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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The sad end of a career

The spectacle of the downfall of probably one of the most able - if divisive - political characters in recent decades is sad, but sadly inevitable.

As the trial progressed, it looked like his chances were improving, despite, or perhaps because, of his decision to represent himself.  That gave him great leeway in Court, which a legally qualified individual would not have had to say, what shouldn't be said.

Clearly he lied, and the full extent of the back-story, and some of the unreported elements are starting to appear as I type, all of which seem to raise more questions about risks he took and the sheer scale of lies he told.

How he was guilty and Gail was not, is a matter for the prosecution, but they seemed to have not wanted to split the jury between husband and wife.

That's the end of him as a serious politician; the end of his legal career; but I suspect that we will see him reappear in an advocacy and lobbying role for future social campaigns.

He will undoubtedly remain a totem for his supporters and a monster to his opponents, and the questions of "What could have been?", will remain unanswered.

Saint Vincent the fallible

Shoot the messenger....
The Daily Telegraph has caused "great damage" to the relationship between MPs and constituents with its undercover sting tactics, Vince Cable says.
Actually, what Vince (and virtually all other politicians) want to be able to do is to be able to tell their constituents what they think their constituents want to hear, as a way of excusing the hypocrisy of their actions.

That's commonly known as 'lying' of 'talking bull' and I think you find that it is that which actually does 'great damage' to the MP and constituent relationship.

Well done to the Telegraph for exposing those LibDems who are happy to sell their souls for an official car, and are then prepared to lie to all and sundry about their position.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Death by 1,000 cuts

So, Hebrides News reports that ADS is to be restricted - read prohibited - for business travellers and Comhairle employees.

So if I book a flight, who decides if it is private or business?

Me, or a faceless civil servant, who tries to later claim back the ADS discount?

Actually, that doesn't matter too much, as it is all administration.

Where the real problem lies is the change in the philosophy about the operation of the scheme.

Public sector bodies are supposedly already excluded - but the Comhairle/WIHB/etc seems to have been taking the urine, and only now have the Government realised what's going on.

Now apart from the body cavity searches at the airports, you are going to be asked if you are travelling on business or leisure. Just who is going to answer to the expensive former, rather than the cheaper latter. Still, the boxes will have been ticked, and the principle of cutting the provision will be established.

Next, a maximum number of journeys a year?

Only left-handed students on Tuesdays?

And thence to RET.

You can see where this is going, and the deafening cries of outrage from our MP and MSP will show exactly where they stand....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

School closures (or not)

As I predicted some of the school closures have been called in, and as I also predicted, the terms of the call in are vague and offer little hope to the campaigners.

Look at the thrusting leadership from the Minister:
Mr Russell said closures must always be taken by those with the best knowledge of local circumstances.
But he added: "My role is not to retake a democratically-taken decision but to ensure that a robust consultation process was properly followed and the educational benefits of these decisions are clear."
In other words, look at the process again and have another vote before coming to a decision.  No threat or promise of a veto, just a series of iterations of the consultations until they are acceptable to the Minister.  Acceptable process that is. 

And this is likely to happen just before the Holyrood elections, if my timetable is right.

This would give the Council the opportunity to give a good kicking to the MSP for his failure to engage in the process, and his support of the SNP ahead of the best interests of the Western Isles on a number of issues.

Which will be fun to observe.

But let us again stand back on this whole issue and look at the calamitous failure to have a rural policy that delivers anything.

The new schools were given the go ahead only on the back of the Council finding it's share of the funding gap by closing a series of schools.  This was approved by the Minister, and all the funding was calculated, approved, paid and celebrated in numerous Government press releases over the past 5 years.

Now the Government is trying to backtrack on the implications of its decision when it realises what it has done.  Only to find that it doesn't actually have the power to stop what it has set in train.  Only delay it slightly.

And when you look at specific areas, you will see that the West Harris Trust have received large sums of Government money to buy the estate and develop the area.  All acclaimed by large and numerous Government press releases.  A large part of the rationale behind the buyout was the retention of children, at Sheilibost School, to grow the population in the area.  A school that the Government has already tacitly agreed must close to justify the new school in Tarbert.

Ooops, anyone see the logic in what is being done?

Actually, I think that Sheilibost might just survive because the buy-out having happened so recently, but I'm not holding my breath.

Now, would anyone like to remind us what the MP and MSP promised us about education provision in the islands and in the rural communities?

(I would normally, but I'm away and haven't got the time at the moment)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Minister resigns

It was inevitable, wasn't it.

As soon as Alex Salmond professed his "complete confidence" in the Minister, it was time to clear the Minister desk, and hitch a lift in the Ministerial Mondeo, before the country goes all snowy again.

I bet the Met Office didn't forecast that did they?

(With apologies to Private Eye)

Farewell then, Stewart Stevenson
Your career wouldn't have been derailed
If the trains had been running.

You read the forecasts
to the MSPs
in their mind-numbing entirety
in lieu of making a statement.

Unfortunately, that was still
than the rest of your performance
as Minister.

EJ Thribb 17 1/2 feet down in a snowdrift in Perthshire

Friday, December 10, 2010

Council Budget choices

The Council seem happy to run budget seminars with the community (next one in Uig on Tuesday) but strangely reluctant to publicise in advance what sorts of choices they are potentially making.

Well, here's the various choices that are being offered in the Policy and Resources Agenda at item 19.

Alternatively there's a comprehensive report at item 25 about flying flags, which occupies three pages, compared to a one page report about cutting school transport for primary and secondary kids.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Education funding

If you want to understand the impact of the cuts in front-line educational services, then you need look no further than Stornoway Primary today, where the school did not have enough money to provide Christmas crackers for the kids' Christmas lunch today.

Over 40% of the Council's revenue budget goes on Education, and yet there is still not enough money for such a minor item.

Education is not underfunded, but front-line teaching definitely is. 

The biggest single cost - staffing - is largely outwith the control of the Council and solely the remit of the Scottish Government, and this is not being addressed.  The consequence is almost unsackable staff - however incompetent - conserved salaries even where there isn't any need for staff; and a staffing structure that prevents new teachers gaining jobs. 

Ally this to an administrative structure that seems to be there to administer the administrative system and make endless statistical returns to Government, and you should be able to make significant savings.  If the political will was there.

And the Headteachers have to manage inadequate sums, that are being cut to fund the administrative demands.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Inter-island ferries

It is very good news that the fare subsidy scheme for the inter-island ferries has been saved (declaration of interest: I have a client who benefits) as this sends exactly the right sort of message to the public, to local businesses and beyond these islands.

However scathing I might have been about the decision to cut subsidy for the Balivanich-Barra flight, this kind of balance, this kind of difficult decision, and this kind of debate about where the cuts will fall needs to be had in the open.

A quiet day on the Barra-Eriskay ferry
The Councillors are under horrendous pressure or the worst kind, and decisions are going to be fraught and harsh, but cuts need to be made - as the Council have been told by the Scottish Government.

But, having these discussions in public at least has the benefit of understanding how individual councillors came to their decisions, we may not agree with everything they decide, but the options of public, open, debate or closed room deals presented as a fait accompli by 31 North Korean actalike Councillors would be the worst of all options.

Councillors: air your differences, make your decisions in public and be prepared to adapt your expectations as the votes pan out, but do it openly and reject any behind the scenes moves to stifle your choices.

Barra-Benebcula air service

As the Council cuts begin to bite, difficult decisions have to be taken, and I think we all appreciate that, but to vote to remove the Barra-Benbecula air service is a serious blow to the economy of Barra.

It also raises questions about the focus of the Council - is it looking after the islands and inter-island travel, or is it just provide exit routes from the islands?  And, as importantly, what message does it send to the Scottish Government about the priorities.

And with Barra Airport having just been described as one of the top 10 inspirational airports to land at in the world.

This decision can only serve to undermine the viability of Benbecula and Barra at a time when our connections need to be protected.

I understand the meeting was quite fractious, and the Chair and Vice-Chair were overruled in their recommendation to keep the service.  Interestingly the MP finds himself screwed over by a prominent "I'm not a member of the SNP" Councillor, who had personally pledged full support for the Barraich, before voting for removal.

Nothing ever changes; and such is the measure of the man.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Nicolson Institute problems

I've had nothing but negative comments about the school, or more accurately the education system in the Western Isles, since I raised the issues about the quality of education in the Nicolson.

I am now told, by someone who should know, that there is a major drugs problem in the school that is not being addressed by the teachers or management.  It is unclear whether that is due to their ignorance of the situation, or their unwillingness to tackle the principle principal offenders, or indeed whether it is being deliberately ignored in the hope it would go away.

Irrespective, there appear to be a smallish number of pupils with seemingly unlimited access to anything and everything, operating unfettered just below the surface.  Whilst their fellow pupils seem to aware of what is happening, there seems to be no restrictions or secrecy around their activities.

Thankfully, the vast majority of pupils seem to be unaffected by this.

Perhaps I am overstating the extent of the problem, but there clearly is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

Labour selection battle

I'm not attending the Western Isles Labour Party selection meeting on Monday night, mainly as I am not invited, not eligible to attend, and not here.

Indeed, the Facebook open invite has apparently disappeared, or perhaps become a closed invite.  Cock-up rather than consipracy, meethinks.

With at least one (or possibly all?) of the previous three candidates having withdrawn, the race is wide open, and some of the names I expected have now decided to stand.

The leading contender appears to be working hard just below the surface, ably advised by his brother, and he seems to be the favoured compromise choice between the various faction - the anyone but [fill in blank] candidate, would be a only slightly unfair observation.

In the likely two horse race - and here I mix my metaphors in the vague hope of injecting some humour into the process - we have a pantomime cow wearing a blindfold with the logo "Labour - kick me" versus a big pile of bull being lead around the course by his master.

Am I only the only one who wants both to lose in the interests of the islands?

Building work resumes

After the hiatus caused by the collapse of ROK it was good to see the contractors back on site at Manor Drive, trying to get the houses wind and water tight before the winter hits (!)

There were at least three or four guys and one fork lift busy on site, but perhaps the rest were trying to avoid frostbite, and the prospects of having the houses done on anything near the original deadline looks, sadly, impossible.

Unfortunately, none of that will replace the losses suffered by the sub-contractors when ROK went under.