Monday, June 30, 2008
Radiohead are generally accepted as one of the finest bands of the past few decades but if you think about their name, it's just a bit silly really. A radio where a head should be? What's that all about? I think they were originally called 'On a Friday' so at least it's a step up from that.
Oasis, too, have an odd moniker. They are either named after a bottled fruit drink or a body of water out in the desert. Not very cool if you ask me. But the names are fixed, they are estalished bands and so we accept them no questions asked. Blur, The Rolling Stones, Slipknot, Skunk Anansie. What's wrong with these people!?
But what of politicians? If an individual is to lead a country should they not have a professional sounding name? Gordon (Brown), George (Bush), Alex (Salmond) all have very robust sounding first names. Similarly Romano (Prodi), Nicolas (Sarkozy) and Vladimir (Putin) can't really complain about the fittingly local names they were born with after they decided to move into Politics. They sound appealing and mature.
So, with that in mind, what do we make of Andy and Cathy?
Wouldn't Andrew Kerr and Catherine Jamieson sound a little bit more appropriate? Even that irascible rogue 'Andy Murray' has insisted on being called Andrew. Doesn't 'Andy' Kerr drum up images of a politician with his shirt untucked, tie out of place and always running 15 minutes late for meetings? (Yes, I know that could easily be Frank McAveety but still…)
So what could we see pass if either of these two sloppily-named Labour contestants ever become First Minister? (Or 'the main man' or 'the top lady' as they might prefer as title….)
Well, I think we'd be seeing St Andy's Day every year on 30th November for a start. At the top of Buchie St in Glasgow we'd have the statue of Donnie Dewar. While in Edinburgh Arthur's Seat could be Ally's Seat and Pleasance could simply be called Aw'right.
Long-worded parts of Scotland would simply be scrapped for taking too long to say. Drumnadrochit, Tillicoultry and Kirkintilloch would simply be nameless. Ardnamurchan and Auchenshuggle would be the first to go. The sheer effrontery of having four syllables in the one word is scandalous.
Perhaps this name-changing would spread across the chamber. "Right honourable gentleman" would become "the top man for Cunninghame North" or "that crackin' lassie from Hamilton South". The Speaker of the House would of course be 'Fergie' or simply 'Big Man' given Alex Fergusson must be about 6 foot 23.
Can you not see George Foulkes, shaking with rage and shouting across the chamber "Sorry big man, but yer man over there is clearly being a bammy wee radge"?
No, clearly this Andy and Cathy nonsense is all a bit out of hand. The nomenclature of Politics deserves respect. Ok, we let Tam Dalyell off the hook because he has crazy hair but that was very much an exception. Andrew and Catherine need to toe the line.
"Wendy Alexander wrote to me this morning to tender her resignation as Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament. The whole party will want to thank Wendy Alexander for her services to the party."
"Cathy Jamieson has immediately assumed all the responsibilities of the leader of the Labour Group of the Scottish Parliament until the normal procedures for electing a new leader are concluded. "
"Cathy Jamieson has been the deputy leader for the last eight years. She will lead the Labour MSPs and Shadow Cabinet as they continue their work in providing effective scrutiny and representation."
"The Procedures Committee of the Scottish Executive Committee will meet at the end of this week to agree the timetable for the selection process for a new Leader of the Labour Group."
"Prospective candidates will require six nominations from Labour MSPs.
All valid nominees will go forward for consideration by all local constituency parties and the party affiliates, who can register supporting nominations."
"Following this, all candidates will go forward to a full one-member, one-vote postal ballot. Three sections will be balloted: individual members of the Labour Party in Scotland, all Scottish Labour parliamentarians, and individual members of affiliates to the Scottish Labour Party. Each section will be weighted equally."
"The process followed will be an open and democratic one. The timescale will be a matter for the Procedures Committee".
DETAILS OF PROCESS FOR THE ELECTION OF A NEW LEADER OF LABOUR IN THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
The process will be run in accordance with the rules published the Scottish Labour Party.
Who oversees the election?
The Procedures Committee of the Scottish Executive Committee. It is comprised of the Scottish General Secretary Colin Smyth (who is the Procedures Secretary), plus the chair, vice-chair and treasurer of the SEC.
When does the election start?
On the day that the Procedures Committee meet to agree the timetable.
The Procedures Committee will meet later this week.
Who may stand?
Any Labour MSPs may nominate themselves or be nominated. Only Labour MSPs may nominate. Nominees are required to have the support of 12.5% of Labour MSPs. There are 46 MSPs so the threshold required is 6.
Will there be hustings?
Yes. All candidates will be expected to attend a series of hustings around Scotland.
What if there is just one nominee?
If there is just one nominee a joint meeting of the SEC and the Labour MSP group will be held to confirm that nominee as the new leader.
If there is more than one nominee, will there be supportive nominations?
Yes. All constituency Labour Partys, affiliated trade unions and societies and individual Labour MPs and MEPs are entitled to indicate their support for a candidate by means of a supporting nomination.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
I have it on good authority that Andy Kerr is, somewhat surprisingly, aiming to stand as deputy behind the leadership of Cathy Jamieson.
Presumably Andy believes that Cathy can steward Scottish Labour through some choppy waters in the short term and he can be well-placed to pick up the leadership once the good times start to roll again in the medium to long term.
On the other side, Margaret Curran is aiming to be deputy to Iain Gray.
This potential four-way is consequently looking more like a head-to-head of Iain Gray vs Cathy Jamieson.
It would be very difficult to call at this stage of course but I would say the main two differences between the two are as follows:
Relations with Westminster.
Iain Gray is seen amongst MPs as very much a 'yes man'. Easy to control from London, the control freak that is Gordon Brown would be happier to see Iain in the top job as Gordon could channel his own ideas into Holyrood using Gray and Curran as middle-men/women.
Cathy Jamieson, similarly to her predecessor Wendy Alexander, would chart her own path and try to assert Scottish Labour as a separate entity with a separate ideology to that of UK Labour.
Of course, whether Gordon has any influence over the Scottish wing of the party given his disastrous year as PM remains to be seen.
As a hopefully 'independent' looking in, I can only think that the approach taken by Cathy to stand outside of the control of Westminster is a better plan for taking Scottish Labour forward.
The Referendum Conundrum.
There are many within UK and Scottish Labour who see the resignation of Wendy Alexander as the perfect opportunity to ditch this 'ridiculous' notion that giving the Scottish people a referendum on independence is a good idea.
Put simply, Cathy Jamieson is much, much more likely to follow the logic of Wendy Alexander that allowing the SNP to have their referendum in 2010 is a good idea, subject to appropriate wording of course.For Iain Gray, he would be adopting a much, much more cautious stance and he will campaign in favour of adopting a staunchly unionist approach and standing on a platform of voting down any referendum plans brought forward by the SNP.
Again, trying to be unbiased, I can't help but think that Cathy and Andy's approach is much more sensible. The Scottish public will feel they are being denied a voice and Scottish Labour will look like they fear an independence referendum so much that they don't have the 'cojones' to contest one.
So, several reasons already why the dual ticket of Cathy Jamieson and Andy Kerr will come up trumps and why they should be placed as the favourites to be the next leaders of Scottish Labour.
One can only hope that Cathy Jamieson can do a better job than the previous leader.
Or, well, maybe not...
It was fascinating to hear his take on the affair, the gist of which is as follows:
Jim Dyer started off by insisting that he takes no account of political motivation, if he receives a complaint then he must investigate it.
His remit, basically, was to investigate whether a breach of the code of conduct had taken place. Of course, he found that this had been the case.
Jim Dyer went on to say that he was "a bit frustrated" that his whole report is still not available to read. He would like to see the "full facts" that the committee used to make their decisions available to the public.
The inference is that the punishment handed out to Wendy Alexander may make much more sense if his full report was in the public eye.
The main argument against Wendy is that responsibility to meet the code of cinduct "lies with the individual member". The parliamentary clerks are available for advice but if a rule is broken, the buck stops with the relevant MSP.
Dyer confirmed that he didn't consider "mitigating factors". However, it should be noted that Wendy raised concern over the donations outside of the 30 day window that she had to register them.
So, swatting aside all the Labour and SNP punch-and-judy style interviews that we've seen, I think it's worth going back to the original, independent investigation that Dyer took charge of to understand how this all came about.
My own impression was, Dr Dyer wasn't the slightest bit surprised that Wendy felt she had to resign.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Mind you, there is a fair chance that noone wants the job. You don't buy stocks when the share price is falling after all...?
Friday, June 27, 2008
- "Labour had no hope whatsoever in winning in what is natural Conservative territory, party strategists will be alarmed at the dramatic collapse in its vote after it finished third in the last general election." It was of course the local elections where Labour recently finished 3rd (behind the Lib Dems as Stephen Glenn would be keen for me to point out!)
- "Labour candidate lost Richard McKenzie lost his deposit." This is the second sentence of the article and has a glaring extra "lost" in there.
- Only at the very bottom of the article does it actually mention the name of the Tory politician who won the seat.
- "Labour MP Martin Salter, who was put up to speak for the party after the count, said that they had been the victims of a classic third party "squeeze" although he admitted that he had not expected to do so badly." I wouldn't say Martin Salter has personally done badly. Poor choice of wording for this paragraph. Maybe 'he hadnot expected the Labour party to do so badly' would make more sense.
- "We have done very well in holding this seat with a majority as big as we have. I feel really confident now that the party is moving forward," he said. Not too sure what that comma is meant to do at the end of the quote.
- "the far right British National Party". I would have thought for their main story they could be a bit more impartial. (ok, i'm grasping at straws a bit with this one perhaps.)
So, embarrassing stuff for The Scotsman there I would have thought.
The sooner we get talented people in to work on education in this country the better off we'll all be I would think.
PS Yes, I must have checked this piece about ten times for errors myself. I think I'm in the clear but, well, I'm not a national newspaper so yah boo sucks to yooz all if ye check'd it fir any mishtakes.
- 5th in the Henley election (beaten by the BNP!?)
- Lost the deposit in the process
- Opinion polls are dropping through the floor
- Crazy legislation being passed
- Wendy Alexander (Gordon's golden girl) is the first serving leader in Britain to be suspended from Parliament
- Economy is falling apart
- Home bills are going through the roof
- the media is no longer listening to his message
It may well be that last point that proves his downfall in the short term, but in a funny way it could also serve as his saving grace in the longer term if he can scrape through the next six months.
For as long as the Tory party ride high in the polls for simply being "not Labour" there is always a chance that droves of voters can come back to the Labour party once people crystallise their thoughts about who is best placed to lead them. It's always fun to give the rulers a kicking in the mid-term.
I've never taken to David Cameron, I think if you scratch behind the gloss there's really not a whole lot there and, personally, I need a few core policies that I can cling on to before I will believe he and the Tories are right to lead Britain.
Of course there is no denying David has a golden opportunity and it's his to lose but with 2 years to the election maybe that long waiting game will ultimately prove to be his problem.
The media will tire of giving Brown a kicking every week and their focus will inevitably fall on David Cameron. A focus that I don't see sitting well with the Tory leader. I would go as far as to say that Cameron cracked under the pressure of the Tory leadership contest, visibly sweating and trembling in the face of tough questions and impressive displays from David Davis. (And look how mental he turned out to be!)
The full glare of the British media in his bid to be our next Prime Minister may ultimately prove too much for David Cameron who is still very wet behind the ears.
Gordon Brown is no Tony Blair, but I'm sure it won't be long before we know for certain that the young pretender, David Cameron, is even less suited to fill those shoes.
** Thanks to The Times for putting that fiery picture of Gordon in their paper today. Best cartoon I've seen in a long time.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The day that the ban from the Scottish Parliament is to occur is the Wednesday after the recess.
This just happens to be the same day that Alex Salmond will be giving a statement on the programme for the term ahead, so Wendy will be denied making a response on behalf of Labour.
What a bunch of children these MSPs can be sometimes.....
Sometimes it's best to quit when you're winning....
Will Alex Salmond make reference to Wendys' possible suspension from the chamber? (My choice of line would be: "I look forward to seeing some of you back here after the recess") . Or will this make him look smug? (perish the thought!)
Maybe Alex Salmond will focus his attention and aggression on Nicol Stephen again? Who can forget his frankly awesome "Merry Christmas" put-down of the Lib Dem leader back in December?
Needless to say though, it will be emotional and Thursday lunchtimes just won't be the same again…..
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
It was an awful job. 8pm to 8am shifts and rubbing shoulders with some nefarious punks from my old school that I'd have been happy not to have crossed swords with again. On the upside, the banter was top notch and for a 19 year old student I got paid awfully well.
There were also a few amusing memories:
The pitchfork lorry driver who raced around the factory at 3am, took a wrong turning and hit a 50ft tower of plastic bottles spraying them everywhere. I have never seen so much carnage from one traffic accident in my life. No bones were broken and the driver even kept his job.
A fellow worker (who was under the influence of something or other) excused himself with a slightly wild look in his eye. A few minutes later as we sleepily loaded empty bottles onto the conveyor belt we heard an announcement over the tannoy "THIS IS THE TERMINATOR! WORK HARDER DAMN YOU, COME ON! (*pause*) I'LL BE BACK."
Thinking back, I could go on with stories. And on. And on some more in a similar vein. But I won't.
Most of the time my own job was fairly unique.
The bottling factory was effectively one long conveyor belt where empty bottles were loaded, water was added and labelling then applied. The water was then packaged up and sent on to Asda or Tesco or whoever was placing orders at that time.
At one specific point in this prodcution line, there was a long stretch where bottles were carried overhead towards the labelling area. It was quite common for the bottles to get jammed at this point raising alarms that the production had stopped.
Character building, I'm sure you'll agree.
Thankfully the alarm was loud enough that I could get some sleep on some cardboard boxes for 15 minutes or so while the line worked smoothly and be woken once a jam occurred.
Well, it seems I wasn't the only one who was sleeping on the job in that very factory. I'm just glad my own snoozing didn't lead to the loss of £15m!
Richard is far too gentlemanly to name names. But I have precious few qualms in that regard...
Wendy Alexander was filming an interview for STV this week, this was under the gaze of her recently appointed spin doctor Simon Pia.
You may well remember Pia's name from the story in last weekend's Sunday Herald. He made some "disgraceful" comments regarding a Holyrood Standards investigation into Wendy Alexander's illegal donation from Jersey-based Paul Green. Such comments are generally held to be 'forbidden' while such investigations are live.
Well, Simon Pia has run into some argy-bargy with Tom Gordon (a journalist with The Times) who was listening into the interview Wendy was giving with STV.
I believe the gist of the disagreement was that Simon wanted Tom to go away as the interview was private. Tom's response that "it's for the TV for God's sake" apparently didn't cut the mustard with Pia.
Further to this, it seems Simon was interrupting so much during the interview that an annoyed Michael Crow (STV) turned the camera on Simon and said "Ok, you do the interview".
(*Note that this story has been confirmed by an STV journalist*)
The above is more evidence that Labour are not exactly being proactive in ingratiating themselves to the press. The disregard that Wendy's press team had for journalists at the 'eye of the storm' during the furore over Wendy's donations scandal was the beginning. It was clear that journalists would take their revenge elsewhere and Simon Pia and others may not be heeding the lesson.
Rumour has it that it is Labour's new 'Head of Communications' Andrew McFadyen that is the cause of this increased antagonisation of the media. Meddling in interviews and unnecessary complaints about press diary pieces etc. (Infact, I am led to believe that's the opinion of Tom Gordon himself.)
McFadyen was the lucky Newsnight journalist who received Alastair Campbell's accidental email that included a foul-mouthed tirade against journalists. Perhaps, in the face of a less-than-deferential Scottish media, Andrew is finding that life is a little bit harder on the other side of the divide than he had initially appreciated!
** Note also that the self-bestowed title of "Head of Communications and Broadcasting" is somewhat misleading for Andrew McFadyen as he is the only person in the department. Delusions of grandeur methinks!
Architect David Fisher
It could therefore be a very interesting Autumn indeed especially if Labour's reticence and hypocrisy continues.
I think Edward from Newbury (England) sums it up best in his comment to the Times article:
Labour want the Scottish Government to 'bring it on' regarding a referendum, but will drag their feet over a by election they know they will lose.
Even those down South can see what Scottish Labour are up to.
It's little wonder that the strength of support for the SNP has increased so much in the last month that it even affected the typically stagnant 'other' section of a recent YouGov UK poll.
So, full steam ahead to Motherwell & Wishaw for the good ship SNP!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Today we have the very welcome news that MPs on the Commons foreign affairs committee are suggesting that Jack McConnell should stand down as an MSP in preparation for his role as High Commissioner of Malawi (no, I didn't see it advertised in the Scotsman either. How strange…)
It's not that Jack is doing anything particularly wrong that has me so delighted, it's just that you can't beat a wee by-election to inject some life into Scottish Politics. Not that the SNP haven't turned political life on its head since May 2007 but still, every little bit helps.
As High Commissioner, Jack will be replacing the outgoing Richard Wildash who will be stepping down in January 2009. It's not entirely clear if these MPs are suggesting Jack relieves himself of his Holyrood duties prior to this month or during it but, either way, a by-election within 7 months sounds fine to me.
And what of the SNP's chances of trebling their slender advantage over Labour in the Holyrood chamber?
Well, the front page of my blog has the most recent Holyrood polling info at the top right hand corner and they show the SNP share has increased from 33% to 45% while the Labour share of the vote has decreased from 32% to 31%. This equates to a 36% increase and a 3% decrease respectively.
The result in Motherwell and Wishaw was as follows:
Jack McConnell (Labour) 12,574 votes (48.1%)
So we can use the movements in the polls to project what we can expect the by-election result to be if it was held today (albeit excluding a number of key factors. See later)
Labour Challenger 12,197 votes
This might look like a clear victory for Labour but let's remember:
Labour will probably have a less attractive candidate than ex-First Minister Jack McConnell.
Labour will also lose the 'chummy-factor' in going from a well-known MSP to a new face.
SNP will probably have a more attractive candidate than Marion Fellows.
Resentment at the UK Labour party could be fever pitch by January 2009 with Gordon Brown clinging on by his fingernails.
Tactical voting (you know you love it) could come into it with Tory and Lib Dem voters wanting to give Labour a bloody nose. (Equally, of course, they might have a penchant for the status quo and refuse to give Salmond a tubthumping victory.)
Campaigning on the ground would be fierce and it's reasonable to suggest that the SNP machine is stronger than Labours.
So, plenty of reasons to be cheerful for the Nationalists when this seat opens up for them. Thankfully, they have nothing to lose.
The real nightmare scenario would be if an SNP MSP had to relinquish their seat for whatever reason.
I have to admit, I was somewhat disappointed there was less chat in the Sunday papers about Tavish Scott and Nicol Stephen's abstention from the vote on changes to MSPs allowances.
Note that Tavish Scott would have been voting for or against the abolition of the payment of allowances to MSPs to meet mortgage interest payments.
With that in mind, let's look at Tavish's form so far:
2001/02 - Tavish Scott claims rent from the taxpayer while living in his sister's property.
2005 - Tavish Scott makes a £36,000 profit on a property largely purchased via the public purse.
2006 - Tavish Scott doubles his monthly claims to £1,000 to help pay for an Edinburgh property worth £380,000. The mortgage is for £265,000. Note that most MSPs use the Edinburgh Accommodation Allowance scheme to purchase properties worth £80,000 to £100,000.
And that brings us present. Though (of course) it doesn't stop there.
Either way, it all seems a bit unfortunate that as mortgage costs rise for the rest of us Tavish feels he needs us to pay for a £380k house in Morningside for him and his Mrs. It's little wonder that Tavish couldn't bring himself to vote on a bill that would bring an end to his highly profitable rise up the Edinburgh property ladder. Still, with changes to be implemented frm 2011, you only have 3 years left to milk us for all we're worth Tavish.
Still, it does make you wonder what skeletons Nicol Stephen has behind closed doors….
Monday, June 23, 2008
Certainly the above is true if you work the 9-5 rat race.
At that time, the pain of the weekend being over and the memory of having to face a Monday morning is still raw. The resentment at the next weekend being so far away in the future suppresses any desire to go out and do anything remotely interesting. And to compound this state of stagnation, to have a hangover of any kind on a Tuesday morning will sound the death knell for the remainder of the week, so having a few beers is off the cards too.
No, sad to say, Monday evenings are as boring as all get out.
So, an understandable tactic to inject a modicum of usefulness into such a depressing part of the week is to go to the gym, stick on the mp3 player and do a bit of exercise. This bit of time management leaves us free to party it up on Friday night. Or Thursday night which is apparently the new Friday night. (Personally, in the same way as black is the new black, I still have a penchant for Friday myself….)
Anyway, I digress, for this posting is chiefly concerned with going to the gym on a Monday night.
I am a member of the Edinburgh Council's Edinburgh Leisure gyms. For a bargain fee of £33 a month I can use any one of their sports centres which are liberally sprinkled across the city. The recently renovated Leith Victoria is the closest to home and I will be regularly 'pumping the guns' down that way, just incase there's anyone who wants a free show. (fans of Anchorman will be appreciating some of this chat, if not the blog photo itself.)
Well, anyway, this merry meander has served merely as an appetiser for my main point. At Edinburgh Leisure, much to my frustration, Monday nights are "Ladies Night".
Now, being a man (*cue Barry White backing music*), I have no real understanding of what 'Ladies Night' could possibly involve. Do the lycra-clad ladies put their handbags in the centre of the fitness studio and then work-out to "It's Raining Men"? Maybe it's the night when a gaggle of self-concious girls are safe to 'let it all hang out' on the treadmill free from the embarrassment of a boy's gaze? Or perhaps it's actually a ladies nudist group night and they all like to play volleyball and splashy-splashy in the pool together? Who is to know…!?
My point is, and this is where you the reader comes in to back me up or slap me down, do I have a right to join the long queue of silly complaints to the EU? Is there not some pan-European sexual discrimination law somewhere that states that if both sexes pay £33 a month to Edinburgh Leisure then both sexes should have equal access to the services available? Why is there no "Men's Night'? (Not that I'm requesting a naked game of splashy-splashy with some male company, just to be clear…)
But seriously, Monday night really is the ideal night to go to the gym and I (and all other men who are too cheap to join Bannatyne's) are being denied that right. Should I take this up with my councillor? My MP Mark Lazarowicz? Gordon Brown? Or should I go straight to the top of the EU and write a letter to Sepp Blatter? (Or whoever is in charge of that thing these days. It's not Tony Blair yet is it? No? Thank heavens for that.)
I do hope I don't have to make some sort of Daily Record style legal challenge. I think I can safely say the world would be a better place if it was spared a photo of me standing outside the EU in Strasbourg, staring glumly into the camera in white running vest, tight blue shorts, matching headband, wrist sweatbands and perhaps even limply holding a set of dumbbells in a neat parallel to the crushing weight of sexual inequality that is making a frustration of my Monday evening.
Yes, let the trumpets be sounded and the gloves comes off for I say saddle up Edinburgh Leisure, Sepp Blatter and European Union; me and my saggy pecs are getting the best lawyers we can find and coming after you….. It's time to set the Monday nights free for Edinburgh Leith men!
PS Ladies, if it is infact nudist splashy-splashy volleyball that goes on each Monday then I will be more than happy to accept an out-of-court settlement in being the referee. I can't promise to wear the tight blue shorts...
Ordinarily I wouldn't trust Brian Monteith as far as I could throw him. And what with his impressive girth and my rarely used gym membership, that wouldn't be very far.
But Brian raises some valid points in today's Times article, an article that chiefly focusses on the Tories deposing of theirs. Annabel Goldie, according to Brian, has had her time and she should either fall on her knitting needles or be rushed out of town by a young Tory turk.
Brian goes on to suggest 2 such turks that he would like to see kebab Annabel's tenure as the big Tory boss lady. These are: Murdo Fraser and Gavin Brown.
It says enough about my thoughts on Murdo that I'd prefer Gavin without even knowing that much about him.
My only concern with Mr Fraser isn't even his 'rabbit in the headlight' moments in 2006 and 2007 when he could have stepped up to the plate and competed for the Tory leadership but instead preferred to fall in line behind Annabel.
No, I have heard from a good friend who works at the Scottish Government that he's a nightmare at thinking on his feet. I personally often suffer from the same problem but thankfully I have no designs on being one of Scotland's leading politicians. And even fewerdesigns on being a Conservative.
During committee meetings, Murdo apparently has a tendency to remain rather quiet during the hullabaloo of contributing points into the debate. After the committee he then peppers civil servants with questions in a "this is what I should have said at the time" manner. Of course this is all based on the testimony of one friend but her points are enough for me to have reservations about how effective Murdo would be during FMQs, TV interviews and, crucially, during campaigning.
No, a world class debating champion like Gavin Brown is a much better bet I would think. And the unknown quantity he possesses is a definite plus too. Just look what it has done for fresh-faced David Cameron against Gordon Brown who we have known and grown tired of over the last 10 years. Could Gavin Brown do to Salmond what Cameron did to the other G Brown down South? I don't see why not. I'm getting excited about the idea of a new leader in Holyrood and a shot in the arm for the Tories already.
But despite this somewhat premature excitement, I don't see Annabel going anywhere just yet. And you always lose a lot of capital if you are seen to be knifing your leaders in the back.
Certainly no-one needs to remind Brian Monteith of that.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
what mistakes did scottish labour make in the 2007 scottish elections
I'm sorry, I don't have that kind of time on my hands....
My father likes to remind me from time to time that generations are increasingly being shaped by the TV characters that we grow up with. I, for example, am apparently part of the Friends generation as (as the song goes) "they were there for me" from the pilot (circa 1995) right up to the saturation of episodes on E4 in the present day. Personally speaking, if any of the cast were responsible in any way for me taking on a disastrous Ciao Café waiter job in 1997 then I'm going to hunt that Chandler down and give him what for.
Chandler may seem like an arbitrary choice but I'm reasonably confident that any of the other 5 could kick my ass. Yes, even Ross.
But, still, it got me thinking.
Who do we look up to now? In these secular, God-forsaken days who guides us to be better people? Who are our modern day heroes? Infact, when you mention heroes how many people would immediately think of that super-power caper on BBC 2? (Like so many TV shows these days, I missed it.)
Is the Queen a heroine? Gordon Brown a hero? What about Lewis Hamilton or Gordon Ramsay? Too arrogant to be heroes? Dame Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe run very fast. Should we look up to them as a result? They all certainly get asked more than their fair share of opinions on the events of the day. But column inches surely are not the measure of a man or woman. Otherwise Pete Doherty would be immortal by about now. Although with the amount of drugs funnelled through his system, perhaps he must be to still be able to stand let alone sing and jump around.
We do have potential heroes out there though but it is of course subjective. I'd sooner look up to Obama before Rhianna, Widdecombe before Winehouse, Milliband before Millhouse and Alastair Campbell before Naomi Campbell.
If the sales volumes of glossy magazines and tabloid rags are anything to go by, the great British public have plenty of heroes and heroines themselves although we are largely more of a low-brow TV generation than an intellectual and/or politics generation. (Noting of course that intellect and politics are not necessarily intertwined, but one would hope they at least are not mutually exclusive).
So with intellect and politics largely removed from the equation, is everything getting just a little bit too Hollywood these days? I even saw my 7 year-old nephew interrupt one of his friends to say (complete with hand gestures) "you're invading my personal space". But is this glossy and hero-free world such a big deal? Maybe the best way to celebrate being free and wealthy is to enjoy ourselves as much as possible. We are, after all, merely fellow passengers from the cradle to the grave so why not have a few laughs and entertain ourselves as much as possible along the way? Why should debating a European Treaty be more worthy than debating the winner of The Apprentice?
Can I stretch this idea far enough to suggest that we actually owe it to the repressed Zimbabweans, Iraqis and Chinese to enjoy our freedoms with some uproarious laughter at dumb American movies and getting fat on hamburgers?
Somehow it just doesn't sit right.
Perhaps the inevitable result of holding celebrities in high esteem and giving them such remarkable space to air their views is the incredible gaffes they are prone to come out with. Sharon Stone's brainless "karma" comment. Britney Spears belief that we "should trust our President and do whatever he tells us". I am sure the list of comments from TV, sport and film starts could go on and on.
So I hope we can agree that Tinseltown, Hollywood and the wacky world of celebrities has precious few genuine heroes and heroines lurking within.
Of course the classic hero is the soldier who dies in combat. They are certainly very brave and they do a job that I would not be selfless enough to do myself but I've always found the word 'hero' a bit misplaced. They are, after all, just doing their job and the occupational hazard of doing their job is grossed up to ketting killed when for taxi drivers it is merely denting their car or accountants getting ink on their tie. If a school dinner lady slips on some pasta and breaks her leg does she become a hero for getting injured in the line of duty?
I do not wish to take away from the awesome effort our armed forces put in and the sacrifices they make. But in the search for a hero, I must plod on.
And yet (particularly with lunch break almost over) why continue? Perhaps searching too exhaustively for a hero or heroine to follow negates one's reason to step up and be a leader themselves.
For as long as we are educated properly, respect others views and have the optimism and enthusiasm to be the change we wish to see in the world, we can all be heroes. And not just for one day.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I don't know why I rail against the idea of Scottish companies being sold to foreigners. In many ways the economies of scale and increased expertise should make for an improved service for the Scottish public and can more often than not provide greater job security rather than less.
However, for some reason it was a sad day when Scottish Power was taken under control by Iberdrola and, more recently, when Scottish & Newcastle fell under the wing of Heineken/Carlsberg.
But thankfully we still have some powerful Scottish companies to fly the flag on the international stage.
RBS of course are one of the world's biggest banks and sit proudly on the outskirts of Edinburgh in their awesome new Headquarters at Gogarburn. The London-based banks often like to sneer at the Scottish roots of RBS and their refusal to move HQ down South. It's no doubt that the RBS resistance to making such a move is safeguarding thousands of jobs for the vital financial sector in the Capital (including, for now, my own!).
Scotland also have First, the Aberdeen-based transport company, and ProStrakan, a pharmaceuticals company I once worked with who are now reaping the rewards of years of research and could well be on the verge of super-profits. The charge of their share price has been awesome to see, especially as it was touch and go if they were even a going concern a few years back.
But sadly, this rise in a share price has not been matched for all Scottish companies. Infact, it is the global powerhouse of RBS that has my nerves on edge.
Shares in RBS hit £7 as recently as February 2007 and today they sit at £2.30.
With the general acceptance that their Balance Sheet is particularly strong (especially on the back of their £14bn rights issue, the largest in history), and operations in suitably diversified global markets then you've got to think that a 67% off 'sale price' for a company as attractive as RBS is going to raise a few eyebrows.
Add to this the cash-rich Chinese and Indian markets where business is booming and the increasing weakness of the British pound and we have a recipe for a very aggressive, very unwelcome but very possible foreign takeover of Scotland's leading company.
History has shown time and again that the business world bounces back from setbacks. The Dow jones took only 2 years to recover from Black Monday and the banking industry is not even close to a collapse of the same magnitude here today. As long as a prospective buyer can satisfy itself that RBS won't implode like Northern Rock or Bear Stearns then they will reap tremendous rewards with a takeover of this fine bank.
And this has me concerned. Would a 'Royal Bank of China' sponsor the Edinburgh Festival so readily? Or Andy Murray? Or the 6 Nations? Or the Glasgow Jazz Festival? And getting back to core business. Can we allow the prospect of a company that makes £10bn a year slipping through our fingers to foreign control? And selfishly, will I be out of a job?
I wish it won't be so. It would be awful to see Gogarburn closed down and thousands of people out of a job. So I shall check the share price of RBS, crossing my fingers that it rises and hoping that the stock market jitters can calm their nerves. And my own.
Before I let loose with the sheer unbridled joy that is on its way I just want to clarify that I have no connections to any organic farming company whatsoever. Infact, I used to be scared of organic foods in supermarkets and their strange bumpy ways. Backing off hesitantly from those shelves if I got too close and only feeling safe once I was safely ensconsed in the Irn-Bru cabinet or somewhere near the garlic bread.
Anyway, the reason for my overwhelming glee is that I got my first Veggie Box from East Coast Organics yesterday and it was a bloody marvellous thing to behold. Like a wide-eyed wee boy on Christmas Day I picked through the mysterious brown bags to find carrots, onions, strange pea things, apples, pears, bananas, salad, red peppers, potatoes (lots of), garlic and beetroots. Beetroots for crying out loud! When the heck else am I going to find myself eating those?
And yet, there I was last night mixing the garlic and beets with some marjoram that I inexplicably had lurking at the back of the cupboards. (Gas Mark 8, 45 minutes) Jamie Oliver books have been brought back to life by thumbing down the index for 'peas' and wondering how I can go from there.
Yes, the veg is covered in mud a little bit more than your average Tesco (*spit*) but my top tip is to NOT PEEL veg after washing it but rather just to get one of those scrubby sponges and buff your carrot or parsnip clean. Keeps the flavour better that way (As housewifey as that sounds, I'm not too surprised I typed that as I've recently taken to wearing an apron. A manly apron of course, but still an apron nonetheless.)
Anyway, for £15 and a drastic decrease in the number of 'food miles' I can safely say I am a very contented buyer of these veggy (and fruit) boxes and I will be moving from the somewhat cautious 'pay as you go' scheme to the fully committed direct debit offering.
I hummed and hawed over getting one of these boxes for months, years even, and now I'm glad I am finally on board. In keeping with the recent "Buy Local" campaign and Alex Salmond's 'eating only Scottish produce for a week' experiment I believe I am taking steps towards a way in which we will all have to eat before too long. So although I do not beseech others to follow suit, I would at least suggest considering it...
PS You may also be wondering how a Scottish farm manages to grow bananas. Personally I have no idea but I can confirm they are significantly tastier than any Chiquita or Dole babies you'd see in your average store. And with substantially less food miles too (of course).
Reverie is a pub in Newington that is now serving food and, rather than take the difficult decisions on what to charge customers they have decided to let the diners decide.
A great idea and I plan on checking it out before too long.
I had to laugh at the first comment in the Edinburgh Evening News:
"Be full of jakeys within the week"
I just hope they've got that wrong!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
We can all get on board with celebrating hosting the Commonwealth Games or thinking more should be spent on Education or NHS. But sometimes it's best to be at loggerheads, roll the sleeves up and get stuck into a good old-fashioned political ruck.
So, to that end, God bless alcohol.
Yes, in an age where parties are falling over themselves to be the most 'radical' we can only conclude that the SNP will be one of the few who actually deserve that tag given their potential new policies on solving the problems associated with binge-drinking. Note, of course, that this is a pre-legislative consultation document. In other words, they are coming up with ideas and throwing things up flagpoles rather than nailing their colours to the mast on this.
But the gernal direction that they are taking on fighting binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour is highly commendable.
These policies are:
- Raise the limit for purcahsing alcohol in off-licenses to 21
- Reprice drinks to a minimum of 35p per unit of alcohol
- Have dedicated checkouts in some of the larger supermarkets
- Increase of financial support for alcohol prevention, treatment and support services
And let's remind ourselves of the unique list of problems that Scotland faces with regard to alcohol. This is taken from today's Scotsman's highly complimentary "Tough measures are what alcohol abuse requires" opinion piece:
"The annual cost of alcohol misuse in Scotland is estimated at £2.25bn, with alcohol related deaths more than doubling in the past decade. We also have one of the fastest-growing liver cirrhosis death rates in the world. Our casualty wards every weekend are full of victims of drunken assault. … It is also useful to remember that many previous campaigns, initiatives and task forces designed to combat alcohol abuse have failed to make an impact."
So it's fair to say that anything other than a full-on approach to tackling this problem from the SNP would have (quite rightly) been derided as being limp and ineffective.
The raising of the price of alcohol per unit, the inability to buy over the counter until you're 21 and the inconvenience of having to go for a separate checkout to buy alcohol are all prices worth paying to reverse the trends noted in The Scotsman above. A drastic decrease in neds hanging around street corners, random violence down and NHS pressures eased all sound good to me.
And what more proof do we need that it can be effective than looking to West Lothian where a six-week trial has seen unquestionable descreases in anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Yes, it's true that fake ID and getting "Chantelle's" big brother to buy you booze is a way around these new measures but the inconvenience will be enough to make a big dent in the problem. As we've seen with West Lothian of course.
Of course, the partisan political manouevring and hand-wringing has already begun but Scotland in general needs to think big on this one, a mindset that it has so miserably failed at for decades.
So yes, for a Government that's been accused of being populist and not being brave enough to take the difficult decisions, I think we can all agree that the SNP mean serious business when it comes to tackling one of Scotland's deepest, darkest ills.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Every year they appear, 2 months before the event itself, and I always wonder just who it is that gets all hot and bothered about it.
But still, in the midsts of Euro 2008, BBC Sport were still able to faithfully report that:
Ross County will start the season against Dundee
Excellent, I feel better already….
(Yes, another slow news day today)
Monday, June 16, 2008
Will qualify for the quarter-finals with a victory, but only if Poland do not beat Croatia with a bigger winning margin. If Poland and Austria both win, and finish level on goal difference, Poland will progress based on their Uefa country ranking.
So if they are able to beat Germany and match Poland then they will still get kicked out the tournament just because they're lower down the rankings and shouldn't be getting ideas above their station?
Bah, very unfair if you ask me.
I was going to watch this game as an independent observer but I think I'll be learning the Austrian national anthem on the bus home.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I can see why it is tempting to batter on, despite the Irish No vote, but it does feel a little like delusion to me. Like the driver who has a horrific, unexpected car crash but still somehow gets out the car and tries to walk to his/her destination when, really, sitting down and just calling an ambulance is a much better bet.
Ireland's No vote makes a mockery of the Labour suggestion that we, the British public, back this Treaty ourselves. Perhaps we would if Brown was brave enough to put it to a referendum. Past form dictates that there is no chance of that happening.
So David Milliband sums up what is next:
"I believe it is right that we continue with our process and take up the Irish offer of further discussions about the next steps forward."
David's saucer eyes and distant gaze tells us all about the recent car crash he has just seen.
No doubt the grand plan will be for all the other 26 countries to ratify the Treaty (not one country putting it to the people I hasten to add). From there, Ireland will be huckled into having another referendum in the hope that her people will vote the 'correct' way this time. Personally, I doubt that the Irish will enjoy being treated in such a shabby manner, being bullied into constant referendums in order to keep the EU party going.
So yes, it's car crashes all round, watching through fingers as we cringe at the behaviour of our European masters.
However, there may be a car closer to home that's getting pulled into the melee.
A regular charge against the SNP's quest for indepdendence is: Will they have referendum after referendum until they get the 'correct' answer that they want?
Alex Salmond denies this is the case but, well, these past few days and the lamentable behaviour of our EU leaders suggests that such suspicion of the Nationalists may well increase...
Friday, June 13, 2008
Sir Alan Langlands FRSE, Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of
Alastair MacNish OBE, former chair of the Accounts Commission and former
Chief Executive of South Lanarkshire Council
Isobel Sharp, President of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
and a partner in Deloitte & Touche LLP
Rt Hon. The Lord Selkirk of Douglas, a Member of the House of Lords,
former UK Government Minister, and former Member of the Scottish
Tom McCabe, a Member of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish
Parliamentary Corporate Body
Looking at the first 3 names there, that is a quite formidable trio. A president of ICAS, a Chancellor of a University, a partner in a Big 4 Accountancy firm and a former chair of the Accounts Commission.
Make no mistake, these are business, finance and/or intellectual heavyweights. They are well placed to arrive at the most suitable recommendations.
So to see their findings reduced to Holyrood squabbling drawn across political lines is embarrassing and wasteful. Not to mention that the squabblers are largely party hacks and ex-councillors. To assume they know better than the President of ICAS and partners of Big 4 Accountancy firms is quite breathtaking in its arrogance.
SNP/Lib Dem/Tory/Margo/Green MSPs are largely drawn from the lists so of course they want the staffing costs spread out evenly across the 129 members.
Labour win most of their MSPs from First Past the Post constituencies so of course they would like to see payments skewed in their favour.
The first group outnumber the second group and, so, the findings of the independent review were voted down. Democracy in action.
The image I have in my head is the Presiding Officer pouring £1m into the middle of the room and everyone scrabbling around to see who can get the most cash.
It's highly unfortunate that the chamber didn't decide to accept some of the findings of the independent review, especially as I believe it has the made correct decisions, specifically with regard to separate staffing costs for constituency MSPs and list MSPs.
To avoid any doubt, here are the two relevant quoted recommendations from Alan Langlands' Independent Review of Parliamentary Allowances:
Recommendation 21. The maximum staff salary provision available for
constituency Members to meet staff costs should be £62,000.
Recommendation 22. The maximum staff salary provision available for
regional Members to meet staff costs should be £45,000.
The non-Labour MSPs, who are all less qualified to make an informed decision, have disagreed.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
And it's tantamount to my increasingly high level of interest in Politics that I'm not referring to the half-day I have today nor the mouthwatering Portugal vs Czech showdown nor even the potentially explosive Apprentice final. No, I refer merely to the incredibly tight vote on the new terror laws. The "aye" and "no" camps should be very evenly matched indeed.
I have already given my opinion on 42 days. An opinion which attracted some very welcome criticism, criticism which is shared not only between left-of-centre bloggers but with the finest legal minds in the country. This, however, is only part of the bill.
I will therefore stagger on relentlessly into the other minefield that will be voted on this evening.
I believe tonight's bill includes changes to the way intercept evidence (phone tapping) can be used in courts, documents can be taken during police searches and the greater use of DNA samples, including the ability to take fingerprints/DNA after a control order, this incudes instances when a crime has not been committed by an individual but one is suspected in the future.
Personally, the above is so uncontroversial in my eyes that I wonder why I'm even writing about it. I can see perfectly clearly how holding DNA and fingerprints will help to identify criminals in the future and the more they hold of potential criminals then the easier their job will be and the safer we will be. No problem right?
Well, I guess many people are concerned that the new powers will be used in the wrong way. Fred Barboo is already fearful that someone is going to be snooping on his bins. Personally, the trash I throw out is fairly unremarkable but if Fred has a reason to be twitchy then that's his business.
The common complaint is that the UK is becoming like 1984, a constantly monitored society and we don't know where information relevant to us is going, who is accessing it, what murky, macchiavellian plans are being hatched with our dental records and the ties we choose to buy. This is fair enough to a certain extent but to be honest, I just don't care. I would imagine the only downside would be targetted marketing and a few more envelopes through my front door each month. Big deal. It's a small price to pay if this happens to stop someone ramming a helicopter into Canary Wharf.
Big Brother is Watching You? Well, if all we're doing is watching Big Brother, The Apprentice or Euro 2008, then the only real question worth asking is: Are they wasting their time?
But I would have been very unhappy indeed if Scottish bank notes had been replaced with English ones. Sorry, 'British' ones.
So good to see that they will be with us for the foreseeable future, unless Scotland goes Euro in a few years of course but I could live with that. The means would justify the end…
Also, I can't help but think that Gordon Brown missed a bit of a trick. He could have tied Scottish currency to the British way back in 1997 when he handed the interest rate powers to the Bank of England.
It wouldn't have raised too much alarm at the time but would have been a very subtle way to make Scots feel more British. But the SNP wouldn't let them get away with it these days. The banks themselves seemed passionately against the move too which always helps.
So yes, the days of English check-out staff looking suspiciously at an RBS fiver and shouting to their boss "Do we take foreign currency?" will stay with us for many more years yet.
And that is as it should be...
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I like nothing better than wandering around the Castle St Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning and hearing a ruddy-faced farmer go on about what a marvellous harvest of beets he's just had. I struggle to walk past a restaurant without browsing through the doorstep menu to check out their John Dory's and Crème Brulees. I eschew live football on tv in favour of doing battle with pumpkin risottos and grilled hake (though I do go rushing through if there's a goal, I'm not a total woman.)
So yes, given this somewhat smug but cholesterol-light take on sustenance it was with jaw-dropping horror that I read about the existence of the Munchy Box.
And you thought the deep-fried mars bar was bad!?
The only other person I showed this too reacted brightly, and with nostalgia, saying "Oh yeah, I've had one of those".
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the 80/20 diet. Eat right 80% of the time and stuff your face with delicacies (or crap) 20% of the time but even having one of these boxes means you'll be on cucumber and salad for a year or two to make up your '80' part of the deal.
And what would your typical Spaniard, Italian or, dare I say it, French person make of it? They would laugh. And yet, so do we.
We take pride in a diet of Scotch Pies, chips, kebabs and Vimto. We go for microwave meals and take-out food to celebrate how busy our lives have become, ignoring the fact that this hectic lifestyle typically involves a few hours in front of the TV. Need I remind readers that the national shame that is Big Brother has just started? How many healthy dinners will be passed over in favour of watching the latest confessions in the Diary Room? Eastenders, Coronation St and many, many others are just as culpable.
Meanwhile, of course, our immovable health service creaks and groans under the unstoppable force of a fat, and fattening, nation. What makes us British Gordon? A few pints too many, a sausage supper on the way home and a heart attack before your kids are out of High School. Keep that in mind next time you're draping yourself in another Union Jack to woo Middle England.
So, and maybe this has been done already, but while Labour are taxing smokers, whisky drinkers, wine guzzlers, car drivers and frequent flyers, why don't we throw the fat b*stards in the mix too?
A super-size tax on hamburgers and kebabs and then maybe we can start replacing munchy-boxes with six-packs?
Anyway, enough of this, my nut roast and carrots are getting cold.