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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Island Games

Follow the results and see the Medals Tables here.

Ladies football at 4pm versus Isle of Man.

The future for Uist

My arrival at Stornoway Airport on Wednesday morning was met with some consternation and surprise from the Comhairle party on their way to the first meeting of the Task Force.

Was I on the invitees list, or deputising for someone?

Was I coming along, anyway, despite not being invited?

Actually, I had other tasks to undertake in the islands and as part of that I talked to a lot of people involved with the range, directly or indirectly.

The principal objective that has to be shared and endorsed by everyone is that the retention of the range is of primary importance for the Uists, and that party politicing has to be put aside.

That being said, there was some consternation (to say the least) about the lack of engagement with the Range from both the Comhairle and MP until it is (almost) too late.

A Parliamentary question best sums it up....

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 Defence whether his Department consulted (a) community representatives, (b) representatives of QinetiQ employees, (c) local enterprise agencies and (d) Comhairle nan Eilean Siar before QinetiQ's decision to relocate operations from the Hebrides Range to Aberporth Range.

Quentin Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence; Grantham & Stamford, Labour)

The MOD wrote to all major stakeholders for both the Aberporth and Hebrides Ranges in July 2007 outlining the study into the future of the ranges and the possible implications for the sites and workforce. Further letters were sent in June 2009 outlining the proposals and entering into a formal period of consultation which will conclude in August 2009.

A meeting has been held at ministerial level with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar. Offers were made to meet with the chief executive of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and other representatives. MOD officials have also met with the National Trust for Scotland and other parties with an interest in the island of St. Kilda on a number of occasions.

So WTF was going on between July 2007 and last week, that no-one thought to do anything to try to address this before it became a crisis?

This is perhaps for another day, as there must be coherent action pushing this forward, but the failure by the MSP to ever visit the biggest quasi-private employer in the Uists is astonishing, for all the wrong reasons.

The claims by Donald John MacSween about including the £30m costs of restitution of St Kilda, should the military withdraw, is absolutely spot on, and begs the question of why this was apparently excluded from the assessment. It may not be enough in itself to derail the process, but I think it certainly puts a huge question mark over the accuracy of the information being used to come to these decisions.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Trainee

Our daughter counted to twelve by herself today (okay, she skipped 7, but then who doesn't) which is not bad for a child under two.

Looks like the family retirement planning is well and truly sorted ... we'll be retiring just as they are all graduating and qualifying!

Business Gateway

A new client recently had to contact the new Business Gateway (which replaces/augments the business support element of Western Isles Enterprise), and asked me to help them through the process of identifying what grants, loans or other assistance might be available.

Let's ignore the fact that the Business Gateway leaflets issued by James Square say:
Business Gateway was created specifically to offer assistance and advice to people starting up or growing businesses in lowland Scotland, and provides access to publicly funded services.
Off to the website to search for what might be available...

Can anyone tell me how to search for what is available in the Western Isles? No matter what permutations I put into the database I cannot even find this area on the database.

I know what is available, and I have told the client what he should expect* but as an experienced businessman he is now expected to complete pointless forms aimed at start-ups and then have someone come back and tell him exactly what I have told him - that the only assistance he wants and needs is not available through the national (sic) Business Gateway system.

The Gateway should be helping business development, not throwing up pointless hurdles that most businesses don't need to face. Oh, and some of the 'advice' on what you 'need' to do, is factually wrong and could cause problems for new businesses.

* Not much is the answer, other than loans from the Council. The new minimum limit for grant assistance is £25k based on expenditure of £100k by the client business.

Monday, June 22, 2009

MOD - disgraceful and very serious misbehaviour

My earlier post explained what I was told about a meeting in Uist when the MOD briefed the Council and others about the closure/wind-down plans for the range.

That Angus MacNeil MP and Alasdair Allan MSP have had an apology from the MOD for misrepresenting their involvement in the closure plans is not the end of the matter.

Indeed, it doesn't even begin to address the seriousness of the situation.

If an MOD press officer has deliberately misled community leaders (which no-one seems to dispute) about other elected representatives, then that individual should be severely disciplined. It is not a small mistake, nor is it by any stretch of the imagination trivial.

If there has ever been an issue that needs to be raised in Parliament then this is it.

But why did the MOD do this?
  • Stupidity or ignorance?
  • Deliberate political meddling? (to stitch up Labour or the SNP?)
  • To ferment local antagonisms so we ignore the main issue?
I favour option 3, and let's all follow the advice of the public (as shown in the poll on the blog) and get everyone working together against the MOD. And not be divided and conquered.

Cal Mac legal advice

Just what are CalMac playing at trying to keep their legal advice on Sunday sailings secret?

It's taxpayers money and we have an absolute right to see what is being done in our name.

It won't take long for the information to be dragged from them, through the use of an FoI request, and then we will be able to see exactly what is going on.

Whilst I hold no brief for the LDOS, that they are being impeded by the Government is utterly disgraceful and the intransigence of CalMac on this issue is actually damaging the pro-Sunday sailings campaign.

I believe - with good cause - that the decision has been entirely political Political and has been dressed in a spurious 'human rights' cloak and passed on to CalMac to carry the blame, because Ministers have been too scared to take a decision and stand by it.

Too often we see those really responsible palming off blame onto less senior staff and trying to escape responsibility for their actions. The scapegoats need to be able to recognise when they are being scapegoated, and then to act accordingly.

Not so shock news about the Rocket Range (updated)

As the Councillors sat at the MOD briefing in Benbecula last week and were told the disastrous news about the plans for the facility, another bombshell was dropped.

According to the MOD, some time previously they had given a personal briefing to Messrs MacNeil and Allan about all the options that were facing the range and the probable course of action that was going to be followed.

This had occurred during a half-day visit to Rangehead where they were shown the facilities and told how the place operated.

So the cries of surprise and shock are nothing more than cover for their inaction.

Given a few weeks notice, where was their attempt to muster the forces of opposition with the Council, development agencies, Government Departments, Ministers, Defence Committee members or even the Scottish Government to ride to the rescue?

Instead, inertia replaced action and 125 jobs are lost as a consequence.

And we are supposed to be impressed with a pointless intervention in the Parliament as a substitute for doing their job.

Updated: I understand that the MOD made their claim in front of Cllrs Angus Campbell, Peter Carlin, Donald John MacSween and SNP Group Leader Donald Manford. The later, in particular, has not to my knowledge disputed either the claim or the existence of the advance breifing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our MP's expenses

Download the full details here.

Read them and weep.....

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

MPs accountants - more questions than answers

Kitty Usher's resignation letter had an intriguing couple of sentences....
At all times my actions have been in line with HM Revenue and Customs guidance and based on the advice of a reputable firm of accountants who in turn were recommended to me by the House of Commons fees office. Neither have I abused the allowance system of the House of Commons in any way.
Did the Fees Office really recommend a firm of accountants or even a short-list?

If so: who and why?

Are any ex-MPs involved with the firm, or are the firm involved in any work for the Fees Office?

Would this firm - by any wild stretch of the imagination - be the very firm who have been asked to provide an 'independent' audit of the expenses claims. Claims that they might very well have recommended to their clients; submitted to the Inland Revenue; and implicitly approved.

We need to know just who she is dropping into the $hit - for this is not an accidental disclosure; it is a deliberate attempt to point a finger - and what conflicts of interest might now be arising.

Hitting the wrong target

According to Hebrides News:

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament protesting against the move by the MoD to get rid of jobs in Uist.

Mr Allan moved that the Parliament “expresses its grave concern at the impact on the people of Uist of the anticipated job losses at defence contractor QinetiQ’s bases in Uist.

The motion also “notes that the Ministry of Defence and its contractors have for decades been one of the largest employers in those islands and that the cuts planned to take effect between now and 2013 will have a severe impact on a fragile island economy.”

It also “expresses disappointment that the many years of support that the community has given these bases has been so poorly rewarded by HM Government and calls on that government to reconsider its position, taking account of the superb facilities for rocket tracking and other activities that exist in Uist.”

Mr Allan wants the Scottish Government to seek “urgent information from HM Government as to how it intends to recompense this community if it goes ahead with its present plans.”

Perhaps Mr Allan might wish to be reminded of the advice of the late, great, Donald Stewart MP who strongly advised the Uist community never to rely on the Rocket Range, as the Government had imposed it, and could remove it just as quickly. He urged diversity, rather than reliance.

What is most noticeable about this pathetic little bit of headline grabbing, is the absolute failure to have any suggestions for the future, instead it is entirely based upon destructive, rather than constructive, criticism.

If only Mr Allan represented the constituency rather than the SNP, he would have suggested that the First Minister, Enterprise Minister - or even both - came up with a plan to regenerate the islands. That way the SNP would have been able to claim a success and attack Labour at the same time. Instead we have this infantile brown-nosing uselessness.

Heaven forbid that he come up with anything constructive - another pointless summit anyone? - unless he is told to do so by his party.

Update 18/6: At least Alex Salmond had the good sense to see through the brown-nosing and actually offer (disgracefully unprompted by our MSP!) to deliver some action.

Anyone know why MacNeil was in Edinburgh and not at work in Westminster?

Human Rights, human wrongs

"Help, help, you're oppressing me!", said a character in Monty Python's Life of Brian to the Roman overlords.

Such 'oppression' seems rife in the UK today:

Dr Dena Coleman, the head teacher of a Jewish orthodox school, and her husband, Gordon, claim they are kept prisoner in their holiday flat on the Sabbath because when they leave it they trigger the light in the communal hallway.

Orthodox Jews hold that the biblical prohibition of lighting a fire on the Sabbath also embraces the switching on of electric lights. The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until Saturday night.

The Colemans claim their human rights are being breached and are suing the flats' management company, which includes their neighbours, for failing to accommodate their religion.
All together now..... Love thy neighbour

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A quiet word on Sunday ferries

"A personal comment by John MacLeod"

I'm grateful to Angus Nicolson for coming to my cheerful defence in a recent thread. Angus is perfectly entitled to run his interesting blog as he sees fit and to his 'various local bloggers' to post anonymous or unmoderated comments under anonymous or pseudonymous styles. In the blogosphere, in any event - excepting a site like Hebrides News, which is run as a virtual newspaper, with an active and conscientious Editor - it is very difficult to insist that all who choose to comment are identifiable, and quite impossible to guarantee they are whom they say they are.

I'm not sure I agree with him that it furthers debate on contentious local topics. Apart from the tasteless, malicious or lunatic fringe - the sort of folk who like to speculate on the sexuality of prominent island figures - nothing is really debated on this site that is not debated elsewhere. I choose to write under my own name because, in my day-job - most visibly as a writer and weekly columnist for the Scottish Daily Mail - I am paid to do so; it seems silly to go under cover in any other context and on any other issue.

On this issue, though - as an islander quietly but conscientiously opposed to the imposition to Sunday ferries on this community by Caledonian MacBrayne and their political wing, the present SNP administration of the Scottish Government - I am especially happy to write under my own name. That immediately gives anything I say here enormous weight and is a signal advantage over Anonymous this and Dr Evadne that, especially under the gaze of the general public. When anonymity becomes but the cover for puerile abuse or the sublimely ignorant, such a position is even stronger. When you think that this is essentially a local issue and that 'Anonymous' is as likely to hail for Carluke, Callander or even California as from, say, Callanish, it is incontestable.

Abuse? Well, I'm not a racist - especially not an anti-English racist. In this local debate, some of the most vociferous voices for Sunday sailings come from home-grown, home-reared Lewismen; some who publicly oppose them are quite recent arrivals (like, for instance, Rev. Andrew Coghill.) The public life of these islands owes much to incomers - most of our local doctors; very many of our teachers; a great many senior officials, especially in the Comhairle and on Western Isles Health Board, and a surprising number of our ministers.

Anyone who lives on this island is at entire liberty to express an opinion on anything, as they are at entire liberty to cast a vote or even to stand for public office. One can, though, quite fairly point out that the right to free speech should not be confused with the right to be heard. The community is quite entitled to weigh the worth of a contribution by its author. If someone has arrived on these islands recently, if he is agitating vociferously for Sunday ferries (or Sunday golf, or Sunday shopping) and especially if he explicitly attacks local religion and showers its defenders - and anyone who dares argue against him - with epithets like 'bigot', 'zealot', 'extremist', 'racist' and like invective - one is perfectly entitled to ask obvious questions.

If you dislike the traditional Lewis Sunday so much - it is, after all, quite famous - why did you move here? We welcome incomers - these islands have always welcomed refugees - but why start to campaign to turn this community into the ones you have fled? Why should we give quite the same weight to your offerings in this debate when you only came here, say, four years ago and may well be on your travels again in four years time? Why should we, in the most theologically and biblically literate corner of the kingdom - even Angus has memorised more Shorter Catechism than most incomers will ever bother to read - sit by respectfully while the latest arrival from the Home Counties lectures us pompously about religion?

Again, he has a right to do so. But we are not under the least obligation to listen. I don't doubt that Paul Blake is a very affable man. I once had the Blakes in my Tarbert kitchen (though I thought Mrs Blake much the sharper and more impressive.) But when Mr Blake stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate in the 2007 Comhairle election - less than three years after arriving on Lewis with a U-Haul van - the good people of Pairc agus Na Hearadh granted him but a pretty derisory vote. If even his neighbours won't listen to him, I am at an entire loss as to why I should be expected to listen to him - though, let me repeat, he has an absolute right to express his opinion: the issue is only whether he has a right to be heard. (And he's even less likely to be heard when he damns local Christians as the voices of 'bigotry.')

As for the other joys of 'Anonymous' and 'Pseudonym', it scarcely advances debate to call me an 'inbreed'; I have no intention of ever using Sabbath sports facilities or Sabbath ferries; I have a Blogger account because it is the easiest way to post here and on other blogs - that does not mean I am obliged to have a blog; and, even if you like to call my father and myself the author of 'evil rants', it is as unwise to to lecture me on church history as on West Highland ferries: the Church of Scotland abrogated absolute commitment to the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1905, not 1986.

In any event, 'Anonymous', I would be very happy to see a referendum on this issue - as I have made very plain elsewhere; but when you write, with no evident sense of irony, 'It is still anonymous, but at least everyone will know everything I say and can hold me to account over it,' then you really have brought us to a place where words no longer have meaning. How can you possibly be held to account when we have not a clue who you are or even where you live? This is the sort of blogosphere inanity which reminds one that, on occasion, we are dealing less with people than with plankton.

But, you, know, we have been here before - and not so long ago either.

It occurred me the other day that, by a fascinating coincidence, the present campaign for Sunday ferries was launched in the summer of 2007 - just after the election of the SNP government and, effectively, the end to any prospect of a large onshore windfarm in the moors of northern Lewis.

It is also obvious - especially as more and more emerge from their Witness Protection Programme - that many who now clamour for Sunday ferries were also very vocal in that campaign against the proposals of LWP/Amec.

Now this can be pushed too far. Quite a few people who presently oppose Sunday ferries - one immediately thinks of John and Annie MacSween in Ness - were passionately opposed to the LWP/Amec scheme; some, like Angus Nicolson, who do campaign for Sunday ferries were pretty enthusiastic about the wind-turbines.

But, once you start thinking about it, the parallels are striking.

You form a very shadowy campaign group with no clear constitution, organisation or officials and - especially granted a deliciously lazy local paper - issue statements from unnamed and mysterious 'spokespeople'. (It was only last summer, when a sub-committee of the Scottish Parliament ruled that Sunday sailings could only be 'resolved locally' that the first spokesmen came out in public and were named in the local media.)

You then start making a great deal of Noise. You prefer words of emotion rather than assertions of fact; you turn what is basically a controversy over some matter of public or planning policy into an avowed moral crusade; you make as much fuss as possible and you flash-mob public meetings with a ranting crowd. (In Ness, if memory serves, two entire Community Councils resigned in not as many years, in the face of text-a-mob.)

But what if some named, brave little chap does stand up to you in the public domain? You then abandon Noise for Vilification - moral censure, sweeping insults, gross generalisation and childish abuse. Rather than debate, you overwhelm with a perfect storm of invective and bluster, eager not to prove that your opponent is mistaken, but that he is at least deranged and probably wicked. If that lazy local paper is happy to publish anonymous letters, so much the better. A happy by-product of this strategy is that, within a few weeks or months, the vast majority of ordinary people are too terrified publicly to disagree with you. (It takes formidable courage to face waves of vitriol and mountains of mockery; and, as Bonhoffer observed, one cannot expect ordinary men to be heroes.) Once the general public are silenced, you can them claim that 'we speak for the great, quiet majority of local people.'

Meanwhile, of course, you raise the banner of Democracy. This is nothing so boring, though, as fighting an election or putting up a slate of candidates. Rather, you monster your own democratically elected local authority; you paint its councillors with vituperation (unless they agree with you); you connive with Parliamentarians for its decisions to be set aside by Edinburgh; and you throw out words like 'dictatorship, 'despotism' and 'our intolerable situation on the Western Isles.'

You can also float the possibility of a Referendum. This has to be done carefully. For one, there was a Comhairle election just two years ago; you do not want to make it too obvious you didn't like the result. For another, if you talk up a referendum too much, someone might ask you to organise one. (After all, all you need is the phone number of the Electoral Reform Society and a couple of grand.) Worse, if you actually get a referendum, then people will expect you to declare you will abide by the result; and that would never do. After all, The People might get it wrong. (Only last week, on Radio nan Gaidheal, a spokesman for 'The Campaign for 7-Day Sailings' refused repeatedly to answer the plain question: would they undertake to be bound by the outcome of such a referendum?)

If push comes to shove, of course, it all hinges on the question. Preferably 'Are you a black-clad Bible-bashing homophobic racist bigot so stuck in the mud you oppose Sunday ferries and want to destroy the local economy and empty this island of its young folk?' against 'Are you a hard-working taxpayer who wants the freedom to drive to the mainland on any day of the week?'

Finally, there is the strong arm of the Law. This is especially tasty as it allows you to raise the cry of 'human rights!' Not that it particularly matters which law.

The Race Relations Act can be used if anyone points out that your most vocal support includes rather a lot of recent incomers. The Equality and Human Rights Act might be useful against those who point out they actually like the chance to walk the pooch around Lewis Castle Grounds of a Sunday afternoon without the usual enfilade of whizzing golfballs. The European Court of Human Rights will always sound wonderful and at least one gentleman has suggested the Charter of the United Nations. (I can just see the troops storming Kenneth Street now. 'Put down your English Standard Versions and come out with your hands up!')

It certainly gets the MP and the MSP off the hook, quite marginalise the democratically elected local authority and would make a fool of all the councillors and the tedious rednecks who voted them in.

You never know. Things are so crazy, these days, in modern Scotland, you might just pull it off. You might well destroy a way of life now unique in Britain, or fatally discredit a local authority won only in 1974, after decades and decades of being run by an Old Etonian lairdocracy in two different County Councils run from the other side of Scotland.

Yes, you might win. But you will have accomplished it not by debate, but by the politics of personal destruction; not by argument, but by intimidation.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The future for Qinetiq: updated (again)

Repeated stories reach me about the possibility of Qinetiq soon announcing that they are pulling out of Uist.

I sincerely hope that these stories are flatly denied by their owners, The Carlyle Group, who picked the company up for a song when the Labour Government privatised it commercialised it gave away the country's future defense strategies brought in external management in 2001.

It is a key part - other than the Comhairle, indeed the major part - of the Uist economy with over 200 people employed and bringing perhaps £10m into the local economy annually. Without it, outward migration is going to go through the roof and the islands will be in economic meltdown.

There is no way that tourism, economic desigantions or even community ownership of the land will be able to reverse the destruction that such a move would create.

I so hope it has no basis in fact, and if anyone can confirm - one way or the other - then please feel free to do so.

The MoD will announce the result of studies into the operations of the Hebrides air ranges on Wednesday 17 June. You are invited to a press conference at 1.00pm at Congreve House, West Camp at Balivanich, where MoD staff will explain what changes are proposed for the ranges on Benbecula, South Uist and St Kilda. MOD will also explain why, when and how those changes will be made. An MoD spokesman will be available for interviews.
Oh, Oh, bad news!

(Sorry, the update didn't appear correctly, and I was unable to make the corrections until Tuesday pm.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sunday ferries - how it used to be

Some very kind person has sent me a link to the Highland Railway timetable for 1918.

Jump to page 19 and read the following:
Leave Stornoway for Kyle of Lochalsh on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at midnight to connect with the 11:00 train.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Press statement from Lewis LDOS

Supporters of the traditional Lewis Sunday have hailed the news that Cllr Donald John MacSween, Labour candidate for the Western Isles at the next Westminster election, is now demanding that the Scottish Government make public Caledonian MacBrayne's 'Opinion from senior counsel' on Sunday sailings.

The state-owned ferry company, of which First Minister Alex Salmond is sole share-holder, dramatically announced last month that after correspondence forwarded from the Equality and Human Rights Commission – and on the advice of senior counsel – it had to introduce Sunday sailings between Stornoway and Ullapool after due consultation.

'Our hands appear to be tied legally,' said CalMac boss Peter Timms. 'We don't want to be operating any longer illegally than we have to.'

However, Caledonian MacBrayne have consistently refused to make their legal advice public – even after the local Lord's Day Observance Society published opinion by to QC Gordon Jackson, a former Scottish Labour MP, that there was 'no legal obligation on Caledonian MacBrayne to provide a given service. Nor does it matter what the reason for not providing the service is.'

Now Cllr MacSween has tabled a formal Freedom of Information request asking the Scottish Government for copies of all communications between Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy First Minister), Stewart Stevenson (Transport Minister) and Stewart Maxwell (former Communities and Sports Minister) with Caledonian MacBrayne and Western Isles Parliamentary representatives, Alasdair Allan MSP and Angus MacNeil MP.

Cllr D J MacSween has also placed a similar demand with Caledonian MacBrayne – and has expressly asked Stewart Stevenson 'to be open and honest and to publish the Opinion obtained by CalMac on the legality of refusing to operate seven-day sailings to the Western Isles.

'I've been waiting for CalMac bosses to call us with grateful thanks after the Lewis LDOS won Gordon Jackson's assurance that they won't be carted off in irons,' says their local campaign manager Angus MacKay.

'They haven't got round to phoning yet.

'Of course we utterly disagree with Cllr MacSween's personal position on Sunday ferries, which he has demanded for most of his political career.

'But we have always known where we stood with him and he has shown today both integrity and guts.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

BNP, eggs and democracy

I like a good demonstration as much as the next man, and I am sure that I am in numerous police and security service files marching down Princess Street decrying the Government policy of the day.

But I find the attempts to prevent a duly elected politician from speaking to be slightly disturbing.

I utterly and completely reject his message, but there are people out there who agree with what he says and have elected him to the European Parliament fairly and squarely.

The biggest danger is to turn Nick Griffin and the BNP into some kind of oppressed minority and hence increase the alienation of their core voters.

The way to tackle the BNP is to let them have their say, and then demolish the message. They need to be tackled head-on and not ignored in the hope they will go away.

They won't; they are here to stay. But if we want to minimise their influence then their message has to be undermined and demonstrated to be fundamentally wrong.

It is no good the left trying to stop Griffin speaking one week, and demonstrating against the Burmese military junta the next. Deal with the poisonous message, and engage with the alienated and use the power of reason.

Or the BNP will just get bigger and stronger.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Labour humiliated

The European election results are a complete and utter disaster for Labour, and with a smidgen over 15% of the popular vote, this is much, much worse than Labour could have feared.

Beaten into third place by UKIP - a single issue party with no substance - is placing Gordon Brown's jacket back on a shoogly nail.

I thought that he had rescued the situation with his emergency reshuffle allied to the absence of any concerted moves to remove him. As one commentator wrote, James Purnell clambered out of the trench to begin the assault, and looked back to see his colleagues sitting there polishing their bayonets.

If there is one glimmer of hope - and it is a mere glimmer - it is that Labour supporters stayed at home in droves rather than voting for another party. Anyone who truly believes that there is a 'swing' from Labour anywhere near the headline results is living in cloud cuckoo land.

But, Labour are close to losing these voters - very close - or at best seeing them stay at home again come the next general election, and a huge number of sitting Labour MPs must be planning their exits from Parliament, and looking for jobs in 2010.

Without anyone of immense stature, and without The Big Idea, replacing the Captain isn't going to stop the ship sinking.

Will Labour MPs spend the next few months fighting in the lifeboats, or can they find someone who can find someone to mend the vessel?

Either way, a Tory Government is a racing certainty, and Prime Minister Cameron must be already writing his first speech.

Brown can only hold on for as long as possible in the vain hope that something - anything - might rescue him. Why go to the country early in these circumstances? I predict a February election, with the Labour vote being in the 20-25% range, and a massive Tory majority.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Anonymous notes

Many thanks to the anonymous correspondent who posted me a copy of an email from the LDOS dated 2/11/07.

The email encouraged Ministers to circulate a standard letter amongst their congregation in opposition to the demands to open the Sports Centre on a Sunday.
Quite simply we need to get more submissions in than the opposition, in order to give our friends [Councillors] a fighting chance.
Sorry, Anon, but if you think I didn't know about this...

When I was a Councillor, the most letters I personally ever received on any subject (including wind farms) was on a proposal in 2004 to consider opening the Sports Centre on a Sunday.

That they were all virtually identical was a bit of a give away.

However, the funniest was that I received four letters from the four members of a family 'living' at the same address, all obviously written and signed by the same person.

That the two children hadn't lived on the island for years and years and that I knew them personally, made the whole thing even funnier.

When I thanked one of them (with my tongue firmly in my cheek) for their letter, I received a stream of profanities and an immediate disavowal of the sentiments conveyed in the letter. As I knew I would.

Ah. those were the days.....

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sunday sailings and two Ministers

Sometimes pieces of information drop into place and produce unexpected results.

Many people have strong views on Sunday Ferries. Many people have strong views on Sunday opening of the Sports Centre.

The circles significantly overlap, but until today I didn't realise just who else had been involved in the debate and the way in which they had behaved.

Let me make it clear that irrespective of my personal views on the matter, it is important that there is clear and open decision making and that the public have faith in The System, even if it does not produce the result they want.

If my views were not being genuinely taken into account on any issue, then I would begin to believe that they are never genuinely taken into account. That is why sham consultations and behind the scenes manoeuvring can be so destructive to good governance.

On issues where different deep-held strong feelings exist in very substantial parts of the community, governance has to be especially careful to ensure that the full range of views are taken into account and that the proper processes are followed. Openness and honesty are the keys.

So what has actually happened?

In early January a local resident with strong views contacted the EHRC about the refusal of the Council to open the Sports Centre on a Sunday.

In a long and detailed email letter from the resident, one paragraph jumps out and grabs the attention.
After an official complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), the policy decision making process of WIIC (sic) was found to be "flawless".
In other words, there are no grounds for anyone trying to reopen the decision, which lies exclusively with the Comhairle. It continues....
Much less was made of the actual content of the Sunday Working Policy, but a suggestion of court action was made.
If the decision making was flawless then, by implication, the Sunday Working Policy is a matter for the Comhairle itself. A Judicial Review is an expensive option for a complainer to follow. Nevertheless.....
A similar suggestion was made by the offices of Nicola Strugeon (sic) and Stuart (sic) Maxwell. I was surprised to hear such a suggestion from the Scottish Government. I imagined naively that if a Scottish Government Minister thought that a local authority may be acting outwith the law, that Minister would endeavour to do something about it and not put it on the shoulders of a member of the public.
Let's get this right: the EHRC SPSO says that the decision making was 'flawless' and despite this two Government Ministers suggest a legal challenge by an individual as a proper course of action.

The Ministers must therefore be taking a stance against the policy of the Comhairle, and trying to subvert the democratic decision of the Council by encouraging individuals to challenge the decision in Court.

It is possible that there is some misinterpretation of the stance being taken by Ms Sturgeon and Mr Maxwell, which is why a concerned member of the SNP wrote to Angus MacNeil and Alasdair Allan seeking clarification (slightly edited for reasons of discretion):
the reference to advice alleged from the offices of Nicola Sturgeon and Stuart Maxwell [...] might merit investigation, if only to let your colleagues know [that their comments were now in the public domain]
The entire reply in late January:
thanks for this info [name], and hope you are well. all the best alasdair
When the SNP member attempted to raise this issue again, and again, with Mr Allan and Mr MacNeil there was a constant refusal to discuss the issue.

Suddenly CalMac (proprietor: the Scottish Government) announce that the absence of Sunday sailings is in breach of the EHRC and lo and behold, the sudden appearance of vague and evasive statements from our Parliamentarians about it being an operational matter and nothing to do with Politicians and Government.

The conclusion that is being drawn, and one I completely subscribe to from the documentation I have seen, is that the entire Sunday sailings decision was made by the SNP Government, communicated to the MP and MSP, and then instructions were issued to the Board of CalMac by the usual process of unrecorded and unattributable Ministerial advice.

It stinks worse than a barrel of rotten fish.

And it brings the entire process into disrepute, by the covert and undemocratic nature of the decision making.

A lot of people have a lot of explaining to do and the public deserve full and detailed answers to all their questions.

(minor corrections made later 3/6/09)


Hazel Blears - unctuous
Hazel Blears becomes the latest to be thrown out by a party leader, and quite right too...

The death of Labour by a 1000 departures.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fat chance, fat man

You may have seen the ridiculous attack on the Galson community wind farm proposals by the enormously enormous and self-important Murdo "Esso" Morrison, who is seeking to protect his holiday home and has enlisted the usual suspects in creating another pressure group out of three or four of his mates.

Well, it looks like some naughty boys and girls have been helping his campaign.

Not that I am encouraging anyone to despoil the petition, but there will be prizes.....

Update Wednesday: The names of 'supporters' are being removed whilst iffy double signatures are still being allowed to stay. Barely a local to be seen in the list of signatures.

Act 2 Chapter 2

PRESS STATEMENT by LEWIS LDOS – Tuesday 2nd June 2009

Queen's Counsel dismisses CalMac legal claims – 'all are being treated equally'

Top Scots advocate Gordon Jackson, former Labour Labour MSP for Glasgow Govan, has ridiculed claims by state-owned ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd that it is obliged to provide a Sunday ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool or risk legal action under the Equality Act 2006.

Caledonian MacBrayne claimed last month to have senior 'Counsel's Opinion' to that effect but have repeatedly refused to make that legal advice public.

Now, following instruction by supporters of the traditional Lewis Sunday, Gordon Jackson QC has demolished the ferry company's logic.

'I am not at this stage considering whether or not, in general terms, Caledonian MacBrayne can be prevented from running a Sunday ferry if they wish to do so,' Mr Jackson points out.

But 'Caledonian MacBrayne seem to be suggesting that they are obliged to provide this service because of the Equality Act 2006 and indeed claim to have Counsel's Opinion to that effect... Caledonian MacBrayne have made reference to Section 46 of the Equality Act which makes discrimination on the grounds of religious belief (which includes a lack of belief) unlawful.'

'I find it very difficult to accept or indeed fully understand this argument,' declares Gordon Jackson, pointing out that it is 'quite clear' what this portion of the Equality Act addresses.

'If a service is being provided, ie a ferry is running on a particular date, it would be unlawful to deny that service to any person because of their religious belief or lack of it. Put simply, it would be unlawful to have a ferry running but deny access to, for example, a Jew or Catholic or for that matter an atheist.

It is in my opinion an entirely different matter to decide for whatever reason that a particular service will not be provided to anyone. In that situation all are being treated equally in that no person of any belief or none can travel on the ferry.'

'This is compelling proof that for the last three weeks CalMac have been talking nonsense,' says Lewis LDOS Chairman, local minister Rev. Iain D Campbell.

'We've been suspicious from the start because of their stubborn refusal to make public their legal advice.

'Now we have this hard legal advice of our own – from one of the best advocates in the country – and it blows the CalMac case out of the water.

'At the very least, Gordon Jackson's Opinion confirms that we're being threatened with a Sunday ferry on the basis of a questionable interpretation of the law.

'Every test of local opinion, including a majority of our councillors, shows strong opposition to this service. We don't want it, this incompetent legal blustering has infuriated the community and CalMac should back down now.'



The full text of Mr Jackson's Opinion is appended below.


I have been instructed in connection with a proposal by Caledonian MacBrayne to introduce Sunday ferries between Stornoway and Ullapool.

At present the regular ferry between Stornoway and Ullapool does not run on a Sunday. I assume that this is because of the religious feeling on Lewis against a Sunday ferry and a decision by Caledonian MacBrayne to give effect to that.

I am not at this stage considering whether or not, in general terms, Caledonian MacBrayne can be prevented from running a Sunday ferry if they wish to do so. The precise issue for the moment is the apparent reason given by Caledonian MacBrayne as to why they feel obliged to begin this service.

Put shortly, Caledonian MacBrayne seem to be suggesting that they are obliged to provide this service because of the Equality Act 2006 and indeed claim to have Counsel’s Opinion to that effect. I have not had sight of any such Opinion and do not know precisely what is being argued but Caledonian MacBrayne have made reference to Section 46 of the Equality Act which makes discrimination on the grounds of religious belief (which includes a lack of belief) unlawful. The argument seems to be that Caledonian MacBrayne in not running a service would be unlawfully discriminating against those people who wish the service and be doing so on the grounds of religious belief.

I find it very difficult to accept or indeed fully understand this argument. It is certainly unlawful to discriminate in the provision of services on the grounds of religion. It is, however, in my opinion, quite clear what that truly refers to. If a service is being provided, i.e. a ferry is running on a particular date, it would be unlawful to deny that service to any person because of their religious belief or lack of it. Put simply, it would be unlawful to have a ferry running but deny access to, for example, a Jew or Catholic or for that matter, an atheist.

It is in my opinion an entirely different matter to decide for whatever reason that a particular service will not be provided to anyone. In that situation all are being treated equally in that no person of any belief or none can travel on the ferry.

It cannot, therefore, in my opinion, be argued that this anti discrimination legislation places a legal obligation on Caledonian MacBrayne to provide a particular service. Nor does it matter what the reason for not providing the service is. Put another way, this legislation cannot force any body or person to provide a service which they do not wish to provide at all.

I should, of course, re-state that I am not at all suggesting that Caledonian MacBrayne can be prevented from providing this service if they so wish. I do, however, disagree with their apparent justification for so doing.

Advocates Library,
Parliament House,
2nd June, 2009.

Sunday sailings - Act 2

I am very reliably informed that the 5pm news on Radio nan Gaidheal will have an explosive exclusive on this issue.

Being a monoglot, I'll have to wait for the translation, which will appear here as soon as it is available - hopefully just ahead of the news.

Update 3/6/09: Entirely my fault for misunderstanding what I was told by a third party. I hope to have more on this shortly. Hopefully with a higher degree of accuracy.

Rats being thrown off the sinking ship

Jacqui Smith - the Home Secretary - is to resign (or more accurately be sacked) next week.

The current cabinet is:

Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil ServiceRt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Chancellor of the ExchequerRt Hon Alistair Darling MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsRt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord ChancellorRt Hon Jack Straw MP
Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentRt Hon Jacqui Smith MP
Secretary of State for HealthRt Hon Alan Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory ReformRt Hon Lord Mandelson
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsRt Hon Hilary Benn MP
Secretary of State for International DevelopmentRt Hon Douglas Alexander MP
Secretary of State for DefenceRt Hon John Hutton MP
Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy SealRt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local GovernmentRt Hon Hazel Blears MP
Secretary of State for TransportRt Hon Geoff Hoon MP
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and FamiliesRt Hon Ed Balls MP
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate ChangeRt Hon Edward Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Work and PensionsRt Hon James Purnell MP
Secretary of State for Northern IrelandRt Hon Shaun Woodward MP *
Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the CouncilRt Hon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and SportRt Hon Andy Burnham MP
Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and SkillsRt Hon John Denham MP
Chief Secretary to the TreasuryRt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
Secretary of State for WalesRt Hon Paul Murphy MP
Secretary of State for ScotlandRt Hon Jim Murphy MP

Delete the words Rt Hon as a start, but post-reshuffle how many of them are going to be left on board the Flying Dutchman as it sails eternally around the Cape of No Hope under the esteemed Captain Broon?

Then take away those who are standing down at the next election and work out just what the chances are of coming up with a coherent team with any ability, credibility or interest in anything other than saving their seats.

It leaves Pa Broon heading into ignominious defeat and the pre-death experience of the House of Lords with a second-stream team, and only the Lord "Guacamole" Mandelson surviving the inevitable defeat just like a turd floats to the surface.

It's not going to pretty to watch, but it is going to be fun measuring the despair and desperation o0f the new Cabinet.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sunday sailings - the politicans speak

Two politicians were asked for their opinions and they gave their various non-committal and vague responses.

A third (who wasn't asked) actually had the courage of his convictions to say what he believes and act in a responsible, and respectful, way.

You may not like what he says, but at least Cllr MacSween is grown up enough to answer the question and let you know where he stands.


The inconvenient truths

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dr Alasdair Allan"

Sent: Monday, June 01, 2009 9:51 AM
Subject: Daily Mail

Dear SNP Member

If you are being asked about the reprehensible articles on the front of Saturday's Daily Mail and Scotsman, you might want to be armed with the following facts:

(Along with 14 other MSPs I am accused by these papers of disgracing the memory of our war dead by laying a wreath which had been paid for by the Parliament rather than by me personally).

- I regard it as a great honour to lay a wreath on behalf of the Parliament in remembrance of those from the islands and beyond who have given their lives in war.
Indeed it is, so why spend only a miserly £17.40 on this 'great honour'?
- The wreath which I laid in Benbecula last year was on behalf not of me, but of the Parliament. Just as Councils up and down the country pay for wreaths, the Parliament provided the wreath and made a donation to Poppy Scotland.
If the Parliament provided it, then why was it claimed on your expenses? Have you made other claims for items provided by the Parliament? I note the difference between councils paying and Parliament providing. Yes it provided, becasue you claimed it on your expenses.
- I was astounded at the way this was covered in the Mail, and made clear that there was certainly nothing amiss that needed to be paid back to Parliament.
Not according to Alex Salmond who thought it very remiss....
- I also made clear that I was a member of the Legion Club in Benbecula, and very happy to support their work.
...but not out of my own pocket
- I have also made a personal donation to Poppy Scotland for the cost of the wreath, meaning it has now effectively been paid for twice.
...when I should have paid for it myself in the first place.
None of that bit was printed.

I have not, despite the headline, claimed for the poppy I wear, nor would I be eligible to, nor would I try to.
How virtuous and self-sacrificing is that! The point is that you claimed what you thought you could get away with.
The sad thing about distorted stories like this, from papers who feel left out after the Telegraph uncovered the actual scandals, is that it obscures those scandals and lets people off the hook.
....Whilst I really enjoyed the stories up to now (except for the Toblerone, obviously), now I have been caught the stories are reprehensible.
If anyone raises this issue with you, I am happy to contact them to set the record straight.
Waiting for the call.....
Best wishes

Alasdair Allan

Thanks to ABM for forwarding the email :-)

LDOS Press statement - and the response (updated!)

Supporters of the traditional Lewis Sunday have given Western Isles SNP parliamentarians Angus MacNeil and Alasdair Allan a day to declare whether they oppose plans by state-owned ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne to impose a Sunday ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool.

The MP and MSP are asked, too, if they personally believe the absence of a Sunday ferry and Sunday amenities like the Lewis Sports Centre is discriminatory and against the law.

Two weeks ago, Caledonian MacBrayne claimed they had no option but to start a Sunday ferry service after taking legal advice, following a complaint by a pro-Sunday service campaigner to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. CalMac's plans are opposed by the Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The company have refused to make their legal advice public.

'We're facing a threat to our way of life here on Lewis that many have yet to appreciate,' says local LDOS campaign manager Angus MacKay,'If a Sunday ferry service starts, it'll never be stopped. It'll change the island quickly, it will change it irreversibly and the worst consequences will fall on shopworkers, folk in the service sector and the less well of.

'There wasn't a mention of Sunday ferries in any SNP manifesto - a lot of island Christians voted for Alasdair and Angus. There's no electoral mandate - and CalMac say they'll force it on us whether we want it or not.

'Do Alasdair Allan and Angus MacNeil unequivocally oppose a Sunday ferry service from Stornoway?

'And do they agree with CalMac's interpretation of the law?'

'We're now giving Alasdair and Angus twenty-four hours to answer and, as far as we're concerned, neutrality is not an option. It's time for our politicians to decide.

'And, with an election this Thursday, folk here need to know where they stand from men who're out there right now in the Western Isles campaigning for SNP votes.'

Gazette story (by Donnie MacInnes)
Mr MacNeil stated today (Monday): "My position on Sunday sailings to Lewis is quite nuanced on this complex argument not given to easy slogans or one word answers. At the outset I should say that I have had only one representation to my office on this issue since CalMac announced their consultation and that request was in favour of Sunday sailings to and from Stornoway."

He went on: "During summer 1990, as a 20 year old, I worked 68 hours a week at the Holm Jetty with Edmund Nuttall Ltd with the only day off being Sunday. Thus, each Sunday afternoon I used to be very grateful for Sunday as it was in Lewis.

"However, I have at times on a Sunday used ferries, often because no Saturday or Monday ferry was available - as well as used cars and probably aeroplanes. It would be hypocritical of me to pretend otherwise. I have also been fortunate in not needing, due to illness or death, to use the Sound of Harris ferry on a Sunday and have avoided more casual use out of respect for my many constituents for whom Sunday is a very special day.

"Personally, like many people, I find this a difficult issue as I have constituents, good friends and acquaintances who want to protect the Lord's Day as being the special relaxed family day it actually is for many in Lewis whether or not they are religious who those who want Sunday sailings to Lewis for very practical reasons.

"In short, if there is one issue that is not best served by mega-phone diplomacy or sound bite politics it is surely this one. Nobody has asked, as yet, to meet me on this issue. If they do, I would be happy to meet with the Lord's Day Observance Society or any other group who feels that it might be useful to talk about the CalMac consultation," said Mr MacNeil.

In his response, Mr Allan stated: "CalMac has announced that, following legal advice, they intend to consult with the community over the future of ferry services in Lewis and Harris.

"This is an operational matter for CalMac, not political parties or their representatives. CalMac's view is that, under the UK Equalities Act 2006, they believe they are compelled to open this consultation, a belief which others are challenging.

"Personally, I would have preferred that any discussion of this kind had arisen from within the community, rather than been imposed from outside under a piece of UK legislation. However, both sides will now have an opportunity to make their views known to CalMac, and I would urge them to make use of the consultation process to the full. I would also urge CalMac to make the consultation a genuinely listening exercise.

"Finally, I would also expect CalMac to clarify that, whatever they do, in no circumstances should any of their employees be expected to work on a Sunday against their consciences.

"I have written to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to ask what form they hope their part in the consultation will take," he added.

Compare that to a press release from: Thursday 14th May 2009

Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, has commented on the announcement by Caledonian MacBrayne that they are to consult on the implications of equalities legislation for ferry services in Lewis and Harris.

Dr Allan said: “I have now seen CalMac’s announcement that, following legal advice, they intend to consult with the community over the future of ferry services in Lewis and Harris.

“Calmac have announced that, under the UK Equalities Act 2006, they believe they are compelled to open this consultation.

“Personally I would have preferred that any discussion of this kind had arisen from within the community, rather than been imposed from outside under a piece of legislation.

However, both sides will now have an opportunity to make their views known to Calmac, and I would urge them to make use of the consultation process to the full. I would also urge Calmac to make the consultation a genuinely listening exercise.

“I would also expect Calmac to clarify that, whatever they do, in no circumstances should any of their employees be expected to work on a Sunday against their consciences.

“I have today written to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to ask what form they hope their part in the consultation will take, and whether they intend to try to measure public opinion in the islands on this issue.”