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

Friday, February 27, 2009

You just couldn't make it up......

Two headlines sum up everything that has gone wrong over the past 15-20 years in the attitude towards different sections of the community:

Benefit errors 'can be recouped'

The government is entitled to take legal action to recover social security benefits it paid "by mistake", a judge has ruled.

Brown vows to claw pension back

Gordon Brown has repeated his threat of legal action against ex-Royal Bank of Scotland chief Sir Fred Goodwin over his "unacceptable" £16m pension.
If high taxation (41%) is a disincentive for the wealthy, then WTF is an effective tax rate of 67% on the lowest earners?

It must make all those socialists in the Labour Party so happy to see the state screwing the poor and kow-towing to the rich. After all, they campaigned to get Labour in power..... to do this.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alba-Eire relations take a turn for the worse

Marag DubhAWARD-winning Oughterard butcher, James McGeough, has another ‘feather in his cap’ after winning the bi-lingual (Gàidhlig – Gaeilge) certificate Céad Gradam Oiricis – Ceud-duais Fearta at the Pan-Celtic event to determine “the best Black Pudding in the Gaelic speaking world.

This event which was part of the recent Cóilín Sheáin Dharach Festival in Ros Muc, pitted the Putóg Dhubh of McGeough against the Clonakilty Black Pudding of the Edward Twomey Butcher’s Shop in West Cork and the ‘Charley Barley’ Maròg Dhubh product from the Western Isles of Scotland submitted by feòladair, Charles Mac Leoid, Steonabagh, Eilean Lòdhais.

The unusual event was sponsored by Colmcille Èirínn is Alba, a cross- governmental
foundation established nine years ago to foster cultural linkages between the Scottish Gaeltachdan and the Irish speaking areas in this country.

Photo opportunities

A series of photo opportunities being arranged by Labour politicians through the islands.....

LibDem politicians contacting community groups.....

Is there the prospect of an election on the near horizon? Certainly some of those who have been contacted seem to think so.

Will Gordon Brown cut and run? Only if things are going to get much worse next year.....


We recently advised a client who became the MD of a major builder.

He came up with the idea for a major building project: so he got a bonus for that.

He identified the site and acquired the land: so he got a bonus for that.

He instructed architects to design the buildings; which they did and won plaudits for the exciting and innovative design: so he got a bonus for that.

He put the building work out to tender and saved the company a fortune by hiring Botchski & Sons at a quarter of the expected price: so he got a bonus for that.

The houses were built on time and on budget: so he got a bonus on that, and retired as a giant of the industry.

The land is contaminated with toxic products and a swamp to boot. The houses are utterly impractical and uninhabitable. And falling down. And the company is going bust.

But if it wasn't for the low tax personal rates then all that talent would have not have been attracted to British business, and they would have gone off elsewhere depriving us of the invaluable skills. So it's thanks to Labour/Tory fascination with the rich and greedy that we have achieved so much for the economy.

Our client now draws his very large pension and will shortly start work advising the public sector on 'best practice' in the construction sector.

Greedy bastardThe unacceptable face of capitalism

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Economic Summit

What do you get if you have....
An Economy Summit involving the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the territorial secretaries of state was held in London today.
apart from a lot of posturing, and a desire for the room to be vacuum sealed and the air removed?

Well not much light, and certainly no agreement.

But the press release from the Scottish Government (which seems to have been issued within seconds of the meeting finishing), a somewhat strange message was being put out by the First Minister:
"Instead of prescribing exactly the wrong medicine for the budgets of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK Government should look to America - where President Obama is generating more resources for the States, because he knows this is the best way to tackle the economic downturn. Indeed, in the US stimulus package, 69 per cent of the money will go to the States.

"For example, the state of Maryland - which has a similar population to Scotland - will receive some £2.6 billion extra in the equivalent of our devolved spending areas, supporting 66,000 jobs over the next two years.
Why is this strange? Because if you follow the logic of the argument about devolution of funding, then the logical conclusion is that the local Councils should receive extra cash, not the Scottish Government.

But, hey, let's not let logic get in the way of party political posturing.

On the other hand, the sudden affection for the federal system in the US may just be due to lack of sleep on the trans-Atlantic shuttle.

But the underlying message that counter-cyclical public spending is essential, only works when you have the funds available to do it; and on that count Labour have left the economy up shit-creek.

The second message: that the public sector has no fat to trim, is - self-evidently - nonsense, and no-one believes that. Denial doesn't make the trimming easier; nor does it stop the cuts needing to be made; and inaction on this will potentially do as much damage to the economy as the underlying core problems will do.

Two mismanagements don't make an election victory.

Fuel prices petition

The fuel prices petition instigated by UCVO has reached the Petitions Committee, who somewhat unexpectedly have not kicked it into the long grass.

Sympathetic to the arguments being made, instead of using the Petition to pick a fight with Westminster, the Committee have asked the Finance Minister, John Swinney, to see what he can do and to explore the range of powers available to him.

Than, and only then, should the matter be raised with Alasdair Darling and Westminster.

Now this seems to me an eminently sensible approach of establishing the (in)ability of the Scottish Government to improve the situation before we run off to chase the Westminster Government. I am sure that there are some powers that can be used - if the political will is there - and these will give the Scottish Government even more leverage over Westminster.

It looks like a potential winning situation for the islands, and one we need to watch very carefully.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Caption contest

When Alex Salmond met Hillary Clinton...
The cruder the better......

Post Office privatisation

Post Office closuresWith all the threats that the pension scheme will collapse, or that the business is insolvent, or that the business model is broken, the big issue is being missed.

Perhaps deliberately so.

As the Labour-ideology-free spectre of Peter Mandelson hovering over the near-corpse of a once magnificent public service organisation weren't enough to put the fear into the posties, the deliberate policies pursued by the Government are coming home to roost.

No apologies for repeating myself, but the 'liberalisation' of the postal market has been a disaster for the Royal Mail, not because competition is bad, but because the way in which this has been done.

Will any of the numerous competitors deliver here at a flat rate? Can you get companies to post goods to you for a few quid via Royal Mail rather than facing a £25 charge, plus a surcharge, plus a delay, only to be told that 'we don't deliver there'?

We are directly suffering due to the uneven nature of the competition.

As Chair of the relevant Committee in the Comhairle, I went on record that we had no objection to liberalisation of the postal services, as long as there was a universal delivery obligation placed on every entrant and that every company had to charge a flat rate for that service.

That would have meant that any entrant would have to build a UK-wide network over (say) five years by which time you could post a letter anywhere in the UK at a fixed price and know that it would be delivered in a reasonable time.

Perhaps that last mile to the house would be provided by Royal Mail, but it would be up to Royal Mail and the competitor to agree a price for that. The advantage to us would have been that if your supplier in the south of England had an exclusive contract with TNT, then you would still get the goods with no surcharge; whilst the supplier can shop around the different postal companies to get the best deal.

Instead, we have 100+ companies inside the M25 cherry-picking the most lucrative business and leaving Royal Mail to carry the cost of a full network with reduced volumes.

If you want to save the Royal Mail, then rebuild a level playing-field for competition; don't just give it away because you don't (want to) understand what you have done to the organisation.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Barra Marine SAC

A correspondent forwards two press releases, a mere two hours apart, but with a veritable ocean of failure obvious between the tone (or 'piss poor effort' as an interested party commented):

At 11:23am it was all guns blazing.....

Western Isles SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, is today (Wednesday) taking the fight against the European Commission proposals for further environmental designations around Barra direct to Brussels.

Dr Allan has obtained an urgent meeting with European Commission officials to make clear the extent of opposition that exists in Barra to their proposals to place a Marine Special Area of Conservation designation on the Sound of Barra and Mingulay.

Dr. Allan commented:

"The previous Labour/LibDem Executive was designation-mad and the last thing we now need is Brussels forcing Scotland into designating Barra even more tightly.

"Today I will be meeting Micheal O'Briain of the European Commission's Directorate General, Environment, Nature and Biodiversity Unit in Brussels and making it clear to him that the community in Barra is already highly constrained by designations.

"The community needs serious guarantees that existing fishing practises, as well as future economic developments can go ahead.

"Barra and South Uist councillor, Donald Manford, and myself have already met Scottish ministers about this issue and it is very clear the SAC is being pushed from the European Commission - not from Scotland.

"The initiative comes, from a European Commission which shows little understanding in this instance of how difficult it is to maintain the human population in Europe's most fragile communities.

"When in Brussels I will be making these points forcefully, along with SNP fisheries spokesperson in Europe, Ian Hudghton MEP."
At 13:20 the same day, and surrender was the order of the day.....

Western Isles SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, has today held a meeting in Brussels with representatives of the European Commission to discuss with them the implications of the possible Barra marine SAC designation and to pass on the concern many of the people of Barra have about this designation.

Dr Allan commented:

"I had a frank meeting today with Michael O'Briain of the European Commission's Directorate General Environment, Nature and Biodiversity Unit about the prospect of a marine SAC in the Sound of Barra and Mingulay. The meeting was constructive, but I made very clear the strong feeling of the people in Barra and indeed the real anxieties which islanders have about this possible designation.

"I remain unconvinced of the case for the SAC and will now be pursing the issue further with Scottish Natural Heritage to establish what scope they have to decide the location of SAC's in Scotland in the coming year. I will also be pursuing it with Roseanna Cunningham, the new Environment Minister.

"The Commission were able to offer some assurances about the SAC if it comes to pass - namely that it could be managed locally, and that it could be phrased to explicitly ensure existing crofting and fishing activity can continue, however, I remain concerned about the implications for future economic activity, and will be raising this further both with Edinburgh and Brussels.

"I will be back in Barra in the next few weeks and hope to report back to fishermen and others about this."
So what changed between:
The community needs serious guarantees
I remain unconvinced of the case for the SAC?

The initiative comes, (sic) from a European Commission
[I] will now be pursing the issue further with Scottish Natural Heritage?

And the final sad, little, comment
I will be back in Barra in the next few weeks and hope to report back to fishermen and others about this.

The apparent absence of Iain Hudghton seems to have left the little boy at the mercy civil servants who have convinced him to give up the fight, as they promise, really promise, not to do anything adverse.

He is now going to SNH to try to stop the 'designation-mad' Scottish Government from 'designating Barra even more tightly'.

He hopes to report back in the next few weeks, presumably hoping that anger about his failure will have faded. I would have expected at least an immediate visit or update.

As did the people of Barra; who are now expecting to be sold out by the Government, who will duly blame Europe for all the problems.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


National Health Service - NHSIt's never particularly nice having to spend two days and nights in the childrens' ward (nothing serious, since you ask), but it does serve to remind one that each organisation is the sum of all its parts.

Despite the best efforts of Management to cock things up, the wards continue to run smoothly. An excellent service continues to be delivered by the front-line staff, often in unpleasant, messy conditions; certainly for much less than they should be paid; and with kind words, care, consideration and an attitude that is often missing elsewhere in the public sector.

Perhaps that attitude is lost as promotion is gained?

Many thanks to all concerned for their professionalism, attentive care and helpfulness.

Friday, February 20, 2009

National Park in Harris

I am glad to see a clear decision by the public of Harris over the issue of National Park status.

I have my reservations - which I have expressed often - about the impact of having a designation as a National Park and the potential for restrictions being placed on the democratic process by having a quango calling the shots.

I can understand that the people of Harris must be in despair, as population plummets and ages at a horrendous rate, and that the impact of becoming a National Park must surely be a gamble worth taking for jobs and to secure the population.

The vote result now goes to the Minister, who will ask Scottish National Heritage to consult wider.

Oh God!

This will be where it can all go horribly wrong.

I trust that the people of Harris will be the principle consultees - and be able to vote on the final proposals - rather than be the playthings of the quangolords.

BTW, I note that the Herald claimed:
The community, which spent a decade agonising over whether Europe's largest coastal superquarry...
When, of course, the delay was due to the planing inquiry, sick reporters and prevaricating Government.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Against my better judgement I was persuaded to sign up for Twitter by a friend.

On logging in and creating my account, I was able to watch the friend continuously blogging about his daily activities, and I must confess to being amazed at the interest I found in the small snippets he as putting up every half an hour, or so.

It was fascinating to see the detail of a persons life, movements and views developing over the day and I found myself strangely enthralled by it all.

So as Twitter for me?

Not at all.
  • I'm not web enabled on my phone - I don't need it
  • I'm not able to text accurately - I use predictive text, very badly, much to the annoyance and mirth of my good lady wife, but which would result in unintelligible gibberish appearing frequently*
  • I don't have time. I really just don't have time to post even a few words about what I am doing every hour or so, this blog is the limit of what I can achieve
  • For reasons of client confidentiality most of what is interesting cannot be repeated
  • The bits that could be repeated are either boring ('interesting' tax issues, or beating the taxman) or deserve a full blog posting
Having added the widget to the blog, I find myself with two followers despite not having written a word, and having no intention to do so. If you would like to follow me then click the link on the right, and I'll see just how many followers I can get without ever writing anything.

* "Whats the difference?", I hear you cry.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Man the barricades!

Wow! I am really surprised at the strength of the response from the Council to the refusal by the Scottish Government to permit the closure of the S1-2 schools.

No sign of conciliation, indeed quite the opposite....
The Comhairle said it notes that the Education Secretary deemed that consultations were apparently flawed but has not specified any breach of regulations or guidelines which would support that conclusion.
Such was the strength of feeling about the issue that I understand that some of the anti-closure Councillors changed their views when faced with the financial alternatives. I was also told that my old friend, Donald Manford, was considered to have antagonised his colleagues with some comments last week.

Indeed, there is a strain of anti-SNP feeling running through the Council that is at a level that I haven't seen since the anti-Labour feeling in the time running up to the last election. Indeed, one Councillor was talking to me this morning about the 'usurping of power' from the Council by the Government.

The battle is now between 'local schools' and 'new schools', and it is going to be an emotive battle over the future education provision in the islands. I hope the differences can be resolved quickly, but at the moment I think the Government have the upper hand.

However, I believe that we need to back the Council in seeking early clarification to determine just where decision making lies, and how it can (and should) be exercised.

This is going to get messy and brutal, and whatever the outcome is going to determine the future of education in the islands. Just let it be quick.

Monday, February 16, 2009

School closures - the budget problems

The refusal by the Government to allow the closure of the four S1-2 schools creates an enormous hole in the budget for the Comhairle.

Some might blame the Comhairle for being the architects of their own problems, and this view is not without a huge degree of merit, but the fact is that the whole schools building project is now being placed in doubt due to the underlying problems with pupil numbers, and this is not an outcome anyone wants to see.

New school provision is urgently required, despite the inherent funding difficulties for the Comhairle. With the project now going out for design we seem to be in the situation where the curtains are being chosen, but the mortgage can't be funded.

I saw much of this turmoil coming three years ago, when it was frighteningly obvious that the £55m on offer would never stretch to cover the actual costs to be incurred.

Added into this, to make the project work, the Councillors have to vote to close local schools (a vote loser) to make the savings to fund a series of new schools (a vote winner), but with an election in between.

Having reread the letter of refusal, it looks like any closure can only happen closer to the new schools opening, so as to better inform the parents; and only when a decision is taken on each school one at a time, and not in a composite motion.

So, it looks like the ad-hoc, spur of the moment, motions in the Chamber are a large part of the cause of this problem. Was legal advice sought or given about the appropriateness of the proposed motions?

With the funding gap growing exponentially - meaning bigger cuts to deliver the savings to fund the new schools - and capital spending being reigned in, the urgent need for clear strategic thinking by the Councillors is even more desperate than ever. That Government funding issue needs to be properly addressed, as the Government needs to provide probably nearer £100m to fill the funding gap and negotiations should be underway.

Finally, Councillors need to decide just what it is they are trying to achieve. If the S1-2 schools are to remain open (and likewise with the Primary schools) then take that decision and take the decisions to make savings elsewhere. Otherwise close the schools, take the electoral pain, and drive forward the bigger vision.

If it descends into parochialism and petty squabbling then no-one is being served by the Comhairle, least of all the current and future pupils of these schools.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Disconnecting communities

My previous post brought for a flurry of emails from people currently using Connected Communities all suggesting that any user criticising the service would find themselves disconnect from the service, as a punishment.

This was all second-hand information - a friend of a friend - and all pleading absolute confidentiality.

If this is happening with public money then it is utterly scandalous, and if anyone can provide any evidence of this happening then I will anonymise and publicise this. Until then, it has to be an urban a rural myth. Doesn't it?

School closures - will this ever end? (again!)

I have absolutely no doubt that the local campaigners are delighted that the schools in Lionel, Shawbost, Daliburgh and Paible are to be kept open. No-one wants their local school closed, whatever the bigger picture is.


Read the Ministerial announcement carefully - the refusal was on the grounds that the paperwork wasn't up to scratch.

So the whole process will start again, and hopefully the Comhairle will do it exactly as proscribed by Ministers: note I didn't say "right".

Which takes us back to the bigger picture.

Do we want to have new schools? Because that means closures to make sure that there are enough pupils in the schools to justify the schools being built and meet the financial modelling exercises.

Or do we want substandard schools which are subject to running repairs and constant patching, and which will deliver substandard education?

There are cost implications, of course, whatever choice is made. Small classes sizes might be better educationally, but tiny class sizes are hugely expensive and do not give the children the opportunities to socialise with a wider group of friends.

A simple plea, repeated: can the Councillors please come to a decision and stick to it?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Disconnected communities

A circular letter from Peter Peacock makes its way into my inbox...

9 February 2009

Dear Constituent

I refer to our previous correspondence concerning broadband provision in the Western Isles.

Many constituents in the area have complained to me about a number of issues including pricing, the terms and conditions and the general speed and standard of the service being provided.

I have made a number of representations to Scottish Ministers, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Connected Communities, and to BT.

The position we are in at the present time is that no more public funding is to be awarded for improvements to the service and BT has made it clear that their next actions will await the rollout of their 21 Century Network in the area in around 2011 or 2012. (my emphasis)

That will bring access up to 16 to 24 Mbs to local exchanges.

It is my belief that we need to make the case for the Western Isles to be made a priority in that programme for early investment and to try to ensure that it is not put to the end of the investment programme, as would be the normal pattern for less populated areas where there is a lower market return.

I have recently met with BT and made that point to them.

I would be grateful for your views on this matter.

I enclose a postcard you can return to me and the responses will assist in framing a case for earlier investment.

If we don't try, we won't get any improvement in the current investment plans and I would be obliged if you would complete and return the postcard to me if you want to lend support to building a case.

Yours sincerely

Some basic questions arise from this message:
  • If you were promised Broadband as part of Connected Communities, is this now ever going to happen?
  • Will storm damage be repaired, or will a bad gale be force majeur to cancel the contract from under you?
  • When the BT roll-out happens how close to the front of the queue will the Western Isles be? Hint: end of a long, long line.
  • How many potential residents will we lose due to unavailability of the promised broadband?
How could something so potentially good go so badly wrong........

Local Income Tax - deceased for now

John Swinney has taken a pragmatic stance in abandoning the plans for a Local Income Tax given the absence of Parliamentary support.

Basically, he hadn't a hope in hell of getting the policy through, so he blamed it all on the Westminster Government forcing budget cuts and to have a nice little celebration.

Why celebrate?

Because the current policy is bollocks, that's why. It is ill-thought out, won't gain support and won't do what it says on the tin.

As I said here, here and here.

Back to the drawing board; have the new policy as a manifesto commitment for 2011, and hope for the best. But, any new policy still needs majority support in the Parliament and that will take compromises as well as a workable policy.

More job losses

With MacKenzie's mill paying off another 11 staff, you have to ask: is there a less successful strategy that can be followed for Harris Tweed?

The existing strategy has lead a premier, premium, product that sustained vast numbers of jobs across the islands being turned into an empty shell with no production; and damn all sales.

The wise man has his say:
We continue striving to re-invent our excellent product which has been totally devoid of promotion for the last 40 years.
Ignoring the nonsense about 'no promotion', just how you reinvent a product by removing customer choice and offering only a product no-one wants, is beyond even me.

With the other mills striving to fill the production gap, and re-inventing the product by supplying customers with what they want, the situation could be so much worse. From having 99% of the world market, MacKenzie's are going to end up with a tiny share of a much reduced market.

Haggas will have to re-invent the cash pile that he has lost as a result of his 'strategy'.

Pointless question

How much did this cost the taxpayer to process?

Written answers Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Angus MacNeil: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland which (a) newspapers, (b) magazines and (c) journals his Department has subscriptions to.

Ann McKechin: (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office; Glasgow North, Labour) The Scotland Office orders a selection of newspapers and magazines on a weekly basis, which varies according to demand. The Department does not subscribe to any journals.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Health Board funding

I'm trying to get to the bottom of the real funding awarded to the Health Board.

According to the papers today, the allocation for 2009/10 is £56.6m for Revenue and £1.9m for Capital.

I'm digging back and not finding any website that can authoritatively confirm previous allocations, but I have found that - according to a report in the Gazette -the Capital Allocation for 2007/08 was £3.85m, and according to a Parliamentary answer in March 2008 (Para S3W-10436), the provisional Revenue Allocation for 2008/09 was £55.2m.

The Revenue allocation has increased by 5.5% - which won't cover salary increases without cuts being made - and the overall allocation appears to have dropped by £0.5m, which is a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Can someone (in the Health Board?) guide us to more accurate numbers to shed some light on this, rather quiet, announcement.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bonfire of the Quangos

I remember sitting in the Council Chamber ripping into a Labour Councillor over the election promises for a bonfire of the quangos, and pointing out that the number of quangos had increased rather than reduced.

To be fair to the Councillor who shall remain nameless (Docus), he took it in good spirit and gave a robust - if deeply unconvincing and unconvinced response in public - before joking about it later.

Now the boot is on the other foot, and I have no doubt that "Marine Scotland" will get the kicking that it duly deserves. With a remit that stretches from the impossible to the improbable.

The good news is that it
will be established to deliver a coherent and focused approach
Is any organisation established to deliver an incoherent and unfocussed approach? With the possible exception of virtually every quango.

As the joy and glad rings out across the land, and bonfires of SNH consultants, designations consultations and assorted politicians light the skies to herald the approach of another bunch of unelected (and unelectable) gravy-trainers taking Ministerial salaries to deliver underwhelming non-answers to the big questions, and demanding more staff to deliver these non-answers, one has to ask the simple question: why? Oh, why the f?

Do we really need more people telling us that they might need to regulate what we have been doing successfully for centuries?

Placing more restrictions for the benefit of potential visitors that may or may not want to visit islands where the population have vanished due to the self-same restrictions.

Call me a cynic, but I saw enough of this aimless shit drifting through the Council, at the behest of superannuated civil servants and serial committee sitters, over the eight years I was there.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Drathais Iallach

Middle right, for all you monoglots. Yes, is the new Facebook, or perhaps AgaidhOidheam.

Another burst of tokenism to avoid having to give the language official status, which no doubt will be met with the usual acclaim at the munificence of the Government - rather than the realisation that it is nothing more than beads for the natives.

Rural Energy Guarantee

It's great to see Stewart Maxwell demanding that rural and island communities are included in energy efficiency guarantees.

I'll go further and say that say that rural and island communities should be the front-runners in this scheme.

As Mr Maxwell has virtually no influence (but is consulted) in this matter, then I suspect that he knows that these areas are going to be excluded.

That will create an interesting question of how the local Labour candidate - Mr MacSween - will react when he is lambasting the SNP (correctly) over the absence of funding for housebuilding, but his party are going to encourage the building of inefficient houses.

A curse on both parties.

Travel database

So the Government wants to record all our international travel and record the details for 10 years.
The government says the database is essential in the fight against crime, illegal immigration and terrorism.

But opposition MPs and privacy campaigners fear it is a significant step towards a surveillance society.

The intelligence centre will store names, addresses, telephone numbers, seat reservations, travel itineraries and credit card details of travellers.

A worthy cause, but up there with "when did you stop beating your wife", as a justification

Already e-Borders has screened over 75 million passengers against immigration, customs and police watch-lists, leading to over 2,700 arrests for crimes such as murder, rape and assault.

Which, if my arithmetic is right, implies a failure rate of 99.9964%.

But never mind that you might be spending two weeks in Spain with your dearly beloved, but the state now has your credit card details, food preferences, and holiday booking.

All of this is more than China, Russia and Cuba demand, and vindicates Chris Hulme...

We are sleepwalking into a surveillance state and should remember that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning, not a blueprint.

I am now moving to encrypting my emails as a matter of course, and encouage my correspondents to do the same with gnuPG, an excellent piece of freeware.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Don't be naughty boys!

How the executives at RBS must have quaked in their boots when their majority shareholder, Peter Mandelson, gave them a severe ear bashing....
Lord Mandelson has told the Royal Bank of Scotland that it risks alienating ordinary people if it gave its traders and bosses "exorbitant" bonuses.
That's him really putting his foot down and showing who really, really, pulls the strings.

Of course, the majority shareholder can actually set the maximum level of pay and bonuses that the directors can award, but that would be going just a step too far for the business-idolising Conservative Labour Party.

Meanwhile in the heartland of free enterprise that American-hating Commie President Obama has announced a limit of $500,000 (£355,000) on executive pay for any company that needs Government aid.

If the example of Northern Rock is anything to go by, the Government think that the bigger the pay packet the better the deal they are getting. When of course, all they are doing is talking up salaries and getting screwed on the deal.

Whilst the lowest paid see benefits fall and tax rates rise......

Popularity contest

Written answers 4/2/09 in the House of Commons:

Angus MacNeil (Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Fishing and Tourism; Transport); Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party)

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many hits his Department's blog has received in each month since its launch.

Ann McKechin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Scotland Office; Glasgow North, Labour)
The number of visits to the Secretary of State's blog each month since its launch in October 2008 is set out in the following table:

Month Number of hits
October 2008 5,077
November 2008 4,910
December 2008 4,450
January 2009 5,142


Officially I am more popular than the Scottish Secretary! And certainly more entertaining, if I can be so immodest, than the turgid, humourless, prose of Jim Murphy.
On Friday, I was in the Gorbals with the Prime Minister meeting apprentices when President Obama called to speak to Gordon.
In my twelve years in Parliament I have never seen the snow settle in central London. So yesterday, as I headed to Glasgow Airport, I was surprised to hear that Heathrow was closed due to snow. Instead of flying to London I spent the day in Glasgow working and concentrating on the strikes at Grangemouth and Longannet.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Crying wolf

The problem with crying wolf is that you look pretty stupid when you are caught doing it.

The failure to pass the Scottish budget last week was (we were told) likely to result in huge jobs losses, vast increases in council tax, meteor strikes and the slaughter of the first born; all orchestrated by the nasty Labour, Lib Dems and Greens and their ridiculous spending plans.

Well that was last week.

It looks like a deal has been done.

One of the key Lib Dem requests has been accepted; Labour plans have been watered-down and adopted; and the Greens ignored.

And, you know what, the world hasn't ended. I foresee much more horse trading over future budgets.

And the bad, evil, nasty plans of the opposition are now part of the Government plans, which is all part and parcel of being a minority Government; a position the SNP exploited beautifully in the 1970's to get Callaghan's Government to promise a Referendum.

With a very rash promise (and probably almost undeliverable) to have new school building in 2009 through the Scottish Futures Trust rather than PFI, and we all remember what happened to Callaghan when he failed to deliver.

Monday, February 02, 2009

As others see us....

Lifted straight from The Register

The BBC's Gaelic-language channel, BBC Alba, has seen its audience drop by a third since launch, with further drops expected as Scottish politicians desperately try to be seen doing something about the death of Gaelic.

The channel started four months ago, with more than 600,000 viewers, a total that has already dropped to 400,000. BBC Scotland told The Times it expects to see figures dropping to around 250,000, despite the channel showing Scottish Premier League football.

At the time of the 2001 census there were only 58,650 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, which is what prompted the launch of the Freesat and Sky available channel. That means that hundreds of thousands of viewers are tuning in to see programmes in a language they don't understand, or perhaps just to watch the football. Given that between 80-100,000 Scots brave the weather each week to watch a game in person, it's hardly surprising that BBC Alba can drum up twice that number to watch League games on TV, even if the commentary is in Gaelic.

Strangely, the channel won't be drawn on what people are watching, just that the target is 250,000 viewers, or 60 quid per viewer.

Gaelic has been on life support for years - drive up to the Highlands and the signposts are in Gaelic and English, but pull off the A9 and the Gaelic disappears along with the tourists. Schools and playgroups get government funding for promoting Gaelic, and local libraries are well stocked with Gaelic books - all in pristine condition, almost as though no one ever reads them. English migrants like to see their kids learning Gaelic, while the locals would prefer their children learn something someone else speaks - ideally someone with money.

Popular programmes are broadcast in Gaelic on the primary BBC channels - so even without BBC Alba you don't have to miss out on badly dubbed Charlie and Lola.

But Scotland has a culture quite strong enough to survive without demanding a different language. The problem is that it's hard to spend money promoting "culture" when everyone has their own idea what that is. So the Scottish Parliament, and the BBC, instead spend money promoting a language hardly anyone speaks, while forgetting that anyone who does speak Gaelic is perfectly fluent in English too - for when they're not talking to the tourists.



Sunday, February 01, 2009

Health Board - heading in the right direction

The apparent intention of Western Isles Health Board to reduce the number of patients that are to be sent to Inverness or Glasgow should be whole-heartedly and warmly welcomed.

Apart from the physical discomfort for the patients in having to travel, this also sends the signal that Ospidal nan Eilean is not a branch office of Raigmore.

With a more 'patient-centric' approach we might see the reversal of the trend towards centralisation of services in Raigmore that I warned about some time back. Although, despite accepting the report on Rural General Hospitals in full - which meant centralisation - the minister apparently said that this excluded the Western Isles. (No, I don't understand the rationale either!)

The result of this will have to be that consultants travel to their patients and operations are undertaken here, which can only improve the overall level of care available. It might mean we have to wait a bit longer to be treated, but I think that is an acceptable trade-off for being close to one's family.

As an example, a pre-school child I know requiring minor surgery will have to be in Inverness on Thursday morning for a pm check-in. They are operated on on the Friday. They are discharged on the Saturday morning - having missed the only flight at 7:30am - so they have to catch the only flight on the Sunday at 4pm or face a miserable journey by ferry. And that's two days off work for the parent and four days apart from the family.

Not good.

These plans can only improve an unsatisfactory situation.