30 September 2009

All to play for?

Despite yesterday's speech by the PM (workhouses for teenage mums? more Asbos? WTF planet is he on?), if I were David Cameron, I'd be slightly worried.

1. The latest polls put the Tories in the high 30s rather than the comfortable 40s. They need the latter in order to be assured of an overall majority.

2. If Ireland votes yes on Friday (which seems increasingly likely), Lisbon ratification could be wrapped up by the end of October. Then where will the Tories go with their promise 'not to let matters rest'? And can they take their party with them?

3. Wee Georgie-Porgie is not really cutting the mustard when it comes to the economics thingy. On every economics issue, the wallpaper king seems to put the Tories on the wrong side (and the City is whispering about his lack of interest in his brief).

4. There remains a whiff of something unsavoury with regard to the Tories, from duck houses and moats to their links with lobbyists and their continuing dalliance with rich businessmen. A couple of scandals and who knows?

5. Lord Mandelson may be reduced to doing pantomime turns at party conferences, but he's no mug and not to be under-estimated. If the Tories have weaknesses, Lord Peter will have found them.

Or maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part ...

Quote of the day

If you have not already done so, it is time to throw out those old Andy Williams records. The Guardian reports:
"Don't like him at all," says Williams, gravely of his bete noir, Obama. "I think he wants to create a socialist country. The people he associates with are very left wing … one is registered as a communist. Obama is following Marxist theory. He's taken over the banks and the car industry. He wants the country to fail."

What is it with these Americans?

25 September 2009

For rugby fans only

At 7 pm thia evening, BBC2 Wales is broadcasting live the match between Glasgow and the Ospreys. If you can't access BBC2 Wales, you might try the BBC news website, sports section, by clicking on the relevant icon on the right-hand side.

And, no, I don't know why BBC2 Scotland thinks that Landward and Scotland On Film are more important.

Easy said ,,,

Here is an extract from Mr Russell's paper on broadcasting:
4.9. The future of the BBC and the licence fee revenue raised within Scotland would be a major consideration in the move to an independent Scotland. It is envisaged that the existing assets, staff and expertise of BBC Scotland would be used as the basis of a Scottish national broadcaster, along with an appropriate share of the BBC's other assets, including its commercial activities.

That "appropriate share of the BBC's other assets"? How exactly does the BBC (or whoever is tasked with the job) go about the assessment of the Scottish share of the World Service, the Lonely Planet guides, all the property owned by the BBC overseas, not to mention the various ongoing broadcasting contracts, eg with the football authorities? Easy enough to say that Scotland should inherit 7.5% of these assets (in line with the proportion paid by Scottish licence payers) but I suspect that many of these assets have never been valued. And do we want our share of the assets (in some kind of joint ownership arrangement perhaps) or should we take the money and run?

Similar considerations arise in relation to the Ministry of Defence (all those boats, aeroplanes and military bases), the Foreign Office (all those embassies), the British Council, the British Empire (Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Gibraltar, etc - the Brits can probably keep the Falklands and Ascension Island) and numerous other smaller institutions.

Would it be unreasonable to ask that, before the introduction of the referendum bill, the SNP indicate how they intend to approach such matters? I am not demanding that they reveal their opening negotiating position; but it would be nice to be reassured that they have at least thought about the issue.

24 September 2009

Deflation

No, don't be silly. We're not talking about deflation as in balloons (or at least not entirely).

In my Spanish pueblo, the price of beer has tumbled. Whereas previously one had to search out a bar prepared to dip below the standard price of two euros for a pint of lager, the price of of 1.50, 1,40 is now commonplace. This may be due to competition (although the circumstances have not really changed) or, more likely, the dearth of tourists due to the collapse of the pound.

One of my many locals is selling San Miguel for one euro per pint. (It has the added bonus that one can watch the workmen digging up the road outside - there is nothinng more satisfying, if disgustingly complacent, than sitting in the shade, nursing a punt of the amber liquid, watching the guys slogging away in the hot sun.)

"Progressive austerity"?

Look, don't try to analyse it; you'll just go round in circles. It doesn't mean anything; it's not supposed to mean anything. It's a sound-bite.

Oh the humiliation ...

It is all that anyone will remember about his latest visit to the US. The Guardian reports:
Gordon Brown lurched from being hailed as a global statesman to intense embarrassment tonight, after it emerged US President had turned down no fewer than five requests from Downing Street to hold a bilateral meeting at the United Nations in New York or at the G20 summit starting in Pittsburgh today.
Well what did he expect after the Libyan fiasco? And, despite the No 10 denials, and unlike his counterparts from China, Russia and Japan, Mr Brown never did get his facetime with Mr President.

22 September 2009

For once, Vince blots his copybook

I do so hope that Scottish Labour are learning from that nice Mr Cable's travails over his mansion tax. I appreciate that whatever system of local government finance Labour come up with will be different from that proposed by the LibDems.

The point is, however, that you need to have thought it through. If it is to be based on property capital values, you need to be able to discuss the valuation process and, most importantly, the revaluation process (bearing in mind that the present council tax system is based on 1993 values). And you need to be able to say what you will do about the property-rich, cash-poor old widow who would otherwise suffer severely. And, if you have a rebate system, how you will finance it.

But we can trust Mr Gray and Mr Kerr to have done their homework. Don't you think?

20 September 2009

It's the mad, staring eyes - again


If you were a teacher (in England) or a parent, would you feel confident about this man being in charge of schools?
Education spending could be cut by £2bn by axing thousands of senior staff and restraining pay, the schools secretary for England has indicated.
Ed Balls, the first minister to suggest possible cost-cutting moves, told the Sunday Times one option was to merge comprehensives to form "federations".
It's enough (well almost) to make you think fondly of our own dear Ms Hyslop.

16 September 2009

Just a thought

I suppose we should be grateful that hard-working families appear to br losing their prominence - we lazy singletons can breathe a sigh of relief. But there is a new danger:
The prime minister told the TUC conference in Liverpool the government would "cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets" but he would not support cuts in "vital frontline services on which people depend".

Source - here

What about the vital backroom services? Somebody has to recruit and pay the frontline guys, as well as providing them with accommodation, computer and accounting support. We need a new campaign, SOB - Save our Bureaucrats. I fear, however, that it unlikely to catch on.

05 September 2009

Quote of the day

Matthew Parris (here) on Afghanistan:
Long military campaigns are rarely won or lost on a decisive pitched battle, even if that’s the way history’s camp-fire storytellers like to cast the tale. The fortunes of war rarely turn on events or moments that can be tagged neatly to a place and date. More often, doubt, anxiety and a calculation of loss build gradually in the back of a nation’s mind, until finally a newsworthy reverse trips a switch, the despair is projected to the front, somebody whispers “let’s get out of here”, and soon everyone is edging for the door, claiming it’s what they thought all along — which it sort of was.
The whispers have begun. Slowly but surely, tentatively at first, with many fits and starts, in flurries of denial, and protesting that all’s well and nothing has changed, we are on our way out of Afghanistan. If a dying Labour Government doesn’t begin edging towards the door, the next Conservative one will. Whatever they say.

And, in the meantime, how many more British soldiers must die to cover the politicians' backs?

03 September 2009

Dib, dib, dib, dob

So bye bye Scout post. No more Christmas card deliveries. I never got myself organised in sufficient time to take advantage but many of Edinburgh's citizens did, to the extent that 400,000 cards were delivered annually.

Shame really. It was one of the more pleasant traditions of the season.

Compare and contrast ...

... two stories in today's Scotsman:

First:
DIAGEO appeared to be in line for a major injection of public funds last night after John Swinney revealed the closure of its Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock would cost the local economy £15.5 million each year. [here]

Second:
THE attempts by Scottish rugby to make Murrayfield Stadium "sweat" in the past year have resulted in a boost to the country's economy of nearly £130 million.
Edinburgh alone benefited to the tune of £72.9 million, according to figures published yesterday and welcomed by Jim Mather, the Scottish Government's minister for enterprise, energy and tourism. [here]

Now let us not jump to any conclusions but if economic contribution is a justification for public subsidy ...

01 September 2009

A little too much openness?

There are no doubt bloggers who will comment substantively on the various papers released by Whitehall and St Andrew's House on the Al-Megrahi affair. I have a minor procedural point.

I was disappointed, even dismayed, to see that the papers released by the Scottish administration included advice from officials to the Minister (here for example). I had understood that the policy was not to disclose such advice, on the grounds that disclosure might prejudice the future preparation of advice that was frank, honest, impartial and comprehensive. Civil servants preparing submissions to Ministers should not be obliged to consider the implications of having the detail of their advice exposed in the yellow press at some date in the future. And having decided to release the advice on this occasion, how will Ministers resist similar demands in the future? A bit worrying. Is Sir John Elvidge content with this development?

(This has nothing to do with the fact that I prepared and put up a number of Ministerial submissions in the 1990s that I would hate to see made public property in the here and now.)