Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Britains Got Talent?

The past three weekends that I have been at my parents house, the 'talent' show Britain's Got Talent has been on TV. The contestants are trying to win the honour of appearing at the Royal Variety Show (or whatever its called now).

Clearly there are some genuinely talented people out there who have never had the break that they needed. But I found myself watching the programme, not to hear talented singers or see talented dancers, I found myself watching it to see the people whose performances lacked any kind of talent whatsoever. It would seem I'm not alone in this, otherwise they wouldn't show quite so many of the really bad performances in the first place. Having seen a few episodes of the 'X Factor', the early rounds of the programme are stuffed full of people whose performances are excruciatingly bad. It's arguably the modern equivalent of a Victorian 'Bearded Lady' or similar type of fairground show.

The possibilities for 'Britain's Got Talent' to be even worse 'train wreck tv' though, comes from the fact that the performances need not even be musical in nature. Some of the 'acts' are painfully bad, and therefore incredibly more memorable (and maybe the sole reason for some people watching) than the good ones. With this genre of show, what checks and balances exist to make sure that vulnerable people for instance are not shown on TV performing acts that in their minds are sheer brilliance, but in reality are so bad they would bring tears to a glass eye? (bearing in mind one man's meat is another's poison etc). When people go to auditions for this type of show, just how aware are they that their audition can go on to be featured in other programmes that show the "best and the worst" of the auditions for that programme. The editing of these shows can be quite quetionable too. Someone walks in to the audition that maybe doesn't fit the showbusiness stereotype, and the camera's cut to show a horrified Simon Cowell or some other visibly bemused judge.

I won't be watching this programme, or ones like it again. Its cheap TV, winning ratings at the expense of individuals, and given the telephone voting scams that seem to happen all too often, even the audiences are made a fool of.

Usual Stuff

It's been the usual hectic time. Last weekend was my Mum's 70th and we went out for dinner to celebrate on Sunday. Girlfriend came up for it which was great. It is her Dad's birthday this weekend so I'll be going to stay with them.

There has been more Standard's Commissioner stuff on the go again, which I will write about in more depth later. The 'Independent Independent' Councillor has gone to the press complaining about it and I have some sympathy with his point of view, but he strangely failed to mention the criticism levelled at an SNP Councillor by the Investigating Officer. This was nothing in comparison to a West Dumbartonshire Councillor who told a member of the public to 'F off' among other things at a meeting. You can read about that wee gem here along with some other interesting cases.

We had group meeting last night, and I have Civic Licensing tonight. I'll drive down to Edinburgh after that, and work in Parliament tomorrow. Unfortunately, I won't be there today to meet a group of school kids from Arbroath who are getting a tour. On Thursday I have Neigbourhood Services Committee, which no doubt will go on for ever, which to be fair, I don't mind if the contributions are constructive. I mentioned before that the last Neighbourhood Committee was lengthy, but good humoured and positive, so time will tell.

My seven year old nephew is getting kitted out for the Viking Raid. I cut down one of my spears for him and also had an old shield which fits him perfectly. I may trim a lot off a chain mail shirt so that it fits him, and this will also stop the wee terror from running around too much. I don't call him Damien for nothing.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Entertaining News Story

I thought this news story was excellent from Japan:

A missing parrot has been returned to his keeper after reciting his full name and address to a concerned vet.
Police rescued Yosuke the African Grey Parrot from a rooftop in the Japanese city of Nagareyama over two weeks ago. He spent one night at the police station before local cop Shinjiro Uemura transferred him to a nearby veterinary hospital while he looked for clues.

After a few days, Yosuke began chatting with the vet, repeatedly announcing “I’m Yosuke Nakamura”. The parrot then provided his home address down to the street number and even entertained the hospital staff by singing songs.

Police contacted the address and sure enough, its resident was delighted to hear his missing pet bird was safely found. The Nakamura family told police they had been teaching the bird its name and address for about two years.

But Yosuke apparently wasn't keen on opening up to police officials. "I tried to be friendly and talked to him, but he completely ignored me," Uemura said.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Monymusk Reliquary

I had written to the National Museum of Scotland asking about the possibility of borrowing the Monymusk Reliquary to display in Arbroath on short term loan. The project is moving forward slowly but surely and I have pasted my press releast about it below:

A proposal by Arbroath Councillor Jim Millar to bring one of Scotland's greatest treasures back to Arbroath has taken the next step.

The reliquary, thought to have been made in the 8th century, possibly by Ionian monks has a wooden core with thin alloy sheets and hinged lid, is said to have housed a relic of St Columba who was responsible for bringing Christianity to much of Scotland.

The founder of Arbroath Abbey, King William I, later known as King William the Lion, entrusted the reliquary into the care of the Abbey's monks in 1211 under the condition it was paraded before the Scots army before battle. It was thought this was done most notably before the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Councillor Millar had written to Jane Carmichael of the National Museum of Scotland to enquire if it would be possible to bring the Monymusk Reliquary to Arbroath, preferably in the abbey visitor centre, for a temporary exhibition, and received an encouraging response. Mr Millar then lodged a motion with a meeting of the full council, asking the Council to write to the National Museum of Scotland and Historic Scotland to open negotiations to look at the feasibility of securing a short term loan of the Reliquary.

Commenting, Mr Millar who is a former Manager of Arbroath Abbey said "I am very grateful for the unanimous backing my motion received, and the letters have since been sent. I very much look forward to seeing how this proposal develops. Of course, much depends on satisfying the environmental and security demands of the National Museum, and if the costs of achieving this are too onerous, then it would not be feasible to pursue this, but I remain optimistic."

In conclusion, Mr Millar said "In this day and age, we should not automatically assume that the best place for all of our cultural artifacts is Edinburgh, and I think it is time that the powers that be looked at being proactive in working with other areas throughout Scotland, to make it easier for them to host regionally-important items from the national collection on either a permanent or temporary basis.”

Apologies

I understand that access to my blog has now been blocked from Angus Council computers. Apologies to Angus Council staff who now have to access it from home!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Standards Commissioner (again)

You may recall some time ago that the Provost had been the subject of a complaint to the Standards Commissioner. You can find my post on it here. I intimated then that I found the whole thing to be farcical.

No sooner was that one thrown out though, but she was the subject of another complaint regarding planning. Effectively, the Provost's son is involved in a planning issue and each time it has come before the Development Standards Committee, the Provost has declared an interest and left the room.

I'm not going to go into it, as it is explained below, but the complaint has again been thrown out. I have pasted the finding of the Standards Commissioner, and I have highlighted in bold some interesting parts.

Needless to say, I have my own, rather strong views on this, and I think it very unfortunate indeed that the Provost of Angus, someone for whom I have the highest regard, was subjected to another investigation. Read the findings for yourself.

1. Complaint number LA/An/660 alleged a contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct (“the Code”) by Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville (“the respondent”).

2. It was alleged that the respondent had contravened the Code, in particular the Key Principles of Duty, Selflessness, Integrity, Openness and Leadership, and of paragraphs 5.15 and 5.19 relating to Declarations of Interest and paragraphs 7.3, 7.4 and 7.7 relating to Taking Decisions on Individual Applications.

3. The persons complaining, Councillors Iain Gaul and Ralph Palmer (“the complainants”) alleged that the respondent’s declarations of interest in her son’s planning applications were misleading and lacking in transparency; that she should not have rejoined the Development Standards Committee when the matter was recurring, and that her decision to do so gave rise to appearance of improper conduct and of having a family interest in the outcome. They also alleged that she abused her position as Provost to pressurise the Convener of the Development Standards Committee into stopping the proposed enforcement action and, by association, pressurising officers. The complainants suggested this indicated that at least two members of the Angus Alliance had been discussing planning items outwith Committee and had agreed a course of action. They had a separate concern that Councillor Leslie Melville declared an interest in that she knew the director of a firm of developers, but participated in the meeting.

4. The Councillors Code of Conduct is intended to provide a set of principles and a framework within which Councillors properly conduct their business and exercise their responsibilities. Interests which require to be declared may be financial or non-financial. Paragraph 5.15 of the Code states that a declaration of interest should identify the item or items of business to which it relates and must be sufficiently informative to enable those at the meeting to understand the nature of the interest, but need not give a detailed description of the interest.

5. The Code does not demand a detailed description of the interest and it is therefore a matter for councillors to decide how to describe the interest. While individual cases may vary, and erring on the side of caution is advisable, it would be hard to argue that any councillor had breached the Code who declared an interest in a planning application as concerning a relative and left the meeting without participating in the item. In the case of Councillor Leslie Melville, it would seem that she consistently declared an interest when her son’s planning application, or enforcement action relating to that, appeared on an agenda of the Development Standards Committee. I strongly suspect that, at least during the enforcement action period, most of the longer standing members of the Committee were well aware that the applicant in this case was Councillor Leslie Melville’s son. For those new councillors who were elected at May 2007, there was a possibility they might not have been immediately aware of this. However, they had the benefit of being able to see her son’s name fully set out in the enforcement update lists of 31 May, 21 June 2007 and 12 July 2007, and could hardly have been in doubt there was a close connection between him and Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville. In this connection, I have concluded that Councillor Leslie Melville acted entirely properly and within the terms of the Code in making her declaration of interest and withdrawing from meetings.
6. The provisions in paragraph 5.19 of the Code were intended to draw attention to conflicts of interest that might require frequent declarations at Committee meetings or in any role to which a councillor was appointed. In my view, they would not normally apply to a matter such as a single, ongoing planning application or enforcement issue. This is a situation which any councillor could at some time come up against and, instead of debarring a member from the Committee, the declaration of interest provisions in the Code provide the proper course of action for dealing with it. In any event, in the case of Councillor Leslie Melville, I agree with her that when she rejoined the Committee in May 2007, it could not have been foreseen how long or how often her son’s case would be on the agenda.

7. The claims of pressure on officers, whether indirectly or by association have been examined. Planning Officers have all indicated that they were under no pressure, direct or indirect, in regard to the handling of Councillor Leslie Melville’s son’s planning affairs. They have explained why they recommended that enforcement action should not proceed. In matters such as that which are at the centre of this case (ie the provision of a turning head) they take particular account of the Roads Department’s views. It is the case that Roads officers never required a turning head be provided at any of the houses and Planning Officers acknowledged and accepted this. Indeed, Planning Officers had not changed their recommendation because it was consistent with their recommendation to approve the application for deletion of the condition relating to the turning head. However, it is understandable why Committee members queried the request by officers to give advice in private, since this is apparently unusual in the Development Standards Committee. Nonetheless, Planning Officers and the Head of Law and Administration have explained why they wanted an opportunity to advise the Committee on certain points in private.

8. I did not consider there was evidence of pressure on any officer or member by Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville. The remarks overheard in the gents toilet were not indicative of any pressure on, or collusion or discussion with, Councillor Lumgair. He has explained that, as Convener, he would normally have moved the planning report; however, like other Committee members, he was in favour of enforcement action being taken and therefore could not move the report which did not recommend enforcement. The claims of alleged or perceived financial interest on the part of Councillor Leslie Melville in regard to her son’s planning affairs have been contended and without any evidence being provided in support. Nor did I see any error or breach on her part in her approach to declaring and participating in a decision on a separate planning application relating to an acquaintance, as raised by the complainants. There appeared to me no evidence as alleged in the complaint of breaches of the Code of Conduct by Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville.

9. Having considered the information that arose from my investigation, I concluded that Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville had not contravened the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Full Council etc

We had full council last night (when we had a 'special meeting of the full council' recently, girlfriend thought it sounded very Lord of the Rings). There was some good humour last night, as well as some of the usual petty stuff that is the most irritating.

Clearly its not a phenomena just in Angus. I was reading the blog of an SNP counillor whose thoughts on some council meetings eerily echoed my own.

Girlfriend is away hill walking with the ski club this weekend, and its my Mum's 70th birthday on Sunday, so I'll stay in Arbroath rather than heading for Edinburgh.

I also popped into the martial arts studio today to see my instructor and booked myself onto this course, which I'm really looking forward to. Unfortunately, I missed the recent seminar on Bowie knives, but I'd covered some of that in a knife instructors course I did a couple of years ago.



The Viking Raid continues to gather pace and the whole event is starting to look more cohesive. We are in discussions with the harbour master about getting the public onto the longships and letting them have a sail in one. Though obviously they will have to row it themselves if there is no wind!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Mad TV - Steven Seagal - Kung Fu

A friend of mine, having read the article in the Herald about me e-mailed this send up of Steven Seagal to me. Have to say, I find it very amusing.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Holiday

Girlfriend has booked us a holiday. I can't remember where it is (though I know its in Scotland somewhere), nor when it is, but the holiday is booked. As my new flat will hopefully have water soon, and shortly thereafter a 'certificate of habitation' issued from (I think) Angus Council, though if the number of complaints I have received from householders and property developers about the length of time it is currently taking to process stuff like this, then I'll not hold my breath. I'm trying to save money for new furniture, so I'm not keen to splurge out too much money on holidays.

There is a great wee shop in Arbroath called Huckleberry's that sells really nice imported furniture made from reclaimed timber that has quite a rustic look to it. Even the computer desks look pretty ancient, so I think that will be my first port of call when the time comes.

I got a call the other night from a friend I hadn't seen in ages. He has a similar sort of background to me, we are both ex forces and oil industry, though he still works offshore.

The first time I took girlfriend to Arbroath, I had bumped in to him and his brother who took great delight in recounting tales of past exploits which opened her eyes a bit. He now lives in Brazil with his new girlfriend, but had brought her over to see Scotland first the time. She really liked it, but was freezing cold, even though we thought it was roasting. It was good to meet her and catch up, and they have invited girlfriend and I over for a holiday, an offer which girlfriend seems keen to take up.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Busy

I had a busy weekend, but yesterday took the biscuit. I got into the office on time and got some work done, but had to leave at 11 to get to my first council meeting at 12. From there, I literally went from one meeting to another all day until I finally got home at 9.30.

I'm heading to Edinburgh tonight after work so I'll be in Parliament first thing tomorrow.

Full Council meeting is on Thursday and I'm not really looking forward to it if it is going to a protracted, spiteful affair.

The weather is great, though I haven't had a chance to enjoy it really. I really miss having a dog at this time of year. I used to love walking my German Shepherd along Lunan Bay, especially on a Sunday morning. It's unlikely I'll have another pet for a while given the amount of time I'm spending in different locations, which is a shame.

Girlfriend is back from a week in Cyprus and is amazed that I managed to get to her house often enough to keep her plants alive. I'm just amazed they are still alive at all.

I have Seafest committee meeting this afternoon, so we can monitor progress. The Viking part of it really is shaping up nicely and one of the lifeboat crew has suggested that it would be great photo to have the lifeboat pictured at sea with the two longships, so we will see if we can pull that together.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

I Missed It

In an earlier post I mentioned a book that was written by a political journalist in the Parliament, Andy Nicol.

I have been looking forward to the launch party for months and was all set to take girlfriend to it. I got caught up in Council business yesterday though and missed the bloody party. To make up for that, I was invited to the Dundee launch tonight and I can't make that either. What a sickener. Every cloud has a silver lining though and I had wanted to buy three copies which would have set me back £30. However, under Waterstones three for two deal, I can get three copies for just £20.

The great news for Andy though is that the book is selling like hot cakes, has had fantastic reviews and is tipped to top the charts. I hope it does, and I also hope he keeps writing novels.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Steven Seagal Advert

For some reason, a national newspaper reported as part of a story that I'm a fan of Steven Seagal (must have been a quiet newsday).

So, for entertainment purposes,here is an advert he did a while ago.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

More Vikings/Stuff

I got an e-mail last night from some more re-enactors that would like to take part in the Viking Raid on Arbroath. This is excellent news as the more that take part the better it will be. This particular group are well known for their authenticity.

They had taken part last time and one of the reasons they wanted to come back was because my Mum had fed them hot sausage rolls when they arrived at the camp around 2:00am!

Girlfriend (who, it would appear has finally found my blog) is going to take part, so I'll have to buy her a decent costume, whcih won't be cheap.

My blog got a mention by an SNP MSP during a Scottish Parliament debate last week. I'd suggest if an MSP has to trawl my blog and use any of my opinions in a Parliamentary debate, then they must surely have lost the argument before it began!

I'd been hoping to have my new flat in Arbroath by now, but the water still isn't connected up. It's frustrating as its a new build property and it looks great.

Monday is a holiday, but there I have licensing board on Tuesday morning and another committee meeting in the afternoon, with group meeting at night. The rest of the week will be spent between Arbroath and Edinburgh. I have really noticed the increased fuel costs recently. £50 worth of petrol doesn't even fill the tank up these days and that's not good news given that I'm making the return journey from Arbroath to Edinburgh sometimes three times a week.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Local Govt Elections

The local election results in England and Wales are certainly making interesting reading at the moment.

Strong gains for the Conservatives and heavy losses for Labour. The Lib Dems are putting a delighted face on the fact that they are currently second, but I'd suggest that they have not pushed Labour into third place, it would seem Labour have simply fallen into third place rather than being 'pushed' there by Mr Clegg.

So what could this mean for Scotland? Well, up here, the First Minister is increasing in popularity, but a recent poll showed a slight increase in support for the Scottish Conservatives in a Westminster election, but a fall in support for us at Scottish Parliament level. To be honest, I'm not really surprised at this, however the English and Welsh results may (and I stress the word may) indicate favourable prospects for a Westminster election nationally, and ironically, this seems to be the favoured result for some of the SNP.

Some sections of the SNP are hoping for a hung parliament where their (extremely optimistic in my view) 20 SNP MP's can hold the balance of power. Personally, I think this is extremely unlikely on two counts. The first is that the pundits always refer to the possibility of a hung parliament to increase the tension, but in reality they are quite rare. The second is that I doubt that the SNP will have 20+ MP's after the next election.

However, there are others in the SNP that would favour a Conservative Govt for fundamentally flawed reasons. They feel that a Conservative Govt would instinctively be bad for Scotland which would in turn increase nationalist support. This suggestion to my mind is naive and gives no credence to how the Tories have changed and modernised nationally. If I thought David Cameron's Conservatives would be bad for Scotland, I wouldn't suppport him, but I honestly believe that he would be good for Scotland and good for the UK.