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


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’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.”


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


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


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


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.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Added Bonus

There are a couple of things I like about the new flat that I didn't really appreciate before.

The first is the view of Arbroath Abbey (above). The bit I can see from the living room windows and the kitchen window is the circular window that you see at the tallest part of the ruin and some of the remains of the other monastic buildings to the right.

Legend has it that the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey used to leave a light in this window to guide ships safely to the harbour (though another version states that it was a signal to smugglers!).

Known locally (somewhat unimaginatively maybe) as the 'Round O' it is the town's most famous landmark. The proper name for this type of window is an oculus. In monastic or church architecture it symbolises eternity, having no beginning and no end (although by no means religious, I'm fascinated by monastic or church architectural symbolism and did a course in it at university. There is a fair amount of stuff out there on the subject, although the first real writings on it were by the famous Abbot Suger of St Denis).

The abbey itself was founded in 1178 by King William I. He would later be known as King William the Lion of Justice, which was later shortened to William the Lion. He is buried in the abbey, although his grave is now marked by a modern stone. It is thought he was the first Scottish monarch to adopt the Lion Rampant as the emblem of the Scottish monarch.

In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath (which is thought to have influenced the American Declaration of Independence) was sent from here to the Pope at Avignon.

Even though what remains of the abbey is situated in the middle of what is a large town, it is an extremely quiet and peaceful place. If you are ever in Arbroath, it is well worth a visit.

The second thing I really like is hearing the nearby church clock chiming the quarter hour, half hour and the hour. I know some people would be irritated by this, and others wouldn't even notice, but I really like it, and the chimes are a good way of keeping me on time!

Apart from that, almost all my furniture is now in and the place is pretty much finished, although I keep discovering things I don't have, but need. The other night I had to knock on a colleagues door (she lives round the corner) and ask to borrow a bottle opener.

I was at Ikea on Sunday to pick up more things on the way back from Traquair House near Peebles. There was an event on there with an 'Oriental theme' which I quite fancied. I was a bit shocked that it was £18 to get in, and I was very disappointed with it to be honest. It's something I won't be going back to.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Brilliant Story

The Caledonian was a Scottish brig of some five hundred tons built in Arbroath. During September 1842 she was homeward bound from the Black Sea port of Odessa, when she had to call into Falmouth in order to bury a crewmember who had died of his wounds after being stabbed in a knife fight in Constantinople. ( Istanbul) The Caledonia then left for Gloucester in order to discharge her cargo of wheat. As she left Falmouth a fierce north westerly gale was raging. Around one o'clock in the morning of the 8th of September the look out saw huge waves breaking on Sharp nose Point close to leeward.

The Captain, Peter Stevenson, shortened sail and tried to stand clear, but he was too late. The ship refused to come up and soon smashed onto the rocks at Sharp Nose Point. When they hit, the Captain ordered all the crew into the rigging, but no sooner had he done so than the mast smashed down throwing everyone into the raging sea where they all perished. The only survivor of the crew of ten was Edward le Dain from Jersey who miraculously managed to scramble ashore and collapse on the rocks where a farmer fond him, and a tortoise in the awakening dawn.

The people of the local village of Morwenstow gave the crew a Christian burial by Rev Hawker, and the figurehead of the Caledonia, which depicts a Scottish Amazon complete with sword and shield, Tam'o shanter, and sporran was recovered and moved to the graveyard to mark the graves.

In a rather bizarre twist, the figurehead weighing over one hundredweight was stolen in October 1968. It was later found slightly damaged abandoned in a field at Abbottham Cross, Bideford. No reason for the theft was ever found but at the time it sparked memories of the figurehead's legend that supposedly said she would rise up with her crewmen and strike the offenders down with her sword.

So what's the point in telling this story? Well the good people of Morwenstow have, for some time been raising funds to restore the figurehead of the Caledonia, and have not only succeeded in doing so, they intend to move it into the church for safe-keeping and placing a replica figurehead over the graves.

A service of dedication and celebration to mark the completion of the project and the figurehead’s return to the Parish will take place in Morwenstow Parish Church at 3.00pm on Sunday 7th September 2008 - the 166th anniversary of the sinking of the vessel.

The service will incorporate hymns and prayers appropriate to the occasion, as well as readings from the works of the Rev.Hawker who, was a renowned cleric, poet - and eccentric.

Prior to the service - weather permitting - a very brief act of remembrance of the loss of the ‘Caledonia’ and her crew will take place at 2.30pm on the cliff-top near Hawker’s Hut. It is intended that in honour of the Scottish sailors who lost their lives - as well as the one young man who survived - a piper will lead the group as they walk along the cliff and across the fields to the Church.

Stories like this really don't come around very often these days, and I think it is extremely touching that the people of Morwenstow have worked so hard to remember and honour those who lost their lives in the wreck.

Perhaps there is a lesson in there for us all.