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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tanker Traffic in the Minch

On Monday we met to consider two enormous improvements to the protection of the Minch as an amenity and economic entity.

A joint committee between Highland Region and the Comhairle, which I co-Chair, met to consider the new AIS "Automatic Identification System" installed in the Coastguard in Lewis late last year. All vessels over 300 gross tonnes must now be fitted with this device, which sends their fixed details, together with the movement data, such as direction, speed and vessel type, to the Coastguard automatically.

After some 10 years of trying, we have finally got some protection for the Minches, above and beyond the Coastguard tug. This means that all large vessels within about 80 km of our shores can be monitored from Stornoway, which should help prevent any further incidents.

In addition, the IMO ("International Maritime Organisation") has approved improved reporting and navigation separation channels in the Minches to keep the north and south bound vessels apart, and a narrowing of the deep water route of the West Coast. The former ensures that the narrowing between the Shiants and Neist Point should be better controlled; the later allows the tug time to get around the Butt should a vessel get in trouble.

This is a great success story for the islands, but there is still much to be done, especially off the west coast and I will be continuing to lobby the Minister. I spent some time with Stephen Ladyman and his most senior civil servants in Gothenburg at the Ministerial meeting of the North Sea conference, and they were very keen to see this happen -- now I just need to remind them of their promises.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Shetland's wind power plans

As I have previously commented, the difference between the position of the RSPB on the applications in Lewis and those in Shetland is noticeable.

A few choice comments from informed websites:-

"Shetland is the UK stronghold for this species (red throated divers) with other key populations on Orkney, the Outer Hebrides and the north Scottish mainland."

"The large shallow loch attracts large numbers of wildfowl during the autumn and winter, including whooper swans, wigeons and teals. In the summer, arctic terns, arctic and great skuas and kittiwakes can be seen bathing in the loch."

"Some of the birds which migrate between Iceland and Scotland travel through the isle of Lewis during spring and autumn. These include whooper swans." (Note: no numbers or relative population sizes)

"Although the proposed site in Shetland attracts large numbers of red-throated divers the RSPB believes that by keeping turbines away from certain areas any problems will be averted." (As in Lewis?)

"The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland has published a map indicating that nearly all of Shetland is too sensitive to build wind farms." (page 132 of 140)

Given the map rules out most of Scotland where wind blows, can anyone given me any rational explanation why the Shetland project is acceptable, but Lewis is not?

Green energy - the way forward

What is green energy?


At Scottish and Southern Energy we care about the environment and have become the UK’s largest generator of renewables. In partnership with Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity, we have developed a unique ‘green energy’ scheme, which directly helps the environment today and for the future.

Electricity from RSPB Energy is produced from renewable sources, including hydro-power and wind power, which do not create harmful emissions. The electricity is matched to output from renewable sources fed into the network.

If you care about the future for people and wildlife you can take positive action. Switching to renewable energy is one of the simplest and clearest options available.
Julian Pettifer, Environmental Broadcaster and former RSPB President, 1994 - 2000


Honestly. Find this at which is a trading name of Scottish and Southern, who are probably going to provide the cables to LWP which the RSPB are complaining about.

Of course, as we all know, climate change is affecting the type of birds we already see around us, as the RSPB are happy to admit.

Q: So just how will global warming affect the Lewis Peatlands and the birds who visit?

A: Unless we do something, the peat will dry up and release carbon dioxide (which speeds global warming) and the birds will move elsewhere where there is food and a suitable climate. As for the human inhabitants of Lewis, they will see the machair under water and the communities scrapping a living on the margins of an empty nature reserve.

Global Cool

Now you can do your bit to combat global warming, and get exclusive musical content in return. This looks like being an innovative approach to grasp the attention of the coming generation, who are our future.

As the website says:-

If we all leave everything up to everyone else, nothing happens. If we each do a bit, we can all do a lot.

WIHB photocopiers

I understand that the Health Board decided to save on photocopying charges late last year.

The solution was to buy 50 industrial size photocopiers and ship them to Lewis to replace the ones on hire.

Unfortunately (you could guess this was coming), they didn't bother to check the contracts attaching to the existing photocopiers and they now are paying twice for the same service.

That's perhaps £150k* of taxpayers money wasted every year; but who approved it? And are they still employed? Have they been disciplined?

I feel an FoI request coming on....

* That's 8 nurses, 1.5 GP's or 2 Directors of Finance.

[Journalists - don't steal this story without giving me credit! :-) ]

Tax Returns

The annual rush in the office to complete client Tax Returns is almost over. Just a few perennial late-comers to deal with and that will be us for another year.

The cry of "I'll be earlier next year" falls from every set of lips. And some of them mean it.

Calmac tender

After 5 years of uncertainty, we now know what is happening.

It is a waste of time and money.

Calmac got £13m to strengthen it's capital base prior to privatisation; they shifted the staffing company off-shore to save £1m per annum in Class 1 NIC; a reputed spent of about £2m on consultants to support the bid; and a new complex corporate structure, presumably approved by the sole shareholder, Jack McConnell - on our behalf.

Not once in this process has improved service quality been mentioned; but there is no limit on the spend on everything else.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Not fit for purpose..

Can anyone identify anything that the Home Office is doing well? Or even doing adequately?

It seems to stumble from disaster to disaster, and the solution? Not to fix the problems but to dismantle the organisation and rebuild it in another form with the same non-functioning civil servants, policies and procedures.

If any of these people were in the private sector they would be bankrupted and sacked, so why do we tolerate it in the public sector?

Friday, January 26, 2007

"The Donald"

Trump, not MacLeod.

Doesn't he just love his heritage - at least in p r e s s releases - but never so much that he would actually set foot on the island.

That didn't stop one of my colleagues calling for him to sponsor something he has obviously no interest in - unless there is a buck of 10 million and a press release. Chance would be a fine thing, had he not disowned the aspiration immediately.

Thick skins

If you haven't got a thick skin stay out of politics.

An acquaintance of mine seems to have a very thin skin despite trying to be a politician. They cannot argue their case, descending into laughable rhetoric and desperate arguments to try to make their case. It doesn't help that their other acquaintances are equally unimpressed by their arguments.

Now the acquaintance has got on his high horse because we all rip the p*$$ whenever they pontificate, but he fails to recognise the nonsense he spouts.

Politics is a nasty game, and if you can't do it, stay out.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Scottish currency

After careful consideration of the debate as to whether the an Independent Scotland should:
(a) Have a separate currency
(b) Join the Euro
(c) Continue to use the £ sterling

I've come to my view on the best way forward. Given that there will have to be an economic "shock" at some point as both economies adjust to their new status, and as exporters and importers will have to adjust prices to reflect the underlying economic reality, I'm all in favour of moving to a Scottish currency as soon as practicable.

Basically, I don't want our economic performance dragged down by our neighbours who will have different demands and expectations.

In addition, we will have no-one to blame for the economic situation but ourselves. isn't that what we want?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Containership Disaster Highlights North Sea Ministers Lack of Action

The grounding of the MSC Napoli in Lyme Bay, off the Devon Coast, on Sunday the 21st of January is exactly the type of incident that North Sea Ministers and Senior Officials decided was not worthy of action at the North Sea Ministerial Meeting on Shipping and Fisheries in Göteborg last May. KIMO International had called on Ministers to take action to protect coastal communities from the impacts of pollution from containerships however these requests fell on deaf ears despite previous commitments. As far back as the 2002 North Sea Ministerial Conference in Bergen there were calls to improve the legislation in relation to containerships and Ministers agreed to the following:

Para 39 “Although, when these various instruments (HNS Convention, LLMC 96 Protocol) have come into force, progress will have been made with regard to compensation of victims of marine pollution, some problems will remain. The Ministers therefore agree:

(i) To make coordinated efforts within IMO to review, strengthen and introduce, if appropriate, further compensation and liability regimes.”

As there had been no significant action on the issue in the intervening period at the next Ministerial Conference in Göteborg, in May 2006, Ministers made a further commitment to:

Para 60 “The Ministers agree to actively cooperate at IMO to assess if there are any loop holes or gaps in the existing regimes for liability and compensation (in relation to consumer goods) which gives reasons for concern, and to take action when a need is identified. Such an assessment can best be made in the light of experience acquired through the implementation of existing conventions.”

However as the UK has yet to implement the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea 1996 (HNS 1996), the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (OPRC-HNS 2000) or the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (BUNKERS 2001) and they have yet to be ratified internationally it seems unlikely there will be any progress. Furthermore it shows the lack of urgency Ministers have in addressing liability and compensations issues in general.

In relation to Non-Toxic Goods carried in containerships there is currently no specific liability and compensation convention and therefore if the owners do not accept responsibility, compensation has to be pursued through the courts. This is extremely difficult as highlighted by the container ship MV Cita, which ran aground on the Scilly Isles in 1997. After an 8-year court case the Local Authority and the DfT had received no compensation and were liable for their own costs for the legal battle.

KIMO President Cllr Angus Nicolson stated: “This incident highlights an issue on which we have been campaigning for many years and confirms our fears that as these large containerships increase in age this type of accident will become more prevalent. The fact that there is no compensation and liability regime in place could adversely affect coastal communities and place a further burden on Local Authorities which could find themselves responsible for costly clean up operations, as was the case for the MV Cita.”

Update 26/1/07:
The MSC Napoli is owned by Metvale Ltd., a company based in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. It was operated by Zodiac Maritime Agencies Ltd, based in London.

Jack McConnell

Is it any surprise Jack knew nothing about the cash for honours? He's not important enough in the Downing Street food chain to warrant being told about the loans.

Monday, January 22, 2007


One of the very informative benefits of having 500 clients throughout the islands is the ability to tap into their views on the political topic of the day.

The other side of that is that I get asked for my views on individuals, incumbents, candidates and for my view - for or against - the political topic of the day. Not wishing to mislead my clients, I tend to be brutally honest, which I think they appreciate.

Recently, I've had a few clients telling me how they intend to vote and challenging me to persuade them that they are wrong; a few offering their help in the forthcoming campaign; and more than a few asking for my views on the merits and demerits of the likely candidates for the Holyrood elections.

I've been open with those clients, and I know that my position means that my words are communicated to others, making me slightly "influential" in the process.

The dilemma I face is: if I say what I believe, will that be worse than encouraging voters to hold their noses and vote for the second (or third) best candidate?

The really interesting problem is how the local result will affect the list result. That in many ways makes it easier (if my reading of the runes is correct). I'm getting very clear and consistent feedback from throughout the islands, from committed and floating voters, so I'm off to the Bookies to place a bet {if I knew how!}.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Shetland power ahead

Why are Shetland going all guns for renewable energy, when it is even further from the markets than Lewis.

(1) Shetland is using it's oil dividend to reinvest community funds
(2) AIUI, the land is not under crofting tenure, so there are fewer directly affected parties
(3) As far as I can find out, there are few objections to the size and scale of the proposals, even by those in the vicinity of the proposal
(4) They can see the money that can be made, and have the funds to pay for this by themselves.

Instead, in the Western Isles, we complain incessantly and many object to developers making money out of these schemes demanding it be "community owned". Of course, the "community" don't have the money to undertake such a scheme, but let's not let this get in the way of a winge.

I predict that Shetland will have an enormous gain from wind; will get the inter-connector; and that we may end up with almost nothing.

That will result in the offshore wave developments going to Shetland too. Is that what everyone wants???? This is a race, and some of our team seem determined to cut our own tendons.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


One of the side benefits of being a Councillor is that you receive training in a number of areas of which you would otherwise be in ignorance. With that comes responsibilities.

In common with all Councillors for the Stornoway Area, I became a Trustee of the Provosts Coal Fund and the Dr Robertson Bequest upon election. This is not a particularly onerous Committee, but it meant that every Trustee was given a thorough grounding in Trust law and it was very clear what our responsibilities would be.

Every member learned the basics such as the need to prepare accounts regularly, the need to take investment decisions on a regular basis, and the extent and nature of your ability to disperse funds.

Of course, most of the work is done by the Council Officers, but at the end of the day the Trustees are the people who are legally responsible for the management of the Trusts.

Neither I, nor my colleagues, could ever profess ignorance of our responsibilities as a Trustee in any capacity, and any attempt to do so would make us look like a fool or a knave.

This sort of knowledge is one of the many side benefits of being a Councillor.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A wonderful spoof site

This has to be a joke doesn't it ; they can't be spending our money to tell us to wash our hands after using the toilet? Can they? I can see the alcohol based rub being necked on Saturday nights in A&E!

KIMO Norway Calls for Better Protection for Norway’s Fragile Coastline

Kommunenes Internasjonale Miljøorganisasjon (KIMO) has called for better protection of the Norwegian coastline after 585 tons of bunker oil and 72 tons of diesel spilled from the Cypriot-registered cargo ship M/S Server grounded Friday evening just north of Bergen.

In a statement issued today KIMO International President Councillor Angus Nicolson stated, “KIMO remains convinced that the transport oil presents one of the major threats to the Norwegian coastline. This incident fully illustrates our longstanding position that all ships can pose a significant risk to coastal communities and that bunker oil is one of the most polluting oil cargoes, which is carried by all ships. It was fortunate that this was not a 200,000 tonne ship transporting oil from northern Russia or from the Baltic. We can only hope that this will act as an early warning to the Norwegian Government who must now revise its oil contingency plans to ensure that coastal communities are given the best protection possible. This must mean expanding the provision for Emergency Towing Tugs (ETV) to assist in preventing such incidents in the future.”

Big Brother

Not the TV programme, but the book.

The latest scheme to connect up all the Government databases, is an attempt to improve matters by linking data on the public is very worrying.

According to the Minister, someone had 44 contacts with the Government to confirm the details after someone died in a car crash. Is that due to the various departments being incompetent and not recording the data properly, rather than 44 separate departments?

Of course it is the former, as I would guess that the DWP are at least half these contacts. This is an excuse to snoop and not a genuine attempt to improve matters. A recent experience with the DWP showed that their own systems were not linked and that there was constant repetition of the information, and no ability to co-ordinate the matters that need to be resolved.

If there was a serious desire to improve such matters, then start by having a single contact point to notify of deaths. That person would then check with the Registrar; inform every other department; stop pension payments; issue pre-populated forms to the Executor; and cancel any passport. Simple, and obvious, but not as sexy as a big spanking new database.

For an example of MI5s innovative use of technology, and understanding of security read this report from Spy Blog.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Power cuts

Two major power outages in two days, resulting (in my case) in loss of data, frustration and naughty words being shouted across the room.

Just imagine, imagine, an island where the wind was harnessed to provide continuing subsidised power to the residents rather than one where the wind meant cold, dark nights.

I could hardly hear myself speak above the noise of the wind in the street today, yet some people still seem to think that you will be able to hear the wind turbines over the gale!!!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A healthy debate

One of the pleasures of being involved in politics is meeting people with differing views from yourself and having animated discussions. Sometimes you are wrong, and sometimes you win the debate, but hopefully you end up still be very good friends with your opponents.

One of the things of which I am proudest is that I can sit down with virtually anyone and have a debate about the issue of the day, and no matter how much we disagree, we still have a chat and a pint afterwards.

That's not just in the Comhairle, but also with acquaintances whom I meet sporadically, and who love to discuss politics and party Politics sometimes in the most 'robust' manner.

Many of these 'robust' debates take place with people who support political parties other than the one I represent, but sometimes they can be just as lively with members of my own party about nuances of policy, about ambition for the future, or about the (in)ability of the elected representatives (self included).

However, what I always do is stick to my principles and whilst accepting the arguments of others, I have never parotted the 'party line' if I did not believe in it. Indeed, my opponents will confirm that I am open and honest about my views, even when they differ from the official view.

Oooooh! I'm a maverick!!!

What I cannot abide is politicians who regurgitate the briefing without thought or understanding. I exclude the payroll vote (Ministers etc.) on the grounds that they are chosen for their ability NOT to think.

Having said all of this, I get very, very, annoyed when some people try to gag me from speaking my mind on something I strongly believe in and try to stifle debate about a major issue in the islands. Suffice to say, I won't and can't be gagged, and those who try to should be aware that such a course of action has the converse effect.

Oooooh. Now I'm a rebel!!!

I know that the public hate cloned politicians, and want people to speak their mind. So why do the clones never see this??? Perhaps because they cannot think for themselves?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Renewable energy

The latest pronouncement from the EU gives us an opportunity for the to exploit the wave power off our coasts.

With even more restrictions on greenhouse gases, we can look forward to the chance to have barrages, tidal generators and the such like. This is one debate we need to follow with an eagle eye on the development consequences for the islands.

However, it didn't take Tony Blair very long to show his true views on global warming. It's like advocating going on a diet but not giving up the fry-ups. Sad, sad, sad.

Tax season

At this time of year it is head down and nose to the grindstone as we struggle to ensure the remaining tax returns are all filed by the deadline of 31 January.

If that were not enough, the Norwegian Tax authorities require us to lodge and submit the End of Year returns by 20 January - or just 20 days after the year end, compared to some 45 days in the UK. Thankfully, the forms are available in pdf and doc format, so we spent yesterday completing these forms.

Today they will be checked and posted, and we're glad to see the back of them; not least as the forms are in Norwegian, and the first task is to translate the forms!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Royal Mail

Worried about the future of the Post Offices in the islands? You should be.

First the pension books are removed and now the mail is going via a private operator who doesn't have a universal obligation to deliver to every address in the UK. As I have forecast in the Council chamber previously, the postal service is being cherry-picked for the benefit of the large cities and at the expense of the rural areas.

How long before the Royal Mail becomes the only - and very expensive - operator to cover rural areas, or starts to graduate its' prices? If you thought an islands surcharge applied only to parcels, I can see in five years time that it will apply to the regular post too.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Honours list

Just what is the point of the honours system? It is not about rewarding the hard-working unsung heroes with a publicly appreciated symbol of their hard work. Quite the contrary; they pay for their trip to the Palace to get a bauble; but only when it doesn't conflict with the really important people getting a reward.

The real honours (and I use that phrase loosely) go to the great and the good for public service, for being rich, for long service or for being famous.

The former is the brown-nosers who don't rock the boat
The second category are being rewarded for making lots of money (NOT distributing loads of money)
The third are being rewarded for doing their job for a few years - not doing it well, just not doing it badly - and it goes with the fat Civil Service pension they enjoy
The last are FoT - friends of Tony's - those with whom he wants to enjoy a holiday.

Personally, I look forward to the lapel badges becoming available. I think I'll get a false complete set from ebay and wear them alternate days.

If anyone had any doubts about the system, Prince Nazeem loses his MBE for dangerous driving, yet prejurer and convicted liar Jeffrey Archer remains a Lord.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Mind blowing. I've just seen Vivean from the 'Young Ones' singing "Anarchy in the UK" in a jazz stylie!!! And it was excellent. I'm obviously getting old.