Wednesday 30 April 2008

Don't Forget Zimbabwe

The opposition parties in Zimbabwe have appealed to the UN Security Council for help. It calls amidst calls by Zimbabwe human rights groups that in rural areas violence is being used on behlaf of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in an attempt to rig the re-run of the Presidential election.

The UN's Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe fears Zimbabwe is in the midst of its worst humanitarian crisis since independence. Where violence and food are being used as political weapons.

Tendai Biti, Secretary General of the main opposition (or should that be Government by now) Movement for Democratic Change, is hoping that as a result the UN will send an envoy to Zimbabwe as soon as possible. This beggars the question why haven't the UN done something like that before now.

Relight My Fire

Well having taken a look over a quiet Grangemouth on Sunday from the Bathgate Hills it appears that the day after the dispute ended may have been productive. The company that owns the plant had planned to close the final pension scheme to new employees and phase in a contribution scheme instead.

The talks that were called off well before the eleventh hour last week had a good resumption when they resumed on Tuesday after the 48 hour strike which not only shut down the Grangemouth petrochemical plant but also shut down the Forties pipeline as a consequence. Both Ineos and the union Unite have said they had reached a proposal which they will consider over the next couple of days.

It has been good to see Unite reduce the level of spite in their statement's about Ineos which may well have paved way for this negotiation to get to where it has. However, over the weekend local MP Michael Connarty sadly proved to be anything but a calming influence when he accused Ineos of "telling lies" and "macho management".

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Yesterday while out campaigning in the North East that Tim'rous Beastie of a Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said sorry for the botched changes he made in his last budget. With the removal of the 10p tax rate to make room for his cheer raising lowering of the 22p rate to 20p (a long held Tory goal), affecting so many lower paid workers earning less than £18k.

Why was it hard for him to say, because the went on to repeat the manta which makes many people squirm every time they hear it:

"But I do stress, as a result of the Budget, far more people are better off, people who are on low incomes are better off, people who are in poverty as families or as pensioners, many have been taken out of tax altogether."

For that many who are better off Gordon yet again forgot to mention everyone earning more than £18k leaving many on lower salaries who do not qualify for the benefits and tax credits he waves and dangles before them worse off. People who aren't looking to spend across the whole basket of goods that make up the Retail Price Index. People who's real inflation is well above the magic government top level 3%. When you consider that filing up a petrol tank in currently rising by £1 a week you can see the sort of problems people are facing when that pound or more is being taken from their wage packets through extra income tax every week.

Of course yesterday was also the day that the Conservative amendment to re-establish the 10p rate in January 2009 failed at Westminster but Frank Field, ably back I know from communication with him by my own MP Michael Connarty, has promised to keep up the fight to have every losing out compensated and backdated to 1 April.

Friday 25 April 2008

Nepotism Chart

Here's the one political bar chart nobody wanted to be top of, or even close to being in a two horse race. It shows a breakdown of the percentages of MPs by each party that employ a member of their family on their parliamentary staff.

So how do the 106 on the list shape up. Now the list is open and transparent it makes for interesting reading. Despite being the largest party as the graph shows Labour (54) are less nepotistic than the Conservatives (39) as the percentage breakdown shows. Of the Lib Dems only 8 of the 63 employ a family member.

Disclaimer: I have to admit that the SNP and DUP figures look skewed as their 2 MPs for both party are compared between 6 and 9 respectively.

Stadia Tour 9: New Douglas Park

Well with the football season reaching an end (for Livingston fans at least) with only one game remaining of our season this Saturday, I thought I'd better break off from serious posting to get down to completing my tour around this season's Irn Bru Scottish First Division stadia and what better climax for that tour than the home of newly promoted champions Hamilton Academical at New Douglas Park. Livingston came a calling on 23rd February, sadly as with the season before for one of the trips here I was again back home in Northern Ireland, so this is the only away ground I failed to see at least twice this seaason.


Hamilton is just off the M74 at junction 5 and New Douglas Park is situated near the town centre close to numerous retails outlets, and close to the railway station. One of the retail outlets is actually built on the site of Douglas Park the former home of the team that was formed in 1874 by former pupils of Hamilton Academy.

The Ground

Last week saw the last game on the Field Turf artifical surface at NDP, as this is going to be replaced by grass for their elevation to the SPL during the close season. There were two elevated stands the Main Stand is to the West and with the other stand behind the northern goal. To the east is the new temporary construction, variously called by fans a gazebo, bus shelter during its construction. This construction brought the seated capacity of NDP up to the magic of figure of 6,000 easing their progression into top flight football once more.

There are a series of steps up to the two existing stands but clampons are not necessarily required to reach your seat. The result is that every fan has an elevated view over the playing area. The new stand will not have the same views however, being more or less at pitch level at the front. Behind the southern goal there are always a few fans either stood in the Homebase car park or on the mound below this leaning against the wall of their foundations.

The Atmosphere

Even dispite being league leaders Hamilton's support has not increased considerably. In recent past financial difficulties had seen them plummet as low as Division 3. However, there is a very vocal group of younger fans who sit close to the away fans who are positioned in the North stand behind the goal. Every time I have been to NDP there has been a lot of banter going back and forth between us and this group. I hope they remain there for the SPL season/s ahead and do their best to banter with the bigger teams support.

The Programme

Academia may sould like a weighty tome but the Accies programme at £1.50 is the cheapest in the league and sadly you get what you pat for. Of the 28 pages 13 contain adverts. It is mostly black and white throughout. This season at least our team details had been proof read for the second game, last season we were reading about new signings from the last weeks or month who had been with up for half a season.

Pie and Bovril

As commented above your walk down the steps once more at the front of the stand to get to the servaries.


Admission £15
Programme £1.50
Mince Pie and Bovril £TBC
Total £TBC

League Table of Cost
Morton £17.90
Stirling £18.10
Queen of the South £18.60
Partick Thistle £19.90
Clyde £20.60
Dunfermline £21.50
Dundee £21.60
St. Johnstone £21.90

Match Report

Hamilton went through the whole season only conceding 3 goals at home in the league. Fortunately for us Livi fans we were the only set our fans to see our team score on each occasion we played the Accies this season home and away.

However, unlike the previous two games against Hamilton this year our team did not really get into it until it was too late. The first goal originated from a sloppy pass at the half way line and before we knew it we were one down within 10 minutes of the start.

The second, early in the second half, was comedic if not so heartbreaking a cross in from the left was initially saved by keeper Colin Stewart, only to richochet of the incoming left back Craig James back off the keeper's legs and into the net. Stewart was awarded with an own goal for his efforts. A third from McLaughlin put the game more or less beyond hope as would be case later when they returned to Almondvale. Only once Robert Snodgrass got one back in the 79th minute did the Livingston team look like acheiving anything in front of goal but it was too little too late by that stage.

Final Score Partick Thistle 3 Livingston 1 (Hamilton: Stevenson 7, Stewart (o.g.) 49, McLaughlin 64; Livingston: Snodgrass 70)

As a result Hamailton remained top and Livingston remained 7th, their eventual league positions as it turned out.

Well that's the tour ended for this season, next year look out for the only certainty so far Victoria Park, Dingwall home of Ross County and whatever falls out of the Gretna situation. But I'll do one final Stadium report shortly for this season on Almondvale home to the team I support Livingston.

Previous Stadia Dens Park, East End Park, Cappielow, Broadwood, McDiarmid Park, Palmerstone, Forthbank, Firhill

Constance Tries to Calm Storm

The letters page of the West Lothian Courier in recent has been red hot with insults and retorts over just where blame should be shunted regarding St. John's hospital. Some of the worse had come from Labour councillors and Labour MSP Mary Mulligan. Mary had been a junior Health Minister up at Holyrood at the time that acute emergency services were downgraded at St John's. She subsequently resigned her post to help fight for the hospital.

No at the time there were a series of public meetings. I attended one at Bathgate which occurred shortly after Mary's resignation as did Fiona Hyslop. At the end of that meeting all three parties agreed that the case for St. Johns was beyond politics and there was a verbal agreement to work together on this for the sake of the community in West Lothian.

However, in the lead up to last May's election it was Labour who broke ranks first and started to use the hospital provision as their charion of 'virtue'. The mudslinging in the press has made for poor and sad reading as the public figures seem constantly to seek to want to lay blame rather than propose solutions. Step forward Livingston's SNP MSP Angela Constance in this week's paper. She may have 8 years less experience as an MSP than Mary Mulligan but she showed true character in not getting involved in the custard pie fight, merely castigating those responsible for the damage they were inflicting on the whole stop the downgrade movement across the county. She went on to say the process is long and tough, something we all knew from day one but which Labour want to ignore, and outlined what movement had started.

So now that I've praised the SNP MSP from one half of West Lothian and the Labour MP from the other half all in the same week I think I'll need to lie down, if I'm not put down first that is.

First Minister's Answers

Last night I promised another blogger a considered response on Nicol Stephen's performance at Stephen's performance in First Minister's Questions yesterday.

So I watched the full replay on BBC Parliament last night to see what all the brouhaha was about.

Before Nicol even got to ask his question is most be noted that like a true economist Alex Salmond laid out a few assumptions.

"Assuming consumer behaviour is responsible, then there should be limited difficulties, both in terms of inconvenience and disruption."

"we need everyone, and the public's co-operation, to behave sensibly and responsibly, to cut out non-essential trips, to use public transport"

I have to mention these quotes from the First Minister's response to Annabel Goldie as background to what was to follow.

Nicol rose for his first question and asked about profiteering and rationing on petrol station forecourts. Raising the issue of capping these prices.

To give him his dues Alex did in his first response calmly say that "Everyone in this chamber would attack and deprecate profiteering." and stated that the remit for capping was in the remit of the Secretary of State on the Energy Act (1976).

The Herald this morning ostrich-like attacked these claims of profiteering by casting aspirations on if they are true. Don't know about any one else but I have seen petrol prices rise by 3p at the pumps where I most regularly buy petrol since Monday in two jumps 2p during the day on Monday and a further penny yesterday. While this increase is only to 106.9p unleaded there are rural areas of Scotland where that is far higher, having a higher starting base generally to start.

Now if as Alex Salmond says there is adequate supply of fuel, easy economic supply and demand theory would dictate that these prices in Edinburgh wouldn't need to raise. Of course the second assumption that the public would behave sensibly would affect the demand curve sadly forcing prices up.

It is the second question that I guess has got other bloggers so up in arms. Nicol asked had the First Minister pressed up the case for capping these prices. The wording was actually careful following the first answer. It didn't say have you done anything to cap the prices but had he pressed it home to the SoS.

The problem arises in how Alex Salmond starts almost every answer, that is with a gibe and put down. He started by saying the Nicol Stephen clearly hadn't listened to the previous answer, as pointed out I think IMHO the wording indicated that he had, had Mr Salmond listened to the question fully or was he too busy working out and going over his weekly insult for the Lib Dem leader. No wonder the cameras at that point panned to a shocked look on Nicol's face.

So Malc I'll agree it wasn't the greatest performance by Nicol, but sadly while we have a First Minster who chucks out gibes and cheap put downs at every single serious questioning of his administration or himself instead of giving answers to the tough questions it will look like that.

Thursday 24 April 2008

SNP Prioritise Private Over Public Transport in Crisis

It would seem that Edinburgh's public transport could almost grind to a halt on Sunday after the Scottish Government has prioritsed the supply at Grangemouth for petrol station forecourts rather than public transport. Lothian Buses

Today as Alex Salmond pormised the people of Scotland at First Minister's questions that there was "ample and substantial" fuel to cope with the shut down of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant, as a result of strike action, he was away of the problems Lothian Buses was facing. During his answer Mr Salmond actually said:

"Assuming consumer behaviour is responsible, then there should be limited difficulties, both in terms of inconvenience and disruption.

"Clearly, it's a time when we need everyone, and the public's cooperation, to behave sensibly and responsibly, to cut out non-essential trips, to use public transport."

Going to a bit hard for the good, sensible and responsible Burghers of the capital to do that Alex especially to get to work on Monday when there are no buses available to take many of them anywhere. Guess we know how green the Nats are with this prioritisation of resources at a time of crisis.

Update: just love when something like this happens. You click publish post and then find this from Lothian Buses which wasn't there when you started. Make you wonder though has Alex done a Gordon Brownesque U-Turn.

Further Update: The Scottish Government are now claiming there was a misunderstanding by BP regarding where the fuel should be prioritised. Lothian Buses clearly did not have a misunderstanding, they had said the supplier had been told not to supply them.

So the misunderstanding has to come from some communication between the Scottish Government and BP or how BP interpreted that to tell this major wholesale customer that they would not get a delivery which would appear to be enough to see them through about half a week, gauging time scales. Just what did the SNP Government tell BP regarding supply at this time? How could this be misunderstood? Why did this misunderstanding lead to such an escalation in panic? And why was this not sorted out at FMQs? Something is not quite adding up as to this 'misunderstanding'.

Even Further Update: It appears the amount of fuel that Lothian Bueses and many wholesale purchasers of fuel will be recieving is to be only 70% of their long scheduled orders. Now one assumes that 30% has not been stockpiled away in case of shortages and that the 100% is required to operate the full service bus, emergency and transportation services require. Therefore we must hope that the rationing to these wholesale customers can be speedily restored following this weekend's industrial action.

However, if there is "ample fuel" until the middle of May, again the question must be why the 30% reduction in supply Mr Salmond?

Email to my MP

This morning I sent the following email to Michael Connarty, MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, regarding the compromise reached on the 10p tax rate debacle, started and ended by Brown.


Firstly I want to thank you for being one of the Labour MPs who stood up to the proposal which effectively cut the wages of so many lower paid workers myself included, if only marginally, at this tough enough time financially.

On reading Alistair Darling's letter yesterday while he correctly highlights two main groups, those aged 60-64 who have taken early retirement and low paid families without children, he has largely ignored other groups. There is mention of changes to minimum wage to help the younger workers, again that is fine at the lower end of the pay scale. However it is still ignoring a large number of us who are not a family, aged between 25 and 60 who work our guts out yet still earn less than £18,000 pa.

From viewing the news yesterday the pensioners can be dealt with without exceptional cost by employing the Winter Fuel Allowance system, the families without children it would seem would be asked to apply for a tax credit (means tested no doubt, at what level? and what percentage of uptake?) and the minimum wage increase is shouldered by the employers not the government, who actually benefit from raising this through the additional revenue from taxation and NI contributions.

It seems sadly a typical complicated additional muddle to the tax system, which has become increasingly confusing in the last 11 years, while still ignoring many affected higher up the wide band of those affected struggling to make ends met in these harsh time of food, energy, fuel and transport increases all above the 'recognised' rate of inflation.

Keep up the good work on this issue it isn't over yet. I'm looking forward to my second consecutive reduction in my pay packet in the middle of next month when I have a full month without the 10p rate.

Best Regards etc

Alistair Darling has Treasury Questions today which is bound to be an interesting time. As he will be getting asked for more details about the hastily concocted compensation plan. One wonders if it was scribbled on a post it note while heading off to PMQs on Wednesday.

I look forward to seeing just what questions are posed and just how many will get a straight answer later on.

Update: All credit to Michael Connarty he does know the fight over this is not yet over and got back to me to get details of just how affected I was by this 10p rate to get as much pressure on the Chancellor as possible.

Refinery Talks Break Down

The talks at Acas between the Unite union representing 1200 workers at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant and Ineos the owners broke down last night.

The dispute was over the removal the final pension scheme from new employees and to seek contribution from those already in the scheme. Now seeing the number of other employees across the country who have faced these sort of chances hardly the most radical pension changes in these hardening financial times.

However, Unite came away from the talks saying that Ineos had been unwilling to move over their proposals. Ineos on the other hand had said they were prepared to put all the changes on hold for a 3 month discussion period so that strike action and shutting down the plant can be avoided on Sunday and Monday. Sadly we cannot be sure which story is closest to the truth at present as to why after 2 days the talks broke down.

The Automobile Association and the UK Petroleum Industry Association have both said their is no need for Scottish motorists to panic buy full tanks of fuel as sources will be found to keep the pumps operating at normal levels of demand. For the period of the strike this was already available at Grangemouth and while the plant comes back on stream alternative sources to supplement local delivery. The temporary stock outs that have occurred across Scotland have come as a result of the panic paying.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

The Little Mice with Clogs Won; Just Not For a While

There on the stair, those little mice have got Alistair Darling to do something for those losing out from his predecessor and boss's abolition of the 10p rate of income tax.

However, we have to wait and somehow survive until the pre-budget report in November to hear details of the new support, it would seem.

Who are you not Calling Poorer, Kezia? And Why?

Yesterday the top Scottish Labour blogger, well more or less the only one of any regularity, Kezia Dugdale posted her defence of the doubling of the 10p lowest tax rate. In the comments following this post in response to me asking if she was admitting that Labour had got their sums wrong she proceeded to give a B+ mark for this particular exam.

Now seeing as my late father every July for years was closeted away in the study, surrounded my marking schemes as he marked the old O'level long paper. As a result I know that even if the answer is wrong, it's the working out that still earns you the mark. as he would have to take it through from an error at step one to see if the rest of the equations were correctly worked out.

So for the question posed we need to look at the first step, after all it was a labour budget.

I would propose Keir Hardie as the founder of the Labour party as we know it. One of his key stances when he first stood was a graduated income tax and seeking to improve the lot of the labouring classes. However, as he was also a Socialist with a big 'S' maybe Labour don't want to go back that far.

It was a New Labour that emerged in the 90s.

So lets look at that monumental manifesto that got New Labour Elected in 1997.

They promised:

There will be no increase in the basic or top rates of income tax

The also attacked the Conservative government of John Major of "the broken promises [which] are strewn across the country's memory. " regarding their promises not to raise taxes, oh dear, I find an error there for a start.

They also promised "A Long-term objective of ten pence starting rate of income tax". Can I ask just what is meant by long term if it is taken away again only 8 years after it's introduction in 1999. Now that is approximately 2 government terms hardly long term more like medium term I would say.

They said the following about economic stability:

Government cannot solve all economic problems or end the economic cycle. But by spending wisely and taxing fairly, government can help tackle the problems. Our goals are low inflation, rising living standards and high and stable levels of employment.

Whoops again! The fairness of the doubling of the 10p minimum rate is only fair to Londoners possibly, who aided by their London weighting may reach above the £18000 threshold. As for raising living standards, with everything else going on, food price inflation at 15%, energy prices also up by 15% over the past year. Yet somehow the underlying rate of inflation is sticking to the government targets of 3%. "Three percent to whom?" is the question many of those 5.3 million now losing out on income to even cover that 3% are asking.

Finally I'll turn to the Prime Minister's 11th and final budget of last year, here's how he introduced what is now becoming the hottest potato in Westminster.

Indeed, in making work pay, people on low incomes get more benefit from the working tax credit than either the minimum wage or any other tax measure, whether it be the 10p rate or personal allowances.

If I invested £1 billion in helping low income workers through raising personal allowances they would be only 68p a week better off. If I used the same money to lower the 10p rate, they would be just 67p a week better off. But by using the same money to extend the working tax credit they are £7.10 a week - £370 a year - better off, a clear incentive to take jobs and to gain skills and to work your way up from a lower paid job to a better paid one.

Be warned if you want to work your way up from a lower paid job to a better paid one, there comes a time when the tax credits run out and the income tax doesn't make it worthwhile and it comes a long way you hit £36k and the 40% tax band.

To be fair Kezia's title was "Who are you calling poor?" many of us are just pointing out to Labour that we definitely becoming poorer is all too many way.

Grangemouth, the Nats and the BBC

Yesterday I posted my feelings about the lack of comments from the Nationalist blogs regarding the impeding Grangemouth refinery strike and it affects across Scotland. So while talks resume today to try and resolve this issue I got to wondering just why do the Nats want to sweep this under the carpet.

To be totally fair there was one Nat, Malc in the Burgh, who approached the Grangemouth story at an amazing tangent and threw blame on all the hype on the way his licence fee was paying for "irresponsible reporting" from the BBC. This led to one rousing hoorah from fellow Nat leaning Jeff of SNP Tactical voting.

Well today there is an in depth look at just where the effects of impending shut down are being felt across Scotland on that same BBC. Of course I can only vouch for this around Bathgate as I witnessed last night in passing but Caron Lindsay has reporting similar things in Livingston, both backing up the BBC reporting.

Of course and independent Scotland might not replace the national broadcaster and rely wholely on private companies providing television so maybe the Nats are prepared to take swipes at something they have not planned on how to replace, instead of looking at an upset to their almighty oil based Scottish economy.

The 39 Mice on the Stairs

39 Labour rebels, including Linlithgow and Falkirk East MP Michael Connarty, who put their name to a rebel ammendment to the Budget Bill, set for a vote next Monday were subject to a Pied Piper charm offensive yesterday. The ammendment calls for immediate compensation for the approximately 5.3m lower-paid who face higher taxes as a result of the doubling the lowest tax rate to 20p rate instead of 10p.

Mr Darling, that's the Chancellor not a character from Dirty Sexy Money, had a meeting with 50 parliamentary aides and backbenchers concerned about the abolition of the lower rate along with chief whip Geoff Hoon last night. Darling apparently has a very cunning plan (didn't know there was a Baldrick at the Treasury) although Yvette Cooper his deputy denies he even promised this or is able to do anything about it. The two pipers emerged from this latest charming of the mischief of mice as if all was well is Hamlin, I mean Westminster. Mr Darling saying it had been "very useful", Hoon saying when asked if the issue had been sorted said "Of course", always worrying when a chief whip says that about a potential rebellion.

One of the MPs who came out of the meeting Ronnie Campbell MP for Blyth Valley appeared to be swayed saying "It's going to be sorted, no problem, by the end of the financial year." Pity we've only just started the financial year then isn't it?

However, Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) was not so easily swayed by the paltitudes. "I want to see the government coming forward with proposals", she said," that ensure no one on a low income is worse off with the abolition of the 10p tax rate. I hope it will come forward with further measures this week. We need more detail."

Of course Gordon Brown has done what he always does under times of such split opoinion in his party and extended the review into poverty to include those affected by the abolition of the 10p rate. As the Norfolk Blogger said the other day, "in layman's terms, due to Labour making people earning less than £18K a year poorer, Labour want to investigate why people earning less than £18K a year are poorer." Yes Nich I agree with you that really doesn't need that much investigating.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

New Move to Avert Grangemouth Strike

As I blogged yesterday Unite had at unwilling to let the arbitration service ACAS get involved in their dispute with Ineos the owners of the Grangemouth oil refinery over their decision to end their final salary pension scheme.

However, with plants at the site already shutting down in preparation for the strike action Unite have agreed to talks in London with the employers at Acas's offices.

What is alarming however is the lack of response from the Cyber-Nats on this issue. Ideas of Civilation mentions it as did my fellow Lib Dems Iain Dale and Caron Lindsay. But nothing from the Nat or Labour leaning bloggers in Scotland. Obviously the Nats want to keep bad news firmly hidden under the carpet even if business is involved.

Decision Time 2009/10

There was a little bit of love going around the Scottish Political Blogosphere last week, Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting picked up on it first, then Malc in the Burgh passed comment.

However, Jeff went one step further yesterday when hypothesising about the 20 Westminster seats that the SNP could win to meet Alex Salmond's promise at this weekends conference. His main concern about the SNP's chances in Linlithgow and Falkirk East is it seems me. Now I'm flattered especially as following the immediate fall out emotional, personal etc of the 2005 elections, led to eventual burn out physical and emotional. none of which was aided by losing my father and other issues.

Now I have been talking to friends recently upon my return to blogging and politicing in general about what steps are next. They had noticed some trends in my return, for example with the leadership election soon after my return, I ignored the issue, unlike the previous time, when I was firmly blogging from even accumulating blogs for one camp. But since those uncertain first steps on the road to recovery my blog has sharpened up it's cutting edge once more and I'm feeling stronger.

So I had been giving the question some serious thought in recent weeks. Gauging if the lessons learnt 3 years ago, both political and personal, could actually be put to decent use. I've actually yet to come to a proper conclusion, although yesterday evening I had a serious think and talk through just what it would mean to complete the Phoenix like return.

Watch this space.

Concerned of Fife Cannae Help

Well the Tim'rous Beastie has returned from his travels to far flung forweign cheese boards only to have to face up to his angry mischief of mice upon returning. They have voiced concerns about the doubling of the lowest tax band to 20p, since they emerged from their holes in Westminster to canvasss for the local elections next month.

He apparently has spouted out platitudes that he understands "how difficult it is when food prices and fuel prices are rising", "it's difficult out there", "we get it". However, all that was ruined by the "We have a responsibility to listen, to hear and to understand what is being said. But there is a responsibility on all of us to unite." By unite he means his mice cannot let the budget be defeated.

In the second reading of the finance bill Yvette Cooper mentioned the issue by saying the population will benefit "from this package because of what we have done for pensioners, for families with children and for low-paid workers through allowances and tax credits." I went to check on the (Working) Tax Credit calculator to see if single me, with no kids losing out on the tax changes qualified. To my surprise it said I was entitled to working tax credit, that was until I saw the figure it would give me, £0.00. Whoop de do!!! No wonder with this lack of understanding of the problem her PPS Angela Smith considered walking away from her post.

Seeing as in the last week another 2p per litre has been added to cheapest pump price I can find for petrol taking it to £105.9. I've hit a double whammy in the last week. Another 86p to fill the tank, another 96p in tax dedcuctions.

Thankfully Jeremy Browne the Lib Dem spokesman pointed out how London-centric the effects had not been picked up by the media.

"a salary of up to £18,000 [the threashold of those affected] does not constitute low earning, although it may sound like low earning to some in the London media commentating classes."

As one of those is a skilled job under that level outwith the great metropolis of London under that threshold I can concur. My one advantage is that living in Scotland at least my Council Tax is frozen this year although my water and sewage rates have increased.

So the message from Labour is.

We Listen, We Hear, We Understand. But.... we're not going to do a thing.

Monday 21 April 2008

Grangemouth Shutting Down in Anticipation of Strike

When I posted last week about Falkirk Council seeking to reduce their carbon footprint. I don't think any of us anticipating that the biggest poluuter in the district might end up shutting down operations for a month.

A strike that the Union Unite is calling for the 27th and 28th April has already cause Ineos who run Grangemouth the only oil refinery in Scotland to start a phased shut down of units in anticipation of a full shut down by Friday and may result in disruption for up to a month as a result of safety concerns. As the Grangemouth facilty provides fuel to all of Scotland, Northern Ireland and a great deal of Northern England motorists have started to panic buy fuel. They are both concerned that fuel will be in short supply or that the price may go up even higher as a result of this action.

The dispute is over the removal of the final salary pensions scheme which Ineos say they will maintain for current members of the pension scheme. Unite apparently have not been prepared to involve the conciliation service ACAS in their dispute, which considering the disruption and panic their announcement would have been expected to cause seems rather unfair to the populace at large.

Friday 18 April 2008

Of Mice and Brown

Well the Big Cheese of a Tim'rous Beastie is still over and the US of A and tried to defend the abolition of the 10p tax rate in a press conference last night thus:

"I am satisfied that once people understand the scale of the good things that we have been able to do in reforming the tax system, that we are tackling poverty by increasing tax credits for the poorest, then whatever questions people have about these changes can be answered."

He's ignored the fact that the level at which the abolition of the 10p rate affects people actually comes above that at which tax credits can be applied for. Some of us that is affects do not have children and therefore cannot claim that tax credit either.

At a time when we are facing longer time throwing money away on rent, because we now need to save more before we can buy. When our fuel costs increase by far higher levels than seems reasonable, I found a receipt from about a year ago for petrol and almost cried. When even our weekly food shop is taking more out of pocket.

It very much is like the ordinary people in Sherwood Forest. We are struggling to make ends meet with our non-inflationary pay increases while at the same time we are getting taxed more heavily. Of course there are those who are better off than us, who do actually benefit more from the 2p cut to 20p for the standard rate of income tax. But many of us fall into a black hole, between poverty and benefiting from any good thing from this tax reform.

Tax under Labour is less based on ability to pay that tax than at any point under the last Conservative government. The proportionate tax burden on the poorest, when Income Tax, National Insurance, Fuel Excise, VAT, Council Tax et al is taken into account in far closer to the proportion paid by the most wealthy. If only more Labour MPs were prepared to continue to stand up for the principles and the people they must have joined the party for in the first instance. If only they'd done it a year ago when as Chancellor Brown proposed it in the first place rather than now a week after it's implementation.

As it is the mischief of mice on the government benches will continue to make the fat cats wealthier they'd just better watch out for the masses are getting hungry for revenge.

From Drive Time Hero Back to Zero

Yesterday morning very few people knew much about Angela Smith. The MP for Sheffield Hillsborough is the PPS for Yvette Cooper, the Chief Secretary of the Treasury.

However, yesterday at the end of most people's working day this MP with ties to the Treasury was threathening to resign over the abolition of the 10p tax rate which has already affected the poorest tax payers.

However, the government clearly concerned that with the Tim'rous Beastie already declaring that there was no crisis with the Treasury earlier in the week; a resignation from within could not be tolerated. So the Whips Office got on their steads and rounded up the posse that would persuade this heroine of the working classes to neglect her princinples like so many others and toe the government line.

They even broke the Tim'rous Beastie away from the meal, probably a cheese board, that Laura and George Bush were preparing for him in the Residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Apparently it was Brown himself the architect of the 10p rate abolistion in his last budget as Chancellor who persuaded Ms Smith to let the Treasury release statements that she was not in fact going to resign.

Sadly the Tim'rous Beatie of Number 10 has managed to convert another to his mischief of mice. However, it does appear that Linlithgow and Falkirk East MP Michael Connarty will probably not be so easily swayed, at least by his words, having said earlier this week that the [Labour] party's core voters felt "betrayed" and that "hundreds of thousands" of them would abandon it at the next General Election if Chancellor Alistair Darling did not offer compensatory measures to alleviate the financial pain felt by an estimated five million low-paid people as a result of the abolition of the lowest rate.

Thursday 17 April 2008

At Last Some Regional Pressure on Mugabe

It has been a while in coming. Possibly cause many have deeper links with the Mugabe regime than they are prepared to admit in polite society.

But at least one of the countries of Southern Africa has called on Zimbabwe's Election commission to release the results of last month's Presidential Elections. It follows a special session of the UN Security Council yesterday chaired my South African President Thabo Mbeki. So his call for the results to be declared as soon as possible is the first call from within the African Union to avert a potential crisis like that which occurred in Kenya earlier following their disputed election results.

South Africa has been the quiet mediator in recent weeks and South African government spokesman admits that his country's position has not 'been coming out as clearly as it should.' Hopefully now that President Mbeki has made his statement the region to start to bring some pressure to bear on Mugabe and Zanu-PF to bring to a conclusion the secrecy regarding the result, which somebody somewhere must have some knowledge of after all this time.

Tim'rous Beastie Brown

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!

To a Mouse Robert Burns

Well echoing the words of Scotland's bard Gordon Brown could well be discribed as a Timorous beastie. First there is his confised state of what he's doing over China and Tibet, then the Prudent Chancellor seems unable to take responsible action for the economy now he has his coveted top job. Now to get another panic off his breastie he's sneaked out a hard hitting statement to Robert Mugabe under the cover of the papal visit at the same time.

Admittedly Brown did say Mugabe must not be allowed to steal the Presidential election. Also he did say it to the United Nations security council. However, he hasn't been this forthright on that issue for the last almost 3 weeks since the elections took place for which we are still awaiting a result.

Of course Brown's statement in going to get lost on a good media day to bury a story as the Pope criticised the US Bishops for their handling of the child sex scandals. So much for Brown being different from Blair in not spinning his message.

Maybe like the end of Burn's poem Tim'rous Beastie Brown is just like the poet:

But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Blood, Blood, Glorious Blood

I see that the news of handing in of a petition at Holyrood against the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service's policy of refusing blood donations from gay and bi* men simply on the basis of sexual orientation rather than their actual practice has caused a little debate to get started in the Scottish Blogsphere.

I did post about this issue shortly after my Lib Dem colleague in Wales past a motion at their conference seeking to overturn this.

Well Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting was the first to get the debate flowing this week. He confessed quite bravely in his opening paragraph to being a little homophobic, something I see he has since gone into in more depth, before quoting some of printed media's lack of statistics one way or the other as evidence that the SNBTS had a point. He was also big enough when some of this was pointed out in his comments to cede he had a level of ignorance on the issue.

One of his fellow Nats Malc in the Burgh offered his own counter-argument including a personal anecdote from one his gay flatmates from Uni.

I answered a few of Jeff's concerns in his comments but while I feel that a further expansion of them here.

While statistically there are indeed proportionally more gay men than straight men with HIV/AIDS that is only looking at bare statistics without looking at the deeper picture. As I've pointed out the responsibilty should be on practice not orientation. If the SNBTS were to open up donations to gay and bi men, I don't think it would necessarily increase the risk to the blood supply by the amount they cite. Why?

Firstly gay and bisexual men are more aware of their sexual health than the heterosexual community at large. They would therefore be a higher chance that they would already now the state of their blood before considering donating.

There is also a great concern for the health of others within the gay community, it stems from being hit so hard in the 80s by the onslaught of HIV/AIDS. Yes there You look at the number of teenage or unwanted pregnacies to see just how much unsafe sex is going on from an early age in the heterosexual world. By in large a person's first homosexual sexual experience is at a greater age than for heterosexuals. This is partly because of the social stigma still attached to being a gay teenager and probably also due to the lesser opportunity as less of your peers will acknowledge they may have same sex feelings in teenage years than later in life. Therefore there is liable to be a greater level of maturity before embarking on sex with someone of the same gender than with the opposite gender. Of course I acknowledge there are exceptions on both sides.

Of course one of the exceptions is a somewhat fringe and extreme element within the gay community of 'gift givers/takers' who actively seek to pass on or catch the HIV virus through unprotected sex. But they are a very small moniroty that the press like to whip out every so often to increase hysteria.

I feel that by in large as a result of this reasoning that gay or bisexual blood donors would show some level of social responsibilty regarding their ability to give blood. Would not put an adverse strain in the Blood Transfusion Service with unecessary blood testing as these are more than easily available to them now elsewhere. It would be of some sort of benefit to the SNBTS as well as the potential stock could increase quite markedly.

No doubt like Malc in Burgh's sign off on his post 'I look forward to some strong opinions'.

*Indeed the definition would actually include any man who has even only had sex even if only once with another man, even with a condom, even if many years ago and even from which there is no risk of carrying any STI today.

Falkirk Council to Fight Climate Change

Hats off to Falkirk Council for setting out a target to reduce their own carbon footprint radically in the next 5 years.

The local authority produced 38,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2005/6, three quarters of which was within the council's own propertys. In conjunction with the Carbon Trust they aim to make a 20% reduction over the next 5 years. Over that period £1.5 million will be spend, saving an estimated £1.4m a year.

An study had shown that 80% of the CO2 emissions in the district came from just 80 buildings and these will have been earmarked as the immediate focus of the project. Hopefully this will just be the start and Falkirk will continue to seek reductions at after this initial phase and other councils in Scotland will act locally to work globally.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Voting Confessional

In light of this revelation I feel I must confess I haven't always given my first preference vote to the Liberal Democrats.

On numerous occasions I have put my one and X twice here and on one occasion it even sucessfully went here closely followed by my previous indiscretion.

I would like to point out that in every other election, bar some student ones where I did not have the option, my X or first preferences have always gone beside the Liberal Democrats candidates as far as possible. I once gave a third council vote to the Greens as there were only two Lib Dems on the ballot in a 3 member ward.

Dooh Nibor

The Tale of Dooh Nibor*, First Lord of the Treasury, (AKA J. G. Brown of Wesminster, SW1A 2AJ, House Number 10)

Dooh Nibor, Dooh Nibor,
Riding out of Number 10,
Dooh Nibor, Dooh Nibor,
With his band of men,
Loved by the rich, feared by the poor,
Dooh Nibor! Dooh Nibor! Dooh Nibor!

He called the greatest financers
To a meeting just this morn,
Ge said there was no crisis for the people of the Queen,
They bundled all the trouble
On the English country folk,
And still found plenty of time to spin.

Dooh Nibor, Dooh Nibor,
Riding out of Number 10,
Dooh Nibor, Dooh Nibor,
With his band of men,
Loved bt the rich, feared by the poor,
Dooh Nibor! Dooh Nibor! Dooh Nibor!

*That's Robin Hood in reverse if you still haven't got it.

Scotland Bucking House Price Trend

As if the removal of 100% mortgages wasn't bad enough news for first time buyers in Scotland today's news that house prices North of the Border are the only part of the country where they are continuing to rise, thus the Scottish bucking of this trend only makes matters worse.

So not only is it becoming harder for those of us not yet on the housing ladder to gain financing to do so the amount we're needing to raise for that percentage the banks now require continues to rise. Added to this the fact that most houses in Scotland are sold as offers over and the lottery of trying to become a first time buyer in Scotland continues to be harder than for most of the rest of the UK under the current credit crunch conditions.

When you add on the fact that our fuel bills, food bills, travel costs etc are also rising at level above the rate of inflation don't talk about the credit squeeze so much as the wage squeeze. Plus today I got my new wage packet partially under the new tax policy and find that I'm also marginally now worse off at the start of the month as well. It's becoming harder and harder for many of us to afford to live where we want to, to go to the work that we want to, and stay on top of all our bills.

Yet all the while Gordon Brown says the economy is his sole focus, that he doesn't want to be diverted from making "unpopular" decisions. Yet somehow the Government owned Northern Rock has yet to pass on the latest interest rate cuts to its shrinking number of customers that the government is demanding other lenders pass on quickly.

Gordon Brown is clearly seeking a role as Dooh Nibor, the outlaw who steals from the poor to give to the rich.

Here's to You Mr. Robinson

So the DEmocratic Unionist Party have named Peter Robinson as the sucessor to the Rev. Ian Paisley as party leader. So for those not too familiar with Northern Ireland politics who is the man who has stood in the shadow of Dr No for so long.

Robinson was born in 1948 and was educated at Annadale Grammer School and Castlereagh College of Further Education both of which reside in his Belfast East constituency. He 1970 he married Iris Collins. She was elected MP for Strangford in 2001 making them the first husband and wife team to represent Northern Irish constituencies in Westminster.

He is a foundation member of the DUP, being an executive member since 1973, was elected secretary of the Central Executive Committee the following year and the party's first General-Secretary in 1975.

He first win in politics was to Castlereagh Borough Council in 1977 a seat he retained until 2007, when he finally stepped aside from his trio of roles. In 1979 he was first elected to Westminster, for East Belfast, with a margin of 64 votes over the Ulster Unionist Party encumbant William Craig, and 928 votes ahead of the non-sectarian Alliance Party's leader Oliver Napier. He has held the seat ever since athough with all the other Unionist MPs in Northern Ireland he resigned his seat in 1985 in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement but had no difficulty in retaining it at the subsequent by election. He is the longest sitting Member of Parliament for any Belfast seat since the Act of Union in 1800.

Also as part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement Protest Robinson led a group of 500 loyalist into Clontibret, Co. Monaghan over the border where they entered the Garda Síochána (police) Station, held a military style drill session and assaulted two officers. Robinson was arrested for the incident and pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly at Drogheda Court where he was fines £17,500. A subsequent court appearance in Dundalk led to a riot and him being branded an senior extremist politician by the Judge.

In November 1986 he spoke at the Ulster Hall for the launch of Ulster Resistance a group which collaborated with the UVF and UDA to procure arms ready for a potential civil war to maintain the Union.

Robinson was also elected in 1982 to the ill-fated, short-lived Northern Irish Assmebly. Subsequently he was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum which led to the Good Friday Agreement and again topped the poll for East Belfast at the 1998 Assembly Elections. In the devolved stages of that first executive Robinson served as Minister for Regional Development, where he helped formulate the 25 year Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland and he devised the ten-year Regional Transport Strategy. After the five year suspension when the Northern Ireland Executive reformed he became Minister for Personel and Finance, but in June he will suceed as First Minister.

Monday 14 April 2008

New Imvestment at Almondvale

Well it's now official what I blogged earlier about my team Livingston FC.

Apparently Irishman Anthony McMullen has bought a 50% share to join with another investment from local business man Ged Nixon. McMullen had some encouraging words.

"You don't just buy a club, you build a club.

"I'm coming on board because I want to build Livingston into one of the top clubs in the SPL."

We'll wait and see just what that building will involve. Hopefully they can persuade the manager Mark Proctor that their investment will allow him to build a team. Mark has had his hands tied by a transfer embargo since before the last transfer window and has talked of walking if this situation was not resolved. Hopefully the new investment will allow him to carry on with the work he has already started to do in his first management role at Almondvale.

Hope at the End of a Difficult Season

I hope that this report does turn out to be something substantial for Livingston FC.

It does appear to be just a throw away line at the start of a report, but the Chief executive Vivien Kyles was showing some people around on Saturday before kick-off, and I had half joked she was in estate agent mode. Maybe my joke to fellow fans may have been closer to the mark than I realised at the time.

Anyway rumours are that there will be some sort of announcement this afternoon. So I hopefully won't have too long to find out what this may mean.

Rail Contract May Not Help Scottish Industry

Not content with extending the contract for First ScotRail, the SNP may be on the brink of awarding a multi-millon pund carriage contract to a company that will have no benefit to the Scottish economy.

The Nats claim that they have the Scottish economy at the heart of their agenda. Yet if the contract for 120 carraiges for Glasgow/Ayr and Glasgow Airport routes goes to Siemens it will mean work in the Czech Republic and Germany rather than than the Bombardier bid which will ensure jobs in English and Scottish companies.

So one wonders just what an independent Scotland might lead to if the SNP currently seem encapable of buying Scottish.

Friday 11 April 2008

Can Clegg Demand Internal Controls on the Torch

I've just read that Nick Clegg is now demanding that Gordon Brown should object to China’s plan to take the Olympic torch to Tibet. Now as someone who once had aspiration to be an Olympic athlete I'm wondering what does Nick Clegg have against the Olympics and more to the point why attack the Olympics and not take a real blow against China.

Now imagine the scenario: March 2012.

In the previous 24 months a referendum in Scotland showed significant support for independence but not enough to sever the links with the United Kingdom. However, due to the conditions laid down by Westminster for a qualified majority to be in favour although 54% voted for independence it is not enough.

Protestors in Scotland have been demanding 'It's all for nothing if we don't have our freedom'. But they have been waiting until London's Olympic year to really gear up international support for their cause to sever the union.

As the Olympic flame is lit at Olympia kilted protestors draw attention to the cause in Scotland. In Perth, Australia as the Torch starts it's international tour protestors almost grab the flame from the hands of Danii Minogue. Another protestor almost extinguishes the flame while Paul Hogan is carrying it. Put the Torch reaches it's final destination by the Harbour.

On to Wellington, New Zealand where a group of kilted protestors dressed as Orcs from the Lord of the Rings manage to curtail the relay. With the Torch hopping into a bus to complete its route.

However, in the Falklands, where a combined relay with Argentinan representatives the route is changed to avoid protestors leaving many Falkland Islanders who consider themselves British upset at being unable to celebrate their Olympics.

There is the a cry from an opposition leader in Brazil that as Rio will host the 2016 games the President should not attend the opening ceremony in London. The President says he will not be attending but that he had not intended to dispite promising to do this shortly after visiting Alex Salmond in Edinburgh the day before.

The same opposition leader then also demands that the London Olympic Committee cancel the Scottish leg of the Torch relay in light of the protests that have happend so far.

How would we feel?

Of course the bit about the Scottish people actually voting for independence is pure fiction.

Alzheimers War: A New Hope

In the US a new treatment for Alzheimers is showing encouraging signs in the early stages of testing. The drug etanercept appears to have found a way of improving brain cell communication according to the US Institute for Neurological Research.

While there is improvement it appears that the affect plateau out after a weekly does at about 3 months, but patients do not return to normal but Prof. Edward Tobinick leading the research does say:

"What we see is an improvement in their ability to think and calculate, their memory improves, their verbal ability improves, they find words easier, they seem happier, and we often also see an improvement in gait in those patients whose gait is affected."

Obviously more tested is still required to see if there are any other issues as yet undiscovered. But having lived with a Grandmother who was unable to do much of the above for many of her last years any improvement in quality of live would be welcomed, and if this does gain approval would greatly enhance the lives of over 400,000 Alzheimers sufferes in the UK.

LINK: Alzheimers Society

Thursday 10 April 2008

Hello Witney! Is That You David?

Chris Evans has started a Tenacious Ten slot on his drive time show on Radio 2 recently, it's a slot where listeners text in with tenacious links to that day's subject selected from a short list of two by Jonnie 'Sport' Saunders.

Well upon looking at my hits for today I realised I'd had a visitor from Witney, constituent of David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives. What is most strange is the search they used to find my site. This Oxfordshire based surfer was looking up Linlithgow Rose, one of the junior football teams I post about from time to time and try and get to see once the senior season hits the play-offs in a few weeks.

Most peculiar, it is a small world after all. (Other Theme Park Rides are available).

When is a Boycott not a Boycott?

In March when Gordon Brown announced that he would be meeting with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, Beijing tried to point out how they felt about this.

When Nicolas Sarkozy came a calling he announced he was considering boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony. No. 10 issued advise that Gordon Brown was against such a response.

That was until yesterday when Gordon did a spectactular U-turn denying that he had ever intended attending the opening ceremony, despite evidence to the contrary and said he now wasn't attending. The timing of course is only a few days after the first major protests affected the international Olympic Torch relay in Gordon's own capital city, followed by even worse reaction in France and a diverted route yesterday in San Francisco which upset the 20% of San Francisco's population who are Chinese by extraction.

Vote Mugabe or You Will Die

It's been 12 days since the election for Zimbabwe's President closed and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission have yet to release the result of that poll. However, Zanu-PF henchmen of President Robert Mugabe have already started their campaign for the re-run of that vote in areas where the Movement for Democratic Change polled strongly.

Armed with AK-47s, shotguns and pistols they are terrorising groups getting them to sing liberation songs or chant Zanu-PF slogans and telling them, 'You messed up when you voted. Next time you vote you must get it right or you will die.' In order to try and balance up the vote in their favour they asked people to point out those who had supported the MDC. Fortunately in the incident reported in the Grauniad today nobody was pointed out.

Now in democracy there is no right or wrong merely the will of the people. The people who are messing up are clearly Zanu-PF and the ZEC. Violence and intimidation were not prevelant in the elections of 29 March unlike 3 and 6 years ago. They are returning now in a last ditch effort to save the presidency of Mugabe. However, the eyes of the world are on Zimbabwe and are still watching.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Scottish Tory Boy's Lesson In Lib Dem Bloggery

It appears that Scottish Tory Boy has had a short sharp lesson in never to overlook Lib Dem Bloggery. Indeed if he paid a little attention to the weekly Scottish Blogging Roundup on which he features regularly enough he would realise that one or tow of the other bloggers do give those of us Lib Dems who blog a little run out in the sun.

The reason I came across the
first slightly erroneous
post of his was because somebody had visited me by linking his blog and my Tory opponent from 2005 in a google search, hope whoever it was found this post, unless they have inadvertantly unclocked a blogger's alias.

It appears that Michael that's Veitch, not Connarty, there was 40% of the ballot paper called Michael here 3 years ago, is standing in East Lothian now that he has settled there, with his wife. Personally I wouldn't mind him having the same sucess as he had in 2005 in slipping behind the Liberal Democrat candidate. Although over there it is more of a statistical tie that what we faced here.

May I Offer a Couple of Suggestions Mr Salmond

Oh dear the SNP's palns to set their 'local' income tax LIT centrally at Holyrood has run into the buffers at the Treasury.

Apparently the SNP trying to control the ammount set central as well as using the Inland Revenue to collect the taxation throws it outwith the powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Of course there are alternatives. One is to maintiain the local link by allowing council to set their own rate of LIT. This is of course one of the key differences between Liberal Democrat proposals and those that the Nats took up once they realised it was a pretty neat idea. It would maintain the local level, the collection issue is probably less of an issue for the Treasury than the loss of setting the rate.

So I'm offering Alex Salmond and his Finance Minister John Swinney, these sage pieces of advice. First take on the Lib Dem local accountability element for LIT and not set it from your offices in Holyrood, local taxes have always been set by the local authorities who need to fund their spending from that revenue. Second if you don't want to do that you're more that welcome to join the other parties to get more power and greater fiscal autonomy by revisiting the Scotland Act.

The Truth Behind Torch's Guardians

Driving into work this morning I heard Sarah Kennedy's paper review on BBC Radio 2 she was telling us about the true make up the Olympic Torch protection squad.

They come from the Chinese Armed Police Academy and are part of the paramilitary security force. Their role back home is ensuring riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats. Believe it or not this is the same force that was sent in to deal with recent protests within Tibet. So while Lord Coe says 'I think they are thugs' and Konnie Huq calls them 'robotic'. Yet while these 30 blue track-suited guys have been trained to escort the torch their colleagues have been trained and will be on standby in the words of Tibet's Governor Qiangba Puncog to 'severly punish' anyone who tries to obstruct the passage of the torch through Tibet.

We've seen how they react where they do not have any jurisdiction of their own in London and Paris. What else might unfold when the Torch returns for its domestic travels?

LINK Free Tibet

Oh What a Night

Wow! That was some night of emmotion for any Liverpool or Arsenal fan last night.

Arsenal take the early edge of Liverpool by cancelling out their away goal with Diaby 13 minute strike. Liverpool had been under so much pressure up to that point and for another 10 minutes afterwards. Then some sort of composure came to Liverpool in this game played at high velocity. Attacks started to materialise and a corner was won. Then as regular as clockwork having shrugged off Philippe Senderos, we were told by the commentators, Sami Hyypia scored his quarter final Champion's League goal to go with the ones he scored in 2002 and 2005.

Half time came with the score ties at 1-1 the score in the previous 3 meetings of these teams this season. There was talk about extra time and penalties until a long ball over Peter Crouch found Fernado Torres his back to goal and two defenders behind him. He chested it down turned unto his strong right foot and lauched a strike into the far right of the Kop end goal, giving Almunia no chance.

We were reminded that now the game would finish in 90 minutes no matter what. That the game was on a knive edge as an Arsenal goal would put them through on away goals et cetera, et cetera. Wenger shuffled his pack bringing on Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie. Benitez took off Crouch for a more defensive Ryan Babel.

Then Walcott started a run on the edge of his own box. Started by beating Gerrard, Aurelio, Alonso, left Hyppia with no option on thge edge of the Liverpool box but to let his run. Then with three waiting in the middle he crossed it behind Skrtel into the path of Adebayor to tie up the score on the night but give Arsenal the advantage again with only 6 minutes remaining.

It brought me to my feet I could no longer watch from my sofa. Then at the other end Ryan Babel surged into the box, Kolo Toure looked awkward around him and brought Babel down in the box. The ref unlike last week's tangle pointed to the spot. The skipper Steven Gerrard stepped up in front of the Kop to balst the penalty into the left of the goal giving Almunia no chance.

Arsenal had to throw everyone forward in the last minutes for one last ditch attempt to stay in the competition. But when it broke down a clearance found Ryan Babel one on one with a tired Arsenal defender outsprinting him towards goal and calmly slotted home a forth and decisive goal.

So Liverpool face Chelsea in yet another Champions League semi-final we know where that led in 2005 and 2007. Will history repeat itself?

Tuesday 8 April 2008

That's the Way to Do It

I seem to have discovered the secret to my own field of dreams this morning when it comes to blogging.

First you need the headline that catches the eye. After all those good people at Liberal Democrat voice only preview your headline.

Second have a hint of a scandal. Even if it referring to a old scandal the whiff of further revelation leads them all in.

Add in a hint that sex may be involved and bingo.

You get all your fellow Liberal's tripping over themselves, as they have mostly come through Liberal Democrat Voice, not to read about your take on China, Zimbabwe, health or anything Scottish that you've been posting all month. Oh no, you get your 4th highest peak of the month for a story about Bagpuss and that in only a few hours and not even a whole day. It's all in the packaging you see. Now I need to sex up the really important blog entries I guess.

More Lovers Than Clegg

Once upon a time.

Not so Long ago, there was the news story that one of the party leaders had had no more than 30 lovers.

But also not so long ago there was a little shop. It was different from other little shops in that is didn't sell anything. The things in it's window had all been found and repaired by a couple of rag dolls, ornaments on a Mouse Organ, a carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker and a saggy, old, cloth cat, baggy, and a bit loose at the seams but whom Emily loved.

Well it would seem that more than just Emily loved that dear Bagpuss, Old Fat Furry Catpuss. As he has just topped a poll as the favourite Children's TV animal of all time.

Just be careful if you are one of his firends and lovers because when Bagpuss goes to sleep all his friends go to sleep and we know how sleepy that striped cat could be.

Sunday 6 April 2008

Boycott Olympics Not a Bold Enough Step

Ok so the hosts for the Olympic Games four years hence is London. It would have been discoureous of this years host China not to involve us in their Torch relay.

However, the protestors for a Free Tibet overstepped the mark by trying to cease the Olympic Torch out of former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq's hand during her leg.

Meanwhile I also disagree with Nick Clegg calling for a boycott of all Beijing Olympic related activity. While his heart is in the right place making China live up to its human right responsibilties as mentioned above we will have to be inextricably linked with China as they hand the Olympic flag over to us at the end of this years showpiece. Nick may have slept with less than 30 women but does he have less than 30 items in his possession that are manufactured in China. My guess is that he probably does not. In fact I think very few of us can say that we don't.

We all opposed apartheid in South Africa by refusing to purchase South African goods. Was that just more convenient as basically there wasn't much manufactured goods and clothing coming in from there. Leaving just foodstuffs and wine for us to boycott purchasing which were easily sources as cheaply from other countries.

The Olympics should be above politics. Where else do you get Iran and Iraq side by side amicably, or the two Koreas? Yes there is a place for peaceful protest surrounding events related to it, sadly this morning's shambles hardly makes good viewing. Having the press in China this summer is a good thing long term as they'll be there doing more than just reporting on the Games. They'll be trying to unearth the truth about what is really going on.

Yes I was upset when China were first awarded the 2008 games. But I've notice that the people of Tibet and elsewhere in China are trying to use the world's attention focused on them for their own causes. Not since 1988 and the student movement in Tiannamen Square have such large scale protests against the Chinese regime been witnessed. They know how to use this 'gift' for the good, let's give them that chance.

Friday 4 April 2008

In the Name of Love: 40 Years On

Early evening, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

from U2's Pride (In the Name of Love)

That April 4 was forty years ago today so what exactly has changed since Martin Luther King was shot by James Earl Ray on the balcony of Lorraine Motel.

Well Kings protoge Jesse Jackson tried to gain the Democratic nomination on a number of occasions, but failed. However, now we have Barak Obama leading the Democrat race. However, has that much changed as the latest negative campaigning from his opponent says that he could not win the General Election against the Republican choice John McCain. There had already been hints in this campaign that sadly race was still a tool that could sway the election, or at least was thought to be.

However, we do have a second sucessive African-American Secretary of State in Condoleezza Rice following on from Colin Powell, who had previously been the first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So there has been progress in America although there are still some racist feelings and attitudes in some states.

Elsewhere apartheid has ended in South Africa but a reverse form has taken hold under the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. However, worldwide his dream
that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'

is close to fulfillment. For many the opportunity is there just the final realisation of acheivement has yet to be grasped. For certain areas of our world however a lot still has to be done, for the people there the dream is far from being realised as they are oppressed by forces they cannot control and live often in fear of consequences if they speak out.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Connarty Joins Ranks to Call Nats Bluff, Or Were Nats Fooled

Must be something to do with West Lothian, after all we are known for asking the difficult questions regarding Scotland. That heritage stretching back to Tam Dalyell asking the question regarding powers of Scottish MPs on devolved issues being off course the unanswered enigma that bears the countys names.

Well his successor in the Linlithgow/Bathgate/Whitburn portion of West Lothian Michael Connarty may have also come out not scared to pose the tough question, but it was published on a day which raises doubts. In yesterday's Edinburgh Evening News he says 'Labour should not be afraid of a referendum on independence' and that the independence option should have been put to the people at the time of the devolution referendum to make it clear it was a settlement. Although the original source of the story was the previous day's Times Scottish Edition with the Evening news just playing catch up.

Of course the SNP quickly jumped on that story issuing this press release. I wonder if anybody at Nat headquarters actually checked with the Scottish edition of the Time if the article in Tuesday's addition was actually an April Fool before publication. As they clearly give no second thought to the notes quoting the source and date.

However, this all lead into yesterday's SNP called debate on the Scotland Act (1998). Where Peter Wishart, SNP Member for Perth and North Perthshire, pointed out that Mr Connarty was unable to attend, but kept referring to those mentioned in the Times article including David Hamilton the MP for Midlothian, who was actually present in Westminster Hall, who tired on several time to interject into Mr Wishart's opening of the debate.

He got in early by retorting.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I am part of his national conversation. The first conversation that I have with him will be the last.

When Hamilton did finally get the former Runrig singer to give way again he retorted to his taunts about being involved the SNPs great conversation by saying.

On three occasions the hon. Gentleman has said that I, the hon. Member for Midlothian, am involved in the conversation. Is that the national conversation that he and his party are promoting, saying that they take all views into consideration? However, the hon. Gentleman says that he will not consider moving powers from Scotland to Westminster. How can it be open dialogue if he is refusing that? He was better as an organ player than he is as a politician.

Hardly the words of a man who had been quoted as saying the day before 'We should have a referendum sooner, rather than later'.

The SNP of course are claiming the debate as a success for their so called conversation. One thing the debate did clear up in their intransigence in just that conversation. The SNP believe they know what the Scottish people want and are not prepared to discuss options which don't result in independence. The other parties are looking at ways to strengthen the powers provided in the Scotland Act. The pro-independence parties which of course is led by the SNP failed to do two things last May.

1 win a majority of the seats in the Scottish Parliament
2 win the majority of the popular vote in that election. Indeed they were some way off it.

The SNP are confusing being the largest party with being the majority. Thank heavens we have proportional elections for the Scottish Parliament, or else the Nats would have a John Major sized majority possible. Would have pushed through the referendum already and would now be floundering as the referendum would have failed and they'd have no idea where to go instead.

If this was the Times April Fool on Scotland then the Nats have fallen for it hook line and sinker, even to he extent of quoting it in debates. However, considering Connarty's other recent statement regarding referendum I think it possibly was. Then the yoke is firmly in the face of Mr Wishart et al.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Drip, Drip, Drip From Zimbabwe

Okay the long drip, drip, drip of results from Zimbabwe's elections is indicating a different result than expected following the intial postings of results outside counting stations at the weekend. This is looking like some sort of Zanu PF attempt at manipulating as close to a statistical tie as they can manage.

Now after Movement for Democratic Change claims that Morgan Tsvangirai had run 60% of the Presidential vote, but that we sould expect a result saying Robert Mugabe would have 52% just eenough to avoid a run off, it appears that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on on the verge of calling a run-off.

So obviously there weren't enough votes stolen or otherwise to even get to the magic figure of 52%. The eyes of the world are still on this and the BBC presence inside Zimbabwe seems to be increasing on a daily basis at the moment.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Cost of Ill Health to Fall: Well In Scotland Anyway

Well on the way into work this morning. Sarah Kennedy on Radio 2 told us that the cost of perscriptions were rising 25p. Not here in Scotland though.

Here the cost of a perscription has been reduced from £6.85 to £5 in the first step to manking all perscriptions free by 2011. Of course we're only catching up with Wales, where perscriptions became free last year while England continues to go the other way.