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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Any subsidy?

I beleive that the Farming Minister is planning to offer BIG subsidies for the Western Isles panda industry.

Just look how easy it is for them to pop one out and my own wife took at least a couple of hours of good shearing time to produce our son.

Not much eating on them and I understand that you can't put one out to stud easily especially as you can't sex them but just think of the petting zoo for tourists.

Housing crisis

Although the issue is intensely political or Political the funding of social housing (for which read Council Houses by any other name) deserves further scrutiny.

For some time the suggestion that the house building sector in the islands was under severe financial pressure has been circulating and as I pointed out in April, the impact of 2% cuts was bound to be felt somewhere.

What is dispiriting is the total inability of the current Government to make a coherent argument about efficiencies, preferring to try to match oranges and apples and claim an increase in orangeness as a result.

Having studied public sector housing financing in the Western Isles for some years (and admittedly not being really clear about how the whole crazy system works) I can see through the misleading quote
This will see about 36 new affordable homes brought to the area, compared with the 33 which were approved in the last financial year.
when the numbers referring to the houses actually delivered show a completely different picture.

Of course, the role of the Labour candidate as the leader of the charge might ring alarm bells with the public were it not for the fact that the SNP seem unable to refute his claims in any detail. The public deserve to know if the housing allocation has shrunk or grown, and the impact that this will actually have in the islands, and I will report the actual; outcome against the various claims in due course.

Anyone responsible for misleading claims will be pilloried, with full details of their 'misstatements', but in the meantime I am gathering together the various pronouncements they have made for later use.

Funny phone calls

Who was that Irishman/Scotsman/Australian with the moving accent who just phoned the office and unprompted made very offensive and homophobic comments about a local politician?

Despite trying to block their number (that really doesn't work in every circumstance!) it actually resolved back to a phone number associated with an SNP activist.

Strange that they would want to say the things they were saying, but if the local SNP would like to get the details of the number used and a recording of the call to pursue the matter, then just let me know.

Energy policies

Being opposed to the giant windfarms in the islands I cheered to the rooftops when the LWP scheme was rejected and I believed that SNP Government would stop any large-scale developments would be stopped. That's why I voted SNP at the last two elections.

Now I realise that I was duped, and embarrassing as it is to admit, I fell for the patter hook, line and sinker.

The performance over the Pairc windfarm application by MacNeil and Allen over the past few days has been sad, pathetic and indeed bathetic. They are clearly out of their intellectual depths and have no idea about the intellectual position that they are supposed to be advocating.

Having spoken to both these guys about windfarms and heard their subsequent arguments, it is obvious that they are doing what they are told by HQ and have no desire to really understand the views of their constituents.

I have since discovered that MacNeil was privately pledging his full support to both LWP and MWT before the election, and only decided which way to jump weeks before the election.

Having driven some of away the multi-nationals which guaranteed community benefit, Absent is now complaining that renewable energy might bypass the islands, whilst both MacNeil and Allan are supporting the giant SSE application in Pairc which has no community benefit. Oh yes, and the Eishken scheme that they promised to oppose.

All as instructed by the SNP Government to demonstrate that they are "doing something" about renewables.

We are we lumbered with a succession of useless parliamentarians?

If we want to oppose the giant windfarms, they we are going to have to get rid of MacNeil and Allan at the next election and find someone who knows what they believe in and can argue coherently.

Attempted gagging

Having experienced a concerted and long running campaign by a certain individual who doesn't have the balls to have a face to face debate and who has tried to gag this blog through backdoor smears, I have decided to hand over the control of this blog to specially selected third parties.

They will be wholly responsible for all editorial decisions although I assure you that the quality of postings and incisiveness will remain the same.

This individual's fear of criticism is particularly un-endearing, but I continue to remain determined that all who hold a position of authority are held to account and that local issues continue to be debated and criticised or applauded where appropriate.

The hand-picked team have promised to continue to entertain, broadly in my style, but pulling fewer punches and (with their permission) I will continue to post sporadically until such time as the attempted gagging ceases.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Schools policy





Driven by money and the desperation of the Government/Executive to have a PFI scheme to flaunt as a success, will the Government now do as it pledged and demand that some of the schools are kept open, even though that scuppers their own demands to centralise education?

I suspect financial pragmatism will outweigh parental choice - and political promises will not be kept.

Does anyone, really, really understand what they are doing here - and I mean from Government down to schools and every layer in between? Despite having been involved in the early part of the process - and seeing it to be a disaster waiting to happen - I was none the wiser about the real impact, and the consultants kept the full financial details secret, meaning that proper scrutiny was not possible (as fully approved by the Executive/Government).

Of course, full Council may overturn this decision (again) which will surely again place some Councillors in an almost impossible position of being both for and against the policy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

24Mb broadband is coming

At least according to the BT salesman who spoke to me today, and at least to the Stornoway exchange, and it is due here before the end of August.


I don't claim to understand the technicalities of how or why, but can anyone confirm that Stornoway will actually be activated to ADSL2+ within the next few weeks?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Right of reply

I thought for once that I had to post a comment on this blog as it so deeply affects me.

I am Mrs N, the second wife of Angus and mother of 3 of his children the eldest of which is 5. Even though we have such a young family, our daughter having just turned 1, I have had 3 weeks total “maternity leave” with the last two children and 10 months with the first. The only reason I had so long with our eldest is because he was born with a potentially fatal heart defect which required open heart surgery when he was just 8 weeks old. He has recovered wonderfully well and anyone who knows him would never believe what a difficult start he had in life.

Last Friday afternoon, I came into the office and found my husband, Angus, extremely upset. He had just received a telephone call from a journalist (the same one who was trying to stir trouble regarding his blog about a gay politician – could there be a link?) to say that he had received a call from Angus’ ex wife saying that he owed £52,000 to the CSA and had “not bothered” to see his sick daughter who was suffering from leukaemia.

Angus was understandably upset as this journalist was not aware of any facts surrounding his relationship with his children and didn’t seem to want to know the facts as he had a juicy story to report.

For the record, these are the facts in very short form.

Anne (Angus’ ex wife) abandoned her young children for another man leaving Angus to care for them and keep a roof over their head. He spent many months juggling his work and the children to ensure that everyone was kept happy. Let’s be clear that Anne never gave Angus a penny for their children’s welfare, as she was far too busy with her new beau, she also never worked. She was even quoted as saying that she had spent a lot of the marriage putting money away into a bank account in her own name obviously planning her secret life. After a time, when Anne’s new relationship soured, she decided that she wanted her children back and there ensued a very long and heartbreaking custody battle. Anne “won” the children plus a very large divorce settlement which enabled her to purchase a house without a mortgage. This, however, wasn’t good enough for her. When Angus picked himself up after losing the two most important things in his life, he embarked on new relationships. Anne didn’t like this and spent many years using their two children as pawns in her battle to get to Angus and to ensure that these relationships were soured by her. She would tell the children that Angus didn’t pay her anything and he used to have to prove to the children that he did by showing them bank statements, this when they were not even teenagers.

When I met Angus, he was going through yet another difficult time with Anne and the kids and had not seen his son for many months, his daughter would come around to the house but we suspected this was just to report back to mother on who I was. We had many conversations with her about whether we had bought something together or whether I had brought it into the relationship and found her looking in cupboards and drawers in places where she had no reason to look.

About 5 years ago, we received a letter from Anne through the front door telling us that if Angus didn’t pay her more money that she would take the children off the island and that he wouldn’t see them again. We were constantly being assessed by the CSA due to Anne reporting that Angus wasn’t declaring all his income. At one point we had a meeting with CSA representatives who produced a file with newspaper clippings of Angus that Anne had sent to them. She was determined that she was going to get her pound of flesh and more.

Angus would not pay Anne more and at the end of that summer, she left with the children and we have not seen them since but have had to involve the police to stop Anne sending offensive and threatening e-mails to us.

Angus’ daughter has had many mishaps, one in particular where she hurt herself on a trampoline whilst on a visit back to the Islands and she reported her next of kin as being a friend of Anne’s even though we were only down the road.

Angus’ daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia in December 2007. We were told this by Angus’ parents, third hand. Anne had not advised Angus that his daughter was sick let alone how sick she was. The night that we found out about her, we telephoned the hospital and left messages on the ward, on the telephone in the room and at the hospital main reception. At around midnight we received a call from Anne telling Angus that if he wanted to know anything about his daughter’s condition that she would let me know so that I could tell him. I have never received any correspondence from her since. Our only network is through Angus’ ageing parents who receive sporadic telephone calls from his children with very sparse and contradictory information.

Only last Friday, the same day that the reporter from the Sunday Mail called, Angus’ son called his grandmother in an absolute state because it was apparent that his daughter who was in Raigmore for treatment needed an urgent blood transfusion and that Anne was refusing to take her down to Yorkhill for the treatment. Angus’ son told his grandmother than Anne was having a “shouting match” with the medical professionals at Raigmore.

Let’s be clear that Angus’ son is now 18 and in full time employment, his ex wife has qualified as a social worker and walked away with an enormous sum of cash following her divorce. Angus’ son says in the Sunday Mail report that Angus should be paying £800 per month towards their upkeep. I suggest that anyone who is interested, look up the CSA calculator and work out how much Angus would have to earn to pay this sum of money for his children. This is as well as paying for the upkeep of his three other children.

I know the state of our finances. I know that Angus pays money for his first two childrens’ upkeep every single month without fail. I know that the CSA screwed up on an assessment which they have now admitted to and wanted a share of everything we had including our working families tax credit which we only receive to help us pay for our childrens’ nursery. I know that they wanted Angus to attend a meeting on the mainland the same week as our last baby was born and when he said that it was inconvenient due to the fact that we had just had a baby the CSA went ahead and made a punitive assessment which has now been withdrawn following appeal. I work full-time, only having time off when my children are sick or their school / nursery is closed and even then I try to find alternative childcare arrangements. All our children spent most of the summer in childcare so that I could work. This is not something I would do if I didn’t have to and not something that I choose or want to do. I would love to see more of my children but I have to work to pay the bills including to help pay the money that Anne still receives from Angus.

The report in the Sunday Mail is disgraceful but even more disgusting is that Angus’ children are still being used as pawns by their mother to try to make Angus look bad. Anyone who remembers Angus during the time that he was on his own with his first two children remember a father who could not do enough for his kids that still holds true and I know that even though he has been rejected by his first family he would willingly welcome them back into his life with open arms and no explanations. I too know that he loves all his children and would never hurt them. The events of the last 10 or so years have hurt him, as they would any caring parent. Unfortunately this situation is not unusual when two people split leaving children who end up being the victims and being used as weapons. When there is one vindictive parent, determined to ensure that everyone is as unhappy as they are, these situations continue until there is nothing left to fight about.

What no-one seems to care or understand is the hurt it is also causing the second family namely me and my three beautiful children. I don’t want sympathy or even a pat on the back just some consideration for how this affects us and how it makes me want to take them away from it all which would cause even more hurt and pain.

I wish Angus’ daughter well, I wish we knew more about her condition and I wish we were allowed to help more but constant telephone calls and enquiries with both Raigmore and Yorkhill have been met with stony silence. The best we get asked is if we want to speak to mum and I think we all know the answer to that one.

Never a dull moment

Over a year ago a person contacted me in despair. They had received a 6-figure tax bill from the Inland Revenue and had spent over a year trying to persuade the Inland Revenue that the liability was wrong. And stupidly wrong at that.

After I got involved, I pointed out to the Revenue that the tax assessed exceeded the taxpayers total income in each and every year. At which the Inland Revenue agreed it looked stupid; suspended collection; and we gathered together all the paperwork to allow them to cancel the assessment. That in itself took over 6 months, but at the end of it the liability was almost totally cancelled.

Anyone who has ever had dealings with the CSA will know that their processes are more obscure and much more complex than the Inland Revenue, and getting errors corrected is even more difficult. Doing so is not helped when they repeatedly receive incorrect information from third parties and are persuaded to use that information - as the DPA record shows.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this week my solicitors gave me confirmation that the official mistakes/misunderstandings had been acknowledged and the sums sought would be cancelled as soon as the paperwork is put in place and certain processes completed.

However "CSA wrongly pursue parent for vast sums" doesn't make as good a headline.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Askernish Golf Club

Congratulations to Storas Uibhist for getting the course open, and I hope it succeeds in attracting a large new niche of tourists to Uist.

As Storas hope, this could help to push the case for a much-needed Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry, despite the failure of our Parliamentarians to support it.

It is another tangible sign of the success of the commmunity buy-out, and I hope that there are many more to come.

(BTW: Is the Eriskay course still operational?)

Transmission charges

The news that energy transmission charges are to remain in their current form is way beyond deeply disappointing.

Currently, the further you are from the market (for which read the South East of England) the more you pay.

Frankly, despite the better wind and waves here, why build a wave power station off the west coast, when the extra yield will be more than swallowed up by the cost of transmitting the power?

If the proposed small community power companies can sell all their power locally, then they can avoid these costs, and there should be no impact on their proposals. (There are enough other difficulties to cross before coming to fruition).

This proposal can only tip the balance further in favour of nuclear, which might (of course) be the whole point behind the consultation exercise being held in the first place.

The Governments support renewables, just not in the places where they can operate most efficiently.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Power connection in Gravir

The possibility of the SSE subsea cable landing in Gravir, is naturally very upsetting for the local residents, and were I one I would be up in arms too.

It raises all sorts of difficult political issues that could have been (should have been!) foreseen before we got to this stage.

Unfortunately, SSE seem to have powered ahead with the prospect of their windfarm in Pairc being foremost in their minds, rather than the approved Eishken development, or the possibly larger Eishken development that is still going through a PLI.

The next application that will have to come in is under s39 of the Electricity Act for the pylons to run between Gravir and the windfarms (unless the cables are undergrounded) and if you think that the battle over the turbines was fierce....

The Minister would have to approve any compulsory purchase wayleaves that SSE applied for, leaving the community with almost no input to the decision, unless the community benefit for the Paric windfarm can be extended to embrace the landfall location of the interconnector.

Of course, our MP and MSP promised to stop any windfarm development (later amended to 'any non-community') but now find that their Government have allowed the first development to take place and almost certainly will end up approving the compulsory wayleaves for SSE, as there are few grounds for refusal. And if the Eishken PLI finds in favour of the extended development.... Their overall lack of understanding of the proposals is, of course, why they are currently being silent on the issue.

In the meantime the Council are getting a kicking as being 'responsible' for the plans. Plus ca change.

Sitting on the sidelines and watching all this happening is both entertaining and frustrating, as I know that I could have ensured that it was all handled much better. However, I think it is going to get messier before it gets better, and I suspect that Gravir will have this hanging over the village until the other side of the Scottish Elections in 2011. That will be exactly the sort of 'planning blight' that Lingerbay suffered, and we all hoped never to see again.

Let me reiterate something I have said many, many times before: all of these planning decisions need to be taken promptly, whether they are for approval or rejection. Vacillation is not an option.

Renewable energy policy

Jim Mather is due to visit next week to discuss the results of the new approach to renewable energy that he requested following the 'conference' held in March.

Let me summarise the probable outcome of his coming visit:

Council: There are vast areas of the island that can be used for renewable energy. Do you support development in these areas?
RSPB/SNH: Of course, but all subject to bird survey and environmental impact assessments.
Developers: And subject to the sites being economically viable, so we are only interested in a small section of the possible sites, as previously advised to everyone.
Ofgem: And then you need to speak to us about a connection to the grid before anything can actually happen.
Communities: Why can't we get the detail we need before we can decide if we support or oppose the proposals.
Minister: Job done. Get on with bringing proposals forward in the normal manner.

All: WTF has been achieved?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

School holidays

Like most parents, we are looking forward to the return to school on Thursday with some trepidation and some joy.

The children will be into new environments; with some new friends to make and some old friends to lose; new teachers; and, new challenges ahead.

On the up side, (especially for working parents) the daily routine will be set for the next nine months and the almost daily need to entertain and amuse will be removed reduced. Well at least for the next seven weeks before the October holidays commence.

Tonight we knocked off a bit early and went out for dinner with the kids to celebrate the end of another summer and to talk about the changes they face this week. It can't be done tomorrow, as that is a night for early to bed for us all.

The serious parent-child talk was kind of lost in the debris of food splattered around the table (by the baby, I hasten to add) and watching the boys eat adult portions, plus garlic bread, plus dessert. More food than us in fact, yet they are so active that they burn it all off.

The important stuff went by the board as we watched with mounting disbelief as they ate and ate, and then they waddled home. Where have our babies gone? Enjoy them while they are young, as it flies past in the blink of an eye. (Time for another one? - cue slap round head from Mrs N!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

National electricity tender

The plan to launch a national tender process to supply power to all the public sector bodies is an excellent example of lateral thinking by the Scottish Government.

The public sector has the financial muscle to demand highly competitive prices and force its way into the wholesale market.

Assuming this doesn't take control away from the other public bodies, then this could be the start of a huge efficiency drive by Government that will streamline purchasing and save us all large sums of money.

Well done chaps!

Labour in socialist policy shock!

Ivan Lewis is a twatIn a shock move a Government Minister has called for the reintroduction of redistibutionist taxation policies.

The Health Minister, Ivan Lewis, (who he? I hear you call. He has risen without trace to have all the profile of a sheet of A4 side on) has laid out his view on how the Labour Party can try to avoid a complete rout at the next election.

In a radical change of heart, he suggests that cosying up to the ultra-rich and giving millionaires tax breaks might just not be in accordance with the core values of the party.

In a densely written and sometimes impenetrable article he lays out his views without committing the sin of actually committing himself to anything or any view. Whilst this weaseling about may be good for his career prospects in the medium term, the lack of any decisiveness shows exactly what is going wrong with the Labour Party.
I am not advocating specific measures - those are decisions for the chancellor and prime minister. A windfall tax, enhanced government support for mortgages, a stamp duty holiday and higher taxes for the highest earners may be necessary and popular.
So increased taxes on the wealthiest might be good. Dear God, has this man no understanding of the people he is supposed to be representing?

Obviously not, as the poor, infirm and elderly are not the key group he sees as benefiting from this additional tax yield.
Yes, protect those on the lowest incomes but also help the hard-working middle classes with large mortgage commitments who are neither rich nor poor; the people who work long hours for their two holidays a year, leisure club membership, meals out with family and friends and ability to buy their children nice things;
Is this a joke? Is he taking the piss in the form of a supposedly serious article? Do the first letters of every sentence spell "I-A-M-H-A-V-I-N-G-A-L-A-U-G-H"? No, this man is deadly serious.

Yet, he advocates this policy as being a short-term or temporary matter to see the economy through a difficult patch (which is code for The Next Election, not the credit crunch), not as a long term policy to be implemented to ensure that the less well off are protected.

Such is the paucity of intellectual thought in the Labour Party, and yet another reason why they deserve to lose the next election, and lose it badly. Then cull the numpties and find the party's soul.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Before I get outed.....

I made my first visit to the new Tesco in Stornoway today.

First impressions:
  • It was quiet in the store at 11am on a Saturday
  • The shelves are very tall and stocked right to the top
  • The aisles are very narrow
  • The layout is very clean
  • The variety is huge
Second impressions:
  • Check-outs are very fast
  • Lots of really good prices
  • But the overall cost was very similar to the prices in the Co-op
Overall, you can see why they make so much money, with the shelves being constantly restocked in a highly efficient manner and with excellent customer service. The share price reflects their skills and abilities, and it will be interesting to see how long the extensive variety continues, and more importantly what happens after they expand the store.

Will definitely go again.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fuel tax regulator

It looks like I might have been wrong about oil going to $200 per barrel by Christmas, as the expected recession in the West is likely to dampen demand.

The graph of oil prices over the past six months is instructive (I don't know if this will update automatically or not) showing the peak at $140-150.

(Graphic removed, as it wasn't working and a link put in its place)

So how does this tie in with the calls for a fuel duty regulator?

As you know I have been very sceptical about the usefulness of the such a proposal, considering it to be daft, ill thought-out, and pushed by under-informed politicians.

In April this year (when oil reached $110) the cry was for a regulator to soften the impact of the expected continual increase in fuel prices. I asked the simple question - which remains unanswered - at what price should the duty rate be set?

"It's too high", is hardly and informed and intellectual response to that question, and betrays the lack of understanding of the speaker.

With prices now heading downwards, if a fuel duty regulator had been put in place when our MP and MSP made their siren calls then we would be facing petrol prices that were kept artificially HIGH to ensure that the yield from fuel duty remained the same.

I am sure that this outcome is not one that MacNeil or Allan realised they were actually campaigning for when they tried to grab the headlines.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Carinish Inn

Supposedly sold to the Free Church, the hotel seems to be back on the market at an increased price.

Has anyone got an update on the current situation?

(BTW: having less than 10 letting bedrooms means that you don't qualify as a 'hotel' for tax purposes and cannot get tax relief on the cost of the property. No charge; this time.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Goodbye Gordon Brown?

With the death of John MacDougall MP, Gordon Brown faces a direct challenge in his own backyard.

MacDougall was MP for Glenrothes, and any result is going to be read as the public view on the neighbouring MP, our Glorious Leader, Gordon Brown.

The election will be delayed and delayed, simply to make sure that the Labour Party machine is working before any election is called.

And to find some mug to take the poison chalice that is the nomination.

The last results were:


Giving a majority of 10,664, which on current trends makes it a marginal seat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The next Olympics.....

I know, hold me back from the excitement. But according to the official organising committee the handover of the torch from Beijing to London is capturing the imagination of the entire country....

Towns, cities and communities are planning their own celebrations with a series of events and initiatives happening across all nations and regions.

This includes a network of big screens in every nation and region of the UK showing live coverage of the Closing Ceremony and the concert in London.

Find your local screen on the list below:

The worlds briefest press release?

Courtesy of (who else) but the Scottish Government....
Dundee's cultural attractions

Ministerial Visit

A mysterious Ministerial visit to Barra is planned for Wednesday.

No-one seems to know much about why Des Browne, Secretary of State for Scotland, has suddenly decided to visit a small part of the Western Isles. Or why knowledge of his schedule is restricted to him flying in at 10am and out at 6pm.

Des Browne - two jobsHave you seen this man? Details of sightings welcome.

Of course, Des has another job as Secretary of State for Defence.

Does this explain the visit?

The Nirex list of potential nuclear dumping sites is still unchanged and includes two islands in the vicinity, so sightings of migratory military types, or mysterious boat or helicopter trips will be very gratefully received.

Even better, confirmation of the removal of the two islands from the Nirex dumping list will be very gratefully received and given great publicity.

Mallaig - Lochboisdale ferry

Can anyone point me to any comments - supportive or otherwise - that our MP or MSP have made on the proposals put forward by Storas Uibhist, and about which I have blogged?

Monday, August 11, 2008

South Ossetia

South OssetiaThe tragedy in the Caucasus continues; just a new chapter in a new location.

Often it seems that the Schleswig-Holstein question is moved to another location, but in practice the root of the problem lies with the old imperialist idea of being able to define a country and its peoples simply by drawing a line on the map.

The Europeans tried this in Africa, using rivers or rulers to define where one occupying power stopped and the next started. That the same tribe was on either side of the river; or that bitterly opposing tribes were forced together was of no concern. Administrative simplicity was all.

The end result has been bloodshed as the newly independent countries have tried to find a reason to be, and as tribal divisions and clan favouritism exacerbate the problems.

Of course, this is not restricted to Africa. The creation of Iraq as a British Protectorate at the behest of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in the 1920's was without thought to the views of the warring tribes who made up the new 'state'; and the consequences have been with us ever since.

Lenin is to blame for the situation in Ossetia, as the Russian Empire repeated the same mistakes of it's opponents.

The danger is that the issues are now so interlinked on a global stage that one decision can have so many repercussions that now, more than ever, care has to be taken in playing the Great Game of global politics.

The Russians opposed the independence of Kosovo as they were conscious of the burgeoning demands for independence in Ossetia, Abkhazia, Inghusetia and Nogorno-Karabakh to name just a few in the immediate area. Similar claims for independence will trouble politicians throughout the world as the independence movements in Tibet, Catalonia, Flanders and indeed in Scotland.

That is not to say that the independence movements should be either all supported or all rejected; each case is different, as the wannabe statelet of Transnistria amply demonstrates.

The response of the politicians is, frankly, pathetic. Georgia invaded/retook South Ossetia using what seems to be excessive force, and without justification - other than to take control of an autonomous part of the country - and Russia has defended/exploited the situation to try to gain influence in the area.

The UK and US are both condemning Russia for continuing to launch raids, but I have yet to anyone condemn Georgia for starting this whole war. Perhaps the fact that Georgia is a US client state may have something to do with this?

We appear to be supporting the aggressor and only getting involved when our friend realises that he is losing the fight.

No-one is right in what they are doing, and it needs to be stopped now, before it spreads. And that can only happen with an even-handed approach by the rest of the world.


The media need to get a grip on the seriousness of the events in Georgia.

The war seems to only focus on the radar by reference to the travel plans of the photogenic Katie Melua, as if somehow her presence (or absence) will be of consequence to the Kremlin. Apparently she was born in Georgia or perhaps in Armenia.

Google maps, in the meantime, seem to have the Russians operating in a different part of the Deep South.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Staffing crisis?

In recent weeks five top managerial staff in the Social Work Department of the Comhairle have left, taking with them (literally) irreplaceable knowledge and experience.

Although I don't know all of the staff who have left, the ones of whom I have had personal knowledge and experience will be enormous losses to the day-to-day operation of the department.

My understanding is that the prime reason for the upheaval is the restructuring of the department - or more precisely, the long dragged-out dismemberment of the department and the transfer of responsibilities to the Health Board, the Education Department and the Sustainable Communities(!) section.

The staff see no direction from the top, and I don't mean the Director, or respect for what they are delivering. The uncertainty caused by the interminable delays, allied to the probable outcomes of the restructuring have driven these skills off the island.

In an unexpected turn, I understand that one of the very senior members of staff (I'm not going to identify the individual) has a new job in Glasgow, but in a reversal of the norms is commuting from Lewis every week!

On an associated topic, the impact of single status seems to have been to drive large numbers of qualified staff out of the Council, and I understand that Technical Services is facing such a huge skilled staff shortage that it is having to re-employ the same staff as 'consultants' and pay them substantially more or be unable to deliver the necessary work.

This is a prime example of the business acumen of Government - central and local.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sunday Sailings

So Calmac have ruled out any Sunday sailings between Ullapool and Stornoway this winter.

On one hand it could be noted that this is only for the winter 2008/09 timetable, whilst on the other you can wonder just how the ferry is going to cope with the huge increase in traffic forecast as a result of (a poor version of) RET being introduced.

If almost-RET takes off, then we are going to have queues for the ferry and people turned away meaning that the impact of RET-on-the-cheap cannot be properly measured.

However, as I pointed out some time back, if you are trying to measure part of the impact of the quasi-RET scheme then you do not want to change any other parameters, by adding extra services, otherwise you cannot draw properly substantiated conclusions about the impact of the crumbs thrown to us by Government.

Therefore we have ended up with the worst of all worlds: reduced fares for tourists and occasional travellers*; full ferries being jammed to the gills; and, not everyone who would want to travel being able to do so.

Thinking cynically, it is almost as if the Government want to demonstrate that the pseudo-RET scheme doesn't work and shouldn't be extended or continued (although that decision won't be taken until after the next election!)

* The new prices range from slightly lower to significantly higher than the current 6 ticket books available to regular travellers.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Northern Rock

Another £3bn of our money has been set aside to fund the black hole that is Northern Rock.

£3bn that is unlikely to be recovered in any way, and which is being set aside to help pay for the wind-down of the business, hence reducing it's value even further. This is another shining example - as in a shiny turd - of the Government displaying political, economic and business ineptness of staggering magnitude.

The 'good news' is that Northern Rock has managed to repay £9.4bn of the £27bn loan. And now it can be trumpeted that £12.4bn has been 'repaid'. That's 'repaid', as in not repaid. As in creative accountancy. As in window dressing.

Of course, the loans and advance have reduced by £14.5bn during the period with a plan to shed 60% of its total mortgage business within the next few years. That should free up some £45bn to repay debts and leave an unsaleable asset into which we have pumped large sums of money to ensure it has enough capital to compete in the market that, er, it is getting out of as quickly as it can and for which it doesn't need the capital.

If these guys - The Badger and the Captain of the Titanic* - ran a business they would be bankrupt within months; but then they don't have the intelligence to do so, which is why they are professional politicians.

* © John Prescott - with friends like this.... you need a gag.


One of my clients stopped me in the street to invite me to join him in a demonstration.

When I was a Councillor he used to have excellent fun berating me for every ill that befell him or the islands, and that I was personally responsible for setting the Council Tax at an exorbitant level; that I was responsible for every decision of the Council; that I had to do something about the price of fuel at Campbell's Filling Station (a matter more forcefully expressed to the Vice-Convener); and that I was personally responsible for the poor crab prices.

Since I retired/took a sabbatical he has focused on getting me to join him at the barricades, protesting about ... well, anything and everything.

Today, my invite was to join him outside Alasdair Darling's holiday home in Uig to protest about the price of fuel. The Chancellor is due here any day now, for his regular summer holiday, and my friend thought that this was a perfect opportunity to explain in words of four-letters, the impact that fuel prices were having.

Having neither declined nor accepted, I will be kept informed in the unlikely event of the matter proceeding.

I understand that last year when Mr D was crossing the Minch he was cornered on the ferry by two local gentlemen who wished to discuss the economic policies that he was following. So confident and robust was the Chancellor in the defence of the Government that within minutes he was pleading with the crew to find him somewhere to hide.

This was how the Chancellor - without his family - spent most of the crossing in the Captain's cabin.

Does anyone know his dates of travel for this year? Just so we can greet him warmly at the pier, you understand.