Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Additional responsibilities and powers

I asked a couple of people (the type of people who would know) about what responsibilities and powers have been devolved to Scotland since 1999, and I looked at the very important Scotland Act 1998 and Associated Delegated Legislation web page. Ready?

Convention rights limitations;
Agency arrangements for Artificial Insemination of Pigs, Export of Horses, Rabies, Importation of Animals, Diseases of Animals (Approved Disinfectants, Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs, Importation of Embryos, Ova and Semen, Bovine Embryo (Collection, Production and Transfer), control and eradication of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, animal by-products not intended for human consumption, The Pet Travel Scheme, the intra-species recycling ban for fish, the burial and burning of animal by-products, Animal By-Products regulations, animal health requirements for the movement of circus animals between Member States of the EU, TSE research, control, eradication and limitation on feedstuffs, Products of Animal Origin regulations, Animal and Animal Products regs, Bovine Semen regs, Zoonoses and Animal By-Products regs;
Environmental protection and pollution control;
Agency arrangements for prisoners on licence being transferred to Scotland from England;
Agency arrangements for environmental protection and analysis of heavy fuel oil
Investigatory powers;
Feedstuffs and additives under EU Designations;
Hydro electric generation;
Agency arrangements for the purchase Fire and Rescue radio systems (admit it - you thought that would just be part of the normal operation of the Fire Boards, just as I did);
Financial implications from the fisheries on the Tweed;
Agency arrangements for welfare food;
Welfare food definitions and renewable energy obligations;
Agency arrangements for a load of NHS functions;
A whole load of functions across Fire and Rescue, Electricity, Energy, Food and Environment, Food Standards, Road Traffic, and Roads;
Health and Safety on construction sites;
Something under the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 (I didn't bother looking it up), control of fireworks and consumer protection in the area of fireworks;
Common Agricultural Policy burdens;
CAP stuff again (I'm struggling to see the difference between 3324 and 2980);
Railways and academic research;
Tax Commissioners, rehabilitation of offenders and access to justice;
Warrants under investigatory powers;

That's as far back as 2003, more later if my brain recovers. Mind how you transfer!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Changing the debate on climate change

Ever heard of Gaia? The planet as an organism theory was developed by Professor James Lovelock and he's said some very interesting things in an interview with John Humphrys. I find myself agreeing with him in his criticisms of politicians and scientists who are taking liberties with data and observations - that helps no-one. The full broadcast is worth listening to, I love his frank admission that he could be wrong - a proper scientist - and his comment that fudging data is tantamount to "a sin against the holy ghost". He's said similar things before, right enough.

Well done that man!

Vote SNP

That chap Iain Dale has published a book or two on who to vote for in the election. I've read the "Vote SNP" one (what do you mean I've missed a word out?) and can only say that Iain Dale has me convinced - I'll be voting SNP. I note that the SNP book has a higher price than all of the others except Plaid - obviously of a higher quality...

Mind how you go!


I watched Newsnicht earlier (as ye do) and it had one of those daft chats between a presenter and a reporter - this time talking about Steven Purcell's puff piece in the Sun. The young reporter chappie mentioned the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency visit to Purcell while he was in office and reasoned (it seemed to me) that, since the SCDEA is an intelligence-led policing organisation that doesn't tell anyone what it's up to and the officers didn't arrest the council leader for drug use, we should accept Mr. Purcell's explanation that two officers from the SCDEA had nothing better to do with their day than wander up to George Square to warn him that some drug dealer might have a video of him taking drugs.

As Jeremy Paxman would say "yeeeeesssss.....". The hubris we have come to expect from Labour politicians is quite clear in Purcell's claim but surely a journalist would look a little harder? Might not the officers from an intelligence-led organisation be gathering intelligence, for example? Is that not a more reasonable explanation? It's about time a journalist challenged this daft claim that serious police officers spend their time sooking up to councillors.

Maybe tomorrow, eh?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Double your money

I keep hearing Labour politicians talking about how the Scottish Government has twice as much cash as the 1999 administration had. Leaving aside the effects of inflation, the 99 administration never had as much responsibility - railways, for example.

I think I'll take a closer wee look...

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Catch the glacier!

Here's an interesting thing (well, I'm interested) - there's a glacier in Alaska called the Hubbard Glacier which is advancing so far and so quickly that it's threatening to dam a river and create a glacial lake. It's done this before (with debris that it shoved against the opposite shore in 1984 and in 2002) and there's a possibility that the lake it creates will overflow into a small creek, enlarging the creek by about 20 times and possibly ruining some fisheries - as well as possibly flooding villages!

The US Geological Survey says that calving glaciers are not affected by climate and it will keep coming - it's been advancing for over a century and it's moving at a speed of 32 metres per year into Disenchantment Bay (must have been a right cheery cartographer who named that).
It's 123km long, as high as 100 m above sea level and 414 m below sea level with a calving face that is 11.4 km in length. That's some monster on the move.
To think some people complained about clearing the snow from their own paths this winter.
Mind how you slide!

Vanities and Quangoes

Today, I predict, there will be the touching of the flame to the foot of the pyre in which the quangoes rest, the beginning of the bonfire. The Public Services Reform Bill also includes provisions which will allow Ministers to get rid of quangoes more easily in future. Some opposition parties want that bit of the Bill removed. Go figure!

Mind how you burn!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Jim Murphy!

Being a cheeky fella for a few minutes, can I just share with you something that occurred to me as I saw Jim Murphy being interviewed earlier.

Sorry about that, Secretary of State, mind how you go!

That didn't last long!

They'd got me hooked, and then it all fell apart!

Call that a bribe?

What do you do if you're asked by a corrupt official to pay a bribe?

Well, if you're an Indian who's cheesed off paying bribes, you might just hand them a zero rupee note and watch them back down.

That's fantastic!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Trams - changed my mind

I've always opposed the tram project in Edinburgh. I like light rail as an urban transport system but it should be separated from road traffic and, more importantly, pedestrians. I've criticised the poor planning (we were told that the city centre utility diversion work would be completed by August 2008 - it's still going on - and that all of the utility diversion work would be finished by February 2009), questioned the costing (TIE indicated a "final contract cost" of £508 million on 24th April 2008 - up from £438 million the year before), worried about the disinformation (we were told that tram track would be laid in Leith Walk in October 2008), and prodded the schonky business case (well, at least I've read it).

Given that two trams will now be painted with pictures of Ian Rankin and Alexander Graham Bell, though, what can I say? I'm sold on it - bring on the trams!

Just keep them off the roads.

Maybe use some of the miles of underused railway track around the city.

Mind how you go!

Unassailable SNP lead

The Sun's daily tracker has the SNP having soared past Labour and into an unassailable lead of three points (27 to 24) with a huge sample size of 136. On a uniform result right across the country that would give the SNP 59 seats!

Mind how you go.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Farewell to a friend

Billy Wolfe has died. Like thousands of other members of the SNP I regarded Billy as a friend and a good companion on the road to independence. The tributes will pile up on the party's website. He was one of those grand old stagers of the party who was an ever-present at conferences and campaigns, gently eccentric and always ready with a smile and a bit of encouragement for all of us. One of the first pieces of mail received by newly elected SNP Parliamentarians would be a wee card from Billy with his congratulations and best wishes for the term ahead, his incredible generosity of spirit always lifted people who came into contact with him and he was always delighted to share a joke and a laugh.
He's credited with turning the SNP into the modern party it is today, reforming our organisation and our campaigning methods, underpinning our policy platform with a socially democratic ethos, driving our cause forward.
His activism and his energy seemed not to know any limits, as well as turning up at elections when he was well into his 80s, he was a determined campaigner for nuclear disarmament, part of the deep-seated opposition to nuclear weapons that is part of the lifeblood of the SNP and created SNPCND. Billy's CND membership led him into as many 'interesting' positions as his SNP membership, he was one of those who went to Cape Wrath to protest against the US Navy using it for shelling practice and there's a tale told about Billy and Ian Hamilton QC at Faslane sitting on the road side by side and complaining about the police refusing to manhandle them out of the way with the refrain of "what's an old man got to do to get arrested around here?" and complaints that they'd paid their taxes all their life and should have the right to get lifted. A formidable pairing, you might say.
He was an environmental campaigner as well, leading the charge to protect Scotland for future generations, and I believe he was a prime mover in setting up the Eilean Mor MacCormick Trust to look after the SNP's island which is at the mouth of Loch Sween and home to a 12th century Chapel dedicated to St Cormac. In the same spirit in which Billy did everything else, visitors are always welcome on the island:

Billy was a man who believed in peace, in love and in gentleness. He served in the Second World War and campaigned for peace thereafter. An excellent bloke, he'll be missed by a lot of us but we'll still be cheered by the memory of him. His family have lost a husband and father, we've lost a friend, and Scotland has lost a patriot but Billy was the kind of person who would rather you celebrated his life than mourned his death. There's a lot to celebrate.
So long Billy.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Lib Dem king-makers? Nope.

The fuss and flutter of speculation and feverish rubbish from commentators in the run-up to the election really getting started has led some people to speculate that the Lib Dems will be in a position of strength after the election and ready to decide who becomes Prime Minister. I've come to the conclusion that it's all havers, and the reason I've come to that conclusion is simple - the Lib Dems are going to lose a lot of seats at this election, they won't pick up any in Scotland, and they'll do rather badly elsewhere too (maybe picking up one in Newcastle).

They're consistently fourth in Scotland in opinion polls, third across England, miles behind the Conservatives in the South of England, they're showing up fourth in Wales and are falling further and further behind and I think they face losing seats. They don't have a leader with the charisma of Charlie Kennedy or Paddy Ashdown or even David Owen any more, having apparently been left with the runt of the litter in Nick Clegg.

Looking at opinion polls, adding in 2005 results (boundary changes coming in England), adding my excellent judgement and terrible prejudice to that, totting up what's what, I don't think they can take a single seat that they don't currently hold, I think they'll get squeezed everywhere, and I think that this is what will happen to the seats they currently hold (some nominally after boundary changes):

Inverness Nairn Badenoch & Strathspey - lose
West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine - lose heavily
East Dunbartonshire - lose
Gordon - lose (taken by a blogger)
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk - lose
Argyll & Bute - lose
Dunfermline & West Fife - might hold, might lose. Willie works hard and that might be enough to save him (it'd be lost otherwise)

Edinburgh West - weakened, a possible loss and will only be saved, if it is, because of the battles going on in nearby seats (they have a terrible candidate here) - and it goes in 2011 if they do save it this time.
NE Fife - hold
Orkney & Shetland - hold
Ross, Skye & Lochaber - hold
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross - hold

Furth of Scotland:
Mid Dorset & North Poole - lose to Con
Taunton Deane - lose to Con
Solihull - lose to Con
Southport - lose to Con
Cornwall North - shrinking majority, lose to Con
Westmorland & Lonsdale - lose to Con
Bath - lose to Con
Romsey & Southampton North - lose to Con
Camborne & Redruth - lose to Con (Labour nominally second but have faded here)
Portsmouth South - about a 3,300 majority about to be lost to Con.
Somerton & Frome - lose to Con
Oxford West & Abingdon - boundary chanegs remove the university, Evan Harris is looking for a new job - lose to Con.
Carshalton & Wallington - a battle, but probably lose to Con
Teignbridge - the home of Buckfast is abolished, but Boris Johnston's dad got to 6,000 votes away last time, the new seat will be lost to Con.
Eastleigh - lose to Con
Torbay - lose to Con
Brecon & Radnorshire - lose to Con
Cheadle - lose to Con
Richmond Park - Jenny Tongue's old seat, never safe, lose to Con
Cheltenham - rapidly shrinking majority - lose to Con.
North Devon - Harvey's majority was lower in 2005 than in 1997 - lose to Con
Hornsey & Wood Green - lose to Lab
Birmingham Yardley - lose to Lab
Chesterfield - lose to Lab
Cambridge - won't be able tohold onto the 4,000 majority; lose to Lab
Manchester Withington - lose to Lab
Leeds North West - lose to Lab
Rochdale - the cowboys are going to ride on out, lose to Lab
Brent Central - lose to Lab
Ceredigion - lose to Plaid

Thornbury and Yate - hold
Bristol West - hold
Cardiff Central - hold
Berwick Upon Tweed - hold
South East Cornwall - hold
Sutton & Cheam - hold
Twickenham - hold
Sheffield Hallam - hold
Kingston & Surbiton - hold
St Ives - hold
Lewes - hold
Harrogate & Knaresborough - bit of a boundary change but probably hold
Bermondsey & Old Southwark - a straight choice, hold.
Hereford - disappears Lib Dem should take new seat of Hereford and South Herefordshire
North Norfolk - hold
Yeovil - hold
Meon Valley (successor seat to Mark Oaten's Winchester - Lib Dem hold
Montgomeryshire - hold
Colchester - hold
Hazel Grove - hold
Truro & St Austell - splits in two, I've no idea how that'll pan out.
So, that's between 4 and 6 seats in Scotland and maybe 22 elsewhere. It's going to be a sore election for the Lib Dems, very sore. Far from being king-makers, questions about their viability will be asked. With no policy platform, having tossed it aside for this election, and no real purpose in politics, why would that party stay together?
Of course, I might be wrong. Mind how you go.

Labouring the point

The Scottish Government announced today that it was dumping the proposal to allow local authorities to advertise online instead of in local newspapers. Labour leader Iain Gray said:
"This decision is a victory for democracy and a humiliating climbdown for the SNP. John Swinney's proposals to allow local councils to put public notices online instead of in newspapers were undemocratic and I am glad that they have now been dropped.
"Large numbers of people in Scotland don't have access to the internet and there is a real danger that putting public notices online would have led to important decisions being taken without proper scrutiny."
The proposal was introduced in 2006 by the last bunch who were in power. That'd be Labour then!

Mind how you go.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

John Scott - 10 today

Ten years ago today the good people of Ayr went to the polls in the first by election of the Scottish Parliament. Labour MSP Ian Welsh, who had had a majority of 25, resigned for family reasons after eight months in Parliament.

There were some tiring journeys back and forward to that constituency, but it was an interesting exercise and an interesting result. The Labour vote plummeted less than a year after they had become the largest party in Holyrood (unlike the SNP, of course, we won Glasgow East after becoming the largest party in Holyrood), the Conservative vote eased upwards, and the SNP vote shot up by nine and a half points to take us into second.

Victor on the day was John Scott of the Conservatives with a majority of 3,344 and he's held it in two elections since then.

Here's the result as announced
William Clifton BOTCHERBY Scottish Independent 'The Radio Vet' 186
Gavin Nelson CORBETT Scottish Green Party 460
Kevin James DILLON Independent, Anti-Cloning Candidate 15
Robert GRAHAM Pro-Life Alliance 111
Jim MATHER Scottish National Party (SNP) 9,236
Alistair David McCONNACHIE UK Independence Party 113
Rita MILLER Scottish Labour Party 7,054
Stuart David RITCHIE Scottish Liberal Democrats 800
John SCOTT The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Candidate 12,580
James STEWART Scottish Socialist Party (Convener Tommy Sheridan) 1,345
Rejected papers 58
Majority 3,344

And here's a picture of John Scott and David McLetchie trying to keep up with William Hague shamelessly nicked from Ian Old's excellent site:

Monday, 15 March 2010

It's still a runaway tram.

On the last day of September last year, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP disclosed that the Edinburgh Tram Project was £200 million over budget and wouldn't run until at least 2013. Lib Dem council leader Jenny Dawe claimed that it wasn't true:
Cllr Dawe dismissed Ms Somerville's claim as "purely scaremongering".
She said: "It's a lot of nonsense and unbelievably unhelpful when we are trying to deliver such a major project as close as possible to the sum of money we know we have available and we have a contractor in dispute over various things.
"She doesn't like the trams and is doing everything she can to foil the project. She is not going to."
TIE spokeswoman Mandy Haeburn-Little said:
"For Shirley Ann Somerville to be suggesting that there is some other information being held back is ridiculous and unhelpful. If Ms Somerville would like to name her sources then we would be very pleased to respond fully."

She went further when speaking to the BBC:
Jenny Dawe, Edinburgh City Council leader, said: "The funding situation and projected delivery date for trams running on the street has not changed since being reported to the council last month.
"The dispute resolution process is currently underway and both the council and Tie are committed to ensuring that we come in as close to budget as possible.
"Speculation from Ms Somerville is purely scaremongering - a fact backed up by her inability to substantiate her sources."
Mandy Haeburn-Little, Tie spokeswoman, said: "Not only is this information incorrect but it is deeply damaging to the positive progress of the Edinburgh tram project.
"Categorically there is nothing to suggest that the programme will extend beyond 2012 as had been stated publicly.
"The programme is making good progress and is on track to be clear of Princes Street at the end of November as planned."

Of course, I believed the MSP. She was the one who revealed that line 1b was for the chop back in November 2008 and that was denied by Councillor Dawe as well, but the cancellation was announced in April 2009.

Now, it would appear, TIE and the council both knew at the time the council leader and the TIE PR consultant were making these statements that they were false.

Mandy Haeburn-Little said it would was "ridiculous and unhelpful" to suggest that information was being held back - while TIE and the council were both holding this information back. It's not the job of the leader of a PR team to tell lies, if she knew the truth then her position is untenable, if she didn't know the truth then the veracity of any and all of her other statements on behalf of TIE is open to question.

Jenny Dawe said that the claim was "a lot of nonsense and unbelievably unhelpful". If she knew that the council knew then her position is untenable, if she didn't know then serious questions have to be asked about her grip on the largest local authority public procurement project in Scotland in decades. Either way we can't take her at her word on the Tram Project.

It's time for some openness. Audit Scotland reported to the council on the Tram Project in January:
91. We will discuss these matters further in a more detailed report on the tram project which will be issued in the first instance to the Director of Finance in January 2010.

The council should publish that report in full. While it's going about that, it should also publish in full the "independent analysis of the project" which it claims to have had done. Some claim commercial confidentiality as the reason for keeping the chaos secret - how many more tram projects do they think the council will be commissioning in the near future?

Today's story included the memorable line:

There is absolutely no question of a cover-up

I can't help thinking "so why did you feel the need to say that?" There'll be no whitewash?

Mind how you go.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Controversy in New York!

You do a wee blog-post and you create controversy. Indy commented on my last post that New York, New York was a Gerard Kenny song but that's not the one I meant. Here, have a listen:

Manifesto commitments - so good we hit them twice!

Frank Sinatra's got nothing on me! I just realised while perusing a certain Belle's ponderings that the SNP Scottish Government has surpassed the 'additional 1,000 police officers' target. Thing is, we did that already and it was so satisfying that we did it again (I know, fluctuation in numbers is normal and the drop in the middle was just a matter of retirals and waiting for new recruits but I managed to squeeze a terrible Frank Sinatra joke out of it).

Mind how you plod!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Joan McAlpine - she's no bad

I find myself in agreement with Joan McAlpine (a journalist whose style tends to the succinct and direct - excellent) in her recent musings. I, too, wonder why some media outlets seem to think it perfectly acceptable to traduce the character of a young lady on the basis of hearsay while failing to question the failure of senior members of the Labour party to have even a smidgen of good grace about a colleague of theirs departing politics (apparently permanently - but you can never be certain). There were interesting revelations in her column this week, too, about the one lawyer representing so many newspapers on a regular basis that snapping him up for a client effectively neuters a fair chunk of Scotland's press pack and in the piece by her colleague on the paper about who would turn up at a Glasgow Labour fund-raiser.

We need good journalists as much as we need good politicians, keep it up!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Scotland wee?

Scotland small?

Scotland is often referred to as a small nation (I think that it's just the right size, but there you go) and that can obscure our actual position. Our population is 5,168,500 or thereabouts making us about the 113th most populous country in the world with about 124 countries smaller than us. We've got 78,722 square kilometres, putting us about 116th in terms of land mass, 121 countries being smaller than us. We are, as it were, about the middle in terms of size, we fit in nicely.

Size is all-important, apparently ...

STV Homecoming programmes

There is an attempt to create a stooshie and a fuss over the Homecoming programmes aired by STV, as you'll recall. It has been widely covered in the inky fingers press and you might have imagined that the Labour-supporting Daily Record would be eager to jump on that particular passing bandwagon. You'd be surprised if you did.

Why would the Record not be covering the story in great depth? Well, the Daily Record was another sponsor of the programmes and was a partner with the Scottish Government in the whole adventure. SNP propaganda sponsored by the Daily Record? I think not!

Mind how you read

Friday, 5 March 2010

Leave Purcell alone

The strange Steven Purcell saga is a private tragedy for the man (tragedy in its Aristotelian definition, of course) and his fall is huge. What I have found most distasteful, though, have been the reactions of his Labour Party colleagues. Brown, Murphy and Gray refused to pay any tribute to him as he left office as leader of Glasgow Council and the statement today after he left office as a councillor was made by a party spokesman rather than by a named politician, there is still nothing on Scottish Labour's website giving thanks of any kind to Mr Purcell (although there is a childish jibe at George Osborne), he got a passing mention from his erstwhile deputy who has temporarily taken over the reins at the council and some more fulsome praise from Alex Salmond, but nothing from senior members of his own party. Indeed, Labour members seem to be keen to get themselves into the newspapers telling him to divulge details of his personal life.

I don't think that his expensive PR team and lawyer have been useful to him throughout this and he must have a huge bill to settle with them for all their services, but he shouldn't have needed to lean so heavily on them at all. Whatever Mr Purcell's tragic flaw that has brought him to this end, he should have had support from his party and from his party colleagues - they seem, instead, to have been intent on doing him down.

There are people now saying that the public have a right to know the details of Mr Purcell's health, a right to know why he resigned. No we don't. We have no right to his personal information, no right to rake through his private life, prurience does not equate to the public interest. The administration in Glasgow might take a look over the decisions he made recently, just to check that nothing went awry but we have no right to probe into his private life - he was not owned by the public, he was employed by the public. I believe that the newspapers will be carrying more bad news for him tomorrow, news unconnected to his resignations. In a week his life has been turned upside-down and dropped on its head.

I find myself in the unusual position of feeling some sympathy for a Labour politician. By all means examine what his decisions in office were and whether they were good, but leave the man alone. He'll be needing time and space and the support of friends to recover from whatever he has been suffering. In the name of common human decency, leave the man alone.

Same again?

Once again the opposition parties in Scotland are hoovering about saying that a European ruling on minimum pricing on tobacco gives the Scottish Government some problems on alcohol pricing.

I say it just goes to show that they don't understand the European ruling, and here's a blog-post I wrote on Burns Day (I chose that day just for the piquancy, you understand) reproduced in its entirety (near enough):

Monday, 25 January 2010

Minimum Pricing
Now that a major brewer has joined the campaign to bring Scottish alcohol consumption under control, let's dispose of the 'illegal under EU law' argument. The argument goes like this -

1. The European Court has ruled that minimum pricing for tobacco contravenes Article 9(1) of Council Directive 95/59/EC of 27 November 1995 on taxes other than turnover taxes which affect the consumption of manufactured tobacco so minimum pricing on alcohol is illegal.

2. Er, that's it.

Here's the problem with that argument - the case to which they refer (it's actually three cases but the Advocate General issued one Opinion to cover them all, delivered on the 22nd of October 2009) rests on the fact that tobacco producers and importers are permitted to set maximum prices for their products (it's about payable duty, they fix a maximum price and pay the duty on the maximum price in order to make sure they can't pay duty on a price lower than they sell it for - then there's another duty added on 'per unit' - the second one is the one you hear about in the budget) and that case law has indicated that this means that minimum prices for tobacco are illegal.

It's a wee bit tortuous but not too bad - minimum pricing on tobacco is not expressly forbidden but the opinion of the Court has been that imposing a minimum price limits inhibits the rights of the manufacturers to decide their own maximum prices (they couldn't decide on a maximum price lower than the minimum price), so the imposition of minimum pricing was illegal. The legal argument upon which the member states were contesting the action was contained in the reservation that the right to set maximum prices "may not, however, hinder implementation of national systems of legislation regarding the control of price levels or the observance of imposed prices, provided that they are compatible with Community legislation" and you should expect that to come back to the Court in due course.

What's important, however, is that the Opinion is based solely on the right of the tobacco companies to set a maximum price and that right being infringed by the imposition of a minimum price - alcohol producers do not have the right to impose maximum prices.

Tobacco taxation (including the right of manufacturers to set maximum prices) is governed by Council Directive 95/59/EC while the alcohol taxation regulations are contained in Council Directive 92/84/EEC.

Meanwhile, the EU's strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm includes using taxation as a means of introducing minimum pricing (an option not open to the Scottish Government because of the restrictions of the current devolution settlement; but indicates that the EU is in favour of using pricing policy as a means to manage alcohol consumption); altering the ages at which alcohol can be sold (remember that one?); and lowering the allowable blood alcohol limit for drivers, including a zero rate for young drivers, public transport drivers and freight drivers.

There's lots and lots of information available through the European Alcohol and Health Forum for anyone who wants some light reading with their sherry.

Mind how you drink!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How much money wasted?

How much public money do you think has been wasted by Labour Party members making entirely spurious complaints about the behaviour of members of the Scottish Government?

There was the lunches complaint (there was also a complaint made about this to the Standards Commission which doesn't investigate MSPs) - complaint dismissed; there was the escaped prisoners complaint - complaint dismissed; there was the Scottish Inter Faith Council complaint - complaint dismissed; there was the class sizes complaint - complaint dismissed; even the partisan inquiry into the Balmedie planning process dismissed the complaints.

Now more public money is being wasted on yet another inquiry that will result in the complaint being dismissed - Ofcom is to investigate the STV Homecoming programmes.

How much of our money has Labour (and the Lib Dems just a little) wasted on these complaints whose purpose appears to be nothing more nor less than the gaining of a few newspaper headlines and some scandalised reporting? No wrongdoing (intentional or not) in any one of these cases, just cheap headline-grabbing by politicians who have nothing positive to say. What a scandalous misuse of public money, what a sad way for politicians to end up - snuffling around the regulatory institutions of our public life looking for scandal like an olfactory-impaired boar hunting for truffles.

There should always be proper scrutiny of the actions of Governments, and opposition parties should forever be keening their political tools in the probing and testing of Ministers - that makes for good democracy, for good government, for a good legislature. What is not acceptable is for politicians to abdicate their responsibility for scrutiny and, instead, to attempt an ordure shower. Scotland deserves better from her opposition parties than this dreadfully poor attempt.

They should up their game!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Trams - are they hiding from me?

Way back in December TIE offered me a briefing on the tram project (along with the other interested SNP candidates) and said the same offer had been made to the other political parties. When I accepted it was scheduled for February. I met the chairman of TIE at the rugby against France (don't ask the score) and nudged him about it. February has come and gone and not another word.


What a day

What a day for politics:

Leaders' debates for the forthcoming election were announced and include two parties who are not in government at Westminster nor in any of the devolved nations (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) but don't include the party of government in Scotland (the SNP), one of the parties of government in Wales (Plaid Cymru), or any party of government in Stormont.

Dave Maddox beats me to the punch in pointing to Lib Dem hypocrisy (Alistair Carmichael criticising those who offer binary political choices while his own party is infamous for it).

Finally, I get a phone call from a friend of mine which went like this:
"Why do I never get any of your leaflets through my door?"
"Because you live in Portobello, it's way outside the constituency."
"I got one from your Lib Dem opponent..."
There's an enthusiastic leafleter who's got a bit lost then!

Mind how you go!

STV and the SNP

Let's just jump back in the water of the daftness of the opposition claiming that it is somehow wrong for the Scottish Government to have supported Scottish culture by sponsoring programmes made by STV for the Year of Homecoming. In true l'esprit d'escalier style, it has struck me that the whole story was actually back to front. The Year of Homecoming was actually started under the Labour administration before 2007 (and a decent idea it was as well) under Jack McConnell, as Iain Gray was at pains to point out - the question really shouldn't be "why was STV involved?" but "why were the broadcasters not involved earlier?"

The earlier the involvement of Scotland's media companies (and corporations, Auntie, even with today's bit of slimming) in such things, the better the promotion and the historical record of them. The story shouldn't have been 'shock, horror, the First Minister met STV' but 'jings, crivvens, this is long overdue'.

We've got decent media in Scotland; the BBC will even change a piece when you point out the slight inaccuracies.

Mind how you go!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Bankrupt Britain?

The Financial Times is reporting that UK Government debt is being traded at prices that suggest that the investors are treating it as less than AAA rated. British bond yields have gone back above Italian yields and are approaching those of Portugal, putting the UK right in among those countries so condescendingly referred to as PIIGS for a time by some who thought themselves superior. As the FT says, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch have indicated that they are unlikely to re-rate the UK before the election but, since the agencies follow the markets in most cases, that's hardly a comfort, and the credit agencies are saying that the debt has to be reduced sooner rather than later.

The cost to the UK of servicing its debt is increasing while other European states are holding steady, and the UK's public debt now exceeds 60% of GDP and is predicted to keep rising. If memory serves, PFI and PPP projects have to be added to that debt figure as well. Some commentators warned as far back as January of 2009 that the debt was unsustainable and a month later the Chief Executive of the Audit Commission warned that debts were at 'Armageddon levels' - and debt has risen since then.

I guess Ted Hawkins isn't the only one searching -

That's the way to do it!

The Times is reporting a range of synthetic angers over the Scottish Government sponsoring three programmes made by STV. Here's the spouting:
Ted Brocklebank, Culture Spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: “If the SNP government has being trying to use taxpayers’ money to undermine the impartiality of STV then there must be an investigation.”.
“If [Mr Salmond] has been using taxpayers’ money to buy favour and influence, then that would be a serious breach of power.”
Iain Gray, leader of Scots Labour, said: “The suggestion that Alex Salmond tried to manipulate Scotland’s largest commercial broadcaster is deeply concerning.”
Iain Smith, the Liberal Democrat Culture Spokesman, said: “Independent broadcasters aren’t there to act as PR agencies for the government.”

Scottish Government encourages Scottish cultural shows shock...

So who hosted these shows which were undermining the impartiality of STV, which were an attempt to buy favour and influence, manipulated a commercial broadcaster, and turned STV into public relations consultants?

Kirsty Wark, Labour supporter, friend of former First Minister Jack McConnell MSP.
Charlie Kennedy MP, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Alastair Campbell, one time gentle persuader for Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

You can see how that twists it all towards support for the SNP, can't you?

Mind how you go!