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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"We're not done yet", insists Brown

It's only a flesh wound

See his full Party Political Broadcast below:

Cervical cancer

Call me brutal, cruel and heartless but the sad death of one recipient of the NPV
HPV vaccination must not stop the program.

If the poor girl was (unknowingly) allergic to needles or elastoplast and died from that, are we seriously going to see a campaign to ban these from all schools - or even everywhere.

What if the poor girl died from the shock and intense fear of an injection. Are we to ban all injections?

Society is becoming risk adverse. No, make that adverse to even the most infinitesimal risk, and that actually causes the rest of us problems.

May contain nuts.

Good sensible warning, but it doesn't stop the rest of us enjoying peanuts.

I have life insurance and intend to defy the insurance companies* by living forever, but no matter how careful I am, I might go under the proverbial bus** tomorrow.

Life is a terminal disease

And until they find a cure, we are only avoiding the inevitable. That doesn't mean we all need to be wrapped in cotton wool to protect the very, very, few. Quite the contrary.

The Government have taken that same decision, and thank goodness some sanity still prevails in Whitehall.

* And the Comhairle
** If it is Bus na Comhairle, then please contact the Police.

Monday, September 28, 2009

How many right-wingers does it take..... form yet another 'independent' political party?

The genesis for this post goes back a few months when I was contacted and asked to find the gossip on an individual who was included in the leaked list of BNP members. The person concerned had now moved from the Hebrides to South Africa and their new neighbours had 'found' my blog and wanted to get the inside track.

I was pointed in the direction of some 'friends' of the individual who were also supposedly (former) members/supporters of the BNP, and neighbours of this person when he lived in Scotland.British bulldog

A little bit of digging on the web and I found all the websites owned by the neighbours, and lo and behold, but one of the 'private' and hidden websites had an unusual picture. One that I had posted to my website just the week previous.

A few minutes further digging and it was obvious it was a set-up, so I sat back and waited for the next contact from this very concerned citizen in South Africa. She did appear on her company website, but someone with the same name as her husband seemed to be involved in extreme right-wing politics.

It is the startling incompetence, stupidity and blatant ar$eholeness of the extreme right that you just have to love. As a punch bag for their own incompetence, I mean, and as a way to measure your own ability and sanity.

Thanks therefore to my spies for pointing me in the direction of the manifesto of the latest bunch of intolerant misfits, the English Democrats (sic, sic, sic).

One of their more imaginative policies is: The deportation of all illegal immigrants. There should be no amnesties. Illegality should not be rewarded by the granting of citizenship. Nor should organised crime rackets be allowed to profit from people smuggling. Discovered illegal immigrants should be offered the choice between cooperatively returning straight home, or being sent to a distant offshore holding centre during the processing of their repatriation case.
I think that we can all assume that they don't envisage the Isle of Wight or even the Scilly Isles being 'distant' enough.

But is there an opportunity here for the Western Isles, and the wider Scotland, to welcome the doctors, business people and families that some of the English don't want?

Quite apart from the skills that would be dropped into our laps, won't it really annoy the English Democrats if we offer to keep all the 'expelled' right next door; ready to visit England as wealthy tourists and rub the noses of the English Democrats and their ilk in their own insecurity. Whilst we all benefit from the influx of ready, willing and able emigrants?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The date of the General Election

I now know when the election will be next year, as we have just booked our holidays, and they will undoubtedly clash!

I'm waiting to see what odds I can get from the bookie before spilling the beans.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dinner guest

Mrs N and I had dinner tonight in a very nice restaurant in Stornoway.

Two clients over there.

Two clients over there too.

Two friends over there also.

Another three friends in the far corner - sorry we didn't see you sooner.

But as we left our unexpected guest arrived.

Talking to the staff at the reception, the door handle moved down, the door swung slowly open, paused, and then slammed shut as if to say "Have you not got homes to go to?"

No wind blew; no people were visible inside or out; and the staff told us it was the resident ghost. Or more accurately one of the two resident ghosts. The other stays upstairs.

I'm not going to say where this is, as it is a favoured haunt (pun intended!) of ours, but it certainly rounded the evening off in an unusual way.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The economic climate

"4 hours from being closed down"

These were the words of a director of a very large local business (who I am not going to identify, or allow to be identified), that came that close to disaster.

The economic climate turned against the firm, and the impact on the banks fundamentally affected the ability of that firm to continue to borrow at the previous level.

I looked at the 2008 accounts last night and you can see that the rapid growth has required large borrowings to fund the expansion, and it is easy to see where the pressure must have come from earlier this year.

The problem for this firm, and its competitors, is that the banking situation will have got even more difficult over the past six months, and will be tighter and tighter for them all. I foresee some blood on the carpets in that sector over the next six months as the impact of the global crisis starts to impact here.

It is clear to me that there is going to be a big contraction in the local economy, and that is going to have a serious adverse impact on employment and lead to increased out-migration of the best and the ablest.

The challenge of how to deal with this is firmly in the hands of HIE and the Council. The former instill little confidence in the business community and the later are going to have to work very hard with very limited resources to try to soften the blow.

The mood in Uist

I'm just back from a few days work in Uist, and as usual I spent the time travelling around the islands, speaking to loads of people in every corner.

The talk moves in all sorts of directions and covers all topics - tax, sheep prices, ferries - before inevitably coming back to the one issue that is on everyone's mind: the Rocket Range.

There are three main threads in the conversations that are interlinked and almost without exception they are repeated and reinforced by everyone I speak to.

(1) The Range was only saved thanks to the hard work and determination of the Taskforce. Every member of that Taskforce is receiving credit for their involvement; except possibly HIE who are perceived to have been an obstacle rather than a help. Even the Council gets grudging praise for leading the defence.

(2) The Range is only saved until the next Defence Review, and the defence of the Range must continue to guarantee real security.

(3) Angus MacNeil MP has behaved in an appalling fashion, and has done nothing to help. He won't be getting their vote again, but that doesn't mean that they are going to vote for Labour either.

Labour are still being blamed for the economic mismanagement, but I believe that in Uist there are a huge number of ex-SNP floating voters who are going to decide how to vote much nearer the time.

The approach that a Tory Government will have more reason to save the Range seems bizarre in the extreme, as the Tories will actually have less reason to keep to open and the Taskforce will be likely to have less leverage over a Tory Government than over a Labour one.

The next election campaign started some months back, and it is going to be longer, bitter and very close.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The end of Scotland?

Baroness Scotland, I mean.

As the Attorney General and chief law officer in England & Wales, to be fined £5,000 for not keeping the correct paperwork when employing a foreign national is not just embarrassing, but probably a career stopper.

Anyone who is a small employer will know the difficulties that you face when you try to employ a migrant worker, and we have all seen the threatening advertisements and the repeated mailshots advising on what to do.

That they Minister responsible for putting that legislation through Parliament failed to abide by it is a glorious irony, which serves to show just how difficult it is for anyone to stick to the extensive and extended rules. If the author of the law can't get it right, what chance does a small tradesman have?

However, and here is the good news, the Border Agency don't appear to have pulled any punches and are quite properly treating everyone equally. No kid gloves for the boss. Everyone gets treated equally harshly by the xenophobic legislation.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Economic outlook - even more severe

The soaring rate of Government borrowing and the pessimistic view of PricewaterhouseCoopers over the size of cuts necessary by of the public sector has made me even more depressed about the historic economic mismanagement of the economy and the prospects for the future.

With the PSBR expected to hit £225bn compared to £175bn forecast just a few months ago, the size of the cuts that are necessary to get this back under control are enormous.

This is going to feed down to Holyrood and then down to the councils, and that means a very direct impact on every aspect of the local economy. This is largely due to the overwhelming size of the public sector in the islands, and this will exacerbate the impact.

I don't go quite as far as PWC in expecting a 25%+ cut being required in Comhairle spending, but I do see cuts of another 5% next year and the year after as being essential to keep the council finances in balance. That is huge, and is going to require serious and decisive action by the Councillors, or you will simply end with muddle and fudge.

(Call me a cynic, but there might be some reduction in next years cuts demanded, just ahead of the MSP elections.)

There are some of the Councillors who will be able to take such a decisive step, but too many - I fear - will not be prepared to countenance the job losses and service cuts that are required.

Some pet projects will have to go, and some promises will have to be broken, but such is going to be the impact of the cuts that such a course of action is unavoidable.

Looking a the Council budgets, I also see a huge impact on capital budgets, and there is a serious problem that capital commitments will not be met: and in some cases, there is a need to ask if they should be met.

All of which takes us back to the Scottish Budget.

I have serious problems with the attempt to bring forward capital expenditure from later years, simply because it masks the impact of the cuts that are necessary,and allow politicians to duck hard decisions whilst bequeathing a mess to their successors. All of which causes more pain in the long run.

You can see it happening in Westminster and now it is being replicated in Holyrood.

All of which needs people who are prepared to stand for the Council knowing that they have to make a lot of hard choices, and are prepared to do so.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Scottish Budget

The series of announcements by John Swinney had the feeling of inevitability over the depth and nature of the cuts.

Were there cuts?

Let me explain the conflicting positions in simple terms.

Labour say funding has increased, the SNP say it has been cut. Who is right?

The total funding for next year has increased, but because of the effect of inflation and advanced capital expenditure, the available funding has reduced. Eh???

Let's forget inflation in the first instance. My annual salary is £20,000 so I can spend £20,000 each year. I buy a new car and the HP is £3,000 a year. Next year my available expenditure is £17,000 or a 15% cut. That is the effect of advanced capital expenditure.

Second instance - accounting for inflation. My salary increases to £22,000. I can now spend £22,000 or 10% more.

Adjusting for my HP payments my available expenditure is £19,000 (£22,000-3,000) compared to £20,000 before I bought the new car.

So in reality has the my available expenditure increased or decreased? Half-full or half-empty? You can argue whatever you like, but the real test is if the new car is a better use of expenditure than all the alternatives.

This is known as "prudential budgeting" in Council circles; and to the rest of us as mortgaging our future.

The cuts have to be deep: trying to protect all jobs whilst making cuts this deep is stupid. Really stupid. Face facts and bite the bullet.

Some impacts: a cut in the budgets of Scottish Enterprise and Highland and Islands Enterprise from £376m to £300m (20%); Educational Maintenance Allowances cut from £36.5m to £31.5m (15%). And these will not be the end of it, nor the worst.

All this comes around due to the economic mismanagement of Brown and Darling Blair which has now been dropped into the lap of the patsy, Darling.

The next decade is going to be tough, irrespective of who is in power wherever, so brace yourselves and start to act accordingly now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Holiday snap - just in

Angus MacNeil in Washington
"Damn that Jim Murphy and his sneeky job-saving schemes!"

Further cut and pastes in the save vein welcomed - send to lazychicken at btinternet dot com.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rocket range saved!

The magnificent effort of the Range Taskforce in successfully managing the campaign to save the Uist rocket range deserves to be recognised and applauded from the rooftops.

The Councillors, officers and other members have worked extremely hard to persuade the Government to retain the vast range of skills in the range, and to reverse the decision of QinetiQ and their owners, the rapacious private equity firm the Carlyle Group.
Uist rocket range
The effort has been unstinting, and despite the short timescale, the full resources of the Council have been mustered to fight for the islands.

'To fight for the islands": remember that phrase.

Reports have been commissioned, arguments gathered and then expounded in an exemplary fashion, despite HIE refusing to release information to the Council. No other public sector body could have achieved what they have done, and without the local Council, the range would be have been closed by today.

Those close to the Taskforce have praised Vice-Convener Angus Campbell for being the driving force behind the whole rescue mission. He has been described as being a powerhouse of discretion, drive, tact and superb negotiating skills at every level, bringing on board everyone in a magnificent joint effort. He has also had to bite his tongue very often; as some 'supporters' have proved to be less than helpful.

But credit must extend to the other members of the Taskforce, who now must rightly be proud of their achievements; but who also need to realise that the closure issue will come back again, and there needs to be major effort to build up the base and the Uist economy to protect it from such a potentially serious blow ever striking again.

The brickbats lie with everyone involved in the creation of QinetiQ - from its ultra cheap sale privatisation, to those who allowed private greed to become more important than the strategic (inter)national interest.


But there is a bigger censure that needs to be applied; and I make no apology whatsoever for returning to the scene of the crime and pointing the finger, not least because many friends and clients are employed - directly or indirectly - by QinetiQ, and the employees do not deserve what has happened to them.

Nearly two years ago our MP was told that closure was proposed. He did nothing. He told no-one. He didn't lobby the Minister, despite meeting her.

The proposed closure was announced. He blamed Labour and issued press releases. Constantly.

He didn't join the Taskforce; preferring to work alone, including setting up a conflicting petition. Conflicting, because the Council signed up to another petition, simply because the official petition was created by someone who actually spoke to the Council.

Never mind. MacNeil put down 14 written questions in the House of Commons relating to the proposed closure. The Taskforce found out about the questions through the media. They were questions the Taskforce wanted asked, but was MacAvity there to help?

He has been absent without apology for all (possibly bar one) of the Taskforce meetings.

He didn't submit a response to the consultation process.

He hasn't met with the Scottish Secretary to discuss the proposed closure, despite repeated requests and offers to do so. [He did gatecrash the first meeting, having not bothered to ask to attend, and pretending to be Angus 'Storas' MacMillan, issuing a press release dismissing the meeting before it had finished!]

As one person said to me, "He wants the Range to close, so he can build his election campaign upon Labour's failures."

The rent-a-quote-stuff might look good in the press, but the staff in Uist know exactly what he has done and what he has not done to fight for the islands.

And his biggest failure is to not engage with the staff, preferring to issue ill-informed statements on their behalf.

I have known about today's announcement since Monday afternoon. Why am I better informed about Westminster decisions than our MP?

Is it because I actually speak to people of all political parties, instead of grandstanding and alienating them? MacNeil's credibility in Westminster is paper thin as he is perceived to be a self-publicist rather than a serious politician.

And that doesn't help us one iota to fight for the islands.

The inclusion of Donald John MacSween in the Taskforce opened many doors that would otherwise have remained closed. Indeed many of these doors were being slammed in the face of the MP, as a direct result of his grandstanding.

Don't forget that his appointment was bitterly opposed by the SNP, in a spectacular piece of misjudgement, but it is clear from sources close to the issue that his political contacts made all the difference to the outcome.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mugshot photo

Thanks to The Register for this gem of a genuine mug shot photo.

One shaken officer admitted: “It was hard to keep a straight face when the mugshot was taken. No one has ever seen teeth that bad."

Broadband - how it can be done

Faroe islandsWho are Shetland Islands Council turning to to find out how to deliver broadband in their islands?
A delegation from the isles is being invited to Faroe to see how the community there is able to provide almost its entire population with high speed broadband as the SIC considers how to go about setting up its own telecommunications firm.[...]
Mr Cluness said: “The Faroese are specialists on broadband – almost 100 per cent of the population is fairly high speed. A lack of decent broadband is one of the main things that’s holding us back.”
Having been to the Faroes and seen the topography and the weather, the challenges in Uist pale into insignificance.

Diageo - some hard truths

A multi-billion pound multi-national company spends many months using internal confidential information to develop a business plan that they believe will save them large sums of money.*

Cue outrage from politicians who then present an alternative business plan in a few weeks without access to the confidential information; and despite the promises of big grant cheques, the cobbled together plan is rejected outright.

End of story. Closure of plant.

Part of the problem, and a big part of the problem, is the disjointed thinking from Holyrood about the entire policy that they are following, and the blunt 'sod off' message from management makes it clear just how amateurish the 'rescue' attempts have been.

Why there was this attempt to retain jobs in Kilmarnock and Glasgow, rather than move some of them to Fife is a mystery, if you disregard the obvious partisan party politics implications. It would have been better to work with the company to try to make the new plant bigger and better and to employ extra staff from the closed plants. It is always easier to nudge people onto a different course if you are moving in the same direction.

But the other dichotomy is the attitude to alcohol about which I have commented on a number of occasions.

Minimum alcohol pricing, restricting hours, new laws restricting off sales, an end to happy hours and numerous other puritanical quasi-prohibition supporting moves. Except that every policy is accompanied by the soto voce "except whisky". How that is going to fly past the EU is a mystery that no-one can explain, as protecting your national product at the expense of imported products is simply illegal.

Except, of course, if the nanny state believes that none of us can be trusted to drink sensibly, but it is hypocritically acceptable to sell this misery-bringer to foreigners.

* This could so easily refer to QinetiQ and the rocket range in Uist, but it that case our MP got a year's notice to allow a contra-case to be developed. It was just that he didn't bother to do anything about a contra-case until it was almost too late.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The cuts start to bite

If anyone had any doubt about the severity of the Central Government cuts to come over the next few years, then look at the drive by the Tories to cut minuscule - but politically very significant - items of public expenditure in the House.

£2.10 for a pint of Fosters in the House of Commons might seem not unreasonable, but it is about half the price of a pint in some where like the Red Lion in Whitehall. It is clear that they are (scuccessuly) grabbing the moral high ground, but portraying themselves as spendthifts. Albeit millionaire spendthrifts.

Not everywhere in London is like the hothouse and very wealthy atmosphere of Westminster. On a very recent visit to London I spent a few days in the city meeting various people in City Hall and I had the chance to have a pint in some nice, friendly, local pubs. But these are the sorts of places where MPs will never venture, but where you meet the real local people, and pay £3.50 a pint; but where you get the 'real' story of what life is like for the real members of the public.

But politicians often like to insulate themselves from the effect of their actions, and the best example of that is trying to pass the blame for cuts onto others.

My good contacts in Scottish Government circles tell me that the impact of the Westminster cuts is starting to give due cause for concern in Holyrood about how this going to impact on the next rounds of elections.

The old rule was "blame Westminster for cutting our funding" and "blame Councils for specific cuts", but none of this holds true any more.

The cuts in HIE budgets are well documented, and today we see huge cuts in the budgets of Lews Castle College which will decimate the very successful evening classes offered. Look very carefully at the 'denial' of cuts in the crofting grant scheme; and realise that the scheme is going to shrink and be more 'targeted'.

The realisation is that there is a limit to the gullibility of the public, and that the blame will soon land at the door of Government is causing serious levels of panic as the impact of holding the purse strings reaches home.

There have been too many expensive promises that have bought some goodwill but caused a huge hole in the Scottish budget that is going to have to be filled sooner or later. Although our business benefited from the abolition of Business Rates, it was only £1,000 and if a business couldn't afford that then they were in serious $h1t anyway. Now, we pay no rates which we have little interest in how the Council spends our money [ok, that's not exactly true in our particular situation but I am generalising] yet it costs the Government a huge pile: a pile that grows each and every year.

Make the scenario simple. I get the inheritance; I gift vast promises to relatives; I promise huge regular donations to worthy organisations; I take time off work because I can afford it; interest rates fall and the stock market crashes; I don't adjust my outgoings; my investment income falls; my salary is reduced because my employer is less profitable; 18 months later I realise I have hit the limit on my overdraft.

That is where the Scottish Government will be very, very, soon, and that is the news that is causing discomfort and all levels.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
One hundred and forty years later and the basic principles still hold true.

Hard work

We upgraded the server in the office over the weekend, and needless to say there were teething troubles. In spades. Despite an expert computer wizard (Murdo) trying to sort the complexities of what we do.

The new SBS 2009 server is great - much higher speed and capacity - but all the workstations needed to be adapted and a few needed upgrading from XP Home to XP Professional, which then caused their own issues.

The key program we use has an SQL server set-up, which required to be reinstalled and then migrated from the old server. Thankfully the old server has been left connected to the network as the on-site daily backup to backup the RAID drives on the new server, and getting the data from one to the other took a mere 1 hour, after 3 hours of working out just how to access the old system.

That was three hours of stress, panic, growling and general despair.

Some of the newer workstations were running the key piece of software, but that was because they were looking at the old SQL installation on the old server and running the old database whilst the upgraded machines couldn't find anything.

The printers all need re-configuring (twice) and I still haven't worked out how to add one of the printers twice - once as simplex and once as duplex - I did it before, but I can't remember how!

Tomorrow will bring some more fine tuning and redirection of software to the new domain from the old workgroup, but hopefully less swearing.

I think I need to buy the staff a drink or three after two days of make do, whilst some major £1m payrolls had to be run, but hopefully by Friday it will all be running smoothly.

Now to break the news to them that this was all because there is another very major IT and service enhancement on the near horizon.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Council expenditure cuts

The news that the Comhairle is facing the prospect of making £4.5m in cuts is not really news, more a belated public acknowledgement of some very hard facts.

With a revenue budget of around £100m, the plan is to force every department to find 4.5% in cuts, er savings, and not to prioritise the local authorities' expenditure between departments. Indeed, I am very reliably told that there is a move by some Councillors to agree the new budget behind closed doors, and then to present a united front, with all 31 voting together or the budget, without any debate or discussion.

"Collective responsibility", as Mrs Thatcher used to call her way of imposing her will on those who might want to air differing options.

The choices need to be discussed publicly and some form of prioritisation made, for the simple reason that 4.5% of cuts is damn near impossible to achieve without some hard decisions being made.

Nearly 65% of the budget is on salaries, and unless staffing is addressed then all you are doing is cutting small slices off small budgets. The staff may be retained, but will they have the resources to actually do their jobs? As someone who has had the responsibility for finding some cuts in earlier years, I am also only too aware of how slowly the entire process of making savings moves, and how difficult decisions take forever to happen.

The Council - and that means all Councillors - need to look carefully at everything that the organisation does, and decide if the Comhairle should still undertake that function and if so, at what scale?

This is particularly important as the forecast is for no real growth in budgets for the next decade, as we dig the Government out of a hole.

Without decisive forward thinking, the prospect is for years of large cuts and staff demoralisation, or one very painful budget round.

But this is so major and so important, it must be done in public so that there is a clear message sent to the staff and public about the importance of the actions; how decisions about priorities were reached; and, how this situation came about.

Doing it all in darkened rooms will only bring the process into disrepute, and alienate staff and the council tax payers.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Inter-island ferries - an update

The following email was issued to Councillors today.

Dear Councillor

Following discussion at today’s Policy & Resources Committee and the press coverage in today’s Gazette, the Leader has suggested that I circulate the following documents to Members.

The first document is the Comhairle’s submission to HIE seeking assistance of £75,000 for the Inter-Island Business Development Scheme (IBDS). This submission was formally requested by HIE’s representative on the Ferry Fares Member / Officer Working Group. The document was sent to HIE on 25 October 2006 and I hope clearly demonstrates that an application was made to HIE.

The second document was commissioned by HIE from Reference Economic Consultants to advise them in regard to the monitoring requirements that they would require for the implementation phase of IBDS. Commissioning independent consultants to advise on the monitoring of the scheme, would appear to suggest that HIE, at one stage, were seriously contemplating involvement in IBDS.

I trust these documents are helpful, but if there are any questions I would be more than happy to assist.

Calum Iain MacIver

Director of Development

With HIE and (bizarrely) the MSP denying that any application was ever submitted, you have to ask why HIE are taking this stance.

Is the apparent rigid adherence to 'you must use my form' overruling common sense, involvement in the process, and strategic vision, or have they just not got the money and are trying to back out of a committment they thought they could avoid?

Is it true the MSP never contacted the Council about their position, before supporting HIE?

The subsidy has - rightly - been retained and the money found from somewhere, despite the huge pressures on the budgets (more of which later) and in the teeth of the economic development agency deciding not to deliver, er, economic development.

Well done to the Council in rescuing themselves from the hole they had just dug.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Farewell Eric Joyce

When the ultra-loyal rats start deserting the ship, you realise just how big the hole below the waterline really is.

His calls for an exit strategy, time limits on the commitment, and a worry that we are punching above our weight will fall on the deafest ears.

But Eric Joyce is right.

Meanwhile we support a regime and a President who seem to have raised electoral fraud and ballot-box stuffing to a new high, that even Mugabe would be hard pressed to attain.

Oh yes; and one that classes women as third-class citizens.

If the experience of backing 'our' strongmen (and excuse me if I disown that relationship) across the globe is anything to go by, the inevitable fall will push Afghanistan further away and less willing to reason with those who supporter the oppressors.
Witness the aftermath of Papa Doc Duvalier, President Mabuto, Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and even the fall of the pro-Soviet Government of Mohammad Najibullah to our (then) allies in the Taliban (pictured).

It's a mess; a f'ing disastrous mess for everyone concerned, not least the poor citizens of Afghanistan and the only solution offered is more of the same.

But if Eric Joyce can see the light......

No comment can do this justice....

The Outer Isles Presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has condemned Cal Mac for its controversial Sabbath sailings between Stornoway and Ullapool.

The Presbytery has recorded its protest which reads: “The Outer Isles Presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland met in Stornoway on Tuesday 1st September 2009 places on record its most vehement protest against the actions of CalMac Ferries Ltd in imposing a Sabbath ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool on the Lord’s Day and against every fair test of community opinion.

“The Presbytery wishes to record that CalMac Ferries Ltd have broken a written assurance, in 2000, to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar that Sabbath sailings would not be introduced against the Council's wishes; that these sailings were only inaugurated after the solitary Western Isles representative on the Company's Board retired in March this year; that they ignore the weight of petition evidence (3,760 island residents against Sabbath sailings, as opposed to barely 1,200 for); that the Company has refused to make public the legal advice on which it claims it is obliged to provide a 7-day service; and that the service was finally initiated after only five day's notice in July.

“t further considers the alleged reasons for the commencement of this service to be utterly spurious and an incorrect interpretation of the law cited. It considers reprehensible the fact that commercial, social and entertainment interests appear to be shielded behind this supposed legal necessity and demand that Caledonian MacBrayne make public its legal opinion which precipitated this action.

“The Presbytery notes too, with regret, that letters of concern from the Sabbath Observance Committee of our Church in 2007 to Western Isles parliamentary representatives, Alasdair Allan MSP and Angus MacNeil MP, were not even granted the courtesy of acknowledgement.

“The Presbytery considers the action to be harmful to the local community and to be overtly anti-religious as was attested by the triumphalism on Stornoway quayside – with baiting slogans and blasphemous comments – and the attendance of a senior Company manager to exploit the considerable publicity.

“The Presbytery further fears the employment rights of those with religious convictions opposing Sabbath work, other than those done in necessity or in mercy, are now imperilled. Despite assurances to the contrary it seems inevitable that, in future recruitment of Company shore staff, applicants not prepared unequivocally to commit to Sabbath working as required will be denied employment.

“There is no legal safeguard against this and little to protect shore staff presently in employment by the Company from pressure to comply in this regard.

“We are again reminded that, as our land retreats from the law of God and all the blessings of the Reformation and our spiritual inheritance, we see not only contempt for the Fourth Commandment but the power of the State being wielded to impose on a despised minority.

“This has been done in open disregard of and in disobedience to the moral law of God contained in the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

“The Presbytery cannot believe these sailings are either a work of necessity or of mercy.

“The operator’s action being a further public breach of God’s law, the Presbytery exhort and warn Caledonian MacBrayne and users of this service of their danger in so acting and that such transgressions deserve the just punishment of God, who observes all sin with displeasure.

“The Presbytery call on CalMac Ferries Ltd to cease this service immediately and encourage the Comhairle’s Transportation Committee to initiate an inquiry into the legal interpretations given as reasons for this action.

“It further calls on islanders and visitors to refrain from using this service and to honour the law of God before temporal and supposed financial gains.”

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Harris Tweed Investment Fund

Having had some serious doubts about the operation of the Harris Tweed Investment Fund, I am delighted to have been proved wrong.

It was a very smart piece of thinking by the Council to provide the facility, which meets the needs of both the company and the self-employed weavers by guaranteeing a steady flow of work throughout the traditional quiet period.

Hopefully the industry will grow stronger and the Fund will no longer be necessary, but at the moment that doesn't seem likely. I am awaiting the lodging of the accounts to 31 December 2008 for Harris Tweed Hebrides LLP to try to assess the state of the industry, but they are now overdue, which is never a good sign.

The only other mill, of Harris Tweed Textiles reported a loss of around £140,000 last year and is only avoiding insolvency via a loan of £565,000 from it's owner.

It appears the industry needs owners with deep pockets for at least a few years yet.

Inter-island ferries

Cllr Donald Manford, the Chair of Transportation, is absolutely right to claim that removing the discount for commercial vehicles on the inter-island ferries will weaken the case for arguing for RET to be retained/extended when the trial period expires.

As a political position it is crackers to do what is proposed, and I hope that Donald will lambast the Committee and the Council for taking such a decision in his absence. (Perhaps he can also confirm HIE's stance on providing their share of the funding?)

But it does give some measure of the extent and depth of the cuts that are going to be faced over the next year or two by the Council, so brace yourself for more.

There was a solution: if the Council had accepted our tender for the accountancy work with Sgoiltean Ùra, then they would have saved enough to pay for the subsidy for almost two years. That might put the issue in some perspective.

I suspect that the legal fees they are going to have to pay would more than cover the third year; but then it's only public money that's being wasted.