Saturday, 30 October 2010

Former Labour Equality Minister in Gingerphobic Attack


There was always one chant I always felt uncomfortable with in the stands at Scottish football stands. It was the one attacking the poor unfortunate ginger player on the opposition team, and how his natural colouring was unacceptable. The reason being that being in Scotland there were plenty of ginger fans in our own section, heck the majority of what are now my grey hairs on head or in beard once were ginger.

Therefore to stand at your parties Scottish conference and make a ginger gibe can't not have gone down too well, one of the people sat on the platform looks rather uncomfortable as she applauds, the former Women and Equalities Minister, for it is her. She went futher and called him a rodent. Actually seeing a beavers are rodents and stem the torrent of resources washing away maybe we should use that. Danny Alexander Chief Dambuilder to the Treasury.

There is one other thing, my Lib Dem colleagues in Scotland haven't mutated into Tories and more than they mutated in Labourites during eight years of coalition Government in Scotland. Harriet in Scotland the people understand coalition is the coming together for a common cause, it does not take away from either party what makes them fundamentally themselves.

When will Labour start to talk policy rather than hurl insults? If they want to win seats they have to say what they will do, rather than merely saying, "Oh no! You can't be doing that."

Grow up Labour. Get back into politics and out of the playground name calling.

Update: Here is the Twitter comeback from Danny Alexander:

"I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind. Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour"

Friday, 29 October 2010

Writing Through the Darkest Hours

Sometimes when I need to get out of the doldrums I write. Sometimes I am writing when I am actually in a pretty deep and dark place. Not all the time I write something either here, or on Facebook or on Twitter am I actually capable of functioning in any other way.

Some of that stuff gets posted online as I indicate above, some of it is too dark for that and very few people have ever seen the really dark stuff. Writing is how I cope. I write when I'm happy too. I write more when I'm happy, but sometimes I write just to enable my brain to catch up with who I want to be.

If my writing lands me in trouble so be it. But nobody should ever hold my writing against me. In fact the fact that I can type even in my darkest hour has on more than one occasion been the reason that I am still here, still able to type this. Today somebody has taken me to a depth because of my writing. Other's have told me not to worry about that, because they know the reasons above are why I often do it. They can discern some subtle differences in the nuance of what or how I write. Sometimes they wake up scared for what has happened through the night, occasionally so do I, last Thursday night was one example of that*.

So thank you to those friends who know the whole me and know when to ask the questions that I may not want to answer because of what they have seen me write.

* Just take my word for it, what was written then is terse stuff, something that only two people will probably ever read.

One Small Step for Sinn Féin: Why Iain Dale is Wrong

I read this morning that Iain Dale is feeling cold about a Sinn Féin member of the UK Youth Parliament preparing to speak in the chamber of the House of Commons. I disagree I feel a little warm buzz on hearing the news.

Connor Morgan is apparently is about to make history in being the first Sinn Féin speaker in the chamber. That is one small step towards a normalisation of politics. If his senior representatives can find a way to similarly to take a full role in their elected representatives of the people by voting and speaking in the chamber we would be a step closer here in Northern Ireland.

Iain objects to the young man on a number of grounds.

First, that he will address the house in Gaelic or rather Gaeilge. Iain should wake up, this is allowed in all three of the devolved chambers across the country. The addressing of the house in native tongues at Stormont, Holywood and the Senedd is as far as I'm aware allowed, but then must also be spoken in the majoritive language English*. If this is what Mr Speaker Bercow is allowing in the chamber today it is not unusual. The citation of Ray Michie taking the oath in Scots Gaelic is one that has been repeated in the devolved Assemblies and Parliament and is an exception as an approved version in the native tongues is already available. Personally I hope that Connor is as fluent as the Gael speakers in Kelly's Cellars rather than the stuttering version we hear from Gerry Adams at Stormont.

Second there is the objection that turns his heart cold. He cites the killings of Lord Mountbatten, Airey Neave, Ian Gow, yes all the victims of republican violence. But the people of Northern Ireland have less prominent people, their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends etc who they remember who are lost, who have lost life, or home or livelihood as a result of the 'troubles'. In 1998 the people of Northern Ireland voted in a referendum to move on. To look for a shared future together, putting aside the things of the past to look for a new tomorrow. If the people of Northern Ireland are looking to do that since the Belfast Agreement then Iain you should allow us all to do that. That includes letting Sinn Féin, if and when they choose to do so, to speak in the chamber of the House of Commons. You may not agree with them, but Connor Morgan, just like Gerry Adams has been elected to a UK Parliament and if he wishes to speak he should be heard.

Finally Iain falls into the mainstream journalists trap of condemning youth by their Facebook pages. Iain before hurling that stone should look at the pages of some of the Conservative Future members of the same Youth Parliament. Yeah we are growing up with a generation of future politicians who have all their youthful high jinks captured on a mobile phone and uploaded before they have a chance to sober up. We've all done things that we regret, just in our youth if there wasn't a camera loaded with film present it wasn't recorded for posterity and picked over by someone who thinks they know better.

Therefore overall the fact that Sinn Féin are allowing Connor to not only take his seat today but to speak, is a good thing. The fact that the speaker is allowing Gaeilge to be spoken is also a step towards the normalisation that happens elsewhere, I expect the same conventions will apply, the exuberance of youth may have led Dale to believing that the whole speech will be unintelligible to an English speaker.

There is a little ray of hope and an anticipation of history on a young man's shoulders later today. I hope he strikes the right balance between the two, for his own and all of Northern Ireland's shared futures' sakes. Connor Morgan I wish you well, go n-éirí an t-ádh leat.

UPDATE: As I suspected Connor only gave a greeting in Gaelic before carrying on to speak assuredly against the raise of the cap in tuition fees. Some of what he said is here and below:

"It is a great honour to stand here before you and to have the opportunity to address you in Irish.

"Is it just that the current Members of Parliament, many of whom had a university education paid for by the state now expect us, the innocent and disenfranchised in this economic mess, to pay for the mistakes that they have made?

"Is is right that considering we, as young people, are constantly being told that we are the future, our future appears to us to be a burden of debt and uncertain job prospects?"

UPDATE 2: Paul Burgin has added this on his Mars Hill blog.

* I'm not sure if this applies in Wales which is legally bi-lingual, maybe one of my Welsh readers will clarify.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Blogging (and Social Media) Will Be Light

Blogging has already been somewhat light over the last few days. It will however continue to be so, the same goes for Facebook and Twitter.

I have an interview for a job I'd really love to have on Monday and I have to do some preparation for it. There are some people who will read this to whom thanks are due for pointing this role out to me. There is someone else that I truly do wish all the best to, it will be an interesting few days, I just wish I could have your input. This weekend is going to be a rather odd one between us.

So if you don't see me on here, Facebook or Twitter then do not panic, I'm just rather busy.

cf Gyronny Herald

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Equal Marriage: Why I'm a Member of the Lib Dems not Stonewall


Stonewall have finally come out with a statement 'supporting' equal marriage:

"We seek to secure marriage for gay people as a civil vehicle on the same basis as heterosexual marriage, available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it.

"We seek to retain civil partnerships for lesbian and gay people recognising their special and unique status."


But hang on, this is not what I or the Liberal Democrats are saying. Merely keeping is a civil vehicle ignores some of the LGBT community. People like me who are of faith and LGBT and want a church wedding, and certain religious groups The Quakers, some liberal Jewish synagogues etc want to carry out same-sex marriage in their faith, if we can but allow it.

Yes the Liberal Democrats also are not mandating every religious group to celebrate same-sex marriage. We called for allowing those "that wish to do so" to be allowed to. Five small words but a world of difference from what Stonewall are now saying. If they have consulted on this who have they consulted, clearly not widely. Clearly they are getting a statement out to appease some.

Also as you would expect from
Stonewall they miss out the whole area of difficulties facing those people of transgender. Their existing relationships need to be allowed to carry on if they wish. Yet the failure to extend civil partnership to hetero-sexuals along side gay marriage and civil partnerships leads to an issue there. What if a partner in a same sex-couple undergoes gender reassignment, what happens to their marriage? Stonewall are not allowing them to have a civil partnership.

The Liberal Democrats have introduced a fully inclusive equal marriage policy, even allowing humanist celebrants in England and Wales to conduct weddings (as they can in Scotland),
Stonewall are still failing to see the whole picture. Although this first step is to be welcomed there still is a lot of catching up still to be done to be where most of us are.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Andy Holmes Set to Row Over the River Styx*


There once was a time which younger readers may find odd that Britain didn't turn up at international rowing regattas and expect to pick up medals. However, before Los Angeles in 1984 there was not a sniff of gold since the London Olympiad of 1948 for the rowers.

1984 saw the arrival of an Olympic giant Steve Redgrave but along with Adrian Ellison, the cox, Richard Budget and Martin Cross was the man that would be Redgrave's pairs partner to two World, two Commonwealth golds as well as a gold in the coxless and bronze in the coxed pairs in Seoul in 1988.

Andy Holmes was the man, who was then replaced by Matthew Pinsent, was the first to switch boats with Redgrave and help set him up for the gold at 5 successive games. However, the sad news is that after 17 years away from the sport before a recent return 51 year old has died from the bacterial infection Weil's disease, also known as leptospirosis. This is picked up from river water infected by urine of animals in the water.

As a tribute here are Andy's two Olympic gold medal performances.

1984



1988



Andy Holmes 1959-2010

* The River Styx is the mythological Greek boundary between Earth and the afterlife.

Scottish Tories "for nothing if you don't have freedom"*


What now for the Scottish Tories?

Yesterday they David McLetchie took a stance which flew in the face of common sense or fairness, when they opposed the right for a suspect to have a lawyer present for the first six hours while the police were able to question. The Tories are probably opposing the ruling solely on the grounds that it comes from a decision taken in the European Court for Human Rights in 2008. The fact that there are some sensible decisions taken in Europe seems to be a point that deludes them. Hopefully the Scottish people will remember how inhuman the Scottish Tories are on the subjects of rights for the citizens next May.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrats constitution says that "no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity" and the presence of the six hour rule could well have let to some innocents being imprisoned due to these. So I suspect that this ruling may cause ructions in Westminster with the Tories trying to limit or remove the European Convention on Human Rights from UK law and the rulings of the European Court, even where they are beneficial, being countermanded. Also unlike the Tories the Liberal Democrats believe "our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries"[from the preamble]

I trust that the Lib Dems in Westminster, having secured our Freedom Bill in the coalition agreement will remember that the party exists "to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community"[from the preamble].

The Scottish Tories may moan "but they'll never take OUR FREEDOM"**.

Or else we'll set the Comptroller of HM Household (pictured) on them.

* Yeah a little bit of Braveheart in the title.
** And a little bit more Braveheart at the end.

EU Human Rights Too Much for Scots Tories


The Tories have a hate-hate relationship with all things European it seems. In the run up to the 2009 European elections the Liberal Democrats were going to highlight some of the areas of good that Europe were doing which the Tories wanted to scrap. You many have missed this message as it was drowned out by the cacophony of noise surrounding the Daily Telegraph's coverage of the MP's expenses.

However, it has reared its ugly head again. This time it has arisen from the case of Peter Cadder who has raised an issue from Scots Law in the UK Supreme Court following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2008: the case is set to conclude.

Currently the Scottish police can question a suspect for six hours without a lawyer present. Cadder as a teenager was convicted of assault and breach of the peace on evidence gained before his lawyer was present.

David McLetchie
MSP, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said:

"This issue is now coming to a head.

"If the Supreme Court decides in favour of Cadder and the decision is retrospective, then the Scottish Conservatives stand ready to work with the rest of parliament to limit the damage.

"As we saw with the slopping-out fiasco, ECHR can often serve the interests of the criminal, rather than the law-abiding majority.

"Its incorporation into the Scotland Act in 1998 was an error of judgment which, 12 years on, needs to be reviewed."


There are two fundamental things wrong with Mr McLetchie's statement. First the assumption that only the guilty benefit from not having to give evidence until they have a lawyer present. I know there are times when constituents have in the past said they felt intimidated to say what officers have wanted to hear rather than the truth to get things dealt with more rapidly.

Also the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is there to serve the best interests of all parties. The accused, whether proven guilty or not proven, as well as the police officers responsible for the questioning. With an outside party present they cannot overstep their authority.

Therefore far from calling for the ECHR to be taken out of the Scotland Act (as indeed in Westminster) the Tories should be looking at the good that comes out of it. It is a pity that blind euro scepticism is so rampant in the Tory party when more of our world and especially crime knows and respects no borders

Read also: Lallands Peat Worrier scholarly take on the Cadder judgement even without the McLetchie angle. I see that Michael also beat me to this story as well as this Tweet. Grr!

Update: The Supreme Court has ruled that Scottish Police no longer have the right to question a suspect without their lawyer being present.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Losing the Things We Love

A friend of mine recently learned that one of the things he loves is now something he will not be able to carry on doing; the reason is for his own health. There were tears in his eyes as he was telling me about it, just as there were tears in mine as I was listening to him, because I knew how much that particular activity meant to him.

The activity in question is not seen as risky to the overwhelming majority of the public, but to him it could be severely damaging or even a killer. It got me to reflecting on the things that I have loved and lost that I cannot ever do again.

One is since my father took ill with cancer and died in 2007 I have lost the most intense times of sharing with him. There is an issue right now that I would love to sort through with my father. It is one that we merely touched upon when he was alive, it is one that at this stage is taking on a whole new intensity at the moment. I would love to on a decent Saturday pick up our walking books, prepare a flask of hot water and supplies for a day hike and take him up for a deep discussion away from it all. As it is this weekend (indeed for most of the last wee while) I have been thinking to myself what would my father advise in this situation.

The other thing is that I have yet to enter any race since I succumbed to my career ending injury in 1992. The reason for that is that through the training regime to get ready to do anything I don't feel that is me doing those training runs. I suppose that setting such a high standard in my early life makes it harder to take that every second step now involves some pain and the speed doesn't feel right.

However, both these things and the fact that my friend is not able, even if he wanted to, to do the thing he loves to do had made me determined to set that right.

I'm still able to run, more slowly, in some pain, but doing it isn't going to kill me or cause me any more damage. So I'm going to get back into training, yes I'm going to run. I'm going to pick a race. I'm going to seek sponsorship in aid of Marie Curie, Cancer Research and a charity close to my friends heart too. The recent performance of Andrew Reeves and other friends at Hopetoun had already got me thinking, indeed I was considering joining them before events unfolded that led to me coming home to Northern Ireland.

So watch this space for news about my progress soon.

Pansy Project to Mark that Homophobia is Gay Across Belfast

The other day I was the victim of homophobic, verbal abuse, me being me there is a blog post mentioning the incident*.

Next month as part of the Outburst Queers Arts Festival here is Belfast there will be part of the Pansy Project. It is being sponsored by Unite Against Hate, the Rainbow Project and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The idea started by artist Paul Harfleet is to plant self-seeding pansies in the nearest available soil source to act as living micro-memorials to this abuse and operate as an antidote to it. After an individual planting, the pansy’s location is named after the abuse received, photographed and added to the artist's website.

I will be adding the site of the incident during the week to the list of venues.

Of course while the Pansy Project is a lovely and pun filled way to mark such sites, there is action that can be taken. Anyone has been the victim or a witness of any hate crime in Northern Ireland, you can report this to the PSNI in one of three ways:
  1. telephone the police on 999 if it is urgent;
  2. telephone the police on 0845 600 8000 if it is not urgent;
  3. report it online using the Hate Crime reporting form.
This is what I did the other night.

* Please note not written by me.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Sheffield Hallam Man Speak with Forked Tongue

In the run up to the general election the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said this about the Liberal Democrat manifesto:

"The highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, in its analysis of the parties' financial plans, said the Lib Dems had the smallest black hole of the main three in their funding schemes, and that there were no hidden tax rises on top."


Obviously we as a party were jumping up an down with delight with such a judgement in the week before the election. The great and the good of the party Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and of course Nick Clegg were all over the headlines expounding the wise judgements of the analysts at the IFS.

The IFS has called the comprehensive spending review "more regressive than progressive" and "unfair" saying the poorer families with children would be the "biggest losers" of the cuts. Excluding the wealthiest 2% of the population, who the IFS assesses will be the hardest hit, it says the poorest 10% of the population will, on average, lose about 5.5% of their net income compared with roughly 4.5% for the top 10%.

So these very sage like analysts from April/May should obviously be taken seriously by Nick Clegg. Not a bit of it, in today's Guardian he says:

"It goes back to a culture of how you measure fairness that took root under Gordon Brown's time, where fairness was seen through one prism and one prism only which was the tax and benefits system. It is a complete nonsense to apply that measure, which is a slightly desiccated Treasury measure. People do not live only on the basis of the benefits they receive. They also depend on public services, such as childcare and social care. All of those things have been airbrushed out of the picture by the IFS."


Yes Nick. But we are making fundamental cuts that are going to affect some of those other services to if we are not careful.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Vice-Chancellor Warns of Privatised University Education


A stark warning has come from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster in light of the Browne Report.

Professor Richard Barnett says what he brands a small group of "elitist" English universities lobbied and got a lot of their own self interest included in the Browne Report. A point that if true should send alarm bells ringing amongst those of the Liberal Democrat MPs who seem to have so whole-heartedly switched to accept the recommendations. Recommendations that we were wary of back in May enough to allow us to abstain if we didn't like them.

The view of these elitist institutions he says is that University Education should essentially be privatised. That would appear indeed to be what the lifting of the cap on Tuition Fees would allow, Oxford and Cambridge already competing on the international stage for best performers in academic achievement would be able to increase their funding without increasing the student base.

Professor Barnett said:

"This is a case of not wasting a good crisis to push through that agenda.

"Fortunately for us higher education is a devolved responsibility, it will be a decision for the assembly to decide.

"But, the scale of the cuts here do not justify the scale of the increase of fees.

"As we re-balance the economy it's skills that matter. This is an investment in our future and it's important that all sections of our society be part of that new economy. Every country in the world is investing in skills and in universities."


However, the agenda of Browne seems to be to privatise the institutions of Higher Education. That will make it a case of ability to pay not ability to learn that will be the differentiating factor.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Wearing Purple Today - A Call to End Commitment to Procrastinate

Today is a day that I'm wearing purple* it is a colour that may be being seen around the world on a lot of people. The reason being that today has been set aside as a day to highlight gay bullying and the recent spate of teen suicides that have been directly related to it.

Many of you have said through various means how much my personal experience posted at start of the month moved you. If you haven't already take a look but be warned tissues are a pre-requisite for clicking that link (as indeed they are for me to read the comments).

Last night I attended a consultation for the LGBT sector in Northern Ireland into the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister's (OFMDFM's) Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI). The major problem of the document is that it focuses merely on racism and sectarianism whilst ignoring other diversities and minority groups as laid out in Northern Irish legislation, (disability, victims of conflict and their families, LGBT and women amongst them).

There is a passing reference that this will set in place a timetable to bring in a sexual orientation strategy. This is a bone of contention within the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. There was already a consultation document for a Sexual Orientation Strategy on LGB (note the lack of T). A question has been asked by Stephen Farry MLA (Alliance) about a firm commitment to a timetable for this.

"Will the junior Minister give a firm commitment of a timetable within which the strategy will be brought to fruition? In doing so, will he bear in mind that a commitment was given to the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister back in 2009 that such a strategy would be brought forward shortly?"


The Junior Minister for the OFMDFM Robin Newton in response said:

"a realistic assessment of the time needed to give due consideration to the issues raised and to complete consultation indicates that the timescale for publication would be no earlier than 2012."


Not before 2012! It is getting somewhat outrageous the timescale that his particular consultation is taking. The omission then from naming homophobic or transphobic hate crimes by name but is a ghostly and other types gloss over is galling in the draft CSI programme. In what turned out to be almost the last word last night I said:

"While the ministers of OFMDFM are telling us not before 2012. This is not a commitment to do anything, merely a commitment to procrastinate."

  • 98% of LGBT young people suffered homophobic bullying at school.
  • 30% of this school bullying was by adults
  • 66% have contemplated suicide
These figures are startling and in a programme that says it will help young people at risk is ignoring some very much as risk young people by it omission and failure to look at a holistic sense of society and cohesion. It is written with the history of Northern Ireland controlling it and not looking to the present and vitally the future where there are multiple idenities rather than where you really feel you should be on a Sunday morning.


* Not this time to Take Back Parliament which also uses the colour.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Alex Cole-Hamilton on Tuition Fees

Edinburgh Central's Liberal Democrat candidate Alex Cole-Hamilton has produced this video to speak about students and tuition fees.



You can subscribe to his Alex4Central for more updates during his campaign for the election to Holyrood next May.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Purple Solidarity for LGBTQ Youth Bullied or Suicidal

READ: ****This event was not created by me. It was created by someone who cares deeply on Tumblr, and I am only spreading the word. (via Davey Wavey)****

It's been decided. On October 20th, 2010, we will wear purple in honor of the 6 gay boys who committed suicide in recent weeks/months due to homophobic abuse in their homes and at their schools. Purple represents Spirit on the LGBTQ flag and that's exactly what we'd like all of you to have with you: spirit. Please know that times will get better and that you will meet people who will love you and respect you for who you are, no matter your sexuality. Please wear purple on October 20th. Tell your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and schools. RIP Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase and Billy Lucas. You are loved.

Join this event and invite everyone on your friends list. Don't let their deaths be for nothing. Let it mean something, and let's do something to change this country for once.

If my recent blog posts haven't been enough to persuade you to join me wearing purple this Wednesday, here is Fort Worth councillor Joel Burns sharing part of his experience for the first time in the chamber.

Posted Elsewhere and the Story Rolls On - Northern Ireland Education

Over the weekend here in Northern Ireland we've had a First Minister Peter Robinson calling for an end to education apartheid then a response from the Catholic Church. Which are two stories I have posted about on Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland.

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accused his colleague of "taking on" the Catholic Church about it's provision of education. But Mr Robinson is not taking on the provision of the provision but the state funding of them to church schools. This would apply to all church schools, though the largest group would be the Catholic schools.

McGuinness has said:

"If Peter thinks taking on the Catholic Church, the Catholic bishops and indeed the Protestant churches for that matter and other interest groups is a sensible route to go, I think that is a big mistake.

"I think what we have to do is try and achieve and continue to build a consensus within our society about the need to develop shared services.

"If you go for a head-on collision with the so-called vested interests, that is a collision course which will lead us into a total and absolute mess."

Now I do think it is heading for a collision course, indeed I've said down the years how ludicrous the provision of new dual schools on one site sectarian primary schools in Scotland have been built. The separation of children for education purposes builds in difference, a barrier, a sense of otherness.

Donal Flanagan, chief executive of CCMS (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools) added to McGuinness's comments with:

"He is certainly not speaking as an educationalist because everybody knows that ethos adds value to education.

"If Peter Robinson wants an open, honest and inclusive debate on the future of education in Northern Ireland then why would he choose a platform at the installation of a DUP mayor in Castlereagh to launch this so I have to question his motive."

Well my mother is a educationalist. What's more she is someone who was involved in that most divisive of Northern Irish board curriculum items Religious Education. Earlier today she was telling me about the Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) element which first came into Northern Ireland in 1983.

She was saying that there are some education establishments some are in the Catholic sector, some are in the state sector in staunch loyalist areas, who only paid lip service to EMU provision to their pupils. The education equivalent to break down that barrier wasn't and isn't working. She wishes that other children could have been like me and my brother, playing with our catholic neighbours outside of school time. Learning from an early age that there is no difference in them as individuals, rather than as some have to do after a separate education and housing system only learning that when they enter the workplace.

What Peter Robinson has done is to ask us in Northern Ireland to look deep within ourselves. To ask what is the problem? Where does it stem from? Is there anything we can do? It is a bold move. It is one that is not meant to devalue educationalists but to build up our children, build up our future and make the generations to come ones that Northern Ireland will be proud of.

We haven't fully dealt with the age old problems, isn't about time that we did?

Friday, 15 October 2010

It's Friday...so..the Timewarp

Well I think it is time for some gratuitous male chest nudity again. Courtesy of Glee who are doing a Rocky Horror Show special at Halloween your wish is my command.



Of course the global story of the week was the freeing of the Chilean miners. They were largely bare chested in the heat of the mine. Here is David Letterman's take on the top ten thoughts that were going through their head as they were being raised for 16 minutes in the capsule.



And a little trailer for Christopher and his kind which is coming to BBC soon with a little Doctor Who bare chestedness from Matt Smith.

Historic Star and Garter Burns



At the eastern end of Linlithgow's High Street stood the iconic Star and Garter Hotel. It had been on the site for over 250 years having first been established in 1759. It's familiar black corner brinks had given it a distinctive outline to the whitewashed walls.

This morning at about 7am a fire broke out in a first floor linen cupboard and rapidly spread to the second floor and then roof. The proximity to the railway station in the town and it's position at the junction of the Edinburgh Road, Blackness Road and High Street and proximity to the railway station caused chaos to this morning's rush hour. The station was not reopened until 12:30.

It is always a disaster when fire takes an historic building and it is too early to determine what will become of the site. But with the open floors collapsed and a large amount of water damage to timbers elsewhere it will not be a easy task to restore the building to its working state.

As a bowler and on an historic note the West Lothian Bowling Association was founder in the Star and Garter in 1882.

Too many words often a sign of running to hide - LibDems.org.uk

Hat tip to James McKenzie for saving this:



Today that has been replaced on the website by this emphasis mine:

Liberal Democrats believe university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go to university and not be put off by the cost.

In coalition the Liberal Democrats are looking at proposals to ensure the bottom 30% of graduate earners will pay less for tuition than they do at the moment.

Following the Browne Review into Higher Education, Business Secretary Vince Cable is working on a system of repayment for tuition designed to make the highest earning graduates pay more than those who earn less.

He has also secured the raising of the payment threshold from it’s current £15,000 to £21,000.

The coalition agreement says:

UNIVERSITIES AND FURTHER EDUCATION

The Government believes that our universities are essential for building a strong and innovative economy. We will take action to create more college and university places, as well as help to foster stronger links between universities, colleges and industries.
  • We will seek ways to support the creation of apprenticeships, internships, work pairings, and college and workplace training places as part of our wider programme to get Britain working.
  • We will set colleges free from direct state control and abolish many of the further education quangos. Public funding should be fair and follow the choices of students.
  • We will await Lord Browne’s final report into higher education funding, and will judge its proposals against the need to:
- increase social mobility;
- take into account the impact on student debt;
- ensure a properly funded university sector;
- improve the quality of teaching;
- advance scholarship; and
- attract a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • If the response of the Government to Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.
  • We will review support for part-time students in terms of loans and fees.
  • We will publish more information about the costs, graduate earnings and student satisfaction of different university courses.
  • We will ensure that public funding mechanisms for university research safeguard its academic integrity.

Can be please now allow the arrangements to be made for our Liberal Democrat MPs to use their judgement over the vote? Rather than telling them to support these findings, and trying to convince members to do likewise.

As for the impact of Browne on these areas:

- increase social mobility;
- take into account the impact on student debt;
- ensure a properly funded university sector;
- improve the quality of teaching;
- advance scholarship; and
- attract a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.


While it is ensuring points 3 and 4 I feel it is lacking in providing for the students. Degrees are not merely a priced commodity, that should be free to vagracies the market forces and available to those who can afford it. Look at the opening line that remains from the previous education page.

"Liberal Democrats believe university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go to university and not be put off by the cost."


I still believe. I do not believe Browne allows for that or enables that.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Elaine Bagshaw's response to Nick's tuition fee email


Elaine Bagshaw a former Chair of Liberal Youth posted her response to Nick Clegg's email on Facebook. I felt it deserved a wider audience and therefore with her permission I am publishing that response below.
My response to Nick's tuition fee email

Dear Cowley Street staffer/poor intern that's been given this job,

Thanks for your email. I note it's the exact same one you sent to MPs last night, that many had already seen and reacted to. The fact that you haven't acknowledged a single point about debt and trust and the hundreds of others that have been made by people since we all saw that email, shows how little you now respect the membership of this party. If you want an "open dialogue", start by opening your ears and listening.

You keep referring to this dire financial mess argument. The problem here is that we had a fully costed and affordable manifesto - I know, I helped formulate the thing in FPC, in which a 6 year plan to scrap tuition fees was included AND costed. I have to ask whether you will now be using this as an excuse to drop all of our other pledges? Have you started a review of our manifesto and the policies in the coalition agreement, to see if we can afford them? Have you started a process internally to make sure we never produce a manifesto that, in hindsight, contains pledges we simply can't afford? No, didn't think so.

You may not have made any detailed decision but you and Vince both publicly endorsed the broad themes in the proposal. Vince did so on Tuesday morning before the ink on the Browne report was even dry. It is not an open dialogue when you have already decided privately and said publicly what you are going to do.

There are some good points in the Browne report, the extension of support to part-time students is an excellent move, but all it proposes is to tinker with the system. I agree that major reform of the system is needed, but Browne simply isn't it. It was a narrow review that hasn't tackled many of the major issues in HE, and hasn't looked widely enough at the alternatives.

But the biggest issue here is trust. I have been a proud member of this party since I joined at Uni because we are not like Labour and the Tories. It was us who could during the expenses scandal could hold our heads high and say that not a single on of our MPs had flipped their homes or overclaimed on a mortgage. Now, we sit in the same ditch as every other politician and political party that said one thing to get votes and did another once in power. I believed that over the next five years we could get a lot out of the coalition, and that we wouldn't be wiped out at the next election. Now, I'm not so convinced. You and Vince over the past two days have shown yourselves to be just like every other power grabbing politician, and frankly you have treated the membership with disdain. I supported you in the last leadership election, but if happened again today I wouldn't be able to. I am seriously reconsidering whether to stand for any publicly elected position whilst you are leader of my party.

You have let thousands of party members and voters down. You may be enjoying government now but it is us who will have to pick up the pieces of this party when you are gone. The legacy you are leaving us is not one I will be proud of.

Yours,

Elaine

Nick Why Aren't You Listening to Us?

I've just received an email from Nick Clegg, one which I am rather disappointed to have received. It is one to general members and not to the various PPCs like myself who signed the NUS pledge on tuition fees. Therefore it is addressing me as an ordinary member not someone who with the confidence of our funded manifesto, was confident we could honour our pledge not to increase the student cap no matter how bad the economy was. Who stood before various meetings, on numerous doorsteps and wrote many emails telling people we would and we could honour this pledge no matter what.

He starts (there are bits of Fisking in red by me):

I am painfully aware of the pledge my colleagues myself included and I made to you and to voters on tuition fees ahead of the General Election. Departing from that pledge will be one of the most difficult decisions of my political career it is one that after 22 years of struggling on this issue I still will not depart from. It means doing something that no one likes to do in politics – acknowledging that the assumptions we made at election time simply don’t work out in practice but our assumptions were to reduce it over 6 years before the election, now we are looking to increase. Surely the next logical assumption, a middle ground, is to hold off the reductions a bit longer. With the benefit of hindsight, I signed a pledge at a time when we could not have anticipated the full scale of the financial situation the country faces now and the absence of plausible alternatives for students to the arrangements we are now advocating.
He carries on saying:

We have broadly endorsed them but this is an enormously complex issue and we will take the time needed to get it right. Yet with the report announced at 9am we had Vince Cable fully endorsing it at 3pm. This despite it being a complex matter that we needed to get right. Even the coalition agreement allowed our Liberal Democrat MPs time to gauge what the Browne report said and to take action (admittedly only abstain) if it went beyond what we believe in. I think that applies to all our MPs up to the level of Deputy Prime Minister.
But I'm glad that part-time students are included in funding in the same way as full time students, that is a manifesto pledge delivered. I'm glad that Vince Cable still disagrees with a graduate tax as that is not progressive and discriminatory against graduates who fail to find graduate level employment.

However, I do have concerns about the final remarks:

The overriding principle for Liberal Democrats is that any system of higher education funding is fair I agree wholeheartedly. It should increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds Still agreeing; it should increase social mobility agreeing again; it should ensure fair access for all and not put anyone off attending university agree; it should increase the already world-class teaching and research at our universities agree; and it should ensure that those who earn more pay more agree.


Yet I agree with all this but it is not achievable under the Browne recommendation. The payments to some Universities will be higher to the prestige Universities will be higher. The number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be put off my fees which may be as high, or higher, than the family income. Social mobility will not be enhanced a the poor students will have to deal with the extra amount they have to pay back, at a commercial rate of interest. They'll be even more hogtied than the current graduates are. If penalising our students to increase world-class teaching and research is involved that is wrong. We pledge it should be free to all at the point of entry. As for those who earn more paying more yes. However, with lifting the cap all will be paying more to pay it back.

Yesterday there was a growing groundswell from MPs, PPCs other elected positions and ordinary members against the endorsement of the Browne report by "our" party. Linda Jack at conference asked Nick could we trust him with our party. Our party has told the leadership time and again down the years that we will not bend on tuition fees. Our party is telling him that again now, yet somehow he seems to be ignoring that, or the fact that we have a get out if we disagree with Browne, and is actually endorsing rather that saying we cannot support this and abstain.

Nick are you listening? We don't agree! We shouldn't endorse. Many of us are angry not with the Browne report but the way in which our leaders are rebelling against the will of the party on this. We are democrats it is the party that decides policy.

Former Lib Dem Leaders Will Vote Against Rise in Tuition Fees


Two former leaders of the Liberal Democrats have come out in opposition to the Browne Reports call to raise the cap on tuition fees and have said they will vote against it. Charles Kennedy Rector of Glasgow University and Sir Menzies Campbell chancellor of St. Andrews University.

"The Browne report is big and important and there is a lot in it that needs to be studied and still a lot to be discussed and debated.

"But as rector of Glasgow University, I will be standing by the NUS pledge I made on tuition fees before the general election."



The proposals could have a knock-on effect in Scotland because they could reduce finance from Westminster through the Scottish grant.

This would leave institutions north of the border facing competition from better-funded English ones and Scottish students would face the same fees regime if they followed a degree course south of the border.

Ming BBC Radio 4's World at One yesterday:

"Not only did I sign a pledge, I was photographed doing it.

"My credibility would be shot to pieces if I did anything other than stick to the promise I made.

"As for others, they must make their own judgment depending on their own circumstances."

Lord Browne’s review recommended abolishing the existing £3,290 cap on tuition fees. This would allow universities to charge as much as £14,000 a year.

The move should be accompanied with a real rate of interest on student loans, a higher threshold for loan repayments and a more generous system of grants, he said. Thus penalising twice with the extra per annum and higher repayment rates.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

NUS Podcast on Implications of Browne


You may not regonise the other chap in the (greatly used of late) picture of me signing the NUS pledge. Well he is NUS Scotland President Liam Burns.

Anyway he has sent me a link to a Podcast where NUS staff discuss the potential implications on students, graduates, and universities.

The participants are Aaron Porter (National President), Vic Langer (Head of Political Strategy), David Malcolm (Head of Social Policy) and Graeme Wise (head of Political Strategy), Katie Dalton (President Wales) and Ciarnan Helforty (President NUS-USI).

In Which I Disagree With Nick a Lot

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Over on Lib Dem Voice there is a letter which Nick Clegg has sent to all MPs on the subject of Tuition Fees. In it he writes:

Like you, I am painfully aware of the pledge we all made to voters on tuition fees ahead of the General Election. Departing from that pledge will be one of the most difficult decisions of my political career. It means doing something that no one likes to do in politics – acknowledging that the assumptions we made at election time simply don’t work out in practice. With the benefit of hindsight, I signed a pledge at a time when we could not have anticipated the full scale of the financial situation the country faces now and the absence of plausible alternatives for students to the arrangements we are now advocating.


Actually NO Nick I don't agree with you. The Browne report is looking at removing the cap on tuition fees. This means that only the wealthiest of our young people, those from a privileged back ground will be able to go to our finest institutions of learning. This is not the fairness for students that we stood for.

As well as promising not to increase tuition fees we did say we would seek a fairer alternative. One thing we suggested in the past to do it was a penny on income tax. Income is a fairer way of paying for University education than tuition fees (which now will be paid back at commercial rates of interest). It is also fairer that a graduate tax, expecially as some graduates will be working alongside people in the same payscale who will not have a degree, though the graduate will be paying 9% more.

The Browne report is not seeking a fairer alternative laissez faire pricing of education does ensure that our brightest get a fair deal. The rich already pay to ensure their young go to the best schools, to get the best results, to go to the best universities. To then ensure that we also price smartest A Level students from the state sector out of the course of their choice, which meets their abilities, is not liberal and is not democratic.

Those who manage to get to Oxford or Cambridge from the state sector already do so at a great disadvantage. To place them at a further disadvantage as the Browne Report allows, is not why I stood for election. This is battle I have been fighting since the Thatcher Government of my undergraduate days moved to bring in loans rather than making the maintenance grant a fair and workable system. The campaign for fair student finance is one that runs through my political veins as deeply and any Lib Dem policy thread, if not deeper.

I signed the NUS Pledge as did every Lib Dem MP. I am standing by my promise to the students of Linlithgow and East Falkirk and I will continue to ensure that Liberal Democrat MPs do the
same.

The Browne report far exceeds what was envisioned when the coalition deal was signed. A lifting of the cap on tuition fees was one thing, a removal of it all together is not what we envisioned. The goalposts have moved and with it the game. Our Lib Dem MPs should take this on board and do the right thing and vote against allowing the removal of the cap. This is how we show we mean to give a Fairer Deal for Students.

There is now a Facebook Group called Lib Dems Against Scraping the Cap, in which I have joined other PPCs, AMs and others.

The Browne Report - Just What He Said

While I was sleeping it appears that my friend and fellow Northern Irish blogger Michael was having some fun with Wordle and The Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Browne Report.

He's also done a nice Wordle of my short story on the Browne Report as well.



Update: There is now a Facebook Group called Lib Dems Against Scraping the Cap, joining other PPCs, AMs and others.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

National Coming Out Day UK


Today is National Coming Out Day in the UK, many people will have notice twitter being alive with this yesterday but that was the USA and other countries. It is a day to celebrate the rights of LGBT rights achieved and the fight for those yet to come wherever that may be.

Coming out is a strange phrase it suggests one particular occasion instead of one of various events that someone who identifies as LGBT has to go through, on a day-to-day, person-by-person basis. Here are some of my coming out stories.

To my parents: I told my Mum while I was ironing door stairs in the house where I am writing this. I simple said "Mum there is something I have to tell you. I'm gay". She asked, "You're not having sex are you?", seeing I was clearly standing there ironing my shirts and not engaging in a sexual act and she had asked the question in the present tense I replied, "No." If she had phrased it, "You haven't had sex have you?" she would have got a different response. Since then seeing as she has discovered both condoms and lube at various times I would suspect that she knows that is not the case.

My dad was at the time a church elder and Boys Brigade Captain, in which I served in the section my mother was leader. When I told him, he simply said, "Thanks for being honest." I wish more Christians could take that approach when other gay Christians come out to them. We're avoiding the sin of lying.

To work colleagues: The first time I came out to work colleagues was on a works night out. One of the girls in the group, knowing I was single, asked me, "What to you think of that girl over there?" I ceased the chance in front of all my colleagues and said, "Not my type, but that guy just behind her. Phwoar!" That was it. I came out to the guys at work, in a fun non-intimidating way, to all of them at once and they were fine with it.

To the bowling team: I can't remember exactly what the first occurrence was. But it was most certainly one Saturday as a group of us night-clubbed the night away in Bangor, post match. Having never seen me hit on any of the girls the lads asked me why, so I told them. Some Saturday's later in the usual pre-match warm up banter across the green about who was going to pull that night, one of them started with, and we might even get a nice guy for you Stephen. They were fine about it, it was done in an inclusive and jocular fashion. If any of the opponents dared to use homophobic language about me the other 15 were on them like a shot.

On National TV: To be honest I suppose I actually have to identify as bi-sexual, even though I have only had one opposite sex sexual partner, though I was engaged to her for five years. However, most of the Scottish Liberal Democrats were aware of that as most of the five years coincided with my early days in Scotland. Indeed that was the reason I ended up there. So in 2009, three and half years after that relationship ended, I hadn't got around to telling everyone. Key friends and colleagues were all aware, but not every conference rep. However, we were going to have a debate on the blood ban. Here were my opening comments.

"Conference, my Grandfather donated blood from the early days of the Blood Transfusion Service. He was an on-request donor due to his rare blood type. My father received his gold badge for 100 donations. I used to give blood, but not now. I'm not allowed to, as (slowly) I have sex with other men. (long pregnant pause)"


This was going out live on BBC Scotland on a Sunday Morning, but there was also some interesting reactions of shock around the hall.

More work colleagues: At one point in recent history our team in Edinburgh were 4 straight, 3 LGB* (unlike Stonewall I know there was no Transgender involvement, nor did there have to be). However, despite subtle pronoun corrections and other such things in the work place 2 or maybe three of the straight members of the team hadn't quite picked up on the diversity in the group. The three of us all had from the first few days that the other ones joined the team. However, it was the turn of one of the three to leave (not me). So the leaving do was arranged for The Street, probably one of the most straight friendly, gay friendly bars in Edinburgh's pink district (so much so that some straight friends have missed what is happening around them). Slowly as the three of us waited for partners to turn up it became apparent to our newest team member and another innocent one that we were in a gay friendly environment in the more gay leaving do I've even been fortunate enough to attend with my own work colleagues.

These are just some of the coming out stories that there have been in my live. As I said at the start it is almost a daily experience as you meet someone different and you have to decide if you can go ahead with it and let them know that detail about you. As you can see there is a variety of ways that can be achieved. My opinion is if you are confident in yourself and go and do it your friends, acquaintances have no option but to respond in a positive way. If you are positive in yourself and happy to let them know. Sure there are also some bad tales to tell. But the more people who know and love you through it, the more people who will also watch your back when things go nasty.

* Yeah one of each.

A short story set in a browne brick thatched college...

...and I hope a work of Fiction.

Cross posted on Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland

Sitting in his rocking chair in 2050 Stephen Glenn is talking to his eldest great-nephew about to head up to Belfast Metropolitan College rather than Cambridge University or Oxford University, where 40 years earlier he would have been smart enough to go.

It was Thatcher what started it you know?

I was there a fresh-faced young student back then, with hair, stop your sniggering. No where was I? Oh yes I was a fresh-faced student. Back then there was what was called a maintenance grant.

No. That wasn't what paid for your education that was actually what was given to students dependent on your parental income to actually help you afford to live away from home at the University of your choice.

Fees? Oh they were all paid for you didn't pay a sausage everything that was required to teach you was paid for by the Government. The only requirement was that you had the right results at school to prove you were smart enough for the course. It was the learning power that was good enough to determine where you went not you parent's earning power. How do you think Granda and Granny and Great Aunt Jacqui managed to get to St. Andrews?

Me? No I went to Kingston.

No, it wasn't because I wasn't smart. I was pretty smart I just didn't dedicate all myself to academic achievement. I was smart enough to get by at a top-level, if I'd done less extra-curricular stuff I'd have achieved a lot more. Anyway we're digressing.

Any way Baroness Thatcher. Yes she is still around. Maybe there is a painting of her somewhere that keeps her hanging on. But she wasn't a Baroness then, merely the Prime Minister. Her Government, sorry Her Majesty's Government, of which Thatcher were head, Mícheál would kill me if he were here for such a slip, decided to bring in student loans instead of grants.

So your great-uncle. No me! Not your other great-uncle, and thousands of others marched on Westminster shouting 'Grants not loans."

Why? Well we knew that if we started to give out loans to fund people's higher education it was just the top of the iceberg. For starters the richer students would not take out loans anyway, mater and pater, would see them through with their silver spoons in their mouths since birth. So it would only be the poorer students who would end up accumulating debt.

Also although they were only going to limit loans initially to a certain proportion of the maintenance grant amount and at a rate below commercial rates of interest for repayment, this would slowly be eroded. There was also going to be the incentive that once people borrowed money to feed, clothe, accommodate and transport themselves, some government would then make them also pay for the education.

We shouted that at the time. We? Oh the National Union of Students and students in general. Oh yes Students were Unionised back then, before the riots of 2011, when David Cameron decided he couldn't allow political activity on University Campuses outside of the Oxford and Cambridge Unions*.

Haha. No on the pretence that the other Universities weren't capable of engaging in sensible civilised political debate.

Anyway slowly but surely changes happened. First there was the removal of grants altogether and all the maintenance coming from loans or parental contribution. Then they brought in Tuition Fees, which again could be paid for by loans. Then the Liberal Democrats helped get rid of Tuition Fees in Scotland.

Yes, I was part of that. You've seen the pictures. Me with Charles Kennedy, Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson the first Liberal Democrat Prime Minister for 100 years.

Anyway then came the Browne report. Instead of merely increasing the cap on tuition fees it called for the removal of it altogether. Mere months after all the Lib Dem MP and other candidates including me had signed a pledge that we would vote against any rise recommended by Browne when his report was published. My Cameron had asked those same MPs to promise to abstain, rather that vote against if after decades for some of campaigning against this movement to the rich being able to afford the best education carried on.

They were good men and women. Initially it was only 30 but their number grew as the pressure from the party faithful grew. It grew large enough that with all the opposition parties we would have beaten the raise in Tuition Fees but then Ed Miliband told his troops to march through the aye lobby. Many did but a few hung back and joined the Lib Dems in the noes lobby. Sadly it was heavily won and since then smart kids like you, and your dad have found it really hard to get to a good University. Indeed you are the first Glenn family member in 4 generations not to go to University, despite you being smarter than all of us, with the possible exception of your granny. Simple because we cannot afford to send you to Queen's and the University of Ulster sadly got absorbed into it during the worse days for Higher Education.


Update: There is now a Facebook Group called Lib Dems Against Scraping the Cap, joining other PPCs, AMs and others.

* Nice subtle play on words here as these two institutions are not unions in the sense of the common man's vernacular.

Open Letter to Lib Dem MPs


Dear Nick Clegg and Lib Dem MPs,

Like all of you I signed a pre-election pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees and to seek to introduce a fairer alternative.

Like most of you I probably had a picture taken signing it. As you can see from the picture I signed it right next to the name of the Deputy Prime Minister up in Perth at conference.

I'm pleased that in light of the Browne proposals at least 30 of our Liberal Democrat MPs are prepared to honour the pledge that they signed before the election by voting against. I am ashamed that Vince Cable last night tried to persuade them otherwise and neglect what the people who voted for them said they wanted.

Greg Mulholland has said:

"I am trying to make it clear to government that we simply wouldn't accept a rise in tuition fees. I hope that the government will heed the message and will come up with a proposal that isn't an increase to fees."


That is what we agreed to. We have delivered on fairness to students here in Scotland and again at the weekend decided to maintain that is a challenging debate to change, I which Tim Farron also spoke strongly in favour of student. We have stood by this principle for a long time and now is not the time to compromise on such a long held position. Indeed this sort of standing up for our principles might just be the sign that tells the media we are not the Tories lapdogs, we are not Tory-lite, we are our own party.

Student funding is something we have long been distinctive on. I'm proud of that fact and that students and their families recognise that. We're now the ones to fight that corner. Let us stand up and be counted in doing just that.

Stephen Glenn
2010 Westminster Candidate Linlithgow and East Falkirk


Update: There is now a Facebook Group called Lib Dems Against Scraping the Cap, joining other PPCs, AMs and others.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Why I'm Backing Tim Farron for President


I've already blogged, quite early on in the presidential campaign that I was backing Tim Farron and I got to see both he and Susan Kramer in action on Saturday. I was glad to say that he proved again that the reasons I had for backing him on the day.

Both candidates, as Caron has written already, had the chance to address conference. There is the West Wing episode Freedonia where the question is asked "What is the Presidential Voice?" or course you have to be President to use the presidential voice. So how did the two speeched by the candidates size up.

Susan took, IMHO, the easy option of speaking in the pre-manifesto debate. Saying that a lot of it didn't apply in England, where the Lib Dems are still working to implement a lot of what we have achieved in Scotland already. But she basically spelt out why she should be president in what she had to say. All excellent stuff but hardly a presidential voice. Tim on the other hand took on the issue that was the hot potato of the day, and has become the Elephant in the coalition* this week, student finance. He called the system in England already in place a 'basket case' while saying that we should stand by what we had achieved in Scotland in getting rid of tuition fees. Speaking up for the party, even when in coalition on a hot potato of policy difference is surely presidential.

I also happened to be standing next to Tim as he was gathering information on the issue from the best place in the hall to do so, the Liberal Youth Scotland stall. Listening to our undergraduates and what they thought of the issue.

There are the 5 Ws that all journalists need to include (Who, What, Where, When and hoW). What I heard linked to the two names most frequently is Who's Tim and Where's Susan. I witnessed Tim working the room talking to as many members as possible. Even I knowing that Susan was there had a hard time spotting her.

Michael did take his 'I'm for Tim' badge off long enough to ask Susan some questions in relation to Northern Ireland in particular, we'd already asked Tim quite early in the day. I know Caron has asked her questions directed towards Scotland. What I will say for now is that both candidates are aware of the Northern Irish local party (not a branch), more from Michael when Caron edits LibDemVoice on Thursday.

The dynamism, finger on the pulse and way in which he communicated with members both from the platform and in person is what I want from a president and is what I saw from Tim on Saturday. All things that make me happy with my choice of endorsing him as he attempts to become our next party president.

* Other than our blogger of the year.

N-Power Overpricing


In late November 2008 I used uSwitch to see if I could get my energy supplied any more cheaply. My major concern was the vast changes that Scottish Power were making quarter to quarter based on my fuel bills despite what they called graduated charging to smooth out the curve and the pain. As I result I shifted to N-Power.

Now with the general election and other stuff since then the ability of me to be when the meter reader called round was non-existent. Also the little reminder card to ask me to send off my own readings got neglected amongst the plethora of junk mail. Thus the last two actual meter readings on my house were in December and March.

Anyone who recalls the weather we had during that period, ie the temperature barely rising above zero will understand that quarters bill to have been high. So it was that when I moved out I sent off the final readings, I got the final settlement when I was away over the weekend. My bill is in credit to the sum of £622.39. This actually equates to over three months of the current rate they were charging me at. This is from a provider I was only with from December 2008. Therefore I had been overcharged by some quite considerable margin for 21 months I was with them.

Many power companies are now offering you the opportunity to send in your own reading. In future I will be checking my own reading more regularly and comparing it to the bills I'm being sent or using the online reporting of my usage system more regularly.

It also brings to my mind a project that one of my former flatmates was working on down in London. It was to make gas meters readable without having to visit the site. This was in the early days of the Internet, but it does make me wonder why we still insist on analogue metering that has to be monitored on site, leading to estimates of usage, which invariably are proven to be off in either direction at some point in the future.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Wrong Sort of Cocktail for Belgrade Pride


At the end of a Pride parade the attendees generally look forward to to relaxing with an event laid on by the organisers and maybe enjoying a cocktail*. Today was the first time since 2001 that the Serbian capital was attempting to hold a Pride parade.

As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland I am quite used to seeing Molotov cocktails (aka petrol bombs) being used against security or police forces. However, when they used against individuals trying to carry out a peaceful demostration you know that something is not right. Today in Belgrade that is what happened.

Over 100 people, mostly police, were injured when homophobic protestors unleashed a barrage of petrol bombs on the parade. Another 100 were arrested as a result of the incident which marred the day for the 1,000 people who were marching in support of gay rights in Serbia.

Armed police had to surround the rally at the start of the march at which the head of the EU mission in Serbia, Vincent Degert, addressed those gathered. He said:

"We are here to celebrate the values of tolerance, freedom of expression and assembly."


Meanwhile across the city the counter demostrators were gathering chanting:

"The hunt has begun. Death to homosexuals."


This is one hunting season that I do not want to see repeated. It was a hunt, capture and extermination that was carried out by Nazi Germany. It is a sexuality-cleansing that cannot be allowed to gain momentum in the nation that brought ethnic cleansing to the Balkan states in the early 1990s.

People ask why it is still necessary for people in the UK to still hold Pride events. One of the major reasons is to show solidarity for the rest of the LGBTQ** family world wide who are not so lucky to enjoy the many freedoms that we have, either to assmble freely, or even to act upon their sexual desires.

Places like Serbia need the rest of the world to speak up for those who tried to march for gay rights in Belgrade today, and condemn those that think that an open hunting season is open with the LGBT community the prey.

Update: I have since received via Facebook a first hand account of what actually happened by way of correcting factual errors in this blog post:

Molotov Cocktails simply were not thrown at PRIDE partcpants as suggested in your blog because the highly professional Police correctly anticipated we would be sitting targets and very very intelligently cordoned the gathering area and the parade route. Mind you the drive in pitch black, anti-riot vehicles was a bit bumpy in certain places.

* For non-Pride regulars non-stereotypical beer, cider etc are also readily available, cocktails is merely used to the dramatic effect of this story.

** Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning

101010

As regular readers will now from the 2009 Total Politics until the announcement of this year's results, this blog counted in binary. It does help being a maths geek when you come 11, 11 and 101 respectively. Well today is another day when binary rules, ultimately across the galaxy and through life.

Why?

Let me explain.

Today's date in 10/10/10 or just plain old 101010. It works in Europe or America or Asia. We all get it the same way round no confusion.

In binary that is 1x2 plus 1x8 plus 1x32. Or 2+8+32=42.

As all well travelled and read economy travellers through our Galaxy know that is the ultimate answer, the answer to life, the universe and everything. There is of course still some conjecture as to what the actual question is, but never mind that for now.

Therefore today you may see people walking around carrying their towel. Don't Panic! They have not just* gone mad. Indeed if they know where their towel is yet you don't on certain planets in the galaxy there sanity as well as preparedness index is well ahead of yours.

Me and my Towel are heading off to Belfast later for a screening of a film. I may well slip out wearing my dressing gown and slippers, for reasons that to some of you will be obviously apparent.

So long for now, thanks for all the fish.

Normal service will be resumed on 111010 (Europe) 101110 (USA) 101011 (Asian).


* For legal reasons I've been advised to include the word just some of these people are clearly mad but it isn't a recent occurance other are quite obviously sane indeed some run science labs, space programmes, countries. On the other hand other's have said that such professions require a certain degree of insanity.

Speech to Conference - Intercity Express Programme


On Saturday I made a speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference on the issue of the Intercity Express Programme. I was especially speaking on lines 11-13 of the motion.

1 Conference notes that that the UK Government is due to take a decision on whether to
2 proceed with the Intercity Express Programme, intended to provide 882 new carriages
3 for a series of intercity routes, following the completion of the comprehensive spending
4 review in October 2010.

5 Conference welcomes the environmental, social and economic benefits of an efficient
6 and accessible public transport service, and supports the long-term electrification of the
7 railways as part of a modern rail network.

8 Conference recognises the importance of cross-border transport links between England
9 and Scotland and that direct rail services connecting London to the north and the north
10 east of Scotland bring direct economic benefit to these regions.

11 Conference is therefore concerned at the report of the Review of the Intercity Express
12 Programme by Sir Andrew Foster which suggests that long distance routes to Inverness
13 and Aberdeen could be served by connecting trains rather than through-services.

14 Conference believes that the loss of the through-service from London to Aberdeen and
15 Inverness would be a significant deterrent to train travel for these regions and would
16 represent a serious reduction in the quality of cross-border services, with a resultant
17 negative impact on Scottish business competitiveness.

18 Conference therefore calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to protect the
19 economic value of the north and north east regions of Scotland by maintaining direct rail
20 services between London and Aberdeen and Inverness and to reject any other
21 diminution of cross-border public transport services between England and Scotland.

I started by saying that although through the years I had always addressed conference as a Northern Irish man this was the first time I have addressed them as a member of the Northern Irish party. It was as a result that travelling from Northern Ireland and many long cross country trips that I had learnt one important issue about connecting services, they do not always connect you to you final destination on the same day you started out.

A previous speaker had already pointed out the access issues and this is true for all passengers. This is true for all passengers but can affect those that are elderly and infirm the most. If you add in a rail replacement service at the same time as a non-though train this can slowly lead people to not want to let the train take the strain.

As I concluded I pointed out that in 2003 we stood to increase the rail service in Scotland including the Bathgate to Airdrie extension which means so much to the people of West Lothian. We should similarly be working to increase provision not reduce it, therefore I urged conference to accept the motion.