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.”