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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The weather

Mustn't grumble, compared to the BBC forecast for Aviemore this week.

Thanks to The Register.

Declaration of interest

Having reread the disgustingly fawning press release newspaper report on the front page of the Stornoway Greysheet from last week about how MacNeil and Allan had single-handedly saved the fishing industry, I had to throw the paper away in disgust.

The debate about just how much the local fishermen have been sold out to benefit the east-coast boats is for another day, the issue that angered me is that I believe that the author of the report has a financial interest in the story......

The SNP bought their offices apparently with three guarantors for the mortgage of up to £50,000. The mortgage is presumably paid by the rent charged to MacNeil and Allan, and this will become clear when their expenses are finally published. Of course, that is our public money that is being used.

One of the guarantors is the Chair of the local SNP, who happens to be married to the self-same journalist who writes nice things about the SNP. Of course, should MacNeil and Allan lose their seat, then the guarantors (and their spouses) would be potentially liable for the shortfall on the mortgage.

Can anyone see the conflict of interest here? Calling Johnston Press.... calling Johnston Press.

If this isn't a matter for the Press Complaints Commission or the NUJ, then at least the publishers should stop letting Donnie MacInnes place himself in such a compromising position. Not that I'm holding my breath.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


In light of events in Uist, I have suspended the previous post on Storas.

Ministry of Censorship

Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham (who???), has floated the idea of some kind of ratings scheme for the web to avoid children being exposed to 'harmful and offensive content'.

Andy Burnham MPAn MP has a thought........

Obviously, you have to have your brain removed to become Culture Secretary, and be prepared to pander to the lowest common denominator in the hope of engendering some good headlines, whilst proposing something that is unworkable.

The way try to stop children being exposed to 'harmful and offensive content' is for parents to be involved with their children and to put access controls onto the computer.

Anything else is bollocks.

Oops, there is some 'harmful and offensive content', but as this blog is hosted in the USA, I don't see why (or how) any UK rating control could be applied, and the support of the Americans - who hold dear this 'free speech' idea - seems unlikely in the extreme.

Next: just who is going to review and rate the web sites? It would take a lifetime to review and rate a fraction of the existing UK web pages, and assuming that every change will need to be reviewed - in case I link this web address to Al-Queda and my PG rating should change to 18.

Even my work website will have to be checked, just in case I surreptitiously create a dodgy sub domain involving dwarves, lycra-clad elephants and mud-wrestling: even if I am actually just correcting a typo.

So it is unworkable. Unless, the plan is to block access to all websites that haven't been approved. So even if I move to a web host in Ukraine, they Government can ensure that you cannot see it.

And perhaps that is the ultimate plan. Unless I submit to vetting, you won't be able to read "Andy Burham MP is a tosser".

It works in China. Which is a hell of a worrying example to aim to replicate.

Personally, I find the BNP website full of 'harmful and offensive content' that I would not want my children to see until they are intellectually developed enough to understand the politics of these views* but, like Voltaire, I will defend their right to say what they want.

It is hugely depressing to see an imbecile in charge of the internet in the UK, and I predict that the US will tell him where to stick his ratings idea.

* insert own joke here about the IQ of 12 year-olds and the IQ of the entire BNP membership

Monday, December 22, 2008

The project rolls on and on, and remains a source of some contention.

It is therefore quite amusing to obtain a copy of some recent "In confidence" minutes, which includes the classic line (page 2) to justify £1m plus of further expenditure.....
Maintaining the roll-out of Infill infrastructure and services to meet customer
demand and reduce reputational risks for HIE
Perhaps someone somewhere has the information to allow us to do the sums as to just how much it has cost so far. I fear that the number is so large as to be unbelievable......

What HIE should be worried about it not 'reputational risk' i.e looking like an arse, but quality and cost-effectiveness of the service delivered. That their priority is elsewhere speaks volumes.


Rousing from my sickbed at the weekend, I was delighted to see job adverts for the Greenspace research project at Lews Castle College.

Those of us who were involved in the Renewable Energy Zone concept always hoped that we would be able to create enough of a momentum through developing a number of options, that some (or even better, many) of the alternatives would come to fruition.

With wind seeming to have hit the buffers and wave starting to take shape, it is also very gratifying to see hydrogen growing in significance, and providing new jobs.

And that is the most important part, as far as I am concerned.

For too often we have exported highly intelligent school-leavers who go away and get a degree in a high-skill area, and who know that they will never in their wildest dreams find a suitable position back in the islands.
You will have a PhD in physics, engineering or a related discipline and have a strong and growing reputation in energy and built environment research. Extensive experience of advanced simulation tools such as Trnsys and Fluent is highly desirable.
You will be responsible for development and visualisation of computational fluid dynamic solutions of thermodynamic equations with emphasis on wind, fluid and solar modelling. You will have a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics, Physics or related engineering or science discipline, a deep knowledge of numerical analysis, scientific computing, and nonlinear systems and knowledge of numerical methods.
The ability to create an infrastructure that can support jobs of this calibre creates a fantastic opportunity to build a permanent skills base in the islands. Inevitably, some of the people will in turn spin out other businesses, and that can only be a huge positive for the islands.

Congratulations and kudos to the College and everyone involved in this project, and I am sure that we are all looking forward to the next stages and the results of your labours.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

24 hour shopping

Late night shopping StornowayYes, 24 hour shopping is hitting Stornoway.

The new Tesco has announced that it will be open non-stop from 8am on Monday until 6pm on Wednesday coming, and it looks like the same again the following week.

Booze, of course, cannot be sold before 8:30am or after 10:55pm, so if - like local beautician Mary MacLeod (right) - you have been thrown out of the Clachan or Lewis, and your taxi to the party at whoever's house is delayed, don't bother trying to pick up a newspaper and a half-dozen Irn-Bru Wkd.

I might wander down just to take some photos of the 3am rush on wholemeal pitta bread, just for posterity.

Of course, I might end up there if there is a nappy emergency one night.

How can the local shops compete.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Woolie's Summit

I understand that our esteemed MP has spoken to Jim Mather, and persuaded him by force of argument and dialectic skill, to think about attending a Woolies Summit to discuss the inability of the people of Lewis, Harris and the Uists to purchase Pick'n'mix and tartan Loch Ness Monsters bearing the message "Ceud Mile Failt from Stornaway".
Speaking about the Woolworth closures, Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: "I have what is believed to be the most profitable Woolworths in the country, in Stornoway in Lewis. The store I understand made over a million-pound profit last year. This news comes as a devastating blow to the island as well as the wider community.
Ignoring the appalling syntax, there is now a fantastic opportunity for a local businessman (or woman) to come in and generate £1m profit to be kept on the island rather than shipped away. Or does MacNeil prefer us to rely on others, rather than actually support local people achieving something?
"This is Labour's mishandling of the UK economy literally coming home to roost. I hope the government does not sit idly by but takes an active roll in trying to find a solution to keep Woolworth on our streets," he added.
Is the "active roll" available in brown or white?

What utter shite!

If the company is failing, why should taxpayers support it? Why does MacNeil not see this as an opportunity to replace a shop full of tat and shoplifting teenagers, with a shop that ploughs the profits back into the local community? What is this culture of dependency that politicians seem to like to create?

It must be a sickener for the staff to know that they are to be made redundant soon, but does anyone have any job security these days (apart from civil servants)?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lighthouse Caledonia (the end?)

According to Reuters....

The board of Norwegian salmon farming company Lighthouse Caledonia ASA froze payments to creditors due to constrained liquidity and asked for its shares to be suspended on the Oslo bourse on Tuesday.

The company, whose main operations are in Scotland, went through a restructuring phase in 2008.

"A recent reduction in credit terms from one key supplier -- with credit time being reduced from 90 to 30 days -- caused by the unresolved long-term financing of the company, has resulted in a constrained liquidity situation," it said in a statement.

Lighthouse Caledonia said it would maintain a close dialogue with lenders, owners, potential investors and its main suppliers to seek to resolve the situation.

At the company's request, the Oslo stock exchange suspended its shares until further notice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Salmon summit'

A press release comes from the Men of Inaction (c) announcing that they had done something about salmon. But only after the Lighthouse Caledonia factory has closed and the jobs have gone, and the ability to have some leverage over the company has disappeared.

Never mind, it keeps the quota of pointless press releases up....
Angus MacNeil said: “At the meeting I suggested to Mr Mather that a “Salmon Summit” involving all those with an interest or influence over Salmon production and processing in the islands should be brought together to brainstorm on the way forward for the industry.
Does the chocolate teapot not think that a better time to discuss this would have been BEFORE production at Marybank ceased? Has he discussed this with the Comhairle? (Answer: No. Not even with the Vice-Chair of Development, SNP Cllr Annie, which says a lot).
Alasdair Allan said: “The situation with Lighthouse Caledonia indicates the urgency of reviewing the Salmon sector in the islands. We have to keep processing jobs here and not have them exported from the Western Isles. The salmon sector in the islands is too important and now is time for government and industry to come together to achieve a more secure future.”
Having returned from a freebie in Canada when he should have been meeting the workers, Tintin senses the urgency of the situation ie. that he is going to lose his seat, and decides to make vague and frighteningly modest calls for action.

Why no meeting with the Minister BEFORE we lost the jobs? Just where did this meeting take place, when and how long did it last? Fifteen minutes on Monday morning is my guess.

Now of course, they could have offered to do something, anything, or tried to arrange the summit and go to the meeting to persuade the Minister to bring the Government to the table, but instead of which the only hint of action occurs after the event, and they both seek to get others to do the hard work for them.

And their responsibility is to represent the islands! Actually, there are a lot of people here who are prepared to work hard to create and secure jobs; who know who to speak to and how to negotiate with the industries; and who are prepared to do all this promptly, not after it is too late. These two have alienated and ignored almost everyone in those categories, with the consequence that the economy is in a tailspin and unemployment is going through the roof.

300,000 page views


That's about 200,000 in the past year.

Many thanks to all my readers, and I promise to continue to harass, praise and insult for the foreseeable future.

(thanks to anon for pointing out the typo)

Islands Energy strategy

According to Hebrides News, the islands energy strategy appears to be in tatters, after the omission of two major projects from the National Planning Priority list.

With the long awaited, long delayed, and probably pointless Renewable Energy for the Islands policy document due to be released by the Government at some time soonish, just how will this fit in to the NPP?

Answer: it won't. There is no co-ordination between the different arms of policy, with a desperate attempt to be all things to all men.

The Stornoway "Energy Portal" is a much needed relocation of some of the infrastructure from the centre of town to Arnish, and would see the gas and oil tanks, cement and coal deliveries, and other heavy/dirty supplies coming in at a much more appropriate location. Subject, of course, to road and infrastructure proposals; and whilst that is happening, it would make sense to upgrade the entire harbour environment to provide a base for supply vessels off the west coast.

It would have been good to be able to piggy-back one on the other, but the omission strongly suggests that either Sullom Voe will remain pre-eminent, or supply vessels will be based at a mainland port (Oban, in the constituency of the Enterprise Minister, perhaps?), and either way we will get the crumbs, if oil or gas are found.

The export of electricity from the islands is not a priority from the Government, suggesting that we can forget about the proposals for onshore wind. Which in consequence makes the development of wave and tidal power more difficult and more expensive; and hence more unlikely.

The upgrading of the national sub-sea cable holds a bit of a hope for the future, but otherwise it seems that local regeneration - as far as the Government is concerned - involves telling us what we can't do, and removing opportunities.

If this is the case, then we desperately need some more ideas to augment or replace a policy that Government seem fundamentally opposed to, and we need it soon. And as a community, we need to be behind it; or see the further decline and depopulation of the islands.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Scalpay Factory

Scalpay factory StoltIn the general joy and glad surrounding the proposed reopening of the Scalpay factory as a net washing station, I was reminiscing about my involvement in the planning process.

I recollect a long, lovely, warm day spent sitting working hard as Chairman for half an hour across the water from the factory, with the Council Officers measuring the noise, after a complaint.

It was just possible to hear the factory over the noise of running water from a nearby stream beside the objectors house, but rarely have I had such a peaceful, lazy piece of official business.

Which got me thinking about the Planning Permission for the factory, which occurred during a meeting which I Chaired.

Unless I missed a change of use application, the factory hasn't got permission to be used as a net washing station. A major part of such an application would be the discharges from the factory, and from past experience, I know that SEPA will not be quick to come to a decision and will want to see some tight conditions on this site, before issuing a Discharge Consent, which is a pre-requisite for operating.

But a bigger concern, and one that the Council was focussed upon, was the possibility for transmission of diseases into the Western Isles salmon stock. There are obvious cross-contamination issues if nets are being moved between the mainland and Scalpay, and I hope that these will be fully addressed whenever permission is discussed.

Finally, Scalpay residents might want to consider the potential for noise and smell pollution highlighted when the same company were refused permission for a similar facility in Stromeferry.

Don't hold your breath for this plan to go ahead.

Caption contest

Cllr Angus Campbell, Jackie Bird & someone else
Councillor Angus Campbell, Leader of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Angus Campbell has worked tirelessly to promote the Outer Hebrides as a location for renewable energy production from wind, wave and tidal sources. Angus has been at the forefront of efforts to bring green jobs and investment to the islands which face higher than average unemployment and projections of a steep population decline over the next two decades. He has demonstrated leadership and vision and has been an effective advocate for the industry at all levels.

Fishing licences

In September I wrote about a fisherman finding he was not able to sell his licence to an English buyer due to new restrictions that were sneaked out.

I know - through a client - that this matter was raised with the MP and MSP, but that the fisherman concerned have not received an answer some three months later.

Indeed, one person who sought clarification over what were the 'special circumstances' to permit a sale, was told by officials in the Executive to lie about the date that the deal was done, so that it was before the restrictions came into force!

Now the debate reaches Parliament today, and our MP has spoken:
Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “Labour MPs may believe in the discredited free market for quota trading. The SNP, however, is more worried about people and communities and is looking for ways to ensure a future, not just for this generation but future generations of Scottish fishermen.”
I know of a fisherman who wants to sell his boat and quota to a buyer in England and buy a bigger boat and more quota from another seller outside Scotland, but finds that the opportunity to grow his business is being prevented by a regulation imposed by those who have never worked for a living.

This fisherman's future is not being protected; in fact it is being undermined by the restrictions. But let's not let the facts get in the way of a party political barney.

SNP Windfarm policy

Anyone know just what the SNP policy on wind farms is???

The MP and MSP opposed all wind farms and then grudgingly supported community schemes.

The SNP Government are highly supportive of wind power, and trumpet every new windfarm.

The (past and present) SNP Councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar support wind farms, as the statement from Cllr Annie makes clear....
“We in the SNP Group are convinced that there is a massive future for the Outer Hebrides in the development of the renewables industry and also optimistic that the Scottish Government shares that positive vision for the Islands.”
Either the MP and MSP are out of step with everyone else, or Annie is sticking up two fingers at them.

The SNP seem to be completely lost when it comes to forming a coherent policy on renewables.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Crocodile tears

As the Council meets this week to discuss the cuts the various committee will have to implement, and funny and scurrilous, tale is reported to me by one observer of the last series of Council Meetings.

One Councillor made an emotional appeal to protect a certain service area, that was again overspent. His read his 'spontaneous' speech from a page that he had laminated ahead of the meeting.

His colleagues opined that it was laminated so that his staged crocodile tears wouldn't smudge the text.

One Councillor who listened to the speech was appalled at the content, which he said was vacuous, over the top, and offered problems not solutions, and probably caused the majority of the other Councillors to support cuts in that service.

The laminated page, he said, was necessary, as the contents of the speech made the others want to puke.

Future power generation

The game is a bogey, and has been for some time.Electricity

The future of energy generation was deliberately and strategically screwed by Tony Blair when he delayed and decision over power generation sources until such time as there were no options.

It is a classic politicians trick to close off the options that you don't like, to favour the one you do like, by ensuring that circumstances are changed to meet your preferences.

The report by SCDI makes it clear that nuclear power must be considered if security of power generation is to be ensured. Much as I oppose nuclear power, I am pragmatic enough to know that the failure to address the security of energy supply early enough has resulted in this option coming very close to being essential.

Close to essential. We still have time to avoid having to resort to nuclear, but that window is closing rapidly, and action and decisions need to be taken quickly.

To bridge the gap, an 'unprecedented' investment in renewables - onshore wind - is required with 450mw of new wind power need every year.

The attempt to find viable alternative renewable sources - wave and tidal - seems half-hearted at best, leaving the Government with the choice of onshore wind or nuclear. And I am with them in saying that nuclear must not be an option, if at all possible.

The Government is faced with two difficult choices, being both anti-onshore-wind (exceVan de Graff Generatorpt in some else's constituency) and anti-nuclear, so I see prevarication, warm words, and sweeping generalisations, followed by kicking the decisions into the long grass until after the next election.

We could, of course, all use less electricity but the chances of that happening are slim to negligible, meaning that without decisive action the power crunch is going to come in the next 20 years or so, leaving us with few options.

How long will a stockpile of peat last?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fr Angus

A Councillor recently saw me in his rear view mirror, parked behind him awaiting the ferry, and though I was the new parish priest.

I've been called many things, but this was new one on me.......

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bloggers block

aka digital constipation.

I made a rod for my own back by writing the words "in my next post", as I suddenly suffered from an inability to actually write the next post.

Blogging regularly and attracting the attention of the world is not easy, especially when I also work, have a family, and try to have a life beyond work and the blog.

I drafted the post, and was unsatisfied with it; rewrote it and was unsatisfied. Put it aside, rewrote it and as still unsatisfied. Wrote a completely new post, and didn't like it.

By this point, I knew I as missing other matters I wanted to comment upon, but or the first time ever I couldn't get a post I need to make to make sense.

So I took a break of a couple of days, got the new office website officially up and running, and partially rewritten, and although it is not perfect, it is nearly there. Concentrated on getting it registered with the search engines - I have got a fairly good record in getting all our websites very high up Google, and this week saw the new sites jump up the listings, which has had a beneficial knock-on effect on business.

For various (commercially confidential) reasons we have developed a (confidential) professional specialism that is attracting a lot of new clients from all across the UK, and which clearly demonstrates that a good website and a good Google ranking is a way of generating a lot of business. And that our location is an advantage, not a hindrance.

Back to the blog today, and I looked at my various drafts, and realised that version 3, written on Wednesday, needed one small tweak and it was ready. Made the adjustment, posted the blog, and away we go. Back to normal.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Congratulations to the Vice-Convener

It was with great pleasure that I heard that Angus Campbell, the Comhairle Vice-Convener was awarded the title of "Best Politician" at the Scottish Renewable Energy Awards last night.

There is no doubt that Angus works incredibly hard for the Western Isles - anyone who doubts that should look and see just how often his vehicle is parked at the Council Offices - and his commitment to renewable energy is not in doubt.

Having worked with Angus, I know that this honour is absolutely and totally deserved, and it is just a pity that some other politicians still treat the Comhairle as a nuisance to be avoided and ignored, rather than to be worked with.

Angus Campbell
The winner

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The declining island economy

On reading the press release from Alasdair Allan MSP I was very angry; then I laughed at the imbecility of it ; then I just got depressed at the lack of vision and understanding.

The closure of LHC is such a major issue, that Mr Allan announces, that
"Along with my colleague Angus MacNeil MP we will now be seeking an urgent meeting with the Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather MSP, to seek ways forward for the islands economy."
We also need to look at the fact that the motion in the Scottish Parliament in September 2008 was supposed to raise the profile of the issue, but that one of key parties has totally ignored their responsibilities.
S3M-2604 Alasdair Allan: Lighthouse Caledonia—That the Parliament expresses its serious concern at the news that Lighthouse Caledonia, one of the biggest private employers in the Western Isles, is to consider the future of its fish processing and related business within the Isles, potentially with an impact on over 100 jobs, and believes it is now imperative for the Parliament, the Scottish Government and its agencies, the local authority, the workforce and the company itself to work tirelessly together to ensure that this essential business stays in the Western Isles.
I refer, of course, to the Government, who have been conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps someone can do an FoI request to find out if the Government were even asked to be involved, and what questions were asked of Mr Mather, and what responses he gave?
"I am also going to raise a question at First ministers (sic) questions as to what can now be done to boost the island economy. This is a big blow to the economy of the Western Isles."
Wow! That will have them shaking in their shoes. Asking a soft question to get bland answers is not a substitute for action.

With the Harris Tweed industry scrabbling around for £350k to fund a scheme to keep weavers active (another issue in which the Government have been asked to take action by our MP and MSP, and where they have been invisible) the Depression and unemploymentlikely answers are all to clear. And depressing

Having chased away the biggest single private sector investment ever proposed for the islands - I refer of course to large scale windfarms - it is difficult to envisage the civil servants or the Minister now listening to pleas about disinvestment and economic hardship.

Now, I know that there are some people out there who oppose windfarms, but I already gave a simple solution. If the moor is that important, then our MP and MSP should have been arguing that refusal of planning permission for LWP should have been matched by a Government fund to allow us to protect the environment in the islands - moor, birds and humans - which would have given us the pot from which to provide an economic buffer.

But, unable to see beyond the knee-jerk opposition, instead of trying to get the best deal for the islands, the MP and MSP campaigned so that the intrinsic value of the moor was given away, development precluded, and the islanders are left with fewer ways to generate income. And they call that success.

Now HIE and the Comhairle have called for large scale windfarms to be approved on the island without delay, as being the only way to regenerate the economy.

I disagree. Yes, disagree. (Sharp intake of breath all around!)

At the moment, the economy is too fragile to become overly dependent on only one source of employment, and for us to be at the mercy of one oligopoly or developers. What we need is solutions that will develop the economy in a number of areas, across various sectors, professions and trade, so that we have diversification not consolidation.

Large wind farms are PART of the answer, and can aid the diversification, but the lead time is too long, and we need working solutions in the next few months.

If the local economy is to survive this downturn, and come out of it stronger, we need to find way to develop and encourage the local economy (and that means the private sector) to diversify an ultimately it will require massive targeted capital expenditure programmes to retain the skills.

Sadly, all the Comhairle capital expenditure is going on the new schools project.

Equally sadly, I cannot see either our MP or MSP actively engaging the Government and lobbying for their constituents.

I predict - for the umpteenth time - that the economic and community benefit strategy that is due to come from the Government is going to be vague, filled with generalisations and niceties, and deliver nothing for the islands. Except possibly the Eishken windfarm, which would be a major embarassment for our MP and MSP.