29 October 2007

Cordon bleu cookery

As a special treat, here is Maw Broon's recipe for stovies. Not sure about the neep, but if it turns you on, hey - go with the flow.

Ignore the silly wee lassie - apparently a nutritionist - on the BBC (here) who wants to commit sacrilege by substituting olive oil (would you believe it?) for the beef dripping.

Watching too much telly?

Me, I mean.

Anyway, thanks to The Independent (here), I now know that it is Simone White who sings that wonderful 'beep, beep, beep' accompaniment to the Audi ad.

Next stop, Amazon.

Sometimes life is just so complicated ...

Sir Malky's answer to the West Lothian Question? Just set up an English Grand Committee, composed of all MPs sitting for English constituencies, which will determine English laws on the basis of English votes. Somehow I doubt if it's that simple.

First, House of Commons Committees do not usually make final decisions. Essentially, they make recommendations, which require to be confirmed by the House of Commons as a whole. This is the case with standing committees which consider the detail of proposed legislation (hence the report stage of bills where the Commons has to consider any amendments proposed by the standing committee). It is also the case with committees established to consider subordinate legislation, where once again the Commons as a whole has the opportunity to endorse or otherwise the Committee's proposals. Even the good old Scottish Grand Committee, now more or less in abeyance, had to have its conclusions (when it ever reached them) endorsed by the Commons as a whole. Is Sir Malky proposing something different with regard to his new English Grand Committee? If not, what is the point? But if he is proposing that an English Grand Committee should be empowered to over-ride the wishes of the Commons as a whole, he may find that he has bitten off a little more than he can chew.

Second, legislation (whether for England or for the UK as a whole) is not determined solely by the Commons sitting in plenary session. Yes, the overall principle of a bill is decided at second reading by the Commons as a whole and it is presumably this consideration which Sir M wants to see handed over to an English Grand Committee (at least for English bills). But what about the so-called line by line consideration of a bill which is at present conducted by a standing committee of 15 to 30 MPs? The membership of such standing committees carefully reflects the make-up of the Commons as a whole, so that the UK Government has a built-in majority. Is Sir M proposing to change this principle? Once again, this would be a much more radical reform than hinted at so far. And there would be precedents - what about bills that only affect London? Should they be considered only by London MPs? And it is possible to envisage bills which affect only Scotland, eg on electoral reform - would the Tories be happy for a committee composed solely of Scottish MPs (of which the Tories have only one) to determine the matter?

(Incidentally, it is worth noting that, at present, English bills would usually be considered by committees made up of English MPs, even if Labour has a majority. Scottish MPs have no great interest in purely English bills and are only drafted onto such committees in cases of emergency.)

Once a bill has been considered by committee, it is referred back to the Commons as a whole for its report stage - that is the report back to the Commons on the outcome of the committee's considerations. Does Sir M propose that the report stage should be referred back to the English Grand Committee? And would this require a further report stage when the bill is sent back to the Commons?

Perhaps Sir M has answers to these questions (but don't hold your breath). But I doubt if the establishment of an English Grand Committee only able to consider the second reading of English bills without addressing the subsequent stages of legislation would satisfy the English radicals. On the other hand, to go any further would raise some profound questions about how the Commons operates. I have not seen the paper which Sir M sent to Ken Clarke's review group and which has not been published. Let us hope that someone in the Tory party has the sense to think it through.

27 October 2007

Tail wagging the dog?

I appreciate that Mr Salmond's Westminster constituency is located in a fishing area. Nevertheless, is the fishing industry in Scotland as a whole so important that it should determine the Scottish Government's overall attitude to the EU? The Herald reports:
The conference also committed itself yesterday to a call for a referendum on European reform in the wake of the latest treaty deal struck by Gordon Brown. Aides later made clear that the SNP stance would now be hostile, given the loss of fishing as a red line issue.
The motion stated: "Conference deplores that, despite the concerns of the Scottish fishing communities and the Scottish Government, the UK Government has refused to seek changes to the treaty text in relation to the competence over fisheries."
If Westminster faces any vote on the issue of allowing a referendum then SNP MPs will be committed to backing the principle of a referendum, but it was being stressed last night that without a change of policy on the fishing question the stance would be to oppose the new EU treaty.

In 2006, the Scottish fishing industry generated catches to the value of only £370 million and provided employment for 5,205 people (or 0.2% of the Scottish labour force); figures sourced from here. That such an economically insignificant industry should be permitted to determine national policy on the EU suggests that the SNP is either being altruistically faithful to its constituency roots or that it is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

25 October 2007

"Somebody said they saw me, swinging the world by the tail ..."

Hi there pop-pickers! I appreciate that you may not regard The Telegraph as the epitome of cool, but you may want to get over to their website where they are offering a free download of a track ('Killing the Blues') from the latest collaboration between the great Alison Krauss and the legendary Robert Plant. (Yeah, I too thought he was dead but obviously not.)

Good stuff.

Rock on! (I always wanted to say that.)

Sticks and stones

See, it's not just me. Everyone calls him 'Wee Dougie'. Here in The Guardian and here in The Times.

It's a shame, really. Well OK, maybe not.

More football

Yes, I know it's tedious for those of you who do not follow the game but this is important. Furthermore, it seems to have been missed by both The Herald and The Scotsman. The Independent reports:
Uefa, European football's governing body, confirmed to The Independent last night that the seedings for the 2010 World Cup qualifying – for which the draw takes place on 25 November – will be dependent solely on the next Fifa rankings, which appear on 23 November.
As things stand, England are the ninth-best nation in Europe: Argentina and Brazil are the only non-European nations in Fifa's top 11. As such, England would be among the nine top seeds for the 2010 draw, and guaranteed not to meet giants such as Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Scotland, as things stand, will be in the second pot of seeds, which would be a huge improvement in itself on their seeding for Euro 2008 qualifying, when they they were fourth seeds and hence ended up in the toughest section alongside Italy, France and Ukraine.
Yet the potentially killer blow for England – and utopia for Scotland – could arrive if England do badly in their two games between now and the next rankings while Scotland do well. England face a friendly with Austria then a Euro 2008 qualifier with Croatia while Scotland play Italy.
Scotland could leapfrog England to 11th place in Fifa's rankings – and hence earn top-seed status for 2010 qualifying – while England could fall to second-seed status.

Quite a thought!

24 October 2007

Germs are everywhere

This is not helpful:
A TV ad for Dettol has been banned for making the misleading claim that a chopping board contains 50 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
Reckitt Benckiser also pointed out that the study, and additional evidence, had been presented to the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which had approved the claim after it was checked with an independent expert. The ASA noted, however, that the study was carried out on only five households in Hertfordshire and that those households all included a child under three years old.

What I want to know is whether households in Hertfordshire have extremely clean toilet seats or extremely dirty chopping boards.

Quote of the day

From the House of Commons Hansard, Alistair Carmichael MP on the botched elections:
"The role of the Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander), requires close examination. Essentially, the Secretary of State has come to the House today to say that a wee boy done it and ran away, which really is not good enough."

And, thus, with a single bound (or perhaps a sneaky sidestep), wee Dougie was scot-free. Now he plays with the big boys of international development, telling other nations how to organise democracies.

23 October 2007

Dancing in the passerelle

Ann Treneman on the Prime Minister's Europe statement yesterday:
Plus he has secured opt-ins and, when there aren’t opt-ins, he has managed to get some opt-outs. He is proud to call this the Hokey-Cokey Treaty for, as Mr Brown sang: “I put the opt-in in, I put the opt-out out, In, out, in, out, Shake it all about. I did the hokey-cokey and I turned it around That’s what it’s all about!” OK, so those weren’t his exact words but they were pretty close. I think Mr Brown might be a secret dancer, you know. As he told us about the hokey-cokey, his feet were shuffling away, treading over his papers that had escaped from his trembling hands. Nor did his argument stop there. In addition to footnotes and protocols and the hokey-cokey, Mr Brown says the nontreaty has a passerelle. This, too, sounded like a dance or, possibly, a poncey sort of casserole. But, apparently, it’s a viaduct in Luxembourg as well as being something that allows Britain to move from unanimity to QMV (qualified majority voting) without a change to the treaty.

Don't you feel better now?

Things can only get better?

It is a fact seldom mentioned that the Salmond administration could be turfed out of office tomorrow (or, to be more accurate, as soon as parliament resumes). The mechanics of the procedure would not be difficult. All it would require is a vote of no confidence on the part of parliament (in accordance with section 45(2) of the Scotland Act 1998). If he lost such a vote, Mr Salmond would have to - would be required by law to - resign as First Minister.

So what's stopping them? Why do Ms Alexander, Mr Stephen and Ms Goldie, leaders of the unionist parties with a collective unionist majority, tolerate this bumptious nationalist upstart who is playing fast and loose with constitutional conventions, who has his grubby hands on our nation's budget, who is actively seeking to destroy our nation's defensive capabilities and whose avowed intention is to reduce this country to the status of Lithuania or Slovenia? It lies within their power to put this rash usurper to the sword; so why not get on and do it?

To some extent, the answer lies in the consequences of any such action. To avoid an election (of which more in a minute), the three unionist parties would need to agree to the nomination of one of their leaders as a new First Minister. For reasons of parliamentary arithmetic, two parties would not be enough to secure the nomination; at the very least, it would in addition require one of the parties to abstain in the parliamentary vote. Not impossible, I would have thought - particularly if the new administration were prepared to operate on a care and maintenance basis, putting aside any controversial legislation. OK, it would not be ideal but unionists must ask themselves: would it be any worse than allowing Mr Salmond and his gang to run the country? For the sake of the greater unionist good, should not the three parties sink their differences and reach an accommodation?

Of course, the three parties could have sorted this out immediately following the May election. But, as you will remember, the Tories had pre-announced their intention to abjure formal pacts and the LibDems were doing their Greta Garbo impression ("I vant to be alone"); the Labour party was in shock and in no fit state to decide anything. But life moves on (possibly) and perhaps it is now time to re-visit the matter.

For obvious reasons, the less attractive option (from the unionist point of view) at present would be an election. But, following a vote of no confidence, and failing an agreement to nominate a new First Minister (or, alternatively, if parliament so resolved), there would have to be an election. The opinion polls offer little comfort to the unionist parties about their prospects at such an election if it took place in the near future. Nevertheless, sooner or later, the bloom will fade from the SNP and entropy will kick in. Ministers will make mistakes (as all ministers do); the electorate will realise that they are not actually capable of achieving very much, given the parliamentary arithmetic; the financial squeeze will be revealed as much worse than previously thought; and the council tax demands will start thudding through the letter box. Who knows, the Labour party may even begin to get its act together. The point is that Mr Salmond is living on borrowed time; once his opinion poll ratings start to slip, the days of his administration are numbered. Unlike Gordon Brown at Westminster, Mr Salmond has no majority to back him up when times get hard.

Meanwhile, the next time a unionist politician complains about the SNP administration, ask her why she doesn't do something about it.

22 October 2007

"You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist ..."

I have to say that this is utterly disgraceful (even if it was the previous administration). Wasting £2,262 on pouring the demon drink down the throats of the reptiles is nothing but profligacy. And a fat lot of good it did them.

Now, if they had invited the odd blogger, ...

Foreign affairs

Interestingly, and as far as I can determine, none of the serious London newspapers has picked up the story of the First Minister's latest bold and daring intervention in foreign affairs whereby he has written to all 189 signatories (apart from the UK) to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, outlining his government's stance on nuclear weapons. Perhaps they don't take it seriously, or perhaps they just don't care.

The Times seems more concerned that Mr Salmond might decide to hold his own referendum on the EU Treaty/Constitution; you may consider that the First Minister has more than enough on his referendum plate for the moment, especially as Prime Minister Brown might respond by saying 'So what?' But The Times goes its own weary way (or perhaps that of Mr Murdoch) on these matters. Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, The Telegraph re-hashes the rather tired story of how English taxpayers will have to pay for the abolition of Scottish prescription charges. They do seem to be struggling to arouse anti-Scots feeling south of the border.

More oddly, the First Minister's foray into the icy waters of nuclear non-proliferation is utterly ignored by the Scottish Government's own website. I would have thought that such an initiative would have justified a press release but, as the story emerged over the weekend, maybe the boys and girls of the Executive's press office are simply not up to speed with the 24/7 demands of the modern news agenda. Perhaps there will be more to come in the light of today's anti-trident 'summit'.

21 October 2007

Last word on the rugby world cup

The Sunday Times (here):
"The grumpy old yeomen of England had ground their way into the stadium with a dogged, curmudgeonly display of bulldog fighting spirit that should make every Briton’s chest a little bit more puffed out this morning. And we mean every Briton."
Not me, chum. Some of us value skill, talent, artistry and grace on the rugby field. See Argentina in Friday night's match.

Back to the future or forward to the past?

I suppose that we should be encouraged by the fact that the SNP administration is at least doing some thinking about housing policy (according to The Sunday Herald here). There has not been a lot of such thinking in the past 27 years - at least not by those in power. And certainly the iconic Right to Buy has remained more or less sacrosanct during that period. If the SNP is really going to address the issue, then more power to its elbow.

But it is not going to be easy. If, as suggested by The Herald, it is only newly-built social housing which is to be exempt from RTB, then it is going to be a long time before the new policy has an impact in practice. And why exempt new-build, while retaining RTB for refurbished housing?

The Herald also points out:
The green paper idea won't affect existing tenants, or those who are moving due to their home being demolished or refurbished ...
If it is only new tenants who will lose the RTB, then the impact will be even more attenuated, particularly, as new council housing tended in the past to be allocated to long-standing tenants moving up, rather than to those on the waiting lists. It would also mean the development of two categories of tenants, those with an RTB ticket and those without. On the other hand, depriving tenants of a right they have held since the 1980s is bound to be controversial.

But, however difficult, it seems right that the issue should be addressed. Compare and contrast the latest gimmick being adopted by the Tories south of the border.

20 October 2007

Pandering to the euroloonies

Why does Gordon Brown say these things? The Independent reports:
Gordon Brown has claimed the European Union would rule out further integration for 10 years after EU leaders approved a new treaty.
At the close of his first European summit as Prime Minister, Mr Brown said the Government would veto any further changes to the EU's internal workings until after 2017.

So, if Turkey joined the EU (which, as far as I am aware, remains UK policy), he would veto the necessary changes to the Treaties, for example in relation to the number of MEPs the country should have and or to its weighted votes for qualified majority voting purposes (which would affect every Member State)? The same would apply if Ukraine joined or if Belgium or the UK split up.

To offer another example, suppose the European Parliament decided to end its ludicrous practice of commuting between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, thus saving millions of euros every year, is Gordon Brown really going to veto such a change?

The Prime Minister should have learned by now that there is nothing he can do or say to appease the ravening anti-European hordes.

18 October 2007


Which of the following statements is likely to be true:
1. "The cheque is in the post."

2. "Of course I'll still love you in the morning."

3. "I'm a management consultant - I'm here to help you."

4. "The final business case for Edinburgh's proposed tram system predicts the project will come in significantly under budget. It calculates the route through the city from Newhaven to Edinburgh Airport will cost just under £500m - £45m less than the funding already allocated."

No prizes.

Auntie's on her uppers?

The BBC is - apparently - a bit short of the readies. So drastic action is proposed:
The BBC Trust yesterday unanimously approved plans to cut thousands of jobs, sell off its west London headquarters and reduce the number of programmes it makes by a tenth.
The radical overhaul immediately sparked a furious backlash from staff likely to strike within weeks, with feelings running particularly high in the news and factual divisions where job losses will run into four figures.
Chairman Sir Michael Lyons said he was satisfied the package put forward by the director general, Mark Thompson, during a four-hour meeting would "safeguard the core values of the BBC at a time of radical change in technology, markets and audience expectations".

But, if the BBC is indeed strapped for cash, it is perhaps surprising that earlier this month it blew £100 million on acquiring 75% of the Lonely Planet publisher of travel guides (see here). Furthermore, the same BBC Trust that approved yesterday's proposals also specifically approved the Lonely Planet acquisition. No doubt it is all part of the process of safeguarding the BBC's core values ...

17 October 2007

It's not my fault - it's my biology, you see

The Guardian on the Foresight Report on Obesity (here):
The central message of the Foresight report, put together by a team headed by Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, was that there was no simple answer to the problem. The nation had "sleepwalked" into it because our hunter-gatherer biology was out of step with the technological convenience age; we were programmed to eat as if we did not know where the next meal was coming from. "If we just behave normally we will become obese," Sir David said.
It is neither entirely the fault of the individual nor of society, Foresight says. There is no magic bullet solution, and no wonder diet drug will do the trick.

Not sure that I understand. Perhaps if we ate less and exercised more? A bit less understanding and a bit more blame? It seemed to work for cigarettes ...

"I'm Henery the Eighth I am"

No, I don't know why they called it 'The Tudors', as it only covers the period of the younger Henry VIII.

Anyway, the star of the show is a fancy rowing boat that tootles up and down the Thames. The boat shows rather more acting flair than the human participants, which is presumably why the producers insisted that each episode features at least one scene on the boat. Other acting credits go to a splendidly medieval horse-drawn carriage and a real tennis court (presumably that of Hampton Court Palace). There is also a rationed amount of rather perfunctory bonking in each episode. Not much plot or character development but why quibble about the details when you can admire the costumes?

I do not expect next week's Fanny Hill to be any better.

15 October 2007

Quote of the day

Somewhat inelegant but clearly from the heart. Here is Alex McLeish quoted in The Herald:
"The goals we scored on Saturday were beautiful to watch but I couldn't care if we get one off someone's arse on Wednesday. I have never been involved in anything as tough as this in my puff."

14 October 2007

Has Darling made a Balls of it?

He was supposed to be boringly competent, a safe pair of hands. But has Mr Cool lost the place? The Observer (here) and The Independent (here) appear to think so.

Did he really mean to encourage the buyers of second houses through his reform of capital gains tax, while imposing an additional tax burden on the creation of small businesses? And why is he helping the rich (those inheriting more than £300,000), while doing virtually nothing for children in poverty? What did he think he was doing?

It is always possible (probable?) that he was doing what he was told - in which case he is a cipher rather than a plonker. But, either way, is this the man we want in charge of the nation's finances?

12 October 2007

For Emmylou fans

Just a reminder that BBC4 is devoting much of this evening to the goddess, the nonpareil, the wonderful Emmylou Harris.

So BBC4 may just occasionally be useful after all.

Btw, I quite like Ms Harris; I would even go so far as to classify myself as a fan. You'd never have guessed, would you?

What has Whitehall ever done for us?

Handbags at dawn. The Scotsman highlights the continuing spat between St Andrew's House and Whitehall:
As a direct result of the row, The Scotsman has discovered senior Labour politicians have taken the extraordinary step of warning all Whitehall departments not to share any information with the Scottish Government which could be used by the SNP for political purposes.
At a stroke, the carefully constructed edifice linking the governments in Scotland and Westminster for the past eight years has come crashing down, and the tremors will be felt right across Scottish life.

I'm not wholly convinced. Does The Scotsman really think that London shared politically sensitive material with Edinburgh, except when it was forced to? Is a declared enmity significantly worse than the benign neglect or consummate indifference which has characterised Whitehall's attitude to Scottish issues since well before devolution? To put it another way, when has Whitehall ever done us any favours, other than those which conveniently suited its own purposes?

11 October 2007

But where's the moral compass?

Things you never thought you'd know. Pandora in The Independent reports:
Gordon Brown has not had much of a spring in his step for the past 10 days, but it is not for want of trying.
I hear that the Prime Minister recently splashed out almost £300 on a bulk order of socks: the thick, ribbed, long, comfy type, to cushion your soles from days spent standing up.
Last month he bought 20 pairs of "Navy Sea Island" cotton tootsy warmers, at £14 a set, from the outfitters Charles Tyrwhitt. All in his preferred jet black.
Rather than visit its Jermyn Street store or send a minion, Gordon shopped online and got the consignment delivered to his Scottish home in Kirkcaldy, Fife. He has done so every six months or so for the past two years, because he "loses his socks very quickly", apparently.

A touch extravagant? Perhaps, even careless?

Furthermore, while we are letting it all hang out, what about First Minister Salmond's sock habits? I'm betting that he's an M&S man, but we deserve to have it confirmed.

Pseuds' Corner

Darryl Broadfoot (sic) in The Herald (here):
"Gordon Smith was naked but for an Elbert Hubbard aphorism as he made the quantum leap from media pundit to media target as chief executive of the Scottish Football Association."

Hey, Darryl! Wake up and smell the coffee. You're supposed to be writing about Scottish football.

10 October 2007

The fairest bloggers of them all

I really don't approve of this post - blogging is not a competitive sport, but let's go for it.

Tartan Hero recently published a list of the foremost Scottish political bloggers. As far as I can determine, his league table was not based on objective criteria (but it was none the worse for that). I have been musing on how to introduce an element of rationality into the assessment.

The most obvious criterion is website traffic. But different bloggers use different site counters which are not always comparable and, anyway, the data are not universally available. Furthermore, the availability of blog feeds means that it is not always necessary to access a blogsite to read the posts. For example, I religiously read every post that Doctor Vee puts up (except of course the boring stuff about motor racing), but I seldom actually access his website. The same applies to the blogsites of Mr Eugenides and Clairwil (and indeed that of Tartan Hero, as well as many others). Obsessives may wish to note that Doctor Vee recently posted [Sorry - unable to trace the post] about the issue of whether bloggers should make available the whole or part of their posts to blogfeeds - this is interesting but not strictly relevant to today's issue.

I use Bloglines as my feed; there are other feeds which I have no doubt are equally effective. One of the features of Bloglines is that - for each blog - it records the number of individuals who have subscribed to receive notification of posts on that blog. Accordingly, the number of subscriptions for a blog provides a (proxy) measurement of the popularity of that blog - at least among the cognoscenti who subscribe to feeds.

I have therefore compiled the following league table of Scottish political bloggers based on this measurement. I should stress, first of all, that this is only based on Bloglines data - but I have no reason to suppose that other feeds would offer a wildly different result. Nor does it mean that a blog with a large number of subscriptions is necessarily better than any other blog with fewer subscriptions. And blogs which appeal to the wider public not au fait with blog feeds are obviously disadvantaged by this method.

Nevertheless, for what it is worth, here goes:

Blog Subscriptions

1. Mr Eugenides 45
1. Shuggy's Blog 45
3. Blether with Brian 32
4. A Big Stick and a Small Carrot 29
5. Doctor Vee 27
6. Freedom and Whisky 24
7. Rolled-up Trousers 20
8. Tartan Hero 13
9. Clairwil 12
9. Holyrood Chronicles 12
11. Edinburgh Sucks 11
12. J Arthur MacNumpty 10
13. A Place to Stand 9
13. Scottish Futures 9
15. Scottish Roundup 8
16. 1820 7
17. North to Leith 6
17. SNP Tactical Voting 6
19. BellgroveBelle 5
19. Havering On 5
19. Reactionary Snob 5
19. TerryWatch 5

A plea - don't take it too seriously. This list is only marginally less arbitrary than than that of TH. And there are no doubt technical reasons why it is not wholly valid.

What do you expect? He's from Dundee.

Do you think Brian understands what he's talking about? Here he is:
Has the Barnett formula been applied strictly? Yes, to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Is that a good thing? It used to be when Barnett felt generous. The formula’s been tightened over the years. Now tends to squeeze, esp in NI.

Was the formula fiddled? No

What’s this about the new baseline? The Treasury decided to recalibrate certain existing budgets for England, principally the NHS: essentially, assuming they’d got less this year than the actual out-turn figure.

Why did they do that? Version One, it was a standard statistical exercise. Version Two, it made the percentage increase for health look bigger.

Why does that affect Scotland? Barnett. Scotland experiences changes consequential upon all comparable English departments, eg health.

Or is he desperately scrabbling for some kind of gloss to put on the arguments? Or maybe just blethering? Never mind - better minds than his and mine will fail to interpret the delphic intricacies. But, remember, when in doubt, blame Barnett ...


To summarise the debates about the Scottish outcome of the comprehensive spending review:
It's bigger than it's ever been before.

It's still not enough.

You've fiddled the figures.

No we haven't.

Need to know more? Thought not.

08 October 2007

Ageist sods

As of next year, English senior citizens will have increased rights to free bus travel. (Not quite as beneficial as those of their Scottish equivalents, but still ...) Anyway, is anyone at The Times celebrating? Not a chance. It's a picture of unremitting gloom: the buses will be overcrowded; the bus companies will lose revenue; the local authorities will need to increase subsidies. Miserable bastards. Wait till they're over 60.

And, no. I've still got two years to wait before I qualify.

The semantics of authenticity

How language deteriorates. The Guardian reports:
Now the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is undertaking another tricky mission: creating a chain of affordable but excellent high street restaurants across Britain.
The first branch of "Jamie's Italian" is due to open in Bath in the spring. Others are planned for Cambridge and Brighton and within a few years, Oliver is intending to open up to 40 "neighbourhood" restaurants serving "authentic" Italian food.
Oliver's mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, the executive chef and co-owner of Passione in Charlotte Street, London, has been helping with the menu and the staff training. "So it'll all be completely authentic, rustic Italian," added Oliver.

Does Mr Oliver understand the meaning of authentic? What could possibly be authentically Italian (or authentically rustic) about a chain of cheap restaurants with a standard menu located on the British high street? The restaurants may be good value; they may adapt Italian cooking practices; they may even offer a splendid imitation of the trattoria tradition. But they will never be authentically Italian.

06 October 2007

Home truths

Marina Hyde in The Guardian (here):
There is a fact about politics that is luminously obvious to everyone who does not inhabit "the Westminster village". And that is that only weirdos go into it. (Naturally, I speak as a journalist - and yes, you should see our lot.)
Whether it was always like this is debatable. There is a school of thought that suggests that those who entered British politics in the two-and-a-half decades after the second world war were different, having been forged in the fire of that collective national horror, and moved to shun the professions they might otherwise have adopted out of a noble yearning to change things. In recent years, we've been rather light on collective national horrors. Even the second series of Celebrity Love Island failed to galvanise a new generation of idealists in quite the same manner.
These days, almost without exception, people who launch themselves into political life are those whom we might delicately describe as having something "not quite right about them", and come election time, we are required to decide which of them we wish to go home with at the end of the night. It's quite a privilege.
Yesterday Mark Lawson referred on these pages to the "beer test", the theory that election results can be fairly accurately predicted by asking voters: "Who would you rather have a pint with?" In your average Joe's mind, that inquiry would need to be prefaced by the words "if there was a gun to your head ...". Were the government to announce a policy of randomly stationing politicians at the bars of local pubs, it would most likely have a dramatic effect on our drinking epidemic.

Not sure the same applies to Holyrood. For example, Mr Salmond and Ms Goldie seem more or less paid-up human beings, although I have my doubts about Ms Alexander and Mr Stephen.

But I urge you - at all costs - to avoid political bloggers. To a man (and a woman), they are obsessive nerds and weirdos ...

05 October 2007

Too exciting or too lucrative?

Why would you abandon an audience of millions for an audience of five people and a dog? The BBC reports:
BBC newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky is leaving the corporation to join commercial broadcaster Five.
She will join the channel in the New Year and replaces Kirsty Young, who left Five News in the summer.
"After five incredibly rewarding years at the BBC, I found the chance to work with the team at Five too exciting to pass up," Kaplinsky said.

Nothing to do with the money, then? The Guardian says it's between £400,000 and £500,000 per year.

04 October 2007

When the boot's on the other foot ...

The accusation of hypocrisy over the funding of Ms Alexander's parliamentary office as leader of the opposition may be a little unfair. It is to nobody's benefit if the opposition is insufficiently resourced to carry out the task of holding the Scottish Executive to account. And the fact that the allowance appears to amount to little more than £22,000 is prima facie evidence supporting Ms Alexander's case.

On the other hand, if at any time over the eight years up to May 2007 the then SNP opposition had had the temerity to raise the issue, the reaction of Scottish Labour would have been swift and brutal. Now that the tables are turned, Ms Alexander cannot expect sympathy and understanding from her political opponents.

Scottish Labour has made its political bed - now it will have to lie in it, at least for a while. Tough, I know, but life's like that.

(In any case, I thought that the review of parliamentary allowances was intended to cut out alleged abuses rather than to provide MSPs with greater access to the public purse.)

03 October 2007

Dream on!

A case of wishful thinking reported in The Evening News:
SCOTTISH Tory leader Annabel Goldie today hailed David Cameron as the man to revive the party in Scotland as he pledged to sweep away Gordon Brown's "cynical old politics".
Mrs [sic] Goldie said she fully supported Mr Cameron.
She said: "I think David is an inspiring leader. I believe he's the right man for the country and the Scottish party.
"I think he can revive the Tories across the UK and in Scotland. I think we will make gains at the next UK General Election.
"I think David Cameron has shown this week that he is an inspiring leader for the Tories."

Loyalty is an admirable quality (although it is seldom found in the Tory Party), but it should not be confused with living in a fantasy world.

Do the police engage in embroidery?

Take this guy for instance, as described in The Scotsman:
TO PASSERS-BY, it was an ordinary shopfront in an unremarkable part of Glasgow. Aside from a lucrative niche turning out menus for Asian takeaways, Print Link did little to draw attention to itself.
But now the premises have emerged as the base of one of the most sophisticated counterfeiting operations ever seen in Britain, producing fake banknotes that were found across the country. The operation was so big that the High Court heard the forgers had the ability to destabilise the British economy as part of a network linked with criminals across the UK.
The operation was described by police as "big as it comes". They said the expertise exhibited was "very sophisticated".
Yesterday, the gang's mastermind - a man who police said was one of only two capable of executing such a plot - was jailed for more than six years. Ironically, Thomas "Hologram Tam" McAnea - who began his career printing menus and tickets - and his cohorts were in part caught because of their reputations as brilliant forgers.

If Hologram Tam was indeed a criminal mastermind, why was he working in Maryhill, churning out menus for Asian takeaways, rather than pursuing his chosen career in London or Frankfurt or New York? And how did the criminal mastermind get himself caught at least twice before by the Scottish police? How, having 'taken to drink', did he remain a 'brilliant forger'? And is £1.6 million in notes really enough to destabilise the British economy?

Allez les bleus!

Those of the bluenose persuasion may derive some satisfaction from this extract from Le Monde:
Incapables de répondre aux défis tactique et physique des Rangers, sans imagination et en deçà techniquement, les Lyonnais ressemblaient au fantome de l'équipe collective et virtuose des dernières saisons. Au contraire, les hommes de Walter Smith pouvaient se féliciter de leur prestation : trois occasions pour trois buts, une défense de fer et une victoire presque facile à Gerland.

I fear that Scottish football is increasingly gaining a measure of respect in Europe. Although hubris has yet to make an appearance, can nemesis be far behind?

So farewell Christian Salvesen ...

... Once, when you had your headquarters in Leith, you were the biggest whaling company in the world.

Nowadays you focus on transport and logistics. Not quite as romantic, is it?

You are to be taken over by the improbably named Norbert Dentressangle. And thus another piece of Scotland's industrial history slips quietly away.

01 October 2007

Crisp politics

How disappointing. I used to enjoy kettle chips. But The Guardian reports:
A British private equity company has called in one of the leading US union-busters to stop workers at one of the country's best-known upmarket crisp producers, Kettle Chips, joining a trade union.
The California-based Burke Group has been engaged by Lion Capital, owners of Kettle Foods, to dissuade the 340 workers at their Norwich factory from joining Unite, the country's largest union.
Workers are balloting today on whether to join. Some 40% of the workers are migrants from eastern Europe.

Oh well, back to Golden Wonder ...