31 January 2007

You just can't get the staff nowadays...

This afternoon, I have the doubtful pleasure of watching Holyrood Live on BBC2. This used to be presented by Iain Macwhirter or the wee fat guy (whose name I can never remember), both of whom at least gave the appearance of knowing what they were talking about.

Now, however, it is presented by the unfortunate Louise Stewart who persists in waving her pen at her interviewees while asking her pre-planned questions. I always expect one of her interviewees to tell her in no uncertain terms to put her pen down, to clasp her hands together and to sit up straight before asking her questions. Regrettably, none of them ever does...

Big Jim

So just what weight is Jim Hamilton, the Scottish lock for Saturday? The Herald says 19 stone 5 lb. The Scotsman says 20 stone. The Guardian says 18 stone. Whatever, he's a big laddie.

Update: The Indie also has him at 19 st 5 lb.

The power of suggestion

No offence, but I had never really thought of Stranraer as a casino sort of place. The Scotsman reports:
Stranraer will now have the right to open a casino with a floorspace of up to 2000sq m. There will be up to 80 jackpot machines offering maximum prizes of £4,000.

2000 sq metres is not very big: say 50 yards square. I mean, once you've put in the 80 one-armed bandits, there is not going to be very much room for baccarat tables. And wining and dining facilities? I think that we can also probably forget about Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey gracing the place.

Essentially, it's going to be a big arcade, isn't it?

On and on and on

The latest opinion poll in The Scotsman indicates that the SNP will gain 44 seats, compared with 41 for Labour, 23 for the LibDems and 17 for the Tories. (Yawn.) Professor John Curtice comments:
Arithmetically at least it appears a SNP-Liberal Democrat coalition is a realistic option.
But of course whether the two parties can reach a political accommodation is perhaps the $64,000 question of this election - and one to which we will not receive an answer, if at all, until after 3 May.
And here comes the hidden bad news for Mr Salmond in our poll. On the basis of our projection not only could the Liberal Democrats strike a deal with the SNP, but they could also do so with Labour. True, Labour and the Liberal Democrats would still be one short of a majority, but doubtless they could entice at least one MSP from the ranks of the independents to help them.
In these circumstances Nicol Stephen, the Liberal Democrat leader, would have a trump card. He could always walk out and talk to the other side.

Well yes, Mr Stephen could indeed talk to Labour. But what about? Labour are committed to nuclear policies and the council tax; the LibDems would have fought on a platform against both. And would Mr Stephen want to get into bed with a Labour Party which had effectively lost the election? The people have spoken (the bastards), so we just ignore the outcome and carry on with a Lab/LibDem coalition as before?


Interestingly, even Alan Cochrane in The Telegraph thinks that the SNP and the LibDems might play footsie:

The problem is as it's always been, namely that the more Labour scares people off voting for the Nats and the break-up of the United Kingdom, the greater is the likelihood of anti-Labour voters plumping for the Lib Dems.
Isn't that good news for unionists? Not necessarily, and for the following reason: if the SNP emerge as the biggest party, they will still need a coalition partner to form an administration. Although the Lib Dems say they won't get into bed with the Nats if a referendum on independence is on the cards, can they really resist some of the other blandishments that Alex Salmond might offer?
For instance, what if Mr Salmond offers them a referendum on Holyrood being allowed to raise and spend its own taxes or a revived commission - like that recently convened by David Steel - on increased powers for the Scottish Parliament? Will the Lib Dems turn down a coalition on these grounds?
As has been remarked upon before in this space, all Mr Salmond wants is to get into Bute House and to prove that his team can be as least as competent in government - albeit a devolved one - as is Labour now. Then, he plans to bide his time and engineer as many disputes with the Westminster government as he can, in the hope that the voters eventually view independence
as inevitable.

30 January 2007

In praise of politicians

Politicians, in my experience, are much like the rest of the population: some are competent, some are pleasant and some are neither. My memories go back a fairly long way but there is no point in re-telling the stories of the greats - Willie Ross, probably the best ever Secretary of State for Scotland, Bruce Millan, probably the most under-estimated Secretary of State and one of the greatest administrators, and George Younger, one of the nicest men to fill that office.

But what of today's crop of politicians? Of those I have come across, there are two who fall into the smartest category. Equal first is Alistair Darling, one of the smoothest politicians you will ever come across - he never gets flustered, he is never at a loss, he does his homework, always pleasant, always discreet, always observes the niceties. I doubt if any Opposition spokesman has laid a finger on him over the past 9 years. The other is Wendy Alexander: as a young woman in her 30s, she took on the entire Scottish Office when she was Donald Dewar's special adviser. She may not have won every battle but, by dint of sheer hard work, she won more than enough to command the respect of the Office. When that husky voice came on the telephone, civil servants jumped to attention and many of them subsequently admitted ruefully to having been 'Wendied'. She is the First Minister we should have had, the woman who has more ability than the entire existing Scottish cabinet put together.

And the nice guys? Who would you have a pint with, if the occasion arose? Well, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton is the obvious example, a guy who combined impeccable courtesy to everyone with a sincere desire to do what was best. And if he was occasionally somewhat other-worldly, then nobody minded too much. I always liked David McLetchie, though I readily admit that he was not to everyone's taste. Similarly, Richard Lochhead struck me as a decent sort, once you got him off the SNP propaganda. And Hugh Henry always seems to mean well, though he must have a certain toughness to have survived his days as leader of West Renfrewshire Council.

It is easy to forget that poliicians are people - they have lives outside parliament, they have wives/husbands and children, they can be hurt by criticism (and I plead guilty to the occasional unthinking twist of the knife). They do a difficult job and, by and large, get nothing but dog's abuse for it. Once in a blue moon, we should be thankful that there are people prepared to take on the burdens of political life for what are relatively trivial financial rewards.

I'll be back to normal tomorrow.

David and Goliath

The RSPB is one of the most powerful political organisations in this country. It is well-financed; it has many more members than any of the mainstream political parties; and it commands the goodwill of millions. Perhaps that is why neither The Herald nor The Scotsman nor the BBC carries any mention of this story. Instead, it is left to The Guardian.
A feud has broken out on a Scottish island with accusations of dirty tricks involving one of the country's largest charities, an energy adviser to Tony Blair and some of the biggest wind power developers. At the centre of the row is the RSPB, which is accused of taking a tough line against wind farms, except for one proposed by Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE), a company with which it has a commercial relationship.
The West Highland Free Press (WHFP) newspaper highlighted the issue in a furious broadside against the bird protection charity. It accuses the charity of strongly opposing a major wind farm proposed by Amec on the Isle of Lewis while supporting an even bigger one on Shetland to be operated by SSE.
"Plans for the world's biggest wind farm in the Shetland Islands have been met with a deafening silence from the RSPB who are the arch critics of smaller west coast projects, which many see as being in direct competition to Shetland's 600 megawatt mega-scheme," argues the paper under the headline "Money talks: RSPB silent on Shetland wind farm".
The paper points out that the charity and the SSE are partners in RSPB Energy under which the bird group receives payments of £20 for every customer who switches to the RSPB Energy brand. The RSPB's silence on Shetland is all the more curious - it argues - given how its website talks about Shetland's "outstanding bird life" being a main attraction for visitors.

I have no comment on the rights and wrongs of the situation. But I do think that the West Highland Free Press is brave to take on the RSPB behemoth.

Life in the fast lane

This is difficult to grasp, especially for those of us who are not transport consultants. But bear with me. The proposal, as I understand it, is to introduce an express rail service between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This is the tricky bit: the new service will take 67 minutes, a full 19 minutes slower than the 48 minutes which is taken by the alternative and existing service between Edinburgh and Glasgow. If you don't believe me, check out The Scotsman here.

Perhaps it is an example of post-modernist irony, but I would have thought that there must be an oxymoron somewhere in this quotation:
The express services would stop at Uddingston, Shotts, West Calder, Livingston South and Haymarket...

29 January 2007

I'd rather be in Philadelphia

This is not my idea of environmental consciousness. The Washington Post reports:
On Sunday evening, Charles received an award for his work on behalf of the environment. Former Vice President Gore presented Charles with the Global Environmental Citizen Award, given by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. Gore, who praised the Prince of Wales' knowledge and passion, said he and the prince have had conversations about the
global environment for 20 years.
The prince said he was "touched" at being honored, especially by Gore.
"We had great fun talking about all these issues long ago," the prince said. "I've been so fascinated watching his career, and to receive this award from him really has been a particular privilege but also immensely special."
Pass the sick bag.

28 January 2007

Ho hum

I can't think why this reminds me of the Scottish Executive.

The arts minister who is not really interested in the arts

The Observer has a rather unkind article about Patricia Ferguson, the Scottish arts minister. Among other criticisms, it points out:
Ferguson had arrived in Holyrood at its inception, 'working hard for the people of Maryhill', as her website puts it. Before being given Tourism, Culture and Sport - a role that had become a graveyard of the ambitions of Labour - she had a quietish time as the minister for parliamentary business. She, too, has struggled. Apparently lacking courage, she is clearly uncomfortable in the public eye.
I am sorry about Ferguson's lack of interest, her lack of desire to spend time getting to know those whose organisations and businesses she has such a direct effect on. I am particularly sorry now that I can see how much the arts community want her to engage with them. One of those at the lunch said: 'If Patricia and her husband wanted to visit at the weekend, I would be thrilled to
turn up'.
It goes back to the National Theatre of Scotland's reaction when no minister turned up to any of its first season of shows (despite Ferguson belatedly listing theatre as one of her interests on the parliament website). The theatre's managers were actually hurt more than angry.
Look - she does not like the public spotlight, she does not go to the theatre much, she does not engage with the arts community. In short, she may not be a competent minister. But that doesn't make her a bad person...

The resurrection of the undead

That's the problem with zombies; you put them in their coffins and you nail down the lids, but soon after they are walking about, waving their shrouds and scaring people. The Sunday Herald has found one:
LABOUR'S FORMER first minister has severely criticised his party for running a"negative" and "extreme" Holyrood election campaign driven by politicians in London.
Henry McLeish said Labour's anti-independence message bore the hallmarks of a polarising approach to politics more associated with President George W Bush.
In an interview with the Sunday Herald, he also claimed his successor as first minister, Jack McConnell, is not in charge of his party's message and urged his colleagues to change their strategy.

Just like the nationalists: blame it all on London and, while you're at it, take a side-swipe at Mr McConnell.

I confess...

... that I've been moonlighting. You can catch me here as a guest-blogger at the Scottish Blogging Roundup.

27 January 2007

Mea culpa

I criticised this man in a post last November (here) for not taking responsibility seriously. The Independent reports:
Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World, resigned from his job last night after the newspaper's royal editor was jailed for four months at the Old Bailey for plotting to hack into Royal aides' telephone messages.
Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World, resigned last night saying he took full responsibility after his royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for four months at the Old Bailey for plotting to hack into Royal aides' telephone messages.
I hereby withdraw that criticism and I apologise to Mr Coulson.

26 January 2007

'Put your stuff on the camel'

Quote of the day, from The New York Times (here) on yesterday's sitting of the Iraqi Parliament:
In the Parliament room, politicians shouted over one another trying to be heard. Mr. Mashhadani [Speaker of the Parliament] finally yelled for everyone to “shut up.” He then used an ancient Arabic phrase, literally meaning to “put your stuff on the camel,” which roughly translates as, “We expect more of this body.” He said in disgust, “I cannot see how it is possible that a new security plan can work.”


From an Executive press release:
The Executive's main corporate website at www.scotland.gov.uk has increased its average monthly traffic for the fourth successive year, according to the latest independently audited figures.
The number of unique users in 2006 has risen 21.3 per cent to almost 498,000 a month, the number of visits by 16.8 per cent, and the number of page views by 4.3 per cent.

All right, so they get a wee bit more traffic than I do - there's no need to dwell on the fact...

The biter bit

I was going to suggest that it might be possible to feel some sympathy for Dr John Reid. The Sun this morning (here):
JOHN Reid was confirmed as brainless last night after a string of devastating blunders. In one, a paedophile was freed due to the Home Secretary’s failure to build extra jail places — as it emerged a prison ship IS available. Next, rising crime figures showed the highest recorded number of armed robberies in people’s homes.
Elsewhere an aide of Mr Reid was held up at gunpoint after sharing a curry with the Home Secretary to discuss the jails crisis.
As the hunt continued for Mr Reid’s brain — reported missing by The Sun yesterday — a North Wales judge told paedophile Derek Williams he had no option but to free him. He cited Mr Reid’s orders to ease pressure on jails.
The shock armed robberies rise sparked accusations that Mr Reid was losing his grip on gun crime — and cast doubt on his future.

But then I thought - naw, he deserves a good kicking...

A rather tangled web

You would have thought that the Home Secretary had more than enough on his plate, for example with this (in The Scotsman):
JOHN Reid faced a fresh threat to his position last night after it emerged a child sex offender was spared jail because of the Home Secretary's desperate attempts to handle a crisis in English prisons.
Mr Reid has been coming under increasing pressure over the situation in English jails, which are full to capacity. This week, Mr Reid wrote to judges and magistrates asking them to imprison only the most dangerous criminals while he arranges more prison places.

But no. Like the rest of the cabinet, he is weighing in on the adoptions issue (here):
THE divisions between Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and Westminster over calls for the Catholic Church to be exempted from equality laws enshrining the rights of gay couples to adopt were growing last night, after the Home Secretary warned colleagues and the Church that they must accept the legislation.
While Mr McConnell supports the right of Catholic adoption agencies to be exempted from having to consider gay couples, John Reid, the Cabinet's most senior Catholic, made clear there should be no opt-out.

Indeed, the only cabinet minister to keep quiet is the minister responsible, Ruth Kelly. Still, at least, Dr Reid could be considered to be on the side of the angels on this matter, if not on the side of the Catholic Church. But poor Mr McConnell must be feeling rather exposed, having allegedly (if rather secretly) made certain commitments to the Church which he cannot now deliver. But, then, Dr Reid and Ms Kelly don't face elections this year. And the First Minister can console himself with the thought that the SNP is supporting him on this matter, even though that may not prevent them making political mischief over the prospect of the Executive being over-ruled by Whitehall.

But it's becoming awfully complicated...

25 January 2007


I suppose that it is slightly less hubristic than hiring an artist to paint their portraits. But even so, £9,000 seems a lot of money. The Evening News reports:
Legendary New York-based snapper Harry Benson has been hired to take portraits of the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer George Reid and his predecessor, Lord Steel.
The Glasgow-born photographer has worked with 10 US presidents and The Beatles, and an exhibition of his work at the National Portrait Gallery finished earlier this month.
But the commission, which will cost around £9000, has sparked accusations of extravagance with taxpayers' cash. Scottish Parliament officials will pay Mr Benson a fee of £4000 for each portrait.
Travel costs of flights from the US and two nights in the Capital are expected to be another £1000. The portraits will form part of Holyrood's art collection but at the request of Mr Reid, his picture will not be publicly shown until he steps down.

The real question is why? What possible benefit could there be to Holyrood's art collection in having foties of Lord S and Mr R? And, if there was such a benefit, could they not have paid for it themselves and donated the results to the Parliament?

Another fine mess

The Scotsman and The Herald have something of a field day with the possible impact of yesterday's Court of Session judgement on the elections (see yesterday's post here). But it is far from clear that we are any further forward.

The Scotsman claims:
Lawyers representing 30 prisoners said the government's failure to remedy the problem could cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, and The Scotsman has learned that the lawyers are now seeking an interdict to prevent the Holyrood elections from going ahead...
It is expected the interdict will be lodged at the Court of Session by the end of February, although experts believe that it is extremely unlikely to be successful.

We are not told why the 'experts' believe this.

The Herald comes to a not dissimilar conclusion:
If these elections are incompatible with the ECHR, as the Court of Session has ruled, what are the implications? There are two. The first is to postpone the elections until the law is reformed. That is clearly a non-starter, given the unacceptably disproportionate impact the convention would have on a free election, which is, after all, democracy in action. The other is to press ahead with the poll and face up to the consequences.
These have already become apparent. Lawyers intend to seek an interim interdict against Scottish Executive ministers to stop the elections. If that fails, they will try for compensation for prisoners whose human rights were denied by the continued ban.

Well, they're probably right, though I would have thought that denial of voting rights is about as serious a breach of human rights as you could get. But let us see how the proposed interdict gets on. But it's a mess, whatever way you look at it.

European onions

It's unthinkable. Baxters Polish pickled onions?

Could this be the start of a trend? The company may assure us that there is no danger to the Scottish operations but who knows? The Herald reports:
Scotland's largest food company is expanding into eastern Europe to take advantage of cheaper labour costs.
The family-owned Baxters Food Group has built a factory to pickle onions in Poland, it was announced yesterday.
However, Audrey Baxter, chairwoman and chief executive of the firm, has promised the Polish operation will have no impact on the Scottish workforce.
The creation of the new 4000 square metre factory in Wolsztyn, western Poland, comes after a disastrous year for Baxters, during which annual profits fell by more than £1m.
The drop was blamed on market conditions, yet the company still managed an annual turnover of more than £100m for the first time.
Nevertheless, the cheaper labour costs in Poland have proved too attractive to ignore.

First, they came for the pickled onions. Next, will it be the beetroot? Or the onion soup?

24 January 2007

A wee problem?

Or just maybe a big problem.

Nobody, least of all the BBC, seems to know the significance of this story. The BBC reports:
Legal action is being considered which could stop the Scottish Parliamentary elections from taking place because prisoners are excluded from voting.
It follows a ruling at the Court of Session in Edinburgh that the elections would be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK Government had set up a consultation process following a European Court ruling in 2005.
But legislation would not be introduced before Scotland's May elections.
It is understood that a number of prisoners are already undertaking legal action to prevent the poll from taking place.
Three judges at Scotland's supreme civil court issued a declaration that the blanket ban on
convicted prisoners voting is incompatible with their human rights...

Could further legal action really prevent the elections from going ahead? But if they do go ahead, there must be a risk that they will be declared non-compliant with the ECHR, but I do not know if this means that they would be declared invalid and have to be re-run. Or will the Scotland Office pull its finger out and rush legislation through Westminster to allow (some) prisoners the vote? Could they do it in time for the prisoners to be placed on the electoral roll? And did nobody foresee that this might happen or did the solicitors in the Scotland Office just close their eyes, cross their fingers and hope it wouldn't?

So many questions and no answers...

Getting carried away again?

I rather think that Guido is being a bit precious - not to say silly - about this:
Here is a fine example of how the ruling political class literally get their snouts in the trough courtesy of suppliers:
First minister Jack McConnell and Danuta Hubner, European commissioner for regional policy, are among the speakers at a two-day Microsoft 'government leaders forum' which takes place in the Scottish parliament.
Microsoft, quasi-monopolistic purveyors of over-priced, buggy, sub-standard software have high level sales teams embedded in government, literally using government offices to sell to the government. To make sure that the bosses keep buying Microsoft they schmooze them like mad. They also fund think-tanks to produce reports protecting their monopoly and rubbishing superior open source software. You can be sure that the wine at this "government leaders forum" will have an excellent bouquet discernable [sic] to a politician's snout.
The Parliament's press release is here. I would suggest that is to the credit of the Parliament, working with the Executive, that they have secured yet another internationally mobile conference, with various distinguished speakers. As for the alleged trough, the odd reception with the usual warm white chardonnay is hardly a big attraction; after all, this is the Scottish Parliament.

And no, I have not been invited.

Update: OK, I got the spelling wrong - chardonnay, chardonnay, chardonnay.

23 January 2007


I have at last got round to adjusting the blogroll to include J. Arthur MacNumpty and Clairwil, both of whom should have been added long before now (for which my apologies). Both of them are well worth a read.

If any one else feels left out, they are welcome to e-mail me (my address is in the profile). I should say, however, that I am not a believer in an extensive blogroll; it is restricted to Scottish blogs and to those I actually read.


I would have thought that someone in the Executive might have known where not to put an apostrophe. Obviously not, to judge from this press release:
Scottish Ministers today published their formal response to the Final Report of the Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems, Putting Citizen's First: Boundaries, Voting and Representation in Scotland.

Cathy's statistics

The Executive likes to congratulate itself. Here is an extract from its latest press release:
Statistics released today show that in the last five years there has been a continuing increase in the amount of Class A, Class B and Class C drugs seized by the police.
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said:
"Drugs and the people who peddle them are a scourge on our communities. These figures show that Scotland's police forces are continuing to play a vital and uncompromising role in combating this evil trade.
"The increase in the number of hard drugs seized shows that the strong enforcement action is paying off..."

Aye well maybe. But has it occurred to Ms Jamieson that the increase in the number of hard drugs seizures may reflect the increased availability of hard drugs? And that it has nothing to do with strong enforcement action?

22 January 2007

Foreign affairs

Well, what did you think was happening? Was Whitehall likely to be bending over backwards to accommodate the Scottish Executive's views? You thought that Scottish Ministers were present at Council meetings on any terms other than suffrance? The BBC rehashes this morning's Herald story:
A leaked government report claims Scotland has been ignored by Whitehall officials in key European negotiations.
Michael Aron, director of the executive's EU office who drew up the report, believes the consequences for Scotland could be "disastrous".
The Scottish National Party has called for action over claims that Scotland was being "kept out of the loop".
However, First Minister Jack McConnell said the report was an early draft and does not reflect the true position.
Whitehall has been defensive over its European policy, the paper claims, with UK ministers demonstrating a "misunderstanding and ignorance" of the devolution settlement.
It was not uncommon, it said, for Whitehall departments to exclude the executive when forming policy, or to dismiss its views when formulating a UK line.
It also cites Council of Ministers meetings, where executive ministers have been forced to sit in a nearby listening room with officials, because not enough seats were available in the council room.

Brussels is where the big boys play. Nobody does you favours. If you get ignored, it's because you don't matter. If the Executive wants make an impact in Brussels, it needs to put in the effort. It can't just turn up and expect to be listened to. But the Executive's commitment to making an impact in Brussels is half-hearted at best.

C'mon Andy!

The lad's doing good: 4-1 up in the second set after winning the first on a tie break.

And, wonder of wonders, the BBC is actually showing it live on terrestrial telly.


1.30 pm - The lad's still doing good: now up by 2 sets to one.

Further update:

Och well, he gave it a good shot...

21 January 2007

'Open warfare' - I doubt it

I rather think that they have all missed the point. The Sunday Times reports:
OPEN warfare has broken out between Downing Street and the police over attempts by allies of Tony Blair to “coerce” detectives in the cash for honours inquiry...
Len Duvall, a senior Labour insider and chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority which oversees Scotland Yard, said the behaviour was reminiscent of the government’s actions over the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly, the government scientist.
He warned politicians including Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, and David Blunkett, the former home secretary, to “shut up” and “stop “whingeing and whining” about the police investigation. “No one in this country is above the law,” he said.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Duvall, who is also chairman of the Greater London Labour party, said Jowell, Blunkett and Lord Puttnam, the film producer and Labour donor who was ennobled by Blair, would look stupid when the police made their evidence public.

But what does it signify when the only people to take the side of No 10 are Jowell, Blunkett and Puttnam?

What is going on behind the scenes?

Alastair Campbell is alleged to have said 'We don't do God'. And we don't normally do God in this blog either. I would not normally comment on a story like this in The Independent, were it not for the involvement of the Scottish Executive.
Ruth Kelly is trying to water down new anti-discrimination laws to let Catholic adoption agencies turn away gay couples.
Backed by Tony Blair, the embattled Communities secretary is at the centre of a full-scale cabinet row over the new gay rights laws.
She was forced to postpone a formal letter setting out the exemption late last week because of opposition by her senior colleagues, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.
But Ms Kelly, a devout Catholic and member of the Opus Dei sect, remains determined to include a loophole for her church in the Equality Act 2006 which comes into force this April. A spokeswoman for Ms Kelly, who has overall responsibility for equality, said the minister wanted to "protect the pool of prospective parents" and would be trying to find a "pragmatic way forward" this week.

The Indie also reports:
Certainly Gordon Brown is fully aware of the potentially negative electoral impression of the issue, especially in Scotland, which goes to the polls this May to elect a new Scottish Parliament.
The repeal of the legislation forbidding the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools was deeply contentious north of the border, especially in Labour Catholic heartlands on the west coast. The Scottish Executive has written to Ms Kelly asking that she take a "balanced" view - in effect supporting her attempts to win an exemption.

Can this be true? The Executive is supporting a move to exempt the Catholic Church from certain requirements of the Equality Act? And why have we not heard about this before now? If the Executive has taken a policy position on this matter (which it is perfectly entitled to do), why has it not said so? Or did it hope to keep the matter quiet, while appeasing the Church and avoiding upsetting the gay rights lobby?

20 January 2007

The end must surely be nigh

The Prime Minister is no longer being criticised; he is being mocked. Here is a Telegraph editorial:
The Prime Minister is thought to have agreed to write his memoirs for an advance of £4 million. That is quite a gamble for any publisher. A Pretty Straight Kind of Guy (or whatever it is called) will have to sell mountains of copies if the money is to be recouped.
For that, we will need revelations that clear up some of the genuine mysteries surrounding Tony Blair, as opposed to the usual score-settling that characterises politicians' memoirs. So, instead of another behind-the-scenes account of the Iraq controversy, let us have the true story of young Anthony's attempt to stow away on a flight to the West Indies (which no one else remembers) or more reminiscences of watching Jackie Milburn (who retired when Mr Blair was four).
It is a good thing for the Prime Minister that advances are non-returnable: even if the book bombs, he will effectively have earned £400,000 for every year he was in office. Who knows? With that sort of money in the bank, the Blairs may even decide to pay for their own holidays.

The Blairs pay for their own holidays? A bit optimistic, surely.

19 January 2007

The net tightens?

Increasingly, politics resembles a rather shoddy legal thriller. The Guardian reports:
The "cash-for-honours" inquiry took a dramatic new twist today as a key Downing Street aide was arrested by police.
Ruth Turner, director of government relations, was arrested at her home in London under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 and also on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.
Police said that she was interviewed at a London police station and bailed to return at a later date "pending further enquiries".
A Downing Street spokeswoman said the prime minister had "full confidence" in Ms Turner and that she still remained in her job.
The prime minister, Tony Blair, said, in a statement released by 10 Downing Street: "Ruth is a person of the highest integrity for whom I have great regard and I continue to have complete confidence in her."

A couple of thoughts.

According to the BBC (here), Ms Turner was arrested at 6.30am at her home. Was that really necessary? The police could not have waited a couple of hours until she got to the office? It is not as if she was likely to do a runner. Or maybe the police buy into the idea that this is some kind of dramatic scenario, with them starring as Bodie and Doyle.

On the other hand, it is equally intriguing that the Prime Minister should express complete confidence in someone who has just been arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

18 January 2007

Ewe know...

From an Executive press release:
The Sheep Scab Industry Working Group met for the first time today to develop new initiatives to reduce the incidence of scab cases in Scotland.
Evidence from two surveys carried out last year by the Executive, to gauge the views of farmers and the veterinary profession on how best to deal with sheep scab, demonstrated a willingness from both the sheep and the veterinary profession to work in partnership with Government.

Great to hear that the sheep are prepared to work in partnership with government...

Understandable pique

The BBC reports:
Tommy Burns has resigned from his position as Scotland assistant manager to concentrate on his first-team coaching role at Celtic.
He had been considered a front-runner for the vacant national manager's job.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Scottish national squad and have made a lot of good friends in the process," Burns told Celtic's website.
"I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone involved with Scotland every success for the future."
Or, in other words, 'I'm not prepared to play second fiddle to McLeish or McAllister'.

More crystal balls

Don't you just love the way the London commentators are so confident about what is happening in Scottish politics? Here's Peter Riddell of The Times, normally a fairly sensible soul. Today, he just loses it completely.
The recent gloom about the future of the United Kingdom is vastly overdone.
We are not heading for a break-up of the Union. Nor will Alex Salmond become Scottish First Minister after the May elections. The recent alarmism reflects a misreading of the polls and the nature of multiparty politics.

So that's Mr Salmond told. No qualifications, no equivocation. But why can Mr Salmond not become FM?
Even if it did win 45 seats (which is far from certain) the SNP would be 20 seats short of a majority in the Parliament so Mr Salmond would be looking for coalition partners. Labour or the Tories can be ruled out of a tartan-red or tartan-blue deal.

Well, yes, Peter. That's the way the system was designed. Mr Salmond would need to form a coalition and, yes, nobody expects the Tories or the Labour to help him. But what about the LibDems?
The Lib Dems, projected at 14 seats (down from their current 17), would not provide sufficient members on their own, even if the party wanted to go into coalition with the SNP. The signs are, however, that Lib Dem leaders have no interest in such a deal, which could prove to be a poisonous embrace, and the party would prefer to go into opposition. The other options, a deal with the Greens or smaller left-wing groups, are more plausible, but would not produce a majority.

Oh I see. The LibDems have no interest in a deal and would prefer to go into opposition. According to 'the signs'. Do you suppose that this is what Peter learned from Sir Menzies Campbell? On the other hand, some of us believe that Messrs Stephen, Finnie, Scott et al would sign a pact with Auld Nick himself, if it allowed them to retain their ministerial salaries and their seats in the ministerial limos. Especially if the LibDems were not required to sign up to an early referendum on independence, as now appears to be the case.

But if the SNP cannot do it, then Labour is the only alternative. So tell us, Peter, how Labour - with its projected 42 seats - will form a coalition. The opposition-loving LibDems would require a lot of persuading to join the nuclear-obsessed Labour, particularly as the latter (unlike the SNP) refuse to contemplate a local income tax. And there would be no help from the smaller parties.

Peter? Why have you not finished your article? Peter? Where have you gone?

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

You can take the cult of self-criticism too far, you know. Yes, it is good to admit mistakes, but sackcloth and ashes should not be the dress of choice for aspiring politicians. The Herald reports:
Just hours after Mr Cameron, in an exclusive interview with The Herald, admitted his party had let Scotland down, David Mundell, the Tories' solitary Scottish MP, suggested the Tories were still not addressing people's concerns effectively.
The Shadow Scottish Secretary told the BBC: "We have to change. We've got to become a party which people feel is in touch with the issues they are concerned about in Scotland - health, education, transport, the economy - and we are still struggling to do that."

Look guys, if you don't believe in yourselves, why should anyone else?

17 January 2007

More gazing into the crystal ball

In one sense, it is the commitment of Mr McConnell to nuclear power and weapons that will be crucial. By tieing Scottish Labour so forcefully to nuclear power stations and to the renewal of trident, the current First Minister is actually driving the LibDems into an alliance with the SNP. The major barrier to such an alliance was Mr Salmond's insistence upon an independence referendum, but that commitment has now been substantially weakened in favour of some kind of White Paper. The LibDems could no doubt live with that, especially if it were an SNP paper rather than an Executive paper. The Greens are already (if vaguely) pro-independence and would provide back bench support for an SNP/LibDem alliance, especially if they held the balance of power.

Look at the arithmetic. It is at least possible to envisage how Mr Salmond could construct a majority; on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to see how Mr McConnell could. The SNP have 26 seats at present, while the LibDems have 17 and the Greens 7, a total of 50. The latest polls give the SNP 44 seats, with the LibDems 18; they would only need the support of 3 Greens to command a majority. On the other hand, where could Mr McConnell look for a partner? His projected 43 seats are not enough to form a minority administration, even with the benevolent tolerance of the 18 Tories. And as a tired and defeated party leader on the down slope, who would want him to carry on? If he had remained equivocal on the nuclear issues, it might have been different - but that's past praying for. And OK the polls will vary between now and May, which might make it more or less difficult for the SNP, but even winning a few more seats would not really change Mr McConnell's position.

So it looks like First Minister Salmond, to spend as much of his time as possible, blaming Westminster for everything that goes wrong and tweaking the tail of Prime Minister Brown whenever possible.

Depressing thought...

15 January 2007

Reality dawns?

This will no doubt be criticised by SNP fundamentalists. It would appear to represent a significant climbdown by Mr Salmond. On the other hand, it will make an alliance with the LibDems an awful lot easier. The Scotsman reports:
The SNP leader, speaking on BBC1's The Politics Show, said he intended to produce a white paper - an initial consultative document - on an independence referendum within 100 days of taking power. Previously he has claimed he would produce a full parliamentary bill.
Mr Salmond announced this shift in a letter to The Scotsman last week, but this was the first time he had taken the opportunity to explain exactly what the new policy means.
The SNP leader said: "What is encompassed in the white paper is the proposal for the referendum and the question, so people can see what we are proposing. We are not soft-pedalling, we are putting forward a white paper in the first 100 days which spells out the question and the route forward for Scotland."

In many respects, one can only applaud the fact that the SNP is prepared to bow to realism, an attitude which in the longer term will enhance their election prospects. A referendum bill was never really on the cards, if only because it would have been ultra vires.

But Mr Salmond has only himself to blame if he is criticised for softening his position. Was there any real need to put himself so far out front in the first place? And if he is prepared to resile from such a central plank in his programme, is there anything else he would not be prepared to sacrifice?

14 January 2007

The stink of putrefaction

This Britain

Three articles in The Independent today illustrate the essential rottenness at the heart of government:

Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's richest man, was last night reported to have offered Labour a £2m bail-out. The donation from the Indian-born billionaire would help the party stave off financial ruin caused by the cash-for-honours scandal.
The Sunday Times claimed the deal had been negotiated by Tony Blair and Lord Levy, currently on bail having been arrested as part of the police investigation into the affair. Mr Mittal was at the centre of an earlier financial sleaze row when it emerged that Mr Blair had backed one of his business deals following a previous donation.
A Labour spokesman said: "Mr Mittal has been a committed supporter of the party for many years and any financial gift from one of the world's most successful businessmen is very welcome."

There was a time when political parties were not allowed to accept donations from foreign businessmen. But nowadays we give them UK passports, which I suppose makes it all right?

Government lawyers have provided legal advice to officials during the cash for honours affair, prompting accusations of a serious conflict of interest.
The Independent on Sunday has learned that lawyers from the Treasury solicitors department have scrutinised the law on the abuse of honours and even taken outside advice from leading barristers.
The involvement of government lawyers, who are accountable to the Attorney General, during the police inquiry is controversial because the Attorney General will play a key role in deciding whether the case should go to court. The revelation will also raise fresh questions about why the lawyers were called in on a Labour Party matter.

The old distinctions between party business and government business are just ignored?

And third:
Tony Blair enjoyed free airline upgrades worth thousands of pounds during his controversial holiday to the Miami mansion owned by Robin Gibb, the former Bee Gee, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
The Prime Minister yesterday faced fresh accusations of "freeloading" after it emerged that he and Cherie Blair were upgraded by British Airways to first class on two transatlantic flights during the Christmas break.
MPs said Mr Blair had become a national embarrassment for repeatedly failing to pay his own way. Mr Blair has taken "free" holidays worth more than £775,000 with wealthy hosts since taking office.
They include four holidays at a Barbados villa owned by Sir Cliff Richard.
Yesterday Mr Blair was accused of using his position to "blag" first class tickets to Miami, where he was staying at a luxurious house owned by Mr Gibb.
The upgrades are worth thousands of pounds. The cost of a first class return ticket to Miami is around £7,000, compared with an economy fare sold for as little as £350. A business class ticket costs around £3,500, depending on when the ticket is booked.


13 January 2007

Beckham - where did it all go wrong?

The Guardian's glass is half empty:
The reality is that Beckham was probably past his peak when Manchester United sold him to the Spanish club in the summer of 2003. It has been his misfortune that he joined a team in a similar situation. He has always striven to give his best for Real but was there as much to sell shirts to the Chinese as provide centres for strikers. In terms of trophies Steve McManaman did better after leaving Anfield for the Bernabéu, sharing two of Real's Champions League triumphs, but at least Beckham has lasted longer there than Michael Owen.
When, in the late 80s, Glenn Hoddle was known to be seeking a move abroad it was put to Leo Beenhakker, the Dutchman then coaching Real Madrid, that he might like to buy the Tottenham player. "Maybe," Beenhakker replied, "but you must understand that our supporters expect us to sign big names."
Beckham's has been the biggest name in global football for the best part of 10 years but not entirely for footballing reasons. He will be remembered as an extremely capable player with a gifted right foot who lacked the explosive pace to become a great one. Most of his best moments, the Machiavellian free-kicks and the penalty which beat Argentina in the 2002 World Cup, ccurred when play was at a standstill.

Reality? Reality? The reality is that Mr Beckham, past his peak or not, has signed a 5 year deal worth a staggering £128 million. This may not make him the best footballer ever, but it will make him the most successful.

12 January 2007


What to make of this latest nonsense from the Scottish Executive?
Nurseries and childcare centres are to benefit from new play equipment, climbing frames and playmats as a result of extra funding announced today.
Local authorities will share in a £12.8 million package as part of the Executive's ongoing programme to modernise services for young people.
Education Minister Hugh Henry said:
"Small things often make a big difference and that's partly what I want this cash to provide. I've asked councils to spend some of the money on play equipment. Most nurseries will have a wish-list ready, and very clear ideas about how they could use a little money for new mats, outdoor climbing frames or other small items to help children all across Scotland to develop - physically, intellectually and socially."

Of course it's nice that the kiddies may get new mats and climbing frames. But is the Executive really in a position to judge the adequacy of nursery equipment across Scotland? And why does the Executive consider that new climbing frames are a priority compared with, for example, additional nursery nurses? And, if spare cash has become available, should this not simply be added to the local authority education budgets, leaving them to judge how it should be best spent?

No, the Executive can't resist meddling in things which are none of its business. Worse, it wants the credit for everything, even if it means subverting the powers of local authorities and the local government finance system, by doling out cash in dribs and drabs (and no doubt requiring local authorities to have spent it by the end of the financial year on 31 March).

11 January 2007

A place at the table

Ever feel like a poor relation? American bloggers are making progress. The Washington Post reports:
When the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice opens next week, scores of journalists are expected to throng the federal courtroom in Washington, far too many for the 100 seats set aside for the media.
But for the first time in a federal court, two of these seats will be reserved for bloggers. After two years of negotiations with judicial officials across the country, the Media Bloggers Association, a nonpartisan group with about 1,000 members working to extend the powers of the press to bloggers, has won credentials to rotate among his members. The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the highest-ranking Bush administration official to face criminal charges, could "catalyze" the association's efforts to win respect and access for bloggers in federal and state courthouses, said Robert Cox, the association's president.

Do you suppose that anyone in the Crown Office or the Scottish Court Service even knows what a blogger is?

10 January 2007

Poor old Jack

It's a shame, really. This was to be a special day. A day when the First Minister fulfilled one of his longest-held ambitions. He was going to appear on Blue Peter. He'd longed for this day for so many years.

And now it was spoiled by this latest opinion poll which forecast that Labour's representation in the Scottish Parliament would decline from 50 to 42 and that it would no longer be the largest party. How could he bathe in the reflected glory of his Blue Peter triumph when the party was going down the tubes?


From time to time, I am reminded why the Tories do not deserve to return to power. Take this in The Independent, for example:
Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, has backed hawks in the White House by calling for "nothing to be ruled out" to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Mr Fox gave the clearest signal yet that the Conservatives would support military action, including the use of nuclear strikes by the US or Israel, to halt the alleged production of a nuclear weapon by Iran.
"I am a hawk on Iran," said Mr Fox. "We should rule absolutely nothing out when it comes to Iran.
"They are notoriously good poker players and it is a very high stakes game they are playing."
His remarks follow reports in the US that Israel is ready to use nuclear "bunker buster" bombs to knock out the Iranian nuclear plants.

Do you suppose that Dr Fox has seriously considered the implications of a nuclear strike in the Middle East? Or is he just mouthing off in an attempt to establish a reputation as a hard man?


Even Guido has a go at Fox's careless remarks about Poland and Hungary. A bit embarrassing that this guy is shadow defence secretary...

I got it wrong

In a recent post (here), I suggested that following next year's elections for the Scottish Parliament there might be a prolonged period of negotiations among the various parties with a view to forming a coalition. The Holyrood Chronicles legal team has pointed out that matters are not that simple.

By virtue of section 46 of the Scotland Act 1998, following a (Scottish) general election, the Parliament has only 28 days to agree a nomination for the post of First Minister. If the Parliament fails to priduce an agreed nomination within the 28 days, then under section 3 of the Act the Presiding Officer has no option but to set a date for an extraordinary general election. As I understand it, he has no discretion in the matter.

Now, it may well be the case that two or three of the various parties competing to form a coalition will complete the necessary negotiations, enabling a nomination for First Minister to be agreed within the 28 days. In which case, feel free to ignore this post.

But just suppose they cannot agree. After all, Labour has been moving away from the LibDems on such issues as local government finance and nuclear power. Meanwhile the LibDems are less than lukewarm about the SNP's plans for an independence referendum. There will inevitably be disputes about the number of Ministers each party would get. And some of the combinations may require support from other parties in order to secure a majority for the proposed nomination. And 28 days is not a long time.

So at the end of May/beginning of June, the Presiding Officer may be forced to set a date for an extraordinary general election. It takes two to three months to prepare for an election (selecting candidates, printing ballot papers, campaigning, etc) and in any case it would be impractical to hold an election in July or August. We are therefore looking at late September at the earliest, with October a better bet. (Following the October election, the same 28 day procedure would then kick in again.)

Meanwhile, who would be looking after the shop at the Executive? Well, under section 45(4) of the Act, the Presiding Officer is able to designate a person to exercise the functions of the First Minister. I assume that the Presiding Officer would feel obliged to designate the leader of the largest party (although he is not under a statutory requirement to do so). But the Executive would certainly be operating on a care and maintenance basis.

So, the question you gotta ask yourself is this: do you feel lucky? Do you think that Messrs McConnell, Salmond and Stephen will get their act together in the 28 days following the May elections? Or are we doomed to re-live groundhog day in the autumn?

09 January 2007

More than you wanted to know

Let us have no sneering about the brown brogues. A gentleman's wardrobe is his own affair. If The First Minister wants to wear brown brogues, then so be it (even if it amounts to a terminal blow to his sartorial credibility).

The Scotsman reports:
JACK McConnell will tomorrow follow in the footsteps of Tony Blair by appearing on Blue Peter. But rather than going on the show to give an insight into the world of politics, the First Minister will donate his shoes.
Mr McConnell has been filmed for the programme at his official residence, Bute House, Edinburgh, handing over a pair of brown brogues for the Blue Peter Shoe Biz Appeal...
Yesterday, staff at Bute House admitted that McConnell has been a lifelong Blue Peter fan. They revealed he had actually won a Blue Peter badge while he was at school, but said they did not know what he had done to earn the award.

To think that young McConnell actually won a Blue Peter badge: how sweet, how bourgeois.

08 January 2007

The perils of management by objectives

This (in The New York Times) does not look promising:
President Bush’s new Iraq policy will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically, senior administration officials said Sunday...
Among these “benchmarks” are steps that would draw more Sunnis into the political process, finalize a long-delayed measure on the distribution of oil revenue and ease the government’s policy toward former Baath Party members, the officials said...
Without saying what the specific penalties for failing to achieve the goals would be, American officials insisted that they intended to hold the Iraqis to a realistic timetable for action, but the Americans and Iraqis have agreed on many of the objectives before, only to fall considerably short.

Nor does this (also in the NYT):
The new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that even with the additional American troops likely to be deployed in Baghdad under President Bush’s new war strategy it might take another “two or three years” for American and Iraqi forces to gain the upper hand in the war...
The general laid out a plan to make an impact in Baghdad with the additional troops. Several other military plans since the fall of Baghdad in 2003 have faltered. He said he wanted the new American units, working with three additional Iraqi combat brigades that Iraqi officials say will be deployed in the capital, to move back into the city’s toughest neighborhoods and show that they can “protect the people,” which he said coalition forces had previously failed to do.
General Odierno contrasted his approach with the last effort to secure Baghdad, effectively abandoned for lack of enough Iraqi troops last fall.
Then, American troops conducted house-to-house clearing operations before moving on to other neighborhoods, leaving the holding phase of the operation to Iraqi troops, who failed to control the areas and forced Americans to return. This time, the general said, American troops would remain in the cleared areas “24/7,” to stiffen Iraqi resolve and build confidence among residents that they would be treated evenhandedly.

It is reminiscent of the 1914-18 War. One more push, send the troops over the top.


Did you believe the SNP when they said it would be easy? An independent Scotland would automatically become a member of the EU? Well, now you are disabused.

The Scotsman reports:
THE SNP's case for independence was dealt a damaging blow last night when the European Commission and senior academics challenged the Nationalists' core assumption - that an independent Scotland would automatically become a member of the European Union.
The EC stressed that Scotland's entry as a member state would have to be "negotiated" and would not be the "seamless" transition the SNP has claimed.
The Commission's representative in Scotland, Neil Mitchison, confirmed that Scotland would not be granted automatic entry into the EU, as the Nationalists insist.
"The situation is unprecedented and therefore negotiations would be needed. Things would have to be discussed and negotiated," he said.
An expert in constitutional law from Edinburgh University backed this up by stressing that Scotland would have to negotiate its accession to the EU and warning that Europe might insist upon the adoption of the euro as a precondition of entry.

This is not the first occasion that I have had to warn the SNP on the consequences of failing to think things through (or take advice). They will have to do better in the next few months.

Securing independence is going to be a long and complex process. The SNP need to recognise this; they have no need to offer glib responses to every problem that is raised.

And, by the way, what's the point of revealing that a Labour MP is set to defect if you can't name him?

07 January 2007

Weekend poem No 17

In the week that England lost the Ashes 5-0, this poem by Sir Henry Newbolt seemed appropriate:

Vitaï Lampada

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind --
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

05 January 2007

Seeing the forest through the trees?

I am not a natural conspiracy theorist (well, OK, maybe I am), but The First Post seems at least credible:
Suddenly the smell of Britons being prepared for an attack on Iran is all pervasive. On Radio 4 this week, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson hosted a bizarre 45-minute round-table on how Britain would react if America and Israel went ahead and bombed Iran. Broadcast on Wednesday and repeated tomorrow, it was pitched as a discussion of hypothetical 'what ifs'.
The next morning, Anatole Kaletsky, of the Times, wrote a column about Blair and US-Israeli-Saudi plans to trash Iran. Yesterday's Spectator went further. In its cover story, it states that Israel is planning to use nuclear strikes to stop the Iranian nuclear industry. It is not a question of if but when Israel will launch its missiles and bombers, we are told.

Add in the possibility (probability?) that the Bush 'surge' in troop numbers for Iraq is intended to bring the Shia militias under control, even if (especially if?) that meant the Sunnis were to play a more prominent role in the Iraq government. And this would be music to the ears of the Saudis who must be worried about the increasing influence of Shia Iran and who, incidentally, are pals again with Blair after the latter called off the dogs in the BAE investigation. The same Blair who in Dubai recently and suddenly dumped on the ISG recommendation of consultations with Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq. Finally, consider that Bush has recently sent an additional aircraft carrier to the Gulf (see here).

Something is going on.

PLG for PSG?

Le Figaro seems remarkably phlegmatic about Le Guen's departure:
Finalement, c’est au moment où il commençait à asseoir son autorité que l’ancien joueur du PSG est tombé. «Je suis déçu de quitter le club, mais je pense que c'était la meilleure solution pour toutes les parties concernées. J'aimerais remercier les responsables des Rangers qui m'ont toujours offert un soutien total», s’est contenté de déclarer Le Guen qui n’aura tenu que sept mois en Ecosse, le règne le plus éphémère de l’histoire des Gers. Entraîneur discret mais au professionnalisme remarquable, comme en attestent ses trois titres consécutifs obtenus à la tête de l’Olympique Lyonnais, le Finistérien n’aura pas survécu aux vieilles traditions britanniques auxquelles ses aînés Arsène Wenger et Gérard Houllier avaient été confrontés avant lui non sans difficulté. L’hygiène de vie limite des joueurs (sorties régulières au pub, repas de Noël arrosé) et la méfiance de l’étranger en font partie. Comme après ses aventures rennaise et lyonnaise, Le Guen devrait prendre du recul avec le monde du football en attendant un nouveau challenge. Son nom circulera certainement du côté du PSG si Guy Lacombe ne parvient pas à rétablir la barre en début d’année. En attendant peut-être de revenir en France, l’homme met fin à son exil la tête haute. «Je sais que je ne suis pas l’homme le plus populaire de Glasgow mais quand je me regarde dans le miroir je suis bien dans ma peau», déclarait-il après sa dernière rencontre à la tête des Rangers. C’est bien l’essentiel pour cet homme de principes.

The remarks about 'life hygiene' are surely unwarranted (or perhaps not).

The mechanics of departure

Peter Riddell of The Times sets out a possible timetable for Mr Blair's departure:
On Friday May 4, or maybe the next Monday, Mr Blair would trigger a contest by resigning as Labour leader. The resignation would not take effect until the completion of the election for the deputy’s post even if the leadership is not contested. This would all take about six weeks. This period would cover both the G8 summit in Germany, which is being held earlier than usual on June 6 to 8, and the EU summit on June 21 to 22.
Mr Blair is keen to go to both events, not least because they will be the first to be attended by the new French president. The EU summit, marking the 50th anniversary of the founding Treaty of Rome, will discuss a new strategy for the union, despite splits about how to replace the rejected constitution.
On this timetable, Mr Blair would return from the EU summit and resign formally in time for Mr Brown to have about four weeks to form his new government and set out his new approach before the start of the long parliamentary recess in late July.

But if, as is a strong probability, Mr Brown is uncontested in the leadership stakes, what is he expected to do during this six week period between the announcement and the end of the deputy leadership contest? Despite being Prime Minister-designate, does he sit and twiddle his thumbs in No 11, while Mr Blair parades his stuff at the G8 and EU summits? What is the point of Mr Blair attending these summits, if he is to retire days later? Would the other G8/EU leaders rather talk to a dead man walking than to the man who will have to deliver on whatever agreements are reached? For the sake of Mr Blair's vanity?

I would suggest that Mr Blair has to be either well out of the way before the summits - which implies a resignation by April at the latest - or he has to hang on until the end of June before resigning, which implies Mr Brown might have to wait until August or September before taking over.

Flogging a dead horse

He deserves credit for trying, but I can't see that it will make much difference. The Times reports:
David Cameron will take his entire Conservative Shadow Cabinet to Scotland this month, as it emerged that the Tories face a new electoral threat to their already embattled support north of the Border.
With the party showing little sign of making any progress in this year’s election to the devolved Parliament in Edinburgh, the Conservatives are to launch a campaigning blitz across Scotland. Mr Cameron and his Cabinet will hold a formal meeting in Edinburgh on January 18. But Shadow ministers will be ordered to fan out across Scotland to woo voters, in the hope of increasing the number of Tory MSPs from 17. Polls indicate that the Tories will struggle to keep their representation at Holyrood. They have only one MP from Scotland at Westminster.

Can Mr Cameron shake up the moribund Scottish Tories? Could he make them look even vaguely - what is the word - modern?

04 January 2007

No place for a sophisticate...

So au revoir (or is it adieu?), Paul le Guen.

Player power won the battle of wills and Sir David Murray may come to regret it.

And foreign, even English, managers will also get the message.

Oh great, say Tories

Like, we need another political party? This is probably a spoof or perhaps just a joke. The Telegraph reports:
A new political party is being set up by a member of one of Scotland's most historic families to try to halt the growing bandwagon towards a referendum on the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Archie Stirling, a millionaire landowner, is due to unveil the cross-party movement next month in time to take part in the May elections for the Scottish Parliament...
A steering committee will be announced next month of leading figures who, like Mr Stirling, have never been involved in politics.
Mr Stirling, a businessman, said: "I believe in the Union which is good for Scotland and good for England. But I also believe we need members of the Scottish Parliament who have a proven track record in running a business or organisation.
"The principles will recognise Scotland's nationhood, commitment to the Union, and innate potential of the Scottish people."

Mr Stirling is famous for having married actress Diana Rigg, a marriage which ended when he had an affair with actress Joely Richardson.

But never mind. A new right-wing political party, led by millionaire businessmen who have never been previously involved in politics, is bound to command support at the forthcoming elections... No?

03 January 2007

Always look on the bright side...

Minister of Finance attempts a brave face over the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. The Executive press release states:
Minister for Finance and Public Services Tom McCabe said:
"The Executive is making a difference to the lives of the people of Scotland. The policies we are putting in place in health, education, crime, transport and jobs and the emphasis we place on growing the economy are all helping to build a better Scotland.
"It is crucial our policies are based on sound evidence and research and that is why we commission these annual research reports.
"We are not complacent - this research clearly signals there is still much to be done and people have high aspirations. We share that ambition and want to step up the pace of delivery and reform. We will use this research to inform the evolution and development of our policies."

Some of the findings are nevertheless devastating. From the core findings (here):
When asked whether they thought the Scottish Parliament was giving ordinary people more or less say in how Scotland was governed just over a third (37%) said that it had given people 'more say'. Fifty-five percent said it was 'making no difference', while only 5% thought it was giving ordinary people 'less say'...
More people think the Scottish Executive is good at listening to people's views before taking decisions than thinks the same about the UK government. Thirty-four percent thought the Scottish Executive was 'very' or 'quite' good at listening compared with 16% for the UK government. However, the proportion of people who thought that the Executive was good at listening (34%) was outweighed by the proportion who thought it was 'not very good' or 'not at all good' at listening (54%).

So, 6 years after devolution (the survey relates to 2005), more than half the population think that the Scottish Parliament is making no difference in terms of the influence wielded by ordinary people. Similarly, more than half the people think that the Executive does not listen to people's views. I think that if I were a politician I would be more than slightly concerned, perhaps even ashamed.

On the other hand,
only 32% correctly identified that the Scottish Executive is not just another name for the Scottish Parliament.

So perhaps it is not all the fault of the politicians...

02 January 2007

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?

It was only two days ago that Sir Richard advised travellers to forsake the aeroplane. The Observer reported:
Sir Richard Branson is urging British citizens to stop taking domestic flights to help reduce the damage aviation does to the environment. The Virgin boss, a recent high-profile convert to the dangers of global warming, risks his call being dismissed as self-serving because he runs two train franchises.
'People should think twice before flying domestically,' the owner of the Virgin Cross Country and Virgin West Coast networks told the Friends of the Earth magazine Earthmatters. 'Domestic air travel is twice as damaging as international air travel and yet there is a clean alternative - the

Today, in The Guardian, we learn why:
A hot drink, a fresh newspaper and a five-hour spin up the spine of Britain on one of Richard Branson's gleaming, leaning trains must be the nicest way to travel from Glasgow to London. But from this morning, you will pay a staggering £240 for a standard open return, an 8.1% increase on last year's marginally less eye-popping £222 Virgin fare.
This is the fourth consecutive year of inflation-busting rises in how much it costs to travel by train. Ticket prices set by the government, including season tickets and savers, will today increase by an average of 4.3% - 1% above inflation - while unregulated fares (60% of all tickets) go up by an average of 4.7%.

£240 for a standard return! There is something seriously wrong with our rail system.

Having your cake and eating it

Mr Salmond might be in a wee spot of bother on this issue, as reported by The Herald:
The Tories and Liberal Democrats yesterday tried to undermine Alex Salmond's New Year by demanding he resign from Westminster to fight the Scottish elections. In what promises to be a running theme of the campaign, the SNP leader was accused of trying to become a "part-time" MSP.
Mr Salmond is standing for Holyrood in the Gordon constituency, but is not giving up his Banff & Buchan seat at Westminster to do so. He was re-elected to Westminster in 2005 and has said he will serve out a full term even if elected elsewhere.

Now it may well be the case that if Mr Salmond were returned to Holyrood, either as MSP for Gordon or as a list MSP, and secured the job of First Minister, he might resign as the Westminster MP for Banff & Buchan. But to announce that in advance would suggest that he was keeping his options open until after the election, thus implying that he thought that there were circumstances in which he might not become First Minister. Because if that proved to be the case, he might not fancy a wearisome stint as leader of the Holyrood opposition. And he did opt for Westminster last time round.

On the other hand, retaining his Westminster option will give his opponents the opportunity to suggest that he is not wholly committed to the Scottish Parliament and that he is not wholly confident of winning the election.

More to come, I expect.