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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The future of the LibDem party?

LibDem leaderTweedledum and Tweedledumber

Two men who have risen without trace, yet are the only serious (?!) politicians objecting to the introduction of ID cards.

Their claim to lead a 'campaign of civil disobedience' is slightly far-fetched, and - considering the demographic and nice nature of LibDem members - not very threatening to the future of the state. One can hardly see a mass protest of LibDems ending in rioting in Trafalgar Square, and them lobbying bricks lentils and home made quiches at the Police.

What is the collective noun for a group of LibDems who are angry and leading a campaign of civil disobedience, given that 'A riot' is so inapplicable?
  • A mildness
  • A sandals
  • A beard
  • An uncertainty
  • An ambivalent prevarication
Whatever it is, Gordon Brown and David Cameron will be sleeping easy tonight.

Job creation

One of my bugbears has always been the lack of opportunities for job creation on the islands, and the impact of the 'dead hand' of the Comhairle (and the rest of the public sector) on local businesses.

There are so many potential opportunities for local entrepreneurs to build good businesses and employ lots of people, if they believe that they have the support of the community, as well as being able to exploit the niche that they can see.

I am privileged to be able to deal with many business-people throughout the islands, which gives me a steady flow of information about how the local economy is performing, almost island by island, and I am aware that owners expectations are lowering, which is an adverse lead indicator of trading performance.

Sadly, little of any significance has happened over the past few years, other than Arnish, and I hope that there are some businessmen and politicians out there trying to create jobs on the islands, because that is what we desperately need to ensure a sustainable community.

Any such success will have my full and vocal support, and no doubt it will be compared to the anti-economic development approach pursued by other parties.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Labour nominations close

I understand that there are no more than two candidates to stand for the Labour party at the Westminster elections, as nominations closed today.

Most of the names that were speculated about appear to have dropped out, and yet some of the Labour members are already hoping that no-one is selected and that nominations re-open.

A depressing situation for them, given that some of the candidates who are being talked-about have repeatedly declined, despite having their arms severely twisted.

Candidate one is Cllr Donald John MacSween, although there are still some mixed messages about him not getting back into the Labour Party. Care to confirm or deny, Mr MacSween?

Assuming my information is right, I have business dealings with candidate two, and on my desk right in front of me is his full address in London N22. Which is without doubt his biggest single handicap. An impressive CV, a very, very nice gentleman, but (you can fill in the blanks). Indeed, he has just come off the phone this very minute, but discreetly no discussion of party politics took place.

Interesting times.

Isles FM

I did the early morning political punter thing on Isles FM on Monday morning in the company of Callum Ian MacMillan, and overseen by Iain X MacIver, discussing the major political events over the past few months.

We insulted Ming Campbell and the LibDems.

Abused the Tories over their English Grand Committee scheme (I was for as it was the thin end of the wedge for Scottish Independence; Callum Ian was against as it was the thin end of the wedge for Scottish Independence).

We had a debate about Gordon Brown's (non-)performance in the House of Commons.

Then when the chat turned to RET, my compadre tried to claim that the SNP should have delivered on RET by now. I robustly pointed out that the delay was largely caused by the Labour Party forcing the tendering exercise on CalMac, and that given the legal and practical difficulties no-one could have delivered by this point. (That's not to say that a clear, unambiguous timetable for delivery is conspicuously absent, and I have my cynical doubts about the 'promise'). I made a point of praising Cllr Donald Manford, SNP Group Leader on the Comhairle for his successes to date.

I highlighted my concern about the absence of any statement on the Air Discount Scheme proceeding - and the outcome of my FoI request will appear here soon.

Finally, the discussion turned to my DPA request from the SNP as featured elsewhere on this blog.

Today, despite admitting that they hadn't heard the broadcast, Alan Masterton, the Parliamentary Assistant to the MSP was on the phone to Isles FM complaining that assorted supporters had heard the broadcast and apparently were upset by the lack of balance. For which read, they were embarrassed by the further revelations that the DPA request has brought out, and they don't want me on the airwaves again. Clearly ignorance places no restrictions on the desire to complain.

Looks like another attempt to gag me....what are they scared of???

Monday, October 29, 2007

'Shared values'

You couldn't make up the fawning drivel from the lips of Foreign Office Minister, Kim Howells. According to the BBC, Mr Howells told a conference ahead of a state visit by Saudi leader King Abdullah that the two states could unite around their "shared values".

So which shared values are these, then?

Does the Minister for Wimin, the oh-so-scary, Ruth Kelly agree that women who walk unaccompanied in Jeddah should be arrested on suspicion of being prostitutes?

Does son-of-the-Manse Gordon Brown support a regime that executes people for taking Bibles into the country? Or for refusing to convert to Wahabism?

Perhaps Mr Howell will be sharing his experience as a past Chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

Count me out. Saudi Arabia beheading
  • I believe that countries should be democratic, not theocratic.
  • I believe that criminal trials should be open, with adequate defence facilities for the accused.
  • I believe that capital punishment should be abolished, not be the national sport.
  • I believe that women should be treated equally, not as third class citizens.
  • I believe in transparency in public financing, and not in the rulers robbing the population for their own benefit.
  • I don't believe we should be paying them bribes to buy arms to further destabilise the area.

Funny, but Labour used to believe in these things too, as Robin Cook said, Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves. The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy and will publish an annual report on our work in promoting human rights abroad.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cash for honours

On a damp Sunday afternoon whilst waiting for something interesting to happen at the SNP Conference, I caught up on the Public Accounts Committee meeting, which I had avoided this week as it looked and smelt like a very slow car crash, and I wasn't going to rubber-neck.

Angus MacNeil 29/3/06: After the meeting the Scottish Nationalist MP Angus MacNeil said: "The police are interested in crime. They are not interested in which party committed it ... After meeting people at Scotland Yard I would say anyone who has been involved in the selling of peerages should be shaking in their shoes."

Angus MacNeil 20/4/07: "When I lodged the complaint, it was said that the police would turn a blind eye, but what we have had is a meticulous investigation."

Angus MacNeil 23/7/07: Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil, whose complaint triggered the investigation, last night predicted that the next few weeks would be "extremely interesting" because Mr Yates had promised that full details of the police inquiry would be provided to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee.

Tony Wright 23/10/07: According to Mr Wright, Yates always had far too little evidence to go on: "You had a letter from an SNP MP [Angus MacNeil] and you had some press cuttings."

Guardian 24/10/07: Mr Yates claimed at one point that the lack of cooperation may have not been deliberate, but stemmed from a belief in parts of No 10 that his inquiry was a political rather than criminal problem.

And after 16 months and £1m in costs, what do we have? Nothing. Nada. Nul Points. A damp squib. Everyone exonerated, except the poor Plod who is being lambasted for not catching anyone - when everyone knew what was going on. And being excoriated for having the temerity to investigate politicians and being part of a 'party political' investigation.

The end result is even more disillusionment with the entire process, and politicians who believe that they won't be held to account for their sins.

The winners are those on the inside - in every party - and we, the public, are the losers.

An "English Grand Committee"

The Tories have been backed into a political corner over the 'English vote on English matters' debate, and it is not a pretty place they find themselves.

Personally, I'm all for it on every level as it is 'unfinished business', as so much that Tony Blair started, he never had the intelligence, political insight or drive to actually finish. A man driven by the next day's headlines, he proposed and tried to implement so many half-arsed ideas that sounded good and got middle-England cheering, but which were never able to be completed, or were abandoned before starting. Remember 'Marching offenders to cash-machines', anyone?

Anyway, Sir Malkie has done a fine job of pandering to the Daily Mail readers (and I mean that in as disparaging a manner as is humanly possible) whilst dressing it up as some kind of answer to the West Lothian question.

In practice, as any fule kno, it is the inevitable consequence of devolution and the inevitable next step before the UK dissolves.

IIRC, Brian Wilson campaigned against devolution citing this as the probable outcome. Which persuaded the rest of us to campaign even harder.

I love the prospect of having different classes of MPs, with presumably some debates and votes open to English and Welsh MPs whilst others will be for the English only, and presumably some for the Scots or the Welsh alone. As most members have little idea what to do unless instructed by the Whips, I forecast.

No-one seems to know where the Northern Ireland MPs fit in all of this. Probably everyone is trying to ignore them as usual, but no doubt there will be the usual 'special arrangements' involving Sinn Fein and the DUP screwing an enormous number of concessions, or they will threaten to return to the Chamber.

10 hours

That's how long our little daughter slept for last night, and we all feel the better for the first night of uninterrupted sleep in three months. After a Saturday night out together, having her sleeping until 9:30am (or 8:30 after the clock changes) was blissful. Goodbye crib - hello cot, in her own room.

It's been a very successful - if stressy week, and with another significant client win for the business providing the icing on the cake. Our international operations are now forming a significant element of the business, much to our very pleasant surprise, and we just need to arrange a visit to some of the more exotic locations.

We've booked a late winter sun holiday for ourselves, as we were unable to get away this summer, and the prospect of some hot sun and being pampered in just a few weeks is keeping us going.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Risk transfer

I am all for the use of the private sector in delivering Comhairle services, where there is a real transfer of risk to the private sector, as it give the public sector a degree of certainty about the future commitments.

It is also A Good Thing to ensure clarity and openness in the presentation of information to the public. I was therefore delighted to see the following statement on the Comhairle's website:

Great care has been taken in the creation of this website and attempts made to present and maintain accurate and up-to-date information, however inaccuracies may occasionally occur.To err is human, to forgive divine. And none of us are perfect.

I am also fully supportive of risk mitigation, but I do understand that such a transfer usually requires both parties to agree, so the next sentence seems to imply that some kind of deal has been done:

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) will not be held responsible for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any inaccuracy or error within its website pages. If you discover any information on our pages that you believe to be inaccurate or inappropriate, please notify the Webmaster.

So either the service has been contracted out to the West Bromwich, or there has been some plagarism happening. I favour the later, given the 'mailto' links are to the Webmaster at Sandwell.

Perhaps this is why planning applications seem to take so long......

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sunday ferries

I came across this article (or a version thereof) in "The Scots Magazine"* and having found the original on-line - about 2/3 of the way down the page - I thought it worth posting, for comments and observations:

On 7.20 a.m. on Monday, the 1st. April 1901, the first ever Mallaig to Glasgow train left Mallaig Station, carrying on board passengers from the steamers Clydesdale from Lewis and Lovedale from Skye.

The Clydesdale had sailed overnight from Stornoway with the first through ticket holders booked from Lewis to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and they would reach their destination within twelve hours.

Which begs the question of when Sunday sailings from Lewis STOPPED.

Any visitor to the Transport Museum in Glasgow can find a ticket booth in between two railway engines which has a timetable for connections between London and Stornoway (amongst other places) from the 1930's showing the ferry leaving on Sunday morning to connect with the overnight sleeper to London; presumably so that the Lords and Ladies could finish their hunting, fishing and shooting and be back in the Courts, House of Lords or at work in London on Monday morning.

When I mentioned this in the Council Chamber in a discussion about Sunday travel, no-one would admit this ever happened, but nor could they deny the evidence of my own eyes. That was fun.

* The Scots Magazine is found (only) in hospital waiting areas, doctors surgeries, the homes of elderly aunts and ex-pat emigrants from the 1950's. It advertises support stockings, Kenneth McKellar's Greatest Hits and the dolls with big skirts that sit over toilet rolls. Inevitably it is published by DC Thompson.

Goodbye Sir John Bourn....

Sir John Bourn....the free-spending Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office has announced that he is to stand down in January, to spend more time with his wife. At home, instead of taking her jetting around the world to attend spurious meetings on 'behalf' of the UK Government.

According to this week's Private Eye, he hasn't found the need to have any 'business lunches', 'business dinners' or other entertainment since the details of his expenses were published.

Funny that.

Less funny is that he has been lunching with and entertained by, and on freebies with, those whom he is supposed to be investigating and controlling.

Health Board deficit

According to the Stornoway Gazette, and as I predicted:

Western Isles Health Board has suffered further losses as it was forced to throw out its deficit recovery plan today (Thursday).

Aiming to recover £800,000 from the £2,484million debt over the last year, the Health Board have instead predicted that by the end of 2007 they will have lost a further £243,000, throwing them a whopping million pounds off their "far too optimistic" savings plan leading to an accumulated deficit of £3.363million.

It is expected that the Board will be told that it must reign in expenditure in two main areas; the use of medical locums and prescribing and that in a revised plan for 2007/8 it must at least aim to break even in a bid to plug the financial drain.

And the result of this is going to be the loss of control of the service to Highland Health Board.

RET (again!)

Good to see that progress on RET is happening - and I suspect that this is largely due to the influence of Donald Manford, Chair of Transportation.

He expects the RET pilot to happen next Summer, which would be excellent news, but to make sense it needs to cover a long period and to cover the busy and the quiet times, and to see the impact on other routes.

And it will preclude a Sunday ferry.

Two cheers for the Government, and three for Mr Manford.

Crofting reform

The news that Brian Wilson has called for the break up of the Crofters Commission and the devolution of decision making to the local communities, fills me with a mixture of dread and despair, with just a smidgen of support.

It is really no surprise that Brian is making this statement, when one considers the Stòras Uibhist submission to the Shucksmith Inquiry into crofting, which I have seen in full.

One section of the submission reads as follows (my emphasis):-
Community ownership of the land is tied to Community Self Determination and to Community Development. Consequently, Stòras Uibhist believes that powers over land use arrangements should be given to democratically accountable community companies. Community land owners should be given powers to veto the purchase of crofts on land owned by them, to veto the sale of croft tenancies, and to decide the appropriateness of croft assignations. They should be given the powers to develop crofting for the benefit of crofter. They should be given powers over the effective administration of township common lands and should be given powers to decide the effective use of common lands for community benefit. Likewise, they should be given powers over crofter diversification to enable crofters to enter the tourism market.

It's almost like Brian Wilson has written (or at least had a major influence on) the Stòras Uibhist submission.

Now, I like the idea of devolving the power downwards; and I think that the Crofters Commission needs major reform, as it seems that nobody is happy with the current set-up. That's the end of the good news.

Basically, the Stòras Uibhist submission seeks the power to decide who can live in a crofting community, who can sell and buy a house, and who can transfer a croft. I wouldn't like to be on the wrong side of whoever held control of the Board of such a community organisation, as they could destroy your entire livelihood.

Unanswered is the question of how far down the chain such decentralisation should be, and the extent of any powers that are transferred. Should the Grazings Committee in each village have similar powers of veto? Should the Grazings Committee and the landlord have to agree on any veto? Should everyone in the village or everyone in the area controlled by the Community Company have a vote on any veto?

If the Stòras Uibhist submission were adopted, then you have swapped one controlling landlord for another, and given the numerous conflicts of interest and personality issues that arise in any small community, giving such power to Stòras Uibhist (or any other similar body) is a recipe for conflict.

There requires to be a body with a wider remit to oversee the whole system; there requires to be greater control over absentee crofters; there requires to be restrictions on the speculative sale of crofts; yet, the crofters need to be able to profit from their efforts on the land.

I don't have the answers, but I do know when something just smells wrong.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Pureed baby foodOur daughter is ready to be weaned and as a result I have been tasked with the preparation of the food. Thankfully, it is one of my areas of ability in the parenting field and I have peeled, boiled, pureed and put fresh apples into tiny, little containers.

The baby rice has been on the menu for the past week, and it has gone down quite well, but unfortunately the transition to apple has been less successful, perhaps as it comes out rather tart at the end of the process. Why, I don't know, but no doubt some nutritionist will explain.

Second choice was carrot, and two large ones were peeled, diced and boiled before the hand blender came into action and the resultant mash was placed into the tiny boxes, which are probably 1.5 inches cubed, hence the picture.

However, pureed carrot has the tendency to stain badly and irredeemably, so daughter has to be fed carefully and with a bib, a cloth to catch splashes, something to wipe child, chair, clothes and parents and at least four hands to manage everything. Like her biggest brother, carrots are much appreciated, and are going down a treat, so I am scouring through the recipe books for the next exciting (!) mush to prepare.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

An end to right-to-buy?

Speculation is running rife that the Government are due to announce an end to the right-to-buy Council and Housing Association properties.

Quite right too. It has resulted in public subsidies to allow the less well-off to get a first step on the property ladder into a public subsidy for the buy-to-let market.

Too many people have made a nice profit on their properties (which I'm not begrudging), but instead of this being reinvested into new houses by the Housing Associations it has funded a property price boom, with some children being encouraged to get onto the lists for new houses just so the parents can fund the purchase of the property and reap the expected gain.

The number of ex-HA properties in Stornoway that are rented out illustrates the scale of the problem and the abuse that has happened.

All in all it promises to be a major step forward, as long as it is allied with additional funding to provide the means to deliver all the aims.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


It's not labelling on bottles of plonk that the Government requires to take action on, but warnings when the BBC or ITV are about to broadcast the same 'Sun shines out of Jonny Wilkinson's arse' story from the same location with the same journalist making the same vacuous statements. It appears to be on constant replay every 15 minutes, interrupted only by news headlines from Paris about the Rugby.

It's enough to drive you to drink.

Or at least for us to go out for dinner to avoid the gratuitous rubbish being spouted by the media.

As I don't have Sky, I can't go for the option of taking the pictures from another station and not have to listen to the sycophants.

May the best team win, and they better or we'll never hear the end of it.

Seven charged over 'voting fraud'

According to the BBC, Each of the men has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the returning officer.

Now move onto the 646 MPs who have conspired to defraud the voters....

Immoderate drinking

I'd like a drink, and be snappyThe joyous news that the Scottish Government have nothing better to do than to demand compulsory labelling on all alcoholic products so that drinkers 'know how many units' are in each drink/bottle/can may lead to better informed drinkers.

But only in the sense that the dawn patrol, students and under-agers (especially under-agers) will be hunting out those drinks that have the maximum units per £.

It's one of these campaign that no-one is against - publicly - but one that deserves the appropriate amount of abuse for it's sheer banality and it's ability to distract from the real issues.

As drinks labelling is a reserved power, unless Westminster decide to do something, then nothing can happen. As the sole purpose is to ensure safe drinking (for which read 'reduce sales of alcoholic drinks') I don't see the big drink companies voluntarily labelling one set of cans for lager for delivery to Scotland and having a different set of cans for England, whilst their competitors ship the supplies direct from the continent or even England, label free.

Buckfast with a label saying 'This gets you blootered, fast, pal'?

As most of the drunks I see in Stornoway are coming out of pubs, are the pumps and optics to be labelled? If I ask for a Black Russian, am I going to get a label telling me the number of units the bartender has just put into my glass? Are we going to see bottles of Champagne with the number of units detailed?

The hell we are.

The target is clearly the pile-them-high sell-them-cheap customers, and not the civilised drinkers like you, me and all politicians.

But no-one is asking the real question, which is 'Why do people drink to excess?' No attempt to reduce poverty; no initiative to provide alternative facilities for youngsters; no thoughts about restricting advertising.

Any serious policy - as opposed to a cheap headline - would start by banning alcohol advertising in and around sporting activities and force Rangers and Celtic to find other sponsors.

And there lies the rub.

Difficult decisions require you to upset some people; and until you do, you never achieve anything.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Overworked politicians

Just when you thought they couldn't work any harder, Harriet Harperson - the Mary Poppins of the Commons - blows in from goodness knows where she normally hides away to announce that she has sprinkled the masses with fairy dust. Perhaps that is Peter Pan which ruins the analogy, but as we are talking mysterious events without a basis in reality accuracy is not at a premium on a Friday night.

The announcement?: that the underemployed are to get an extra four days holiday next year, bringing their holidays up to an exceptional 18 weeks a year. Bastards. The justifciation? According to the BBC:

Variations in the number of Fridays when the Commons is open for business mean it is likely that MPs will sit for a greater number of days in 2007-8 than in the previous 12-month period.

Last time I looked there was only one Friday each week, but bugger me if it all makes sense. More Fridays next year means more days at work and more days on holidays and still only 366 days in the year which just explains why I am a mere mortal and not an MP. Still, with a final salary pension of 1/40 of annual salary for each year served (plus a top up on loss of seat), the job obviously requires a certain dedication to greed that is missing in mere mortals.

As MSPs try to bring their pension arrangements up to the level enjoyed by MPs to ensure that any lost allowances, scams and missed mortgage payments are duly reimbursed. The public can show their appreciation that their elected representatives have got the right priorities by emailing them, although you should be aware that sweary words probably won't get through the filters on the email servers

Wave power

Oscillating water column wave tidal powerThe picture illustrates how an oscillating water column power station works, and this one is already installed in Islay.

It is therefore very exciting that a new version based on a sea-based free-standing breakwater is being proposed for the Siadar area of Lewis.

I really hope that as many people as possible will attend the presentation being made by the developers at Airidhantuim school next weekend, as it has the opportunity to provide substantial benefits for the community, and more importantly, it holds great possibilities for the exploitation of wave and tidal power off the West Coast of Lewis.

We are in great danger, as I keep repeating, of losing the development and implementation of this technology to the Pentland Firth, which is the Government's new preferred location for testing, and the absence of political support for this project is harming it greatly.

For those who oppose wind turbines, successful implementation of this technology could provide the best argument against land based power, and with the fishermen behind this scheme it seems to offend no-one. Or have I spoken too soon?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Data Protection Act (3)

From: Duncan Ross []
Sent: 20 March 2007 20:20
To: Ian McCann
Subject: Re: FW: attack in Gazette

Absolutely. As agreed yesterday. let's get him out. He invalidated his membership by proposing to stand as an independent.


Ian McCann wrote:
>Having held off, I think that's the final straw
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Dr Alasdair Allan []
>Sent: 20 March 2007 16:37
>Subject: attack in Gazette
>Gazette have just told me Angus nicolson has made clear to them he
>will not be voting for me. Presumably means he will be voting for a unionist.
>I have tried as best i can to continue to brush this one off, but I am
>being asked "is he an SNP member or not"?
>He is also, they have reminded me, the convener of the SNP council group.
>Do we continue to hold off longer before getting HQ to clarify situation?

Schools closure - the guidance

The latest exchange of correspondence between the Comhairle and the Scottish Government is entertaining, and it is obviously such a hot potato that Fiona Hyslop has passed it onto a junior minister to get her out of the mess they find themselves in.

Having realised that centralised Soviet style control has certain implications for other decisions elsewhere in Scotland, the back-tracking is something to behold. The Government now accept that the decisions - shock! horror! - now lie with the Comhairle, and that all the elements affecting the decision are interlinked.

Morag Munro, in her letter to her fellow Councillors, quiet rightly puts the boot in:

We have now also receive a further letter from the Cabinet Secretary regarding School closures accompanied by Guidance which first appeared in 2004 and which she has re-issued. I cannot resist copying one paragraph of the re-issued Guidance to you

Scottish Ministers’ Roll and Statutory Responsibilities
20 In all cases the final decision rests with the education authority as to how to fulfil its statutory duties, including such decisions as whether to close, merge or change the site of a school. It is not the role of Ministers to second guess decisions taken by an authority or to act as some sort of ‘appeal court’ for those who disagree with a Council’s decision. Ministers could never be in possession of all the local facts and ‘intelligence’ that informs a Council decision such as would enable them somehow to re run or re take the Council’s decision. Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, Ministers have no locus to, and cannot interfere or intervene in Council proposals for and decisions on school changes or closures beyond their defined role in cases where the Council decision must be referred for Ministerial consent

Presumably our MSP will now quietly withdraw his attempts to undermine the Comhairle, and work with the Comhairle in the best interests of the Western Isles.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Data Protection Act (2)

From: Ian McCann []
Sent: 05 March 2007 09:24
To: 'Duncan Ross'
Subject: FW: nicolson - independent candidate?

I think this is probable enough to start proceedings. Though we might have to wait a day and square it with the other SNP Councillors

-----Original Message-----
From: Dr Alasdair Allan []
Sent: 04 March 2007 13:37
Subject: nicolson - independent candidate?


surely he has done it now - as far as I can see this says he intends to run as an independent. read to bottom. he also praises the lib dems and has a go at the SNP.



I've inserted a hyperlink to the post which is cut-and-pasted after the message. BTW, as I am fairly sure I changed the "alt" attribute on the picture some time after the posting was made, the fact that the email is 3 hours before the blog posting is not the doctoring.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Farewell Sir Ming

Sir Menzies Farewell, Sir Ming (right), the noble knight who rode his trusty steed at a suitable arthritic pace into the heart of the battle that is British politics.

Where he was treated with the kind of patronising contempt one normally adopts for the simple-minded or pre-senile.

A huge debt is owed to you by the LibDems in bridging the gap between your ousting of the most popular, populous and well-known MP ever to have imbibed too much whilst leading the Party and the seeming oblivion into which you were leading it.

Your dynamism knew no beginning, and whilst oozing statesman gravitas in the House, it was at a time when the assassin knife, the bludgeon of ridicule or just a bloody good question were called for.

You have achieved your sole aim - to lead the LibDems - it is a pity that you were leading them off the electoral map.

Ming leaves a party in disarray, invisible, and desperately seeking a return of the prodigal son, suitably detoxed, from the Highland croft.

Data Protection Act (1)

Presciently, on Friday I received a DVD at the office from the Information Commissioner entitled "The lights are on...." which providing training and understanding for everyone involved in the application of the DPA.

On Saturday I received the response to the DPA request that I submitted to the SNP in August.

Seven pages, comprising a covering letter (2 pages), 3 emails (4 pages) and my expulsion email (I've never received a hard copy, or even one with the right name on it!).

So what were the SNP hiding that they were so slow in responding - allegedly 'due to pressure of work' - to my request? Well, I think I spotted a forged email, and I'm going to copy the emails exactly and precisely for others to judge. One day at a time.

Firstly, an email I never received (bear in mind I had a year previously intimated I was not going to stand as an SNP Candidate in May 2006):

From: Ian McCann []
Sent: 01 March 2007 11:05
Subject: Blog


I’ve just been looking at your blog. While I recognise that there is a light-hearted element to many blogs, I am afraid that there are still certain expectations that we have from SNP councillors. Most particular amongst these is these is you offering the possibility that you may run as an Independent MSP. Clearly to do so would invalidate your membership of the SNP, so even speculating about that possibility offers our opponents the notion that you are intent on leaving the Party.

Can I ask you to either remove that element from your online poll, or if it is your intention to leave the SNP, to advise me of that.

Yours for Scotland

Ian McCann
Party Clerk

Scottish National Party

Tel: 0131 525 8903 Fax: 0131 525 8901

Skype In: 0131 208 1984
Skype: ianmac1970

Sunday sailings

I was in some premises today (which I won't identify) when a well-known gentleman - and I use the term very loosely - walked in and stormed up to the person at the front desk.

Thrusting a grubby scrap of paper into her face he bellowed, "Here! You'll sign this petition against Sunday sailings won't you."

When the woman politely indicated that she didn't want to, he turned on his heel and bellowed, "You're a funny one!" before stomping out ignoring all the other people in the premises who, needless to say, were appalled at the behaviour of this pious, Christian, misogynist.

As a direct result of this visit, these premises are now wholly supportive of Sunday ferries.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Sir John Bourn"Who guards the guardians?" in one of the weighty questions of oversight and control and sometimes troubles politicians, but more often troubles businessmen. Probably something to do with one's own money being at risk.

Sir John Bourn is the Comptroller and Auditor General who is in charge of ensuring that all of the expenditure by Government is properly controlled, appropriate and properly accounted for.

All the more astonishing when after a hard fought FoI request from Private Eye, that the National Audit office finally released this list of expenditure incurred by Sir John. Read it and weep.

Then it turned out that the accounts for the NAO were wrong (and this from the body that severely raps other Government bodies over the knuckles for such errors) as they omitted details of the expenses paid to Sir John.

Or for his wife. Who accompanied him on three out of five foreign trips last year - trips which cost £16,500 - for Sir John and Mrs Sir John travel and live in some style. But always appropriate to their needs and expectations. My arse.

Now the LibDems have called for his head, and just look at the fuller list of expenditure he has incurred on our behalf; the glad-handing he has done; and the groups he has lunched with bought lunch for.

Good to know that he still has the confidence of the Government.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Coastal Protection

It is excellent news that Mike Russell has announced extra funding of £250k for flood defences and access (escape road) schemes in the Western Isles.

I sincerely hope that they can be fully implemented as soon as possible, as they are desperately overdue and it is only a matter of time before the same threats come upon us.

However, I have a problem with the coastal protection schemes. The Wallingford report prepared for the Comhairle in the 1990's made it clear that the vast majority of schemes were a waste of money and time, as the sea would bypass any defences.

Having said that, if I lived near any of the four locations, I would be screaming for the defences to be built.

But take a step back and look at the cost, the change of long term success in many of the areas, and the cost of the options and the sensible course of action is to move the human inhabitants away from danger.

Castle MacSween in Torlum was built on the sea's edge and is now about 1km from the sea, like Beaumaris in North Wales. The schools at Linaclete and Seilebost will almost certainly be under serious threat in the next 10 years, and my advice has long been simple: "Close them, lose them, and built on solid ground well above the tidal limits." I hope that those who would be King Cnut take this simple advice.


From: Masterton AWM (Alan)
To: DL MSPs; DL MSP Researchers
Sent: Wed Oct 10
13:00:16 2007
Subject: S3M-00630 Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): Optimism in

Alasdair Allan would appreciate your support for the following motion. Voting buttons are attached.

S3M-00630 Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): Optimism in

That the Parliament notes the recent YouGov Scottish opinion poll, which finds that the First Minister Alex Salmond is more popular among Labour voters in Scotland than the Labour leader in the Scottish Parliament, Wendy Alexander MSP, by 25% to 20%, and more popular among Liberal Democrat voters than Scottish Lib Dem leader, Nicol Stephen MSP, by 26% to 14%; further notes that 63% of Scots in the same poll believe that the First Minister is doing a good job compared to just 25% who disagree, and believes that the hugely positive attitudes of people in Scotland to the Scottish Government is explained by a further poll finding that more people believe that the Scottish National Party is optimistic about Scotland’s future than all of the other parties added together.

Thank you,

Parliamentary Assistant
Alasdair Allan MSP,

Pre-Budget Report

The economy is doing worse than expected. Belts need to be tightened. All the fault of the sub-prime market crash in the US. Still the best performing high-tech economy based on an island of the west coast of Europe. That doesn't begin with "I" obviously. Don't mention the mess left to me by the previous Chancellor. Re-announce a few cuts in taxes. Again. And again.

Squeeze not our fault. Certainly nothing to do with ex-Chancellor allowing credit to run riot. Need to pull rabbits from hat. Not look like rabbit in the headlights.

Inheritance tax. Offer meaningless rise in thresholds. Forget I used to oppose such a rise. As did GB. Negligible cost as very few couples will be affected significantly.

Rubbish Tories plans on non-doms. Announce intention to introduce a slightly higher tax on non-doms. Eventually. If they stay in the UK for seven years. Will affect none of our friends. And raise very little.

Remove taper relief to increase tax on private equity companies. And small businessmen. Don't mention that short-term investors and buy-to-lets are winners. Dress up as 'equality' when actually benefits the vast majority of the rich by reducing their tax rate on gains from 40% to 18%.

Ignore Lib-Dems. Steal their idea on taxing flights. Our idea to show our green credentials.

Cross fingers. Hope economy continues to grow and nothing else goes wrong.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Licensing Policy

Please read the Comhairle's draft licensing policy on which comments are required by 9 November.

I've already seen some glaring anachronisms and holes in what has been written, and intend to make a submission. I'll happily include any other relevant points if you bring them to my attention.

My immediate reaction is that there is a distinct possibility of a serious clamp down on extensions and anything that might smack of liberalisation of hours. The Licensing Board appears to be evenly split between liberals and conservatives, and the public and the trade need to get their voices heard before this is enacted.

When I sat on the Licencing Board, I remember being told by more than one colleague that a certain hotel had no customers on a Sunday and for that reason alone we should not renew the afternoon licence. I was able to point out to these teetotallers that I had been there the previous weekend, and it had been full of families enjoying a Sunday dinner together, and that about 75% of the families had one person employed by the Comhairle. The dirty looks I got!

European Maritime Policy

This afternoon I had a phone call from the office of Commissioner Joe Borg of the European Commission asking me to participate in the launch of the new EU Maritime Policy tomorrow, as an alleged 'expert'.

I had met Mr Borg's colleague Stavros Dimas in Göteborg in May 2006 when I was a participating delegate at the Council of Ministers of the North Sea Convention, as President of KIMO, and unexpectedly he asked to have a meeting with KIMO to discuss our ambitions and expectations. Actually, I think he though we had organised the evening's entertainment with singers, food, dancers etc. in the Town Hall, when in fact it had all been arranged by the City and we had hijacked the event to raise the profile of KIMO. However, our actions obviously caught the attention of the Commission for all the right reasons.

I'm (half?) promised a copy of the policy and statement at the same time as the press, and I will then be a/the principal contact for Scotland and Scottish reactions to the new policy. I'm to tell it as it is, so the first course of action is to download the Comhairle, Scottish Executive and KIMO submissions and remember refresh my memory on what we were hoping to achieve.

It's all very flattering, and will probably come to nothing much, but I did so enjoy being able to affect and set policy at the very highest level.

Rampant sexism

I took my daughter for her first set of injections today. Despite my fear of needles, I'm happy to take the kids to each and every series of immunisations.

As I sat in the reception at the surgery, I thought I heard her name being called out. And again, so I stood up and moved forward only to be blanked by the nurse. It was only when she saw me carrying my daughter in the car seat that she apologised saying, "I'm sorry but I was looking for a mum".

My wife gets upset when callers assume that she is the receptionist and not a full qualified accountant, so perhaps it's my turn to be insulted.

Find foot, find mouth, insert one into the other

The latest exchange of correspondence between the MSP and the Education Department demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the role and remit of the Council and of the MSP.

Following on from the previous correspondence, it would be funny if it weren't so serious.

As Murdo MacLeod, Director of Education says, "The situation therefore is that you sought to intervene at an operational level, as much as a political one, by seeking to engage with this Department’s staff before the Comhairle had even met to consider my report and its recommendations. This is totally unacceptable."

Pretty clear an unequivocal, but obvious Mr Allan knows more about what should happen to the education system in the Western Isles than the Director. I look forward to the next instalment with baited breath.

Update 1pm: There is another letter from Mr Allan, but this time I am told he backs down from his previous stance. A copy, along with the response from the Director, would be much appreciated.

Comprehensive Spending Review

"A row has erupted over the CSR and it's impact on Scotland", according to the BBC.

To explain it simply, the Scottish Government compare the award this year against last year to get the percentage increase. Westminster strips out the 'exceptional' items of expenditure and then uses that lower figure to calculate the increase.

Who cares? Well we all should try to understand if the 'exceptional' items that are being stripped out are genuinely 'exceptional'.

Trying to create an argument about the size of the cuts (for that is what they are) is hardly going to make news, as I - and others - have been forecasting this for some time.

The quote from the SNP that this would bring bad news, leading to a "very real spending squeeze" in Scotland is countered by the Tories who say, The SNP won't then be able to blame Westminster for any of the difficulties arising out of what we all knew would be a tight spending review.

And that is the problem for the SNP. The CSR was going always to be tight; Labour in Westminster will make it much tighter for party political reasons; and the SNP have made numerous spending pledges without any compensating savings.

As Mr Micawber said, Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Brown denies polls changed mind

Gordon Brown - knackeredYeah! Right!

All the ducks were being lined-up - as I prophesied a long time back - to maximise the options, and then the Tories pulled the rug from under him with their promise on Inheritance Tax.

Incidentally, IHT is the easiest tax to avoid, with some planning and foresight, and about the most punitive if you do nothing.

George Osbourne appealed directly to the greed of middle-England (by which I mean those sitting on large increases in house prices, where ever they live) yet hit a brilliant re-distributionist button in taxing the non-domiciled, albeit a nominal amount.

Perhaps - hopefully - we'll get into a bidding war to tax the non-domiciled and Shock! Horror! they may end up paying a tax rate not dissimilar to that paid by everyone else in the UK.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

How low can politics go?

According to the BBC News:

SNP leader Alex Salmond said Gordon Brown was a "big feartie from Fife" who had lost credibility.

In other news: Condoleeza Rice said Kim Il-Jung was a "speccy git from Pyongyang", Osama Bin-Laden said George Bush "did a poo in his pants", and the Burmese Junta reacted to global condemnation by saying "Nyah, hyah, hyah!" and sticking out their tongues.

Have we really sunk this low to find this acceptable....

Windfarm referendum

Alasdair Allan MSP announces his new policyOur MSP attended the informal meeting of Councillors on Monday night, and announced that as the Council had taken a democratic decision on the windfarms, he was going to respect this stance and abandon his call for a public referendum on the planning applications.

Of course, he had no option after he was told by Ministers that such an idea was ludicrous and was never going to happen, exclusively revealed by me three months ago.

Has anyone told MWT or the electorate yet, as they must feel utterly betrayed.

As you will recall, I have said for a long time that the referendum was never going to happen, simply because it opened too many cans of worms. That's what happens when one jumps blindly onto bandwagons rather than thinking through policies.

Presumably Mr MacNeil is similarly backtracking.

I have long argued that it was vacillation and an inability to hold and justify a position that did for Calum MacDonald, and not the issue itself, so I intend to put my £10 on Labour to regain the seat in 2008 or 2009 simply on how this perceived 'betrayal' will play in Barvas, Ness and beyond. I'll also put money on any PLI not being finished by that point, which will finally cripple our MP's bid for re-election.

Of course, if Mr MacNeil hadn't repeatedly refused to discuss renewable policy with the Councillors who were setting said policies, he would have had some understanding of the issue.

No! to an election

Speaking to a senior Labour Party activist last night, he was strongly opposed to an election being called just now. In his view it was too manufactured, and too obviously political, rather than any genuine desire for a vote.

Two months ago, it could have been sold as a genuine wish to have a mandate, but not now.

Despite the obvious desire to select a candidate asap, he was not keen on traipsing around the doors this soon after the Scottish Parliamentary elections, and I suspect the entire WI Labour Party may be suffering from torpor after two defeats, and the 'lucky' winner of the selection contest will have a major task in rebuilding morale amongst the wider membership.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Power supplies

Intermittancy of supply is something that opponents of wind power often point to as being a reason why we cannot rely on wind.

True ~~ish.

This week power supplies in Scotland were reduced by 25% after Hunterston nuclear power station was taken off line,

The truth is that you need a mix of power supplies (in my mind preferably excluding nuclear) to ensure that supply is maintained regardless of the impediments that chance can throw at us.

Single Hulled ex Ferry Sets Sail for Sellafield with an Ultra Hazardous Radioactive Cargo

Atlantic Osprey - a nuclear ferryThe Atlantic Osprey an ex roll on roll off cargo vessel will depart Nykoping, in Sweden, on the 5th October carrying shipment of 4.8 tonnes of ultra hazardous spent nuclear fuel, containing Plutonium, for Sellafield in the UK to be reprocessed in the B205 Magnox plant. The use of this vessel which is single hulled, single engined, unescorted and already has had one engine room fire is unacceptable. It puts at risk the marine environment and the millions that live along the shipping route which route transverses some of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes and most dangerous waters

KIMO International has been calling for many years for such shipments to be halted and for the wastes to be dealt with at the site where they were produced. However where this is not possible, for safety reason, transports should be carried out with the Best Available Technology (BAT). The ex ro-ro ferry vessel the Atlantic Osprey, INF2 class, not only doesn’t represent BAT it doesn’t even represent the Second Best Available Technology.

Yet again coastal communities are being treated as third class citizens by their own governments. At last years North Sea Ministerial meeting in Göteborg Ministers refused to agree on the use of best available technology for these shipments and refused to review their marine national contingency plans for nuclear pollution.

At KIMO’s International Conference in Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland, on Friday 5th October a presentation will be given by Marine Nuclear Expert Tim Deere Jones on the deficiencies in the vessels and the risks associated with transports of just the type proposed to set sail for Sellafield.

As well as presenting a threat while it is transported this cargo of ultra hazardous spent fuel will also lead to an increase in emissions in to the Irish Sea and beyond during reprocessing at Sellafield. Then MOX fuel will have to be transported back to Sweden, along with some of the radioactive waste generated during reprocessing, doubling the risk of an incident. A KIMO International spokesperson stated,

KIMO remains convinced that the transport of nuclear materials should be halted and that such materials should be stored at the point of production. However should these shipments go ahead governments should be insisting that the highest standards of ship and security arrangements are in place to protect their citizens.

This means that the Best Available Technology (BAT) should be applied to the ships and flasks used in European shipments and should be at least to the same standard to the ships that are used for MOX shipments to Japan. The arrangements surrounding this proposed shipment are flawed and second rate. We are asking governments to take national action to ensure that their national pollution and security plans take into account a nuclear accident near the coast and that these shipments should be escorted by the own naval ships for protection. These are actions which they can commit to themselves with breaking any international regulations.

It is absolutely irresponsible in this day and age where we are requiring super tankers carrying oil to have double hulls to protect our marine environment that these dangerous cargoes are being transported in an ex roll on roll off ferry with a single engine and single hull through some of the most populated areas of Europe with little or no security.

KIMO stresses that if an attack by terrorists succeeds in an incident involving a severe long-term fire, breaching shipping casks and/or sinking a nuclear transport vessel, the consequences would be comparable to the most severe accident that authorities insist is too improbable to be considered.”


This is going to go through the Minch or down the deep water route, but either way, the Western Isles are in the front-line.

Sadly, at Göteborg last year, it was the UK who were the strongest opponents of the use of BAT and adopted a laise-faire approach to nuclear transportation.

I was due to be in Wexford today making this announcement and standing down as International President, but family commitments meant that I couldn't attend, but I remain Senior Vice-President for the next two years.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mary Salmond Trust

This is the Trust set-up by Alex Salmond in memory of his late mother, which has been approved by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator as a charity.

As I have previously noted, the pledge from Mr Salmond is very clear:
3. Mr Salmond has decided to pay his gross Scottish Parliamentary salary of £1,474.75 per month into the Trust and has backdated this to the May election

As a Higher Rate Tax payer, Mr Salmond will receive a further 18% tax relief (40%-22%) on his contributions, reducing his tax bill by £3,185 pa.

I'm sure that such an outcome wasn't on his mind, and he meant to obtain NO benefit whatsoever from his double salary.

An open letter...

4 October 2007

Data Protection Officer
Scottish National Party
107 McDonald Road

Dear Sir

On 17 August I submitted a request under S.7(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998, a copy of which is enclosed.

As you will be aware, you have 40 days in which to respond, which have now expired.

If I do not hear from you within seven days, I intend to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner and take such other action as may be appropriate.

In light of the current postal strike, I am faxing this document to you.

Yours sincerely


17 August 2007

Data Protection Officer
Scottish National Party
107 MacDonald Road

Dear Sirs

Please send me the information which I am entitled to under the Section 7(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998.

If you need further information from me, or a fee, please let me know as soon as possible.

For the absence of doubt, I specifically seek inter alia copies of all documents, emails, notes of meetings or telephone calls relating to my expulsion from the SNP.

Yours sincerely

Election - or not?

As the country builds to a fever pitch about whether or not Gordon Brown will call an election, one can almost taste the excitement in the air. Not.

In what must be one of the dullest preambles to an election ever, we are supposed to be bothered about whether some overpaid, under-worked careerists want to save their jobs.

Personally, I don't think it will get called until next year at the earliest, but the ducks are clearly being lined up to allow the choice to be made.

The Pre-Budget Report has been moved forward to next week, after the MPs all return from their excessively long holidays, with the clear implication that a budget to reward key sectors will be followed by an election announcement, and us all gratefully re-electing Gordon Brown for demonstrating his munificence.

I may be proved wrong, but I don't see him taking the chance of losing and being remembered as the shortest serving PM ever.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Priorities, priorities

George Bush is very clear on his choices:

When faced with a bill to raise $35bn on tobacco taxes to provide health insurance for 10 million children, he vetoes it.

Entirely coincidentally, tobacco firms spent $20m on lobbysits in 2005, with over 75% of that going to the Republicans.

Timsgarry FS

The community have now secured a Big Lottery Grant to acquire the store at Timsgarry, and to expand it with renewable power sources and motion sensitive lighting internally.

Timsgarry shop
Congratulations to everyone involved.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Israel attacks Syria

Axis of evilFor an event shrouded in much mystery and even more disinformation, some snippets are sneaking out.

Without passing judgement on the rights or wrongs of such an action - as I don't know what I would be passing judgement on - can any see any difference between this action by one sovereign state against another, compared to, say, Iran attacking Iraq and it's occupying forces allies?

Well, it is obvious. Defensive first-strikes against those who threaten you politically, militarily and for religious reasons are the normal and acceptable course of action; and this also applies to Israel.

Of course not.

It is part of the hypocrisy of international diplomacy that what is done by you enemies is condemned, whilst supported when done by your allies.

Axis of evil anyone?

North Korea - gets the nuclear bomb and is rewarded with food aid from the US.
Libya - joins the UN Security Council
Syria - now not as bad as Iran!

Outer Hebrides Seafood to be floated

The latest news from Marine Harvest is that OHS (formerly known as Fjord Seafoods) is to be part of a group with Pan Fish Scotland which will be floated on the Norwegian Stock Exchange.

This is obviously quite worrying, as it is a major change in what was originally proposed, and the small scale of the joint operation would make the company attractive to being snapped up, asset stripped and dismembered.

Although the spokesmen talk of complementary operations, the danger remains that the only way to achieve growth for both elements is to have them physically closer together, otherwise they cannot have any benefit of scale.

I predict yet more turbulent times ahead.

The unnecessary delay in delivering RET is hurting this sector particularly badly.

Monday, October 01, 2007

...and then there were two

The ritual culling of the prospectives has taken place, leaving two candidates seeking the Labour nomination, for what some expect to be an early election. (If my list of those culled is correct, then some sanity may have returned to the WICLP)

How can I describe the remaining candidates? Unflattering terms? Politely, as I know them both very well? Or perhaps I'll refrain from naming them until I have only one target to focus on. :-)

However, I have recently received a snatched paparazzi shot taken outside the hustings meeting, and I think it is only fair to let the public know who might be standing .....

Western Isles politics at its best... and the supportive way I intend to comment on any stupid pronouncements from the lucky winner.