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

Friday, January 30, 2009

North Lewis windfarm

I confess to being very pleasantly surprised at the announcement by the Government that they would look favourably on a development of up to 50 wind turbines in the area West and South of Stornoway.

The devil is always in the detail, so I'm looking forward to reading the document as soon as it is available, but here's why I surprised:
  • I expected the outcome to be bland, civil service speak, and filled with generalities, and it actually seems to have specifics. Kudos and credit to Jim Mather for being decisive*, because
  • Our MP and MSP have been lobbying hard against this proposal since they first took an interest in the subject** and having set their sights firmly against any large windfarm, I thought they had the Minister's ear.
I don't want to put a damper on the hugely important Siadar development, but it is just a test set-up that there to help the technology become viable. As Murdo "Apple" Murray said last week on Isles FM, it is necessary to have a mix of the different technologies until such time as the renewables become mature and effective. By spreading the risk on the islands we stand a much better change of having the 'successful' technology developed here, and, yes, becoming a carbon neutral island.

The prospect of the Sound of Harris generating vast quantities of renewable energy can be achieved by incorporating turbines into the causeway - which will also stop the rows over Sunday ferries - and the same can be achieved over the Sound of Barra.

Is it too late to discuss incorporating some form of renewable energy into the Uist causeways? If not, then please let us ensure that we never have the same omission again.

The future is brighter than it was, so let us grab the opportunities and secure a green future for the islands.

Renewables will never wholly replace conventional power, but over time the impact of tidal power will become hugely important and, yes, it will supercede and replace onshore wind; but only when a working technology is widely available.

* I would have said the same if he had been decisively agaisnt any development
** Just before the relevant election, if you hadn't guessed

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Scottish Budget

In all the hot air and sanctimonious posturing that surrounded the vote, I think that a closer look at the role of the participants is informative.

SNP, Tories & Margo MacDonald
Labour, Lib Dems & Greens

What unholy alliances!

The threat by Alex Salmond to throw the toys of out the pram and call an election is just another negotiating tactic, as I don't think that any of the parties actually wants an election - probably as it will just result in another hung parliament, and the whole process will start all over again.

The budget will move closer to being passed today; if the negotiations with the Greens demonstrate any degree of maturity by the Parties.

If it doesn't get through today, then it will get through in February - when MSPs will have to give up a week of their holidays* - to discuss the Budget.

I think that the SNP Budget as proposed is (broadly) better than the amendments proposed by the opposition parties, but with the horse-trading continuing we are likely to end up with a curate's egg.

However, I predict that the deal with the Tories will come back to haunt the SNP.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Land banks

I see that we are due to get £150,00 of funding to buy two banks of land in Vatersay and at the Lews Castle College.

A good long term investment, but just how buying land will "help to kick start construction work" remains a mystery to me.

However, our MSP seems to think that buying land will somehow immediately deliver houses, despite the absence of any actual funding for building anything. Perhaps the promised funding will eventually be delivered, and the houses eventually built.....

Just where about in the grounds of the Lews Castle College is it proposed that new houses be built? I don't recollect this being in the local plan, but perhaps I missed it, but I have some reservations about housing inside the Castle policies, even if it is 'student' accomodation.

A glimmer of sanity

Speaking about the proposed Barra SAC, our MP said to Hebrides News:
“I met with a local representative group at the weekend, who just feel that they are being strangled by conservation and designation orders.

“They simply do not feel that any consultation should happen or SAC designation made which would take in most of the Sound of Barra and complete encircle the Island of Eriskay. People are frankly sick tired of the perennial conservation industry that comes their way.

He added: “The excuse again seems to be that this is European demand, therefore I want to cut out the middle men and I am currently trying to find the person or group responsible in Brussels for this latest conservation bureaucracy to come to the affected islands and state why and explain just what threats they wield if the designation does not take place."

“However, in the first place the Scottish Government must make every effort to put the designation far into the long grass. The previous Labour administration was far too trigger happy about designations.”
(My emphasis) Opposition to designations doesn't mean opposition to conservation, indeed the two have worked hand-in-hand in the proposed SAC.

Just one question -- does the MPs opposition to designation extend to Lewis and Harris, or is it just the Barra area?

I don't want us to say No to every designation; just to exercise great caution before accepting one, and to fully understand the benefits and limitations that designations can create.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to reply to a blog

If it is good enough guidance for the USAF, then I think that we should all be able to learn from it.

USAF blog guidanceI am a troll, misguided, a ranter or just an unhappy customer? Or maybe I just provoke concurrence.

Thanks to anon who dared me to post this.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Easy loans......

The cycle of meetings at the Comhairle is there so that the usual and unusual decisions can be taken in public view and discussed and approved by the Councillors before being implemented. Sometimes this can take forever, and I remember how frustrating it could be, but such is the nature of democracy.

It would therefore be wholly understandable if a large loan to a high profile local business avoided all these unnecessary complications of scrutiny, due consideration by Councillors, and the pesky need to justify the appropriateness of the plans to repay the loan.

Why should Councillors even need to be told that £50,000 was being given to help a loss making business that was in direct competition with local business who actually pay rates into the Council coffers? I'm sure that all the other businessmen are only too happy to subsidise the competition, especially in these hard times.

Having seen the original business plan in privileged circumstances, I can't comment much further except to say that my analysis of the original figures highlighted the problem that I understand has now come around, and a sensible revision of the forecasts actually poses more fundamental questions that need answers.

No doubt the fact that the accounts showing a huge loss were only lodged after the loan was approved (and paid over?) doesn't mean that there was any accidental misunderstanding over the current position when whoever it was took the fateful decision.

No doubt details of the process will come out, and allow the rest of us the chance to get subsidies for our favourite loss-making business, without the need for financial reality to intrude.

Barra & Vatersay SAC

As the dispute over the suitability and possible operation of a marine SAC in the waters around Barra and Vatersay rumbles on, a curious letter emanates from the higher reaches of the Scottish Parliament.

In response to a letter from Eoligarry Village Association, Peter Peacock MSP writes:
"While I support efforts to encourage population retention and growth I was surprised to hear that there had been so much restriction on activity locally as a result of the last designations. I have written to the Minister of Environment seeking his comments on this issue and will let you know when I receive his response".
This is astonishing that a Minister in the last Scottish Executive was unaware of the impact of a policy; the local opposition to the policy; and that there seems to have been no study of the (beneficial/detrimental) effects of all these designations.

With the islands almost entirely covered with various designations, it is perhaps better to see an MSP waking up to the impact it can have, even if it is very late in the game.

Hopefully, the mania for designations will be kept in check until such time as the impact of being designated can be properly assessed; as it is virtually impossible to become 'undesignated'.

The impact of 'designation blight' on the islands is substantial, and very soon we will be completely under the thumb of unelected quangos --- the new landlordism.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wave farm approved

The nPower scheme at Siadar has been approved.

This is great news for the islands, and I am very glad to see it happening. Congratulations to the Scottish Government.

Hopefully, this will mean work for Arnish in construction; for the builders in site preparation; and the trickle down effect should bring a very welcome boost to the islands.

I'm proud to have played a very small part in this success, and eventually some 1,800 houses in the islands should be able to be powered directly from this scheme.

At last good news.......

Just when will the work actually start?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How politics works (part 99)

In Parliament yesterday, our MP said....
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the Government bailing out banks when we subsequently read reports of the very same banks writing off loans to Russian oligarchs in the region of £2 billion to £3 billion? Does he think that that is a wise use of taxpayers' money?
Compare this to how Alex Salmond saw the situation in October...

First Minister Alex Salmond has welcomed the £50bn rescue plan for UK banks as a "very substantial" set of measures.

But Mr Salmond said more action was needed and he called for "more assurance" for depositors.

He also criticised "leaks and rumours" surrounding a fall in the Royal Bank of Scotland's share price on Tuesday.

And later he added...

First, Scotland has outstanding financial institutions that are pursuing their business through the economic downturn and the financial crisis, and they are doing so exceptionally well.

Thank goodness they weren't dodgy banks lending money like water to Russian oligarchs or we would all be up shit creek.

Just as well we didn't listen the 'leaks and rumours' in October or we could all have made a big mistake and sold our shares at 180p rather than see the price in such a fine, robust, financial basketcase drop to 11p.

Sports Centre

At the grand (very delayed) opening of the Sports Centre yesterday, the most important statement came from SportScotland.

There will be no more grants for any sports facilities in the Western Isles unless they open seven days a week.

Harris Golf Club have been refused SportScotland for this reason.

Whatever your view on the rights or wrongs, this is definitely the thin end of the wedge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Harris Tweed fund

Congratulations to the Council in setting up the fund, which - if I understand it correctly - will take orders from the mills; fund the weavers to produce the tweed; and, then sell the tweed to the mills as they approach their busy time.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government seem to have given the plan a wide berth, despite our MP asking them to help:
I am asking the Minister to use his Office to try and get a £350,000 investment fund, not a grant, underway
And our MSP doing the same:
he was continuing to press for an investment fund to stabilise the traditional peaks and troughs in demand in the industry.
Perhaps Jim Mather was too busy responding to their similar requests about Lighthouse Caledonia (d'cd).

I am told that their efforts have barely been acknowledged by Government, and that they have had little or no involvement in setting up the fund, beyond press releases, and consequently the Comhairle - to its credit - has gone ahead alone.

Before anyone gets too complacent about the success of the fund, Hebrides News is reporting that Stickie's mill has a vast quantity of tweed in stock, and as some employees have reported to me, there seems no prospect of any orders coming their way in the forseeable future. Were it not for the seemingly limitless pockets of Haggas in funding a core staff doing virtually nothing.

The Comhairle have to be sure that the mills will take (and be able to pay for) the tweed ordered so that public money is not squandered, but I am sure that they are only too well aware of this.

Just one last thought - just where are these completed tweeds going to be stored?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Central Heating

Stewart Maxwell (right, and please don't scream) has turned up to officially open a Sport Centre that has been open for five years (not Sundays) and to promise to do something about Central heating for pensioners.

As he promised in 2007, all pensioners would have the central heating installed within a few months, as he was working closely with Scottish (i.e. British) Gas to make sure it was delivered shortly.

He gave the same pledge in 2008 when the targets were missed.

Now we get the same promises and same fawning supporting comments from Tintin.

Any chance of actual delivery, not just waffle about delivery?

Livestock by car

The BBC seem to find some humour in the transportation of a cow by car in Beruit. Just how patronising can they be about the real world beyond Islington.

In Electric Crofter's humble opinion, there are parts of these islands where the passenger seat of the car is more often occupied by a dog or a sheep than by 'the wife'.

Indeed, who can forget the ban by CalMac on the transportation of sheep in cars:
For the crofters of the Hebridean Islands it was the perfect way to fleece a few pounds from Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac). It had been a difficult year, 1998, after all. Sheep prices had plummeted and profits were down. They needed something to take their minds off their agricultural woes. A holiday was the perfect answer. But what with the £17.30p per person fare to the mainland, and £61 for a car on top of that, a holiday was beyond the budget of the cash-starved crofters.

Then CalMac stepped in with a scheme designed to help the struggling crofters. Since the start of the summer CalMac has allowed island crofters to take sheep to markets on the mainland for just £2.35p per head - the vehicle and the driver go free. So it didn't take long for some islanders to work out that the cheapest way to take a holiday was to take an ovine friend with them. "There has been some abuse," said a spokesman for CalMac. "Certain drivers have been taking one or two sheep in their cars so that they can benefit from what is a very generous discount scheme."

The crofters have been taking sheep to Oban on the mainland. When they get there the sheep are left with friends. Then the crofters return with the sheep in the car and say that the price was too low and they did not sell. They've actually just had a holiday and so has the sheep!

"This was a short-term arrangement for a limited number of islands for a limited period," the CalMac spokesman said. "We are looking at alternatives for next year!"

Mind you, the difference between a scraggy ram and the mother-in-law is smaller than my LFA cheque.

Bank lending

How badly wrong can the Government get it?

OK, admittedly the Banks were the authors of their own destruction with over-valued assets, grotesque bonuses, fat dividends and politicians falling over themselves to say just how good it all was.

Until the roundabout stopped, and they all fell off.

Northern Rock has had to slash lending to fund the debt repayment to the Bank of England, and has raised interest rates to borrowers to dissuade new custom. The end result? The good customers go elsewhere; the bad risks (the poorest!) can't move and are penalised; credit available from one of the biggest lenders dries up; and liquidity suffers.

Now they realise that lack of liquidity is the problem.

After the first bail-out was used by banks to repay debts to each other, and then sit on their cash.

Sometime at the end of this, there has to be a long hard look at whether the banks were actually ever solvent, and whether the profits were real or illusory.

Now the Bank of England is to buy £50bn worth of assets from companies. Yes, but which assets?

The removal of any financial responsibility for their actions will be hugely pleasing for directors and shareholders, no matter how low a price they get for the assets, whilst we - the taxpayers - will still be paying the pensions made fat on false profits until well after I retire.

Of course, as the blame goes right to the top of the tree, the shutters will come down and we will never find the truth until the guilty are retired, dead or, in an amalgam of the two, in the House of Lords.

Ken Clarke returns

I don't know if this is a sign of desperation by the Tories at the lacklustre (invisible!) performance of Alan Duncan or a master-stroke of tactics in bringing back a 'big beast' of politics.

One thing for certain, the House of Commons will certainly be livelier for his presence.

With the common touch, and always looking just a bit dishevelled, I think that he will certainly help their standing in the polls.

I certainly look forward to the sparks flying at the next round of business debates, as he tries to reconcile his positions with those of his party.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A correspondent writes......


I see you previously flagged up the lack of jobs on the islands. How do you explain the 35 in this weeks paper?
Assuming Mr Rose Tinted Spectacles means the Stornoway Gazette, let's have a look at this claim in detail.

Let's start by noting the 15 job losses at Bardens.

I make it 21 vacancies:
  • 2 temporary fieldworkers with the Uist wader project (hedgehog catchers)
  • 3 relief posts with Social work
  • 1 taxi driver wanted (self employed)
Which leaves 15 permanent vacancies, so that the poor guys at Bardens have a choice of the following posts:
  • Principal Teacher of Guidance at the Nicolson Institute
  • Principal Teacher of English at the Nicolson Institute
  • 2 Itinerant learning support teachers
  • Solicitor
  • Senior school technician
  • Senior afterschool club playworker
  • Clerical assistant
  • Support social care assistant
  • Play assistant - Tong playgroup
  • Stòras Uibhist Development Officer
  • Community Radio Station Manager
  • Berthing Master/Pilot
  • PA/Administrator to an architectural practice
  • Oifigear Iomait Cànain*
Of which only 2 posts are in the private sector and not funded by the taxpayer, and I don't think many of the posts will attract applicants from Bardens, Lighthouse Caledonia, Arnish, Calmax or any of the numerous other job losses.

* My Gaelic is not good enough to be sure, but this might just be three admin jobs based in Lochaber, Edinburgh and Skye.

I'm not being despondent,just realistic as the downturn and job losses indirectly affect me and my family.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Spare the rod....

According to the BBC:

Bun-sgoil Ghaidhlig Inbhir Nis in Inverness was awarded "very good" and "excellent" grades.

Head teacher Janet MacLeod said the report recognised the staffs' work.

Perhaps the staff had more to do with it, than the staffs they needed to use.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Salmon summit

Too late.

I am told that the factory in Marybank has been stripped of all the equipment, which has been shipped to Cairndow in Argyll.

I know that the Comhairle have contacted some people in the sector about the possibility of holding such a summit. Does anyone know what progress this is making?

More interestingly, has anyone got any knowledge of any involvement of the MP or MSP in this matter? Has anyone got any detail about any correspondence they might have had with the Enterprise Minister?

My sources say that, beyond issuing a press release, their involvement has been non-existent, but surely that can't be true. Can it?

Small business loan scheme

The Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme writ large, but with extra bureaucracy to help support failing firms rather than those who need the money.

Being seen to do something, rather than doing something productive.

All the cash pumped into the banks has been used to repay inter-bank loans, and now they are all sitting on their cash: like the rest of us, worried about the future.

Massive fail!

"Send that nice boy to my room later."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Business seminar

I was supposed to be attending the Business Seminar at the Comhairle tonight, but unfortunately unexpected client business unfortunately kept me away.

The rationale of the meeting was:
  • To help fully understand the present and future outlook for local businesses
  • To identify appropriate actions we can take collectively to try and mitigate against further negative impacts arising from the downturn
I think that the Comhairle should be applauded for holding such a seminar in an effort to get in touch with the private sector, and I would be very glad to hear from others who were actually able to attend.

Had I been present, the key points I would have raised were:
  • Is this just a Comhairle initiative, or are the Health Board involved too?
  • We mustn't overestimate what the Comhairle can achieve, as they can only manage a small (but significant) part of the economy
  • Put services out to tender with local businesses, even if that means local business have the opportunity to compete with the status quo of providing the service within the Council.
  • Buy local, and take account of the local multiplier impact of buying local in taking decisions - £1,000 quote from the mainland might be worse than a £1,500 quote from local suppliers if it supports local jobs and generates £3,000 of economic activity on the islands
  • Ensure Comhairle suppliers pay their suppliers promptly - this is especially important in the construction industry where one locally based contractor has unilaterally extended terms from 30 days to 90
The Scottish Government budget is claimed to generate ("support"?) 4,000 (or is it "nearly 5,000" jobs?) - which is possibly 25 jobs here. That doesn't even cover the loses at Arnish, never mind all the other losses....

It's my quango......

Oh dear!

First Minister Alex Salmond tried to block an ex-Labour MSP becoming boss of a Gaelic TV quango, it has emerged.

He told officials to "recommend against" Alasdair Morrison becoming chairman of MG Alba, who run the BBC's Gaelic digital channel[...]

An aide to the First Minister said: "We felt it was important that the chairman should be seen to be objective. We raised doubts about whether Alasdair Morrison could be entirely impartial."

It all smacks of rather pathetic petty party politics, especially on an isue that you have no say over.

Rural fuel duty

So according to the Chancellor:
in a letter to Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney, said drawing the boundaries of any fuel duty rebate area would be "extremely complicated".
This is from the man who manages the Tax Credit scheme, that is so complex that no-one can produce an accurate working spreadsheet to calculate the benefits due.

This is from the man who introduced a new tax rate for earnings between £100,000 and £150,000 that involves a complex sliding scale of allowances that means that anyone affected cannot get an accurate tax code.

Look, it is bloody simple:

If fuel duty is abolished on all the islands, and maximum deliveries are set at (say) £100 for cars and £500 for HGVs then the local petrol stations can recover the duty they pay through an amended fuel duty rebate scheme. No more complex to administer than VAT, and subject to exactly the same requirements for documentation which can be examined at any time by VAT Inspectors.

You are not going to get smuggling across the Minch for such small values.

Onto the mainland, and you can prescribe the same principle by postcode, based on where the petrol station is situated. A petrol station in Kinlochbervie could easily have a lower duty rate than one in Inverness, and by carefully rolling it out, you can minimise displacement i.e. someone driving from Inverness to Kinlochberive to get a cheaper tank of petrol.

Move over Darling, and let me have a go at running the economy!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Unemployable ex-public school boy insults foreigners shock.

I though it was a compulsory subject at Eton.

Personally I blame the family. His father has never worked, and his mother had mental health issues around her body image. A clearly dysfunctional family, how they kept the Social Services at bay is anyone's guess.

They lived with the grandparents, in a situation where granddad has previously and repeatedly expressed racist views, whilst expecting the state to look after him since he quit his last job in 1951.

Hardly surprising that he is deserving of an ASBO?

Thursday, January 08, 2009


It looks like the anti-wind farm campaigners are at it again.

The military wing of Mars Without Turbines have decided to take direct action against the turbines.

Rumours that Vice-Convener Angus Campbell was thrown into the blades from a passing Siarach UFO are, as yet, unsubstantiated.

Wind turbine Conisholme

Throwing oil on the fire

Despite not being a big TV watcher, anyone who has seen or read about "Ross Kemp on Gangs" and the recent visit to Liverpool, set against the backdrop of the murder of Rhys Jones, will understand the power that a gang can exercise over it's members.

The sense of belonging seems particularly strong, with two gangs attending the same school, but living on different sides of a road, yet being unable to identify with each other.

The irrational, murderous hatred of each other is rooted in a deliberate attempt to misunderstand the 'enemy'.

Tragic, and we can all see where it leads - to bloodshed, deepening rifts, and despair from the rest of the community.

Everyone has the right to defend themselves, and be free from the threat of violence and to live their lives peacefully, but in exercising that right you must be careful not to overstep the mark.

In my view, Israel has totally lost sight of any sense of proportionality in its actions, and the inevitable response from Lebanon - it doesn't matter if it is Hebzollah or Palestinians - threatens to drag the entire region further into conflict.

I launch a precision strike against military targets; you launch an unprovoked attack on innocent civilians.

The last time the world saw a small country invaded by a militaristic neighbour with ambitions on regional domination, there was a united response to remove Saddam from Kuwait. If it is acceptable for Israel to invade Gaza, would it be acceptable for Iranian forces to pursue 'terrorists' into Iraqi territory? And if not, why not?

Israel is acting like the street bully. Kicking the doors down on the neighbours, wrecking their houses, and smiting their lands with anything big and heavy. Like all bullies, it needs to be shown that there is another way, and that requires the UN - with the full backing of all members - to intervene and stop the civilian deaths.

That is, stop the civilian deaths on both sides by cajoling Hamas to accept the responsibilities of office and prevent the attacks being launched.

And that all requires an even handed, but strong, hand from the international community to show both sides how to co-operate for all their benefits.

I use the word Ghetto with restraint, but if the people of Gaza are unable to have a working economy due to the actions of Israel and the wider world, is it any surprise that they react like the schoolboys in the Liverpool estates by lashing out. They have nothing to lose; and when you have nothing to lose then you have everything to gain.

The conflict might never be solved, but if we ignore the worst excesses and allow the hatred to continue and be exacerbated by the actions of one or other side, then it will never get better. But it will continue to get worse.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Today in Stornoway

130 newly redundant from Lighthouse Caledonia
40 newly redundant from Woolies
30 newly redundant from Arnish
3 vacancies in the job centre
Zero hope for the families affected

Computer training

I have been passed a copy of the top secret, highly confidential, computer skills training which is to be delivered to Councillors* during 2009.

* Feel free to substitute "Inland Revenue" or any other Government body.

Thanks to Anon and Boing Boing.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Infectious Salmon Anaemia

Anyone still think shipping nets, cages or even the fish themselves between different bio-secure areas is still a good idea?

I hope the bio-security arrangements have already been put in place, and are enforced.

Funding capital expenditure

The new Forth bridge will not be paid for with a cash advance from the UK treasury.

The chancellor's department has rejected a request from the Scottish Government to spread the cost of the £2bn bridge over 20 years.
Sorry, let me get this right: the (Scottish) Government wanted to fund the bridge with a loan from the (UK) Government.

Wasn't the Scottish Futures Trust supposed to do this sort of thing, before the Government realised that it wasn't worth the paper it was written on and kicked it into the long grass?

Mr Darling explained the reasoning for the refusal to BBC Radio Scotland's The Business programme.


"If you are contemplating large projects like this you do need to make choices. The Scottish government's no different from any other large organisations."

The Chancellor is absolutely correct, which is why the both Governments encourage Councils to use 'Prudential Borrowing' to fund capital projects, by substituting revenue expenditure for capital repayments. Warning, trying to understand Prudential Borrowing will make your head hurt, but in essence it is cutting revenue budgets to pay for the HP on a new asset.

Politics is all about choices, but the SNP made too many uncosted promises before they were elected, probably in the expectation of not actually having to implement them, and now are hoisted by their own petard.

As I have said before, the SNP would have been better to just - marginally - lost the last election, and spent the entire time in opposition sniping at Labour, before walking straight into majority control in 2011. Now the problems of success will come back to haunt them, as Labour learn how to act as an opposition.

But the last words belong to Alex Salmond, who...

... told BBC Radio Scotland: "What we are proposing is thoroughly sensible and thoroughly credible. I'm not taking no for an answer."

You better realise that they are out to stuff you, and unless you can find a way to deliver, then Labour are going to be on you like a pack of jackals. And they control the money.

Adopting the Euro

Euro notesThe call by Alex Salmond for a rethink about joining the Euro seems a merry jape that no-one should take too seriously, were it not for the fact that Mr Salmond himself seems to think that it is a clever idea whose time has come.

He is absolutely right about the need for business to be ready and willing to accept the Euro, as they do in Turkey, where it is a de facto unofficial currency. Anyone who has travelled abroad knows that there are (rare) occasions when you just cannot get the local currency and you would do anything to be able to use the extra £ notes that you took along with you.

Of course, the rate you get for using the foreign notes abroad is always painfully poor, and after that experience you never make the same mistake again. The answer would be to have a network of places throughout the country where the Euro (or Dollar) could easily be exchanged at a reasonable rate, hence smoothing the process.

A hell of a lot easier than expecting Mrs MacLeod in the B&B in Uig to know how many Euros to charge for a packed lunch.

You could call these places "Banks".

But back to the big issue, rather than the trivial rubbish. This stinks of yet another idea to grab a headline, but that has not been thought through - and I thought Labour had the monopoly on this.

In his mind, the argument must go something like this....
  • Scotland is being held back by the purse-strings being held by London
  • Think what we could do if we had control of our own economy
  • Let's get that control back, and hand it over to the European Central Bank
Which poses a number of key questions that need to be answered before we all dance merrily to the Euro jig......
  • If our economy is being strangled because Westminister doesn't understand Scotland, what guarantee is there that the ECB will even register our existence?
  • If the same economic policies don't work across the UK, how the hell will the same policies work across a Eurozone stretching from Cyprus to Ness?*
  • Ireland - down the pan or what?
  • Any idea what rate we should join at?
  • Wouldn't it be better to be in charge of our own destiny?
* Actually it stretches from Mayotte to Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.

The joining rate itself is the killer question: today the rate is about parity, and let's start from there. If we join at £/€1.50 (which is where it was in 2007) then holiday-makers to the Costas and exporters will be happy, but tourism businesses and importers are stuffed.

Join at £/€0.50 and the tourists will flock here, but the sale of Harris Tweed to Europe will cease as it is priced out of the market.

This idea - like the Fuel Duty Regulator - is great for headlines, but trying to get any answers about specifics is nigh impossible. Yet, specifics are what is needed. As a matter of deliberate policy, Ireland joined at a deliberately low rate and grew a high-skill manufacturing base very quickly; but now it is suffering as the impact of that artificial stimulus is now destroying the very growth that it prompted.

And Ireland now lacks the economic tools to correct the situation.

A final thought -- if the Eurozone is that good, than why have the Norwegians not joined?

New Year wishes

With the unfolding uncertainty and sadness in Uist, it has been difficult to make any comment which would avoid being misconstrued by later events, or to try to pitch the tone correctly.

So I have kept quiet, until now.

That has been quite easy, as I have had been consistently unwell since before Christmas, with a cold turning into a chest infection; followed immediately by another cold; and then joined by what I think was the flu on top of the underlying chest infection that I have not been able to shift.

I look at all the human tragedies happening across the world at this time - large and small - and wish none of them were happening. Heartbreaking as it will be for those caught up in these events, it is also incumbent on the other members of the society to help those who are suffering, in whatever way we can.

I look at the economic situation facing the country and the islands, and I worry that there are many more in this community who are going to suffer as a result of the greed and rapaciousness of the moneymen, pandering to the greed and rapaciousness of consumers.

All that being said, I do hope that 2009 is a better year for everyone and for the world in general.