Friday, 16 April 2010

Leaders Debate

I don't think that this event was ever going to live up to the media hype that preceded it, and in the end it was something of a disappointment.

Many, myself included were looking for a clear and decisive winner, but it simply didn’t happen. The event also failed to deliver the kind of political ‘cut and thrust’ of PMQ’s that many members of the public might have expected.

The format was so rigidly restricted that it effectively stifled spontaneity and the debate limped along at a pedestrian pace that made for very dull television, even for the most dedicated political anoraks.

This debate did very little to change the perception of many that there is not much to choose between the parties, and the amount of time spent on issues that were devolved to Scotland, and therefore irrelevant to us only made things worse.

Gordon Brown was predictably clumsy at times, and his ‘witty asides’ to Cameron were clearly well rehearsed and thrown in at the first available opportunity.

Having heard David Cameron address a relatively hostile audience once before, I’m surprised that he didn’t come across better than he did.

Of the three participants, I’d have to say that Nick Clegg came across as fairly open and sincere, and the polls seem to agree with this.

For all the great sense of anticipation, the idea that history was in the making and that whoever won the debate would win the election, this debate failed to engage with the audience, and more will have changed channels, than were persuaded to change their voting intention.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Alex Salmond & The Crazies

Hats off to the photographer who got this gem.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Threatening Behaviour II

A while ago I posted on an incident at my home. You can read about it here.

The incident, where some character came to my house and effectively threatened me over the intercom, did not bother me for my own sake, but I was concerned that an individual might behave this way towards my fiancee if she was staying at my house and I wasn't there. It is worth noting that not only did the 'man' concerned decline to be named in his original letter to the press, he declined to name himself over the intercom, and indeed effectively ran away.

Now technically, there is little to connect the letter in the press with the incident at my home. The only way that it could be proved if the person actually admitted that it was him.

Now, nobody would be that stupid surely? Au contraire. Helpfully, the fellow concerned wrote another letter to the press condemning me for living behind a high wall with electric gates. I understand that the letter pointed out that I should be aware that 'anyone can get to me'.

The local paper passed the letter to the police, who now intend to charge him with breach of the peace when he next enters the country.

There are times when you really couldn't make things up, and this is one of those times. I'll say again what I said in the paper, everyone is entitled to a view, but when an individual chooses to expound views that are arguably narrow minded or verging on the offensive, then they should not be allowed to voice such views in the paper whilst cowering behind the shield of anonymity.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Shakespeare in Govt Consultation

The Scottish Govt has really got into the way of dishing out consultations. Personally, I think it's a good thing, although some weighty tomes have sallied forth from the ivory towers recently.

As is my wont, I do tend to take an interest in these things, although they can make for rather dull reading. I was a tad surprised, when reading the 'Consultation Paper on Long Leases (Scotland) Bill' (I need to get out more I think) to see a quote from Shakespeare thrown in at the end.

Just under the heading 'Chapter 8 - Conclusion' someone wag has put "Parting is such sweet sorrow. Juliet, in Romeo and Juliet." I can't help but wonder if the Civil Servant responsible takes his or her audience for being profoundly ill read and felt obliged to state the source of the quote.

I also can't help but wonder if someone will get their backside metaphorically kicked over this. Not for putting a literary quote in a consultation paper, but given the nature of the Scottish Government, for using Shakespeare instead of Burns...........

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Statement By Anne Moffat..............

This statement has just been released by Anne Moffat.  I wonder how long it will take the First Minister to slip any of this into his response at FMQ's?

I am deeply saddened that my service to East Lothian Constituency has come to an end in such distressing and appalling circumstances.
Firstly, may I say that it has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve this constituency and to be in a position to know that through my work and the work of my office team we have been able to help so many individuals who have sought assistance.
Regrettably, the manner in which I have been treated by so called comrades and labour party activists leaves me with a sense of disbelief that such conduct is prevalent in a democratic socialist party.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly put on record my absolute conviction that I have been the victim of systematic and sustained bullying at all levels of the Labour Party. I have never been asked to provide any evidence of this behaviour but I can assure everyone that I have never claimed anything which I could not evidence and substantiate. A bullying culture exists at all levels within the Labour Party. By simple example on Tuesday morning the NEC endorsed the decision taken to remove me as candidate. Immediately the NEC position was declared, I was contacted by representatives of the media to ask for my comments on the decision.
Unbelievably, at the time of this press release I have yet to be formally notified of the NEC decision.
The meeting last Friday was shameful to the Labour movement. The contributions of individuals during the meeting were vicious and slanderous.

Sadly there are no politics left within East Lothian Labour Party, only personal spites and divisions. I wish Iain Gray had the strength to unite the Party but I doubt it. My sympathy lies with the voters of East Lothian who now have only two choices….. a bitter and divided Labour Party or the Tories?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Edinburgh Trams - The Debacle Continues

I drive in Edinburgh a lot, and like everyone else, I'm fed up with the tram works.  Today Edinburgh Trams Board issued this press release:

Edinburgh Trams Board Updates City on negotiations


This update follows a meeting of the Edinburgh Trams Board today.

The Board noted formally its profound disappointment with the lack of progress by the consortium (with the exclusion of CAF the contractor responsible for the manufacture and delivery of the vehicles) against the expected progress.

The Board also expressed deep concern that the latest revised programme provided by the contractor Bilfinger Berger proposes an additional delay to the original programme which would extend this by a further 30 months from now to a completion date of January 2014. This was deemed to be entirely unacceptable by the Board, as was an unqualified increase in cost.

At the meeting, the Board reviewed options in order to achieve the delivery of the trams. The Chairman acknowledged the frustration being experienced by the many stakeholders across the City:

“My concerns and those of my fellow directors are for the people of Edinburgh who have continued to suffer from these seemingly endless delays. I am genuinely not in a position to talk in detail about the confidential aspects of today’s meeting – this is for reasons of commercial sense. However I can say that today we have been presented with a series of options by the management team. We have had a full and constructive discussion around these options and have a clear sense of what we need to do to achieve the best possible outcome. We have also been reassured that the basis on which we intend to move forward is fully justified and that the enhanced rigour requested by the Board earlier this year has been followed to the letter.

At the meeting the Board reviewed our legal and commercial advice and the findings from a set of specially commissioned audits on the consortium’s progress. The meeting addressed the key issues in detail and concluded with an instruction to the management team to continue to apply rigorously the legal terms of the contract to the contractor including and taking into account fully their actions to date. While the board will continue to seek a reasonable negotiated outcome to all matters in dispute, the clients’ rights will be strenuously safeguarded.

Our stakeholders are entirely unified in the resolution to apply the full terms of the contract.

“As soon as there is more to say publicly, we will provide that information. Our priority, and that of our partners, remains the delivery of a 21st Century integrated public transport system, that represents good value and which Scotland’s Capital City deserves. This we will do.”

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Leaders Debate

The SNP have threatened to review their broadcasting policy after it was announced that Alex Salmond would not be taking part in the General Election leaders debates.

Who cares?

Minimum Pricing Fail?

In what could prove to be a fatal blow to the SNP's flagship minimum pricing, the European Court of Justice has ruled today that the minimum pricing of tobacco in Austria, Ireland, and France violates EU law.


Obviously, this refers to tobacco and not alcohol, but I'd suggest that a similar result would be forthcoming if a similar case was brought for alcohol.

The opinion on this does seem to have ebbed and flowed, but this may well be the final straw.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Labour Poster

I wonder if spoof political posters will be the hallmark of this election?


(HT to My Labour Poster)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sturgeon Statement

I'm not going to go into the nuts and bolts of the Nicola Sturgeon's statement.

Suffice to say it was a strong, confident performance that struck the right tone.  Arguably, she bested Iain Gray, though some contend it was a close run thing.  Perhaps the person coming off the worst in this is now Alex Salmond after his almost absurdly vocal defence of her just a couple of weeks before.

I never thought this was a resigning issue, but it did underline the apparent emnity between Labour and the SNP.

Back to the drawing board for Labour I think, but we may see more scalp hunting in the not too distant future.

The knee jerk 'resign/apologise' mantra really isn't kidding anyone anymore.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Grumpy Gordon

A BAD tempered turtle has been named Grumpy Gordy and moved into solitary confinement, after bullying other aquatic lifeforms at Scotland's largest sanctuary for marine animals.

Staff at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary near Oban had to isolate their new Snapper Turtle for bullying behaviour almost as soon as he arrived there on Monday so immediately named him after Gordon Brown, according to centre spokeswoman Ellie Cowley.

Ms Cowley said: "Bullies are said to have a hard outer shell, and the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary's newest resident is no exception.

"Grumpy Gordy was immediately confined to the 'naughty' tank after his snapping tantrums shocked Sea Life staff into deciding he would be a danger to the other turtles."
Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary Manager Alex Blackman said: "We had to confine Gordy to his own tank. Snapper Turtles have a razor sharp beak which could easily take off a finger, so he could really have done his tank-mates some damage.
"Staff helping to move him had to go and get extra thick gloves to move him into his tank, and started calling him Grumpy Gordy after Gordon Brown as a joke and the name has stuck.

" I don't think it helps that, as a more mature Snapper Turtle, Gordy has quite a jowly chin and a grumpy face."

Gordy was moved to the Oban sanctuary to ease an overcrowding problem at a turtle sanctuary in Scarborough.

Mr Blackman added: "With a shell spanning 17 inches square Gordy is a hefty size for a Common Snapper Turtle. He weighs more than 30lbs so is a force to be reckoned with."
Living up to 40 years and growing up to 40lbs, the Snapper Turtle is the largest species of Freshwater Turtle to be found in the United States.

Whereas the Snapper Turtle's gentler cousins retreat into their shells when in danger, the 'dinosauresque' Snapper is an aggressive fighter with exceptionally sharp claws and beak, and will strike out at animals that threaten it in a similar fashion to snakes.

You've Been Glasgowed

Excellent article in Holyrood magazine about programmes in Cincinnati and Boston which seek to tackle gang violence.

Strathclyde Police's Chief Inspector had gone to the USA to see how their programme worked.  It was a balanced piece, highly informative and well worth a read.  You can find it here.

One American police officer told the Chief Inspector that they called a stabbing a 'Glasgow'.

As a result, one SNP MSP has decided to lodge the motion below in the Scottish Parliament:
S3M-05795 Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow) (Scottish National Party): Condemning the Phrase, Someone Has Been Glasgowed— That the Parliament condemns the phrase, someone has been Glasgowed, which is reported to be used by the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) in Ohio in the United States of America, when referring to stabbing incidents; notes its absolute disapproval of the practice of portraying Glasgow as a city of the blade; recognises the issue of knife crime in Glasgow and across the country; considers that the Scottish Government takes knife crime very seriously and has introduced a serious of measures that have resulted in the reduction of this type of crime across the city of Glasgow as a whole by over 17% in the last two years, prime examples being in Baillieston, Shettleston and Eastern Glasgow, where knife crime rates were highest but have been reduced by over 39% in the same time period; considers that the people of Glasgow are best known for their hospitality, culture and good humour; encourages officials from the CPD to come and experience these measures and Glasgow hospitality first hand, and calls on the CPD to ensure that this derogatory term is no longer used when referring to someone having been stabbed.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Dubai Assassination Tape

A lot of news coverage of this has surrounded the use of British passports.

However, this compilation of CCTV footage has been released, and it's incredibly interesting.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Threatening Behaviour

A while ago, I blogged on the possibility of the 'Lion of Scotland' sculpture being brought on loan to Arbroath. It currently sits near Holyrood Palace and the Parliament, but has to be moved by the end of April.  You can read the original post and see a 'mock up' of what it would look like here.

The subject went quite quiet for a while, but with time moving on, an Arbroath resident sought to gather support for the move to the town, and spoke to the local paper about it.

In next weeks edition, a letter was printed in response to the story.  Written in Scots, it poured scorn on the idea for various reasons, largely however, because the resident had only been living in Arbroath for 18 months (having moved up from England), and, by implication, was therefore less entitled to an opinion. He then inferred she should take it 'back to her own town'.  The letter went on in the same, rather aggressive vein for some time, before ending with the fact he would be back in Arbroath for a very brief visit and would 'fight his corner with anybody' over the subject.  Manfully, he then signed off as an 'Ex Pat'.

I was somewhat offended by the tone of this letter and wrote back. I pointed out that in my view, Arbroath belonged as much to those who had moved into the area as those of us who were born and bred here. 

I asked how the ex pat would feel if the locals in his adopted home declined to give due weight to his opinions simply because he was not from there.

The fact that he offered to 'fight his corner' over the subject whilst declining to have his name and address published was something that I was particularly critical of.

This was published on Friday, and on Monday, the intercom at my home 'buzzed'.  I answered it, and was met with vague threats etc as he stated "you've been saying things about me to the paper".  More than once he also stated I should watch myself.  He declined to give his name.  It went silent, and I ran to the window and looked out.  There was no one there.  I put my shoes on, and went down the stairs and outside, there was no sign of our 'hero'.

I gave it some thought for a day or two and e-mailed the police on the basis that when the 'visitor' arrived, my fiance had not long left, and I wonder how this fellow might have spoken to her if she was alone in the property. The police were concerned and are now investigating.

I have now found out the name of the anonymous letter writer, and although he definitely is an 'ex pat', he, and his political views remain well known.

I'll be providing updates on this as they occur.

 

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Happy Valentines Day

 

 One of the highlights of Valentine's Day for me is not the flower sending etc, it's the amount of coverage /comment it generates.

Inevitably, there are the 'History of Valentines Day' articles, with  Classics Professor Noel Lenski from the University of Colorado pointing out in the National Geographic, that in ancient Rome, the 13, 14, 15 February was a fertility festival celebrated in a rather unusual way.

Toby Young, writing for the Telegraph claims Valentines Day is 'strictly for the birds' and calls for a suitable 'male equivalent'.  It's quite funny, and you can read it here.

 One primary school in England has attempted to ban any celebrations, and you can read about it here.

Innovative PR people also manage to utilise the day for their causes.  The British Lung Foundation is offering Valentines Day sex tips, whilst over in America the 'Center of Biological Diversity' is celebrating Valentines Day by distributing 100,000 condoms to help increase awareness of the impact of human overpopulation over endangered species.  They have used some classy slogans to go with it including "Wrap with care, save the Polar Bear" and "Hump smarter, save the snail darter".  I'm guessing they didn't hire Saatchi & Saatchi to come up with that, but if you are interested in learning more, it can be found here.

The Guardian's Emma Laurence points out the worst Valentines Day gift ideas in quite an amusing article here.  Take a look, there's some belters.

I've been a bit disorganised this year, but the flowers are on their way, the card is bought, and if I can just find a restaurant that isn't fully booked, I'll be fine.  Shouldn't be too hard should it?



Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hoon to Go

News currently breaking is that Geoff Hoon is to stand down at the election. Frankly, I'm delighted to see the back of him.

Represent or not?

The Deputy First Minister has got herself into a bit of bother after writing to a Sheriff claiming that a fraudster (who had already served time for stealing almost £60k) had made a 'mistake'in defrauding the taxpayer (you and me that is) of £80k. She asked him to 'consider alternatives to a custodial sentence'.

You can read the Scotsman report on it here.

Labour MP Tom Harris has given his view of the case here, and the opposition parties are going to town on it in general.

Ms Sturgeon declined to appear on Newsnight last night, but did send Shona Robison as a sacrifical lamb representative for the SNP. It was a frankly dreadful performance which you can watch in glorious Technicolor here.

Inevitably, judgements have been called into question, and links (somewhat bizarely) have been made with 'lunchgate'.

So what will happen? Apart from the fact that it highlights once again the SNP's almost pathalogical aversion to jailing criminals, nothing at all. It's an incident that allows epic scale political posturing, but in reality it's a 'five day wonder' that won't even last that long.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Funeral Pyres

A Hindu spiritual healer has won the right to be cremated on a traditional funeral pyre after the Court of Appeal ruled that his last wishes can be carried out within existing legislation.

Davender Ghai, 71, who believes that a pyre is essential to "a good death" and the release of his spirit into the afterlife, was refused permission to be cremated according to his Hindu beliefs by Newcastle City Council and lost a challenge to that decision at the High Court in London in May last year.

But the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, who headed a panel of three appeal judges, said before delivering the court's ruling: "Contrary to what everyone seems to have assumed below, and I am not saying it is anyone's fault, it seems to us that Mr Ghai's religious and personal beliefs as to how his remains should be cremated once he dies can be accommodated within current cremation legislation."

But not, it would seem in Scotland. According to the Scottish Government's 'Consultation Paper on Death Certification, Burial & Cremation' (Which is actually an interesting read)

106. At present home cremation is not legal, however, to prevent any dispute or legal challenge the Review Group has recommended that any future legislation should specifically state that open air / home cremation is not legal. The Scottish Government is in agreement with this recommendation and will incorporate such a clause in any future relevant legislation.

I wonder if any new legislation in Scotland will be tight enough to fend off any legal challenge for a 'home cremation'? Alternatively, should provision be made for this kind of funeral?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Probation Orders

It's not exactly encouraging news that significant rises in Probation Order and Drug Treatment & Testing Order breaches have been recorded:

- Of the 6,437 Community Service Orders this year (4% increase on 2007/08) 2,113 breach applications were made to the court. That is a decrease of 2% compared with 2007/08 but an increase of 41% in the last 5 years.

- Around 31% of orders terminated resulted in a breach.

- 6,744 Community Service Orders were terminated in 2008/09 – 65% were successfully completed.

- Of the 9,072 Probation Orders (including probation orders with a requirement of unpaid work) this year (an increase of 4% compared to last year) 5,698 breach applications were made to the court, that is an increase of 23% since last year.

- About 63% of these orders resulted in a breach.

- 7,364 Probation Orders were terminated in 2008/09 – 46% were successful completed this is a decrease from last year (2006/7 58% were successful completed).

- Of the 4,306 Supervised Attendance Orders imposed, 2,208 breach applications were made to the courts.

- Breach Applications for Supervised Attendance Orders have increased by 68% from 2008/09.

- 3,936 Supervised Attendance Orders were terminated in 2008/09 – 61% were successfully completed.

- A total of 752 Drug Treatment and Testing Orders were made in 2008/09, an increase of 25% since 2007/08

- Of the 752 Drug Treatment and Testing Orders, 218 had a breach application, that is 29%.

- 542 DTTOs were terminated in 2008/09 only 40% were due to successful completion.

This really does not bode well for the SNP's grand plan of 'tough community sentences'. The First Minister certainly scored some points when he highlighted the fact that criminals were out shovelling snow when they would otherwise be in a nice warm cell with three meals a day. Perhaps he had a point. But the figures quoted above would make anyone uneasy as to just how effective these community sentences will be.

It's not just about deterring, punishing and rehabilitating criminals in my view, it's about giving the community, especially the victims of crime, confidence that the justice system works appropriately.

Right now, I don't think that's the case, and I suspect it will get worse.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Polls

TNS-BRMB Poll released today: (amended to include the Lib Dems, thank to Jeff)

Holyrood Constituency:

SNP 35 (-5)
Lab 37 (+5)
Con 13 (=)
LD 12 (+1)
Others 3 (-2)

Holyrood Regional

SNP 30 (-7)
Lab 37 (+8)
Con 12 (=)
LD 12 (=)
Green 5 (+1)
Others 3 (-3)

Figures in brackets are from the last TNS-BRMB in October 2009

Friday, 15 January 2010

Guest Post By Alex Johnstone MSP

I'm delighted that Alex Johnstone MSP has agreed to do guest post on the blog. Alex has chosen to discuss the NHS.

David Cameron this week launched the Conservative Party's draft health manifesto. This is the culmination of three years of work in which he has consistently made the NHS his priority and during which, as political parties compete with each other to threaten draconian cuts in public expenditure, he alone has held firm that the NHS budget will be protected. He has consistently fought to protect the values the NHS stands for and has campaigned to defend the NHS from cuts and reorganisations.


I remember the irony some years ago when the Labour Party were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the creation of the NHS, while conveniently turning a blind eye to the fact that, of these 50 years, all but 15 had passed under a Conservative government and that, during the limited tenure of Labour, in the late 1970's, the service was brought to its knees by, of all things, a fight between a Labour Prime Minister and the trade union movement. As the facts bear out, the Conservatives are the party of the NHS and committed to the idea at its heart – that healthcare in this country is free at the point of use and available to everyone based on need, not ability to pay. Labour promised to save the NHS but today, despite the massive increase in spending, the gap in health outcomes between the UK and the rest of Europe has actually widened.


Here in Scotland, control and responsibility for the NHS is devolved and lies with the government in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, as it has in England and Wales, the service has suffered a decade in which top-down bureaucratic mismanagement has consistently undermined the professionalism and motivation of NHS staff and skewed NHS priorities away from patient care, creating a culture where ticking boxes is more important than giving patients the treatment they need. We can’t go on with an NHS that puts targets before patients.


Conservatives understand the pressures the NHS faces. In recognition of its special place in our society, we are committed to protecting health spending in real terms – we will not make the sick pay for Labour’s Debt Crisis. That does not mean however, that the NHS should not change. When you’re more likely to die of cancer in Britain than most other countries in Europe – and when the number of managers in the NHS is rising almost three times as fast as the number of nurses – the question isn’t whether the NHS should change, it’s how the NHS should change.


Health expenditure per person in Scotland has traditionally been higher than it is in the rest of Britain. This is partly because we have some greater health problems and a disproportionate number of areas of deprivation, so the costs could be expected to be greater. This historical anomaly has resulted in a safety margin in the Scottish budget which has allowed for a limited squeeze without too much funding pain. Alas, this luxury may no longer available.


While NHS spending in Scotland is decided by the Scottish government, the money to pay for it comes from the Scottish block grant which comes from Westminster and is calculated using the Barnett formula. This means that if the NHS budget for England and Wales is protected, the same level of protection will be applied to the element of the block grant which covers health expenditure in Scotland. The decision as to how that money is spent however, lies with Alex Salmond's government in Edinburgh. While the Conservatives have made their commitment to protect the funding for the NHS, no such commitment has yet emerged from Scottish National Party.


The NHS in Scotland is something which we should all be proud of. As the pressures of funding begin to bite, things will not be easy for the men and women who provide health care in our hospitals and our communities. A new Conservative government will do every thing in its power to protect the health service, but in Scotland, an equal level of commitment will be required from the Scottish Government. The Conservatives will not turn health care into a political football – we must hear that same commitment from the Government in Edinburgh.


This commitment will also need to extend beyond the allocation of funds. In order to get the best for everyone in these difficult times, some reform of the structures to provide better efficiency, ensuring that much more of the resources reach the front line and much less goes into bureaucracy, will be necessary. David Cameron's reform plan, detailed in his Draft Manifesto, is based on the methods of the post-bureaucratic age – decentralisation, accountability and transparency. These lessons must also be learned in Scotland.

Detention For Blair II

Further to my earlier post on Bill Wilson's parliamentary motion calling for the detention and indictment of Tony Blair, the ever dependable Lord Foulkes has chipped in with this amendment (the original motion is below that):

S3W-5525.1: As an amendment to motion S3M-5525 in the name of Bill Wilson (The Illegality of the Invasion of Iraq and the Detention of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair), leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert "recalls delegations of Kurds and Marsh Arabs who visited the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s describing the torture, murder and genocide of their people by Saddam Hussein and their calls on British politicians to take action to help them; further recalls the feeling of impotence at Britain's inability to help, and therefore believes that the action taken by the UK Government led by Tony Blair and supported by a vote in the House of Commons was not only justified by the UN resolution and convention on genocide but was morally right in ridding the world of one of its bloodiest dictators and giving the Iraqi people the opportunity to elect their own government and move towards peace and prosperity.

S3M-05525 Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP): The Illegality of the Invasion of Iraq and the Detention of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair: That the Parliament welcomes the finding of an independent Dutch commission that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 "cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions, without authorization from the Security Council"; notes that data gathered by Opinion Research Business indicated that, in September 2007, approximately one million Iraqi citizens had died as a result of the invasion of that country; further notes that, according to media reports, Hans Blix considers that the invasion was illegal and believes that the former UK Prime Minister and former US President misled the public; acknowledges that, according to the High Court of Justiciary in Lord Advocate’s Reference No.1 of 2000, "a rule of customary international law is a rule of Scots law" and considers that, this being the case, the appropriate Scottish law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate the conclusions of the Dutch commission and the role of the former UK Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, in waging a war of aggression, and looks forward to his detention and indictment.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Parliament Running Costs

It has been revealed that the running costs of the Scottish Parliament in the past year amounted to £72 million.

For the financial year ending on 31 March 2009, the total revenue expenditure of the Scottish Parliament was £72 million. This figure is made up of:
• administration and property running costs for the Parliament of £19.3 million
• parliamentary staff salaries of £24.7 million
• MSP salaries of £10.4 million
• Members' costs (which enable the MSPs to obtain staff and accommodation to help them carry out their parliamentary duties) of £10.5 million.
• funding for the salaries and running costs of the Commissioners and Ombudsman of £7.1 million.

Good Put Down

I did one of the 'personality tests' on Facebook.

Seeing the supposed description of me, I got some 'you're having a laugh' e-mails from a colleague. I protested that it was in fact completely accurate.

She of course was having none of it, and it went back and forth in this vein for some time until she ended the banter with the killer line "I laughed so much at that I thought I'd have to borrow a Tena Lady from Doris (*)"

Not much you can say to that really.

(*)The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Coming Soon - Guest Posts

Three guest posts will feature on the blog soon. Tory MSP Derek Brownlee will post his thoughts on the budget, Alex Johnstone MSP will be doing a post on a subject yet to be decided and Labour activist Yousuf over at 'Yapping Yousuf' will also do a guest post, possibly next week.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Detention for Blair?

Bill Wilson MSP lodged the motion below in the Scottish Parliament today.

You may wish to pay particular attention this bit: " “a rule of customary international law is a rule of Scots law” and considers that, this being the case, the appropriate Scottish law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate the conclusions of the Dutch commission and the role of the former UK Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, in waging a war of aggression, and looks forward to his detention and indictment."


So, I presume then, that he is advocating that Scots police nip over the border, or to whichever country Tony Blair is gracing with presence, arrests him and brings him back to Scotland for a fair trial?

If the SNP are reluctant to jail anyone in the first place, and then releases an already convicted mass murderer, then what would be the point of trying to put Blair on trial?


S3M-05525 Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP): That the Parliament
welcomes the finding of an independent Dutch commission that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 “cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions, without authorization from the Security Council”; notes that data gathered by Opinion Research Business indicated that, in September 2007, approximately one million Iraqi citizens had died as a result of the invasion of that country; further notes that, according to media reports, Hans Blix considers that the invasion was illegal and believes that the former UK Prime Minister and former US President misled the public; acknowledges that, according to the High Court of Justiciary in Lord Advocate’s Reference No.1 of 2000, “a rule of customary international law is a rule of Scots law” and considers that, this being the case, the appropriate Scottish law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate the conclusions of the Dutch commission and the role of the former UK Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, in waging a war of aggression, and looks forward to his detention and indictment.

Another report on the perils of drink

Interesting article from the Press and Journal:


Another report on the perils of drink

NOT a day seems to go by without the minority Scottish administration berating the public with another damning report on the perils of drink.

We are bombarded with statistic after statistic, report after report; some cynics might suspect a desperate propaganda war was being waged to avoid another embarrassing SNP humiliation on a key party policy.

Alcohol abuse is a drain on NHS resources, but we can only guess at how much this orchestrated political spin-doctoring is costing the taxpayer. The latest alcohol figures seized on by ministers Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney were so relentlessly mind-boggling that there is a danger their audience will simply switch off.

Where are these figures plucked from and how are they worked out? We never seem to find out. It would be interesting to see how much cash for the NHS and to generate profit and jobs in retail and the drinks industry comes from the vast majority of responsible drinkers.

A huge proportion of patients are admitted to hospital with a range of self-inflicted conditions every day, from drink, obesity, drugs and recklessness on the roads to self-inflicted industrial and DIY accidents. Shall we tax them all?

Penalising the majority with a catch-all pricing policy is not the magic bullet. People will switch brands for a cheaper alternative. Ingrained cultural behaviour has to change. A sustained zero-tolerance crackdown by police, courts and the drinks industry on drunken public behaviour would be a starting point, but it’s quick and easy to raise prices and the minority administration cannot afford a bruising defeat so close to its biggest challenge of all – delivering a referendum on independence.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

E-mail from a constituent

I sometimes get e-mails from people commenting on current affairs either locally or nationally.

With the senders permission, I have published one I received last night:

Jim

Had to laugh. Just saw something on the news saying that the government is going to hand out something like 170,000 FREE laptop computers & broadband packages to 'low income families'.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but couldn't possibly be a desperate attempt to win the 'chav vote' at the up-coming general election could it, hehehe?

I don't think they've really thought this through:

1/ I spoke to one of the BT Broadband engineers today, he said the local exchange can barely cope with the demand for broadband in Arbroath, & it grinds to a halt during really busy times. Shouldn't someone suggest to the powers that be that they should sort out the internet infrastructure first? In the UK about the fastest internet we have is about 20 meg, in Seoul South Korea the government invested in broadband internet early on, & everyone has FREE broadband delivering something like 40,000 meg download speeds. For the equivolent of around £10 a month you get 100,000 meg download speeds! At Brechin Road we get 4 meg on a good day.

2/ Most of the 'low income families' already have cheap laptops, x-boxes, playstations, psp's, etc etc etc!

3/ I don't want the fekin money I paid in taxes to buy Charlie McChav a bloody laptop & free broadband!!!!!

So the next time you're in parliament, please walk up to someone from Labour, punch them REALLY hard in the face & tell them that it was from me, hehe:o)

Take care

Mark

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Not a fan of Thomas Cook then?

This somewhat hard hitting Parliamentary motion was lodged by Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson, who is clearly not a fan of travel company Thomas Cook.........

Book it, Just Don't Thomas Cook it!

That the Parliament notes the recently published report in Which? Holiday that pointed out that Thomas Cook had one of the lowest customer approval ratings of any holiday company, with complaints including poor-quality hotel rooms and unhelpful staff as well as accusations that the tour operator’s brochures exaggerated standards on offer; believes that, if the views of the 139 passengers who had the misfortune to be booked on flight TCX841L on 26 December 2009 had been included, the report would have been even more critical of Thomas Cook; understands that this flight from Las Palmas to Glasgow was cancelled without notice, that passengers were given no information for hours on end and that the flight eventually left more than 13 hours late, that passengers were told that booking conditions meant that Thomas Cook was obliged to take them only to the United Kingdom not to Glasgow and that if they did not board the flight provided to take them to East Midlands Airport they could find their own way home; recognises that the exhausted passengers included people who were ill, very young, very elderly and heavily pregnant who were apparently told untruths throughout their journey and arrived in Glasgow 20 hours late after having been bussed from East Midlands Airport to Glasgow Airport, and considers that treating customers in such a cavalier take-it-or-leave-it fashion without so much as an apology will do as much to damage the reputation of Thomas Cook as any report and that Thomas Cook needs to spend less on advertising and more on looking after its customers if it is to retain its reputation as a trustworthy company.

Hewitt, Hoon and Clarke should all face secret ballots

John Prescot's view of the new Tory poster, and the Hewitt/Hoon debacle.................

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Re-arranging the Titanic Deckchairs..........

In a somewhat dramatic knee jerk reaction to the letter from Hoon and Hewitt (Hoon of course will always be remembered for sending troops to war without adequate, or even appropriate equipment), Labourlist has called for a show of unity.

I can't help but think that when it gets to that stage in politics, then you really are in the brown stuff (did you see what I did there).

There's some classic stuff in the text:

"We must not resort to negative attacks on the basis of class war" (bit late for that is it not)

"It means that Labour must be willing to accept not everything it has done in government has been perfect" (Ya think???)

"we don’t doubt that the next four months will be difficult"
(No shit Sherlock)

"We are dismayed" (Just like the rest of us then.....)

"focus on bringing about a better future for the people of Britain." (just how many terms will it take to undo the damage you have visited on the UK)

Some commentators feel that this will blow over soon enough, though even if it does, I suspect it will cause residual damage to Labour's prospects at the next election.

The next few days will be interesting I think.

Letter From Geoff Hoon & Patricia Hewitt

The following is a letter from Geoff Hoon & Patrician Hewitt calling for a secret ballot.........

Dear Colleague,
As we move towards a General Election it remains the case that the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply divided over the question of the leadership. Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.

This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs and the Government. Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.

Strong supporters of the Prime Minister should have no difficulty in backing this approach. There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across.
Equally those who want change, should they lose such a vote, would be expected by the majority of the PLP to devote all of their efforts to winning the election. The implications of such a vote would be clear – everyone would be bound to support the result.

This is a clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest. The continued speculation and uncertainty is allowing our opponents to portray us as dispirited and disunited. It is damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy target.

In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party. It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal.

Yours fraternally,
Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt

Time to Reform Local Govt?

Further to yesterday's post where I made reference to calls for reforming local government, this letter is in today's Courier:

Sir,—I refer to John D. Thomson’s letter in which he advocates re-forming the old regional author-ities. I spent my entire working life in local authority employment, from office junior to departmental head, and I completely agree with him.

Prior to the constitution of the regions in 1975, Scottish local government was in an unsustainable mess. With the institution of the regions, sanity was restored, despite the lingering parochialism which tacked on the district authorities, when it would have been much better for the regions to have been all-purpose.

When the regions were abandoned for political reasons and replaced with yet another plethora of under-sized authorities, all with their administrative superstructures, we were once again back to something resembling the pre-1975 situation.

Now we find authorities are having to look at sharing services, lending proof to the argument there are too many local authorities for each to be self-sustaining in the provision of at least some services.

This may not be the time for a complete reform of local government but, at the next opportunity, the regions should be restored as your correspondent suggests, with a suitable division of what was Strathclyde Regional Council, as it was too big and required so many empowered sub-regions as to make them almost separate authorities.

Yet, having said that, and without giving examples, Strathclyde provided services for some parts of the region which surpassed by miles what had passed for local government before that huge region took over.

Such local government reorganisation would require yet another upheaval and might well be accompanied by other reforms in numbers, function and qualification of councillors, the need for chief executives, and other areas which could stand investigation, but local government is still very important, despite the powers and reach of the Scottish Government.

It is, therefore, time that some body or other was set up to have a thorough look at the whole system.


The correspondent makes some interesting and valid points. There does seem to be an appetite for change in order to achieve economies of scale. There is merit in this argument, although I'm not convinced that the savings will be as much as some would predict.

Questioning the need for council Chief Executives is also something that has been raised before, as well as the the qualification of councillors. The latter particularly interests me.

As Convener of a department that includes housing, I decided to go back to university to learn more about it. I was surprised to find that I'm the first Councillor ever to do the housing course, and yet what I've learned so far has been extremely useful.

As Councillors are now salaried, there may well be a case for more qualifications/training or 'continuing personal development' for elected members. Though if that would be the case at local level, is there a need for this in members of national government?

Perhaps it is time to examine the role of local government. It would be a difficult and ambitious task no doubt, but the historically high levels of local authority funding are unlikely to return, so focussing solely on delivering core services and shedding a lot of the things that have gradually been 'bolted on' to councils by central government over the years might make sense.


Time will tell.

Monday, 4 January 2010

'Cooncillor' Pay Freeze

A two year pay freeze for Councillors has been mooted, with some even going so far as to suggest that responsibility allowances are cut by 20%.

Personally, I'm pretty relaxed at the possibility of a pay freeze, and I suspect that it is going to happen whether anyone complains or not.

There is no question that money is extremely tight and hard choices will have to be made.

That said, any savings made by freezing the pay of local councillors may well count for nothing if senior (and I stress senior, as opposed to those on the more modest end of the coluncil pay ladder) are awarded a pay rise.

Iain Macwhirter states that over 800 public sector employees now earn more than the Prime Minister and comments on his blog: "Pen pushing bureaucrats in dowdy council offices, many of them virtually unemployable, are now strutting around like Fred Goodwin shooting their cuffs and demanding bonuses to give them an ‘incentive’."

Having been threatened with a visit from the Standards Commissioner for publicly criticising two council officers previously, I'll make no comment on Mr Macwhirter's thoughts.

The honorary secretary of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE) has hit back stating that the poor dears were becoming the 'whipping boys' of some sections of the media and politics.

She further added that the message sent by a pay freeze was that bosses were 'less valued' than their staff. "It's not about the money, it's the principle" she added.

Elsewhere, a threat to cap council pensions follows claims that some long serving staff have accumulated £150,000 per year pension entitlements through the final salary-linked Local Govt pension scheme.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. A look through the job section of the 'MJ' magazine 'the management journal for local authority business' shows some fairly high salaries, up to almost £200k in one example. It is debatable whether the public sector can sustain high salary levels in the face of such economic hardship, although previously, it has been argued that generous salaries were required to attract talented individuals from the private sector. I don't know how succesful this strategy has been however.

It may be that those who feel that now would be a good time re-organise local government in Scotland are right. It has been suggested that merging local authorities would bring economies of scale and substantial savings to the public purse. It's a debate that I think we are edging towards, and we may need to have it sooner rather than later.