28 February 2007

Excluding the aliens

It does not seem to be a very friendly attitude. But if it is absolutely necessary to keep out the nastier beasties, then I can live with it. The Executive has announced:
Halting the invasion of alien species

A new way of dealing with the threat to Scotland's native wildlife was published today for consultation.
The draft Invasive Non-native Species Framework Strategy for Great Britain will minimise the threat from invasive non-native species.
Invasive non-native species are the second biggest threat, after habitat destruction, to native species and habitats worldwide and the greatest threat to fragile ecosystems such as islands. They can also have a substantial economic impact across a wide range of sectors such as fisheries, forestry and development.
The Strategy provides a framework focussing on prevention, early detection, and mitigation measures where appropriate. The Strategy will be followed by a separate implementation plan that will be developed with a wide range of partners.

I suppose that a framework strategy and an implementation strategy are bureaucratic necessities? We could not simply track down and then deport or kill the invaders?

Why do they bother?

Clarke and Milburn have set up yet another pointless website (here).

Usual stuff: "Politics is about the future, not the past...open, participatory debate...world has moved on...identifying the new challenges...progressive values...Renewal cannot be about going back. It is about moving forward...blah, blah, blah.


Financial ignorance is bliss, I think

Does it matter? Should we be worried? The BBC reports:
Worldwide share prices have continued to fall, triggered by Tuesday's 9% losses on the Shanghai stock market.
The UK's FTSE 100 index fell by 1% in morning trading. That took declines in the past two sessions to 3.2% and knocked £52bn off its total value.
France's Cac 40 dropped by 1% and Germany's Dax lost 1.1%. Earlier, markets in Asia, Australia and India had all suffered substantial losses.
Investors are questioning the outlook for economic and earnings growth.
The falls come after stock prices and indexes climbed to record levels in a number of key world markets.
After a flurry of activity at the start of trading and a large drop, the FTSE 100 rebounded slightly and was recently 61.80 points lower at 6,224.30.

I suppose that, if your pension is to be based on market equities, then it might be important; but the current level of the Footsie is still higher than it was for most of 2006. And, in the longer term, it may affect the propensity of businesses to invest, thus hitting the jobs market. But, to the ordinary Joe, I suspect that this is yet more turbulence in a distant pond, something for the financial pages to get excited about, yet with little impact on real life as it is lived outside the Square Mile.

You will search the broadsheets in vain (I have) for any explanation of the significance of what is happening.

Doing the sums

The latest opinion polls indicate that the seats in Holyrood will be distributed as follows:

Labour 41
SNP 44
LibDems 23
Tories 17
Greens 1
Others 3

If this scenario were to come to pass (which is a very big if), and given that the Parliament consists of 129 MSPs, the only two-party coalitions which could command a majority would be Labour-SNP (which is unthinkable) or SNP-LibDem. A Labour-LibDem alliance would only have 64 seats, one short of a majority (although, if a member of another party were appointed as presiding officer and if some other independent member was prepared to be sympathetic, a rather weak Labour-LibDem coalition might just be workable). Nevertheless, the odds would favour an SNP-LibDem alliance, were it not for the fact that they have spent much of the past two weeks throwing brickbats at each other.

At least, everyone now knows what 'xenophobic' means.

I continue to favour a nil result whereby the parties are unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion within the statutory 28 days, leading to another election in the autumn.

27 February 2007

The other parties will be probably not be seriously worried

I think it's great. None of that boring stuff like manifestos, programmes and policies. We just have to guess what they might do if they win office (which, I have to say, seems unlikely). But I am sure that we can trust Mr Archie.

The Scotsman tells the sorry tale:
SCOTLAND'S newest political party was officially launched today by millionaire landowner Archie Stirling, former husband of Diana Rigg.
Scottish Voice plans to field candidates in each region for the Holyrood elections in May. But it emerged the party is not planning to campaign on a manifesto setting out specific policies.
Instead, it hopes to put forward people with expertise in business, education, health and other fields.
Mr Stirling said he did not have a "quick fix toolbox". But in a booklet published at today's launch at Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel, he set out his views on what had gone wrong with Scotland under devolution and called for a break with "machine politics".

So there you are. Vote for Scottish Voice to get rid of machine politics and don't expect a quick fix.


They want to introduce healthier food at football matches. OK, but let us not be silly about it. The Scotsman reports:
Alan Stuart, spokesman for the Scotch Pie Club, said the link between pies and football should not be lost.
"Football and pies have been together for a long time.
"It would be disappointing if that link was lost after all this time," he said.
"I'm not sure if anyone has ever produced an organic Scotch pie, but pies should always be seen as a fun food."
I like a pie as much as anyone and I eat them frequently. But they are not a fun food.

26 February 2007

Barefoot puppet on a string

I am advised that today is Sandie Shaw's birthday.

As a gentleman, I will not of course reveal the lady's age, but happy birthday anyway.

Why does Jack always get the dirty jobs?

Labour activists must wonder what on earth is going on. Ten weeks before the election, the First Minister goes out of his way (on a weekend too) to open a privately-run health facility. The BBC reports:
A controversial health centre where NHS patients will be treated by a private company has been opened.
First Minister Jack McConnell performed the official launch of the Scottish Regional Treatment Centre at Stracathro Hospital, near Brechin in Angus.
He said using the independent sector to treat NHS patients was helping reduce waiting times in Scotland.

Whatever Mr McConnell thinks about the involvement of the private sector in the NHS, surely now is not the time to be making a song and dance about it?

Meanwhile, this morning, a junior health minister gets to open a spanking new NHS facility in Edinburgh. The Evening News reports:
A NEW rehabilitation centre was set to be opened by health chiefs in Edinburgh today.
Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald was unveiling NHS Lothian's new south-east Mobility and Rehabilitation Technology (SMART) centre, which will be run out of the city's Eastern General Hospital, this morning.
The £7.5 million centre has been designed to provide mobility and rehabilitation services to patients across South East Scotland and will incorporate other services currently provided at Edinburgh's Astley Ainslie and Eastern General hospitals...
The 4000 sq m building has also been designed to contain environmentally friendly features, including a recycled zinc-covered roof with a life expectancy of around 100 years, and rubber floors in the corridors produced from recycled car tyres.

Something to boast about? Tangible proof of the Executive's commitment to improving the NHS? And it's left to Lewis Macdonald? On a Monday morning?

A welcome U-turn

Obviously, I don't swear enough. Or perhaps I have directed insufficient criticism towards the Scottish Executive. There are even some who claim that I have become too respectable.

Whatever the reason, the Executive has now decided to allow its staff to access this blog (and presumably others) from its in-house computer system.

A bad mistake, I suspect. All these civil servants should be working, not reading the rubbish that I and my fellow bloggers broadcast.

25 February 2007

Dave kills Bambi

In the fantasy world that passes for political reality, he's just an ordinary bloke. The Independent reports:
David Cameron has a secret love of stag shooting it emerged last night, and is considered an expert at one of the most controversial blood sports. The Conservative leader is said by those who have hunted with him to be a keen shot who can fell two deer at once.
Mr Cameron has spent 20 years deer stalking and was introduced to the sport as a young man. He takes family holidays on the Scottish estate owned by Viscount Astor - his wife's stepfather - on the island of Jura, in the inner Hebrides, which has 6,000 deer.
Bruce Anderson, the political columnist who stalks with Mr Cameron, said that the Tory leader had a knack for shooting.
"David has been stalking deer for 20 years or more. He is very good with a gun. I have seen him shoot a stag. He has the 'right-left' knack whereby you shoot two deer in one go before they run off. Only the best stalkers can do that," he said.
When stalkers shoot their first stag, the marksman is "blooded" with the animals' blood smeared on their face.

But let us not dwell on the social implications. Just because the wife's daddy owns half a Scottish island does not make him a bad person. Nor does the fact that he can shoot two deer at once.

Eh, well, maybe it does...

24 February 2007

Running scared?

Is the First Minister a feardie? It's beginning to look that way. The Herald reports:
Jack McConnell found time for a second successive day on the campaign trail with the Chancellor yesterday, but again sidestepped a head-on debate with SNP leader Alex Salmond.
A BBC radio debate in Eyemouth last night had Work and Pensions Minister Jim Murphy filling the Labour chair, facing down the SNP.
The previous night, a televised Question Time debate in Edinburgh had Lord Foulkes employed in the Nat-bashing role, during which he reignited the controversy started by Liberal Democrats at the weekend by again referring to the SNP as xenophobic.
SNP campaign director Angus Robertson claimed the Labour leader's refusal to appear on the show was the seventh time he has declined to debate with Mr Salmond. He also claimed that Mr McConnell has now rejected 15 invitations to appear on the programme.

The longer he leaves it, the more difficult it will be.

23 February 2007


Profits of £4,250,000,000 are obviously not enough. The BBC reports:
Lloyds TSB is to impose a £35 annual charge on credit card account holders who do not use their cards.
The annual charge will apply to "low-usage" customers; including people who do not use their cards at all.
The bank has written to 50,000 customers to tell them that the charge will be levied on their accounts 30 days from the date of the letter.
On Friday, Lloyds TSB reported full-year profits before tax of £4.25bn ($8.3bn), up 11% from 2005.

No doubt to be followed by the rest of the sharks.

There you go...

This blog condemns yobs, all of them.

Pretentious, moi?

Who me? A candidate? Don't be silly. Just because this is in The Edinburgh Evening News:
FASHIONABLE duo Trinny and Susannah have launched a search to find Edinburgh's worst dressed man for a new TV show.
Anybody who thinks they can suggest a candidate can contact the researchers on 0870 646 9900.

Suave, sophisticated, debonair - just some of the adjectives which have not been applied to my dress sense. But I'm still not going anywhere near those harridans...

But is he happy?

The Washington Post reveals what Tony Blair can look forward to:
Former president Bill Clinton, who came to the White House with modest means and left deeply in debt, has collected nearly $40 million in speaking fees over the past six years, according to interviews and financial disclosure statements filed by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Last year, one of his most lucrative since he left the presidency, Clinton earned $9 million to $10 million on the lecture circuit. He averaged almost a speech a day -- 352 for the year -- but only about 20 percent were for personal income. The others were given for no fee or for donations to the William J. Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit group he founded to pursue causes such as the fight against AIDS.
His paid speeches included $150,000 appearances before landlord groups, biotechnology firms and food distributors, as well as speeches in England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia that together netted him more than $1.6 million. On one particularly good day in Canada, Clinton made $475,000 for two speeches, more than double his annual salary as president.

Sometimes I wonder if I chose the right career...

Non c'e male...

The newspapers have been publishing articles like this for at least 60 years. The Independent reports:
In the broad sweep of things, the resignation of yet another Italian prime minister would barely seem to warrant a headline. Italy changes its governments with the same frequency that others change their socks. Berlusconi survived longer than most. In lasting less than a year, Romano Prodi is just a return to form.
Seeming paralysis in government is matched by a growing sense of despair about the economy. The public finances are now completely out of control, with total public debt well over 100 per cent of GDP. Structurally, the country has totally failed to prepare for globalisation, leaving its manufacturing sector cruelly exposed to Far Eastern competition, and its business services industries so far behind Britain and other post- industrial societies that it is hard to see how they might catch up.
More so than perhaps anywhere in the eurozone, Italy needs galvanising political leadership and radical structural reform. Berlusconi was ineffective and only in it for his own good. Romano Prodi has proved little better. Given the constraints of the political system, which makes winning a clear mandate all but impossible, it is hard to see where salvation may come from. Italy still has la dolce vita, for which there is much to be said, but for how much longer given the current outlook for the economy?

It is amazing how Italy is always approaching the economic or political abyss but never actually seems to get there.

More names

Pocahontas McGinty does not exist. The Scotsman reports:
IT IS seen as the ultimate example of the trend for parents to name their children after the latest movie character or celebrity.
But while we have had Kylies, Britneys and Chardonnays, it seems that the Scottish baby named Pocahontas is no more than a myth.
After a quest that has lasted several months, a society dedicated to debunking urban myths has revealed that there are no children in the country who have been given that name.

What a disappointment.

22 February 2007

The semiotics of names

It is only a week or two since I mocked the names of the US candidates for the presidency (here). But we in Scotland have nothing to be proud of.

Many years ago, Billy Connolly noted that the aspiring Scottish middle classes had a tendency to give to their sons first names which were more commonly known as surnames: thus Farquhar McTumpshie or Cameron Mackintosh. By and large, this pattern is restricted to those who send their sons to fee-paying schools in the East of Scotland (and of course to expatriates). This has carried over to Scottish politics.

The true Scottish public schoolboys (Fettes, Loretto, Glenalmond, etc) do not indulge in this practice. Hence Tony (Blair) and Alistair (Darling) have perfectly sensible first names. The more traditional Labour politicians also have sensible names - Jack (McConnell), Gordon (Brown), John (Reid), Douglas (Alexander). Some of them would like to be more middle class and therefore pretend to be posher than they are (I mean, whoever heard of an East Fife footballer called Henry (McLeish)?). Others take an overtly proletarian approach by sticking to the sternly stalinist diminutive, thus Tom (McCabe), Andy (Kerr) and Cathy (Jamieson). See also Tommy (Sheridan). As if by mistake, Bristow (Muldoon) has slipped into Labour ranks; his lack of progress up the greasy pole is the obvious result.

The SNP are also more or less OK. Alex (Salmond) and Nicola (Sturgeon) are really neither one thing nor the other, while John (Swinney) is positively dull.

It is the LibDems that fall into the Connolly trap. Charlie (Kennedy) is excused boots as he was originally a member of the SDP. Nevertheless, we have Menzies Campbell (wouldn't you just know that he was a Watsonian?) and Nicol Stephen (Robert Gordon's of course). And what can one say about Tavish (Scott)? Would you enter a coalition with people who call themselves by two surnames?

The Tories don't really matter, but it strikes me that Annabel (Goldie) and Murdo (Fraser) have first names which are deeply suspicious...

The morality (and the verbal accuracy) of The Sunday Post

It's a misuse of the word 'public'. I do wish the Executive would make a greater effort towards accuracy of presentation. The latest press release:
Shetland Islands Council has been given permission by the Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson to introduce a ban on the public consumption of alcohol within Lerwick, from 2 March this year.
Ms Jamieson said:
"Public drinking is often a nuisance and can greatly hamper the quality of life for residents in a particular area. The 29 councils that have such byelaws in force have paid testimony to their effectiveness in reducing the nuisance and disorder commonly associated with public drinking. I will continue to support other councils that come forward with similar byelaw proposals."

As I understand the position, we will nevertheless continue to be permitted to drink in public, at least in those areas with the appropriate licences, such as public bars and hotels. I think they mean 'out of doors' (with the possible exception of beer gardens and the like, although there won't be many of those in Lerwick).

And how can Ms Jamieson pre-empt her permission-giving powers by saying that she will continue to support other councils that come forward with similar byelaw proposals?

21 February 2007

Blogger turns flack

Sycophantic or what? Iain Dale is now licking Mr Cameron's boots (at least I think it's his boots) in The Telegraph:
Since Christmas, Cameron's speeches have taken on a slightly harder edge with more "beef" - last week's excellent speech on the family has gone down particularly well. The media have noticed and barely a week goes by without the 24-hour news channels covering his speeches live - something they rarely did with Michael Howard or Iain Duncan Smith.
As the policy groups roll out their proposals, they will provide the ideological ballast to mix with the rhetoric that Cameron's speechwriting team seem very capable of providing. The task will be to translate the policy proposals, not into a manifesto, but into an interim document which will reassure the troops on the ground that there is a coherent theme.

Gizza job! pleez, pleez, pleez...

Cold wet weather never bothered me...

It's unfair really; it's always the male who gets the blame. The Herald reports:
Early reports from sheep-scanning operators indicate there are more barren ewes in the hills and uplands as a result of reduced ram libido caused by the atrocious weather in late autumn.
Peebles-based Jim Watson scans 60,000 ewes and reckons that normally 5% or 6% of the Blackface ewes in his run are barren.
This year, he says the figure is nearly 10%. "I put that down to the bad weather. The problem is greater where Blueface Leicester tups were being used. They don't take to cold, wet weather and spend a lot of time sheltering. It's not as if there was any shortage of grass last backend," he said.

Well, it might be the effect of the cold wet weather on the rams. But it might equally be attributable to the fact that a lot of ewes get headaches at that time of year...

20 February 2007

Making a splash

I suppose that they thought it was a good story. So The Evening News made a big splash on the front page:
THE impact of the smoking ban will cost city brewing giant Scottish & Newcastle at least £10 million. The Edinburgh-based firm today predicted the ban in Scotland, as well as its arrival in the rest of the UK, will hit profits in 2007.
The warning comes as the brewing industry continues to assess the impact the ban in Scotland is having on business.

In the same paper, the business pages give the story a different slant:
EDINBURGH-BASED brewing giant Scottish & Newcastle has unveiled plans to trim £50 million from costs as it announced a 13.9 per cent rise in annual profit to £452 million...
Revenue was up seven per cent to £4.15 billion, while S&N said the concept of beer to be drunk with food, and low and no-alcohol beer were having a significant positive impact on sales.
The company also warned, however, that it was set to take a hit of £10m from the impact of the smoking ban in 2007 - which will encompass the first six months of the ban south of the border and the initial eight months of the ban in Wales and Northern Ireland.
But it added that the impact of the Scottish ban had so far been "minimal" on its UK business.

So profits went up by 13.9% but next year the smoking ban might knock a "minimal" 2.2% off the profits total. Must be a slow news day.

Too big for his boots?

Are the LibDems still a nice party? Were they ever? Ian Bell in The Herald begs leave to doubt it:
Two points arise. One is that [Nicol] Stephen is reserving to himself the right to decide when the people of Scotland can, or more importantly cannot, decide the future of their nation. No biggie, as young folk say. Secondly - and you had better guess at the deleted expletives - who the hell are the Liberal Democrats?
How would it be, for one example, if this voter chose to insist that Stephen and his tribe should earn the right to govern my country by doing something unprecedented, like actually winning an election? This is all he requires of the Nationalists and Labour, after all.
How would it be, meanwhile, if the bold Nicol adopted the ancient Liberal practice of actually consulting his own party? They, ordinary members, are fed up with eking out an existence as Labour's patsies. They could live with the SNP, most of the time. They could certainly live with a referendum on self-determination. Ethically, politically, strategically, that stuff is impeccable. But no-one is asking.
Instead, we see Stephen imposing a test of legitimacy that his own party could never hope to pass. He seems to believe this makes him extra clever. His party has exploited the late Donald Dewar's manipulation of the electoral process with more alacrity than most. That was yesterday. Who granted the LibDems a veto? Who allowed them to become so presumptuous, and so insufferable?

I fear that there is a great deal more presumption and insufferability to come in the next few weeks. During this period, unless he takes great care, Mr Stephen may well disappear up his own fundament by alienating both the major parties in Scotland, not to mention the electorate.

19 February 2007

They're a fly lot at Tannadice

I thought that I had already heard most of the excuses for poor play but there is always something new. The Scotsman reports, rather improbably:
FOLLOWING the recent insect infestation, another supposed menace descended on Tannadice yesterday but Hibernian proved notably less capable of troubling their hosts in a match of alarmingly low quality. A pitch damaged by a plague of daddy long-legs played a significant part in this.

It must be a sign of heavenly displeasure with Dundee United. One plague will follow another. Relegation must be on the cards. If I were the manager, I'd keep my eye on any passing locusts.

18 February 2007

You can read about it tomorrow

Tennis - I mean, who would care? But we don't have that many world stars. Here is the AP report from The New York Times website:
Andy Murray beat Andy Roddick for the second straight year in the SAP Open semifinals, knocking off the top seed 7-6 (8), 6-4 on Saturday night to advance to the final against Ivo Karlovic.
Murray, the defending champion, played tough defense from all corners of the court, consistently making Roddick hit a few extra shots when some points seemed to be in the American's favor. Murray also showed his power, mixing in 14 aces to Roddick's nine.
Roddick had his chances, but Murray fended off five of six break points.

Points to notice: no surprise; no mush about teenagers. It seems they take him seriously.


In the good old days, the Liberal Party was renowned for coming up with wacky ideas. LibDem Tavish Scott is reviving the tradition. Scotland on Sunday reports:
SCOTTISH ministers are planning to scrap car tax and cut fuel duty to sweeten the pill of a new road toll scheme.
In a radical bid to cut congestion on Scottish roads, ministers want the Treasury to hand over control of all motoring taxes to Holyrood.
They would then abolish the £210-a-year cost of vehicle excise duty and also cut fuel tax to lessen the blow of road pricing.
Motorists would pay up to £1.28 a mile to drive on the country's most congested roads.
The plan mirrors outline proposals already being considered in Whitehall, under which a UK-wide road pricing scheme could be in place as early as 2014.
However, the Government is in no doubt as to public feeling on the scheme after last week's extraordinary internet protest, which saw 1.5 million people signing a motion calling for the plans to be scrapped.
Scottish Transport Minister Tavish Scott said last week he wanted things to happen "more quickly" in Scotland, criticising the "glacial" progress of the plans in the UK.
Scott now says that, if in power after the next election, he wants to enter negotiations with Westminster to hand over responsibility for motoring tax to enable the plan to go ahead.
His proposals were received with astonishment in Whitehall last night with one official describing the plan as "bonkers".

So the Scottish Executive would administer motoring taxes, including road tax and fuel duties? How exactly would that work? Well, the Executive would need to set up its own equivalent of the DVLC (assuming that vehicles would still need to be licensed, even if they did not pay road tax) and would need to establish arrangements to collect the duty on petrol, as well as setting and collecting the congestion charge. How many additional civil servants would be required? Ask Mr Scott. How would the taxation systems distinguish between Scottish cars and lorries and those from England? Ask Mr Scott. How would smuggling to England of cheaper Scottish petrol be prevented? Ask Mr Scott. How to prevent English-based car and lorry drivers seeking to register as Scottish to take advantage of cheaper petrol and road tax? Ask Mr Scott.

I am actually in favour of congestion-charging but this kind of half-baked proposition made weeks before an election is indeed bonkers. Thankfully, the UK Department of Transport and the Treasury will not give it the time of day.

17 February 2007

Zipper problems

I thought that senior lawyers were supposed to be above this sort of thing?


This is well worth reading.

What was the point?

He came, he saw and, if he didn't conquer, he talked a bit. But did he achieve anything? The Scotsman summarises the Great Man's stately progress on his latest trip to patronise the peasants:
At a Labour fundraising dinner on Thursday evening, those who attended say he spoke movingly of his family ties to Scotland and Glasgow.
He was proud to have been born in "this wonderful country", he told his audience.
It was a theme which his visits were intended to reinforce.
On Thursday, he went to a welfare-to-work scheme in the East End of Glasgow where the Executive and the UK government have joined forces to get more women into jobs through childcare help and support.
Later, he talked easily about everything from crime to nuclear power at a gathering of party activists and Holyrood candidates in central Glasgow.
At a business breakfast yesterday, he stressed the challenges to Scotland in the global economy and the strength he sees it derives from continuing as part of the UK.
And in his final speech, to Labour activists, he pointed to the surrounding Clyde waterfront to make his case that the UK's stable economy, combined with the work of the Labour council and Labour-led Executive, was rejuvenating Glasgow.

Not exactly Gladstone's Midlothian campaign. Were we, the ordinary punters who will be gracing the polling booths in 12 weeks' time, supposed to be impressed?

Was that it then? A bit of fund-raising, a gee up for the party activists and a business breakfast with the bigwigs (and a visit to a welfare-to-work scheme so that the cost of the trip could be charged to government expenses). As my old granny used to say, here's your hat, what's your hurry...

16 February 2007

As clear as mud

There is a delightful passage in this morning's Scotsman which betrays the deep cynicism of our politicians:
Both the Lib Dems and the SNP are undoubtedly posturing ahead of May's election. Both are trying to set out their respective positions as clearly as possible for the voters - even though they know the rules change immediately after the ballot papers are counted and the seats allocated.
As one SNP source said yesterday when asked whether his party's position on a referendum was non-negotiable: "Well, I know it is non-negotiable before the election."
Even Mr Stephen, after making it absolutely clear he would not do a deal on a referendum without a clear mandate, went on to stress he would not label anything as "non-negotiable".
He said: "If I start to divide the manifesto, divide our policies, into those bits which are negotiable and those bits which are non-negotiable, then people will immediately discount the sections of the manifesto which have been made 'negotiable'."
What Mr Stephen - who is set to be in the position of kingmaker - is doing, is trying both to firm up his rhetoric ahead of the election and give himself a little room to manoeuvre afterwards.
His decision to be apparently unequivocal on an independence referendum is designed to mark out the Lib Dems clearly as defiantly anti-independence.

Is that clear then? Mr Stephen will not do a deal on a referendum unless the nationalist parties secure a majority (in which case, of course, he will not need to). Nevertheless that is not non-negotiable.

Vote for us! We'll do X, Y and Z, unless we decide not to do them by negotiating them away.

15 February 2007

Lithuanian affairs

Old Vladdie stirs the pot - again. The BBC reports:
Hearts majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov has accused the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic of "buying off" referees and players in Scotland.
"They buy off players and referees," Romanov told Russian magazine Futbol.
"If two opponents are equally matched then the referees can have a real influence on the outcome."

I do not believe that SFA referees can be bribed. Bearing in mind, however, the number of penalties awarded to the Old Firm in the dying moments of any closely fought match, then like any non-Old Firm football supporter I am reminded of Humbert Wolfe's epigram:
You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God! the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there's no occasion to.

A disaster in the making

I know, you find it depressing. Well so do I. But somebody has to mention the failure of our public authorities to get to grips with the mysteries of capital procurement. The latest saga is described in The Herald:
THE troubled £130m upgrade of Scotland's supreme courts has suffered a fresh setback after failing to find a company willing to take on the construction work.
The Parliament House project on Edinburgh's Royal Mile was snubbed for being too complex, risky and time-consuming.

Or, in other words, the construction industry has better things to do. Like this, for example, reported in The Guardian:
The construction company that will build the Olympic stadium has priced the job at more than double the budget planned when London was awarded the Games.
London's bid book quoted a £280m cost for the stadium but Sir Robert McAlpine, the Olympic Development Authority's preferred bidder, says the cost will be more like £630m. The government and the ODA have conceded that to build an arena capable of downsizing from an 80,000-seat showpiece to a 25,000-capacity athletics venue after the Games would inflate the original price, but still envisaged a final cost of no more than £400m.
According to a report in today's Construction News, the ODA will have to either scale down its ambitions for the stadium or re-negotiate its terms. It quotes a source close to the negotiations saying: "McAlpine is in a very strong position because it knows the ODA can't let them walk away because it would be a public-relations disaster for the Games.

It does not seem to have taken very long for the ODA to find itself spread-eagled over a barrel.

Nor does this story in The Scotsman seem likely to have a happy ending and there may be serious consequences for Scottish shipyards:
THE Royal Navy could be left without working aircraft carriers because of continuing delays and doubts surrounding the MoD's management of the £3.6 billion project to buy new vessels, a damning report warns today.
MPs on the Commons defence committee say the whole future of the navy as a fighting force is uncertain and hangs on decisions ministers will take in the next few months.
The biggest of those decisions concerns the formal placing of the order to build two new aircraft carriers.
The ships are scheduled to be in service by 2012, but the procurement process has been hit by years of delays and blunders ... putting that timetable in doubt.

Taken together with previous history (not a million miles away from Holyrood), these stories would make me slightly hesitant about entrusting yet another massive investment/procurement exercise to our public authorities, without a very clear understanding of what is to be delivered, by when and at what cost. But the bold lads and lasses in the Scottish cabinet have no such qualms. They have decided to proceed with a new Forth crossing (see here for the press release). No, they don't know whether it will be a tunnel or a bridge; nor do they know where it will be nor, obviously when it will be completed; nor do they know how much it will cost: "at least £1 billion" seems rather vague. But never mind - according to The Scotsman (here):
Mr Scott [Transport Minister] said the project would be the biggest since devolution, and be co-ordinated by Sir John Elvidge, head of the civil service in Scotland, to ensure momentum was maintained since several government departments would be involved.
Oh well, that's all right then. As Sir John will be in charge, we can all be reassured that nothing will go wrong.

I am afraid I am inclined to agree with the remarks of Mr Cochrane in The Telegraph who is not unreasonably worried about the future course of events:
What we should now dread is for the Scottish Executive to announce that there is to be an international architectural competition and that a certain Miss Kirsty Wark is to be one of the judges. That same lady, you may remember, helped pick the Holyrood design.
Oh yes, and given the political correctness that is all the rage at present, I don't suppose it would be possible - on grounds of racial discrimination - to ban Catalans from entering any such architectural competition, would it?

14 February 2007

More on MPs' expenses

Just how did Mr Cameron manage to claim from the House of Commons £295 as a cost of flights (see here)? His constituency is Witney in Oxfordshire where he has a home as well as a home in London.

Arithmetic and MPs' expenses

Janet Anderson, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, claimed the highest amount in car mileage during 2005-06, amounting to £16,612. On the basis that an MP is allowed to claim a generous 40p per mile for the first 10,000 miles, and thereafter 25p per mile, my O-grade arithmetic has enabled me to calculate that Ms Anderson claimed a total mileage during the year of 62,488 miles.

62,488 miles per year amounts to over 5,000 miles per month or say between 1100 and 1200 miles per week. Ms Anderson lives in Darwen in Lancashire. Accordingly, in order to justify her mileage claims, she would have needed to travel to London and back three times a week during the parliamentary session (allowing for the generous holidays which MPs have and assuming that the distance from Darwen to London is about 250-300 miles). According to her e-politix website (here), Ms Anderson holds 8 constituency surgeries per month but they all seem to be at the weekend.

According to Adam Boulton of Sky News (here), Ms Anderson has an X-reg Ford Focus with 140,000 miles on the clock. I would suggest that Mr Boulton may have got it wrong, however, as the kind of annual mileage done by Ms Anderson would indicate that her car is less than three years old - which is a bit recent for an X-reg. Indeed, any one who thrashes a car by doing more than 60,000 miles per year could not expect a car to last much more than three years.

I should stress that I am not making any accusations here. But it is interesting to look at the arithmetic. We should nevertheless remember that Ms Anderson is after all an honourable member of the House of Commons. I should be grateful if anyone wishing to comment would bear this is mind.


While we're on the subject of Mr Boulton, I did not quite follow this piece of logic with regard to Mr Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk:
"Scottish MPs tell me Joyce flies more because he and his family live in London rather than his constituency, which means more trips to and from Scotland than colleagues."

What's in a name?

I am intrigued by the candidature of Mr Mitt Romney for the US presidency. In recent times at least, US presidents have had fairly sensible first names: John, Jimmy, Ronald, George, Bill, with only the occasional aberration (Lyndon).

But next year's primaries will feature the more exotic nomenclature of Barack, Hillary (peculiar spelling!), Rudi and perhaps even Condoleezza, as well as Mitt. I note that Mitt's full name is Willard Mitt Romney, so it is perhaps understandable that he calls himself Mitt (even if it does carry the danger of being labelled as a glove puppet).

Does any of this have any psephological implications? Probably not, but you won't catch me voting for a Mitt.

13 February 2007


I wrote this about a year ago, but I think it bears repeating:

Holyrood 2011

The Rt Hon Sir Jack McConnell MSP sat on the back benches of the Holyrood Chamber, listening idly to First Minister Andy Kerr making the usual horlicks of his answers to the questions from the bright young things of the SNP front bench. There were times, he thought, when he did not regret having been forced in 2009 to resign as a Minister, even if the press did make an awful fuss over spending a couple of weeks in that businessman's villa in Sardinia. Just because of that motorway contract. Oh well, he thought, at least he did not have to spend two days every week preparing clever answers which when on his feet he immediately forgot; and then having to bluster his way through FMQs. He even thought fondly of Nicola who had lost her seat at the 2007 elections and who was now BBC Scotland's favourite political pundit.

In any case, he was no longer in tune with the New Scottish Labour Party. Sure, he had gone along with the smoking ban in 2006 - it was, after all, smart politics. The ban was an idea whose time had come and it was easier to ride the wave rather than resist it. But, although he had never really been a smoker, he had never been fanatical about the ban.

But the latest proposals to ban Scottish pubs from serving spirits or strong beer were a step too far. Jack had always thought that there was nothing wrong with occasionally getting outside of half a bottle of Bacardi, particularly if Bridget wasn't about. But the latest intake of Labour MSPs were re-running the arguments about the health of the nation. Since the punters no longer suffered from lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver had started climbing the death certificate charts. And, anyway, Jack's influence on the health fascists on the front bench had rather waned since that unfortunate episode when setting up the twinning arrangement with Lithuania; how was Jack supposed to know how many vodka toasts were appropriate?

The health service had yet to show any real improvement in waiting times - damn consultants again! Scottish Enterprise was contemplating yet another re-organisation. The completion date for the rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports had yet again been put back. The parliamentary roof was leaking again. Nothing ever seemed to go right.

Meanwhile, as long-serving Minister for Justice, Cathy had been captured by the law and order brigade, doing whatever the civil servants and the police told her. Did Scotland really need five new privately run prisons, Jack wondered. And allowing traffic wardens and environmental wardens to impose £500 fines on people unable to produce their identity cards seemed excessive. And he was far from sure that the abolition of the Parole Board was a good idea. Jack smiled to himself - to think that Cathy used to be a socialist!

No, all in all, Jack thought that it was better to keep his head down. OK, Bridget was still unhappy about the loss of access to Bute House, although being able to call herself Lady Bridget was a small consolation. But life wasn't so bad. He and McLetchie still played golf once a month.

And Annabel - such a sensible woman - was always willing to stand her round in the Parliamentary bar at lunchtime. And, at last, the media no longer seemed to care when or where he went on holiday...

Just stop making a fuss, all right!

This is becoming rather petty. Are we going to complain every time a politician takes a plane? The Herald reports:
The Enterprise Minister was last night under fire after taking a return flight to the Baftas just days after promising to crackdown on unnecessary air travel.
Nicol Stephen flew business class to the gala TV and film awards on Sunday night from his home in Aberdeen. He stayed overnight in London, then flew back yesterday to Glasgow.
The total cost to taxpayers for Mr Stephen's trip, which included a £170 hotel room, was £594.
Mr Stephen was invited to the Baftas last week by Scottish Screen, the national film quango, and was a guest on its table.

Just because the Deputy First Minister wanted to mix it with the luvvies, is that a reason for complaint? I suppose that it was deemed to be essential that an Executive minister be present, in which case who could moan about the £594 cost to the taxpayers? In any case, as we noted yesterday (here), Mr Stephen does not attend football or rugby matches; perhaps he finds Kylie and Dame Helen Mirren more congenial company.

12 February 2007

Make of it what you will

I'm not sure what to make of it but the full details are here. To sum up the First Minister's attendance at football and rugby matches since 2003, he has turned up at 5 Scottish football internationals, one Rangers match and three Celtic matches, the Hearts-Gretna cup final and, more bizarrely, a match between Falkirk and Ross County and another between Morton and Stenhousemuir (why?); during the same period, he has attended four full Scotland rugby internationals, as well as the final of the under-21 rugby world cup.

By contrast, Jim Wallace only ever attended one football match (Celtic-Bayern Munich) and no rugby matches, while Nicol Stephen has not attended either a football or a rugby match.

I sometimes wonder if Freedom of Information has added anything useful to the sum of human knowledge.

The windy city

I always thought of Chicago as an interesting city, tough but with a good heart (stockyards, Mayor Daley, riots, that kind of thing). But the Chicago Tribune turns out to be just as much of a health-conscious wimp as Andy Kerr (here):
One can parse the smoking question any way one likes, and the conclusion must always be the same for a presidential candidate (and in fact, for everyone): "You cannot smoke anymore. You must stop."
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama has decided to give it up, and this is a good thing, assuming he succeeds (not a safe assumption). The one thing we cannot have is a presidential candidate who smokes.
This is not Eastern Europe or Russia, where it seems cigarettes are issued at birth, along with orders to use them as much as possible wherever and whenever one can, right up until the last moment of life. In America, we realized long ago that smoking was a potentially fatal habit that dragged the government into terrible conflicts. On the one hand, the surgeon general has wagged an ever more frantic finger at the habit over time, even as the government has remained connected, however distantly, to tobacco production. The last thing we need is someone on the campaign trail who cannot answer questions about tobacco honestly because he is, himself, addicted, no matter how much he tries to minimize the frequency of use.

Talk about pompous!

Oh sorry, you didn't know that Senator Obama indulged? Well ye ken noo.

11 February 2007

How to wind up Gordon

Does The Sunday Herald really think that this is for real?
In an interview with the Sunday Herald, Salmond said that while he and Brown had irreconcilable policy differences, this should not prevent them from working together if the SNP leader becomes first minister.
"A fruitful, constructive relationship based on regular contact is in Scotland's interests, is in Gordon Brown's interests, and is in the SNP's interests. I think I can identify areas where both a SNP-led Scottish Executive and the new prime minister could notch up achievements.
"If that means me holding out an olive branch at this stage then an olive branch it will be.
"I have a better relationship with Gordon than with the prime minister. He is a much more substantial political figure. He has much more thought to his politics," he added.

Can you think of anything more likely to send the Chancellor into a paroxysm of rage than kindly words from Alex Salmond? Does The Sunday Herald really think that First Minister Salmond and Prime Minister Brown could co-exist in some kind of peaceful fashion? Do you not think that Mr Salmond is stirring it?

Mythical freebies

I'm not proud. I'll try anything once. The Observer reports:
The art of 'Googling' - checking people's backgrounds on the internet via search engine Google - started as a useful tool for weeding out psychopaths from the online dating game and performing a quick double-check on an applicant's claim about his or her astonishing career.
But with all and sundry willingly disclosing their most intimate secrets online through blogs, the name of the game has changed and spread from potential lovers to consumer choice. Instead of consumers Googling companies, the firms Counter-Google them first, instantly gaining access to personal information.
The Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles Googles first-time guests to find out which of their services might be favoured. If, for example, they find a guest has blogged about liking to jog in the morning, they assign them a room that catches the morning sun.
It may feel creepy to some but perhaps we can turn it to our advantage: smart bloggers could list goods and services they like, in the hope of getting some of them for free.

So here goes. I like Bell's or Grouse whisky, Deuchar's IPA and Dunhill cigarettes. Delivery address on request.

10 February 2007

Not a nice man?

Quote of the day from The Telegraph (here) on the subject of Dr David Owen:
The Tories should ponder the verdict on Owen from the incomparable Denis Healey.
"The good fairy gave the young doctor almost everything: thick dark locks, matinée idol features and a lightning intellect. Unfortunately, the bad fairy also made him a s---."

We're all doomed...

Probably, you never even noticed. The Indie reports:
Time was when an annual trade deficit of the size announced yesterday would have prompted a fully blown run on the pound.
The unexpected magnitude of the December deficit meant that the figures didn't go entirely unnoticed by forex markets, yet the reaction was still muted considering that Britain's deficit in goods and services last year was the highest on record in nominal terms.
At 4.3 per cent GDP, the trade imbalance is also at its highest level since the mid 1970s, when numbers like these actually did trigger currency crises. Relatively high overseas earnings ensure that the current account deficit, which includes investment income, isn't quite so bad. Yet it is still high by historic standards.
In times past, the currency would have adjusted in a manner which made imports more expensive and exports more competitive, thereby bringing trade back into balance. Today, the continued robust strength of the pound is part of the problem. With the currency at nearly $2 to the pound, exports have been suffering badly.
At the risk of sounding like Cassandra, I have to say that it cannot go on like this. Living on tick is dangerous. Some day, sooner than you may think, the chickens will come home to roost.

The worst jobs in the world

Well, would you like to have to eat a burger every day (and pretend you enjoyed it)? The Guardian reports:
The boss of Burger King, John Chidsey, gamely posed for pictures in Miami this week next to the company mascot - a bling, bearded, golden figure with a broad fixed grin called The King.
The shiny, medallion-laden character is central to the fast-food chain's efforts to improve its image by adopting an air of deeply ironic cool. Chidsey told USA Today that he likes to be called "chief burger flipper". He wants Hollywood to make a movie, Above The King, about someone who lives upstairs from a Burger King.
It takes a certain personality type to be chief executive of a fast-food firm. You have to be, shall we say, game for anything - including crimes against the digestive system.
Chidsey's favourite burger is a Double Stacker with extra sauce.
His counterpart Greg Creed at Taco Bell, the Mexican-style fast food chain, told reporters following an e.coli outbreak in December that he eats the firm's greasy tortillas "every day".
McDonald's boss, Jim Skinner, feels similarly obliged to declare he frequents his own chain "almost daily" but his preferred option is more ascetic - a quarter-pounder plain.
No cheese, no condiments but just a slice of meat in a bun. It's enough to make anyone behave slightly peculiarly.

I supposed it could be worse. You could be Bernard Matthews.

09 February 2007

"And I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky..."

Here, info for Joni fans only.

Blogging and the Scottish elections

Here is an interesting story in The New York Times about two bloggers who are part of the campaign team of John Edwards, one of the Democratic candidates in the US presidential election.

The story is interesting enough in itself but it led me to wondering about the parties in our own elections. As far as I am aware, none of the parties has any formal links with Scottish bloggers. The SNP has Davie from North Leith and Tartan Hero (and several others) to watch Alex Salmond's back, even if they are not (I assume) officially included in the campaign team. The LibDems and the Tories also have their blogging supporters, although again there appear to be no formal links.

But what if Labour came under sustained cyber-attack? Who would man the electronic ramparts in defence of McConnell? (El Tel is hardly up to the job.)

Perhaps the various party HQs should start thinking about this. Though I hate to encourage them, they should remember that that there are attack-bloggers as well as defensive ones. The recent blogspat (see here) between Tim and Guido/Iain Dale illustrates the techniques involved.

The twizzler

This is what the Secretary of State said last Monday (source: Hansard):
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend makes the point that the most likely explanation for the cause of the outbreak is wild fowl. Is it not just as possible and just as likely that purchasing turkey chicks from Hungary might be an important factor? Has he investigated that to see whether it happens with British industries?
David Miliband: There may have been one aspect of the question from the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that I did not answer, and it is linked—the so-called Hungarian connection. The chicks all came from within this country, so there is no Hungarian connection of that sort. The factory involved in the Hungarian outbreak was not a Bernard Matthews factory.

Today The Independent reports:
Britain's first outbreak of bird flu may have been caused by semi-processed turkey meat imported directly from Hungary, where the disease is prevalent, the Government said last night.
Large quantities of the meat - 38 tonnes of it a week - have been brought in to the processing plant of the Bernard Matthews turkey farm at Holton in Suffolk, where a week ago thousands of live turkeys in an adjacent shed were found to be suffering from the H5N1 strain of the virus...
Besides putting a question mark over the bio-security regime of the Bernard Matthews organisation, the revelation raises questions about whether any of the imported meat that may have been infected with H5N1 has got into the human food chain. The shipments of part-processed meat, brought to Suffolk for final processing, are thought to comprise thousands of birds, and the plant is next door [to] the shed where the British birds fell ill.

Surprising that Mr Miliband could rule out so clearly the Hungarian connection when the affected farm was next door to a turkey processing plant importing processed turkey meat from Hungary. But I suppose that he was asked about turkey chicks rather than dead turkeys. But, with hindsight, the Secretary of State was not really giving us the full picture.

08 February 2007

Welcoming passengers?

The truth is that they really don't want you to fly at all. The BBC reports:
British Airways is planning to add up to £240 to the cost of a return long-haul flight if passengers want to check in an extra bag.
Travellers on shorter international trips will face a bill of £120 and those on domestic journeys, £60.
Analysts said the tactic was a way for the airline to cover costs - and possibly to ease its move to Heathrow's Terminal 5 next year.
But some said it could damage BA's image as a full-service carrier.
Until now, customers have been allowed to check in more than one bag as long as they did not exceed weight restrictions.
The fees, which apply from Tuesday, 13 February, will be imposed even if the combined weight of the two bags is below the allowance.

Bitter, twisted and envious?

We all enjoy a mild dose of contrarianism, but Melanie Reid in The Herald is surely taking matters a little too far (here):
The Harry Potter books are, as entertainment, inoffensive. But they're not literature; they're middle-brow pot-boilers.

Did anyone suggest that Ms Rowling should be classified with Shakespeare, Dante or Racine? Not that I can recall.
Certainly, in my own experience, the craze for Harry Potter books was a peer group thing for children, not unrelated to wearing the right brand of trainers. They were bought as status symbols and then languished, a quarter read, for years under the bed. How many of those 325 million copies failed to change the trajectory of the modern TV-raised child who, tragically, does not read for pleasure and probably never will? More than a few, I suspect.

Even if only a tenth of the 325 million copies encouraged children to read more, that would be more than enough. Who else has done anything comparable?
Where I really quarrel with Harry Potter is not in the quality of the writing but in the marketing. This Harry - Harry the brand - really is a monster of the first order. Somewhere along the line the author waved bye bye to her creation and saw it become a global money-making colossus, one which exploited the thrill of the chase and the tribal yearning to be part of something. It wasn't a book; it was a badge of belonging; a cult, Warner Bros.

Actually, Ms Rowling is to be applauded for insisting on retaining marketing control. There have been very few tawdry spin-offs and the movies have remained reasonably faithful to the books. And the marketing came second; it was the overwhelming success of the first book, without the huge marketing effort, that secured its audience. Furthermore, Ms Rowling has admirably resisted the temptation to become a celebrity - she does not do television interviews, other than in connection with the various good causes with which she has associated herself.
This is when I perceived another worrying phenomenon: the rise of the adult fan. Frequently, the grown-ups queueing for their copy weren't doing it for nieces or nephews, but for themselves. In some cases their lips were moving when they scanned the lines, in other cases they didn't even have that excuse.

So adults should not be allowed to read Harry Potter, least of all those who do not read much. Listen to yourself, Ms Reid. What are you complaining about?

07 February 2007

'Do not forsake me oh my darling...'

So farewell, Frankie Laine.

You were famous for singing 'Rawhide' and 'High Noon'. I thought that you also sang 'Champion the Wonder Horse', but I gather that there is some doubt about it.

I grow increasingly despondent that the great singers of my youth seem to be dying off.

Blog strife

Chicken Yoghurt (aka Justin) sums up the current blogging war between Tim and Guido. If you have not been following the twists and turns, then this is a useful introduction (with links).

The value of euphemisms

Well, I don't know. They pay the political parties to get into it, but we're supposed to pay them to get out of it. The Independent reports:
Some of Britain's richest men and women will be offered taxpayers' money to give up their seats in the House of Lords under government plans to reform the second chamber.
The 605 life peers will not be forced to leave the Lords to make way for a new generation of directly elected members, but they will be offered "voluntary redundancy" payments which could amount to tens of thousands of pounds.
A White Paper to be published today is expected to say that the Senior Salaries Review Body should advise on the scale of the payments. They would also apply to the 91 hereditary peers if MPs decide not to evict them from the Upper House - one option in the White Paper.

Voluntary redundancy payments. They're different from bribes of course.

It's all the fault of that Kate Moss...

I never thought that Kate Moss and health minister Andy Kerr would appear in the same sentence but The Herald has the story:
Mr Kerr later told the committee he believed the media, actors and the fashion industry were partly to blame for around a quarter of 15-year-old girls smoking, singling out supermodel Kate Moss for setting a bad example.
He said paparazzi shots of the model with a cigarette in hand encouraged others to start, with many young women using smoking as an appetite suppressant.
He said: "I think the media icons - Kate Moss and others - some have a positive influence on our young people and some can have a negative.
"I do believe, and I don't want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, there are a lot of messages taken from the media and iconic figures are there to set examples and sometimes those examples are not appropriate ones."
Later, the minister appealed to Ms Moss not to be "so blase" about smoking in public, adding: "If she comes to Scotland she will get good smoking cessation advice."

Oh dear, Mr Kerr, you may not want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but you're not exactly the epitome of cool, are you? Attacking Ms Moss is so last year. Anyway, tobacco is probably the least of Ms Moss's favoured stimulants.

Interesting that giving up the fags has now become 'smoking cessation'.

06 February 2007

A tale with a moral or three

Once upon a time, there was a wee birdie perched upon the branch of a tree. The sun was shining and the wee birdie was happy, so it sang. It was so happy that it sang all day long, for days at a time. Indeed, it was so happy that it failed to notice that the seasons were changing. All of a sudden, winter came upon the wee birdie.

With the wintry blasts, the wee birdie's wings were suddenly frozen. And, inevitably, it fell off its perch and tumbled to the cold, hard ground. Frankly, its prospects of survival were not good: unable to move, the wee birdie lay upon the cold hard ground and wondered what would become of it.

But just then, a dirty great coo came by. And, as luck would have it, the coo delivered itself of a cowpat that landed on the wee birdie. To the amazement of the wee birdie, the warmth of the cowpat de-frosted its wings and it recovered its joie de vivre. The wee birdie, in sheer pleasure at being delivered from its erstwhile fate, immediately started to sing again.

A passing moggie, hearing the wee birdie's song, immediately scooped it out of the cowpat and ate it.

There are three morals to this tale:

1. Not everyone who drops shit on you is an enemy.
2. Not everyone who gets you out of the shit is a friend.
3. If you're warm and happy in the shit, keep your mouth shut.

McConnell's lollipop

Alan Cochrane in The Telegraph asks some sensible questions about the First Minister's proposal to reduce council tax for the greenies:
To underline his supposed election-winning credentials, Mr McConnell presented a "lollipop" to some newspapers at the weekend which suggested that if he wins in May, he proposes a ripping wheeze to cut our council tax bills.
It would mean that those of us who are good boys and girls and who insulate our homes and who also re-cycle all that's recyclable in our rubbish, will get between £100 and £200 off our annual council tax bills.
Brilliant! Just what the election doctors ordered. Except for one thing - how on earth will it work?
It's probably pretty straightforward to reward those in new houses, where insulation is mandatory nowadays, but what about the rest of us?
Will we have to show a receipt for having our cavities foamed or our lofts felt?

And what about those of us who live in stone-built tenements without cavity walls or lofts?

What about the recycling aspect? Will those of us who dispose properly of our empty wine and spirits bottles - a modest quantity, naturally - be in line for Jack's refund?
Another important question is, of course, who will judge whether those at number 34 are to get the loot, while those at 36 get nothing?
Are our binmen to be turned into refuse adjudicators? Or will our town hall masters take our word for it that we really are save-the-world environmental warriors, like they most certainly do not for just about every other aspect of our lives.

No, it's just another election promise, one that will never have to be implemented.

05 February 2007

As any fule knos...(part 2)

OK, I suppose it's because I'm an aging hippy. But I never saw the point about getting hung up about the written language. The odd spelling mistake, the occasional misplaced apostrophe - I mean, who cares?

But some people get really anal-retentive about it. It don't matter that spelling standards are only about three centuries old or that language is always changing anyway. No, they want to dictate their petty rules to the rest of us. These people are basically insecure. Me, I blame the nanny state. As the French say 'je m'en fiche'.

I mean, they get upset about double negatives eg "you cannae go tae nae football match this afternoon". They don't seem to understand that double negatives are standard practice in demotic Scots and, indeed, in most Germanic (even Indo-European) languages. And, as for apostrophes, they're only written - you never pronounce them. So if we don't need them in spoken language, why bother in written language? People may argue about the necessity for a semi-colon; does it add to the sum of linguistic utility? And if I start a sentence with an 'And' or a 'But', it's a conjunction of the stars.

Spelling - who needs it? As long as you can understand the word being referred to, does it matter? The scope for ambiguity caused by spelling is extremely limited (OK, I'll give you the hoary old sentence 'The sun's rays meet/the sons raise meat') and is invariably clarified by the context. If I can't remember how many l's are in "instalment", will the guys at the HP company care, as long as I make the payment on time? And who's to judge whether it should be 'judgment' or 'judgement'?

As for the subjunctive, who understands it? Nobody, except those weirdos with a degree in classics. Let it be, I say.

So, there you are. A wee bit more tolerance, please, for those of us who don't have fancy degrees in English literature. Rant over.

Hey, remember that you don't matter...

Readers of The Sunday Times, at least of its online version, may have noted that for the past two weeks the Ecosse section has been missing. David Farrar had the wit to pursue the matter and got the reply that it was because of the switch to their super-duper new website. Rather generously, I thought, David suggested that the Times management thought nobody up here would notice.

My own instinct is that nobody in Times London gives a toss whether their Scottish readers (on-line or off-line) are adequately served or not. Which does not bode well for their new daily Scottish version, due to be launched in April (see here). Old Magnus, mad Mel and Spiersie may be flogging a dead horse before it's even got to the starting gate.

To no-one's great surprise, the switch to the new website - supposed to take place yesterday - has not gone terribly well. The new site (here) crashed this morning and, at the time of writing (3.30pm), has yet to recover.

I sometimes wonder how these guys explain their incompetence to their advertisers...

04 February 2007

Issue no 17

The weekly roundup is here.

He should know better...

I found this story by Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times rather shocking, but not for the obvious reasons:
When big firms lecture you about ethics it’s time to reach for a baseball bat. I got a letter from Barclaycard telling me my “cash advance service” was being withdrawn for ethical reasons. This is the company, remember, whose former boss, Matt Barrett, told MPs he would rather get a loan from Doug and Dinsdale Piranha than use a Barclaycard. A company that reduced its interest rates by less than a third when national rates were down by two-thirds.
I’ve had a Barclaycard for 18 years and have never exceeded my credit limit. But because my balance (just) exceeds 50% of my limit, this contravenes its new ethical policy not to let customers get into debt too much — and so, without warning, the cash advance service is withdrawn for “a minimum of six months”. When I rang Barclaycard to say I was writing about this for The Sunday Times it was restored within 18 minutes. How ethical. If it was really worried about people getting into debt it would close down, or at least reduce its interest rates.

Look, I know that my presbyterian values when it comes to money pre-dispose me to a horror of debt. And I appreciate that Mr Liddle's domestic circumstances may be a little, how can I put this, fluid. Nevertheless, even a former producer on the Today programme and now a respected journalist can find him or herself in financial difficulties.

But it is financial folly to carry large sums on your credit card from month to month. And taking cash advances (with interest payable from the date of withdrawal) is madness. Pull yourself together, Rod - get a proper bank loan to cover your credit card debt. It's bound to be cheaper. And, in future, don't use your credit card as a means of long-term borrowing.

Just a thought

160,000 turkeys on one farm? Must be a big farm. But apparently not. The Observer reports:
The farm, on the site of a former Second World War airfield, has 22 turkey sheds. Only one was affected, but all the birds will have to be culled.

I make that over 7,000 turkeys per shed. Not much of a life if you are a turkey. It's enough to put you off your twizzlers...

03 February 2007

Don't panic!

Somebody has woken up the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department, forcing them to put out a press release on a Saturday:
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus has caused the deaths of turkeys at a poultry farm in Suffolk, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed today.
Another 160,000 turkeys on the farm will be slaughtered while a three kilometre protection zone and a 10km surveillance zone have been set up.
An Executive spokesman said:
"DEFRA have confirmed cases of H5N1 bird flu on an enclosed poultry farm near Lowestoft. The Scottish Executive is monitoring the situation in England but there are no direct implications for Scotland at this stage.
"Poultry keepers are reminded of the importance of vigilance for signs of disease and maintaining good biosecurity.
"As a precautionary measure bird gatherings in Scotland are to be cancelled for the time being.
"It is important to remember that bid [sic] flu is principally a disease of birds. This H5N1 strain cannot easily be contracted by humans.

I confess that I am not entirely sure how the Executive is going to prevent bird gatherings - as far as I am aware, pigeons and seagulls do not usually read press releases. But I am not surprised to read that bird flu is principally a disease of birds (or possibly of bids).

SEERAD will now go back to sleep for the next five years.

02 February 2007

Jump up and down?

It is unbelievable, I know, but Mr McNulty is apparently a Home Office minister. The BBC claims that this is an extract from next week's Panorama:

Jeremy Vine: You see something happening in the street. Do you step in?

Tony McNulty: I think the general line must be to get in touch with the authorities straight and make sure that if things are as bad as you paint the police will be there as quickly as they can.

Jeremy: You see a young man looking aggressive, shouting at an old woman, what do you do? You retreat and ring the police?

Tony McNulty: I think you should in the first instance. It may well be the simply shouting at them, blowing your horn or whatever else deters them and they go away.

Jeremy: He's now hitting her and the police haven't come, what do you do then?

Tony McNulty: The same the same, you must always ...

Jeremy: Still wait?

Tony McNulty: Get back to the police, try some distractive activities whatever else.

Jeremy: What jump up and down?

Tony McNulty: But I would say you know sometimes that that may well work.

I cannot find the words.

Adding my tuppenceworth

Three bloggers whom I respect - Clairwil, Dr Vee and J Arthur MacNumpty - have gone after the notorious Councillor Kelly. Can the bigwigs at Labour Party HQ not see that Kelly is rather less than an adornment to the party ranks? Should they not be doing something about him?

01 February 2007

As any fule knos...

OK, I admit it. I suppose it's got something to do with my age. I'm a pedant. I get extremely irritated by stupid spelling errors and incorrect punctuation drives me potty. I have very little tolerance for a failure to realise that "criterion" is the singular form of "criteria". The distinction between "its" and "it's" seems to be disappearing from written language. And don't get me started on those who believe that "could of" or "would of" is a legitimate verb form.

Do I not make mistakes? Of course I do. But I try to avoid them. And I am deeply embarrassed when they surface.

Generally speaking, I am tolerant of my blogging colleagues. Few of them claim to be professional writers and Blogger at least does not offer a spell-check (as far as I have been able to discover). And, if they are anything like I am, it's a question of getting the text up in a hurry. That is not to say that I will excuse our rougher-edged brethren who have yet to learn that continuous upper-case text is the equivalent of shouting and that full stops are not an optional extra. But the ethos of blogging is that people do their own thing. In these circumstances, who am I to point out their own thing may not conform to the accepted norms? Besides, if I did point it out, I'd probably be flamed - and rightly so.

Professional journalists are a different matter. They have the advantages of spell-checkers and sub-editors and they are supposed to be professionals. But, hey, anybody can make a mistake. If bloggers take pleasure in pointing out those mistakes, then it is a minor cross for the journalist to bear. It is amazing, however, how many senior correspondents (especially on their pseudo-blogs where, presumably, they are less closely watched by sub-editors) are stumped by the use of apostrophes.

My deepest ire, however, is reserved for the Scottish Executive press office. In recent weeks, I have picked up two or three of their errors (and I'm talking about serious errors, not the occasional split infinitive). There is no excuse for punctuation or spelling errors in an Executive press release. Such a release would usually be drafted by the departmental official with responsibility for the subject matter, cleared with the relevant press officer, then put to the relevant Minister's private secretary for clearance by the Minister. Accordingly, at least four people will have seen it before it is issued. If errors get through, then it can only be because they are not paying sufficient attention to what they are doing (or they are incompetent). And it damages the Executive's standing, with both their 'partners' and with the wider world. It's deeply unprofessional.

Glad to have got this off my chest. Rant now over.


Consistency may well be an over-rated virtue but, when it comes to Executive press releases on sensitive matters, you would have thought that they might have made an effort:
90th anniversary of Passchendale

Ministers have agreed to pay £5,000 towards the overall costs of commemorative events for the 90th anniversary of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendale, to be held in Zonnebeke in Belgium in August.
Deputy Communities Minister Des McNulty told MSPs:
"This Executive believes that what happened at Passchendaele deserves to be remembered and appropriately commemorated, and all the more so because of the significant role played by Scottish soldiers..."

Passchendaele or Passchendale? The former appears to be the correct form although the latter is well used. But you surely cannot use both versions in the same release.

Update (2 February, 1.30 pm):

The press release has now been adjusted. Not surprisingly, no acknowledgement.

The danger of spreading yourself too thinly

Would you trust Beardie with your children's stem cells? The Telegraph reports:
Sir Richard Branson's latest venture is a bank which will allow parents to store stem cells from their children.
For around £1,500, the new company will take a sample of blood from a child’s umbilical cord and place it in frozen storage.
Some scientists believe advances in medicine will in the future allow stem cells to be used to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer.
If this happens, a child who falls ill later in life may have a much better chance of survival if they have an exact stem cell match in storage.

Have you never been on a Virgin train?

Knifing between the second and third rib

Quote of the day (for yesterday):
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): Can it be true that we had to pay GPs a lot more money to do a lot less work, and that now we have to pay them a lot more money to take on the work that we paid them to stop doing?
Source: Hansard (here)

Only in America...

Quote of the day in The Guardian (here):
As Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry says, the Super Bowl is "the biggest sporting event in the world, unless you include other parts of the world".

The luddites are still in charge

The Herald has an extremely interesting article on the IT deficiencies of our politicians by the former head of broadcasting at the Parliament. I think that this passage is a bit over the top:
I found the IT literacy of the average - or even the above-average - MSP to be frighteningly low. The average 14-year-old could knock spots off all but a handful of our MSPs when it comes to an appreciation of the practical value of the digital revolution. Blogs, YouTube, WAP, video diaries, the list goes on. It's all part of their language, a way of life.
If you don't believe me, just look at the embarrassing websites of all but a handful of our MSPs - each of whom has all the advantages of offices, full-time staff and a parliamentary allowance specifically to help them communicate with their constituents. My daughter, who is 13, has a Bebo site that is far better than most MSPs' sites, which she made herself for nothing with freely downloadable software. Hers is bang up to date, with pictures from her school Burns Supper; yet even when Gordon Brown takes over, I'm sure a few of our MSPs' sites will still show Tony Blair as Prime Minister for a few months (or more).
There is a serious point here. Our political classes can't credibly lead an IT revolution when they themselves are at best the equivalent of learner drivers. In my view this all but disqualifies them from any meaningful input to the wider debate on the democratic potential of the internet. Even when dealing with non-interactive and non-threatening technologies, our MSPs act like a group of collective luddites.

To be fair, most 14 year-olds could knock spots off most of us (including me) when it comes to IT. But it is a valid point that MSPs can afford to pay (handsomely) for professional advice and choose not to. And the parliament's attitude to blogs is no more enlightened than that of the Executive (see here); bloggers may be welcome at Davos and at political party conferences (at least those in England), but how many bloggers are accredited to the Scottish Parliament?