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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Decide my future

In the spirit of openness, lunacy and sheer bravado, I've launched my own on-line poll. It's not quite up there with the No 10 Petitions website, and like Tony Blair, I reserve the right to ignore the outcome, unless it suits me.

My pitch: I'm open, available and not scared to voice an opinion. Do you want to be represented by the bland or those who are able and willing to be outspoken? You may not agree with what I say, but at least you know where I stand.

Should I .........
Stand again as a Councillor?
Stand for Convener?
Stand as an independent MSP?
Stand in a corner?
Stand on my head?
Stand down?
See Results
The results may not reflect public opinion. They may not even reflect the opinion of those who decide to vote. Multiple voting is expected and gives me the freedom to ignore the outcome. May contain nuts. Small parts are not suitable for children under 60. Suitable for vegans, venusians and vietnamese.

Where to locate the new landfill site?

Bennadrove is closing, and we have nowhere to put our refuse. This is serious problem, and one the Council have to take a decision on very quickly, or leave us with nowhere to dump our rubbish.*

The Comhairle identify two or three sites that might be suitable geologically; that meet the SEPA requirements; and, that are in a sensible location in Lewis.

The local communities affected demand a referendum, and every one refuses to have the landfill site in their locality. Consequently, the Comhairle accept this decision, cancel refuse collections for the entire island, and spend the money on advertising to attract tourists.

Scenario 2: the Comhairle choose the best location; acknowledge but override the objections of local community, and provide compensatory measures; and, the Councillors live with the outcome of their decision.

No-one in their right mind would go for the first scenario, so why is it sensible to do the same with a Lewis windfarm, but not with housing schemes, open-cast coal mines, incinerators, MSPs salaries or prisons? Because politicians are paid to take decisions, not to duck them.

Referenda are the last refuge of the fence-sitter and "special cases" should always be avoided, as they show an inability to take a view.

I'm independent of thought, and many people don't like that. But, vote for Yes-men or the congenitally indecisive and see where you end up. About 18 months ago I wrote to the West Highland pointing out that debate and (friendly and constructive) disagreement was the lifeblood of a political party. I have always believed that, and always will, as the other way lies madness. Sadly, some people in my own party do not accept that and (almost) want to see a personality cult of absolute infallibility and consequently an unwillingness to discuss the issues, as they know (sic) the personality is right (sic, sic) irrespective of the inconvenient facts. Ho, hum.

Reality is not bigger than any one individual, and I am not the blindly driven party animal or easily manipulated non-entity to care about having to toe a line -- and I feel better and liberated for doing so. Am I the awkward squad? Do I care? Do I live by my principles, rather than do what I am told? Yes to the latter. More of this later, as I am having fun with the inability of others to hold a rational - arguable - political position.

* This is hypothetical, but if the £500,000 of capital expenditure at Bennadrove doesn't placate SEPA it may be a reality in the next few years.

Free school milk

I have just become aware that free school milk is being cut for Primary pupils from April. I've been trying to get more information, but a comment has prompted me to post, partially in ignorance, and partially in embarrassment.

It appears that this proposal went through in the budget for 2007/08 passed by the Comhairle last month, and I freely admit that I didn't see it in the budget paperwork, nor did I attend the Finance Working Party at which it would have been discussed, as the meeting clashed with my busiest time at work.

So a huge mea culpa from me for my sins of omission, but I am going to try to find out what I can do to reverse this decision. However, I may have a conflict of interest which will result in me not being able to raise the issue in Council, which means that I couldn't have objected to the cut, even if I had seen it.

Water investment

It's been a long time coming, but the planned major investment by Scottish water takes us a long way towards the Comhairle's objectives.

We've discussed this repeatedly in Environmental Services, partly on the basis of improving general water and sewerage services throughout the islands, and partly because of the development constraints being placed on new housing in areas such as North Lochs and Tong.

With the centralisation of control of the water industry, the Western Isles lost a major input into the process when the Q&S II programme (Quality and Standards) was set-up, as the investment was judged on pure financial return, rather than any other basis, meaning investment was centred on the big conurbations, and little or nothing happened here. The local staff were fabulous, but they had little influence on the centre, and the Water Commissioner - a smooth Edinburgh lawyer - had little interest in anything outwith the central belt.

Recently we had the Scottish water team in front of the Committee to make an announcement of the likely large spend in the islands. I must say that we were slightly sceptical, having heard it all before, but no-one wanted to rock the boat unless it was true.

The only omission from the list is Arivruach, which appears to have disappeared again. It has been in the top five of the list for at least the past eight years, but keeps getting leapfrogged by other schemes. It's happened again.

School rolls (2)

According to the Migration Study recently published by the Comhairle, the following projections of school age children indicate a clear and disastrous pattern.

To quote:

School rolls have declined significantly since 1975 across the Outer Hebrides. While the primary school roll in Lewis has continued to decline, this decline has slowed down since 2001. Overall, primary 1 rolls are currently lower than Primary 7 rolls, suggesting a continued decline in the foreseeable future.

Growing primary school rolls since 2002 in most parts of North and East Lewis, particularly Tolsta, Lochs, Pairc, Lionel and Laxdale;
Declining rolls in Sandwick and Aird (Point);
Declining rolls in all primary schools on the Westside of Lewis apart from Bragar;
Growing primary school rolls in Scalpay, and Seilebost and Leverburgh on Harris;
No primary schools on Harris with declining rolls since 2002;
Growing primary rolls in Paible (North Uist); Balivanich (Benbecula) and Eriskay;
and declining rolls in other parts of the Uists;
In Barra, a growing roll in Eoligarry and a declining roll in Craigston.

Between 1975 and 2005 the school rolls as a total have declined from 6,000 to 4,000 pupils – a drop of one third over that 30 year time period.
The Education Department reports that, despite some recent blips, overall school rolls on Harris and Barra are still falling much more quickly than elsewhere.

However there have been growing schools rolls in Ness in the north end of Lewis and around Laxdale. This is due to inward migration and a lot of houses being built in these areas. The school in Laxdale was refurbished five years ago but already it is becoming too small for the increasing school roll in that area.

<sarcasm>Of course, the tourism industry might solve this dilemma. But only if it is sex tourism.</sarcasm> But, not of this type.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Postal charges

With a possible increase of 6p in postal charges, is this not what I prophesied? Being the end of the universal obligation and the possible end of regular deliveries to the remote areas, unless you are prepared to pay a fortune.

As I have said before, make the private companies be obliged to provide a universal obligation (after 3?? years) and suddenly the cherry-picking becomes less attractive.

This is VERY bad news.

School rolls

Torquil Crichton has an excellent article in the WHFP last week with which I cannot disagree.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Press release from Nuclear Free Local Authorities


Conservative controlled West Somerset District Council has cemented opposition to nuclear power in its Local Development Plan. It says it will "...resist the development of further nuclear power generation capacity at Hinkley Point". The move reflects scepticism in some quarters of Conservative Central Office about the role of nuclear power in meeting future energy needs and cutting carbon emissions.

The decision will be a set back to British Energy which is now in talks with EoN (PowerGen), RWE (nPower) and EDF Energy about sharing the £2billion construction cost for a new nuclear station at Hinkley Point on the north Somerset coast. Bipartisan political support between Labour and Conservatives is essential for such large scale and risky projects. Currently Government do not expect any new station to be operating before 2020. At least 3 general elections will be called before then and with public support for nuclear running at about 34% many politicians see nuclear as a vote loser.

Supporting the West Somerset decision, Fife Councillor Mike Rumney, Chair of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, said: "Councils across the UK and Ireland of all political persuasions are opposing the development of further nuclear generation capacity. I urge even more to join us and reject the nuclear waste and nuclear risks imposed by nuclear power.

Government is increasingly out of touch with voters on this issue. Earlier this month the High Court censured Government for failing to undertake proper public consultation on whether to support nuclear power. When it consults again, as required by the High Court, then it must do so comprehensively and in a way that genuinely involves the public. I am confident that the public's message to Government will then be that nuclear has no place on the centre ground of British energy policy."

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Depressed. Deeply.

Ireland were excellent - they were everything we were not - and we meet them in two weeks time. Were it not for the fun loving fans that would be an even more depressing thought.

Petition No10

In light of the publicity given to the Road Pricing Petition, you may be aware that it is possible to create a public petition to lobby the Prime Minister.

Obviously, some aren't allowed, such as " We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to attend PMQ's in a clown outfit and greasepaint" which is quite clearly frivolous, but was rejected on the grounds that "It contained language which is offensive, intemperate, or provocative"?!?

Whilst "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to send cats to iraq in medieval battle armour mounted on weasels" which has been rejected on the ground of it being humorous, rather than serious. Although the No10 office has obviously not suffered a humour bypass, given the web address allocated to this petition.

However, the vetting process is very strange, allowing such bizarre petitions as "Recognise that vivisection is fraud!" about three or four regarding Airport Passenger Duty and "charge fat people double when using public transport".

Nevertheless, it's a good opportunity to vent your spleen, albeit at the price of possibly getting a banal response from Tony.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Incandescent light bulbs

I read that Australia are set to ban incandescent light bulbs from 2009.

This seems an eminently sensible step towards energy reduction, and although I have tried to replace every one in the house, I still find that I have to use ordinary bulbs in some places where the fluorescent bulbs just won't fit.

However, the biggest power users in the Western Isles are likely to be the Comhairle and the Health Board, and I'm not sure that either have taken any steps in progressing this simple way to be greener.

I'm going to request a report be brought back to Environmental Services in March to ensure that all new bulbs are the fluorescent type, and that the Comhairle encourage the Health Board to follow our lead.


According to the BBC:

Two snowy owls have been seen together in the UK for the first time in more than 30 years, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

However, the birds were thought to be male which threatens to dash initial hopes they might be a breeding pair. They have been seen at Galson near Barvas Moor on the Isle of Lewis on the Western Isles. RSPB Scotland said the last snowy owls to breed in the UK was a pair on Shetland in 1975. Single birds have been seen in Scotland since then, but this was the first pair to be spotted.

Martin Scott, RSPB Scotland's conservation officer on the Western Isles, said it was a "cruel irony" that the birds appear to be males. He added: "Although we can't be certain, it could be the case that both of these birds have arrived from North America, probably due to huge recent snow falls that may have prevented them being able to find enough suitable prey species."

RSPB Scotland said that in their traditional habitat snowy owls feed on lemmings, but switch to catching rabbits when they arrive in Britain.

Perhaps the RSPB could do something constructive for the Western Isles and encourage birds with alternative lifestyles to settle here. It would certainly encourage the twitchers, television cameras and irate members of the clergy to spend more time here.

A tunnel to the mainland

I've had some good-natured abuse about my inability to come to any view on this matter, given my propensity to have a view on everything else.

Well, the trouble is that I am in three minds about this, and I didn't know which way to jump, so I kept quiet. But I've given it a lot more thought, and I've managed to get my ideas into a fairly coherent order.

Is it a good idea? Yes, undoubtedly it is as it would avoid the cancellation of ferries, and as John Kirriemuir has said there are many great advantages, which he has detailed.

Is it a sensible idea? Yes, especially given the comparison with Norway, where the islands are treated as priorities, and infrastructure is a key part of that process. My visit to the Faeroes last year demonstrated to me the benefits to a small community.

Is it technically possible? I don't doubt it is. The question is whether you drop a pre-formed tunnel on the seabed or drill through the rocks. In the Faeroes they had driven 6km long tunnels through very hard rock and under viscous seas to achieve the joining of the islands.

Is it a good use of Comhairle resources? The Comhairle could never afford to do this, so the tunnel has to be a national infrastructure project, just as the Scottish Executive will pay for the new Forth Bridge. It is a good use of Comhairle resources to scope the project.

Will I use it? This is where it all falls apart for me. I'm not that claustrophobic, but the thought of driving the 40km under the sea leaves me scared. It's not so much the tunnel safety or the tedium, as much as the Lewis & Harris "Sunday drivers" being in front of me and causing an accident. Nor do I particularly want to follow one of Ossian's lorries for all that distance, unless there is a passing lane, or a crawler lane as we start to come to the surface. Now, if this tunnel is actually two dual-carriageway tunnels.

In summary: I'm not ruling it out, but the political will at Holyrood doesn't seem to be there for anything outwith the Central belt. It needs a lot more work, which I think we should pursue, but not hold our breath. It is certainly a very valid ambition, but one that is fraught with problems.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Increase your income by 50%

No, not some spam offer, but what we should be demanding from our politicians at the coming elections.

Western Isles per capita Gross Value Added (crudely, income) is £10,078 or 66% of the UK average.

If we had a thriving community and we were generating some real wealth in this community then we could bring ourselves up to the UK average of £15,270 or increasing our income by 50%.*

Now, it doesn't seem an unreasonable demand that we be much less poor than the rest of the UK, and I'll be asking our potential MSPs just how they intend to increase the income for everyone in the Western Isles, rather than just attacking potential developments.

(The same goes for Councillors, and I'll release my manifesto nearer the time)

We should aim for an end to the dependency - 'I need a grant' - mindset.

* I know that as the WI GVA increases, the UK GVA average will also increase, so I am really saying we need to significantly reduce the differential.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A missed opportunity

Orkney gets wave power. These were being built at Arnish, and the wave farm was to have been constructed off the West Coast of Lewis, but the power can be fed into the grid via the connection at Dounreay.

Look's like we are on the back foot already...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tidal power

For those who cannot read the narrative in the sidebar, here is the graphic, courtesy of whoever is was, and I will credit them when I find where I downloaded this from.

Imagine the power we could generate in these islands? It will only work if we don't become a National Park, and if the usual suspects don't complain.

Phytoplankton - how to reverse global warming?

This item on the science pages of the BBC is certainly intriguing, suggesting an entirely natural way to absorb CO2.

I have just about enough knowledge to understand the theory of the process, and empirically it seems to work; but can anyone shed light on the scientific validity of the process as a holistic cycle? Has urea production - as a manufacturing process - got side effects or by-products that we should be worried about.

I'm on record as having concerns about carbon sequestration in the old oil wells, given the potential chemical reaction with the rock strata, but I've really not got enough knowledge to be confident either way (so I err on the side of caution). This is a very similar situation, and it appears to be one that could benefit from urgent, informed, debate.

Lewis boy done good..

In the spirit of the Stornoway Gazette identifying anyone and everyone as 'local' on the slightest pretext, it's good to see an old friend, Donal Maguire, getting recognition for his efforts in the fish farming industry.

Donal and Terry were wonderfully participatory members of the community in South Lochs for many long years, and I had the good fortune to bump into him in Stornoway last year when he was here with the Irish Fisheries Minister.

He hasn't changed a bit in the 10 years since he left here - or perhaps it is an old photo. I'll ask next time I see him, over a pint of the black stuff.

Catholic tastes

As an accompaniment to the spicy potato soup for Sunday lunch, I made salami and mustard seed bread. It was very spicy, not least as the salami was of the peppered variety. It went down a storm at lunch, and the children wolfed down slices.

This morning, our eldest son (4) requested that his sandwiches for nursery be made with the 'lami bread' . He stood in the kitchen eating another slice, and as he picked out the pieces of 'lami' and popped them into his mouth, he commented, "It looks like ham, but it isn't". Long may they continue to eat everything we put in front of them.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Indonesia bans sand exports

Not normally a hot topic in Lewis, the following paragraph in the Economist, caught my eye.

The Indonesian navy has now sent no fewer that eight warships to its maritime border with Singapore to intercept suspected sand-smugglers. At the same time, the Indonesian sand-shovellers' association, facing unemployment, is threatening to sue the government over the ban.

This is almost beyond satire, until I came across another interesting snippet:

Bangladeshi Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol - unless they have a doctor's note prescribing it for their health. This useful document can be bought over the counter in Dhaka's bars.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Passport Interviews

So just where will you have to go to have your interview before you get your first passport?

Early analysis indicated that certain parts of the UK, because of the nature of the geography and the scarcity of the population, could not justify a dedicated AbI office on purely economic grounds e.g. Western Islands of Scotland. The UKPS considered several reports during the latter part of 2004 and early 2005 which identified a range of possible networks from 40 to 100 offices.

That's according to the Immigration and Passport Service, and our nearest offices will be in Inverness or Glasgow. So what happens next?

In areas where the travelling time to the nearest network office would be more than 1 hour, alternative arrangements will be available. This will consist of interviews over a secure webcam link in premises to be made available by a partner organisation. A procurement exercise will be needed to establish the arrangement; the following table shows the areas in which it will be available and the estimated annual number of applications to be handled.

The entire Western Isles fall into this category. However, on the up side, although they cannot afford to put an office here, they have already designed a typical office layout for premises they have yet to acquire.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tunnocks Tea Cakes

It's years since I had one of these, but we had them with our afternoon coffee today. Yum, yum.

They came up in conversation this week in the office, following a discussion over the VAT liability of various products, and whether a client had to charge VAT on the sale of tortilla chips (answer: no) and bottled water (yes).

Stuff the calories, just enjoy the VAT-free status!

European environmental groups

In my role as President of KIMO, I received an email from an environmental group in Vlores, Albania, seeking to affiliate with KIMO.

It is slightly outwith our normal area - given that KIMO covers the North Sea and the North-East Atlantic - but does this mean a twinning visit to the Land of Eagles?

When I was a student, and again as a trainee, when I had no money to go out at weekends I used to occasionally search through the shortwave radio stations for interesting broadcasts. The loudest were always the "Voice of America" and "Radio Free Europe", but they were never particularly interesting. Radio Moscow was always good for getting bored and falling asleep. But the real find was Radio Tirana, which I could just hear as the signal faded mid-sentence.

It was a throw-back to the really bad days of the cold-war - or so I imagined - with a steady flow of stories about tractor production, the detailed history of the glorious fight against the fascist forces of Nazism, the wit and wisdom of Enver Hoxha (which lost a lot, a hellofa lot, in translation) and a call for the overthrow of capitalism. All expressed in a mid-Atlantic/Slavic, twang but with a serious disregard for the rules of grammar.

It was hilarious, being so overblown and took itself so seriously, as the last bastion of the 'truth' in a world divided into two camps of (1) capitalists, and (2) those who had lost sight of communism and were allowing themselves to be corrupted with impure thoughts about new tractors, and were as bad as the Americans who they aspired to be, and wanted Coca-Cola and the oppression of the workers, and to not have to read the glorious words of President Hoxha which would show the true path to Communism, egalitarianism and equality and would result in the workers living in Nirvana.

This was especially funny given that Albania had - and still has - the highest levels of poverty in Europe.

The third camp - who were never mentioned - were China and North Korea, who couldn't be held up as models to follow as they had split from the true Marxist-Leninist path some time before, but were still trying to make anti-American communism work. These are the kind of schisms that only true students of communism or Free Church politics can understand.

It does appear that Kim-Il Jong has taken the old Albania model and successfully applied it to the North Korea state, driving the people into poverty and destitution and emulating Albania.

Last night

Well, the supporting view was approved, and it has now gone to the Scottish Executive to take a final decision on the application.

Obviously, I hope for an an approval as soon as possible, but irrespective of the outcome I hope that all sides in this debate will pull together in the future and work together for the best interests of the islands.

If it is a refusal, then I will be happy to work on any other scheme to regenerate the islands and to secure employment for coming generations.

If they'll want my support :-)

I had a call from Alasdair Morrison mid-afternoon to get a feel for how the debate was going to go, and to hear from me what the main objections were, and what could be done to mitigate or remove these concerns. It was good to find a politician seeking information from those in the front line, so as to better understand the issues before coming to a conclusion.

Strange as this may seem - and despite our history of disagreements - over the past 18 months our Labour MSP has had more contact with me about this issue than every other politician and candidate put together.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

LWP (ad infinitum)

Today has been spent dealing with News 24 and the BBC service (same people, different reports) as they try to lay out their plans for tomorrows continuous broadcasts. Andrew Castle is in town preparing for a day of constant and unremitting "live" reports on planning process.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I have a 6:15 appointment at the BBC in Stornoway to go on the Today programme to discuss the generalities of planning matters, and I am already on edge given the importance of tomorrow.

Anyone who says they never get nerves is lying. I long ago realised that the absence of "brown adrenalin" was a recipe for disaster, and that keeping yourself nervous meant that you give great thought to what you are going to say. I know that older son will wake us at 5am as usual to play the (educational) computer games so I'll be up and about in time.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and I do not expect to emerge from it with everyone loving me. However, as always, I will do what I believe is best for the Western Isles as a whole and live with the consequences.

I've still got a lot of reading and research to do tonight, and thanks to one of the many Anons for their comments. It would be so easy to duck a decision, but that has never been my style. And I've never been afraid of being controversial or admitting my mistakes.

Ho hum. (That's a throwback to my youthful reading of Kurt Vonnegut Jnr).

I will spend much of tomorrow getting my head around some new material and then working out what I intend to say. Stress! Still, like what I say or otherwise, I like to think I am better than a Councillor who avoids a difficult decision, and I'll take the crap that come with it -- within reason.

Google iteration

Periodically, Google iterates it's algorithms and re-sorts all the files according to the most recent responses from the bots. This involves massive jumps up and down for existing websites, depending on a large number of factors, such as frequency of updating, relevance, spam and deviousness. Most of which are kept secret, and only the simple stuff is made public.

How do I know this has happened? Well my business website was No 1 in every search engine, and has been superceded by some new-comers to the block (it happens!), but most importantly our competition's website has fallen off the map. It's a good day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Arkell v Pressdram

I've just found the details of a very famous exchange of letters in connection with a supposed libel.

I'll not add anything to the authoritative Wikipedia posting, except to add that it would seem to be the exactly appropriate response to a pompous and self-important complainer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Flying home

The 14:40 flight from Edinburgh was full. The 16:10 was almost full. What does this tell us about the residents views on a Hebridean Sunday?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Edinburgh turns red

Saturday was a sea of red in Edinburgh, as the Welsh fans descended on the city. Our work had - fortuitously - taken us there for the Six Nations game, and we had managed to get tickets.

As we got the bus into the centre of Edinburgh at 11am, there was a queue of about 100 outside the Haymarket Bar, being allowed in slowly by the bouncers. Through the window I could see another 50 souls already queuing at the bar, desperate to slake the thirst arising from the night before.

The Welsh had an amazing capacity to drink, and recover. Breakfast in the hotel - which we skipped - was very, very, busy, despite them all having been out on the town until very late the night before. Saturday explained why.

We went for a quiet lunch in a pizzeria in the Grassmarket. Which was anything but. Having a coffee in the "Last Drop" whilst waiting for the restaurant to open, we were surrounded by hundreds of rugby fans quaffing beer like it was going out of fashion. And that was just the women.

It was barely above freezing, and I was wearing two t-shirts, three pairs of socks and a warm hat, and I was shivering in the cold. The Welsh were wearing t-shirts. And that was just the women.

Even the restaurant was filled with fans "Table for Jones?" was the cry, and we returned to the hotel to put on more layers before braving the wind chill.

The game was not of the best, but we won, so who cares? Sue claims to be the lucky mascot, having been at the last three home games in the Six Nations, and everyone a winner. We were at the Australia game in November which we lost, and that was the only one to which we didn't (allegedly) take a little bottle of something to keep the chill out. In true Edinbro too-posh fashion we disdained the dram for a nice small bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly due to the availability in the honesty bar at our hotel.

Need I describe Edinburgh that night? The Welsh in our hotel got back in the wee small hours still searching for more drink, but still made breakfast in the morning. They are the nicest, maddest crowd, ever, and we may go to Cardiff next year.

What impressed us more than anything was that the majority of women were going to the game too - either with the partners or as a hen group. Last year the English rugby crowd was clearly delineated: men to rugby, women to the shops. Sue described the women as "scary", which they were if all you saw was the beer and t-short, but actually they were just having a fantastic time.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lie Dream of a Casino Soul

Friday saw us travelling to Edinburgh to pitch to a very significant new client; we think we were successful, but only time will tell.

So we made the most of the visit to the big smoke, and had a fabulous dinner out before ending up in a very grotty and run down casino, people watching rather than playing. It was absolutely fabulous and desperate at the same time, and it you have never done it then I can recommend it.

The Chinese contingent seemed to have a never ending supply of chips (poker and not greasy!) and a very inscrutable attitude to winning or losing.

About 11:30pm I found myself singing along (quietly) to the song being piped through the room, and I was bemused to hear The Adverts singing the immortal line, "Gary don't need his eyes to see, Gary and his eyes have parted company", a mere snippet of the musical talent is still available for those who remember it first time around.

With Mark E Smith releasing the 26th Fall album this week to critical disdain it seems an opportune moment for me to dig out some old Fall albums and listen to "Fiery Jack" and "C.R.E.E.P." again, and reminisce about seeing them live, in the days of Lard and before Brix, and when Michael Clark did ballet in the Glasgow Concert Hall with the Fall providing the music, live on stage.

If you have no idea what I am talking about and are under 40, please buy any Fall album; if you are over 50, don't bother, you will hate it, unless you went to school with Mr Smith; those in between - you probably bought "Saturday Night Fever" or "Bohemian Rhapsody" instead.

I shall have to choose my desert island disks at some point;

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bird flu and Bernard Matthews

The latest reports indicate that the bid flu originated in partially processed turkey in Hungary. This, at least, has a modicum of logic behind how the infection got into "bio-secure" huts in the UK.

Not being an expert, it would seem the most likely explanation, but as the BBC report points out, it raises all kinds of questions about the Bernard Matthews operation.

This morning I heard Vince Cable MP tell Radio 4 that he would have concerns about eating turkey "if it bore the company logo". That's up there with Gerald "Crap" Ratner as the kiss of death for the company.

Be that as it may, but why, why, why is the taxpayer having to pick up the cost for the culling of Mr Matthews companys' failings? After all, he brought substandard products (unwittingly) which cost him his entire flock, and we are paying him for his lack of controls by refunding him for the loss of his livestock. What the hell does he have insurance for?

This is a waste of taxpayer money and a discouragement to producers to actually put in place proper bio-security measures to prevent this happening again. Instead, he can have a laise-faire
attitude safe in the knowledge that the Government will bail him out.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

LWP application

The revised application was supported unanimously by the Environmental Services Committee this morning, and will now go forward to the full Council meeting next Thursday at 7pm.

A couple of Councillors indicated their intention to move a motion against at full Council, and were unable to do so as they were not members of the Committee. However, I allowed a very free and open debate today so that all the objections could be raised.

The DTZ report commissioned by the RSPB was stated to be based on a desktop study and conversations with officials in both CnES and WIE. Unfortunately, DTZ cannot remember who they spoke to in both CnES and WIE, but are now claiming that they sent the list of officers to the Comhairle earlier this week. Our officers would have spoken openly and freely with DTZ, but they are clear that they never had any conversation prior to this week.

This raises huge questions about the accuracy of the information that they have produced, and may go some way to explaining the ridiculousness of some of the figures. We are going to have to bring these misleading statements to the attention of the Scottish Executive, as our officers are being abused to cover for the RSPB's desperate tactics.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Passport controls

Following the previous post, there is still an issue about actually getting your passport in the first place.

To get a passport you have to go A Passport Centre to be biometrically scanned. And where will they be? Alan Reid MP is having a few problems with his constituency of Argyll and Bute, so I can imagine that those on Barra are going to have the choice of Oban or Stornoway if they want to renew their passport.

With a USA visa requiring a personal visit to the Belfast embassy it seems that the Government doesn't want to make it easy for people to leave the UK. Not that I intend to apply for an American visa.

Thinking up-joined

Get yourself a new super-duper biometric passport with a chip to prove your identity and speed id checks at airports, and when you come back from your holiday you find the chip has failed. What do you do, and what do the Immigration officers do?

The chip is the key to the success (and I use the term loosely) of the entire scheme, so why does it only have a two year warranty??? This is absolute madness -- which is par for the course with id cards.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Automatic Identification System

It was brought ot my attention that the AIS system is available on the web at this location to give you a live view of the Minch traffic.

It looks quiet to me (at this precise moment) and the absence of the Loch Bhrusda suggests that some vessels may be omitted, but it gives an idea of what information can be seen by the Coastguard.

At the time of posting, the "Isle of Lewis" was in Birkenhead dock, undergoing refurbishment. Cllr George Lonie had told me he was flying there on Thursday to join the vessel, and bring it back to Stornoway.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bird flu

I'm keeping a close eye on the bird flu outbreak in Norfolk as this is also one of my responsibilities in the Comhairle. The senior responsibility lies with the Director of Public Health in the NHS, but the practical control issues lie with the Comhairle.

We've already had one briefing day last year, and I've had further briefings though COSLA. On my email this weekend is yet more information from COSLA and the State Veterinary Service.

The biggest risk by far is migratory birds bringing it here, and Spring is the riskiest time of year as the birds return. There are a large number of HxNx variants, with 16 H types and 9 N types, and some variants have both high and low pathogenicity strains.

If you see a dead bird, then you are asked to report it to the authorities, and we would rather have a lot of erroneous reports rather than miss a genuine case.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Why me, and not the Comhairle?

Just a thought, why am I having to post the information that a large section of the public wants?

It started with the North Uist fixed link report, and now the LWP revision. Am I the leading edge of public service in the Western Isles?? ;-)

What Councillors do ....

No prizes for the wittiest retort to the title.

I was asked why the Environmental Services Committee meeting is at 9am and not later to allow more members of the public to attend. The reason is historic and cost driven: to minimise the overtime cost for officers, and to minimise the time that Uist, Barra and Harris members have to stay away from home (and the overnight allowances they receive).

To give you an idea of the work and time commitment, here is the list of meetings for next week:

Monday3:30Members seminar on the budgets

6:00Members briefing
Tuesday11:00Housing Committee

2:00Transportation Committee
Wednesday9:00Social Work Committee

2:00Sustainable Development Committee
Thursday9:00Environmental Services Committee

4:00Policy and Resources (Council Tax setting)

Comhairle (Council Tax setting)
on top of which every Chair and Vice-Chair will have a briefing meeting that lasts about 2 hours.

Over this weekend, I have received about 500 sides of A4 for the regular agenda items, yesterday I received another 100 double-sided pages on the proposed budget cuts and the Council Tax proposals and today another 500 sides relating to the LWP application and to some other late items on the agenda came in the post. More late items are expected next week.

So, nice as it would be to have the meetings in the evenings, you can see that we would never get through the business in a week. Given the agenda, my own Committee is likely to run late, pushing everyone else back.

A number of Councillors have full-time employment in addition to trying to fit this in to their diaries, so whilst evening meetings might be easier in some ways, we would never see our families!

(I finally managed to get this to format correctly using tables!)

LWP Application

I'm sitting down this weekend to read about 300 pages of detail assessing the LWP revised application. The Planning Dept staff have done wonders in getting this in front of the Comhairle so quickly, as I was not expecting to have this in front of us until March.

I'm not going to go into the detail of the report at present, not least because I haven't read it yet.

No doubt the headline recommendations will be in the press and on the radio on Monday, and I want to understand the report before commenting.

I'm asked elsewhere if the Committee meeting is open to the public. Yes, all meetings are always open to the public unless we are discussing certain private and personal information.

The meeting will be at 9am on Thursday 8th in the Council Chamber. The LWP application is one of the first items on the agenda. The papers for the Committees are available from the Comhairle, but I'll post a link here, for those who are masochistic enough to want to read the detail.

The full Comahirle report is here, and the draft Section 75 legal agreement covering Community Benefit is here. I know there are gaps in the S75 agreement, and I believe that some relating to the detail of the Community Benefit will be filled after a meeting on Monday.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The benefits of ID cards

In case you were wondering just how useful ID cards were in preventing those nasty foreigners and illegal immigrants coming here, then this story in The Register will put your mind at rest.

More details have emerged about the Dutchman who, dressed as The Joker from Batman, recently managed to get himself a national ID card.

Man dressed as The Joker gets Netherlands ID cardRobert Coleman, 35, currently on sick leave, was until recently the security guard of Het Torentje (Little Tower), the two-storey round tower in The Hague, which serves as the office for Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

According to Dutch newspapers, Coleman constantly complained about his limited working space, but these grievances were largely ignored.

Earlier this week, Coleman flew to London using his Joker ID card. Pictures of Coleman, standing in front of the Big Bang and 10 Downing Street, were posted in the forum of the popular Dutch blog Fok. However, on his way back he was forced to surrender his card to the authorities at Schiphol Airport.

Coleman says he pulled the stunt to show that the regulations for passport photos are not watertight. He got his card by claiming he had to dress this way because of religious principles. He also managed to apply for a driver's license picturing him with The Joker's white skin and dark hat. "What is the point of having a license or card if nobody cares to check?" he argues.

Although his card has been taken, Coleman intends to travel to New York to repeat his prank, but "needs a sponsor". However, the Dutch interior ministry already warned that it will no longer allow clowns' faces on passports.