"They are wheeling high above their nest in a snapped-off Sitka spruce, the two white-tailed sea eagles, and they are immense. One drifts lower towards the nest, lazily, dreamily. Then with a dip of its shoulder the other is dropping faster towards it with talons extended like an aircraft's landing gear."
30 May 2005
"What really goes down the pan with Giscard's discard? The difficulty has always been that this desert of text conceals only an arid agenda for change. Take away a European foreign minister, a full-time president of the European Council, scrapping of various minor vetoes and, after 2014, a smaller commission, and what have you got? Not a fat lot: a charter of rights that may or may not make a difference, some added powers for national parliaments they may or may not choose to exercise, better security planning that will probably happen in any case.
Of course it would have been better to sign up and move on. Of course rejection presages turmoil. But the blow is emotional and symbolic, rather practical or fatal.
Europe's single foreign supremo was never going to supplant his British, French or German masters when the chips were down on vital issues like Iraq or relations with Bombardier George W Bush. He'd only be managing the small change of consensus and cooperation. No match for Condoleezza Rice - just as, come to think of it, Ms Rice is no match for Colin Powell, because the second Bush administration has already lost clout and direction.
Does it make sense to have a more permanent president or chairman of the council based in Brussels, rather than swap Europe's titular leadership every six months? Yes: but the sense is administrative, not ideological (and hardly crucial, except as a job opportunity for retired prime ministers). Are many of the scrapped vetoes important? No, even our own, dear Tory party
wouldn't claim that."
29 May 2005
"In Blair's Britain, the dissolute Prince Hal would either be sent to Sandhurst or Feltham Young Offenders' Institution, having first been issued an Asbo for setting on a rival gang while disguised in a buckram hoodie. The whole of Eastcheap would be designated an alcohol disorder zone, the binge-drinking of sack would be outlawed, and Falstaff would be starved of calorific capons until conforming to the government's body mass index target. What actually happens is that the prince heeds his father's advice and his own conscience and becomes the Steven Gerrard of Shrewsbury field.
The odd thing is that politicians could take more credit than they do for public optimism and rejuvenated cities. Instead, a respect-crazed administration has been founded on a feelbad strategy in which young people are demonised, violence exaggerated, prisons filled beyond
bursting point and teenagers constrained by mad curfews, all in the cause of slaking government paranoia.
It may be rash to judge a national climate on some upbeat theatre and a few thousand football fans high on luck, alcohol and miracles. It is not, however, half as daft as shaping Armageddon from falling crime figures and a misconceived war on children."
"Workers face a spectrum of rudeness - from sexual harassment to fury at unsolicited sales calls, to open racism. Industry analysts have seen the phenomenon of racist clients grow in recent years, as customers in the UK and the US become increasingly sensitive to the political issue of jobs outsourced to India."
While no-one would condone racist abuse, the daily unsolicited calls I receive from ill-trained Indian call centre operators seem designed to test my patience. But I do not abuse them any more or any differently than the British call centre operators whose teams are forever in my area to fit new windows or who want to know what kind of kitchen I would instal. And the pre-recorded calls advising me of my competition winnings are frustratingly impervious to abuse.
In the circumstances of accumulated obtrusion, is anyone surprised that call centre operators are received less than politely?
27 May 2005
26 May 2005
"Mr Osborne is aged 34 years and three days. Yesterday he looked 13. This may not be his fault. But if, like so many men these days, he uses moisturiser; he must stop immediately. No more baby-soft cheeks. Weatherbeaten sea captain is the goal. He needs to spend as much time as possible at the mercy of the elements. It will be easy to get fat and dress badly: the Commons is full of people who achieve that effortlessly."
"Nicola Sturgeon: ... can I indeed refer the Deputy First Minister to the latest waiting times figures which show in fact yet another dramatic increase in median waiting times for in-patients and an even bigger increase for out-patients. So would the Deputy First Minister agree with me that, far from this being good news, as the Executive is trying to claim, it is yet further evidence that Scottish patients are getting a raw deal?
Deputy First Minister: Well I appreciate that possibly as a former maths teacher the First Minister might be better equipped to give a maths lesson in statistics to Ms Sturgeon, but I have sixth year studies statistics; but the median is - what was said at the press briefing earlier today showed how the median can go up, it could stay the same or go down or indeed reduce to zero, depending upon which way you actually presented the statistics. It's not the figure that actually matters to individual patients. In fact if Nicola Sturgeon understood it, she would understand that the more we focus on trying to tackle the length of time that thos have been waiting longest on the waiting list and actually deal with that, then the more likely it is that the median will continue to rise. What matters is people and what matters is trying to get people who have been waiting longest off the waiting list.
That's why we have met our guarantee of 9 months; we have met our guarantee of 12 months; we are well on the way to meeting our guarantee of 6 months for in-patients.
One of the figures which struck me most was that 60,000 fewer people are waiting for an out-patient appointment than there was six months ago. That is quite a staggering achievement.
Nicola Sturgeon: Can I remind the Deputy First Minister that his own statistics department describe the median waiting time as "the most robust measurement of performance"? Can I offer him a reality check? Can I remind him that in the last quarter the median wait for in-patients was 42 days - it is now 47 days; and that for out-patients it was 56 days - it is now 62 days; and that in the last quarter only 16% of out-patients had to wait more than 6 months for an appointment - now 20%, one in five, of all out-patients have to wait more than 6 months for an appointment. Isn't it the case that to try to paint that record as asuccess is an insult to the intelligence of thousands of patients all over Scotland ..."
At this point, I confess that I rather dosed off.
25 May 2005
How do you become that specialised?
How can western clothing factories compete? They can't, I suppose.
What was the previous zip capital of the world?
Implications for the Scottish economy?
"Mothers spoke its name with reverential awe and dragged their offspring, ballasted with boredom, to worship at the all-cotton jumper altar and gaze at the pleated skirts and shiny blousons with the adoration of the Magi for the Messiah. Implausible statistics were accepted as gospel - the most famous being something about how 15 out of 10 women bought their knickers from M&S in case they got knocked down and were refused hospital treatment on the grounds that if you didn't buy your underwear from the crypto-ecclesiastical emporium you were a skanky ho who didn't deserve the NHS resources. "
24 May 2005
I knew that some countries took Eurovision more seriously than others but the Netherlands is not exactly renowned for its contribution to pop music.
23 May 2005
22 May 2005
"By the time you read this, the Ukraine will be slowly returning to sanity. From the Black Sea coast to the Russian border, they descended in their thousands on their capital city, as if in a great pilgrimage. Those unlucky enough not to have a tent, slept in the parks, in alleyways and doorways. For all of the Ukraine has lived for last night, ever since that sturdy girl in the leather skirt with the whip won Eurovision for them last year. Just as the winners of the two previous years, Estonia and Latvia, Ukraine saw Eurovision as its chance to show the world that it was free at last from oppression and totalitarianism. For those of us for whom democracy is taken for granted, the Eurovision Song Contest may seem like a grandiose musical mediocrity. To the
people of the Ukraine, it was a hymn to freedom."
This may have been written in jest, but there is here an essential truth. The Song Contest is one of the few ways that the Eastern European nations can proclaim their identity as part of Europe. A message for our politicians?
21 May 2005
Incidentally, given the presence of the Taoiseach, the Welsh First Minister, John Prescott and Peter Hain, not to mention our own Jim Wallace, is tele-medicine really the most important priority for discussion?
20 May 2005
19 May 2005
"The volume of passengers flying to and from the Capital is expected to more than treble by 2030, rising from eight million to 26 million. The number of landings and take-offs is expected to double by the time another runway is needed, rising from 104,000 today to 241,900 by 2030. Meanwhile, aircraft movements per hour could double from the present rate of 33 to up to 65 by the same date."
I am not usually one to moan about the environmental implications of development but this would appear to raise some very large questions. I just hope that this is not one of the "strategic" developments which will short-circuit planning procedures (if the Scottish Executive's imminent White Paper is implemented in due course).
"The "Rods from God" scheme would aim tungsten, titanium or uranium cylinders at targets on the ground from a position in low earth orbit. By the time they hit the earth they would be travelling at around 7,500 mph , with the impact of a small nuclear warhead. "
In other words, get something heavy and drop it from a great height.
18 May 2005
17 May 2005
1. The work involved in managing, and posting to, this blog is entirely unremunerated and I only do it because and insofar as it amuses me.
2. It follows from principle 1 that I feel no obligation to provide comprehensive or balanced coverage of political events. The matters on which I choose to post are entirely and utterly selective.
3. The main interest of this blog is Scottish politics but that will not prevent me from posting on other matters if I so choose.
4. I will take the occasional day or days off. Scottish politics is not, for me at least, a subject of all consuming interest.
5. Where possible, I will link to original texts, notably speeches and PQ answers in the Parliament and to Scottish Executive press releases. But, bearing in mind that so much political manoeuvring goes on off stage, it is inevitable that I will occasionally link to the dead tree media.
6. The whole idea is to post on issues where I have something to contribute - simple linking without editorial comment will be avoided.
7. I may ignore any of the above principles if I feel like it.
I wonder what signals the participants in Scotsport (and its BBC Scotland equivalent) think that they are sending by omitting to wear ties. When did this begin? And what would the venerable Arthur Montford have thought? What is the world coming to?
Not that it was much better when they did wear ties, as so many of them seemed incapable of properly tieing them. Hence the big ugly knots that invariably appeared below their chins. So here, in the vain hope that STV and BBC Scotland will impose a rigorous dress policy on their sports commentators and pundits, is advice about tieing one's neckwear.
16 May 2005
"Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's founding president, spent only 90 days in the palace which took 20 years to build and cost $100m. With its 300 air-conditioned rooms, it is set in 555 hectares (1,332 acres) of land outside the capital. When Bakili Muluzi, Mr Mutharika's predecessor, came to power in 1994 he refused to live there, condemning its "obscene opulence"."
Sounds vaguely familiar?
13 May 2005
My concern would be about the First Minister making statements such as "There are no plans for a property revaluation in Scotland" and "The independent commission will make a judgment between systems that are based on income and systems that are based on property. If its judgment is for a property-based system, I think it needs to consider a better, more redistributive property-based system." In doing so, Mr McConnell is coming dangerously close to pre-empting the independent committee under Sir Peter Burt which has been set up to advise the Scottish Executive on the future of local government finance. What is the point of Sir Peter's Committee if the Scottish Executive has already made its mind up about what it will and will not do?
Would it not have been more statesmanlike for the First Minister to respond to Ms Sturgeon's taunts by adopting a lofty tone along the lines of awaiting the Committee's report in 2006 and avoiding any policy commitments at this stage?
The text of the official report is here.
12 May 2005
Because this is an important issue. The private legislation procedure in Parliament is in danger of breaking down. For example, the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill remains marooned at its consideration stage in Committee, despite having been introduced in January 2004; the bill is not expected to complete its parliamentary procedures until the end of 2005. Does it really need 2 years of parliamentary consideration to decide if the tram line promoters should be allowed to proceed? It means building in those 2 years to the timetable for developing such transport projects, including both Edinburgh tram lines and the airport-city centre links, thus slowing down urgent transport developments. And is a parliamentary procedure designed to deal with railway developments in the 1840s appropriate to the circumstances of today?
In the light of these and other considerations, the Procedures Committee produced what seems to me a sensible and balanced report on what needs to be done. It is not perfect of course; but according to those MSPs who spoke in yesterday's debate the report seems acceptable both to conservationists and developers. So a tip of the hat to the Scottish Parliament's Procedures Committee and a D- to the mainstream media.
For those who wish to read the debate, the official report is here.
11 May 2005
Nevertheless, some points of interest. Mr McCabe's opening statement seemed rather combative - for example:
"I am, however, less keen to enter into sterile debates about what constitutes a
management saving and what constitutes an efficient government saving. Our
saving money for the public of Scotland while delivering the same outputs is the
kind of efficiency that the public wants to see in government. I say bluntly
that if some people want to convene cheese and wine parties to discuss the
semantics, then that is their business, but it will not be my business within
And I am not sure that the Minister answered any of Ms Alexander's first three questions.
Finally, a Ministerial quote that will surely appear in sayings of the year:
"We will not have any more wheelie-bin procurers than we need. I would like
to reassure people in Scotland about that; I am sure that they will sleep easier
tonight now that they have heard that."
10 May 2005
09 May 2005
08 May 2005
'The next day, I arrived at my new Whitehall office - the size of a tennis court
- in Dover House. Its previous occupant had been Raymond Robertson, the Tory
education minister, and the pictures on the walls reflected his penchant for
sailing ships. I asked if it might be possible to replace them with some decent
modern Scottish art from the vast government collection. Six months later, the
ships were still sailing and had become symbols of the message: "Things change
slowly around here." '
In fact, Mr Wilson rapidly acquired a reputation in St Andrew's House as a Minister least likely to be controlled by his civil servants. He made policy announcements on the hoof (without telling the department); he made Ministerial visits on the spur of the moment (unaccompanied by minders); and, horror of horrors, he drafted his own press releases. And I doubt if he ever felt even slightly guilty about these grievous sins. But civil servants will forgive Ministers many faults, especially if Ministers know what it is they want to do and if they are prepared to take decisions. Brian Wilson was one of the good guys.
07 May 2005
And, as young ambitious MPs, they will want to build a public profile. But all of the Scottish TV and radio political programmes are primarily focused on Holyrood. Apart from Charles Kennedy, Menzies Campbell and Alex Salmond (all of whom made their mark before devolution), who knows (or cares about) the identity of LibDem or SNP MPs? Whereas their Holyrood equivalents are forever drawing attention to themselves.
And the same applies to Scottish backbench Labour MPs, unless they can follow the Des Brownes and the Douglas Alexanders up the greasy pole to Ministerial office.
It would be exaggerating to describe the bulk of Scotland's MPs as birds in a gilded cage, forever condemned to act as silent lobby fodder, trooping through the lobbies in support of English bills, but it would not be exaggerating by much.
06 May 2005
"Asked if there had been any discussion on reports of an alleged leakReally informative, is it not? Who is carrying out the inquiry? What is the timetable? At least, we know - as we have been told thrice - that the inquiry is "ongoing". If you are awaiting the outcome, don't hold your breath!
concerning plans to change the planning system, FMOS said that there had indeed
been a discussion on this. Cabinet had been updated on the progress of the
inquiry into the alleged leak.
Asked if she could say more about this
inquiry, FMOS said no. Asked if the inquiry was ongoing, FMOS said yes. Asked if
the inquiry had broadened, FMOS said that the inquiry was ongoing. Asked if the
inquiry had broadened or deepened, FMOS said that the inquiry was ongoing. Asked
if the person responsible would be sacked, FMOS said that the inquiry was
ongoing and we could not pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry."
04 May 2005
I confess to some doubt about how many of our esteemed tribunes will know how to use this equipment, but there seems to be a lack of justification for the centralised purchase. Why not ask those MSPs who want a BlackBerry to buy it out of their office allowances?
For technophobes: a BlackBerry is a small device about the size of a mobile phone which enables the user to access and send e-mails while away from his or her computer.
There is more heat than light being generated, however. Mr Chisholm's denial is less than convincing:
"No decisions have been made yet. We are working on a set of proposals
designed to improve and streamline the planning process. But we are
determined to balance the rights of communities with the need for a more
efficient planning process."
And, in any case, this is somewhat undermined by the announcement of a Scottish Executive leak inquiry. (Do leak inquiries ever identify the source of the leak? So why announce it?)
03 May 2005
If this is well-founded (and it is worth noting that the article contains no response from the Executive to its revelations), it is likely to cause a major stramash. The proposed change would require primary legislation: does the Executive believe that its Labour and Liberal democrat backbenchers will be prepared to let this go through Parliament without a fight? Or is it proposing to buy off environmentalist opposition by conceding third party rights of appeal in non-strategic planning cases? Watch this space...