Saturday, 28 February 2009

I'm Skunnered

I'm skunnered that the Executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats have done what they have done.

Debra Storr, Paul Johnston and Sam Coull have been suspended pending process towards expulsion.

They appear to have ignored the intervention starting from Chris White, which was organised by the Federal Party President Ros Scott and at the behest of the Scottish leader Tavish Scott.

Also Debra Storr's complaint raised in November against the Aberdeenshire group leader Anne Robertson's treatment of her, Paul and Martin Ford was also ignored. The fact that 12 days ago it was disclosed in the Press and Journal before it was meant to be discussed at the Exec that there was "no case to answer", sadly doesn't seem to suggest a very democratic process taking place. Update 1 March, 11:42: It has been pointed out to me that the P&J were questioned and challenged about this story which had in fact jumped to gun as no decision had at that time been taken. No retraction or correction has been forthcoming since.

I've been following this case with some interest over the months. While I have blogged about it there is more that I could have said but have not yet written. However, I am still skunnered that what has taken place today took place in the party that I hold dear. I may yet write more on this, I'm undecided as yet.

More to the point this action has been taken against people who have tried to exercise the democratic and correct processes open to them to raise an issue of concern. That they have sought to correct erroneous minutes yet without the support of those who were elected on the same platform. If this is a witch hunt it has sadly got its targets.

However, earlier today I was reading Wardog speculating about fireworks at the Lib Dem conference in Perth in a fortnights. Thinking he was close, from noises I've been hearing, but may well have been barking up the wrong tree as to the reason for that. The witch hunters only have suceeded in winning a short sighted victory.

I'm still skunnered.

Have UCU Outdone the Scottish Tories?

I've been asked by Mick Fealty who runs the Northern Irish blog Slugger O'Toole whether the Scottish Tories are getting the same deal as my former Minister* Reg Empey has managed for Northern Ireland as part of the Ulster Unionists dowry. Basically Cameron has promised the earth to Northern Ireland:

"What we have agreed is that all of Northern Ireland will be designated as an
enterprise zone," the UUP leader said. "It allows us to start to work on tax
issues." Asked if that would allow Northern Ireland to set a lower corporation
tax, Empey said: "I would harbour that ambition to achieve special tax status."

Judging my Annabel and Co's comments on the Lib Dems trying to get changes to taxation in Scotland. It would seem that Annabel's time around the shadow cabinet table haven't been as productive as Reg has used his time in discussions. I am of course happy to hear from any of my Scottish Conservative friends who wish to prove otherwise.

BTW I've started to write a little column for Slugger as well.

*From my time working in the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment.

Alternative View: Sir Fred Goodwin's Pension

Found this on YouTube and it does ask some very pertinent questions.

The Referendum Elephant in the Room

Lib Dem Highland MSP John Farquhar Munro has been the first MSP to question Tavish Scott's approach on a referendum on Independence for Scotland. Munro sees the whole question as a way to get rid of the elephant in the room:

"For many years we've been hearing about the possibility of independence
for Scotland through a referendum, through the result of a referendum.

"I think the sooner it happens, the better, so we establish a position,
clear the air as it were, and we find out whether we are going to go ahead with
an independent Scotland or whether the status quo will remain."

This radio interview yesterday came only a day after the leader Tavish Scott said “"We will not support a referendum which could let independence in through the back door."

Personally I agree with Munro rather than Tavish on this, it may well have something to do with the way I play chess (currently my Gameknot stats show 45% win with white 58% win with black). The SNP have made the opening moves they would appear to the have the white pieces. Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems would appear to have the black pieces and are playing a way too defensive game. Tavish said he would not support a referendum that would allow Independence in through the back door. That was in relation to a multi-option referendum that included fiscal autonomy.

Maybe Tavish should check what Scottish Conference has passed as policy, a few years back we did pass a policy on pursuing fiscal autonomy for Scotland. I remember it well as I spoke against the motion raised by Mike Rumbles and in favour of the amendment from the policy committee which changed all but the first two words. It passed and as I looked more into it I saw that actually I was wrong during that debate. I was to be fair only arguing against Scotland going alone (a la Poll Tax) and heading for full UK Federalism so I wasn't actually that far off to be honest.

It can be done and doesn't necessarily lead to backdoor independence by the back door. Germany holds firm and I don't see the worlds 5th largest economy California seeking independence from the USA. Where I do agree with Tavish is that there are far more important things on our plate right now regarding the economy than the independence question. But we should not be ruling out a referendum on independence, regular and long term readers of this blog will know that has been my position as stated first here in 2006.

In chess black can win with the right gambits. In cricket you can put an arrogant batsman unto his back foot. You'd actually think that there is something to fear from asking the people to Scotland to answer the question. I feel that in the full light of day many who lean towards the SNP will fall away when the true costs and details of just what independence would mean are exposed. That is the economist in me speaking, I'm neither a unionist nor nationalist but a pragmatist.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Latest Shenanigans in Aberdeenshire

The latest Shenanigans in the Aberdeenshire post-Trumpgate witch hunt is a motion to exclude a representative of the Demoratic Independent Group (Paul Johnstone, Debra Storr, Martin Ford and Sam Coull) from the group leaders' meetings.

Mark Cullen one of the Independent councillors (who ironically band together and have a representative in those meetings) has pointed out the double standards in doing so. While the current motion harks back to an informal agreement in 1995, disbarring groups with less than 10% from attending, between 2003 and 2007 the Independents with only 3 representatives had a representative.

Cullen has said that "personal views seems to have clouded the judgement". From what I have observed those far person views seem to have caused most of the fall out on this issue and the Lib Dem group seem to have been caught up on this and reacted from personal opinion rather than any principles on democracy or liberalism. I know there are a few appeals and decisions outstanding before the Scottish party executive and I trust that these will not be clouded by personal views but will be made in sound judgement.

When Gesture Politics Fail

Lord Myners appears to have hit the wrong end of things when calling on Sir Fred Goodwin to make a gesture of giving up part of his pension. The former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland wrote back to the Treasury minister once it became clear to his surprise that his pension plans had been leaked to the BBC's Robert Preston.

He wrote back (letters available at The Times) saying he had no objection to his response being made public, before as the Times tell us he made it available himself. The outcome is that he sees that gestures he has already taken, refusing his notice period salary and share options, was already an ministerially approved gesture. Going back to October not the last couple of days as the Prime Minister seems to want to have us believe. Goodwin was in discussions with Myners "at the time".

It is a marvel that the as Myners claims the UK Financial Investments (UKFI) only found out about the discretionary choice of the RBS Board over Goodwin's pension last week. You'd have expected someone to be going over with a fine tooth comb details that had been discussed with Ministers over the past months. Especially in light of discussions over the previous chairman's pension arrangement before assenting to any agreement over what was appropriate.

Having been a former civil servant I'm sure that someone somewhere had enough wit to think outside the box and think about looking into it. I'm sure it also was flagged up on some bit of correspondence that was flying around the Treasury in October or whenever the UKFI first took a stake in RBS. These sorts of minutiae are never totally overlooked, especially when they are no so much minutiae. What I suspect did happen in the last week is that with the whole bonus brouhaha somebody remembered some memo about Goodwin's pension, that had been filed away. As the public outcry rose it bugged them so that one morning they came into the office and asked one of the Administrative Assistant to dig out some files. Then after a bit of reading, ignoring things that had been planned, the memo or margin note or position paper was found and an almighty panic ensued.

But the damage had been done, the Minister had given assurances and was now left trying to back pedal facing further public relations disasters.

One Small Step for Rome

One giant step for Lord's reform.

The news that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is to take a seat with the Lords Spiritual on the red benches of the House of Lords should hardly be ground breaking news in our days of equal opportunity. After all Chief Rabbis have already had a seat (though not as a matter of course). However, the Cardinal will be treading where no Cardinal has trod since reformation times.

The ban on Catholics sitting in the Lords was finally lifted in 1829, at the same time as that on Jews and others was also lifted. But never has a senior Catholic Churchman been given a life peerage to add to the spiritual content of the upper chamber in those 180 years. There have been prominent lay Roman Catholics of course but none of equal standing to the 26 Anglican Bishops who earn their seat on appointment to their Diocese.

The 76 year old Archbishop of Westminster is setting another post-reformation precedent. He will be the first to retire that position, the rest have died in office. A move that is expected in the next couple of weeks after which it is expected he will be elevated (at least in the secular sense) to the Lords. He will therefore be the first member of the College of Cardinals to also be a member of the House of Lords since the 16th Century.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Government Start to Come Clean on Rendition

Almost three years ago Tony Blair's normally calm persona at PMQs took a serious knock when he fumbled out an answer that there was nothing new on rendition flights. Even Iain Dale was impressed with how Ming had got the then Prime Minister on the ropes.

Then the Prime Minister said there was nothing new to from the Council of Europe's report that Britain had colluded with the USA on extraordinary rendition flights.

To be fair to Tony Blair it now appears that collusion is indeed the wrong way to describe it. The Labour government appear to have actively handed over suspects to them to catch these flights. Far more than even Sir Menzies Campbell hinted at on that particular Wednesday when it was only assumed that our airspace or airfields were being used.

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue; The Return

When Humphrey Lyttelton died last year a little bit of Radio seemed to go with him, for 'Humph' was the host of Radio 4 anecdote to panel games I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. The show had survived the sad passing of Willie Rushton who along with Graeme Garden, Barry Took and Tim Brooke-Taylor had led us on a merry chase from Mornington Crescent to Cheddar Gorge and to balls too numerous to mention. Whereas Just a Minute who although gradually losing their A-team four (Clement Freud and the late Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams) had always had guest panellists the gang of five had always existed on ISIHAC.

However ISIHAC may be an anecdote to panel games is to take a leaf out of post Angus Deyton Have I Got News for You, as have others, and is to have a rotating chair of Stephen Fry, Jack Dee and Rob Brydon when it makes a return to the airwaves.

We just hope Samantha isn't too put out my the new hosts.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

RBS Cut's Back Sports Sponsorship

A few weeks ago, before the whole debacle over their bonuses, the Royal Bank of Scotland had extended their sponsorship of the RBS Six Nations to 2013. After the fall out from that today's news that they are to scale back their sponsorship substantially.

What it entails is the end of their sponsorship of the Williams Formula 1 team when the current contract expires in 2010. Also a reduction of the contribution to their sports ambassadors including Andy Murray, Zara Philips and Jack Nicholas as well as other lesser deals. The net effect is a 50% reduction of their tens of millions in sponsorship.

Dr Andrew McLaughlin, RBS group director said:

"We recognise that we are now operating in a very different economic
environment and have been reviewing all of our activities since

"It is imperative that we respond to the reality of the situation we face
and that we do so in an orderly way that respects the commercial agreements we
have in place and the implications for our partners and the jobs they support."

As a sportsman in my past I well recognise the benefits that sponsorship can bring to events and individuals. But as an Economics graduate I also realise that investment in sponsorship does not have a direct impact on the money making potential of a company and when times get tough will be seen as needless luxury that is hard to justify. Therefore RBS are making a sound business decision for themselves. Those they have sponsored will have to get on the treadmill and find out if anyone(s) else will take up the slack and the hole left in their budgeting.

Although Williams will have to replace their £10m per annum deal Sir Jackie Stewart is beleived to he holding out for his £4m deal, unlike Andy Murray who is happy to renegotiate his deal.

Farewell Mrs Leish

Sad news that Mary the 53 year old wife of former Livingston manager Jim Leishman has passed away following a battle with cancer.

Yesterday was the couple's 30th Wedding Anniversary and apparently Mary hung around long enough to wish her husband a happy anniversary before dying in the afternoon surrounded by her family.

I no doubt express the sympathy of all the Livingston fans for who Jim was the iconic manager. Our thoughts and prayers go to Leish and their children Kate and Jamie.

News of Calman Death Throes Premature

A couple of weeks ago Malc was all for rushing the Calman Commission into intensive care. If not to remove the Liberal Democrat life support. However, news that Labour's submission also calls for greater financial powers for the devolved Parliament would mean there is life in the Commission yet.

Labour are now calling for borrowing powers for the Parliament which brings it in line with both the SNP and Liberal Democrats. They may have mocked when Tavish Scott got an agreement out of Alex Salmod to present to Calman on this, as one of the conditions for backing the budget. But now it seems to have persuaded Labour to also get on board on this one so maybe a stronger devolved Scotland is still on the cards. Indeed the Labour MSP with responsibility for the Calman Commission Pauline McNeill said:

"I am also convinced that Holyrood should have prudential borrowing powers, which would allow us to develop a more coherent strategy for fighting the recession. Labour's submission supports the conclusion of (economist] Anton Muscatelli that borrowing powers are closely allied to revenue-raising powers."

So there you have it. A future budget to help us through the recession may well be more easily paved if such working together on these issues may well grease the road to consensus.

It does not however throw the doors open for all five of John Swinney's steps to independence.
  • Current framework Scottish Parliament can vary tax by 3p
  • Assigned Revenues Budget determined by amount of revenue collected in Scotland. No power to alter taxes and no block grant
  • Enhanced devolution powers Holyrood able to set some taxes. Limited borrowing powers
  • Full fiscal autonomy Taxes set in Scotland. Percentage of revenue paid to Westminster for defence and foreign affairs
  • Independence All revenues collected in Scotland. Holyrood able to borrow and determine monetary policy
While the Lib Dems have agreed to fiscal autonomy Labour are currently just announcing their move to enhanced powers. Plans to push either further may well backfire on the Finance and First Minister's face.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Did you Hear the One About the SNP Making a Promise?

It would sound like the start of a comedian heading towards a punchline if it weren't about another SNP failure to deliver an election pledge. In their manifesto in 2007 they pledged to reduce class sizes to 18 for P1-3 by 2011.

Now West Lothian's progress, though welcome, does not a whole country make. Just look at the shocking progress in Dundee where progress has actually gone backwards in 2008. I heard on the BBC News earlier that on current rates of progress it would take 18 years 80 (EIGHTY) years* (87 years according to the Scotsman) to reach the Government pledge. So that would only be 16 years late then and any currently born child would be at, or contemplating, university should they have chosen that path.

One of the hindrances to real progress being made has been the lack on investment by the SNP government over the last 18 months. This has led to some councils cutting teaching staff or assistants to meet their budgetary expectations. That doesn't even take into account the moratorium that many have faced on capital spending on new schools to provide the space capability to me even to dream of such a target.
*Apparently I misheard the news earlier. Thanks to Bernard Salmon for the correction.

We're a Party Dumbass: A Response to Iain Dale

Yesterday Iain Dale asked the question "Are the Lib Dems a Political Party or a Pressure Group?" I thought I'd leave my response overnight in the hope that I would calm down. As the title suggests I didn't really.

He basically started a piece about rumours of cooperation between a Tory Government and the Lib Dems with a rant about how he'd personally like to see the Lib Dem's 'obliterated' and then this tirade in his final paragraph.

It is sensible at this stage to see what levels of cooperation are both desirable and achievable. If nothing else, it will force the LibDems* to decide whether they are a political party or a pressure group. Pressure groups have the luxury of spouting forth on every issue of the day with no ability to ever gain power and change things. Political parties exist because they are hungry for power and want to effect change. The LibDems have just over a year to decide which they are.

Now Iain as well as being a member of a political party I am or have been a member of some pressure groups, No2ID, Amnesty and CND to name 3 high profile ones. So I do know the difference. Pressure Groups focus on one area, one issue they do not spout out about every issue of the day. Another pressure group may well do so but a pressure group doesn't have to make tough decisions to make the whole work together. That is the key a political party has to get a balance between those ares of concern that face its members and the country as a whole.

If the Lib Dems were hungry for power as you put it they very easily may well still have a hand in power here in Scotland. You're forgetting Iain that while it has been almost 12 years since the Tories had power in any Parliament in the UK it has only been less than 2 years for the Lib Dems (not counting the current all in set up in Wales). Now we still get barbs for some of the tough calls we had to make over 8 years to form a partnership with Labour to get some of our ideas unto the statute book we had to led some of those we didn't necessarily agree with from Labour go through to. That is hardly the act of a pressure group but of a political party playing the hand they are dealt by the voters.

But just why ask the question Iain? Is it because rather than just spouting off the Lib Dems are making sense. They are issuing costings on some of the keynote policies. We are striving to get our message across and to be sensible about it.

Unlike the Tories and Labour we don't have the luxury of a continuous forum, recently there was two consecutive weeks without Lib Dem representation on the Question Time panel if this had happened to Labour or the Tories there would have been uproar. We have to take what media is given to us because sadly, as Iain's comments show, many don't like thinking outwith the two party box. Things were so much easier with only teens of Lib Dems, the sprinkling of Nats plus the Northern Irish members. But when the third party becomes more sizable the potential of failure to attain an outright majority tends to increase. Is that what Iain is scared of while his own party look at how to cope with such an eventuality?

Iain if the Lib Dems were not a political party while I would probably have been associated with them for these past 20 plus years I wouldn't have stood for Parliament for them. The reason being is that pressure groups have their place and campaigning on issues is important, but standing on a platform of one issue often hides true intent on a range of issues which will come up once you get elected.

Therefore Iain you own argument about spouting off on a range of issues answers you own question. If we were a pressure group we'd only be focusing on say civil liberties, or the environment, or crime we'd probably not have a lot to say the economy and anything we did say wouldn't be noted by those in the know. So fear not Iain our obliteration is not something you will see come election night, whenever that may be, we're a political party that forms policy that people believe in, they may not be your kind of people but they still have a vote.

*No idea why Iain persists in his style of running this into one word with double capitalisation it stems from two words Liberal Democrats after all.

Minister of Low Culture in His Own Words

Fans of the Book Quiz can almost hear Kirsty Warke ask who wrote these words:

"The tiny Borders town of Wanlockhead looks like a Scottish version of the American Deep South terror film Deliverance, it is difficult to walk through Glasgow without falling over a drug addict and the Union flag over Edinburgh Castle is an 'awful mutant tablecloth'."

The answer is the new minister of Arts and Culture Mike Russell it comes from a book he wrote in 1988 In Waiting: Travels in the Shadow of Edwin Muir. The Minister tried to distance himself by time and saying that the the SNP government has made significant improvements to each place he insulted.

Places like Glasgow:

"Pull over the car (if you dare) and walk into the closes loses smelling of urine and rubbish, cluttered with dirt and debris. The walls are decorated with spray-paint graffiti and it is not uncommon to have to step over a comatose body, with or without a needle by its side."

Or Aberdeen:

"It feels no more hospitable than when I first came here – there is still a snell wind that blows through the town, and dark corners by the harbour that make passers-by walk more quickly."

So the SNP have obviously sorted out the weather in Aberdeen.

The Union flag over Edinburgh Castle is dismissed as "an awful mutant tablecloth", and of Dumfries he said: "The town centre … has the usual sprinkling of chain stores and the usual complement of skinny, ill-dressed women in their early twenties who seem to hover around cheap Scottish shops like importuning wraiths."

Even the National Trust for Scotland, which now falls under his remit fails to escape, being described as 'elitist' and 'arrogant'. Indeed the Labour MP for Dumfries Russell Brown says such proclamations are 'arrogant and pompous' and it is he who is elitist 'looking down his nose at local people'.

So having insulted most of Scotland the culture minister now has an uphill task to make amends.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Equality and Maternity Leave - Victims of Recession

Plans announced the the Queen's speech to enhance maternity leave and toughen equality legislation are the latest victims of the recession if Lord Voldemort of Hartlepool and Foy has his way. The Business Minister sees these enhancements to the workplace as anti-business and therefore as part of the confidential memo calling on Minister to:

"advise on a moratorium on legislation and legislative announcements made but not yet implemented that will entail additional costs for businesses".

these measures have come under the Mandelson axe. However, these policies have been championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, who has rallied for a harder line against those who blame the recession to victimise those covered by such legislation longer.

However, it shows a rift in the cabinet and Labour party over just how to deal with the downturn in the economy. Jon Cruddas said:

"If the most progressive of our policies are the first to go under the hatchet, that will cause deep unease across the party. Genuflecting to the free market got us into this mess and the solution is not more of the same. There is now a deepening ideological divide about what to do next."

So the ideological battle between traditional and new Labour may also be raising its head in the midst of this crisis. At a time when the polls are not favourable to Labour inner party struggles may also been seen as a means to move on. However, there is a task at hand and it seems that there are two roads diverging in the Westminster village. It all depends which is the road Labour will travel by.

Don't Drink and U-Turn

Be careful that Kenny MacAskill hasn't been drinking before performing the next hand brake turn in SNP policy. For as a comment on Kez's blog also failed to omit any mention of plans to review alcohol policy possibly because this is going to be watered down from what was originally announced it seems.

The SNP were promising that they would lift the minimum age for off sales to 21 across Scotland, yet it seems that MacAskill is leaving this decision up to local authorities rather than making a central decision. There is also a problem with the pledge to make business pay for the social problems associated with alcohol. The proposed separate checkout for alcohol sales is also likely to be dropped.

Don't forget that no matter what ends up remaining in the policy paper brought forward the Nats had promised far reaching steps to deal with a major problem. If they are truly watering down their plans it is not because they are being less authoritarian probably more to do with trying to get at least part of this one through. But again it is another climb down as they are unable to argue their corner.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Paving the Way for LIT-esque Climb Down?

Minster for 'Independence' has come very close to the language used over Local Income Tax when referring to the new responsibility in his brief. Compare Mike Russell's comments:

"The bill would require a majority; where that majority came from it is far too early to say."

with those of John Swinney conceding defeat on LIT earlier this month.

"We cannot put together a stable majority to enable us successfully to steer detailed local income tax legislation through this parliament."

So the Nats are unable to work from a position of minority Government. They concede defeat on their ability to do the one thing they need to make it work, getting an issue by issue majority.

But is the language being used by Russell paving the way for another failure to even contemplate achieving one of their key election pledges. But this time the one in question is more significant as it is the raison d'etre of the whole SNP's existence. But the language is close to concession and that less than a month into being given the responsibility.

Indeed Tavish Scott has this advise for the Minister based on the SNP's record:

"If the minister has no idea where he'll get parliamentary support, then using the SNP's previous rules, they should dump plans for a referendum."

Wee Eck Tighten Yer Belt - Darling

Alistair Darling has told Alex Salmond if Westminster can make efficiency savings so can Holyrood.

The First Minister has used the £500m cut that efficiency savings in Westminster in a number of ways. Either as a slight on Labour in Westminster to his own administration in Scotland or as a reason to pull out of putting Local Income Tax before the Parliament in this session. However, the one thing the Nats have not been prepared to do is acknowledge that efficiency savings can be made. Indeed when the Scottish Liberal Democrats suggested that some could be made to bring about a lowering of income tax it was laughed out of hand.

Darling speaking on today's BBC Politics Show Scotland said there would be "no ifs, no buts" these efficiency savings would go ahead. Going on to say:

"We've said we need to get £5bn worth of efficiencies out of the system. When you're spending over £600bn a year, most people will think if they're pulling in their belt, why can't Government?

"But I just do not believe that Alex Salmond can stand up, hand on heart and say that the Scottish Government can't be more efficient.

"Rather than blustering about it he might be better employed sitting down and working out how the Scottish Government could be more efficient."

But Alex has always been a blusterer. Something that works fine in opposition but hardly advantageous to Government when you normally need a calm head to lead along the correct course.

So can the SNP look for savings? Yes.

Is it prudent to do so? Yes it is a time of economic downturn and everyone is looking to make things more efficient to get bet value out of what is spent.

Will they do it? Now that is the question.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Loaning to Get Around Bonuses

The Royal Bank of Scotland is offering loans, against the deferred bonuses, to hard up lower paid staff who will not be receiving their expected bonus of hundreds or thousands of pounds just now. This is not extended to the investment bankers who were expecting their seven figure bonuses. No doubt these will be at the bankers special repayment rate or even better than normal, that detail is missing.

However, will the bank look kindly on customers who have had their salary frozen, not receiving their increase of hundreds or thousands of pounds? Will they go easier on issuing loans or overdrafts to help them out?

The answer is probably not. How else are they going to pay to look after their own. The RBS staff will be getting their salary increase and easily secure a loan to cover their bonuses. Many others will find it hard to secure a loan, and even if they do not at the same rate and face uncertainty when or even if they will get their salary increased.

While the lower paid staff are not fat cats, they certainly are more content cats than many of the general population.

Friday, 20 February 2009

My First Album Meme

A little bit of weekend fun. Yeah something else I grabbed off Facebook.


1 - Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random”or click

The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to and select "random quotations"or click

The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to Flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”or click

Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use Photoshop or similar to put it all together.

5 - Post it with this text in the "caption" or "comment" and TAG the friends you want to join in...

Here are my results:

"Pretend it isn't the case" by How Low Can You Go?

This Langauge is Dead - UNESCO

Not it's not! It's just had a nap.
That was the response from Cornwall and the Isle of Man to the United Nations Atlas of World Languages in Danger which branded both Cornish and Manx Gaelic as extinct, ex-languages, no more, gone to.....
OK you catch my drift.
Cornish may well have been dead in 1777 as a first language bit linguists claim that it is a language in revival over the past 20 years now with about 300 fluent speakers.
Meanwhile on the Isle of Man the language the UN claims died out in in 1974 when Ned Maddrell fell forever silent. However, the island claims there are 600 speakers of the language amongst it 80,000 residents. There is even a Manx language primary school of 50 pupils Bunscoill Gaelgagh.
Unesco admitted that certain languages shown as extinct in its atlas are being actively revitalized, and could once again become "living languages".
However, the label of extinct has angered my fellow Gaels in both regions. Jennifer Kewley-Draskau, author of the handbook Practical Manx said:
"Unesco ought to know better than to declare Manx a dead language.

"There are hundreds of speakers of Manx and while people are able to have productive conversations in the language then it is very much alive and well."
Of Cornish Jenefer Lowe, development manager of the Cornish Language Partnership added:
"Saying Cornish is extinct implies there are no speakers and the language is dead, which it isn't.

"Unesco's study doesn't take into account languages which have growing numbers of speakers and in the past 20 years the revival of Cornish has really gathered momentum.

"There's no category for a language that is revitalised and revived. What they need to do is add a category. It should be recognised that languages do revive and it's a fluid state."
Oh course I never really wanted to be a blogger writing about the extinction or otherwise of Gaelic languages. I always looked the sun on my back, the wind in my hair and the smell of trees. Cause I really wanted to be a lumberjack but that is something completely different.

Is it Time For Northern Irish Liberal Democracy?

Following the new that Labour are to organise in Northern Ireland, and seeing as the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives are treading carefully towards their allegiance, is is time to awake the electorally dormant but keen Northern Irish Liberal Democrats? And what does this mean for our sister party there the Alliance Party?

The Lib Dems in Northern Ireland have long taken the stance that they would not contest elections but lend support to the most prominent centrist party, which is the Alliance Party with their 7 Assembly Members and 32 councillors. David Ford and his group of elected representatives have long been fighting an uphill struggle where when facing oppression people tend to flock to the political extremes rather than to the centre. The consolidators and consensus viewpoint tends to get drowned out by clarion calls of "No!", "Never!" or whatever.

With the Good Friday agreement the mood at least for a while lifted and there was real hope for many of a change. But with the repetitive start stop start of devolution in Northern Ireland the old party divides became more entrenched to the extent that the DUP and Sinn Fein overtook the Ulster Unionists and SDLP respectively further polarising Northern Irish politics. Against such movement to the flanks the fact that the Alliance retained its group size in Stormont was a notable achievement. But other centrist groupings like the Northern Ireland Women's coalition lost out in both their MLAs.

But if the Tories and Labour are both serious about fighting future elections in Northern Ireland is it time for NI Lib Dems and the Alliance Party to formalise our bounds and stop merely living together?

What could the Lib Dems give to Northern Ireland? While the Tories will be ending up with a protestant party in Northern Ireland through its marriage with the Ulster Unionist the Alliance as with the working classes who may come to the Labour movement are spread across the divides. Indeed the temporary realignment of a couple of Alliance MLA's to get the qualified majority of a key piece of legislation during the first Assembly caused rather a stir. So the Lib Dems wouldn't enhance that message of reconciliation as both parties already abide by the liberty and freedoms of all. Indeed the Alliance peers do take the Lib Dem whip in the House of Lords already so there is already some quasi-formality in the arrangement.

What it would do would provide assistance, structure and experiences that would greatly enhance the ability of the centrist voice in Northern Ireland. From campaigning strategy to policy formation and following through to Government level in Scotland and Wales. Look (and listen) around you. Lembit Opik and Michael Moore are two MPs who both hail from Northern Ireland. Then there are activists, workers, councillors etc around the country who hail from there myself included. Many of us still have links with people 'back home' and take a keen interest in goings on in 'Norn Iron'. However, even if we return for a short spell we may have been put off from too active an involvement due to the underlying sectarianism of politics back home. But if the Northern Irish seats were to be contested by the three main UK parties plus of course Sinn Fein as the equivalent of the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales the Lib Dems rather than the Alliance should be the name on the ballot papers alongside that of Labour and the Conservative and whatever Party.

One final thing on this issue as discussed with Lembit Opik outside the Glee Club at the spring 2005 Conference in Harrogate. If we do want to fight elections seriously there is Lembit going to stand in our home constituency of North Down and does he still want me to assist as an organiser or something?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Blacked Out to Support NZ

You may have noticed the lights going out on my various profile pics across the Internet.

This is because in New Zealand no longer will you be innocent until proven guilty in the case of copyright infringement. Upon accusation from 28 February you will have you Internet connection terminated and websites removed.

I should have taken this action at the start of the week but work was too hectic and I forgot. However, I will stay blacked out until the 28 February unless the National Party in New Zealand stop this unfair punishment without trial.

You can find you more at Internet Blackout NZ. This week's black is certainly black.

Carnival on Modern Liberty: No Freedom of Speech = No Public Liberty

When the Labour Government first banned protesters in Parliament some people didn't think it would infringe too much on this countries freedom of speech. Under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights all people have "the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression".

No while I don't agree with the views of Geert Wilders nor the views of Fred Phelps of Westboro Church and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper the fact is that both Wilders and now the Phelpses have been denied entry to the UK. They have been denied the right to express themselves. However, as with Geert Wilders last week this may get their message across more clearly and louder than if they have been allowed in.

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty wrote:

"The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

So Jacqui Smith has twice in a week performed just such a peculiar evil of denying the ability to have discourse to unearth the error in that opinion.

Maybe Wilders in right when he called the UK government cowards for refusing his entry. But as with Derek Draper's LabourList diatribe in recent weeks it appears to be the Labour default position. As position to ban any who don't agree with what you say instead of engaging in debate. It is also generally the default position of those for whom the argument is lost to want to avoid debate at any cost. Is that where Labour is?

Benjamin Franklin said:

"Without Freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech."

Sadly now that we cannot take pictures of the police or things that may be considered useful for terrorism our liberties are being eroded. With the Labour government and its apologists trying to control what can be said or blogged we are heading to a dark place devoid of public liberty.

They can watch you, want to read your emails and keep you biometric data. But you are not allowed to come to your own conclusions, think with you own brain or possible go about your business without proving you are you. The liberties we once held dear are going, going....

Does this mean the terrorists have won because are Government and Labour are too scared to let anything go on that might give them opportunity. And the price? Our liberty.

Retained Fire Fighters: Keep the Opt Out

There is a need to keep the retained Fire Fighters in our communities. 321 of Scotland's 391 fire stations were staffed by part-time retained fire fighters. Below
Tavish Scott with Mike Rumbles and Rosemary Bruce discuss the issue.

You can join the campaign at

Real Lemon Lyman Really is More Bitter

Wow. Fans of the West Wing will know that the ficticious website was set up to follow the activities of ficticious Deputy Chief of staff Josh Lyman. The political geeks will also know that Josh was based on Rahm Emanuel from his days in the Clinton West Wing.

Well Bradley Whitford who played Josh Lyman has this to say about the real thing:

"I think that if you played Rahm Emanuel like Rahm Emanuel actually is, I don't think people would believe it. I think people would think, "Wow, I can't believe somebody is actually like that."

There is a full interview with Whitford in the NY Times Magazine.

He was also asked had he recieved his invitation to the real White House, and replied that at the inauguration Obama had said to him:

"You have to come to the White House! But not for a while. We're a little busy."

Wonder if the tour will feature the equivalent office. Once Team Obama get through the top of their to do list of course.

*Hat tip to Daniel Finklestein.

You can tell I'm bored waiting to actually work can't you? Best thing I have Roll Call Officer Refresher Training in an hour and then a conference call at 2 heaven knows when the reports will get done.

Hands Off Our Forsests

You would have thought that a party claiming to speak for the nationalist movement of a nation would understand the mindset of that nation. Not so the SNP when it comes to the nations forests.

Almost three quarters of the respondents to the Scottish Government consultation on the leasing of a quarter of Scotland's forest were opposed to the proposal. In fact while 71% were against only 12% were in support of the SNPs plan. Is this just the latest sign of how out of touch the SNP are with reality and the concerns of its citizens?

Well as Hamish MacDonell wrote in the Steamie yesterday it is not just limited to Scotland that the SNP have lost grasp of reality. Jim Mather the enterprise Minister is still clinging to the Arc or prosperity.

So that would be:

  • Ireland where the government support for the banking sector is currently 220% of GDP, it could get worse as the Banks' coverage of loans is still 5 times that amount.
  • Iceland whose banking sector almost brought the prospect of the nation going bankrupt into being.
  • Norway who like Scotland have oil. With a 7% drop in the price recently that is hardly going to be a stable economic structure.
  • Of course Scotland's own two one point five one point two five* Banks are also the pinicles of prosperity.

So the Arc is sinking something that never affected Noah and clearly dodesn't worry Mather either. Man the lifeboats and lets hope there is a helicopter ready to rescue us like the oilworkers before we sink to fast under Nats pilotage of our economy.

*Really depends how much of HBOS you consider Scottish after the second merger.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Bank Bonuses Curtailed

The Royal Bank of Scotland are the first of the banks supported by public money to have their bonuses hemmed in. Following public outcry that the bank that was bailed out with public money was still paying out bonuses of astronomic proportions when making such a heavy loss it issued its new plan after discussions with UK Financial Investments (who oversee the Government's shareholding in banks). The new deal is (from the bank's full statement):

  • No Reward for Failure: No bonuses or pay increases will be made to staff associated with the major losses suffered in 2008.
  • Board Remuneration: As previously announced Board Executive Directors will receive no bonus for 2008 performance and no pay increase in 2009.
  • Pay 2009: Agreement has been reached with Unite in the UK for staff which they represent below managerial grades. Ongoing discussions with staff representatives are taking place in other regions. This will mean a pay freeze for Directors and Executives in the Group worldwide, and for most staff in the US and the Global Banking & Markets division. On average, other staff will receive below inflation pay rises.
  • Bonuses for 2008: No discretionary cash bonuses will be paid in 2009 for performance in 2008. Only legally binding guaranteed bonuses will be paid. Total cash bonus payments for 2009 will amount to £175 million. Therefore total cash spend overall will have been reduced by more than 90 per cent.
  • Protection for lower paid staff: The existing Profit Share "bonus" scheme worth 10% of salary will not be paid for 2008, and will be terminated for all future years. An equivalent payment will be made as part of the existing monthly award package to staff below managerial grade, beginning in 2009. The average salary for this group is £18,979.
  • Deferred awards: Staff who are essential to the bank's recovery and who might otherwise be at serious risk of leaving, and who remain with the Bank will receive a deferred award for 2008. The deferred award will be released in three equal annual instalments beginning June 2010 and payable in sub-ordinated debt of RBS i.e. not in
  • Claw back of deferred awards: In individual cases up to 100 per cent of these deferred awards will be subject to forfeiture at the discretion of the Remuneration Committee and if future losses arise in relation to their 2008 activities . Awards will therefore be based on sustained long-term performance, not on short-term revenue generation.
  • Deferred Amount: The total amount of deferred awards will be finalised following our forthcoming company announcement relating to the Group's Strategic Review. However, the total amount will represent a very significant reduction on the comparable prior year totals and the settlement overall will be as tough as that at any other comparable bank.
  • Future Policy: RBS is undertaking a fundamental review of its approach to future remuneration to ensure that incentives are well aligned to the interests of shareholders over the long-term. The intention for 2009 is to follow the same approach and deferral periods as outlined for 2008 while ensuring the Group pays competitively overall with other international banks. More details will be provided in the Group's forthcoming Annual Report and Accounts.

The net effect is that there is a 90% reduction in the bonuses that were to have been paid out for now. To counter the argument that key staff needed to get the bank back on its feet will be deferred (but they'd better see a turnaround or the claw back option will take effect). The counter staff, who obviously were not involved in the decision making will get their bonus as a performance related salary increase.

With the short term bonus culture employees have looked possibly to their own pockets rather than the health of the bank when making crucial decisions. So the move is to reward for longer term objectives rather than short term profiteering. Lloys who are seeking Government money have also submitted their bonus plans to UKFI for scrutiny.

Although with millions of others facing a salary freeze employees at RBS, who will be receiving below inflation pay increases, are still luckier than many other employees, and many of the unemployed, in the UK this morning after the year the bank has had.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Hung By His Own Petard: RIP Derek Draper's Blogging Career

Oh dear, oh dear.

You'd have thought that having that what with brandishing the racist tag at all an sundry one would be more careful oneself. Even if such comments came from commenters (Guido), or where made in attacks against hypocrisy of one rule for one not applying to a star name (Iain Dale), that Derek Draper would be careful in his own use of language. Not so.

Over the weekend while some of us had more pressing engagements he used a derogatory term for the mentally challenged. This has forced an editor's apology on LabourList. But hang on a second isn't Draper the editor of LabourList? Isn't this the man who demanded a personal apology from Iain Dale?

Now there is a personal apology on his own site, but that was not where he made the statement. Now surely not knowing the entomology is not an excuse for using a term you are not familiar with especially if you are blogging about pretending to be holier than though. It took me all of 2 seconds to look up the term in question.

Now let's look at what Derek Draper has stipulated should be done in such cases of what he has branded "vicious sites".

  1. They should apologise personally on the site.
  2. Progressive political bloggers should delete their link to them (as I already don't link to LabourList how do I do that?)
  3. We should disassociate from all who associate with them* (even allegedly making threatening phone calls [at least inciting others to do so] to any who do get along)

I trust that Derek Draper would expect the same discretion of the Blogophere to be used against vicious slurs against the disabled or other disadvantaged and targeted groups. To do anything else would be "doublespeak" surely.

*Link to Guido's advertisers and LabourList black list strangely missing (more bad blogiquette) Sorry my err0r just couldn't find it amongst all the dross.

Monday, 16 February 2009

I See it Didn't Take Long for the Nat Attack

I see the Nats didn't take long to put their spin on the Paddy Ashdown comments I posted about earlier.

Jamie Hepburn MSP may be factually correct in quoting one of the latest polls on the referendum question (the one more favourable to his argument). However, I have every confidence that when Independence is the only subject on the table that all the myriad holes in the argument for Scottish Independence will come out and sway the majority of the 42% undecided (by that polls measure) against the economically unsound arguments being put by the SNP for it.

One thing you are wrong about Jamie is that now is not the time for any of us to to work out a position on independence. Even Alex Salmond is meeting with the Prime Minister, after 10 months of silence to see if there is more that can be done together, not apart, for the economy in this current recession. If you want immediate action the Lib Dems have offered advice and will give support on economic issues. There is no more pressing issue facing Scotland at the moment, to say or dictate otherwise is disrespecting the people of Scotland.

Ashdown Echoes Wendy: Bring It On

The former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown has said that the unionist parties in Scotland should back a referendum on Scottish independence. He believes that taking on the nationalists head on on the issue and going with the referendum would easily kill off the nationalist movement. He said:

"This is where I do disagree with my colleagues. I don't want to criticise their tactics following the (Holyrood] election (in 2007], but let's put it like this: I would not have ruled out a referendum and I think it would have been a good time to hold it.

"The fact is that there has never been a majority for independence in Scotland. If a referendum was held, then the SNP would lose and would be finished.

"They are just playing a long game in the hope that they can persuade people to support independence by showing that they can govern competently."

The fact that the SNP Government keeps gurning about the money that they think Westminster should be giving them, and not necessarily owing them further backs up this issue. While Paddy said that Wendy Alexander was right in her call to "bring it on" her and the Labour party's execution of that demand was messed up and muddled.

The Lib Dems in Scotland have said:

"Paddy Ashdown is entitled to his own views on this matter, but the Scottish party has made its position on this clear.

"At this time, people should not be focusing on an independence referendum, but rather on the recession and supporting the economy and protecting people's jobs."

Quite correctly at this time we should be concentrating on economic matters but there will come a time when this elephant in the room may well have to be addressed, and that is something the party hasn't fully done for too long. Indeed the handling of that question was one of the few areas of divergence from the three candidates in the leadership election last year.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Friday, 13 February 2009

Lesson for RBS from Barclays

I've received an email from John Prescott updating me on his campaign for the Royal Bank of Scotland to give up their bonus. Last night it you were watching BBC's Question Time you would have heard Kelvin Mackenzie try and defend the bonuses being given by the RBS with one basis being that other banks were giving them.

Therefore you can imagine how hollow that message sounded when I read Prescott's email. In it he points out the fact that Barclays, who haven't taken any Government money, have already reviewed their bonuses for the year. Even in parts of their business performing strongly such as commodities, foreign exchange and currencies will see their bonuses shrink from the average they would have expected. But more telling is that 20-30% of their staff will be receiving no bonus at all.

This is a bank that did not have to rely on the Government for money; it is still standing on its own two feet. Yet they are having to cut back on the bonuses they are paying because of the crisis. How much more should a bank, whose employees have survived by the good grace of the Government, also reconsider just what level of bonus if any should be going to any sector of its business?

If You're Only Just Shy Of Support On LIT...

OK lets for a moment assume I accept the SNP's excuse for dropping Local Income Tax (LIT)proposals on the grounds that there was not enough support in Holyrood, even with the Lib Dems on side. What does that mean for the appointment of Mike Russell to his new role?

Now I'm not claiming to be good at maths (OK stats is what I do for a living) but surely there are 13 less MSPs* in favour of Mike Russell's new remit as Minister for Constitutional Affairs Independence than there was for scraping the council tax and replacing it with LIT. Indeed independence said Iain Grey in yesterday's FMQ's is the last remaining flagship policy on which the SNP got elected in 2007 that they 'currently' are still looking to implement before the next election. That is a disastrous only 21 months into a 48 month fixed term.

So we know that the SNP have over run the parliamentary process in Holyrood since taking office. No it appears that they think they can get away with overlooking the reasons that people voted for them as well. One by one the flagship policies are falling by the wayside.

Wait for the next good day to bury news for the announcement that the SNP will not bring forward a Bill calling for Independence for Scotland before the 2011 election.

*Instead of 16 Lib Dems they could maybe count on the two Greens and Margot MacDonald.

To Lose One Key Adviser is Unfortunate; But Two!

For Gordon Brown to have have lost Sir James Crosby as a key adviser and deputy chair of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) because of the sacking of the HBoS whittle blower was unfortunate. In the space of a few days to find that Glen Moreno, who heads UK Financial Investments (UKFI) which overseas the public £37bn investment UK banks, may also go as a result of his former bank was linked with tax evasion, is disastrous.

With bankers falling over themselves in the orchestrated dance of the sorrowful during the week. While bonuses are still being flaunted around in a year of disastrous returns for the bank. Then ignoring sage advise and taking part in illegal practices, just where is the rule book for bankers and is it time for it to be dusted off from whatever dusty corner it is languishing in.

These are two of the men that are advising Gordon Brown on our economy. Now I'm not saying that Gordon didn't chose well respected bankers. It would appear that he did. However, even these well respected bankers appear to have been more complacent in bending rules, ignoring sound advice and generally building up this fine mess than had previously been recognised.

It would appear that our bankers have lost sight of the job in hand. Providing a sound financial footing to allow us all individual customers, business and government bodies to be able to function. They have had their judgement muddled by greed, which when you see the size of the bonuses for success, and seemingly (from what is said) the cast iron seal protected those bonuses no matter what.

No matter how Gordon has tried to shift the blame to the American situation, what is now emerging is that the UK did nothing to cover themselves in case of failure. They followed glibly into the problems of over extension to find themselves heavily exposed when the bottom fell out of the markets and all confidence was lost.

Time for a major rethink and massive overhaul of the banking sector and its regulations and regulatory bodies.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

In Other SNP Failings

The SNP were determined to do all they could to keep the Scottish banking sector Scottish that they gathered financiers to try and put together a bid for HBoS (or at least the Bank of Scotland part). At election time the Saltire's flying from Nationalist cars makes it hard to see the wood for the trees.

Which is probably just as well as the party that wants Scottish Independence has since they got elected in 2007 been negotiating lease out a quarter of Scottish forests to overseas timber companies. Based on the amount of land that involves that should make them the 98% Scottish Nationalist Party. It looks like one victim of the high noon of the sgian dubh former Environment minister Micheal Russell has been confirming what is still being denied by Government aides. Six meetings have been held between October 2007 and July 2008 to discuss leasing out the 100,000 hectares of woodland involved.

What of Mr Russell's successor Roseanna Cunningham. Well in 1996 when the Tory government* tried to sell off Scotland's woodlands she said opposing the 'creeping privatisation':

"You can be sure that it does not take long after a sale to a private concern for gates to appear and the 'no entry' signs to go up ... communities throughout Scotland will see their woodland amenities disappearing into the hands of private owners."

So despite saying if it matters to you to vote for them. In the space of 24 hours we've learnt that fairer taxes are important enough to fight for, for now and the forested parts of Scotland and their amenities also don't matter that much.

There is no better time than now to fight to save Scotland's forests from the SNP and sign the petition.

*Note for younger readers. Before 1997 other parties under that Labour did form the government of the UK.

She Speaks - Tory Candidate Updates Website

Well it only took a year and almost three weeks but Andrea Stephenson has finally found something to talk to the people of Linlithgow and Falkirk East about. She has chosen the supbject of improving your High Street by giving it a makeover.

To highlight this initiative from the conservative concessions on the Nat budget has two pictures. One is at the cross in Linlithgow, possibly the most picturesque stretch of High Street in the constituency. The other looks like a renovation that is being carried out in Bo'ness. The poeple of Bathgate, Armadale and Whitburn with their more egalitarian appearance Main Streets wouldn't have fitted with the appearance of the Conservative PPC's website no matter that these are possibly of greater need of a makeover, with empty shop fronts and rundown, as opposed to historic, appearance of many others.

Judging by the summer clothing worn in the pictures I'd assume that neither of them was taken since the budget was passed either.

The LRT Beagle

Happy 200th Birthday Charles Darwin.

RBS to Overhaul Pay Structure

The have received a mauling in the press and blogosphere about the amount being paid in bonuses following their Government bail out. But yesterday Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester has announced there will be an overhaul of the bank's pay structure.

Amongst the admissions yesterday to the Treasury select committee was that pay in some areas of the business were too high. But is this too little too late in reaction to the public outcry that while others in other lines of work are struggling, the bank had announced the go ahead to £1bn in bonus payments in a year when billions were lost. However he did say that the bonuses would be being paid saying "if [he] thought it was a responsible move, [he] would not pay a penny". He said that many of the employees did exactly what was expected of them and deserved their bonuses.

However, without the back up from the Government the bank would have failed many of those employees and they wouldn't even have had jobs let alone the ability to pick up a bonus. Surely that is the crux of the matter. These bonuses are not being paid out of the bank's profits from last year, as there were none just a whopping £28bn loss, but from the public purse as we bailed them out.

During the grilling before MPs he admitted that it could take as long as five years for the bank to merely reverse the serious failing of the last annus horribilous. Whilst Hester admitted that the risk-management systems side of the business needed a major overhaul, it was their spin at the roulette wheel that overstretched the bank, he somehow still fails to see that the public cannot understand. Nor will they accept that when a business has failed so dramatically that they should have the ability to hand out bonuses of the scale that some have been mentioned. Merely claiming that no bonus of any sort would be given to people associated with the vast losses the bank had made is not enough the others have to be reviewed too in light of the current financial state of the institution.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

SNP Axe Pledge to Axe the Tax II From Tavish TV

Here is Jeremy Purvis's opinion on the SNP's decision to not follow though on their pledge to axe the council tax and replace it with local income tax.

You can read my views here.

Prezza's Petition

He may one have been technically inept but you've got to hand it to him John Prescott truly is harnessing the internet. He has even established an e-Petition demanding that the Royal Bank of Scotland do not pay out the £1bn in bonuses that are heading the way of many of their staff. Some apparently are even 6 figure sums. There's also a Facebook Group (which John failed to link to) No Ifs, No Buts - Pass on the Cut demanding the same things.

When there are people out that who have recently lost their jobs, are scared they may be next. Others whose salaries raises are under review, or have been suspended or are on short weeks or partial paid leave of absences it is an obscenity. Banking fat cats aren't prepared to pass on the full interest rates cuts. Are making it harder for the average person to borrow money and are still paying themselves top dollar bonuses when they have been bailed out with Government money.

To pay out 12.5% of the money that the Government had given the RBS as bonused shows us just how sorry they are.

Not one bit.

SNP Axe Their Pledge to Axe the Tax

One of the things I agreed about in principle if not the means of execution of the SNP Government was their pledge to scrap the council tax and replace it with a local income tax based on the ability to pay.

Just this morning some of the press were praising Salmond for bringing in some heavy hitters today he is reeling against the ropes. One of his key pledges to get elected lying in tatters.

John Swinney, the Finance Minister claimed it would be politically very difficult to introduce the tax in the current political and financial climate at a time when the recession will see year-on-year cuts in public spending. Blaming political difficulty is hardly by itself a valid reason to bring about a change that leads to fairness.

Then there is also the adjustments being made under the Barnett formula £1bn over the next two years, so Westminster takes the blame. But surely an independent Scotland wouldn't have a cash payout from Westminster so if the SNP are truly intent on Independence such trivialities should not be the reason that they can hide behind.

No the problem of why the SNP's proposals from why LIT failed is intransigence of their proposals. They wanted a fixed rate set centrally. One that did not take into account local needs. They also wanted to set a rate below what was recommended giving themselves an inbuilt shortfall before they even started to look for other scapegoats. Like the first budget that failed to pass last month they refused to budge.

LIT can work and it can be fair. It needs to meet the requirements of the councils that need to spend it. Sadly the SNP administration has been failing them on too many counts by limiting their money while increasing their responsibility.

The SNP pretty much lifted the Liberal Democrat policy on Local Income Tax I remember being handed a leaflet about it in 2005 and noticed only 2 or 3 words difference from the policy as described in our pre-manifesto document. But they have betrayed the people who voted for them believing that maybe they could offer a faier local tax.

This is after all Scotland the test bed of Maggie's Poll Tax. Therefore to let the people of Scotland down over local taxation is liable to be one sin that may not be overlooked too easily.

Spring is in the Air: Don't Panic

You'd think that the melted snow has got us all in the mood for the arrival of spring. Why only yesterday Jeff was telling us of his plans to return in time for Spring Conference. Well this afteroon I experienced the novelty of weekday day light and handed in my own registration for the Lib Dem Spring Conference in Perth from the 13-15th of March. I could swear that last time we were there Ireland were also playing Scotland in the Six Nations.

However, instead of just dropping off my registration in the post box as normal I decided to hand it in personally. Probably a big mistake as on the way out I set off the Clifton Terrace panic alarm, sorry guys.

See Mr Reeves a whole blog post and not a moan about the fact that the bus was 10 minutes late. D'oh.

Is @lordmandelson a Twitterphobe?

No sooner had the Lord Voldermort of Hartlepool and Foy appear on Twitter according to that first Tweet on Monday "Looking forward to listening and providing updates on my department's support for business through tough times." Than he is running away to hide.

Surely the Dark Lord of Spin can't be more of a technophobe that John "Prezza" Prescott. Who'd have thunk it?

Or is he about to resign yet another cabinet post?

The Evolution of the Pope

Bad news for Governor Sarah Palin this early on in her bid for the Presidency in 2012.

Yeah I know it's early to start thinking about the next run at the White House. But the Pope has come out and said that Darwin may have been on the right lines ahead of the 200th anniversary of his birth. Indeed Papal Scholars were falling over themselves yesterday to tell us that creation and evolution were wholly compatible. Even citing St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas as precursors to Darwinian thought.

Personally it is an issue I have not had an issue with since my teenage years. The scientist in me and the poet didn't conflict over the two merely saw the biblical account as a way of explaining the stages of what happened (how else would man end up on the last day, and beasts of the deep before those of land) to people who would not yet be able to grasp the scientific concept. You must not also forget that the Bible mentioned the curvature of the earth long before the church denied the flat earth society.

Now to the Inside Being Looked Upon

Ow dear she hasn't even taken the oath yet but Indygal MSP, Aka Anne McLaughlin, has landed herself in a wee bit of bother. Yeah these pictures which she posted on her blog from Budget fall out day has landed the then Hollyrood researcher for Bob Doris into hot water with one of two of those she will join tomorrow when she takes the seat she inherited after the untimely death of Bashir Ahmad.

Margaret Curran the Labour MSP has demanding an apology:

"On one level, this behaviour is simply childish. But there is a more serious undercurrent. It is unfair and devious and shows a lack of respect."

To be fair the title of the pictures "Supersleuth McLaughlin's surreptitiously taken recordings of today's event in the Scottish Parliament!" in hardly tabloid fodder, but does suggest that a little underhandedness was going on.

An unnamed Tory spokesman said:

"It's not a smart start. It is not a smart way to win friends and influence people. We may be political foes, but there has to be a degree of trust between staff and MSPs for the place to function."

The fact that this source remains unnamed shows the duplicity of how things work in politics. You have unnamed people briefing about meetings, discussions held in confidence etc, but put you name to something and dare to use the Web rather that brief behind the scenes to the press and oh boy there will be trouble. To the best of my knowledge at the time of writing Eric Miralles' building is still standing. It hasn't collapsed like a house of cards. Maybe Indygal MSP will be a breathe of fresh air into some of those in the Parliament.

Anyhoo. Nobody died, nobody lost their job. Although how any barman can think "I don't know just get me one" is a type of gin probably shouldn't be doing something as complex as drawing pints and pulling shots.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

First the Apology Then the Fallout

Earlier today Sir Tom McKillop, former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland was amongst those apologising to the Treasury Select Committee at Westminster. This afternoon news came from Alan Dickinson, chief executive of RBS UK that the company plans to shed 2,300 jobs. He said:

"We recognise that any news of this nature is unwelcome at any time. It is essential, however, that we consistently review our business to ensure that we are able to operate as efficiently as possible, especially in the current economic circumstances.

"We will be consulting with our recognised trade union, Unite, and our employees throughout. We fully agree with Unite that we must keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum and we will."

I trust that as a result of this review the bonuses that they are giving out. Of the £20bn that the Government has used to bail out the back £1bn is earmarked to pay RBS employees bonuses. How much of this could be used to retain some of those 2,300 employees is a question that should be being asked by the Prime Minister as well as asking for those bonuses back.

Earlier today fellow Lib Dem blogger Charlotte Gore, who I normally consider far more economically liberal than me, claimed the Government should lay off the banks and their bonuses. There is one difference now to in the past when Charlotte worked from them. In the case of RBS the Government owns 68% of the bank and has every right to see that investment spent wisely. Why should the banks be a special case when other employees across the country are facing the possibility of a freeze on pay, not even getting their salary reviewed or may have to make further savings as their employers are feeling the pinch. If the market doesn't allow for it surely bonuses shouldn't be being paid?

When I was a Civil Servant my bonus was performance related and not a foregone conclusion, if I added value to the branch that I worked in I would be rewarded if I didn't then I wouldn't. This was a salary increase bonus not a one off payment. This year being in the public sector in an industry that is directly affected by the well being of other firms I wait with baited breathe. So maybe the banks should look at rewarding performance, but also be prudent about doing so, especially when many of their own customers are uncertain about their own financial futures.

Scolari, Fabiani, Watt, Maxwell: Out, Out, Out, Out

On the back of big Phil's removal from Stamford Bridge and while the former heads of the RBS and HBoS were making their apologies Alex has welded his sgian dubh, I would have said Claymore if any of the Cabinet had been effected. Indeed Scottish Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser did say that Salmond should have taken an axe to his cabinet, rather than 'knifing a few junior ministers'.

Culture minister Linda Fabiani, schools minister Maureen Watt and housing and sports minister Stewart Maxwell all lost their junior ministerial roles in Salmond's first reshuffle. The sport portfolio has been added to public Health Minister Shona Robinson's brief. Mike Russell has moved to Culture while his environment brief has been taken up by Roseanna Cunningham. Also arriving is Alex Neil as a revamped communities and housing minister. With Keith Brown stepping up to assist Fiona Hyslop as the new education minister for schools and skills.

As Mike Rumbles, Lib Dem chief whip put it:

"I'm delighted that Alex Neil's ultra loyalty has finally been rewarded. The lesson of this reshuffle is that slavish adoration of the first minister pays dividends."

Labour health spokesperson Cathy Jamieson said the reason for Maxwell's demise was plain:

"The number of new homes being built in our two biggest cities is falling off the edge of a cliff.

"The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations reports that its members are being forced to reduce their ambitions and shelve badly needed developments because of funding cuts by the SNP government."

So the high noon of the short sgian dubhs is over. Buried under a heap of Scottish Banking news. Does it show that in culture, education, housing and sports that the SNP are failing to deliver?Certainly the team that had been responsible must have been. Shockingly do they really think that Environment has been a success with Maxwell's move to Culture? Or have they failed there to and are just shifting out the dross?

Monday, 9 February 2009

We Will Look to Spend Better

In response to the pledge to cut taxes and redistribute spending to priority issues today marked another step along that path. Cable said earlier today that he and Jeremy Browne would be carrying out a thorough and painstaking review of all central government spending. The end target is to highlight £20bn of public expenditure that can be reallocated to places it is needed more and better spent.

The first of those priorities was also focused on today education.

From providing 20 hours of free quality care and nursery education for every child from 18 months. To infant classes no larger than 15 pupils on to scraping tuition fees for for first Higher Education degree qualifications whatever level those qualifications are.

Some of the other parties have been ridiculing us that we don't know where the spending can be made. Well we have started the search. In six months will they be quite as cock a hoop. Indeed before the mockers flock there is a full costing of what this first trance will cost, and ideas of where it could come from already.

While these policies only apply to England you can be assured the the principle will be taken on a raised in Scotland by the Scottish Liberal Democrats led by Tavish Scott and Jeremy Purvis for the education advancement here in Scotland. Adjusted to what has already been achieved since devolution and just as in 2005 we here in Scotland had to have a radically different manifesto to other parts of the UK as much of the core then had already been achieved or was in progress here North of the border.

Sammy Wilson an Insidious Propaganda Machine

Back in the summer of 1987 I had a temporary Economics teacherat Regent House. At the time he was a Belfast City Councillor and press officer for the DUP. We would occasionally have our classed broken my his phone and early mobile going off in the the storeroom where it was inevitably on charge.

We had a propaganda machine in our classroom. That early mobile would feed one sides argument to the BBC, UTV or the printed press.

That propaganda machine's user is now the Northern Irish Environment Minister Sammy Wilson MP, MLA. Not everyone, certainly not the majorities, ideal choice of environment minister as he is a climate change denier. He hasn't got of to a good start with many of his pronouncements thus far.

Well he has truly but his foot in it this time. The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change was to run a advertisement campaign in all parts of the UK except Scotland. Scotland were excused because the Scottish executive was planning its own campaign on the same lines. Sammy has said NO! to showing the ad in Northern Ireland. He called it an "insidious propaganda machine".

Now the ad it right out there how it can be working or spreading any message harmfully in a subtle or stealthy manner to make it insidious is beyond me. Maybe one of the lads he taught that summer in 1987, who went on to take Economics at University and took two specialist courses in environmental and energy economics could give his old teacher a lesson on the subject of his brief. That is something I may get around to later today.

In the meantime there are obviously calls for the resignation of a Minister who doesn't have the best insterests of the electorate for his brief to the forefront of his actions.