Friday 30 May 2008

Gretna Complete the Roller Coaster Ride - For Now

This time last year Gretna football club were living the dream. They had climbed from Division 3 in Scotland to the SPL in quicker time than my team Livingston before them. Completing the climb in 3 successive promotion. Yesterday they completed the reverse journey in double quick time becoming the first team to be relegated from the SPL to Division 3 in one season.

At least that is their story in footballing terms. There is still administration and the phantom of death hanging over the turnstiles (and gaps in the walls) at Raydale Park. The club have a week to put together a plan that will enable them to play next season or else even the last vestiges of the dream of even playing in Division 3 next season will be snuffed out.

So finally, for now at least, here is the promotion and relegation status of the 2007-8 Scottish Season.

Relegated Gretna (to Division 3)

Division 1:
Promoted Hamilton Academical
Relegated Stirling Albion

Division 2:
Promoted Ross County (as Champions)
Airdrie United (after losing to Clyde in play off final)
Relegated Berwick Rangers and Cowdenbeath(losers in playoff semi)

Division 3:
Promoted East Fife(as Champions)
Arbroath (Play off winners)
Stranraer (Play off Runners Up)

Thursday 29 May 2008

Wobbly Wednesday for the Nats

Alex Salmond may well have been jealous of Gordon Brown yesterday. Sure the Tim'rous Beastie of Downing Street has had his trouble but they haven't hit three main policy threads on the same day to quite the same devastating effect.

Yesterday it was Alex's turn to miscalculate, face tax problems and be attack whilst on the U-Turn. The Nats have been quick to attack Labour on the illegality of donations and awards for donations, yet seem content to draw a fine line over what legally they themselves can do, under the powers vested in them.

The miscalculation comes in education, which must be an embarrassment, especially for a former Economist like Alex. The SNP had set aside £40 million to reduce class sizes in primary 1 through 3 to 18. It now appears that the figure they told us was undersold in Holyrood building size proportions as just over a year later we find it is actually going to cost £420 million.

Now where is this revenue going to come from? I did hint yesterday that the Finance Minister was looking for help from the Unionist Parties on that one. He'd better first of all sort out local government taxation. The SNP seem set to carry on regardless with their centrally set rate for Local Income Tax to replace the Council Tax. However, Alan Page a professor of public law at Dundee University has warned that because of the legality issues arising out of what is allowed under the Scotland act it could become another Poll Tax scenario. People may end up refusing to pay stating that the Scottish Parliament does not have the right to do what they are attempting.

Finally the whole PFI-lite, sorry Scottish Futures Trust debacle also reached the floor of Holyrood. The plans to remove the PFI funding mechanism and the £150 million a year that raises looks like being replaced by a plan that is awfully similar if less clear. John Swinney made a statement which failed to reassure MSPs when he said the SFT was of the 'PFI Family' and that he would be using the local councils as the borrowing mechanism to raise the Private investment in their projects, again something that the administration has no legal powers to do.

So while Wendy's House on the opposition benches does teeter, Alex's foundations also look far from secure.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Britains Got Talent: We Just Need to Redefine Talent

Scary feeding in today's Times a third of our 6-18 year olds define talent as being able to sing, 10% being good at football, 8% being as dancing with only 1% thinking academic achievement was a talent. They seem to think talent is having the ability to do something that may eventually get you on TV.

What a sorry state we're in if that is what is going to define our young people as they will grow up thinking they do not have any talent but they do. It brings to mind the fate of the Golgafrincham B Ark encountered by Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It contained what were deemed to be the useless third, ie not the money people or the actual workers, of the population in a vain attempt to fit off a population explosion. Amongst their number was a telephone sanitiser not necessarily the most high profile of talents but in the end a vital one that the Golgafrincham's dearly needed as the population, the Guide tells us, was eventually wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

We still need young people with a talent for science to go into research to help join the fight against those virulent diseases out there. Or those who can write to tell us what is happening through journalism or speaking out and making their voices heard to bring about change. Or with an artistic bent not to perform necessarily but to produce, whether that is television, art, architecture to give us something or somewhere to enjoy.

Not all of us can be top class and well played performers. Yes many us can dream and some of us will achieve but none of us will survive if that is all we aim for. We need thinkers and doers as well people who are talented in oh so many way that is what society is about and that is what our talent pool contains. If our young people realise that they can have self esteem knowing that they have a talent/s, which they can then use to the maximum of their ability.

As the biblical parable of the talents tells us each has been given something, some more than others it is how we use the talents we've been given that will bring a reward. If we sit back and don't even use what we have but hanker after the unacheiveable what good are we? Let's wake up, and wake others up that there is far more talent out there than just what the TV audience wants to see.

The Swinney: Episode 1- Help Me Borrow

We have all heard the protestation from the SNP regarding the Calman Commission set up by Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Scotland. How they will not get involved. How they would rather focus on their own one issue, one sided national conversation. Yes not since Shakespeare has a Scottish soliloquy had so much attention, only in this case it is the alternative dialogue that some people dare not name.

That is until the Nats Finance Minister John Swinney noticed a little something. You see local councils can issue bonds to borrow money and the Westminster Parliament can do the same thing. But Holyrood is unable to raise any additional revenue of it's own except through the Tax raises powers voted on in the devolution referendum's second question, and even that has limitations. While being asked about the Scottish Futures Trust, aka PFI-lite, yesterday Mr Swinney actually linked this list of words in one sentence:-


In fact what he did say was:

"There are legitimate areas where it would make sense for the powers of the parliament to be enhanced in a fashion which allows the parliament to be more effective; the government to be more effective in securing greater opportunities for taxpayers within Scotland.

"The ability to borrow would strike me as one example of how that might take place."

Now greater financial powers is one of the areas being looked at by the Calman Commission. But surely an independent Scotland would have all the powers it would need, one would assume. However, the Finance Minster is saying that there are legitimate areas where enhanced powers should be sought.

Does this mean that the Nats aren't that confident of winning a referendum on independence in 2010?

Are they secretly hoping that the Calman Commission does come up with some good proposals after all to strengthen Scotland's governance under devolution?

Apart from PFI, sorry Scottish Futures Trust investment where public borrowing could be finance at the council, why is there a need for the Scottish Government to borrow? Are the Nats admitting that their grand schemes are going to cost more than they let on leading up to last May's elections. something that some of us did realise and tried to point out.

Why if they need more money are they not using existing means to do so? They have the power to raise income tax by up to 3% over that set in the Westminster budget. But then we all saw how unpopular even taking a little bit more income tax from everyone put egg on Gordon Brown's face. So are the SNP Labour in disguise looking for stealthy ways to raise money which the Scottish taxpayer will eventually have to pay back rather than being up front about it?

Tune in next time (I'm sure there will be one) for another installment of The Swinney.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

The Lib Dem Blogosphere and Me

Was drawn by this blog entry from Lynne Featherstone our MP for Hornsey and Wood Green regarding this piece by Pickled Politics. Lynne also referred to another piece of hers where she wrote:

Liberal Democrat bloggers tend to be either fairly inward or local looking. There are many blogs that really talk all about what is happening in the party, along with a smaller number of – often excellent – blogs which are clearly aimed at a particular local audience (e.g. a councillor’s blog such as Mary Reid’s, which seems to be largely aimed at her constituents – understandably enough!).

What we seem to be missing are those combative, outward looking souls who spot a story and want to help spread or extend the message or the point or the attack, as opposed to inwardly looking expressing their own views on it. So you tend to get stories not spreading, and where they are commented on, they are only commented on by those who have reservations to express.

Maybe having taken a bit of a sabbatical from blogging I have noticed some of that which she is talking about. Now taking all that on board I take a look at my blog.

Yes there are items there that are based on West Lothian, but there are also elements that look at Scotland, or the UK, or Europe or further afield. The readership I have indicates that I have readership which is anything but parochial. In fact I take delight in the the rare occasions when I am actually hit more often from West Lothian than outwith for a particular story. The diaspora of what I cover can hardly be confined as looking inwardly to the Liberal Democrats or locally to West Lothian. There have been times like the Livingston by election when obviously that was what the blog mainly featured on but by in large that is the not the thread nor train of this blog.

Lynne says what the Liberal Democrat blogosphere is missing are combative, outward looking souls. If you look to the left you will see a list of blogs that I read, the Lib Dem ones may need to be updated, but the other party ones are where I take umbridge that I'm not combative or outward looking. Many of the writers and readers of those blogs come here. They do post comments not always supportive but at the same time many of them have realised that I am even handed. Until recently many of them did not list one Scottish Lib Dem blog in their blogroll, that has changed. I do not think it would have changed if this blog was as insular, non-controveral, non-combative as those that Lynne seems to think are in the ascendancy in the Lib Dem Blogosphere. I may not be as outspoken as Nich Starling but at the same time I don't hold back.

I think I've found a reasonable balance. I attack what needs attacking and praise what needs praising that goes for all parties including my own. Sometimes it does stir up a hornet's nest of interest sometimes the world seems to merely pass by. But I will continue to be me.

More Effort Needed to Reach Targets

No this isn't from school report but could well be and it is a comment that can be levelled at the UK's miserable attempts to cut CO2 emissions as part of the EU's carbon trading scheme.

In the last year the EU's CO2 emissions actually rose by 0.68%. The UK was well above this average at 2.2%. However, overall the rise was below the increase in GDP which suggests that new development is taking environmental concerns into consideration.

Yet the EU has a target to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020. At recent meetings of the Linlithgow Initiative for Climate Change (LICC) one element of these targets was raised. If we are on course or exceeding our targets we're doing more for climate change than if we are leaving all the reductions to the last few years of each of the target periods. Sadly the UK appears to be taking the latter approach which is just not good enough. Indeed to be increasing year on year means that net by the end of this period we'll have done more harm than the good intended by the targets objective when it was set out.

Even the excuse that we have given 59 organisations carbon credits shows that there is lack on effort and energy on the part of major corporations to play their part while this get out scheme from penalty is in operation. As the carbon credit scheme is also used this way by the worlds major polluting countries the USA and China to carry on regardless everyone should be aiming to not take up a carbon credit or do away with the option altogether.

Monday 26 May 2008

A Week Really is A Long Time

So what has happened in the week I've been away from the Blogosphere.

Well firstly it was revealed that the only candidate in the Crewe and Nantwich by election to warrent a mention in Debrett's wasn't the one accused of being a Toff but the candidate of the party doing the accusing. Yes for it was Tamsin Dunwoody the Labour candidate who appeared there.

The result was then that Edward 'not a toff' Timpson overturned a 7000 Labour majority into a 7000 Conservative one. In Peter Snow stylee if this were repeated across the country many Labour MPs would lose their seat including the Prime Minister, whoops.

Speaking of whom the PM is having an issue reining in rebels over his next must win. Yes he can shrug off Crewe and Nantwich as a bloody nose, but he can't do the same after previously pledgeing he would fight and win the right for detention without charge for 42 days. Last week saw him stumbling, maybe we might have our second unmandated Prime Ministerial change in less time than we all suspect if he clatters that hurdle and falls on his face.

Alex Salmond had to finally admit that his Scottish Futures Trust was actually the Public Funding Initiative in new clothes after all. While Nicol Stephen raised this matter neither Anabel Goldie nor Wendy Alexander seemed to want to lead their parties there.

Well Wendy probably has not been allowed near the sterring wheel since her bring it on statement backfired. The Scottish Labour Party don't want their road map for the future as littered as the Monaco Grand Prix circuit was yesterday. Iain Gray the enterprise spokeperson now seems to also be the new spokeperson on Independece Referendae in claiming that Alex Salmond's proposed wording of the question is too wording and not clear.

In sport Manchester United won the Champions League Final over Chelsea. They pledged to overhaul Liverpool's total in that trophy. History lesson to all Man U fans Liverpool have since first winning in 1977 been within 1 title of equalling all the other English winners of big ears, that is still true today and we've been to two finals and another semi in the last 4 campaigns. As strong a European showing as our North West rivals.

Unfortunately that was the last game in charge of the Stamford Bridge side for Afram Grant, who was unceremoniously sacked within days of the result.

Hull City have joined the big boys in the Premier League. Doncaster Rovers beat Leeds to the prize of Championship football.

Lewis Hamilton won in rain soaked Monte Carlo and went to the top of the F1 drivers Championships. And Andy Murray won his first match ever in the French Open.

Friday 16 May 2008

Robert Dunlop Killed During NW 200 Practice

They say that engine oil ran through the veins of the Dunlop boys Joey and Robert.

Joey was killed racing in Estonia in 2000 after that summer having a display of all his trophies at the Isle of Man TT where he had runb 26 races. Robert was the record holder at Ireland's premier meeting the North West 200 with 15. Sadly yesterday evening during a practice session his 250cc bike appeared to seize as it reached the fast Mather's Cross section and crashed at high speed. He was confirmed dead from his injuries shortly after 10pm last night.

Robery had had a far more injury affected career than his big brother Joey. In 1994 he crashed in the F1 event at the Isle of Man which took him out for some time, but he soon returned. He walked away from the sport in 2004, but was back racing the following year. This was his first time back racing a 250 class event since the 1994 TT.

His widow Louise told the Belfast Telegraph that she knew, what we all feared when he returned to racing, that he would probably die racing. Another great loss to the high risk sport of road motorbike racing.

Poetic Injustice

I've been told by others that I write some pretty decent poems. Some examples of which have on occasion made it unto this blog. The problem is trying to get any earnings from the best of them. Now it appears I realy should write far worse prose as it looks like being more profitable.

A set of 35 of William "the worst post in the world" McGonagall's poems are heading to auction and are expected to sell for £6,500. Now that's £185 pounds a poem which is better than most literary publications give for publishing one poem. Only down side is McGonagall has been dead for 106 years so I'll not be making that money until at least 2114.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Dear Prudence, Brown in Buck Passing Mode

Well as the Chancellor he once littered his budget speeches with prudence, or some other word derived from that stem is passing the buck regarding all things economic. However, as is the way of the Tim'rous Beatie as things are going wrong the Prime Minister instead of taking the plaudits once thrown at him for a stable economy, he's papering over the cracks as subsidence sets in, not even a year after his watch concludes.

Now while I accept that he does not have control really over international oil prices. He has had some control over food prices and as for UK house prices just who is the PM kidding by blaming international factors carte blanche.

Let's start with food. Yes for some time now our supermarkets have been underpaying suppliers to provide them with good which consumers are demanding all year round. Looking at the 'fresh' fruit and veg in February you'd think it was summer time if you had your own allotment or vegetable patch. Many of our European neighbours don't go in for this have it fresh have it now attitude and are more reliant on local in season produce, or pickled, frozen, tinned etc varieties when out of season.

Now by underpaying for what we eat, the producers have been unable to reinvest in their businesses to improve things, many have gone out of business. So yes while there is a food shortage in some areas of the world forcing prices for some commodities up, it is actually as much our responsibility in the first place as it now is our concern in our pockets. The fact that the keeping of prices artificially low has aided the chancellors inflationary targets for so long is possibly one reason why the government weren't too keen on fair trade, as fair trade wouldn't have made them look quite so good to the punter on the street.

As for the housing market problems. Surely the only problem our banks have had is in investing in something that overstretches. I remember learning all about discounting etc way back in early Economics classes at school. About how the banks had continued to lend more and more against a smaller and smaller proportion of anything substantial. Therefore the whole sub-prime fiasco is a disaster of the banks own making. The fact that many of our banks investing in companies offering that is a sign of their own greed, to try and make a quick buck.

The fact that 125% mortgages were available in the UK makes you wonder if it all goes wrong how on earth do you get back the extra 25%. Especially if the bubble finally bursts and house prices can no longer rise because people no longer can afford to pay to be able to borrow to pay those sorts of prices.

So just who was able to keep some sort of check on the financial sector in the last 11 years then Gordon?

Trump Tweak too Tame

All along the issue regarding the initial rejection of Donald Trump's golf resort in Aberdeenshire wasn't about the foreign investment, wasn't to prevent job creation it was about the environmental impact.

When the initial casting vote of Martin Ford went with the status quo thus rejecting development it was only under the plans presented at that time. All planning applications have to viewed on what is present not supposition of what may be done. Indeed immediately following that initial rejection and before the escalation of the whole Trumpgate scenario the planning committee had said they would reconsider it if substantive environmental concerns were taken on board by the American developer's team.

Well after Trump blasted around, attacking everyone left, right and centre he has updated his plans, although only slightly. The damage to the sand dune area which is designated a site of special scientific interest has been lessened, but not sufficiently say the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) who say this area should and can be left unharmed.

This may be a last minute tweak to try an appease the environmentalist and have been recommended by the SNP to show that there is a little give from Trump's side ahead of the review of the called in plans. However, as this is now taken out of the hands of the local authority's planners who originally requested a resubmission taking on board the local concerns, Trumpgate will rumble on.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Scottish Labour Back to Square One

It looks like the Snakes and Ladders set may well be being put away in the Wendy house of cards, or should that be house of horrors.

I'm sure Wendy Alexander thought she may well have found the ladder to lift her well up the board when she made her announcement that she would call for an earlier referendum than the Nats were prepared to. However, since then after she encountered a series of snakes Scottish Labour appear to be back at square one.

The Labour MSPs are now saying they could not guarantee supporting the SNPs bill calling for a referendum on independence in 2010. Nor are they saying they ever offered a blank cheque of support to the SNP at any point during their leader's ramble around every compass point on this issue. Therefor we are back where we were
on that Sunday morning of the 4th May before Wendy said bring it on.

There is the right to roam here in Scotland I think the MSPs may soon me asking their leader to exercise that right.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Do Labour Need Me to Carry Around Half an ID Card?

A little worrying the tack that Labour's ID Card policy is taking down in Crewe and Nantwich. Especially it would seem the requirement of foreigners to be required to carry them.

Now to the best of my knowledge that requirement was lifted before the end of World War II as soon as Churchill, who hated the whole idea of internment etc could do so. It also hasn't been part of Labour's published plans thus far. Yeah their literature in Crewe and Nantwich is making them sound more like the BNP, with anti-foreigner sentiment by the day.

Now I'm in a dilemma by a quick of grandparentage, well actually my own birth also qualified me, I actually do have two citizenships British and Irish. I do sometime travel on the Irish passport, usually when it is easier considering the history of my British passport's travels. So say on one of those trips I'm returning on my Irish passport as a 'foreigner' on that occasion would I be required to carry an ID card at least until I can reattached to my UK passport?

What about those I work with? I work in an international call centre business are my co-workers many of them from other EU countries going to have to start carrying their ID cards to work? Are there going to b e spot checks on this large concentration of foreign workers? If they are found not be carrying them are they going to shipped of on the short trip to Edinburgh Airport and deported? Well MR Brown what is going on, we want to know.

Monday 12 May 2008

Wendy All a Dither

As an economics graduate I know the question in a room full of economists how may theories on any economic issues are in the room? The answer for those less au fait with a gathering of economist is n+1 where n is the number of economists present.

However, over the last week I've come to the conclusion that like those children's day a week underpants sets Wendy Alexander must have been given a week long policy a day set over independence.

From bring it on a personal statement, it gained the backing of the MSPs, but the PM turned his back on it saying it was a matter for the Scottish Leader, who then said she'd bring her own policy paper for a quicker referendum, to losing the backing of the party's Scottish National Exec at the weekend. We now have her not going to stand in the way of the SNPs own policy proposal on the issue.

Or dear, one Sunday Wendy Alexander finds a rocky promontory to stand on, but after a week and a day of gales, realising it was a slippery rock and that she did not really have a hold and support of those standing behind her, she's run unto the beach, only to get stuck in the sand.

Maybe she'll considering burying her sand in it for a while as the Nats will just attack her, her own party just stalk her, the Tories and Lib Dems at Holyrood mock her, and those pro-referendum pro-union supporters are still scratching their heads trying to ascertain whether she's done any good or damage to the whole issue with her whole random policy making this week, based on which set of undies she's been wearing.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Wendy About to Make Double U-Turn

On Friday I decided that's I'd had enough personally of blogging about the Wendy house of cards over the referendum for independence statement Labour's Scottish leader made last week. However, when you wake up this morning and the Scottish Edition of the Times headline is 'Mad' Wendy on Brink over new U-Turn some promises, even those made to yourself have to be broken.

They do say a week is a long time in politics and it appears that having made that U-turn statement last Sundaoy to hurry up the Nats over a referendum on independence, Wendy Alexander is being forced into doing another three point turn this weekend. Is a U-Turn of a U-Turn a Double U or W-Turn. Anyway the result is that Wendy appears to have been going around in circles this week, looking like a headless chicken rather than a leader of the second largest party in Holyrood. It may have been when the Prime Minister failed to back her up properly in the commons that Wendy's spinning, not spin doctoring, started in earnest.

Whatever is going on it is making her position as a leader almost untenible. Her predecessor Jack McConnell has brended her 'mad', and she has also garnerd criticism from former First Minister Henry McLeish who said she had been ineffective in opposition and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Yesterday Scottish Labour's national executive met and as a result Ms Alexander tried to pull herself out of the inreasing mire she had created for herself, then dragged her party into, by saying that her party could no longer guarantee a referendum.

Oh dear the party had sheepishly followed the leader, first assuraning they backed her on her call for a referendum, but then turned on her. It looks like Wendy's house of cards is on the brink of collapse.

Friday 9 May 2008

Harnessing Solar Power Like Nature Intended

Consider the lilies.

Well if it's good enough for the bible. Imagine the scene a pond in summer, the sun blazing down and the water lilies covering it are soaking up the sun's rays to provide the energy for them the grow and flourish.

Well Glasgow based company ZM Architecture have used that imagination to take the step one stage further. They have observed this happening in nature and have come up with a new way to utilise that idea to micro generate power by large lily-esque solar panels on the River Clyde in the middle of the city to help cut the carbon footrpint of Scotland's largest city. It is an ingenius scheme and one that many of the world's major cites should be able to take on as well as they are usually built on some water course of coast.

As the energy is created locally little of the it will be lost in transportation to end user, and it utilises an now underused part of the reason the city was located where it was. It will prove to be a useful addition to local energy production in our urban areas.

Thursday 8 May 2008

It's Now or Never: The Convenience of Entymology

Yesterday PMQs was more a matter of entymology than what was happening in the Wendy house up at Holyrood. However, Dave leader of the opposition and second most powerful Tory in London asked away:

Labour’s leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, says that there should be a referendum now on Scottish independence. Does he agree with her?

Up stood the Tim'rous Beastie, to correctly say that she had not said now. However, now is one of those words in politics that does not have the same entomology as elsewhere in the known universe. You see now in politics takes some time to actually come to reality cogs need to be set in motion, to enable now to come to be at the appropriate time.

It was when Dave tried to follow up with:

She said: "I don’t fear the verdict of the Scottish people," she told BBC Scotland on Sunday, "Bring it on."

What else could that possibly mean? Can I ask the Prime Minister again? Does he agree with Wendy Alexander or not? It is not much of a leadership if no one is really following him.

However, then the Tim'rous Beastie ignored the facts that Ms Alxeander's aides had clarified her statement on Sunday, by telling the world that she was in favour of a referendum. On Monday that she had said she wanted it within 12 month, a relative now in the world of political planning. That on Tuesday the Labour group at Holyrood had met and agreed this new tact, with Gordon Brown's own spokesmouse saying the issue is "a matter for the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland". Having had that clearance Ms Alexander clarified her position by saying that ideally such a referendum should take place in 2009.

To what is happening to the Wendy house of cards or the Tim'rous Beastie who's facing agitated reactions from his mischief of mice. From the outside clearly they are playing this on the hoof and nobody quite knows what is going to happen next. One leader has found a potential way to get out of the trough they are in the other is still looking and he is possibly jealous that there is a get out clause for his Scottish counterpart.

Corrected: Thanks to Bernard Salmon for correcting my English usage. Apologies for any insect lovers who thought I was referring to their speciality instead of the derivation and usage of the word now.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

News of Wendy's Neverendum Spreads to Englandshire

It's good to see that Wendy Alexander's comments regarding a referendum on Independence has raised some post from the non-Scottish Lib Dem blogosphere.

Nick Barlow writes with barely contained excitement about the possibility of a Super Thursday in 2010 if the referendum falls on the same day as the by election. Many of us in Scotland, especially those who advocate a referendum, fear that possibility.

It would mean a number of things. All parties would be facing the General Election on the single issue, independence. There would be no room to be distinctive on other issues, everything would be tied into whether it would be improved or worse in an Independent Scotland. It would also could lead to a similar occurance to last may, or the London Mayoral elections, where all otherparties would be slung aside as the big two fought it out.

I'd personally want us to face a question on independence separately away from the other issues and the chore that is hard enough of trying to retain and gain seats in Westminster. Also this would allow us to explore all the nuances of what independence needs without having to worry about all the issues on a local level in those keys seats.

However, he has only sketched some initial thoughts and says he expects to post more later.

Alex Wilcox is looking at the psychology behind this announcement so soon after the disastorous elections down south. He takes a differing view from myself saying not like I did on Monday that is was taking the fight to the SNP but it was actually taken the fight to the Tories on the national stage. Also in a way trying to prevent the Scottish voters falling out of love with Labour in a similar way to what happened to the Tories in recent decades.

Both make interesting reading from an outsiders point of view.

Meanwhile in Scotland fellow Lib Dem Bernard Salmon adds his thoughts on it. While he thinks that me and Iain Dale are in error to renew (like I've ever not un-newed it) our claims that the Scottish Lib Dems should do the same. I was reminded last night that I'm not alone especially within my local party on thinking that the lack or even considering or discussing of this following last May's result made us look illiberal and undemocratic. The fact that he also disagrees with the official party line shows that the party is somewhere between a rock and a hard place on this issue right now.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Ladies Take to Your Corners Please

And Prepare to Come out Fighting

Well after Wendy Alexander threw the first punch in the latest round of the Independence referendum fight at the weekend. Which she, backed by her cabinet member brother Douglas, hastily followed up with a call that the SNP were running scared by holding it in 2010. You may be forgiven for thinking that the Nats may have been reeling.

Well they sent out Alex, nope my mistake, the First Minister is not the big hitter on this one, it's Nicola Sturgeon that's been sent out to take this on. She said echoing the chant of Big Daddy in the wrestling ring that the Nats shall not be moved, not even it would appear to bring forward their primary aim to take Scotland forward to independence that bit quicker. They still want to have it in 2010, which looks most likely to be an election year. So the issue may still be buried behind other issues and not given the clear light of day that it needs and deserves to be debated fully.

Nicola accuses Wendy of being desperate. Wendy accuses Nicola of running scared. Looks like the WWE big event may bale beside the build up to this fight at Holyrood.

Monday 5 May 2008

Wendy Comes Out Fighting

For weeks, neigh month, the leader of Labour in Scotland has looked like a punch drunk boxer, up against the ropes waiting for the next punch or hoping that her corner would through in the towel, while facing Alex Salmond in the chamber at Holyrood. However, just like in all the Rocky films you think its all over then, using all effort one final telling blow swings the whole thing around. Well Wendy may be setting up a few jabs ahead of that telling blow.

Yesterday she announced her intention to back Alex Salmond's call to give the people of Scotland a say on independence by referendum. As regular readers of this blog are aware I've long held the view that by calling a referendum and giving people a clear view of all that independence would entail, it would knock the wind out of the Nats sails, when it fails.

I personally don't think that the people of Scotland do want independence and that view appears to be backed up by opinion polls. If senior SNP backers like Tom Farmer are urging caution about haste over the matter, I think Wendy Alexander is right to bring it on. Lets give the people of Scotland what they actually want a devolved Parliament, inside the UK with greater powers to govern the people of Scotland better.

Sunday 4 May 2008

Look What the Old Boy Done

A couple of weeks ago I looked at just what Labour had promised us on taxation. Unlike Kezia Dugdale through her red rose tinted glasses I gave them a less than exemplary grade. Which leads nicely unto education.

We all rememebr the mantra leading up to the 1997 Election, when at the 1996 conference Blair pormises:

"Ask me my three main priorities for government, and I tell you: education, education, education."

So lets take a case study, some where where education and politics both have influencial sons. I suggest Kirkcaldy in Fife home of Adam Smith one of the pioneers of political economics and also the town where as a three year old the Prime Minister moved and was educated before he crossed the Forth to attend Edinburgh University.

Now there are 4 high schools in Kirkcaldy, but as Education, Education, Education was the mantra of the Labour governemnt we'll base our case study in Brown's alma mater Kirkcaldy High. Now surely the Labour Chancellor, Blair's right hand would ensure that the matra applied to his old school, that it would now be an excellent example of Labour education policy for Scotland.

Wrong! Far from being at the pinnicle of education Kirkcaldy High's report card read most do better. It is actually one of the worse schools in Scotland. Lindsay Roy was tasked for pulling the school out a spiral of decline in 2006 after Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) criticised the school for poor exam results, low staff morale, and disruptive behaviour among pupils. Having been honoured for services to education the appointment looked like a wise choise, however the progress report has classed the school "weak" the second lowest of six grades. The report went on to say:

"There had been no improvement, and in fact some decline, in levels of performance in external examinations. The school's overall response to the main points for action in the 2006 report had been weak."

Contrast with the first year of after the election when "good progress" was found to be made at the school. Of course as education is now devolved it doesn't really fall under the MP who has a nice London address of 10 Downing Street to sort out the current mess.

Whoops look like another new Labour pledge that has fallen by the wayside.

Saturday 3 May 2008

What now for Gordon and Alex?

I'll admit if things continue as they are the SNP will gain more seats at the nest Westminster election. However, in light of an interesting graph attached to these articles in today's Scotsman I'm going to add a couple of caveats.

The first is that this is not simply because of some uber-intelligent strategy of the SNP to attract more voters. But because the Labour party are in danger of going into freefall. The reason is aptly summed up by my own MP, Michael Connarty, who says in that article:

"[Gordon should] take some time for reflection in a quiet environment and speak to a wider range of people than he has as far been asking for advice. This means not just his confidantes or those left over from the Blair era."

The people have spoken to a new Prime Minister less than a year on the job in the way they know hurts most, through the ballot box. Yes the SNP can rejoice over their showings in opinion polls, their figures are going up, Labour's going down. But how many of those being asked are actually in a state of flux, disenchanted Labour voters who don't yet know where they will turn. Some of those may have already done that last May here in Scotland and in many areas to voice their disaproval already voted tactically for the best alternative to knock Labour down a peg size or two, voting for the Nats.

It the short term being a protest party against the Government isn't a bad thing, it's trying to move beyond that point and retain those votes that is hard. The SNP is not necessarily a natural final resting home for people who have permanently lost faith in Labour. So before 2010 unless some radical New New Labour emerges phoenix like from the ashes of this week the SNP will pick up seat on the back on doing nothing at all apart from being not Labour. Of course I know that won't be all of their strategy but watch out for it intensifying in their message over the next couple of years.

The second caveat relates to the graph itself. Sadly not viewable online. From the council votes this week it predicts the following changes to Westminster:

Tory gain 254 seats to 446
Lib Dems gain 28 to 91
Labour lose 298 to 53!!
Others gain 13

Note that is on current state of parties and does not account for the whip withheld MPS or the UKIP defection from a Tory seat.

That second caveat is that even with Labour close to the Canadian Progressive Conservative level of wipeout, the others are only predicted by the Scotsman to gain 13 seats. Now as it is a Scottish paper I'm assuming that some consideration has been made that Scotland had no elections this year, with Northern Ireland the only other parties generally predicted in the other's column and no new seats being created there, we can assume that the 13 others will be Nationalists, either the SNP or Plaid Cymru.

Now here's the rub. There are 59 seats in Scotland 39 held by Labour, 6 Nats, 1 Tory. There are 40 seats in Wales 29 held by Labour and 3 each by PC and the Tories. Assuming universality of the Labour wipe out, as I can't be bothered going through all 632 non-Northern Irish constituencies, that is 69% of their MPs gone.

In Scotland while that does mean 27 Labour MPs would go, while in Scotland the result sees 20 Labour seats wiped out, it fails to take into account that the Tory surge would almost certainly take some of these and the Lib Dems are also strong seconds in a number of others and could claim several of their 28 North of the border.

Of course central belt of Scotland and the heart of Wales are seats with some of the largest Labour majorities, 13 have a majority of over 40% between the two. Indeed drawing totally arbitrary lines in the sand at 20% majority Labour retains 23 MPs in Scotland and 18 in Wales. So I'm going to split the Nat gains fairly evenly by proportion. So the split of 13 gains ends up with:

7 more SNP up to 13
6 more Plaid Cymru up to 9.

Thus I conclude Alex Salmond has his work cut out to reach 20 SNP MPs.

Friday 2 May 2008

Politics and Rangers

Firstly let me apologice to Bjørge Lillelien but.

Lord Wilson, Lord Callaghan, Sir Ian McKellan, Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee, Liam Galagher, Baroness Jay, you have beaten yourselves, you have beaten yourselves. Gordon Brown, can you hear that? Gordon Brown your boys [and girls] took a hell of a beating.

No while one team has it's worse showing ion 40 years another has had a good one. For the first time in 36 years the Blue side of Glasgow are preparing for a European final. So long in the shadow of their hooped rivals the Ibrox club are still seeking all 4 trophies having already secured the CIS cup, they now face two finals and the remaining SPL games including several in hand over Celtic could see a first in a club securing all domestic plus a European trophy in the same season.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Shèngmu Feng Speaketh

After all the careful preparation, and trying to control everything, Chomolungma (Qomolangma) "the Goddess Mother of the Earth" if you're Tibetan, Sagarmatha "Goddess of the Sky" if you're Nepali, or if you're from Darjeeling Deodungha "The Holy Mountain", or just plain Shèngmu Feng to the Chinese or Everest to the rest of us seems to have spoken and taken things into her own hands.

Having closed both the Chinese and Napalese approaches to the World's highest peak for the ascent of the Olympic Torch. But high winds are reportedly delaying what must have surely been hoped by the Chinese authorities to be the crowning coup of the international relay. Especially in light of the protests against their actions in Tibet more or less everywhere, with the exception of North Korea. However, there is so much secrecy surrounding the 31 Chinese climbers who are apparently attempted to summit with the torch hat I'm sorry I haven't a clue just how well this is going. Nor has the worlds media as we are all relying on reports from the official Chinese media sources.

Brother Steps in to Brother's Shoes

I'll admit that with the elections across the country today my cursory glance of the news this morning didn't really inspire me to write much. Plus for obvious reason's I'm not going into last night's football, especially as it had never happened in my lifetime, in that competition.

What I was drawn to was the news that Ali Campbell who quit earlier in the year as lead singer of UB40* has been replaced by his other brother Duncan. Now where has Duncan been all these years while Ali and other brother Robin, the bands guitarist have been touring the world and recording as the world's most sucessful mixed race Reggae band. Well he has been a professional spoon player. Yes you did read that right, in fact he was the only professional spoon player registered with the Musicians Union in the UK. He'd followed his Scottish father Ian's passion for folk music rather than his brother's passion for the reggae culture they grew up with in Birmingham. Apparently Duncan has suggested he could play the spoons in UB40 but the band are said not to be too keen, however, if he ever did no doubt it would be the first reggae rhythm beat out on two pieces of cutelry.

*Short history lesson for youger readers. The UB40 (Unemployment Benefit form) was the precurser to the JSA40 (Job Seekers Allowance). When the band formed in the late 1970s unemployment was heading to a 'record high' (although regigging how it's counted since has led to some dipute on this) of over 3 million.