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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Unidentified Floating Object

Coors Stinky Bay BenbeculaThe mysterious object found on the shore at the well named Stinky Bay, in Benbecula, has turned out to be an empty brewing vessel for Coors which was being shipped from Germany to the US.

So far so interesting, and it makes a nice story for the press to cover at what is normally a quiet time of year.

The question we should be asking is "Who is going to pay for it's disposal?"

The answer is: the Comhairle.

At present neither the shipowner, the customer, nor the supplier have any responsibility for anything lost overboard (although they can be liable for losses caused by the flotsam) and aas a consequence, once it is off the ship, nobody cares about recovery, removal or cleaning. Except the local authority who have to do the clean-up.

Last year, there was a proposal to add responsibility for losses from ships inside the EU back onto the shipowner (and they would presumably provide loss insurance for the customers), to ensure that funding for beaches and seas to be cleaned could be simple and clear.

Unfortunately, the UK (egged on by the shipping industry) vetoed this proposal, and the opportunity to pass this into law was lost. All of which explains why the shipowners never notified the Coastguard (or Lloyds?) of the loss - when, where, how? - as they have no obligation to do so. Indeed, doing so might create an obligation on them.

If we want to legislate against dropping litter on streets, why do we allow this kind of fly-tipping to continue?

Air Discount Scheme

The ADS gives residents of the Scottish islands a 40% discount of the cost of flights, as travel costs are so high and travel is so important.

The scheme was started in April 2006 for a period of 2 years, and that expires at the end of March, which is why I have a countdown banner at the top of the page.

For quite some time I have been wondering what was happening with the scheme, with renewal coming closer and closer and I was disappointed at the absence of any comments from politicians, so I took the opportunity to find out what was being done on our behalf by the simple expedient of an FoI request asking for copies of all correspondence between our MP and MSP and the Transport Minister, together with other relevant documents.

I was astonished at the limited correspondence that there was:The substance of the correspondence is interesting, mainly due to the contradictory nature of the responses which can be summarised as:
  • The extension of the scheme needs approval by Europe
  • The scheme doesn't need European approval, but the Government need to get approval from Europe that this is the case
There is an expected announcement date of 2007 for an update on the scheme, but this has obviously been missed.

Not very reassuring that anyone knows what they are doing.

The scheme was due to be extended, but the Government appear to be very evasive on this with a Google search showing nothing definitive, and efforts by the MSP for Shetland reaching the same brick wall of a non-answer.

Having found out what our MP and MSP had done, I then spoke to the Council and was dumbfounded to find that they knew nothing about any of the correspondence or promises by the Minister, least of all the expected announcement by the end of 2007. Suffice to say, they were somewhat annoyed at the lack of information from the Government and lack of communication from the MSP, but the Councillors have promised to pursue this matter.

The complete and utter absence of any positive public comment about the scheme by the Minister since he was appointed has worried me for some time.

It is time for all our politicians to pursue this matter vigorously, as time is limited, and for us as the public to ensure that they do so.

In the meantime, I recommend booking any flights for AFTER March, as soon as possible.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan - nuclear anarchy

The murder of Benazir Bhutto robbed Pakistan of one of the best chances to return towards democracy, and one of the best opportunities for the West to stop Al-Qaeda at source.

But much nonsense has been written, and the 'Great Game' has claimed another victim who was being manipulated from abroad, leaving the Indian sub-continent in turmoil and Pakistan in a lawless state.

Ms Bhutto was never going to be the greatest Prime Minister, mainly due to the perception of her dirty hands through corruption charges brought against her husband. Which, although she denied, she intended to resolved by changing the law to prevent similar charges being brought against political leaders. If that doesn't ring alarm bells then what would.

Pakistan has been described as "the cornerstone of the fight against Al-Qaeda" on a number of news programmes last night, but that is so far from the truth as to be ludicrous.

The 'tribal areas' of North Waristan which are on the border with Afghanistan are effectively separate states, where Al-Qaeda rules with the tribal leaders, and the border is not just porous but non-existent. There has been no central government rule here ever, unless it has suited the tribal leaders.

The Taliban (which means 'religious students') were nurtured in the Saudi-financed madrassas of Pakistan where they learned the oppressive and poisonous tenets of Wahhabism, including Jihad against the West. At this time they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, so Osama Bin-Laden and his mates were being actively armed and supported by the West.

The madrassas of Pakistan also trained both sets of London Tube bombers, and continue to be highly active in training new militants.

Pakistan is probably better described as "the cornerstone of Al-Qaeda", something the West cannot say aloud as they are still manoeuvring around to get the Government they want, without thought of the likely consequences.

President Musharraf of Pakistan is our strongman in region, and the West fully support him in his very modest attempts to clamp down on terrorism. Fully support him in the sense of encouraging Ms Bhutto to come in and replace him with a strongly pro-Western and anti-extremist Government that would invite in the US to help root out Al-Qaeda. The poor woman was sent into the country with a target painted on her forehead, and Musharraf was asked to provide protection to the person who was there to undermine him. The consequences were almost inevitable.

Were the military (and Musharraf) behind the assassination? They probably turned a blind eye, and were not as diligent as they could be, and the first assassination attempt clearly had state input, as the attack happened in the only area where the street-lights weren't working.

Now the West is faced with continuing to give support to a President they openly tried to undermine, to fight a dangerous battle on their behalf which will cause much turmoil in his country. I think we can expect to see his level of commitment waning.

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to illegally export nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea, provoking turmoil elsewhere and we support the regime on one hand and undermine it on the other. How long before they are passed to Al-Qaeda?

All the time, Pakistan and India sit there with nuclear weapons glowering at each other as they battle in Kashmir whilst Pakistan disintegrates as a viable state.

The solutions? I don't know, but I think that the outpouring of national grief that this murder has caused needs to be tapped into by the politicians, and I was pleased to see that the biggest opposition party has pulled out of the elections due on 8 January, to mourn the loss. It now appears the elections are going ahead anyway, on the instructions of Musharraf to meet his international promises, which leaves him with (at very best) a new PM without a real mandate, the politicians fighting about what could have been, a nation in shock and no real constraints on his authority. It is almost like he planned the best possible outcome for himself and the Army.

In the meantime, we should mourn the loss of a woman who was not scared to take her chances, despite threats, warnings and being set-up by the West.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas duties

With three young children, Christmas is always an exciting and fun time with the constant need to keep the kids entertained during their holidays; the ever present threat of internecine warfare breaking out; finding time to wrap and hide the presents; and, cooking. And eating and drinking.

We had a lovely time, with the kids thoroughly enjoying themselves, and the two head chefs cooking up a (if I say so myself) delicious spread whilst the traditional angst and worry about cooking times and co-ordination of courses for 9 guests somewhat eased with a couple of bottles of champagne.

I topped and tailed the meal with soup and dessert being my responsibility - broccoli and cream cheese soup and a whisky fruit tart - surrounding the usual turkey, ham and all the trimmings. All washed down with a nice glass of wine or two.

Ionad Spòrs Leòdhais Swimming Pool Notice

From the Comhairle's website:

Ionad Spors Leodhais [The Lewis Sports Centre] swimming pools and spa will be closed from 8pm on the 31st December 2007 until mid February 2008 for remedial works. Management apologise for any inconvenience this may cause. All other facilities will be open as usual.”

With statistically more people joining a gym in January than any other month - all those New Year resolutions - this is a decision on par with closing the local Museum just before the tourist rush. And with as little notice.

I sincerely hope that:
  • The contractors are paying for the works
  • The contractors are reimbursing the Comhairle for lost income
  • The Comhairle are reimbursing season ticket holders (£60pm) for the absence of facilities
I would like to be able to answer these questions, but the Comhairle Minutes which are on the web are badly out of date, with nothing appearing since June. As the Comhairle slogan has it, without the slightest hint of irony .... "Working Together For The Western Isles".

Can any Councillor or Council Officer provide the public with any more information, beyond the bland press statement?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

42-day detention limit

Thank goodness for people in power who have integrity, foresight and independence and as a consequence can say what they see.

Sir Ken MacDonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said on the World at One:-

"The basic point is whether you want to legislate on the basis of hypotheticals or whether you want to legislate on the basis of the evidence that we have acquired through practice.

"It seems to me that if you are legislating in an area which is going to curtail civil liberties to a significant extent, it is better to proceed by way of the evidence and the evidence of experience."

He added: "We have found that a period of 28 days does work for us as prosecutors. "We can charge on the basis of a 'reasonable suspicion' within that period so long as we anticipate that sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction will be forthcoming within a reasonable period."

Sir Ken said if it had not been possible to get enough evidence to provide reasonable suspicion in 28 days, then it would be hard to convince a judge that it could be achieved in 35 or 42 days.

Who do you trust more, the prosecutor or the politicians shouting "Trust us!"?

Afghan expulsions

Is it just me, or do the expulsions of two UN officials seem to be surrounded by an absence of substance about what they have done, or denials of what they might have done?

We are told that a 'British' official is being expelled, but of course he is actually an UN official and as such has to all intents and purposes traded his nationality for a supra-national role with the UN.

Mervyn Patterson is described as having lived for 10 years in Afghanistan and having developed good relations with the Taliban before their overthrow in 2001. In his role as a UN Political Officer, it would be surprising if he were not involved with Afghani politics at every level - both pro-Karzai and pro-Taliban.

It seems his real crime is to be able to travel freely through Helmand Province and meet with anyone and everyone; all the better to assess the real mood and needs of the country one would think.

It seems that petty jealousies have forced the Afghan Government to expel him because of his knowledge, experience and ability to criss-cross the country. And in turn the British Government are playing the jingoistic card, rather than backing the UN, and it is likely that this will box in the Afghanis rather than encourage them to reconsider.

The outcome? The permanent loss of skills, knowledge and ability and an undermining of the efforts to understand - and then win - the hearts and minds of the ordinary Afghani.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dawn Primarolo

Regular readers will know that I have nothing but goodwill and charity to all men and women irrespective of their political affiliation, but with deep regard to their ability to perform the tasks to which they have been appointed. Usually well above their abilities.

It was with some surprise that last night I found myself desperately trying to find a big enough object to put through the TV to blot out the image and sound of Ms Dawn Primarolo MP, Minster of State for Public Health. When none was forthcoming I considered self-immolation to escape the banalities, triteness and self-satisfied ability to emphasise the wrong word in every sentence.

As she informed bored the arse off the interviewer by repeating parroting the same ill-understood meaningless drivel to justify her non-involvement in the loss of the NHS records as the matter was the responsibility of the NHS Trusts for whom she had no responsibility. Despite being Minister of State for Public Health. (More on this to follow)

I was saved from an early death by the realisation that the tilted head and patronising tones were a professional taught 'sympathetic' look, obviously adopted from barely qualified hospital/prison visitors who think that asking "And how are you?" is the epitome of sensitivity and skilful inter-personal skills.

Now I want to find the departmental trainers, and those who authorised this waste of public money, and have them hung above the doors of Whitehall pour encourager les autres.

And, of course, the cause of all this appalling patronising tones is Dawn's previous boss - Patricia Hewitt, the queen of oozing insincerity.Dawn Primarolo MP
Slimey, oleaginous waste of space

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mike Hukabee's Xmas card

The US presidential candidate and his wife are at the front, and their most attractive Stepford children are blissfully unaware of the families crimes against fashion.

And he expects respect and votes after this.....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blair's conversion

I struggled to come up with a title that excluded the words "Bears" and "Woods", as this entire subject is ripe for abuse, mocking and cynical comment.

And quite right too, as our ex-PM has repeatedly cast himself as one of the most overtly religious leaders we have ever had, whilst obviously totally and utterly unclear about what he actually believed in. As Catholic commentators are noting, his voting record and political stance is close to anathema to the Catholic faith on issue such as abortion, civil partnerships and the war in Iraq.

Yet he is welcomed with open arms, as he is a 'big scalp' for the Church.

The history of mixing religion and politics - or more accurately the attempts by a religion to create a theocracy - are littered with the dead and mutilated, be it in the odious and extremist Saudi Arabia, the role of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, Ahmed Yassin and Hamas, or even the agnosticism of Stalin.

All of which begs the question of how the St Tony can perform his job as UN Envoy to the Middle East when he seems unable to understand his own religious faith, whilst trying to defuse a running sore that is all about religion.

For those who weren't paying attention, he was appointed to the role on 27 June, just after stepping down, and - as far as I can tell - has yet to travel to the Middle East or meet with the leaders of any of the countries/states/nations/slums that make up the disputed areas.

According to the Independent, his current solution is to encourage more tourists to visit the Palestinian territories as if this will somehow solve all the problems in the region.

Tourists usually have to find a good reason to visit somewhere, and four-hour security checks to get from A to B, the lack of an international airport, the risk from suicide bombing or Israeli retaliation, the absence of good hotels, and the real risk of kidnapping being shipped to Iraq and ending up as a blurred mobile-phone filmed beheading on al-Jazerri TV make this not a high priority destination.

I'll think about going when Thomas Cook do trips; not SAS rescue squads.

Anyway, St Tony clearly is out of his depth, has little or no interest in the region, and is angling for another lucrative offer.

He managed a speaking tour of China for the modest fee of £250,000, so what has he done for peace on earth?

This is where it gets farcical.

He went to Saudi Arabia to talk to King Abdullah to talk about the security of the Two Mosques, which as far as I am aware, are not anywhere near the trouble spots he is supposed to be fixing. But what was he doing and why? Arab News lets the cat out of the bag.

“We feel the need to keep the pressure to get action and to get the changes we need to make the peace process work,” said Blair, speaking during a reception hosted by the Riyadh branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), which was inaugurated here amid great fanfare.

The London-based RAeS, which is the world’s only professional body dedicated to the entire aerospace community, has set up a branch in Riyadh to locally support the society’s projects. [...]

This is Blair’s third visit to Saudi Arabia in the last few months, since he became the International Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East.

Yes, he was off to Saudi to give the after sales service to the Al-Yamamah jets deal, and to persuade the Saudis to buy more weapons they don't need and to export their vicious brand of fundamentalism to a volatile area. That alone should disqualify him from his UN role, but this is compounded by his greed - earning £500,000 to £1,000,000 per month from his speeches around the world, such as the one to the British Aerospace fan club detailed above.

Still, it is slightly better than having him here and having to listen to his sanctimonious and trite drivel.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A leaked memo

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Sandwick Road

18 December 2007

All employees
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Dear Comhairle Employee
As a result of the reduction of money budgeted for department areas, we are in the position where we must cut down on our number of personnel. However, we must ensure the retention of younger people who represent our future, Therefore, a programme to phase out older personnel by the end of the current fiscal year will be put into immediate effect.

This new programme is known as SLAP (Severance of Late-aged Personnel). Employees who are slapped be given the opportunity to look for jobs outside the comhairle. Slapped employees may request a review of their employment records before actual retirement takes place. This review phase of the programme is called SCREW (Survey of Capabilities of Retiring Early Workers). All employees who have been slapped and screwed may file an appeal with senior management.

This new appeal process is called SHAFT (Study by Higher Authority Following Termination). Under the terms of the new policy, an employee may be slapped once, screwed twice but may be shafted as many times as the comhairle deems appropriate. If an employee follows the above procedure, heor she will be entitled to contract HERPES (Half Earnings for Retired Personnel's Early Severance) or CLAP (Combined Lump-sum Assistance Payment).

As HERPES and CLAP are the new benefit plans, any employee who has received HERPES or CLAP will no longer be slapped or screwed by the comhairle. Management wishes to assure the younger employees remaining on board that the comhairle will continue its policy of improving staff capabilities through our
Special High Intensity Training (SHIT). We take pride in the amount of SHIT our employees get. We have given our staff more SHIT than any employer in the Western Isles. If any employee feels they do not receive enough SHIT on the job, see your immediate supervisor. Your line manager should already be fully equipped to make sure you get as much SHIT as possible.

And once again, thanks for all your years of service.

Yours etc

M Burr
Chief Executive

Thanks to whoever you are for copying this to me.

Peerages rule change

At last a small step forward for democracy, as the political appointees in the Lords are to be abolished, and an independent commission will take the decisions. And with Gordon Brown's backing, what could possibly go wrong.

This, of course, was one of Tony Blair's (who?) pieces of 'unfinished business' where he came up with a good idea, didn't think it through, announced it and then lost interest.

No word - yet - on whether the inbred hereditary peers are to be removed, but in who can possibly support the entitlement of those whose sole reason for being their is due to having had a royal mistress in the family at some time in the past. Sleeping with the Monarch is hardly the basis for having a perpetual right to set the laws and be a member of the most self-important club in the world.

And the Bishops will have to go to, in the spirit of multi-culturalism.

I think the commission should look at appointing independently minded people who are not affiliated with any political parties, after taking account of geographic location to ensure diversity, and looking at relevant experience in Councils and in finance.

I shall graciously accept any nominations that my readers deign to submit.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The street lighting contract

Finally, the legal action between Iain Crichton and the Comhairle has come to a conclusion, and the Council have lost.

This all arose in 1996 when the contract was awarded under 'strange' circumstances to the Council DSO.

Although Mr Crichton submitted the second lowest tender by a few thousand pounds, the tenders did not appear to be on a like-for-like basis, and crucially the DSO ignored the costs of TUPE and some capital expenditure.

Some Councillors moved that it be awarded to the existing contract holder (item 83), but this was defeated on the casting vote of the Vice-Chair, who was in the Chair. Before it could be discussed at Policy and Resources or at full Council it was accepted on the instructions of the then Vice-Convener when he became aware of a likely challenge to the award.

Chickens have now come home to roost, but the fox has retired, as has virtually everyone else directly involved in this scandalous decision.

This left Mr Crichton struggling to ensure his business survived, after being improperly, unfairly and maliciously treated in an attempt by a Councillor to build a Soviet-style power base around the DSO.

With the ever changing panoply of Council lawyers fighting a rear-guard action and the Council stalling, prevaricating and failing to release all documentation to Mr Crichton in the hope he would go away or go bankrupt, the inevitable has now happened.

If someone else doesn't ask exactly how much this has cost the Council, then I will.

Many businesses in the Western Isles have the view that the creeping nationalisation of every business by the Council has not slowed since then; indeed the distrust in the ability of the private sector - or more accurately the LOCAL private sector - to deliver services is the underlying principle on which the Council operates.

That may be harsh, but perception is the truth in the eyes of many people.

One again, the Council run buses have run at a loss - have they ever run at a profit??? - after winning a contract that, er, significantly undercut the existing operators but omitted some of the overheads in calculating the operating costs. Sound familiar?

Nurseries are being absorbed into the management of the Council through a series of (entirely co-incidental!) delays in making payments for free places, and though increased demands from the local regulators. Hourly rates have risen and available places dropped as a consequence.

I regularly argued for removing many services from the control of the Council during my time there, but the fear of being responsible for 'job losses' meant I was almost totally unsuccessful. That the 'jobs' would be transferred to the private sector was irrelevant, when there are empires to be built.

Thankfully, not all departments operated like that, despite pressure to do so, and I hope that the Council can now use this disaster as an opportunity to review WHY the Council does what the Council does.


Thanks to The Register for drawing my attention to this important issue, which too many Councils seem to ignore:

Auckland Regional Council (ARC) has required the inventor of a worm-driven composting toilet to get professional confirmation that his workforce was not "traumatised or stressed" by its crap job, the Sunday Star Times reports.

Colin Bell was looking for official approval for his "wormorator", which relies on a colony of tiger worms to tackle solid waste while the resulting liquid residue can be filtered and "disposed of in underground trenches". A council operative duly paid a visit, but became "concerned" at the worms' working conditions.

Bell recounted: "She felt that the worms were being unfairly treated, being expected to deal with human faeces, and that it could affect them in a psychological way. I said, `Well, what do I do about that?' and she said `you have to have someone with the necessary qualifications to say the worms are happy'."

Senior consents officer Robyn Floyd described the woman's concerns as "fair" because Bell's application was to deploy the wormorator at a campground "where sewage flowed mainly for two weeks a year, with little flow during the rest of the year".

He explained: "The phrase was used by a new member of staff, but it did relate to a valid concern with stress on a proposed worm population from huge fluctuations in flows and thus feed for the worms, and the corresponding performance of the system."

Mercifully, vermiculture consultant Patricia Naidu was able to assure ARC that the worms were "in excellent health and breeding happily".

Stressed worms relaxing with a large G&T
after a hard day in the office

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas joy

Tonight saw us at the school Christmas concert, having been at the nursery Nativity play last week.

It's that time of year, when little children ingratiate themselves into the souls of the massed band of parents, grandparents, assorted relatives and a few strange strangers.

The concerts were a triumph with the children playing musical instruments and singing their little hearts out as they hit every note, often in the right order; and recited their lines and did their little piece of acting/moving/participating at or near the right time.

The happiness on the face of the children to see their families, having come to see them perform, was tangible and worth every moment perched uncomfortably on undersized chairs and squashed worse than a budget airline flight.

The happiness on the faces of the proud parents and families as the concert ended was also tangible, as the realisation that it was only 365 days until the next performance.

Extra cash for Gaelic

Alex Salmond will announce: "This new funding includes £1m per year to be directed towards Gaelic education, £1m per year for the implementation of projects in the National Plan for Gaelic, and an additional £0.5m towards support for Gaelic broadcasting."

Too Little. Too Late.

Nicol Stephen might have something...

Donald Trump a mad wigLike many people, I felt that Nicol Stephen may have doing the political thing in his attacks on the Trump decision, and his calls for an investigation into apparent improper behaviour.

Despite the obvious incompetence of Alex Salmond, Aberdeenshire Council, the LibDems on that Council, Chief Planner Jim MacKinnon and the Scottish Government in handling this matter, I was happy to let it run and see where it ended up.

It is obvious that this application as been clutched warmly to the bosom of many of those concerned, instead of being given the due deference one should give to an angry skunk.

Until I read the words of the The Donald's representatives on earth on the BBC website:-

The Trump Organisation said: "The Trump Organisation is dismayed at the political attacks. These attacks are more than misguided, they are malicious, inaccurate and potentially destructive and they threaten to once again endanger a £1bn project which has the overwhelming backing of the north east of Scotland. The politician responsible should cease and desist before real and permanent damage is done."

If you don't now know that Nicol is on to something, you cannot read through the bombastic, bullying, and offensive attitude that oozes from beneath His Self-righteous Wigness.

Go for it Nicol, and find out what he is trying to cover up.

Let's start with the numbers, and some wild guesses:
950 holiday homes @ £100k each = £95m
36 golf villas @ £200k each = £7.2m
2 golf courses @ £2m each = £4m
Infrastructure, say = £5m

All of which equals a mere 11% of the proclaimed £1bn investment, which either means that the staff are on fantastic wages, or there is a lot of bullshit being swallowed by the gullible speculative double-counting.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tommy Sheridan

Tommy Sheridan - tanned god of GlasgowSo the tanned one has been lifted by the polis in connection with their perjury inquiry, after his miraculous libel victory last year.

At the time it struck me that both sides were talking about very different events as the disparity between the stories, the basic facts and even the dates of certain events.

An intriguing and scurrilous story from the News of the World, based either on 'exposing hypocrisy' or 'part of a campaign to oppress the poor' depending on your view point.

Irrespective of all of that, I think that there is much more to come out about massage parlours, extra-parliamentary 'bonding' sessions, and much discussion of the SSP policy on Uganda. It's going to be fun for everyone except Mrs S.

One worry I have about the whole process is a paragraph on the BBC website:-
The talk107 station reported on its website that Mr Sheridan had just finished his Citizen Tommy show and was leaving the building on South Gyle Crescent at about 1310 GMT when a white Mercedes estate pulled into the car park at speed, coming to halt directly in front of his car.

It looks like Inspector McKnacker may have been watching too many episodes of Starsky and McHutch, and may be more concerned with style than substance.

Lothian and Borders PoliceLothian & Borders Polis maintained
a low profile before arresting Tommy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Manford is 'mushroomed'

CalMac Barra Oban Lochboisdale Mallaig Donald ManfordIt's cannot be often that the leader of a council political group is kept in the dark and fed bull$hit by the Minister, MP and MSP of the same party.

But that is what has happened to my old friend and colleague Cllr Donald Manford, who Chairs the Transportation Committee on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

And the issue?

Well this week Cllr Manford announced that the Scottish Government had instructed CalMac to search for a suitable vessel for the Lochboisdale-Mallaig route.

Unfortunately for Cllr Manford, it is a wide-spread knowledge in the shipping industry that CalMac have been searching for a vessel for the past three months, since the Minister instructed them to do so despite a previous refusal to consider the service, and after subsequent lobbying by Angus MacNeil MP and Alasdair Allan MSP (and Storas Uibhist).

The Convener of the Comhairle is a director of CalMac, so he knew this was in the offing. Many Councillors knew it was happening, including the Labour Group - who in a final, vicious, twist have assumed that Cllr Manford was in the loop and have spread the word that he was keeping the Council in the dark for party political gain.

Donald - I am told - chose his words carefully, saying that he had just become aware of the situation. But that was lost in the noise.

But the final (and utterly undeserved) attempted humiliation for Donald from his own side is that the deal that the Government is pushing is for the current Oban-Castlebay-Lochboisdale service to become a Mallaig-Lochboisdale-Castlebay service, leaving Donald's constituents with a much worse service, and to a location they have little connection with.

The result of all this duplicity is now public knowledge in Barra, and the people there are up in arms with a public meeting this week certain to express total opposition to the plans brokered behind Donald's back by their MP.

That'll be a fun meeting, at which I hope the truth comes out, and Donald does not become collateral damage.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Council Tax freeze

According to the Comhairle's annual report (page 9):

Council tax raises £9,467,000
A forecast 3% increase would take in £284,000

Total Central Government support is £83,003,000
A 0.7% real terms increase is £581,000

Therefore the real terms extra funds available for developing the Western Isles after freezing Council Tax is £297,000.

And the next year the shortfall due to a Council tax freeze will be the £284k above, plus £292k for the following year due to compounding, meaning that a 3% increase will actually be totally used up funding the freeze and not in delivering any new services.

Council Financial Settlement

So the Comhairle has received a budget increase of 3% (or 0.7% in real terms).

With salary increases running in excess of that; it means that cuts will be necessary.

As the (discredited) budget formula is based on population growth and changes in school rolls, the Western Isles is pushed further into a vicious circle of decline with only the 'floor mechanism' ensuring that there is any increase in the budget.

Against this, the decision to centralise schooling i.e. close small rural schools, looks not just eminently sensible from a financial perspective, but any contrary decision is simply storing up problems for future years.

Having long forecast that these four years would be financially very difficult appalling for the Comhairle, I now look forward to seeing what is to be cut, and how the books are to be balanced.

At least we seem to have been spared the ritual embarrassment of the sitting MSP telling us what a wonderful settlement it was for the Western Isles.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Trumpted in Trumpton

Martin Ford hung out to dryI have the greatest sympathy with Councillor Martin Ford of Aberdeenshire Council, who was until today the Chair of the Infrastructure Services Committee.

Having had to deal with more than a few contentious planning applications in my time, I know that some decisions are more difficult than others and that there has to be respect between the applicants, the officials and the councillors to allow applications to be properly dealt with.

In this instance, Cllr Ford was faced with an intransigent developer who was trying to force through the plans without (as far as I can see) any concern about discussing and trying to resolve the matters that were causing concern.

And then attempting "take it or leave it" blackmail, instead of using the normal appeals process should they be unsuccessful.

However, Aberdeenshire should have removed the delegation from this matter, given the contentious nature of the matter, and referred the decision of the committee to the full Council for them to come to a view.

That's all immaterial now, as the Government have called it in - in great haste and under mysterious circumstances - leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth for how this has been handled at every level.

The Committee that I Chaired refused tricky applications in the past, and allowed applicants to resubmit revised applications with no fee, which resulted in better plans being presented, and focused the minds of developers (and officials!) on resolving the problems. Some applications were deferred or withdrawn more than once before the majority gave approval.

However, it is with incredulity that I read the comments from my an old friend:
Leader of the SNP group on Aberdeenshire Council, Joanna Strathdee, said: "Aberdeenshire Council needs to restore the confidence of the business and wider community in the planning process and show the world that North East Scotland really is open for business and serious about inward investment."

What this is telling rich developers is that they can make unreasonable demands from the system - if they can meet with leading politicians - and then the Council will descend into an orgy of self-destruction and recrimination over their own inept mishandling of the situation.

Demonstrating spectacular ambivalence over the seriousness of the matter, the votes were:
  • 26 for removal
  • 10 against removal
  • 29 abstentions
  • 3 absent
Cynics like me will be barely able to wait to see the political make-up of the votes.

If anything, I would say that today's decision demonstrates the inability of Aberdeenshire Council to manage it's own affairs.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Good news for Arnish

The success in getting a contract for 49 towers for Turkey is fantastically good news not just for the current and future employees of the yard, but also should underpin the future of the yard.

During the next six months the owners need to secure further future work, and the Scottish Government need to get their finger out to determine the existing planning applications, so that IF the proposal are to go ahead, then Arnish will be well placed to bid for the work.

And with the prospects of off-shore wind....

Uncertainty over windfarms 'killing' communities

I'm copying the story straight from the Gazette:

The uncertainty in Lewis over the windfarm issue is 'killing' communities, according to Moorland Without Turbines.

Chair of the organisation, Catriona Campbell said that islanders were 'sick with worry' over the issue. She pointed out that this month marked the third anniversary of the windfarm planning applications 'that would see the Isle of Lewis transformed into one of the biggest windfarms in the UK'. In 2004, Lewis Wind Power applied for 234 turbines on Barvas Moor, and Beinn Mhor Power applied to build 133 turbines on the nearby Eishken Estate. Other applications are also in the system' leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the island', she said. "At the outset, everybody said that this should not turn into another Lingerbay quarry saga. But that's exactly what's happening. These proposals are a noose hanging over the affected communities," she added.

MWT and I have long agreed that an early decision on the applications was necessary, as the best thing for the community was to have a decision and for us to then live with it -- whether we agreed with it or not.

Clearly, I totally support the applications.

It is just a pity that Donald Trump wasn't financing the turbines, as a speedy decision seems to be guaranteed by the Executive in cases involving millionaires. Despite a promise from the Energy Minister, to speed up decisions, this only applies to new applications. And if the Executive order a PLI, you can add 3-5 years to the entire process.

Not exactly what MWT expected (or were promised) when they supported our MP and MSP in the last elections.

But the expected announcement of a rapid growth of offshore wind would possibly remove the need for onshore wind, and keep everybody happy/happier.

But, to do that you need the inter-connector. And if everyone had been pulling in the same direction from the beginning, we could have had an inter-connector promised to allow us to exploit off-shore wind, and the possibilities of tidal and wave power.

That was the long game that the Council was engaged in, but some who should have understood this never engaged with the Comhairle to find out what was actually going on.

And sadly, we might all lose out as a result.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


The problem with being 'holier than thou' is that if you aren't.....

The news that Alex Salmond met with the Trump representatives to discuss the planning application the day before the call-in decision was made is absolutely loaded with the possibility for innuendo, suspicion and public disgust.

As the mere Chair of the Planning Committee for four years I was scrupulous about meeting with and discussion planning applications with either the applicant or any objectors, and I tried to instil this ethos into the other members.

I can recall having a shouting match over the phone with a constituent who was trying to discuss an application that was coming to the next meeting (I forget if he was the applicant or objector) and I told him that I couldn't discuss the matter over the phone, and he would either have to write or meet with me with others present.

I recall a fellow Councillor meeting with objectors and the applicants to try to amend a planning proposal and then him actively campaigning for the revised proposal. Thankfully, he didn't attend the Committee to discuss the issue.

One only has to look at the inability of Councillors in the NW of Lewis to discuss the very contentious wind farm proposals before they were considered to realise just how careful you have to be.

Alex Salmond has acted in a manner that is obviously perceived to be improper, and that perception will not go away. If he wanted to appear squeeky clean, he should have met the Trump team a long time before (oops, he did, in New York) or AFTER the call-in had been announced.

This is a gross and disgraceful error, and leads one straight to the conclusion that money talks.

Just for the record, I think The Donald is committed to making big money, not committed to Scotland (or Ireland), and not committed to anything other than his own vanity. And, if the scheme is so important, then the chancers Government should have called it in before the Council came to a view.

Gordon of Cathcart

The slow car crash that is the Labour Party donations revelations continue to amuse, baffle and elicit a sense of total disbelief.

I thought that the internecine fighting couldn't get much worse, but how wrong I was.

Charlie Gordon MSP is unsure if he is coming or going; unsure if he is retaining the party Whip; not sure about the position of some donations to his parliamentary campaign; and trying to draw the flak away from Wendy.

Meantime, a Labour Councillor in Wendy's constituency of Sleaze North, South, East and West is undergoing a Police investigation into forged timesheets for his job with Glasgow City Council.

Now, one of the top funders - Willie Haughey - is refusing to give any more money until Labour put their house in order.

From my personal knowledge and experience of Labour in Glasgow, none of this is new, it is just that the loss of power has led to loss of control over the (gagging) mechanisms of power, and the shock to the system has not been taken on board by the majority of the activists.

I prophesy weeks if not months of further bad news for Labour on this topic, culminating in a low-level resignation/suspension, a smack on the wrist from the Electoral Commission and Standards Commission.

And poll ratings only slightly better than the Tories.

Labour MSPs and CouncillorsTeam Alexander await tomorrow's papers

Saturday, December 08, 2007

It's our money!

Greedy pigsIn 2001 and 2002 Labour was given grants of £183,000 to help it understand the new rules on election funding. Given that they had written the law that was just been enacted, and their subsequent failure to understand what the hell was going on, the Electoral Commission should ask for their money back.

But let's skip the easy 'fish in a barrel' kind of kicking that Labour deserve over the continuing saga of party funding.

But the really unbelievable part of it is the overall picture.

The Electoral Commission gave grants totalling £700,000 to all parties to help them understand the new rules.

Let's get this right - the new legislation is enacted in 2000 by MP's who one would expect have read and understood the legislation and now they want grants to understand how to apply the Act. Section 54 is the key section, and it is quite easy to understand, even for someone like me who has never been involved in writing it, reviewing it, debating it and then enacting it in law.

Yet, the Electoral Commission dish out our money to help "install new systems" or "employ new staff". Just tell the greedy sods to raise the extra funds themselves. Get sponsors - David Abrahams to sponsor an identity checker, or Paul Green to fund an employee to check the donors names against the electoral roll.

Or better still, get the MP's to bother to find out who was actually giving them money, rather than allow them to sit around working out how to squander our funds.

Alternatively, and less charitably - but probably more accurately - the parties didn't have the faintest idea of the legislation they were discussing, far less how to implement it. Which would explain much of the bad law that comes our way.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I've returned

Having come back from my week long retreat to the foothills of the Himalayas where I spent the time learning yoga, breathing techniques, and consuming fermented yak curd, I feel revitalised and ready to face the world again.

Seven days of Assam tea colonic irrigations has flushed my system of all negative thoughts, all my vitriol and my deep-rooted cynicism. I could feel the scales being removed from my eyes - which was not in any way connected to the colonic irrigation.

Back in Stornoway and reading the Gazette I have found new vitriol and cynicism to replace the flushed ingredients, but this time with added -and invigorating - splenetic disdain.

Angus Nicolson yogaAngus studies his political future

Please sir, can I do the opening?

Across the road from the SNP office in Stornoway, a new and spectacular building is taking shape.

The Bridge Centre is a mixture of a new building for the local YMCA; student accomodation for the University of the Highland and Islands Western Isles Campus; combined with commercial letting accommodation and public facilities. I was lucky enough to get a tour around the partly completed building recently, and compare the actual development with the hard-fought planning application over which I presided.

Our MSP has written to the chair of the Bridge Centre, enquiring when it will be completed and offering to open the facility along with a Ministerial colleague.

At this point anyone with local knowledge will be spluttering on their cornflakes; but let me expand for the benefit of those further afield.

The Chair of the Bridge Centre - and the person to whom Mr Allan wrote the personal letter - is a Donald J MacSween.

Mr MacSween has two dark and dirty secrets that Mr Allan is obviously unaware of, but which I can exclusively reveal to Mr Allan's staff (who I know are regular readers of this blog).

Brace yourselves for a shock, but Mr MacSween is a Councillor and also the Labour Candidate as MP for the Western Isles, and his response to Mr Allan is unrecorded, but I guess it was in the negative.

The wing of the new building directly obscuring Mr Allan's view of the world has been officially named 'Lamont Lane' after Johann, the former Labour Housing Minister, who ensured that the (very hard fought for) funding was delivered.

I also understand that Mr Allan (and Mr MacNeil) have never been in contact with the Bridge Centre during the entire building process until now, when headlines might be able to be grabbed, which has severely irritated the Bridge committee.

As a Labour supporter commented, "Why not walk across the road and talk to someone, rather than write an ignorant letter from Edinburgh and make an arse of yourself!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jobs for the islands

It is excellent news that the supply chain for the proposed Lewis Wind Power scheme has secured all the construction work for the islands.

With all the jobs and work going to be guaranteed for the islands, which politician is now going to campaign on a platform of "No jobs for the islands!" - apart from the MP and MSP who already are?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Wendy Alexander's resignation

Is not appropriate, unless she
  • Covered-up the donation
  • Lied anywhere
  • Offered special privileges to the donor
  • Knew he was not entitled to give a donation
  • It was part of series of transactions
Having staff who get things wrong is part and parcel of having staff. It is how you manage the mess-ups that is the mark of the person.

I must say, I found it difficult to write this posting, but I have given the whole position a lot of thought, and considered the alternatives before I came to a conclusion.

£950 is such a minor amount that no politician of any standing would be swayed by such a tiny sum. Even if they knew about it.

The alternative, is that we expect our politicians to be so anodyne, squeeky-clean, untainted by anything that passes for a human trait, and without any experience of life. The bland have been elected in 1987 in the Labour landslide, and look how good that was for politics.

I'd rather have a politician who has seen life, made mistakes and learned from them, and NOT repeated them (lying and duplicitousness are probable exceptions from this rule) rather than have a a clone factory churning out political inadequates in the same boring mould.

Alternatively, let's make every mistake - no matter how minor, and which junior member of staff committed it - a resignation matter for the politician. Ban private donations and let the political parties soak the public purse for the larger, larger, and ever larger sums they persuade us they need to spend to persuade us that they will manage things less badly than the last lot.

Cynical, I know, but there are our choices - Stepford politicians or humans?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A vortex of doom

Polly Tonybee has written in a recent Guardian article about Labour needing to develop policies to unify the party as being the only way to avoid the vortex of bad news into which Labour is spiralling.

Too late, Polly.

The wolves are out, scenting blood, and the weakening death-rattle of the Labour Government is only too self-evident.

Next year is going to be an economic disaster for Labour, as the economy suffers with increases in mortgage rates; the impact of sub-prime loans in the US; and the unravelling of Gordon Brown’s micro-managing of the economy.

All of which will be Alasdair Darling’s fault. But he can’t be sacked until the other side of the election, as it will look like a desperate act of a desperate PM.

Instead, the polls will worsen, the Labour Party will implode in internal argument; the Tories will unite behind their leader behind whoever is most likely to bring them to power; and Gordon Brown will be boxed into a corner over selecting an election date, until he appears totally out of control of the circumstances, and he drifts to a major defeat.