Saturday, 31 January 2009

The xenophobia of Gordon Brown

With the wildcat strikes and walkouts by workers at oil and energy plants (which, no doubt, Cameron will soon be comparing to the 1970s) attracting some comment, it is to be hoped that people remember where it came from. It was a speech in 2007 by Gordon Brown with 28 uses of the word 'British' and 51 uses of the word 'Britain' (some of which were part of the phrase 'Great Britain', to be fair), Gordon Brown said:
this is our vision: [...] drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers.

and
And I want the new green technologies of the future to be the source of British jobs in British businesses.
Jim Murphy, apparently, doesn't agree, he's said
this free movement of labour across Europe is a great thing for Scots and for people throughout Britain

It's absolutely a consequence of Brown's speech:
Speaking on Friday from Wilton, on Teesside, one protester urged the prime minister to take action, saying: "All we want is for Gordon Brown to fulfil his promise. He said British jobs for British workers."
Some of the protesters have been saying that the protest is 'not racist' but is about foreign labour undercutting domestic workers in wage costs. I disagree - it is racist, otherwise the protest would be about the wages being paid rather than about who they were being paid to. It's a xenophobic protest and it's directly attributable to Gordon Brown's encouragement of British isolationism, done as some kind of signal to the mythical 'Middle England' (come, Frodo, vote Labour) that he's not some crazy Jock with a Braveheart attitude - with a side order of 'dish-the-Nats-back-home' for good measure.

Is this truly worth a few political points Mr Brown?

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Surely they know?

Perusing the website of the Scotland Office, currently occupied by that esteemed chappie Jimmy Murphy (nah, nah not the fine wee winger that played for the dark blues, old cadaverous himself) , I chanced upon the Freedom of Information section. "Oho," thinks I, "let's just pop in and have a perambulation among these tulips."

And so it was that I came upon a release of engagements from the official diary of a previous incumbent which contains the wonderful line:
They are available in Hansard at www.parliament.gov.uk.

Which is all very nice except, erm, that's not the website address for the House of Commons (where you would find Hansard), that's an address that has been registered by an internet-type company. You'd find HoC at www.parliament.uk

Is it just me or would you expect a Civil Servant working to a Minister or Secretary of State to know that? Jings, Crivvens and Help Ma Boab (with capitals)!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Casting about

In today's budget debate, the casting vote of the Presiding Officer was the vote that took down the Budget Bill. He said that he was casting that vote to "follow convention and opt for the status quo".

He could, instead, have used his casting vote in the same way as he did when convenor of the Rural Development Committee on the 1st May, 2001, according to the debate in chamber on 19th September 2001.

Funnily enough, it was Mike Watson who introduced the Westminster idea of the casting vote resting with the status quo to our Parliament:
Mike Watson (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): We have not prepared anything in advance, so we are all looking at each other. I speak in the light of my experience not only in the Parliament as the convener of the Finance Committee but as a previous member of committees in other forums and other places.
The general principle that a casting vote should not be used to effect change is broadly accepted, and I subscribe to it.

Brings a question to mind - why bother having a casting vote rather than simply amending standing orders? Surely we should trust Convenors and Presiding Officers to be able to make a judgement?

Ach well, onwards and onwards!

Oh what a day!

Budget day today, a budget to freeze council tax across the country, pilot home insulation schemes, put more police on our streets, cut business rates, support 5,000 jobs, bring forward £230 million capital spend (to help beat recession), continuation of the Climate Change Challenge Fund, and so on.

That should pass unanimously, eh?

Icing on the statue

Global warming? Are you sure? In Tetlin Junction, Alaska, temperatures hit record lows this year, leading some denizens of that metropolis to question global warming theories, but at least they did it with some panache.

I discovered this wee gem courtesy of Mr Eugenides who also pointed in the direction of an interesting blog.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Do you see what I see?

I do like a wee wander down memory lane from time to time. See what you think of these flowers I picked en route:
Mr. Gladstone combined the positions of Chancellor and Prime Minister, something no one should ever contemplate doing again.
Gordon Brown's last budget as Chancellor, 21st March 2007

Ahem, quite ...
With consumption forecast to rise in each of the next two years by 21/4 to 23/4 per cent., and investment and exports by more than 3 per cent., we expect that next year also, in 2008, alongside North America, our growth will again be the highest in the G7—between 21/2 and 3 per cent., with the same rate of growth also in 2009.
ibidem

Slightly off, I think.
in Britain, we expect debt from 2007-08 to 2012 to be 38 per cent., 38.5 per cent., 38.8 per cent., 38.8 per cent. and 38.6 per cent. in successive years
ibid

He was talking about debt as a percentage of GDP. I think that prediction has gone a little awry.
Britain’s net borrowing, which in the early 1990s went as high as 8 per cent. of our national income is this year just 2.7 per cent. In future years, it will be 2.4 per cent., falling to 2 per cent. and then falling to 1.8 per cent., 1.6 per cent. and just 1.4 per cent. Compared to a deficit equivalent to over £100 billion in a single year in the early ’90s, the figure for this and future years will be just £35 billion—£1 billion less than forecast at the pre-Budget report—then falling to £34 billion, £30 billion, £28 billion, £26 billion and £24 billion. That means borrowing therefore over the economic cycle not for current consumption, but for essential investment in the future of our country.
ibid

Events, dear boy, events...

You know better than me how we are and can continue to entrench our position as a world leader in business and financial services, but from the point of view of the government we insist that we will continue to implement our new risk-based light touch approach to regulation, we will make our planning system more flexible and responsive and of course we will work together on infrastructure to invest in our long term priorities. And I believe that that is an important part of London retaining its position as the pre-eminent financial centre in so many sectors.
Gordon Brown on 1st October 2007

That light-touch financial regulation worked well, didn't it?

I believe the British economy is far more resilient than it was facing the last two oil shocks and facing some of the problems we had when there was a world downturn in the early 90s.”
Gordon Brown on 3rd July 2008

Hmmm.

In the next two decades our world economy will double in size.
Gordon Brown on 26th September 2008

What was the starting point?

Labour has taken the right decisions to promote prosperity.
Labour’s economic policy

Perhaps not?

Darling has told cabinet ministers that there will be no additional money for schools, hospitals, defence, transport or policing. "There is no point them writing in saying 'can we have some more money?' because the reply is already on its way and it's a very short reply," he says in today's Times, adding that even he is feeling the pinch: "I haven't purchased a tie for ages."
Alasdair Darling showing he knows all about public procurement 19th July 2008

The economy shrank by 1.5% last year - but it's apparently Johnny Foreigner's fault.

If you look at what's happening in America then obviously where all the issues started - America

Gordon Brown saying "a big boy did it and ran away"

In May of last year Gordon Brown was trying to combine the jobs of Prime Minister and Chancellor - something he know shouldn't be done - perhaps that's why he's not managed either of them well? In November he was off saving the world again, by December he was promising that going bankrupt actually makes you stronger, and by today he was telling us to cheer up and get with the programme to just suffer "the difficult birth-pangs of a new global order".

Perhaps if he'd paid attention to the IMF in 2005 those birth-pangs might not have felt quite so much like strangulation?

Seeing the future

ComRes, pollster types, have a great poll up on their website - I particularly liked the historic data - from 17th October 2009. That's what I call polling!

Cash and peerages

When you've paid for your peerage, how do you make the money back? Easy call - sell what you've just bought. Cash for peerages followed by cash for peers.

It's all tied up with Parliamentary Consultancies. That's one of the reasons why paid advocacy is illegal for MSPs, and why the Code Of Conduct for MSPs goes even further:
5.1.6 The section of the Code on General Conduct (Section 7) sets out the standards expected in relation to acceptance of hospitality, gifts and benefits. In addition to this and the statutory provisions in the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, Members:
...
should not accept any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on Parliamentary affairs or on how to influence the Parliament and its Members.
Quite right, MSPs should not get dragged into that mire, especially not someone who might be have some inside knowledge of peerages and whose Register of Interests reads
I am a director, as is my wife, of Carrick Court Associates Ltd, a consultancy business. Carrick Court Associates receives remuneration of between £45,001 -
£50,000 per annum for my work from Eversheds LLP and GovNet Communications (as Chairman of the Editorial Board). I work approx 3 days per month in relation to the consultancy. As a Director of Carrick Court Associates I estimate that I will receive between £15,001 and £20,000 per annum in expenses and dividend. [Registered 24 May 2007, Amended interest 4 July 2007, Amended interest 13 July
2007].

Or whose House of Lords register reads:
FOULKES OF CUMNOCK, Lord
*12(a) Parliamentary consultancy agreements
A political and parliamentary consultancy with Eversheds LLP. Payment of £3000 per calendar month (excluding VAT if applicable) for consultancy services for 36 days per annum (all fees are paid to Carrick Court Associates Ltd - see 12(g) Chairman of Editorial Board of Govnet (a client of my company Carrick Court Associates), £10,000 per annum

Hmmm...

Friday, 23 January 2009

That Summit

The Knife Crime Summit.

I was impressed by the contribution to the debate made by John Muir, he is a man whose obvious grief as the father of a victim of violent crime has led him to campaign for a change in the law. He recognises the collective failure of our society on this. It is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to provide long-term solutions (not just quick fixes) and the responsibility of opposition politicians to look to scrutinise the work of the Government in doing that - and to offer alternative solutions which may work as well or better than the solutions offered by the Government.

Partisan political opposition is important in every debate - including this one - in order to get the issues properly aired and debated. Partisan political point-scoring doesn't do that.

Some politicians could have done with listening to John Muir's comments on Radio Scotland's Morning Extra this morning when he said "political infighting will achieve nothing".

Labour Junior Ministers - paid for nothing?

Down on the farm at Much-Grumbling-in-the-Bog Ricky Baker has gone 'pop'.

Why, you might ask, would Ricky, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, be so synthetically outraged? Well, he's terribly upset that Kenny MacAskill MSP, Scotland's Justice Secretary, is promoting Scotland's Year of Homecoming in Canada instead of attending a knife crime summit.

Skipping over Ricky's rant about a "Burn's Supper" (sic), Fergus Ewing MSP, Community Safety Minister, was at the summit - and his portfolio includes knife crime. He's the chap who should be at the summit - and he was.

Kenny MacAskill is speaking at (if I remember correctly) three Burns Suppers and giving a lecture while he's in Canada - he was telling me before he left about the organisations he's speaking to. I think they are; 1. St Andrews Society of Toronto; 2. Digby Board of Trade Dinner, Novia Scotia; and 3. Scots Society Annual Burns Supper, Halifax (can't remember where the lecture is).

So what Ricky was looking for was the Cabinet Secretary to cancel his promotion of Homecoming in order to attend a summit in place of the Minister who is responsible for the subject matter of the summit, presumably so he can then go back and tell that Minister what went on so the Minister can take action on it.

It got me thinking - Labour doesn't realise how the Scottish Government works, Labour MSPs think that it's only the Cabinet Secretaries who take decisions. What on earth do they think the Ministers do? That quite clearly leads to the consideration of Labour's eight years at the helm - were their Junior Ministers not allowed to take decisions? If they weren't, what on earth were we paying them a Ministerial salary for? Were they dipping into the public purse and offering nothing in return? Did Labour's senior members not trust their junior colleagues? Is this part of the reason why SNP Government is so much more effective - because all the members of the Scottish Government now have a job to do, not just an office to fill?

So many questions and for once I'm like a Labour member - nae answers.

The great pity is that this important issue and the excellent idea of a summit - ironically, organised by Labour MSP Frank McAveety in his role as Convenor of Parliament's Petitions Committee - was overshadowed by a petty party politics row with no substance to it. I do hope that, at some point soon, Labour's Shadows will take Jack McConnell's advice and up their game.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Icelanders offer help to UK's fuel poor pensioners -

Icelanders, recently condemned as being terrorists and thereby made penniless by the fearsome and fearless actions of our brave Prime Minister as he saved the world, are fighting back. With kindness.

A morning radio programme in Iceland, Bitid, launched an appeal called Islensk Ull til Englands (what do mean you don't know what that means? Can't you speak Icelandic? Try Iceland Wool to England. I don't know, monoglots everywhere these days...) The programme's hosts, Heimir Karlsson and Kolbrun Bjornsdottir, covered a story featuring the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), and their warning that up to 1 in 12 pensioners may die this winter due to the drop in temperature, and the kindness of the Icelandic people took off with enough donations of jumpers, socks and blankets being made to fill one of those big container things that are used for shipping freight and it will arrive in Grimsby on the 26th of January.

It's being shipped, free of charge, by Icelandic shipping company Samskip, and other Icelandic businesses gave bags and boxes for packing the stuff - again free of charge. The Icelandic organisers hope to formally hand over the garments at the end of next week to a charity of welfare organisation in the city of Hull (twinned with Reykjavik) to distribute to local pensioners.

I can't help but agree with NPC spokesperson, Neil Duncan-Jordan, who said:
"This is a fantastic and generous act of compassion from the people of Iceland, particularly at a time when their own economic situation is extremely difficult. But it is also a shocking indictment of the UK government's complete inability to properly tackle the problem of winter deaths amongst older people."
"In the last decade we have lost 260,000 pensioners during the winter months and the response from Whitehall has been a deafening silence. We hope this act of kindness will shame the government into raising the state pension and the winter fuel allowance so that pensioners have the confidence to turn on the heating when they need it without the fear of what it might cost."
Nor can I find any disagreement with the broadcaster, Heimir Karlsson, who said:
"When we broadcast the story that UK pensioners were dying from the cold, our listeners could not believe their own ears. We decided to give the Icelandic nation four days to fill a 20ft container of pure Icelandic wool for the pensioners in Britain. Families, some from far away, came one after another with garments to fill the container. Some of the sweaters were brand new. One 9 year old girl gathered 37 beautiful sweaters and delivered it to us at the radio station."
"I am sure I speak on behalf of every living soul in Iceland when I say that we looked at it with an utter dismay and total disbelief, how badly the government of the United Kingdom treats its old people. The elderly deserve to live their last years enjoying the best of care. They deserve to live in warm housing, free from worries over cold and rising gas bills. The Icelandic people heard about how terribly the UK government treats the pensioners, and could not just do nothing about it!"


Note that the figures given are for pensioner deaths in England and Wales, the Scottish figures are about 1 in 400 - still some room for improvement.

The Icelandic people, though, to them I raise my metaphorical hat - or perhaps a wee jumper would be better.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

That's enterprising!

Crawford Gillies has been appointed as the new chair of Scottish Enterprise - confounding uninformed speculation over the position.

It's about doing what's best for Scotland, no matter what the political affiliation.

David Mundell and his Private Member

Slipping into the spotlight with his own superstylish soft-shoe shuffle, a tiny fanfare on his clarinet and deep bow with flourish comes Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell with his Private Members Bill to force English traders to accept Scottish banknotes if they accept English ones. Breathless with excitment he announced
a Scottish fiver or tenner is worth just as much as an English one

He wants "to make it illegal for people in other UK countries to refuse Scottish banknotes"

Perhaps he should have a word with his good chum Struan Stevenson MEP who said last year that the SNP's demands for parity of treatment were "completely ridiculous".

Of course, there's always the point that it's not illegal to refuse a Scottish note in Scotland, that Scottish banknotes, although not legal tender in England (likewise, no currently circulating English notes are legal tender in Scotland - only English notes of less than £5 in value) are still legal currency throughout the UK.

This is going to be an interesting piece of legislation, isn't it?

Mind how you go!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The engines canna take it cap'n!

Bloomberg - not the Mayor of New York but the online media presence - has an interesting piece up. Here's a couple of excerpts:
“I would urge you to sell any sterling you might have,” Jim Rogers, chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “It’s finished. I hate to say it, but I would not put any money in the U.K.”

“The realization that the banking sector is in an even worse state than previously thought, and the significance of that sector to the U.K. economy, is really hurting the pound,” said Jeremy Stretch, a senior currency strategist in London at Rabobank International.

Getting on with the job

The SNP Government got its budget through Stage 2 today. One debate to come - in the chamber on the 28th.

Who wrote that?

Fascinating, and completely useless, fact - Walter Scott wrote "Hail to the Chief" - not the music but the words.

I was just wondering whether it had words, and the Library of Congress popped up.

Bet that made your day.

Monday, 19 January 2009

There may be trouble ahead ...

Right then, we've had an American economist telling us that Ireland's economy will be leading Europe within a decade because Ireland is small enough to be flexible. We've also seen Hannes H Gissurarson laying the blame for Icelandic troubles at the feet of Gordon Brown, something I can't help but agree with him on. Now we've got the Icelandic President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, telling us that Iceland will recover more quickly than the UK and that Iceland will be thriving while the UK is still struggling. On top of that, there's the Brown/Darling admission that their bank bailout didn't work - and the plunge in bank share prices in response to the new bailout.

Should we be surprised? Not really, in November one of Gordon Brown's first appointments to the Monetary Policy Committee warned that the UK was basically insolvent, public debt likely to be exceeding GDP, the fiscal stimulus mince, and the recent relaxation of accounting rules likely to make it worse. He said
The government argues that its net debt position is strong, with a net debt to annual GDP ratio still just below forty percent. That statistic is a prime example of lies, damned lies and government statistics.

We've had an IMF economist saying the VAT cut wouldn't restart spending, and way back in September 2005 the IMF and the EU warned that Brown had lost control of the economy. This depression has been coming for a long time and it's going to be a long and painful one. Far sighted politicians will be the ones who are making long-term plans for our best positioning for recovery.

Those 7.5 million training places that don't exist ...

There was a comment posted in response to my last post offering 'evidence' of Iain Gray's 7.5 million. It was an anonymous comment, but that's the way it goes. The ITN story is heavily spun, kinda proving my point really. I wondered where Iain Gray's team did their research...

Perhaps my anonymous friend should have read this year's letter instead of swallowing the spin from November 2007. It's in the public domain, after all.

On page 22 (24 of 66) you'll find the targets for this financial year -
  • 372,000 in sixth form (i.e. still at school),
  • 27,000 in academies (i.e. still at school),
  • 786,000 at college,
  • 223,000 in 16-18 apprenticeships,
  • 75,000 in Entry to Employment (dodgy 'keep the numbers down' nonsense)
A grand total of 1,484,000 (except those numbers actually add up to 1,483,000 but the total given was 1,484,000).

That's the end of the youngsters, but there's also 3.3 million adults noted (things like ABE are included, as is offender learning) and there are 117,000 learners funded by the European Social Fund.

Head on to page 43 and you'll find that 1.5 million young people in all types of training was the milestone they were aiming at and missed. Nip back to page 37 and you'll find that the Government is expecting businesses and individuals to foot 47.5% of the cost (because we're all flush these days), that Labour has been steadily cranking up the costs since 2004, and that the costs to businesses and individuals will reach 50% next year. Investment in training? Aye, right.

So there you go, they've included school pupils, college students, return to study adults, ABE, offender learning, needlepoint, basket-weaving, developmental learning and they've got one and a half million youths and 3.3 million adults. So where's the 7.5 million figure? Well, it's not in the letter, and it's not in the news release.

It did appear in the Times, The Metro, and in London's Evening Standard where it's claimed to be over three years from 2007. The problem, of course, is that it's just not true.

Ach well, mind how you go!

Friday, 16 January 2009

As good as it gets?

Politics should be a contest of ideas and ideals, competing ideologies and alternative aspirations. Nationalist or imperialist, capitalist or socialist, libertarian or authoritarian, and so on. The choices are not always merely bilateral nor are they necessarily mutually exclusive. What holds politics to be a noble pursuit, though, is the debate, the contest, the clash of intellects, gladiatorial and senatorial, a battle of wit, will and character, each side doing its best to bring the resolution down in their favour for the enhancement and betterment of society and for the long-term good of the community, the country, and the world.

At best, of course.

In the political mix there has to be space for mockery, for pointed debates and debating points, for undercutting your opposition and for knocking them back. There has to be space for leadership and for retrenchment, for changes of pace and direction, for spearing your opponents and avoiding being speared by them – space for the rough and tumble of politics. There has to be the high ground but the high ground is only high ground because there’s something to contrast it with. Foibles and idiosyncrasies are acceptable –even welcome – for leavening the dull dough of policy, there’s a place for levity as well as gravity and the heuristics of politics are as important as the statistics. There’s always room for another fiddler on the roof.

Competing ideals should still be the underpinning principle, though, and that’s why you might look around today and ask “is this as good as it gets?” I had hopes that the other parties would start to up their game – high hopes – I thought that Iain Gray would make Labour a more stable and considered party, that Tavish Scott would make the Lib Dems stand for something, that Annabel Goldie would get off the authoritarian kick, that Gordon Brown would seek governance for the benefit of the country rather than headlines for the sake of Gordon Brown, and that all of them would eschew seeking to discombobulate we attendant plebeians with misdirection and obfuscation.

Well, at least I hoped.

Auntie Annabel has stuck to her old lines for now – at least it’s consistent. Over on the Labour benches, the peddling of untruths has continued unabated, topped this week by Iain Gray’s assertion in chamber that there are 7.5 million apprentices in England, thanks to the Labour Government when the truth is that last week’s announcement by the London bunch aspires to take apprenticeships in England to the 250,000 mark - 30 times less than Iain was claiming already existed. There’s a raft of Labour mistruths out there, and I’ll return to them at some point. Tavish Scott, rising to the challenge set down by Iain Gray, led with his chin, nodding backwards a week to allege that an issue about funding for the Inter Faith Council had not been resolved because they didn’t have a letter telling them it was resolved, and this the day after Fergus Ewing had said:

The Minister for Community Safety (Fergus Ewing): With your permission, Presiding Officer, I would like to raise a point of order. Last week, at First Minister's question time, the issue of Government funding of the Scottish Inter Faith Council was raised, with the First Minister giving an assurance that the matter was resolved satisfactorily. For the avoidance of any confusion, I would like briefly to outline the sequence of events.

After being made aware of concerns regarding the Scottish Inter Faith Council's budget, I intervened by contacting the council on 20 December, giving assurances that its funding from the Scottish Government would continue. A public statement was issued to that effect. That assurance was acknowledged on 6 January—Tuesday of last week—by Alan Dixon, the convener of the SIFC's executive committee, in an e-mail to me in which he expressed his appreciation for my intervention on the funding issue and for my "assurance that this will continue".

As with all matters involving grant funding, that assurance required subsequently to be set down in writing. It was on the basis of my formally acknowledged intervention that, last Thursday, the First Minister gave the assurances that he did to the Parliament. On the basis of the continued funding from the Scottish Government—for the rest of this financial year and the following two years—the SIFC has assured me personally that all staff posts in the organisation are secure.

I know that all members will continue to support the good work that the Scottish Inter Faith Council does. I hope that I have provided the confirmation that members may feel that they need.

Couldn’t have been much clearer. Opposition members in the Scottish Parliament have taken to raising so many points of order after having lost the debate that the Presiding Officer has asked the Procedures Committee to examine the process and report back on what can be done. I should clarify that – the Conservatives and the Greens have not been so petty and petulant, the blame rests at the doors of those who lost power in 2007 – Labour and the Lib Dems.

That isn’t politics, it’s the seeking of headlines; there is no thought given to whether or not it enhances politics and thereby the people, the country, etc; no grace comes with it to allow the exchange of differing opinion with good manners; and no alternate solution is advanced. It is little other than name-calling and finger-pointing. Another example would be the full-scale inquiry into the First Minister’s conduct over the proposed development at Balmedie (Trump) which dragged on, took evidence, lifted every stone, dragged every pond, snooped in every corner, and drove a case as hard as it possibly could before concluding that sometimes Alex Salmond can be a bit cavalier. The point of the would-be Witchfinder Pursuivant was not the uncovering of truth and the restoration of public faith in the offices of Government in Scotland – they knew what the result would be before they started – the object of the hunt was the broadcasting of news that the hunt was on, the attempt to lower the esteem of the First Minister in the eyes of the public.

Not for any noble purpose, an attempt to score party political points at the expense of politics.

Where is the nobility of their politics? Where is the in-depth, detailed examination of what the SNP Scottish Government is actually doing? Where are their alternatives? When will we hear what they think is right and what they think should be changed? Surely this can’t be as good as it gets?

Where’s Stempenyu?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

God Cried

In my teenage years there was a guy I knew vaguely who had come from Palestine. He used to enjoy telling what might be termed a joke and it was always a show-stopper, it went something like this:
Jimmy Carter, Leonid Brezhnev and Yasser Arafat found themselves in front of God who offered to answer one question for each of them
Carter asked "When will American culture conquer the world?"
And God said, "In fifty years."
Carter burst into tears, God asked what was wrong and Carter said “I’ll never live to see it.”
Brezhnev was next. "When will the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics rule the world completely?"
And God answered, "In two hundred years."
Brezhnev started to cry, again God asked why, and Brezhnev said “I’ll never live to see it.”
Last to ask was Arafat: "When will the Palestinians have a free and independent sovereign state?"
And God cried.
I’m no more expert on matters in that part of the world than anyone else I know and a lot less expert than some of my friends - like Alyn Smith - and it seems to me to be an issue on which everyone can be wrong at the same time. I watched the debates in Westminster descend into grandstanding and posturing, daft demands from people on each side as they sought to be the headline, and pettiness launched as debating points and interventions - much heat and little light. I also noted the demonstration in Edinburgh which I had some sympathy for until the part of the email that said it would march on the US Consulate and ‘bring spare shoes’ - much as the US has a role that it is playing and you may want to change that direction, that seems infantile. Why not ask to make representations to the Consul and ask her to take them back to her Government? Why not present a petition taken on the march? The throwing of the shoes - that has a specific cultural reference in Arab countries to do with showing the soles of your feet being an insult (I don’t know how widespread it is in Arabic culture or other cultures - I’m no expert) which is why the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein was pelted with sandals and why the journalist threw his shoes at the US President - but it does not have that significance here, why mimic?

People I’ve know who come from either side of the ‘fence’ seem to have one thing in common - an entrenched position (although those I’ve met who actually come from Palestine or Israel seem to be less bellicose) and I’ve had little experience of any semblance of a balanced viewpoint from people discussing Israeli/Palestinian politics. On this subject I offer opinion rather than profundity.

We have seen little of reporting from the Israeli towns and cities which have come under rocket attack for years (some reports suggesting that this may have been around 40 a day at one point) and I have no idea what it is like to live with that constant threat, and it is easy to build an argument for the Israeli offensive that we’ve seen recently. Likewise, it’s difficult for me to appreciate that an organisation like Hamas can operate as a political party of government while viewing the state of Israel as illegitimate, believing that Israel is a state built on occupied land. I can’t understand suicide bombers or the people who direct them, and I can’t understand people who will not seek peace - I can find myself siding with Israel sometimes.

I find some irony in the fact that Hamas grew from an organisation encouraged by Israel and the House of Saud as a peace-loving alternative to the warlike PLO. Hamas, I’m told still holds to its foundations as an organisation dedicated to providing education, health care, food aid and other social services as well as the more militaristic intent it also now carries alongside its governmental objectives - a more complicated organisation than the simple terrorist grouping so often painted for us. I have quite some difficulty in equating the two, I have no difficulty in believing that the juxtaposition exists, but I cannot understand the jointing of the objectives. I can see Israel’s point.

Nor can I understand a country that will send aerial bombardment against an urban area where children live, nor a country which will send troops into these areas. The justification - that Hamas hide weapons and other resources in these buildings - may be true, but does that give the green light to kill children? I know the Israelis say that they give fair warning, but let’s play that out - the warning says “leave your home and your possessions, leave what safety you have because we intend to destroy it”.

Blight a bairn’s life wi bluidy war indeed.

Neither side seems, to me, to have any argument for continuing their actions, nor any moral stand to justify former actions, both seem intent on destruction and sliding towards anomie. It seems that there requires a bit more than Tony Blair bopping about and offering cups of tea to bring some degree of resolution to the conflict. I don’t have the answer, and Blair might actually do it (it would be a good but very strange thing), but I suspect that the truth will be that the conflict resolution will require exceptional people to take exceptional steps to drag their people to peace. Is there an Arafat, a Rabin or a Peres - surely they came closest? Is it too much to hope for truth in the auld saw that reckons that the circumstances mould the person they need? The Egyptian offer of good offices might be the best that is available for these lands at this time, which brings me to ask some questions.

Let’s ask where the axis of goodness was when Israel was being attacked with rockets; let’s ask why there isn’t a force of allies sailing to the defence of the Palestinians when Israel invaded, like the force that was mobilised when Iraq invaded Kuwait; let’s ask why so many would rather sit on their hands - or wring them - when the conflict is here?

Why was the mission so clear an uncomplicated in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq but so opaque in Israel and Palestine? I refuse to believe that the electoral arithmetic of the US stops it acting, but even if it does, where are the Member States of the EU? Are we to hang on the coat-tails of our larger cousins? Perhaps the feeling is that we’ve already done as much damage there as we should be doing for a century or two, but we should lose the right to pontificate as a consequence - our imperial past may have shame attached but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for inaction now.

There is a humanitarian crisis in Palestine, there is a conflict little discussed and far from resolution, there is a pressing need for action. Why is there not a UN-sanctioned peacemaking force in there? It wouldn’t be peacekeeping as envisaged by Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, but nor were the wars we’ve waged in the last decade in the name of peace.

It’s been long enough, let God stop crying.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Greenpeace - made me laugh

If you were opposing the building of a runway would you buy a field that was needed for the runway so you could sell it on in wee pieces to thousands of other people in the knowledge that the Government would have to physicalluy serve each landowner in person with a Compulsory Purchase Order?

Greenpeace did - what an excellent piece of thinking - especially the bit about the Inuit.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A miner problem

It's been revealed that the Labour Government in London has spent £5 million in legal fees fighting the claims of sick miners - and the figure is expected to double by the time the cases reach court. Who would have thought that they'd see a Labour Government seeking to avoid its responsibilities as a former employer in this way?

If I may paraphrase Neil Kinnock,
You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour Government – a Labour Government – hiring lawyers to scuttle around a country refusing compensation to its own former workers.

It's almost like Kinnock foresaw the Blair/Brown catastrophe, isn't it?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Bridges of Darlington County

"Darling, fancy a bridge?"

"No, yes, maybe no, hang on, what do you think Gordon?"

I'm suspecting that Alistair Darling is not really committed to easing traffic flows across the Forth. I was surprised by his refusal to allow the Scottish Government the same flexibility in funding using public procurement as would be possible for the payment structure under PFI/PPP - the same flexibility that Gordon Brown insists is necessary for recovery from the economic depression they have created. My suspicion grew further when my memory turned up a spat in the first couple of years of Labour government (before devolution) about a skelp of land on the south shore of the Forth which the Conservative Government had bought in 1995 for the purposes of building a new bridge. I've found a wee article that refers to it that makes it clear that Darling thought that buying the land was a misuse of public funds.

He was, of course, in favour of a new bridge when he thought that it might buy a few votes, but he used to be a member of the Forthright alliance. Political expediency rather than good policy? The Chancellor? With his reputation? Surely you're not suggesting that Darling is more interested in playing politics with the Forth Crossing than in doing what's best by Scotland?

You bet your badger I am.

Bog Snorkling

I was reading a story about Ireland's bog-snorkling champion and couldn't help wondering "what the cheese is bog snorkling?"

Any idea?

Friday, 9 January 2009

What a budget, what a budget ...

Everyone agrees - an excellent Budget Bill brought forward by John Swinney.

For the Lib Dems, Jeremy Purvis:
"Scotland needs a dedicated ... Scottish Government, so far they have been"
For Labour, Andrew Kerr:
"Scots are looking to the Scottish Government to provide ambitious leadership to protect jobs."
A Conservative source:
"We are optimistic."

The Greens:
"With Parliament's clear support, the Scottish Government now has an opportunity"

I'd check the links for those quotes if I were you, context is everything.

CBI Scotland:
“We very much welcome the further cut in business rates for small firms and the effort to keep council tax bills down"

and
given the difficulties our economy is experiencing at the moment, it is crucial that legislators behave collegiately and that Parliament passes a Budget that provides business with the certainty and stability it needs

The FSB:
The Scottish Government's intention to fully implement the Small Business Bonus – removing thousands of small firms from the burden of inflexible and disproportionate rates bills – will be welcomed by huge numbers of Scottish small firms and has the potential to make a real economic difference.
Mind how you go!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

SNP saved A&E - just as well ...

I note with a wry smile (I like doing things with a wry smile, it worries people) that a Labour MSP has complained that it took his mother-in-law too long to be attended to when she was in Monklands A&E. It's always a regret when someone ends up waiting a long time to be seen and it would be excellent if we could all be seen within minutes of entering hospital.

How much worse would it be, though, if that A&E wasn't there? The irony is that the Labour MSP making the complaint was one of the Labour MSPs who voted to close the A&E at Monklands altogether.

The health board's comment was interesting too:
"At Monklands Hospital we recorded the highest number of emergency medical admissions ever experienced."

So on the busiest day this A&E department has ever had patients had to wait a bit longer, Labour wanted to close the department but still wants to complain about it not seeing the relatives of Labour MSPs quickly on the busiest day it has ever seen, and the SNP did the right thing in saving this department.

Next week Labour MPs will be complaining that their glasses are empty after they've finished their drinks. Sometimes I wish I was making this stuff up.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Over the sea to Fife ...

Have a look at this:

The SNP Scottish Government put forward a funding proposal for the new Forth Bridge. The proposal is to bring forward Scottish capital spend to build the bridge, thereby spreading the cost over a larger number of years in order to protect other capital investment projects like building schools and hospitals.

If the Scottish Government was able to borrow, like other administrations - including councils, the problem wouldn't occur.

Labour's answer - use PFI (like the Skye Bridge)except that the Treasury pointed out that PFI "would not solve the budgeting problem if the scheme was classified as public spending" which all PFI now will be thanks to a change in accounting rules. Labour's position, as espoused by the sage David Whitton is that the Scottish Government should "look at PPP/PFI projects, but of course they are ideologically opposed to doing that." Labour's London Ministers say PFI wouldn't solve the problem, David Whitton says it doesn't matter whether it solves the problem, just do it anyway.

Meanwhile Gordon Brown is suggesting that bringing forward capital spend, as the Scottish Government wants to do, would help bring us through recession more quickly. So why is his Chancellor denying Scotland the opportunity? Darling, in fact, said "that's something that we simply don't do."

Labour in lack of coherent thinking shock! For a piece of real genius, though, you have to look no further than Des McNulty's interview on Good Morning Scotland on 10 December 2008:

DES McNULTY: Well I think there's a variety of methods that could be looked at, you know, there have been similar bridges built through conventional procurement methods. There have been bridges built through the PPP methodology…

GARY ROBERTSON: Presumably you wouldn't just want to see a situation as we saw on the Skye Bridge, for instance.

DES McNULTY: Well, no, I don't think that – that would be the best approach, although I think the government, in taking the approach they did to removing the tolls from the existing Forth Bridge has actually taken away a particular funding model that has been used in the past, so…

GARY ROBERTSON: …So would Labour restore those tolls?

DES McNULTY: No, I'm not saying that, but I think what the SNP government has done is, it's narrowed its options, and one of the things that emerged –

GARY ROBERTSON: …Well, your options would be narrowed as well if you're not committed to returning them, wouldn't they?

DES McNULTY: Well, I think either the SNP has actually restricted its options – its policy approach… I mean, what's paradoxical –

GARY ROBERTSON: Not to keep your options open? To be clear, to keep your options open, you would keep the option of returning the tolls, then.

DES McNULTY: No, what I said is we would look at all – all possible options.


So that'll be all possible options except the ones that they don't want to talk about ...

Why not have tolls on bridges? Well, they're part of the road network so the real question is "do you want tolls on Scotland's roads?" There's a debate to be had there - I'd be on the side of toll-free roads - but it's not the debate that Labour wants to face up to.

Mind how you go!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Campaigning - Turkish style

Back to campaigning after the Festive season -

Up You Could Not Make It

The word on the streets (or, at least, the story in The Times) is that 'Tough Love' Darling is now considering another bail-out for the banks. This time he's thinking about buying up the dodgy loans they made (which are now, by and large, worthless because the borrowers cannot afford to repay them - partly as a result of the mess the economy is in which, in turn, was partly caused by incompetence at UK Minister level) so that the banks can get lending levels back to 2007 levels - which they could only do by *ahem* relaxing the stricter lending practices that they have introduced. Genius, isn't it? The banks are taking action to clean up their act in the aftermath of collapses caused by poor lending practices and the Government is seeking to force them to carry on being irresponsible. Looks like we're in for more nonsense from the Brown/Darling Axis of Unthinking.

The Farepak victims still haven't seen a penny in compensation, though ...

Friday, 2 January 2009

A guid New Year tae ane an a' an mony may ye see

Good wishes to all for New Year - except Iain Gray, you can take this goodwill thing too far you know. As Iain wends his weary way through the detritus of the Labour party and the aftermath of Wendy Alexander he'll be comforted by the knowledge that his writ might yet run to the extent of being able to decide the policies of the Labour Party in Scotland - if Jim Murphy's career takes off or his ambitions take a dunt.

Some daft lump in Labour's communications team went into "nah, nah, we're better" mode recently when it was announced that SNP membership continues to rise - up 60% in five years. Rather than being honest, Labour's spin was that it now had "just under 20,000 members" - up from the 18,500 last reported. There goes Iain's determination to have 'honest politics'. Labour's last declaration was actually 17,000 (the 18,500 was from 2005), and we all know that Labour's real membership figure in Scotland is 7,321.

The question I'm asking is whether the refusal of Labour's press office to follow Iain Gray's line and, instead, follow the Jim Murphy 'blind attack' line has a parallel in the mutterings about Labour's performance in the Scottish Parliament. The moustache twirlers appear to be preparing for yet another leadership battle (is there no end to their appetite for siblicide?) if things go badly for Labour over the 'next wee while' (by which I assume they mean the European elections and any Westminster election held in 2009). This hardly seems fair on Iain Gray, given that he has no power to influence events and he's not allowed to do anything without clearing it with London (or perhaps Melville Crescent), but the dripping poison would have it that leadership is about leading whether you have the front or not and, obviously, the plotters think that there are one or two persons better suited to the task.

Iain Gray's task is hard enough as it is with the mess that he was left by Wendy Alexander, the crumbling of the Labour party as an organisation, and the dearth of talent in Labour's ranks at Holyrood (Westminster is as bad for them but it's hidden rather more in the sheer scale of the place), questions about his leadership will do nothing but add to that burden.

Right, I'm off to annoy a press officer...