament wishing Sir Sean Connery a happy birthday. Lord Foulkes describes Sir Sean as "Scotland's most famous former milkman".

Restricting the competitive field of greatness to the country's former milkmen is a tad restrictive in my view, and the motion will seem a tad daft to many given Sir Sean's long standing support of the SNP. The motion itself is hardly helped by the frankly bizarre and rambling press release that accompanied it.

You can see the horror unfold below...................

LABOUR WISHES SIR SEAN A HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Labour’s George Foulkes has today tabled a motion in parliament
to wish Sir Sean Connery ‘all the best’ as he celebrates his
78th birthday.

Lord Foulkes said:

"Sir Sean is Scotland's most famous former milkman and a true
British cinema legend.

"His achievements are an inspiration to us all and I salute him
as both the best ever James Bond and a great Scot who helped
campaign for devolution.

"Now is a time to put aside our differences - such as his
support for the Old Firm - and celebrate his contribution to
our cultural life.

"But any time Sir Sean visits from the Bahamas there is a seat
waiting for him at Tynecastle alongside his fellow Jambo Alex Salmond.

"I am sure the SNP leader will want to join us in wishing Sir
Sean a happy birthday.

“We welcome the role he played in supporting devolution.
Although the James Bond star does not make a home here in
Scotland anymore, I’m sure he will appreciate what this
parliament has done for his fellow countrymen and women over
the past decade.”

+++++++++++++++++++++UPDATE++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Scottish Tory Boy and I were actually wondering if the above was a spoof, but it seems genuine given that the motion has now been circulated round Parliament:


Short Title: Happy Birthday, Sir Sean Connery
S3M-02430 George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab): That the Parliament
wishes Sir Sean Connery well on his 78th birthday; recognises his contribution in the 1997 referendum campaign, which resulted in this proud Parliament's ability to deliver for the people of Scotland, and, above all else, celebrates his ongoing lifelong contribution to the British film industry.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Week

It's been a very busy week again. Monday was group meeting, Tuesday Civic Licensing and Licensing Board training, Wednesday we had Licensing Board and last night was Neighbourhood Services Committee.

We had a long agenda last night, but the tone of the meeting was very positive and good humoured. Long may it last.

We got good press coverage for the Viking Raid, although one letter in the local press was not so complimentary. Why is it when someone writes to the papers criticising someone or something they always do so from behind the shield of anonymity? People have a right to their opinion of course, and I view criticism as a constructive thing, but I wish people would have the courage of their convictions and identify themselves when they do so.

The rain has been horrendous here with loads of flooding which has disrupted a lot of public transport. Hard to believe it's August.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Event/Blogroll

The Seafest in Arbroath was a fun event which attracted thousands of people. It was great to see the two Viking longships in the harbour too. Thousands more turned out for the boat burning at night which looked great.

My culinary experiment went down surprisingly well (on the basis I didn't set fire to the house or poison girlfriend). I made pasta with Chorizo in a tomato sauce. Emboldened by this I have bought a huge steak and will replicate the sauce again tonight.

I have added a couple of new blogs to the blogroll. The first is the site of my martial arts instructor Mr Mark Davies on his anti knife programme. I have also been reading Tom Harris MP's (Labour) blog for a while now and find it an excellent read, sticking with Labour, I'm also adding Kezia Dugdales blog. I have seen Kez around Parliament a few times, but have never had the chance to say hello.

Crap Holyrood Chat is also a good one (I'm a contributer to that one, but I haven't actually added anything to it yet) and Scottish Unionist seems to be making an impact with his relatively new blog.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Weekend

We are having the Viking Raid this weekend and I'm really looking forward to it. We have some excellent re-enactors coming and it will be entertaining and educational.

The first Viking longship arrives tonight and the second one arrives tomorrow morning. It will be good to see them again.

Girlfriend is coming up tonight and I'll need to get the flat tidy before she arrives. She is demanding I cook dinner, which is something I have avoided so far (except the ill fated attempt at Tuscan Peasant Soup) by taking her out to restaurants. However I have run out of restaurants and she has run out of patience so I'll have to bite the bullet and try and cook something.

Council meetings start again next week, although the committee which deals with planning applications met last week and went on for a mammoth ten hours. I hope this hasn't set a precedent for the other ones.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Well Said Mr House

A couple of days ago I did a post outlining my concern at the sentences handed down at my local Sheriff Court (in the nine different crime headings, only one exceeded the Scottish national average).

I concluded by saying "The irony is of course, that when a Sheriff, any Sheriff, sends a criminal to jail, then they are no sooner inside, when Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and his colleagues are falling over themselves to let them out again."

I'm delighted to see that a senior Police officer shares my (and many other people's view).

Mr Stephen House, who is Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police claims that the force only just has enough resources to monitor the sex offenders in the community and comments on proposals for early release. He is quoted as saying "The government plans to expand this to deal with all violent offenders - tens of thousands in Strathclyde - and we simply do not have resources to do that."

"You have to pay for it somewhere. If you are driven by money in terms of 'we won't increase prison places - we'll save that way', if you are going to have violent offenders staying in the community, there will be a cost to that as well.

Most importantly, he said: "It may be greater violence or greater supervision - but you won't escape the cost."

Now I appreciate that there are arguments that prison doesn't work. What we shouldn't lose sight of however is the fact that when someone is locked up for serious crimes, the community is safe from their criminal behaviour for the duration of their incarcaration. Isn't that what we want? Safe communities that are protected by the law and the judicial system?

Victims of crime and society in general have an expectation that crime shouldn't pay, but for some time this expectation is not being met, and it will only get worse under the SNP's early release ideas.

If people are committing crimes that genuinely warrant custodial sentences, then we need the prison places to accomodate them. The answer to prison overcrowding is not simply to let the criminals out.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Councillor Kalashnikov



The Story broke yesterday about a Glasgow SNP Councillor taking his kids (one of whom was 5 years old) to Pakistan and letting them fire an AK47. You can read the whole thing here. Video footage of it is also on the net too.

Other bloggers have already commented on it, and Jeff over at SNP Tactical Voting states that it "does not help that Councillor Hanif is himself an ethnic minority that the ignorants amongst us associate all too readily with terrorist activity."

It's an interesting, and very valid point. My own concern however is not Councillor Hanif's ethnicity, it is his choice of weapon - the AK47, and his decision to let his kids fire it.

The AK47 is probably the most easily recognised gun in the world, its certainly the most popular. It's also the weapon of choice for just about any despot and terrorist of any denomination you care to mention.

It has a magazine of 30 rounds and a killing range of 1,350 metres. It is cheap, easy to produce, works well in some of the most extreme conditions and it also has good accuracy. I handled a couple of them when I was in the army and they are quite light too.

The Herald reports "There are believed to be hundreds of thousands of hand-crafted home-made AK-47s in the region, almost all reverse engineered from the assault rifles produced for Warsaw Pact armies half a century ago."

This is a rather telling statement. Making a gun is no easy task and requires high quality material and equipment with a high degree of precision. There are any number of examples of people killing and maiming themselves through the use of home made guns or modified de-activated weapons that fire real ammunition.

Firing a weapon like this is something that wouldn't even cross my mind, and if I had kids, I certainly wouldn't put one in their hands either.

In my view, this was an appallingly stupid and unsafe thing to do and demonstrates a shocking lack of judgement. Given the nature of the weapon, I certainly wouldn't consider it to be the equivalent of a clay pigeon shoot (which, incidentally, I wouldn't let a five year old do either).

The SNP have already suspended Cllr Hanif, and it will be interesting to see what further action they will take.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Sentencing Statistics

A request by Boss for information on sentencing in Sheriff Courts broken down by crime and individual court brought some revealing information.

But before I go into it, I'd state that although Arbroath has its share of problems with drink, drugs and anti social behaviour, they are no greater than those faced in any similar sized town in UK and all the necessary agencies are working hard to combat it.

That said, let me set the scene. Arbroath Sheriff Court is an attractive building on Arbroath High Street. Outside the court is a semi circle (facing the door of the court) with public seating and a couple of phone boxes. Unfortunately, this public seating appears to act as a magnet for the accused and their supporters, some of whom often appear under the influence of drink or some other miracle of modern chemistry. It's like circus some days.

Inside the court, justice is done and sentences handed down to those convicted. A look at the sentencing record though hardly fills me with confidence. In eight subjects, ranging from Common Assault to Drunk Driving, Arbroath only exceeds the Scottish average custodial sentence for one of them (theft). In some cases, it's well below the average.

Last year across Scotland, an average of fourteen percent of those convicted of Common Assault received a custodial sentence. In Arbroath, it was only eight percent. Those that were jailed for this, were jailed for shorter periods, and those that were fined received a smaller fine than the national average too.

Another example, Housebreaking a crime which can leave victims with a deep sense of violation and anxiety, and also sees them lose items that they have worked so hard for, attracts a custodial sentence in only thirty six percent of cases against an average of forty five percent nationally. In stark contrast, those living in Fort William will no doubt be cheered by the fact that one hundred percent of convicted burglars were sent to jail. Personally, if some chav broke into my flat and nicked the stuff that I had saved so hard to buy, I'd be looking for the wee shite to be doing time for it. But I guess I'd have to move to Fort William for that.

I appreciate that custodial sentences are not appropriate all the time, and that other punishments have their place, but I'd like to see more punitive punishments handed down that not only reflect the crime, but also take into account the expectations of the community who want to live their lives without fear of becoming a victim, and if they do become a victim, then they want to see realistic punishments handed down for the crime committed against them.

The irony is of course, that when a Sheriff, any Sheriff, sends a criminal to jail, then they are no sooner inside, when Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and his colleagues are falling over themselves to let them out again.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Pointless Legislation II





So, on top of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's call for a licensing system for non-domestic knife dealers which I posted about here, an SNP Councillor recently submitted a motion to their national conference calling "on stricter controls over the sale of large, pointed knives".

So let's look at just how effective bans etc are. The first tranche of bans came in 1988 and banned such well known and oft used weapons such as the "kusari gama”, a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a sickle;
the “kyoketsu shoge” , being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at one end to a hooked knife and the “manrikigusari” or “kusari” , being a length of rope, cord, wire or chain fastened at each end to a hard weight or hand grip. Even today, I doubt if many people have heard of these, never mind used them (I am only dimly aware of them and have never even seen them - I also suspect they would be extraordinarily difficult to use) but they were banned nonetheless.

Fast forward now to the recent sword ban which covered swords with curved blades etc etc. This was essentially aimed at 'Samurai Swords' (more properly known as Katana, the short version being a Wakizashi and the dagger which goes with the set is a Tanto).

Seem like a good idea? Why not pop over to Ebay and search for 'ninja sword'. These are extremely similar to Katana, but (among other things) the blade is straight. You can get a twin set of these for less than a tenner plus postage, there are hundreds on there. Ironically, this is a lot cheaper than the fancy dress ninja outfit that you can buy to go with your swords at £17.99.

Surely, this was well thought out legislation though eh? Well, this comment is from a police officer "The weapon has to be over 50cm in length. This rules out the machetes I was attacked with not too recently. The machete is one of the current favourite weapons of armed robbers and one I come across regulary during searches."

Hmmm let's take a look at some of the written questions submitted to the Scottish Executive on knife/sword crime (you can search for more on the Scottish Parliament website):

Let start with a couple of easy ones:

S2W-12577 - Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con) (Date Lodged Thursday, November 25, 2004): To ask the Scottish Executive how it defines a sword.

Answered by Cathy Jamieson (Friday, December 10, 2004): Recorded crime statistics available centrally record the number of homicide victims killed by a sharp instrument. They do not identify the types of weapons used and, consequently, there are no central definitions of weapons types.

S2W-12579 - Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con) (Date Lodged Thursday, November 25, 2004): To ask the Scottish Executive how it defines a non-domestic knife.

Answered by Cathy Jamieson (Friday, December 10, 2004): Recorded crime statistics available centrally record the number of homicide victims killed by a sharp instrument. They do not identify the types of weapons used and, consequently, there are no central definitions of weapons types.

The First Minister recently announced the Executive’s five point action plan on knife crime, including a licensing scheme for non-domestic knives and a ban on the sale of swords. The Executive plans to consult on those proposals in the new year.

Interesting, though not very promising, so how many swords and knives have actually been used in assaults etc?

S3W-4107 - Jackson Carlaw (West of Scotland) (Con) (Date Lodged Friday, September 07, 2007): To ask the Scottish Executive what knife crime figures have been in each year from 1995 to 2007, also showing the number of (a) street robberies involving blades, (b) people who died following blade attacks and (c) number of people admitted to hospitals with knife wounds, broken down by day of the week.

Answered by Kenny MacAskill (Thursday, September 20, 2007): With the exception of homicide cases, statistics on knife crimes are not held centrally. The number of homicide cases in each year from 1995 to 2006, in which the method of killing was with a sharp instrument, are shown in the following table. Homicide figures for 2006-07 are due to be published on 18 December 2007.

So, do hospitals note what kind of weapon was used when wounded people are admitted to hospital?

S2W-30275 - Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con) (Date Lodged Thursday, November 30, 2006): To ask the Scottish Executive how many victims of knife attacks have been (a) treated in accident and emergency departments and (b) admitted to hospital in each NHS board area in each of the last five years.

Answered by Andy Kerr (Thursday, December 21, 2006): Routinely collected information on attendances at accident and emergency departments does not allow the identification of victims of knife attacks.

Centrally held information on hospital admissions does not explicitly identify knife attack victims. However, table 1 identifies those patients admitted to hospital as an emergency after being assaulted by sharp objects.

Ok, so we are not sure how many knives or swords were used in these attacks, we only know that it was a "sharp object" which could include old favourites such as screwdrivers and chisels. Well that's helpfull. When will the ban on pointy things be mooted then?

So where am I going with this? Well, the 1988 legislation has been shown to be pretty inneffective. Ditto with the sword ban, and I'm 100% certain that licensing dealers of non domestic blades will do bugger all too.

I'm absolutely NOT advocating knife or sword ownership, but I do feel the current and recent crop of legislation surrounding knife crime is hopelessly ill thought out and will do the sum total of nothing to reduce knife carrying and use.

Many young people carry knives because they are afraid for their own safety, not realising that they are more likely to get into conflict when they carry one. The fact is we have to find a way to persuade people not to carry them in the first place, and that won't be achieved by simplistic bans or other knee jerk reactions.

I have already stated my views on possible solutions in an earlier post, but I think the Government, and its predecessors have been approaching this in an ad hoc way that really lacks any kind of focus and their 'solutions' will ultimately end in failure.

Knife crime is horrific, if you have ever seen someone stabbed, even with a small knife in real life, you will know just how awful it is. I have seen it, and its one of the reasons I care so much about ending it. Politicians have to get more idea of the realities if they are to have any chance at all of being succesful.