31 August 2007

I don't suppose they could eat cake?

The Guardian reports:
The rising price of bread in France, symbolic of the high cost of living, is putting pressure on the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, as he confronts growing dissatisfaction with shop prices.
The stick of crusty bread that symbolises French eating habits is the latest victim of the leap in international wheat prices which has hit Italian pasta-makers and US cereal firms. Priced at an average 75 to 95 cents (50-65p) in high-street bakeries, the baguette is forecast to rise 5 cents, a 5% to 7% jump. Consumers in France, where nine out of 10 people buy fresh bread daily and many eat baguette three times a day, are starting to protest.

Alternatively, there is the old standby of more circuses ...

30 August 2007

What if?

For years, indeed for decades, we have been told that Scotland has an under-performing economy and that our economic growth rate lags behind that of the UK as a whole. Indeed, the new Scottish Executive (sorry, Scottish Government) has made it a central theme of its economic policy to seek to improve Scottish growth to bring it in line with that of the UK.

But what if it's not true? What if Scottish growth has not been lagging behind? What if, over the past ten years, the Scottish economy has been growing at a rate comparable with that of the UK (which as the Prime Minister keeps telling us is one of the best-performing economies in the G7)?

Such is the prospect offered by a new academic report by the Centre for Public Policy for Regions. To be fair, they do not go quite as far as I have suggested in the previous paragraph but there is a clear implication that the growth of the Scottish economy in recent years may have been under-estimated.

Alf Young in The Herald (here) and Hamish MacDonnell in The Scotsman (here) try to get to grips with the implications, not entirely successfully, I would suggest. It does, after all, take a bit of re-thinking to get to grips with the idea that Scotland may just have a successful economy on its hands.

Here's tae us, wha's like us? A bit premature, perhaps. It's only an academic report, after all.

Workers' playtime

I do not approve of this suggestion:
WORKERS should be given time to use social networking websites in their office, the TUC urged yesterday.
It said employers were within their rights to stop staff using sites such as Facebook during working hours, but believed a total ban would be an "over-reaction". Staff should instead be trusted to take time during their lunch break to use such sites.

If staff spend their lunchtimes on Facebook, when are they going to find the time to read blogs like this one?

City LibDem loses it

It's not just a lack of political sensitivity; it's the absence of any common sense. The Scotsman reports:
A COUNCIL leader sparked fury yesterday when she said was spearheading the return of ceremonial robes to set councillors "apart from the hoi polloi".
Jenny Dawe, the leader of Edinburgh city council, and George Grubb, the lord provost, have asked for a report on plans to restore the traditional red and black robes, and their accompanying tricorn hats.

What century does she think she's living in? Of course, I am just one of the said hoi polloi - so it may be presumptuous of me to criticise.

29 August 2007

It was only a 37% increase

The fat cats once again. The Guardian CIF asks the questions and we provide the answers:
"But if executives want to function in British society in which their own companies play a great part, do they not care about social cohesion?"

No, they don't give a shit.

"Are they prepared to take all of the fruits of the booming economy, leaving only the dregs for everyone else?"

Yes and, if they could scoop up the dregs as well, you can be damn sure they would.

"When will our corporate leaders discover some shame?"

Shame is not a concept with which they have any familiarity, whatsoever.

I used to believe in Santa Claus

A mite suspicious, perhaps. See here:
Christine Ohuruogu, who only returned earlier this month from a one-year ban for missing three drug tests, became the first British woman to win a world championship track event for 14 years today, when she took gold in the 400m in Osaka.

Less than a month of competition leads to a gold medal? But hey, never mind, the BBC can once again get over-excited. And after all, as any fule kno, it's only other nationalities that are drug cheats...

28 August 2007

Making it up as you go along

Merlin was not only a weegie but a Partick Thistle supporter. The Telegraph reports:
Merlin the magician - hirsute confidant of King Arthur and the architect of Camelot - was, in fact, Scottish, according to a new book.
Not only Scottish but, to be precise, hailing from Ardery Street, just off the Dumbarton Road, in the Partick area of Glasgow.
While the English, Welsh and even the French have laid claim to the wizard with the peaked hat for centuries, this is the first time that anyone has tried to shift Camelot north of the border.
But Adam Ardrey, amateur historian and one-time SNP candidate, claims that his six years of research prove that Merlin was actually born in the year 540 in the Lanarkshire town of Hamilton and moved to a house in what was then open countryside but, later, was to become the original home of Partick Thistle FC.

What next? Joan of Arc lived in Nairn and supported Forres Mechanics, while Julius Caesar had a flat in Fountainbridge and was a diehard jambo?

Wishful thinking

Does a political resignation ever happen in a way which is "entirely voluntary"? It seems difficult to believe it of Alberto Gonzales. Gerard Baker in The Times is obviously someone whose glass is perennially half-full:
Perhaps the biggest surprise behind the resignation yesterday was that it seems to have been entirely voluntary.
Unlike the removal of Donald Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary last year – a decision made by Mr Bush in the teeth of growing domestic political fury over the Iraq war – Mr Gonzales was not forced from office.
In a somewhat testy statement yesterday Mr Bush said that he had accepted the resignation “reluctantly” and loudly bemoaned the fact that Mr Gonzales’s name had been “dragged through the mud for political reasons”. Other reports said Mr Bush had only “grudgingly” agreed to it when Mr Gonzales offered it last Friday.
It seems that the Attorney-General had finally decided after a summer break from the maelstrom of Washington that he could simply no longer tolerate the heat and opprobrium he generated.
Though Mr Bush may be disappointed, other Republicans are likely to be much happier. There is little more than a year to go in the Bush Administration, but there are still important political-judicial decisions in the Attorney-General’s in-tray.
Being able to confront these issues with fresh blood, someone not tainted by the US attorneys issue, will give the Administration and its Republican allies a much better chance of achieving their objectives.

"Achieving their objectives"? Sure, sure, whatever. Dream on, pal.

26 August 2007

On newspaper websites (or biting the hand that feeds me)

Not for the first time, The Sunday Herald's website this morning is something of a disaster area. By the time this post is published, they may have rectified the position, but at present none of the articles appears to be accessible. This is rather more serious than their usual habit of running words together, so as to make certain articles unreadable. I do sometimes wonder why they bother with a website - admittedly it is available for free - but what do their advertisers think? And why does not the editor or proprietor phone up his technical people and demand that they get it sorted? OK, it's Sunday but even so. The answer is probably that no-one at The Sunday Herald gives a toss about their website, surely an attitude that is commercially short-sighted.

Not that other newspaper websites are significantly better. The (daily) Herald is clearly worried that it does not have enough daily content - so it continues to list articles that are days old, without dating them on the summary pages. And it must be one of the most primitive websites around in terms of design. It is worth checking out their so-called political blogs - apparently, updating once in a blue moon is sufficient. (As of yesterday, the most recent posting on one of the blogs was 18 July. Again, why bother if you do not take it seriously?)

Meanwhile, The Scotsman continues to pursue its policy of hiding its opinion pages behind a firewall requiring payment. Does it think that this will enhance its influence over the opinion formers? Who cares what Peter McMahon or Hamish Whatever writes if it cannot be linked to? Once again, why run a website if you want to hide away the 'good' bits? I can't believe it makes much money. But at least the website is technically competent and usually functional.

The Guardian claims to have one of the best and most-read websites in the newspaper world. And I used to think that it was indeed one of the best and easiest to use. But that was until they introduced their new introductory page. Anyone using dial-up (as I am forced to do occasionally) will recognise that the page is so overfilled with photographs and links that it takes far too long to load. It is as if you were covering up a set of efficient and competent knickers with a flashy and incompetent fur coat whose buttons are deliberately designed to make life difficult. (And, as someone who makes regular use of its tv schedules, this nonsense that they are updated daily at 5.25am, when they are frequently not updated until 8am, is irritating - and, if they are prepared to list the Sky Sports schedules, why not Setanta?) Thankfully, The Observer retains the old Guardian format, which in my eyes makes it the best newspaper website available. Shame about its content, which seems to have gone irretrievably downhill since its conversion to tabloid format.

Since its re-design, The Times website has become clunky in the extreme, while its Sunday counterpart continues to refuse to publish its Ecosse section. And what happened to the Scottish version of the daily newspaper that we were promised earlier in the year?

The Independent website is fairly primitive, like The Herald. Also like The Herald, it lists articles from previous days, but at least it has the grace to date them properly. Curiously, it divides its columnists into two sections according to their place in the alphabet - what's that all about then?

The Telegraph has a reasonably competent website but it relies for its Scottish news on that maddo Cochrane whose reports increasingly seem to come from a foreign country.

The tabloids are beneath contempt.

The one good thing is that they are all free. Why buy a newspaper?

Quote of the day

By Alex Neil in The Sunday Times on the alleged denigration (here) of fiscal autonomy by Wendy's hubbie:
Alex Neil, the nationalist MSP, said: “It must be be the first time in history there’s been a marital row over fiscal autonomy.”

Nice quote but I'm far from sure that the story stands up.

Failing to organise booze-ups in breweries

There are those who think that an ID cards system might be worthwhile. Unfortunately, it would be run by the famously 'not fit for purpose' Home Office. Further evidence of that benighted department's incompetence is revealed by The Independent:
Over 500,000 names on the DNA database are false, misspelt or incorrect, the Government has admitted.
Ministers have disclosed that one in seven of the genetic profiles on the controversial database is a "replicate", raising alarming questions about the integrity and accuracy of the entire system.
Around 4 million names are on the database, which is the biggest in the world, and holds details of rapists, murderers, and suspects arrested but not charged.
Thousands asked to give their details to police upon arrest have given false names or alternative spellings of their names. In other cases, mistakes have been made in the spelling of names. Some files include names belonging to someone else, or names of people who do not exist. Altogether there are 550,000 "replica" files.

If the Home Office cannot run a database of 4 million entries, how will it cope with a database of nearer 60 million entries?

Look who's talking

Are we all idiots? Someone called Kayt (sic) Turner writes in Scotland on Sunday:
WE ARE a stupid nation. We are raising a generation of idiots - and what's worse, we see nothing wrong with it. In fact, we celebrate stupidity to such an extent that Homer Simpson is venerated as a cultural icon and included in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Not that most of Homer's acolytes will have any idea what that is.
One of the dumbest oxygen thieves ever is about to win Big Brother (itself a glorious celebration of the thick in our society). Don't get me wrong, Brian is obviously a sweet, genuine and innocent boy, all qualities that should rightly be celebrated. But he's as thick as pig shit. The twins, Sam and Amanda (dumb and dumber) are equally lovely - and equally stupid. We may laugh ourselves silly at the fact that they think an egg is a vegetable, but that's all they know. And they are completely unencumbered by shame at their lack of knowledge. Of course, the idiots will, more than likely, do very, very well when they leave the house. Jade Goody - surely the biggest eejit of all time - earned millions.
Look around you - nothing but idiots.
Er, speak for yourself. But someone who has obviously taken the trouble to become conversant with the goings-on in Big Brother may not be the most appropriate person to complain about the general standard of intelligence.

Especially when that someone cannot even spell their own first name ...

24 August 2007


Davina McCall standing in for Ken Bruce on Radio 2. Is she an intelligent woman pretending to be stupid or is she just stupid? Either way, it's irritating. Almost as irritating as Jeremy Vine's desperately contrived stirring of so-called human interest stories appearing in that day's tabloids. And now that Sarah has been cast into the outer darkness, there's only Wogan to justify switching on the radio - and, as we all know, he's a Xylon from the planet Tharg ...

Sorry, it's been a slow news day.

23 August 2007

It's not kinder und kuche any more

The Guardian reports:
Gordon Brown and his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, met in Downing Street yesterday, ostensibly to discuss ways to improve healthcare in poorer countries and other essential EU business. But the real purpose of the chancellor's visit, perhaps, came later in the day when the two leaders went to watch England play Germany in a football friendly at the new Wembley stadium.
Mr Brown and Mrs Merkel have much in common: they are like-minded politicians with no-nonsense leadership styles, and are known to get on well. More relevant to last night's outing may be that they both succeeded far more flamboyant leaders - Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder - and could do with a little lightening up on the image front.
And both of them could support the winning team!

Educashun, educashun, educashun

The question nobody seems to ask - what do we get for all this extra spending? Are Scottish children better able to read or do sums or pass exams? The BBC website reports:
Each school pupil in Scotland receives hundreds of pounds more in education funding than those in England, figures for 2005/06 have revealed.
Almost 12% more was spent on primary school pupils north of the border compared with those in England.
At secondary level, the rate of spending was 24% higher in Scotland.
The Scottish Executive warned against making direct comparisons between the two countries and said the different systems of education played a part.
An average of £4,318 was spent on primary pupils in 2005/06 in Scotland, compared with £3,684 south of the border.
For secondary pupils local authorities spent an average of £5,771, in contrast to £4,638 for England.

Doing comparisons is difficult, I accept, especially when the major comparator has exam systems like this, also described by the BBC:
GCSE grades have improved again, with more top grades being achieved in England, Wales and Northern Ireland...
There was a tiny fall in the overall pass rate - entries marked from A* to G. It fell from 98.1% to 98%. The total number of entries rose a little to just over 5.8m.

Imagine that: a pass rate of 98%. Must be quite difficult to fail.

22 August 2007

A good start?

Oh aye, those policy themes that Ms Alexander preaches?

• a competitive yet compassionate economy

Well, no-one would advocate an uncompetitive economy, would they? And I don't hear many calls for a return to unbridled, ruthless, tooth and claw capitalism. It's a balancing act, of course, but where would Wendy place the fulcrum?

• consumer not producer focused public services

You don't run a health service for the benefit of nurses or an education service for the benefit of teachers, although with Scottish Labour in the past I sometimes wondered. Even so, it is not exactly revolutionary to suggest that public services should benefit the public.

• empowering people and communities, not institutions

You mean, like denying the people the ability to vote in a referendum?

• developing Scottish solutions for Scottish aspirations

Well, we wouldn't want English (or Polish, or Belgian) solutions, would we? And, actually, can you have a solution to an aspiration? You may solve a problem but solving an aspiration may be a bit more tricky.

Look, I know that politicians have to say something from time to time and, if it has to be anodyne platitudes, we can live with it. But memo to the politician whose brain is supposed to be the size of a planet - must do better next time.

Why does McLetchie hate pensioners?

A needless reform. The Scotsman reports:
THE ban on pensioners carrying out jury service in Scotland should be lifted, a senior MSP yesterday said.
More than 200,000 Scots could be recruited if the age limit for jury service was raised above 65, according to former Tory leader David McLetchie, himself a lawyer.
At the moment, anyone above the age of 65 is excluded from sitting on a jury, but the Edinburgh Pentlands MSP said this fails to recognise older peoples' expertise and experience of life.

Pensioners have far better things to do than sitting on juries.

21 August 2007

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here). On being accused of selling steaks of zebu meat, an animal somewhat remotely related to a cow:
JD Wetherspoons said it sold 140,000 steaks a week. It added: "Zebu is ... taxonomically identical to any other breed of cattle such as Charolais, Limosin [sic] or Hereford."

Oh well, that's all right then ...

Buggins' turn

There is something wrong with the Labour Party. Gordon Brown became leader unopposed. Now Wendy Alexander is doing the same for the leadership of the party in Holyrood. This is reminiscent of the magic circle that dictated the leadership of the Conservative Party in the 1960s.

There is no point in having an electoral college if there is no choice on offer. If the leadership of the so-called people's party is determined by the ruling clique without any vestige of democratic challenge, then we're up the creek without a paddle.

20 August 2007

This Scotland

Edinburgh: the only city in the world where armed robbers make their getaway by bus. The Evening News reports:
AN armed robber stole a "substantial" amount of cash from a New Town newsagents after threatening the shop assistant with a knife.
The raider, who was wearing a balaclava, carried out the robbery at Canonmills Newsagents, before making his escape on a bus.
The terrified female shop assistant handed over a three-figure sum, which police officers described as a "substantial amount of cash".
The man, believed to be aged between 20 and 25, then fled the Howard Street shop, removed his mask and ran into Warriston Crescent.
He was then spotted standing at a bus stop next to the Standard Life building at the west side of Tanfield.
It is believed he got on to a bus heading towards the north of the city.

And, no, I don't know why The Evening News believes that each sentence deserves to be a paragraph.

19 August 2007

"Cecilia, you're breaking my heart ..."

Quote of the day from Cecilia Sarkozy (in The Observer here):
'Je ne me vois pas en first lady,' she once said. 'Je ne suis pas politiquement correcte: je me balade en jean.' Which translates roughly as: 'My husband might be the President, but I wear the trousers.'
Well, almost near enough - but not quite.

The honesty of politicians

Compare and contrast:
JACK McConnell has blamed the war in Iraq and turmoil in Westminster for his election defeat in May's Scottish elections, claiming that matters "were outwith my control" ahead of the poll.
In his only full interview following his resignation as Labour leader last week, McConnell admitted he felt "total frustration" during the campaign over his inability to seize the agenda.
The war in Iraq, speculation about Gordon Brown's takeover as PM, and other Westminster affairs overshadowed his campaign, he said, depriving him of the chance to state his case.
(Source: Scotland on Sunday here)

Wendy Alexander: "The SNP did not win on some sort of presentational trick. Their victory was a judgment on Labour. Yes, Iraq and allegations about cash for honours played their part, but we in Scottish Labour must also take a hard look at ourselves.
Despite Scotland undeniably getting better, with good things happening, many voters simply didn't feel it. What is clear is that people who had given us their support in the past withheld it this time. The SNP won because they seized Labour's agenda of hope and aspiration."
(Source: Scotland on Sunday here)

18 August 2007

Death and taxes

The Tories want to abolish it but then they would, wouldn't they? Is inheritance tax such a bad thing? Should bloated capitalists be able to transfer the entirety of their ill-gotten gains to their trustafarian offspring? Or, to put it another way, should the modestly well-off middle classes be penalised for having accumulated a certain level of savings?

First point to note. If the estate in question passes to the husband or wife of the deceased, it is entirely exempt from inheritance tax. So there is no issue about widows or widowers being forced into penury by the rapacious grasp of what used to be known as the Inland Revenue.

Second point. Tax is payable at a flat rate of 40 per cent on the amount by which the value of the estate exceeds £300,000 (as of now; this ceilng is due to increase in future years). Accordingly, if the value of an estate amounted to £500,000, the inheritance tax payable would be £80,000 (£500,000 - 300,000 x 40%). Is this so unreasonable?

Of course, if your estate is worth £5 million, the inheritance tax is proportionately greater. In this case, the tax would amount to £1,880,000 (£5m - 300,000 x 40%). But I find it difficult to have any sympathy for those who are about to inherit over £3 million after tax.

Put it down to envy if you like.

More info here.

17 August 2007

Nice grub

How can you resist looking at the menu and the costs of the First Minister's dinner with Shir Sean Connery (here):

Proscuitto [sic] di Parma, Mozzarella di Bufala [sic], Tomatoes and Chargrilled Vegetables with Bruschetta
Wild Scottish Sea Bass roasted with Italian Herbs, Salsa Verde and Fresh Summer Salad
Gorgonzola Dolce, Loch Arthur Mature Farmhouse Cheese, Criffel [?], Homemade Oatcakes and Grissini
Torta di Limone

The costs were:
Food and Drink for 17 guests - £1,026.50
Waiting staff - £235.00
Flowers - £185.00
Total: £1,446.50

Schools - or why was nothing done before now?

I have some sympathy for Edinburgh Council even though it will come in for a fair bit of stick over its proposals to close some 16 schools. But if there are not enough children to fill the schools, what can the Council do? Here are three points which neither The Scotsman this morning or The Evening News this afternoon appears to have considered.

1. The proposals will be subject to consultation. I would not put it past the Council to have announced a worst case scenario from which they may gradually row back over the months ahead. It would be invidious to play politics with children's schooling but in circumstances where any school closure would be the subject of enormous criticism it would be understandable - if less than excusable.

2. Look at the map of the proposed closures, conveniently provided by The Scotsman. Some of those sites will be worth a fortune. Yet the capital value of the saleable properties is said to amount to about £16 million. I would have thought that the sale of just three primary schools - Abbeyhill, Stockbridge and Drumbrae (with Drumbrae's associated land) with the appropriate planning consents would comfortably exceed that figure.

3. Edinburgh is signposting the way ahead for local authorities all over the country. Sooner or later, the rest of them are going to have to bite the same bullet. And if you don't believe me, you only have to look at the figures quoted here.

16 August 2007

Decisions, decisions ...

Magnus Linklater in The Times (here) is generous about Mr McConnell's departure:
The departure of Jack McConnell, after 5½ years as First Minister, was brisk, low-key and unremarkable – much like his time in office.

Of course some of us might suggest that, far from being brisk, it took three months of dithering before Mr McConnell could make up his mind - much like his time in office.

The food of love

It's a point of view, I suppose. But I don't agree with this from James MacMillan in The Guardian:
Scotland's place in the history of European music suffered two near-fatal body blows in 1560 and 1603. The ancient universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen were founded in the 15th century, and music played a vital role. Collegiate chapels cultivated, besides Scottish music, English decorative composition, music by the Burgundian Dufay and Flemish-inspired polyphony. Scottish liturgists travelled to Rome, Paris and the Netherlands, absorbing the fashionable musical traits of the day.
In 1560, the Scottish Reformation stopped this all abruptly. The liturgy became a principal battleground, involving a violent repudiation of the past and of foreign influences. The second blow came with the departure of the Scottish court in 1603. At the very time when aristocratic courts all over Europe were becoming central in sponsoring great composers, Scotland lost the main arena where great music could be created and thrive. The result was an absence from our culture which has damaged the national soul and psyche, and the reverberations of this are still apparent today. Scotland's history is littered with such absences, and facing up to them honestly should be part of our modern identity surgery.
Dealing with these ruptures should involve a dispassionate examination of the errors of the past. It would be markedly different from the sentimental, saltire-waving orgy of identity politics in which we are now embroiled. It would involve facing up to the difficult truth that our conscious destruction and abandonment of various heritages, musical and otherwise, was religiously inspired. It might even involve an embrace of things that have hitherto repelled us.

I rather doubt that a lack of musical inspiration is one of our greatest problems. But even if it were, there is not a lot we can do to bring back a royal court or reverse the Reformation. Instead, let us celebrate the fact that for at least two weeks in the year we can see and hear a festival of some great music.

Then there's T in the Park.

15 August 2007

Jack the diplomat

So farewell, Jack McConnell. You have had a few unhappinesses in recent years - that damn kilt and the golf club dinner are only two of them. But, at least, you kept the show on the road for five years - until the wheels came off last May.

And now big Gordon has appointed you as High Commissioner to Malawi, according to The Guardian (here). Congratulations. I suppose that will mean a by-election for your present seat.

Quote of the day

On the successor to Jack McConnell (from The Herald):
One senior colleague said yesterday: "Who else is there? Wendy has many strengths and we shall have to make sure she has a strong team around her to compensate for her weaknesses."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

14 August 2007

It's good to talk

As part of 'the national conversation', the Executive (aka the Scottish Government) has set up what they describe as a blog here. It's not really a blog, but it enables members of the great unwashed public to submit comments.

Rather to my surprise, this is proving to be enormously popular. Since being set up some time between 10 and 11 am this morning, by 6 pm it had received 198 comments.

Not sure what this means. Either the national conversation is well under way or there are a lot of mouthy people out there. Or both.

The bonkers blogger opines

At the risk of extending my readers' indulgence a little further (see comments on previous post), I have now read the White Paper. You can read it here.

I have to say that it does not seem to me like a sop to SNP activists. Indeed, if I were an SNP fundie activist (which thank the Lord I'm not sir), I might be a little upset at the consensual tone of the text and at the apparent willingness to contemplate an outcome which may well fall short of independence.

Conversely, one is led to wonder why Messrs MacConnell, Stephen and Goldie are getting their knickers in such a twist. OK, the idea of a national conversation is trite but refusing to participate would seem to be dubious politics. The bold Alex is seen to be prepared to listen, to debate and - apparently - to accept the will of the people. Perhaps it's just spin, perhaps not. Meanwhile, Jack, Nicol and Annabel are throwing their toys out of the pram in a fit of pique.

Incidentally, the White Paper is, I think, well written. Not something I can usually say about Executive documents.

But then, according to some of my interlocutors, I'm probably bonkers ...

BBC news values

Look, I know that the bulk of it has already been leaked. Even the opposition's reaction to it has been pre-announced. But the publication of First Minister's Salmond's white paper at lunchtime today is surely the biggest political event since the May election.

In such circumstances, I would have thought that BBC Scotland might have suspended its usual anodyne day-time programming to cover the proceedings. But no - apparently cartoons are more important.

By contrast, this evening the entire BBC1 Scotland prime time schedule has been junked in favour of some Glasgow football match or other.

The soap opera continues ...

Confused? You will be. The Scotsman reports:
Asked yesterday to explain the changes to the Tynecastle coaching set-up, Hearts' communications executive David Southern said: "It's not changed at all. Not in the slightest. Anatoly is still sport director; Stephen Frail is still assistant head coach and Angel Cerenkov is still assistant coach."
Frail is the front man of the operation but is always referred to as the No2. What's not clear is who the No1 is.
"It's not a classic coaching hierarchy," admitted Southern. "We don't do pecking orders at Hearts and that's the thing people struggle with.

The really interesting revelation is that Hearts have a "communications executive". Who'd have thunk it?

13 August 2007

Nailing your colours to the mast

The Daily Telegraph, or rather Mr Cochrane (for, yes, it is he), takes an uncompromising line:
As we inch towards tomorrow's White Paper on Independence, those self-same unionist parties should send a clear and unambiguous message back to Mr Salmond. It should read: "Save your breath, Alex. We're not prepared to work with you for as long as you bang on about a referendum on independence."
And that means that they should resist the SNP leader's siren call to include options for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, as well as full independence, in any referendum...
As well as the Lib Dems resisting the bait, so too should the Tories, some of whom have flirted with the idea of extra powers, especially in the area of fiscal powers. That sort of dangerous constitutional tinkering should be put well and truly back in its box.

So, rather like the Scottish Labour Party, Mr Cochrane appears to wish for a ditch in which to defend the status quo. (Or perhaps, by abolishing devolution altogether, he would prefer the status quo ante.)

But what if the Scottish people are not averse to further constitutional tinkering? Is it better for the unionist parties to claim that they know what is good for Scotland, to insist that all is for the best with the present devolutionary settlement and to deny the people a choice? Or to engage wholeheartedly in a debate about where we go from here?

I can see various difficulties with extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament but refusing to talk about the subject (or putting it back in the box) is a counsel of despair. It also makes the First Minister look like a model of reasonableness.

I've told you before

It would not happen if they wore proper football boots, instead of glorified fancy-dan carpet slippers.

The Vulcan is back

Over the years since 1997, the Tories appear to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The Times outlines their latest crackpot ideas:
The group, whose report will be issued on Friday, is headed by John Redwood, the former Cabinet minister, who remains a significant figure on the Right. It will call for the restoration of Britain’s opt-out of the European social chapter — which was removed by Labour in 1997 — as Mr Cameron has already proposed. But, in a controversial move, it will also suggest that Britain should unilaterally “disapply” EU regulations where they are considered to be against the national interest. It also calls for a repeal of working time regulations.
Mr Redwood said that his proposals would be “the biggest attempt at tackling deregulation ever made by a British government. British business would get a saving of £14 billion a year, which would be a tax cut by any other name. It would be on top of any other tax cut the government could achieve.”
The report will also propose repeal of data protection laws and many rules affecting the financial services industry, including ending the regulation of mortgage lending. It would be easier for companies to make staff redundant, care home restrictions would be relaxed to create more places, and health and safety regimes reviewed or scrapped, including rules on incineration and protective equipment. Other proposed measures include scrapping controversial home information packs and horse passports and lightening the regulations on herbal remedies, charity bingo and raffles.

So there you are. Forget about sub-prime mortgage lending in the US; let us free up the domestic mortgage market. Worried about foot and mouth? - abolish horse passports. Concerned about standards in care homes? - let's reduce regulation. Perturbed about some of the goings-on in the financial services industry? let's scrap the rules. Oh and, by the way, prepare to have to work 60 plus hours per week or face the sack. And who benefits? Well, private industry's profits will eventually be boosted by £14 billion per year.

Now doesn't all that give you a warm glow inside?

11 August 2007

Panic on the stock markets

Should I be panicking? Happily, The Guardian offers some reassurance:
What can I do about it?

Not much. Worried investors may sell their shares or unit trusts, but this could be at a loss.

Oh well, in that case, I'll pour another beer and watch the rugby on the telly.

10 August 2007


Ah yes, Larkhall. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan, liberally-minded? Well perhaps not.

The Herald reports:
Following a spate of attacks over the past three-and-a-half years, protective wire grilles have been placed over every green traffic light in the Lanarkshire town of Larkhall.
Since January 2004, 205 traffic lights, the vast majority of them green, have been damaged or stolen - at a cost of nearly £17,000 to the public purse.
Those believed to have such an aversion to green are thought to be some teenage Larkhall residents with a preference for blue, white and red.

I particularly admired this explanation:
Last night, a South Lanarkshire Council spokesman said: "The council's traffic signal contractor has experienced problems with vandalism throughout the county and, as the green light is the lowest, this tends to be targeted the most.

Ingenious, but I don't think so ...

09 August 2007

The Scottish Six

Me, I'm not that bothered. I rarely watch the BBC 6pm news, which seems to have become increasingly tabloid in its approach, hyping up the human interest stories while ignoring anything which might demand a little intellectual effort on the part of the viewer. And Jackie and David on Reporting Scotland are little better. The idea that BBC Scotland could successfully put together a comprehensive news programme seems a little far-fetched.

I suppose that there is a precedent on the radio, where Good Morning Scotland competes with the Today programme. But does anyone seriously interested in the news of the day opt consistently for GMS?

Cleverly, the First Minister has consigned the issue to the long grass by setting up his commission, nevertheless giving the chattering classes something to chew on while implicitly recognising that he can't really do anything substantive in the short term. Meanwhile the Labour Party high heidyins will be spitting blood about the proposed 'collaboration' of Henry McLeish.

Doubling up

Douglas Fraser is The Herald's esteemed Scottish political editor. But, on a morning when the Scottish political news is dominated by the First Minister's broadcasting commission, Mr Fraser seems to have become The Herald's weather correspondent; he writes:
Scotland last month faced rainfall 41% above the average for July and the June figure was 60% over the normal level.
But that was swamped over the past two months by rainfall over England, which was 218% above the average last month, while June's was 233% more than the long-term mean...
England's rain in June and July was the worst on record for those months, but there have been 16 wetter Julys in Scotland since the current records were first kept in 1914.
The downpours followed England's warmest ever spring, while Scotland had its second warmest, beaten only by 2003.

While I am all in favour of multi-tasking, I have to wonder if this is the best use of Mr Fraser's valuable time?

07 August 2007

Fort Apache

What you won't read in The Guardian or The Times or any other UK newspaper. The Washington Post has the story:
"The British have basically been defeated in the south," a senior U.S. intelligence official said recently in Baghdad. They are abandoning their former headquarters at Basra Palace, where a recent official visitor from London described them as surrounded like cowboys and Indians" by militia fighters. An airport base outside the city, where a regional U.S. Embassy office and Britain's remaining 5,500 troops are barricaded behind building-high sandbags, has been attacked with mortars or rockets nearly 600 times over the past four months.

True or not? Read the whole article and judge for yourself.


This is unbelievable incompetence. The Guardian reports:
The US has lost track of about 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi security forces since the 2003 invasion, some of which will have ended up in the hands of insurgents, according to an official report published in Washington. Among the missing items are AK-47 rifles, pistols, body armour and helmets.
The disclosure adds to the picture of the chaotic and clumsy administration of Iraq that has emerged over the last four years.The report, by the government accountability office, which sent its report to Congress last week, found a 30% gap between the number of weapons issued to Iraqi forces and records held by US forces in Iraq. No one in the Bush administration knows where the weapons are now.
The 20-page report ... says the Pentagon and the multinational force in Iraq responsible for training "cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armour and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22 2005".

I suppose that anyone can misplace the odd AK-47, but how do you lose track of 110,000?

06 August 2007

What's with the belt, then?

Because of my former occupation/location, I used to have to make a lot of flights. Security was always fairly tiresome. When I retired, one of the great pleasures in life was not having to go near an airport. So, until last month, I avoided flying; indeed, the last flight I took was in March 2004.

Needs must, however. And during the last three weeks I have flown to Malaga from Edinburgh and back. Apart from the somewhat ridiculous requirement that any liquid amounting to more than 100 ml in volume is banned (unless of course you buy it in the airport after you have passed through the initial security check), the security arrangements are not significantly different from the early 2000s.

But there is one notable difference. You must take off your belt and put it through the X-ray machine. What for? I cannot conceive of any possible security consideration for such a course of action. After all, they give it back to you, leaving you free during the flight to deploy the belt to throttle an air stewardess, if that is your wont. And, by their nature, belts are not obvious hiding places for guns or explosives. So what, exactly, is the point?

And, no, my trousers did not fall down.

05 August 2007


The Sunday Herald has launched a new competition:
So you think you can blog?
The Sunday Herald has teamed up with anCnoc whisky to find Scotland's best blogger.

Oh wow! How exciting!
Our new competition is designed to find the best bloggers.

And how do you propose to do that?
That's where you come in. A modern single malt Scotch whisky, anCnoc is a quality dram with accessible yet complex flavours. Distilled at Knockdhu distillery, since 1894, under the dark Knock Hill - known to locals by its Gaelic name of anCnoc - the award-winning single malt is renowned for its outstanding smoothness and support of Scotland's arts and creative scene. It's that vibrancy and excitement that we want bloggers to capture. The title you'll be working to is: "My modern Scotland". When you are ready to write, head over to www.sundayherald.com/blogging and get typing.

So you want me to write an essay about "My modern Scotland"? What has that got to do with blogging?

They can go and get stuffed. I don't mind The Sunday Herald having competitions for good writing but why dress it up as anything to do with blogging?

04 August 2007

Bye-bye Korky

So farewell to The Dandy. You were the Stones to the Beano's Beatles, the Sundance Kid to the Beano's Butch Cassidy.

No more cow pie. Probably just as well in the light of yesterday's events down on the farm.

Do turkeys vote for Christmas?

They do if they are Liberal Democrat turkeys. The Herald reports:
The Liberal Democrats are set to appoint Nicol Stephen as Scottish leader for another four years, despite the party's lacklustre performance at the Holyrood election.
Mr Stephen has secured the support of all 15 of his parliamentary colleagues at Holyrood, which makes it technically impossible under the party rule book for there to be any challenge against him.

02 August 2007

It's not getting better

The Guardian does not appear to carry a report on the matter, while The Indie relegates it to the inside pages, but yesterday's developments in Iraq are of some significance.

The walkout by the major Sunni party from the Iraqi government leaves the latter looking pretty threadbare, especially as the more radical Shiite elements led by Moqtada al Sadr withdrew from the government in June. Meanwhile the bombings continue - even as Vice President Cheney thinks that 'significant progress' is being made.

As I understand the position, there are essentially two arguments for the continued presence of US and UK troops in Iraq. The first is that they provide the security to restore effective and democratic government, a proposition which seems increasingly unlikely given the present incapacity of the present Iraqi administration.

The second is that the withdrawal of US and UK troops would make matters worse. This may indeed remain true, even although the present situation is hardly what one would describe as stable. But, to be brutal about it, is the continued presence of our troops merely postponing the inevitable break-up of Iraq and the accompanying bloodbath? If our troops remain until 2008, or 2010, or 2020, trying to keep the lid on and no doubt suffering continued casualties, is there any greater likelihood of a peaceful resolution? The last four years would indicate a lack of progress, even a deterioration, in the prospects. To suggest that things will get better in future is an expression of hope rather than experience.

It won't be easy getting out of Iraq but it has to happen sometime. And staying in Iraq would be no less difficult. I vote that we leave sooner rather than later.

Do Rangers really need another full back?

So Hibs have sold Steven Whittaker to Rangers for £2 million.

I can hardly blame Mr Whittaker, as he will no doubt be doubling (at least) his earnings, to the extent that he will be set up financially for life, even if he never gets a game for the Rangers' first team. Nor can I blame Hibs - £2 million would have been an awful lot to turn down for a 23 year old yet to break into international football. I cannot even be unduly critical of Rangers; football is an exemplar of tooth and claw capitalism and, if they - along with Celtic - choose to deploy their relatively massive resources to hoover up all the best talent in Scottish football, then that is their right and privilege.

But something is wrong. Mr Whittaker follows his predecessors in recent seasons, Kevin Thomson and Ian Murray, both of whom opted for the lucrative path from Easter Road to Ibrox. Neither has managed to establish himself as a first team regular at Ibrox and, because of a lack of first class match practice, neither has fulfilled any international aspirations. Will Mr Whittaker be any more successful? We'll see.

And is this good for Scottish football as a whole? To have talented Scottish players sitting on a bench at Ibrox and Parkhead while the other teams are denuded of quality?

Alas, 'twas ever thus.