30 April 2007

Look away please

I really do not approve of treating our potential MSPs as sex objects, but some of my readers (actually both of them) may derive some titillation from this utterly disgraceful website.

The fact that, at the time of writing, Bruce Crawford is in the top ten male selections says all you need to know about the standards of sexiness prevalent in our political candidates.

On being patronised...

I always enjoy the pontifications of the London commentators on Scottish politics. There is a classic example in The Times:
Having spent a few days in the Scottish capital last week, pacing the streets of two key constituencies, employing a wet finger held aloft in the air and an open pair of ears, I conclude that the result on Thursday will be less clear-cut and more complicated. If not immediately, then within months, it will become obvious that the only political combination that will work in forming a Scottish executive is the “traffic light” option – the alliance of Labour (red), the Liberal Democrats (yellow) and the Greens.

Oh wow! Having spent a few (two? three?) days in Edinburgh and visited two constituencies, this guy has been able to intuit that the only obviously stable coalition involves Labour, LibDems and the Greens. Remarkable.

And how about this for sophisticated analysis:
Despite the best attempts at public education, there remain hundreds of thousands of Scots who think that being asked for a second vote means that they are obliged to identify their second favoured party, which they are not (if strong partisans they should back their own party twice).

So we, thick peasants that we are, do not understand our electoral system. Is there any evidence of these hundreds of thousands of moronic Scots? No, but do not let evidence get in the way of a London commentator jumping to conclusions.

27 April 2007

Keeping in touch

Excellent new roundup by Mr E.

A fairy tale of banking

Once upon a time, there was an attractive Dutch bank. This Dutch bank was canoodling with a handsome London bank and they agreed to get married. This upset an Edinburgh bank which was jealous of the London bank. So the Edinburgh bank got together with a Spanish bank and a Belgian bank in order to seduce the Dutch bank away from its projected London lover.

The Edinburgh bank was alleged not to be particularly interested in the Dutch bank for itself; rather the Edinburgh bank had its beady eye on a winsome Chicago bank which happened to be owned by the Dutch bank. But before the Edinburgh bank could make an offer, the Dutch bank went and sold the Chicago bank to a big tough Californian bank. But, nevertheless, the Edinburgh bank, together with its Spanish and Belgian chums, went ahead and made an offer to buy the Dutch bank.

What happens next? Damned if I know, but it seems most unlikely that everyone will live happily ever after.

Update: Here is The Economist's version of the same fairy tale, though I don't think that it is quite as entertaining.

26 April 2007

Letting the side down

I am disappointed to learn that Mr Hugh Grant is a connoisseur of baked beans. I would have assumed that he had more sophisticated tastes. If he had to throw something, it should have been artichoke hearts or favioli.

"Trust me - I'm from the Executive"

I know that he has spent the last four years seeking to force civil servants out of the city, but let us nevertheless welcome a change of heart. I know that he was speaking to The Edinburgh Evening News but still:
Mr McConnell says capital city status is about more than hard cash.
He says: "Capital city status is an idea whose time has come. Over the early years of devolution we have seen the significance of our capital city grow internationally and at home. Capital city status would mean appropriate recognition in the policy decisions of the Executive - and that means, for example, on relocation, getting a proper balance between the needs of other regions in Scotland and the significance of location inside the Capital.
"It means in the financial settlements, recognising the additional costs that come from providing services in the Capital city, but it also means maintaining and building on the priority for air links, the importance of culture and the Festivals and recognising Edinburgh is one of the major gateways when we are promoting tourism and inward investment."

Mr McConnell is an honourable man. I am sure that he will say the same thing when he visits other parts of the country. Won't he?

Saturday nights in Aberdeen...

... are obviously quieter than they used to be. Good to see that Grampian police have time to spend on pursuing the most heinous of crimes.

There's only seven days to go, thank goodness

There is a certain irony to these remarks by Tavish Scott, quoted by the BBC:
He said: "Annabel Goldie's comments simply underline the desperate straits the Tories are in.
"People in Scotland won't forget the Tory's poll tax, or that crime went up by 168% under their rule.
"They have already consigned their manifesto to the dustbin, promising not to implement a single one of their policies."
Mr Scott added: "It's this type of negative, personal attack that turns people away from the Tories and why more and more people are moving to the Liberal Democrats."

But I rather doubt if he is aware of it.

"All by myself"

What does this tell us about Mr McConnell's outlook on life? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? And, if he has to do it 'almost on his own', then whose fault is that? (And where are Andy Kerr and Tom McCabe anyway?) The Times reports:
In comments that will not endear him to the Prime Minister or the Chancellor, Mr McConnell said that, because he was campaigning in Scotland almost on his own, Mr Blair and Mr Brown had allowed the impression to gain ground that they did not support what he was doing.
Mr McConnell is fighting to hang on to power against a revitalised Scottish National Party as the election campaign enters its final week. He told The Times: “There have been times in the past when I have been almost on my own campaigning in Scotland and the leadership of the UK have stood back and said, ‘We are not getting involved’. People have said, ‘They do not support him’.
“Over the past 12 months, as the campaign has become more intense, I believe one of the things that has come through is that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have noticed the remarkable transformation that has taken place in Scotland under my leadership.

Blair and Brown may have noticed it - but it does not seem to have become apparent to the Scottish electorate...

25 April 2007

To whit to whoo

Quote of the day (well yesterday actually) from Dr Rambo Reid at the Home Affairs Select Committee (source here):
“If you’ll permit me to use one of my favourite quotes, I think the Owl of Minerva will spread its wings only with the coming of dusk.”
Pretentious plonker.

Update: The Guardian explains (here):
What Hegel meant was that the true significance of events is only evident once they have finished.

Big deal...


Yes, of course it's daft. But it's not the fault of the European Parliament. The Independent reports:
The "travelling circus" between the European Parliament's two homes pumps the same amount of C02 into the atmosphere as 4,000 London homes and undermines MEPs' credibility on green issues, according to a report.
A study of the impact of the monthly commute between the Brussels and Strasbourg seats of the European Parliament concludes that it not only costs tax payers an extra €200m a year, but does the same environmental damage as a total of 13,000 round-trip transatlantic flights.
The audit of the cost to the planet of the thousands of extra road, rail and plane journeys, as well as heating one extra building, is likely to intensify pressure on the Euro MPs to reform their procedures. More than one million people have signed a petition calling for the Strasbourg seat to be axed.

The so-called travelling circus is a Treaty obligation, imposed by the agreement of the national governments of the Member States. And it is only those governments which could put a stop to the nonsense. To suggest that MEPs could 'reform their procedures' to opt out of Strasbourg is ludicrous.

Do as the great and the good tell you

I wonder if anyone will actually think the following:
The Chairman of Tesco (chartered accountant and Old Fettesian) is worried that, if an SNP Government is elected, its pursuit of independence will de-stabilise business and hamper economic growth. Therefore I shall not vote for an SNP candidate as I would otherwise have done. Instead I shall vote for a unionist party.

It does not seem very likely. So why go through this charade of parading businessmen in the yellow press?

24 April 2007

That old black magic

The USA never fails to surprise you. You are just getting used to its obsession with fundamentalist Christianity and then it does something like this. The Washington Post reports:
Facing lawsuits by veterans and their families, the Bush administration relented yesterday and agreed to allow the Wiccan pentacle -- a five-pointed star inside a circle -- on tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery and other U.S. military burial grounds.
The Department of Veterans Affairs previously had given veterans a choice of 38 religious symbols, including numerous forms of the Christian cross, as well as the Jewish Star of David, the Muslim crescent, the Buddhist wheel and an atomic symbol for atheism.
But, for nearly a decade, the department had refused to act on requests for the pentacle, without a clear reason. VA spokesman Matt Burns said that approximately 10 applications were pending from adherents of Wicca, a blend of witchcraft and nature worship that is one of the country's fastest-growing religions.
In yesterday's legal settlement, the VA agreed to grant all the pending requests within two weeks and to approve new ones on an expedited basis for 30 days. The department will also pay $225,000 to the plaintiffs for attorneys' fees.

Far from sure about using the atomic symbol for atheism.

Berlin, Belfast and Baghdad

In case you were in any doubt about who's in charge, The Guardian dispels any illusions:
The new age of the wall has begun. Ramparts and stone fortifications, regarded until recently as national relics and tourist attractions, are back with a vengeance in the "global war on terror".
The White House indicated yesterday it would press ahead with building a three-mile wall between Sunni and Shia neighbourhoods in Baghdad, despite the objections of the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government may have been elected by its people. But democracy doesn't count when the White House is determined on a course of action.

23 April 2007

It must be a slow news day...

No, I have nothing to say about this bunch of retired footballers.

Nor do I wish to comment on Sheryl Crow's toilet habits.

Bathos or what?

I note that the titans of Scottish industry and commerce to have backed the SNP (here) include representatives of Craig's Newsagent and Card Gallery, of Forfar Road Service Station and of Cameron Guest House.

Memo to newsreaders everywhere

Look, it's not that difficult: Say-go-Len. Not Segg-oh-leen.

Explanations please

I rather doubt that sewage treatment involves a lot of high technology. So why can no-one explain what has gone wrong at Seafield? The most detailed explanation I have been able to find is in this BBC report:
Helen Lennox, Scottish Water's head of corporate affairs, apologised to customers for the inconvenience caused.
She said: "This was a catastrophic failure at a pumping station and we have been working around the clock to fix it.
"On investigation our engineers found the repair was a much larger operation than first anticipated and we have had to locate specialist pumps from other parts of the UK".
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has already said emergency measures to "minimize the risk of pollution" were being put in place and has warned the public not to come into contact with the water.
The failure affected just one of the flows going into the treatment works and that Seafield continued to treat the rest of its intake as normal.
John Rae, the General Manager of Customer Operations for Scottish Water, explained the sewage flow would have to be diverted before higher capacity pumps could be installed.
"The line that's coming in where we have the problem is only about a quarter of the total flow that Thames actually treat. Now in saying that, it's still a huge flow that's actually coming in - so they have to be able to divert that fully to stop the emergency overflow from running."

This does not leave me much wiser about what precisely has gone wrong and what will be needed to fix it.

Oh and don't bother checking the websites of either Scottish Water or Thames Water. They may be in the business of providing emergency services but they obviously do not believe in updating their websites over the weekend.

22 April 2007

Re-cycling the opinion polls

It must be confusing if you are a Green candidate in the parliamentary elections. Having finished your (organic) boiled egg this morning, you turn to The Sunday Times where the polls confidently predict that your party will only secure two seats. Despondency sets in.

But then your attention is drawn to The Mail on Sunday poll. Joy, oh joy: they are predicting - equally confidently - that the Greens will secure eleven seats.

What to make of this? I suspect that the polls are utterly hopeless at predicting how the smaller parties will fare a week on Thursday. And, if they can't predict the little parties, can they be trusted with the larger parties? Only up to a point...

All to play for, lads and lasses.

21 April 2007

A legend in his own lunchtime

Headline in The Scotsman (here):
Can Stephen wave goodbye to anonymity?

To which one can only respond 'Stephen who?'

20 April 2007

In poor taste

I'm not sure that this story is true:

AN official inquiry is to be launched into claims the Scottish Executive removed the body parts of staff while they were sitting at their desks.
Dozens of Executive civil servants have complained to their trade unions of having parts taken without permission. Molly Gilmore, who works in the Executive's rural affairs department, said: "I'd been working on farm payments all morning and got up to go for a coffee.
"Next thing I know, I've keeled over. I looked down to discover that my left leg was missing below the knee. Someone had whipped it off without so much as a by your leave."
Roy Hobbs, a finance department official, said: "I was emailing members of my team about council tax benefit when all of a sudden I noticed I was typing gibberish.
"I looked down to discover that both my index fingers had been removed. I immediately picked up the phone to dial human resources but of course that quickly descended into a complete farce."

I rather doubt if Executive officials would notice if their limbs were lopped off.

A fit of the vapours

Poor old Angus Macleod of The Times reads the runes of the latest poll:
The Nationalist surge in Scotland is faltering, although the SNP still leads Labour with less than two weeks to go in the election campaign, according to a new opinion poll.
The exclusive Populus poll for The Times also shows a significant upswing of support for the Liberal Democrats, reinforcing their position as key players in Scotland’s next ruling coalition after May 3.
If the Lib Dems maintain their progress right up to polling day, it even raises the possibility that what is Scotland’s third-largest party would be able to demand — if they failed to strike a deal with the SNP — that Nicol Stephen, their leader north of the Border, becomes First Minister as the price of another coalition with Labour.

Or maybe it's just another dodgy poll? Either way, there's no need to frighten the horses by suggesting that Nicol Stephen might become First Minister. For the record, here are the numbers:
Translated into seats at Holyrood, the Nationalists would be the largest party with 46 seats in the 129-seat Parliament in Edinburgh, down 4 from the same poll last month but 19 more than they won in 2003. Labour would have 42 seats, one fewer than last month but down eight on 2003. The Lib Dems would have 23 MSPs, five more than last month’s Populus poll suggested and six more than in 2003. The Conservatives would have 17, the same as last month but one fewer than they won in 2003.

Now that does not seems to me to provide a justification for old Angus's apocalyptic outpourings.

Scotland and the EU

At the risk of opening a new front on which to engage with my SNP interlocutors, I would suggest that The Economist offers a useful reminder on the situation of an independent Scotland with regard to EU membership:

The [SNP] party insists that an independent Scotland would have automatic, seamless membership of the EU as a successor to the defunct United Kingdom. The European Commission's legal advisers insist otherwise. They say that what is left of Britain would remain an EU member but that Scotland would have to apply to join as a new member, a process that triggers all sorts of complications. Not the least of these would be a referendum in France, whose constitution—thanks to French anxiety about Turkish membership—now requires such a vote on all future EU applicants (bar Croatia, whose entry talks kicked off before the deadline).

Nobody doubts that Scotland would eventually get in, but this could take time. And even if Scotland were excused the set-piece process of full-blown membership negotiations, the EU treaties would at the very least need to be tweaked to decide such matters as how many members of the European Parliament and votes in the Council of Ministers Scotland should have. Yet any change to the treaties needs the unanimous approval of all the current members, giving every single country a chance to veto Edinburgh. Who knows whether some government or other might not fancy a wrangle over fish or the EU budget? The Spanish government might not want to nod Scotland through, for fear of encouraging its own separatists. As one EU diplomat puts it: “If your sole question is, would you like to have Scotland in the EU, everyone would say yes. But it's not as simple as that.” In Brussels high-level questions of law are often settled by low-level questions of horsetrading.

We are not of course at the stage where this needs to occupy our attention, but let us bear it in mind for future reference if necessary.

19 April 2007

Remuneration of the week

According to Sarah Kennedy (yesterday morning), Sven-Goran Eriksson is still being paid £6,500 per day by the English FA.

Decline in standards

What kind of pop star goes on tour with his mother? And takes her with him to play golf? The Evening News reports:
BOSSES at the exclusive Muirfield Golf Course have denied that they snubbed pop star Justin Timberlake and stopped his mother from playing at the course.
It was reported today that officials at the course in Gullane, East Lothian, refused to let the 26-year-old singer’s mum Lynn walk the course while he played, and later refused to let him into the club restaurant because he was not wearing a jacket and tie.

What a pathetic wimp!

Tired of politics?

Then explore the darker side of the Scottish blogosphere: the weird, the wacky, the wonderful at the new roundup.

Des the eloquent

Matthew Parris has some fun at Des Browne's expense:
Des Browne must go. Not because of the detainees’ excursions into the media but because of Mr Browne’s into the English language. As Ann Treneman reported, he really did say: “I have expressed a degree of regret that could be equated with an apology.” People should be hanged for this kind of thing. Urged to resign, he said: “I decline to accept the invitation to set out the parameters for ministers in terms of exactly what the threshold is for resignation.”
Imagine the Brownes at breakfast.
“Did you say you wanted a poached egg, dear?”
“I have expressed a degree of affirmation, my love, that could be equated with a positive response.”
“And do take your umbrella today. It looks like rain, don’t you think?”
“I decline to accept the invitation to set out the parameters for precipitation in terms of exactly what is the threshold for protective accessories, honey.”
It’s bordering on mental illness, isn’t it?

No, it's not mental illness - Mr Browne is a lawyer.

18 April 2007

Maybe the polls have got it wrong - again

Prior to the 2003 election, the opinion polls over-estimated the strength of the Labour and SNP support at the expense of the Tories and LibDems. What if they have repeated the error in 2007?

An anonymous poster on SNP Tactical Voting (here) has done the number-crunching and come up with the following result:

Lab 43 (-7)
SNP 38 (+11)
Con 22 (+4)
LD 17 (-)
Grn 5 (-2)
SSP/Sol 2 (-4)
Oth 2 (-2)

Nobody is seeking to argue that this is probable. But like Jeff's anonymous poster I don't think that it's wildly improbable. Even if the pollsters have corrected their earlier error, a modest surge for either the Tories or the LibDems might bring about a result not too far distant from the above. And it would certainly put the cat among the pigeons.

The SNP, despite having done very well, would be depressed at failing to become the largest party; even worse, Mr McConnell would be in the driving seat when it came to forming a coalition, despite the fact that Labour had done very badly. It might even be that on these figures Mr Salmond failed to win Gordon.

But Labour plus LibDem would not have a majority and would have to rely on the (tacit?) support of the Tories, even to form a minority administration, which in these circumstances would seem to be the most likely outcome.

But it will probably never happen. Will it?

I'll remain with Shanks, thank you very much

You know you want to. So why not go ahead and read the article about the exploding loos? At the risk of offending those of delicate sensibilities, here is a taster:
The scandal centres on Toto, the largest Japanese manufacturer of electronically controlled lavatories and the company responsible for the notorious Washlet — a unit with an automatically warmed seat and a function that washes and then blow-dries its user’s fundament.
Insert your own bad-taste pun here.

The dismal science

Ann Treneman in The Times reports on yesterday's Commons debate on pensions:
Gordo refused to accept any hint of responsibility or criticism. The economy was a rock, an absolute rock. Pensioners were better off than they had ever been before. The Tories didn’t care about pensioner poverty. Only Gordo cared! Indeed, he was freeing pensioners almost every day from this. He kept shouting about free TV licences and winter fuel allowances.
“What about pensions?” the Tories shouted but their voices were lost as the hurricane wind swirled. They watched helplessly for there was nothing they could do. Gordon Brown wanted to blow them away — and he did.

As usual, the Tories were barking up the wrong tree. In any case, the culpability of the Chancellor in relation to pensions had been comprehensively dismissed by Will Hutton in yesterday's Guardian.

I am far more concerned that the increase in the RPI (the way we used to measure inflation) has now hit 4.8% and that next month the bank rate is likely to hit 5.5% or higher. (See here.) I may not have a mortgage but some of my younger friends and relations are in up to their eyes; and every increase of 25 basis points puts them deeper in the mire. And who is responsible if not the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

17 April 2007

Cricket - England are making a cuddy of it

The Guardian's over-by-over commentary is getting rather upset:
Can England actually win this? This short answer is 'no'; the longer answer is 'noo'. But if they take a couple of early wickets, you never, ever know. That's a lie: you do know.

1st over: South Africa 3-0 (chasing about 12) de Villiers chops the first ball, from Anderson, straight into the hands of gully. EXCEPT GULLY'S AN EFFING INVISIBLE MAN! HE ISN'T BLOODY THERE! WHAT HAPPENED TO BLOODY ATTACKING WHEN YOU'RE DEFENDING A TOTAL OF AROUND 12?! AND THIS ISN'T ME BEING WISE AFTER THE EVENT BECAUSE I THOUGHT 'THEY SHOULD HAVE A GULLY' LITERALLY SECONDS AFTER BARRY RICHARDS SAID ON SKY SPORTS. Later in the over, Smith is beaten by one from Anderson that keeps low and then gets off the mark with a work for two. "Permission for lower lip to wobble please Mr Smyth," says Andy Bradshaw. Permission denied, you miserable, cowardly little Eng- gah, go on then. Mine just has.
No need for shouting. It's only a game, you know...


If only it were true. The BBC reports:
Environment Secretary David Miliband will not run for the Labour leadership, once Tony Blair stands down, the BBC understands.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Miliband wanted to end speculation he would run against Gordon Brown.
Mr Miliband told the BBC: "I'm not wavering...I am not a candidate."

But it may not be:
But, our correspondent added, sceptics will accuse Mr Miliband of allowing himself some "wiggle room" by not clearly stating he will not run and would not accept nomination.

It is getting to the stage where nobody - apart from political correspondents - cares any more...

For orthographic anoraks only

You do not often see an Eszet in English but The Guardian even puts it in a headline (here):
Hopeless Hoeneß

The clumsy Dieter Hoeneß was probably the worst player to appear in a World Cup final.
Nice to see that ancient usages persist, even though there is some doubt about whether it is appropriate even in German, following the 1996 reforms. But if you are going to include the Eszet, why abandon the umlaut?


You can read the report on MPs' interests outside the day job here. Leave aside the big earners like William Hague, Boris Johnson and Charles Kennedy. The more interesting stuff lies elsewhere, so that Alex Salmond appears to get free entry to Scottish racecourses while Douglas Alexander declares an invitation to the Brit awards. Worth a browse if you have a spare 5 minutes.

16 April 2007

Hubris, schadenfreude and socks

Oh Wolfie, Wolfie, how has it come to this? That a great man should be brought so low. The Guardian reports:
Paul Wolfowitz was flavour of the month for foreign journalists in Washington this week. Faced with an agenda of quite mind-boggling dullness at the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the hacks were at a loss to think of what they could offer to tickle the fancy of their news editors.
Then Wolfy came along and the problem was solved. The story had it all. Neocon architect of Iraq war is parachuted into World Bank by his pal George Bush, finds that he is now the boss of his girlfriend, so arranges for her to be shipped out to the state department on a higher grade and lots more money, then launches crusade to stamp out corruption in the developing world.

That you should be mocked by idle journalists. The episode of the socks was bad enough, but this is unsupportable.

Boring for Scotland...

I appreciate that the general population out there is utterly fascinated by the ins and outs of a local income tax, so I am prepared to indulge you one more time. But do not expect me to do this more regularly. Anyway, The Telegraph reports:
Mr Salmond dismissed the suggestion that HM Revenue and Customs - which would be expected to collect the new tax - might choose not to co-operate with a unique system north of the border.
He said: "The decision on local taxation was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. You cannot possibly suggest that HM Revenue and Customs are not wanting to co-operate with the Scottish Parliament on a devolved matter."
It is - of course - not simply a question of the willingness to co-operate. I rather doubt if the HMRC's systems are geared up to cope with the concept of allocating certain amounts of income tax revenue to local authority areas according to either the residential address of the payee or the location of his place of employment. I will go further and boldly suggest that employers' payroll systems (which will of course need to make the necessary deductions from pay packets) are certainly utter strangers to the concept of local authority areas. Accordingly, a substantial amount of expensive systems modification will be required. Who, do you suppose, will be asked to meet the cost?

The acceptance by the SNP that HMRC should collect the local income tax raises two other issues. The first is that all of those council officials engaged in collecting council tax (preparing and issuing council tax demands, receiving the money, pursuing non-payers, and so on) will be redundant. I do not know how many officials this is but it must amount to thousands.

But arguably there is a more important point. The local authorities will not be involved in assessing liability for local income tax; they will not be involved in setting the rate of this tax (as the SNP have announced it will be set at an across the board rate of 3p in the £); and they will not be involved in collecting the tax. Their only role is to accept their share along with their government grant at the end of the day. In what sense is it a local income tax? To all intents and purposes it has become part of the central government support system for local authorities. Would it make any practical difference if this proposal were abandoned and replaced by a system whereby local taxation was totally abolished, the Parliament exercised its existing powers under the Scotland Act to increase income tax by 3 pence in the £ and the Executive agreed to give the product of that 3p increase to local authorities? I cannot see any effective distinction, although of course there would be a philosophical and legislative one. But to the taxpayers and the local authorities it would make no difference.

15 April 2007

Election fever - maybe not

This Sunday lunchtime in the glorious weather, I took my customary stroll through Edinburgh: Stockbridge, the New Town, Haymarket, Dalry, Gorgie and back via Princes Street. Not an election poster, not a candidate on the street, no touring car with loudspeaker. Not a sign that an election was taking place. Perhaps the pundits and the bloggers are kidding themselves (ourselves) with our obsessive attention to manifestos, political tv ads, who's up, who's down.

Perhaps I just missed it. Perhaps, it is all happening elsewhere. Perhaps, activity will intensify over the next two and a half weeks. But I fear that the most likely election winner is the "Can't be bothered" party.

14 April 2007

Put not your trust in princes...

I see that a young man has chucked his girlfriend - or maybe it was the other way about. I have nothing to say about it. Nor does The Sun, even though the non-story occupies at least three pages in this morning's edition.

It's a comfort...

... to know that, even if you're fat, you can still be cremated. See here.

This is where it starts getting complicated...

The Herald has published the list of candidates for the parliamentary elections. (Select your constituency or regional list from the column on the right hand side.)

The Lothians regional list (here) is on the lengthy side. This is the part where you have to vote for the party rather than the individual. So if you want to vote Labour but don't like George Foulkes - who is first on Labour's regional list for the Lothians - then too bad. Rather unfortunately, the bold Margo as an Independent is hidden down at the bottom, but I am sure Edinburgh's electors will study the list all the way down. Won't they?

13 April 2007

Building Brix

In the good old days, the period before a general election was an easy time for civil servants. The ministers were away campaigning, parliament was in recess (none of those tedious parly questions) and government announcements were verboten. It was a time for catching up with the filing, for taking one's secretary to lunch, or even for a spot of leave. The only serious task was preparing notes for incoming ministers. These consisted of brief essays on the major manifesto commitments of the two major parties, explaining to the new (or returning) ministers why such and such a political commitment was arrant nonsense, why it would require extensive consultation and why its implementation would have to await a period of mature reflection.

It's not so easy nowadays. Sir John Elvidge and the Executive bosses are insisting that individual notes are to be prepared for each manifesto commitment in each of the manifestos of the five main parties (including - believe it or not - the Greens). Each note has to be tailored to a specific format and then entered into the Executive's super-duper (if barely functional) computer system, known as Brix for Incoming Ministers. Given that the Labour manifesto amounted to over 100 pages, while that of the SNP occupies 80 pages, this is proving to be a herculean task. But, never mind, it means that at the snap of his fingers Sir John can churn out pages and pages and pages of analysis to keep his new masters (whoever they may be) happy. Admittedly, much of what is prepared will be totally redundant, given that not all five parties are likely to be in government and that, in the inevitable event of a coalition, a number of manifesto pledges are likely to be unceremoniously dumped. And ministers (at least if they are like the last lot) are not renowned for their reading ability.

But, hey, it keeps the lads and the lasses busy and out of mischief.

So macho

It's enough to make me vote Green. Mr Hargreaves is a Christian who wrote a gay anthem for someone called Sinitta. The Times reports:
Having made millions from his success on the gay club scene, the Pentecostal minister is having to deny accusations of double standards as he uses his fortune to fund a campaign berating homosexuals.
“This is not about gay rights, it’s about gay wrongs,” he told The Times. “It’s not all homosexuals. Just the militant ones. There is a certain type who should stop criticising the Church and get a life. This is Christianophobia, peddled by the pink press.”
“I think that Patrick has things to answer for,” said Mr Hargreaves, 49, who says that he has concerns over the MSP’s well-known previous role as a sexual health worker involved in projects with gay men.
“This is not just a cuddly Green MSP. I do not think that people were fully aware of his whole agenda when he was elected. He is a gay fundamentalist who got in using a green card of convenience and I want to expose him.” The claims have been dismissed by Mr Harvie as absurd.

We can do without this kind of nonsense from Mr Hargreaves. Last word to Mr Harvie:
Mr Harvie sympathised, nevertheless, with his rival’s attempts to distance himself from the gay anthem.
“There’s no accounting for taste,” he smiled. “I’d be racked with guilt if I wrote that song too.”

It would be good to have a proper blogger in parliament

I received a letter this morning from that nice young Mr Hutchison inviting me to vote for him and a colleague in the elections. A proper letter too, in an envelope, personally addressed to me, with a first class stamp. No other party has bothered.

I rather doubt if I could ever bring myself to vote for the SNP but I can only applaud their organisational efforts in this election. Their manifesto conference was streets ahead of the other parties; the earlier gradual revelation of supporting businessmen was clever; and Mr Salmond has intelligently played down his sarcastic side. If this national effectiveness is matched at constituency level, then they look to be well on their way.

Now if only the policies stood up...

12 April 2007

Not much further forward

I am somewhat nonplussed. I expected a bit more detail. But here is what the SNP manifesto (to be found here) has to say about that referendum:
Publication of a White Paper, encompassing a Bill, detailing the concept of Scottish independence in the modern world as part of preparations for offering Scots the opportunity to decide on independence in a referendum, with a likely date of 2010.
I'm not entirely sure how a White Paper can encompass a Bill, but let that one stick to the wall. If we are going to have a referendum in 2010, then the Bill probably needs to be introduced in 2008, allowing time for the parliamentary procedure and for bureaucratic preparations for the referendum itself. 2008 is next year. Is the referendum going to be consultative or mandatory? How is the SNP going to get round the ultra vires question whereby the Scottish Parliament has no powers to consider constitutional issues? Just what is the Scottish population going to be asked? Presumably, such questions will be answered by the White Paper, but one might have expected a bit more detail on what is the central plank of the SNP's platform.

As for local income tax:
We will scrap the unfair Council Tax and introduce a Local Income Tax set at 3p. This will apply at both the basic and higher income tax rate and will not be levied on savings income.
Second homes will continue to be liable to local tax and will make the same level of contribution as present, with payments made through business rates.

Even less informative. When is this to happen? What about the mechanics? (Who will collect it? Distributed to local authorities according to place of work or residential address? What about those paid from England? Consequentials for what used to be known as rate support grant?) What about rebutting all those who have poked financial holes in the policy? And what about those millionaires living off unearned income? And, if the rich earning massive sums pay a fair proportion in local income tax, why penalise them for having a second home?

Perhaps the answers will emerge from the press conference. (But don't hold your breath.)

11 April 2007

The mess of pottage experts

The LibDem manifesto is the subject of a BBC article. Here is a summary of the manifesto:
We will go into coalition with either the SNP or Labour, whichever offers us the most ministerial portfolios. Policies? We've got lots of policies but none of them is non-negotiable.

10 April 2007

Not exactly inspiring

Well here it is - the Scottish Labour manifesto. For reasons which escape me, the BBC has managed to get hold of it. Shame that the Scottish Labour Party website has yet to do so. They just don't seem to understand the good old interweb.

Despite its 104 pages, the manifesto is more remarkable for its omissions than anything included. For example, it is hard to find any mention of nuclear energy - though, as far as I can see, it is not specifically excluded from future energy supplies. Nor are there any proposals for constitutional change; not that I expected any, but one might have expected some sort of defence of the present arrangements.

I have already commented on the local government finance proposals and on teaching Chinese in primary schools. The only other point to leap out at me (page 41) was this extract from the section on crime and punishment (a section which on the whole seemed rather mean-spirited and authoritarian):

"Scottish Labour will:

- introduce new police powers to fight serious gangland criminals

- retain DNA samples and fingerprints of all crime suspects, to help convict the guilty and acquit the innocent."

Leave aside the clumsy syntax suggesting that the DNA and fingerprints would be retained by Scottish Labour rather than the police. It is the absence of any doubts about retaining the DNA and fingerprints of those not charged or those found to be innocent that worries me. Does Scottish Labour realise the implications? No thought of civil liberties? No justification offered? Do they understand what they are proposing? And, once something is in the manifesto, it has the status of holy writ if the party takes power. Worrying.

Tomorrow's newspapers will no doubt stimulate further thoughts.

Children's Hour

Now then children, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Uncle HW is going to try to explain why Mr McConnell cannot be permitted to get away with adding new bands to the council tax without having a property revaluation. I appreciate that this is not as exciting as the usual fairy tale but it is important. So stay awake.

The amount of council tax that a householder pays depends upon the capital value of his or her property. If you live in a big expensive house, you will pay more than if you lived in a small cheap house. All the houses in Scotland are classified - according to their value - into one of eight categories, known as bands A to H, with A being the cheapest and H being the most expensive. (The amount of council tax a householder will actually pay also depends upon other factors, such as his or her income and whether he or she lives alone, but the fundamental basis of the system is the value of the property.) OK so far? Not that difficult, is it?

Now, let us consider the bands A to H. If your house was valued at less than £27,000, then you fall into band A. If your house was valued at more than £212,000, then you fall into band H. My humble flat is in category F, which means that it was valued at between £80,000 and £106,000. You may think that these figures are on the low side. After all, the current average value of a house in Scotland is reckoned to be well over £100,000. That is because the valuations used to assign houses to the bands are based on the values of the properties before the council tax system was introduced, namely as at 1 April 1991 (more than 15 years ago).

Accordingly when the system was introduced, it was roughly a fair system. But, even in those days, it was not entirely fair. For example some people lived in houses worth well over £500,000. Was it fair that they should be paying the same as somebody who lived in a house worth only £250,000? Furthermore, the rich householder in band H paid only three times as much as the poor householder in band A; given that the former's income could be many times more than that of the latter, was that fair? But at least the system was fairer than the previous system (where everybody paid the same).

Yes, Jimmy, you have a question? What about houses built since 1991? Well, property valuers are clever people. If you have a new house, the valuers will calculate the value of the house as if it had existed in 1991 and assign it to the appropriate band. ( Yes, I appreciate that it is nonsensical, but that is the way it is done - get over it.)

Since 1991, the system has become more unfair. This is because houses have increased in value at differential rates. Thus my humble flat in the Edinburgh New Town has soared in value while ex-council houses on the outskirts of the city have only seen a modest increase. This is unfair because I should be paying more while others should be paying less. After all, there is no obvious reason why my - or anyone else's - tax burden should be based on 1991 property values. The obvious answer to this problem is to start again by revaluing all the houses and re-assigning them to updated bands (and doing such a re-valuation at regular intervals). But the politicians don't like doing this because people like me would lose out by having to pay more council tax while others would gain by having to pay less. As the losers would complain loudly (and the winners would sit tight and keep their mouths shut), the politicians always find an excuse to postpone revaluation, even though the system grows more unfair with every year that passes.

So what is Labour planning to do? Well, they propose to introduce a new band at the bottom and a new band at the top. So the very, very rich will pay a little bit more and the very, very poor will pay a little bit less. Is this a good thing? Well, it won't do any harm (unless you're very very rich, in which case you can afford it). Does it address the essential unfairness in the system? No, especially if they are not prepared to consider a property revaluation. So the unfairness will go on getting worse? Afraid so...

For a more scholarly analysis of the council tax system, see here.

Chance would be a fine thing

You might describe it as a sweeping generalisation. The Scotsman reports:

THEY are the online diaries of the 21st century where writers often condemn their employers or write racily about their love lives. But the world of blogging faced a new challenge last night as two internet pioneers called for a new code of manners for anyone tempted to pour out their heart on the web.

I cannot condemn my employers as I am not employed. I would dearly like to write racily about my love life but, well, let's not go there...

I have no objection to a code of manners, provided I can still be rude about Jack and Alex and Nicol and Annabel and, of course, about MSM journalists.

The future is mandarin (or maybe clementine)

It's good to be ambitious. The Scotsman reports:
JACK McConnell is due to launch Scottish Labour's manifesto today, with a promise to teach children modern languages, including Mandarin, from age seven.

I do hope that Mr McConnell will tell us where he will find all these primary school teachers able to teach Mandarin. They don't grow on trees, you know.

09 April 2007

Snafu (and a half)

The Ministry of Defence, under severe criticism, takes action by announcing a review. The BBC reports:
The Ministry of Defence is to review rules allowing personnel to sell stories to the media following the row over the Navy crew held by Iran.
Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Adrian Johns said a review is under way across the armed forces, because the current regulations are outdated.
It comes after two of the 15-strong Navy crew held in Iran sold stories.
Leading Seaman Faye Turney sold her story to ITV1's Trevor Macdonald and the Sun newspaper.
Some of the reported six-figure sum for the interview with Leading Seaman Turney will go to navy families.
Relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq have criticised the decision to allow the crew to sell their stories.

A case of closing the stable door after the horses have bolted? Well, I suppose that they felt that they had to do something. An internal review will put the problem off until criticism dies down. But it does not resolve it. Wise words this morning from Peter Preston in The Guardian:
We're used to politicians writing their tell-all life stories and selling the rights to Fleet Street. We're increasingly used to Sir Humphreys, top cops and military brass doing the same. Why raise a fuss when a handful of ordinary sailors get caught in a headline horror and enjoy a chance of media payback? Why operate one wonky rule for the big and powerful and another for those who, impotently, had a very nasty turn?
Yet, when you've made all the egalitarian arguments available, there is still something rancid about this particular turn of the shekel screw. Did the famous 15 do anything remotely heroic, or even interesting? No: they sat there in their boat, allowed themselves to be captured, gave a variety of forced statements to camera and showed why Britain's most famous old cigarette brand was called Senior Service...
Is it fair game now for every embattled sergeant on the Basra road to sell his saga of personal bravery under fire? Is it fair game for the third major on the left to tell the Sunday Bugle what Prince Harry had for mess breakfast, and if he turned as white as the porridge after another wild night out? Is anything that happens of interest (and monetary value) to soldiers, sailors, airmen or policeman now fodder for a cheque?

I agree that there have to be some controls but nobody, I hope, wants all military personnel to be barred from ever talking to the media. But how to draw up rules which eliminate or reduce the rancid and the frivolous while retaining reasonable access by the media to the armed forces?

Meanwhile, we are obliged to observe the nauseating hypocrisy of the tabloids...

Neither shaken nor stirred

We are supposed to be suitably grateful. The greatest living Scotsman, at least in his own estimation, may be coming home. The Scotsman reports:
SIR Sean Connery has said he will return to his native Scotland if it is granted independence.
The high profile supporter of the Scottish National Party (SNP) was born in Edinburgh's Fountainbridge but left Scotland more than half a century ago.
Sir Sean, 76, moved to London in the Fifties, then to Spain in the Seventies. In 1999 he took up residence in the Bahamas, where he still lives, with his second wife, the painter Micheline Roquebrune.
But in an interview with a Sunday newspaper the former James Bond actor said he would "look forward" to coming home to an independent Scotland.

Even if he did deliver the milk to my granny, I rather doubt if cheering crowds will line the Edinburgh streets for the return of the prodigal. In any case, by the time Scotland is independent (even on the fastest of probable timelines), the great man would be well over 80. So the fatted calf is probably pretty safe.

08 April 2007

All over the shop

Perhaps it is the fact that we have a multi-party system. Perhaps people don't tell the truth to pollsters. But The Mail on Sunday's poll (here) is widely out of line with previous polls (as was The Herald's poll earlier this week - see here):
The poll, based on a survey of more than 1,000 people, shows the SNP set to return 56 MSPs to Holyrood, Labour 40, the Tories 17, the Liberal-Democrats 13 and other parties three.
It has the SNP on 40 per cent for the Holyrood constituency vote, with Labour on 28 per cent, the Tories on 15 per cent, the LibDems on 14 per cent and other parties on 3 per cent.
In the second vote, for the top-up party lists, the Nationalists are on 39 per cent, Labour on 28 per cent, the Tories on 14 per cent, the LibDems on 10 per cent, the Greens on 4 per cent, Solidarity and the SSP both on 1 per cent and others on 3 per cent.

It becomes increasingly difficult to place any reliance at all on the opinion polls. I find it hard to believe that the SNP will increase to 55 (or even 56), while the LibDems decline to 13. It's not impossible, it's just not very likely. Especially when next week's polls may be expected to tell an entirely different story.

07 April 2007

The Falklands War

Thoroughly recommended: the Falklands Play on Radio 4 which was broadcast this afternoon from 2.30 to 4.00 pm.

I am far from sure that I approved of the script which seemed - to my ears at least - to be excessively sympathetic to Mrs Thatcher. But terrific radio.

You can hear it again here.

06 April 2007

Excused boots

Some prominent bloggers may be absent over the next few days. For example, here:

No posts, or at least very few over the Easter period. But we’ll be back on Tuesday.

Or here:
Easter is finally upon us, and that means unfortunately the blog will be out of action until after the Easter period, as we go for a well earned rest!

Hey, I don't blame them. They are 'professional' bloggers. But that's the point...

Cri de coeur

TV cookery programmes:

1. Are they as hygienic as they should be? For me, there are far too many chefs sticking their fingers into and onto food during the cooking. But you never see them washing their hands. Furthermore, if you go anywhere near a food factory, you will be expected to wear a hair net - not for our TV chefs. And, while I remember, sticking your thumb over the top of the olive oil bottle (in order to 'drizzle' it) is less than salubrious.

2. Why this fashion for sticking frying pans into ovens? Frying pans are for frying; if you want to bake something, put it on a baking tray (or at least some form of oven dish).

3. What is this nonsense with the blowtorches? That's not proper cooking...

4. Who does the washing up? The TV chefs never hesitate to use another bowl or pot, without any thought for the skivvy who has to wash the things.

Bring back Delia.


I know, I'm a big softie. As it's Easter, here is a slide show from The New York Times.

(Well, what did you expect? An Easter bunny?)

Is the SNP bovvered?

A rogue poll? Maybe, maybe not. The Herald reports:
On voting intentions for regional list MSPs, Labour was ahead by 37% to 35%, meaning both gaps are within the 3% margin of error for polls of 1000 people. The LibDems were on 14% and the Conservatives on 10%.
According to James Mitchell, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, a calculation of how these might translate into seats would put Labour on 55, up five from their tally of seats at the 2003 election, the SNP would be on 45, up 18, while the LibDems would be up one on 18, the Tories would be down seven on 10 seats, and the Greens would secure only one seat, whereas they won seven in 2003. The poll, however, is national and fails to register local regional differences, so seat projections are less meaningful than voting intentions.

It hardly seems credible that Labour could gain 5 seats over their 2003 total. But who knows? Perhaps Mr McConnell could become a hero after all. Myself, I rather doubt it...

Expect the political soothsayers - hitherto predicting disaster for Labour - to become coy about further predictions (at least until the next poll).

Footnote: On 55 seats, Labour would not necessarily need the LibDems to command a majority - the support of the 10 Tories would be just enough to secure Mr McConnell's nomination as First Minister.

05 April 2007

Even the Tories don't like the Tories

It's a shame really. A once proud party. It is only 50 years since they held the majority of Scottish parliamentary seats. Now it's nothing but ignominy. The Scotsman reports:
SENIOR Tories are considering secret plans for a "velvet divorce" between the party north and south of the Border after the Scottish polls in the event of electoral disaster.
Conservatives in London believe that hiving off the Scottish party would allow them to exploit Gordon Brown's Scottishness in the run up to the next UK election.
Officials working for Francis Maude, the Tory party chairman south of the Border, are already looking at the idea of making the Conservatives a party operating only in England and Wales, according to reports in today's edition of the Spectator.

OK, the Scottish Tories are a bit backward. They are like those family relations of which you are slightly ashamed. But that's no reason to cast them into the outer darkness; we all have to rub along together in this world.

The Guardian publishes the Conservative denials of the story (here) but nobody is likely to believe them.

For anoraks only

All change in the US presidential election: these are the states which will be holding their primaries on 5 February next:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah

As well as these, Florida is planning to move to January 29

The implications are discussed - rather briefly - in this Guardian article. But expect to read much more about Super Duper Tuesday.

04 April 2007

Over-egging the pudding

Why do the London newspapers write this kind of rubbish? Here is The Times editorial:
The SNP is a very left-wing party and independence is its purpose in life, not an esoteric instinct. Mr Salmond would preside over an administration which was profoundly statist, and it would be optimistic to think that the Liberal Democrats could impose free-market values on him. His every deed and word as First Minister would be designed to move Scotland farther apart from the rest of the United Kingdom — economically, politically and culturally — in what would amount to separation by stealth. Mr Salmond’s aim would be to achieve such a degree of detachment that the referendum vote would seem like the final step in a process rather than the radical break with Britain that it seems today. The Scottish electorate should be aware that a vote for Mr Salmond would be a very substantial step towards leaving the United Kingdom.
This is not a contest where a casual protest ballot is even remotely advisable. It is a deadly serious election with much at stake. If Scots do not want separation, they should not lend their backing to Mr Salmond. Even if inclined towards independence they might ask themselves if they really want it on the same policy terms as the SNP. It is hard to believe that a “free” Scotland would benefit from becoming a new Albania.
I hold no brief for the SNP but the idea that Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney are dangerous left-wing radicals, seeking to impose (by stealth) a communist regime akin to Albania is just laughable. And what would The Times - locked into its London fastness - know about Scotland anyway? Even the Scottish Tories would not put out this kind of propaganda.

It's a sair fecht

I've no idea why The Guardian thinks that it will be of interest to readers south of the border but perhaps it has a mission to explain:
Scotland's favourite word, according to a poll by BT Openreach, is numpty. Derived from "numps", an obsolete word for a stupid person, rather than the more obvious numbnuts or numbskull, the term implies general idiocy, often in my experience accompanied by windbaggery. Which explains why you will most often find it used in connection with members of the Scottish Parliament.
But numpty is a multi-purpose word, with great flexibility - my husband, for example, calls me "numpty-noo", an affectionate variation (I hope). With its plosive "p", it is a word capable of withstanding being hurled across football terraces - "Heid tha ball, ya useless nuuuuumpties!" - or gently remonstrating with a small child -"I know you didn't mean tae forget your gym kit, Hamish, but you'll look a right numpty in your vest and pants and nae mistake."
Alex Ferguson is rumoured to use it widely in the dressing room (no wonder David Beckham left), while famous numpties would include Prince Charles, at least for the month a year he's at Balmoral poncing about in a kilt and green socks. Numpty is catchy but that doesn't mean it will take off south of the border. "Ned", for example, is heard only in Scotland as the local term for chav. And scunnered (a runner-up in the poll), while useful, faces too much competition to describe the feeling of being a bit pissed off.

Might I suggest that the writer has been reading too many Oor Wullie annuals?

Update: Examples of numpties: here and here

02 April 2007

Wallflower announces that she won't dance, even if someone asks her

Oh dear. The BBC has conveniently summarised the Tory manifesto here. I was going to comment but I can't really be bothered and, to be brutal, who cares?

But the headline story is as follows:
Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie has ruled out entering into any coalition with rival parties after the Holyrood election in May.
To which one can only respond: chance would be a fine thing.

01 April 2007

Just whose land is this, anyway?

I think this is excellent.

(Via Tartan Hero)

The king isnae deid yet!

It's started already. I mean speculation on the McConnell succession. Scotland on Sunday reports:
Despite his fighting talk, an election defeat would likely trigger the resignation of Jack McConnell as Labour leader. Front runners to replace him are Health Minister Andy Kerr and back-bencher Wendy Alexander, who is already being touted by figures in Westminster.

When the delegation of men in shiny suits and shinier ties approaches Mr McConnell with the pearl-handled revolver, he will be expected to go gentle into that good night (and with no nonsense about raging against anything). But Mr Kerr (representing the bampot tendency) and Ms Wendy 'Smarts' Alexander can expect competition from Long Tom McCabe, the machine politician par excellence, as well as from Margaret Curran, the Clytemnestra of Scottish labour politics. Expect a bloody contest.