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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Cost cutting

I have just been passed the secret list of budget cuts to be introduced by the Comhairle with effect from tomorrow, and implemented without the opportunity for discussion, debate or decision by the Councillors. I hope that the outrageous nature of the cuts will encourage the Councillors to take control of the budget and demand the immediate reversal of all these cuts.

  • The Registrars in Barra and Uist are to be closed, and all weddings will take place by video conference from Stornoway. A menu system will allow the selection of religious, secular or humanist wedding and the type of blessing.
  • Civil partnerships will continue to be dealt with by the Rockall outreach office - personal applicants only.
  • The new causeways in Uist to be single direction only. North to South on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; South to North on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. No travel on Sunday, except unrestricted Church travel - by order of the Free Church.
  • 100% rates relief extended to windfarms, but removed from MWT from organisations.
  • Nicolson Institute to be bulldozed in 2010 and rebuilt on a Greenfield site on the new Ness-Tolsta Road, and renamed the Amec/RSPB Institute. All secondary schools to be closed and pupils to live in a new accommodation block sleeping 1,000.
  • Former school sites to be sold off to windfarm developers and the proceeds reinvested into paying for single status.
  • The number of Councillors to be reduced by 95% after the next election, leaving only two wards: Newton and Carloway. All other votes will be on the STV basis – that is to say, the election will be decided on the basis of which Councillor appears on STV most.
  • Capital projects to be delivered on time and on budget by Council departments (this is a blue-sky saving, and unlikely to happen)
  • Social work to work within budget.
  • In order to improve efficiency, all council documents are to be made available promptly on the web to the public and for internal use.
  • In order to reduce pension costs, all Council officers approaching retirement are to be offered an early euthanasia package, or relocation to the Rockall branch and Post Office (opening hours Monday to Saturday when waves below 40m. Sundays - washed away.)
  • Underperforming staff to be transferred in threes to the Flannan Isles outreach centre – disappearance allowance included.

I hope all the public will phone the Council on Tuesday to complain vociferously about these ridiculous proposals.

Lost luggage

A senior EU official (is there any other sort? At least in their own minds) has complained to David Miliband about losing his luggage in Terminal 5.

With all due respect to which pompous prick has had the temerity to assume that the Foreign Minister is also the Minister for Luggage, and to assume that talking to the Minister will somehow speed up finding his suitcase full of Danish porn, excessive amounts of booze and fags dressed up as ‘diplomatic traffic’, and blank expense claims printed on gold lined paper.

However it is, please name and shame the self-important tosser and whatever tart he was in the country to shag, and give him the full rubber-glove treatment, broadcast live on the Nine O’Clock news with highlights on the News at Ten, Newsnight and YouTube. Then take the Prime Minister of the responsible country and give him the same treatment, just because he appointed this idiot.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Windfarm decision

According to the Gazette it is due in days.


According to our MSP, “the options open to the Minister were to accept an amendment to the application which would be 'a reasonably unusual situation' or to approve or reject it in its entirety” which indicates he is out of the loop.

My feeling is that it will be for approval of a reduced number of turbines, exclusively on Stornoway Trust land, and with some further conditions.

This – of course – would be as a result of the questions and opinions passed to him by the Comhairle in the list of proposed conditions to which we gave our support.

No sign of the ludicrous, illegal, and ill-thought out “time limited Public Inquiry” touted by our MP before the last election; mainly due to the fact it wasn’t possible. Which he was repeatedly told and duly ignored. Never mind, thankfully it is never going to happen, and he will know better now.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


So the Western Isles have finally succumbed to the relentless march of Tesco.

Good or bad for the islands?

Good: more choice; better quality; will move the options up market; likely to expand the site due the wider range they will offer; will keep the Co-op on their toes.

Bad: will further destroy the few independent shops in Stornoway; likely to expand the site due the wider range they will offer; we will be just another identikit town.

On balance good, but only because the damage to the local shops was done when the Co-op got planning permission for the first superstore. After that the inevitable series of events took their course.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The earnestness of self-importance

Having access to newspapers not of this parish, it has been interesting to contrast and compare the relative importance of certain news stories.

For example, the Unionist walked straight into a Salmond trap this week with their unintelligent contribution to the debate on the governance of Scotland. Not that the “National Conversation” of the SNP is particularly intelligent, but smartly it has set the tone for the debate. Unfortunately, the tone is antagonistic, repetitive, insulting, shallow and downright boring, but it has the modest virtue of being the first on the scene.

In wade Alexander, Nicol and Goldie with a surprise attack that has been signalled for months, in detail, and without any great thought on the matter. Salmond is ready and offers a STV referendum on whatever terms ANG want.

“That isnae fair!”, they scream. Then realise the trap they have walked into. At this rate the SNP won’t need to campaign at the next Scottish elections.

However, having limited access to the newspaper of record (The Stornoway Gazette>), I have had to make do with various items of the international press on which to base my assessment of the above story.

My conclusions are (starting with the most parochial)

  • Stornoway Gazette: lead story – Ferry not running
  • Scottish broadsheets: Hugely significant and important
  • Scottish redtops: page 4. Page 1 features some half-naked bird from a soap opera
  • Scottish editions of English papers: page 14. Page 1 – train fares into Waterloo increased dramatically
  • English newspapers: absent. Lead story house prices to plummet/Buy to let landlords committing suicide by the million/Soap star slept with non-entity
  • European press: being a monoglot, I’m not really sure. I could find any words that gave me any clue
  • American press: where is England? Lead story “Talahasee resident plans to go abroad – US not invading anywhere today”

Reviewing the availability of the press and the coverage they give has certainly cast a new light on everything, not least the seemingly unavoidable availability of OK and Hello magazines and a whole series of brain-draining celebrity-obsessed identikit women’s publications, whose sole purpose seems to be to reduce everything to diets, clothes and a passing acquaintance with ‘fame’.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peru - we buy their cocaine. They send us .....

A beautiful journey from there to here was improved by five minutes of relaxing and refreshing pan pipe music from the Andes.

After six minutes, “I will always love you” segued into “Bleeding love” with all the grace and elegance of a multi-amputee millipede changing from the Dashing White Sergeant to the Military Two-Step. Mid tune. As my eardrums were assailed by the greatest (sic) hits (sic) of the past year transferred to the pan pipes by some tone deaf session players working for a major label cashing in on the triumph of the banal, I realised that somebody, somewhere, was making a killing from “Now that what I call music of the Andes (Vol 67)”. This truly is a crime against humanity.

Sadly, the pensioners and incontinent seemed to be humming along. Which clearly indicated the target market.

After 30 minutes, that seemed like a life time, I felt like Michael Caine in the Ipcress Files, and was ready to confess my sins and trade any secret for the blissful relief of local radio (“Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation – Caaalling civilisaaation”). It took several large drinks to restore my senses. And some more to face the papers.


I found myself unexpectedly off the islands, and away in a far-off land in which little or nothing is known about the islands. No, not Inverness, but much further. Beyond Perth and into the region marked in the Stornoway Gazette official map of Lewis and Scotland as “Here be dragons.”

After a champagne breakfast – the champagne was very nice, but the breakfast was dogfood – I realised that I was in a place where the internet facilities were limited, and it actually involved me making an effort in order to stay in touch. That was obviously too much of an effort, so I resolved to try to live without the internet and to use the TV and the newspapers to keep a track of what was going on. I’ve decided to date the posts when I write them, not when I post them, hence any delays.

This will continue for a few days, and I have decided to replace prompt posting with a more discerning and scathing approach.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CalMac defers seven-day sailings decision

News release from CalMac:

Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne has today (March 26, 2008) noted representations from individuals and businesses in Lewis, Harris and beyond, about seven-day sailings to and from Lewis and Harris.

The issue was raised by Chairman Peter Timms at the start of today’s Board Meeting in Gourock. The meeting agreed that there would be no further discussion of the issue pending continuing examination of the Scottish Government’s current RET pilot study.

CalMac Chairman Peter Timms said: “There are many complex issues involved, including fuel costs. The current study being undertaken into the RET pilot scheme for the Western Isles does not allow us to make a final decision before the study findings are progressed and the implications of the study have been considered. “

CalMac will continue to monitor the situation with regard to requests and the ongoing preparations for the RET Pilot Study. The next Board Meeting is due to take place in Skye in May. It is unlikely that the preparatory work for the introduction of the RET pilot will be completed by then.

CalMac will be making no further comments on seven-day sailings other than the contents of this news release.

All individual correspondents who have made representations on the issue will receive this clarification of the company’s position.

Meteorite stike in Ullapool

The largest ever meteorite strike in the UK appears to have been found, and the site is near Ullapool.

Admittedly, it does appear to have happened 1.2bn years ago, and brought massive destruction, but it can only have improved the quality of life for the inhabitants of the area.

(Insert own joke here)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The joy of blogging

One of the few downsides to being in the public domain, and inviting comment, is that you attract the nutters, wierdos and those with a huge axe to grind, who often try to subvert the blog.

Just yesterday, a friend let me know that I had received some repeated adverse comment on a "Rate-this-site" site, and that it looked like someone was having a go.

As Silversprite has said, the comment pages are not for the faint hearted, and I deliberately encourage and permit 'vigorous debate' i.e. general abuse, to be cast at all and sundry, in a constructive manner.

A quick scan at the log files indicated that in the space of a couple of hours the same group of IP addresses had logged on to the blog, jumped straight through to the rating site, and not returned. Strange, but it got more interesting when the IP addresses resolved to a very large and prominent public sector organisation, which does not have 'public' computers.

A quick search on the particular computers concerned confirmed that all the machines had visited the blog on numerous occasions previously.

Where it got really, really, interesting was that these civil servants had been posting comments anonymously. Not just defending their employers, but actively criticising others who were questioning Government actions and policies.

And then: it looks like these computers are responsible for a series of very offensive, and I believe wholly untrue, comments on the Labour candidate in the Western Isles, which I feel sure exceeds by a very large margin their permitted political activity as civil servants.

I have retained the IP logs, in case of anyone disputing these facts, and with two sets of logs giving the same information, I'm very happy that what I say is absolutely correct.

The world didn't end....

Due to disruption caused by bad weather, the Isle of Lewis sailed on Sunday carrying - according to The Herald - 8 artics to Ullapool and 11 back, plus a car.

And with the impact of RET to be discussed on Wednesday at the Board Meeting, a lively debate is forecast.

As I have long prophesied - and it really didn't take much brains to work this out - if RET reduces fares and increases traffic, then what do you do when the ferry is already virtually full?

Of course, you build a bigger and better ferry - except that the Government won't even consider this until the pilot is over in three years time. Which leaves Sunday sailings as the only option, which will be approved by the Government, to prove that its policy can and will work.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's a rough old game, football

Leg of lamb, anyone?An animal welfare charity has condemned an incident in which a lamb's leg was thrown onto the pitch during trouble at a football game at the weekend.

The leg was one of several missiles thrown after a match between Ballymena United and Distillery on Saturday.

A USPCA spokesman said it "demonstrated general disregard for animal welfare".

"It also follows a recent incident in which a horse's head was left outside the home of a hockey player in Cookstown," he added.

Irish Football Association chief executive Howard Wells said there would be a "full investigation" into the trouble at Ballymena Showgrounds.

The referee needed a police escort off the field, while the two managers had to be kept apart.

Players were also involved in jostling after the whistle was blown on a 2-2 draw.

In addition to the lamb's leg, a chair and at least one bottle were thrown onto the pitch.

Be careful what you wish for

A report in the Times (Scottish edition only, and sadly not on line), says that a senior Labour figure has called on Henry McLeish to defect to the SNP, after his comments apparently advocating some SNP policies.

The Telegraph carries a virtually identical story written by Alan Cochrane, the well known Tory commentator, who talks about "my many friends in the Scottish National Party".

Anyway, as the title of this post suggests, I'm not sure who would benefit and who would lose from such a defection.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

MSPs and booze

Further to my previous post, let's start the New Puritanism of the anti-booze crusade by starting a bit closer to home.

Indeed, let's start right at home.

Start by closing the (subsidised?) bars in the Scottish Parliament.

Then to set an example to the rest of us, all MSPs will have a breathalyser unit built into the desk, so before they can vote they need to provide a sample. Unless they are under the limit they don't get to vote.

Any MSPs who fail the test are to be publicly 'named and shamed' and suspended without pay for a week.

Not hard to set an example is it? What are you waiting for?

A back bench MSPA typical back bench MSP

Update 11:04. And connect the breathalyser to a lie detector unit and on to an electric chair.

A coherent policy on booze?

The Scottish Government is somewhat schizophrenic about it's policy towards alcoholic drink.

Many (most?) politicians seem to want to have nothing to do with drink in any shape or form, and it is hard to imagine any of the current Scottish Government standing in a bar having a pint, and damn few seem easy to imagine sitting with a nice glass of wine in hand. I know some do drink, as I have seen them gently sipping from a long-nursed glass of warm white wine at various receptions.

Nevertheless, the abstention seem to be the new code, and mixed in with a pathetic dose of "new laws for old problems", it is being forced down our throats.

Responding to a BBC report that the drinking age in Scotland may be raised to 21, the Health Minister Shona Robinson ....

said nothing had yet been ruled in or out of the government's attempt to curb problem drinking.

She added: "We all know that Scotland as a nation has a drink problem and the implications of this are very serious - not least for our health."

Scotland also has a major problem with heart attacks, so are chipshops set to be banned?

Whilst in October, Proposals to lower the voting age to 16 have been unanimously backed at the SNP annual conference.

So in the brave new Scotland you can get a driving licence, get married, join the amry and fight and die in Iraq, have children, become a Councillor or even an MP, but not have a half of lager after a hard week at work until you are 21.

There are exceptions to the general rule about booze being bad.

A fortnight ago Holyrood debated the whisky duty rise, with Alex Salmond, the First Minister, warning that the Budget would "damage Scotland's economic interests".

So are these 'economic interests' more important than the health impacts, or has whisky got no adverse effects on health?

The solution that Ms Robison is thrashing about searching for is to use the existing licensing legislation to take action on public houses (and supermarkets) who serve under-agers or those who are obviously drunk, and to get the Police to use their powers to clamp down on those who are 'drunk and disorderly'. Perhaps the extra Police on the beat who were promised in the Manifesto would have been able to deal with these problems.

I has been one of the defining features of a Government in trouble to deal with an issue that the knee-jerk reaction is to add yet more ill-thought out legislation to the statute book, rather than attempt to develop and deliver a coherent policy using existing powers.

Let's start with the basics: is all booze bad? And then build a policy from that simple principle.

Shona Robison MSP

Thursday, March 20, 2008


With a meeting currently in progress at the Qinetiq range in Balivanich, bad news about the future of the range is expected by the entire community.

This seems to have happened at short notice, and without any announcement, but is going like wildfire through the community.

Kallin Harbour and RET

Kallin Harbour, GrimsayThe current expansion of Kallin Harbour in Grimsay is a masterpiece of innovative engineering, an grossly overdue, as the photo demonstrates.

It involved lowering preformed concrete boxes into the gap between islands to provide expanded harbour facilities for commercial and leisure craft. Having a number of clients who use the harbour, I know how grateful they are for the work continuing.

And continue it did, after a new funding decision by the Comhairle that is unbelievably complex, Byzantine, and far from the best for the Council as a whole.

Let me explain; and this gets tricky.

Due to the seabed not being quite as expected/surveyed (and there may be another story there), additional costs were forecast. The meeting was held in private so that the Contractors didn't know the budget that was being set, but if they were worth their (sea-)salt then they should know the exact cost of £500k anyway.

The money that should have been available was to come from the Hi-Trans budgets, but the Government have moved the capital elements from a central pot to the individual councils, with the Comhairle getting a £1m windfall/reallocation that has to be spent on Hi-Trans type projects from the Public Transport Budget.

Rather than committing this to Kallin, this £1m has been taken to central funds, and the money has had to be found elsewhere.

'Prudential Borrowing' was the answer. You might know it as HP. Or as the failed and discredited PFI scheme.

It involves funding an otherwise unaffordable capital project on the never-never, by using the savings that the capital expenditure generates to service the borrowings. This was called 'Spend to Save' and was a pragmatic way of encouraging a business like approach to the Public Sector.

Was. Now it is a mechanism to fund the unfundable by forcing savings elsewhere to pay the debt.

It has moved from
* Buy an old car using the savings on bus fares, to
* Build an extension on the house on credit cards, with the hope that you can cut your spending

The funding for this Prudential (sic) scheme is coming from the increased revenue at Lochmaddy Pier as a result of the increased traffic that RET will generate. And any shortfall from a £5 on the 3:15 at Cheltenham, no doubt.

To fund borrowing from a known income stream is sensible enough. To fund it from an unknown source on the back of a newly introduced policy whose impact we do not yet know seems a risk far too far.

Three questions:
  • How will the work be funded until RET kicks in in October?
  • If there is that much extra traffic travelling through Lochmaddy, how will the necessary repairs to that pier be funded?
  • Do the Government expect RET to be used to fund other capital projects, or to improve the travel experience for all passengers?

Over-55s 'causing holiday havoc'

Now the State is nannying the Old Age Pensioners, in perhaps one of the most bizarre exercises in information gathering and dissemination that I have seen in quite some time. And that is saying something.

In perhaps one of the grossest overstatements possible, an alleged Foreign Office Minister - allegedly called Meg Munn - but who I suspect is a composite name for the Press Office, declaimed....

Older British holidaymakers are causing the sort of trouble normally associated with the younger generation.

Setting aside the kind of arse-flashing, all-night partying, drinking and fighting culture that is all too prevalent in Falaraki-by-the-Sea, I assume Meg is referring to an unexpected spate of bed-hopping, drug-taking and drunken hair-braiding between games of bridge, which has become such a feature of a over 50's holiday in Maderia.

According to detailed research, an arduous task undertaken by some gap year student in the sun,

more than half of older holidaymakers drink more alcohol abroad than they would in the UK.

And the other half were too drunk to answer such a stupid question.

However, the truth of the problem was put into perspective by the Vice-Consul in Rhodes (presumable in charge of all the elderly vice going on)

"Most problems we see with the older generation of Brits arise from over-consumption of alcohol and food."

So, don't worry about being stabbed with a knitting needle by some toothless pensioner when your drug deal goes wrong, or in a fight in the queue for the hang-glider; it looks like the bad behaviour is restricted to long liquid lunches.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Everyone is equal before the law.

Which must come as a surprise to Nicholas "Fatty" Soames, who has just had his collar felt for driving a quad bike on the roads without insurance or crash helmets, and with children sitting unrestrained in the trailer he was towing.

Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, is a famous gastronome and bon viveur, and has been unfairly compared to Mr Creosote.

Having risen with little trace, a former girlfriend once famously stated that "Making love with Nick was like have a double wardrobe fall on top of you with the key still in the lock."


As well as being a good source for determining what an MP did - or did not - actually say during a debate, sometimes the official record shines a light on other matters.

Consider this exchange on the budget debate:-

Mr. MacNeil rose—

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber in the middle of the debate, and he keeps popping up, presumably to assure Hansard of his presence. I will give way to him, but perhaps he should have come in earlier and made his own contribution instead of 10 interruptions.

Monday, March 17, 2008

On the MWT mailing list

MWTI am the lucky recipient of a Press Release from Moorlands Without Turbines which explains their reasons for not attending the Conference today.

And sad reading it makes too....

The agenda presented to MWT indicated that no community, outwith Stornoway, was scheduled to be represented at this conference. [Not much faith in the Councillors, MP, MSP or Minister there] Any discussions relating to energy developments in the rural areas of Lewis are therefore utterly pointless [really, even with the Minister present?], as there has been no consultation with these areas [what a whopper of a lie!]. Surely it is for these communities to decide what, if any, schemes they would wish to have on their land, or coastline, and not for organisations such as CnES, LWP, HIE, HIEIG, WIDT, etc. [why exclude RSPB and SNH from this list?] to decide what should be foisted [!] upon them.

So, presumably, next time the Comhairle 'foist' road improvements on the West Side, they are going to demand a consultative process to decide if they should go ahead?

Are they really envisaging a 'peoples republic of the West Side' where all decisions have to be taken by an unelected pressure group? Or at least only take the decisions that the pressure group approve of.
MWT therefore refuses to be drawn into this pointless exercise, when the rural communities of Lewis have been deliberately excluded from contributing to the debate.

"I'm not coming to your party, because you haven't invited my mates"

The job of any pressure group or any opposition politician is to highlight the failings of those in power, and to constructively suggest improvements. By excluding themselves from the debate MWT failed in their self-proclaimed remit "to support any communities".

It doesn't matter that you are in minority, the responsibility is to face the public and try to persuade them - if you truly believe in your views - irrespective of the hostility of the audience. (I have tentatively been invited into a lion's den, and I have jumped at the chance! I know that I may be farting against thunder, but it is they who are wrong.)

There are many smart people in MWT were they unsure, unwilling to hear what the Minister had to say, or just unprepared?Angus MacNeil MP

Speaking of which.....

I am told that our MP's speech consisted of offers to represent each and every group of people, whether they were for or against the windfarm, and that he really, really, didn't have a view on the matter, his job was just to represent his constituents.

To the extreme embarrassment of some SNP Councillors (amongst others) he promised to put the Council view to the Minister; and the view of the Stornoway Trust; and any other group who could bend his ear, because that was his job, and you shouldn't mix up what he had said about windfarms in the past with actually holding an opinion.

As one Councillor opined, "He could start by meeting the SNP Group and the Vice-Convener to discuss windfarms. He has refused to do either."

His speech was met with disbelief; is he a man of principle or a gun for hire?

Contrary to expectations, our MSP gave a thoughtful and fairly intelligent speech, about accepting whatever the decision was, working with both sides, and conciliation, which was infinitely better received.

Reading between the lines of all the contributions, I think the bottom line is that refusal is very far from a certainty, and the contributors know that. But perhaps MWT do not, or refuse to acknowledge the possibility.

Either way, I think that today was more constructive than everyone (including me) thought and that a compromise is being sought to try to placate everyone. How many times do I have to say that trying to do that just causes more problems in the long run.

But, please, please, don't let this all be an excuse to prevaricate on a decision to the other side of an election, that will most definitely be the wrong course of action.

Oh, to be Welsh

wooden spoon

What Jim Mather is saying....

The vast renewable energy resource in the Western lsles must be properly harnessed, Jim Mather said today.

The Energy Minister today announced a study to examine how to derive economic and community benefit from renewable energy developments, while respecting environmental obligations.

Speaking at the Comhairle's Energy Summit in Stornoway today, Mr Mather said:

"The Western Isles have a vast and enviable resource to develop renewable energy - from onshore wind to energy from wave and tide.

"There must be renewable energy development across the Isles if we are to ensure that the opportunities and benefits of a renewables revolution can be shared fairly across Scotland.

"At the same time, the Western Isles also enjoys an outstanding natural environment which is protected in places under European law. We must find a way to ensure developments proceed in harmony with environmental obligations.

"I can today announce that we are working with the Council to carry out a study of how renewable energy and other projects can deliver economic and community benefit to the Western Isles while remaining consistent with conservation obligations.

"We have asked the Comhairle, HIE, SNH and SEPA and other stakeholders to work with us and help conduct a study to be ready by the autumn.

"When completed, the study will set the stage for sustainable development to provide a base for economic, social and community renewal on the islands."

The key objectives of the study are:
  • To identify renewable energy potential, including the role of different scales of commercial and community-based wind farms and hydro schemes. It should seek to outline the extent, in scale and timescale, to which this potential can deliver economic and community development compatible with environmental obligations
  • And on a similar basis, to identify other opportunities for sustainable development initiatives at different scales which might contribute to delivering economic and community benefit compatible with environmental obligations
  • Produce a report and recommendations for action at a community rather than individual site level
This will help parallel work being done by the Comhairle on locational guidance for windfarms. The study will not consider individual planning applications nor site specific proposals.


The original press release is available here.

Given the importance and relevance of the study that he has now commissioned, does this mean that no decision will be taken on the LWP scheme until the study is completed?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trumpton - the informed view

The Local Government and Communities Committee of the Scottish Parliament have examined the entire fiasco surrounding the Donald Trump application for a multi-squillion pound investment in a golf course, gated housing estate and wig factory.

Having read the report in detail, I found myself agreeing with the vast majority of the conclusions which cover the basic common sense issues surrounding any planning application.

The thrust of the committee report, which is quite scathing of all concerned, is that the perception of ones behaviour in dealing with any planning application is vitally important. Being too close to the developer or the objectors, will be perceived to affect ones judgement; whether it actually does or does not.
    168. The Committee is very concerned at the disparity between the stated and apparent reasons for the call in and the actual reasons. They are particularly concerned that the Cabinet Secretary failed to explain the actual reasons for the call in his statement of 20th December 2007 or at any time prior to giving evidence to the Committee, nor to recognise that such a disparity might be an issue.183
A footnote explains that the three SNP members (including our own Alasdair Allan) dissented from this paragraph. And every other paragraph that hinted or implied any possibility of a wrong decision by anyone in the Government.
    171. The Committee is concerned that the unprecedented decision to call in after a refusal can only suggest that Ministers were unhappy with the refusal and this runs the risk of creating an impression of bias by Ministers on the matter – a perception which is not raised by a call in prior to decision, or by an appeal by applicants.186
Dissent again.

Yet almost every statement by the Committee suggests a mindset that would see a Councillor under investigation from the Standards Commission, and is the kind of (unproven) accusation that had been thrown at the Comhairle over the windfarms decision.

This report is hugely significant, mainly because of its balance in its overall conclusions which were: the decision to call-in was correct, but was badly taken and the interference of the politicians gave a terrible impression on how the process works. A pity about the partisan dissent, but the mindset was clear even before the Committee met.

Parking in Stornoway

In an effort to improve parking facilities in Stornoway the Comhairle are proposing a new traffic management scheme. However, the root cause of the problem is clear, as explained by Cllr Keith Dodson:
    Bearing in mind several decades ago it was dad who had the car, now mum has her own car and in some cases so do other members of the family.


    I agree with Church Street being one-way as many a time a vehicle has to give way to another by mounting the pavement and especially the lower part of Church Street where vehicles mount the pavement in order to pass parked vehicles, which can be dangerous to customers leaving the chip shop or mum with a pram.
Obviously the solution is to prevent mum from driving, as they have so successfully done in Saudi Arabia, as this will clearly remove the key cause of traffic congestion.

Dads pushing the pram and exiting the chip shop in the lower part of Church Street clearly deserve all they get, as they are part of the dangerous anarchist tendency who believe that women have the same status as men.

Money well spent...

Opening a Scottish Parliamentary report, the first pages included the following (obviously standard) wording:

For information in languages other than English or in alternative formats
(for example Braille, large print, audio tape or various computer formats),
please send your enquiry to Public Information Service, The Scottish Parliament,
Edinburgh, EH99 1SP.
You can also contact us by fax (on 0131 348 5601) or
by email (at
We welcome written correspondence in any language.

Now this is just too good to miss.

Kenneth, if you are reading this, can you write in Japanese asking for any report to be translated and provided to you in Japanese? Please copy me in to the request and the reply (with translations), so readers can get the full benefit.

If there is anyone fluent in other languages - the more obscure the better - can they please pose questions in the style of Henry Root, and forward the results to me. Look, I'll write the questions if you will just translate them for me; this could run and run.....

Looking forward

One major omission from the list of topics at the imminent Outer Hebrides Energy Summit is any discussion of how to develop the potential for community windfarms.

Yes, I know, if the big applications go ahead then the Western Isles Development Trust will have lorry loads of cash to distribute to the the community schemes and we can use that as levered funds to deliver renewable developments in many different locations.

One small problem is the long lead period between approval of any planning application and the arrival of ferry loads of Brinks Mats trucks carrying used fivers.

A second problem is that I suspect that some of the communities would rather put their own legs into a spinning turbine blade than accept money from WIDT, CnES or the great Satan of LWP.

With the community developments needing large sums, and developments constrained partially by the limits on funding available from the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company, there is a need to look beyond the immediate funding options. No-one seems to be doing that.

Except, perhaps, me.

I have spent a lot of time trying to access some potentially huge sources of finance, that will not interfere with community participation and ownership, allowing the communities to keep control over the development and (very importantly) the profits. I'm not claiming to have the problem resolved, but I have been approaching sources that could provide the Plan B for the islands.

The other prize of free electricity (actually, greatly subsidised power) has been danced around for some time, mainly because Ofgem ban such practices on installations of over 50Mw, as it 'distorts the market'. And we can't have that can we?

(Actually, in conjunction with a senior officer in the Council, I think we worked out a way around the Ofgem problem, but that's another matter)

So: Plan B is larger community windfarms (or offshore schemes) funded in a way that keeps the majority of profits on the islands, and gives us all cheaper power. This should be on the agenda for the day to explain how and why it could work, and the benefits and disadvantages of such a scheme.

Anyone interested in that Plan B, or are all windfarms bad?

Does economic self-sufficiency trump the European designations?

Does the absence of a 'greedy' developer make it all right?

If 'our' smaller turbines can power my tourist development, is that an acceptable trade-off?

All these questions, and more, will not be addressed on Monday. (And if anyone steals my ideas for their speech, there will be trouble...)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wind farms and tourism 'compatible'

The full press release:
Harnessing Scotland's renewables potential will have minimal impact on the growth of Scotland's tourism industry, according to research published today.

Three quarters of tourists surveyed for the study into the Economic Impacts of Wind Farms on Scottish Tourism felt wind farms had a positive or neutral effect on the landscape. 97 per cent of tourists in the sample said wind farms would have no impact on their decision to visit Scotland again.

Extensive wind farm developments would cause an estimated reduction in revenue growth of 0.18 per cent of tourist spending by 2015. This effect equates to £7.6 million of expenditure against current tourism revenues of £4.2 billion.

Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Minister Jim Mather said:

"This research confirms that this Government's ambitious targets on renewable energy and tourism are entirely compatible. It provides further evidence to support our approach to progress the right developments in the right location.

"Harnessing our renewables potential, while driving an increase in tourism revenue, will bring sustainable economic growth to all parts of Scotland."


Any thoughts on what Jim Mather might be saying on Monday???

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Local Income Tax

I previously blogged on this just before the elections when options were still up in the air.

With the announcement of a National Local Income Tax at 3% the tables in which I highlighted the comparative costs are still valid.

With one major exception.

I have not included the impact of Council Tax benefit on those who have the lowest incomes, and I suspect that many of the poorest off will have to pay NLIT when they currently pay little or no Council Tax. I'm afraid that the calculations are too complex to put into one simple table, but I am trying to see if I can link to a more detailed analysis.

There is one huge, enormous, loophole in the whole scheme.

NLIT applies only to earned income, and not savings or dividend income. So all directors of small family companies will stop drawing salaries and will start taking dividends and see their payments fall from £2,000 per annum to virtually nothing. You could be earning £1,000,000 in investment income every year and pay nothing into the pot for the services you use.

Fair? Not in a million years.

As the even the moderately rich can avoid NLIT at the expense of those on PAYE - and especially those at the bottom income quartile - expect the scheme to have to change dramatically over the coming years.

Although Brian Taylor thinks that it will not get through Parliament as the SNP and LibDems together do not have a majority, he obviously hasn't realised that the Tories will support this, as it is their voters who have most to benefit from this.

Expect to see the LibDems vacillate like crazy as they work out who will win and who will lose from these proposals, and - too late! - work out that they are going to get blamed by the losers whatever the outcome.

Welcome to reality

MPs will have to submit receipts for expenses claims over £25 from 1 April, the Commons Members Estimate Committee has announced.

So they can no longer just claim £400 per month for 'food' tax-free, as if their dietary requirements were something special.

Hopefully this is not an attempt to prevent a full disclosure of all the payments every MP has received to date, by pretending that everything is now in order, so why re-open the past.

But I fear that Machiavellian manoeuvring to cover their tracks is exactly what this pit of rattlesnakes intend.

Health Board - shift the blame

So Dick Manson couldn't remember a minor item like the 'Cook Report' until he checked with colleagues later.

Absolute drivel.

I understand that the Cook Report tried to shift the blame for the financial failures onto two long serving and mid-ranking accountants, whose responsibility was to prepare the accounts, not take or implement decisions of the Board, and who certainly had no executive authority over spending.

Both, I am very reliably informed, repeatedly highlighted problems and variances in spending and repeatedly warned that budgets were overspent and targets could not be met. After having the blame dumped onto them, they were sacked, but out-of-court settlements for unfair dismissal were agreed to stop them producing the paperwork that they still hold, showing that senior management were fully aware of their concerns, and did nothing about it until it was too late.

Perhaps the Audit Committee should be calling these Gentlemen to find out what was really going on ....

Meanwhile, just what job is Dick Dastardly doing with NHS Scotland?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Community participation

It is very disappointing that MWT have chosen not to participate in the Renewable Energy Conference being held next week, although the whole thing appears to be rather haphazard and ill-defined.

It surely doesn't matter if it is a requiem for the LWP application or packed full of pro-windfarm supporters, it would be an opportunity to given their side of the argument - and if they honestly believed that refusal was imminent - to explain again why they believe the community was excluded from the process, and why development should be restricted.

Of course, MWT have said that the conference is not 'proper' community consultation, which would be a valid argument were the conference were about consultation. Which it is not, but appears to be an opportunity for blue-sky thinking, or throwing possibilities into the mix.

At least that is what it appears to be. The link on the Hebrides News website to the agenda doesn't work and the Comhairle are being incredibly reticent about putting anything on their website.
    Is it open to the public?
    Presumably my invite is in the post?
    Who is actually participating and when are they speaking?
    Are there fringe events?
    Do I have to do an FoI request to find out it is even taking place?
Get your act in order! All of you.

Fighting "the forces of darkness"

Any see the similarity between this report er, Press Release on Hebrides News:

SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Angus MacNeil, has today (Friday) argued the case for Scotland, during Tim Yeo MP's Private Members Bill in the House of Commons entitled Energy Saving (Daylight) Bill.

(Continues in same vein for six paragraphs)

And what Hansard records he actually said:

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying—I am a fan of symmetry either side of midwinter—but I think that his logic is extreme. If he is bringing back the same Bill, he hit his head against a wall last year and is coming back this year to do it again. Had he taken on board the suggestions that were made on the Floor of the House last year, he might have had more support this year, but he comes back with the same Bill, and I fear the same result for him.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Voluntary sector facing cuts

Having spoken with a number of organisations operating in the voluntary sector (some of whom are clients), one clear message keeps coming through as they plan from the coming years.

They all expect cuts in their core funding, and the disappearance of funding for new projects. With something like £4m being cut from the total budget for the voluntary sector any pay rises are having to be funded out of existing resources.

But that is just the first part of it.

The removal of the ring-fencing of central grant funding by Government has resulted in the Comhairle similarly removing the local ring fence. As one very senior Councillor told me this weekend - this will have a potentially huge impact of the discretionary funding currently provided, and that those who were most supportive of the removal of ring-fencing will be the ones to scream loudest when it affects their ward or pet project.

The voluntary sector can suddenly no longer rely on grants being at the same level - or even receiving any grant at all - and this is going to have a huge impact on the sector.

It is not so much the need to bid for funding and to change the way that the voluntary sector thinks, but the combined effect of all the factors coming into play at once.

It is going to take a lot of work for all parties to ensure that the impact is minimised - and make no mistake, there is going to be a huge impact - and that the numerous beneficiaries do not become innocent victims in all of this.

The 'blame game' between central and local Government is already starting, but that doesn't help anyone who relies on these services.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Calcutta Cop Scotland win, shock horror
Need I say more....

Loved the extensive objective coverage on the BBC (sic)...

Thatcher leaves hospital


As Elvis Costello so beautifully put it ...

The lyrics are here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

What Des McNulty said:

Make your own judgement on his comments at Col 6727:

Road Equivalent Tariff (Mull and Islay)

4. Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive on what basis it was decided that services to and from Mull and Islay should not be included in the pilot of the road equivalent tariff scheme that was recently announced by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change. (S3O-2540)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Mr Swinney announced details of the road equivalent tariff study during his visit to Stornoway on 13 August 2007. That announcement made it clear that we would carry out a study into RET in the context of ferry fares in Scotland and that the study would include a pilot exercise on one or more of the Western Isles to mainland routes.

I am pleased to say that we are able to include all the Western Isles to mainland routes in the pilot exercise as well as the Oban to Coll and Tiree service. Focusing on those routes initially will allow us to reach a view on the potential costs and benefits of the scheme and to take informed decisions on its potential impacts across other routes. Consideration will be given to the roll-out of RET across the Clyde and Hebrides and northern isles networks once the impact of RET has been evaluated.

Des McNulty: Some of the minister's responses are beginning to resemble the justification that was provided by comical Ali during the Iraq invasion. Such things will be picked up—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Des McNulty: People in Arran and Cumbrae will be extremely annoyed that significant reductions in ferry fares will be available to others, but not to them. People in Mull and Islay will be annoyed that significant reductions will be available to others, but not to them. People in Orkney and Shetland will also—

The Presiding Officer: They would probably like a question as well, Mr McNulty.

Des McNulty: Had the Government followed Labour's approach of implementing a 40 per cent reduction in ferry fares—

The Presiding Officer: Can we have a question, please.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Danger! Attack poodle!

Attack Poodle Alasdair AllanWestern Isles MSP Alasdair Allan called on a Labour member today to withdraw his comments comparing Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson to 'Comical Ali', one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen and Information Minister.

I can almost taste the manufactured outrage. Alasdair Morrison used to do this too - I think it is called 'over egging the pudding' aka 'bullshit in the hope of press coverage' - and every bit as badly.

What did Des McNulty actually say? The Gazette doesn't tell us, but I'll cut and paste here as soon as the verbatim report is printed and we can all judge the comments in an informed manner.

Wendy Alexander not to be prosecuted

As the farce/furore/falsehoods about the donations her (non-)election campaign received, the matter was referred to the Procurator Fiscal for consideration.

A Crown Office spokesperson said a prosecution "would not be appropriate".

Probably the worst result all round.

Not cleared -- not guilty -- no transparency.

She will proclaim her innocence er... unintended guilt er... honest mistake by someone else er... ignorance of the situation to demonstrate her saintliness.

Meantime her opponents will be comparing her to Al Capone running Enron, whilst defrauding Mother Theresa.

Back in the real world, the voters will be lobbying their dinner at their televisions in disgust shouting, "Bloody politicians! They're all the same!"

It is believed that the hunt is still on for a flattering photo of Wendy.

Comhairle renewable energy conference

This conference is being held on Monday 17 March with a headline speech due by Jim Mather to whet our appetite.

It appears in today's Scotsman briefing board, but is strangely absent from the Comhairle website, or any other form of publicity that I can find.

I am sure that it is not the Comhairle's intention to try to drum up apathy on this important matter, and I am sure that full details will be released in plenty of time for everyone to book this into their diaries for the week after next. Hm!

However, the list of speakers is wide ranging, and I am pleased to note that it includes opponents as well as supporters of the proposals, as the future for renewable energy will be enhanced by identifying agreed sites early, rather than after the planning application is submitted.

A comment on another topic has suggested that Jim Mather will use the conference as an opportunity to announce the refusal of the LWP application. My gut feeling is that the longer a decision takes the more likely (qualified) approval will be, but at present I have no information about the likely content of the keynote speech, but as soon as something leaks.....

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Many politicians cannot get out of bed without issuing a press release announcing the fact, followed by another celebrating the fact that the bed was now free thanks to their personal intervention in the matter.

It is intriguing that a visit to the islands from a senior politician goes unannounced and uncommented.

Especially when I know who, what, where and why; all of which make it even more intriguing.

But, I don't want to rock the boat given the exciting implications coming out of the visit.

I'm just amused at who seems to have been kept in the dark - and why!

(No! I won't name names until I am allowed to)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Freudian slip

Rev Ian Paisley - Mr Bloody HappyAccording to the BBC, reporting Rev Ian Paisley announcing his retirement as First Minister:

Mr Paisley, who is due to turn 82 in April, stood down as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church in January amid concerns about his duel role as the church's leader and first minister.

Non-confrontational politics were never his speciality.....

When did you stop beating your wife?

With the 'consultation' on the closures of Post Offices in the Western Isles being launched today, I draw your attention to my previous advice that if you object to the closure of a Post Office, then you need to nominate another. It's not a case of 'how many'? Just 'which ones'?

Hence the post title.

This is very bad news for the small communities directly affected, especially as the alternatives just do not exist.
  • Banks? None outside Stornoway and Tarbert.
  • Local shops? Will not be able to deal with pensions and benefit payments.
  • Nearest TV licence paypoint? Miles. By bus. That is infrequent and not designed for local shopping trips.
  • Visit to Stornoway? Probably the only workable answer, causing further decline in these communities.
Is it too late to do anything? Probably, except around the margins, as the decision to close 2,500 Post Offices was taken long ago, and now the targets have to be met. That the targets are nonsense and based on a desktop exercise, rather than reality is neither here nor there.

I confess to being depressed by the repeated persistent and unending gutting of the communities who are saying one thing and doing another. Having campaigned against the previous round of closures in 1994/5 (?) proposed by the evil Thatcher Government, I am sure that many of the Labour activists who joined the campaign then will be rather shamefaced.

Further coverage in the Stornoway Gazette, Hebrides News and the Shetland News.

Ludicrous bureaucrats

It is utterly, utterly, mind-bogglingly stupid of the Civil Servants to assume that those who tick the confidentiality box when objecting to the planning permission for Eishken, means that they are not allowed to make representations to the PLI.

You can just imagine the forms being filled, boxes ticked and civil service brains being left at the door.

Much as I may support the proposal, I want to see all the aspects of the application discussed openly, and without any suggestion that the matter is being dealt with on the quiet.

Apparently you can remove your right to confidentiality by contacting the Government, and I hope that as many as possible do so. So

long as the PLI doesn't turn into a repetitive stream of the same basic objections, which will waste everyone's time.

Between this Government and the last, it is almost as if they are trying to antagonise as many people as possible on every side of the renewables argument, before coming to a conclusion. Or more likely trying to be all things to all men.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A serious debate about wolves

Wolves - coming soon to a street near you.The Wolves and Humans Foundation (formerly the Wolf Society) has called for a serious debate about the possibility of reintroducing wolves into North Scotland citing the vast amount earned by Yellowstone National Park.

Admittedly, "There have been problems, such as what to do when they stray outside the boundaries, but a key issue is the $3m a year it gets from people coming to see the wolves," they said.

As far as I am concerned, nothing should distract from the pursuit of the tourist dollar, Euro, Rouble or Albanian Lek.

Those who are concerned about such trivial matters such as attacks on humans and the slaughter of livestock are clearly unable to see the wood for the trees. Such purblindness would be a bit of a problem if you had a ravenous wolf pack on your tail. It is clear to me and the proposers of this idea that the opportunities here are enormous and must be embraced to show just what a magnificent hunting and killing machine the wolf actually is.

As the Wolves and Humans website clearly states, Join us today, and help to meet the challenge of conservation and co-existence. As the only charity in the UK dedicated to helping wolves in the wild - I know, you thought there were bloody dozens of them competing for your donations - W&H have decided to meet the challenge of co-existence with wolves in the wild by moving their operational HQ from Somerset to the proposed site for wild wolves, where the members will meet the challenge of co-existence by walking to and from meetings in the pitch dark as the packs circle them.

But, after careful consideration, I think that W&H have shown just what could be achieved for the tourist industry in the Western Isles.

Let's declare the entire island a 'wild zone' and bring tiger, lions, wolves, T Rex, elephants, coyotes and other assorted animals here and let them run wild, slaughtering sheep, deer, mink, seagulls and those cutting peat whilst rich hunters are helicoptered in to stay in expensive private hotels guarded by 20ft of razor wire and big guys with automatic rifles.

They can peg out pupils in the rural primary schools to attract the predators - which would guarantee the survival of the schools, if not all the pupils - and then secure the local economy by paying for each animal they kill. Just imagine being able to pander to each and every whim of these ultra-rich elite before they pay us just a few pounds for driving the Wolves and Human Foundation to their AGM in the main killing zone.

Ever seen the movie "The Running Man"? We could ensure the financial security of an extended family on the islands by dropping the lucky winner on the top of the Clisham at sunset, armed only with a peat-iron, and have a live broadcast as they try to survive and make their way back to the Clachan Bar by opening time.

Imagine the ratings if a Councillor was drawn from the lottery......

Having had a serious debate about the idea, I think that the relentless pursuit of the tourism industry without any consideration of reality, might just be a bad idea. In this and other cases.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Single status and regrading

The Comhairle is currently undergoing a prolonged, disruptive and morale-sapping regrading exercise for all staff, something I have blogged about before.

With the largest union saying "No!" and the Council saying "Yes!" the room for compromise is limited, to say the least.

The likely outcome seems clear - conflict, strikes and more hassle.

When into the mix is dropped an unbelievable act by a Public Sector employer. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency plan to sack 43% of their staff next week, and simultaneously offer the re-employ them on the terms and conditions that they are currently refusing to accept.

Older readers might remember similar actions by GEC in 1966, British Airways in 1997, and Gate Gourmet in 2005, all of which stirred the Comrades in the Trade Unions to take collective action against the employers. In this case - of course - the employers are the Government by proxy.

The likely course of events was laid out by the forecast that more public bodies will have to follow the lead of Birmingham, and have mass sackings, according to Personnel Today - the magazine for the HR Professional.

The actions of SEPA are appalling, and they have been rightly described as "behaving like the worst Victorian mill owners".

This is no way to treat staff in the 21st Century, and one would expect the Government to step in; except that if they haven't been consulted, I'd be astonished. Hopefully we won't see the same confrontation in the Western Isles, but I suspect we will come very, very close to such a course of action.