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


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!