Thursday, 31 December 2009

Extraordinary Renditions

Well, I couldn't let December pass without at least one post. In hope of giving you all a giggle, and in the retrospective spirit of Auld Year's Nicht, I've put together some of my poems from earlier in the year in one handy pdf, hosted by the lovely people at scribd since Google blogger only allows images to be attached (or so it seems...?). Below there might just be a flashy embedded version of the pdf, at least I think that's what all that html should do...

Extraordinary Renditions

Wahey! It seems to work. Most of the poems were originally posted on Blether with Brian, before overzealous/inconsistent moderation led me to the greener pastures of Brigadoon. Anyway, hope you enjoy reading them (again) and very best wishes to everyone for 2010! Who knows what the New Year will bring...? A change of UK government, complete with numerous "Portillo moments" (SoS losing his seat anyone?!)? An independence referendum/thwarting of democracy? The first signs of intelligent life on the Labour front bench in Holyrood? Ok, I'm clearly struggling now and have entered the realms of the ridiculous. Time to open that 18 year old Talisker and wrest control of the remote from forfar-quine (she's just put Pride & Prejudice on, yet again...).

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Labour Cnuts

This past week has taught the good serfs of blogdom to be very careful indeed about their choice of epithet for the powers that be, lest you find the fourth estate (muck-)raking through your wheelie bin at 3am. Well-mannered loons have, of course, no need to descend to crudity or profanity to convey their opinions of those that misrule us.

To business though, it struck me this week that Gordon Brown reminded me of nothing more than famous old King Cnut*, desperately trying to turn back the incoming tide. Of course in the PMs case it's a tide of revulsion that he is attempting to block, as discontent among the electorate with New Labour's many and varied failures seems to increase by the day.

A Cnut in the Brown stuff

Similarly his fawning acolytes are themselves revealed to be a bunch of Cnuts, each of them trying to hoodwink us with claims to be our saviours, claims that are all the more outlandish given that 12 years of their unenlightened rule have led us to this sorry state. No matter what tall tales they try and spin however, these Cnuts will not succeed in turning the tide in their favour.

Scholars and/or pedants among you will doubtless recall that old King Cnut was actually demonstrating to his slavishly devoted followers the limits of his kingly power. He could no more turn the tide back than sprout wings and fly to the moon. Perhaps someone should tell our modern day Labour Cnuts the same thing.

Nae man can tether time nor tide;
ye'll soon be skelped on your backside!


*King Cnut is sometimes known by the anglicised form, Canute.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Welcome to the Brigadoon Broadcasting Corporation

Well, since the BBC website is hacking and coughing this morning, and since an unrelenting work schedule has finally (albeit briefly) relented, I thought I'd keep any of you still checking in on Brigadoon abreast of the latest news...

New EU President to be announced

EU leaders will today name the BBC test card doll as their preferred candidate for the post of EU president. In a move seen as warding off attempts to parachute Tony Blair into the job, the heads of 26 member states will rally around the inane, grinning puppet and tell him to stick to bringing peace to the Middle East.


Tories 'split on Europe'

Political pundits were reeling yesterday as it emerged the Tories might not all agree on Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe. By 9am this morning the BBC had received no complaints that this rag-tag bunch of right-wing xenophobes have repeatedly been invited onto the prestigious Question Time programme.
More scoops: Ursine quadraped defecates in sylvan wilderness; Pontiff sports unusual head adornment; Rangers blow it again, Celtic determined to match them.

Where did it all go wrong?

Audit Scotland have announced that Scotland is facing the biggest budget squeeze since devolution in the years ahead. If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of the two men pictured opposite, they are urged to contact their faces with clenched fists or similar blunt instruments.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Three's company, more's a crowd

The news that Gordon Brown has agreed to participate in a series of TV debates ahead of the next Westminster election is quite rightly causing a bit of a stushie in Scotland. The SNP are talking of amicable solutions to allow Eck to take part, but more likely they will be given short shrift by the TV companies. The result will be legal action from the SNP to prevent any debates bereft of Eck's beaming fizzog from being broadcast in Scotland.

This stance, though potentially depriving us all of watching a half-decent slanging match, seems absolutely correct. Quite why three parties should be accorded the extra publicity and platform that these high-profile debates will afford is not clear to me. The main argument seems to be that only the Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem leaders are potential Prime Ministers in waiting. One only has to read that last sentence again to see the idiocy of the argument...Nick Clegg? Potential Prime Minister?! Ahem.

Behind this lurks the distasteful presumption that the media already knows the outcome (more or less) of the election. As things stand the smaller parties get a raw enough deal: restricting the debates to a Labour-Tory-Lib Dem triopoly fatally undermines the idea of free and fair elections.

Obviously in Scotland the proposed debates simply fail to reflect the continued reality of Labour and the SNP fighting it out for the top prize, with the Tories and Lib Dems failing to get much of a look in. As other observers have noted, if the SNP do well enough there won't be a UK to be Prime Minister of, and under those happy circumstances one G Brown would likely be ineligible for the job - a potential PM indeed! Similar arguments apply to Wales with Plaid Cymru also deserving a place in any debates broadcast there.

Furthermore, one only has to look back to the last European elections to realise that there are in fact other parties out there, even in England. Granted, UKIP might not quite be shooting for second place in a Westminster election (yet), but then again surely their performance in the European elections makes them, and more to the point those people that voted for them, worthy of a little more consideration? And how can they ever hope to make a breakthrough if they are dismissed as a small party, unworthy of even a bit-part role?

The cosy, unthinking consensus in Broadcastingland seems to be that Labour and the Tories will naturally take turns in power for evermore. Anything else is unthinkable. The real value of the Lib Dems in this scenario is merely to lend some feeble credence to the notion that we live in a dynamic multi-party democracy. They make the stitch-up look a little bit more credible.

This ossification of politics is a consequence of the first-past-the-post system, where parties with a broad appeal spread throughout the country suffer compared to those with a more localised support. My hope is that people are gaining more of a taste for proportional representation. We've had it now in Scotland and Wales for 10 years. We've had it in European elections for longer. The London elections are also conducted using PR. If the SNP poll 30% of the vote next year and end up with only 10 MPs I for one will be demanding: "Where is my vote?!" And if UKIP get anything like the same share of the vote as in the European elections but gain no MPs, then I might well be one of many. Democracy indeed.

Friday, 25 September 2009

No messin'!

So John Smeaton is to stand as a candidate in the Glasgow North East by-election. The opening salvo of his campaign is shown below, and is well worth a watch:



More common sense in those 5 minutes than I've heard in quite a while from the professional politicians! Much as I'd love to see him "batter down the doors" at Westminster I fear for the lad's chances. How long before the first smears appear in the press? Desmond Tutu could stand for Glasgow North East and, after a sly word from John Smith house, the papers would denounce him as a frock-wearing tranny.

And even if Smeaton makes it down to Westminster how will his parliamentary colleagues treat him? If Michael Martin was derided as Gorbals Mick then what does fate have in store for Smeaton? How do you think the Westminster boys' club will react to the new boy from the rough estate at the edge of town? Chin up John, set aboot them!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Pride or prostration?

A great deal has been written about Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to grant Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi compassionate release. I don't propose to repeat any of the analysis of the rights or wrongs of that decision, or of the reasoning behind it.

Instead I'd like to focus on the reaction to the reaction. That is to say, how our politicians in Scotland have reacted to the criticism this decision has been met with elsewhere, and what this might tell us about the current political landscape in Scotland.

The positions, with one or two notable exceptions, have been drawn as follows:

* Tory/LibDem/Labour - disagree with the decision, worried about the effect on our relationship with US, "repulsed" by the Libyan reaction.
* SNP - sticking with the decision despite criticism from the USA, emphasising that our relationship with the US is bigger than this one issue, unhappy with the "inappropriate" reaction in Libya.

In my opinion the SNP have demonstrated greater political maturity by correctly making the decision on judicial grounds despite external political pressures, and also by steadfastly holding true to their position in the face of quite vicious criticism. It has been nothing other than the behaviour of a responsible government, acting according to the law and recognising that a nation's credibility is ill-served by meekly rolling over and being tickled on the belly when the first dissenting voices are raised. In short, it's exactly the behaviour you would expect and demand of a sovereign national government, and hopefully a nice taste of things to come in an independent Scotland.

In contrast let's examine the opposition stance. Unable to find any substantive criticisms of the way the decision was made, and boy how they've tried, they have been restricted to feeble and ill-conceived sniping around the fringes (Megrahi should go to a hospice?! Nice one Goldie). There is of course nothing wrong with proper scrutiny of the executive. But the opposition have gone beyond this and badly shamed themselves by their attempts to score party political points over this issue, as notably expressed by Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm.

Almost as bad has been the opposition's hand wringing display in the face of US criticism. It betrays an appallingly deferential attitude, born of a very obvious inferiority complex. Ironic really, as this was always the accusation levelled at proponents of independence.

Indeed, these recent developments have made it abundantly clear that the SNP desire for independence is an expression of nothing other than self-confidence in the abilities and status of Scotland. One could put it as follows: We will make our own decisions; where others disagree we will take account of their concerns, but we will make our own decisions; we are confident and secure in our relationships with other countries; we are confident in our ability to manage these relationships when we disagree.

This stands in marked contrast to the servile dependence of the unionist parties, and hence the UK, on the goodwill of the US to the exclusion of all other considerations. One could summarise this approach as follows: Please don't hate us, please! We'll do anything, if only you'll be our friend!

Soon Scotland will again face a choice at the ballot box. Take control of our future, assume full responsibility for our nation's fortunes and take our place among the fellowship of nations. Or skulk along as America's poodle's puppy, looking up with those big eyes, desperate to be loved.

I know which country I would rather live in.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Poll results: If you were Justice Secretary how would you have treated Megrahi?

If you were Justice Secretary how would you have treated Megrahi?

Keep him in prison: 4 votes
Prisoner transfer: 1 vote
Compassionate release: 38 votes

An overwhelming endorsement for MacAskill's decision then. Thanks to everyone who voted.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

A sporting chance

It's been a thoroughly depressing start (I'm tempted to say end) to the football season for Scottish football fans. In Europe Motherwell and Aberdeen were both thumped, Hearts are half way to being gubbed, Celtic look likely to be missing out on the Champions' League, albeit against a very good Arsenal side and due to a couple of lucky goals, Falkirk falling to the mighty Vaduz from, erm, Liechtenstein and of course the national team's debacle in Norway (and we'll neatly gloss over the Loons' midweek humping by Partick Thistle).

But, ever the optimist, it looks to me like a good step in the right direction is being made up in the Granite City. These facilities are precisely the sort of thing we need more of throughout Scotland and are a welcome follow up to the recently opened Toryglen Football Centre near Hampden and the soon to be built National Indoor Sports Arena and Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome near Celtic Park.

Sport should be a central feature of Scottish life, not for the feelgood factor of seeing our sportsmen and women or national teams performing well, although that is always welcome, but rather for the overall health of the nation. Hopefully facilities such as those mentioned above, together with already existing facilities and others in the pipeline, will encourage greater participation in sport, improvements to overall health, and, ultimately, an improvement in results at the elite level.

Again, I'll be an optimist - I am a Scotland fan after all! The relative sporting famine of the last few years and the historic underinvestment in facilities gives Scottish sport an opportunity to effect a Lazarus-style comeback. The rebuilding of our sporting infrastructure must continue, in every corner of Scotland. Radical changes (e.g. summer football) should be seriously considered and, let's face it, those vested interests that would oppose radical change have very little credibility left and must be swept away. And finally, just imagine how much sweeter Scottish success will taste after all these years of suffering! Onwards and upwards Scotland!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Compassion

And so Megrahi is back in Libya. There's more than enough to read on the subject elsewhere, so I'll restrict myself to congratulating Kenny MacAskill for making what appears to be an honourable decision based upon the advice he was given, and for ignoring external pressures from all sides. Many will disagree with his decision just as many will agree, but he appears to have acted honourably and we can't ask for much more than that from our politicians.

I've added a poll over at the right hand side for you to cast your vote: if you were Justice Secretary how would you have treated Megrahi?

Finally I was impressed with Rev Ian Galloway's words:

We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not choose mercy?

This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful.

I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims' families and I respect their views.

But to them I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Energy lethargy

An interesting leader (copied below) and article in the Economist this week, outlining the fragility of Britain's energy infrastructure. Anyone wondering why the Unionist parties are so implacably hostile to Scottish independence might find some answers therein.

Scotland is currently an electricity exporter and has vast untapped potential for wind, tide and hydro-electric power generation, sources of energy that will likely play an important part if we are to maintain our energy supply whilst lowering carbon emissions. Add to that Britain's dependence on gas and Scotland looks increasingly important for Britain's future energy needs.

Given the challenging times ahead, surely no PM in their right mind (which admittedly rules out many of them) would want to see Scotland's sources of energy removed from the British equation...

Britain's energy crisis
How long till the lights go out?

Aug 6th 2009
Thanks to its posturing politicians, Britain will soon start to run out of electricity. What should it do?

IN THE frigid opening days of 2009, Britain’s electricity demand peaked at 59 gigawatts (GW). Just over 45% of that came from power plants fuelled by gas from the North Sea. A further 35% or so came from coal, less than 15% from nuclear power and the rest from a hotch-potch of other sources. By 2015, assuming that modest economic growth resumes, a reasonable guess is that Britain will need around 64GW to cope with similar conditions. Where will that come from?

North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds. By 2015 four of Britain’s ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power. There will be a shortfall—perhaps of as much as 20GW—which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin’s deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia.

Many of Britain’s neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers’ club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

In terms of energy policy, this is almost criminal—as bad as any other planning failure in New Labour’s 12-year reign (though the opposition Tories are hardly brimming with ideas). British politicians, after all, have had 30 years to prepare for the day when the hydrocarbons beneath the North Sea run out; it is hardly a national secret that the country’s nuclear plants are old and its coal-power stations filthy. Recession has only delayed the looming energy crunch (see article). How did Britain end up in this mess?
A free energy market needs more than one country

To the extent that successive governments had a strategy, it was on the face of it an attractive one: they believed in open energy markets. Beginning in 1990, the state divested itself of control of the energy industry. Power plants were privatised and a competitive internal electricity market was set up. Whereas most continental power providers, often state-backed, tied in supplies through long-term contracts (notably with Russia), British firms happily tapped the North Sea and planned to top up as necessary on the open market. This approach for the most part kept consumer prices down, but practical problems have long been clear.

Most obviously, the rest of Europe (wrongly) failed to liberalise wholeheartedly too. The market is thus a highly imperfect one: Britain was unable to buy gas at any price in 2004 and 2005, for example. Meanwhile, without any clear guidance from the government, Britain’s electricity providers have had little incentive to start adding the sort of capacity that would help the system as a whole function more robustly—let alone diversify the sources. Tony Blair spent most of his prime ministership running around the issue of nuclear power (at the last minute deciding it was all right). Asked about energy, Gordon Brown has tended to waffle on about his (unfulfilled) ambitions for renewable energy. Nobody has been willing to discuss pipelines, terminals and power generation.

To make matters worse, the new capacity that is in the works is probably the wrong sort. With no official energy policy, the power firms look sure to go for the easiest option—building more gas plants, which are cheap, relatively clean and quick to build. Britain’s dependence on gas for its electricity seems set to rise from just under half to three-quarters in a decade. Even if this new dash for gas happens fast enough to keep most of the lights on, which is by no means certain, it would leave the country overly reliant on one power source.

Electricity prices in Britain would be tied directly to gas prices, which can fluctuate wildly. Although many sources of gas are already bound up in long-term contracts, optimists think Britain might be able to get more of it fairly easily. Norway’s North Sea reserves have life in them yet. New technology to capture gas from coalfields has recently boosted supplies, which could help keep prices down. But those sources are unlikely to meet all the extra demand, leaving Britain in a position familiar to many of its neighbours: relying on Russia. It is not just that relations with Russia are at their worst since the cold war; Mr Putin’s crew seem more interested in terrorising their customers than developing new gasfields.
Brown out; then come the brownouts

With gas too risky, coal too dirty, nuclear too slow and renewables too unreliable, Britain is in a bind. What can it do to get out of it? At this stage, there is no lightning-bolt solution, but two things would prevent matters from getting worse.

The first has to do with infrastructure. Companies must be cajoled or bribed into building gas storage. At the moment there is barely a week’s worth, so there is nothing to lessen the impact of price rises and the shenanigans of foreign powers. More cross-Channel power cables would help, allowing Britain to import electricity directly from its better-supplied neighbours (and also helping create a Europe-wide power grid, thus improving security for all EU members).

Second, carbon must be taxed if firms are to invest in long-term, expensive, technology-heavy projects such as nuclear plants, cleaning up coal and taming renewable sources of power. Carbon is already assigned a price through the European cap-and-trade mechanism, but the system is focused on the short term, vulnerable to gaming and plagued by hugely fluctuating prices. A tax on carbon is hardly going to stop the lights going out in a few years, but it would provide a floor price for power, giving investors a clearer sense of likely profits. In the meantime you know who to blame.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Gray powerless

And so, shock of shocks, Lord Steel's inquiry has cleared Alex Salmond of misleading the Scottish parliament with regard to the prisoner John Brown absconding from Castle Huntly. I'm sure we can all look forward to a healthy dose of contrition from Iain Gray for wasting everyone's time with his idle complaints...or perhaps not.


Political giant Iain Gray (source: Gary Doak Photography)

Weary fa' you, Iain Gray!

Weary fa' you, Iain Gray!
Ha, ha, this grinnin' poet,
Rejoices that you, Iain Gray,
Invariably do blow it!
When baseless gripes ye wildly bray,
Ye mark how far ye've lost your way,
Wha plants the seed o' your doomsday?
'Tis you yourself that sows it!

He thought that it was Eck's high-noon,
Ha, ha, an' how he crowed it!
But tae Gray's poison Eck's immune!
By now ye'd think he'd know it!
How will this glaikit Labour goon,
Stop his poll ratings hurtlin' doon?
"By meek obedience before Broon!"
At every turn he shows it!

Poor Iain's tongue such drivel saith,
Ha, ha, he ought tae stow it!
Wi' his pal Murphy, puppets baith,
The London line, they toe it!
While "Scottish" Labour puts it's faith,
In Gormless Brown, yon flimsy wraith,
Frae Stranraer up as far as Aith,
The Scots will overthrow it!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Grey power

I spotted this letter in the Economist this week and thought it deserved a (marginally) wider audience. It's a superb piece of creative thinking, I'm sure you'll agree...

Sir,

Regarding your special report on ageing populations (June 27th), I once proposed a solution somewhat tongue in cheek to the problem of pensions: turn retirement upside down. In my plan, people would be supported by society up to the age of 30. During that period they would study, travel, prepare for a profession, reproduce and give full-time care to their young. They would not hold any positions of responsibility, where their youthful enthusiasm, unbounded energy and overambition were likely to cause problems. After 30, they would work until they dropped dead or became incapacitated.

The advantages are many. First, there would be more people working to support those young "retirees". Second, social-security budgets could be prepared years in advance, and with greater certainty. Third, young "retirees" would need very little health care and the money saved could be spent on their education and child care. Fourth, individuals would enjoy life at the peak of their powers and give full attention to offspring. Fifth, no more bored and sick elderly people looked upon as useless.

Cylon Goncalves da Silva
Sao Paulo

Monday, 27 July 2009

Newsdredge

The last few weeks have been a blur of activity here in Brigadoon, so time has been short for keeping the blog up to date. To right this wrong it's time for a whistlestop catch up on some recent events...

Norwich North vs Glasgow North East

Many commentators have wondered why only one of these constituencies deserves to have an elected representative. I find myself similarly confused, unless of course it's simply Labour trying to rig things to maximise their chances of success. Surely not, I hear you sputter (ahem). It provides an interesting twist on our culture of loyalty. Usually loyalty is prized (air miles, Clubcard/Nectar points, never change your football club, etc.), but the message to the people of Glasgow NE from Labour HQ is loud and clear: yes, thanks for voting for us since forever, but no, during these times of recessions and looming job cuts you don't really need an MP to speak up and fight for your interests do you? Actually, given how little Labour MPs have done for such constituencies over the decades I don't suppose they'll be missing much.

It was also interesting to note reports of the Labour leopards retaining their spots during the Norwich campaign. Apparently some Labour activists had been whispering unfounded rumours about the sexuality of the successful Tory candidate, Chloe Smith. They really haven't learned from the McPoison affair, have they? Where will they stop in their pursuit of power? Where is the boundary for these people? Is there anything they won't do/say in order to keep one more of their lobby fodder in place? Utterly repellent. The only saving grace is that their shame is being reported and will hopefully be their undoing.

Oil Fund (again)

Imagine the scene. Your boss tells you that you will be getting a bonus. Do you: (a) save/invest all the extra money; (b) spend some of this extra and save/invest the rest; (c) spend all of your bonus; (d) fritter away all of your bonus, increasing your commitments so you become utterly dependent on it even though you know it won't last forever?

Surely the sensible option is (a), or perhaps (b) if something important is needed urgently. Conversely the stupid answer is to choose option (c), and the insane answer is option (d).

So why have Labour/Tory governments consistently chosen the insane option (d) for the last few decades? The plain and simple truth is that they have used the oil money to mask the problems in the British economy. By throwing good money after bad they have squandered this natural resource, while putting off any "tough choices" (Brown's desperate new catchphrase) until after each successive general election. And of course, as long as the oil lasts the mythical tough choices can be blissfully forgotten about...

Whilst this myopic denial is galling enough, it beggars belief that Labour criticise the SNP for suggesting an oil fund. "We can only spend it once", they say. Hmm, or to state Labour's position more accurately, we can only waste it once. The important thing to note here is that if we invest the money wisely, only spending the interest earned, we can actually spend more in the long run. "But the oil price is volatile, it's running out anyway." Erm, yes, but isn't it still valuable? In a good year more goes into the oil fund, in a bad year less. Isn't it better to use it wisely than squander it by papering over the cracks in the economy. And when the oil does finally dry up what would you rather have? A reformed, efficient economy with a decent nest-egg to help us in the future, or an artificially inflated expectation of the strength of the economy and a sudden inability to pay for public spending?

New Prime Minister

Congratulations to Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council (serving suggestion: breathe now) on finally attaining the office of Prime Minister. It's the best of all worlds really: Gordon is allowed to keep the title and house and serves as a useful target for the nation's anger, while Mandy quietly gets on with running the country without troublesome irritations to distract him, like actually having to be elected to the government. The full list* of committees that the Mandynator now bestrides is available here.


"Implement my policies if you want to live"

* Correct at time of posting...

Swine flu

Oink! :8)

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Angling for Salmond

Bereft of positive ideas for the future of Scotland, it would appear that Labour will be resorting to ad hominem attacks on Alex Salmond in order to bolster their flagging support. The Times reports that "the gloves are off" in their pursuit of the FM, these presumably being the same gloves that they haven't been able to lay on him for the last 2 years...


Iain Gray minus gloves...'armless as ever

Monday, 13 July 2009

Counsel for a poor mortal

Update at 12:15, 14/07/2009:

oldnat (of Blether with Brian fame) has helpfully pointed out that Stirling council split their expenses figures, one set from April 2007 to 3rd May 2007 and the other from 4th May 2007 to March 2008. Shetland have done the same and I suspect (but couldn't find the info) that the same is true for Clackmannanshire. It seems that the Beeb 's geeks have not noticed this though - out of 467 councils in their spreadsheet 125 have an average cost per councillor below £6000. The obvious moral of the story is to check the source data...and not to trust the Beeb too much!

The revised table minus Clacks is below. Happily Orkney and Shetland are now bosom buddies in the table, not much difference between their costs. But I'm still puzzled by Midlothian and West Lothian Councils...why does a councillor in West Lothian cost on average £10,000 more than one in Midlothian? Anyone got any idea? Might dig a bit deeper into the council websites when time allows...

Council # Cllrs Total cost* Cost/cllr
West Lothian Council 32 £835,518.00 £26,109.94
Inverclyde Council 20 £474,598.35 £23,729.92
Argyll and Bute Council 36 £817,143.63 £22,698.43
Highland Council 80 £1,727,849.81 £21,598.12
North Lanarkshire Council 70 £1,478,710.00 £21,124.43
Edinburgh City Council 58 £1,216,614.85 £20,976.12
Scottish Borders Council 34 £698,538.00 £20,545.24
Shetland Islands Council 22 £446,618.20 £20,300.83
Orkney Islands Council 21 £425,911.34 £20,281.49
Western Isles Council 31 £624,554.00 £20,146.90
East Ayrshire Council 32 £634,824.94 £19,838.28
Aberdeenshire Council 68 £1,337,062.36 £19,662.68
Glasgow City Council 79 £1,544,427.00 £19,549.71
South Lanarkshire Council 67 £1,308,586.30 £19,531.14
East Lothian District Council 23 £440,939.00 £19,171.26
East Dunbartonshire Council 24 £459,825.02 £19,159.38
Moray Council 26 £496,496.00 £19,096.00
Dumfries and Galloway Council 47 £889,981.00 £18,935.77
Perth and Kinross Council 41 £761,610.87 £18,575.87
Angus Council 29 £536,249.00 £18,491.34
North Ayrshire Council 30 £554,398.84 £18,479.96
Aberdeen City Council 43 £794,498.00 £18,476.70
West Dunbartonshire Council 22 £406,113.12 £18,459.69
Stirling Council 22 £403,958.68 £18,361.76
Fife Council 78 £1,418,840.30 £18,190.26
East Renfrewshire Council 20 £350,773.00 £17,538.65
Falkirk Council 32 £545,823.55 £17,056.99
Renfrewshire Council 40 £671,787.24 £16,794.68
South Ayrshire Council 30 £494,514.00 £16,483.80
Dundee City Council 29 £477,115.38 £16,452.25
Midlothian Council 18 £293,157.27 £16,286.52
Clackmannanshire Council 18 ? ?

Source: BBC Research + oldnat's investigative powers


---------------------
Perhaps someone can help me out with the following...

BBC Research has produced an interesting list of councillor pay and expenses for 2007-08, broken down by government region and also by council. Glancing at the figures for Scotland (see table at the bottom of this post) I noticed huge variations in the cost per councillor. For example...



Council
# CllrsTotal cost*Cost/cllr


Orkney Islands Council21£425,911.34£20,281.49


Shetland Islands Council22£50,476.63£2,294.39

*Total cost = Pay, expenses and allowances for 2007-08.

No, I haven't got those numbers wrong. Can anyone shed some light on this? Why the vast discrepancy between two councils that, to an ignorant mainland loon at least, look like they should be broadly comparable? The only thing I could think of was the Shetland oil fund. But then again I'm pretty sure Clackmannanshire doesn't have one of those, yet they seem to be blessed with much cheaper councillors than Midlothian...

Council# CllrsTotal cost*Cost/cllr
Midlothian Council18£293,157.27£16,286.52
Clackmannanshire Council18£69,934.61£3,885.26

Now for the really weird part. Despite the yawning chasm in the table above, Midlothian have the 4th lowest cost per councillor in Scotland. In fact it's actually Clackmannanshire that pips them to the bronze medal, albeit by a whopping £12,401.26 per councillor! In other words no council in Scotland has a cost per councillor between £3,885.26 and £16,286.52. What's going on?

To round things off, the 22 councillors of Stirling Council cost a total of £48,708.08, i.e. £2,214.00 per councillor. In contrast, the 32 councillors of West Lothian cost £835,518.00 in total, at an average of £26,109.94 per councillor. Why can 3 of our councils give us councillors at an average cost below £4,000, yet all the rest cost from £16,000-£26,000?!?

Now, there may well be a very good reason for this bizarrely skewed distribution of costs, in fact I really hope there is. If so I'd love to know what it is! Please respond via the comments box below.

Council # Cllrs Total cost* Cost/cllr
West Lothian Council 32 £835,518.00 £26,109.94
Inverclyde Council 20 £474,598.35 £23,729.92
Argyll and Bute Council 36 £817,143.63 £22,698.43
Highland Council 80 £1,727,849.81 £21,598.12
North Lanarkshire Council 70 £1,478,710.00 £21,124.43
Edinburgh City Council 58 £1,216,614.85 £20,976.12
Scottish Borders Council 34 £698,538.00 £20,545.24
Orkney Islands Council 21 £425,911.34 £20,281.49
Western Isles Council 31 £624,554.00 £20,146.90
East Ayrshire Council 32 £634,824.94 £19,838.28
Aberdeenshire Council 68 £1,337,062.36 £19,662.68
Glasgow City Council 79 £1,544,427.00 £19,549.71
South Lanarkshire Council 67 £1,308,586.30 £19,531.14
East Lothian District Council 23 £440,939.00 £19,171.26
East Dunbartonshire Council 24 £459,825.02 £19,159.38
Moray Council 26 £496,496.00 £19,096.00
Dumfries and Galloway Council 47 £889,981.00 £18,935.77
Perth and Kinross Council 41 £761,610.87 £18,575.87
Angus Council 29 £536,249.00 £18,491.34
North Ayrshire Council 30 £554,398.84 £18,479.96
Aberdeen City Council 43 £794,498.00 £18,476.70
West Dunbartonshire Council 22 £406,113.12 £18,459.69
Fife Council 78 £1,418,840.30 £18,190.26
East Renfrewshire Council 20 £350,773.00 £17,538.65
Falkirk Council 32 £545,823.55 £17,056.99
Renfrewshire Council 40 £671,787.24 £16,794.68
South Ayrshire Council 30 £494,514.00 £16,483.80
Dundee City Council 29 £477,115.38 £16,452.25
Midlothian Council 18 £293,157.27 £16,286.52
Clackmannanshire Council 18 £69,934.61 £3,885.26
Shetland Islands Council 22 £50,476.63 £2,294.39
Stirling Council 22 £48,708.08 £2,214.00

Source: BBC Research

Monday, 6 July 2009

Tribal loyalty 0 - 1 Common sense

How nice to see a principled stand being taken on the issue of prison reform by Cherie Blair and Henry McLeish. Both have stepped above the political fray, casting any tribal loyalty aside in order to praise the SNP's proposed penal reforms, whereby community sentencing would be preferred to jail time of less than 6-months.

Note that important word: preferred. This would be no diktat to those deciding on sentencing. Dangerous criminals could still be put in prison at the discretion of the courts. But rather than wasting public money sending petty criminals to finishing school prison, they would instead be "paying back" to society.

It is perhaps instructive to ask ourselves what purpose a sentence less than 6-months serves. Is it a punishment/deterrent? Or an attempt at rehabilitation? If the former, then I suspect most criminals are not quaking in their boots at the prospect. If the latter, then perhaps we need to ask why re-offending rates remain stubbornly high.

Personally, I'm a firm believer in criminals being confronted with the effects of their crimes. Most human beings, when shown the misery they have caused their fellow man, will show some form of remorse. With support and guidance at that stage we give them the best chance of becoming productive members of society. If the community sentencing is of this type then the reforms have my full support. Of course there will always be an uncaring few without a conscience, and custodial sentences perhaps remain the best option for such cases.

Of more concern to me however, is the nature of the opposition to the reforms. If Labour were pretty hopeless in power they are even worse in opposition. Where are the ideas? Where is the alternative vision for Scotland? Nowhere to be seen. They seem far too busy opposing any new SNP initiative for the sake of it. On this particular issue former FM Henry McLeish puts it in unequivocal terms:

"Their claims are wholly ridiculous," he said. "They are arguing against something that is not being implemented or recommended by the [Scottish] Government. My appeal to Labour, who were the progressive party, is to read the report [by the Scottish Prisons Commission]. None of it adds up to anything remotely like what they are claiming. They are misleading the public."

He added: "The Labour claims on this are just totally wrong. There is no provision that says every sentence under six months is not allowed. The sheriffs still have the right to sentence as they wish."

He went on: "Labour and the Conservatives are saying crime equals punishment equals prison. That strategy has got us into a situation where we are wasting millions of pounds every year, a situation where we are not protecting the public any better and a situation where we have some of the highest re-conviction rates in Europe."

[Quoted from the Scotsman, 5th July 2009]

I've emphasised a couple of phrases: Labour were the progressive party. But no longer. Labour are misleading the public. Strong stuff from McLeish, but spot on. How much better the public is served when our politicians tell it like it is, rather than meekly following party orders.

Poll results: What do you think of the 48 skiving MSPs who "snubbed" HM Queen?

Orf with their heads! 0 votes
To the Tower's naughty step! 0
We're a' Jock Tamson's MSPs! 2
Vive la revolucion! 10

On that basis Brigadoon seems to be a hotbed of revolutionary fervour, treasonous dogs that you are! Thanks again for all your votes.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A right royal rant

In these troubled times what is exercising the little grey cells of the chattering classes of Scotland? The prospect of shipyard closures on the Clyde? The imminent loss of hundreds of jobs at two of Diageo's plants? No dear reader, worthy though these stories might be of attention, a far graver matter faces the nation. Prepare yourselves. Forty-eight of our MSPs didn't bother to go and listen to the Queen giving some speech or other. Alas, whither Scotia?!



Treachery though it be, I'll confess that I didn't bother to listen to Her Majesty, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that "her" speech consisted of the usual platitudes and banality that she's restricted to in order to remain apolitical and avoid giving offence (Big Phil on the other hand...). Happy to be corrected on that point mind, please relay to me any great profundity that she imparted to us plebs using the comments below.

So why the stushie? Why is everyone proclaiming this to be a day of shame for the parliament? Whatever happened to that idea of Scotland building a modern, egalitarian, 21st Century democracy? Or the pride and glee we all shared when "A man's a man for a' that" was sung to the Queen at the official opening? Straight out the window! Get a grip Scotland!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Logan's run

The BBC ICM poll details have been published (available here). Some interesting snippets therein, particularly the mixed feeling on Brown as PM, the foreboding at the prospect of Cameron as PM, and the high aproval for Salmond as FM.

The two big questions posed were around how Scotland should be governed and how Scots would vote in a referendum next year. Mischievous type that I am I couldn't help but notice that the 65+ age group responded quite differently to the rest on these questions...

Q.14 Which of the following comes closest to your view about how Scotland should be governed....




Excl. 65+All


Scotland should become independent of the rest of the UK, with the Scottish Parliament able to make all decisions about the level of taxation and government spending in Scotland42.27%38.35%


Scotland should remain part of the UK, with the Scottish Parliament able to make some decisions about the level of taxation and government spending in Scotland49.94%53.72%


Scotland should remain part of the UK, with decisions about the level of taxation and government spending in Scotland made by the UK Government6.67%6.64%


Don't know1.11%1.29%


Q.19 Next year, the Scottish Government wants to hold a referendum to ask the people of Scotland whether they agree or disagree that..."the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state"




Excl. 65+All
For

45.92%42.26%
Against

46.41%50.10%
Refused

7.67%7.64%


Interesting stuff I'm sure you'll agree! Remove the wrinklies (hypothetically speaking!) and Q.19 looks pretty close to me. Maybe Eck should wait a few more years for that referendum ;o)

The remaining difference between pro-independence and pro-devolution max responses to Q.14 comes largely from the 18-34 age group. I wonder what effect a lack of jobs for young people and a good dose of paternal Toryism might have on this group over the next few years...all to play for!

Monday, 29 June 2009

What a difference a decade makes

Ten years into the era of devolution and we live in interesting times. I'm reminded of the tale of George Bernard Shaw in conversation with a young lady: "Would you sleep with me if I gave you 10,000 pounds?" he asked her. She thought about it and decided that she would. "Good," said Shaw, "so would you also sleep with me for sixpence?" The lady was outraged. "What sort of woman do you think I am?" she thundered. "We've established what sort of woman you are," Shaw replied, "we're merely haggling over the price."

It seems to me that Britannia finds herself in a similar position to that young lady. The referendum in 1997 established the principle that Scotland was entitled to self-determination. The resounding Yes-Yes vote further established the principle of self-governance. And the argument was essentially over at that point. Scotland firmly established what sort of a union it has with the rest of the UK. Scottish sovereignty resides with the Scottish people, not with Westminster (nor indeed with Holyrood!).

Since then there has been much "haggling over the price": which powers to devolve, which to reserve? But the principle of Scottish sovereignty towers above the debate, the Scottish people must decide.

Which brings us to the question of a referendum on Scotland's future constitutional arrangements. Do we need one? Or are we all content with the current model of devolution?

Over the last decade it has appeared increasingly clear to me that change is needed. The rise in the share of the vote for the SNP has been remarkable, as has the demise of the New Labour project. Not all of this swing can be ascribed to a protest vote. Many people will have voted for the SNP precisely because they want Scotland to have more power. This has become all the more likely in light of Westminster's travails over the last year or two. For all its faults Holyrood looks like a paragon of probity next to "Wastemonster".

Meanwhile, the once barely audible discontent south of the border at the "subsidies" and "privileges" that Scotland supposedly enjoys has increased to a low rumble. As swingeing public sector cuts are applied over the next decade this perceived grievance will loom ever larger. How will a Tory government in Westminster respond? How will they handle an SNP government at Holyrood? What mandate will the Tories have to decide on reserved matters, such as Trident, for Scotland?

Alternatively, how will England react if it votes Tory but Labour's tally of Scottish MPs helps bring about a hung parliament? Suddenly that democratic deficit that Scots have railed against for so long might be keenly felt in middle England. Will the Tories happily leak votes to the English Democrats? I suspect not.

How then should Scotland face the challenges of the next decade? With a system that breeds misunderstanding and a sense of injury on both sides of the border? Or with a cleaner, simpler constitutional arrangement backed by a strong democratic mandate?

Quite simply Scotland must be given a direct choice. Not some sleekit, skewed choice, with arbitrary thresholds imposed as a spoiling tactic, nor an extrapolated choice based on the results of a general election fought over many different issues. No. We need a straight, honest choice between the main options: full independence; devolution max of whatever flavour (federalism? confederalism? Calman?); keeping the status quo; or direct rule from Westminster.

For me the choice remains clear, the principle of self-governance has been established. Independence is the logical outcome of that victory. Not "isolation", as Gordon Brown would love you to think of it (Why Gordon, do you think the Scots would vote for isolation? Is your opinion of us really so low?). But simply the freedom to run our country in a fair and just fashion according to our ever-changing needs, choosing when and on what terms to cooperate with our neighbours as common interests arise, and playing a full part in the international community.

As ever the consitutional poll remains open in Brigadoon: cast your vote in the poll on the right hand side.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Poll results: What do you think of Scotland's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020?

Noble gas 4 votes
Laughing gas 1
Gas bags 3
What a nerve gas 1

A pretty even split then between those admiring the good intentions and those sceptical of whether the targets can, and perhaps should, be met.

Perhaps the Scottish government would persuade more people by seeking an endorsement from a prominent celebrity? Susan Boyle for example - I can see it now, Boyle's Law. And if anyone can think of worse gas-related puns please share them!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Twins

Well, the past few weeks have been very busy here in Brigadoon. Not enough time for eating, sleeping and entertaining forfar-quine, let alone for blogging. Looks like the next few weeks could be similarly busy (the mist machine is making an ominous clanking noise) so just to keep things ticking over here's some puerile fun in place of the substantive political commentary and insight that I normally indulge in (ahem).

Whilst browsing the news I was struck by the eery similarity between the two images below. One shows a snarling, treacherous beast operating from the basest of motives, interested only in the preservation of its hideous brethren at the expense of any human being foolish enough to stand in its way. And Sigourney Weaver saw to the other one (her husband is a Forfar loon in case you didn't know).



Friday, 12 June 2009

Poll results: Which voting system do you favour for elections to Westminster?

FPTP: 2 votes
STV: 22 votes
AV: 1 vote
WTF?: 3 votes

So STV by a landslide. Assuming most visitors to Brigadoon are independence-friendly (as suggested by the onward rumbling constitutional settlement poll) I guess that makes sense. After all, the SNP have routinely gained many fewer MPs than their share of the vote would justify.

It's been interesting to see some of the arguments from various corners of Westminster about PR vs FPTP. Essentially the argument seems to have been that yes, PR is more democratic, but it precludes the formation of a strong government (unless of course a single party polls >50%). Perhaps they should cast their eyes northwards to see a strong minority government in action, aided by a few fleeting glimpses of a new, more consensual style of politics...?

Sadly I fear the BNP gaining 2 MEPs will scupper any chances of PR appearing in Westminster elections any time soon: it's the perfect excuse to keep the cosy Lab/Tory duopoly for evermore.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Beith for Speaker

Ian Dale is pondering who the next speaker will be.

From the short list it has to be Sir Alan Beith for me. In these newly-enlightened days of transparency and propriety (ahem!) it would serve the interests of both Labour (until the next GE) and Tories (thereafter) not to have one of their own as speaker.

Alan Beith has huge experience of parliament and its machinations, hasn't been mentioned too badly in the expenses scandal, has little in the way of "baggage" and would command respect across the house.

As MP for Berwick he sits neatly between England and Scotland at a time when we might expect Westminster-Holyrood relations to get a little testy between Tories and SNP.

Finally, his seat is not exactly marginal, so little to lose for Labour or Tory in seeing him returned unopposed as speaker. I rest my case.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Labour grief in Monifieth

Interesting news from Monifieth (and how often does one get to say that?), where the poor benighted soul earmarked to be Labour's candidate for the June 25th council by-election has taken the only remaining course of action to avoid utter humiliation...he's moved house out of the council ward, thereby disqualifying himself as a candidate! (BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/tayside_and_central/8093086.stm; Courier: http://www.thecourier.co.uk/output/2009/06/10/newsstory13275593t0.asp)

But never fear! Labour, dogged as ever, are unwilling to let a trifling matter like not actually having a candidate stand in their way. They have been eagerly sending out leaflets exhorting the masses to vote for their (invisible) man...erm, even though he won't be appearing on the ballot paper. Not only that, but the Labour foot soldiers are so impressed with Iain Gray's attempts at leadership that they can't even spell his name correctly! I wonder what Alec Summoned, Anagram Goldfish and Travis Scout make of it all...?

That said, underestimate the formidable Labour machine at your peril. A flood of postal votes must surely already be in preparation...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Scotland doesn't exist

Well, what a pleasant couple of weeks away that was. No chance to read the papers or browse the web, barely a thought given to football or politics...have I missed much while I was away?

On my travels in the misty Carpathian mountains of Romania I was fortunate enough to purchase the stamp shown below. It's one of last year's stamps for letters to Europe (and has recently been replaced by a fetching picture of some storks). Now I'm not usually very interested in stamps but look again closely...isn't there something missing there...?



I guess this is all part of the Union dividend - invisibility to the outside world.

Not content with seeing Scotland the victim of a bad Romanian stamp (again) I also had the near impossibility of an unpleasant conversation with a Finnish lady. "Where are you and your wife from?" she asked. "Scotland and Germany", I replied. "Ah, England and Germany", she mis-repeated. For the sake of international relations I resisted my more bloodthirsty instincts and let it slide.

One day, hopefully soon, such irritations of Scottish invisibility will be a thing of the past.