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The truths they don't want you to read....

Monday, May 31, 2010

Urgent Council decisions

If my sources are right, The Bridge Centre has had to be bailed out by the Council to avoid being wound up by the Inland Revenue.

I am told that £9,000 had to be transferred to the Inland Revenue last week, at the very last moment, to prevent the Court being petitioned or other legal action being taken.

As the organisation is also a Charity, there are all sorts of questions arising over the financial management, but mainly how it all managed to get so bad so quickly that such urgent action was necessary.

But perhaps the most intriguing element is that the Council decision didn't need to be made so urgently in the first place; and that emergency powers didn't need to be taken by a small cabal of Councillors at the last moment.

All the information was - apparently - in the hands of the Council since April, but a decision was taken not to advise Councillors or seek their opinion at the last series of Council meetings, as it was deemed to be 'political', and could have been used in the election campaign to attack Donald John MacSween. Instead, it was delayed until recently, when it suddenly became an emergency.

Perhaps this was the kind of event that the good Councillor was referring to 'hiding' from other Councillors and the public?

I'm told the future for the Bridge lies in the hands of the College, and will be resolved very shortly. I am sure that we all agree that such a provision needs to continue, albeit with a new budget and new controls.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The future for the islands

I read an article like the one appearing in the Herald today, and I despair; not because it is wrong or casts any aspersions on the islands, but because it is so true. And painfully so.

Of course, we can only read it electronically today, and it might be tea time tomorrow before we might get the paper in our hands, and that perhaps is the key part of the problem.

I was asked to put the Fuel Petition on the blog, but I feel that it is doing nothing but putting a sticking plaster on an amputation. I don't want to not support it, but it is only going to help at the slightest margins. My view is clear: we need a VAT and duty exemption, like the Canaries, if we want to really regenerate the islands, rather than pick at the edges. (Don't get me wrong; a duty reduction would be a welcome gimme, just like a discount voucher from Tesco)

I want my children to have a future here, but I think that the demographics mean that they will have to join the vicious circle of emigration in order to find a decent career. And I am starting to feel that as a family we have to look elsewhere for our future lives, as the critical mass of population to support a variety of businesses is never going to be here, unless something fundamental changes

We are probably very lucky in that our generation is going to be the last to actually be able to make a living here as professions - at least in the private sector - and that the islands are going to increasingly become a branch office for the mainland businesses, until indigenous business is a small niche service, and local shops become a distant memory.

We have deliberately targeted business growth on the mainland, and with something like 75% of our new business coming from off-island, we are better placed by most (by deliberate strategic planning) to survive any downturn, but what happens to our kids?

But enough of decrying the islands, do I have some solutions? Yes I do, and they are painful for some.

The sheer size of the public sector is killing the islands, with the stifling hand of big Government is causing many, many, more problems than it can possibly solve. The current round of cuts needs the public sector to think about off-loading every single possible non-obligatory service into the private sector. The self-employed work harder and longer for less pay than the public sector, and they can create jobs where the public sector creates sinecures. Of course I have a financial interest in what I have just written, but I think that the wider public interest for our and your children makes that interest pale into insignificance.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
(9am at Sandwick Road, according to management)

The private sector needs to double in the next 5/10 years to provide the opportunities for the erstwhile exiles and that needs the public sector to back off and abandon the expensive, but smothering, escapades into the private sector. Yes, that means some services have to go and be replaced by other cheaper private sector alternatives that the Council may need to subsidise in the short-term.

Change has to come, and it is going to have to be rapid. Otherwise it is going to happen slowly, as those who oppose change die off (yes, I am being that blunt and brutal) and the recognition comes too late for those elderly who are left alone.

As a very good Councillor friend of mine said, "Do you want your grandchildren to be photos on the mantelpiece or living in the village with you?"

Friday, May 28, 2010

Who said Gordon Brown doesn't have a sense of humour?

Lord Prescott of LardJohn Prescott a f'ing Peer of the Realm!

FFS, as social satire goes it couldn't be any funnier if it wasn't just so sad and so true.

Jonathan Swift, eat you heart out.

Just look at the other deadwood arriving at Platform 1 along with the verbal mangler of Hull, and the case for abolition (or involuntary euthanasia) for the Upper House as currently constituted is made.

Nightmare scenario

Would you like to guess what the Nightmare Scenario is as far as some of the Councillors are concerned?

"We'll never be able to hide anything from them...", said a senior Councillor with a touch of vitriol, "if Manford, a certain former Councillor, and X all get elected". His colleague - who has featured on these pages a number of times, for his repeated hypocrisy - agreed, and started to work out how to try to subvert the democratic process.

(X is a current Council employee, who I understand is taking early retirement shortly, and is thinking about standing.)

All this is very flattering, but begs the questions of just what else do they have to hide???

Oh yes, and why are they hiding anything from other members and the public in the first place?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Highland Airways - the final outcome

The BBC report on the final financial position of Highland Airways is a bit confused and unclear, but some obvious conclusions can still be drawn from the situation.

It appears that the company owed a total of £3.2m of which £1.13m is to unsecured creditors.

It appears from the report that there was further debt of £2m (including a £1.2m overdraft) which was secured; which is to say that it will be repaid from the sale of assets etc.

This will obviously have a huge impact on some of these firms, and a loss of £50,000 for Argyll & Bute will also be painful.

The plug was pulled by the Inland Revenue over unpaid PAYE liabilities, and at the time a lot of politicians were lambasting the Inland Revenue for threatening to do so.

The simple fact is that the Inland Revenue - through it's business support scheme - is helping to give time to pay to lots of individuals and businesses affected by the recession. BUT it is also propping up some business that are insolvent, and where further debts are being run up, which in turn could bring down other businesses when the crash actually happens.

The business support scheme is excellent, but it is not a cure-all; nor is it something that a business should rely on for more than a few months. Above all, it is not cost-free. Just how much extra did the tax-payer lose by giving the extra time to the company to renegotiate its funding streams?

This kind of support - and the calls for unqualified funding from politicians - helps no-one, and it would be much better for this to be more accurately targeted on business that can and will survive, rather than those which are insolvent. It's never a perfect science, but in this case it is clear to me that the Inland Revenue acted properly to safeguard the public purse and other creditors and the political energy should have been directed earlier and towards turning around the company before the collapse became inevitable. That in itself may not have been successful, but it would certainly have been more constructive.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To pee or not to pee

Public toilets, Stornoway styleSo the toilets in Percival Square are to remain closed after the building work in the square is completed.

This is in accordance with some vague, unspecified, Council decision made in light of budget cuts etc etc etc.

As the tender documents, issued in on 28 January said:
Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, local authority for the Western Isles Area, is inviting expressions of interest for the construction of a new civic space in the centre of Stornoway. The works mainly comprise the remodelling of an existing car park and the resurfacing of approx 1100 sq metres in natural stone paving.
The estimated cost of the project is £350k.
Expressions of interest must be made through the Public Contracts Scotland Portal by 8th February 2010.
They seem to have forgotten that the new 'Civic Square' was to have what is now a derelict building right in the middle of the tourist attraction. That'll have the Cruise Liners queuing at the harbour mouth.

However, there won't be any queues at the public toilets in the Bus Station - the new main public toilet provision for Stornoway - at least on Sundays, as the Bus Station is locked, where Percival Square was coin operated.

Perhaps the £350,000 on remodelling Percival Square would have been better spent on toilets, showers and other facilities for yachtsmen and other tourists?

Perhaps the Councillor might try and find out who made this decision, with what authority, and why a major piece of work in the Town Centre is now to be ruined. Or will the building be demolished, to solve the problem?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

Let me surmise that the SNP thought that the best result for Scotland the SNP (perhaps not in that order) was a Tory Government.

You know the arguments - Tory Cuts, English MPs setting a policy for Scotland etc.

Is it really any surprise that one of the outcomes is a Boundary Commission review of constituencies to bring them into a more 'standard' size?

And, too late, it brings a realisation and a press release issued on behalf of our MP.

Does anyone in the Western Isles believe that the current Council boundaries recognise communities in any way shape or form? Lochs and Harris as one ward shows it for the nonsense it is.

The simple fact is that when the Boundary Commission are given a remit, then they have no discretion to modify that remit. If they are told to bring all the Parliamentary Constituencies inside boundaries of a voting population, then they have to do so in a ruthlessly mechanical way.

When the Council boundaries were being draw, we Councillors were presented with two option on how to split Stornoway between different wards. When I suggested making Stornoway one ward, we were told that that was not an option. The process seemed to involved counting voters from a starting point and drawing a line when you reached the requisite number. Hence you start in Tiumpan, Leverburgh, Ness and Uig and draw the first wards, and fill in the blanks from their. Natural communities don't matter; it is simply numbers.

Come the Parliamentary boundaries, the only criteria will be either (a) how many voters per seat, or (b) how many seats in total. Thereafter a simple number crunching exercise will take place to draw the outline seats, and the public will only be able to haggle at the margins. Unless you have a special dispensation like Orkney and Shetland written into the legislation.

As it is, we are on the back foot before the process has even started. There are now only three potential outcomes:
  1. Obtain a dispensation (highly unlikely as the LibDems will be trying to maximise their future seats, and the Tories will be trying to stuff Labour by reducing the number of Scottish seats further)
  2. Lobby for the best new boundaries for the seat (but I really cannot imagine what they would be)
  3. Or, hope for multi-member pan-Highland seats to give us some influence over a number of members
That is also my order of preference at the moment, although I'm finding some merits in option 3 at various moments.

The potential irony is that the SNP have always described Westminster as a burden of Government we don't need, but it looks to me like Westminster might actually be the least intrusive (at least in terms of numbers of Parliamentarians) whilst the SNP Government in Edinburgh presides over a (comparatively) bloated Parliament and Council structure......

Monday, May 24, 2010

Call to take Lewis Chessmen home

wooden object and large chess piece
The Councillor for Uig has called for the Lewis Chessmen to be sent home.

That will be to Norway then, Norman, won't it?

Or do you think the Elgin Marbles belong in Morayshire?

Cllr MacDonald is on the left, er right, er left, er ... one of the two in the photo.  Probably.

Please feel free to treat this as a caption contest.

The picture shows a large wooden object, and a Lewis Chessman....

Swimming on a Sunday

I was supposed to be at the photo-op outside the Sport Centre yesterday, where all those who think that it should be open 7 days a week were invited to attend and show their support.

But I went swimming instead.

Well, paddling actually, when a pipe burst in the kitchen, flooding the area with the entire contents of the cold water tank until such time as I got the stopcock closed and the system drained.

I count three hotels in Stornoway offering a full Sunday dining opportunity. Five bars that are open to the public. Plus one bar that is (was?) invitation only. Oh yes, and 12 (or is it 13?) Churches. A single ferry and flights in and out to Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

And as I have discovered, more 24/7 on-call plumbers than you can shake a Catechism at.

Twenty minutes - yes, 20 minutes - to have two of them at my door (from the same firm, which will remain nameless) at the request of a friend in the trade who couldn't do the work himself.

Despite the Sports Centres in Uist and Barra being open 7 days a week, we mere mortals in Lewis (and Harris) and considered unsuitable to be able to cope with a family swimming event on a Sunday.

Probably because the powers that be think we will be too pished from going to all the pubs and hotels they licence as being suitable entertainment for a Sunday.

I'd love to link here to the decisions of the Licencing Board to give a fuller understanding of the logic and lateral thinking, but as the Licencing Board are a separate legal entity, made up exclusively of Councillors, the Comhairle are apparently unable to publish the minutes of meetings, or even the decisions they have taken. The Comhairle do, however, publish the notices of applications and the current agenda; and the current - flawed - policy document; and underwrite all the costs; and provide the legal advice that is frequently ignored by some of the more original thinkers on the Board; and pay for the legal costs of successful appeals.

That's democracy and public accountability for you.

But then I've just submitted an FoI request about that: the result of which will be hosted somewhere suitable in due course.

Lewis: the only place where you can you drink yourself unconscious on a Sunday, but not teach your child to swim.


“What do I think of Western Isles civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea.” Mahatma Gandhi Morrison

How are the cuts to be implemented?

It was obvious that the Scottish Budget was going to take a hit, and that it is 'only' £332,000,000 in the first round of urgent cuts is slightly less savage than I expected.

However, I suspect that the second round and the emergency Budget will bring further deeper and more painful cuts.

It is quite intriguing that the Chancellor has allowed the Scottish Government to defer making the cuts until 2001 if it wishes.

This indicates a clear level of understanding of the nature of devolved power, and that to try to impose immediate cuts - when an agreed budget has been set in Scotland - is neither reasonable nor fair.

It also shows a fair degree of political acumen, that was largely lacking in the previous Labour administration.

The SNP have sought to have the cuts held over until 2011 so that they could portray them as "Tory cuts" imposed on Scotland as a major plank of the election campaign. A strategy that would have worked well politically, had the ground not been cut from under them by the Chancellor. So now the cuts are going to be portrayed as exactly what the SNP asked for, and when they asked for them.

The Holyrood election campaign is going to be fight on the grounds of "How will you implement the cuts, if you get into power?" Which will make for an interesting campaign.

The SNP, controlling the budget and the purse strings at present are the only party who will have the knowledge of how to achieve this (whether they want to make cuts or not).

Labour on the other hand, can rightly claim that they need to see the books first, and if they play their cards right, could create a powerful attack.

The Tories and the LibDems will take the blame for the cuts, and are likely to suffer as a consequence.

One of the depressing elements of the dismal science of economics is that there are so few certainties, but I think that deferring all the cuts until 2011 is a major economic mistake, as these cuts have to be made at some point. The SNP Government obviously hope that the economy will improve by then and that the cuts can be avoided or mitigated, but I strongly suspect that this is wildly over-optimistic, and that the party political imperative is over-ruling good governance.

So let's see just how and where these first set of cuts are to be made; and an early and clear indication of the spending plans for 2001/12 will help everyone to plan, and allow the political arguments to be bases on facts and not just supposition.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


In 1970 Afghanistan was a Monarchy, and broadly stable and law-abiding and a member of the international community. Even whilst poor and economically backward, like (say) South Korea.

But it had a certain degree of sophistication.

Until the international politicians decided that it need to be used to beat the Cold War opponents across the head. In came guns, missiles and high politics.

And the result? Before and after are just too sad for words....

Kabul before we got involved

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Whisky tasting

(see previous post)

With a Portishead cd playing beautifully in the background...

Antiquary: is that Ant-iquary or Antiqu-ary? I always think of the pub in Stockbridge. Light colour. Mild and gentle nose. Strong and sharp, if not acidic taste in the mouth and as it goes down. The pub used to do a marvellous plate of stovies for us impoverished students, which frankly I'd rather have at the moment.

Almost a bit a catastrophe there. I nearly poured myself a Sloe Vodka which I received as a present in a Whisky bottle that has still got the original label. Not a route I plan to go down tonight. Yet.

Chivas Regal: This bottle is the first time I have ever had Chivas. Nice light colour. Mild, unassuming smell. Strongly flavoured with a good finish that gives you just the right feel as it goes down your throat. Yet there is something missing. Is this an export blend appealing to the bland? Not quiet, but nothing I would buy again. Actually gets quiet clawing towards the end of the small glass.
Beware of Otters
Interlude: on a visit to Uist many years ago I went back to the B&B where the owner offered me a dram. He opened the bottle of Glenfiddich, threw the top in the fire, and said "We've started so we'll finish!" All with a 7am boat at Otter Ferry (pre-causeway days) awaiting.

Time to open the Macallan 10yo: darker colour and a much stronger and more abrasive nose than the other two. But a sip and it is like being kissed by angels as the flavour fills the mouth and coats the tongue and throat in a full whisky experience. Yum, yum, yum.

Another interlude: Another time in Barra, during an election campaign, I was driven from the B&B in Northbay to Vatersay at no more than 15mph by a wonderful, but now sadly deceased friend, at 12pm for a 'cup of tea' which turned into a bowl of soup and a wine glass full to the very top of whisky. The glass was sipped and then declined, and I was driven slowly back to Northbay getting into the B&B by close to 3am, just in time to rise for the early ferry.

Taster three empty, and so to sleep.

Drink responsibly, but enjoy.

Saturday night - alone (ish)

missing you, missusThe Boss and I usually go out for dinner on a Saturday night in a desperate attempt to wind down after another frantic week of work.

But she and our daughter are some 7,000 miles and 8 time-zones away at a family wedding happening next week on a Pacific beach, whilst the boys and I are having a even madder time trying to do everything we all need to do, and keep the house in some kind of tidy order.

So the boys and I went out for an early - and relaxing - dinner, and as they finish off their games on the computers and get chased up to bed, I'm sitting here wondering if the Skype will ring and I will be blinded by the mid-afternoon sunshine from the Sunshine State.

It seems so strange to be without her company during the brief leisure time we normally spend together.

I'm keeping busy with the laundry, ironing and bits of work I shouldn't really be doing, but it really isn't the same.

Right. Boys to bed. Read the papers. An early night. Tomorrow the boys are learning to cook a chilli, which is a meal that they really love and which they have demanded. I'll need all my strength to clean the kitchen after the boys are finished.

And before they get back I also need to clear the vast Lego armies of clone troopers and imperial troopers versus pirates and Indiana Jones types that are marching across the sitting room......

Friday, May 21, 2010

Volcanic weather

In conversation with a number of locals, it was clear that the influence of the the Icelandic volcano was significant, if not sever for us as ground dwelling beings.

The thin layer of dust every day on the car, the unexpected precipitation in very large rain drops and the intermittent snow/hail falls were evidence that the dust was causing water vapour to form around it and crash to the ground in short, sharp falls. The dust is probably good for the ground, as it carries minerals and is bring moisture to a usually less damp (I really hesitate to use the word 'dry') soil in these islands.

And then I saw a video the Mr Eugenides had of an Oklahoma hail storm, and thought that we really have nothing to worry about.

Mr E thinks we are all doomed: I think we need to be less pessimistic and rise to the immense challenge.

Offshore wind

Good news or dull news that the Government have announced the possible locations for offshore wind farms off the Hebrides?

A bit of both, as far as I am concerned.

It is good that certain areas have been ring fenced as 'possibles', as it clearly delimits the 'not acceptable' areas, which was a policy decision that was sorely lacking in previous rounds of decision influencing by Ministers.

The bad news is two fold.

The areas defined are so large as to be nothing more than splodges on the map of areas not ruled out for any other reasons.

Secondly, the technology doesn't yet exist to exploit these areas, and having spoken to the operators of wind farms in the very shallow waters of the North sea off Denmark, I know just how vast the challenges they face are. Move into the teeth of Atlantic Gales and it is a infinitely more difficult challenge, and one that is likely to be unachievable for the foreseeable future. Although I will be delighted to eat my words.

Next month, the Government plan to announce that North Uist will probably be be able to produce enough energy to power Western Europe from the innovative Pixie Dust harvesting competition they are launching.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is there a cupboard in the White House in which the Council keeps the Councillors who are a danger to democracy?

Has one escaped the armed guards, scaled the barbed wire and shrugged off the straight jacket and gag, only to let let rip with the kind of comment which will have the Press Officer banging his head off the desk, and the lawyers writing suicide notes?

In the great spirit of the democratic system, public and civic responsibility and the maturity to make a decision based on the facts, ones understanding of the circumstances: and all tempered with the nuances of beliefs, public interest and a sense of judgement; the ability to ditch all of those and drop you colleagues into an expensive and embarrassing position whilst trying to avoid taking any kind of stance takes some doing.

Step forward Cllr Murdo MacLeod to receive the Arse-from-Elbow award for ludicrous decision avoiding.  The prize is a large pair of pliers to remove the splinters from the fence from your backside.

Unwilling to take a stand either for or against the application for a Sunday licence at Stornoway Golf Club, in true fashion he praised both sides and feigned an inability to come to a conclusion so as to try to offend no-one.
"This is not a cop out.  I have to abstain."
Hear that noise?  It's the bullshit detectors exploding.

You never HAVE to abstain, unless he is implying some kind of conflict of interest that he didn't declare.  Just what was the position of the Free Church of which he is a Deacon?  Should he perhaps have declared an interest and not participated?

He conceded that the club would be "highly likely" to win an appeal.

WTF?  He is pretty sure that the Licencing Board are taking the wrong decision, yet he allows the decision to go the 'wrong' way and encourages an appeal that he thinks the applicants will win.  Oh yes, and we the public will pick up the tab of perhaps £15,000 in that event.  But that's not important enough to take a stand about?

Now imagine the appeal by the Golf Club, and the Board having to write their defence of the decision.  Just how will Cllr MacLeod defend his view that the Board were wrong and their decision should be overturned, yet not feeling any obligation to prevent a waste of people's time, energy and money on something that he thinks was "highly likely" to be wrong.  And how will his colleagues on the Board appreciate him undermining them?

Of course, he has form in this area.  As a vocal and highly public opponent of Sunday transport to the islands, he was previously caught taking a secretive private Sunday flight on a Council sponsored trip to the US to go and see some tourist sights.  And let's not mention using another Councillors pin number to access executive lounges, so other Councillors could get the free booze.

Time to close that door again and double the guards.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tory Budget plans

George Osbourne has laid out his plans - or perhaps his outline ideas - for the Budget, so what can we read into the messages he has sent out.

He spoke at the CBI Dinner: it is a pro-business agenda
He is calling for lower and simpler corporate taxes: it is a pro-business agenda
A five-year plan to reform corporate taxes: it is a pro-business agenda
A reform of the CFC legislation: tricky and technical, but it is a pro-business agenda
Abolish employers NI for small new starts: a sensible, cheap but effective boost
A move towards increase the personal allowance: a nod to Clegg, but little action
"We will reform the corporate tax system by simplifying reliefs and allowances, and tackling avoidance, in order to reduce headline rates," said Mr Osborne.
Trite comments, but I can already see three big tax-planning opportunities for my profession which will attempt to circumvent the limits on any tax law changes.

Over the years I have learned that every major change in tax policy does nothing but encourage everyone to find new loopholes, simply because the tax system is so complex that you need to fine tune your plans to ensure that you don't fall foul of exemptions, exceptions and over-riding exclusions.

The plans seem quite clear to me:
  • Big, deep, public sector cuts (and the public sector better be ready for them)
  • Cuts in some business tax exemptions
  • Reducing rates of corporation tax (probably for big business only)
  • Minor tweaks to the personal tax system to benefit the lowest paid (h/t to Clegg)
Er, isn't that the virtually exact policy that Margaret Thatcher followed in 1979.

Cameron doesn't have a major industrial base to destroy, so the employment impact will probably be much less severe, but the overall further rebalancing (sic) of the economy in favour of services above manufacturing seems inevitable.

Sad to say, but my profession seems likely to be a major beneficiary of the changes. Again.

On a practical front, I'm suggesting strongly to clients to consider bringing forward large investment projects, as I think that the Annual Investment Allowance can't survive at its current level, due to the cost of the scheme. it may be flagged up for reduction/abolition at the end of the tax year, but I wouldn't be in the slightest surprised to see it halved with immediate effect in June. (If you don't understand this, don't worry. It's aimed at the self-employed and small businessmen only)

Intermittent posting

Someone had complained about why I haven't posted something I promised/teased.

Sorry, but trying to do everything means that sometimes something has to give.

It's blogging that has suffered as I haven't had time to assimilate the papers I hold.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hot air

The situation with SSE and Storas over the provision of a cable connection to a community wind power project in Uist is despicable, and SSE require to be taken to task over the whole episode.

Except, there is more to this than meets the eye. Much more, and potentially a scandalous amount more.

Just why were Storas so up in arms about the offer to another small energy generator, that they threw around accusation of lack of planning permission, unfairness and general malfeasance on the part of everyone else?

Senior levels of SSE management have been lobbied by senior (now ex-)Government Ministers including Jim Murphy, apparently through contacts arranged by former Energy Minister and now advisor to Storas, Brian Wilson.

I am led to believe that a director of Storas has been in active negotiations with a merchant bank about the possibility of funding his own private windfarm, and that the award of capacity to the third party meant that the director's scheme was not going to progress (at least not until the technical constraints in Skye were resolved).

No doubt these negotiations were fully disclosed, as a potential conflict of interest, to the other directors of Storas so that there was no suggestion that the position of director was being (mis)used to obtain information that could give him benefit.

But the interesting, intriguing, elements don't end there.

One of the principal partners in Warburgs, who is involved (on the periphery or perhaps closer?) of the director's planned deal was none other than one of the former shareholders in South Uist Estates who did so well from the buy-out deal. I might have the name wrong, but it may be Mr Racine (sp?) appears to be Mr David Ruck Kenne Esq.*, but I have no doubt that others can clarify this.

Anyone who acts as a director or any company knows there is a huge responsibility to ensure probity in all one's dealings. everyone who deals with public money knows there is an equal, if not greater, onus.

A director of a company funded by public money has a double responsibility and must deal with public scrutiny to ensure that their actions are above any hint of impropriety. The ball is firmly in their court to substantively refute any suggestions to the contrary.

* Thanks to anon for the correction and update.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A press release today gives some idea of the issues running above and below the surface in South Uist. Why is there apparently so much fear of retribution for speaking our against the evil rapacious landlord friendly community directors?

Petition from the Friends of Murdo MacKenzie
An email bearing the name Murdo MacDonald notified the Chief Executive of Storas Uibhist that a petition would be presented to the company at 4pm on Monday May 10th 2010.
Today Eric Twelves (Loch Eynort) and Archie MacDonald (Torlum) attended the Storas Uibhist office . They were accompanied by Susy MacAulay, a freelance journalist.
The petition was presented to the Chief Executive who issued a statement on behalf of the company. Both documents will added to the company website ( shortly.
The petition contained no names, but a handwritten note stated that: "You may verify the signatures by arrangement with Gilbert Walker or Eric Twelves at Lochboisdale Police Station." This statement was also unsigned.
In the circumstance, the Board is minded to give no weight to the document unless the membership considers otherwise.
Comments can be sent to the Board via email ( or by writing to the Storas Uibhist office.
The Board of Directors

The question of the hour.....

....just when is Samantha Cameron due?

Tarting about = farting about

Dear Mr Clegg,

Just make your mind up and stop trying to play one party off against the other, before they both walk away and we have to suffer another election.......

Joe Public

Access all areas

Along with their plane tickets, I understand that Councillors are being sent a pass for access to the Executive Lounges at mainland airports, so that they don't have to mix with the plebs. A problem that seems to have spread down the food chain vanity ladder.

One Councillor I spoke to was unaware that these passes were being issued, and assured me that they had never used them, but on checking with colleagues he found a different story.

I don't have a problem with Executive Lounges, and I have never been in one, but I do have a problem with taxpayers money being used to allow public servants to avoid the public.

I'm told, but this seems ludicrously expensive, that these vouchers normally cost £25 a flight which even allowing for a huge discount for bulk buying implies a large annual cost, when annual membership is available for as little as £69. And if you were buying 40 (31 Councillors + Chief Officers) you can surely bargain that down further.

Perhaps the Comhairle might like to clarify just how much we are paying for Councillors to get access to free booze.

BTW, if we get a $hit excuse that it is "all part of the cost we pay to the travel agents", then I will have to dig deeper.

It's simple really

Thanks to the BBC for this graphic which neatly sums up where we are.

Election outcomes
I think that the Tories are at "Can any of the parties get together to form a coalition Government?", whilst Labour are at "Labour get first go....".

Monday, May 10, 2010

For the good of the party....

As Brown casts himself upon his sword, he does so to give the Labour Party a very slight chance of retaining power.

That is the nature of politics, that sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. Only trouble is, Brown should have worked this out a few days ago, and gained the moral high-ground then; not waited from the LibDem negotiators to put a gun to his head.

What is fascinating about this is what it tells us about the state of the negotiations and the absolute power being wielded by the LibDems over the other two parties.

It looks like the main negotiations are getting bogged down -perhaps in minutea, possibly in some of the bigger stuff - and the second team have decided to up the ante by appearing to offer to throw in their lot with Labour. Very smart negotiating stance, as Cameron probably needs Clegg more than Clegg needs Cameron, if he is to have any chance of getting the radical economic agenda through Parliament.

A pact centred around Labour can be done, but if you look at the arithmetic (and there is a great BBC graphic here) which shows how it could possibly be done. But trying to pull together such a disparate bunch is going to be such a challenge by itself as to make the game not worth the candle for Labour.

So what are the options if a Tory-Lib deal cannot be reached?

I quite fancy the likelihood of a Lab-Lib concordant running as a minority Government and challenging the Tories (and other to bring them down). Labour have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and given the informality of such an agreement it could be concluded quickly whilst allowing each to disavow the actions of the other partner. That will surely protect the LibDems from the worst political insults, whilst allowing Labour to push through its policies.

But, such a prospect will undoubtedly force the hand of the Tories, and propel the LibDems into the Cabinet and power. From whence they will crash at the next election, tarred with all the blame and not credited with any successes. PR will be the subject of a Royal Commission, new Parliamentary Boundary discussions and half a dozen tricks to delay it until the next Parliament where it could be abandoned.

Such a scenario could see the Libs quitting a coalition and a minority Tory Government struggling on to an early election. The question would again be "Who governs Britain?" and until we know who will replace Brown, we woun't be able to visualise an answer.

It is now all getting very interesting, and as a spectator sport it has much to commend, and little at present to condemn.

If the LibDems can remember the lessons learned by the FDP in West Germany, they could remain at the centre of politics for quite some time, but I fear that there innocence will be exploited. Which will be even more fun to watch.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bells and balls

corncrakeSomewhat amusingly, the RSPB are requesting that cats have bells put on their collars to alert the corncrakes (right) and stop them being killed by the domesticated moggies of the Western Isles.

I like wild birds as much as the next man, and roast pigeon is one of my favourite dishes, but the developing attempt by the RSPB to effectively designate the whole of the UK as a nature reserve goes beyond the rational and into the dominating and obsessive.

Although there is obviously a need to protect our wildlife, when offered the chance to enforce a permanent ban without cost on commercial shooting on the hunting estates in Lewis, the RSPB declined to get take up such an opportunity and refused to get into a debate about the subject.

Why on earth could that be? What double standards could be being applied here?

I think we should ask their Patron (below), seen caring for the wildlife on one of her estates.

Queen gun

The morning after.....

So what was the story of the polls?

Scotland - a big swing to the incumbents, buoyed by a late rush of undecided voters who made up their minds to who - and who to vote for - at almost the last minute.

The rest - the predictable overall Tory swing, but with some wonderfully atypical results, such as Limpid Optic losing his seat to a cheeky Tory candidate. No sign yet of the English Council results, which might shed more light on what is going on, although I suspect they will just replicate the Labour to Tory swing.

Locally, an excellent result for the SNP; and Labour will need to find an exceptional candidate for Scottish Parliamentary campaign and dramatically up their campaigning skills if they want to be in with a chance.

This bit of the election has been really dull. The next few days promises to be interesting, and the five years hereafter look to be potentially exciting.

I assumed that the Exit Poll was understating the LibDem result by perhaps 10-20 seats, but it looks like their vote was more talked about than delivered. A Tory-LibDem pact looks the only way forward, although I suspect it will be more informal than either would like leaving the Tories having to tread carefully at many votes. Wily Brown isn't falling on his sword yet, but unless the likely pact falls apart he faces resignation and elevation to the Lords in short order.

Alan Johnston was making a play for the likely vacancy last night; not that I think he would be much better. The more sensible candidates are playing at loyalty until the vacancy actually arises.

In Scottish terms, the SNP position is Parliament is worse than it was, with the self-appointed king-makers likely to be ignored by the Tories. The expectation of 20 seats looks at best ludicrous, and at worst fantasy politics. The position of Labour remains entrenched, and they must be asking themselves how they ever managed to lose the last Scottish elections.

How will all this play out for the next Scottish elections? Prediction is always difficult, especially about the future*, but my gut feel is that Labour will win at the expense of the SNP, and then have to implement the Tory cuts, for which they will be blamed by the electorate.....

Interesting times ahead.

* I always attributed that quote to Mao, but it appears to have been by Yogi Berra

Thursday, May 06, 2010

What could the Council do with £730,000?

Keep Little Teddies open for seven years?

Fill some potholes on the roads?

Provide hot meals for pensioners?

Buy the premises currently occupied by WeeW from MacKays?

And now the results...

10:00 pm - commenting is open for views, news, forecasts and general abuse....

10:05 - Tory victory, but far short of a working majority.  I think LibDems will do better than the exit poll suggests, but I foresee a Tory-Lib coalition.

11:00 - some voters couldn't get to vote, some polling stations kept open late! Where are the election monitors that we normally send to third world countries?

8:00 am - and then I fell asleep missing all the action.  I think Douglas Alexander was on every channel simultaneously, which explains my torpor.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The candidates' final message....

Sheena Norquay: Hello boys, you can call me Ms Nookie. Not you Free Presbyterians though: you'll have me wearing a North Tolsta Burka - bobban socks, wellies and a boiler suit for getting the hens in. But I've got brains too, and I'll be able to use them properly when I get a chance of fighting in a seat where I might save the deposit. Tally-ho!

Oh yes, Don't forget to do the voting thingy, preferably for me.

Murdo Murray: I am only the messenger. It is all bad with the economy, because the Government haven't followed the economic guidance in the Bible. We will all work together, and no matter how earnest I sound I'm not as dour as you might think. I'm on Facebook for goodness sake, where there are lots of pictures you don't want to look at. When I'm not down with the kids, I'm working on engineering solutions for self-sufficiency for the islands, at which I am very good. Pray for me and vote for me, and I'll pray for you. Amen.

Jean Davis: Do you really enjoy Labour and the SNP knocking lumps out of each other? We could lock them both in a small room with only a pointed stick and see who wins. If we sell tickets it could go some way towards solving the budget deficit. Isn't Nick Clegg nice. Poll ratings going up. Second party in Scotland. Isn't Nick Clegg really, really, nice. SNP are irrelevant at Westminster. Who wouldn't want Nick Clegg as a son-in-law? Labour and the SNP are hurling insults about and turning the public off. You must vote for someone different to clean up politics. Mmmmmm, Nick Clegg. He's nice.

DJ MacSween: Rocket range, toblerones, useless, no influence, rocket range, don't mention Orkney. A big new shiny development agency to replace HIE by moving some of HIE from Inverness to Stornoway, add in the Council and the Health Board and it's a winner with all dynamism that the public sector can bring. Toblerones. I'll have major influence as part of the largest opposition group, but I'll plough my own furrow if that is the best course of action. Rocket range saved due to my intervention. Vast experience in local Government that I can bring to bear. Cameron Highlanders. Where was MacNeil when any issue was discussed? Please don't mention Gordon Brown.

Angus MacNeil: I'll fight to stop the SNP Government from thinking about stopping RET, which they aren't, but might, but haven't told me, but if they did I'm your man champion. If you vote Labour you will lose RET. GORDON BROWN, shout it loud. Labour cuts. RET. I saved the rocket range. RET. It's me; the Champion you voted for last time and fixed the weather map for you. There will be fewer volcanoes under an SNP Government. Independence. RET is good for you. Labour will cut everything if you give them a chance. The SNP wouldn't cut anything. Champion the wonder horse. RET is one of your essential 5 a day. Support RET or get Labour cuts under the Tories. Champion.


Whatever you do, go out and vote on Thursday, even if you have to hold your nose when you do so.  Then - and only then - will you have the right to complain about the Government and whoever is our MP.

Candidates: if you get 30% of the electorate supporting you, you are doing well.  Never forget that 70% didn't support you.


Thanks to all who helped writing this post.

The Royal Flight

So just who recently wrote to the Chairman of Loganair complaining about being searched every time they went through the airport?

Who asked for an easing of the searches on the grounds that they should never be a suspect?

And, who asked for a dispensation whereby they didn't have to turn up and check in 30 minutes before a flight, but could arrive at the last minute and have tickets, baggage staff and security all ready to zoom them through the check-in and onto the flights, without having to wait with the mere public?

And when the Chairman phoned the airport and told the airport staff at Barra to give said Very (self)Important Person an easier time, which employee stood her ground and told the Chairman where to stick the request for 'special treatment' and insisted that all passengers be treated equally?

 I'm told that the story is running around the island like wildfire, and is doing absolutely no favours for Mr MacNeil coming polling day.

But then, it can't be true, can it?

A poisoned chalice

A Labour activist tells me that a Tory victory will be a poisoned chalice, as the sheer depth and severity of the cuts in public expenditure will guarantee an immediate return to the wilderness and result in them losing the next election.

I think that is a triumph of hope over past experience.

In 1979 Thatcher came in to an economic climate that was as bad - if not worse - than that facing Cameron (for it will be his victory) on Friday and she imposed horrendous cuts and structural change on an economy that was resistant and almost non-compliant.

Cameron has the advantage that everyone knows that the cuts will be coming, they just don't know how and where.

If you want a feel for how these cuts will affect us all, just look at the Western Isles Health Board budget deficit and the steps that they have taken to bridge the gap.

These are the kind of cuts that the public sector will be facing, and serious steps will have to be taken to live within their means. The deficit and the prospect of future cuts is why Little Teddies nursery is closing, and why we are losing some 'temporary' posts and why some staff are not getting permanent contracts. But at least the Health Board is facing up to the problem, rather than pretending it can be ignored and hoping that the money will appear magically to fill a gap.

That is the attitude of both the Council and the Scottish Government, and both are in for a very nasty shock after the emergency budget in June.

It is how these inevitable deep cuts are implemented, and how they are presented that will determine the outcome of the Scottish Parliamentary elections next year. Are these Tory cuts or SNP cuts?

Remember that Thatcher was re-elected and re-elected because the voters liked a strong leader who took decisions and implemented them, even if they caused great pain. Those who fought the cuts were the losers, as they were marginalised and made themselves unelectable for nearly 20 years.

And when Tony Blair rode to the rescue of Labour, he did so by adopting Thatcher's political ground, making the kind of policies Cameron will have to adopt an accepted part of political life.

The opposition will have to tread very carefully in the coming years if they want to rebuild their positions; and the LibDems will have to work hard to maintain what could be an electoral high-water mark for them.

We are going to see change, whether we like it or not, and the new political landscape is going to be most interesting for us highly biased observers.

Lurching to a tedious conclusion

As the local election descends into a farcical battle of the insults in Heb News, there is certainly more heat than light being shone on the whole process.

Is it just me, or is this the least issue-driven, least-interesting and lowest-key election campaign in decades? There has not even been any of the usual smear tactics to enliven and muddy the waters.

Election material has been sparse, and generally uninspiring, and my hopes that one candidate would pull something out of the hat (either by making a wonderful pledge or by shooting themselves in the foot) has come to nothing. Posters are sparse, except on lampposts; car stickers are difficult to sport; and I spotted a lot of people who style themselves 'party activists' bunking off from the campaign on key campaigning days.

So here is my take on the outcome - disclosure: I've already voted by post - heavily laced with cynicism. Remember, we get who 30% of the electorate vote for, and not necessarily the best candidate.

Sheena Norquay: rumoured to have finally found her way here, and been escorted to the Rangers Club last night by senior Labour activists (!). Launching the campaign at Achmore pier on Friday. No hoper, and knows it.

Jean Davis: you know that she should win this election, having put forward sensible policies and (mostly) stayed out of the slanging match. Working hard on the campaign, but not getting great press coverage, as I suspect the election team is very small. Profiting from the impact Clegg has made, and will dramatically improve on past results. Should really be the winner, but likely to come a close 4th.

Murdo Murray: I'm not seeing much overt activity from Murdo, but that is because I suspect that I am not part of his target group. The word is that he is working very hard on his potential voters and making a great impression, and pulling in lots of votes from young and old alike. The real grassroots candidate, and with Jean Davis he will decide the result. Likely to be 3rd with close to 15% of the vote; but is he taking the votes from Labour or the SNP?

Donald John MacSween: it all started well, but the impetus has slowed noticeably over the past two weeks. Failed to land a killer punch so far. Desperately handicapped by Gordon Brown behaving like an under-medicated day-release patient. Some sensible and ambitious proposals, but they are being lost in the general noise, and I haven't seen them properly fleshed out. Election team working hard, and this campaign has noticeably reinvigorated the local Labour Party.

Angus B MacNeil: started slowly, but his supporters are dominating the letters pages with repeated attacks on Labour. Not that all of them necessarily help the cause. Low-key, highly confident (?) perhaps even cocky, attitude to the whole affair. Sole promise is to oppose removal of RET, which is a devolved SNP policy that isn't up for removal (unless you know different) but which gets him support from across the board. Campaign workers appear small in number but very vocal.

Undecided voters: lapsing into a coma at the election coverage and turned off by most of the politicians. There are more of them than I have seen since 1987, and many of them just want to be enthusiastic enough about any party to bother to cast their votes. Many have gone LibDem, and the rest are still making their minds up.

So who is going to win?

The SNP very confidently point to national trends which indicate that Labour will lose votes, meaning they are guaranteed to hold. That is being just a lot over-confident.

Labour have the activists working very hard and they believe that they are pulling back in the votes that they lost in 2005, and are very close to winning. Hmm, not convinced by this.

The utter unscientific and skewed polls on this blog put Labour ahead, as did the Gazette poll which has suddenly had an enormous number of SNP votes* and given MacNeil the lead. However, I think that any lead MacSween might have had has been narrowing. this concurs with the trend I am finding from speaking to people throughout the islands, that Labour are falling and the SNP rising.

Both are losing votes to apathy and the other parties which is going to make for an interesting count, and no-one should be resting on their laurels until it is all over.

* I think I know who has been blocking/deleting their cookies before returning to vote early and often.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Cosmopolitan dining

flag of Nepal Last night saw a special dining event in the Caladh Inn (formerly the Seaforth Hotel) here in the metropolis of Stornoway.

The Nepalese chef had prepared a themed event of traditional Nepalese food, ranging from soups through desserts, and what a delicious spread it was.

The food was all very simple, but beautifully spiced and tasted beautiful.

Carrots are obviously a major element of the diet, as there was a shredded carrot cold starter and a carrot and yoghurt dessert. Both were tremendous.

The variety of mains was excellent, and being a buffet you could have a bit of everything (and we did). The youngest found the food just a bit too spicy, but she loved the spiced rice and the flat breads, whilst the eldest ate everything that was going.

It was very busy even early on when we were there, and it was good to see yet another excellent dining option in Lewis. Alongside the usual traditional restaurants, the town now boasts two Indians, a Chinese, a Thai and a Bengali Bangladeshi plus take-aways, boasting a range of options that many larger towns can only dream of.

I look forward to some Nepali dishes appearing at the regular Sunday buffet, just to spice it up.

(I've corrected Bengali to Bangladeshi, which was stupid mistake to make. I understand it is like English for Scottish or vice versa. Sorry guys, didn't mean to be so ignorant.)