31 July 2007

What next?

Two things 'they' never told us when the trams were being given parliamentary backing:

1. From today's Scotsman (here):
TWO of Edinburgh's busiest streets could be closed to cars under plans being considered by city leaders.
As part of the blueprint for the new trams network, it is understood that Shandwick Place would only be open to trams, taxis and buses, while Constitution Street in Leith would be used only by trams.

2. From last Saturday's Scotsman (here):
COUNCIL tax payers could be left to pay for a shortfall in funding for Edinburgh's tram scheme, the city's deputy leader claimed yesterday.
Steve Cardownie predicted a gap in the £45 million pledged by the council because of the lack of business contributions to the project.

Is there anything else we should know? I mean, before we get too deeply into this mess? And don't you think we might have been told before Parliament gave its final approval to the scheme?


My question is already answered. The Evening News reveals that what's next is that the city streetscapes are to be littered with 32 dirty great, bright red, freestanding ticket machines to dispense tram and bus tickets. As if our main city highways were not already sufficiently cluttered with street furniture.

I am beginning to get hacked off about the trams ...

There's a wee surprise ...

Does the following sentence seem familiar? It is taken from Alan Cochrane's article in today's Telegraph and concerns Jack McConnell.
But as he contemplates his future, and his golf swing, at his own particular Colombey les Deux Eglises - in this case the Isle of Arran - his party's cause isn't really being helped by the vacuum at the top.

Compare and contrast this extract from my post of two days ago on this blog:
The sense of drift while Mr McConnell contemplates his options and tampers with his golf swing at Lamlash-Les-Deux-Eglises becomes more palpable by the day.

Probably just a coincidence?

30 July 2007

The footie season starts this weekend coming ...

The Evening News reports:
HEARTS have ended months of speculation over their managerial structure by appointing Anatoli Korobochka and Stephen Frail as the club's permanent coaching team.
Hearts' permanent coaching team? Now there's an oxymoron for you.

An irony-free zone

Do you ever wonder about the military mindset? I don't.

The BBC reports:
Nato is considering the use of smaller bombs in Afghanistan to try to curb the rising number of civilians killed during operations against the Taleban.
Commanders have also ordered troops to hold off attacking militants in some situations where civilians are at risk.

Oh well, that's all right then. I'll stop weeping.

Worse things happen at sea ...

Children all over the country are rejoicing at this report in The Scotsman:
THE floods that ravaged parts of England could also leave their mark on the Christmas dinner plate, a new report warns.
The trade magazine the Grocer says shortages in the wake of the recent floods could last until the end of the year with the British crop of brussels sprouts badly hit.
Torrential rain across much of the country has added to the woes of growers and threatened availability levels in supermarkets. Up to half of the UK's brussels sprout crop has been lost, fuelling fears of Christmas Day shortages, producers have warned.

Besides, if you have not already put the sprouts on the boil, you are probably too late for Christmas 2007.

29 July 2007

Jack the pothead - allegedly

I find it difficult to become worked up about the association (as reported in The Sunday Herald) which Mr McConnell may or may not have had with a student guidebook advocating the merits of smoking cannabis while he was at Stirling University 27 years ago. We all did stupid things at university; that is one of the reasons that universities exist.

But we are now almost three months on from the elections. It is time that the Scottish Labour Party pulled itself together and decided who will lead it into the future. The sense of drift while Mr McConnell contemplates his options and tampers with his golf swing at Lamlash-Les-Deux-Eglises becomes more palpable by the day.

Like the encouragement formerly offered to some of the lesser (and occasionally the greater) footballing teams in this wonderful wee country of ours, my advice to Mr McConnell is straightforward:

Dae Sumthin!

28 July 2007

The PM as Hugh Grant

Gordon's 'Love, Actually' moment here. Unfortunately, it's a fantasy. Shame, really.

More babies?

The Herald goes to town on the strength of a slight revival in the number of births last year:
Scotland's public services could face a major shake-up in health and education policies, increasing hospital and school provision after years of decline because of an unexpected baby boom across the nation.
Official figures released yesterday confirmed there were more births in Scotland last year than deaths, bringing the first rise in the nation's natural population for more than a decade.
The statistics dashed years of official doom-mongering that has prompted authorities - from NHS boards to councils - to plan for historic decline in numbers at everything from maternities to schools.
Now those same authorities are gearing up to cope with an increase in population thanks to a healthy birth rate and a continued influx of people from the rest of the UK and eastern Europe.

I wouldn't get too excited - yet - about this "new baby boom". The graph here shows that the 2006 figure of 55,690 births represents a welcome halt to the decline in birth numbers, even if it does not prove to be sustained in the longer term. But 55,690 is still well below the 65,000-70,000 achieved in the 1980s, as well as substantially below the 90,000 to 100,000 in the 1950s. In other words, the long term trend is still of decline.

I know that The Herald has to fill its newspaper but let us calm down, please.

27 July 2007

Definitely not mince

I can only admire the poetic talent of Mr Eugenides. This is his wonderful valediction for Shambo:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy T-bone,
Silence the tambourines and with muffled drums
Bring out the burger buns, let the ketchup come.

Let cattle trucks circle moaning round the barn
Scribbling in the dirt the message, Shambo Is Dead,
Put mournful garlands round the white necks of the temple monks,
Let the government veterinarians wear black rubber gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My midweek sandwich and my Sunday lunch,
My stir-fry, my fillet, my stock, my chop;
I thought that leftovers would last for ever: I was wrong.

The barbeques are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the mustard and dismantle the grill;
Pour away the gravy and sweep up the wood.
For no meal now will ever be as good.

Great stuff!

26 July 2007

The politics of physicality

Well, it's a theory, I suppose. The New Statesman embraces the idea that the Tories are -literally - carrying too much baggage:
One rising star of the party, still looking for a seat at the next election, says: "We are too fat and too rich and we look like we don't give a shit." There are even whispers within the party that Cameron himself is looking too chubby, despite all the cycling. "We don't look like we want it. We are quite literally not hungry enough," the source said. The same younger Tories have been forced to recognise the talent of Brown's phalanx of young lieutenants. Man for man, pound for pound, they say, the shadow cabinet is roughly five years older and half a stone heavier.

While more exercise would probably benefit the Tory shadow cabinet, it is unlikely to be enough. In any case, it is worth bearing in mind that the removal of Mr Prescott was bound to lead to a sharp decline in the average weight of the Labour cabinet. And it remains to be seen if the boy Milliband and wee Dougie are actually up to the jobs they have been allocated, regardless of their no doubt admirable physical condition.

Besides, a little - we are being generous here - excess avoirdupois does not seem to have done Mr Salmond any harm.

The demon booze

Here is the conclusion of a handwringing essay in The Guardian on the subject of booze:

The problem, I would argue, is not 24-hour drinking, much less the fact that lager companies sponsor football trophies and tennis tournaments. We could talk for hours about how we change what officialspeak terms "attitudes to drinking" and make very little progress. So, try this: booze is far too cheap, and the case for a tax hike, along with action on supermarket discounting, therefore seems pretty much unanswerable. But faced with a titanic alliance of retail giants, brewers and pub chains - not to mention an electorate drinking for Britain - would any government dare make a move?

Though this conclusion is rather undermined by the previous paragraph which admits that there is a problem even in those areas where cheap booze is not available.

The article entirely neglects the fact - well known to the Treasury - that a tax hike on booze merely increases the huge flow into the UK of significantly cheaper booze acquired legitimately or illegitimately on the continent. I don't know what the answer is to the problem of excessive drinking but I doubt if increasing tax by 7 pence on a pint of beer and by 70 pence on a bottle of spirits will make a significant difference.

24 July 2007

Most unbelievable proposition of the week

... is offered by The Edinburgh Evening News:
THIERRY GATHEUSSI today revealed how Hibs' growing reputation in France for playing classy football convinced him Easter Road was the place for him.

Oh yeah. I just bet that the guys are sitting around in cafes, from Auxerre to Lyon to Marseille, sucking on their gauloises and saying "Vous savez, les Hibs, aujourd'hui ils jouent le foot d'un ton tres élevé".

As if.

Silly man

An unnecessarily vicious review by art critic Adrian Searle in The Guardian of the new Beryl Cook exhibition:
Beryl Cook: a homely, round name for a woman we imagine is also round and jolly and homely. Her art depresses me. I thought I would be able to summon some sort of enthusiasm for its Englishness, its playfulness, its sauciness. But I can't. The best that can be said is that Cook celebrates ordinariness - large women with large appetites, broad-shouldered men, hen parties, booze-ups, dances, dinners, shopping, sunbathing, a bit of slap and tickle. At least ordinariness in Cook's art is more various than one might think: the bloke next door is a shoe fetishist, and even Saga members like a bit of kinky sex. All the girls, and some of the boys, like a sailor. Cook's is an art without any pretentions other than to please.
I suppose the word for Cook's work is "affirmative". Another word would be "cliched": Cubans smoke cigars and drive wrecked 1950s cars. Argentinians like to tango. There are sleazy bars and prostitutes at the harbour end of the Ramblas in Barcelona. Cats like fish. Women sometimes get riotously drunk and bawdy. We know because Cook's paintings show us. We knew anyway, and so feel comforted in our view of the world. It is all as cloying as a cup of Ovaltine.

I don't know what Ms Cook has done to offend Mr Searle. Perhaps it is because, as well as being a great and original artist, she is popular. Or perhaps it is that the exhibition is in Gateshead, far from the usual metropolitan stamping ground.

22 July 2007


What can you say? 'Thoughtful' sums it up:
PRINCE Charles surprised his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, with an unusual gift of two sheep as they celebrated her 60th birthday with a glitzy party.
Camilla is said to be "delighted" with the rare breed ram and ewe, which cost the heir to the throne about £300 each.
"The Royal Family have so much already that they don't actually give wildly extravagant presents," said a source close to Camilla. "Their gifts tend to be more thoughtful."

I may not have been the most 'thoughtful' husband in the world, but I rather doubt that my ex-wife would have welcomed the gift of two sheep.

Blowing smoke

If Scotland on Sunday is going to run scare stories, it would be helpful if they got the facts right. This nonsense for instance:
And just as worrying as the soaring production rates is the fact that the cannabis is today around seven times stronger than the era when many top politicians were smoking it.

Well, no, it's not. According to The Independent (here)
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which examined the issue 18 months ago, will be asked to do so again. It concluded in its report in December 2005 that the strength of cannabis resin (hash) had changed little over 30 years and was about 5 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Skunk, it found was 10 to 15 per cent THC - two to three times as strong...

There is something of a difference between seven times as strong and two to three times as strong.

Scotland on Sunday also produces this absurd non-sequitur:
DETECTIVES are shutting down at least one cannabis factory a week in their battle to contain an illegal industry created by reclassification of the drug.

So the introduction of cannabis factories was 'created' by the reclassification of the drug. Any evidence for this statement? Does anyone believe that a reverse of reclassification would wipe out cannabis factories?

Drugs are a serious problem in society. It does nobody any good for newspapers to get over-excited.

21 July 2007

The narrative truth

Quote of the day - Matthew Parris:

Satan might nip back to Tory HQ to advise the new leader on how best to make the change, be the change. And what he most assuredly does not say is: “Here’s a nifty stunt: fly to Rwanda and make like you’re doing NGO stuff with some starving Africans. Voters will think you care, ha-ha.”
He says: “Look, David, you do care. But you need to show it or you’ll never be prime minister and put your principles into action. We both know – and for Pete’s sake, the voters know – that a few days in Rwanda surrounded by cameras can’t achieve useful fieldwork; but your visit works on deeper levels. It’s a metaphor, David. It says ‘I care’; it says ‘Tories care’; it says ‘the issue matters’. It says ‘The Conservative Party has changed’. It’s the narrative, David, and the moral of the story is true, even if the story itself is a bit . . . er, constructed.

Constructed? It's a stunt. And there is no moral to the story.

20 July 2007

Am I bovvered?

Hey, it's no big deal. The Guardian reports:
There are blogs that are popular, with thousands of hits every day; there are plenty more that are not so hot, lucky to get 10 page views a week. Then there is Xu Jinglei's blog, which can pull in visitors at a rate of more than 100 every second.
The Chinese actor-director has been declared the world's most widely read blogger, with more than 100m page views in less than two years.

But I bet she doesn't write about Scottish politics.

I should reach 100m page views in about 2324 ...

Playing games

It's all a bit pointless. The Guardian reports:
Russia yesterday expelled four British diplomats and banned its officials from travelling to the UK in a move denounced as "completely unjustifiable" by Britain.
In a tit-for-tat response over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, Russia's foreign ministry announced that four UK diplomats had been declared persona non grata. They had 10 days to leave, it said.

Which achieves? Well, nothing really. Does anybody win in this game of tit for tat? Childish ...

19 July 2007

My confession

So, the Home Secretary once smoked cannabis.

I have to confess that I have not. It's not a question of morality. It's just that, when I was at university in the late 1960s, I didn't move in the right circles. Well, OK, I was a wee swot. And the opportunity never came my way.

But it doesn't mean that I am a bad person. Does it?

Anthing goes - or maybe not

I sometimes wonder if the attractions of modern life are on the wane. The Independent reports:
In olden days, according to Cole Porter, a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking. Today, however, the garment's main shock value seems to reside in its rarity rather than its ability to titillate.
A new report has suggested that when it comes to a choice of legwear ­ in public at least ­anything other than stockings goes.
The slide of the stocking, which has been under attack since the invention of the pantyhose in 1959, is part of a more general trend, it was claimed. According to the market analyst Mintel, total UK hosiery sales slipped last year to £272m ­ down from £319m in 2002. But stocking sales were worst hit, plummeting 50 per cent ­ from £10m in 2002 to £5m last year, making up just 2 per cent of all hosiery sales.
Once the epitome of big screen glamour, immortalised by movie sirens such as Anne Bancroft as the carnivorous Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, modern generations consider stockings to be quite simply inconvenient.
Younger women it seems are more likely to buy hold-ups or footless tights ...

Not sure that I know what 'hold-ups' are - which probably defines my ignorance of young women today.

17 July 2007

Not being a resident of London, I'm not sure that I care much either way

Somehow, I get the impression that Polly Toynbee is not a great admirer of Boris:
"Jester, toff, self-absorbed sociopath and serial liar, the man could still win. Even Conrad Black called him "a duplicitous scoundrel", and he should know."
Don't sit on the fence, Polly! Tell us what you really feel.

16 July 2007

Council housing

A curious article on housing policy by Iain Macwhirter in The Herald this morning. After noting Prime Minister Brown's damascene conversion to the virtues of council housing, he goes on to comment:
Will the advocates of housing stock transfer, such as Wendy Alexander and Frank McAveety, now be speaking up for council house building in the Scottish Parliament? For it looks as if the winners in the new housing policy may be those areas such as Edinburgh which voted against stock transfer, despite the urgings of the Scottish Executive. Under Brown's new policy, the capital city will presumably now be able to start building again, using its annual housing rent receipts as collateral. With 24,000 people on Edinburgh's waiting list and 100 applications for every council home, it will not be before time.

But "Brown's new policy" will not necessarily apply north of the border and Edinburgh's SNP-LibDem administration is unlikely to opt for a wholesale adoption of either the old or new Labour policy on council housing. As for the Scottish Executive, it is concentrating its eggs in this particular basket for the moment - little sign there of a renewed emphasis on council-owned housing.

We will know that a return to building council houses is imminent if the governments north and south of the border address the right to buy issue. Until then, there is no point in building council houses when they have to be sold off at a massive discount under the Right to Buy scheme.

14 July 2007

Getting one's fix

It's not easy when you are an addict. You have to rely on a continued supply of those goods which make life worth living. Accordingly I was deeply concerned when I read this article in The Guardian:
Confectionery group Cadbury Schweppes said today its flood-hit Sheffield sweets factory will remain out of action for several more weeks.
The plant, which employs 900 people, makes Jelly Babies, Liquorice Allsorts and a range of other products both branded and own-label, and was badly affected by the flooding that hit the north of England last month.
Production at the factory has been suspended and Cadbury said it would be some time before it is fully operational.

Disaster! What am I gonna do? But then the sky cleared and the black clouds disappeared:

Manufacture of key brands such as Jelly Babies has been transferred to other factories and it is thought unlikely there will be any product shortages.


12 July 2007

Scrumming down for Scotland

Look, First Minister, are you sure about this? It would be what Sir Humphrey called a brave decision. I mean, these guys don't mess around - this would be cut-throat stuff.

No-one would blame you if you wanted to stick with the usual political issues. Local income tax, the West Lothian Question, the Barnett formula - those are a doddle compared to this dispute.

And you'll get no political thanks. These guys only ever vote Tory. And it's not as if, even if you pulled it off, there would be more than an occasional victory over Italy (on a good day).

Well, if you insist, First Minister ...

The Scotcman reports:

ALEX Salmond is willing to offer the services of the Scottish Executive to help sort out the crisis in Scottish rugby, it emerged last night.
The First Minister's offer came as the Scottish Rugby Union announced it was prepared to enter into limited negotiations with Edinburgh Rugby in an attempt to end the stalemate that has crippled the professional sport in Scotland.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond said the First Minister was willing, in principle, to help in any way he could if approached by the SRU.

This is a rip-off

You will read a number of articles in the press this morning about the decline of the dollar (here and here, for example). And, sure enough, the BBC business website records the spot price, as of this moment, as 2.0355 dollars to the £. This is great news for those about to go on holiday to the States (even although it is less welcome news for the domestic tourist industry seeking to attract American tourists).

But I wish to draw your attention to the amount of dollars that you will actually get if you seek to exchange your sterling currency in preparation for your holiday. In particular, I would direct your attention to the Bank of Scotland's currency converter which this morning is offering a mere 1.9388 dollars to the £.

Accordingly, you may calculate that for every dollar that the Bank buys for the purpose of re-selling to the British tourist it is making some 9 cents on the deal. But this 9% profit of course assumes that the bank is able to buy at the spot rate. This is probably unreasonable as even the Bank has to pay for financial transactions, but nevertheless its costs will be substantially less than 9%; indeed, I would be extremely surprised if they exceeded 1%. Than you also need to consider that the bank is also exchanging pounds for dollars to the few American tourists (or golfers) that continue to come to our shores; although they do not publish the rates, you will not be surprised to hear that the Bank will charge the poor saps rather more than 2.10 dollars to the £. Thus the Bank wins both ways.

Ah, but you remind me, foreign currency trading is a chancy business - exchange rates can change from day to day. Well, that is true - but rates go up as well as down and, if you are a dirty great bank, than what you lose on the swings you will gain on the roundabouts.

This post is not intended as a specific criticism of the Bank of Scotland. I have no reason to believe that they are any worse than any of their competitors. But, collectively, this is an area of the banking industry where naked greed is ripping off the customer. And it is about time the Financial Services Authority did something about it.

Letting the dice fall as they may

Some of us may welcome this development. The Guardian reports:
Gordon Brown yesterday tore up Blairite plans for a supercasino based in Manchester, breaking with his predecessor and reasserting Labour's moral stance in the face of the Conservative focus on family values and the "broken society".
Yesterday it became clear that Mr Brown intends to drop the largest venue, while proceeding with the other 16. He has never been an enthusiast for gambling and raised the top rate of gaming duty to 50% in the budget...
But the timing of Mr Brown's remarks raised eyebrows in Westminster. His spokesman said the prime minister had not discussed it with the cabinet, but had agreed a position with the new culture secretary, James Purnell...
Whitehall sources said there was virtually no prospect of the regional casino going ahead.

What happened to the new regime of cabinet government? And is this the new way of making government announcements - to slip them out in a response to a government backbencher during Prime Minister's Questions?

10 July 2007

The search for a hero

Even The New York Times cannot resist the story:
John Smeaton proved to be a natural born Internet star.
Mr. Smeaton, a baggage handler, was one of the first witnesses to emerge in coverage of the failed plot on July 30, most notably in long interviews on the BBC and CNN.
With a heavy local accent, strong chin, close-cropped hair and ample doses of machismo, Mr. Smeaton started off his story with a sequence fit for an action hero before the climactic fight. Cigarette in mouth, he told himself “What’s the score? I’ve got to get this sorted.”

This interweb thingy has a lot to answer for.

09 July 2007

Gesture politics?

Here is an extract from one of today's Executive press releases:
Funding of £250,000 to support more than 120,000 people in communities most affected by the violence and unrest in South and West Darfur was today announced by the Executive.
The funding will contribute to the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund's (SCIAF) emergency effort which is ongoing in the area.
Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture Linda Fabiani said:
"I am delighted to be able to offer support of £250,000 to help those most in need in South and West Darfur.
"With the arrival of the rainy season, we are looking at immediate and practical solutions to support impoverished and displaced people. In an area where three quarters of the population are farmers, this money from the Scottish government will provide essential seeds, tools and training to allow people to begin planting to feed themselves and their families."

Very worthwhile, I am sure. But I have to point out that £250,000 spread around 120,000 people will not go very far - I make it slightly less than £2.09 per head. How many seeds, tools and training will that buy you? And what about the other 2 million displaced persons in Darfur?

Nevertheless, I suppose that every little helps ...

Lost in showbiz

What does it say about the political pundits on telly when the most important thing in the Campbell diaries is that they get a mention? Thus Sky's Adam Boulton devotes virtually an entire blog post to setting out the insults he receives - and he is mightily pleased about it. On the other hand, Nick Robinson of the BBC is miffed beause he only gets one reference (describing him as a 'jerk').

What a pair of self-centred clowns ...

08 July 2007

News values

After all, it was only 130 dead Iraqis (and 240 injured). It may have happened only yesterday, but you won't find it here on the BBC website news front page. Instead, it is hidden away here.

06 July 2007

Barnett re-visited

Not necessarily a bad idea. The Scotsman reports:
The growing clamour for change seemed to be acknowledged for the first time by the government this week, when one of Gordon Brown's Cabinet ministers told peers that ministers would not block attempts by the House of Lords to set up the special select committee in the autumn.
Amid rising dissatisfaction at Westminster about the so-called "Scots' subsidy" whereby those north of the Border have £1,500 more per head spent on them, the Leader in the House of Lords has agreed to consider setting up a special select committee. Lord Barnett told peers that the House of Lords now had a "unique opportunity" to review the formula through an ad hoc select committee.
Baroness Ashtal, the leader in the Lords, said she would "consider it carefully". She added: "We believe that the Barnett Formula has served us well, but it is reasonable and understandable that from time to time representations are made about whether it should be reviewed."

It would probably be helpful to remind certain commentators that the Barnett formula is a mechanism for reducing Scotland's share of comparable public spending. Given the slowness with which it is achieving its objective, there may be a case for review, although it is hard to see how any change to the formula could be other than relatively arbitrary.

If it is accepted that Scotland 'needs' higher spending per head - for example because it is less densely populated, thus requiring more roads expenditure per head of population, or because it is less healthy, thus requiring more medical treatment per head of population - the difficulty arises in quantifying how much extra spending is 'needed'. Unless and until that quantification is undertaken, it is difficult to say how far and how fast any replacement for the Barnett formula should aim to reduce Scotland's advantage in terms of comparable spending.

But, if their lordships want to dip their toes into this extremely muddy water, then hell mend them ...

Parliamentary exchange of the day

From yesterday's oral questions to DBERR:
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): ... What will be the role of another new friend, Sir Digby Jones? Will he be using all his traditional powers of tact and diplomacy to ensure that the regional development agencies are better co-ordinated in overseas markets?

Mr. McFadden: Comrade Digby, as we call him in the Department, will have a very important role to play. He has been outspoken on the issue, and I am sure that he will be a vocal and effective voice in ensuring a co-ordinated approach by RDAs working abroad.

05 July 2007

Grown-up behaviour?

I don't know who is worse - those who smoke in the toilets or those who clipe. The BBC reports:
MPs have been accused of flouting the smoking ban - and even sneaking cigarettes in the Commons toilets.
Although it is not illegal to smoke in the Palace of Westminster, both Houses decided to ban it at the same time as the rest of England, on Sunday.
But Labour's Betty Williams told MPs the ban was "already being abused" and offered to show Commons Leader Harriet Harman where people were smoking.
MPs joined in with cries of "division toilets" and "toilets".


A question of taste

Matthew Parris on men's footwear (here):
As a boy I was told by my Oxbridge headmaster in Swaziland that in England a gentleman never wears brown shoes with a grey or blue suit in town.
... I have tried, however shabbily, to stick to that. But I’m noticing that in today’s London very respectable people indeed – better-dressed than me – are beginning to wear brown shoes with any suit. Was I wrong, I asked a smart friend, James Landale, of BBC News 24? James’s brow furrowed.
“The question doesn’t arise,” he said. “One doesn’t wear brown shoes at all.”


Tsk, tsk

I appreciate that it is only 9 weeks since the elections, but that is surely time enough to have sorted the matter. The BBC website reports:
First Minister Alex Salmond has insisted he will take just one parliamentary salary.
Earlier it had emerged he has been paid by both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament since he became an MSP in May's Holyrood elections.
Mr Salmond said he would continue claiming his MP's salary and repay the money he has received from Holyrood.
Before the Scottish election said he would draw just one salary if he was also elected as an MSP.
Under the terms of the Scotland Act, politicians sitting in both Holyrood and Westminster, are entitled to an MP's salary of £60,000 plus a third of the £53,000 paid to MSPs.
In addition, Mr Salmond, who is the MSP for Gordon and MP for Banff and Buchan, collects a further salary of £77,000 as first minister.

Not that giving up an MSP's salary is such a big deal. He would only have been entitled to a third of it, so Mr Salmond is in effect only giving up some £17,700 per year, resulting in a nominal salary of £137,000 (£60k as MP and £77k as FM).

And then there are allowances ...

04 July 2007

Do not tangle with these guys ...

This should be interesting. The BBC reports:
Contempt of court action will be taken later this year against a Sunday newspaper over a story it ran shortly before the Angelika Kluk murder trial.
Associated Newspapers - publishers of the Mail on Sunday - are alleged to have potentially prejudiced the trial in its front page story of 4 February. Editor Christopher Williams and Allan Caldwell, the freelance reporter who wrote the story, also face charges.
They deny any wrong doing. No date has been fixed for the contempt hearing.
The contempt issue is to be considered by a three-judge court over four days later this year and is expected to be regarded as a test case for the media and its reporting of legal proceedings.

If I were in charge of Associated Newspapers, I'd make sure to get a good lawyer. This is not London. Scottish judges may not take kindly to the Scottish judicial system being treated - allegedly - with contempt.

Some confusion here, perhaps?

David Cameron (here) in response to yesterday's statement by the Prime Minister on the constitution:
Today, the situation is that neither he, nor I, nor any Member of the House has the right to vote on hospitals, schools or housing in his constituency or in other parts of Scotland, yet he is able to vote on hospitals, schools and housing in my constituency. We already have two classes of MP. Is it not the case that the only effective way to solve that problem is to give MPs in English constituencies the decisive say in the House on issues that affect only England?

Mr Cameron was echoed by Michael Howard:
I welcome many of the proposals that the Prime Minister has put forward, but in rejecting the case for English votes for English laws, he said that he did not want to create two classes of Members of the House. Is it not a fact, as pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that we already have two classes of Members of the House—those who are able to vote on all measures affecting their constituents, and those who, on many measures, are able to vote only on measures affecting the constituents of others?

I might argue that there are no two classes of MPs at present. All of them have the right to vote on all measures affecting constituents in England but none of them has the right to vote on certain measures affecting constituents in Scotland. The situation may not be symmetrical but - for now at least - all MPs have exactly the same rights in terms of what they can and cannot vote for. To suggest that there are already two classes of MPs is misleading.

Or am I dancing with the angels on a pinhead?

03 July 2007

Only in Glasgow

Probably disgraceful.

The hard man goes to paradise?

The Herald and The Scotsman are comprehensively scooped by The Telegraph:
John Reid, the former Home Secretary, is poised to become the next chairman of Celtic Football Club.
Mr Reid, an ardent fan of the Glasgow club, has been offered the job and is understood to be "highly likely" to take it, according to senior sources. Mr Reid will replace Brian Quinn, 70, who has been chairman since 2000 and has made it clear he wants to step down.
The appointment of Mr Reid, 60, has been pushed for by Dermot Desmond, the Irish entrepreneur who is the largest shareholder in the club.

But will Dr Reid find that Celtic are 'fit for purpose'?

02 July 2007

Gesture security

Max Hastings in The Guardian (here):
A dilemma confronts the Home Office, intelligence services and police chiefs every time a terrorist incident takes place. They know that, rationally, there is little chance that imposing car checks at airports will accomplish anything more than adding an hour or two's delay to every passenger's flight time. Yet they are also acutely conscious that if they fail to be seen to raise their game, and another would-be terrorist then crashes into a British airport terminal, it would be a resignation issue.
The usual compromise is that extreme security checks are introduced for some days following a major incident. Then, when the headlines cool and the economic disruption becomes intolerable, security reverts to "normal". This does not represent a logical approach, but it is hard to see any way around it in a democracy vulnerable to media frenzies.
It is also hard for ministers and the police to pitch their public utterances. A reasoned statement, following the weekend's events, might have gone something like this: "After so much speculation about attacks on Britain by terrorists wielding weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, it is a relief to see these attempts made with weapons as crude as cars filled with petrol and gas cylinders. The group carrying out the attacks are grotesque amateurs. At worst, their efforts might have inflicted the level of fatalities caused by a motorway smash." In reality, of course, it would be unthinkable for anyone in authority to say anything of the sort. Spokesmen must talk gravely about "a threat of dreadful carnage", because anything less would sound flippant and irresponsible.

Which does not make it any less annoying if you have to catch a plane.