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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Stealing a connection

Last night I discovered in my hotel in Uist that I had no phone cable to connect the laptop to the internet, and I couldn't get the cable out of the back of the phone!

Panic, and with Taigh Cersabhaigh (sp?) closed until 10am, I've resorted to cruising Lochmaddy looking for a spare wireless connection that I can hack into. Avoiding being arrested or crashing the car, I have managed to find an open connection and am accessing my mail at 5Mpbs.

Are there any 'official' open connections in the Uists?

Monday, May 28, 2007


Chronically underfunded Visit Hebrides VisitHebridesThose who have not had the joy of visiting this site are probably in the majority.

Starved of investment, neglected by VisitScotland and not updated except by the many users on the (now restored) discussion boards the site is old, unappealing and far from current.

I understand that the site attracts fewer than 15,000 hits per month, or about under 180,000 per annum, of whom many (most) are on the discussion board. By contrast, a site in Berneray has achieved 200,000 in one week by judicious and clever PR. My pathetic little contribution to the blog scene gets not far short of 100,000 page views per annum, which shows what can be achieved.

The bottom line is, what is VisitScotland doing for these islands? When was the last time you saw an advert extolling the virtues of visiting here - other than those by CalMac and Cala Hotels?

Tourism is supposed to be a key industry for the islands, but those charged with delivering the goods seem to have taken the money and run. Simple question: who from the tourism sector is involved in VisitHebrides? It used to be run by the sector, now it's run by bureaucrats.

Harris Tweed

Don't say I didn't see the end of the industry as we know it coming....

Investment: great
Permanent contracts: great
Redundancies: terrible
A reduction in patterns: disastrous

So why is it all happening? Simple, if you have been in business yourself. Streamline production, slash overheads with new technology, produce the product at a lower cost and sell shit loads of metres. I forecast increased orders and reduced income (for weavers) whilst cheap and nasty - "traditional" (sic, sic, sic) - Harris Tweed is sold by the mile to unsuspecting Japanese and Americans.

Stuff the heritage, weigh the pound notes.

Remember that the business is now based in Yorkshire, not locally, which is a hell of a hike for Council meetings.

A bridge to Ullapool?

Trouble is my middle nameNot exactly, but the concept is the same. Cllr Donald J MacSween, the well known dissident, and the new Vice-Chair of Transportation, is calling on the Scottish Executive to abolish ferry fares at the same time as they abolish the tolls on the Forth Road Bridge.

As Donald John quite rightly says, "The first minister is to be commended for announcing the removal of charges on those who use the Tay and Forth bridges and it makes sense to extend that wisdom to the removal of ferry fares. This would be the biggest boost ever to the economy of the Western Isles and would easily repay the costs within a short time."

This is exactly the kind of lateral thinking the community needs, and I have no doubt that the entire Council will support this. I look forward to our MP and MSP supporting this campaign too. Good work Mr MacSween.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ship-to-ship oil transfers

If the SNP and Greens are looking for a mechanism to stop the transfers in the Forth, they could do much worse than to try to force through the Ship to Ship Transfer Regulations, a Statutory Instrument that has been sitting on the shelf since 1999.

As KIMO Chair, I was involved in the final (only?) consultation on this in 2003, after a request by Dorset County Council. The SI was met with charming defensiveness by the Chief Civil Servant, who played a wonderfully straight bat to deflect all criticism and try to defuse the consultees anger. I suggested compromise, that the legislation ban all STS in UK waters except in named harbour areas which have the appropriate level of anti-pollution equipment, and suggested that as Scapa Flow met these requirements it be the only named harbour in the SI (with provision for others to be added).

I had the full approval of Orkney to say this, and as the vessels causing concern were exiting the
Baltic, it was a natural stopping point before crossing the North Sea, or down the west coast of Lewis. The 100+ consultees unanimously agreed that that was the way forward, and the Civil Servant agreed to bring forward a revised draft for implementation in March 2004. We are still waiting for this to happen.

When I spoke to him in Gothenburg last year, he claimed with a straight face that "pressure of work" meant it hadn't been brought forward. Pressure from the tanker owners more like. The Minister, Stephen Ladyman, was equally uninterested and "big oil" had obvious nobbled the UK Government.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


You can tell the summer is here, as we have had two days with hail rather than rain.

Any suggestions for the odd weather, other than global warming, of course?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Lesley Riddoch

I finally caught today's programme tonight about renewable energy.

According to Alasdair Allan, he will press for a referendum on the Lewis applications.

The First Minister's (anonymous) Special Advisor says that Lewis will be the only place to have a referendum.

Does anyone know what the policy actually is, and to which applications it might apply as the SNP don't seem to know.

Next question: what is the point of the Comhairle bothering to take a view on the prospective Pairc application, when a referendum might save all the time and money?

Skye Bridge

Robbie the Pict a hero to us allJust a few days before I left on holiday, when I was clearing out a filing cabinet of old papers, I came across a letter from the then Procurator Fiscal in Dingwall, Mr Hingston, refusing to prosecute me over non-payment of the Skye Bridge tolls.

I had deliberately arrived at the tolls early one time, and presented myself for charging by the Police. I was duly charged (is that the right terminology?) but then my case was dropped as 'not being in the public interest'.

I was furious, and wrote to the PF demanding that the case proceed.

He refused, I was deflated, and the rest is history. Or it would be, were it not for the indomitable Robbie the Pict, who will get to the bottom of it yet.

Losing my benefits

Since leaving the Comhairle there is a period of readjustment as the house is emptied of the various pieces of rubbish that have gathered over the years. I've kept some very important documents and reports, and some pieces of correspondence that may 'come in useful' later.

I've also kept the reports on the major events that occurred during my time as a Councillor, and the various minutes of meetings, just in case anything reappears in due course.

My Comhairle email address has been cancelled, which has dramatically reduced the spam which I receive, and is a blessing.

Unfortunately, the mailing lists have not kept pace with the reality, and I am still receiving copies of letters, invites to conferences and magazines. In the later category "Recycling and Waste World" have invited me to renew my subscription for their magazine. As I suspect the 'subscription' came about from my position as Chair, I'm not planning to spend the £88 they want to get answers to questions such as "Can housing built from tyres, soil, bottles and beer cans be sustainable and yet practical to live in?".

I am - ever so slightly - missing the prospect of the bundle of 500 pages of Committee papers dropping on my mat this weekend. That'll soon pass.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Carbon sequestration

BP have pulled out of the innovative plant proposed for Peterhead, to store CO2 in subsea chambers.

Can I just point out that this is NOT carbon-free electricity, but merely the storage of the carbon generated. It is actually, "carbon-release deferred" electricity.

I still have my doubts about carbon sequestration as a policy.....

Freedom of Information

I found out who was trying to find out who had put in the request to HIE about Storas Uibhist, if you follow me.

Boringly, it was a journalist who was trying to find out who else had the story. I'm disappointed, as I had hoped for some good gossip.

Power, power, power

The final list of elected positions in the Comahirle came to my attention, and I replicate part of it below:

Convener: Alex A MacDonald
Vice-Convener and Chair of Policy and Resources: Angus Campbell
Vice-Chair of Policy and Resources: Norman MacDonald
Chair of Education: Morag Munro
Vice-Chair of Education: Catriona Stewart
Chair of Environment and Protective Services: Norman MacDonald
Vice-Chair of Environment and Protective Services: Kenneth Murray
Chair of Sustainable Development: Archie Campbell
Vice-Chair of Sustainable Development: Annie MacDonald
Chair of Transportation: Donald Manford
Vice-Chair of Transportation: Donald John MacSween
Chair of Audit & Scrutiny: Donald Nicholson
Vice-Chair of Audit & Scrutiny: Angus MacCormack

The problem seems to lie with Norman MacDonald also being Chair of Human Resources i.e. in charge of employment, and Chair of the ICT & Asset Management Committee i.e. in charge of the infrastructure. Both these committees report directly to Policy and Resources. Angus MacCormack has quite rightly pointed out that this concentrates a huge amount of power and control into the hands of one person, and may not allow for proper consideration and scrutiny of Comhairle policies as they come through the system.

In my view, the Chair of Human Resources and the Chair of ICT should not be either Chair or Vice-Chair of Policy and Resources, so as to allow the clear perception of independence between those committees and the parent committee. I sincerely hope that this situation does not persist, and some remedy can be sought.

I also understand that there are some rumblings that by being Vice-Chair of P&R, as well as Chair of Environment, Norman MacDonald has deprived another member of a responsibility payment, but I'm sure that's not a major issue.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The wormery arrived at the weekend, and the kids and I have had fun setting it up and watching the worms get used to their new home.

The delightfully named "can-o-worms" was delivered grudgingly by a firm in England. I say 'grudgingly' as they delivery rates were very good, until we told them where we lived. They then tried to change the delivery charge, seeking my approval to take some more money out of my credit card. Thankfully we had printed the terms and conditions, and gleefully explained the Sale of Goods Act to him, so no surcharge applied. The website was changed within the hour to place a further surcharge on the Western Isles - despite our suggestion that Royal Mail were cheaper than his carriers - hence no names, no advertising.

We're turning into eco-warriors here on Francis Street. Our food waste goes into vermiculture; bottles, cans and papers are recycled by the Comhairle; plastic is burned on our hearth (although it immediately releases CO2 this is still better than landfill); and anything that can be reused is off to the charity shops.

The kids love the worms (or 'ants' according to the youngest) and hopefully when the first tray of worm casts goes on the garden we will all see a direct benefit.

My only worry is that I am undermining the viability of the recycling plant at the Creed Business Park, but that's for the new Council to worry about.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Minority Report

Council staff will be required to tip-off Police about 'potentially' violent offenders, according to the latest piece of madness from the Home Office. The leaked document states:

"Public bodies will have access to valuable information about people at risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims of serious violence." It says when staff become "sufficiently concerned" about an individual, that person should be should "risk assessed" and, if necessary, referred for further attention. Mr King suggests two new agencies be created - one to collate reports on potential offenders, the other on potential victims. New laws would also be needed to place staff under a statutory obligation to report any concerns...

So if you lose your temper with Council staff; if they think you are drinking heavily; or if you have mental health problems, then you will end up on the agency lists. Denying you are a victim, will - of course in this new climate of 'preventative action' - demonstrate that you are actually a victim in denial.

Leaving aside the sheer lunacy of expecting, nay demanding, that Council staff diagnose mental illness, how long before the state is dragging you in for compulsory sanity tests, based on malicious gossip, misunderstanding, or a mix up over names.

Hopefully this proposal will never see the light of day, but it looks like another way of justifying ID cards "to protect the public" from those who fail a risk assessment.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Isles FM

Callum MacMillan sheep shaggerCallum Iain MacMillan (right, in the tartan pants and jacket) and I did a broadcast for Isles FM, tonight discussing the future of politics and Politics in the Western Isles.

Once again I was gagged - or possibly the wrong tape of the 'live' interview was pushed into the machine - but Callum Iain spoke about nothing except the redevelopment of the Lews Castle (in background), and I never managed to get an word in edgeways.

Perhaps it will be 'repeated' on Monday morning.

'Pets Corner', which was broadcast at 5:15pm, just ahead of Iain X Paxman, included the intriguing lost pets of "A Co-op bag in the Religious bookshop", and, "Five Highland cattle in Achmore". Pray they never meet and cross-breed.

Out of touch politicians

Who says politicians are out of touch, and can't tell reality from fiction? As this story from The Register indicates, the Spanish Parties have taken a novel approach to political engagement, by focussing on virtually every potential voter....

Spain's two main political parties have been indulging in some light scrapping in the run-up to this month's local elections by attempting to burn down each other's Second Life headquarters, Reuters reports.

The "bitter political wrangling" between the socialist government, represented by the PSOE, and the conservative opposition, the Partido Popular (PP), has been entertaining Spaniards for months as the two abandon any pretence at political debate and roundly accuse each other of provoking the collapse of western civilisation.

Most seriously, the PP accuses the government of "capitulating" to Basque terrorist group ETA by entering into dialogue with the fun-loving separatists. This has provoked huge rallies in support of a no-nonsense hard line against ETA, at which much inflammatory rhetoric has aroused nationalist sentiments.

So inflammatory, in fact, that the PSOE accuses PP supporters of all manner of virtual outrages in Sadville. A PSOE official known as "Zeros Kuhm" explained: "They have thrown bombs, entered the building with sub-machine guns, lit fires, everything you could imagine."

The PP, meanwhile, says it's been handed the same treatment. A party spokesman said: "We have complained to the Second Life commission about the terrorism."

Given the way things are going, we suggest it's only a matter of time before the United Nations is forced to intervene in Second Life, possibly prompted to action by a US pre-emptive strike against the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shopping mall's enriched uranium emporium. Watch this space. ®

Error of judgement

I understand that Angus Campbell spoke up for Norman "Docus" MacDonald, over Roddy MacKay as his Vice-Chair of Policy and Resources.

Sorry, Angus, but that was just wrong. The Chair is a servant of the Comhairle in the matter of the selection of the Vice-Chair, and you should have stayed quiet, whatever your personal view.

Roddy MacKay was quite right to feel deeply aggrieved about this behaviour, and Angus should remember that we were all novices once.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

New Councillors

I happened to be at the Comhairle today for another meeting and was accosted in the car park by a new councillor. "I cannot believe the backstabbing and lies", he said, "They'll tell you anything to get you to vote for them".

A similar tale of shock, horror and disbelief was communicated to me on my way up the stairs, and after the meeting when I bumped into the whole Council having had the 'first day' photo taken, I heard more tales of disbelief from all quarters.

I could barely suppress my laughter, and pleasure at not being there.

Until later, when I found that Donald Manford had been stabbed in the back by one of the most duplicitous, malignant, two-faced Councillors. Saddest of all (for Donald), this person likes to be known as an SNP activist, when it suits him. I hope he gets what is coming to him.

Update 18/5 10:15 am - Donald Manford phoned me this morning. He had been approached by Murdo MacLeod bearing a copy of this posting, and repeatedly identifying himself as the person referred to above, and asked Donald to phone me, to get me to remove the comments. Donald sought, and got repeated permission to repeat the conversations. For the sake of clarity, Donald advises me that he spoke to Murdo MacLeod and Murdo said he was unable to support Donald, having previously pledged his support to Alex MacDonald. That he persuaded two others to change their votes from Manford to MacDonald is - of course - neither here nor there.

Why Murdo MacLeod thinks I would describe him as duplicitous, malignant and two-faced is a mystery to me. However, Roddy MacKay seems to think that having been encouraged to stand by Mr MacLeod, to then find Mr MacLeod telling the electorate not to vote for Roddy MacKay under any circumstances, is somehow not what you expect from someone who claims "My word is my bond".

Storas Uibhist

Before I left I made a post suggesting that all was not well in Storas Uibhist, and that no doubt everything would come to light whilst I was away. Never a truer word. As I switched off my computer to leave home and go to the airport, I found an email advising me that the requested documents were now in the public domain.

And explosive they are too. At the risk of repeating what has already been well publicised whilst I was away, the resignation letters paint a very unpleasant picture, which I sincerely hope has no basis in truth. This is what I had been told, and what I had hoped to unearth.

Whatever has happened - and it is obviously very serious - the people of Uist deserve to be told the truth and to take decisions about their future with that information to hand. The apparently weak response from HIE, needs a serious political push and a lot of political support to ensure that the Uisteach have not been mislead about what is planned for their community.

On checking my home email, the following message was sent to me by a HIE officer on 8 May:

The network has received a Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiry for the name of the individual who recently submitted a request relating to Sealladh na Beinne Moire. In the past the network has disclosed this type of information, but should you have any concerns with your name being disclosed please let me know by Thursday 10th May.

If I do not hear from you, I will assume that you are happy for your name to be released to be disclosed.

I was a bit annoyed, and replied last night:

As I have been away on holiday for the past two weeks until today, I have been unable to respond to your message within the ludicrously short timescale.

I actually have no problem with my identity being known, as I have made it public on my blog, but as a matter of course you should identify the inquirer to the inquired about. Please therefore advise me of the identity of the person submitting the FoI request to identify me. Or do I have to submit and (sic) FoI? :-)

Today I received the following:

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) withheld your details as disclosure may have resulted in a breach of the first data protection principle of processing personal data fairly and lawfully without consent. In general, the network's policy is to withhold details of FOI enquirers where we have not received their consent, and as we had not heard from you and found that you had been holiday when we contacted your office, we withheld your details. However, as you have no issue with your name being released we will now disclose your details to the

In response to your enquiry to know the identity of the person making the request, we will process your request in accordance with our policy mentioned above and the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. We will aim to respond as quickly as possible but in any event within 20 working days from the date the enquiry was received.

So who is the mystery enquirer? Will they ask for anonimity? Read it here first.

On the upside, I know journalists were on the story, but it is nice to see that my FoI request on 6 April was ahead of the game, and onto a big story.

Back home. Back to work

Back home on Tuesday morning, and straight into the fray. I have a few postings which I never got the chance to upload, and I guess they will stay that way on my laptop until I cannibalise them.

It took us about a hour (each) just to open the mail in the office on our return and to try to sort it into "Life and death", "Bin", "Can wait" and the rest. There is a daunting pile of paper beside my desk that I have to work through before Friday, just to try to get the work prioritised. Emails are piling up too, all though the junk filters really helped. Nothing can stop the phone calls and the visitors, so it is head down and get on with it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

First Minister

Alex Salmond as First Minister? Despite my lack of doubt, I should have known that the LibDems would duck the difficult decisions and avoid conflict in the hope of being all things to all men. Unable to see a fence without sitting on it, they avoided conflict and the distinct possibility of (a very uncomfortable) glory, preferring to sit on their hands .

The Greens have pushed hard on the ship-to-ship transfers in the Firth of Forth, and I was appalled at the vague response from the SNP. Call me a cynic, but I suspect that Forth Ports will make their mind up sometime very soon, "In the interests of their shareholders", and the proposed legislation will be too late.

The current term is going to be mighty interesting, as alliances shift. Labour have done exactly the right thing in sitting back and choosing when to snipe, and if they do it well* then they will benefit hugely at the next election (whenever they force it).

*Define "well" :-)

Friday, May 11, 2007

The real Crete

Yesterday we hired a car and headed off over the hills to find the real Crete. Away from the tourist trails we found windy narrow roads and soaring summits; many with dirt tracks climbing inexorably up to some pass through the hills or some tiny little hamlet otherwise cut-off from supposed civilization.

We stopped in a small village where my task was to find baby wipes and children's clothes, but unfortunately, no-one I encountered spoke and English. After parking, my walk to the chemists at the other end of the village was a waste of time, as I discovered that it was actually the vet's surgery, and the actual chemists was unmarked and in the centre of the village.

Children's clothing was a pantomime as the sole shop that sold kids sizes was also the local lingerie boutique and the look of horror on the face of the proprietrix as I walked in was something to behold. Perhaps it was my appalling Greek. However, a brief pointing at words in the phrase book, a lot of sign language and some attempts to pronounce my basic needs produced the necessary goods. As part of this experience, I learned the Greek phrase for 'car sick' - phonetically, emeto - which I hope I don't have to use again.

We had a late lunch in a beautiful and isolated south coast town. We watched the old Greek women all dressed in black hobbling up the streets, stopping at cafes for a chat and some comapny. It looked utterly traditional until you remembered that this village had been leveled in 1944 [thanks to anon :-)] by the Germans and the entire male population of the area shot, as a reprisal. The old woman was undoubtedly a survivor of this event, and probably a widow or eternal spinster because of this.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A major problem

When we loaded the suitcases we carefully weighed the bags to ensure we (the bags!) were not overweight on either the Loganair or the Thomas Cook flights. We were exactly at the limit for Loganair, but incredibly had gained over 2 kgs per bag at Glasgow Airport.

As part of the packing we had to leave behind some of the books we intended to bring with us, so as not to be overweight.

Yesterday and today, Sue has been busy with a major - planned - personnel and HR issue for a very large oil company over three continents and five countries. So I sat around the play-area with the kids and managed to get some significant amounts of reading done.

I had taken five books with me, and I have read them all by the end of week one, so I'm having to move on to Sue's books before I go insane. The alternative is the Daily Mail or Daily Express, or some airport books in the small on-site shop.

It's great to have the chance to read so much - part of the absence of pressure from the Comhairle - and I'm looking forward to catching up over the next 4 (or 8 or 12) years.

Political balance

Having scanned through the list of new Councillors, I see that Labour have the most votes inside the Comhairle, compared to the SNP having 18 for the past 4 years. That should make the election of Chairs extremely painful for some.

Let me just clarify the previous paragraph. At the start of the last Council, the SNP could manage a maximum of 17-19 votes compared to 11-13 for Labour. That placed me in a wonderful position of being able to make statements knowing that I had the support of the majority of Councillors, but also having to be careful not to take that support for granted.

That voting bloc disappeared two years ago after one very simple event: Angus MacNeil was elected and opposed the windfarms, but refused to discuss the issue with the Comhairle. That totally undermined my postion, and that of the majority of SNP supporting Councillors, who gradually, but steadily moved away from the Party. Perhaps the most symbolic thing that he did was to refuse, repeatedly, to meet with the Vice-Convener and Chief Executive to discuss renewable energy.

This became public knowledge very quickly, as the frustration that the Comhairle felt was not kept quiet. In the end, the Chief Executive had to demand that Angus MacNeil come in to try to resolve the issues after about half a dozen meetings were cancelled or delayed for various reasons. No-one was under any illusion that our MP was just scared of meeting the Vice-Convener to try to discuss his position, as he knew it was opportunistic. It was made very clear to me that the senior management in the Comhairle had absolutely no confidence in the abilities of our MP, as he simply refused to visit the Comhairle, and my position became weaker and weaker.

I (and the Comhairle) had simply given up on Mr MacNeil for his failure to have any meetings with the Comhairle about any significant issues, and on his last visit I understand that he appeared at short notice with a non-SNP Councillor and avoided letting the SNP Group know about his appearance.

Just to continue the pattern, when Alasdair Allan attended the debate on windfarms, he arrived with MWT activists and ignored not just the SNP Group, but all Councillors.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Unseen, but not irrelevant

The biggest surprise about the elections has been the paucity of the coverage throughout Europe.

Watching the only two English language channels (CNN and BBC world) almost no coverage was given to the elections, and what limited amount there was related to the English elections. BBC World was particularly poor, with the Ceefax service having brief, delayed and incomplete coverage which was complemented (sic) by a single lamentable news report, which avoided the issues.

CNN Europe, had by comparison a comprehensive amount of coverage. I saw three reports over two days! It soon put you in your place, when you realise just how irrelevant you are.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Having found the wi-fi connection in the reception area of the hotel, and having got my log-in I was able to post some of the blogs I had prepared.

Every evening I have two choices: wonder up to the reception area and sit around for a while sending my random thoughts to the world; or, sit on the balcony and watch the beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean whilst sitting in my shorts until 10pm drinking some lovely local vino.

I could dial-in from the room, but as some work has to be done whilst I'm here, I need the broadband speeds to download and then upload some files. I will remain intermittent until next week.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

There were some intriguing results on Friday morning, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the exact breakdown of the vote, candidate by candidate, and just how the STV system worked.

The first and smallest surprise was the failure of the “anti-windfarm” campaign to make any inroads. Many of the most vociferous advocates of the potential benefits of windfarms did extremely well, whilst in every area (except Ness to Barvas) the antis were invisible. Even in Ness and Barvas, they most vocal opponents did very badly.

Secondly, and more worryingly, the average age of the elected members has continued to increase. I think that only three Councillors are under 50, and none are under 40. This is a huge change from four and eight years ago, and can be directly attributed to the voting system which demands more time to canvass a large electorate and is going to lead to a new breed of professional politician along side the retirees.

Someone (who shall remain nameless) somewhat crudely described the potential candidates as the “unemployed and the unemployable”, which is a gross slander on those who are managing to combine a career and being a Councillor; but has a lovely ring to it.

Update 8/5/07: The above was unnecessarily harsh and inaccurate. The comments were actually about the wider list of candidates. Mea culpa, so I'll let my error remain as an admission of error.

Fellow guests

The resort in Crete is fantastic, and as in previous Mediterranean holidays, the resort is filled with nouvelle riche Russians, their families and bodyguards.

The second language of choice in Crete seems to be Russian, with English coming a poor - albeit, ubiquitous - third. This may have something to do with the free-spending habits of the Russians (or Ukranians), and the poor eating and drinking habits of the British.

The Russians fall into two categories:
(1) vastly rich and fat Russians are almost without exception accompanied by their trophy wifes, who have obviously undergone surgical enhancement and are between ten and forty years younger than the husbands. They are obviously deeply in love, until the next painfully thin ex-Mrs Boris comes along to replace the current stick-insect and look after the various progeny.

(2) the self-made, happy families, obviously having a good time.

Type 1 are the most prevalent, usually floating around in large groups with the extended family somewhere in tow. This usually involves mother or sister who meet most of the stereotypes, and young daughters who are already showing signs of eating disorders. We have witnessed two young girls eating plates of watercress (and little else) whilst obviously trying to maintain the unhealthy look of mother.

I didn't realise that the sight of cut-off shorts and 4 inch pink stilettos at breakfast time could be so off-putting. Leopardskin as evening dress is obviously very big in Moscow. Taste - bling, mullets and t-shirts with pointless slogans - has obviously yet to reach the country.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Nicol for First Minister

Not a hope or aspiration, more a realistic statement of probabilities.

I had expected to be commenting on a clear and clean SNP victory, with only one choice for parliamentary ally. I was surprised, but not shocked, at the narrowness of the “victory”, and intrigued and amused by the lack of clarity arising.

“Victory” as I think this might be pyrrhic, and this might be apparent sooner rather than later. My own reading of the situation is that a pact between the SNP, LibDems and Greens is unlikely, as the stumbling block will be the Independence referendum which is unacceptable to the LibDems. I don’t think that they are using this as a bargaining chip, and it is also one matter that the SNP cannot/will not bargain on. The Greens should be happy to join, as it is their only chance of power.

Therefore the LibDems might join an informal, issue by issue, pact, but this would be worse than no pact for the SNP, and might mean that the LibDems forego any chance of actually holding Ministerial power. So let’s look at the scenarios for the vote for First Minister:
Annabelle Goldie – no chance, but may stand anyway
Jack McConnell (or new leader) – no chance, won’t stand
Alex Salmond – everyone else will gang up to stop him
Nicol Stephen – the obvious choice to stop the SNP

So I prophesy that the LibDem leader will be First Minister and then for a coalition with the SNP to allow the SNP to appoint the Ministers and run the show – as long as it doesn’t upset the LibDems too much.

Now it gets really interesting. :-)