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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

UK Economic Policy

It is appalling to see one of Gordon Brown's nominees to the Bank of England, David Blanchflower, running down the Western Isles - or as he so ignorantly put it "Eilean Siar in the Western Isles".

It is also interesting that he seems to think that the Bank of England have no remit or responsibility in this matter, and it is entirely the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. He obviously considers that economic advantage (or disadvantage) has no effect on "happiness".

Perhaps, to paraphrase Eddie George, he thinks it is "a price worth paying" to keep the bonuses in the City of London at an obscene level.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Election campaign

....and they are off in what I predict will be a very dirty and intense five week period. Labour have covered Stornoway and approaches in posters, stealing a march on everyone else.


I came across this cartoon the other day, and have scanned and posted it for posterity.

That's me, Iain MacLeod, Blackwater, and Morag Munro explaining to Angus Graham why the new Councillors weren't happy with his persecution of Murdo "Apple" Murray.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tax avoidance

Tws has made a few snide comments about my profession, so it is only right to bring to his (and others) attention just how tax avoidance works. It is simple, the more money you have, the less tax you end up paying as a percentage.

Being super-rich and foreign is the best tax avoidance device there is.

If you can be classed as "non-domiciled", then you can reach an agreement to pay a lump sum in lieu of tax on all your world-wide income in the way that us mere mortals have to.

The Guardian has a very good article on it, but to put it into perspective, one only has to look at the affairs of Mohammed Al-Fayed. He, his two brothers and his son agreed to pay £150,000 in income tax each year for the four of them rather than have to bother to complete Income Tax Returns. Not bad for the owner of Harrods and Fulham FC. This equates to taxable income of under £350,000 between the four of them! And this is only scratching the surface of the problem.

But they are not the worst. News International made profits of £1,387,000,000 in ten years and paid no, NIL, zero, nada, UK Corporation Tax. Stop all the abuse of tax havens, holding companies and insist of a minimum percentage tax payment and us humble taxpayers could see cuts in the burden.

BTW, my clients would be most upset if I didn't try to minimise their tax bills, but I'm also more than happy to divulge the simple things people need to do.

Energy saving bulbs

Policy & Resources today approved the replacement of all incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones in a gradual process over the coming years.

Spend to save -- save the planet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Heat reclaiming

We are looking at installing a hot air reclamation pump into the office, on the recommendation of provider of this service.

It looks good on paper, but does anyone have any experience (good or bad) of having such a system in place?

(Jokes about politics, politicians and accountants are entirely predictable)

Late Hours Catering Licences

The Civil Government Licencing Panel met today to consider two late hours catering licences.

Both were granted, for the Thai at the former Manor Filling Station and for Burnside Chip Shop, Daliburgh.

As always there was an interesting debate, although the suggestion that refusing the Thai Saturday into Sunday was dismissed, as it was pointed out that they inted to open on Sunday's afternoons and evenings anyway, and that was not within the control of the Comhairle.

P60 time

I spent most of today getting P60s printed and submitted to the Inland Revenue. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

We have about 70 payroll clients meaning about 1,500 P60s to be printed, checked and submitted, before the start of the new tax year.

Thankfully, we are able to submit them electronically before the end of the current tax year, so as soon as week 52 is processed, of it goes.

The last of the Norwegian Tax Returns went this week too. Over 30 sent this year, all within three months of the end of the tax year, based on Norwegian P60s forms, most of which were Norwegian. If UK taxpayers had to complete their tax returns within three months, they'd mostly be in jail.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Windfarm policy (1)

I make absolutely no apology for returning to this topic again, as the coming election is the key time for all the local voters to make their views known and to determine our future for the coming decades.

But, I am now going to try to lay out - over the next few days - a coherent policy that I hope everyone can sign up to. I was asked to do this a long time ago, so it is not spur of the moment, but as those who asked me then didn't want to hear the answer, I haven't given sceptics a full chance to dismantle/destroy my ideas.

Criticism is therefore welcome, nay, demanded.

Policy 1a: A public inquiry is a bad idea. The Comhairle will have to pay for it, and forget any change out of £250,000 (that's £27 on the Council Tax). Moreover, any Public Inquiry will consider the process only and not the principles behind the decision. As the Chief Planner for Scotland has already said that the process was exemplary, the realistic prospect of any flaw being found is negligible.

Policy 1b: A time-limited public inquiry is unknown in Scots Law, and appears to be totally contrary to the legislation. For the reasons given above, any Public Inquiry is a Bad Idea.

Policy 2: A referendum is a bad idea. Who sets the question? The Comhairle?? Who is able to vote (Ness only, or the entire Western Isles)? What other decisions of Councils are to be removed from public democratic control? Why should a planner from Edinburgh tell us what is best for us.

Policy 3: The Scottish Executive should urgently determine a Scottish Energy Policy. They should "redline" areas for protection and designate areas for windfarm development. This latter area should be subject to very significant compensatory measures for the affected areas.

So endeth part 1. I'm going to post part 2 shortly, and I really would welcome constructive criticism of my attempt to find a majority position. Supporting or opposing the above statements won't commit you to supporting or opposing the final complete version, but I am trying to clarify the main issues step by step, by looking at the components before considering the whole.

I know there will be some (a lot) of doubt about my motives, but please do treat it as an absolutely open attempt to find common ground.


It seems like forever since I posted about the weekend. Most of Sunday was taken up in the Board Meeting where we had an enormously important discussion with the European Maritime Safety Umbrella Organisation (MSUO) about what is required for Europe. For those in the know, the presentation by the Co-ordinator and the discussions about Interreg II and IV were hugely important. Interreg is a series of programmes funded by the EU which deal with very specific policy issues. Interreg IV has about 13om Euros to be spent in some very tightly controlled geographic and policy areas over the next 5 years and these could substantially improve the work KIMO does.

The Comhairle is also trying to tap into another set of Interreg IV funds, so I will be able to bring the personal contact to bear on our application, with a bit of luck.

The entire contact came about after KIMO appeared on the front page of Lloyd's List on 29 Jan on the back of the sinking of the MSC Napoli, and MSUO wanted to meet an organisation that was proactive and forward looking.

The trip to Denmark wasn't a junket (it wasn't paid for by the Comhairle) but might have a huge benefit for the islands in the long run, which is all we can hope to achieve.

"Fuel Cell Today"

As an avid reader of the above publication, my eye was drawn to the article about how the Creed Recycling facility will be used to create hydrogen to power cars. Quiet obviously, this is a huge triumph for the islands, and along with the developments at the College, we could find ourselves as world leaders in this technology.

I will have to publish a list of the projects which the Environmental Services Committee have brought to fruition over the past four years. It is quite impressive, even if I say so myself, to see the amount of work that officers of the Comhairle have done, and for which I take the glory (or the blame).

It is their success, not mine, so well done Gents and Ladies.


It's good to see that a new company - Altissimo Ltd - is due to start at the Arnish fabrication yard next week, and I live in hope that all the employees will be taken back, and we can see the economy of the islands picking up again.

Perhaps the only outstanding question is: who is behind the new company?

Registered only in January, it shares the same solicitors and Registered Office as Camcal (deceased). No doubt we will be told in due course, but irrespective of that, what contracts does it have?

Update 30/3/07: I was asked not to disclose anything as negotiations were at a tricky phase, hence the comments being edited. The full story is in the Herald today.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cute animals

I've been persuaded by a correspondent to post about cute fluffy animals until the election is over.

All together now, aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
and again....
and again ....
Damn! Looks like it might be more difficult than I thought.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Wikipedia: The Thought Police (thinkpol in Newspeak) were the secret police of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four whose job it was to uncover and punish thoughtcrime. The Thought Police used psychology and omnipresent surveillance to find and eliminate members of society who were capable of the mere thought of challenging ruling authority.

Orwell's Thought Police and their pursuit of thoughtcrime was based on the methods used by the totalitarian states and competing ideologies of the 20th century. It also had much to do with Orwell's own "power of facing unpleasant facts," as he called it, and his willingness to criticise prevailing ideas which brought him into conflict with others and their "smelly little orthodoxies." Although Orwell described himself as a democratic socialist, many other socialists (especially those who supported the communist branch of socialism) thought that his criticism of the Soviet Union under Stalin damaged the socialist cause.


I have always believed that a healthy debate inside a political party strengthened the party and it's members. That was why I was disappointed when the '79 Group inside the SNP were expelled in the early 80's for their strong Republican Socialist stance. A leading light of that movement was one Alex Salmond.

I am just a tiny little unimportant cog in the great big machine, so my views don't count for much, but I do like to think that I adhere to and agree with the vast majority of the policies, and when the local branch take a position that is (a) wrong, and (b) contrary to national policy, I think it is only right that I make my views known, even to those who refuse to listen, discuss or debate.

Angus MacNeil explains his
windfarms policy to the SNP Council Group
How naive of me.

Us little cogs are supposed to shut-up, do as we are told, be undermined, forego our beliefs and principles and not rock the boat. Or else, as the email I received below demonstrates: -

Cllr Angus Nicholson (sic)
38 Francis Street


Isle of Lewis

23 March 2007

Dear Cllr Nicolson,

Your blog - - has been brought to my attention. On 3 March you wrote an article in which you state that you are now able to run as an Independent candidate in the May elections. I believe that you have made clear your intention to run as an Independent, and have distanced yourself entirely from the SNP.

As a result, you have invalidated your membership
of the SNP and I will have your name removed from the membership list forthwith.

Yours for Scotland (sic)

Duncan Ross
National Secretary

So there you have it, after 28 years of membership they can't even spell my name correctly. Now, just thinking about standing as an independent is obviously a crime, which must be worrying for the other local SNP members who already sit as Independent Councillors. But, my goodness, I said all this 18 months ago, and only a fortnight ago the SNP drew my annual membership by direct debit.

There is an upside. I no longer feel constrained to temper my comments. So let's start with: - It's over 2 years since the Data Protection Act registration with the Information Commissioner lapsed. I repeatedly advised the MP and the Branch to comply with the law, but they still haven't. I used to pay for this and ensure compliance with the law, but after May 2005, it was made clear that this was not to be my responsibility. That makes all the emails that have been sent out, a breach of the law.

Then, of course, there are the party political emails I received from a address which are utterly contrary to the rules for public funding. I am sure that taxpayers will be unhappy with this sort of improper back door funding of a political party.

Phewww, that's a weight of my shoulders. If I need to cleanse my soul anymore, then here is where I will do it.


Last night and today have been spent with my colleagues from Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Holland, Netherlands, France and Denmark trying to formulate and extend our policy on various issues relating to the Marine Environment.

We have had a number of recent successes - after years and years of trying - at both OSPAR and at the North Sea Commission. Were it not for KIMO, there would be no mapping of munitions dumps and no statutory reporting framework for munitions washed ashore; the prevention of marine litter and associated training programmes would not be on the agenda; the debate on liability for pollution from container ships would have been buried; and, the arguments for a European Coastguard service to prevent oil pollution and protect our shores wouldn't even have begun.

We have yet to succeed in stopping nuclear waste transportation by sea, but it remains and active objective.

This weekend we are fine-tuning some new policies and these will be adopted by the 6.5 million in 9 countries that KIMO represent. As International President, I present these policies to the members and the European politicians, and hope that some of them will take up the ideas and carry them forward.

Danish Jazz

After the first meeting finished last night, we were "entertained" in the adjacent Fanø Jazz Club. Jazz is apparently very big in Denmark, and it appeared to me that we were in some kind of 1960's Beat Club with berets, Gitanes and a tight-suited, sweaty guitarist accompanied by a piano and a double-bass.

Singing in Danish, or quite possibly in English.

I made my excuses and left.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Baby food

In the Guardian today (well I am travelling) there is an article about the loss of traditional pubs, focussing on the Lewes Arms in, well Lewes. This pub is being boycotted by it's regulars as the new owners (Greene King) have stopped selling "Harveys" Real Ale.

Valami Goodyear, 53, a regular for 35 years, says: "My son took his first solid food in the Lewes Arms ... the corner of a beer mat."

I'm boycotting Ruddles and Old Speckled Hen in sympathy.

Update 30/3/07: A lot of hits from the Greene King TLD, so they must be monitoring this campaign. I doubt my boycott has affect the sales figures much, but they obviously hate bad publicity.


The population of Fanø is 3,200 people most of whom work in Esbjerg. So what kind of ferry service do they have?

The two ferries between Fanø and Esbjerg run a shuttle service through daylight hours, with the crossing taking about 20 minutes. The ferries themselves are bigger than the Loch Portain, and both were very busy with cars and people as I crossed. The fare was 35DKr, about £3.50, single.

What lessons do you think Scotland could learn from this???


“Do you feel bitter about how the SNP have treated you?”, a Council colleague asked.

You must be joking. A long time ago I learned the maxim “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out”.

Being stuffed by ‘colleagues’ in politics is part of the game, and I’m never going to complain. That’s doesn’t mean I’ll take it lying down.

If I have burnt my bridges it is due to adhering to principles, and failing to be a yes-man.

Another weekend, another island

This weekend sees me flying in to Esjberg, Denmark, for a KIMO conference on the island of Fanø, just off the city of Esbjerg.

The first thing I noticed as we landed was that the ground crew didn't have the paddles that UK ground crew always have. The positioning of the aircraft on the apron therefore took on the appearance of someone trying to help a very large car back into a very tight space.

My second impression was despair, as I realised my Danish Kroner was actually Swedish Kronor and I wasn't sure how I was going to pay for the bus, as they wouldn't take my Euros either. Thankfully, a very kind gentleman returning from a fishing weekend on the Dee paid my fare to Esbjerg town centre, where I found a cashpoint.

New housing

Along with many other decisions we took today, the Committee also had to consider the signifcant housing developments at Parkend (275 houses), the old MacRae Hostel site (60 houses) and Smith's Shoe Shop (refused). Parkend is still subject to the approval of an overall Masterplan showing much more detail and the proposals for timing of the development.

All these three - along with all our other decisions - require to be ratified at the Council meeting next Thursday, but I would be surprised if any are overturned.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Harris community wind farm

Today at the Environmental Services Committee we approved the 3-turbine community windfarm at Ardhasaig.

We also 'took powers' to allow the decision to be confirmed by the Committee without reference to the full Council. This can only be done with uncontentious issues, where there is a need for a speedy decision. The matter is now passed to the Scottish Executive for their review, but as the period of purdah starts on 2 April they only have a period of seven days if they want to make a decision before the election.

All Councillors who were there wholeheartedly supported this proposal and were desperate to see it come to fruition as soon as possible. This is the way forward for the Western Isles, after, only after, the large developments give us the critical mass to get an inter-connector to the mainland.

Conspicuous by their absence, were all the opponents of the larger developments. Remember how they opposed the big developments because they believed in small-scale schemes? Not one of them made any representations, attended the meeting, or showed any other sign of support for the proposal. Looks like political expediency, rather than a real position, by all those concerned.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


There's going to be no shortage of work for accountants following today's announcements, as the sheer complexity and confusion of the budget can only help my profession help the public and the business community to minimise their liabilities.

But the give away was the 2p of Income Tax from next year. My prediction is that Gordon Brown wants to give himself the freedom to call a snap election sometime after being anointed by the party faithful as Prime Minister, and have the Tories - the tax cutting party - totally on the back foot. Despite the current polls, I'd suggest he is considering October 07 or Spring 08 as the opportune moment to wrong-foot the Tories.

I do believe that David Cameron is right when he suggests that Brown is in an economic hole, which is why I think an early General Election is on the cards, before the chickens come home to roost. With the IMF warning the UK over the level of tax as a percentage of GDP, the signs are ominous.


Does anyone know if the rumours are true and the new tenants at Arnish are about to move in?

It's long overdue as the administrators were touting a potential new buyer as far back as early December, but they still haven't appeared.

In the meantime, local companies - ourselves included - are out of pocket by £250,000 or so for the second time in a few years. However, that doesn't seem to factor on the radar of either HIE, WIE or (bizarrely) the media.

Hopefully, we will have long term sustainability and employment for the islands, but I suspect that the local suppliers will be even more cautious this time around.

However, the biggest winners are Kroll, the administrators, with their fees are already well over £100,000, which is almost certainly not the kind of job creation that WIE had in mind. As the administrator of McDowall's they are coining it in from two sources from the misery of the people in the islands.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hotel California

"You can check out, but you can never leave"*

It took us three check-outs before we were able to leave - it was that kind of a weekend.

For various reasons, we had to be away on Thursday and Friday, and I found myself temporarily unconnected. "No matter", I thought, as I had the weekend to catch-up. We went away on Friday night for a relaxing family break, but hadn't read the weather forecast very well.

We found ourselves storm-bound for three days, in a very nice hotel, but with no connectivity, no phones, no news (due to the telly being commandeered for a selection of Disney videos) and only excellent food and wine to keep us sane.

This morning the storms lifted long enough for CalMac to allow us to leave and, half-an-hour before the departure time, booked us onto a ferry that wasn't sailing leaving us nearly stranded again. A very quick bit of thinking and speedy driving got us out of this mess, but this was despite CalMac's best efforts.

I have long claimed that CalMac see the passengers as an impediment to the smooth operation of the ferries, and today fully confirmed my view.

The Loch Portain has an public wireless network to allow commuters, tourists and business people to log-on and avoid having to have a life and talk to people, which is innovative of CalMac. These two words don't seem to go together for all sorts of reasons. Not least as it is impossible to actually log onto the network or get anything other than wildly frustrated by your technical incompetence, until you realise it is actually not your fault.

It is good to be home - not least as I was out of clean underwear - and contrary to wild rumour, I have not been interred in Berneray for the mortal sin of not eating the home baking that I was offered. Look, I'm eternally sorry to my very kind hosts, but it was 10am, I had been up since 4am with the baby and I never eat breakfast except in hotels, and if I start on cakes at that time in the morning I'll get a sugar rush and not stop eating them until bed time**, and I wasn't feeling that great anyway with the crappy crossing of Sound of Harris.

* This is not to be taken in any way to assume that I like The Eagles. Quite the contrary. As a veteran of the Punk Wars we fought against gratuitous guitar solos.

** A female pensioner client said "I saw you on the telly and thought 'God, you've put on the weight'". In an effort to remedy the situation she then added, "But you don't look as bad as you did on TV." Hence the cake ban.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How to regenerate the islands?

The Guardian today clears highlights the problems facing these islands with the demographics going against us. The specific cases they highlight are symptomatic of what needs to be addressed and urgently.

Has any suggestions for reversing the trend, or should we just sit here and slowly moulder into the grave, reliant on hand-outs and the occasional tourist who can afford the ferry fare?

Uig appears to be bucking the trend - and that is good news - but for how long?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lochboisdale units

I've heard that WIE are vetting the Lochboisdale development units, preferring to see them empty, rather than have an "unsuitable" type of business operating from them.

I sincerely hope that this is wrong, as Cllr Ronnie MacKinnon will no doubt go ballistic.

Quite apart from the concept of "unsuitable economic development" being pursued by WIE - unless we are talking "dirty manufacturing" - I would have thought that ANY business is better than none.


As a replacement for the Shipping Services Advisory Committee, the first meeting of the Ferry Users Consultative Committee is due to take place in April.

Need I spell it out.

The story is that when Tavish Scott realised that he would have to involve the public and elected representatives in the consultation process, he said "FUCC".

If you are interested in being part of the Hebrides FUCC (No! Really!) then get your nomination papers in by 11 April.

Council candidates

Word on the grapevine reaches me reporting that the SNP have selected a bare half-dozen candidates for the Council elections, and bizarrely it looks like no less than 4 of these candidates will be fighting each other, meaning that they might manage to contest as many seats as the LibDems.

On the surface this appears to be an appalling state of affairs. But look deeper, and it is even worse.

About 18 months ago I outlined a strategy which would have resulted in 15-20 candidates across virtually every ward. The Branch Executive promised to come back to me about the strategy, and when they didn't I realised that there was an active policy to disempower the SNP Council group. This was rammed home when a very, very, very, senior of the local branch told a number of MSPs to ignore a Council Group initiative to introduce RET throughout the islands with the words "Just ignore them". And here's us naively thinking that policies were there to be supported and introduced.

From having 17-19 SNP supporters in the Comhairle over the past 4 years, I would estimate that the deliberate policy of ignoring and undermining the Comhairle by the local SNP has caused the active support to drop to 7-8 Councillors. And that includes the 3 in the Group.

The anti-windfarm policy has been such a "success" that not one person from the west-side tried to become a candidate, and of those selected, I make it that a majority support the developments.

I know that one leading anti-windfarm campaigner who had indicated to me that he would stand as an SNP candidate, is not now voting SNP as a result of policy flip-flops.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Who's on board?

Looking through my visitor logs today, I'd like to say "Hello and welcome" to my first time readers in the following locations:
Scottish Parliament (Monday and Wednesday)
European Parliament (Thursday)
House of Commons (Tuesday).

Feel free to comment guys, you can help me set the political agenda :-)

In the last week I've also had a large number of hits from the RSPB, SNH, Slovenia Online(!) HIE and more than a few from the Comhairle; in total 81 different networks read this blog.

Hopefully I'm doing something entertaining, although some commentators eeem to think otherwise.

Old age

I hurt my knee last week and the GP has just diagnosed a damaged cartilage which might take weeks to heal.

"It's one of those things you have to expect in middle-age", he said, delivering a crushing blow to my self-esteem.

Angus recovering last night

Avril Lavigne

On hearing her new single (I want to be your girlfriend), my son (aged 4) announced this morning that "He doesn't like this song, as one mummy takes a daddy away from another mummy".

He then described the video in some detail. It is good that we have installed basic moral principles into such a young child.

Personally, I think it sounds like a straight rip-off of "I wanna be your boyfriend" by the Ramones, and that's why I dislike it.

Marine environment

The Environment Committee of the Scottish Executive have published a fairly good report on the future structure of marine planning in Scotland.

Naturally, I would like to have seen it beefed-up a bit, but I think that it forms an excellent basis for future developments. The conclusion that caught my eye was number 7:

The Committee considers that the example of the regulation of proposed ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth illustrates that existing legislation is not adequate to govern the marine environment in a coherent way or to give important natural features adequate protection. The Committee considers that this reinforces the need for comprehensive reform of marine environment legislation to be taken forward by bills at both a UK and a Scottish level. The Committee recognises the value of establishing a coherent network of marine protected areas, and considers that this should be a significant objective of legislative reform. However, the Committee also considers that, given the likely timetable for establishing a coherent network, this should not prevent individual initiatives of value being taken forward in the meantime.

I therefore look forward to seeing local authorities having much more control over the seabed around their shores, and the Executive being able to prevent ship-to-ship transfers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Renewables - where this is all going

With the EU setting cross-border targets for renewable energy, it is clear that wave, tidal, solar and wind are all going to be part of the future - if we want a future for our children.

The challenge for the Western Isles is: do we want to be at the vanguard of these developments and the economic spin-off, or, will we give the potential benefit to others?

VANGUARD: we spent the next five or ten years persuading everyone to invest in renewables in the islands. Some will work, some won't, but by the end of that time we are (hopefully) the renewables capital of Europe.

WAIT: Orkney, Shetland or Ireland get all the development jobs and when the technology is working, we can buy from them and have it installed off our coast, with no value added.

Clearly, I favour the former despite the problems it will cause in the short-term, in the hope that within 20 years we will have the new technology developed and working here, and that today's technologies will be superseded by new highly-efficient alternatives.

Flying - not for the poor

It is good to see my colleague, Donald Manford, laying into the latest ridiculous policy pronouncement from the Tories which will effectively have us priced out of the market.

Ill thought-out, it has the distinct prospect of being ineffective, regressive and unable to achieve it's aims, but that seems to be par for the course these days.

Adding VAT will allow business travellers to continue without any concerns, whilst the inability to exempt peripheral areas will penalise us and make us more dependant on Government largesse i.e. grants, and less able to compete.

Objectively, the increase in APD - with the exemptions for the islands - is better economically and environmentally, but not the whole answer.

Airplanes pay no duty or VAT on their fuel, despite it being heavily polluting, and the reason given for this is that planes will fill up abroad if the UK imposes duties. It looks feels and smells like big business doing special pleading again.

The answer is that we must accept that flying has an environmental cost and charge duty on aircraft fuel based on the capacity of the aircraft when it lands in a UK airport. There is then no incentive not to refuel in the UK, and with exemptions for the islands* we would have an environmentally responsible policy.

Now, of course, this might result in some traffic going through Schippol (for instance) instead, but how long before the rest of Europe follows suit and the EU has a sensible policy. Big business will claim it will deter business from coming to the UK, but as the finance sector doesn't need people to commute from Frankfurt to London to earn money, I think that this is a fallacious argument.

The yield can be pumped into public transport - not new roads! - to retain and develop businesses, and everyone is a winner.

Contrary views welcome.

* I have long argued that the islands should be a fuel duty-free zone, like the Canaries (I'm working on the weather) to encourage economic development at a very low cost. Leakage e.g. duty paid petrol is exceptionally unlikely, and will happen around the margins, and the concept could be extended to other goods and services over time.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


One of the adverse effects of having to go to Glasgow on Thursday was that I had to give away my tickets for the rugby today, as I wasn't sure I could get back in time for my flight and, for various reasons, I couldn't stay away until Sunday.

As you know it is not permitted to resell the rugby tickets, so I had to sell the hotel bed and flight and throw in the tickets as a bonus. Now knowing that I could have made it, I'm jealous of my "guest" who is presumably now having a liquid lunch with his friends from the Stornoway rugby club in some hostelry in Rose Street.

I am going to sit down an watch the game - it's not quite the same, but it's the best I'm going to get, and hope that Scotland can surprise us all.

Next year we are going to get to Dublin, somehow, for the game!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Stornoway Grey

When I first saw the colour "Stornoway Grey, I was mildly offended, and posted a somewhat lighthearted comment thereon. Then I thought about it more and more, and I am truly insulted, especially when it leads to deprecating comments on the web.

Anyway, time to do something about it.

I've set up an online petition which can be accessed here, or via the beautiful picture of the machair on the right hand side.

When it has been signed by enough people, I intend to submit it to Land Rover management to demand that they be less insulting in the future.

Update: 14/3/07 - Got enough signatures to contact LandRover, petition now suspended. Thanks very much for all your support.

Busy day

No blog posting by me today, until now. I had to go away at very short notice this morning to Glasgow, and I unexpectedly got home tonight, shattered and ready for my bed. I only had time to check my email, approve some postings to the blog, delete the obvious spam, unpack the suitcase, pour a large glass of red wine, and so to bed.

I promise more action tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My influence is staggering

Barely 24 hours after receiving the flyer from Charter 88 and barely six hours after posting the link to the "Elect the Lords" website, the Members of the House of Commons have seen sense.

They have supported democracy over the discredited principle of dropping Favoured Friends and time-serving party apparatchiks into cushy positions, regardless of what the public think.

Clearly with all the MPs logging onto this site to take make obscene and unprintable suggestions in the internationally famous caption competition, I have been able to persuade the majority to follow the right course of action.

Modesty forbids me from indicating my future plans, except to say that I won't let ennoblement go to my head.


Why not bring democracy to health boards?

It is "Time to rebuild public trust and confidence in Scotland's health boards and ensure that the people of Scotland are directly involved in running their own health service."

(We trust) "the people of Scotland to be directly involved in running their own health service. It is time to agree in principle that an element of local democracy should now be introduced to the running of our health service."


So ran an article in Am Paipear this month.

A start would be to delete the very weak and wishy-washy aspirations to have an "agreement in principle" and "an element of local democracy" and replace them with promises, firm commitments or even an opinion that this might make things better, and the public might be convinced.

However, the same writer supports the removal of some planning powers from the elected members of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and giving them - not to the community - but to an unelected, faceless, Mandarin in Edinburgh to take decisions away from the public and it's locally elected representatives.

I'm sure that there is no intention to be inconsistent, just that the positions are just badly thought through.

Faeroe islands

I was in contact with my KIMO colleagues in the Faeroe Islands today to find out who was coming to the next meeting in Fano, Denmark, later this month.

The Føroya Kommunufelag will be represented again, and it is good to see that my friends have been re-elected and will be with us to debate major issues about the maritime environment.

Their major concern remains global warming, and just how this could destroy their entire way of life.

To try to combat this, they are furiously setting up onshore windfarms and developing wave power to complement this -- exactly as we should be doing in the Western Isles. They are currently planning to connect to the Western European grid, and export electricity, via Shetland, as they see their future intimately tied to the sale of renewable energy and the development of cutting edge technology.

I've tried to persuade them to tie in via the Western Isles, but the uncertainty over the inter-connector makes them very nervous. And who can blame them.

The picture shows Parliament Square, with the Prime Minister's office being the turfed building in the right foreground. I'm looking forward to my next visit to meet again the Fisheries Minister and his officials - all of whom seem to have sailed with Lewismen at some time or other!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stornoway Grey

This appears to be a genuine colour used by Landrover. A quick Google search throws up 800+ hits, all of which I consider to be insulting.

I propose to launch an on-line petition to have this colour renamed, or at least get Stornoway rebranded into something less hurtful. I'll have to spend some time trying to select alternatives to propose to Landrover, before I make a desperate dash for the headlines. Perhaps ....

Radio interview

Just finished a 45 minute interview with Radio 4 for Nature about the proposed windfarms. I'm exhausted after being thoroughly grilled, but I think I put the Comhairle's case quite well.

It's being broadcast on 19th March at 9pm, and I hope to have an audio file to post on the web shortly thereafter.

Ship to ship transfer of oil

The saga continues, and the position of the Executive ("It's not our responsibility") is becoming untenable, and they need to stick up two fingers to Westminster and take the powers for controlling the environment.

I was interviewed by the Scotsman yesterday, and my comments are reported here.

The real danger for the Western Isles is the uncontrolled, and often unobserved, rust-bucket tankers exiting the Baltic and heading past our West coast.

Ferry discount scheme

It was a very welcome announcement last night that we can look forward to a 40% discount on ferry fares. After years and years of pressure brought by the Comhairle and particularly by my colleague Donald Manford it is paying off with concrete promises.

As far as the Comhairle is concerned, it's a big step forward, rather than the final step, but what the public should now do is to force each of the different political parties to outbid each other with their promises. How many votes will a concrete promise of a 50% reduction for passengers and vehicles gain?

And why is Shetland being treated so much better??? I spoke to the Shetland Convener last night and he gave no hint that the announcement was almost irrelevant to them. Probably, they don't want to flaunt their success in negotiations.

Two years ago when we suggested that some of the windfarm money be used to fund RET my colleagues and I were shot down in flames -- and that was by our own side. Hopefully, more constructive comments will appear this time around.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Caption contest

At the suggestion of the photographer who took this snap earlier today, let's have a caption contest.

Try and keep it clean.... please.


I had to accompany the First Minister to the new recycling plant at the Lochs Road today, where he officially opened it. Although it has been in operation for six/nine months it hasn't passed to the Comhairle until the staff are fully trained and the plant is fully working to everyone's satisfaction.

The site is currently producing twice the energy it requires to operate the facility, so there is a substantial amount of electricity available for sale or use by other businesses on site.

The centre-piece of the facility is the biodigestor, which is in essence a 1,000,000 litre stomach, with products taking 30 days to travel through the process and come out as compost. As soon as it is open we will be getting all the schools to tour the premises to see what is being done for their benefit, and to get them to hassle their parents to recycle more. I'd recommend that the adults go and see it too.

The department has spent almost 10 years getting us to this stage by ensuring that the collection service matched the end-uses; in checking the technology and negotiating with contractors; and, not least, in finding the money to do this. I came along mid-project and was swept away in the sheer enormity and importance of what has been undertaken.

It is fabulous, and we are leading the way in the UK.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Impending elections

I passed my vetting today, and am now able to stand as a candidate in May.

Kudos to the LibDems for being the first to do a Council election mail drop. It may have been largely policy lite, but at least they have their candidates in place and are letting the public know who these candidates are.

I understand Labour have (virtually) all their candidates in place, even allowing for the loss of one of them to the Health Board, and their launch is imminent.

I have received two or three invitations to apply for vetting as an SNP candidate over the past two months, which seems strange given my public statements on the matter, but may be explained by the fact that no senior member of the party has ever spoken to me about my decision, so maybe they thought I would change my mind. I understand that vetting won't take place for another week, so they might be the last out of the blocks.

The really interesting and intriguing campaign will be the Scottish Christian Party campaign. Not the campaign being run for the list vote for Murdo Apple, but how it impacts locally. Both Labour and the SNP are going to lose activists to the SCP, and some of these people are already actively campaigning against their own party at regional list level. What their own parties make of that is going to be anyone's guess, but it is going to be messy.

However, and much more worrying is the SCP candidates/supporters/activists/representatives who are going to be standing in the Council elections. I know of members of the two biggest parties actively working for SCP-supporting candidates for the Comhairle, whilst trying to remain active in their own parties. How they can square this circle is their concern, but when I know the effort they have put into voter identification for SCP people against their own party, I can only doubt their integrity and reliability. Perhaps because the SCP won't have a slate, it can put their mind at rest; or possibly they intend to resign before the elections; but, either way the SCP will be getting a lot of inside information from the "Holy Moles".Rev Lovejoy

To be anti-theocratic is by no means to oppose religion. On the contrary, as Tocqueville argued, the American anti-theocratic tradition has by and large proven a great boon to religion, practically and morally, and essential to the maintenance of healthy religious commitments.

One only has to look at the success of the theocratic governments in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel to see that the future is not an intolerant, prescriptive government at any level; or worse, with the US governed by a bunch of fatalists desperate for a war to bring forward the Rapture to prove that they were right(sic).

However, Rev Stanley Bennie possibly proves the exception. Who can forget the "Bloodhound Gang" thrice on Isles FM.

Incidentally, the vetting was my wife and I, and by a clear majority I can now stand as an independent in May.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New York Dolls

We watched the documentary on the New York Dolls tonight.

I missed them first time round - and Sue claims to be too young to even remember their name - but I got into Jonny Thunders (and the Heartbreakers) in the early 80's, falling across LAMF and re-introducing me to the NY scene (not that I was ever there, but the influence of the music).

NYD were excellent tonight, but suitably worn and wasted, and Arthur "Killer" Kane was stumbling, an apparent casualty, but still able to play intuitively; but only 22 days from a sudden, unexpected, and undiagnosed death.

I would say farewell, but despite the deaths of most of the band, I expect they will still be touring for many year yet.

Is there an election due????

There are all the signs that the public are about to get bored senseless with another bout of slanging matches between lots of people you rarely see who claim they know everything and their opponents know nothing:
  • Labour are advertising on the Gazette homepage
  • Ministers looking for photo opportunities
  • LibDem and Labour Ministers claiming the credit for everything
  • Labour and LibDem Ministers blaming each other for everything
  • Economic claims and counter-claims sending the public into a coma
Most ludicrous and unbelievable of all Ming Campbell is going to get "angry". That'll really make Tony and Gordon cack their pants. They'll need security guards in the House of Commons in case he goes "postal". I'd recommend tasers so that when he rips his short off, turns green and does an Incredible Hulk impersonation they will be ready.

Throwing stones

In September last year I wrote about a malicious and scurrilous piece of gossip being passed to a certain newspaper.

Yesterday I got a phone call from a journalist following up a story that was being peddled by a certain constituent of mine, who shall remain nameless at present. I have subsequently found out that he is peddling the same factually inaccurate and ridiculous story to Isles FM, claiming that I am involved in improper behaviour in the Council. I know he has already complained to the Council, where I have made the real situation known to those who need to know.

This certain gentleman (who will be reading this) is probably the single most threatening individual I have ever encountered, and, as a result of his behaviour, all Council staff have been advised that if they meet this man they must not be unaccompanied. If my memory is right, he has previously complained about corruption and/or incompetence involving a former Chief Executive, a Council Solicitor (or two or three, I lose count), a Director and Depute-Director in the same department, at least three Councillors, a Chief Inspector (or two?), the Procurator Fiscal, at least one Sheriff and quite possibly Santa Claus. I understand that he is categorised by the Comhairle as a persistent complainant, and as such his correspondence is subject to special treatment.

I know that he has been thrown out of the MSPs office, and I believe that Calum MacDonald had to have him removed too. Sorry, but that was my fault: I used to refer all his complaints to our Parliamentary representatives, as only they "could do something about it". Mischievous, but fun. He may have complained about them, too, to anyone who would listen.

We have had to ask him to leave the office after he appeared with his flies undone, stood in front of my wife, and refused to move out of her way when she needed to get past him.

However, that is as nothing to the situation at a meeting of the Civic Government Licencing Panel where this man objected to both Sports Centres getting a public entertainment licence, which would have resulted in them having to close. His objection, and this is genuine, was that if the children were playing with naked flames in the soft play area, then the netting might ignite, as it was not of the proper fireproof type. He tried to set fire to this "dangerous" material in front of the only exit from a top floor room, to demonstrate the danger to the public.

This led to him complaining about the abilities of the Firemaster(s?) and some Fire Officers - and possibly many others - to apply the relevant law (as he saw it) to the situation. His complaints to the Health and Safety Executive have been met with the appropriate response. My colleagues and I wasted hours of my life listening to his incoherent ramblings, as he sought to prove matters that were irrelevant to the matter under consideration. He then complained about the composition of the Panel, the Solicitor's advice, the decision, the power of the Panel to take the decision and probably the choice of biscuits at the tea break.

What is especially worrying is that this man has the ability/desire/need to take a small nugget of truth and build a huge edifice of fantasy, fabrication and speculation on top of this. I remember being sent a dossier by him where the number of pages of correspondence had exceeded 600 - I only got the last 50 or so - but from which I was completely unable to understand what the complaint actually was, what he was trying to prove, or what nuggets he was trying to extract through his rude and insulting missives.

Dear readers, this man intends to stand for the Council next year. Fellow Councillors, you know who he is. Make sure enough candidates stand to stop him, please. The alternative is too horrendous to contemplate.

Education, education, education

Good to see that our Prime Minister hasn't lost the common touch that he so obviously learned in this Oxford Dining Club, after leaving private school, and before he had to mix with the scruffy, smell, electorate.

That's him, third from the right at the back, making a rude gesture.

(I have no doubt that there are equally embarrassing photos of me, somewhere. Sellers of said negatives, to contact me, please)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Todays' competition

Does your MP/MSP/Councillor/candidate know what a blog is??

Answers by snail-mail to your elected representatives.