26 August 2009

Don't hold your breath

How many times over the past 20 years have you heard of proposals for a high-speed rail line between London and Scotland? And how many times did such proposals make any serious progress towards implementation?

The latest version is costed at £34 billion. Given that we are entering an era of severe restraint of public spending, we may as well face the fact. It is not going to happen.

With apologies to the trainspotters out there ...

Bloody typical

It's the same the whole world over
It's the poor what gets the blame
It's the rich what gets the pleasure
Ain't it all a bloody shame.

The Scotsman reports:
THE Royal Bank of Scotland was accused of "adding insult to injury" yesterday after it cut the pensions of 60,000 staff, despite having agreed to a £342,500-a-year package for its former chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin.

22 August 2009

Wheels within wheels, deals within deals

Never believe it until it has been officially denied. And the alleged deal between London and Tripoli has now been officially denied, at least by London. (It's a different story in Tripoli.) There is no apparent shortage of trade benefits.


But what about the deal between London and Edinburgh? How did the UK Government persuade the Scottish Government to permit the release of the dying prisoner? Sure, it got the Scottish legal establishment out of a hole, so the SNP administration would have been inclined to play along. On the other hand, there was an excellent chance of seriously embarrassing London. Furthermore, the SNP would certainly have needed a serious incentive to expose itself to criticism from the US of A.


So, if I may extend this conspiracist fantasy a little further, what made Mr Salmond decide to line up with the undoubted (if seldom expressed) wishes of Mr Brown's government that a line should be drawn - once and for all - under the Lockerbie atrocity?

Will we ever find out?

19 August 2009

Deal or no deal?

Why would a long-term prisoner abandon an appeal? It is possible, of course, that the appeal has been dropped in the simple hope that the authorities will look kindly on a request to be repatriated - but that would involve a substantial investment in the benificence of those authorities. It seems far more likely that a high-powered legal team would seek certain assurances of repatriation, even a guarantee, particularly if they knew that certain parties might be seriously embarrassed if the appeal were to run full course, while other parties are desperate to drill for oil in the Gulf of Sidra. Such a guarantee could not of course be made public - one has to observe certain legal proprieties after all. But a deal could be made and who would offer a quid without a quo?

In this context, the remarks of the prisoner's legal team are particularly interesting:
Appeal judges in Edinburgh were told yesterday that the 57-year-old was convinced that abandoning his long-running appeal against his conviction would "assist in the early determination" of the application to be sent back to Libya.
Maggie Scott QC, the head of Megrahi's legal team, increased suspicion of an unofficial deal by saying her client, who is now very weak, in severe pain and distressed, believed he would get home quickly only if he gave up the appeal.
She hinted that Megrahi believed that keeping the appeal "alive" meant the Scottish government would either block or delay his applications for compassionate release, including a separate prisoner transfer bid to be sent home to continue his sentence in a Libyan jail.
"His absolute priority in the little time he has left is to spend it with his family in his homeland," she told the court. "It's the appellant's belief that instructions to abandon his appeal will assist in the early determination of these applications."

Source: The Guardian (here)

18 August 2009

Time for the clothes pegs

Is this what our troops are fighting for?
Eight months ago, it looked as though the controversial era of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s ethnic Uzbek warlord, had come to a brutal end. After allegedly beating up a political rival, he disappeared into exile in Turkey. Yet with only three days until Afghanistan’s presidential election, General Dostum, 55, has staged a dramatic return to his homeland as part of a deal to help President Karzai to victory. (here)

Mr Karzai, the West’s indecisive placeman in Afghanistan, eager to please everyone, has quietly signed an amended version of what has become known as the “marital rape law”, to retain popularity with clerics and his male followers. While the clause insisting that a man has the right to sex with his wife a certain number of times a week may have been removed, the Shia Personal Status Law, described as “abhorrent” in its original form by President Obama, remains abhorrent. It allows a man to deny his wife food if she denies him conjugal sex, grants guardianship of children to fathers and
grandfathers, lets rapists pay to avoid being prosecuted, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. (here)
An investigation by the BBC has found evidence of fraud and corruption in Afghanistan's presidential election. Thousands of voting cards have been offered for sale and thousands of dollars offered in bribes to buy votes. The findings come as campaigning closes ahead of Thursday's election in which incumbent President Hamid Karzai faces more than 30 challengers. (here)

TALEBAN commanders have been bribed with cash from the international community to hold off violent attacks in the run up to Thursday's Afghan elections, The Scotsman has learned. (here)

16 August 2009

Tennis

Murray beats del Potro in final, 6-7, 7-6, 6--1. 2 hours 44 minutes worth. Tough going for Murray but finally delivers the goods.

15 August 2009

Tennis

Murray takes down Tsonga, 6-4, 7-6, despite not playing terribly well. Murray now World No 2, having overtaken Nadal in the rankings.

Feeding the inner blogger

Where, according to The Guardian, to eat cheaply and well in Edinburgh.

No, I'd never heard of most of these places, either, but that doesn't mean very much.

Kenny writes ...

Look, it wasn't supposed to be like this. I'm just an ordinary bloke; I don't claim to be an international statesman. Fat Eck insisted I take the justice post because I was one of the few to have a law degree (not that I was ever going to be the Perry Mason of the Scottish Bar).

Now I've got Mrs Clinton phoning me up (bit of a shock to the system that) and the London papers are writing profiles of me (why do they always have to mention the Wembley business?).

And the thing is, I'm damned if I let him go and damned if I don't. On the one side, there are Hillary and the yanks wanting the guy to be locked up and the key thrown away; on the other are the Scottish legal establishment, Jack Straw and various un-named spooks and squirrels who just want a line drawn under the entire case.

It's no fun, believe me. I'm only here for the occasional Burns supper in Canada, not this kind of international rammy. I can deal with the kiddies in the Scottish Parliament but I never expected to have to take on the big boys.

11 August 2009

Junk economics

It's a bit of a puzzle. I have no wish to rain on the SCDEA's parade but is its splendid record last year entirely due to its own efforts? The Scotsman reports:
A RECORD amount of class-A drugs like heroin and cocaine were seized by the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) last year – the largest amount since the organisation was formed.
The agency's eighth annual report revealed that nearly two tonnes of illegal drugs were recovered, more than half of which fell into the class-A category.The class-A drugs had a street value of £43.5 million. The SCDEA said the action stopped a minimum of two million street deals.
What we don't know is the extent to which there were more drugs available to be recovered. Obviously, if the importation of drugs is growing, then - other things remaining equal - one might expect more to be recovered. But, for obvious reasons, we do not have statistics on the amounts imported (or produced locally). One possible measure of marlet penetration might be price but again for obvious reasons we do not have reliable stats on the street price of cocaine or heroin. So it remains something of a mystery.

But nevertheless a qualified well done to the boys and girls of the SCDEA.

10 August 2009

Quote of the day

Sir John Scarlett (here):
The head of MI6 has told the BBC there is no torture and "no complicity in torture" by the British secret service.
Sir John Scarlett said his officers were committed to human rights and liberal democracy, but also had to protect the UK against terrorism.

I bet he's got his fingers crossed.

Ask a silly question ...

We couch-potatoes are always getting hammered for a lack of exercise. The Guardian reports:
We can't be bothered to walk up a few flights of stairs, balk at the idea of running to catch a bus and would rather snooze than have sex with our partners, according to a report published today.
Despite a huge government push to encourage healthy living, Britons are lazier than ever, concludes the study conducted by Nuffield Health, a not for profit health organisation.
One in six people would rather watch a TV programme they didn't like than leave the sofa to change the channel if their remote control was broken. A third (36%) of the 2,000 adults surveyed for the study said they would not run to catch a bus and more than half (59%) would not walk up two flights of stairs to reach their office, choosing instead to take the lift.

Aye, well. What The Guardian omits to mention is that Nuffield Health runs a chain of 50 gyms (sorry, "fitness and well-being centres") throughout the UK. Now how likely is it that the owner of 50 gyms, operating commercially, would commission a survey which concluded that the general fitness of the population was heading in a direction which was more than adequate?

09 August 2009

The First Minister should know better

Facts: 1. There is a finite amount of groceries that the Scottish population will buy in any year. 2. This amount may vary from year to year but only marginally.

It follows that the added sales consequent upon the opening of a new shop will be largely offset by reduced sales elsewhere, and that any new jobs created in the new shop will be largely offset by job reductions elsewhere.

That being so, why do newspapers and policians leap to welcome developments in the retail sector? The Sunday Herald reports:

SAINSBURY'S IS to create 1300 new jobs in Scotland by next summer as part of a plan to expand its UK floor space by 15%.
The supermarket group, which has completed a successful four-year turnaround plan, said that most of the jobs would come through the openings of two new stores in Strathaven and Prestwick as well as a revamped store at Glasgow's Braehead.
First minister Alex Salmond welcomed the news, predicting that the new investment would provide a "significant boost to the Scottish economy".
He said: "The company's plans to increase its number of Scottish stores and to expand existing outlets will bring new jobs and investment to communities throughout the country."

04 August 2009

Heedorum, hoderum

Oh dear, the Gaelic language is in crisis - yet again. All that money on Gaelic TV and gaelic education would not appear to be having the desired effect. The Minister for the Gaelic (who knew there was such a creature) says so:
Immediate action to create a new generation of Gaelic speakers is the only way to save the language, according to Minister for Gaelic Michael Russell and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Fiona Hyslop, speaking today during a visit to the studios of Stornoway-based Gaelic broadcaster MG Alba.

Well OK, Mikey. What you gonna do?

To address the issue, Ms Hyslop and Mr Russell announced that the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig will work closely over the next three months to identify the critical steps required to deliver such a challenging outcome. By the end of this year Mr Russell will publish an action plan of radical steps which will deliver an increase in Gaelic speakers and users.
Minister for Gaelic Michael Russell said:
"There is legitimate concern about the condition of Gaelic in Scotland. This Government shares that concern and is committed to tackling it head-on. But there is not the luxury of time. We must take action and we must take it now."

But there is sufficient luxury of time to prepare an action plan of radical steps. Which course of so-called action commits the Scottish Government to very little. The inhabitants of the Western Isles may have their faults but they are well enough able to distinguish between the appearance of immediate action and the reality.

Is there any indication of what these radical steps will involve? No. Is there any indication that the government is prepared to open its purse? No. Will they just go back to Edinburgh and forget about it? Probably.

01 August 2009

Quote of the day

Even Peston is prepared to put the boot in:
... if you're in a mood to fume once more at the way that individual bankers enriched themselves at taxpayers' expense, I commend to you a report published yesterday by the New York State attorney general on fat bonuses paid last year by US banks that were kept alive by public money.
The once-mighty Citigroup, for example, received hundreds of billions of dollars in investment and guarantees from American taxpayers, but still paid out $609.1m in bonuses to its top 124 bonus recipients: three individuals received bonuses of $10m or more; 13 pocketed bonuses of $8m or more; 44 individuals trousered bonuses of $5m or more.
Merrill Lynch, which was rescued by Bank of America and generated losses last year of $27.6bn, paid its top four bonus recipients in 2008 a combined $121m and the next four received $62m. The top 149 bonus recipients at Merrill received a combined $858m.
This spectacle of bankers' snouts in the trough feasting thanks to the emergency succour provided by taxpayers was also to be seen at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan.
And all the while a painful global recession - partly caused by bankers' excess - was depriving less fortunate citizens of their livelihoods.
We don't have an equivalent report into the bonuses paid last year by British banks.

Angry, nearest lamp-post, rope ...