Monday, 28 December 2009


In a judgement so utterly out of touch with either public opinion or expectation, that it can only be a matter of time before the judge is offered a job by Kenny MacAskill, Mr Munir Hussain has been jailed for two and a half years for assaulting a burglar with a cricket bat.

Mr Hussain and his family were tied up and beaten by three knife wielding thugs. He and his brother escaped and beat up one of the robbers (who had more than 50 previous convictions). The robber received a 'supervision order'.

Politicians have expressed 'disquiet' over the case and the tories have been lambasted by the liberal left for promising to review the law where householders defend their property.

I can see the point of those who are concerned that allowing greater use of force for the public to defend against 'home invasions'. The argument being that this could lead to an escalation of violence on the part of burglars. However, burglars are invariably 'tooled up' in some way in order to break into a property in the first place, so it's an argument I don't think holds too much water.

Personally, I think it is entirely appropriate for a person defend themselves, their family and their property when someone breaks in and threatens them with violence.

I'm not sure however, that the law really appreciates or defines 'reasonable force'in these situations. In the cold light of day in the courtroom, I suspect it is incredibly difficult to express the full horror of such an event, or to articulate a persons reaction to it.

This concerns me considerably. We have all heard of the 'fight or flight' mechanism that the body uses in times of danger, but fewer people have heard of the 'adrenaline dump' that accompanies it (bear with me on this).

The adrenaline dump has several effects, the heart and breathing rates increase, the blood flows towards the major organs and the body can start to tremble.

The person develops 'tunnel vision' as they focus on the threat and hearing is impaired, sometimes to the point of being totally deaf, and events appear to occur in slow motion. Fine motor functions are lost (putting a key in a lock for example could well nigh be impossible for some) and gross motor functions become enhanced.

So where am I going with this? Well, the body also becomes temporarily dulled to pain, and crucially, self control can pretty much go out the window meaning that a person can be extremely aggressive in their response to a situation as they lose their 'self awareness'.

It is an extremely disorientating experience if you are not used to/aware of it. I have only experienced it once to a great degree, around 20 years ago, and it is difficult, if not impossible to actually describe the full effect of it, or the feeling of confusion that follows it.

Effectively, a person defending themselves, their family and home, might well commit acts of violence that they would not otherwise think themselves capable of.

So is this taken into account when cases such as Mr Hussain's are dealt with? I'd hope so, but I doubt it. If the law is changed as the tories propose (although this would not affect Scotland), then it is important to acknowledge that where a person is acting in self defence, the level of violence used might not be considered by some to be reasonable, but it might also not be entirely the defenders fault.

At the end of the day, who is the criminal, the person seeking to protect him or herself, or the person who has broken into their home to harm them and steal their possessions?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

An Open Letter to Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP

Dear Ms Somerville MSP,

Recently, the Scottish Conservatives used their debating time to oppose the minimum pricing of alcohol in the Scottish Parliament.

I listened to the debate with interest and I picked up at the mention of my name when you said the following:

"Even some Tories have seen the light, from Boris Johnson—it is not often that I quote him in a speech—to Councillor Jim Millar, chairman of the Angus licensing board, who recently said:

"I was amazed at how much alcohol ten pounds bought. This is the type of drink that seems to be favoured by underage drinkers which is a contributory factor in the anti social behaviour that is making the lives of so many people a misery."

He went on to say:

"The main cause of complaints to us as councillors continues to be young people indulging in anti social behaviour which is invariably fuelled by alcohol that can be bought for next to nothing. This is a situation that has to be brought under control".

I could not agree more with Councillor Millar on that."

Whilst I am flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Boris Johnson, and with reference to your last remark, it’s always nice to encounter a fan, I must say that to take something I have said completely out of context and infer that it shows support for your own position is either charmingly naive or disturbingly disingenuous. Personally, I’d opt for the latter.

I have clearly stated my opposition to your Government’s minimum pricing policy on more occasions than I care to recall. Here are two pertinent examples:

“I don't believe it is prices or age limits that need to be raised. I think it is our awareness of alcohol and its effects that needs to raised and our attitude towards it that needs changed. There is no quick solution, and certainly no simple one.”

“Personally, I'm concerned that the extra cost of buying drink will be taken from other household budgets. In the case of those with modest incomes, most likely food or heating.”

You will appreciate I’m sure, if you were not aware already, that I do not, in any way support your Government’s proposals on this, and a wide variety of other matters, and I would be grateful if you refrained from misrepresenting my views in future.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Jim Millar

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

And so it continues.......

It has been a turbulent couple of weeks on the blogosphere with the demise of two SNP blogs. Throw in the fact that online comments have been banned on any article by a well known journalist, and now some cybernat commentators have suggested that the Education Secretary was sacked because a conspiracy by non snp councils have colluded to sacrifice the education of young people, in order to show the Scottish Government in a bad light.

Today, Lord Foulkes made comments which resulted in this press release from the SNP:



The SNP are challenging Iain Gray to order George Foulkes to apologise after comparing Scotland’s First Minister to “Il Duce” – otherwise known as Mussolini.

Lord Foulkes made the tasteless remark in a meeting of the Parliament’s Audit Committee discussing the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games saying: "And I take it Il Duce - I mean the First Minister - will be going."

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, who has been honoured by the Italian Government for her work promoting Italy overseas, condemned Lord Foulkes’ remark and called for an apology.
Ms Fabiani said:

“Lord Foulkes may be a figure of fun who regularly embarrasses the Labour Party, but he has overstepped the line with this very silly and tasteless remark.

“As someone of Italian origin, I am appalled that a member of Scotland’s Parliament thinks that is an acceptable way to behave.

“Lord Foulkes owes the First Minister, the Committee and the Parliament an apology.
" And if he won’t apologise, Iain Gray must order him to. These remarks are a disgrace.
"Lord Foulkes has long been the SNP's best recruiting sergeant, as people turn away from the kind of Labour Party and negative politics he represents. No wonder the SNP are ahead in the polls for both Westminster and Holyrood.”

Inadvertantly, it would seem, one SNP staffer circulated the above to all MSP's staff with this addition:

Talking about Il Duce, it reminds me - The No Berlusconi Day is taking place on Saturday at 1pm outside the Italian Consulate, Melville Street. The event is being held in over 50 cities across the globe and hundreds across Italy.

If you're up for a good protest, Italian style, then come along - no Italian origins required! (just dont wear a black shirt).


I sent my apologies, stating that despite having Italian relatives myself, I was unable to attend........

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Political Correctness

I'm back at university doing post grad work in housing studies in what is euphamistically called my spare time. I'm quite enjoying it and picking up a lot of useful stuff.

The year started with a 'residential week', which in reality could have been compressed into a couple of days. We were assigned into small groups, there's only two men in my group and we're both called Jim. Ironically, the other Jim is an active member of the Scottish Socialist Party, so politically we are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but get along very well.

The rest of the group, to differentiate between us when we are all online, decided to call the other Jim 'Trot Boy' and to call me 'Tory Boy'. This worked rather well, and ensured no-one mistook me for being the kind of fellow who is against evictions and indulges in 'direct action' action against supermarkets etc (I'm not sure what 'direct action' is in reality, but Trot Boy spoke highly of it as a past-time.

In week six I got a call at home from the university. Some academic had been reviewing our posts and felt it was not appropriate for me to be called Tory Boy. I pointed out that I was in no way offended, actually found it quite amusing, and the two nicknames worked well.

The 'Thought Police' were having none of it and said it 'blurred lines'. I really don't know what that means, and didn't ask as it sounded like some 'right on' social worker crap that I wouldn't understand anyway.

Was there really any need for this intervention? I'd say no. Our group gets on really well, and we have some good and constructive arguments. I'm 42 years old, been called far worse than 'Tory Boy' and don't really need the protection of some well meaning, lentil eating clown I've never met.

If I'd been offended, I'd have said so. I wasn't, and neither was Trot Boy, so why the fuss? It really is a complete load of guff and having this type of PC garbage forced on us is a joke.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Glum Councillors

I found this exceptionally amusing blog which "will doggedly collate images of councillors looking glum whilst pointing at holes in the road, wearing hard hats or presenting oversized cheques. Lets celebrate the work of our local elected representatives!"

Good effort who ever you are!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Tracey Emin to leave the UK

So, 'Britart' exponent Tracey Emin is threatening to leave the UK because of the tax regime. She tells us that France is far better in the way it treats artists.

She has previously come up with some 'masterpieces' including this one:

Yup, what looks like an average bedroom, is in fact a piece of 'art'. I often wonder just how much of 'the emperors new clothes' comes into play when modern artists make it big these days.

Personally, I think her 'work' is utter crap. So good riddance then, and don't forget to take that rubbish tent thing you did either.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

When Yobs Attack..........

I saw this item on the news the other night, and of course, whilst I would never condone violence, there is something of an irony when two yobs attack two people on the street and come off much worse for the experience.

It turns out that the two people they attacked were cage fighters in drag heading to a stag party..................

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A week's a long time in .......Paris

So, I'm back from a week in Paris. We had a great time, although it was painfully expensive.

I proposed to Girlfriend whilst I was there, and am delighted she said yes.

The Louvre was a fantastic experience and well worth spending more than one day there. I had forgotten one of my favourite paintings by Caravaggio (a portrait of the Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta) was there and it was great to see it first hand.

The crowd gathered round the Mona Lisa was huge (what on earth is it about that painting? I just don't get it). We did the usual touristy things and it was a great holiday.

A couple of things I noticed though, was how clean the streets were. It wasn't necessarily because the streets were cleaned so frequently, people just didn't drop litter, even though huge amounts of them were eating lunch as they went about their business.

Litter is something that I get a lot of complaints about, and fair enough. But there wouldn't be so much litter if people didn't just drop stuff on the street, even though a bin can be a couple of yards away.

Another thing I noticed was how few drunk people I saw. Going out at night to bars and bistro's, the vast majority of the people were drinking coffee or soft drinks. It wasn't because alcohol was much more expensive, as the price was comparable with coffee or coke. People just weren't drinking to excess, and most weren't drinking alcohol at all. This makes me wonder even more just how effective Mr MacAskill's plan to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol would be.

There was a also a high number of police around, more than I've ever seen before. On top of that, small squads of soldiers were sometimes out on foot patrol looking very professional (apart from one guy at the back who was busy texting one time).

Apart from two noteable exceptions the service was usually pretty indifferent at best, which is quite galling (did you see what I did there?) given the prices that were being charged (£26 for a mixed grill in a small restaurant).

Waiting at the airport for a flight home early in the morning, four Americans (resplendent in their new 'Paris' T shirts) sat down and loudly proclaimed that the French would make a fortune if they sold MacDonald's breakfasts. Yup, because clearly there's little profit to be made by charging £16 for two croissants and two thimble sized cups of coffee.

Ironically, it has now been announced that MacDonalds is opening a 'restaurant' in the Louvre, which is upsetting the French no end, though they haven't started rioting in the streets over it yet.

Anyhoo, it's good to be back and we got the ring here. It's a great shop on George St in Edinburgh, with some fantastic items. I've bought a few things from there in the past few years, and it's well worth a visit.

Parliament is back and it's been good to get in and catch up. I have also started a post graduate course in housing at Stirling University, which I'm finding really interesting and useful.

All in all, it has been an interesting time really, and I suppose the wedding plans will have to start soon. Boss has kindly agreed to be my best man, and Fiance has got her bridesmaids lined up too.

I will endeavour not to put up too many posts on the wedding preparations. A colleague in Parliament would come in and give extremely lengthy and detailed updates on her wedding over the course of the two years it took to organise and there really can't be anything more boring.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Tesco Discriminates Against Jedi

I read this in the Guardian when I was in Paris (will blog about that later), and thought it was hilarious. The Tesco response is superb........

Jedi religion founder accuses Tesco of discrimination over rules on hoods

Daniel Jones says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following incident at store in Wales

Tesco has been accused of religious discrimination after the company ordered the founder of a Jedi religion to remove his hood or leave a branch of the supermarket in north Wales.
Daniel Jones, founder of the religion inspired by the Star Wars films, says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following the incident at a Tesco store in Bangor.
The 23-year-old, who founded the International Church of Jediism, which has 500,000 followers worldwide, was told the hood flouted store rules.
But the grocery empire struck back, claiming that the three best known Jedi Knights in the Star Wars movies – Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker – all appeared in public without their hoods. Jones, from Holyhead, who is known by the Jedi name Morda Hehol, said his religion dictated that he should wear the hood in public places and is considering legal action against the chain.
"It states in our Jedi doctrination that I can wear headwear. It just covers the back of my head," he said.
"You have a choice of wearing headwear in your home or at work but you have to wear a cover for your head when you are in public."
He said he'd gone to the store to buy something to eat during his lunch break when staff approached him and ordered him to the checkout where they explained he would have to remove the offending hood or leave the store.
"They said: 'Take it off', and I said: 'No, its part of my religion. It's part of my religious right.' I gave them a Jedi church business card.
"They weren't listening to me and were rude. They had three people around me. It was intimidating." Jones, who has made an official complaint to Tesco, is considering a boycott of the store and is seeking legal advice.
Tesco said: "He hasn't been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.
"If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they'll miss lots of special offers."

Monday, 21 September 2009

Scottish star trek

And in the same vein, but from a Scottish angle.......

Star Trek Meets Monty Python

Hat tip to the lovely Fox in Detox for finding this.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Homeless Statistics

The Scottish Government has published statistics on the 'Operation of the Homeless Persons Legislation in Scotland 2008-2009.

Some of the papers have reported on them, but they have basically looked at the overall progress as we move toward the target of providing homes for the unintentionally homeless by 2012.

I haven't seen any reporting on one table contained in the report however. Table 7 shows the number of 'homeless household by type of support need identified'.It makes for fairly alarming reading.

Of the 41,670 households who are, or potentially, homeless, a staggering 13,733 households were identified as having one or more support needs.

Over 10% of the total number lacked basing housing management/independent living skills, and 10% had a drug or alcohol dependancy. What this means, is that 10% of applicants can be given a home, but have no idea how to manage it. This can mean they don't know how to pay bills or work the washing machine. Eventually, this can lead to an inability to sustain their tenancy.

The same can often be said of those with drug or alcohol dependencies.

Often, the above issues manifest themselves in prolonged bouts of anti-social behaviour and chaotic lifestyles. Which means the immediate community suffers too. There is help and support available to those who find themselves with problems, and rightly so, but they are in no way obliged to accept it, so find themselves in a vicious behavioural cycle that is detrimental to them and their neighbours.

It's an issue that few politicians or professionals seem willing to acknowledge. There seems to be a feeling that it is politically incorrect to raise it, but we can't stick our heads in the sand forever.

The Scottish Government has stated it will publish a Housing Bill this term. Although there is quite a lot in it, the majority of the scrutiny it has received is mostly concerned with ending 'right to buy'. Personally, I would argue that this bill would be the ideal opportunity to address the issues above (and more besides).

The unfortunate thing is, any Government who sought to tackle this via legislation, may find themselves in a difficult position at the hands of opportunistic opposition MSP's who would wish to make political capital out of what could be portrayed as draconian measures. Friends in the Civil Service have suggested that this is a cause for concern.

Yet, there is no question that every MSP or Councillor from every party (or none) has been approached by constituents who are suffering at the hands of anti-social neighbours. It certainly makes up the vast majority of my caseload, and it is a similar situation among my colleagues.

The Housing Bill should not be a wasted opportunity, and it certainly shouldn't be a political football either. An acknowledgement from all sides of the scale of the problem, and a willingness to constructively work together to address it, would very much be a step in the right direction

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Licensing Board

Yesterday was the last licensing board before the Licensing Act comes into force on the 1st September.

We had gradually increased the number of meetings until we were convening every week to beat the deadline.

Profits for lawyers and architects must have gone through the roof in the past year or so as all the licensees sought to comply with the legislation. It has been an expensive process for them, and I can only sympathise as the trade does not have its troubles to seek just now.

The board is a quasi judicial body, so it's not quite a court, but not quite a council meeting either.

It lasted six hours and was particularly difficult by the end. Some of the lawyers representing licensees can be quite good humoured, others can be nothing short of a pain in the backside. Sometimes you get the impression that the odd one thinks he is in an episode of 'Murder One' or something.

One exchange between me and a licensee has already done the rounds of the council though:

Licensee: "I have brought no paperwork with me, but you may ask me questions if you want."

Me: "Ok, what's the top speed of a cheetah?"

Licensee: "Errr........"

Suppose you had to be there, but it was funny at the time.

I'll get my coat......

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)

This is brilliant! Let it put a smile on your face. (HT to Rannoch Donald)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Right To Buy

The Scottish Government has issued a consultation on its proposed Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Despite everything contained in the Bill, the one thing that has grabbed all the headlines has been the proposal to end the rights of new tenants to buy their council home at a discount.

'Right to Buy' (RTB) was a flagship Conservative policy, and it is interesting to note that looking back at the tory manifesto of the time, more attention was devoted to housing than any other subject, and some critics have subsequently pointed out that it did nothing to address homelessness, but simply promoted home ownership as the best housing tenure.

It is a policy that certainly has its detractors, and it polarises political opinion with alarming speed, especially in Scotland.

Housing pressure group 'Shelter' has blamed RTB for a shortage of social housing. To be fair, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith's policy think-tank has also mooted this as a reason for the shortage too.

Personally, I think this view is rather simplistic. What people forget is the fact that those entitled to buy their homes were long term tenants anyway, and it seems likely that they would have continued to stay there whether they bought it or not. So it is unlikely that these properties would have become available to others, even in the medium term.

Of course, it could be argued that where a tenant died, then the property would go to the next person on the housing list, but this is not the case either as the tenancy can be inherited, so the waiting list would be no shorter.

We should also bear in mind that former council houses generally attract a lower price than its private sector equivalent. What this means is that a family who otherwise might be be forced into the social housing sector because of high property prices, might be able to afford the lower price of a former council house.

What the arch critics of RTB invariably fail to comment on, is the fact that council house sales have funded immense rolling programmes of investment in the remaining stock, such as new bathrooms, kitchens, double glazing and the like. Improvements that would have been extremely difficult to fund without the capital receipts of house sales.

Current thinking is now promoting 'mixed tenure' housing developments as the best way to promote sustainable communities, so that each development would have homes for sale, rent, and perhaps shared equity homes contained in it.

Seems like a fair argument to me, but one that would largely fall by the wayside if RTB was scrapped altogether on what seems to be purely ideological grounds.

If my sources in the Scottish Government are correct then the First Minister is playing the numbers game and is pushing for as many houses to be built as possible. Sounds great doesn't it?

Let's take a closer look at this though. Affordable social housing has to be paid for, and with severe financial constraints, this money is hard to come by. If local authorities are obliged to undertake prudential borrowing (as has been mooted), to pay for it, then this will have severe consequences on rent levels, making a mockery of affordable rents.

In areas where family income is predominantly low, then these increases could well drive people either into poverty, or onto benefits. In turn, the benefits bill, which is already rising, will be burdened even further. It is unlikely in these times of economic hardship, that housing benefit levels will continue to go unchecked in the longer term, and may not cover the higher rents required to service the debt of building the houses in the first place.

To maximise the use of available land for house building, there may also be a temptation to build as many properties as possible onto it. We have seen this in already in the private sector, with developers throwing up huge numbers of flats for the would be 'buy to let' sector. To do so however, would be simply making the mistakes of the past, and bear in mind, the cost of demolishing these previous mistakes can now cost as much as constructing them at the time.

So where am I going with this? Well, I would argue that the investment we make in housing today, needs to be done with a long term view. We should not simply build houses as cheaply as possible to make up the numbers. We must take a more holistic view on housing in general and acknowledge the positive effect that good housing standards have on health and communities.

As for RTB, well the Tories in the Scottish Parliament are arguing simply for its retention. Personally, I think the argument needs to be a bit more sophisticated than that though. RTB should be retained, but the discount element should be scrapped. Where a social housing development is built, we could look at only a percentage of them being available for purchase by tenants. We could also look at a replacement policy, so that the capital receipt of a council house sale is used to fund the building of a new council house for rent.

Promoting ideological policy on the back of simplistic arguments for or against RTB will ultimately do our communities a grave disservice.

Japanese Drummers

Saw these guys at the Festival, they are absolutely amazing

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Dr Starkey on Politics

Nice to see it's not just small countries who face the ire of Dr Starkey

Saturday, 25 April 2009

David Starkey on Question Time

I wasn't going to comment on this, but as it was aired on the news last night, I might as well.

Dr Starkey, an expert on the Tudors, has managed to carve himself a niche as a celebrity historian. He has supplemented this income by being deliberately inflammatory on a number of subjects, but often about Scotland, Wales and Ireland on current affairs programmes. We should perhaps not take these comments in isolation however. He has expressed strong views on politics and politicians in much the same way that he spoke about Scotland.

The unfortunate thing for Dr Starkey, is the more he does it, the more he becomes a caricature of himself. Although many have been predictably outraged by his comments, personally, I find them rather dull. In reality, if this kind of thing, combined with his periodically subjective telling of history, is all that he has to offer, then the media should seriously consider whether he deserves the platform that he appears to enjoy so much.

It is perhaps a shame for Dr Starkey that he is forced to occupy the 21st century instead of the Tudor era that so fixates him, although if he behaved the way then, as he does now, I doubt he'd last long.

In reality, Dr Starkey is an opinionated little man with little to offer us but his condescension. His comments do nothing to diminish Scotland, or us as Scots. The dynasty that he admires so much gave little to the world. The same cannot be said of Scotland.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Brown's Tantrums

Interesting article from Bloomberg that alleges the PM has something of temper. I appreciate the man has a tough job to do, but the fact is he is now living with the mistakes he made as Chancellor. And we are paying for them.

An excerpt reads:

The strain shows, say current and former Brown aides: Among other things, it has inflamed a temper that has always been the subject of gallows humor among those who work with him, they say.
The prime minister, 58, has hurled pens and even a stapler at aides, according to one; he says he once saw the leader of Britain’s 61 million people shove a laser printer off a desk in a rage. Another aide was warned to watch out for “flying
Nokias” when he joined Brown’s team.
The ‘News Sandwich’
One staffer says a colleague developed a technique called a “news sandwich” -- first telling the prime minister about a recent piece of good coverage before delivering bad news, and then moving quickly to tell him about something good coming soon.

This is denied later on however. You can read the whole article here.

Time To Focus

The true impact of the budget is starting to emerge now, and it's looking bleak.

I'm no economist, so I'll leave the dissection of it to others, but there are two arguments afoot at the moment. The SNP state that £500m has been cut from the budget, whilst Labour claim that the Scottish Govt has more money than before at its disposal.

If, as seems likely, we are £500m down in Scotland, then tough choices are going to be forced on us. This level of cut would mean Angus Council's loss would run into millions of pounds. A substantial figure for a local authority which is obliged to provide considerable front line services.

For someone like me in local government, these will be tough indeed and we really need to be working closely with Holyrood to see what can be done. Likewise, the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster needs to be a bit more positive.

I missed FMQ's yesterday, but the coverage of it later showed that it was disappointing to say the least. Although it could have been the way it was edited, it appeared as though it consisted of Parliamentarians standing in a circle pointing the finger of blame at each other. The only excuse that wasn't used was the old "a big boy did it and ran away" chestnut. This isn't going to help, and we can't be in denial over the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in. Newsnight later on provided much of the same.

It's time to walk away from partisan politics at Holyrood. The parties need to get together and work with Councils to lessen the impact as much as possible.

With this level of financial 'hit' then the historic concordat may well be in tatters, and at Scottish Govt level, this will no doubt have a severe impact on any new policy plans that require substantial funding. Council's are already struggling to comply with their demands already.

The current mantra of the day is "efficiency savings", doing the same job to the same standard, but with fewer resources. In truth, this has been going on for years already and there may be less room for manoeuvre than you might think to achieve this, which makes the choices open to us even more stark.

Next year's Council budget is going to be hard to balance, so it's time to stop playing pre-election politics at national level, and time to start focusing on the job in hand, so that we can do everything possible to maintain the front line services that people want.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Climate Chaos

Boss made me go to a 'Stop Climate Chaos' event outside Parliament with him today. It was a bit out of my comfort zone, but Boss was in his element.

This is him with two of the audience...........

SNP Whisky Hypocrisy

I really don't get the SNP's stance on drink at all. First of all they complain when the duty on whisky goes up, claiming that the Scottish economy would receive a huge boost if duty were reduced. Then they complain when little political support materialises for them to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol (which would increase the price of whisky), and now, going round in circles so fast it must surely be making them dizzy, the SNP's Angus Robertson, with all the predictability of night following day, 'slams' the 2% duty increase on whisky.

What is it they want?

Feeble Fiscal Fines

There has been a sharp rise in the number of Fiscal Fines (or Direct Measures) issued from Arbroath. Fiscal Fines were introduced to punish low level offences and thereby free up court time for more serious matters.

For example, in Arbroath during 2007 there were 5 direct measures issued for vandalism/graffiti (Section 52(1) of the Criminal Law (Scotland) Act 1995). In 2008, this had risen to 46.

A Fiscal Fine can be up to £300. The accused does not need to attend court and does not end up with a criminal record, although it is kept on file for two years.

On the face of it, the system may have something going for it. And yet. We now know that an individual who commits an 'assault to injury' can be dealt with by a Fiscal Fine. Worse still, get caught in possession of a class 'A' drug, and guess what, you can get a Fiscal Fine (don't forget that in either of these cases you also won't get a criminal record either. Given that the accused won't see the inside of a courtroom, a contributory factor such as a drink or drug problem will not be addressed either. You just send off the letter accepting the fine.

Crimes involving violence or hard drugs are not, in my opinion, low level offences and should involve a court appearance.

It gets worse than this though. Because it was recently revealed that almost half of these fines haven't even been paid, with almost £2million outstanding. So a criminal avoids court, avoids a criminal record and ultimately avoids punishment. What's the point?

Clearly, the Direct Measures idea is not providing a punishment and it certainly isn't providing a deterrent.

Whilst I understand that there is a degree of embarrassment in the Crown Office over this (which is something of an achievement I would say given my experience of them) there seems little appetite for change.

My sources in the Justice Dept are also expressing frustration at the SNP's reluctance to take a harder line on law and order issues, preferring instead to give credence to the arguments of the hand wringing apologists whose ideas are accelerating what many members of the public perceive to be a rapid decline in the justice system, with ever decreasing punishments.

I actually wonder if those whose job it is to direct or manage the justice system, whether they are politicians or Crown Office lawyers, are actually aware of the concern among communities about the effect of crime, not just on the amenity of an area, but the detrimental effect on an individual who has been a victim of crime. Personally, I don't think so. I'm not advocating a 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' solution, but we really do have to ask ourselves if the punishments being meted out fit the crime and provide a deterrent.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Was this necessary?

Iain Macwhirter of The Herald has certainly been causing a stir with comments which he claims were intended to provoke a reaction with bloggers. Call me cynical, but I'm not so sure.

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I really don't think the statement "financial services sector which is being downsized faster than the twin towers......"
is particularly appropriate.

Obviously there is no need to rehearse the events 9/11, which perhaps makes the analogy even more offensive.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The McBride Impact on Bloggers

The controversy over Labour Aide Damien McBride's plans to publish unfounded allegations about senior Tories has opened up a wider debate on the role of bloggers and the collective influence that the blogosphere may or may not have.

Some quarters of the press seem almost to have taken offence that the story was broken by a blogger with Iain MacWhirter of The Herald launching a tirade on bloggers which has been much commented on. Stephen Pollard, writing for The Times is also critical, albeit more measured.

In contrast, some bloggers have been a tad more celebratory in their comments, but it should be obvious by now that there doesn't need to be a dichotomy between the mainstream media and the bloggers who choose to comment on current affairs. It is naive of UK journalists to try and pigeon-hole bloggers as nerds and extremists given the scale of some of the stories broken on blogs in the US, the most famous one being the story of Clinton's affair with Lewinsky.

But perhaps even this view is too simplistic. It has been argued that the blogosphere can act as something of a 'conscience', forcing the media back to a story that although they did publish briefly, they initially did not deem it important enough to give it any prominence until forced to do so by the online community.

The case most cited for this is when a Mississippi Senator stated in 2002 at a birthday party "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either."

Thurmond had been a presidential nominee in 1948, standing on a Dixiecrat ticket whose manifesto in part declared "We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race."

You can read an interesting analysis of how the story unfolded here.

I also find it mildly ironic that mainstream journalists should be so critical of blog authors given the media has been trying to establish a serious online presence (with varying degrees of success) for some years now.

Whatever any ones view is of blogging, it's clearly here to stay and vitriolic outbursts by journalists will not change that.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Sad News

Yesterday, I was given the sad news that a fellow Angus Councillor had passed away.

SNP Councillor Frank Ellis was an incredibly hard working man. He was a talented debater and able to cut to the quick of any argument, usually landing some hard blows, always with deft good humour and absolute professionalism.

I always had great respect for Frank and although we had our political differences, we also had a substantial amount of common ground too.

He was always an absolute gentleman and would give any help he could to anyone that needed it.

When I was elected, it was Frank that was the first to welcome me to the Council.

I will miss Frank terribly, I learned a lot from him and I owe him a great deal. His passing is a great loss.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

New Parly Rules.......

An e-mail was circulated round Parliament today, warning pass-holders about taking photographs.

I have pasted it in below. Now, my understanding is that this new dictat was brought about after an MSP's member of staff took 'clandestine' photo's of people round parliament and posted them on her blog, along with some captions. Failure to comply could lead to having your Parliament pass withdrawn we are warned.

So that's an end to that eh? Well no. Because said blogger is now an MSP herself and if you read the e-mail below, the SPCB can revoke anyones pass, except those of an MSP. So in reality, the very person who caused all this in the first place is actually immune to the suggested punishment should she do it again. Smart eh?

Dear All
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) wishes to remind all passholders that although photography, filming or recording in areas within the Parliamentary estate is permissible, everyone is required to respect the privacy of building users. Building users should not be the focus of the shot or recording unless prior permission has been given by the individual. Photography, filming or recording of Parliamentary business is not permitted except that authorised by the SPCB.
Other than for MSPs, you should be aware that the SPCB has the right to withdraw a photographic security pass at any time where it considers that a breach of conduct or discipline has taken place.
Contract managers are asked to bring this note to the attention of contractors.

Clerk/Chief Executive's Office
2 April 2009

Daily Mail Headline Generator

Quite amusing

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

How Local Govt Communicates

I got a rather cryptic phone call the other night. It was from someone asking about a Socialist rally in Arbroath, and did I know any of the details about it.
Somewhat perplexed as to why someone would phone a Tory councillor about a Socialist rally, I politely asked who was calling.
It turned out that it was a 'PR Consultant' for the council who had been asked to call me for details.
Clearly sensing my bemusement, she explained that she had been asked to call me about it in case it was going to conflict with another event around the same date.
"Why would you expect me to know the details of that" I asked. Turns out that a member of the council staff had read about the rally on my blog and had phoned the consultant to get her to phone me and ask about it.
"Why didn't she just phone me herself?" I asked
"She's busy" replied the consultant.
So how did I know about the rally? The council wrote and told me about it..........

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Crap Week

I have had a couple of e-mails commenting that I haven't:

a) done enough blogging

b) not enough personal posts

c) asking if I had split with up with Girlfriend (no is the answer to that)

Guilty as charged to the first two though.

I've had a crap week or so. I took girlfriend out to dinner the other weekend. We went to a very small restaurant that we don't often go to, largely because its not the cheapest place to eat out, and you have to book well in advance to get a table as its a popular place. We'd both been looking forward to it as it's a treat to go there.

All was going well until a large group came in at the back of 8pm. No problem there, but they had with them a toddler. Still no real problem, but the kid started a high pitched screetching from the moment it sat down (I'm not being offensive saying 'it' I just don't know the gender. For the sake of typing we'll assume it was male and call it Damien).
Damien's screeching continued, only pausing long enough to draw breath. The parents, having made little effort to quieten their little darling, helpfully gave him a noisy electronic toy to play with, thereby doubling the cacophony. After a while they decided a full fat fizzy drink might help. Strangely, twenty minutes later, this made the situation worse. Considerably worse.

Having put up with this for some time we asked the waitress if we could move. The couple at the next table asked to do the same. There was no place else to go, so the four of us ended up eating in the reception area.
Later, Grandma decided it would be easier to get Damien (still screeching) ready for bed in the toilet, which took around half an hour. It was after 10pm when they left. What do you do in these situations? I can empathise with the restauranteur in that there was perhaps little she could do (notwithstanding the fact that by law, Damien should have been out by 9pm). On the other hand, the situation pretty much spoiled the night for us and the couple who were up on holiday.
Earlier this week, a fellow angrily threatened to "take a hammer" to me in a rather interesting incident which I won't go into at the moment as the police are now involved and I understand the fellow has been arrested. In what proved to be a fairly protracted event, I was fortunate that someone was there to witness the second half of it. Strange how calm you can be when faced with that level of violence. Not to worry, we'll see what happens.
I have also come into something of a disagreement with the 'Cooncil'. Sadly, I can't go into detail about that at the moment either, but I may well do in a week or so. Sometimes, trying to work within the constraints of local government is enough to drive you up the wall (or beat your head off it). When I was elected, I thought perhaps the council would be run in a similar, but considerably smaller scale fashion to the Scottish Parliament. It's not. Oh how it's not. Not even close. And to say I'm not happy at a current situation is an understatement.
With various other minor mishaps added to that, it hasn't been a great few days and my back injury seems to have returned. Not sure if this is because I increased the weight of the kettlebell I use by nine pounds and reduced the rest period between sets from one minute to thirty seconds, but it's a dull, constant pain that is making me irritable. Well, more irritable.
I decided to take a walk out the cliffs by Arbroath this morning. It's a walk I do once every few weeks. I took my camera this time so here's a few photo's.
The cliffs are made of sandstone, which has a beautiful red colour. Over millenia, layers of sand were compressed to form stone. It's very porous and crumbles quite easily. You can see the effect here:

The elements have also carved the stone into some fantastic shapes. This one is known locally as the Deil's Heid (Devils Head):

Or this arch:

There's also the remains of an ancient fort out there. On old maps it's referred to as Maiden Fort. This is taken from the inside:

The outside has a defensive ditch:

Here's a couple more from the rest of the walk:

If you like the look of these, it's a great place to take a walk, and the path is well maintained too.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Debate by Motion

Parliamentary motions are an excellent way of highlighting good work by organisations in an MSP's constituency. They might raises awareness of a particularly succesful campaign on important subjects that can lead to more developments in that field. At the other end of the spectrum, an MSP might use a motion to congratulate his own eleven year old daughter for doing well at school.

Somewhere in between of course we have the motion below espousing one view on a subject, which is amended by someone else whose position is a polar opposite.

This one is a particularly good example:

S3M-3625 Jamie Hepburn: 25th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike—That the Parliament notes that March 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, with the announcement of the closure of 20 pits across the United Kingdom being made on 6 March 1984 and the strike in Scotland starting on 12 March 1984; believes that the strike represented a defining moment in the history of industrial relations across the UK; regrets the damage inflicted upon the trade union movement by Margaret Thatcher’s government at the time; recognises the devastating immediate effect and lasting damage caused to communities across Scotland by pit closures; notes that at the peak of the strike over 90% of Scottish miners had walked out, demonstrating the massive solidarity in Scotland for the miners’ cause, and hopes that no government ever again shows the contempt to organised workers shown to the miners by the Conservative government of the day.

*S3M-3625.1 Jackson Carlaw: 25th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike—As an amendment to motion (S3M-3625) in the name of Jamie Hepburn, leave out from "; regrets" to end and insert "with the eventual outcome ensuring that the country would thereafter be governed by the Government as opposed to a collection of militant trade union barons and left wing rabble-rousers; considers that the ballot-less and illegal strikes were rightly opposed at the time by the Labour party under the leadership of Neil Kinnock and urges everyone to reflect on this fact before attempting to rewrite history for political advantage; fully acknowledges the suffering experienced by local communities during this period but also considers that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) busied itself concealing millions of pounds that could have been used to ameliorate this suffering in order to avoid potential sequestration as a consequence of its illegal actions; believes that Arthur Scargill was directly and personally responsible for the demise of the NUM and therefore finds it deeply ironic that he remains Life President of the NUM to this day; welcomes the fact that this period of economic restructuring transformed the country into a fully fledged, modern, free market economy subsequently used as a blueprint for success the world over, and therefore pays tribute to the Thatcher government for having had the determination, resolve and foresight to make these reforms when it did and for the period of unprecedented economic expansion, wealth creation and personal and economic liberty that followed."

Motion as amended
That the Parliament notes that March 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, with the announcement of the closure of 20 pits across the United Kingdom being made on 6 March 1984 and the strike in Scotland starting on 12 March 1984; believes that the strike represented a defining moment in the history of industrial relations across the UK with the eventual outcome ensuring that the country would thereafter be governed by the Government as opposed to a collection of militant trade union barons and left wing rabble-rousers; considers that the ballot-less and illegal strikes were rightly opposed at the time by the Labour party under the leadership of Neil Kinnock and urges everyone to reflect on this fact before attempting to rewrite history for political advantage; fully acknowledges the suffering experienced by local communities during this period but also considers that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) busied itself concealing millions of pounds that could have been used to ameliorate this suffering in order to avoid potential sequestration as a consequence of its illegal actions; believes that Arthur Scargill was directly and personally responsible for the demise of the NUM and therefore finds it deeply ironic that he remains Life President of the NUM to this day; welcomes the fact that this period of economic restructuring transformed the country into a fully fledged, modern, free market economy subsequently used as a blueprint for success the world over, and therefore pays tribute to the Thatcher government for having had the determination, resolve and foresight to make these reforms when it did and for the period of unprecedented economic expansion, wealth creation and personal and economic liberty that followed

"Bollocks" says Transport Minister

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson lost it a little bit in this mornings crossrail debate.

Whilst Lib Dem Alison McInnes was speaking on the future of rail services in the North East, Stevenson aimed the off-mic expletive Mike Rumbles, who he later claimed was passing comment on ministerial relationships with transport officials.

It was probably a tad naive to fall into what might be regarded as an old trick by cheeky chappie Rumbles, who has indulged himself in these dull 'sotto voce' asides for years.

Mr Stevenson apologised for his intemperate language, but I can't help but sympathise with him. Rumbles sometimes drives me to expletives too.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Tom Harris MP

I have been following Labour MP Tom Harris' blog for a while. It's a good read with an interesting mix of political and personal posts.

He (somewhat predictably it must be said) ran into some controversy about this post. It's a bold, honest and well written opinion, which has attracted over 300 comments. Was it wrong for him to express his views? I don't think so.

You may not agree with what Tom said, but he makes some valid points. The shame is that having expressed an opinion which opened up a wider debate, albeit briefly, his views attracted the motion below by Bill Kidd MSP. The knee jerk motion is almost dripping with synthetic outrage whilst offering no alternative view apart from 'you can't say that'.

Well he can, and he did. And well done to him.

*S3M-3634 Bill Kidd: Labour’s True Beliefs—That the Parliament condemns the views of Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, who, in response to hearing how proud a father was of his daughter’s newborn baby, stated in his blog "But proud? Proud that his teenage daughter was not only sexually active but was now a mother? Proud that any chance of a decent education, followed by a decent job, was now remote at best? Proud that she was, in all likelihood, about to embark on a lifetime of depending on benefit handouts for her and her child?"; considers sickening the beliefs espoused by the MP when he stated that "They become pregnant because they have absolutely no ambition for themselves. They have been indoctrinated with the lie that they’ll never amount to anything, and have fulfilled that prophesy by making no effort to achieve any qualification. Very often they live with parents (or a parent) who have no jobs themselves, who are setting the example of benefit dependency for all their offspring"; believes that such right-wing and downright offensive language is completely indefensible, and calls on the Labour party to sanction Tom Harris publicly and for the MP to issue an immediate apology.
Supported by: Bill Wilson*, Joe FitzPatrick*, Sandra White*

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Police Figures

The Scottish Govt today issued a press release on police recruitment. On the face of it, things seem to be on target for achieving the 1000 extra police officers that the SNP promised as an election commitment, although it should be noted that this was another commitment that was going to be dumped by the SNP until they were forced to honour it by the Tories. However, the letter below from Tory Justice Spokesman Bill Aitken to Kenny MacAskill sheds a different light on the matter.

Dear Cabinet Secretary,

The Scottish Government gave an undertaking to use £10million in 2008/9 and £13million in 2009/10 to fund the recruitment of 1000 additional police officers by 2011.

That means by 2011 we should have a minimum of 17,261 police officers. This funding and these additional officers were over and above the baseline budget to maintain police numbers at the 2007 level of 16,261.

In a letter to Annabel Goldie dated 22nd September 2008, Alex Salmond said “We are committed to recruiting 1000 additional police officers during the lifetime of this Parliament”. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Can you please explain why this unequivocal commitment will not result in overall police numbers increasing by 1000?The additional funding secured by the Scottish Conservatives should have meant at least 1000 more officers in Scotland. Indeed, I refer you to the quote from John Swinney on 6th February 2008, when he said: “Let me be clear: the additional money that the amended budget will provide means that we will not only deliver 1,000 more police officers on our streets and in our communities but go substantially beyond that”.

The public deserve clear answers because the SNP is gaining an unenviable reputation for breaking far too many promises and pledges. That in itself is bad for politics, but there can be no room for such equivocation when it comes to the first duty of government – protection of the public.

Yours sincerely
Bill Aitken MSP
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice

Booze Laws

I haven't had a chance to look fully at the SNP proposals for licensing yet, but I hope to do so today or tomorrow and will post up some thoughts then.

At first glance it's a mixed bag, but I'll take a closer look.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Socialists Are Coming To Town

Quite a lot of politicians have sought to use Arbroath Abbey as something of a political football (or crutch in some cases), because of its association with the Declaration of Arbroath. When I worked there, I ejected the local MSP Andrew Welsh along with a couple of his cronies when he came in (without paying it has to be said) to have photo's taken for his election leaflets. His blustering "but I'm the local MSP......." as I escorted him off the premises left me somewhat cold.

Alex Salmond, before becoming First Minister, effectively hijacked the annual ceremony which marks the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.

It has been argued that the amount of political abuse (for want of a better word) that the Abbey has received over the years has resulted in a lack of of promotion of the site by Historic Scotland. Personally, I'm minded to give this argument some credence.

That said, one political organisation is once more coming to town for its annual rally. Step forward (literally) the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement who have a march through the town on a weekend close to the 6th April (the date written on the Declaration).

It's a peaceful and well run event, albeit a rather bizarre spectacle (and I've seen some stuff in my time let me tell you) accompanied by a piper and a flute band, the SRSM march to the Abbey, have a few speeches and then go home again.

The last time I listened to the speeches it was something of a revelation. After reading out goodwill messages from far flung places, one orator gave a speech which somehow managed to lurch from the benefits of universal Socialism to the battle tactics of King of Robert the Bruce and back again.

It left me somewhat confused, but the audience were appreciative so that's ok I guess.

Study of the Declaration of Arbroath is too often restricted to academic papers which many find a little inaccessible, but reading more on it can be extremely rewarding. As one book description on the subject states:

"The Declaration of Arbroath, 6 April, 1320, is one of the most remarkable documents to have been produced anywhere in medieval Europe. Quoted by many, understood by few, its historical significance has now almost been overtaken by its mythic status."

If you are interested in reading more about the Declaration then you could do a lot worse than buy the collection of papers on the subject called "he Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting" which was edited by respected historian Geoffrey Barrow.

I'm all for promoting Arbroath Abbey and the Declaration of Arbroath, but I can't help but feel that a better appreciation of the document itself, set in the context of the times in which it was written might make some people think twice before using it as a political football.

Disabled Parking Bill

Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw made this contribution to the Disabled Persons Parking Spaces Bill on Thursday. It's an interesting angle on the subject:

“I would like to address a matter which concerned me for much of my career within the Scottish retail motor industry.

It concerns not so much the securing of dedicated parking places themselves as the eligibility of those who are entitled to use them via the UK Motability Car purchase scheme.

“It was determined that rather than create a specific replacement vehicle to the Reliant Robin, general discounts would apply with VAT being waived in addition on whatever range of motor vehicles manufacturers wished to make available on the scheme.

“Demand exploded as those who discovered they were eligible for the benefit, but who had not fancied a Reliant Robin, realised that the benefit could be applied to any make or model of vehicle subject to the manufacturer making it available under the scheme.

At one point in the 1990s there were more people registered on the UK Motability disabled driver scheme than there were registered disabled people in all of the other countries within the European Union put together.

Moreover fewer than 2% of the vehicles supplied were adapted in any way whatsoever. “I regret to say that in some instances I was aware of deliberate abuse and the frankly ridiculous. The customer who was eligible for the benefit because he was diagnosed as ‘clinically bald’. Or the man who freely admitted to my salesman that he was driven from Glasgow to Ayr on a cold day with his leg stuck out the window, before a doctor confirmed poor circulation entitling him to the benefit.

“I should also like to contrast this to the monstrous injustice which has, in contrast, been meted out to those in need of an appropriate wheelchair. Relatively pathetic amounts of public money are spent on wheelchair users and I point to the contrast between this and the huge public subsidy on motor vehicles.

“This is not to take away from the incredibly liberating lifeline those who rightly enjoy vehicles under the scheme enjoy, or to detract from the screaming frustration they feel when trying to park and finding their spaces selfishly blocked by others too lazy to park elsewhere.”

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Peace and Love Among Parly Staff

Despite the 'yah boo sucks to you' image that is shown on TV, the Parliament can be quite an affable and good natured place to work.

Today, MSP Dr Bill Wilson's Office Manager circulated the humorously well written e-mail below, which I thought (with Eric's permission) I would share:

Dear Researchers (of all parties and none)

Stefan Buettner (Chris Harvie's researcher) is off to Germany today, having accidentally purchased a Lothian bus pass for the day (only used once, excellent running order, full service history :-) ).

He no longer needs this and, as a gesture of international and cross-party friendship (not forgetting the independents), has asked me to advertise its availability. I am holding it in M5.09.

First come, first served. Please pass the favour on in some way. Perhaps it could snowball and we could end up saving the world! Peace, love and pronoia all round. ("Pronoia" is your word for the day.)

Warm regards


Saving the world might be a tad ambitious of course, and one G. Brown has already taken the credit for that anyway, but it was a very nice gesture.

It transpired shortly afterwards that the only spanner in the works was the fact that it is against Lothian Buses policy to allow a day pass to be given to someone else. But in the grand scheme of things, as Eric later said, the pass may have gone to someone who does not usually avail themselves of Lothian Buses services, and they may well be so impressed by the experience that they might become regular users.

If you (like me) had never encountered the word 'pronoia' before, then I would direct you to Eric's very interesting blog which you can find here.

Right, after all that, I'm off to Forfar now for my Cooncil Committee meeting, which may or may not be quite so equitable.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Some (alleged) Quiz Show Answers

Jamie Theakston: Where do you think Cambridge University is?
Contestant: Geography isn't my strong point.
Theakston: There's a clue in the title.
Contestant: Leicester.

Stewart White: Who had a worldwide hit with What A Wonderful World? Contestant: I don't know.
White: I'll give you some clues: what do you call the part between your hand and your elbow?Contestant : Arm.
White: Correct. And if you're not weak, you're...?
Contestant: Strong.
White: Correct - and what was Lord Mountbatten's first name?
Contestant: Louis.
White: Well, there we are then. So who had a worldwide hit with the song What A Wonderful World?
Contestant: Frank Sinatra?

Jeremy Paxman: What is another name for 'cherrypickers' and 'cheesemongers'?
Contestant: Homosexuals.
Paxman: No. They're regiments in the British Army who will be very upset with you.

Alex Trelinski: What is the capital of Italy?
Contestant: France.
Trelinski: France is another country. Try again.
Contestant: Oh, um, Benidorm.
Trelinski: Wrong, sorry, let's try another question. In which country is the Parthenon? Contestant: Sorry, I don't know.
Trelinski: Just guess a country then.
Contestant: Paris.

Anne Robinson: - Oscar Wilde, Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Archer have all written books about their experiences in what: - Prison, orthe Conservative Party?
Contestant: The Conservative Party.


DJ Mark: For £10, what is the nationality of the Pope?
Ruth from Rowley Regis: I think I know that one. Is it Jewish?

Bamber Gascoigne: What was Gandhi's first name?
Contestant: Goosey?

GWR FM (Bristol)
Presenter: What happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963?
Contestant : I don't know, I wasn't watching it then.

Presenter: What is the name of the long- running TV comedy show about pensioners: Last Of The...?
Caller: Mohicans.

Phil: What's 11 squared?
Contestant: I don't know.
Phil: I'll give you a clue. It's two ones with a two in the middle.
Contestant: Is it five?

Q: Which American actor is married to Nicole Kidman?
A: Forrest Gump.

Leslie: On which street did Sherlock Holmes live?
Contestant: Er. . .
Leslie: He makes bread . . .
Contestant: Er . ... Leslie: He makes cakes . . .
Contestant: Kipling Street?

Presenter: Which is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world?
Contestant: Barcelona.
Presenter: I was really after the name of a country.
Contestant: I'm sorry, I don't know the names of any countries in Spain.

Question: What is the world's largest continent?
Contestant: The Pacific

Presenter: Name a film starring Bob Hoskins that is also the name of a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci.
Contestant: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Steve Le Fevre: What was signed, to bring World War I to an end in 1918?
Contestant: Magna Carta?

O'Brien: How many kings of England have been called Henry?
Contestant: Er, well, I know there was a Henry the Eighth ... ER...ER ... Three?

Searle: In which European country is Mount Etna?
Caller: Japan.
Searle : I did say which European country, so in case you didn't hear that, I can let you try again. Caller: Er ....Mexico?

Paul Wappat: How long did the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel last?
Contestant (after long pause): Fourteen days.

Daryl Denham: In which country would you spend shekels?
Contestant: Holland?
Denham: Try the next letter of the alphabet.
Contestant: Iceland? Ireland?
Denham (helpfully): It's a bad line. Did you say Israel?
Contestant: No.

Wood: What 'K' could be described as the Islamic Bible?
Contestant: Er. .. .
Wood: It's got two syllables . . . Kor . . .
Contestant: Blimey?
Wood: Ha ha ha ha, no. The past participle of run . . .
Contestant: (Silence)Wood: OK, try it another way. Today I run, yesterday I . . .
Contestant: Walked?

Melanie Sykes: What is the name given to the condition where the sufferer can fall asleep at any time?
Contestant: Nostalgia.

Presenter: What religion was Guy Fawkes?
Contestant: Jewish.
Presenter: That's close enough.

Wright: Johnny Weissmuller died on this day. Which jungle-swinging character clad only in a loin cloth did he play?
Contestant: Jesus

Goldie's Letter to Salmond

Dear First Minister,

Can I remind you that when you are abroad, you represent Scotland as the First Minister of a devolved parliament, not as the leader of a minority party.

In giving a lecture in Georgetown on independence you have once again abused your position as First Minister. There is no majority for independence in Scotland. Indeed, opinion polls consistently show that separation from the rest of the United Kingdom is a minority aspiration.

As First Minister you speak for all of Scotland, not merely as the leader of one of Scotland's minority parties and it would be a gross distortion for you to imply otherwise.

Yours sincerely,
Annabel M Goldie MSP

Monday, 23 February 2009

Immigration Curbs

Under fire Home Secretary Jaqui Smith, a woman who looks so similar to an ex of mine that I find it disconcerting, is proposing to stop 'tens of thousands' of 'highly skilled' immigrants from outside the EU from coming to work in the UK.

This strikes me as something of a populist reaction to the concerns of UK workers who were facing redundancy recently when a foreign company won a contract in the UK and promptly shipped (literally) a workforce in from abroad. The UK workers rightly threw Gordon Browns statement of "British jobs for British workers" back in his face.

The irony is of course that in this instance, the foreign workers were from inside the EU and not from the outside, so her protectionist measures would have achieved nothing whatsoever.

The whole thing strikes me as a tad frothy given the global recession, and I wonder just how many people outside of the EU were actually planning to come here to work over the next year or two. I know two highly skilled Australians that have recently returned home because the pay and conditions were far better there than here.

No doubt immigration will fall because of the financial climate and Westminster will attribute this to their shiny new policy.

The only mention of EU immigration (ie the type of immigration that caused such an adverse reaction to the workers down south) comes here:

"The Government also plans to change the laws regarding the deportation of EU citizens convicted of sexual, violent and drugs crimes. At the moment EU citizens can only be deported if they are given a jail sentence of two years or more. Ms Smith said that she intended to reduce this to 12 months."

I'm not sure what it takes to get a 12 month sentence these days never mind two years, but I suspect it would have to painfully serious, especially here in Scotland where Kenny MacAskill's abhorence of jailing criminals means that it is unlikely many will fall into that category.

All in all, I suspect that this proposal is more spin than substance, but time will tell.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Edinburgh Permit Charges

I see the lentil bake loving Greens have introduced higher parking permit charges for 'gas guzzlers'.

On one hand I can see the point. I'm always amazed at the amount of shiny new 'Chelsea Tractors' that are driven in Edinburgh. Trying to get to work in the morning can be like driving through the set of Stepford Wives when you go past a school. The irony is of course that most of the city dwelling 4x4 owners have never driven a vehicle off road before in their lives and a wee bit mud on their expensive wagons would induce a fit of the vapours in them.

There's no question that these things produce more pollution than smaller vehicles, but that said, what about those on low incomes with old cars with large engines that they can't afford to replace? This is especially pertinant in times like these and I'd hate to think that anyone who is struggling financially already might be hit with higher charges by the 'holier than thou' eco warriors.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Harris for the Turner Prize!

Labour MP Tom Harris has suggested that people nominate his blog as a contender for the Turner Prize.

For those of you who are blissfully unaware of what the Turner Prize is, their website describes it as:

"The Turner Prize is a contemporary art award that was set up in 1984 to celebrate new developments in contemporary art.
The prize is awarded each year to 'a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding'."

Personally, I would describe it as a collective of Guardian reading, Tofu loving pseuds who indulge themselves in an 'emperors new clothes' type of artistic bunfight every twelve months, and award a sickening amount of money to some arty type who cobbled together an 'installation' out of a couple of bricks and a coathanger. If you don't get their thinking, then you simply don't understand art dahhling.

Yup, it really is the art equivalent of a train wreck. There have been some utterly crap winners and nominees for this over the years. Look some of them up for yourself and you'll see what I mean, unless of course you are fully supportive of this type of thing, in which case you may have just spluttered some organic yoghurt over your monitor in synthetic outrage (dislodging your designer specs, which you don't really need at the same time) at the opinions I expressed above.

Anyhoo, I digress. Tom thinks it would strike a blow for us ordinary types if as many people as possible nominated his blog for the prize. I fully agree with him and am happy to support his nomination. You can find his blog post on the subject here.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

25 Random Facts

Fox in Detox tagged me to post up 25 random facts about myself. Quite a lot of bloggers have been tagged with this and there's some good ones out there. Here goes:

1) The first vehicle I was licensed to drive on the road was a 60 ton Chieftan tank. I found it difficult to learn how to drive a car after this.

2) I was a guard on the Berlin Wall for a time. Three of us got into some bother for climbing it and sitting on top for a photo at the Brandenburg Gate.

3) After school I used to work in a fish factory every night. I never eat fish.

4) I love pets. My German Shepherd died 10 years ago and I still miss him.

5) I was a marksman in the army, but have not handled a firearm since I left the forces.

6) I played rugby for my school and regiment as a loose head prop. The same position as my Dad played even though he is a lot smaller than me.

7) I love art, but no-one believes me when I tell them this.

8) I enjoy martial arts and hold black belts in kickboxing and karate. I'm a qualified blade arts instructor and former assistant Judo coach. I have broken several toes and fractured most of my ribs down one side doing this.

9) I have a large collection of historical weaponry and armour.

10) I wanted to learn jousting and had not fallen off a horse in a year until I took former fiance. Ten minutes after she arrived I fell off a very large horse. It was a tad sore.

11) I practice archery with an English longbow. It took almost a year of practice before I could draw it properly.

12) My sense of humour is very dry and has got me into trouble several times.

13) I can be very cynical at times. Actually, quite a lot of the time.

14) Japanese history and culture fascinates me.

15) I loathed primary school and did not get on with the teachers. (I could expand on this, but wont)

16) I hate cruelty to animals and sponsor a dog from a national charity.

17) I worked on oil rigs for several years. Hard work but enjoyable.

18) I get bored easily and fidget a lot.

19) I love old films.

20) I rarely watch tv except for documentaries and current affairs type stuff. I hate game/quiz/chat/magazine/car shows.

21) I enjoy reading. I prefer horror and factual stuff

22) I spend most of time working and put in hours every evening and weekend.

23) I never forgive and forget.

24) I'm 42 next month.

25) I love visiting old churches, abbeys and castles. How they were built and how the stones were cut fascinates me.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


And so the spectre of a Local Income Tax has gone. Even when unions, business leaders and many others reacted with nothing short of horror at the thought of its introduction, the SNP carried on with it regardless. Until now.

John Swinney, realising the policy was about as popular as a fart in a spacesuit has announced today that it has been ditched until after the next election.

The SNP had to be forced to honour their pledge of 1000 extra cops, the promise to wipe out student debt was a lie, the undertaking on class sizes is in chaos and now LIT has sunk without trace.

Surely there must come a time when the only people the SNP big guns are fooling will be themselves.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

There's No Place Like Rome.......

So the budget was finally passed (bit late with this I know). The Greens, as I predicted were put back in their box having ended up with less than half of what they originally had in their hand. Labour, voted for it after conspicuously failing to cover themselves in glory (not really got to grips with the idea of constructive opposition yet eh guys?).
But who was mooted as the 'party of the moment' by one TV pundit when they looked ready to strike a deal with the SNP? Step forward that collective of parliamentary charlatans the Lib Dems. They had demanded a 2p tax cut as the price of their support. This would have caused a black hole in already precarious finances of some £800m, a hole that they helpfully failed to offer any solutions on how to fill apart from some kind of 'it'll be allright on the night' type thing.
It was clear to me that the Lib Dems were never expecting to get their way when they sent Chief Whip Mike Rumbles to negotiate for them. Mr Rumbles had previously enjoyed a mild, albeit dull, notoriety after adopting some kind of bizarre maverick persona whilst the Lib Dems were in coalition with Labour, but this has failed to have any impact now they are in opposition. It was inevitable that he would give a burlesque storming out of the meeting with Swinney performance, allowing the Lib Dems to do their usual hand wringing and breast beating. In the end, they caved in for not very much at all. Smart move guys.

On a personal front, I got my Roman armour mounted on a stand:

I'm getting two more stands made for my harnesses of 15th and 16th century plate armour. My new harness of 15th century Italian armour is still being made, although the helmet has arrived. I'm looking forward to fighting in it, although I will try and avoid a recurrence of an incident when some 'friends' put a few tropical fish fridge magnets on me in places I couldn't reach. It was a colourful albeit bizarre incident which confused small children.

I'm coming to the end of the 15th week of my diet. I'm down five suit sizes, and feel much healthier, although a journalist friend phoned me up and told me that "everyone preferred cuddly Jim". Encouraging. The leader of the council also asked if I had surgery. The answer to that is no, I simply stopped eating crap and drinking alcohol.

I now train with one of these for four hours a week:

It's a Russian Kettlebell and it provides an amazing workout. If you want to see rapid results you could do a lot worse than try training with one, though be warned it is incredibly hard work.

The dreaded Valentines Day is almost upon us and having promised Girlfriend dinner in some nice and suitably expensive restaurant, I have left it too late to get a table anywhere. To be fair to girlfriend, she is being very good about it and seems to have known this would happen.

That very nice blogger Fox in Detox (who is also reticent about Valentines Day) has tagged me with a challenge to post 25 random facts about myself. I'll compile them over the next day or two and post them up (though I may be a tad circumspect given some of the people that read this blog).

I haven't booked a holiday yet, but this year looks likely to be France or Italy. If it's Italy, then we would have to drop in on my relatives, and Girlfriend isn't that keen. In a strange coincidence, my cousin was elected to his local council near Pisa at the same time I was elected here. Last time I was there was with former fiance and they lent us a car which was so impossibly small I had to have the sunroof open so I could sit up straight whilst driving. This provided two weeks of amusement for the locals as I drove around with the top of my head sticking out of the roof.

I have finally persuaded Girlfriend to come to Japan with me next year. I have wanted to visit Japan since I took up martial arts twenty years ago, but have never managed it. Helpfully, having lived there for some years, Girlfriend speaks and reads Japanese which is really the only way the trip is possible for me given my notoriously bad sense of direction.

Apart from all of that, things remain very busy both on the council and work front. The announcement by the Scottish Government that local elections will be put back until 2012, giving us a five year term, instigated a sense of humour failure in Girlfriend, but I enjoy serving the community and at the end of the day it's a privilege to do so.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Those Budget Negotiations

I hear that the Lib Dems are backpeddling furiously and have gone cap-in-hand to the SNP promising to forget about their demands for a 2p tax cut. I'm surprised it took them so long.

Meanwhile, I understand that Labour are continuing to take stick from their Cosla loving cooncillors and are also looking for a way out.

Some pundits wondered why John Swinney simply didn't give in to the demands of the Greens for extra cash, but had he done so, then the Tories would have held out for a proportionate increase in their negotiated settlement. Clearly, Mr Swinney was between a rock and a hard place on that one, and whilst he may have been able to give the Greens what they wanted, he would have struggled to provide the extra to meet the Tories' demands. Especially given that budget calculations seemed to be worked out on the backs of envelopes with five minutes before the vote last night.

For the SNP, a deal with the Lib Dems will allow them to give the Greens a swift kick in the proverbial for their audacity. The Lib Dems will be delighted with a get-out given their rather poor poll ratings just now. No party wants a Scottish Parliament election right now, and if, in the unlikely event that this happened, there is no doubt in my mind that the Lib Dems would be biggest losers.

It will be interesting to see who comes out with what at the end of this. The possibility that Patrick Harvie's gamble may see him lose everything he had in his hand last night may well prove to be a very real one.

Labour Press Release

It had been mooted that Labour would have been on something of high this morning after defeating the government yesterday.

Judging by the rather badly written press release (below) they issued this morning, that's not the case. Word is that the some senior Labour cooncillors are on the attack about yesterday's performance, and Iain Gray is taking flak for it.

It should be borne in mind that whilst the 'historic concordat' seems to be falling apart at the seams, there are any number of labour cooncillors happy to support it through Cosla, and they were keen to see the budget passed.

Labour in the Scottish Parliament News Release
Immediate Release 29 January 2009 LABOUR: SCRAP TORY LIE LEAFLET NOW

Labour this morning demanded that the Scottish Conservatives immediately cease distributing a leaflet about the Scottish budget vote after it was found to contain seven falsehoods.

The leaflet, distributed this morning at railway stations, claimed that, because of the vote, a catalogue of disaster would now immediately follow, including council tax rising by £350, health budgets being slashed by £650 million and fewer police on the streets.

In fact, none of that will happen and a new, hopefully improved, budget will be considered by MSPs within a fortnight.

Each of the claims made by the Tories is utterly untrue. Labour's Business Manager, Michael McMahon said: "This is despicable and baseless scaremongering with not one iota of truth. The Tories lost the vote yesterday and have egg on their face. "The Tories may have a new 'celebrity' spin-doctor, but Annabel Goldie needs to bring him into line. This type of complete falsehood has no place in a modern politics. Voters want politicians to be straightforward and truthful. "They Tories could not win the argument, and they could not win the vote, so they stoop to blatant lies. What we need is a budget for the people of Scotland not a short-term political fix for the SNP and their Tory lap-dogs. "The fact is that the budget can be fixed in a fortnight, or even sooner if there is political will. There is no reason for any taxes to rise or services to be cut. "This Scottish budget is a serious process and the Scottish Conservative party needs to behave in a grown-up way." ENDS