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