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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Thanks to my readers

The coming year should be an interesting one at all levels, with elections, big political decisions to be made and the continuing threat to world peace that is the "Special relationship" (sic).

At a more mundane level, I look forward hopefully to seeing the world become a slightly better place, with everyone taking more responsibility for the environment in which they are living. That means that WE will have to pay more and use less for many things and make sacrifices in the interests of the greater good.

However, before I start sounding like Stalin and outline my five-year plan.....

This year I will have to decide if I am going to stand again as a Councillor, and some big business decisions are looming too, so my life will not be quiet in the coming 12 months.

Thanks to all of you who have read the blog and commented on my inadequacies (perceived or real) and Sucks! to those who sent offensive messages that didn't see the light of day - I have your IP addresses ;-)

I promise to be as irreverent and provocative next year, with some surprise revelations about .... well, you'll find out soon enough.

One thing for certain --- I'm not going away.

Best wishes to you all for 2007.


Politicians take decisions. Voters return them or vote them out based on these decisions.

Politics is simple.

Referenda are often used by politicians who don't want to take the decision as a way of avoiding responsibility. In my view, that is wrong.

Good referenda: devolution in 1997, joining the EEC
Bad referendum: devolution 1979
Good subject for referendum: a European federal state
Bad subject for referendum: joining the single currency (election issue)

Now, I have no objection to following the Swiss model of referenda on most major issues, but I do have a problem with the concept of "Propositions" as used in California, largely as it is a way for institutions to further their interests.

So where am I going with this? If politicians start calling for referenda then beware. Either every major decision should be the subject of a vote or only a very few should be.

Let's test the water -- a politicians in favour of a referendum on their pay increases raise your hands now! If that's not a good subject to start with, then how can they justify anything else?

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Flighting school - hard or what? Ten days, and still little progress.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Musical fibs

The epitome of "Cool Britannia" was the handshake between musician Tony "Ugly Rumours" Blair and the leader of millions, Liam "Our kid" Gallacher* at a champagne reception in Downing Street.

Who can forget the use of D-Ream and "Things can only get better" as the theme song for the Labour 1997 election campaign? Look out for it being revived by the opposition at coming elections.

How cool for Tony to listen have U2 as his favourite band, and listen to the Foo Fighters and Coldplay at home. And seminal 70's hair band Free. And REM.

2/1/07 * This may be Noel: I've never been big on Oasis.

Oh yes, and Frank Sinatra, and the Darkness and whatever band will fit the perceptions of the questioner.

Now it is revealed that he not ashamed enough his musical taste to claim both Cliff Richard and Robin Gibb amongst his "heroes" (sic), and next year? Well the bookies seem to be able to guess.

My only question is, given the quantity and eclectic mix of music he claims to like how does he ever find time to be Prime Minister? Perhaps his faux obituary gives some clues.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas spirit

A few days off work and time with the family. Fabulous!

The turkey is in the oven - despite my doubts, I must admit to having taken Nigella's advice and left is soaking in a bucket with brine and sugar overnight - and it is looking good.

The pink champagne is flowing, and we seem to be ahead of the game. Stuffing, vegetables, soup and desert all sorted either yesterday or first thing this morning (before champagne), so only a few side dishes to get prepared.

The kids are having a lie down - quiet time for an hour before the family descend and it all goes mental again.

The hob is full of pans just ready to go, with a fabulous parsnip and bacon rosti and some onion masala spinach as the festive side dishes. Not forgetting babycorn for the kids - they would live on that if they could.

I've just been dancing (sic) around the kitchen to the late, great, James Brown, signing "Sex Machine" at the top of my voice. Not a pretty sight, as my good lady wife will testify.

Off to open a bottle of Christmas spirit - ice cold Apple Schnapps - as a pre-guest aperitif.

I hope that you all have as good a Christmas as we're going to have. Best wishes to everyone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cal Mac discounts

After incessant complaints about the price of the CalMac fares on all the routes, we discover the secret to reduced fares... drive a commercial vehicle on a route which has competition.

Hopefully heads will roll for this, in answer to the three simple questions:
  • Who knew?
  • Who took the decision to implement the scheme?
  • Who decided not to report it up the line to Ministers?
How much money has been wasted on these secret bribes? Remember, when this route was placed out for tender, no-one bid, and CalMac won by default. Western Ferries reckoned they couldn't compete - and now we know why.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


As the festive season draws ever nearer, so does the impending visit of relatives.

That means that the room I was going to do up "next year" has to be done and dusted before they appear. Knowing my own limitations, I've pulled in some very skilled tradesmen to do the difficult bits, leaving me to do the simple stuff like moving, dismantling and reassembling various pieces of furniture.

As the room is at the top of the house, it is a real struggle to get some of the furniture out and the replacements in. The bed had to be dangled over the banister and dropped into my hands to allow us to bring in the new beds and the other furniture. Then the wrong carpet was laid; and hopefully the correct carpet is going down as I type.

We're utterly knackered as we are having to do this after the kids are asleep -- have you ever tried hammering quietly?!?

Now, with the fog in Heathrow, we're not sure if our guests are even going to be able to get here ...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

CalMac - consultation response

Every so often you come across an intriguing piece of correspondence.

Last week was no different. The CalMac consultation response that was sent out to all Councillors was very interesting, not for the content, but for the fact that they issued the response with the edits still shown. The original version of the options for Mallaig/Oban/Lochboisdale/Castlebay is very revealing. When was this pulled, and why?

Exodus of youngsters

We are all aware of the continuing exodus of youngsters as they seek educational and employment opportunities, but the latest report that one in eight of the kids are leaving is worse than I ever suspected.

Has anyone any good ideas who to stop them leaving, or what kind of economic activity will bring them back? I've only one that I can see in the near future, but I won't back that drum again.

Anecdotal reports from Uist suggest that students are no longer coming home during the College/University holidays, preferring to stay in Glasgow, Aberdeen or Edinburgh. This is breaking their links with the islands and making them much less likely in the long term to return home. Are we facing a situation where this becomes an island of retirees and holiday homes?

The latest economic survey from the Comhairle is available here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Health Board

Let me get this right.....

The sum of the departmental budgets exceed the funds available by £4,500,000.
Managers were spending to budget.
The deficit was rising.

If that were the Comhairle can you imagine the furore there would be? Heads would roll, the Scottish Executive would be all over us, and the public would give us an incredibly hard time.

Why is the Health Board seemingly exempt from this level of inquisition?

The first question: who authorised these budgets that were so wrong?
The second question: how accurate were the reasons given to the press for the overspend?

The answer, my Hebridean friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer, my Hebridean friend, is blowing in the wind
Magnus Linklater
We cannot tilt against the best renewable source
The objection was heartfelt authentic, obdurate, plangent in its complaint. It came from a Hebridean islander, speaking up for his land and his heritage. His is a remote community, confronting industrial development on a massive scale, fighting for its right to peace, tranquillity and the undisturbed beauty of an ancient landscape. Finlay MacLeod was adamant that a plan to erect 180 giant turbines on the island of Lewis, making it the largest wind farm in Europe, should be stopped in the name of civilisation itself. “If this goes ahead,” he said, “in ten years, people will be saying: how did we allow this horror to happen?”

He chose a bad day to protest. Even as he spoke, environmentalists were digesting the latest doomsday prediction on global warming. The Arctic, they said, is melting so fast that within the next 30 years the North Pole will have lost its icecap; during the summer months, ships will be able to sail across the top of the world; worse, deprived of its reflecting surface, the oceans will start absorbing more sunlight, accelerating the warming process at a rate that threatens ecological disaster on a scale almost impossible to contemplate.

Faced with climate change of this speed, where do we stand on wind farms? Is it any longer tenable to wring our hands about intrusive pylons when the very survival of the countryside we care so much about is at stake? More to the point, does the man from Lewis, whose moorland view is about to be disturbed, have the right to stand in the way of an energy producer, which is one of the only currently available sources that is free of carbon emissions?

The farthest-flung wilderness areas of the country now stand in the front line of our defences against this environmental Armageddon. It is, however, no longer enough to argue the case against wind farms on aesthetic grounds. There is no point in worrying about the revolving propeller that breaks the skyline on some distant mountain, when, down in the valley, the water is closing over our heads. In the long run, as John Maynard Keynes once said, we are all dead. Except that this long run has now become quite terrifyingly short.

The well-intentioned case against wind farms has been made often enough, and frequently on these pages. It has even been eloquently put by the environmentalist James Lovelock. As a resident of West Devon, he is strangely reluctant to see his beloved hedgerows and meadows sacrificed to the political demands that every source of renewable energy must be exploited.

“Perhaps we are Nimbys,” he writes, “but we see these urban politicians as like some unthinking physicians who have forgotten their Hippocratic Oath, and are trying to keep alive a dying civilisation by useless and inappropriate chemotherapy when there is no hope of a cure, and the treatment renders the last stage of life unbearable.”

I am with the unthinking physicians on this one. It is their responsibility to find every possible means to keep us alive, rather than to make the sunset years of Professor Lovelock that little bit more agreeable. We know that wind farms are inefficient, we understand that they carve up the land, that they require pylons marching across the countryside to transport their output to the urban centres that need it, that they will never, on their own, produce enough to meet the national demand. Only last week a study by the Renewable Energy Foundation confirmed this pessimistic view, reporting that only in southern Scotland, offshore and in the islands of the north did wind-farm production exceed the Government’s target of 30 per cent capacity. In Lovelock country Cornwall and Devon the levels achieved were only about 24 per cent.

Pessimistic the predictions may be, but right now wind energy is the only renewable show in town. Personally, I prefer a 24 per cent achievement to the alternative, which is zero. Those who argue against wind farms talk knowingly about the use instead of nuclear energy, bio-mass, wind and tidal power or burying carbon emissions from coal deep in the ocean bed. They are all needed, and they all require massive investment if our planet is to be saved. But no one envisages them being available in less than 20 years. Wind energy will be a vital component in the alternative energy mix, whatever the future holds, and to oppose it on conservation grounds is frivolous.

Conserving what exactly? Natural beauty? Our rural heritage? Wildlife? Organisations such as Scottish National Heritage, and its English and Welsh equivalents, have stopped many viable wind farms on the grounds that the odd sea eagle or hen harrier may one day collide with a revolving turbine. But when the temperatures rise, the seas roll inland, the trees wither and the moorland retreats, we will not be talking about the survival of the odd sea eagle we will be lamenting the disappearance of entire species. That is the moral case our so-called conservation bodies should be facing, and that is the one they are so cravenly avoiding.

Most experts assume that the lifespan of the average wind turbine is about 30 years. At that point it can be removed. What is not removable is the steady warming of our planet, with all the dangers that poses to this and future generations. To the man from Lewis, I say this: I would rather face the so-called “horror” of an unsightly turbine in ten years time than try to explain, 30 years from now, why we stood back, did nothing and watched the earth disintegrate.


I find myself in total agreement with Norman Lamb MP, who has criticised the ditching of the inquiry into the Al Yamamah arms deal.

It would appear that the wider "political" ramifications of this inquiry have prompted the decision. My interpretation of that is that the inquiry was getting very close to very important people in Saudi Arabia and the UK. Apparently, a prosecution 'could not be brought', which implies (a) there was corruption and (b) whoever it was won't leave Saudi Arabia to face a trial in the UK.

It's worth having a look at just who our trading partners are.

According to Transparency International, Saudi Arabia scores 3.3 (out of 10) and ranks as the 70th most corrupt country in the world, just slightly above Burkina Faso, and below Cuba, Lebanon and Columbia.

It is an absolute monarchy, with no political parties, where women aren't allowed to drive cars, and where an extreme form of Wahhabism ensures that Shia and Sunni co-religionists are considered heretics. The Government exercises tight control over the media and the public are controlled by the religious police, as well as the normal intrusive security arrangements. Public beheadings and amputations are a common occurance.

Who better to stand shoulder to shoulder with in our fight to bring democracy to the Middle East (excluding Saudi Arabia, naturally).

Whoever, the worst (best?) bit is yet to come. BAE exports are underwritten by the taxpayer through the Export Credit Guarantee Department. Included in their list of guarantees issued for 2006 is a sum of £517,316,945 for commercially confidential deals. Basically, the ECGD will reimburse the companies should the Government default, and consequently there is every incentive for BAE (and others) to sell arms here there and everywhere.

In 2004, the Government revealed that the taxpayer had had to pay perhaps £1 billion in respect of exports to Iraq. That was largely military equipment for the Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein was our friend.

As our ethical government aspires to bring peace to the world, it underwrites the exports of arms to almost any country, providing the industry with a huge subsidy, and ignoring the implications of the deal. The Hawk Trainers we sold to the Saudis were - of course - for peaceful purposes only, and consequently were guaranteed by the ECGD. The bombs that were subsequently attached to the wings and then dropped on the inhabitants of Saudi Arabia were there to help the Saudis defend their borders, and the sale was not unethical. Just who would have thought that the Saudis would attach bombs to aircraft that they promised were for peaceful purposes only?

India did. For they wanted to acquire Hawk Trainers for 'peaceful' purposes, following the example of the Saudis and Indonesia, so that they could be peacefully deployed to the Kashmir region. John Pilger wrote an excellent article about Britain's hypocrisy in this matter, and sadly it has had little effect on the behaviour of our Government.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Separated at birth?

Pinochet and ThatcherOne of them was a vicious autocrat who came to power on an extreme right wing manifesto; and destroyed the opposition in their relentless drive to obliterate any concept of income distribution; socialism and equality were considered to be 'unnatural' and should be stamped out; the US was the ally, the funder, and the source of the ideology; the US was therefore to be brown-nosed to irrespective of the views of the voters; wealth, and wealth accumulation was a noble end in itself, regardless of if it was attained by legal means or not; in later years senility set in, which only convinced them more of the validity of their views; around this time the people changed the Government, which was undoubtedly a root cause of their persecution complex.

However, only one massacred thousands in a football stadium in Santiago, and he'll be meeting his other fascist mates in the dodgy mustache club tonight.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hi-Trans - a loss of democratic control

Hi-Trans is the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, set up to ensure that ferries, planes, trains and buses all linked together and ran smoothly. Not a huge problem in the Western Isles, and one the Comhairle had always been able to resolve through discussions with (primarily) CalMac.

It covers Highland, Orkney, Shetland and Moray as well as the Western Isles, and when the consultants came to "discuss" this fait accompli with us, I strongly made the point that the HQ should be anywhere except Inverness to ensure that those most affected by the issues would have the greatest input. The HQ is in Inverness.

My colleague, Donald Manford, went further and warned that this would lead to the loss of democratic control. Donald has been vigorously warning of this for some time. If only we had listened.

My understanding is that Hi-Trans sees itself as a Quango to sit above the Councils and to take control of the Trunk Roads and ferries, and to be able to tell HIAL and the bus operators how and when to run their services.

We have already seen the proposed downgrading of the Shipping Services Committee, from six members of the Comhairle having direct input to CalMac, to a proposed structure where one Councillor from the Western Isles will have to argue against VisitScotland and half a dozen other quangos about what is best for the Western Isles. And then, the recommendation is only advisory to Hi-Trans who will impose what is best for Inverness.

Worst of all, it appears that the Minister is complicit in all of this, and is encouraging Hi-Trans to effectively bid for the funding to become this over-arching Quango. It is not irrelevant that the Minister, Tavish Scott - he of inappropriate mortgage claims - represents Shetland. Shetland have decided to control their own ferries and (to all intents) effectively opt out of Hi-Trans.

Tavish lives in Bressay, just beside the harbour. To help his constituents know when he is at home (as opposed to 'home' in Edinburgh), Tavish raises the flag in his garden. Nothing like modesty, is there?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Green taxes

It is with a heavy heart that I congratulate Gordon Brown on introducing a small measure of greenness into his taxation regime. I'm still digesting the rest, and working through the verbiage, so I'm only commenting on one area.

At last, at long last, the need to curb air travel has been recognised and a small - very small - step forward has been made. The increase in Airport Passenger Tax is absolutely right, as there is a screaming need to reduce the highly polluting aircraft criss-crossing our skies. The best news is that the Highlands & Islands remain exempt!

The increases are very modest, but at least it is a step in the right direction, and I think that you could easily have quadrupled the APT for first-class passengers without them noticing, after all, the majority are paid for by their companies. As a frequent flier, I know the pollution trail I leave, but I am also aware that short-haul flights are by far the most polluting, whilst long-haul are (relatively) better for the environment.

That the taxes are biased in favour of short-haul is a stupid move, as there is still no real incentive to move onto rail or ferry. That is a serious shortcoming in the tree-hugging credentials of Gordon Green-Brown, and strikes one more of a political pose than a real stance.

Now let me get started on the fuel duty escalator. No I won't; as others will repeated the arguments ad nauseum as will I no doubt in the future.

One simple observation: if the Canary Islands are exempt from VAT, why can't the Western Isles attract the same political concern? Surely, along with RET, that is the easiest way to secure the future of this community.

[Deleted] of [deleted] through [deleted]

[Deleted the title as apparently it's Pat Pending]

This is the title of a presentation my brother is giving next week. He can't tell us any more as it is confidential, but I don't even understand the title.

I think it might be something about cryptography ... but, being Kenneth, he's probably delivering it in Japanese or compiler or Klingon. So we'll be none the clearer even if he sends us a powerpoint.

Sorry Kenneth ......

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Uist flooding

Almost two years ago we had the sight of politicians queuing up to tell us just how they were going to help the Uists with various flood prevention schemes. In the light of the tragic events and loss of life, it was reasonable to expect the schemes to be in place in short order.

Today, the funding has still not come through and the politicians have disappeared and the problem fallen off the agenda of everyone but Peter Carlin the local Councillor. Peter is repeatedly raising this with the Comhairle and the Executive are constantly being pursued to meet their promises.

Nothing but words have materialised, although the Comhairle has undertaken some patching work on the causeways. If we have more flooding - and heaven forbid any fatalities - then the blame will lie squarely with the Executive.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Snouts in the trough

The fattest pension scheme in the UK, the most generous expenses allowances (which are largely unchecked) and often a job for life, yet they want more.

Our MP's want a 66% pay rise to keep them in line with senior civil servants!?! Sorry, but they seem to have lost touch with reality.

The problem seems to be that greed is contagious, and overpaid civil servants are being used as the benchmark to lever up MP's salaries.

Can I suggest that the solution is fewer and better paid (as should be the case for Councillors) or possibly the transfer of all power from Westminster to Holyrood.

Racist grafitti

I have been told that the Community skip in Galson is covered with anti-English grafitti. I have absolutely no time for such narrow minded racism, and I hope that the perpetrator is found and prosecuted.

In the meantime, I hope that the skip will be replaced as a matter of urgency.

Storm bound

I was supposed to be in Barra and Uist this week, but with all the ferry cancellations, there is no way I'm going to make it. The storm seems to have passed Stornoway by, albeit with a few overnight squalls, but the weather is calm at the moment.

With immovable appointments on Thursday, I couldn't get down there and back in time, so I've had to cancel the whole visit. Goodness knows when I'll get back - probably March now, given the work pressures until after the end of January.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Jackie Bird

The flight down was enlivened by a group of Scottish Water/Scottish Water Solutions/whatever-we-are-called-this-week employees on their way to a seminar at Riccarton.

The seminar was being presented by Jackie Bird the BBC newsreader, according to the boisterous conversations that went across the plane, and this seemed to be one of a large series of seminars, so presumably all the staff are going through some kind of service improvement course.

The assessment of the professional presentation skills of Mrs Bird? "She's a very scrawny bird", opined one of the SW staff. "Very good, but very scrawny", said another to general agreement.

Not many people know that Jackie Bird used to be a backing singer with Echo and the Bunnymen in the early 80's, and in about 1980 they played the Mermaid lounge in the Cabarfeidh Hotel to wild approbation from the massed ranks of the Stornoway punks. I know, because I was there.

Away again

I'm barely back on the island than I'm away again.

On Friday I had to go to COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) for the Environment and Sustainability Committee and then to KIMO for the regular meeting.

The flight down was enlivened by the stewardess who had a rather irreverent sense of humour.

"May I remind you that smoking is forbidden, and I will kill anyone I catch smoking."

As I only had hand luggage for the overnight stay, I lost all the liquids in my soap bag as I passed through security. It all seems very excessive, but I suppose they are just doing their job -- with vigour!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

South Uist

Congratulations to the people of South Uist, who have today acquired the land on which they were born and brought up.

But we should thank South Uist Estates who recognised the inevitability of the process and worked with the people in a constructive manner to deliver the land to them. Contrast that with the acrimonious state of affairs in Lewis and you can see just how badly parts of this island have been served by their owners.

Both parties appear to have a very good deal coming out of the process, and this can only be good for the future. As a regular visitor to Uist I look forward to seeing the changes over the coming years and decades.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Am I standing down??

The Gazette report and reality differ somewhat.

The facts are easily discernible in the Statutory Instrument and the Guidance notes.

1. I qualify for a £10k payment
2. To qualify I have to put my name forward by 20 October, as I have done
3. I receive the payment 14 days after the date of the election (3rd May 2007), as per section 8
4. To qualify you must not stand as a candidate on 3 May
5. If you die before 3 May, your named beneficiary receives the payment
6. You can opt to stand in May 2007, but you lose your right to the payment

If I decided not to stand next year, then I can stand as a Councillor in a bye-election later that month; I could stand as an MSP, MP or as first President of the Peoples Republic of Scotland; or indeed, return to the Comhairle in ten or twenty years time.

However, anyone who hasn't signed up just for the free life insurance cover needs their heads examined.

When I decide what I am really going to do, you'll hear it here first. ;-)

The big question is: What sort of Comhairle are we going to have if the most experienced 2/3's of the members leave??

I'm back

After a wonderfully refreshing break sitting around a pool and doing nothing more energetic than reading, eating and drinking, I'm back. We watched Ireland demolish Australia in a "traditional" (sic) Irish Bar and yesterday we watched the Aussies wipe the floor with Scotland at Murrayfield.

The mail - both personal and business - was about two foot high, which is slightly less than usual for ten days, and has now all been opened and sorted - but not yet dealt with.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


We're away for 10 days, and with no laptop (for once) there will be no postings till I return.

Hope you enjoy my time away, as much as I do :-)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Atlantic Osprey

Last night I did an interview for RTE, Dublin, about the Atlantic Osprey, which is carrying nuclear waste from Sellafield to France and Switzerland.

KIMO have long had very serious concerns about the appropriateness of using a former ro-ro ferry to carry toxic waste.

The Comhairle had a presentation about this almost four years ago, and pledged to oppose any such shipments (as far as we could).

Now with the Irish Government putting pressure on the UK Government, we might manage to get some progress. However, at the Council of Ministers meeting I attended in Gothenburg the UK opposed any and every restriction on nuclear transportation, waste production, and waste management in favour of market forces.

KIMO have members in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales so we hope to have a combined campaign against these shipments.


Whilst understanding the misery this collapse has caused those directly concerned, instead of hand-wringing and saying "Something Must Be Done", politicians would be better advised to encourage the public to save through Credit Unions, rather than through commercial (non-banking) operations.

A much more radical viewpoint was stated in one of the newsletters I subscribe to: As the agents are self-employed, are we now to believe that the self-employed are entitled to protection and refunds if their customer goes under? How many sub-contractors have lost money when a main contractor has gone under, and how few of them have ever got a refund for their losses? So why should one group be treated differently?

I consider that the claims in Parliament that this is a "national emergency", and that MP's should make a contribution to the appeal fund, to be nothing more than a pathetic piece of symbolism which doesn't address the real issues. Such as, why do we spend so much money on conspicuous consumption to celebrate the pagan festival of mid-winter?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Scottish politics

I find myself quoted in the Chicago Tribune, again, as some kind of authority on Scottish politics. The author, Tom Hundley, has recently been in Lewis and I had the opportunity to meet him. He subsequently interviewed me for this article and I'm flattered with the political company I keep in his article.

However, my ambitions are that much lower and more local.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

An English funeral

Strange. But then they thought our normality was odd to.

The remains were stored for a week due to the demand at the crematorium, and then the funeral director walked along the road ahead of the cortege for about 1/2 mile before we dove the nest couple of miles to the crematorium. Can you imagine Al Crae doing that (no discrespect Al, but...)

Afterwards, the wake was in his local, which being England was fully smoking, so everything needs to go to the dry cleaners next week. Roll on the smoking ban.

Thence back to Sy, and normality (sic)

Friday, November 10, 2006

London City

My first flight ever into London City aoirport was very exciting.

I've avoided the airport for no good reason, but today I landed there for speed and efficiency reasons.

It's like landing on a pier, mainly due to the fact it is a pier! The landing is no worse than anywhere else, bit the maneuvering was nervey, due to the restricted space.

Only 22 minutes to Bank, another 15 minutes to Waterloo adn the world is you Oyster (card).

Heathrow on the way back was horrendous. we left at 8am for a noon flight, and it was just about enough time. Probably the worst airport in the world.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Our kids

The past week has been difficult, so apologies for holding postings, until we were ready to let them go.

On Saturday we went out for our usual dinner and drinks and were approached by a gentleman |( an I use the expression very loosely) who seemed to have a problem with some confidential and personal information that his wife held.

Without giving anything away, he ended up trying to ask my wife out for a fight, and(allegedly) physically assaulting both of us.

We both deal with confidential information every day, and to have our private lives thrown back in our faces is very difficult to deal with.

He was duly thrown out of the pub, and five minutes late he was back in and served with a pint and a double. Hey ho. The Police were interested, and we have left them to it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gazette Editorial

I find myself in total agreement with the Gazette editorial, that whilst reduced ferry fares from the islands will be gratefully accepted, the real solution is free travel.

Without that bold step, it is just going to make it cheaper to go to Inverness for shopping, whilst local shops and tourists are priced out of the market.

However, one senses that the coming election might result in bigger carrots being dangled the closer the election comes...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I've got a cyber-stalker, so I'm obviously moving up in the world.

The poor saddo read something on the blog recently, and within a few hours was desperately trying to find the full facts, to the extent of getting others to make rude calls to members of my family.

As their virtual fingerprints are all over the weblogs, I can see exactly what they are doing, whilst they remain oblivious to the trail they are leaving.

Remember what Tony Parsons said?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


We decided I should got to Barra to see some clients on Monday, so I set of down the road. It was not to be.

As I sat above Baile on Eriskay, trying to get the last mobile signal, I wondered why all the cars weer driving to the ferry and cruising back - just a "spin" I thought. Not. The ferry was cancelled, so it was a quick dash to the Pollachar for a bed for the night.

Last night we had a family bereavement, so it was a drive back up the road today to catch the afternoon ferry to Lewis and home to my family.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Having a drink with MWT

Sue and I went out on Saturday for a fabulous meal at Digby Chick's and thence for a drink (or two).

We walked into a certain pub in town to find it was very quiet, but standing at the bar was our friend, the one who came into the office to shout abuse at us both about windfarms. Well --- too good an opportunity to miss.

We doughnutted him - I stood on one side, and Sue on the other as we waited for bar service. He looked first one way, then the other, and moved rapidly to a table in the far corner.

We took our drinks, and guess where we chose to sit?!?

The panic in his eyes was really funny, and as we walked to his table, he jumped to the next table to talk to another customer.

When he went to the bar for a drink, I asked his drinking buddy who he was. As I know Carrots (for it was he) from 30 years past, we had a long and lively chat, which proved even more discomforting for our missing colleague as he wondered back from the bar. Carrots also insisted on bonding with Sue, which is euphemism for a kiss and attempted cuddle :-) He won't try that again without her permission.

On the way out, Carrots was vocal in wishing us the very best, and I laid my hand firmly on the shoulder of the Parkend ex-pat and said "See you again soon!" He just didn't know where to look or what to do.

If you dish it out, you have to be able to take it, and our friend can't ;-))

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wind turbine lost overboard

It's difficult to believe the series of events that have befallen this wind turbine in it's short life. I had been looking forward to the Arnish moor windfarm being up and running as soon as possible, to allow everyone to see just how wind turbines will look against the moorland.

But, if it is not one thing it is another, and I am now looking forward to the slightly reduced development going ahead.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Radioactive waste

David Miliband has apparently told the House of Commons that nuclear waste is to be buried in geographically suitable areas, but only with the support of local communities.

Volunteers are being sought from potential beneficiaries of this largesse.

Let me mull this one over before coming to a decision ......

Firefox 2.0

It's here! It's installed, working and looking good.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Romania and Bulgaria

I am appalled by the underlying racism surrounding the decision to limit the number of unskilled workers to be allowed into the UK.

"Stop the Gypos!" is the message that John Reid is putting across, "They're all thieves".

But the *good* skilled workers such as Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants are allowed to come in without permits.

Pandering to racists and "little Englanders" is never going to result in a good policy, far less one that is workable. How long before we see those who look *foreign* being asked for work permits as they enter the UK?

What a waste of the limited resources that the Government has available, when they should be used to stop terrorism. After the success (sic) of stopping illegal immigrants getting into the UK via the Channel Tunnel, you would think that the light would dawn.

However, operational issues have no doubt overtaken by political imperatives.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Prospective Councillors

Having received a mailshot today, I've decided to write a guide for all those thinking about standing for the Comhairle in 2007.

First draft (scrapped) was horribly indiscreet.

The final version will just be indiscreet, and pull no punches.

When completed, I'll post it to my web site and make an announcement.

I think it might get me into trouble :-)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Party. party, party

The party went like a treat, with 10 happy, happy, noisy children running around the house.

We all ended up playing games such as musical statues, pass the parcel and a major treasure hunt throughout the house.

They all sat down and ate and ate and ate, with chicken nuggets, sausages, jelly, pizza and assorted juice to make the party go with a swing.

By the time they left, we were exhausted, but the kids had all totally enjoyed themselves, and not one was sick. Result!

Babysitter came, and we went out to recover. Thankfully the boys slept late today, which meant everyone was in a good mood for the whole day.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Old age

Today I recevied details of my projected state pension, assuming I continue to contribute at the same rate for the next 21+ years. In other words, it's a wild guess, and a totally pointless piece of correspondence.

Clearly the Treasury are hoping that we will all save for our old age, and be less reliant on the State for a living income, but the policies are not joined up - surprise, surprise.

The Child Trust Fund is a worthless joke, that is only worthwhile for the really wealthy as a way of making pension provision for babies in a tax-efficient way.

Students leave College or University drowning in debt, and then have to fund enormous mortgages on the back of a property boom.

I'm comparatively lucky, having enjoyed a fully funded University degree, but I struggled to pay a mortgage and a sensible amount into my pension for a few years. How today's students can expect to put anything aside is beyond me.

Just to make me feel older and ready for my pension, today is a child's birthday and there will be ten little children running around the house in under an hour!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Abnormal weather

Is it abnormal, unseasonal or part of a permanent change? I personally believe the latter.

Last week we planted about 100 bulbs in the garden - in glorious weather - and the lawn is still growing rapidly. The Clematis has flowered for the second time this year, probably due to the Summer being not so nice, but the seasons have levelled out IMHO.

We no longer have the extremes of cold and warmth that we used to have. Spring snow and beautiful Augusts are a distant memory.

We're going to have to learn to live with these changes, and hope that they don't get worse.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Broadband back

Thnaks to someone in the local exchange, who took 20 minutes to fix the real problem, our broadband came back last night. My joy and glad was only temppered by the 150 emails that promptly downloaded.

This morning I found that the router had blown - I don't know if it was overwork, shock or the server resetting last night after downloading MS updates.

One hour later, and thanks to Murdo Techmobile, we're back up and running, and the wires are red hot with mail, tax returns, and surfing.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


We had P&R and full Council this week, where the many issues were resolved.

Probably one of the least edifying sights was one of my fellow Chairs pleading for extra funding for his Committee on the basis that the £1m he wanted wouldn't affect anyone else's budgets, and would come from a central pot.

Anyway, he continued, it wasn't an overspend or a deficit, but a shortfall in resources to fund expenditure.

This was met with derision by most of our colleagues (and quite right too), but not before the shrouds were waived and the onion produced to bring tears to eyes. The Committee were told to go away and find a solution, or series of options, and bring back decisions - not vageries - to the next series of meetings.

The felony was further compounded when said Chair later proposed that we promise another £50,000 to ensure a specific project went ahead. This was just a rouse to avoid making any kind of decision on the issue, and was met with barracking and mockery. You would think he would learn, but he doesn't.

Friday, October 13, 2006


The office Broadband is still down - only 10 days and BT are still unable to diagnose the fault, far less fix it. Well that's not quite true. We've had about half a dozen conflicting diagnoses, and despite the involvement of the Chairman's complaints team, no progress.

We're having to come home to deal with emails, which is causing us enormous hassle. remains down, although works. This is apparently a problem with the DNS servers at BT, if I can ever manage to get through to them. My personal site could do with a revamp, whenever I find the time.

This is all having a knock on effect on my blog, making it less easy, and less spontaneous, but hopefully we'll be back up and running soon.....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Guns for hire

How about this for a recipe for disaster .... hire mercenaries in Afghanistan by trying to outbid the enemy.

Hmmm, if I were the Taliban, I'd keep uping the rate offered and when outbid, then claim the credit for ensuring the communities were better off!

In the meantime, the allied forces better watch their backs, before troops change side unexpectedly for a better rate of pay.

It's fun being a Councillor ...

<irony>Being a Councillor is a series of jollies, interspersed with dull meetings, and the chance to be seen shaking hands with the latest worthy.</irony>

Yesterday, I received yet another offensive and threatening message from opponents of windfarms, which I am going to pass to the Police.

What I find saddest is that MWT and it's adherents cannot accept the democratic decision of the Comhairle. Instead of focusing on the Scottish Executive - who will take the final decision - they seem to believe that trying to intimidate the Chair of the Committee will somehow change the decision. Not so.

There is obviously a total lack of understanding about the process, and a desperate resorting to threats of violence in the absence of any rational debate.

Half down

Well, at least BT have got our email and website back up, but reamins down, possibly as there is a fault at the BT DNS server.

However, our office Broadband is still down meaing wwe are having to go home to receive and send email, or use a very slow and expensive dial-up connection to receive it in the office.

Still BT are getting a bill for all of this....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

BT - it gets worse

The @r$e$ have disconnected our new broadband connection and not our old one - and apparently it takes 7-10 days to fix this. No sense of urgency then.

Next, they decided to cease our service, as we were moving from one building to another and had signed up for the "overlapping" service to ensure no business interruption.

Now, they have removed us from the DNS servers, so our website is down and our Static IP address will take 5 working days to be reinstated. Which means no incoming emails, which we could check via webmail at home.

This despite an email yesterday promising that nothing would affect our new business.

I've just spent the past hour faxing increasingly irate letters to various departments of BT demanding that they sort the problem immediately. Bizarrely, the website is still available at the BT parking address and I have received acknowledgments of my complaint from 2 BT departments by email.

Beinn Mhor Power

The section 75 agreement went through today, with just a couple of minor changes and one caveat, so it is back to the Executive to make their mind up.

This is probably the best deal on community benefit anywhere in the UK, and if we can negotiate and ever better deal then BMP are obligated to match that.

I truly hope that this means the survival and economic growth of the Western Isles is secured.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

BT get it wrong!

After prolonged negotiations with BT over the moving of our phones and Broadband from location 1 to location 2 within the same exchange area, it seemed reasonable for us to believe the following:
  • BT didn't have too much notice of our move - apparently the 21 days notice we gave them was too much
  • They knew where we were and where we were going
  • No, we do not need a new phone system
  • They knew we were keeping the same phone, fax and email details as before
  • Yes, we did want a transitional period where we had Broadband in both places to ensure a smooth handover (as it says on your website as one of the benefits!)
  • No, we do not need a new phone system
  • Yes, what we have (Featureline) works ideally for our needs
  • No, we do not need a new phone system, however good you make it sound
  • Please! Just replicate what we have
  • No, we do not need a ******** new phone system, just read the ****** fax we sent to you three times
  • Dennis in Newcastle is an angel, who didn't try to sell us phones, understood what we were trying to do, and rewrote the contract to ensure it met our requirements. The best advice he gave was to ignore the Aberdeen office and speak to him directly
  • Lynn who wired our phones was a gem. Looking like a trainee lumberjack, she scaled the poles to fill the instructions she had been given, which were not quite the instructions we had contracted to pay for. Thankfully Dennis saw her through and she worked like a Trojan on something she hadn't been trained to do.
  • Today BT disconnected the Broadband in our old offices
  • Today our broadband went down in the new offices as they had pulled the wrong plug. Right number (but that is because it had moved) wrong location
  • Apparently this is a fault on the line as it is "out of sync", and not their mistake
  • Except we can see they have pulled the wrong line and our old offices work fine
  • Cue swearing, shouting and much abuse
  • It will take 48 hours for them to get back to us, and possibly 10-14 days to fix it, except as it is a *fault* and not a new installation we might, just might, get it done sooner
  • No-one else can give us a service in less than 10 days
Today was stressful, and tomorrow will be worse if the b******ds haven't got it working properly.

On the upside, it is a voidable contract, and we'll get our costs back --- or else

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Beinn Mhor Power

I've spend a good part of the weekend reading, and re-reading, the s75 agreement that is coming in front of the Comhairle on Thursday.

It is as important as the planning application, as it firms up many of the intentions and expectations of the Comhairle and the community, but it also ties toghether with entire process in a legal framework.

Thankfully, the Officers have made it an easy read (!) for the Councillors, but there are still a few points that I am sure we will need clarification on. The important thing is to have all the safeguards in place at the beginning, and worded tightly, so that everyone knows exactly where they stand.

I will be glad to see the Comhairle's involvement in this application being completed so that the Executive can take a decision. However, we are not going to rush this through.

Friday, September 29, 2006


Was that a mosquito I saw flying around in my kitchen, before I falttened it with a large magazine?

It looked a hell of a lot like this:

Now, I know how they fly, 'cause they eat me alive on holiday, and this was one.

What is going on with the climate?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

CalMac fares

I was interested to see that CalMac sneaked out a press release announcing fares were being increased by a "reasonable" 2.2%.

Personally, I would have thought that the most "reasonable" approach would be to reduce the prices significantly and to allow the public to travel at a level of cost that reflects the miles travelled, and not the whim of the Executive.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Desperate politicans

Isn't it funny that Gordon Brown claims to be a fan of the Arctic Monkeys when talking to GQ, but when pressed he cannot name a single track by them, and refers to Coldplay as his favourites.

Alan McGhee famously referred to them as "music for bed wetters", whilst Gordon admits his iPod contains political speeches rather than music. Sad.

This week we bought: Gnarls Barkley, Razorlight, Muse and a few others, but mostly I'm playing Babyshambles - Down in Albion - when we get home. I know the words to most of the songs; sing badly off key; and play them loud. I hope I'm not a sad politician.


It is sometimes amazing how much other people “know” about you – even things you didn’t know yourself.

However, you get used to these malicious rumours and carry on regardless.

This week I have been accused of being an employee of Amec (which obviously conflicts with my role in planning). A certain newspaper was fed this story, which I can unreservedly refute – I have not, never, ever been employed by Amec, any subsidiary, associate, nor has any friend or relation. Nor has my wife or my business. My goldfishes refuse to confirm or deny they hold shares, but as they have left their money to Nemo, I think I’m OK.

Strangest of all, today I was told my website had been taken down by the Police due to libellous comments. This is self-evidently wrong; legally implausible (if not impossible); and betrays the source of the gossip [I didn’t delete your offensive and threatening email!] but also shows the level of interest and controversy I kick up. I’m quite proud of that, in a modest kind of way (smiley).


The past week has been very quiet posting wise, as we have been moving the business to new and larger premises. We had a mere week to do the modifications to the premises, acquire the fittings and get it all working before BT moved our phones.


It was me up the ladder on Saturday outside painting most of the front of the building; and me on Sunday and Monday aching like the unfit person I am. Sue and I spent the past week trying to juggle work, moving, decorating and the kids and somehow it has worked. We were both knackered by the weekend, but a good Saturday night out does wonders for a few hours, anyway.

However, we opened today, and it has been crazy. Situation normal.

Many thanks to Ray, Murdo and Mike for their help.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

So this is democracy...

This is what all these people died for? To allow us to achieve a level of inhumanity to man, below that which was evil.

Presumably George Bush is now guilty (by commission and omission) of all the sins he accused Saddam of? But, I forget, Saddam was our friend who turned against *us* and consequently desrves all he gets. As opposed to everything we gave - and sold to him - in the past.


These two stories were beside each other on the BBC website today.

"The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith says he now favours allowing intercept evidence to be used in court"
"Biotech boss 'shocked by arrest'".

I think Lord Goldsmith may have been thinking only about *real* criminals and not his mates who get favours or else he'd be offering up the Downing Street communications log.

Is it any wonder that the public are cynical about politics?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cal Mac goes offshore

The madness of CalMac tendering continues ....

In order to comply with European rules that needn't have applied, the Executive forced CalMac to tender. This was designed to ensure the Executive paid the minimum subsidy for the service.

As a consequence, the staff are now employed in Guernsey and pay no National Insurance, and now CalMac is moving it's headquarters offshore to avoid Corporation Tax. Did no-one in the Executive do the sums and follow the logic through so that they are supporting companies avoiding Corporation Tax.

First the tax offices were sold to a Bermuda based company (Mapelely Steps Ltd) who will avoid UK tax on all the rental income the Government pays it, and now a publicly owned company is moving its domain to win a contract that it should have had be rights.

The world is going mad, and the only winners are the lawyers and accountants who are advising CalMac how to avoid paying it's fair share to the Treasury. Surely, some MSPs must be prepared to stand up and object to this.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Animal Liberation

Is it just me or are the ALF becoming the new fascists?

I'm an omnivore, and I resent someone telling me I am wrong, any more than I will tell a veggy, vegan or breathearian that they are wrong. I declare an interest in that my brother is a vegetarian who eats salmon.

To see the ALF apparently releasing live fish into the sea to die is worse than by-catches and most of what the ALF accuse scientists of doing.

The world is going mad, and we are standing by and letting the extremists run the roost. I'm as partial to a nice salad as the next man, but if we weren't meant to eat meat, why have we got incisor teeth/

I've never hurt an animal for fun, but I have no qualms about eating anything and everything. To see the self righteous so-and-so's telling us not to eat Guga just puts my back up.

I just want to eat anything and everything just to annoy the ALF.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Patricia Hewitt

To say that I think that Patricia Hewitt is a sanctimonious, patronising, brown-nosing soundbite on legs, is to be polite to her.

Her latest vacuous statement suggesting a public vote for the next Labour leader betrays a desperate need to appear relevant, whilst avoiding taking any kind of view on the situation.

What are you actually suggesting Patricia??? A text vote
a la Big Brother which will inevitably result in a write-in candidate winning (David Cameron?) or an open Internetpoll which will inevitably be hacked.

Perhaps she meant a General Election, which tends to have the characteristics she expounds in her best management speak; 'a "new politics of public engagement" would "enormously strengthen the authority of the new leadership".'

Er, yes, the public might be less turned off if there was less mindless drivel and more politicians prepared to say what they actually mean, and take responsibility for their decisions. As far as I can tell, her track record involves avoiding decisions.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mallaig ferry

I really don't know what all the fuss is about -- except that it seems to be manufactured to create an appearance of doing something. The Council had this debate in 2002, in Sgoil Lionaclete, which was obviously staged for local consumption.

The Councillor for Lochboisdale moved that the Lochboisdale/Castlebay/Oban timetable was unacceptable, and he wanted CalMac to change the timetable so that the ferry went more frequently to Lochboisdale from Oban, and then to Castlebay.

Having seen CalMac's "divide and conquer" tactics before, I moved that the Comahirle demand an extra sailing (which would result in parity between Uist and Barra) and that we demand a Lochboisdale-Mallaig service as the ambition of the Comhairle. Bizarrely, some of the Uist Councillors were more concerned about point scoring against Barra than actually getting a better service and this was voted down, which let CalMac off the hook. (It's not clear from the minute, but only I and Donald Manford voted for a Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry!)

Four years later it looks like it might happen sometime soonish, but what a wasted four years.

Berneray to Harris

Following an earlier post about the proposed causeway, I was asked to obtain a copy of the document from the Comhairle for public viewing. The Comhairle should be posting a copy on their server in due course, but until then a copy can be accessed here. This file is 6Mb in size, and runs to 130 pages, so you may prefer to save it to your hard disk, and I hope I stay within bandwidth limits!

All comments - pro or anti - will be passed to the Comhairle, in due course.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I’m barely home before I’m away again. This time business takes me to Skye and Uist with a large number of clients to see in a very short period of time – as usual.

The trip has proved very successful, seeing every client I expected to, bar one, and some new clients to boot. The absence of broadband, wireless connections or even mobile phone signals in much of the islands is frustrating, but it was only a few years ago that you could live without any of these, so it is a challenge to go back to the last decade and relive the hardships!

The ferry from Berneray is cancelled due to low tides, so I find myself with four hours to burn before the next, and after buying a newspaper in Lochmaddy I wile away a few minutes working out how the rudimentary SatNav works. Having got it working (and heaven alone knows why I bothered) it guides me in the quickest route from Lochmaddy to Stornoway, which as it turns out involves the ferry to Skye and apparently 11 hours of travel.

“Prepare to turn left”, I am instructed, and I do so early, stopping off in the Lochmaddy Hotel for some lunch, much to the apparent disgust of the voice. After lunch it is silent until I remember and switch it on as I pass Donnie Johnson’s quarry. I disregard the instruction to “Make a U-turn, if safe!” and carry on to Otternish, where apparently I remain “off road” until Leverburgh.

The long goodbye

Politics and leadership should have one overriding experience which all aspiring leaders should recognise – when it is time to call it a day.

It is better to go, rather than be deposed; and it is better to control one’s exit rather than have circumstances forced upon you. Tony Blair has failed – and failed spectacularly – in seeing this coming, and then failing to deal with the inevitable.

I remember the joy as Thatcher left No 10, although her handling of her final departure was magnificent, but the slow poison destroying her Premiership was there for all to see. Except her.

Tony Blair has it much worse, with him clutching the viper in No 11 warmly to his bosom; albeit with his hands around Gordon’s throat. The car crash is inevitable, and today’s announcement has only focussed everyone’s eyes on the accident blackspot. It is with some disbelief that I see a politician who seemed to be so at ease with the machinations of the media and his own back-benchers unable to see or stop his inevitable demise.

Bambi is truly caught in the spotlights of an oncoming lorry.

But it is easy to criticise, more difficult to say what should have been done. I think that the minute he made it clear that he would stand down in the third term, he was fatally wounded, and the time horizon was inevitably being redrawn closer and closer as Brown closes in. Instead of planning a glorious finale tour of the UK, his aides would have been better to plan a prolonged hand-over and exit starting at the coming Party Conference. A clear announcement that the Annual Conference would serve as the launch pad for the election would have left Tony with all the candidates praising him to high heaven as he said farewell, whilst leaving him in charge (or joint charge) for perhaps another six to nine months. He would have tied the winner into his manifesto, and ensured that he went in the best possible manner.

Instead, Conference is going to be a bloodbath of backstabbing and Tony being forced to confront his political mortality, whilst desperately trying to stop the coronation of Brown.

Thankfully, I don’t belong to a political party that behaves in such a way (joke!).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Edinburgh 2

"Why do they spell it funny?", an American tourist asked whilst trying to pronounce Edinbuuuurg and Musselbuuurg.

Having had a lovely weekend, which included an amazing Sudanese restaurant, the wonderful Creelers, and the Albanach Bar, we were roundly entertained by a gross couple of Yankees making their way to the airport to rebook their flights. They knew everything. And you heard that they knew everything.


KIMO was totally overshadowed by the announcement that ship-to-ship transfers have been approved for the Firth of Forth.

Having been closely involved in this issue since a major meeting in 2003, I feel totally betrayed by the Government (why am I so naive!) who have promised solution since at least 1999. The regulations to prevent this have been in draft since then, but could never be finalised.

The fact that the meeting in 2003 was at the headquarters of a company with responsibility for tidying up oil spills (OSL) should have tipped us off.

The matter is not closed. The letters between Rhona Brankin and Alasdair Darling showed a huge amount of buck passing, excusing justification and opportunity for political opportunism, if the pressure can be brought to bear. The holes in the legislation are immense and worrying, and the mass and mess of overlapping legislation screams for immediate attention. Which it won’t get.


COSLA was very useful, with an in depth discussion of the avian influenza problems and the recycling issues affecting other Scottish local authorities.

It is very clear that the Western Isles is miles ahead of most of the rest of Scotland with the next stage of recycling. I didn’t gloat, but I was pleased to hear a comparison with Denmark where the commercial businesses are forced to recycle, by joining a recycling programme that is at least as goods as the local authorities, and getting a tax credit for doing so. Carrot and stock is the only successful method I have ever found.

An article in today’s Times condemns the government for lack of leadership on this an other issues. I totally agree.

Bird flu is going to be a potentially huge problem in the next few months as the birds come back here. Thankfully, much preparatory work has been done and we should be ready for any infected birds.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Edinburgh 1

On Friday I had to go to COSLA and KIMO, which resulted in a Thursday night trip. As usual, Edinburgh was spectacular, and being the last week of the Festival it was rather busy. As Sue had business in Edinburgh with clients, we were able to extend the trip into a long weekend.

We went out on Thursday for a quiet drink – much as we love them, it’s wonderful to get a night away from the kids – and stopped at the Jolly Judge. As we sat outside, we were entertained by a group of 10-20 men and women doing the Tango (or possibly the Rumba) on a strip of lino that they had laid at the back of the University Halls beside the Assembly Hall.

They had obviously been there for some time, and it appeared to be a regular event, and for about an hour we were fascinated by the ability of the dancers. As a smooth mover on the dance floor* I was deeply impressed by their ability, and learned a lot about how to impress the ladiiieees.

* This is a lie. I dance like a geriatric.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

At long last

Dick Manson resigns, and not before time.

But where is he off to, and how did he get another NHS position given his mishandling of the Western Isles? Incompetence rewarded?

Off course, he is close to retirement and will simply be boosting his final pension pot -- which as you will know is very generous to those in managerial positions.

No doubt there will be drinks all round tonight as the staff leave work.

Beauly to Denny

As a poster has noted, the Beauly to Denny pylons are going to a public inquiry.

To make my position clear; I long expected this to be the case, and I have only one small problem with this. When the Executive announced that Scotland was to generate more electricity from renewable sources, did no-one think about the infrastructure requirements to deliver this electricity? Obviously not.

The debate that we should have had - or more correctly the political decision that should have been taken - was that we will have renewables; they are likely to be sourced from the periphery (excuse that word, please); and btw there will be new cables running to connect to the grid.

At that point there could have been a more informed debate about renewables - which might have resulted in fewer wind turbines and more money into developing wave power, or maybe even old, unsexy, hydro.

However that is in the past.

Will it delay the LWP and BMP applications??? Almost certainly not, as as far as I know the developers have factored the Beauly-Denny Public Inquiry into their plans and are considering other ways of connecting to the grid. The obvious one is to run a cable to Hunterston, although that may not be the very best location, and other points may be being considered.

It is likely that Beauly-Denny PI will take years and years, and if there is a decision before the 2010 election I'll be surprised. A long subsea cable now looks highly likely, and if this is of suffcient size and capacity it may be an ever better outcome for the islands, as offshore developments could more easily be connected

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You couldn't make it up...

From Sunday Times Scotland

IT MAY be the protector of wildlife but Scottish Natural Heritage has a problem. Its new £15m HQ appears to be giving some species the bird.

Some of them can’t see the glass-fronted building in Inverness, and are killed crashing into it.

Since its opening two months ago there have been several fatalities, including a greenfinch and a gold crest. Cleaners have been hired to remove the dead birds.

Staff have been told to leave lights on at night to reduce casualty figures but other measures are being considered, such as erecting cardboard cutouts of hen harriers to scare the birds away, or introducing a real bird of prey to act as a natural deterrent.

“Birds are flying straight into the glass and dropping down dead around the building,” said a Heritage member. “One solution has been to leave office lights on but others, such as reflective strips and cutouts of birds of prey, are being looked at.”

The building has solar panels to reduce electricity costs and gathers rainfall in an underground tank to flush toilets. It won an environmental award last year and was commended by Rhona Brankin, deputy environment minister.

Widespread use of glass is intended to make the building energy efficient.

But critics say designers overlooked the effect of so much glass on wild birds, which fail to recognise the reflections of trees or sky and fly straight into plate glass windows.

Amanda Bryan, chair of SNH’s north area board, said the matter would be investigated. “Every step will be taken to resolve the problem. Clearly, people will not be happy about this,” she said.

A spokesman for SNH said: “We are monitoring collisions at Great Glen House with a view to targeting the areas of greatest risk to birds and will look into mitigation options to prevent further casualties occurring. At a local level such mortality is highly unlikely to have any effect on bird populations.”

Doreen Graham, of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: “Glass is a known killer of birds. A simple solution is to fit blinds which cut out the glare and can reduce collisions. That is something SNH may have to look at.”

Meanwhile, attempts to revive the great bustard, once Britain’s biggest bird, are floundering after most of those released into the wild were killed by foxes or crashed into power lines and fences.

Organisers of the project said last week that only 12 of the 55 birds imported as chicks from the banks of the River Volga since 2004 were still alive. They admitted that many of the ungainly 2ft 6in high game birds had died because radio- tracking devices fitted to them were too heavy.

The birds, weighed down by the transmitters, were weakened and then attacked by foxes. Others were killed on cables or fencing as they tried to gain height.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Health Board readmissions

Press release

Cllr Angus Nicolson has hit out at the deterioration in readmission rates in the Western Isles Health Board area as disclosed by the latest NHS statistics.

Said Cllr Nicolson, “The mismanagement of the Western Isles Health Board appears to have an adverse effect on patient mortality and this is a very worrying outcome. With readmission rates in Lewis having increased by up to 90% over seven years, it is clear that the impact of Board decisions have hurt those they are there to protect.”

“Talking to staff, I am constantly amazed at how they manage to cope with the pressures that are imposed upon them by management within such limited resources.”

“I trust that the new interim management will act immediately to focus on clinical priorities and bring the organisation back under control to deliver the level of service that the people of the Western Isles expect and deserve.”

“It is clear to any outsider that the lack of budgetary control is having a dramatic effect on staff morale and service delivery, and this destructive cycle needs to be stopped now!”


Notes for editors: The statistics can be found at which shows that readmission rates within 7 days were up from 2.2% in 1998 to 4.2% in 2005 (91% increase), and from 7.2% in 1999 to 10.6% in 2005 for readmission within 28 days (47% increase).

Friday, August 25, 2006


Last nights, the Civic Government Licencing Panel – which I Chair – decided to issue a 7-day licence to Viking Paintball, following the submission and consideration of a proper application.

A suitably outraged comment was created by a local journalist, even through it has to be taken in private in terms of Local Government legislation. Incidentally, the journalist knew it was happening, and the agendas were distributed to all the media outlets as normal, so it was hardly "secret".

Do I sound too defensive? Because, I ain't.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pentland Road

The Pentland Road windfarm development of 6 turbines has been “called in” by the Scottish Executive.  This means that they have 28 days to decide whether or not to have a public inquiry into the application and approval.

Although the Comhairle are the determining authority, as the Section 75 agreement has not been signed (I believe it is in the post), then we are unable to issue a consent to the developers.  That process is now to be delayed further.

This has implications for the community developments of similar size, such as the Point Power proposals for a near-by site.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Harris-Uist causeway

Anyone think that this is a bad idea???

(Sorry for wrong link previously)

Scottish Water

My Vice-Chair attended an important meeting with Scottish Water to discuss the restrictions being placed on new house building in the Western Isles.

This is something that has exercised the Comhairle for three years, and something we are no closer to resolving.

Scottish Water refuse to upgrade the sewers and SEPA refuse to approve septic tanks meaning large parts of the islands should have no new-build whatsoever.

Thankfully, the Comhairle look at each application on its mertits, and ignore Scottish Water or SEPA in favour of the local community, where appropriate.

Iain should give us an update at Committee tomorrow.


Isn’t every male a frustrated gamer??

Quake III had passed me by until recently – I had jumped from II to 4 for no very good reason.

I’ve just got into QIII, badly, but I’m enjoying every moment.

Bam!! There goes another political opponent. :-)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Birds can live with wind turbines

Letter in Independent

Sir: Donald P McDonald (letter, 15 August) is quite right in thinking birds are capable of avoiding wind turbines.

My father runs a farm in New Zealand with over 100 wind turbines on it. This farm shares its boundary with a reserve, home to many birds, some of which are native to New Zealand and therefore closely monitored.

He has just assured me that he is not faced with scores of dead birds over the farm, and this wind farm has been there about 10 years and is in fact still growing. I think the readers of your paper are being fed very inaccurate information about turbines and it is a real pity. He has never had to reduce stock numbers, another myth thrown about by the anti-wind-farm lobby.

If a grumpy old redneck from New Zealand can live with huge turbines, 14 of which are right outside his bedroom window and do not keep him awake, then I think it very odd that some people in Britain are so backward on this issue.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

A bridge to Uist (or Harris!)

The Scotsman has some good coverage of next week's likely debate in the Comhairle about the possibility of a causeway between Uist and Harris.

Personally I believe it is a wonderful idea, and one that we should have done on the causeways to Berneray and to Eriskay.

The challenge will be to have similar tidal schemes for the replacement causeways in Uist, and let's see if we can make ourselves self-sufficient in energy within the next few years. The challenge will be to get the Executive to stump up the cash.

Friday, August 18, 2006


We had arranged a special pick-up from the cleansing department to collect two old carpets that we had replaced*. So, as you do, we got together all the big things we needed disposing off and piled it all up together on Thursday night for the Friday morning collection.

Amongst the rubbish was a Dyson which had broken the previous week, and which we had kept hold of for uplifting.

On Friday morning we noticed that the Dyson had gone, “and good luck to someone if they can repair it”, we thought.

By Friday lunchtime the cleansing had been, collected the carpet and an old and knackered table, leaving the pavement looking spick and span.

Until, that was, mid-afternoon, when the would-be electrician returned the Dyson to the original spot, but with the cable unrolled. Whoever it was had obviously taken it home; plugged it in; and, tried to get it to work. When that failed (and why was it out with the rubbish if it was salvageable) they had the nerve to return it to us for disposal. I remain baffled by their behaviour, but I’ve decided to send it to Bethesda rather than the dump, to see what they can do with it.

* One firm in Stornoway now insists you remove your old carpet, empty the room and dispose of the old carpet and any off-cuts from the new carpet as part of their terms and conditions. “Health and safety” and “Insurance” being the supposed culprits.