Monday, March 30, 2009
First off I need to say two things:
1. I am swedish.
2. I am not into politics.
So if I’m not into politics why did I choose to post this? Well it is simple. I have something to say about the debate on forcing women on people when they do not want them there.
Or maybe I’ve just had enough of this debate pulling Jeff away from the stove. What can I say, when I ’m hungry I get cranky and when I’m cranky I write.
The reason for this post to appear tonight is because of Kez’s guest post. But before getting too deep into this I just want to make it clear that I do not agree with Jeff’s “all women shortlists are not good housekeeping” (especially the title I might add).
But I’ve been surrounded by this topic for many years in Sweden and I don’t think all the debating or quoting actually got us women anywhere there and I do not believe it is the way forward here either.
The problem is very simple. You can never give power to anyone. They have to take it. If it is given it is still the giver that possesses it and the one that controls it. Women cannot and most of all should not be dependent on men to give them power.
We should take it. Take it in a way so that no one can say that we don’t deserve it or we didn’t earn it. Because let’s face it, we do deserve it, we do earn it and we do not need anyone to give it to us as if we were small children with our hand stretched out hoping for candy.
It is just like Susan Dalgety wrote “the electors CHOSE women candidates over men”. That is the key here. They CHOSE them and since it was a free choice no one will ever question their right to be there. But there has to be a choice.
Susan also meant that men holding the political power led us to the Holocaust, the cold war, the collapse of the world’s financial system and the deepest recession for decades. Ok, so fair enough. It is looking pretty grim out there but my question to you Susan is this:
Where were the women during all of this?
It is easy to play the blame game put we have to take responsibility too. The quiet bystander is just as guilty as the bully. If you think someone is doing something wrong – speak up!
I think it is time for the bickering and accusations between men and women (especially the bloggers) to end. And maybe this is a crazy idea but couldn’t we maybe work together?
PS. If anyone reads Good Housekeeping in this home it is definitely not me.
The New Statesman's blog roundup, the Telegraph's blog section and Slugger O'Toole's regrettably sensible conclusion that Scotland faces a long hard squeeze.
It's on that last point that I myself am squeezing in 15 minutes of blogging action to lament the passing of Dunfermline Building Society. It is a very sad situation, particularly given the history and the apparently poor conduct on the part of the Treasury who did not engage with the troubled building society until they deemed it to be far too late.
Of course, when the Chairman himself (Jim Faulds) is flatly contradicting the Chancellor that the society could be a going concern with the SNP's £20m, that it doesn't have any sub prime debt exposure and that KPMG had decided in an independent audit that no takeover of the building society was necessary, then one can only be concerned. Discussions between the Government and Dunfermline should have been such that they were both singing from the same hymn sheet having hammered out a deal long before now. The Treasury, quite simply, dropped the ball.
The quick sale to Nationwide, although a welcome safe haven of capital and a safeguarder of jobs, seems rather shabby and the suggestion from Jim Faulds that it is the result of political retribution seems to have some weight to it given the doors were opened to the SNP injecting the money required to save the institution and keep it independent.
But the overall picture in Scotland is gloomy, there is no doubt about that. Once the dust from the HBOS, RBS, SWIP and Dunfermline debacles settles, we will have to cross our fingers and hold our thumbs that Edinburgh is anywhere close to the 5th strongest financial centre in all of Europe as it was a mere few years ago.
With the classic Scottish traits of stoicism, prudence, pragmatism and hard work, not to mention a healthy dose of gallows humour, I suspect our banking sector will emerge stronger and fairer in the not too distant future.
For some of the trips which amount to a mere several miles, Barack will be travelling by helicopter with a further two making the trip so as to confuse any onlooking terrorists as to which one the President is riding in.
I understand there are genuine security concerns and President Obama is hardly going to catch a ride on the Jubilee Line but one would think he could have found a more environmentally friendly way to commute across the city.
The whole world is watching and will be thinking why should we bother with global warming and cutting down carbon emissions if the President of the USA seemingly isn't.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The tickets are available via The Sunday Times and there's a trailer for the film available here.
So if you are interested, come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off.
Scotland's biggest local authorities are to use millions of pounds of public money to offer mortgages to people who have been turned down by banks.
Councillors believe the mortgage deals, offering borrowers three times their annual salary, will help hundreds of first-time buyers onto the property ladder and boost economic activity in their areas.
This is not a party political issue. The approach is due to be taken by councils in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow and it is simply madness.
The world's best banks tried this generous lending approach with NINJA mortgages and it ended in utter disaster. Our councils do not have the resources or the knowledge to do this successfully, regardless of how good an idea it may seem at this juncture.
Let's remember that interest rates are going to skyrocket once we get through the worst of the recession and the most vulnerable homeowners at that stage would be these people that are being targetted by the councils.
So, on the 3rd weekend in a row that I've taken the recycling out to find the plastics/cardboard bin is still full, I would urge the council leaders to stick to the core activities that they are paid to do and not go speculating in markets that even the best economists can't reliably predict.
And if there's any money left over, I'll take a tax cut please rather than throwing money at people that the private sector won't touch with a bargepole.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
A new candidate never tends to poll as well as an incumbent even if Adam Ingram has been embroiled in an 'outside earnings' issue.
No doubt another All Women Shortlist's stooshie will be on the cards for the Labour party in this constituency which will only assist the SNP's chances further.
Douglas Edwards stood for the SNP in 2005 but I have been unable to find if this will be the case for 2010.
Either way, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow has become one to watch while the general election preparations get underway.
I am not of the opinion that the singer put on 'SNP' performances but rather 'Scottish Parliament' performances and that same Parliament has had bands like Idlewild, Garbage, The Delgados, Nicola Benedetti and Eddi Reader play for it on various occasions.
Do you think costs for these gigs ran to the tens of thousands? Do you think anyone minded? Why were there no problems for Labour in covering a band's expenses during 1999 to 2007?
Labour MP John Robertson is the unfortunate MP wheeled out to comment on this one and according to John the situation "stinks".
Personally I think the story only has a whiff of the desperate about it and if this is the best Labour can do in trying to capitalise on the public mood surrounding Goodwin's pension, McNulty's expenses and Griffiths' sleaze then one can only conclude that the SNP are squeaky clean.
Friday, March 27, 2009
This could be stating the obvious but there's a current anomaly being played by many big name retailers, perhaps even unknowingly. Many stores now pass on the VAT rate cut as a 2.5% 'sale' on all items. That would make sense to many. VAT has gone from 17.5% to 15% so just take off 2.5% to get a fair deal? Well, no.
Let's take a product with a price of £100 excluding VAT.
VAT at 17.5% would take the old purchase price up to £117.50.
Now, as a shopper, you are asked to take off 2.5% to get down to VAT of 15%.
Well, taking 2.5% from £117.50 would leave you with an actual purchase price of £114.56, a little bit lower than the £115 we should be paying with the VAT rate at 15%.
So don't let anyone tell you Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown haven't helped us out during this recession!
Enjoy the weekend and good luck to Scotland!
(On that note, does anyone know if Earth Hour, the switching off of electricity scheduled for 8:30pm tomorrow night, is expected to hit the pubs? I quite fancy catching the second half of the football on something other than a solar-powered radio...)
But in reality, I'm with Two Doctors on this one, it's a "classic distraction" from Labour MPs and the heavy news coverage should only serve to make us worry even more about the bad news that is no doubt being buried.
For that reason, I thought Cameron Rose's take on the subject was excellently put, particularly as he linked the over-the-top coverage with the lack of MSM exposure of the much more relevant Daniel Hannan speech.
I thought it was also interesting to compare and contrast said post with the more one-dimensional approach of stating the obvious while still making out like one has opted for the more difficult option.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Conservatives - 41% (-)
Labour - 31% (-)
Lib Dems - 17% (+2)
It seems the biggest splash will be in relation to public spending. The Telegraph has more but for now I'm off out for dinner.
I was dumbfounded, so much so that my agency point-man and I indulged in a little 'that's scandalous' chat like a pair of old biddies talking about the trams or Fred Goodwin's pension.
Needless to say, the job was in the public sector.
A quick calculation in my mind worked out that I could have retired at the age of 60 on £40k a year (easy) and probably live off that for my remaining 25 years (going by projected life expectancy rates and my (ahem) healthy lifestyle).
This generous public sector pension culture needs to stop. There is absolutely no way that my pension contributions between now and when I retire would have come anywhere close to what I would be paid once I'm a senior citizen playing golf and drinking whisky for lunch.
As a country we are in debt up to our eyeballs, we are struggling to raise fresh capital, we're bailing out businesses left, right and centre and on top of this we have public sector pension obligations of some £1,000bn sitting like a ticking timebomb on the Government's books.
Add to this the fact that Labour are terrified of harming their core support by slashing public pensions and the Tories are just as unlikely to touch them going by how twitchy they are over something as insignificant as inheritance tax then we are screwed and hurtling towards bankruptcy at a frightening speed.
I'm almost afraid to pick up the book 'Rotten State of Britain' from the Adam Smith Institute let alone read it but I fear it could be necessary reading for everyone.
PS I didn't take the job.
We have a face to a blog and although that's not harmed the likes of Iain Dale I just wonder if the sheen has been taken off order-order.com. Indeed, there is a slight whiff of the sheepish about Guido's latest post. "Time to get back to the real business of the blog" is not the all-conquering war cry that Mr Staines might have been hoping for after today.
So it will be interesting to see the website's Stat Porn for the end of this month and next months to see if 'Battle of the Bloggers' backfired in reality.
Anyway, from me, a rather sheepish 'no more Guido vs Draper' chat of my own. Otherwise Stephen will give me into trouble again...
The basic charge is as follows:
What Jeff appears to be arguing here is that a democratic system is one in which a candidate is elected not as an individual but as a party representative (or lobby fodder, to put it more brutally). But isn't that exactly the objection to the d'Hondt system that Jeff so detests? That candidates 'rejected' by the voters can still be elected as part of a party bloc?
I reckon I'm a fairly consistent person, dare I say 'a pretty straight kind of guy', so I was irked to find that I might be contradicting myself although very much welcoming the debate from James. If nothing else, it helps me wriggle free from the messy topic of All Women Shortlists!
I do have concerns over the d'Hondt system, that I cannot deny but I am yet to decide if it is the least worst option and, although not perfect, still the most suitable option for Scotland at this time. It's certainly a common electoral system around the world.
I've noted my concerns before.
- The ease with which someone could trick the system into commanding a huge unwarranted majority via a proxy like-minded political party.
- The opportunity for a person to buy their way into Holyrood thanks to generally low membership of political parties.
- The prospect of having MSPs who are relatively unknown to the electorate, roundly rejected in FPTP constituencies, still making their way into the Parliament via the backdoor regional vote.
- The situation where a member of a party can become an MSP despite being as far down their party list as 8th (and who knows how much further down or higher up they may have been if the list wasn't zipped)
But can't these concerns sit snugly with a displeasure at councillors switching parties on a whim? I think they can.
The fundamental principle comes down to integrity. Who voted for you, why did they vote for you and what have you promised them you would do?
Tony McNulty was not voted in to rack up claims on second homes, Derek Conway was not voted in to smuggle funds to his student kids and John Letford was not voted in on a Labour mandate for him to change his mind halfway through.
James is correct that people vote for individuals, even if it is on our first Holyrood vote, our second Holyrood vote or our council vote. The onus is on us as voters to look into the party lists and learn about the potential candidates before deciding who we vote for.
But a party politician's mandate stretches much farther than a one-to-one relationship with each of his voters. He or she is voted in as an individual but most politicians are also voted in as a party member and with that comes an implicit understanding that a person will strive to represent a party as best as they can for the entirety of their tenure until the next elections come around.
Councillors, MSPs and MPS have a duty in their roles as individuals and as representatives of a party. It's not one or the other so I'm certain that my objections to the d'Hondt system and my objection to politicians undemocratically switching parties are two sides of the same coin.
I wonder if the rate of blog retirements will go through the roof after this is over...
I do like Guido's subtle 'Berkeley' t-shirt as a dig at Derek Draper's qualifications but Draper is winning just now. It looks a bit silly to mock the leader of Labour List for having Labour Ministers writing articles on their website.
But at high noon, there is a dilemma afoot. First Minister's Questions will be on at the same time as the much-hyped Derek Draper vs Guido Fawkes face-off on Daily Politics.
Even though it could prove to be a damp squib, particularly given that some topics are banned from discussion, I think the latter has to win.
I get the impression Guido will hold his own and Derek will be a car crash of erratic nervous energy. I'll be sure to pen my thoughts this afternoon if I get a chance but if you're stuck to pick sides at this stage, I will leave you with this jaw-dropping old-fashioned attitude:
"When asked to do domestic chores by our wives, we Draper men retort: 'What's the point of having a dog if you have to bark yourself?"
Isn't this guy meant to be an expert in PR?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Appointment TV is back, the only guilty reality show worth watching and it's on now.
UPDATE: Debra Barr is going to win this. Hands down.
UPDATE 2: Quote of the episode: "I had a calculator". For that reason alone, Anita Shah had to go.
UPDATE 3: Politics will return tomorrow. Maybe.
"I am delighted that Councillor Black has chosen to join the Labour group. Her experience in the area of equalities will be invaluable to our administration and I am certain she will make a valuable contribution to our work in this area. "
When John Letford (more or less) defects to the SNP, Jim McGovern (Labour MP) says the following:
"If Mr Letford wishes to be reminded of what principles actually are, he need look no further than his former colleagues in the City Council Labour group,"
I've already blasted John Letford for his decision not to stand for a by-election, as I did Ruth Black back in 2007.
Consistency is pretty easy actually, someone should mention that to the Labour party when they harangue their own members for defecting and cheer new recruits who leave other parties to join them.
HBOS also attempted a rights issue of some £4bn. It was rebuffed by over 90% of the shareholders, the bank crumbled and was taken over by Lloyds in a disastrous deal.
Similar to a rights issue, the Government is looking for fresh external funding by selling £1.75bn of 4.25% gilts. However, as reported by the FT, there was insufficient demand from foreign investors, no doubt as a result of a combination of factors:
Britain being worst placed of all G20 nations to weather the recession, the Governor of the Bank of England voicing fears that the Government is borrowing too much money and the nationalising of some of our biggest banks weighing down the country's Balance Sheet are a mere three.
Britain needs to raise £180bn this year to stay solvent. If we can't raise a paltry £1.75bn on the ultra-safe gilt markets then it is time to start worrying.
British banks struggling to raise capital was the beginning of their end, is this failed gilt auction the beginning of Britain going bankrupt?
And, as a further thought, this is further evidence that the SNP need to leave its independence aims alone just now. It also needs to swallow any spending cuts that are ordered from London and be a British team player for the next 2 years. The less people Gordon Brown can point to to pass his blame over to the better. The SNP is perfectly entitled to bring referendum plans to the Parliament later this year as stated in its manifesto even if it is clear that this will be rejected.
When the recession is finally over though, if we have enough money left to get through it, the anger over how reckless and complacent the UK Government has been could very easily be enough for the SNP to sail to an independence referendum victory in the 2011-2015 term.
Brilliant. Some teenagers slam doors in protest, others go out and get drunk. So kudos to this kid who had a strop, dare I say it, big willy style.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
No doubt this will lead to some hysterical reactions from opposition parties about u-turns and such like.
For me, I welcome the move, not just because it is the right thing to do but when you have so few policies left to discuss then it's probably a good idea to milk them for as long as you can before the next election a full two years hence.
This is not to mention the fact that the public are strongly behind the SNP on this one, it's splitting the Lib Dems and Labour down the middle and England look likely to follow Scotland's lead (even if some who are 'normally sensible' are not so happy with that prospect) .
It is certainly an interesting scenario with the election to be held 4 days (UPDATE: and a month) prior to the Euro Elections and the ward being in the new bellweather constituency of Stirling, held by Bruce Crawford of the SNP at Scottish Parliament level and by Anne McGuire of Labour at Westminster level. (UPDATE: Some of the ward is actually in Ochil but only up until the boundary changes kick in)
For the Bannockburn council ward, the SNP sneaked in ahead of Labour in the 2007 election by Alasdair MacPherson's 1,469 first preference votes to Margaret Brisley's 1,376. Labour fielded 2 candidates (Gerard O'Brien winning the 3rd and final ward position) so the ward is really Labour's to lose.
However, it is Mr O'Brien who is stepping down as councillor after being disqualified for repeatedly breaching the Councillors Code of Conduct. Consequently, this may harm the Labour vote and it could be all to play for.
The SNP control the local council with the breakdown of councillors as 7 SNP, 7 Labour, 4 Conservative and 3 Lib Dems.
With Mel Gibson and Robert the Bruce looking down on them, the voters of Bannockburn have a medium-sized decision on their hands in the next month.
EDIT: With thanks to the person closer to the front line who got in touch to point out my glaring errors.
Monday, March 23, 2009
So it is with some regret that I read the 'news' regarding Mark Hirst, a press officer for Christine Grahame at the Scottish Parliament and a compiler for the Scots Independent newspaper. It seems Mark has gone too far with comments regarding Northern Ireland and the peace process leading to the Press Association reporting that the SNP aide has been "slammed" for what he has said. Slammed, yes, sounds painful doesn't it?
I read the piece in full and although I don't necessarily agree with all of it I can certainly follow the logic of the theory. Crucially, I would not have read it and thought to myself 'Yep, this'll result in a slamming for sure and have the Press Assocation scribbling away in earnest'.
I don't know what the readership of Scots Independent is but I hope it is high enough to absorb an apparent blow like this. It's certainly a shame that the only time I've ventured its way is as a result of one of its compilers getting taken to task over a fairly uncontroversial article, an article that's arguably only marginally more shocking than anything else that can be read around the Scottish and UK blogosphere.
So the quandary that I am left with is this: Given the immediacy with which blog pieces are written, one must always watch one's step without really knowing what exactly is a step too far.
One could even say it's not worth the effort?
I am with the 75% of people in Scotland who believe that people should have the right to choose when they die. I have faith in the motives of a person's family and I have faith in the Hippocratic Oath as taken by doctors and consequently I have confidence that any assisted suicide legislation would have the appropriate safeguards in place and be used for the right reasons.
I appreciate there are moral and religious considerations that would lead to strong reservations from some members of the public but as long as that remains in the minority, there should be no reason why this End of Life Bill shouldn't eventually carry with cross party support.
I hope Margo gets the backing of 18 other MSPs to bring her Bill before Parliament and I hope an open and honest debate, as well as a free vote, will follow that.
But I agree with Iain Dale, this should be put down as a very minor gaffe and we should move on and I am of course being very generous in suggesting that Gordon Brown could get a 3rd bounce off the back of minor inconsistencies in the Tory party ranks.
With so little news around though, it is understandable that the insatiable British media has picked up on Ken Clarke's comments and ran with them.
In terms of the inheritance tax rules themselves I believe I am right in thinking that, regardless of whether the cut-off is £1m or £5ook, the Government money received from this income stream is rather paltry so the discussion mainly boils down to one of symbolism.
With that in mind, and not just because of these difficult financial times, I would be happy to see the Tories drop this pledge of raising the inheritance tax to £1m as it sends the wrong signal to the public as a whole and I have more of a socialist approach in wishing to see people earn their keep rather than have it fall into their lap.
However, looking at the big picture, I strongly suspect that the Tories are offering this policy up as a cheap sweetener in advance of taxing the richest people at 45% (or even more) after 2010. And if that is the ultimate aim for Cameron and Clarke then they are at least on the right track.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Nigel Griffiths probably wouldn't have held onto Edinburgh South even if today's story regarding his alleged affair hadn't been released but the News of the World has properly done the Labour MP over today and scuppered any chances he ever had. A combination of factors including a national flatline in the polls and an unpopular local council will do it for the Lib Dems and the SNP have never been in striking distance in this constituency. The Tories have Edinburgh South in the bag.
At this moment though, this is unfortunate. I firmly believe in the logic of innocent until proven guilty and as the story stands I have some sympathy for Nigel Griffiths. Photos of a scantily clad lady (probably given to the newspaper herself) coupled with strong denials from the MP in question does not add up to cast-iron proof of anything in my book, other than that there's one more person in the world who'd sell anything for a five figure sum. (The rumour of a further photo with Nigel Griffiths in the frame is damning of course.)
My strongest reaction to this story is rather more introspective.
Whether the Griffiths 'romp' is true or not, these scandals are becoming all too common and I can't help but worry, as I cling on to the last months of my 20s, what lies in wait when men enter the autumn of their lives? Is it really possible to stay with one person forever without ultimately ruining it all? Politicians of all parties have had their affairs splashed across the tabloids over the years and perhaps they're just the sloppy ones that get caught.
Mid-life crises, hormones, temptations, attractive younger colleagues all combining in a heady cocktail that begins to weigh favourably against a monotonous home life of unruly children, a long lost sex life and a desperate desire to feel those flames of passion just one more time.
This is not to stoop even lower into the psyche of other middle aged men contemplating the awful possibility of getting immersed in assaults on women or child paedophilia.
Yes, as wonderful as I feel about life now in my 20s, I can't help but accept that across the board something seems to go seriously awry for men when they hit their 40s and 50s. If you read the tabloids every day and face the seemingly never ending line of men who weakly give in to their base urges then you would have to conclude that the prospect of a lifetime of domestic harmony is remote.
Thankfully, not only do I not read tabloids but there are role models out there if you can look beyond the screaming headlines regarding men that mercifully, hopefully make up a lamentable minority.
There were men like Paul Newman who we can look to who lived his own philosophy. A faithful husband, a tireless champion of charities and a thoroughly decent man, Newman had a mantra that men can aim for to ensure they never have to lower themselves by cheating on their spouse: 'Why go out for a hamburger when you can have steak at home?'
research reveals a host of (public sector) superfluous posts, leading to calls for local authority spending cuts
We all know the public sector in Scotland is ridiculously flabby, we all know that jobs should be scythed left, right and centre which perhaps explains why there was a grudging grumble over Purcell's £7/hr NMW despite it being an admirable aim.
(With thanks to Malc in the Burgh) I learned recently that Scotland has the third biggest public sector in the world, behind Cuba and Iraq. Yes, Cuba, Iraq and Scotland. Makes you proud hey?
But a Government doesn't always do the right thing and doesn't sack anger management instructors (£22k/yr), street mediators (£17k/yr) and befriending co-ordinators (£30k/yr) when they are quite clearly a waste of taxpayers money.
A cull of the public sector would, presumably, be followed by electoral defeat for the party who brought it forward so what are we supposed to do?
I guess we could use the 'cheerleader development officers' to take our minds off it.
Iain spoke of the "respect we have for young Lewis (Doig)", an apprentice apparently facing redundancy while the truth of the matter was that the youngster was five days into a full time position with the company he had been training with for the past 3 years. Remarkably poor research and errors of judgement from Team Gray.
Not only that, according to the Sunday Herald, Lewis is something of a 'youtube celebrity' with some foulmouthed tirades and some drunk shenanigans.
"Let me get up, I'm gonna kick **** out ye" he shouts in one clip.
Ah yes, the respect we have for young Lewis.
The only question I have left is, did Lewis Doig ask for any of this? Was he asked by Iain Gray and/or Labour to be the subject of FMQs leading to having this embarrassing past dragged through the Sunday media?
After my prediction that John Mason wouldn't hold on to Glasgow East in 2010 it was alleged that my comments would make it onto Labour election propaganda documents. I didn't think so and yet in the space of only one week they have. Labour's weekly newsletter, the Scotland on Sunday, has it.
BEST OF THE BLOGS
So, Margaret Curran has been unanimously chosen to fight the Glasgow East constituency in the next UK election. Good luck to her of course though I don't think she'll need it as, despite John Mason's heroics in last year's by-election, this seat should go back to Labour if national trends are anything to go by.SNP Tactical Voting, http://snptacticalvoting.blogspot.com
Thankfully, since then, I have had more reasons to be cheerful with regard this constiuency and the SNP MP.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Good Housekeeping was top of the list. Elle, Radio Times, Marie Claire, Grazia, Heat were in there too and you can probably see a theme running by now. Yes, it seems Mums these days don't tend to read The Economist, Spectator or Total Politics.
It made me think of those frostbitten mornings doing Physical Ed back in Glasgow when the guys would kick a ball around or do three laps of the nearby farmer's field while the girls would hand in their forged sicknotes and chat amongst themselves while giving cursory glances at the boys trying to impress them.
So now my thoughts turn to the gender imbalance in Politics, the seemingly incessant need to make sure Parliaments across the world are split 50/50 between the sexes, an issue that "really matters" according to some and needs to be fixed according to others and yet of the little canvassing I have done, the women tend to have said "Oh, I'll just fetch my husband" when they realise I have political questions to ask.
The gender split of the Scottish Parliament is 66% male to 34% female but if the proportion of people putting themselves forward to be politicians is also 66/34 then there is nothing wrong with the system, there is merely a difference in level of interest between women and men.
A minority of politically minded women are dragging the rest of their sex, sighing and shrugging, into an equality that is unnecessary.
You can force an Economist subscription on women but most will go back to Good Housekeeping, you can force girls to play sport but most will have their forged sicknotes the following week and you can force all women shortlists on constituencies but soon the selection of candidates will be based entirely on merit from all of the political animals in the room and the natural imbalance of more men in Politics will return.
In the draw:
I make it there is a 22.8% chance of no English teams meeting so we can expect some grudge matches to crop up. And of course, avoiding Barcelona in the next round will be crucial. Not to mention Bayern Munich who crushed Sporting Lisbon 12-1 in the last round.
In short, the big guns will be fawning over the easy meat of Porto and Villareal.
UPDATE: Building up the suspense with a video. Best quote from the BBC coverage is this:
"As a Blackburn Rovers supporter, my heart says Barcelona, but my head says 'You really have no place in this discussion, son'."
As a Fulham fan, I can't help but agree. (Except my heart says Man Utd.)
Villareal vs Arsenal
Man Utd vs Porto
Liverpool vs Chelsea
Barcelona vs Bayern Munich
Villareal / Arsenal vs Man Utd / Porto
Liverpool / Chelsea vs Barcelona / Bayern Munich
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Lord Ahmed, a Labour life peer, kills a man in a road accident moments after sending and receiving texts behind the wheel. He serves 8 days in prison.
Feb 29th (2008)
A woman kills a man in a road accident while sending a text. She receives a 4 year sentence in prison.
A driver who bent down to pick up his phone kills 2 and receives a sentence of 6 years in prison.
I understand there is a crucial difference in that Lord Ahmed's texting was not happening during the crash and to be fair the heroin in the car of the last driver didn't exactly help his case.
But the sentences do seem a little inconsistent here...
It was Iain Gray's questions I missed the most but I can still question the wisdom of bringing an individual's case to the parliament. I don't think it's wise to work through constituent's problem one by one in the Chamber and for that reason Salmond was able to suggest Iain Gray write to him with specific concerns and also to reiterate that it is Skills Development Scotland who are responsible for grievances related to apprenticeships in the country.
Annabel Goldie had a renewed vigour this week, she charged in well with her question on free prescription charges though didn't perhaps labour the point that it is the richer people who should perhaps pay for their medicines. "Two salaries Salmond" she thundered twice, the second
time breaking the patience of Alex Fergusson who pulled her up for this. (It makes you wonder why it was ok to say it the first time?)
Salmond made the point that the SNP believed in an NHS free at the point of use and that the Lib Dems and Labour broadly backed the SNP position and consequently she was isolated.
Tavish Scott pressed the Government on the creation of green jobs in the renewables sector with Salmond's most salient point being that under the SNP new projects are running at nearly 1 per month whereas under Labour/Lib Dems it was a rate of 4 per year.
So not a vintage session by any means. Bit of a slow news week though so there wasn't much the opposition parties could have brought to the Chamber.
THE SNP has been accused of double standards and hypocrisy over freedom of information after the Scottish Government insisted on keeping its Cabinet discussions secret.
There's a very clear reason why there are no double standards at play here. The Scottish Government should keep its Cabinet discussions secret just as the UK Government should keep its Cabinet discussions secret. The decision makers should be free to speak their minds and argue from different standpoints without fear of having their comments being splashed across the front pages.
However, when it comes to the particular issue of the Iraq war, there is an overriding argument. Thousands died, the legality of the war is unclear, there were suspected divisions in the Cabinet and the evidence brought forward was decidedly shaky. Questions remain unanswered and the issue is too big, too tragic to be swept under the carpet. On that one issue, we should have a right to know everything that led up to such a regrettable decision.
And yet, what would we hope to read in Jack Straw's minutes? We know Tony Blair was following George Bush's lead, do we really need that confirmed? Better than receiving any Cabinet minutes would be a full-scale inquiry into why we went to war but that won't happen before Gordon Brown is deposed as PM in 2010.
As for Cabinet discussions on Local Income Tax and free school meals? The SNP shouldn't release them and have shown no hypocrisy in denying the Scotsman's request.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Given the original plan was for current drivers to pay for the trams via congestion charging, perhaps it is possible to get that back on track.
Suggestions could be for parking charges to apply on Sundays aswell as Monday through to Saturday and a stronger drive on speeding tickets via cameras.
Indeed, I wonder if the remarkable rise in bus fares for Lothian Buses (majority owned by Edinburgh Council) is related to funding the trams. If so, one can't help but think that they are targetting the wrong people.
To make matters worse, I have just learned that 20% of the world's land is due to be underwater soon and I live somewhere called 'The Shore'. That can't be good!
Still, back to PMQs:
Cameron is off to a great start although talking about specific schemes and start dates of recessions isn't easy to follow from both men as who is to know who is correct with dates and figures. Either way, his hammering Brown for not having these schemes up and running seems to be finding the mark.
Is there anything to read into Jim Murphy (Scottish Secretary) being on Brown's side and David Mundell (Scottish Tory) being on Cameron's side? Probably not but still a bit of a coincidence.
Best line: "He wanted miners to join the Government. Well he got one, Lord Myners. They all want the Lord to arrange their retirement packages. Call an election and we can arrange it."
As the session wore on, Brown became less clear, tripping over his words and just generally difficult to follow. There was a bit of fireworks with Cameron pulling Brown up for claiming (in the Guardian) that politics shouldn't be about "who said what, when" just after the PM had read out a quote from the shadow, shadow Chancellor (whoever that is). Cameron's assertion "what a complete phoney!" went too far for the Speaker and Cameron was forced to retract.
I suspect, if anything, the attention-grabbing retraction would hurt Brown more than Cameron though.
Clegg and his perennial purple tie is up soon enough. He is going for "frenzied target setting" and makes some good points about doctors ticking boxes rather than saving lives.
So an 8.5 for Cameron, a 6 for Brown and a 5 for Clegg.
Now, I'm off to fill in a McDonalds application form and buy some wellies.
It is just one of many topics that splits at the border, Scotland being largely anti-nucelar weapons and down south being significantly more pro-nuclear. The fact that the UK's arsenal of weapons is housed in Rosyth just helps to twist the dagger on this painful subject for a Scottish PM.
And yet Gordon Brown didn't shy away from giving a speech in London on this very topic stating that 'Britain stands ready to participate and to act' (in global negotiations on reducing the number of nuclear weapons). However, you would be forgiven for thinking he was talking about 'participating' in World War 3 such is our current position regarding the weapons.
Treaty-bound to reduce our arsenal we are nonetheless set to spend £20 billion (£20bn!) on a new wave of bombs that, crucially, will never, ever be fired. How many schools, hospitals... you get the point.
So again I pose the key question: Who exactly would the UK fire a nuclear weapon at? And if that question can't be answered then who exactly are these bombs meant to be deterring?
Furthermore, if having nuclear weapons is seen as a guarantee of power at the United Nations then we need to rip up the rule book and take a different path.
But Gordon Brown can't. He needs the votes of the rest of the UK and the Tories would pummel the PM if there was a U-Turn on the new nuclear weapons.
So we get words and not action on disarmament and the issue will be tucked away for another year.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Good luck to her of course though I don't think she'll need it as, despite John Mason's heroics in last year's by-election, this seat should go back to Labour if national trends are anything to go by.
Interestingly though, is there perhaps poor tactics at play within the Labour ranks?
Margaret Curran is penning the manifesto for the 2011 election. Will her heart really be in it if she is expected to win a Westminster seat in 2010 and won't be contesting the next Holyrood vote? Will her replacement have to rip up much of what Margaret has worked on due to a different approach?
Monday, March 16, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Sample size: 1,380
Holyrood Constituency Vote:
SNP - 35%
Labour - 34%
Tory - 14%
Lib Dem - 12%
Holyrood Regional Vote
Labour - 32%
SNP - 30%
Tory - 15%
Lib Dem - 11%
Labour - 37%
SNP - 27%
Tory - 20%
Lib Dem - 11%
Labour - 36%
SNP - 29%
Tory - 18%
Lib Dems - 11%
Support in principal - 57% (32% support for 2010 specifically)
Against - 29%
Yes - 33%
No - 53%
So, a real shot across the bows for the SNP as they approach the halfway mark of their first term as the minority Government.
I don't think there is much the party can do to directly turn around the statistics for independence or the Westminster vote before 2010. Scotland will generally (and perfectly reasonably) turn out and vote for their boy Gordon Brown as Prime Minister if they are not keen on the alternative of David Cameron. The SNP will struggle to get a look in.
Clearly the short term focus should be on the European elections but it is looking more likely that Labour will win 3 MEPs, the SNP keep 2 MEPs and the Tories pick up the last MEP leaving the Lib Dems empty handed.
But setting that aside, the SNP need to focus strongly on pushing the Holyrood support higher. That is the clear message and all other fortunes for the SNP stem from a strong, popular base in the Scottish Parliament. A thorough revision of their approach for devolved policies and a detailed plan extending right up to 2011 would be useful. I had hoped that the SNP could coast up to the next election with a rather thin programme but it's becoming clear this won't be an option. Perhaps the more pressing concern however is capturing a more appropriate Governmental tone and recapturing that air of utter competence that encapsulated the SNP's first 100 days. And then some.
However, in the week that the SNP called Ming a 'pompous ass', replied 'bollocks' in the Chamber and disrespected the deputy Presiding Officer, I do worry that a reckless attitude to how the SNP hierarchy allow themselves to be perceived has crept into play. All of this has the potential to filter into poll results and undermine the many positives the SNP has going for it.
The figures are clearly not a disaster, pretty much level pegging with Labour isn't so bad given Iain Gray et al have just had their Conference and it is always a bonus if you avoid a mid-term kicking from the electorate whoever you are but there had always been clear daylight between the SNP and Labour in Holyrood polls and this,s eemingly, has suddenly been wiped out.
This poll show lessons have to be learned and the reaction from Salmond will be fascinating. Lucky the First Minister is coming on Andrew Marr in about 5 minutes.
UPDATE: Salmond was good. Strong finish on renewables and he genuinely didn't look too bothered about the poll. He made a good point about looking at the wording. Compare and contrast 'Given the gloom and doom surrounding the recession, do you believe Scotland should be an independent state' with 'Given the urgency with which Scotland needs the financial means to grow its economy, do you believe Scotland should be an independent state'.
Yes, getting the detail of that poll will be very interesting (not least to find out the stats for the Lib Dems and the Tories)
Saturday, March 14, 2009
It is debatable, despite the vast sums spent, whether this global overreaction to the various terrorist crimes of the past decade have helped or hindered the goal of a peaceful world.
And this week I have tried, though have now failed, to resist drawing comparisons with the situation in Northern Ireland.
Reactions from politicians have been analysed in remarkable detail, column inches extend with no end in sight, marches and peace rallies have been organised around the world.
Of course noone wants to go back to The Troubles and of course any reasonable person would agree that the deaths of soldiers and a policeman this past fortnight were truly tragic but the simple fact remains that it was only three people who lost their lives and, at this stage, we are dealing with a handful of murderers rather than a nationwide slide into fear and despair.
More people died in the UK this past fortnight from domestic violence, knife crime, DVT, cancer, road accidents, cot death or obesity. I just wonder if a sense of perspective and a restraining of a certain Northern Irish self-indulgence on this topic is required.
Menzies Campbell cut a rather tired figure in his speech. Although despite his 'unfathomable volley' of insults at the First Minister, I don't think I would have gone as far as to describe him as a "pompous ass".
Even still, Menzies' prime attack on Salmond that he shouldn't be meeting influential figures such as Hillary Clinton is just bizarre. Praised in the media as a coup for the First Minister when he met the US Secretary of State I think Menzies is a bit addled if he thinks such a meeting is detrimental for the country. Even if all they did was set up communication lines it's well worth the trip. Gordon Brown may have been a bit needy and cringeworthy on his visit to the US but I don't think anyone was suggesting he shouldn't have gone.
Furthermore, to suggest this is no time for a novice when you have Tavish Scott in charge north of the border and Nick Clegg in charge south of the border sounds a bit like sour grapes from the failed leader Ming who traded on his experience but was soon flogged off by his party. Don't get me wrong, Tavish and Nick seem like nice guys but I don't think they have the same gritty political experience and presence that Salmond carries. Indeed I wonder if Ming is getting 'experience' mixed up with just being 'old'?
Onto Vince Cable, the Economics guru that many would have us believe walks on water. (Personally I think he just can't swim.) Vince is due to make some good points about praising the Lib Dems for opposing the HBOS takeover and insisting Salmond and Brown should work more closely with each other. Fair enough but criticising the Scottish Government for not doing more to fix the Scottish Economy is a bit rich given his own party has just unveiled a whole raft of powers that the Parliament should have as it sees Holyrood as too weak.
Without full borrowing powers it is agreed that the Scottish Government's hands are tied behind their back so the Lib Dems will have to watch out for sending out mixed messages. It will be interesting to hear what they would have wanted the SNP to do, that is setting aside the 2p tax cut and also keeping in mind they voted for the budget.
So positive policy proposals please Lib Dems. Let's put some substance behind all that fluff.
(1) a firm representing the German contractor Bilfinger Berger said the project stalled because of a dispute over thousands of pounds, not millions.
(2) Mr Mullin (Bilfinger Berger Consultant) claimed there were currently about 100 issues outstanding.
(3) (One of the) disputes comes about regarding the provision of temporary bus lanes in Princes Street.
Bilfinger Berger put in a quote for this but the estimates were disputed by Tie and the difference was thousands of pounds, not millions.
Yes, there are about one hundred issues outstanding regarding the trams, one of which amounts to thousands of pounds and our wonderful Scottish media report the news as if this is the single stumbling block to the entire tram project, neatly glossing over the other 99 or so issues that seem nigh on insurmountable.
Even I am getting past the point of caring who is to blame or what the detail is. The £500m trams and the news coverage of it are fast becoming a shambolic farce. And hey, they might even be the prelude to a £2bn+ spectacular in the shape of our 3rd (3rd!) crossing over the Forth.
I'm not generally given to despairing. But I do despair.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Find out why Harry Reid and Paul Scott believe that ‘the most important question facing Scotland is its future constitutional status.'
Join the editors of The Independence Book as they set out the arguments in favour of independence.
Monday 16 March 2009, from 19:00 at NLS in Edinburgh, old town, EH1 1EW.
(I assume 'NLS' is the National Library of Scotland)
The new councillor, Craig Melville, scored a very impressive 48% of the vote (Labour - 31%) meaning that Dundee is bathed further in yellow and black. Pretty garish I grant you but it's better than tangerine and blue.... (football related comment)
Even though I'm not expecting Glasgow to be sacked anytime soon, this result does help scupper the suggestion that the Nationalists can't win in cities.
So great momentum going into the Euro Elections on June 4th, and that's with another expected by-election win for the SNP in Inverness West on April 23rd.
Even setting aside the clear conflict of interest in that the Lovell opinion was commissioned by drinks company SAB Miller, I can't say that I fully agree with the logic of their argument.
For a start, I am struggling to find the crucial difference between Alastair Darling raising duty on whisky or cigaretters and the SNP introducing minimum pricing. If the latter is a barrier to free movement of beverages then, surely, so is the former?
It seems Lovell's problem with the Scottish Government's plans stems from the ominous sounding Article 28 (I'm just glad they don't call them 'Sections'). It reads as follows:
"restrictions on imports and all measures having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between member states"
The SNP plans are no more a restriction on imports as the smoking ban was. Businesses will be just as free to buy goods in from abroad as they were before and at the same prices. They'll just have to sell them on for a little more money in some cases.
Furthermore, Article 30 appears to be a safeguard for the SNP:
"enables the member state to apply national provisions that restrict intra-community trade in order to protect the health and life of humans"
Sounds about right for what the SNP are trying to do if you ask me.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Or maybe I just tell myself that to keep me happy...
Anyway, without further ado:
SNP - 46.4%
Labour - 26.2%
Lib Dems - 15.5%
Tory - 9.5%
Greens - 2.4%
So a stonking 20% lead for the SNP "if there was an election tomorrow" and, ahem, if the population size was 132.
Iain Gray went on the attack on the subject of schools and the suggestion that the SNP won't build what the party had promised. Picking Ellon Academy, a school in the First Minister's constituency, Iain Gray made the point that buildings are past their sell-by-date. A new school would have been built under Lab/Lib Dem executive.
Salmond's reply opens with countering Iain Gray's claims that spending in Scotland will increase but David Bell says otherwise, John McLaren (former Labour party economist) says the same.
Ellon Academy needed upgrading while the Labour and Lib Dems were in power is Salmond's (rather weak) response.
Salmond moves onto stronger territory by stating that in Oct 2007 a school was commissioned and finished under conventional procurement last month. This refuted the suggestion that it takes 3.5 years to start and finish a school.
Salmond ramps things up further by thundering that over the next 30 years, there will be a £30bn bill for PFI.
Gray pushed on Ellon Academy and makes an ill-judged remark that Salmond's response seems to confirm that the SNP have delivered only one school in their time in power.
Gray did seem to misunderstand Alex Salmond's answer or at least he left the door open for Salmond to absolutely hammer the Labour leader with a list of schools that have been completed since 2007.
Iain Gray was left looking sick as a dog, shaking his head, knowing that he could have beaten Salmond on this issue but was left with the First Minster happily boasting that 250 schools would be built as promised by the SNP.
So a bit of a pasting for Gray but he should have won this one, he made his usual error of giving Salmond too many options for how to answer the questions. Had he just made it about Ellon Academy he would have won as Salmond's reply that Labour and the Lib Dems didn't rebuild the school would not have cut the mustard. It's not enough for the Government of the day to simply say 'well you lot didn't do it either'.
I daresay Ellon will be getting some good news in the next few weeks.
The Tory leader went on the issue of human rights claims by inmates in Scotland and why it has taken so long to sort out. Again, as happens most weeks, Salmond's tone changes to a more sober and placatory tone when speaking to Annabel and insists he is confident a solution will be reached soon and in the best interests of Scotland.
Goldie then goes on to challenge why slopping out is stil continuing in Peterhead with Salmond stating that it is not the same situation.
Salmond finishes by reminding the Tories that their claim that they would build more prisons was not met by the Tory Government in Westminster during their 17 year rule. (although we're going back a fair bit there!)
Bit of a damp squib as usual, hope to see the Tories up their game next week.
Salmond congratulates Tavish and Kirsten on their happy news. A new baby I'm guessing. (Something in the air with these Lib Dems at this time of year!)
Rumbles challenges Salmond on why the alcohol plans are not going to be thoroughly debated in the Chamber and also asks why Salmond can oppose rises in whisky down south and argue for putting the price up north of the border.
Salmond points out there is a huge difference between across the board tax rises and a minimum pricing plan for alcohol, particularly for whisky given it is a premium brand and should have a premium price. (Sounds reasonable to me.)
Rumbles takes an odd approach when Salmond is speaking, he opts to take a fixed look at the ceiling. Probably for the best though as Salmond delivered the best line of the proceedings, regarding Nick Clegg not going to the Scottish Lib Dem Conference:
"Last year it was 'Who's Clegg?', this year it's 'Where's Clegg?' and next year it'll be 'Why Clegg?'" Nice.
Rumbles didn't make much of an impression for me, perhaps he went with the right issue but in the wrong way.
So, another week and another straightforward FMQs for Alex Salmond.
But Fiona Hyslop has to go, any time she is challenged either directly or indirectly she has that haunted look of someone who would rather be anywhere else. None of the cheeky chappy of Alex Neil, none of the passion of Sturgeon and none of the energy of MacAskill. I think she might be the new weakest link...
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
2. Alyn Smith MEP
3. Aileen McLeod
4. Drew Hendry
5. Duncan Ross