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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!