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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Whilst Rome burns......

I am repeatedly told by senior Councillors that the MP repeatedly refuses to meet with the Council to discuss areas of concern, and where the Council and the community could benefit from both parties working together.

I'm sure that this is a malicious lie and that someone can identify the two or three times he has been into the Council Offices to meet the Convener or Vice-Convener this year.

It is obviously not helpful to have the MP (and MSP) and the Council arguing different positions, as it means that there is no coherent strategy on, say, the schools issue. But Mr MacNeil is busy on important matters of state, as the press release I received today clearly demonstrates.


(For Immediate Release) – Tuesday 30 September



Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil, has written to the Director of Education at Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Mr Murdo Macleod, expressing his concerns that the Teacher of Music for Castlebay School which was advertised on the Comhairle’s website does not have Gaelic as an essential or a desirable skill. Several constituents have brought this matter to Mr MacNeil’s attention.

Mr MacNeil said:

“It is disappointing that at a time when the new Gaelic Digital TV Channel has been launched, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar advertise a post which is so strongly linked with our language and culture and has completely omitted Gaelic from the job specification.

“As music particularly is a huge part of the Island’s Gaelic culture, and with Gaelic and music so strongly tied together, it would appear to be a damaging oversight to have completely missed Gaelic from the job specification.

“Having spoken to the Comhairle about the matter, and although they claim that it is difficult to attract people to some of these posts, I still feel that Gaelic should have been on the desirable category in the job advert.”


Perhaps an English language teacher could be recruited to help Mr MacNeil with the coherency of his press releases.

Sincerity - faked from every pore

Far be it from me to belittle the "start of the Scottish Government’s annual flu and pneumcoccal immunisation campaign", as reported in Hebrides News.

BUT, in a press release from our MSP it is reported that:
Mr Allan is greatly concerned that many people are unaware that they are eligible for a free jab
Obviously a serious matter as he goes on to say
If these people do not get vaccinated, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to the side effects of the virus.
And he then proceeds to list those who would most benefit from the jab. His concern is echoed by Stuart MacMillan MSP, whose blog from yesterday comments that
Mr. McMillan is greatly concerned that many people are unaware that they are eligible for a free jab.
And repeats the press release word for word.

The press release is obviously contagious, but I think I have found the source. Alex Neil MSP is obviously the 'Typhoid Mary' of this story, writing in October 2007 he presciently comments that
If these people do not get vaccinated, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to the side effects of the virus.
Further outbreaks of this highly infectious crap will be reported to the appropriate authorities, but as it only seems to affect SNP MSPs, it is of little consequence to mankind.

Credit crisis

The balance that needs to be struck in dealing with the fallout from the credit crisis is difficult, expensive and can potentially set a precedent for other businesses.

The biggest problem is the issue of 'moral hazard' - why should the banks be bailed out for making fundamental mistakes in the operation of their business? Will they not then think that they can do what they like, and always have that safety net there?

With that in mind, I think that the approach of the Chancellor to the Bradford & Bingley has been absolutely spot on. The shareholders have taken a bath; the deposits have been sold to the highest bidder, and the loan book nationalised at about market price - which happens to be a very low price at this time.

It is exactly what the Government should have done with Northern Rock, and it only serves to highlight their incompetence when first faced with the fallout from the excesses of modern banking practice.

Last night the US rejected the bail-out deal for American banks. This was a deal which George Bush staked his entire reputation (!) upon, about which he 'shroud waved' and predicted financial disaster, unemployment and recession if it was not passed immediately. Congress considered the views of George Bush, and rejected them: for the time being.

I never thought I would say these words, but I agree with the Republicans on the issues arising. The bail-out left the banks virtually unscathed, free to continue to operate, and with no restrictions on doing the same again. That is wrong.

In both the US and the UK, the shareholders have to lose. The Chief Executives of the banks have to go - and without fat pay-offs - in an orderly fashion. Consolidation must not leave the Boards unaffected whilst the front-line staff are purged. The banks must face restrictions on the type and extent of lending they can undertake. Bonuses have to be tied to long term results, and must be more modest.

I would like to see a much higher rate of tax on the highest earners - say 50% on earnings over £150,000 and 60% over £1m - so that the excesses are curbed, or at least the Treasury receive an appropriate share. I think dividend payments are going to have to fall, and the funds kept in the companies to pay for growth.

But more than that, the self proclaimed Masters of the Universe have been shown to have been nothing more than grossly overpaid snake-oil salesmen selling a dodgy product. The banking system must now fundamentally change and return to its roots of prudence, customer service and security.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scottish Futures Trust

To avoid having to pay usurious rates of interest to private lenders, in order to fund public sector expenditure on infrastructure projects, it is reported that Alex Salmond is looking to borrow from a Sovereign wealth fund to bridge the gap.

So why should borrowing from the Qataris be better than borrowing in the marker?

Well, the interest rate would normally be expected to be slightly lower, which is normally attractive.

The difference is that in this case the loans (oops we can't call them that) have to be Islamic compliant and will actually charge no interest. Instead, there is a non-interest return on the investment. The difference between the Western and Eastern banking systems appears to be largely semantics, and the necessary forms to prove that the appropriate systems are being applied.

All this does is underline the shortcomings of devolution and the problems that will face Alex Salmond as he tries to square the election promises with the absence of money to deliver. Much the same difficulties as is facing Labour in Westminster, only on a much smaller scale.

Is it all a good idea? In my opinion it is not, as it leaves Scotland more exposed to the vagaries of the global marketplace, and risks control of key assets being lost to Scotland. And who is to say that the Qataris will not sell the debt to a third party?

It is just another flavour of PPP/PFI, and as such is nothing more than HP on an enormous scale.

But, the devil will be in the detail, and it might just be the only game in town.

As Burns might have said:
We were bought and sold for Qatari gold!
Sic a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Friday, September 26, 2008

An affront to democracy

This was how Cllr Roddy MacKay correctly described the farce that was the special meeting of the Council last night.

A £13m hole in the budget caused by the decision delaying the closure of schools - or more accurately, by being forced to use a totally inappropriate PFI/PPP model to fund the new schools - and the Councillors don't have the courtesy to layout the impact of their decision to the employees, service users, and the general public.

Next year will see budgets cut by 4% across the board - 2% savings demanded by the Scottish Government and 2% to fund the shortfall.

Listen carefully: it cannot be done.

A private business can adjust quickly; the public sector cannot. To make cuts of that size, effectively overnight, will mean redundancies, which in turn means consultation with staff and unions, and with statutory services effectively protected, there are some services that will be completely shut down.

Of course, the Council Tax freeze has exacerbated this problem, with an expectation amongst the public that somehow less income means no impact on services.

As LazyChicken quoted from Alasdair Allan's election address... with other councils, the Executive's policy on PFI/PPP meant Comhairle nan Eilean Siar had little choice but to go down this route. However, the SNP's policy would prevent the Comhairle ever having to face long term costs on such a scale again.

He wants the schools kept open, but (according to my sources) won't meet with the Council to have a joint lobby with the Government for the additional funds to meet these costs.

I have no problem with the rural schools remaining open, as the recent Scottish Government legislation seems to force, but they should meet the additional - substantial - cost of their policy decision, not you and I.

I say it again. Scrap the entire PFI project. Find out what schools are going to have to stay open under the new legislation. Then redesign the new schools to meet the new reality. Then build them using sensible ie traditional, funding techniques. And the Scottish Government are to meet the reasonable additional capital costs (or take any capital savings!) that this approach delivers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ADSL speed

Further to my previous posting about the possibility of 24Mb connection in Stornoway, we have now had the non-contended (i.e. dedicated) line put in and I am getting download speeds of up to 4.58 Mb and upload speeds of up to 0.4Mb.

Not earth shattering but still much better than it was.

I am told that a fibre-optic cable will need to come across the Minch* before the 24Mb domestic broadband is available, but I still getting contradictory reports about the possibility of 24Mb business broadband speeds.

* There is an existing top-secret fibre optic cable already running to the islands that has been lying unused for 10 years or so, which would do the job. But as it doesn't exist.......

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lighthouse Caledonia

Yum, yum, salmonYou could see the probable closure of Marybank coming from the moment that the company was formed, with the bad news being passed from Fjord Seafoods to the new owners.

Sad, sad, news, but the costs of transporting goods to the mainland is one that has been repeatedly flagged by the company, the hauliers, the Comhairle and many others over the past years. The delayed pseudo-RET scheme is too little and way too late, and without certainly over the costs for many years the businesses are not going to make the long-term investments.

With double the capacity and half the staff, the factory at Cairndow must be the expected winner in this case.

Cairndow lies in the constituency of Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather, who is already facing job losses at Machrahanish, so telephone calls to him are going to be less productive than you might think.

Emergency meeting about schools

Thanks to the ever helpful Council Officers, I the following motion is going in front of a private meeting on Thursday, followed by a public meeting of the Council:

We the undersigned, demand that a meeting of the Comhairle be called as soon as possible and not later than Wednesday 24th September. The purpose of this meeting will be to discuss the political and financial implications of the decision taken at full Council on Thursday 4th September 2008 in relation to the cessation of S1/2 education in the Western Isles and the likely impact on the WISP programme(sic), on the education of all children in our schools, and on the unallocated funds in the capital programme.
Signed: Angus MacCormick, Donald J MacSween, Neil Campbell, Keith Dodson, Norman MacLeod (signature withdrawn 18/9/08), Kenneth MacIver, Charlie Nicolson, Kenneth Murray,John A MacIver, Murdo MacLeod, Martin Taylor, Catherine MacDonald, Donald Manford, Annie MacDonald, Philip McLean, Peter Carlin, Uisdean Robertson, Archie Campbell and indecipherable.

The report is available here, and on at para 4.4 you will see that Education will need to save 7.7% of their budget in 2010/11 to balance the books. Read the report and weep.

The exact financial position is largely unclear until the report to Policy and Finance Committee in October, but the impact is obviously huge. Time to start again, rather than stagger from decision to decision.

Palace coup

It looks like the threatened coup in the Comhairle will not now happen, mainly because the 'opposition' are bickering amongst themselves.

Those who want to see change are unable to gather support behind any single candidate.

The prime mover in trying to get the Vice-Convener to stand down (and undeclared candidate to replace him) won't show his hand and hasn't got support.

The two potential candidates for Convener (at least in their own opinion!) are fighting it out behind the scenes.

Many of the rest of the Councillors want change, but not if that means having to do something and take decisions.

And the ships sails on........

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gaelic TV channel

God help us but .... why does it exist?

Nice, in the way of a jersey lovingly knitted by your granny.

Stylish, in the way of a jersey lovingly knitted by your granny.

Keep this embarrassment off Freeview to avoid further and widespread ridicule.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The only game in town

Alex Neil MSP today put together a consortium - or more accurately, a sort of a consortium - to try to acquire the Bank of Scotland bit of HBOS.

At least someone is trying to do something to safeguard the jobs.

Alex Neil - or the other members of the consortium - must know that they are probably on a hiding to nothing attempting to dismember a bank that has been sold at a knock-down price to another bank. Lloyds TSB have got the bargain of the year, and they are not going to allow that vast prize (and the bonuses that will go with it) to slip away.

It is a shame that Alex Neil's move has been so thoroughly trashed by Alex Salmond, before it has a chance to move forward, when he declares that the takeover is a fait accompli, and 'the only game in town.'

Such is today's modern reality of where we are at, that what would hav been used as leverage yesterday is cast aside today.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Words of wisdom

The First Minister was on fine form as he laid into those responsible being blamed for the demise of the Bank of Scotland.
"It was laid low by the actions of speculators in the money markets and action must be taken against them. Other financial institutions will be targeted unless restraints are made to short selling. Short selling is when people enter into selling shares they have absolutely no title to whatsoever, and do it with the aim of making a speculative profit over other people's misery.

"I understand Russia has outlawed it, and that America has suspended it. I would urge our financial authorities to follow suit."
Shorting is to all intents and purposes a gamble that the price will fall. A Put option is also a form of shorting, so I assume that these should be banned too.

Going long is the alternative, and involves betting that the share price will rise, or as the FM might put it:
Going long is when people enter into buying shares they have absolutely no title to whatsoever, and do it with the aim of making a speculative profit out of other people's hard work.
Whilst, admittedly, no firm complains about its share price rising, but a speculatively overpriced share will fall back to its real level which can cause just as many problems for the company that is targeted.

Of course, the real problem is the economists who came up with the wonky theories that allowed the banks to construct crazy trading rapacious lending and borrowing techniques which resulted in huge dividends and staff bonuses* that brought the whole edifice down. Which, of course, means that a large part of the blame lies with HBoS management for allowing such an exposure to arise in the first place.

But, let's not mention that, shall we.

If shorting and margin trading is banned then the liquidity in the market will drop significantly, meaning that it becomes harder to sell, hence depressing prices further.

Reaching the point of equilibrium will be very painful, especially in a falling market, and if the economy is prepared and able to take the pain then banning shorting thereafter makes some sense, but only until new, more complex, and less quantifiable derivative techniques replace shorting.

In short, we have a soundbite that says nothing, and has offers no solutions that can be effected, whilst calling for more chaos to be injected into the system.

Just remember the basic rules: no one forced the sellers to sell or the buyers to buy.

* I seem to recall HBoS being praised by the FM for making such big profits and paying such large bonuses and dividends.

Emergency Council meeting

I understand that 19 Councillors have now requested an emergency meeting of the Council, to be held on Tuesday, to discuss how to bridge the funding crisis caused by the recent decision not to close the schools until 2011.

It appears that the entire capital budget of £12m may require to be committed to schools and the schools PPP, meaning that roads, care homes and a million other things will have no capital expenditure for the many years.

I've not seen the report for the meeting yet (hint, hint!), but I believe it will outline the catastrophic financial impact of the decision/non-decision, and will confirm that there will be nothing left in the pot.

And you wonder why the Vice-Convener is tearing his hair out.

18 Councillors (out of 31) voted to close the schools in 2011. 19 now want to understand and debate the impact of their decision. By any reckoning, there is a substantial overlap between the two camps, implying that some apparently took a decision without any understanding of the impact.

Isn't that fabulous news.

The lack of political leadership on this issue seems to be matched by a collapse of morale amongst the officers, with an exodus of qualified staff to the mainland, and an all pervasive sense of doom and disaster.

One Councillor confided that the failure to elect Donald Manford as Convener in June 2007 was a massive missed opportunity; and that the refusal of the MP and MSP to engage with the Council on almost any issue meant that the key issues were not being pushed with Government.

Another u-turn anyone?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Enlgish as she is wrote

From the online Gazette:
More disruption is on the cards for Western Isles Council services with the news that unions: Unison, Unite and GMB plan further industrial action on September 24.

Following the first day's action on August 20 there were talks in Edinburgh between the employers and the trade unions. The employers made a revised offer of 2.5% for one year only – the previous offer was for 2.5% for a three-year period.

During the last day of strike action Comhairle services throughout the islands were severely disrupted with the Local Authority's offices in Stornoway and Balivanich closed to the public and only limited services available in Tarbert and Castlebay.

Stornoway Library and Ionad Spors Leodhais were closed and it is anticipated that the Education Service, Refuse Collection and Bus Services throughout the islands will be seriously disrupted by next week's action.
Now I admit to not being the finest writer, and sometimes mangling my English, but is the above not somewhat incorrect. I have identified some errors in the writing, but I am sure that others can correct even more errors in syntax, grammar and punctuation.

More disruption is on the cards for Western Isles Council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar services with the news that unions - Unison, Unite and GMB - plan further industrial action on September 24.

Following the first day's action on August 20 there were talks in Edinburgh between the employers and the trade unions. The employers made a revised offer of 2.5% for one year only – the previous offer was for 2.5% for a three-year period.

During the last day of strike action Comhairle services throughout the islands were severely disrupted, with the Local Authority's offices in Stornoway and Balivanich closed to the public, and only limited services available in Tarbert and Castlebay.

Stornoway Library and Ionad Spors Leodhais were closed and it is anticipated that the education service*, refuse collection and Comhairle bus services throughout the islands will be seriously disrupted by next week's action.

* should this read "schools"?

Or have I just been reading "Eats, shoots and leaves" too thoroughly?

Cloud cuckoo land

A union has warned it will not accept any compulsory redundancies if a proposed merger between HBOS and Lloyds TSB goes ahead.
What????? Unite deputy general secretary Graham Goddard said:
"The country is in the grip of a credit crunch and the cost of living is spiralling. Lloyds TSB and HBOS must take a socially responsible approach to this merger and make the well-being of their hard-working staff a priority during these difficult times."
Wake up and smell the coffee you irresponsible idiot.

HBOS are in trouble, and all the employees could be losing their jobs; all the savers could be in despair; and pensioners could left in penury and children losing their inheritances.

Instead of welcoming the rescue of the economy (and he should really speak to Gordon Brown about his support of Lloyds TSB, given that Unite are one of the biggest funders of the Labour Party) this gormless tosser would rather see the bank go belly-up.

Constructive involvement by the unions?

No! They still seem to prefer unthinking confrontation, irrespective of the big picture facing them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Found: A spine

David CairnsTo get rid of Brown, you need this turbulent (ex-)priest.

At last a Minister remembers that his responsibility is to the wider public, and not just his party.


Despite his generous majority, the prospect of unemployment after the next election is too much.


The party has lost it's soul, and {insert name} must wield the sword and take control.

Whatever way you slice it, this is the end (of the beginning of the end) for Brown as he presides over a party at war with itself and a public that has lost all fair in his leadership.

Time will explain David Cairn's real reasons, but if Brown continues to ignore the obvious then his legacy for Labour is going to be even worse than he could have imagined in his biggest, baddest nightmare.

Harris Tweed - an investment fund (!)

From the Gazette website
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has called for the establishment of a tweed investment fund to enable weavers to continue weaving at the traditionally quiet back-end of the year.

Mr MacNeil is writing to Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather MSP to look at bringing together various bodies, HIE, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Scottish Government to establish a fund to enable weavers to continue weaving all through the year.

"The most popular patterns could then be bought by the mills at the times of peak in demand; this would help level out the peaks and troughs within the weaving industry and keep weavers weaving

"I know work has already been done on this by the Harris Tweed Authority and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, thus, I am asking the Minister to use his Office to try and get a £350,000 investment fund, not a grant, underway.

"The beauty of such a fund is that it would always keep the value in either cash or tweed assets. This would then give weavers a livelihood over the next four months during this restructuring period and ensure that weavers are still present when the industry becomes busy again, as is expected in 2009," added Mr MacNeil.
As I understand it, the proposal this would subsidise the mills (and their wealthy investors) to buy tweed in order to keep weavers in work, irrespective of actual demand.

Far from keeping 'the value in either cash or tweed assets' you would actually end up with a situation where the fund had to guess next years best sellers and then persuade the mills to buy the stockpiled tweed the following year. Can you see any mill owner committing their own money to next year's patterns in advance of the trade shows?

And can't you just hear the mill owners sucking through their teeth, "Ooo, that pattern isn't popular this year. I'll only buy those tweeds at 50% off."

Wouldn't the time, money and effort be better spent in trying to ensure that the weavers are allowed to claim benefit during the quiet times?

Being your own boss....

Sick dripOne of the privileges of being your own boss is that if you feel like crap, you can close the door and go home for the rest of the day.

The down side is that the work is still waiting for you the next morning, and still needs to be done. Just in less time.

(The picture suggests some kind of terminal illness. It was more like some kind of flu/cold/viral infection that you get from the kids. But I'm a man, so I'm expected to be melodramatic when feeling unwell.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

BBC licence fee

With the news that Noel Edmonds was refusing to pay his Licence Fee due to the 'threatening manner' of the BBC towards collection, can I issue a plea to all the Parliamentarians reading this to bring back capital punishment in this instance for the following set of circumstances
  • crimes against humour on Saturday nights
  • stupid pullovers
  • rampant pomposity
  • trying to promote your Sky TV programme
  • having a stupid beard
  • Mr Blobby (which should be enough in itself)
  • generally being an arse
I suggest a very public hanging, as part of the Saturday National Lottery draw, would be an appropriate and very ratings friendly manner to proceed.

And the winner is....

He won the election....
Iain GrayHe biggest threat is still in office...

Gordon Brown
and he's laughing.....Alex Salmond

A slow car crash

The massed ranks are massing to wield the sword to dispatch Gordon Brown.

Well almost.

In a moment of 'Not me, Brute', they are scared and incapable of actually taking a stand and saying what they are thinking.

Siobhain McDonagh and Joan Ryan actually had something to lose when they said what they said, and they duly paid the price. That they were prepared to lose the posts says a lot about the situation inside the Labour Party, and with a further 5 MPs calling for a contest the runes are quite clear.

It takes 70 MPs to nominate a challenger, something that I think is unlikely in the immediate future, but that is not the problem.

Gordon Brown is irreparably damaged, and the sooner he realises that that better for Labour. His presence is destroying the party from within, and every day that he stays the hole is getting deeper.

His one advantage is that he has surrounded himself with spineless acolytes, none of whom have the courage to tell him what is really happening, and what he is doing to Labour.

The King must die! Long live the next King! It will make the difference between annihilation and a recoverable defeat.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Schools, yet again

I'm going to give great credit to Angus Campbell for taking a stand and putting his neck on the block by resigning as Chairman of the new schools company.

Frankly, I cannot see how any of the other three Councillors can actually sit on the body charged with delivering new schools, and closing others in order to fund the shortfall in budgets, when they have undermined the policy of their own Chair of Education. At least until the other side of the elections.

The tensions at the top are immense with the Vice-Convener at odds with the Convener and his own Vice-Chairman, and with the Chair of Education being hung out to dry by her colleagues.

We now have the Director of Technical Services on secondment to the schools PPP until 2011 at the earliest; new staff being recruited to fill finance and managerial posts; and all the while, the Council are delaying the implementation of a policy that the majority of Councillors believe requires to be followed; whilst, they acknowledge that the delay is costing large (but unspecified) sums that is tossing the entire capital programme of the Council out of the window.
And in the meantime, the Scottish Government might prevent the closures on educational grounds, leaving the Council without a raison d'etre for the schools PPP.

Regardless of your views on the entire project, the indecision, delay, prevarication and reversal of voting intentions has exacerbated an already difficult situation.

A situation that came about when the original project was created and the Council was forced into accepting insufficient funding to rationalise the schools in the islands.

The funding is dependent upon closing schools, otherwise the hole in the budget grows from huge to immense. The crocodile tears from MacNeil and Allan on this are pathetic, as it is their party that is forcing the Council to get restricted funding on the condition that the Council rationalise the schools.

The only responsible option here is to scrap the entire project and re-start discussions with the Government on the impact on all the schools in the islands; and then to seek proper funding for whatever is decided to be the correct approach. There are too many entrenched positions that people need to be levered out of.

For the good of education in the islands, the re-evaluation needs to be done quickly; and then the decisions implemented quickly.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sunday opening of the Sports Centre

Dear All [sent to various public representatives]

Would you be willing to put your name and title to this letter along with several others including members of the electorate, health care professionals and council members? Your support would be helpful and very much appreciated. Feel free to add any suggestions, although we would like to keep this short and to the point.

Kind regards

Elma and George


Mr Gordon Jamieson
Acting Chief Executive
Western Isles Health Board
37 South Beach

Dear Mr Jamieson

We, the undersigned, believe that the Western Isles Health Board should be encouraging all avenues to improve the very poor standard of health amongst the population of these islands. There can be no doubt that one way of improving health and reducing the shocking statistics surrounding premature death due to heart disease and obesity, would be access to sport and leisure facilities at the weekend.

At present, the Western Isles Council prohibits the use of these facilities by the public on Sundays. We urge you to raise this matter at Board level and petition the Council to change this policy.

Yours sincerely

Death to birds of prey

I lift all these quotes direct from the Stornoway Gazette.....
A rare bird who found sanctuary in the Western Isles after taking a wrong turn during its migration met a sad end this week.
As the sad tale of the Osprey continues, the utter despair and hopelessness of it's life is neatly condensed by those who had (cruelly?) tagged it....
Moray seemed to lose all sense of direction and fly north west towards the Hebrides.
Perhaps Moray knew where he was going before heading to Africa, and it was the other one that was lost, but never mind...
"A batch of signals came in during the day, and I became worried that Moray had not moved location," explained blog writer Jamie Whittle. "After examining the data carefully, including the activity counter, I was convinced that he was either dead or unable to move at Barvas."

Moray's body was soon discovered in a roadside ditch, raising suspicion he may have been hit by a passing car.
This is almost beyond satire, but I will continue anyway.

With more birds killed every year by cars than are ever killed by wind farms... No! Stop now!

Off licence sales

The Electric Crofter is slightly less cynical than his colleagues, and I welcomed almost everything in Alex Salmond's speech last week.

I think that it is filled with good ideas and the real test will be delivering the big promises that have been made. Like many other voters, I think that he needs a chance to succeed, and show us he is not like all the others. Of course, if he fails then the Electric Crofter household will respond in the appropriate manner in the ballot box.

One policy implication hit me straight between the eyes this weekend, and I realised that it might have a wider and more detrimental impact here in the islands.

Our eldest decided to meet some friends over the weekend, and it was agreed that they would each buy a few drinks before meeting at someone's house to listen to music, watch films, or whatever else they do. Eldest is 20 and all their friends are the same age, and none of them drink much at all, and they don't like going into pubs. Indeed almost all their weekends are staid sober affairs.

Eldest pointed out to us the next morning that under the planned new policy restricting sales at off-licences to over 21s they wouldn't have been able to get their small carry out from the local shop but would have had to drive many miles to Stornoway to go into a pub and then drive back.

Whilst that may dissuade that group from drinking in a civilised manner, the view from the young adults was that it would only encourage the less restrained to make a trip to the big city for a night out, an inevitably someone will try to drive back home.

My initial reaction is that eldest is right, and that those who are supposed to be prevented from drinking by this policy might actually be pushed into travelling to drink. And not by bus.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tax rich at higher rate, says TUC

I'm with the TUC on this one, as it is about time that someone advocated proper redistributionist taxation policies.

The supposed virtue placed on unearned income - dividends and interest - is based on the false Thatcherite notion that the recipient has worked hard all their lives and deserves to pay less tax.

Mrs Tina Green, a long time resident of Monte Carlo, demonstrates that this is not the case, and that the majority of the beneficiaries are middle-earners and above who run their own businesses.

If you receive £1m in dividends you pay an effective tax rate of just under 25% on the whole amount (unless you live outside the UK, when it become zero) and if it is your own company, you can arrange not draw a salary hence not facing any PAYE or National Insurance.

While everyone else has no option but to pay 31% (or 41%) of their salary.

Labour's insane infatuation with the mega-rich, and the premise that they must be good for the economy, has resulted in a bidding war to give them everything they want in terms of tax relief, without expecting them to contribute financially (other than negligible sums) to the Treasury.

Meantime the pensioners - the ones who should benefit from the tax breaks on unearned income - are means tested on paltry sums received. To pay for the tax planning opportunities of the very wealthy.

(At this juncture, I must point out that unearned income will be ignored for Local Income Tax, meaning that with a modicum of planning, someone with their own company will pay no LIT. Hardly egalitarian!)

The debate on taxation - and the false premise behind it - needs to be reopened, for the sake of the poorest, and the need to ensure fair taxation is now more pressing than ever.

Will Labour again become the party of the less privileged, or will they continue to pander to the rich - at least until their bank overdraft is clear?

Cynicism tells me that the battle to schmooze with the wealthy will extend to all parties. Just watch which rich party funders benefit from each policy 'adjustment'.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How politics works

With the collapse of Zoom and the loss of tickets for the Flying Fiddlers from Uist it was sure that this would jump to the top of the political agenda, with both major parties trying to do their best to be seen to do something, or at worst anything, for the group.

It is utterly heartbreaking that they have lost their flights, so it was good to see politicians trying to do something. What is very telling is the sincerity they put into their actions, and the speed of the issue of the press release proclaiming the importance of what they had done.

First out of the blocks was our own Mr Allan with an instant press release, and a call to action....
Isles MSPAlasdair Allan has taken up their cause and today tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the issue and called for more protection for air passengers.
By the next day, Dave Stewart had joined the action, suggesting the Comhairle might fund the trip and....
He has also written to the Culture Minister of the Scottish Government to highlight the case and seek funding possibilities from the Scottish Government.
The difference between the two approaches is clear. Allan was ultra busy being seen to do anything
, however useless and aimless. Stewart to his credit came up with some concrete suggestions that might, just might, mean that the fiddlers get to Canada.

Will Allan now join with Stewart lobbying the Culture Minister to try to ensure his constituents get to Canada, or is he to busy issuing press releases?

(and yes I have some friends who are in the Flying Fiddlers)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Lawnmowers of the sea?

Wave power around the British IslesThe article in Thursday's Guardian on underwater turbines makes for very interesting reading.

We should be the automatic choice for the location of any test turbines; just look at the sea colours in the picture - the deeper the colour the better the resource.

But, without a grid connection, we aren't going to be in the running for this.

The prospect with one of the onshore windfarms is to get that grid connection, and then to be able to exploit the connection for other alternatives which could mean that onshore wind then itself becomes an obsolete technology.

That prospect is around the corner - and is an aspiration of the Scottish Government - and we must make sure that the wave resource of the west coast is used to benefit the entire community.

Windfarms in North Lewis - the plans (?)

The presentations and supporting papers are available on the Scottish Government website, here.

My first reaction is that this multiple small-scheme plan is a worse 'opportunity' than the single big development at every level.

It can only provoke outrage from those who thought the matter was closed, and bewilderment for those who wonder why the previous scheme was really refused.

Schools to close (eventually)

Despite claims that any delay in taking the decisions was costing the Comhairle £10,000 (or £70,000 per month) the closures have been approved, only delayed by three years.

This - apparently - was met with a round of applause from the parents.

Were they applauding the decision to close?

Or were they applauding the decision to delay closure until after their children had left the affected schools?

The closures are either right or wrong, and a decision should have been made with immediate effect. The choice by Councillors to delay the implementation is a sop to appear to avoid taking a difficult decision; and a very expensive one at that. (Para updated for clarity)

The Council is tied into a very expensive, and wholly inappropriate, PFI scheme which both Alasdair Morrison and Alasdair Allan fell over each other to promise to deliver, regardless of the impact it is going to have on education provision in the islands.

So where does this leave us?

Over the next few years money that should have been spent on other services will be diverted to retaining crumbling schools, and teachers whose employment has been extended by three years.

Thereafter, the Council will find itself having to bridge a bigger and bigger financial gap to afford to pay for the new schools (I forecast the gap will at least double from today's estimate) which will have a further adverse impact on services, and we will still see moves to undermine the whole scheme with appeals to the Government not to close the schools in Daliburgh, Paible, Lionel and Shawbost. Which, if successful will result in yet more expense, time and effort in trying to bring this to a conclusion.

We were promised that the Scottish Futures Trust would replace all of this PFI nonsense, meaning cheaper and easier borrowings for the Council, but that scheme ran into fundamental problems in its conception - problems long pointed out by third parties.

The concept of borrowing cheaply from Government to deliver essential services has been long established, and long supported by the SNP as the way forward for public services. Until now.

The building of a new Secondary in Shetland has faced many of the same funding (and political) problems that we have, but they are borrowing the money from their Oil Fund, so that the 'profit' is recirculated back into the economy. We are forced to pay higher charges to bankers - but will we get a better deal at the end of the day? No, we will get a worse one.

I expect to be commenting on more shenanigans on this issue over the coming months and years.

(This whole decision has been even more traumatic than the windfarms; something I never thought possible)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Council pay rises

Council workers say they want more; Councils say they don't have enough to offer any larger increase in pay; Government tells the Councils to live within their means.

Sounds familiar?

The years of Thatcherism?

The Winter of Discontent in the mid-1970's?

And now in Scotland in 2008, when the various aspirations of the different parties are irreconcilable.

Of course, the same is happening in England, where Gordon Brown faces exactly the same problems, only without the Scottish Government as a buffer.

We will face strikes, lock-outs and a lot of bitterness - and for those using and needing Council services a lot of difficulties.

Now, I'm never one to expect inflation and salaries to necessarily be directly correlated, as performance improvements and changes in expectations and demands may make certain aspects of any organisation more or less important over time. The days of the blanket increases and permanent job security are long gone - except it seems in the public sector - and there is a need to reward good performance or high service demand by adjusting salaries.

BUT, coming on the back of regrading and single-status, many public sector employees must be feeling that they are getting nothing but bad news from their employers, and this is only going to compound the antagonism between the sides.

With the Scottish Government taking a very strong view against an increased settlement taking any responsibility for the decisions of local Government, I predict that the Unions will take a lot more industrial action before settling for an only slightly better offer, which will have to be funded by service cuts.

With the Government having given an unrealistic funding settlement for the increase in payroll costs, the cause is clear....but just who is going to get the blame from the public?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Dear Darling Chancellor

The badger stares into the abyssDear Al

Don't invite journalists to your holiday retreat in Uig unless you are prepared to have them report everything you say.

The photo and accompanying article make you seem like a sad lost soul desperately trying to save his job, by undermining the Prime Minister to such an extend that you think you will become a martyr or a hero by being sacked.

You don't make jokes about the resemblance between the stormy sea and the sub-prime market and expect knowing laughs from the financial markets, when you have the reputation for being as interesting as a bowl of semolina.

Frankly, you are a twat for taking the job in the first place being the punch bag for Gordy and taking all the blame for everything, whilst he takes all the glory.

But your most serious offence is to all Lewis to be called a "remote Scottish island". That, bugger-lugs, only compounds your sins and demonstrates the insularity of the London mindset and shows just how little attention we should pay to them.

On the upside, your description of the blessed Wendy as 'not likeable at all' surely understates her popularity amongst the rank and file, and the general public. You are to be congratulated on speaking the unutterable truth.

Go back to London, sit and sulk for the next 18 months, and prepare for a long time in opposition. And it's your fault almost as much as Gordy's.

Yours almost truly

Fishing licences

It has been brought to my attention that fishing licences can no longer be sold on the open market, meaning that many fishermen in the Western Isles are going to face the double whammy of collapsing prices and the inability to realise their major asset, if they try to leave the industry.

The Scottish Government introduced a restriction on the sale of fishing licences, whereby the licence cannot be sold outside Scotland, except in "special circumstances", and the announcement was slipped out as a small paragraph in new regulations that are now being applied.

This was raised at a meeting with the Minister in Uist recently, but as far as can be discerned there has been no clarity over "special circumstances" and neither the MP and MSP have not pursued the matter.

This could have potentially expensive consequences, especially if you are trying to change a boat and need to alter the licence that goes with it, and the only buyer is outside Scotland.

In the circumstances of a proposed 'swap' of boat and licence with someone in, say, South Shields or Belfast, the local fisherman could find himself unable to deal, which could make a whole mockery of the proposals.

Is this a case of the legislation not acting as intended, or is it simply an ill-thought out proposal?

Are their other industries to which similar restrictions are to be applied?

And, is any of this legal in terms of the Single European Market?