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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A common language

With all the talk about public sector spending cuts, it is utterly apposite that whilst working on some Dutch tax affairs for a client, Google Translate gave me the following:

Dutch            English
overheid         Government

How to drag defeat from the jaws of victory

The political fallout from the cask-handed and panicked decision to extend RET to the Western Isles is causing even more problems for a Government and Minister who should be sitting back and expecting plaudits.

The goal posts have been changed again, and suddenly no-one is happy about any aspect of the decision.

Quoth the Minister:
However, Mr Stevenson said the Western Isles needed the road equivalent tariff (RET) scheme due to lower wages and a falling population.
His comments coincided with the end of a ferries review consultation.
Mr Stevenson told BBC Radio Scotland that Shetland residents had weekly earnings that were on average £70 higher than in the Western Isles and in Orkney it was some £50 higher.
So is eligibility for RET now to be determined on the basis of household income in the island group?

The Minister continued:
It is absolutely clear that investment in the Western Isles is investment to support the economy and the future of these islands.
 Now, no-one can argue with that.  Especially the corollary of that which is that the remove of RET would undermine the future of the islands.  Which begs the question of why that might even be on the agenda as part of the fares review.  If the Government were serious about supporting the islands, we wouldn't have a hand-to-mouth year-by-year policy for RET, as that doesn't encourage investment or long-term planning.

Indeed, as I have previously argued, the timescale for the 'pilot' is far too short to make a sensible decision.

Year 1, few know about it. Year 2, the problems issues start to arise; Year 3, the position starts to stabilise and you can start an assessment; Year 4 of a 5 year policy would give you a sensible base on which to form a strategy; Year 5 is for an early decision.

The review came too late and too near the election for anything to be decided and implemented before this time next year, meaning uncertainty for all.

And even the SNP's guru on CalMac, Prof Neil Kay, a resident of Cowal, has very sharp words to say:
What has clearly happened is that the public relations horror and electoral disaster that the RET pilot has stored up for the Government has finally dawned on someone in Edinburgh.
ferry fail
No, I am not talking about the public relations horror and electoral disaster that it will create for it in Argyll and Bute, that has already happened. I am talking about the public relations horror and electoral disaster that it would create for it in the Western Isles where this “experiment” has already cost £22mill.
The RET pilot was due to end Spring next year. The penny finally dropped that Calmac will introduce their Summer timetables around end of March and that as things stood the end of the RET pilot would mean the Summer timetables would have to show a doubling of many of the current fares back up to their pre-RET levels – just weeks before the Holyrood election in May.
Of course there may be reasons other than defering electoral trauma as to why the Government is spending an extra £6.5mill on Western Isles to extend the RET pilot there by another year. If anyone has any other rational explanations it would be good to hear them.
With a flagship policy causing your friends to have a go, the competency levels are demonstrably low.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The coming cuts

I don';t want to repeat myself, about the coming cuts, but just read my previous comments, and compare them to the words of the Auditor General.
Mr Black said he regretted that people across Scottish society failed to start planning for tighter spending several years ago
But the Comhairle have some plans to bridge the estimated cuts of £5m pa.  Lets look at this list:
  • Increase in Council Tax - £190,000
  • Put the leisure facilities into a Charitable Trust - £200,000
  • Reduce library hours by 10% - £38,000
  • Reduce Swimming Pool hours by 10% - £46,000
  • Bin collections fortnightly rather than weekly - £90,000
  • Transferring care homes to the private sector - £217,000
  • Cancel discretionary free school transport - £75,000
That makes £856,000 or 17% or what is required.

I recommended consultation, but this looks like nothing more than a superficial attempt to shroud-wave.

With over £4,000,000 in cuts still unidentified in any way shape or form, WTF was the purpose of the meetings when the substance is missing?

If you are going to consult, then do so with some honesty and openness.

In November we are going to get a totally different menu of choices, with the results of the 'consultation' used to justify a totally different course of action.

The honest approach would be to take the proposals to the Councillors and then take the prioritised list out to the community before a final decision is reached.
Tony Robson said it was important that the council look for savings from within itself when it was asking islanders to bear cuts in public services.
The absence of any detail about the internal plans of the Council is understandable given the processes that have to be followed, but only emphasise why the consultation should have followed after these were discussed by the Council and recommendations laid.

The lurgie

It wasn't man-flu it was much more serious than that.

I'm only looking for undeserved sympathy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Third world ferry services.....

Thanks to my anonymous marine advisor for this wonderful comparison with my previous blog posting....

New Philippines ro-pax catamarans

Dennise Trajano, Chairman of Archipelago Philippine Ferry Corporation, announced that the finance has been approved for the ordering of 10 medium speed ro-pax catamarans of the Australian Sea Transport Solutions (STS) design, heralding the arrival of the countries very first brand new ro-pax ferries, and a new safety standard in local ferries. 'This is the first time an international classed ro-ro catamaran to operate in domestic waters ' according to Mr. Trajano.

The new designs will be 50 x 17m x 1.8m draft, quadruple screw 16 knot ropax catamarans for trucks, buses, cars and up to 500 passengers. The catamarans will comply to the latest standards of damaged stability criteria , life saving and firefighting equipment. Most importantly the fuel efficiency of these vessels is well ahead of the existing old ferries, as the country faces up to its emissions obligations.

All of the new fleet will have standard machinery, electronics and equipment so that the vessels and crew will be totally interchangeable on each of the routes.

This has never been possible with any operator in the country previously as the ferries came from different places with vastly different machinery.

The routes planned for the new fleet will fully service the eastern and western hi-way, in conjunction with bus and cargo routes.

This proposal is aimed at improving tourism around the Philippines said Mr Trajano, as well as addressing the overdue action on ferry safety by the Philippines Government and ferry industry. This project will impact a more effecient transportation system that will translate to reduction of price of agricultural and commercial products.

The Jam Group , a bus company partner of the ferries has recently acquired brand new 100 x 50 seater airconditioned units for use in all connecting ports of the new ferries

The vessels are expected to commence construction shortly and the first will be in service by the middle of 2011 with the following vessels arriving at two monthly intervals behind the first.
You just couldn't make it up

New ferries needed

In the convoluted structure that is the CalMac group of companies, the parent company, David MacBrayne are making the group comments in connection with the ferries review currently being undertaken by the Scottish Government.

David MacBrayne - Road to the Isles
 Described as "hard hitting", what it actually is is the sound of chickens coming home to roost, with decades of under-investment causing a major headache for the company.

And that means a major headache for everyone who is dependent upon the services that CalMac deliver.

The ferries need to be replaced at least one per year, just to keep them all up to date, but there is such a backlog of old vessels that the company clearly believes that it cannot deliver the required services over the coming years with the existing fleet.

Can anyone remember when the last ship was added to the fleet, and the one before that?

But of course, it is not quite as easy as just building ships. And here I feel I am banging on about something I know I have said a number of times before, but which only gets truer with time.

A new ship or ships on the Stornoway route may also require new pier facilities, and as other vessels are replaced or moved onto new runs, the entire infrastructure needs careful consideration and advance planning for the next generation of vessels.

And that will cost huge sums.  But doing in on the cheap now, will inevitably cost more in the long run as the penny-pinching will come home to roost.

CalMac are absolutely right to highlight this now, as they will be (wrongly) blamed for a crap service if the Government cannot find the funding for the necessary capital works of probably £20-£30m per annum for the next 10-20 years.

With an election looming, we must bring pressure to bear on both Labour and the SNP to make clear their intentions, and not to hide behind the review which may not report until after the election.

After all, none of them are going to dangle the promise of cheap fares in knackered old vessels are they?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The next Labour candidate

So the short list of three is in, and we are all wondering just who will be the Ed Milliband and who will be the Diane Abbott?

I've been in contact with all three candidates recently, one of whom denied he was on any list (like I believed him!), one of whom came in for a wonderfully amiable chat about everything and anything, including some very indiscreet observations that I will not be repeating, and one of whom regularly emails me his insights.

Actually, I have to say that it is the omissions from the list that are the most significant.  Two strongly touted potential candidates haven't put their names forward, and frankly I think that they were absolutely correct not to get involved at this time.

It is most certainly an interesting race, and my soundings indicate that Kevin Paterson seems to be the early leader.  Thankfully, they only have three weeks to bore the party electorate into submission before the end of the phony war turns into a most interesting contest.

As the local SNP have repeatedly said that national trends are more important than local issues, it will be interesting to see how they intend to defend, whilst seemingly on the back foot.

Copies of the candidates' manifestos gratefully received for wider dissemination.  Leaks from candidates of their own material will be given the anonymous treatment.

Disco Taxi

As the schools were closed on Friday, the family have all been away getting reacquainted with the cities and seeing relatives.

Last night must rate as one of the most bizarre endings to an evening that I have ever had.

Grabbing a cab, we should have been topped off by the loud rock'n'roll coming from the vehicle as it turned to pick us up.

As we got in and drove away, the driver tuned on the internal disco lights - think the long strings of multi-coloured lights that run around a room. Or in this case, around the inside of the cab.  The entire inside.

The kids loved it and when asked by the driver if they wanted the music higher, they yelled in approval.  You couldn't hear yourself think above the music and the kids whooping it up.

We had to stop at an Oddbins - emergency supplies! - and as the boss collected a nice bottle of White Rioja, the kids were being serenaded with "White Lightening" from the Grease soundtrack and being encouraged by the driver to get up and dance in the cab.  Which they duly did.  The look on the faces of the kids who parked next to us was wonderful.  Embarrassment mixed with disbelief.

The staff in the Oddbins were asking what the noise was, and the boss blithely commented "My taxi", and exited with the vino, as if it was an every day event.

All in all, it nicely rounded off a day which saw us almost gatecrash a wedding in which the bride arrived at the ceremony in an utterly outrageous pink stretch hummer limo.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wind farms - yet again

No matter how I try to avoid this topic, it keeps coming back around.

That might be due to the great fudge of 2003 when the SNP simultaneously promised support for and opposition to wind farms. 

Amec, or more accurately Amec and EDF, have now submitted a revised plan for a large scale windfarm in Lewis.

They have identified an area previously identified by the SNP Government as being suitable for windfarms in which to make their application, and given that it already has Government approval, what is going to stop the Lewis Wind Power scheme happening on a slightly smaller scale and in a slightly different area?

Remember the promises you had that the SNP would stop all wind farms in Lewis?  Which then became all large windfarms?  Which then became all large non-community owned wind farms?  All  lies and nonsense.

MWT, you are being hung out to dry the other side of the next election when you votes will be used to justify a large scale development.

With today's news that we are definitely in the running to be on the long leet for the short leet for the possible potential schemes for wave power, if anyone can develop an working model and want to site it in Lewis where there is no way of feeding the power that might be generated if the model actually works back into the grid, we are truly on the cusp of something.  But probably not what you might think.  But it will be the attractive cover for the bad news.

With the Ofgem review of pricing being flagged up as reversing the existing pricing structure - as demanded by the SNP - it looks most likely that we in the islands will start to become a focus for renewables. And that means that the past years have been wasted denying us an economic opportunity that is now going to be forced upon us in accordance with a long standing Government policy.

I will understand exactly why MWT will go through the roof - and so they should - but it is what I saw coming a long time back and in my own way hoped we could control and manage over a longer period of time.

My problem - and this is a BIG problem - is that there is going to be a gold rush for renewables that we as a community cannot adequately manage and that we are going to lose control over the policy and direction as a consequence.

The culprits for this sit in Bayhead, because of their opportunistic approach (and let's be honest, that's what most politicians do) but those we need to be wary of sit only slightly further away, masked by shell companies and the money motive.  And thanks to another, I think I have a big tale to tell, if I can just join the dots and get it past the lawyers.

Just remember the basics. Multi-nationals aren't doing it for any reason together than the profit.  Community benefit is the 'bribe' they need to pay.  And those who speak for them sometimes do so for wrong reasons for the community.  We can/could take control of the decisions and make it work for us if we can decide on a future based around renewables and then work out how to achieve it.

Blind refusal is not going to be a winning strategy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is the RET extension legal?

An MEP has asked the European Commission to investigate the Scottish government's decision to extend a discount ferry fares scheme pilot.
I think George Lyons has a valid point, but I am not quite sure what the Commission can do, except instruct the removal of the RET pilot or its extension to all routes. 

Is there an election looming, perchance?

Basqueing in reflected glory

Sorry for the pun, but one should never be too serious about something that is obviously in desperate need of a good burst of satire and general fun-poking.

Not that long ago Scotland was a 'Celtic Tiger' standing proudly alongside Eire and looking admiringly at it's economic success.  'That could be us' was the cry.  If only we were like Eire and had control over our own economic affairs, then as a member of the EU we would enjoy the sort of boom that they are having.  Look at all the wealth and the financial services they are developing.

Then came the bust, and Eire found that as a member of the Eurozone it couldn't do anything to stop its economy imploding, and budget cuts were the only option available to them. A bit like Scotland really, as prescribed by Westminster, and for many of the same reasons.  With interest rates at record lows, cutting budgets is the only tool available.

But like MacCavity, the SNP MSPs weren't there.  They had already abandoned the belief in the Celtic Tiger, and moved onto ideologies new.

The Arc of Prosperity was the new buzz.  Like Iceland and Norway, we were outside the Eurozone and so free from those risks, and as proud independent nations we could follow their example and control our own finances in a way that was only possible by small independent countries.

At least that was the model we were being urged to follow until the Icelandic banks went belly-up closely followed by the Scottish ones: when suddenly the emphasis was changed.

Today we are being urged to look at Spain.  And this is where I feel that the search for role models really demonstrates an underlying change in the SNP policy, not for a cultural reason, but for economic and intensely party politcal reasons.

Until recently - and just when did this stop being the case - Catalonia was being held up as the model for the new Scotland.  I remember countless MSPs and MEPs extolling the virtues of the Catalan struggle for economic and political independence from Spain.  The ties were the language struggle - now rejected by the majority - and the grinding of the economy under the heel of the evil Spanish empire.

The similarities were all to apparent, and no-one need to draw out the implications for the common interests between the two.  Remember the  campaigns to have both Catalan and Gaelic as official EU languages.

But now we are being pointed at the Basque country, and it is here that the political change can be seen.

The Basques are content to operate as a semi-autonomous state inside Spain, and the economy has boomed as they have ruthlessly exploited thier opportunities to build a thriving economy.  Independence is muttered about, but is not a serious political topic, as everything is rosy in the garden.  If Catalonia is (was?) Scotland, then the Basque region is more like Cornwall.

Is this really the model that the SNP are holding out for its supporters?

Coming so soon after the abandonment of the Independence referendum and its transparent sidelining as a major issue for the SNP (at least at present) are we going to be faced with the two major parties at the next Holyrood elections both fighting for the flavour of devolution that suits them best?

It looks that way, whatever noises the SNP may make about Independence remaining the/an objective.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Religious and irreligious

I've had a bit of abuse for being bigoted; giving bigots an opening; being irreligious; and generally any other bit of abuse that might be justified in even the most obtuse way.

Putting this all in perspective is the fact that I was (nicely) berated by a Reverend at lunch time for not posting often enough and not being provocative enough.

A few weeks back I was out for Sunday dinner and also present was a trainee Minister, who is a client and friend.

I know a number of prominent Priests very well, and have friends of every persuasion and degree of piety; and many of no persuasion.

[Some of my best friends are....yadda, yadda]

What marks these people out is their sincerity and openness in what they believe.  They and I may disagree - sometimes violently and fundamentally - but we know that the ability to defend your position coherently can only strengthen you own views, whilst respecting the views of others is the mark of humanity.

Amongst the most genuinely religious people I know believe that belief itself is the strongest element of faith, and that the various shade of belief is a relatively minor obstacle that their belief has to overcome; and they believe will overcome in due course.  As an analogy, political parties hate the "Don't knows", and target those who have a view to try to change their vote.

But hypocrisy is most definitely a matter of the strongest disapproval by those of sincere views, and taking the p mickey is beyond the pale.

I respect those with genuine views, and the personal abuse and wild assumptions about my personal views wash over me, and don't affect the underlying hypocrisy and opportunism that appears to be the driving force behind the actions of others.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Judge for yourself

From BBC News
Just who was taking Holy Communion at Bellahouston?  Can there really be two people who look like this?

Ferries - the story continues

I read with mounting bad humour the 'response' of our MSP to the Ferries Review consultation in the Gazette last night.

The reason for my ire?  I was unable to discern a single opinion about the plans for ferry service.  Plenty of praise for what has happened, and the brilliance and insight of the decisions taken by his party.  But about the future?

Well, the future was shrouded in vacuousness, non-statements and banal generalities that deliberately avoided the formation of any kind of view.

If that was accidental then you could excuse it, but it was clearly an empty shell designed to provide the mirage of a response to a review, whilst actually being able to sit on the fence and wait to be told what the review is going to bring, before taking a stance.

Read it again.  Does he want one ferry or two?  More runs or less?  Bigger vessels or smaller vessels?  Submarines or camel trains or tunnels?

The answer, of course, is all of the above and none of the above, depending on the report: which will arrive after the election, negating the need for an opinion.

Meantime, further disruption to the ferry service, and it is only September.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Parliamentary questions

Can anyone explain the rationale behind this question to the Minister?  It seems to do nothing but undermine the Range, compared to Wales.....
Hebrides Missile Range

Mr MacNeil: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many pairs of fibre-optic cables his Department has between Hebrides Range and the mainland of Scotland. [14019]

Peter Luff: The Ministry of Defence has no fibre optic cables running between the Hebrides Range and the mainland of Scotland.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The ferry review

With a bland and banal RET questionnaire hitting many doorsteps this week, one might question why a new vessel for the Stornoway-Ullapool route has already been defined and designed with public money, before the appraisal of the route is even properly commenced.

But let's put to one side the waste of public money.  And the inability of the communities to benefit for stop-gap political RET decisions. And disjointed Government thought processes.  And the absence of any way to fund what is really required.  And the expectation that we will accept a poorer service than we deserve.

Let us all put that aside, and treat the consultation processes as something meaningful, from which the Government will genuinely take the views of the local population, and which will lead to a more appropriate and coherent ferry service.  At least until the other side of the election when they hope to kick it into touch on some pretext.

So what do the public think about the plans?

We all know what the Comhairle think, but what about Ullapool Community Council, the other potential 'beneficiaries' of the Government munificence?

Well here is their view:- 

Dear Mr Stevenson

Scottish Ferries Review – Consultation

Notwithstanding the actual Consultation Questionnaire and any returns of this that may come from this area, this letter is to make you aware of the community’s feelings concerning proposed changes to the ferry service between Ullapool and Stornoway.  Put simply we are totally against replacing the existing two vessels the Isle of Lewis and the Muirneag with a single large vessel.  Our opinion is that it would be a major blunder.  We summarise our reasons viz. (not in any order of importance):

  • TRAFFIC PARKING/MUSTERING CONGESTION – Impossible traffic congestion that one large vessel would entail. We can only just cope with peaks with present ferry.  Vehicle mustering area is too small for any more vehicles indeed we are seeking to try to get round this difficulty at the moment with the present size of vessels.
  • INFRASTRUCTURE, Ullapool Harbour – Massively expensive alterations to terminal facilities would be far greater for larger vessel.
  • PUBLIC PURSE – The required changes to harbour vehicle and passenger handling, parking, movement, loading platforms etc. will far outweigh the lower vessel cost for one as against two vessels.  Plus, two identical vessels are not twice the price of one.
  • TRAFFIC ROAD MOVEMENT CONGESTION – better road traffic situation with arrivals and departure to and from the ferry being spread – flexibility, day & night, plus road conditions, A835 Ullapool – Inverness.
  • BACK-UP FERRY – inevitably there will be breakdowns and bad weather hold-ups, and coping with this will obviously be better handled by two capable and sound* vessels – reduced disruption to passengers and freight.
 *note: We emphasize the importance of getting two sound suitable vessels as distinct from the position where the Muirneag has not been the right choice for this route and work load.

We have attended the public meeting held locally as part of the public consultation.  However, we are not at all happy that a decision to go for one ‘super ferry’ to all intents and purposes may already have been made and that the public discussion is merely for public consumption.

We know that this is only part of the issues in the current debate but it is by far the most important for this area.  We are also conscious that ever since the ferry first started operating from Ullapool nearly forty years ago there have been discussions with those on the Stornoway side of the Minch but little or no opportunity has been afforded to those of us involved in and affected by the operations on this side.  It has been a great thing for Ullapool but we do like to have a say in matters affecting us concerning the ferry service.

We look forward to a satisfactory outcome for all parties in due course.

Yours sincerely

Oops, but it looks like the communities either side of the Minch are utterly opposed to the plan that is sitting on the drafting board, ready to lay the keel for the new and unsuitable single vessel.

Will the Minister take heed of the consultation, or will the process be extended into the period of purdah ahead of the election, where no decisions are taken?  I expect the later, and intend I will be astonished and shocked if it is otherwise.

However, here is a perfect opportunity for the Labour Party to tell us what they want to deliver.....  It can't be any worse (or can it?)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tax breaks....

Whilst massive cuts are being forecast for every aspect of the economy in Scotland with the prospect of 20%-25% job losses, then you have to say "WTF?" to the latest political stunt.

Scottish sports minister Shona Robison is to meet senior Westminster politicians in an attempt to gain a tax exemption for Commonwealth Games competitors.
“I’m going to ask for an exemption for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and Ryder Cup the same year, along with a number of events.

“A number of English sporting events are exempted, but none of the major sporting events in Scotland.

“We expect parity for major international sporting events.”
Get a grip, FFS.

Millionaires fly in and earn vast sums of money fora few hours work, and our Government wants to exempt them from tax.  Not mitigate their tax.  Not limit their tax liability to income earned in the UK.

No, let's make it all tax free.

This all smacks of NuLab's idolisation of Hedge Fund managers and other obscenely rich ponces and the subsequent tilting of tax laws in their favour.

A simple question: would you rather have a home help for your parents, or watch a millionaire hit a golf ball around for a vast tax-free lump sum?

Now ask: are these guys paying tax anywhere?  The answer is almost certainly that they are not paying very much tax anywhere. The sponsorship will have been sold to a BVI company, where vast sums roll up tax-free, and by judiciously moving around the world, nowhere - bar tax-free Monaco - will be home.  For tax purposes.

And our pensioners die unable to afford their heating bills......

Redistribution of income, but not as we know it

Two intriguing and not necessarily contradictory stories caught my eye:

As the Trade Unions - aka the Labour Party with money - meet in Manchester, the message is clear:
Trade unions chief Brendan Barber has warned that big spending cuts will make Britain a "dark, brutish and more frightening place".

Elsewhere, the beancounters have a different message:
Executive bonuses are close to their level before the financial crisis, a survey by business advisory firm Deloitte says.
It looks like the big earners are back on track with OTE back to their six and seven figure sums, whilst everyone else - and Unions please note that this includes most of the rest of the private sector - facing the pain.

The failure of Governments - Labour and now the NuWhigs - to control, or even challenge, the dominance of the banks and the excesses of the very few, is only going to store up trouble for later years.  I'm not advocating a neutering process, or even a massive degree of regulation, but a simple increase in tax levels for the super-wealthy.

Anyone object to a 90% tax on incomes over £5m pa?  Of course, many of those who earn these obscene sums, would convert their income into long-term equity growth which would attract lower tax rates.  Which is exactly the point, by binding the speculators' wealth to long term economic growth, it might just focus their minds when they are betting with their future wealth.

Thomas Cook to close

I'm told that Thomas Cook in Stornoway is closing at the end of the month, and that staff were told this last week.

It was inevitable that as we all use the internet more and more that the need for a local service would decrease, but it is still sad that we are losing another shop from the high street.  With the charity shops proliferating and the number of empty premises growing - just what is happening with the old HebCelt offices, since the Council acquired them? - the town is looking emptier and emptier.

I don't have the solutions, but I know that busy shops will do more for the community than a new civic square.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A fraud investigation stopped?

I am hearing repeated stories about a major fraud investigation in the islands (and beyond?) launched by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Basically, it appears that capital projects were deliberately wrongly certified by the building contractors and other parties, as part of a wider scheme to exploit the grant system.

After the investigations started, it appears that one small inter-linked group was identified as being key to the investigation and details were passed to the Police.

It is being reported that HIE have since withdrawn the fraud claims, following 'discussions' with the parties, and that the whole system is being accepted as being fundamentally flawed. This means that no 'fraud' took place as the HIE controls were so poor as to be utterly useless. As I warned in a private email to senior HIE officers some years back.

The same names keep coming up, and if anyone has more information, especially about times and locations about the lobbying business discussions between a representative of the builders and one of their major clients, then please email me directly.

I am particularly interested in capital projects that came in at double a realistic budget on which 35%+ grant was paid, and credits subsequently issued.

Any comments that identify particular firms or individuals will be not be allowed under any circumstances, for obvious legal reasons.

Interdependence or independence?

As Alex Salmond backtracks furiously on THE key SNP policy, I though it important to take soundings locally before putting anything into the blogsphere.

I had a fairly good idea what the reaction was going to be, but I really underestimated the levels of disillusionment, cynicism and disgust that I was subjected to.

I think it might have been a combination of the economy, the likely cuts and the opinion polls, but I had my ear bent.

It would be easy to say 'the honeymoon is over' but that really doesn't reveal the scale of the disappointment that the SNP supporters and activists have over their party's performance.

One very long-serving active supporter described the SNP Government as 'just as bad as all the rest' and expected Labour to win clearly next year, both locally and nationally.  They were not prepare to take any part in the next campaign.

Another prominent activist was looking glumly into his beer and wondering just what the point of his membership was.  He expected the SNP to retain this seat, but in opposition, and that the past three year were utterly wasted.

Both believed that the SNP Government should have gone for a referendum, which they believe would have been lost, as it would have given the party a focus.

I'm broadly in agreement with both these views, except that if the list of likely Labour candidates that I have seen doesn't fill me with great expectations.  I suspect I may have been sent an incorrect list, deliberately, as my information is that Labour have recovered from recent defeats and are building a new campaigning structure from the grass-roots up, which has the virtue of being inclusive.  The rebuilding carries with it a lot of very adverse baggage from Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and if the candidate I consider to be the most likely is selected, then they are still going to have a mountain to climb.

Conversely, the candidate most likely to be successful  is the very one that they must not select, if they want to avoid the islands looking like incompetent hick idiots.

The local SNP are disillusioned with Alex Salmond and our local representation, especially over the side-lining of Independence as a policy, and whilst the polls might suggest a big swing to Labour, I don't think that the local swing is anywhere near the national average.  At the moment.

I think the October budget cuts might just prove to be the tipping point.  And so do the despondent SNP supporters.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Road safety

As I drove back to the hotel late last night, I saw a fisherman on his bike, swaying across the carriageway on his travels from a licensed establishment to his home.

No lights or reflector on the back of the bike.

However, he hadn't forgotten his cycling proficiency test and the importance of being seen.

I was able to pick him out by the glow in the dark yellow wellies he was wearing.

I'm not sure he saw me as I drove past.

Only in Uist......

In Government but not in power (?)

From the BBC web site:

Scottish government legislative programme - key details

  • Budget Bill
  • End double jeopardy
  • Scottish Water Bill
  • Long Leases Bill
  • Local Electoral Administration Bill
  • Public Records Bill
  • Health (certification of Death) Bill
  • Forced Marriage Bill
  • Private Rented Housing Bill
  • Reservoir Safety
Wipe me down wwith a damp cloth. I can barely contain my excitement.

Is this what three years of a 'radical' new Government comes to..... Is there such a paucity of ideas that mere administrative trivia become a 'highlight'?

All together now: "What do we want?" - "Legislation on reservoir safety!". "When do we want it?" - "Actually, I don't give a stuff!"

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Work, work, work

I spent Monday and today helping LiveHebrides with their courses on online accounting, which was actually more about accounting options for new and growing businesses, in Stornoway and then Uist.

It's been great fun, but the work has been piling up behind the scenes, and here I am dealing with email and business matters at 11pm because everyone else has to carry the workload whilst I am out of the office.

I don't grudge the time in the slightest, as you need to find out what people really want as opposed to what you think they really want, and to have people challenge you on your perceptions.

I spoke about how the internet can fundamentally change the way you do business, and how there are no barriers, and how it can allow you to find customers that you didn't know existed.

And as if proof was needed, we have just secured a contract with a multi-billion pound Asian Government company all due to the service we provided to the FD in his previous employment with one of our clients. They don't care where we are, just that we are more reliable, trustworthy and professional than the global firm they were with before. Oh, and we don't have to recharge outrageous overhead office costs.

The world - my friends - is our oyster, if we can only ensure that the technology needs and the transportation costs are sorted.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bloody vandals

I've just had a phone call from Cllr Keith Dodson to tell me that all four figures in the Bayhead playpark were vandalised last night and are beyond repair. Some of his constituents were almost in tears at the mindless destruction.Bayhead playpark
What a f'ing disgrace.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Swim Scotland

Our eldest is getting some swimming lessons to improve his style from "not quite drowning" to something - anything - more appropriate.

Yesterday we had the announcement of more Government money for swimming lessons:

The Scottish Government has announced £800,000 will be invested in free swimming lessons for primary pupils.

The money is aimed at ensuring all children have the opportunity to learn to swim before leaving primary school.

Sports Minister Shona Robison made the announcement at an event in Stirling and the funding will top up free lessons already available in Scotland.

So how many pupils in the Western Isles benefit from swimming lessons?

The answer is quite surprising.

Since responsibility for school swimming lessons was moved from the Sports Centre to the Education Department over the summer, not one single school has booked swimming lessons this term. That's right, not one single booking.

Is there a conspiracy by the Comhairle to prevent full use of the Sports Centre by the public?

Strangers in the park

It was the bright colours that first caught my eye as I look across to the play park in Bayhead. And our daughter talking about the statues she saw.

My first thought was that they were tourists in waterproofs. It might be summer, but that doesn't mean it won't rain, heavily.

I finally wondered across yesterday, and found a total of 4 characters located around the crazy golf course.

Where have they come from?

Street art in Stornoway?

They are clearly whimsical pieces, but one into which a huge amount of work and thought has been put, and they certainly liven the place up.

Credit should be given where credit is due. So who did this?

Is this the start of a bigger plan?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Just what is going on in Uist?

[reply deleted 5/9 due to family sensitivities]

Sent: Thursday, September 02, 2010 3:49 PM

Dear Mr MacMillan,

We enclose our letter of 13th August 2010 and have not yet received a response. If your intention is not to provide a substantive response to the letter, perhaps you would let us know. If you require further time to respond, again please let us know. Our client has indicated that he has no intention of leaving the matter, but he is prepared to allow you the opportunity of responding. We have set out the five requirements of our client for your consideration and we look forward, therefore, to hearing from you by return.

Yours sincerely,




LP – 2, Glasgow 1

13th August 2010


Calum Mac Millan


7 Bornish

Isle of South Uist


Dear Mr Mac Millan


We are instructed by Angus Mac Millan.

On 3rd August 2010, you wrote a letter to Mr Mac Millan, as well as to the Directors and Funders of the South Uist Estate and to “regulating organisations”.

Within the body of that letter, you stated –

Why is it that you have chosen to act in a manner which is not in the best interests of the estate, to the extent that the estate’s turbine scheme is being put at risk and if the reason for this is your own wind turbine schemes at Bornish and Snishval, as per my conversation with Mr Bill Christie, the financier in Glasgow?

In the event that the estate takes possession of the grid connection capacity required to progress the Loch Carnan scheme and I return the remaining grid capacity, then it would be mean your schemes would not get connected.

Trying to prevent the estate from achieving grid connection capacity and depriving me of my grid connection, would allow your schemes to progress. This would mean that you are seeking personal gain from your elected position.

The proposals for Bornish and Shishval would explain why the lochdar scheme is designed to fail, where over 50 separate agreements have to be concluded in parallel.

It is necessary to have these questions raised for clarification, because your refusal to meet with myself and Alec Morrison needs to be explained, so that a clear and truthful reason can be given.


Calum Mac Millan

I have taken the decision to copy this letter to your fellow Directors to ensure that the questions raised are answered and that all the issues are addressed. The letter will be circulated to all funding bodies and regulating organisations as appropriate.”

The natural and ordinary meaning of your letter takes the form of an accusation that our client is using his position as Chairperson of South Uist Estate to advance and profit from a commercial project to the detriment of the interests of the Estate.

Our client is the elected Chairman of the South Uist Estate, which is voluntary and non executive.

Our client has never discussed a personal wind farm development to any body and has no proposals to advance his wind farm project on the South Uist Estate.

Rather than speaking privately to our client to clarify these issues, you chose instead to make unfounded accusations and disseminate those accusations to third parties.

The effect of so doing is to have defamed our client. The allegations are false, without substance or foundation.

In the circumstances, our client therefore requires you to do the following:-

  1. To identify to him all parties to whom you circulated both the letter quoted above and your other letter of 3rd August 2010 headed to the Directors and Funders of the South Uist Estate, and to regulating organisations.
  2. To write a letter of retraction to each of these bodies, in a form to be agreed with us, on behalf of our client.
  3. To write a personal letter of apology to our client, withdrawing the allegations together with a withdrawal of the allegations made.
  4. To put forward your proposals for compensation for the damage caused to our client’s reputation by virtue of your defamatory letter.
  5. To put forward to meet our client’s reasonable legal costs.

If you are in any doubt about the meaning of this letter, we recommend that you take independent legal advice.

Yours sincerely


What is LegalNetLink? -

Office locations

Levy & McRae, 266 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RL


0141 307 2311


GW 149

Fax -

Litigation 0141 307 6857 & 0141 307 6858
Commercial Property: 0141 248 9262
Media: 0141 307 1005


Deliberately obscure and smug comment

One done and dusted. Two to go.

(Just for clarification, this is about me and my family and no-one else)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tony Blair tells all

Or not quite, but he does tells his side of the story, which is yet another contradictory tale of NuLabour.

If you believe half the stories, then at least 100% of the Cabinet were liars, incompetents, social inadequates, losers, chancers and backstabbing bastards. And the authors saved their bile for those they didn't like.

Apart from Tony Blair chocking on his own self-esteem, nothing would please me more than seeing the lot of them getting into another bout of self-destructive score settling; as they might finally disappear up their own fundaments when they realise the contempt in which they encouraging themselves to be held.

Lloyds Halifax Bank of TSB

The long expected merging of the Francis Street Lloyds TSB into the Cromwell St HBOS looks to be moving on apace if the five gentlemen with clipboards standing outside measuring, assessing and photographing the building are anything to go buy.

They didn't look like bank representatives, and acted more like potential buyers.

Does anyone know any more?