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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Airport security

Security at Stornoway Airport is tight.

Ludicrously so.

On a through this week, I had taken a sterile single-use bottle warmed and filled with a carton of milk for my baby daughter to drink in the airport or on the plane as required, as the flight and her feeding time were likely to coincide.

Carrying my three month old, I was instructed to open the single-use bottle, and then taste the milk from the bottle. My protestations that this made the bottle no-longer sterile fell on deaf ears. I had to drink it from the bottle.

The plane was delayed, and daughter started to get hungry as it started it’s incoming approach to land. Not a problem – I’ll re-heat the bottle on the plane. Or so I thought. (At this point someone will say that you shouldn’t reheat bottles of milk for children, but sometimes, needs must)

Just as we were getting ready to board it was announced that there were no toilets on the plane, and we should use the facilities before we left.

What they actually meant was that the plane had no water at all, and my daughter had to have the bottle cold/cool, which she didn’t like, and fell asleep again, finally eating when we reached the hotel at the other end.

Things were slightly more sensible at Glasgow Airport, where I could decant from a carton into a sterile bottle AFTER the security check, and sample some of the carton to prove that it was baby milk.

But how does my tasting the carton prove anything?

It there some explosive mix that comes in 250ml cartons, that looks like milk or a milk suspension and which is not palatable to terrorists? Can nitroglycerine be placed in a liquid? Do liquid explosives contain arsenic? What happens if I am lactose intolerant? Or just hate the taste of baby milk?

Ducking decisions

Stewart Stevenson must have thought he was very smart to be able to avoid the difficulties of taking a decision over Sunday sailings, when the CalMac Board delayed taking a decision.

The CalMac Board were outmanoeuvred, and will now – according to Mr Stevenson – be the sole decision makers when it comes to deciding the issue.

Or so it appears on first sight.

In practice, Mr Stevenson remains the final arbiter, and by trying to pretend that by saying nothing he has no part in the ultimate decision he is blameless, is deliberately deceptive and purblind.

If the Minister does not ‘call in’ a decision by CalMac then it deemed to be accepted by him, so doing nothing is actually the same as agreeing.

Difficult decisions are difficult to take, and trying to dodge them, avoid them, or ignore them, does nothing but make one look weak, scared and indecisive.

And it annoys everyone – supporters and opponents alike – which means that instead of upsetting a few people, ducking them upsets a lot of people.

Ducking decisions

Stewart Stevenson must have thought he was very smart to be able to avoid the difficulties of taking a decision over Sunday sailings, when the CalMac Board delayed taking a decision.

The CalMac Board were outmanoeuvred, and will now – according to Mr Stevenson – be the sole decision makers when it comes to deciding the issue.

Or so it appears on first sight.

In practice, Mr Stevenson remains the final arbiter, and by trying to pretend that by saying nothing he has no part in the ultimate decision he is blameless, is deliberately deceptive and purblind.

If the Minister does not ‘call in’ a decision by CalMac then it deemed to be accepted by him, so doing nothing is actually the same as agreeing.

Difficult decisions are difficult to take, and trying to dodge them, avoid them, or ignore them, does nothing but make one look weak, scared and indecisive.

And it annoys everyone – supporters and opponents alike – which means that instead of upsetting a few people, ducking them upsets a lot of people.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Labour candidate

I'll need a new photo for my election addressCongratulations - or perhaps commiserations - to Cllr Donald J MacSween who has been the lucky winner in the contest to be the next lemming and has emerged as the candidate for the next General Election.

This was exclusively forecast on this very blog, where Mr MacSween gained 45% of the votes in my poll, just beating "It doesn't matter, they'll lose anyway" with 25%. That multiple voting may have occurred is assumed, so it as scientific and accurate as you want it to be.

Mr MacSween has been kind enough to pass me some of his press releases, and I hope that he will continue to do so. So I can pass accurate, erudite and witty comment on whatever high horse he gets onto, and bring it to the attention of the wider public.

Cllr MacSween has a big problem in getting elected. That problem is, of course, the Labour Party and particularly the maladroit mismanagement of issues by the PM and his colleagues. If they carry on like this, he may have wished he had remained outside the Labour Party.

Let battle commence!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The computer literate generation

Our youngest son who is now 2.75 (his age not his model number) was demonstrating his computer skills to us over the weekend, after I put the laptop down.

Having taught him good surfing habits, he used the touch-pad to select and open Firefox. Then he selected Cbeebies from the toolbar menu - actually he pulled down the BBC news front page, but the icon is the same, it's just the words that are different, and he can't read. Yet.

Having helped him to get to the right site, he spent a long while surfing between various Cbeebie characters and having a great time.

It was a surprise to my good lady to get a confirmatory email from Amazon to announce the imminent delivery of a CD. Panic set in, as she tried to work out just how son had managed to access her account, select the CD and arrange payment.

The clue was, of course, in the title of the CD. It wasn't the Teletubbies covering Eminem or even Postman Pat does Iron Maiden live in Greendale.

When son was distracted, I had taken the opportunity to order the new Lethal Bizzle album and then logged out of everything. After all, the kids may not know who The Ruts were, but they will do after they hear the cover versions.

Pairc wind farm/SSE

According to the Herald: -
A controversial wind farm proposal for the Outer Hebrides should be further scaled down until it contains one-fifth of the turbines originally proposed, planning officials have recommended.

Remember where you read about the effect of the cumulative impact first.

I agree with the recommendation, but I suspect that the combined impact of the final versions of the three applications may need to be considered in more detail before approval, and I'm still not 100% convinced about even the reduced application is acceptable.


"The Best Small Country in the World" - rubbish, meaningless, underwhelming. Good riddance.

Has been replaced with

"Welcome to Scotland"
- which the culture Minister describes as "This is about showing what a modern, vibrant and successful country Scotland is."

How does she figure that one out? It's the same as on the road-sign at Berwick for the past one hundred years.

Look -- it's about showing what a welcoming country Scotland is.

That bloody simple, and if the atry-farty ones have spun you another line about dynamism, openness, typefaces and the bold strong lines in the letters then you al need to be taken out, transported to the nearest tourist shop and beaten around the head with a twee stuffed Loch Ness monster in a ginger wig and tammy until you see sense.

BTW: How much did this stunningly original idea cost us?

Petitions and coercion

So the LDOS claim that 3,760 people have signed their petition against Sunday ferries.

That may be numerically true, but with some teachers thrusting the petition under the noses of pupils and demanding that they sign the petition, I am sure that the true level of support is not as claimed.

Personally, I think that each and every one of these teachers should be disciplined - imagine the outcry if they were doing this with a petition calling FOR Sunday sailings - and I hope that the Education Department takes the appropriate stance. Especially as some if these children didn't agree with what they were made to sign.

As the Rev Coghill said, "We did have to strike a number of names off the petition because they lived outside the island." Presumably, he will now strike-off the names of children and those who were coerced by teachers?

After all, I've seen the tactics used, which had the effect of making me more anti-Sabbatarian than before.

I'm sure that Rev Coghill, as a member of the Education and Children's Services Committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, will ensure that the best interests of the children comes before the private interests of the teachers.

Danger! Collapsing edifice

Yesterday's questions about donations to Labour were answered with alacrity.

Any comparisons between the Labour Party today, and the last days of the post-Thatcher Tory Government are entirely accurate.

They seem to have an inability to think through worry about the consequence of their actions.

The rules don't apply to them. They think.

Grubby money appears from all comers as they try to get onto the gravy train -- little realising it its heading towards the buffers.

An adequate Chancellor who dealt in minutia cannot manage the big picture when he becomes PM.

Scandals ooze out from every corner in an almost unstoppable torrent of embarrassment.

Credibility is shot to pieces, and the party's reputation collapses, even in areas unaffected by the scandals.

The next election is lost, and the political wilderness beckons for a number of years.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce: Karl Marx

RET or Sunday ferries

As I repeatedly warned, consideration of the introduction of Sunday sailings on the Stornoway-Ullapool route - which was due for consideration by the CalMac Board tomorrow - has been postponed until January.

The reason? That the Board didn't want to tie the hands of the Scottish Government (the owners of CalMac) who are considering which ferry route will be trialled for Road Equivalent Tariff, and who are supposed to be taking a decision in the next month.

As I have said, to try to determine the impact of RET you shouldn't change any of the other parameters, so a Sunday ferry becomes highly unlikely or the statistics will become difficult to interpret.

From a practical point or view, the Stornoway-Ullapool route is almost at full capacity, so the effect of RET will be even more difficult to measure unless you add more services or you start to measure those who are turned away.

Unless that is the plan - using a full ferry to demonstrate the marginal impact that RET has on ferry traffic.

My forecast - that the CalMac Board throw the decision on Sunday sailings back to the Government, as a variation under the newly approved tenders, and get the Minister to carry the can for (non)-implementation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Community Appraisal

Let me start by declaring an interest in the Community Appraisal work that was carried out to ascertain the needs of the community. Except for any Sunday issues; or windfarms; or anything else controversial.

I am astonished to see the response rate of 25% which was justified as comparing "favourably with that of a typical resident survey", given that the tender document said "It is hoped that a return rate in excess of 80% can be achieved."

The 2,995 responses returned cost the Comhairle over £13 each, virtually every penny of which went to Edinburgh.

We were part of consortium which submitted a tender assuming a response rate of 50% (which we did think was still high), which would have cost the Comhairle under £5 per returned survey, every penny of which would have been recycled in the islands.

We proposed to have a team of 10+ individuals doing manual data entry using an existing network of freelancers, whilst the winners took the documents and had them scanned on the mainland.

Strangest of all, the Comhairle approved the tender at the figure mentioned in the report to Policy & Finance (21/6/07 item 42), but awarded the contract at about 90% of this figure some four weeks later, for no apparent good reason.

No doubt my FoI request - due by next week, after interminable delays and a deemed refusal following the Comhairle's failure to reply - will shed light on the matter.

Still, I'm sure it was value for money.

Donations to Labour

With Labour attracting a variety of different donors for all sorts of different backgrounds, the international financiers, hedge fund executives, multi-millionaires, aspiring crawlers, assorted tax-dodgers and various spivs will feel they have to return to the Tory Party just to get away from the working class, who seem to be reclaiming the party.

One of the new major donors, a builder from Newcastle, spoke for many as he leant out of the door of his Transit van and expressed his deep rooted beliefs about politics in the UK,

"I can't stand Labour. I can't stand any politicians."

Speaking under strict conditions of anonymity, Ray Ruddick explained that he knew nothing about the donations that made him the third largest donor to Labour.

The same applies to the fourth largest donor, Janet Kidd.

Probably due to the fact that the donor was actually a property developer David Abrahams who was passing the funds through friends/acquaintances to hide his identity.

Did no-one from Labour wander around to Mr Ruddick or Mrs Kidd and say "Thank you" for the donations? Did no-one invite them to join the Labour Party? Did the sitting MP's not call in and see if they could get a cut of the next round of donations?

Lady Prosser - a former Labour Treasurer - said party officials normally ran a "due-diligence test" to ensure people were "bona fide" and money received was "legitimate".

Not this time, missus.

Is the Labour Party now so complacent about receiving large sums from unknown donors that it does nothing more than the bare legal minimum? The answer seems to be a resounding "Yes".

All of which points to a mind-set that is crying out for a serious beating at the polls before reality sets in.

No comment

From last week's Stornoway Gazette...

Alasdair Allan
(Thanks to the anon comment for drawing my attention)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Why Croatia won?

Thanks to The Register, for this gem....

Opera singing Brit Tony Henry has become a Croatian hero for mispronouncing a line in the country's national anthem before its team consigned a lamentable England to the dustbin of footballing history on Wednesday night.

The ditty is "written in the old Croat style", the Telegraph explains, and instead of singing Mila kuda si planina - "You know my dear how we love your mountains" - Henry thundered Mila kura si planina, or "My dear, my penis is a mountain".

This evidently delighted Croatian players Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric, who were seen "grinning at each other" at the gaffe, and fans claim the slip helped relax the team before its 3-2 drubbing of McClaren's lacklustre side.

Accordingly, Croatians are now calling for Henry to be awarded with a medal and appointed their team's official mascot for Euro 2008. Mate Prlic, of Croatian footie mag Torcida, suggested: "He obviously relaxed the players so why not invite him to Euro 2008 to keep the winning streak going?"

Henry's agent, Douglas Gillespie, said: "Tony had a great reception from the Croatian fans and already feels part of their campaign for Euro 2008."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Have a nice weekend!

Tomorrow, as Council employees sit themselves down for another day's hard work at their desks they will be pleased to receive the outcome of the single-status regrading exercise.

This has been long in the germination, and intensive for both the assessors and the victims employees.

So why tomorrow?

I have been very reliably informed that this is to give the employees the chance to 'cool down' over the weekend after reading the outcome of their (re)-grading, and in the hope that headlines will be slightly less by Monday.

From what I have been told, I expect the headlines to be worse rather than better. And still costing the public purse well over £2m to make some happy; many unhappy; and a lot very furious.

Unions are, I understand, already preparing block appeals for staff.

Gaelic TV Channel

GMS Gaelic Media ServiceThe whole proposal for a digital channel has been kicked into the long grass, and anyone who doesn't see this is deluding themselves.

I totally agree with the Vice-Convener of the Comhairle when he says that this is a very negative message from the BBC, but I also think that he is rational enough to know that it was always an uphill struggle to achieve such a huge investment.

The political reaction ranged from the cutting to the banal, and here is just a small selection:-

John Farquhar Munro: "It was clear from the tone of their announcement that the BBC is not supportive of minority languages". And are you surprised, when they are facing cuts in mainstream services?

Angus MacNeil:
"We need a Gaelic television channel and I am confident that we can mount an unanswerable case to convince the trust". Sorry, but it's fallen badly at the very first hurdle. Far from being unanswerable the argument being made is actually judged to be too introspective, which is the opposite of what is required.

Alasdair Allan:
questioned the BBC Trust's findings and felt they did not fully appreciate the importance of a Gaelic channel in terms of the BBC's own commitment to cultural diversity. As the debate is not about diversity, but about value for money, this statement is utterly meaningless.

Thankfully, a note of sanity and reality was injected by Donald Campbell of the Gaelic Media Service, who said,
"I am confident we can get these two documents done but what I am not confident about is whether they will be sufficient for the trust to agree".

I believe that the real battle was lost a long time ago when the parameters were set, and that the Government can now wash it's hands of the promise/pledge/aspiration having given the Gaels the chance that they didn't take. Irrespective of how uneven the playing field was.

Child Benefit records

This one is going to run and run, and climb higher and higher until the real culprits are identified.

Anyone who has ever used a database knows, the data will be normally easily accessible through a simple query to get a file that can be opened in Excel. The columns of the unnecessary information - which in this case was the bank account details - can be deleted, and the revised file saved. Bingo, you have what you need.

Unless you are a Government Agency, apparently, who have contracted out the IT to some multi-national, who then charge a reputed £10,000 for writing such a query and producing the data in the revised form. So you rely on under-trained, ill-managed, junior staff to dump the data on disk and you wonder about the consequences.

But why have junior staff got access to this data in the first place, and what is to stop them running off another copy to sell in the pub on Saturday remains unanswered. I suspect the answers will actually give us all a big fright.

But there is another issue. The Government Secure Intranet is there to allow department to communicate securely. It's only two cd's of data, so why weren't they attached to a file and emailed to the National Audit Office.

Come to think of it, why did the NAO ask to get such sensitive data posted to it? Do they often ask departments to post highly sensitive documents? Perhaps they need to audit their procedures? If Sir John Bourne is back from lunch.

The claim by Alasdair Darling that the proposed National ID Register will be immune from this sort of leak as it will hold biometric data is as ludicrous as it is complacent.

What the imbecile is saying is that your digital fingerprints and retina scan will be of no use to any criminal as they cannot print out the fingerprint. Of course, any self respecting criminal would use the personal data and the electronically coded fingerprint over the internet to prove that they are you. But then the MP's seem to inhabit a parallel universe where crooks do unforeseen bad things.

And the very latest reports that yet another two disks are missing just fills you with confidence that the lunatics are running the asylum to the appropriate low standard.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guilty until tried

Bilal HusseinIn it's continuing efforts to bring democracy, justice and western values to the mess that is Iraq, the US Government is deliberately ignoring democracy, justice and western values in order to better achieve them. Again.

The Kafka-esque situation facing Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer, is shocking and disgraceful.

The 2005 Pulitzer prize winner, was considered to have been around the scene of insurgent attacks as they happened, and obviously in possession of an Arabic name, and consequently has been imprisoned. Without access to lawyers. Or sight of the evidence against him. Or details of the charges he is facing.

For eighteen months.

The charges that he was in possession of insurgent propaganda, had details on how to make roadside bombs, and had a surveillance photo of a US base have each been dropped and replaced with new charges when details have ben provided. And then easily discredited.

According to the US military, they possess convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to security and stability as a link to insurgent activity.

So convincing that they refuse to release it to his lawyers, or even let them see him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Post Office rationalistation

Thanks to the Stornoway Gazette for drawing my attention to the current consultation on Post Office rationalisation.

My cynicism usually knows no bounds, and I would normally write "rationalisation i.e. cuts" to show exactly what I believe the agenda to be.

The Gazette appear to have got confirmation that the discussion is over which specific Post Offices will close, not about whether any should close at all. Fight amongst yourselves, but the Post Office will be closing how every many offices in the islands.

I remember campaigning against this in 1999, and being told by Labour that we were scaremongering. Whilst at the same time, the Labour Party were taking business away from the Post Office and handing it on a plate to banks, shops and supermarkets. And then they wonder why Post Offices are becoming unviable.

Of course, with the Government as the sole shareholder, responsibility for the decision is clear, even if Gordon Brown claims not to be party to it, he is certainly turning a blind eye.

Farewell Paul Gray

The Head of the Inland Revenue has resigned after carrying the can for losing 15 million child benefit records.

Of course it is not the first lot of data that has been lost, with some pensioners/annuitants having previously had names, address, income details and banking information stolen when a laptop and disks were lifted from a car.

I totally agree with the First Division Association (the union for Mandarins) who said:
Paul Gray was in no way personally responsible, but he has recognised that, as the most senior official in the department, the accountability ultimately lies with him.

But then it all goes horribly wrong, in the next sentence
His decision to take on this accountability is an example of British public service at its best.

Bollocks. Utter self-serving meaningless bollocks.

Losing 15 million records is an example of public service (sic) at its worst. However, his decision to take accountability - or fall on his own sword - is a fine example of taking responsibility; and one his masters in the House of Commons should note carefully.

Later thought: Are there really 15 million under-18's in the UK? According to National Statistics, about 20% of the population in 2006 was under 16, so it is probably a figure rounded to the nearest million and includes some who have just left the system.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Climate change inaction

With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issuing its starkest warning yet on the impact of climate change, Gordon Brown was well placed to make some headline grabbing announcements today.

And he certainly started well, when talking about the big picture need for new technologies:
I believe it will require no less than a fourth technological revolution. In the past the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the microprocessor transformed not just technology but the way our society has been organised and the way people live.

And he addressed the issue of renewable energy:
Britain is "absolutely committed to meeting our share" of the EU's 2020 renewable energy target, he said. It could mean the UK will have to produce between 40 and 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 - the current figure is about 5%. BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said this would be "staggering", but he said that the government was seeking to negotiate down the EU target

So what do we get?

A hotline, and a plan to stop single-use plastic bags.

Oh, and a plan to make Britain a 'World Leader' in building a low carbon economy. It was not specified how this was to be measured, how it was to be achieved, or even what it meant.

The only thing we are 'world leaders' in is making vague pronouncements about aspiring to become 'world leaders', or becoming 'world class' or some other vacuous phrase.

Another hopelessly wasted, useless, photo opportunity. with no substance.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Scottish Independence

In a private email I received recently, I was reminded of an interview I gave to the Chicago Tribune in 2005 or 2006 where I was asked about the prospects for Scottish Independence in the context of the 2007 Scottish elections.

At that time I said that I believed that the prospects were very good for an SNP majority in 2011, and consequently a quick move to independence. I based my view on the expectation that the SNP would not be in Government after 2007, and that a minority Labour Government would struggle and fight it's way through the subsequent 4 years, alienating everyone and allowing the SNP plenty of opportunities to undermine and give a positive, alternative and opportunistic view on what they could offer.

Reading that Alex Salmond expects independence by 2017, I have to admit that my expectations had slipped to at least 2015.

Why did my expectations slip? For the simple reason that the worst thing that could happen, happened, which is a minority SNP Government having to fight it's way through the next four years, and against a background of economic problems totally outwith their control, inevitably ending up with a lot of disillusioned first-time supporters. This may be heretical to many, but the best thing for Scottish Independence would have been for the Labour and SNP positions to have been reversed and for the SNP to use Labour's problems to build an unstoppable momentum for 2011. Now we are going to have minority and coalition Government in Scotland as the norm for the forseeable future, and that will delay would should have been the inevitable.

But then there are events which appear from left-field and though small and minor can change the relative positions of the parties, by demonstrating to the public just how stupid, incompetent, naive and incapable politicians and their hangers-on can be.

A top Labour Party spokesman has been forced to resign after making a series of blunders at an awards ceremony. Matthew Marr is believed to have called First Minister Alex Salmond a four-letter word at the Scottish Politician of the Year dinner. It is also understood he was rude to a female nationalist MSP and abusive towards a cloakroom supervisor at the event on Thursday.

Rightly he has been immediately sacked, but it clearly demonstrates that many in the Labour Party has still not come to terms with defeat, or how to deal with being in opposition. Carry on like this, and it will become a permanent feature. And my aspiration will come to fruition sooner
rather than later.

What is it with the Labour Party and free-booze events? Three years ago Lord Watson of Invergowrie got slaughtered at the same event in the and tried to burn the hotel down set fire to the curtains. Still reckless fireraising and eight months in jail doesn't preclude him from making the laws for the rest of us.

Update 19/11/07: The photo of the piranha and the infant.

Piranha Wendy Alexander

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Post Office fire

This week's destruction of the Sorting Office in Stornoway has left the Post Office desperately trying to find a new home from which to operate. In addition, there are huge problems in arranging the receipt of the business mail, with the normal drop-off point being (obviously) unavailable.

The new premises are unsatisfactory, but will do in the short-term, although major issues relating to the operation of vehicles in the front area which the pedestrians walk-through remain to be sorted.

Having had the need to visit the building twice in two days, I can see the significant changes (for the better) in what will always be a poor second-best.

I'm authoritatively told that the plan is to bull-doze the existing building and rebuild, a process which will take an estimated 12 months. With Xmas just around the corner, the poor postmen are really having a very hard time now and will have throughout 2008.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's caption contest time....

Caption contest Alasdair Allan and Stewart StevensonThe background is that this was apparently a discussion about the Air Discount Scheme.... The high-res quality is exactly as sent to the press and to me.

Usual rules apply i.e. no rules.

The Scottish Budget

Having studied yesterday’s budget in more detail, I still can’t see how it can balance and deliver what is promised

I’m appalled at the dropping of the promise on student grants, and on nursery places and pleased at the promises on prescription charges and rates.

Is it me or do many of the changes seem to be superficial? I’m looking forward with great interest to see how the promises can now be delivered, and what is actually going to be delivered. I may be proved wrong, but I think too much was promised in the desperation to be elected.

The expected increases in ‘efficiency savings’ i.e. cuts, in local Government expenditure from 1.5% (difficult) to 2% (unrealistic) is going to have a major impact on service delivery. Some Councils will do very well, most - I predict from experience – will struggle in the short-term especially on the necessary staffing reductions i.e. redundancies.

I forecast tears before bedtime, and never have I been happier to be outside of the process.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tubular tube

Anne Johnstone in today’s Herald is talking about the excessive and unthinking application of Health & Safety legislation. What caught my eye was the following statement:

Last month Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells announced he was leaving Britain for good after his window cleaners presented him with a 10-page contract.

If that is true then we must find the window cleaners responsible and give them some kind of award. If anyone knows where Mike Oldfield now lives, then please let me know. I will try and find out who cleans his windows now and see if the threat of a 50-page contract will encourage him to give up endlessly trying to remake the same album.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

RET - at last some proposals

Buried in the small print of the budget is a commitment to fund an RET pilot. (Page 91 of the document or 98 of the pdf).

That's the good news.

The budget is £5m for 2008/09, £7.5m for 2009/10 and £10m for 2010/11. That will barely cover the Stornoway-Ullapool service and not much beyond which strongly suggests that full RET is not scheduled until the next Parliament.

CalMac made a loss of £4.5m in 2006 for the Stornoway-Ullapool route which equates to income of (I guess) about £9m and costs of £13.5m. As fares will fall from about £100 per car to about £20, the subsidy required for this route is £7.2m, and that is before the increase in traffic that RET should generate. And the new ferry we will need to meet that demand.

Council Tax Freeze

Is the long mooted council tax freeze A Good Thing? Well, yes and no, but for widely differing reasons.

A Good Thing?
  • The disproportionate leverage effect of having to raise any money locally has a severe impact in the Western Isles, and anything that stops that problem is to be welcomed
  • Obviously, it is good news for our pockets
  • As it paves the way for a Local Income Tax, it should be welcomed (but see my reservations on the introduction of such a policy)
  • Politically, it is a vote winner
A Bad Thing?
  • Fiscally, it is very expensive policy, which constrains future choices
  • It also raises expectations that a LIT will start at a lower level, when it is introduced, which has serious financial consequence
  • What has had to have been sacrificed to deliver this?

The Budget itself is 162 pages long, and until I have digested it all, I can only give a first impression, which is that it makes all the right noises, seems to hit many of the right targets, contain the predictable buzz-words and airy-fairy concepts, but be somewhat weak on specific detail.

All in all, I suspect it is a curate's egg, and we will have dig deeper to identify the real stories.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gaelic TV (updated)

The BBC Trust Unit who are evaluating the proposal for a Gaelic TV channel have just announced that following a Public Value Assessment, "on the evidence currently available, the PVA suggests that the potential public value would not be sufficient to justify the level of investment proposed".

In other words, it is too expensive to justify, as it stands.

However, if it can attract new speakers of the language, "it would appear to justify the increased expenditure".

The provisional conclusions are due to be published on 21 November with a 28-day consultation process and a final decision in January.

Given the cuts that the BBC is having to find, and that the BBC are forecasting a cost of £25m pa in running costs, it looks like the proposal is dead in the water.

Update 20:45 - I know that everyone working for the Gaelic Digital Channel is desperate to get 'something' ('anything'?) that improves the position of the Gaelic language, and the digital channel was that chance, as far as they are concerned. I am not in any way knocking what they believe in or what they have tried to achieve, or suggesting that they have failed in anything they have done.


I've given it a lot of thought, and I'll admit that I come from the perspective of a monoglot without the full cultural heritage, but I still have a valid view.

I believe that the Gaelic digital channel is a sop designed to fail (or never be delivered) to show that politicians were trying to do something for the language, but where the blame will be diffused across so many quangos and departmental responsibilities that no-one will ever be responsible for the failure to deliver.

Anything less than an S4C equivalent is pointless, and even that may be too late now. Yes, I think the Gaelic language may be doomed and in a death spiral due to inaction by EVERY political party. The ability to direct the debate into a discussion about how small the ghetto for the language should be has been the trick of the civil servants.

One only needs to compare Ireland, where Irish Gaelic is now an official language of the European Union to the situation in Scotland where there is a total absence of any attempt to bring the language into the mainstream by any political party.

In summary: the game is over. Fight a losing battle if you wish - or find some other means to achieve recognition. There are no other options.

Dorothy Kansas

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My rippling six-pack

Three visits to the gym this week and my rippling six-pack is more of a loitering twelve-pack with two extra thrown in free.

A visit at 9am on a Saturday is only for the severely masochistic; those without a life; or in my case, those who have to take their children to early morning activities at the Sports Centre.

My aspiration for a svelte muscular figure before we go away is obviously going to take more work and suggestions I may need to diet as well are just to horrible to consider.

I ache everywhere, but I'm working on the principal of 'no pain, no gain' and I'm hoping that I may be fit enough for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I am thinking about training for the Triathlon but only if they have a veterans and couch potatoes competition, and I don't have to do the swimming. Or much running.

Perhaps I'll apply to Sportscotland for a grant. Or maybe Weight Watchers.

Xenophobes get their just deserts

The far right ITS grouping in the European Parliament has collapsed in an unseemly xenophobic orgy of name calling.

In order to qualify as an official group 20 MEPs from 6 countries have to join together, and in this case they stood on a platform called "Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty", which in a predictable precursor to self-destruction stood for keeping foreigners out of which country the MEP represented.

Now in a move that shows their true colours, Alessandra Mussolini MEP - granddaughter of Il Duce - has caused the coalition to collapse by claiming there is little difference between Romanians and Roma (Gypsies), which has caused offence to the Romanian MEPs in the ITS Group, who campaign on an anti-Roma platform.

Confused? Well look at it this way, there is now one less group of fascists in the European Parliament squandering our money.

Membership of the ITS group is enlightening, composed as it is of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Miss Mussolini.

Friday, November 09, 2007

2014 Commonwealth Games

With victory secured - and well done to all involved - suggestions are flooding in as to what sports competitions should be located in the Western Isles.

Well, at least one suggestion so far from Silversprite in Berneray, who proposes that the Beach Volleyball competition be held in Berneray, and he poses the question: what is the Gaelic for 'Beach Volleyball'?

With the school pupils all sitting watching the announcement today, hopefully some of the children will be participating in seven years time.

Now, let's encourage them by opening the Sports Centre on a Sunday, or are we going to handicap them before they even start?

Going bananas

Bananas on the beachThe residents of Terschelling, a small island off the coast of the Netherlands, awoke to find their beaches littered with unripe bananas, as the photo shows.

Yet another cargo ship had lost containers overboard, these had obviously burst, and the contents had washed up on the beaches. Previously the islands have had a large number of other products appear from broken containers.

It was these experiences that persuaded KIMO to demand that EU Ministers create a protocol for liability by shipowners in the event that cargoes are lost overboard. The expectations were clear: shipowners carry insurance for the clearing up of the beaches should containers be lost, and they charge the customers accordingly.

I argued for this at the Council of Ministers of the North Sea Convention, but the shipowners - vociferously aided and abetted by the UK - vetoed any such proposal.

The end result is that the shores of the Western Isles remain exposed to cargoes being lost due to bad weather or bad luck and these washing up on our coast to pollute it.

The cost would be borne by you and I, and whilst in theory it could be recovered from the shipowner, in practice this involves a number of tax havens, flags of convenience and teams of very expensive lawyers denying any responsibility for their client whilst blaming another.

Luckily, we have escaped so far, but who is to say it will be something as innocuous as bananas next time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sunday ferries?

The Gazette are reporting that the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee are to undertake a complete review of "tendering, funding, routes, frequency and timetables, capacity, fares, freight travel, accessibility and Sunday serivces (sic) among others".

Just what are the others that aren't listed above. Tunnels and other fixed links, one hopes.

I think that it is a worthwhile exercise if the Committee are actually prepared to ask the difficult questions, and propose the difficult solutions. Hopefully the consultation will be wide-spread and public submissions will be welcomed, and I am sure that the Comhairle will not pull any punches in making our aspirations clear.

Except on the issue of Sunday ferry services, where no-one wants to be seen to take any kind stance for fear of upsetting someone.

Stuff that.

I'm in favour of Sunday ferries, for the simple reasons that: I now believe that the economic future of these islands is going to depend on allowing those want to live here and work elsewhere to have that choice, and to allow the tourist trade to develop; and, because I think that the only way we are going to get the best infrastructure is if the community are prepared to compromise in the interests of the majority.

That doesn't mean that those who don't want to work should have to work. Quite the contrary. But it also doesn't mean that those who want to (say) go away by ferry for the weekend should be prevented from doing so.


Health Board deficit, again, again

Is there no end to the bad news that is emanating from South Beach?

I predicted a long time back that the forecasts were unattainable, and that was without knowing much of the detail. Now the Auditor General and the Audit Committee are going to have a detailed investigation of what is happening and why deficits are increasing.

I think that the answers may include the words "too many chiefs" and "screwed up the deal with the GP's" and possibly "arse from elbow".

It's the solutions that are the problem for the islands.

I actually worry more now about the independence of the local Health Board than I did at the time of the meetings in the Town Hall; and I worry even more about the consequences.

With much of the Social Care budget and control moved from the Comhairle to the joint operations with the Health Board, any loss of autonomy for the Health Board will move control over a major element of highly personal care from the islands to the mainland. But, with the "hit squad" from central Government unable to stem the losses and resolve the position the future looks dire, and the abolition of Argyll & Clyde NHS has set a precedent for serious action.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Severe weather warning

Thanks to former Emergency Planning Officer, I found out about the existence of the phone number for the community to get severe weather warnings. As there is a severe weather warning for tomorrow, I decided to call 709913 to check what the situation was.

As advised by the former EPO, the message consists of a two-year-old test message.

How many people have called this number? And, if it is not being maintained why is it still operational?

No-one is infallible

....especially me.

Sometimes in a busy office the paperwork gets mixed up, you can forget to get people to sign papers, they sign in the wrong place or very occasionally sign the wrong document by mistake.

It shouldn't happen, but sometimes it does and when it does you try to resolve the matter or deal with the consequences, even years later.

And then life moves on.

However, in a couple of weeks we should see what happens to someone who does something much more serious.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

'Rising aspirations'

Apparently our 'rising aspirations' - according to Gordon Brown - includes private nuclear power stations.

I think not.


For the first time in nearly nine months I went to the gym today.

I was the fat one gasping in the corner.

They say you are supposed to feel better after the exercise, but I'm not feeling anything yet. Perhaps I'll have to go again....

Monday, November 05, 2007

A taste of things to come

The Welsh Labour-Plaid coalition are finding it hard to make ends meet and to meet their election promises.

It appears that the parties made uncosted promises to secure votes and are now faced with a big cut in the money from central Government so that they are being squeezed from both directions.

Councils are expecting the tightest settlement in 10 years and will have to make substantial savings from now until 2011, according to commentators.

I think that we will see exactly the same tensions in Scotland next week when the Scottish budget is announced, in circumstances of an even tighter settlement. I look forward with great interest to find out the circle can be squared, and what rabbits are going to be pulled out of the hat.

As I have previously said, the cuts imposed by Brown/Darling on the overall pot should have been foreseen, and the making of limitless promises just to get elected only means that you let more people down in the long run. I expect local government to get as battering, but the challenge for all political parties will be to see how they can shift the blame to others.

The challenge should, of course, be to do the best with the limited resources, not to go for cheap point scoring, but what politician can resist the obvious?

Alasdair Morrison

Congratulations to Alasdair Morrison on becoming a director of Uist Builders.

My understanding is that he is now the Director of Sustainable Development, whatever that actually entails. No doubt we will find out soon enough.

How to win friends and influence people

CensorshipA very reliable source tells me that after my last most recent appearance on Isles FM the local SNP started complaining to the directors of Isles FM Ltd about 'bias' and threatened to get businesses to pull their advertising if Isles FM continued to allow me to appear without them having the right of reply.

Can anyone confirm or refute this claim?

Update: Isles FM would like to make it clear that there was no direct threat of the removal of advertising, but that the possibility of the loss of advertising revenue was discussed.

It would therefore appear that I was misinformed about any direct threats by any party.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Birthday parties

13 five year-olds; six parents; two hours; food; cartons of juice; hyper-activity; musical statues; sausage rolls; mini-sausages; pizza; fun and screaming in the garden; presents; pass-the-parcel; party bags; goodbyes.

Two sleeping children; nice bottle of wine and two glasses; one dozing baby; babysitter; dinner out tonight; sleep late tomorrow.

Democracy in the middle/near east

The US doesn't have a very good record in backing democracy in the arabic middle-east. In fact, I'd go further and say that their record is to give support to those who flaunt democracy...

  • Al Saud (vastly extended) family in Saudi Arabia
  • The Shah of Iran
  • Saddam Hussein (until he got a mind of his own)
  • and now, President Musharraf of Pakistan.

Dictators everyone, and all backed financially and militarily by the US, despite the views of the public they were supposed to represent.

The one good sign is the Condoleeza Rice seems to have put down a marker, and demanding free and fair elections in January.

The down side is that the main opposition - Benazir Bhutto - has a less than clean history, and the US history of replacing one puppet with another is a recipe for things getting worse, rather than better, as their interventions in South America have repeatedly proven.

Labour shift on independence

Hear that hollow 'clunk'? It's very clear and is resonating loudly in the empty vessel that purports to be the brain (and I use that word very loosely) of the Scottish Labour Party aka The Labour Party in Scotland.

It's the sound of a penny dropping.

Finally, the Labour Party have realised that insulting the intelligence of the Scottish public is not a smart political move, especially with senior political commentators lining up to undermine them at every turn. Undermining the innate ability of the voters was never a long-term sustainable tactic, and as soon as they lost the election they should have realised it was dead in the water.

Many voters support Independence and not the SNP; many voters support the SNP and not Independence; but running around telling the public that they were stupid when they voted on May 3rd is not just insulting but counter-productive.

The challenge for Labour is how to address the loss of power and how to rebuild the mythical 'bond of trust' that it believed existed for the past 50 years.

At the very least it is a fundamentally positive change for the better.

Douglas Alexander is a twatThe last Secretary of State for Scotland
"We're all doomed, doomed I tell ye"

Friday, November 02, 2007

CIS cup draw

Even non-sports fans like me will be astonished at the news that the semi-final draw was mismanaged.

For the uninitiated, that's four teams to play to two sets of two. The process is that someone draws a ball out of a bag, matches that number against a team name written on a table. You know the sort of thing 1=Aberdeen etc.

The kind of thing you do with kids.

It proved to be beyond the ability of the person making the draw live on television, who was the Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson, overseen by the First Minister Alex Salmond.

And then it took them four hours to sort it out.

Could to see the political decision making process in safe hands.

Saying nothing

Sometimes the most difficult thing is not to say anything when faced with wild inaccuracies in the media - I counted seven factual errors. Suffice to say that I can't and won't comment on specifics until other actions by other parties have been completed.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Improving the travel experience

Two stories caught my eye, and I suggest that my taking the opportunities offered by both, then there is an innovative tourism marketing opportunity for the islands.

1. The Comhairle want a larger plane on the Barra run, but continuing to land on the beach as a tourist attraction.
2. Singapore Airlines now provide double beds on the new A380, but want customers to refrain from joining the mile-high club.

Am I the only one to see a business opportunity here? A larger plane fitted with double beds landing on the beach at Barra would have the tourists flocking to the islands, and it would provide a unique experience for passengers. (Insert own joke here about a bumpy ride).

Just a thought.

The future for Harris Tweed

Today's embargoed report about the re-opening of the Shawbost Tweed Mill is absolutely fantastic news, and as I alluded to yesterday, I am delighted and fully supportive of this proposal.

It is exciting times for the industry, with the owner of the largest mill - John Haggas - seemingly bent on forcing a square pin into a round hole, and working in the believe that the supplier is always right, irrespective of the customer's views.

What a team that has been put together to re-open this mill: Iain Taylor, Brian Wilson, Alasdair Morrison, Rae MacKenzie and Iain Angus MacKenzie all bring huge amounts of skill and experience to the roles they will occupy, and the 300+ weavers will hopefully see an immediate benefit.

The industry now has two large companies, one operating a range of only five patterns of their choice, and Harris Tweed Hebrides who will offer the full range of patterns, utilising the skills and customers that Haggas has cast aside.

The impact of the industry on Lewis cannot be understated for the financial effect it has on the crofter/weavers who make the Tweed in their own homes; on the upstream businesses on the islands who manufacture products for resale; and on those who will find direct employment in the mill.

The emotional impact is immeasurable too.

Plaudits, pats on the back and congratulations to the team for this success, and my very best wishes for the future. Hopefully this is just the first step of many towards regeneration of the islands.

Update 2/11/07: BBC news coverage available.