Wednesday, 31 October 2007

SNP Vote not a Vote for Independence

The Scottish Centre for Social Research has announced findings that must be putting a dampener on things at SNP HQ.

While they took 32.9% of the constiuency vote in May from a survey carried out by the SCSR only 23% of the respondents to their survey were in favour of an independent Scotland. So it would appear that somewhere about one third of the SNP vote must have come from unioinists. It also appears that the SNP was better at winning the nationalist vote than in previous election. 75% of those who favoured independence had voted for them compared to 50% in 2003. This was reflected in the loss of support and seats for the Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens who both also advocate independence.

The main reason those unionist voters turned to the SNP appears to be that they saw Alex Salmond as a better option for First Minsiter than Jack McConnell who was then leader of Labour in Scotland. 44% rated Alex 7 out of 10 or better compared to 23% for Jack. The party scored more highly on showing it reflected the interests of Scotland with 24% saying they did very closely compared to 7% for Labour.

One of the policies that was pinpointed as a main reason for support to the SNP was a devolved parliament with greater fiscal autonomy especially over its tax raising powers.

So if Alex does suceed in getting his referendum White Paper through the Parliament he looks like he is heading for about a 75-25 defeat on his hands. As I've said for some time, let him have his referendum and then we can blow this independence argument out of the water for some considerable time and get on with the business of running Scotland as well as we can.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Rose Go Marching On

Well the Scottish Junior Cup holders are making the most of the new set up for the Scottish Cup.

Following up their 6-0 win down at Newton Stewart in the first round Linlithgow Rose took on East of Scotland League side Spartans. Spartans are no slouches in the Scottish Cup. In 2005-6 they beat league sides Berwick Rangers and Queen's Park (sadly not at Hampden) before holding St. Mirren (who went on to promotion to the SPL) to a goalless draw at home before losing at Love Street. And in 2003-4 they claimed the scalps of Alloa and Arbroath before losing out to returning former tenants of their City Park ground Livingston who were at that time in the SPL who were heading to the Semi-Finals and CIS Cup win that season.

But the Junior Cup holders didn't show any fear for one of the regular giant killers of recent years. Instead they carried out their own act of giant killing. For it was the home side that lifted the crowd at Prestonfield when Bradley scored in the 24th minute. A lead they maintained until the half time break, when the result earned almost as big a cheer as the Dunfermline losing scoreline announcement at fellow West Lothian side Livingston's ground.

In the second half Spartans did strike back on 54 minutes with a penalty strike by McLeod. But t he little teams lead was restored 4 minutes later when Donnolly scored their second. With just over 10 minutes to go Rose then killed the game off with two strikes in just over a minute from Tyrell and Hogg.

Linlithgow Rose make it into Saturday's draw when big local rivals Livingston of the Iron Bru Scottish Football League Division join many of the other SFL teams in the draw.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Very Model of a Modern Post Master General

I always marvel at the relevance of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, the latest Making Money is about Moist van Lipwig who we first met in Going Postal when Lord Vetinari appointed him the new Post Master General for Ankh Morpork. He has now been given control of the biggest bank and mint in the city because he has turned around the post office making it reliable, efficient and profitable. As the title suggests he has now been charged with making money.

It appears that possibly Terry in his infinite wisdom has taken a look at the current Labour government's policy on Post Offices and twisted it towards this logical conclusion. Yesterday when I returned home after writing about the closure of Post Offices coming to parts of Scotland I turned on the news to be bombarded my 'loyal' Labour Glasgow MPs being up in arms about the reduction of access to their constituents of much needed services, especially the elderly and those without access to private transport.

But what have they stood on at the last three elections as far as Post Offices are concerned. (Parenthesises mine)

In 1997 Labour promised in their manifesto:

'We will ensure that self-financing commercial organisations within the public sector - the Post Office is a prime example - are given greater commercial freedom to make the most of new opportunities.

'Life in our countryside

'Labour recognises the special needs of people who live and work in rural areas. The Conservatives do not. Public services and transport services in rural areas must not be allowed to deteriorate. The Conservatives have tried to privatise the Post Office. We opposed that, in favour of a public Post Office providing a comprehensive service. Conservative plans would mean higher charges for letters and put rural post offices under threat.'

In 2001:

'The Post Office and postal services

'We are committed to high-quality, universal postal services, and a dynamic Post Office which can thrive in a world of technological change and increased competitive pressure. Labour is working with the banks to offer a new universal banking service. This will allow all benefit and pension recipients to receive their payments, at no charge, in full at the post office after the switch to Automated Credit Transfer in 2003.

'We also intend the local post office to become an invaluable resource for access to government information. There will be increased incentives for people to take over and modernise post offices. Business customers, representing by far the majority of the Post Office’s turnover, want a full range of express, parcels and logistics services. We have given the Post Office greater commercial freedom in the public sector. It needs to be able to gain an advantage in the new postal market and become a leading force in domestic and international postal services through alliances and joint ventures. We want to help the Post Office keep up with the best in a fast-changing market.

'Rural life

'Labour is pledged to a rural services standard to set out specifically what rural people can expect from 21 public service providers - with annual auditing and commitments to service improvement. The rural school closure programme has been ended; 3,000 new, affordable homes a year are on the way; a £30 million police programme will help cut rural crime; £239 million over three years has been set aside for rural transport services; and the Post Office is now obliged to prevent closure of rural post offices except in unavoidable circumstances, with £270 million to help achieve this and recruit sub-postmasters.'

And in 2005:

'Thriving rural areas

'Since 1997, Labour has made it more difficult to close rural schools, put in £750 million to support rural post offices and introduced a 50 per cent rate relief on village shops.Through our £51 million Rural Bus Subsidy Grant we have delivered over 2,200 new bus services in rural areas this year.'


Not only has Labour been saying less an less about Post Offices over the last 10 years they have also clearly not been delivering on their own promises. Promises about how important the post offices should be, how everyone should still be able to get their benifits in full from their 'local' post office and that the Post Office will become a leading force in industry to take but three.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Most Flummoxed Cold Caller Ever

Chris K has just posted about his Worst Cold Caller Ever and like Chris I too work in a call centre environment so know a little of what the person on the other end of the line goes through.

So I'd like to nominate my most flummoxed cold caller ever. It was shortly after the Labour/Lib Dem Scottish executive had introduced free personal care for the elderly, and if I remember correctly I was in full General election mode of highlighting our sucesses. This is how the conversation went.

Caller: 'Hello can I take a few moments of your time to ask a few questions?'

Me: (unusually) 'Certainly.'

Caller: 'Have you heard that the Scottish Executive have introduced free personal care for the elderly?'

Me: (grinning in anticipation of the next question) Yes

Caller: 'How did you hear about it?'

Me: 'When it was debated at the Liberal Democrat conference.'

Caller: 'Oh..... I don't know how to put that down....can I ....put you down as read about it in literature.'

Me: (now unable to supress the giggles) 'Well I suppose I did see it in the agenda first, so that's fine.'

Caller: 'OK I have some further questions...and you probably know more about this than I do....'

And so the questions continued about the details and whether or not I agreed with various things. Quite a fun call but you sence the caller was panicked to actually find someone with a greater knowledge of the subject matter than their brief training probably involved.

The First Cut is the Deepest

Sadly it appears that the pound speaks more highly than the need as far as the Post Office is concerned.

The announcement of the first Post Office closures in Scotland are being announced today. The Post Office Ltd is announcing these in phases and the first trance of these for Glasgow, central Scotland and Argyll are a lot deeper than expected according to the Scotsman.

24 of the 44 offices earmarked for closure are in Glasgow, while rural areas in the Cental Belt and West have come out least scathed. What is apparent is that the cuts appear to have been based on the type of business each office carries out rather than the reliance on such business the local communities may require of their post office. Therefore most of the cuts appear to have come in the poorer areas.

Last month the National Consumer Council issued a report which highlighted that found that people most reliant on post offices, such as the elderly and unemployed, were the least likely or able to lobby for them to stay open. These cuts announced for Scotland seems to bear out this that the Post Office is hurting still further those most reliant on their services but is favouring those who keep them most profitable.

There are now fears for the rest of Scotland including Lothian following this first look at what services will be cut.

Monday, 22 October 2007

After a Weekend of Sporting Disaster

As a Scottish member of the BoSox nation, for those not au fait with Baseball that is what us fans of the Boston Red Sox are known as, I had a sleepless night last night.

Game 7 of the American League Championship Series fell on Five's normal Sunday scheduled basball night. So having recovered from 3-1 down during the week to take the series to the deciding game us UK fans were guaranteed at least one more look at the Green Monster, an iconic 37 foot high wall, at Boston's Fenway Park for this year. The Sox starting well getting the first hitter in each of the first 3 innings unto base and scoring a run as a result. However, two double plays (that is a hit that results in two men getting out) helped keep the Cleveland Indians in it as many runners were left on base. At the same time Boston's Japanese Starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka retired the entire Cleveland team in order for no hits.

The Middle three innings saw Cleveland fight back with two runs scoring. But there also controversy in the fifth when after collecting the ball off the Green Monster in his ungloved hand, fired it to second base, where the umpire ruled that Kenny Lofton had been tagged out by Dustin Pedroia. TV replays showed that the tag did not occur until after Lofton's left hand was securely on the bag.

However, after a solid defensive game and series by both teams the errors started to happen in the final third. An error by shortstop Julio Lugo allowed Kenny Lofton to finally make it to second base. From there he set off when Franklin Gutierrez hit a line drive down the third base line, but it ricocheted off the photo boxes and out into the outfield where Manny Ramirez was bearing down on the ball. Lofton was held up. But Japanese reliever Hideki Okajima got out of his own mess without allowing Cleveland to trouble to scoreboard operator.

The bottom half of the inning again saw Pedroia take centre stage. After Casey Blake possibly worried about Jacoby Ellsbury's pace allowed the rookie to ease to second base when he should have been held at first, up stepped Pedroia. Relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt, after giving up his first hit of the series to Ellsbury, then could only watch as Pedroia leaned back and let one rip up into the first row of the Monster seats, the smallest man in the game had come up with the biggest hit.

There was more to come in the bottom of the eighth when first Kevin Youkilis fired a homer which hit the Coke bottle part of an advertisement over the Green Monster for a home run double. Before Perroia followed up with the bases loaded to hit a drive through the centre to score three more. Making the final score 11-2, if the Red Sox repeat their World Series win of 2004, which wiped out the Curse of the Bambino, in the year that 4 time winning manager Joe Torres walks from fierce Divisional rivals the New York Yankees many hope it is the start of a transfer of power in the AL East, that might last as long as the curse.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Football Stadia Tour 1: Dens Park

I've returned to my blogging just in time for the second quarter of the season in the Iron Bru Scottish Football League Division 1. So maybe this is an opportune time to start my personal take on the various venues that I come across on my travels. For the rest of this season there will be nowhere new to visit as the first quarter including the cup games has taken me to the strange fields once before.

Therefore this weeks venue was Dens Park home to Dundee.


As any football trivia buff will know Dundee's Dens Park is just along Tannadice street from Tannadice home of Dundee United. And therefore is one half to the trivia question which two league grounds are closest in the UK. In fact as away fans are located in the Bob Shankly stand, named after one of five footballing brothers the most famous being Bill, the end closest to Tannadice much supporters coaches catch sight of Dundee United's stadium first before they see Dens Park once they turn the corner into Tannadice street.

Getting to the ground cars and coaches are best to take the ring road and then come off down either Clepington Road or Strathmartine Road to get in towards the stadium. Unfortunately is two miles uphill from Dundee's railway station, so for a visiting fan who is looking after their carbon footprint the best option really is to grab a seat on one of your visiting clubs supporters coaches, as unless you can work out the bus timetables you'd be relying on getting a taxi up from the station.

Although with the ongoing work to the Forth Road Bridge, we spent 25 minutes on our coach staring toll booths before getting to them, 18 of which were on the roundabout on the approach from Kirkliston, so we turned up only 15 minutes before kick off.

The Ground

As already mentioned the away fans are housed in the Bob Shankly stand behind the eastern goal and is a single tier. There is dedicated wheelchair seating at entrance level with a companion seat beside the wheelchairs' slots. Which yesterday afternoon gave us a brilliant view of Dundee's spectacular first goal by Bob Davidson a screamer from 30 yards into the top right hand corner. The late evening sun at this time of year did start to get in our eyes towards the end of the match, so much so that I was considering urging Dundee Council to move one of the tower blocks, to the south of the stadium, slightly further east to act as a sunshade.

Opposite behind the other goal is the nearly identical twin to the Shankly Stand the Bobby Cox stand. To the right as away fans view the pitch is the Main (North) Stand, which is unusual in that it is the one section that remains of the old oval ground, meaning that those who sit on the halfway line are actually furthest away from the action on the park. It is two tiered however, there are very few seats in the lower tier, with the majority being in the upper tier.

That leaves the Southern Enclosure known locally as the Derry. Nobody has yet explained coherently to me exactly how this stand came to be known by the name of the city of my father, outwith the connection to a sectarian style chant that has had the words altered subtlety from the original Loyalist connotations. This though is where the most vocal Dundee supporters congregate in what was the last terrace; the Derry Boys and Dark Blue 62 Ultras.

The Atmosphere

Fortunately the design of the two goal end stands does add to the atmosphere as the ability to make a great deal of noise is greatly enhanced. As my previous visit was for the CIS Cup game that went to penalties this was definitely the case in a tense tight game. As with many grounds the vocal home support is close to the away support which adds to the atmosphere as the banter does flow between the two adjoining sections.

The Programme

Cost £2. Had four pages dedicated to the visitors profiles. As well as a four page interview with one of the home players. The centre was the season stats section. With a great deal more stats than some other clubs include. There is a collector's section which this week featured the 1947 Great Britain versus Europe programme from Hampden Park.

Pie and Bovril

There is a bridie or macaroni pie available. But I went for the steak and gravy pie to accompany my bovril, cost £2.10 + £1.50. The steak in the pie was gorgeously tender, the crust was cooked just right and wasn't too thick or burnt, and the gravy while hot wasn't scalding, excellent fayre. However, by Bovril wasn't warm enough so I'm quite glad it wasn't really the depths of winter when I rely on it as much to warm my hands as my insides.


Admission = £16
Programme = £2
Pie and Bovril = £3.60
Total = £21.60

Match Report

Livingston started strongest and could have been up even before Czech Thomas 'Tam' Pesir scored in the 14th minute but Kenny Sampson had pulled off a spectacular save. Livingston continued to dominate even though Bob Davidson released his spectacular equaliser 6 minutes later. However, a combination of poor finishing and more saves from Sampson, some of which a poacher might have lept on as they bounced free from the keeper, kept the scores level at half time.

At the start of the second half Livingston continued to have the lions share of territory, possession and chances. But shots seemed to be nowhere on target. Then Jan Zemlik got on the end of a move started by Dixon who found McDonald in the box who laid it off for the second Czech to beat Mariusz 'Super Mario' Liberda in the Livi goal.

The third Dundee goal came seven minutes late in the 68th minute and was a second for Davidson, who made a run across the penalty box. It was clear from the away end that he pulled on Dermot 'Des' McCaffrey's shirt in order to get past him to get his shot in, but the goal was allowed to stand effectively killing of the game as a contest. Five minutes later it was as Derek Lyle on a a substitute for Zemlik made it 4 for the home team. Although there were calls for offside and protests after the goal from Livingston.

Final Score Dundee 4 (Davidson 20, 68, Zemlik 61, Lyle 73) Livingston 1 (Pesir 14)

Effect on the relative teams' positions. Dundee remain in 2nd Livingston remain 8th.

Friday, 19 October 2007

We Need a Third, or Should That be Second Way

We now have our second, white, middle classed, Westminster and Cambridge educated, Englishman, both of whom are economic liberals and contributed to the Orange Book. Not that I'm holding any of that against any of them. I've met both in person and have had conversations with them.

What I, and it seems a number of fellow Liberal Democrats, have issues with is just where is the voice that represents me and where is the difference going to come from. Now I've watched the Consevatives who I used to pillor in Kingston move closer but not that close to my opinion and I've watch Labour (with the occasional exception of some of my MP's views) who I now face move through my position and out the other side, I must have blinked at some point.

Now if all we have to offer after all my time in the Liberal Democrats, roughly the lifetime of the party in its current form, is a shift in the same direction as Labour and the Tories have shifted what is left of those principles that I once so staunchly defended in Economics and Politics tutorials. Now I know from the traditional left/right graphs of where our party has aligned at General Election times that the last time we were this right of centre in outlook we were looking at lean times. Though we have made our gains over recent elections by being seen as being left of centre; so where is that voice? Is it left crying in the wilderness or possibly at a Westminster AA meeting? (And yes readers of this blog will recall that I was called by the BBC on the day of the previous resignation of a party leader was imminent because I was still supporting him)

For the moment put me down in the undecided column, not because I don't know who would make the best leader of our party at this time, I'd had a short list of three, but because I don't know yet which of the two slices of white bread on offer are must digestable.

Pakistan: Where Next?

What a contrast a few short hours and miles makes. Benazir Bhutto arrives to great celebration at Karachi airport to thousands of supporters but as the party atmosphere of many filled the streets an hand grenade followed by a suicide bomb attempt killed upwards of 130 people many of them part of Ms Bhotto's security detail. She had only made half her intended route to a rally marking her return.

Her return is an attempt to return democracy to Pakistan and rein in the militancy that has grown there since 9-11. Of course she knows the risks she has taken, Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden have both issued death threats against her should she return.

In a area of the world sadly reknowned for politcal assasinations this stands out as the greatest single act of carnage in Pakistan. Even General Musharraf said the attack was a "conspiracy against democracy". So the war against democracy has a new target, this time close to their hinterland, and has taken yet more innocent victims.

If a Pakistani who says enough is enough and is seeking to change the outlook is targetted we know that our own leaders have to try harder to understand and seek a solution which doesn't cause total antagonism. If that moment has not already passed.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Well that was short lived

Well it looks like my post this morning was being written at the same time as Steve Webb was preparing to announce he would not in fact be standing in the leadership campaign.

It looks like the campaign will now be shaping up into a two horse race unless something is stirring under the waters of which nobody has yet caught a sniff. Let us not forget that at one point the last leadership campaign looked like being a coronation of Ming before Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne and briefly Mark Oaten took up the challenge. So maybe Messers Clegg and Huhne shouldn't be preparing just yet to face just the one opponent.

Although to be honest at present after all the declarations of non-intent it is becoming harder to find out just where a serious challenge may yet come. Having said that many of didn't expect or know much of Chris Huhne in early 2006, yet look at what he acheived back then. Still a couple of weeks yet until nominations close and there are still plenty of MPs who have not committed to one candidate unlike the hoardes around Ming early on last time.

After Weighing up the Options

Much as I like both Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne I think they are much of a muchness as a choice for party leader, they are from similar groupings within our diverse party. As my dear friend Caron puts it the current choice is like picking between Red Leicester and Cheddar. So where is the Gorgonzola or Brie?

Simon Hughes was to some extent that the last time around but he has already ruled himself out of contention. John Hemming is just too ripe a cheese for many of us to consider as leader, no offence John. Charles Kennedy although not ruling anything out seems to suggest that it would take a Damascus Road moment to bring him around. So where is the variety going to come from?

That brings me to look at who the press are already considering the third potential serious candidate in this embryotic contest, Steve Webb. He has already blogged that he has consulted Parliamnetary colleagues and has enough backing to throw his hat into the ring. Unlike Cameron who has turned his back on the manefestos he has writen Steve would not have that problem as our policies are ultimately decided by the party members. What we need is a leader to communicate those views to the public rather than railroad over the memberships views, from what I've seen of Steve his is capable of that and diverse enough from both Brown and Cameron to stand out.

For the sake of igniting the debate, without all the sexual revelations and ageism of last time, I would encourage Steve to take that step and if he does he would have my backing.

There is already a Bloggers4Steve site up and running and I have added his button to my blog.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Return to Mayhem

Ok so I've been away doing my best to get my old self back healthwise. I have also buried my dad in the process and had earmarked this week to return to blogging as the next stage on that road.

Of course come Monday evening I decided to postpone that return just a little bit. I didn't want to be accused of burying news. Nor did I want to return in the midst of all the post about the leadership campaign, not seeing as how I've been largely only a lurker in the blogsphere for over a year now.

So I'm not going to make any statements of substance today just posting that I will be returning to this space shortly once I can put some coherant thoughts down that are worthy to appear.