Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Public Service Announcement

I interrupt this interruption in blogging to bring you a public service announcement. This is for the benefit of the Scottish Labour Party, as they seek some publicity over this slow, festive news period.

Right, here goes. See when the government decides not to ring-fence local council budgets for specific purposes? It doesn't mean there's less money available, or that people care less about the issue concerned. It just means councils now have the freedom to spend the money as they wish subject to some outcome agreements reminding them of their obligations, and to be held accountable for that by the voters at election time. Got that?

No? Ok, then - while the councils might spend more, less or the same as before, the point is they can now decide for themselves what to spend and on what, according to the needs of those they represent. It's exactly the same as telling people it would be good for them to spend more of their income on fruit and veg, but without feeling the need to ring-fence their money to make sure that they do, then making them buy more sprouts and spinach when what they really want is more oranges and carrots, or even the odd bar of chocolate. Treating people like adults rather than children, in other words.

That is all. I just hope I haven't given them any ideas with the bit about the ring-fencing of people's own income.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Homeward Bound

The Christmas rush to get out of London is in full swing, not helped by a number of flights out of Gatwick being cancelled last night due to the fog.

I'd taken care of my plans last week by booking a train ticket, or so I thought. After getting zero joy from the self-serve ticket machine at King's Cross, I was then informed by a harassed, if civil, member of National Express staff that there was no reservation for me. He could sell me a ticket for travel today for the same price which would let me travel on any train, but there'd be no seat.

So it was that I found myself packed in with twenty-seven others (I counted) in the space between carriages B & C of the 15:00 to Glasgow Central. It did calm down after York, but even so, it's not going to rank as one of the more pleasant journeys I've ever made. Still, only half an hour to go now.

Honourable mentions? An apology to the Geordie guy squeezed in next to me who lost some of his beer when I lost my balance at one point after Doncaster. To everyone who had to stand upright like that for over two hours for never once complaining and for staying good-humoured throughout. Also, to National Express, for letting those of us in 2nd class use wi-fi for free (GNER used to charge a tenner).

However, a special shout out must go to the lady at King's Cross, who thought that the way to get those already unable to move within the carriage to grant her an instant and unhindered path to her seat, was to complain loudly that people without reservations shouldn't be on the train in the first place. If they haven't already secured her services, I fear that the worlds of diplomacy and motivational speaking may not be mourning their loss, somehow.

Anyway, that's the holidays started for me, so blogging may be intermittent over the next couple of weeks. In common with Brian Taylor, for those who can, a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. For those who can't for whatever reason, my sympathies.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Happy Christmas"

In the end, it was clinical and decisive show of attacking power, which saw the challenger sent home with their tail between their legs and left the home fans cheering for more.

I refer, of course, to Aberdeen's 4-0 victory over FC Copenhagen, which sees them in the latter stages of a European competition for the first time in over 20 years.

A "Happy Christmas" to one and all, then!

UPDATE: Highlights of the game are now available here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Letter to the Press and Journal

The Editor
Press and Journal
Lang Stracht
Aberdeen AB15 6DF

17 December 2007


I am astounded at the idiocy being shown by Scottish Lib Dem Leader, Nicol Stephen MSP, over the proposed Trump development.

This is a project which enjoys overwhelming public support, and which has the potential to bring much good to the North East. It is a project on which Nicol Stephen himself has said he would like to see progress. Why, then, apart from as a desperate bid to seem relevant and score cheap points off the SNP government, is he now calling for an enquiry which would delay the project planning process, perhaps fatally?

It’s been clear since May that senior Lib Dem noses in Edinburgh have been put out of joint following their return to the backbenches. However, with his silly anti-SNP posturing, Stephen is playing fast and loose with the future prosperity of the North East. Lib Dem voters must be wondering just how their party has managed to fall so far from grace and relevance in such a short space of time.

Stephen accused First Minister Alex Salmond of acting with ‘cleverness’ at Holyrood last week. On recent evidence, that’s not a tag voters will be attaching to the Scottish Lib Dem leader any time soon.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Thomson
SNP Westminster Candidate
Gordon Parliamentary Constituency

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Surely Not?

Alastair Darling was asked twice today to confirm to the House of Commons exactly how the password protecting the data on the missing HMRC disks was sent between HMRC and the NAO. Twice, he refused to do so.

Why so shy? Surely it wasn't just written on a post-it note and shoved into the envelope along with the discs. Was it?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Trumped Up

A rich investor; an upscale development; the chance to immerse oneself in bureacratic procedure; the opportunity to snipe at people simply trying to do their best... Frankly, I'm hard pushed to think of a mix which could more effectively bring out the parochial, petty minded and vindictive worst in some Scots politicians. And the proposed Trump development at Menie really does seem to have it all.

Journalist Kenny Farquarson hit the nail on the head in last week's Scotland on Sunday, when he pointed out that if Trump were a Swedish tycoon famed for his Renaissance art collection, it wouldn't have caused half this much fuss. However, what's starting to bother me is the way that those who claim to support the project are now trying to turn this into an issue with which to try to smear the government.

Some facts. Local opinion is strongly in favour; the Formartine area committee of Aberdeenshire Council was in favour, as indeed is the full council. However, due to the decision of its planning committee, Aberdeenshire Council found itself prevented by standing orders from resurrecting the application. As such, you would think there might be widespread support amongst those claiming to be in favour of the project, for the government decision to 'call in' the application.

I've seen at first hand the way that Alex Salmond has prefaced his comments on the development, with a statement that as First Minister, he is debarred from making any public statement which could be construed as being either in favour or against the development. As the local MSP, though, he is bound to meet with interested parties both for and against the development. A difficult tightrope to walk, but one which he has managed to negotiate with absolute probity.

However, that hasn't stopped the suggestion. 'A government car was used to transport the First Minister to meet Trump representatives!' - yes, but this is within the rules. 'A government adviser was present at the meeting!'- er, no, it was his constituency office manager. 'John Swinney went to a function at a Trump resort, just before he called the appplication in!' - yes, he attended a GlobalScot function to promote Scottish/US business links, at which no members of the Trump organisation were present.

When the smoke clears, though, all we seem to be left with is the cheap innuendo of nonentities like Richard Baker MSP. On Scotland at Ten last night, after claiming that questions remained unanswered in this affair, he was then singluarly unable under challenge from Alex Neil MSP to say what those unanswered questions might be, or even what rules he believed may have been broken. Good to see that Baker's lost none of the political skills he picked up in his time as President of NUS Scotland. However, I can't let this pass without reference to Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen, and his slur yesterday on the Scottish Government's Chief Planner.

Stephen chose to suggest in Parliament yesterday that there was some impropriety in the fact that the planner had met with representatives of the Trump organisation to explain how matters might develop in the event that the decision was called in, and in the fact that they were present during the early stages of a phone call between the Chief Planner and the Chief Exec of Aberdeenshire Council. The Chief Planner has no right of reply to such allegations, so the prompt confirmation from Aberdeenshire Council that the Trump representatives had been asked to leave the room before any substantive discussion took place will have come as a welcome relief I am sure.

You'd think that someone like Nicol Stephen, who's faced his own difficulties with the ministerial code over previous planning issues and who has himself faced accusations of personal financial impropriety in the very recent past, might be a bit more careful before throwing the mud around. Well, apparently not. Were people really suggesting only a year ago that Stephen was a suitable candidate to be First Minister? Good grief...

Anyway, I hope common sense eventually prevails in this frenzy, and that everyone claming to have the best interests at heart of the North East, whether they care for Alex Salmond and the SNP or not, allows the planning procedure to run its course without further distraction. Frankly, this nonsense is doing nothing to improve our image around the world as a place where you can come and and get sound and sober decisions taken promptly by politicians and officials.

Press and Journal Editorial - 14 December

Aberdeen Evening Express Editorial:


'First Minister Alex Salmond is spot on in his assessment of yesterday's sleaze row as a descent into gutter politics. 'It is tiresome that Nicol Stephen is hijacking attempts to get the Trump bid back on course to score cheap political points. 'As a North-east MSP we expect him to represent the interests of his constituents, not sling mud at the expense of efforts to rescue the Menie proposals. 'Mr Stephen is hardly the one to indulge in such heckling. People in the North-east still haven't forgiven the way he presided over the bypass farce. 'Mistakes have been made, but work is now going on at the highest levels to ensure the Trump proposal is feasible. We expect our MSPs to support that'.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From The Lobby...


She [the Downing Street Spokeswoman] was asked when the Prime Minister would arrive in Lisbon tomorrow - the day of the signing of the EU Treaty. (The Prime Minister will arrive too late for the signing ceremony but will sign the Treaty. He is appearing before the Liaison select committee).

Would there be 'footage' of the Prime Minister signing the Treaty, she was asked. She replied, " I would be very surprised if there is no photographic evidence, "

What time would the Prime Minister arrive for the summit, she was asked. " He will arrive for part of the lunch. We will update people tomorrow," she said.

Did we know what was for 'pudding', she was asked.
" Humble pie, " said a correspondent. The Downing Street spokeswoman did not reply.

(From Gallery news)

Monday, December 10, 2007

In Brussels

I've been in Brussels for the past few days, for a bit of Xmas shopping and to visit SNP colleagues at the European Parliament. Given that Belgium has, as of today, been run by a caretaker government for precisely six months, I must report that it seems to be coping remarkably well. The shops are busy, the Grand Place is packed with tourists, the restaurants are full - and all this at the beginning of a week when the European Parliament is about to up sticks to Strasbourg.

The only hint you might get that something might be up is the (modest) number of Belgian flags hanging from windows in the capital. This is primarily a demonstration from the Francophone administrative elite - and not really a gesture to be found repeated in the Flemish speaking areas outside of Brussels.

I've spent most of the last couple of days in the company of Lachie Muir - a friend since we were in the SNP Students together in the mid-nineties. Lachie's been working in Brussels for variously the SNP and the European Free Alliance, for nigh-on six years now, and a shrewder observer of the Scottish and European political scenes you would struggle to find. His take on it all is that we're unlikely to see Belgium dissolve into its constituent parts any time soon, but that the problems of how to deal with Brussels notwithstanding, it is still happening slowly.

What does a state coming apart feel like? I have to confess, I'm not all that sure. Disagreements between the central and devolved governments are par for the course around the world, as are disagreements over policy and resources - what matters more is how they are dealt with. There'd also likely be, or have been, some major change in the circumstances which gave rise to the existence of the state. There would be low grade bickering over politics and proxy matters like sport, which would occasionally bubble over to take on a significance which they scarcely deserve. I suspect you'd also start to see a greater assertion of the sub-state identity, counterbalanced with demonstrations of support for the status quo.

Belgium ticks most of these boxes, as indeed increasingly does the UK. In fact, today saw the Daily Telegraph carry a lengthy interview with Conservative leader David Cameron, to mark the launch of its campaign to 'Call Yourself British'. Very sensibly, he points out to the Telegraph's largely English readership that the union provides Scotland with no financial pot of gold, and urges caution amongst those south of the border who would rail against perceived Scottish advantages. However, he shied away from any concrete proposal to resolve the West Lothian Question, and when asked to set out what the Union meant to him, chose not to look forward, but instead fell back on the imagery of WWII.

Rather insultingly, the Telegraph editorial disparages English nationalism. Yet its definition of Britishness was also backward looking and full of bombast. In a sign that it just didn't get it at all, it hinted that what had put the Union under threat was the temerity of the Scots in opting for self-government, our support for whoever was playing England in sport (not guilty-never have been), and in our 'apparently favourable' financial treatment.

According to the paper, us Brits possess a shared temper and outlook, which 'many across the world find admirable, even enviable'. And our Britishness is rooted also in 'our shared institutions and values - the sovereignty of Parliament (what happened to sovereignty of the people?), the primacy of the law and the independence of the judiciary (as opposed to all those lawless foreign Johnnies you find over the Channel, I suppose), the proud traditions of our regiments (even those recently disbanded, you presume), and the freedom and vigour of our media (ha!).

In fairness, I think I'd find difficulty in coming up with a list of things which made someone distinctively Scottish. However, even John Major would have struggled to express it in a more spirit crushing and hackneyed way than the Telegraph has managed. Fundamentally, I'm attracted by the civic notion that anyone can be Scottish no matter where they come from, providing that they want to be. I'm uncomfortable instinctively with the notion that to be Scottish or English is to be in an ethnic state of mind, and that we can only be inclusive toward others when we see ourselves as British.

That to me seems to be holding out a second-class identity to those who choose to make their lives here - that an immigrant who comes to London from overseas can become British, but can never be English. Englishness is there, it is latent, it is tangible. If Britishness is on the way out the door, it strikes me that the process is not going to be reversed by trying to suppress people's sense of Englishness.

At present, Englishness is being ceded by default to a ragbag on the political right. It needs to be reclaimed, and to become synonymous with some of the virtues being claimed currently for Britishness. I'm happy getting on with building a new and more confident Scotland, but a more reflective Englishness, shorn of the baggage of Britain, would have an invigorating part to play in helping people on both sides of the border decide both who they are and what they want to become.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Turn On, Tune In

Now this does sound interesting. Tune in to BBC Radio 4 tonight at 8.30pm GMT to hear how Scotland and rUK might go their different ways, in 'A Beginner's Guide to Separation'.

I don't care much for the title (separation from what other than governance from Westminster, for goodness' sake?). Nonetheless, if this BBC 'Magazine' article preview is anything to go by, the actual content promises to be as neutral as it gets.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"If You Want Blood, You've Got It"

I gave blood this morning for the first time in about 3 years. However, I'm sorry to report to all those Mail and Telegraph readers out there, that the experience of giving blood in Scotland is far, far more agreeable than it is in England.

How so, when the staff are every bit as professional, the procedures are identical and the facilities exactly the same? Well, the difference is in the quality of the refreshments afterwards. There's nothing wrong with orange juice and chocolate bourbons, but where's the Tunnocks teacakes and caramel logs that you get back home?

Very disappointing... I feel like someone's run off with my last wine gum... ;-)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Is On Fire..."

So. Wendy Alexander's Labour leadership campaign team accepted an illegal payment from property developer Paul Green, one of several donations which came in suspiciously below the £1,000 threshold at which the identity of a donor would have to be revealed by law. Initially, Wendy claimed not to have known about this until 1pm on Thursday last week. Once the details were revealed, the man who had solicited the donation, Charlie Gordon MSP, did the decent thing and took a tumble for his troubles.

And that was supposed to be that. However, the donation was illegal because it had come in the form of a personal cheque from Mr Green, who was not actually eligible to vote in the UK. Nonetheless, Wendy was in the clear, we were told, because she had been informed (incorrectly) that the donation had come via a UK based company, which would have made the donation legitimate had this been the case.

It then emerged on Friday that she had written a 'thank you' note to Mr Green back in October. Given that she wrote to him personally rather than via the company he was said to be donating "under the auspices" of, and that she did so to an address outside the UK, this gave us the first hint that we perhaps weren't being told the whole truth by Team Wendy.

Today, it emerged that her letter to Mr Green notwithstanding, she may have known at least three weeks ago that the donation was illegal. As a regulated donee, she bears ultimate responsibility for the donations she has received. As such, she has broken the law, and is now looking down the barrel of a criminal investigation, a prison sentence and potentially, an unlimited fine. Regardless as to the outcome of any deliberations by the Electoral Commission, her credibility is shot through entirely. Press statements might not be delivered under oath, but if she thinks the Scottish press pack has been merciless, just wait until Strathclyde CID come knocking on her door.

Yet in spite of this tissue of lies and deceit, Wendy is going to stay on as Leader of the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament, because there was no "intentional wrongdoing" and she is "confident" of being exonerated. In fact, you get the feeling that she feels a duty - an obligation even - to stay on. In her own words:

"I offered myself to lead Labour in the Scottish Parliament in the autumn because I believed and continue to believe I have a contribution to make to improve the lives of my fellow Scots".

Now, I don't want to kick someone when they're down, but this really is complete and utter humbug. The pressure to stay has nothing to do with her much-vaunted sense of mission, and everything to do with her loyalty to Gordon Brown. Consider - Wendy's timbers are now well alight, but if she falls, she'll take Harriet Harman crashing down with her (who knowingly accepted an illegal donation 5 times larger than the one causing Wendy so much difficulty just now). If that happens, the part of the barn currently sheltering Gordon Brown will quickly catch light also. And if that comes to pass, the government will be consumed in an inferno so intense that Labour will be able to salvage nothing - nothing - from the remains.

Tough choice - resign and bring your political mentor down with you, or hang on in post to try and protect him, and destroy your party's credibility in the eyes of Scottish voters? Like I said, I don't want to kick someone when they're down, but I do find it hard to feel much sympathy for her. The rules on political donations brought in by Labour are simple to follow, and were, in the main, designed with no higher principle in mind other than to stuff their political opponents. 'To be hoist by one's own petard', is, I believe, le mot juste.

TIMELINE: Courtesy of BBC News Online

Friday, November 30, 2007

Welcome To Scotland

I'm about to head off to Inverurie for a ceilidh and then to Huntly for a racenight - both in aid of funds for the SNP campaign in Gordon. However, arriving at Edinburgh Airport last night, it's impossible to describe how much my heart lifted not to be greeted by a braggart yet brittle hoarding proclaiming my arrival in 'The Best (small) Country in the World'.

'Welcome to Scotland. Edinburgh - Home of the Enlightenment' says all that needs to be said about your arrival in the capital, and beats any corporate slogan which the city has adopted for itself over the past two decades. Meanwhile, I defy anyone not to crack a smile at the Glasgow board pictured below:

Well, I defy almost everyone. Leave out the 'my six year old could do better' tendency who bump their gums at everything, and you're left with substantial critics like Anita Califano, a senior consultant with the 2012 London Olympics logo creator Wolff Olins, who opines "It all fails to convey the spirit of the place, the emotion. If the purpose of branding is to create an emotional connection, they're not doing that."

Y-e-e-e-s. I rest my case :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Goodnight, Mr Bean

It's not often you get to see a government disintegrate before your very eyes, but it's happening now all right. To seek some parallels and also for a wee bit of light relief, I went trawling through the Hansard archives to find the debate which took place on 9th June 1993.

That was the day Norman Lamont resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer, accusing John Major's Conservative government of being 'in office, but not in power'. Later in the day, Labour leader John Smith opened an Opposition Day debate which excoriated the Major government. Listing the government's failures, Smith opined that 'if we were to offer that tale of events to the BBC light entertainment department as a script for a programme, I think that the producers of "Yes, Minister" would have turned it down as hopelessly over the top. It might have even been too much for "Some Mothers Do 'Ave Them".

John Major as the Frank Spencer of British Politics? Cruel, maybe, but it stuck, and more importantly, set the tone for the remainder of his bedraggled, wretched, unlamented premiership. The question is, did Gordon Brown have his 'Frank Spencer' moment today at Prime Minister's Questions?

David Cameron's demolition was workmanlike and withering. "Aren't people rightly asking now, is this man simply not cut out for the job?", he asked. But while that might have been what everyone was thinking, it took the unlikely figure of Lib Dem stand-in Vince Cable to crystalise the image of Brown's bumbling inadequacy, when he noted "the Prime Minister's remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean, creating chaos out of order rather than order out of chaos."

It's one thing to be criticised and heckled by your opponents - indeed, it's par for the course. When they all start laughing at you like that, though, you really are finished.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Labour General Secretary Resigns

A replacement spin doctor down; the replacement for the replacement exposed as having blasted his new bosses prior to his appointment; accused by 5 former Chiefs of Defence Staff of showing contempt for the armed forces; the Director of Public Prosecutions stating that a 28 day limit for the detention of terror suspects 'suited us quite nicely'; a run on a bank; the loss of 25m people's personal and bank details...

All bad enough. But now, we have the resignation of the Labour Party General Secretary, after having been exposed as accepting donations by proxy from a Tyneside property developer, so as to circumvent the rules which Labour had itself introduced to improve the transparency of political funding.

This isn't a 'Black Wednesday' for Gordon Brown - Black Wednesday was far less damaging. This is just a black month full stop; the point at which public opinion tips, perhaps irrepairably, against the government in Westminster. Prime Minister Cameron, anyone?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Will Sentiment Endear It?

I went out twice this last week and met two different girls – let's call them Jenny and Louise. Jenny I met at a pub quiz and we started chatting after a friend and I had shoved our way into their team. After the friend had headed off, Jenny and I spent an hour flirting gently over what remained of the quiz. Then it suddenly started getting heated and serious.

Sadly, I mean in a political sense. What on earth was independence all about, she demanded? Weren't we all Brits together? Independence was all about borders and barbed wire, surely? What on earth did we want to cut ourselves off like that for? We had a Scottish Prime Minister for goodness sakes. Did we really dislike the English so much that we could no longer share a country with them?

Curses. And it had all been going so well, too.

Sensing there was no way to laugh this one off quickly and therefore resigned to a discussion about politics, I gave a quick rationale for the union as seen from 1707. The Scots wanted free trade, which was about to be denied them by the English and the Spanish, while the English wanted to secure their troublesome northern border against the threat of invasion from France. Leaving dynastic and religious concerns aside as most of us have, 300 years on, we were in a free trade block of over 500m peoples, with full access to global markets. The threat of a French invasion of England also seemed, well, remote these days, despite the fact that London can now be referred to with some accuracy as France's fourth largest city.

Over that time, Scotland had retained her unique legal, educational and ecclesiastical independence – institutions which for better or worse had shaped our country differently to the rest of the British archipelago. Scotland had always been administered differently, and as the scope of the state expanded, rather than incorporation, there was administrative devolution in 1885. The Scottish Parliament had brought proper parliamentary accountability to that administration. Accordingly, it was difficult for me to see why that administrative and political independence shouldn't also be extended to economic policy and international relations, especially when we can see on many issues that the opinions and interests of Scotland and England don't always coincide. In the end, Independence simply represented for me the single constitutional settlement superior to all others.

I appreciated that there were strong feelings, but that all my English friends and family members would still be there after independence, and my relationship with them unchanged. The economic, social and cultural links which we all valued were things which transcended politics anyway. Those which were worth preserving and which enjoyed public support would continue to thrive. Scots would still watch Wimbledon and Eastenders, and England would still be rubbish at football. For all that I had in common with folk from Wales, Northern Ireland or England, or for that matter Canada or the USA, Britishness really wasn't part of my identity, but if it could be said to be, it would be in the same sense that a Swede or a Norwegian was Scandinavian. Fundamentally, I was more concerned about the person you were than I was in where you were from.

And as for borders, Ireland had one of the most heavily policed and fortified land borders in Europe until the end of the troubles. Now, you can cross from one side to the other without even seeing a sign to tell you that you'd done so, other than to tell you you were now in Monaghan instead of Fermanagh, or Donegal rather than Tyrone. If we were 'all one people', did she feel the same sense of alienation about the existence of the Irish Republic? (No).

It's been pointed out before that all this dispassion and rationality sometimes makes Richard a very dull boy, but that's the way it is. I do get fired up emotionally and culturally about independence, but to be honest, that's never enough on its own – it's got to be both head and heart as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, this was logic in a head-on collision with feisty sentiment, and my argument did seem to placate her, but only slightly. It upset her that anyone could want independence, but I'd be lying if I denied that it upset me that my views on Independence (unexpressed all evening until that point, as it happened) had upset her.

As Walter Bagehot said of the mystique needed to sustain royalty, you do not let sunlight in upon magic. The same is true of the economic and constitutional arguments surrounding the union (at least it is if you are a unionist), for once you do, the internal contradictions of a state which has lost its reason for being become all too apparent.

Let's forget about the mad, the bad and the frankly dangerous to know (3rd article down). However poorly Gordon Brown may have articulated it in the past (2nd article down), for many people, there are huge emotional attachments to the idea of the union, even if not to the reality. Debating the economic and constitutional arguments might be all very well, but there's a sense almost of hurt building up in England that the Scots might be in some way about to reject them. Now that's no argument against independence, but it's one factor which nationalists would do well to try and ameliorate in whatever ways we can.

Anyway, I'll finish with Louise – a sociology student from London doing her dissertation on Scottish Nationalism. I'd been invited along by a mutual friend to their post-lecture drinks session as a 'primary source', if you like. Her choice of subject might have been unusual enough on its own, but when she outed herself as a supporter of independence, my curiosity was piqued – what on earth had prompted a London lass like her to give a moment's thought to Scottish Nationalism, far less to support it so strongly?

Her answer was poignant. Her father, who had passed away while she was very young, had been Scottish, and despite marrying a Londoner and bringing up his family in the city, had remained a passionate supporter of independence. She was proud of her heritage, and wanted to know more about the movement to understand a bit more about what had burned inside her father. We moved on to other subjects as the evening wore on, but her tale moved something inside even a cynic like me.

So, one for, one against, and in the end, I'm not sure how my reasons for supporting independence come close to matching the intensity, felt from different sides of the argument, by Louise and by Jenny. Ultimately, you can't let your future be governed by sentiment alone. Nonetheless, it's certainly a factor, and one we shouldn't discount, no matter what side of the debate or the border it comes from.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Move Over, Darling

So... 7.25m families - amounting to 25m individual personal records - have had their names, addresses, dates of birth, Child Benefit numbers, National Insurance numbers, and bank and building society account details lost in the post by HM Revenue and Customs.

Well, let's look on the bright side. At least it wasn't anything important like, ooh, the data for a National ID card that went walkies instead...

Monday, November 19, 2007

A 'Scottish Spring' In The Step.

The cause of Independence gained a new and very welcome convert over the weekend. Writing in the Scottish Edition of the Sunday Times, Gerry Hassan – a mainstay of Scottish Labour sympathising policy groups; leading thinker; political 'futurologist', and prolific writer and columnist - has thought the previously unthinkable and completed a personal intellectual journey from unionist to independista.

Wendy Alexander once said famously in an email to Jim Sillars that the Scottish Labour Party had not contributed a single idea to the wider Labour movement in over a century. Although that was maybe a bit harsh, there was still more than a grain of truth in the observation. However, if anyone could be said to be putting some intellectual meat on the bones of New Labour in Scotland, it was Hassan. Although he has not endorsed any other political party, for such a progressive and enlightened thinker who was so steeped in the Labour Party (he was a member for 24 years) to have rejected such a central plank of their orthodoxy and political platform, is nothing short of a hammer blow, not just to Wendy Alexander's remaining credibility, but more significantly to the credibility of the UK.

If the UK can no longer command the philosophical support of someone like Hassan, it really is endgame for the British state. Putting aside a lifetime of belief to embrace that which you previously opposed and doing so publicly takes a hell of a lot more intellectual and personal courage than most of us realise. So welcome, Gerry, and well done. Great to have you onboard at last :-)

(I typed out his ST article on my flight into Gatwick this morning. As such, any typos in what follows are most likely to be mine...)

Alex Salmond this week made the prediction that Scotland will be independent by 2017 and set out to woo the waverers he needs to achieve this. He has made these sort of predictions before, but this time things are different with the Scottish National Party (SNP) in power in Edinburgh and the Union slowly cracking up.

The argument for independence and the merits of the Union has been going on for centuries, and in contemporary times since the breakthrough of the SNP in the 1960s.

Scotland has changed dramatically and in many ways for the better, while England and the whole notion of the UK has changed for the worse. This is why I have finally come round to the view that independence is good for Scotland, the UK and internationally.

Scotland has gained a degree of self-government. Edinburgh has become a capital city with a purpose. The nation feels a more thriving, confident place. It is less white, and more at ease with diversity and multiculturalism. The arrival of an SNP administration has played a part in this change. It almost feels like a Scottish spring.

Given that many of the arguments for Scotland remaining in the union were based on finances alone, and on Scotland being incapable of governing itself, where do their proponents turn to now?

In reality, whether Scotland becomes independent or not has never been about the money. This has always been a smokescreen. It was always the case that if unionist politicians were to find that Scotland could be viable independently, they are not going to turn around and say they got their figures wrong and change their views.

The same is true of SNP politicians. If the Scottish structural deficit, post-independence, proved to be a chasm, they would not change their positions and settle for the union. It is also not about what happened in the past. The rights and wrongs of the 1707 should have little bearing on whether Scotland should be independent. Instead, we should be looking to the future.

It is striking that those who now make the case for independence are internationalist and outward-looking, whereas unionists tend to cling to British insularism and the politics of fear. It never used to be so. Nationalists used to invoke couthy, romantic notions of Scotland, while unionists felt the UK was the future. Unionists such as Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander love to wax lyrically about the progressiveness and uniqueness of the United Kingdom. They talk of a land that is a great big melting pot of multiculturalism and international values and a force for good at home and abroad. This is the kind of British chauvinism which the Labour Party has bred since it was born, ignoring the other diverse countries in the world and turning a blind eye to how we look after our own people, let alone the consequences of how we act in the wider world.

One of the worst arguments made by unionists against Scottish Independence is to invoke the age of “globalisation” and “interdependence” and patronise nationalists with being out of time and out of tune with the modern world. This is a marvellously insular British argument that ignores what has happened beyond the shores of the UK.

The past decade and a half has seen an unprecedented springtime for national across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. From the Adriatic to the Baltic and Black Seas, an astonishing 23 new independent nations have come into being. Indeed, only days after the recent Scottish parliamentary elections, the small, former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, which voted for independence in June 2006, became the 47th member state of the Council of Europe.

Small countries around the world and particularly in Europe, whether newly independent such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or nations which became independent earlier in the 20th century, such as Ireland and Norway, have all managed to be successes, economically, socially and culturally. When unionists talk about these nations – and cite the Irish success story or what has happened in Estonia – they want to talk about every factor (church v state, public investment) bar one; the fact that they are independent.

Independence has had a significant impact in bringing about change in all these countries. It may have taken the Irish several decades to embark on the road to prosperity, but the Baltic nations and many others, starting from a more rocky place than Scotland have succeeded in the transition from being part of a transnational empire to independent states.

The road to independence is as much about culture and psyches as it is about economies. Independence provides the Scots with an opportunity to develop a new national narrative, a story which motivates and inspires us, and includes most elements of Scottish society, with a sense of purpose and mission.

This would be exciting and emboldening for most people in Scotland and not without some risk. However, the opportunities are so much more. Scottish independence would be good for Scotland, good for the United Kingdom, dealing a crucial blow to the deformed nature of Westminster and British politics, and good internationally, weakening the Atlanticist nature of British foreign policy.

I would like to contribute a small part to this.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Some Thoughts On The Budget

Well, this was the point where it was all supposed to fall apart for the SNP. The wheels would be off, the honeymoon would be over - this would be where the SNP would finally be exposed for the charlatans they really were. A nation which had elected the SNP in haste would thereafter be left to repent at leisure. Chaos would ensue, the government would fall, and after a rude interruption, LibLabbery would once more arise resurgent, ushering in the reign of Queen Wendy and a new era of perpetual peace and prosperity for her loyal subjects.

This budget should have happened at least a couple of months ago, but was delayed by the tardiness of what was then thought to be the pre-election Comprehensive Spending Review at Westminster. In the interim, there's been a bit of a vacuum politically - a phoney war if you will. So when the numbers were crunched post-CSR and it became clear that Scotland was in line for some of the lowest spending increases since the early 1980's, opposition parties were ready to leap like hungry hyenas on anything which suggested that the SNP manifesto might not be implemented in full.

In the end, the SNP has done better than most people, friend or foe, could have expected. Highlights include a deal with COSLA to recommend a council tax freeze and to advance policies on reducing class sizes in P1, 2 and 3; a cut in business rates, before their eventual abolition for businesses with a rateable value of under £8,000; prescription charges being abolished; and transport spending increasing to deliver much needed road and rail improvements around the country.

Of the pledges that had to be modified, I'd have liked to see student debt written off, but without the support of any other parties in the chamber to do this, it was always dead in the water. I am pleased though that tuition fees have finally gone, and that student grants will be reintroduced. And on police numbers, with something like 2,300 officers eligible to retire in the next 3 years and working practices which mean only 7.5% of officers are on patrol at any one point in time, any commitment to delivering 1,000 new officers (it was always more officers, incidentally) was always going to be meaningless without a focus on recruitment, retention and redeployment. That's what's now going to happen, and I find it hard to see how anyone could reasonably object, or think it desirable to continue with existing practices unreformed.

In the end, with his response, Iain Gray flopped for Labour, his turgid speech simply recycling the previous two months nonsense about sums not adding up and promises supposedly being broken. Nicol Stephen was even worse, saved from national ridicule only by some judicious BBC editing before his contribution was broadcast on the evening news. Andy Kerr shrieked and shouted when his turn came, in the process losing any vestige of gravitas he may once have carried as a former Health and Finance Minister. Meanwhile, south of the border, the commentariat seem unable to set these measures in any context other than a desire by the SNP to irritate our southern neighbours (eh?) who, as everyone knows, will be the ones picking up the tab (yeah, right - keep taking the tablets, boys and girls).

Anyway, now the process of scrutiny in committee begins. It used to be that Labour could damage the SNP simply by putting on their most serious faces and claiming that the sums didn't add up. Well, no more, and with former Minister Rhona Brankin MSP resorting to silly 'points of order' to try and score the points which her leader previously failed to score in the chamber, whatever shred of a scintilla of an iota of a smidgen of the plot which Labour may have retained, has now surely been lost.

This was a watershed. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have the power to vote down this budget, but not to vote down the government (they need a 2/3rds majority to do that). However, if the budget is voted down leading to a vote of confidence, it would be very tempting for the SNP to vote themselves out of office and force an election. After the SNP showing that they can govern and put together a sensible budget which seeks savings, cuts taxes and delivers spending to where it is really needed, the unionist parties would really need to have overdosed on the bravery pills to want to face the country in the New Year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sent For Re-Education?

Spot the difference:

8:20 am: Labour Security Minister Admiral Lord West tells the BBC that when it comes to detention limits for terrorism suspects, he still needs "to be fully convinced that we absolutely need more than 28 days".

9:30 am: After a meeting with Gordon Brown following the above interview, Admiral Lord West seems to have been fully convinced, saying that: "I personally, absolutely believe that within the next two or three years we will require more than [28 days] for one of those complex plots".

Here's the transcript, courtesy of Gallery News, from this morning's Lobby Briefing. I don't envy the press officer trying to argue here that 2+2=5, that black is white and that the earth is in fact flat. Surely, though, this sort of bilge just demeans every intelligent adult?

The spokesman was asked, " Does the Prime Minister have full confidence in Security minister Lord West."

He replied, " Yes. I think Lord West's statement speaks for itself. It was necessary to ensure that his position was properly understood."

What had made him change his mind, he was asked.

" I am not sure he has changed his mind, " he replied. " There is no contradiction. Lord West has given his views quite clearly in the second statement. He said on radio that it was possible to build up a good case for extending the detention period beyond 28 days. That is Government policy as long as it is accompanied by stronger and tighter parliamentary and judicial oversight."

He was asked if the Prime Minister's 'powers of persuasion' had been employed in encouraging Lord West to issue the second statement. The spokesman replied, " Lord West made clear his potion in his second statement. I will let Lord West's words speak for themselves."

It was put to him that the way Lord West had been treated by the Government had 'destroyed his credibility'.

He replied, " I do not think that is the case."

He was asked if there were 'any induction courses' for ministers who were not formerly politicians.

The spokesman replied, " Lord West is a very experienced individual, a former First Sea Lord and a security expert. He has a lot of experience of speaking in public."

Were there any plans for Lord West to give further interviews today.

" Not that I am aware of, " he replied.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Galileo - Go Figure

I bought a satnav for the car last week. Nothing fancy, but as well as doing the whole showing you where you are thing, it gives you live traffic reports, speed camera alerts and works as a handsfree kit for your mobile into the bargain. In short, it's everything a parliamentary candidate could possibly want to help stay on route, on time and on the right side of the boys in blue.
Most impressive of all, though, is the accuracy. When GPS first came on the market, the signal was 'fudged' by the US military so that for civilian applications, you would only be able to tell where you were to within 100m or so. Now, thanks to the removal of this restriction and a correction system known as EGNOS, even cheapo units like mine can be accurate to within a couple of metres. While you still wouldn't use it to walk atop a narrow mountain ridge in the fog, as the blurb says, it does make GPS 'suitable for safety critical applications such as flying aircraft or navigating ships through narrow channels'.

Three cheers then, for the EU and the European Space Agency for developing this initiative? Well, yes and no. Not content with improving the existing, free GPS system to a level which would satisfy the most demanding non-military users, they seem intent on ploughing on with the Galileo project - a European Satnav system which would duplicate, in all but a few aspects, that which the self-same European agencies have now enabled GPS to do perfectly well.

Galileo was budgeted at a cost of €4bn (£2.7bn) as recently as May 2007, which, it was claimed, would have needed to come out of the public purse if the project were to go ahead at all. However, in a report published this morning by the House of Commons Transport Committee, the cost is now being put at €7.96bn (£5.5bn) to build and launch, with a total operating cost until 2033 of €14bn (£9.68bn).
Ouch - and all this, remember, for something which will only really do what with a few tweaks, we can already get GPS to do. But there's more - just flicking to page 11 of the report, we can see the Committee's lack of confidence even in this forecast, when they remark that:

"The estimated and outturn costs of the Galileo programme have increased at every stage of its history. We have no reason to believe that even the very substantial costs now estimated for the total programme bear any significant relationship to the likely outturn".

In fact, the report comes as close as anything I've ever seen to telling a Government to bail out of a project:

"The jury is out on the continued rationale for Galileo"; "The evidence provided by the Commission is scant, and gives no real thought to crucial risks and alternative options"; The history of the programme provides a textbook example of how not to run large scale infrastructure projects"; "British taxpayers will be paying around 17% of the cost of Galileo"; "The government must work to ensure that common sense and good governance are reinstated"; The time has come for the government to initiate a reappraisal of other large EU projects to ensure that the Galileo fiasco is not repeated elsewhere, outside the limelight".

And so say all of us. Lets be honest - private involvement in Galileo foundered because the sector thought the revenue forecasts over-optimistic and the risks too high. Even the likely public sector users of the system are showing little enthusiasm, as are the consumers already happy with their accurate to 2 metres GPS handsets.

Expect to hear, as with the EARL project and Edinburgh trams, that so much has already been spent that we have no choice but to continue with the project - the Magnus Magnusson defence of 'I've started so I'll finish', if you will. Well, as our Professor drummed into my accountancy class, sunk costs are exactly that - sunk, and shouldn't be considered when deciding whether or not something represents a worthwhile investment into the future.

The rest of the EU can do what it likes with this vanity project, but not a penny more of Scottish or British taxes should be spent on this folly.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ya Beauty!

Fantastic news - Glasgow is to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games!

Since most of the facillities are already in place, hopefully we can focus on regeneration and on making these the best games yet. If it has the same effect on young folk as the 1986 games in Edinburgh had on my friends and I, it'll be worth every penny and more of the £288m cost.

Anyway, there'll be a few celebrations tonight, I'll wager. Today, we're all Weegies ;-)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Friend Writes

Just had this email from a friend regarding this story on the London Olympics:

"£496m for what will, in the end, be a 25,000 seater stadium. I think Mad Vlad's plans for a £50m stand at Tynecastle appear to have been better thought through and costed than this.

"Here's my breakdown of how the new design will pan out: A sunken bowl - so the drainage will be rotten. 55,000 temporary seats - just like the wendy house behind the goal at Brockville? A roof that covers 2/3 of spectators - 1/3 not covered?? That's well designed forthe London weather. A curtain wrapped round the ground to offer extra protection i.e. a big bit of canvas. Catering and merchandising will be grouped into self-contained 'pod' structures - otherwise knows as burger vans...

"I hope those grannies in Scotland getting free prescriptions don't take any funding away from this masterpiece of design".

There's no answer to that, really...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How Do I Get In? Pass...

It's the state opening of Parliament today at Westminster, and the place is surrounded with a ring of barriers and heavily armed police. Which obviously meant that it was a good day for me to pick up my security pass for Holyrood on my way out of the house this morning, instead of my security pass for the House of Commons.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Huntly Hairst

I've just returned from spending the weekend in Huntly at the 'Hairst' - the town's Halloween celebrations. It began for me early on Saturday afternoon, wobbling through the town on a bike; continued with me watching Huntly hammer Fort William 8-1 in the Highland League later in the afternoon; before finishing up the evening in a giant 'strip the willow' in the town square to the sound of the Strathspey Fiddlers.

The bike episode was all part of the Huntly Food Trail, where I was part of a group which included local councillor Joanna Strathdee and the star of the event, TV cook Nell Nelson. Our tour took in the Strathbogie Bakery (tasting shortbread) Forbes Raeburn Butchers (haggis and a dram), Deans (more shortbread), Rizzas (ice cream), and Duncan Taylor & Co (even more whisky - it's a dirty job!). Anyway, it was a great event to promote the town and local business, and I look forward to being there again next year.

I'm back down the road again tomorrow. In the meantime, though, here's a shot of the River Don which I took on my way back south earlier tonight.

You don't really get a sense of it here, but as I came round the corner, it looked as if the river was flowing bright red. I probably just got there 5-10 minutes too late for my camera to be able to take a really stunning picture.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Oops... He Did It Again!

Poor Alex Fergusson. After yesterday's pantomime in the Scottish Parliament, he's now managed to muck up something much more important - by miscalling the draw for the CIS Insurance Cup Semis.

Still, as a Stranraer supporter, he's probably not used to having been involved in the latter stages of too many football tournaments :-)


An interesting story reaches me regarding yesterday's statement at Holyrood, or rather the lack of one, on the SNP government's decision to end the 'right to buy' for tenants in new social housing. Incensed at the apparent 'leaking' of the announcement before it could be made in Parliament, Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson decided that Cabinet Secretary Nicola Sturgeon would no longer be allowed to make her statement, and that it would instead be taken as read.

While there's no doubt a debate to be had about how much information should be in the public domain before announcements are made to Parliament, whichever way you look at it, this was still a bit embarrassing for the SNP. Tut-tut, slap wrists, go and stand on the naughty step etc. But the best was yet to come.

It later emerged that Labour had issued a press release congratulating the Presiding Officer on taking up THEIR complaint (the implication being that the PO would not have acted without their intervention). But better still, had done so BEFORE the Presiding Officer had even made his ruling public, thus breaking the self-same principle of which they had already accused the SNP of breaking. When challenged on this by the SNPs Alex Neil, the PO apparently did not answer himself, but instead allowed Labour's Jackie Baillie to make a short statement masquerading as a Point of Order, which offered only a heavily qualified apology and threw more mud at the SNP.

Yes, someone on the SNP side probably overstepped the mark somewhere, but when you have the PO declaring that your opponents are, as they say, caught bang to rights (whether they really were or not), it takes a special type of incompetence to then land yourself in it like that. It looks like opposition is a role Labour is still having to learn.

UPDATE: The Official Report is now online. Jackie Baillie's histrionic self-justification needn't detain us, but I do want to draw your attention to David McLetchie's acid put-down of the Presiding Officer. Given what we now know about Ms Baillie's own discourtesy to Parliament and Fergusson's apparent reluctance to censure her for her troubles, it was a barb which he thoroughly deserved to receive.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Can I draw your attention to a press release that was issued this afternoon by Labour in the Scottish Parliament? It was issued at nine minutes past one o'clock and was about your decision not to allow Nicola Sturgeon to make her statement on housing.

The press release states:

"Following representations from Labour's Business Manager Jackie Baillie MSP, the Presiding Officer has decided to cancel the Health Secretary's statement to Parliament."

Is it right, Presiding Officer, that the Labour Party should issue advance notice in that way, before you have had the opportunity to impart your decision to the full Parliament? Is it in order for anyone in this Parliament to try to give the impression that your decision is based on their representations rather than on your own independent powers of judgment?

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Ms Baillie has indicated that she would like to respond to that. I think it is appropriate that she should do so.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am sure that the chamber agrees that I would not—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order. Please allow Ms Baillie the courtesy of listening to her response.

Jackie Baillie: I hope that the chamber agrees that I would not at any point want to be discourteous to the Parliament or, indeed, to the Presiding Officer. If that has been interpreted as being the case, it is a matter of personal regret. I would take full responsibility for the inadvertent release of a press statement in my name. I wish to make it absolutely clear to the chamber that, in line with the standing orders of the Parliament, the ultimate decision on whether the statement was heard was for the Presiding Officer, and for him alone.

I hope that members and you, Presiding Officer, recognise that I would not abuse this Parliament, unlike some others in the chamber. Frankly, despite Alex Neil's best attempt at smoke and mirrors, there is no getting away from the central reason behind your ruling today, Presiding Officer. That view is shared by all the parties in the chamber, bar one.

The Scottish National Party Government has been found out today. It has no regard for this chamber. It appears to have quite deliberately

Col 2892

released information into the public domain before coming to the chamber. That, as you pointed out today, Presiding Officer, is indeed wholly unacceptable.

David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): Further to the point of order, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether, given that your statement was leaked in advance, you should have made it at all.

The Presiding Officer: I think it is best if this matter is left and we move on, but I will say just one thing: any suggestion that the ruling that I made earlier was in any way influenced by any other party is very wide of the mark. I think that we should move on to other business.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Most Expensive Weekend Of The Year

Has just started for me. Yes, folks, it's SNP conference time again, and the orgy of argument, agreement, eating out and drinking till all the hours discussing who's up and who's down, is now underway.

I flew up from London yesterday afternoon, arriving in Aviemore just in time to see Aberdeen lose to Panathanaikos. Anyway, things improved thereafter, as familiar face after familiar face burst through the door of the Cairngorm Hotel as the night wore on, turning it into a kind of 'This Is Your Life' occasion. Of course, for lots of us footsoldiers, the Conference is a big event in our lives. Quite apart from the politics, it's a chance to let your hair down a bit and catch up with the folk whom you haven't seen for months or even years.

There's over 1,000 delegates registered to attend this year, which has made getting a seat in the auditorium difficult. There's a couple of debates I want to speak in tomorrow, but before I can, I'll need to get hold of some of the Gordon Constituency representatives so that I can get registered as one of their delegates. There's also the North East reception tomorrow evening, at which myself and Banff & Buchan candidate Eilidh Whiteford are going to be saying a few words. An hour or two back at the hotel to gather my thoughts may be in order.

Anyway, there's more nonsense planned for this evening. A good dinner needs to be had (there's an extra hour to be had in the pub tonight, after all), and then I think it'll be back to the pub to chew over the day's events. I'm also told that there's a picture of myself and Alan Cochrane of the Daily Telegraph in conversation from last night, for which captions are now being solicited. The best one to date has been: 'At last, Cochrane meets someone more right-wing than he is'.

It did come from my good friend and Convener of our Trade Union Group, Chris Stephens, so these things are all relative... :-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Partisan Interest Above The Public Interest"

So, it's now official. Douglas Alexander has contrived to make a mess of 1) an election which did take place and 2) an election which didn't take place. Is there no beginning to this man's talents?

And as Secretary of State for International Development, he's also now the figurehead for this initiative. Heaven help us all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Huntly, Harleys and the Perils of a Dual Mandate

I was at Harlaw Park in Inverurie on Saturday, home of the Locos, to watch the SFA Challenge Cup Final between Huntly and Deveronvale. My mission for the afternoon was to escort the First Minister, and to make sure that everything ran smoothly for him. Luckily, Locos had organised everything perfectly down to the very last detail, so all I had to do in the end was sit down and watch the game.

It did highlight the peril for Alex Salmond of having a dual Holyrood/Westminster mandate, though. Huntly is in his Gordon Constituency for Holyrood, but Deveronvale play out of his Banff and Buchan Westminster seat! I had no such qualms, though – Huntly play in the constituency I hope to represent after the next election, so as far as I was concerned, with no disrespect to the Vale, it was Huntly all the way.

And in the end, it was Huntly who triumphed after what was at times a hard fought but clean game. They took the lead early on, and to be honest seldom looked like losing it. They were first to just about every ball and just looked altogether more up for it throughout the game than did Deveronvale. Their spirit was epitomised with just minutes remaining by their striker, Keith Reid, who fearlessly went head to head with a centre-back twice his size for an aerial ball.

He came off worst in the clash of heads that followed and was unconscious by the time he hit the deck. We all started to fear the worst when he complained of neck pains after coming round. However, the news from the hospital later that evening seemed to be that apart from it having been a nasty clatter, there was no lasting damage done. I hope he gets to join the celebrations with his teammates sooner rather than later!

I spent Saturday night out in Huntly with local SNP Councillor Joanna Strathdee and her partner, Mike, watching the Rugby World Cup. To blow the cobwebs away the next day, we went out on their Harley Davidsons for a quick blast round the area. Sadly, I was a pillion passenger, since I've never quite got round to getting my full bike license. One of these days, though :-)

Anyway, I was back on the redeye on Monday morning for a full day’s work, then went off to Brixton Academy at night with my mate Rich and his girlfriend Nicola to see The Bloodhound Gang and Bowling For Soup. I’ve also been offered tickets to go and see Runrig tonight at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Tough choice - concert or hot bath and collapsing in front of the telly? Normally, Runrig would win out of the park, but unless I go home first, I’d have to go in a suit. And it’s going to be a heavy week anyway, what with the whisky olympics SNP Conference being held in Aviemore…

Social events. Like busses, sometimes.

Tech Problems

The more observant may have noticed that I changed the domain name for this blog a couple of weeks or so ago. I annexed as my own little bit of cyberspace a few years ago, and after Blogger introduced a feature to let you use your own domain, that's what I decided to do with it.

Unfortunately, at some point on Friday/over the weekend, the domain seemed to crash. I haven't had time to investigate properly yet (I suspect the host – everything that goes wrong with it is nearly always their fault), so in the meantime, the old url is back up and running.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wrong Korea Move

Oh dear. No sooner had Alex Salmond suggested that the Scottish Government should seek observer status in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty talks scheduled for next spring, and Pavlov's dog, AKA David Cairns, started yapping:

"Another week, another conflict. Alex Salmond prefers posturing on the world stage to delivering on bread-and-butter issues. He should be funding 1,000 extra police officers and sorting out the mess over free personal care. Instead he seeks to cavort across the world stage with his discredited looney left policies."

Yes, David. Nuclear disarmament will be the same 'discredited, looney left policy' to which your party membership commits itself every time it gets the chance; which is supported by a majority of your party's Scottish MPs and MSPs; which is supported by a majority of Scots and which is also supported by the Catholic Church. You know, the church in which you were once ordained as a priest...

But I wonder who the 'Scottish Office source' could be, who offered the following asinine comment: "For Alex Salmond to seek an alliance with Iran and South Korea is an unpardonable folly".

Yes, yes. I know they meant North Korea. But it seems that in this instance, the knee jerked so violently that the Labour source who didn't want to be named managed to injure themself instead of the SNP. I've heard of people making wrong Korea moves, but honestly... :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Patsy – And Everyone Kens It

It’s not been a good week for the Lib Dems, but spare a thought for their Orkney and Shetland MP, Alasdair Carmichael. On Monday afternoon, his party leader Menzies Campbell decided to call it quits. Later that evening, Carmichael was to be found snarling and spluttering his way through a Newsnight Scotland interview, lashing out left right and centre at those whom he deemed responsible for the end of Ming’s Dynasty.

His repeated shouting down of presenter Glenn Campbell was inexplicable. However, most extraordinary of all was his attack on fellow interviewee, Scottish Editor of The Times, Magnus Linklater, whom he accused personally of undermining Campbell on the grounds of age – an utterly risible suggestion given Linklater’s own vintage, well-known Lib Dem sympathies and long-standing personal friendship with, er, Menzies Campbell!

However, there’s another story involving Carmichael, this time relating to Foot and Mouth which emerged only late last night. As such, it is not covered very extensively in today’s papers, so please bear with me, while I set out the background:

On 10 October, given the plight of Scotland’s ‘light lambs’ following the foot and mouth movement restrictions, the Lib Dems were urging Scottish Ministers to ‘stand up for Scottish farmers’. When First Minister Alex Salmond did exactly that, revealing that an £8.1m compensation package intended for Scottish farmers had been withdrawn by Westminster over the weekend, the Lib Dems then complained that the SNP government was ‘grandstanding’, and that by publicising Westminster’s change of heart, what they were doing could only ‘harm government links’.

You can see how the Lib Dems were hoping that this story would pan out: ‘Typical SNP, always picking fights with Westminster for their own partisan ends… only the Lib Dems can be trusted to….. blah, blah, blah’. So to try and reinforce the point, Carmichael decided to arrange and put himself at the head of a cross-party and farmers’ delegation to Hilary Benn and DEFRA, which would ‘repair the damage done by the SNP in Edinburgh, and bring about an early resolution of this critical issue, which will benefit Scotland’s crofters and farmers’.

His initiative was greeted enthusiastically by a Labour Party feeling the heat over the SNP’s refusal to cover up a blatant attempt at electoral bribery. In particular, it was embraced by Scottish Secretary Des Browne, who went out of his way to reciprocate the love-in at Scottish Questions yesterday. It was all set up - the SNP would be made to look like constitutional wreckers, while the Lib Dems would be allowed to pose as an effective voice of reason, and would come away with some beads and knives for their trouble.

What a shame, then, that no-one told Agriculture Minister Hilary Benn, who according to James Withers, the Deputy Chief Exec of the National Farmers Union Scotland, told the delegation that the problem facing farmers north of the border was "not big enough" to merit any compensation, and effectively “washed his hands” of the problem. As one MP allegedly put it to Benn during the meeting, “As a unionist, you’re not leaving me with much”. But really, what more did they expect?

So, despite all the posturing and politicking, Carmichael too has been told to get lost by Westminster. The difference is that Carmichael and his party, through their naivety and willingness to grandstand against the Edinburgh Government, have shown that when it comes to a choice between standing up for farmers, or standing up for Labour, their priorities certainly aren’t with the farmers.

So – leaderless, directionless, guileless… the charge sheet just keeps growing. Meanwhile, Scotland is kept waiting for Westminster to face up to its constitutional responsibility to offer compensation. Having walked away from government in Edinburgh and Cardiff, after the events of the last week it seems that the Lib Dems are walking towards irrelevance at Westminster as well. Really, what purpose do they serve any more?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Menzies Campbell Statement

Rumours sweeping Westminster that there's to be a statement in the hour about Menzies Campbell's future as Lib Dem Leader. More soon.

UPDATE 18.35: He's gone. And the press conference is being led by Simon Hughes and Vince Cable, who is to act as interim leader. The process for electing a new leader will be announced tomorrow.

Both have just exited stage left, refusing to answer questions of "Did you wield the dagger?". Given Campbell's role in Charles Kennedy's eventual departure as Lib Dem leader, it reinforces the proverb that 'you can build a throne of bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long'.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Scotland v Ukraine - first two goals

Had to be done :-)

Scotland - Ukraine 3:1 McFadden goal

Again, had to be done :-)

"Sit down, and behave yourself, Sit down..."

I went out to watch the Scotland-Ukraine game yesterday in the Rob Roy. After getting drenched by other people's spilled drinks twice inside the first ten minutes, we decided to adjourn to the bar across the road for the second half. It was packed as well, but you could at least get served and move your arms. But when goal number three went in, this place erupted as well.

Fair to say the landlady wasn't best pleased. However, karma was restored when one guy standing on the seats and ignoring the landlady's requests to get down, was subject to a collective musical admonishment from the rest of the pub of "Sit down, and behave yourself!". Result? One shame-faced fan, newly positioned on his rear end, and one landlady now beaming from ear to ear.

There's been a few other people who could have benefited from similar injunctions this week. No sooner had the Comprehensive Spending Review been announced, before Labour figures were out and about spinning that this was a remarkable financial settlement for Scotland, but that the SNP wouldn't be able to meet their spending commitments. Labour good, SNP bad. Four legs good etc ad nauseum.

I'd have thought that they might have confined themselves to boasting of their own financial prowess, rather than trying to slate anyone else. However, it all fell to bits for them as the Scottish Government was able to show that the £7.2bn figure over 3 years being trumpeted by, amongst others, Scottish Secretary Des Brown, didn't take account of inflation; was calculated from a spending baseline reduced in advance (thus making any spending increases look bigger than they actually were); and relied on the old Labour trick of double and triple counting money (year 1, plus year 1 plus year 2, plus year 1 plus year 2 plus year 3 - great, eh?).

Next up, it was Hilary Benn and DEFRA. Despite being a mainly English department, animal welfare is a reserved issue, meaning that when there's compensation to be paid out as a result of the restrictions from foot and mouth disease, it's DEFRA that has to foot the bill. No ifs, no buts - that's how it works and that's how it is in the Scotland Act.

Due to the movement restrictions and the current export ban, there are tens of thousands of sheep, in particular the 'light lambs' bred for export to southern Europe, now facing starvation due to lack of fodder. Because the grazing and climatic conditions are different in Scotland to most of England, a herculean effort was made to try and convince English Ministers and officials that unless action was taken, sheep would be left starving to death on the hillsides.

Scottish Agriculture Minister Richard Lochhead tried to contact Hilary Benn at least 3 times last week, but not once were his calls returned. Strange, you might think, when in a draft statement from Friday to be delivered to the Commons on Monday, Benn was planning to announce an £8.1m package for Scottish farmers which had been agreed by the Treasury. However, by the time the statement was made, the compensation scheme was announced for England only, with the devolved administrations being told to fund, at least initially, their own disposal schemes.

Of course, that Friday everyone was expecting a general election, but by the Monday, Gordon Brown had called the whole thing off. A coincidence? Well, I'm more inclined than most to give people the benefit of the doubt, since cock-up is usually a lot more prevalent in most organisations than conspiracy. But here, the Westminster government has been caught bang to rights, and their squeals of indignation at being rumbled are as ridiculous as they are unjustified.

We've got junior nobodies in Westminster jumping up and down, fulminating about 'breaches of confidence', and 'playing politics'. We've even had some silly suggestions that the Scotland Office will henceforth vet all government documents 'to make sure Alex Salmond can't make mischief with them', and a lot of hand-wringing nonsense about how bad relations now are between the Scottish Government and Scotland Office, which of course is all the fault of the SNP.

Well, the 'vetting' initiative will last about a week, if it even starts at all, simply because neither ministers nor officials have the time, or the appetite to wade through everything on its way to Edinburgh. And even if they did, the outrage that would come back on them when important information reaches Scottish Ministers and officials late, would destroy any vestage of credibility which they might seek to salvage from this week.

The difference we have seen over the past week is that while Jack McConnell's Executive would simply have gone along with the exaggerated spin about funds available form the CSR and kept quiet about the 'now you see it, now you don't' foot and mouth compensation, the SNP government has no such qualms. Those informal, internal Labour networks which allowed information to be shared and conflicts 'resolved' are now no longer there. Good - on the evidence of the last few months, it seems that their only purpose was to keep everyone thinking that Scottish interests were being served well, even (and especially) when they were not.

That's a huge step forward in my view, and one which only goes to show 1) how timid the previous government was in its dealings with Westminster departments 2) the subordinate nature of the relationship and 3) the need for more formalised lines of communication if devolved government is to work as well as it can. On reflection, a collective chant to Alasdair Darling, Des Browne and Hilary Benn to "Sit down, and behave yourselves" might actually be a bit too mild. How about "Same old Labour, always cheating" instead?

P.S. Wendy Alexander's been very quiet this week, don't you think?