Tuesday 31 March 2009

Guido Headline Misleading.

Last Night Guido posted this histrionic headline and blog post.

While he is accurate this figure accounts for all expenses. It take into account things like travel and manning ones office, which all come out of expenses. Not note the election map from 2005.

I've highlighted a few areas of Lib Dem dominance. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the toe of England and mid Wales. Notice three things these places have in common. There are dominated by Lib Dems, they are at the extremities. In the Highlands and Mid Wales the constituencies cover a vast amount of territory. Alistair Carmichael is quite rightly on this gross figure going to appear a big claimant. He has to take two flights to be able to get from his constituency to Westminster, one to Aberdeen then another (if he's lucky) to get him from there to Orkney or Shetland. Then if he wants to get around his constituency he also has to rely on the weather and ferries.

Many have asked Guido to provide figures which do not cover travel and non-familial staff expenses since last night. He has yet to do so one wonders if the reason is that the Tories who barely venture North of Hadrian's Wall or West of Offa's Dyke will be found to be the worst offenders.

If you want a glimpse at what sort of level these travel expense came to last year you can view them on the Parliament website.

AWS: My Tuppence Worth

Three years ago I wrote this:

Why am I a white, middle-class male supporting the latest initiative by the Liberal Democrats
to encourage more female and ethnic minority candidates? The answer is simple, the supporters and people who vote for our party are diverse, in fact they are as diverse as the people who make up our country; even in West Lothian with a small ethnic population this is true. We need, as a party, to truly represent that community and multi-cultural.

A quick scan down the list of names supporting the three leadership candidates shows anyone just how diverse our party is. Look at the number of
councillors who names betray their ethnicity and of course their gender. There are people out there who already hold elected office, who know what being a politician is all about at local level. Why are they not coming out to stand for key and target parliamentary seats? As a party we are making inroads into urban seats where the greater proportion of our ethnic communities live so these seats are targets and some of the most diverse.

The candidates and elected representatives who have come through from the initiatives of the Gender Balance Task Force are a sterling example that this focus is producing good, no make that great candidates. This work can continue and be expanded to aid ethnic diversity and balance as well.

Will it be harder for us white, middleclass men to get selected? Definitely, but that only means that we too have to lift our game. In other words the cream will be rising to the top; and when that happens with high calibre candidates of all genders and ethnic origins we will have a team that is ready to govern Britain. Surely that is something we can aspire and look forward to.

Now I've not been drawn into the Scottish Blogosphere debate on All Women Short lists, until now but Mrs Tactical Voting making a rare trip into the Political scene made a very strong point.

The problem is very simple. You can never give power to anyone. They have to take it. If it is given it is still the giver that possesses it and the one that controls it. Women cannot and most of all should not be dependent on men to give them power.

We should take it. Take it in a way so that no one can say that we don’t deserve it or we didn’t earn it. Because let’s face it, we do deserve it, we do earn it and we do not need anyone to give it to us as if we were small children with our hand stretched out hoping for candy.

Isn't that just what a certain Margaret Hilda Thatcher (nee Roberts) did? Isn't that what the late Benazir Bhutto did? And Tansu Çiller and Golda Meir and Angela Merkal amongst others have done? Both of these women rose through the mysogeny of a male dominated world, is Ms Bhutto's case even more so in a rigid Islamic state.

But yes each of the women listed above had to work harder than any male colleague to get to the top. That is sad because it is the perception of voters both male and female that is keeping good women down. One of my female commenters recently commented that the actions of cartain men in the political sphere's behaviour was one reason she was disillusioned with politics as a whole. The whole adversorial nature that our election system throws up makes it hard for women to engage in the process (having said that some of them are good at it). Is it the system of winner takes all, both in selection and then election that makes this so?

Having been a Lib Dem activist or supporter since I first signed up at freshers fair 21 years ago I've often found myself voting for committees or shortlists looking at what is a fair representation of skills and experiences. My top preferences in those STV situations always go to achieve that sort of balance. Being the sad anorak that I am I keep a note of most of those votes I notice that my trend is to knock men who have pretty much a guarnateed position on such committees way down the list (a bit like a reality show I'm sure others will vote for them) and boostering the strongest women and ethnic candidates higher up the list than I would do (all other things being equal). It doesn't always work mind but I still think that all women short lists is the wrong way to go, just as having parishes in the CofE having flying Bishops look after those opposed to women vicars is wrong.

Yes women candidates, as with ethnic minorities (something most of the bloggers have ignored) have to work at it, still. But I'm proud that the only woman on my candidates approval day Katy Gordon is standing in the Glasgow North seat. Yes our party has given her support and training which us blokes are not eligible for, but not an AWS. She is a worthy candidate who deserves the chance and position she has acheived nobody can deny she has got there on her merits either, but like many of our other female representatives she has had to do that little bit more work, the end result is that unlike many of the Labour MPs who take their electorate, or LCP, for granted she never will do.

If you are guaranteed a chance to shine in an AWS somewhere why bother challenging for a tougher seat? Why lock horns with the men? The end result is unpreparedness to take them on once elected, feeling out of place and like many of Blair's babes, many of whom came off AWS you drop out soon after. I'd argue they aren't the best preparation to get the best out good women candidates, far better to give them the support and training to face the challenge head on and as Susan Dalgety says over on Kez's Soapbox "The electors [of Rwanda] chose women candidates over men." over and above twofold the quota system that they introduced. They ceased their chance time for our woman to do the same, then I might join Jeff reading Good Housekeeping.

Time For Northern Ireland to Unite and Say No

'Ulster Says No!' was the slogan used by the Unionist groups across Northern Ireland at the start of the Anglo-Irish talks. Banners with that slogan or variations on the theme were displayed from the offices of Unionist controlled councils including Belfast City Hall.

Well the escalation of troubles and threats in Northern Ireland last night make this the opportune time to dust off that slogan. But this time instead of belonging to one community attempting to stand in the way of integration and steps towards harmony and reconciliation, it should be a united front. To have the leaders of both side in the community standing together saying no to the resurrection of violence. No to the reigniting of barricades and no to the threats of bombs across the province.

It is time for Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to stand behind First Minister Peter Robinson and his Deputy Martin Maginnis as they stand together to say no. This no would be a positive no unlike that of the 80s which is why the figure heads of both sides from then, although taking a back seat now, need to stand there with the current heads of the Assembly.

Northern Ireland doesn't want the new generation to have to go through what I went through. We've moved on, seen improvements in our way and standards of life. This new threat of an escalation of attacks is going to take that new-found, long-awaited hope away. The generation who know little of that apart from what they read in history books should be allowed to only read about that history not live through a new chapter of it.

Time for the people of Northern Ireland in one united voice to say no.

Monday 30 March 2009

Therapist Headline Exposes Ignorance

On Thursday I reported that the Metro was carrying on its front page the news that 17% of our country's therapists have attempted to 'cure' gay patients. Well today in the Scottish editions letter page we find this response which I quote in full apart from the senders name.

If homosexuality is a mental illness then, obviously, little credibility should be given to the opinion of homosexuals - like most mentally ill people they will deny that there is anything wrong with them. Homosexuality clearly is a mental abnormality - because it isn't 'normal' - but then so is having an IQ of 150. It doesn't necessarily mean that it is malevolent or dangerous, but to suggest it is normal is wrong. The vast majority of normal people find homosexuality unnatural and offensive. Legislation has not changed these opinions a though it has eroded the freedom to express them.

Well there are a few points that have been cleared up, firstly you have to right to express those opinions, they were published in the Metro. However, if you start to use those opinions to discriminate, or incite hatred or violence then you are in difficulty.

As for the majority finding it offensive I'll refer her to one poll that found a strong case on homophobia in Israel this month. Even though 32% in that opinion poll found homosexuality disgusting 56% had no problem with it. I'll also refer her to a poll amongst protestant church members in the US which said that 70% felt that homosexuality should be accepted by society. In the UK this 2007 poll said that 92% had no problem with a work colleague or a player on their supported football team being gay. Far from being a majority finding it offensive it is actually quite the opposite.

She also ignored the fact at the end of the Metro report which said that the BMA and Dept of Health both agree that homosexuality is not a mental illness and does not require treatment. Pity she seemed incapable of reading to the end of such a short article before writing off her letter.

But then with my sexuality and IQ being as high as it is I'm obviously too abnormal for her to take my opinion from reading these views of others credibly.

Why is Effective Knife Crime Reduction Model Not Copied?

Writing in today's Times Chris Huhne asks why the simple, commonsense approach started by one Cardiff based cosmetic surgeon has not been repeated across the board?

The premise is simple without breaking patient doctor confidentiality the surgeon provides the location, day and times of the attacks on those victims he has to work on. The police have been able to use the anonymised data to target hotspots at the right time and the 40% reduction is the proof in the pudding.

But it hasn't been taken up in other health trusts despite backing of both The National Policing Improvement Agency and the General Medical Council. It is also part of of the Government's Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP). Not somehow it is not a matter of course across the hospitals in the country. As the Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman says it would seem to be a fairly commonsense approach. I mean look at any crime series on TV or film, they using mapping of serial events to try and close in on the suspect. I mean knife crime is not happening on every street corner all of the time. It is happening primarily in certain areas and possibly at certain days in the weekend and even maybe at certain times.

Looking into this sort of information is a far more effective use of police time and resources in helping reduce crime, deterring it from happening is better than then having to try and deal with the consequences. As Chris points out the scheme was dreamed up by a healer as part of what he saw as his duty as part of a National Health Service rather than merely a cure service. Surely we should be looking at ways like this of the police being part of a Crown Prevention of Crime Service rather than merely as part of a prosecution service.

Sunday 29 March 2009

Broon's Dunfermline Sacrifice

Just been watch Jim Faulds currently still the Chairman of the Dunfermline Building Society at least for today quite rightly getting angry at the way the Government has dealt with this scenario.

He has accused the Treasury of being economic with the actualité. He said that unlike Northern Rock they did not have a Sub Prime Mortgage issue. That the losses that Dunfermline were going to announce of £26 million were less than the £36 million that the Chelsea Building Society lost in Icelandic institutions alone.

He also said that there was no exposure to the US toxic debt. Stating that KPMG has said they could be supported and sustained as an independent ongoing interest. Something that Jim Murphy then seemed to be very unsure about when challenged that they were.

He also protested at the lack of proportionality, the risk that has been being covered by the government in the banks as opposed to the lack that they have given the the Building Societies such as Brandford and Bingley and now Dunfermline. The mortgage book of Building Societies is back by bricks and mortar, at the end of this recession those assets will still exist and start to recover, unlike many of the risky investments that the Government has been bailing out for over £1 trillion of protection. When challenged on those with a worst situation Murphy only said that each situation was different (possible some of the others exist in Labour held seats).

Faulds also complained that he and the rest of the board were getting their news from the press before the FSA, the Treasury and the Scottish Office.

It appears that the Government is not prepared to stand by the Building Societies. I've even heard Jim Murphy just say that this is a short term problem. Again blaming it on the international situation, taking no blame for 12 years of UK Government mismanagement that has ended up seeing the country so heavily in debt that the worse offenders ended up at the front of the queue and were helped no questions asked in full and now those that managed to survive that bit longer are being left out to dry or being sold off. Like Mr Faulds said in answer to the first question Dunfermline is a sacrifice not a solution.

Willie Rennie MP for Dunfermline and West Fife then came on later to say it was a disgrace what Jim Murphy was saying. There has been a deal on the table from the UK Building Societies for six months and that the Government has been partially responsible and the FSA's levies are exacerbating it.

Where will it all end? Who will be next to be left out to dry?

Update: Moving unto the Euro debate on Scottish Politics and Labour's David Murray again trying to sidle away from the fact, for fact it is, that while there may have been a US element to our recession we are worse off than the rest of equivalent sized Western Europe countries. Struan Stevenson correctly brought him to task in trying to

Nigel's Brunette has Been Busy

There is breaking speculation that 5 other MPs from across 3 parties are worried that the Nigel Griffiths' mystery Brunette from last week's News of the World is about to expose them. The only party above suspicion would be the Ulster Unionists as Lady Slyvia Herman just doesn't appear to be the right gender for the mystery woman who appears to have been somewhat known by the red tops around the Westminster village.

Meanwhile the NotW having defeated a writ from the Edinburgh South MP go into more details about his 'unmemorable' session in his office of spending 38 minutes taking 27 explicit images. That these were apparently uploaded unto his laptop and then half an hour later possible as an aid to that bad memory he took another 40 minutes to take 44 more pictures at a second location. The NotW fortunately spared our one of this collection of images which they said left nothing to the imagination of the MP, we'll just have to imagine, or shudder not as the case may be.

Saturday 28 March 2009

First Half Hour of Earth Hour the Effect

The National Grid in the UK has a website showing the real time usage over the last hour. The above is a screen shot taken at 21:00 half way through Earth Hour it shows a steady drop off from 8pm and an even sharper decline after 8:30. Don't forget this is a Saturday night and peak TV viewing time as well. I'll take another at 22:00 to show what happens afterwards

Sad News Ahead of Polish Fixture in Belfast

Irish sports fans have a reputation of being friendly, loving to party and win or lose having a good time. It is therefore with sadness that I initially heard that there was trouble today in Belfast ahead of the football international against Poland.

Even through the troubles one thing that pulled the people together was the fact that nobody cared that George Best was a Protestant of that the other guy who shared his debut Pat Jennings was a Catholic. When they pulled on the Norn Oirish shirt none of that mattered. It was with sadness that when Neil Lennon brought a premature end to his international involvement it was due to sectarian attacks and threats on the Northern Irish captain, it was so out of character.

Yes when it came to which team the majority supported there was division, whether you were a Linfield/Glentoran supporter or Cliftonville pretty much marked you out. But on international day Windsor Park was always somewhat a haven of peace against all the madness going on around.

One things about today's attack is that it appears to have occurred as the result of Polish fans running rampage in a Weatherspoons on Bedford Street. The majority of the nine arrested were Polish fans. They are the co-hosts of Euro 2012 with Ukraine and one of the concerns when they were awarded the showpiece event by UEFA was the behaviour of their fans. That a riot should break out in Belfast which is still in ebullient mood after the Six Nations Grand Slam of last weekend when the Polish team and fans were in town doesn't look that good for 3 years time.
It's a sad day for the very vocal, very colourful, not Brazil but Norn Iron supporters. A sad day for football and for UEFA.

Friday 27 March 2009

Paddy Ashdown: The World Will Never be the Same

Yesterday evening Paddy Ashdown gave a lecture at Edinburgh University entitled The World will never be the Same.

There was poetry, a song, accents of Northern Ireland and Somerset, an Afghan war revisited, Bosnia and Herzagovina, China, Obama, India and Africa all visited. Plus the introduction of Ashdowns 3rd Law*. There was also a look at the cover (the inside is embargoed) of his new Autobiography A Fortunate Life which two lucky people will be winning a signed copy of. However, after retiring from the campus to a Indian meal with the man himself, some of the students, Fred Mackintosh and Simon Clarke, then moving on for a few drinks after Paddy had left I didn't get around to writing this up until now.

The Scotsman reporter who was present gave a brief overview. This is my recollections with the aid of my copious notes of what was said.

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.
Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.

From On the Idle Hillside A.E. Houseman 1896

Paddy started by telling us that after periods of stability we often tend to end up in periods of conflict and blood. (Well actually he started with some light hearted banter about introductions but the crux of the matter was as stated). There is a shift of power from the West to the East that is coming. There are things in the economic instability in the West that mean a that the West cannot achieve a solution by themselves.

There is the beginning of a sea change of economic power. China will be going through the turmoil from being a Liberal Economy to being a liberal society. China has gone through such changes in the past and to ignore the possibility that they are capable of doing so again in disingenuous. India and others in Asia will also rise up as economic powers as the West lies helpless from its own excesses.

Some will say that the American economy has gone past its zenith and is in decline. But those that show resistance to change are those that have past their zenith. America over the past 40 years has shown that that they are still open to change but Europe is faltering on this score. For the next 10-15 years Paddy said he sees the USA as still being the most powerful nation in the world, but after then what?

We're moving away from the premise of having a single Super Power to having different centres growing, more in line with Europe’s 19th Century Concert of Power. When there five great powers who between them, mainly because of the UK, kept the peace more or less in tact. The European existence as a prime mover on the world stage is also something that is liable to be diluted as the new powers come to the fore. You only have to look at how the Obama regime started out with its foreign policy. Paddy said they looked across the Atlantic [sic] to Japan and Hillary went to China these are relationships that are seen as important to the USA now. Of Europe of course Britain is still the pre-eminent but what of the rest. They are losing their significance as Obama and America are looking at how best to effect the change that the world can believe in.

Of those emerging there is an assertive Russia, a rising China and a prospering India. Of these Russia's strength is also their biggest weakness. Paddy said that their criminality and acceptance of criminality was potentially their undoing. They also don't have the population to man their domain, let alone defend it and are heading back to be like the 19th century feudal Russia.

Now as never before power is shifting not just laterally but also vertically. Out of the institutions. Unto the global space. But the global space is a lawless space we do not have the means in place to control what happens in that global space. Lawless spaces always help the powerful for a bit. Our multinationals have taken advantage of this but eventually the lawless space becomes more helpful to the destroyers. International terrorism, international criminality these are things that use the prosperous for their own devices then retreat back into that lawless space where they cannot be touched. As Paddy pointed out 89% of the funds that went to fund the 9/11 attacks had passed through the institutions that had offices housed in the Twin Towers.

We are heading to another time of change like in the middle of the 19th Century. The Liberals in Britain foresaw that and brought in the 1832 Reform Act to allow for that power shift in the UK. Unlike our European neighbours, this ended up resulting in the 1848 revolutions. Governance of that global space is the challenge of this age. We need to establish institutions to bring law to that global space. If we fail the consequences are going to be like nothing never seen before.

However, it may not happen through the UN institutions. Good though it has been in maintaining some semblance of peace over the last 50-60 years is it not good at taking executive and swift action. Treaty based organisations may be the way forward. Organisations like the World Trade Organisation working for trade, Kyoto working for the climate, the expansion to the G8 to the G20, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. All of these are treaty based organisations that have and are seeking to make a change.

(Personal comment here)

Next week as the G20 meets in London the anti-globalisation protestors are going to argue that the big businesses move into the global space, which Paddy has talked about, has been a bad thing. They are ignoring that fact that many of our issues are no longer confined to national boundaries and therefore there is a need to work across those arbitrarily draw lines in the sand. But more of that is a bit back to Paddy.

(Go on Paddy)

Not just is our power globalised but so are our problems too. In Africa Oxfam say 16m people currently live in uninhabitable space. They rely on aid from those of us who have to allow them to carry on existing in those spaces. However, with the credit crunch how much of that aid will be cut leading to starvation. If global warming continues the amount of habitable space in the region shrinks many more will come to rely on those limited sources of aid. Worldwide there is estimated to be 50m people living in uninhabitable space.

We are living in a completely interdependent world. Lehman Brothers collapses and the world economy spirals out of control as a result. We are more connected now than at any time in history both internally and externally.

The world now operates as a network. The structures we have created thus far are vertical but the reality is that our connectivity in networked and interlinked. This is why those structures we currently have in place have been unable to cope.

Twenty or thirty years ago when you were talking about defence you knew who to turn to the MoD. But now the defence minister has to be interconnected. He has to talk to the Dept. of Health about the threat of a pandemic being released, the Dept. of Agriculture about the security of our food, Industry about our companies and businesses being infiltrated, the Home Office because of our connection to so many through immigration. The capacity of our country to make us secure depends on everything being able to connect.

Paddy asked us if we knew of Lord Roberts of Kandahar. There were nothing but blank stares. Roberts was the man who in 1879, some 30 years after the massacre in Kabul, led the British force in to Afghanistan. It was one of the few successful campaigns by anyone into the Afghan lands. But in those 30 years the preparation had been laid, mainly through working to bring together the tribal forces in the Helmand provinces.

Accounts of his exploits don’t mention the importance of the poppy fields. They were there but they weren’t the issue. No was there mention the need to suppress of mad Jihadists living in caves in the southern hill country, though there was also one of those the Wali of Swat. Nor was there concern of collateral damage, though there was plenty of that two, it wouldn’t get reported back home for 6 weeks.

The important lesson from that parallel to today in its not what you do that matters but what you do with others. This Paddy said was Ashdown’s third law.

The age of unilateralism is over, George W. Bush tried it and we have seen where that left him. We have a need to reach out for new allies and some of those will be uncomfortable, but we need to work with them, make compromises and work for the common good. One of those we will need to work with is Iran. The key to the solution in Afghanistan is not our western allies but moderate Muslims. 25% of Afghanistan is of the Shia sect so we will need to get moderates from Iran the epicentre of Shi-ites. The phrase that we use that we are protecting our values ignores the facts that Christianity, Judaism and Islam share many of the same values.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a
part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,Europe is the less, as well
as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own
were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for

John Dunne from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions 1624

Paddy then moved on to talk a little about what he is currently doing in Northern Ireland. He’s working with Sinn Fein and the DUP and others in trying to resolve the contentious issue of parades. The thing about what is happening in Northern Ireland that is different from the Israeli/Palestinian issue and the fundamentalist Muslims and the West is that both parties have realised they have a shared destiny. There is something there they need to work at. Israel need to realise that and progress will not be made until they remove the occupation settlements from Palestinian territory which make it impossible for a Palestinian state to operate even if other things weren’t in its way. Cross all the main roads and access points is a mean of subverting that ability to reach for a shared destiny.

He finished he talk near the heart of Midlothian quoting the words of another great Liberal spoken not too far away in Dalkeith during his 1879 Midlothian Campaign.

"Remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan
among the winter snows, are as sacred in the eye of Almighty God as are your
own. Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love, that that mutual love
is not limited by the shores of this island."

William Ewart Gladstone

*Nobody in questions afterwards dared ask about one and two.

No Lock for Boris's Bike Then as Well

You'd have thought the floppy haired Mayor of London would have learnt from the woes of his glorious leader last summer at least just a little when implementing his bike hire scheme. You'd also think that Boris Johnson avid bike rider would also have looked at the examples of the other city schemes such as Paris's Vélib. But no Boris is forgetting one thing the lock.

He thinks not having a lock will make people return the bikes they hire quicker to one of the 300-400 docking stations that will be available dotted around zone 1. But what is one needs to purchase a bottle of water, or snatch a paper all quick little dashes into a shop, all quite normal behaviour for cyclists, only to come out to find the bike gone an have to lose the whole £150 deposit.

Transport for London say providing locks will spoil the aesthetic of London.

Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, said:

"Commuters and tourists will want the flexibility that a bike brings, and not
providing locks defies common sense. Part of the joy of cycling is the ability
to stop off where you want, nip into a shop, have a quick coffee and do all
those little things along your route that are more awkward when travelling by
bus, Tube or cab. The people setting up this scheme simply do not understand

The London Cycling Campaign added:

"The lack of a lock may discourage potential riders, so TfL will need to make
sure there are sufficient convenient docking stations."

Come on Boris don't be silly. You know a lock makes sense to this scheme. Or we'll take your lock away from your bike.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Not the Only Outraged Gay in the Village

The right thinking people of the UK got and get up at arms when there hear about 'education programmes' in China and that used to go on in the Soviet Bloc. Yet what happens when re-education occurs here.

Apparently nothing yet it is going on.

As I was getting off the bus this morning the front page of the Metro caught my eye. Apparently 17% of our country's therapists have attempted to 'cure' gay patients of their orientation. This is despite the Department of Health stating 'Homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not need treatment'. How can these people be allowed to practise? How can they attempt 'the cure' on people often young and vulnerable who go to them seeking guidance to deal with the pressures that society and their peers put upon them. Or even that they put upon themselves (which I know from over a decade of personal experience).

Now obviously these people see that as their right as not being the 'norm' but hey none of us fit every modal criteria in this world. Indeed one response used the word 'perverse'.

Looking at the numbers for what these people think is a group that needs re-education I think it is roughly equivalent to the number of people who attend football matches every weekend obsessively. Now I know there are also closeted football fans who hide their love on their sofa at home. Or who may venture out showing their colours around town, but who never actively partake in their love. But of those 100% obsessives shouldn't we attempt to re-educate them, they (and I include myself of course) are not normal.

However, football fans assist the economy. They go to specialist venues that aren't everyone's cup of tea. They buy food and drink there. They even have to buy the right clothes, don't want to be seen in last years threads now do you. Also there are the trips abroad with other obsessives, a quick jaunt to a place that is allowing them to partake in their obsession with others if they so desire. But they aren't normal, because you cannot define normal just differences a which we all are.

Let's admit it homophobia is gay and definitely should not be allowed. Especially amongst those that vulnerable groups need to turn to for help.

Is Recession Going to Suffocate Earth?

The news that Iberdrola Renewables are to slash their investment in Britain by more than 40 per cent, or £300 million, is possibly a worrying sign that the financial mess we have got into may have more damaging effects to our world than merely in its pocket.

Iberdrola are one of the world's largest investors in wind farms, BP and Shell have also shelved of pulled out of projects in recent months including the Thames Estuary porject. But the economic downturn compounded with problems of access to the grid and planning delays is making the UK a place that the international leaders are shying away from investing in.

Xabier Viteri, chief of Iberdrola Renewables, whose Spanish parent owns ScottishPower, blamed the economic crisis for the move but added that problems in Britain could force his company to consider investing elsewhere.

However, fair play to Ed Milliband in part. The energy minister earlier this week equated opposition to wind farms as "socially unacceptable . . . like not wearing your seatbelt or driving past a zebra crossing". I say only in part as the Minister has picked up the Labour myopia when it comes to renewables and focuses only on wind and not on developing a balanced portfolio of renewable energy sources, both to cover outages and to spread the load. He also tends to look at large micro projects to the disregard or micro generation or small scale projects to assist the effort against climate change.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Keep out of My Face......book Jacqui

In my past I have had a KGB, Securitate and Stazzi file. Some of them must have been an interesting read.

The KGB file must have mentioned my visits to a youth detention centre, a prison, several hospitals, the local fire station, orphanages and my association with non-state registered Christians and giving two red guards a lift in our team minibus. The Securitate file may well detail all the contents of my suitcase that was forced open at Bucharest airport on the way to a school ski trip, the Sunday Times article on Nicolae Caucescu I'd avidly read on the flight over along with the rest of the magazine as I doubted even before being told that I'd not get that into the country.

However, none of those would be as anything compared to the file that this government must be compiling on me. Forget the fact that the majority of my daily emails on my work account are of a proprietary nature and the government could be sued under US law if my employer were so inclined. Forget the fact that as a result the government will know just where I will be campaigning, have the minutes of local party execs and who is feeding me information for my blog.

Now they want to access my social networks. Circumventing the privacy settings that I set up so that only certain people can see certain bits of that. Not you understand for terrorist ends but because they are private and not to be broadcast to the world. They want to know who I flirt with, what gifts I've been sent, what I think of the thought for the day. I have friends on Facebook in all political parties.

Do they really need to know how Iain Dale makes me blush? What Lord Faulkes's right hand woman Kezia Dugadale is saying to me? Or how one of my Nat supporting fellow Livingston fans is tackling me on the issue of the day?

What about my Northern Irish friends? Two of whom at least have relatives that have been in prison for terrorist activities. Is the fact that I am friends with them making me guilty by association?

What about our elected representatives on Facebook? Many of them use it as a tool to reach there constituents, one has even held an online surgery through the medium. Surely such communication between an MP, MSP, AM, MLA or Cllr and their constituent being held on such a database is a breach of confidentiality and guidelines.

Jacqui 'Big Sister' Smith is taking a knee jerk reaction, one that doesn't take into account the consequences of her actions. If you want to read my emails, if you want to see my Facebook, MySpace, Bebo or anywhere else details come to me with a warrant, the same goes for everyone else. If you have a suspicion against me go the whole hog.

Don't leave me naked and exposed with no privacy and the chance of having my details being exposed without my knowledge or consent by storing them on a third party data base on an off chance that I am one of the 3,000 suspects you think are in this country.

Scotsman's Non-News Story of the Day

Well I can't believe the sensationalism in this headline in today's Scotsman:

Now it would appear that this is a sensation. A novelty. That for the first time we are being denied the right to know the results of our votes until Sunday 7th June. Actually back in 2004 on the Sunday after polling in the last European election I hopped on a bus and turned up at Bathgate Academy for the counting of the West Lothian ballots in the European Election.

It's not news!

It has happened at least for the last two Euro Elections and that is just from memory. The reason is that some of our European neighbours either have one or two days of weekend voting. It means that all the votes are being counted simultaneously across Europe and the shape of the new parliament becomes known.

Hardly delayed in my book, but right on schedule.

Update: I have to say that the oversenstaionalism is showing up one thing the ignorance of the Cybernats* who post on the Scotsman's forums. Here is a brief Q&A for their rants, as I'd hate them to remain in ignorance.

Q 1. Postal voting again

Like all elections the postal votes will as ever be dealt with opened and verified with the same scrutiny as opening of other boxes. They will then on count night be mixed with another box and counted as normal.

2. Losing votes

Boxes will have been sealed with numbered cable tags at close of polling in the precence of that party polling station agents present. The unbroken tags will be witnessed being cut at the other end. In the interim the boxes will have be locked up in either a bank safe or police cell to avoid interference.

3. Labour to win all seats even were not standing candidates.

Well unless they mess up their list paperwork they will have their list in for the 7 seats across the one Scottish constituency for 7 seats. These are then elected by PR.

6. The Glenrothes Counting Team

In fairness I was there at the Glenrothes count and for most of it was stood next to Tricia Marwick, SNP MSP for Central Fife. We even discussed the performance of the counting team as it was going on. She had no issue with them, there was a snide comment about a little incident but it did not affect the effectiveness of the vote. What happened afterwards to the marked register has nothing to do with the counting team as this was never in the count hall. The ballots and the registers went to different locations after the close of polls.

8. More time to count postal ballots

See above. These are counted on the day after being resealed upon verification of the offical mark at times determined by the Returning Officer.

*At least the Nat Bloggers tend to be clued up than this lot, and if they aren't will take correction from fellow bloggers as a lesson learnt.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

The SNP an Education in Failure

Obviously being a local political operative here in the Linlithgow and Bathgate area one person I run across quite often is the SNP education minister Fiona Hyslop. However, working with numbers all day I have a thing or two I'll be sure to raise with her next time our paths cross.

It does appear that today we have found the way that the Scottish Parliament were hoping to reduce class sizes. Ronnie Smith, general secretary of Scotland's largest teaching union, the EIS deduced:

"Pupil to teacher ratios remain unchanged, which highlights that the Scottish Government's strategy of simply relying on falling pupil numbers and holding
teacher numbers in order to lower class sizes is just not working."

Problem is that Fiona as the Nats education spokesperson promised in her election address to the people of Linlithgow that:

"[The SNP] recruit new teachers to cut over-crowded classes in West Lothian, reducing class sizes in secondary and cutting classes to 18 in Primary 1-3."

Sadly today however, she seems content with the status quo says:

"These figures demonstrate that, for the second year in a row, teacher numbers are delivering a historic low pupil-teacher ratio in Scotland - in both primary and secondary schools.

"The number of teachers in both primary and secondary schools were also higher than in all but one year of the previous administration, in 2006."

Mr. Smith disagrees saying these are the lowest since 2004. Therefore 2004-5, 2005-6, 2006-7 were all academic years when teacher numbers had to have been higher. As schools count in academic years and the Nats had no control over any of these three years.

Considering the SNP glossy A3 promising it's time for a Government of new ideas and then listed:

  • It's time for a fairer local tax fail

  • It's time for more police on the street fail

  • It's time to dump student debt dumped

  • It's time for the best start in life fail (see above)

  • It's time to keep healthcare local success

  • It's time to back small business partial success but how many of the 120,000 small business they set out to help are still in business

So what's that 1.5 out of six key planks. Even Meatloaf would be hard pressed to say that ain't bad.

Update 25/3: Make that one more fail as the Nats are moving to a two tier health service.

Chinese Deathly Whispers

In 2007 there were a total of 1,252 executions around the world. In 2008 one country had 40% more that the entire number for the world in the previous 12 months with 1,718. Not only was China responsible for that increase by by itself the People's Republic of China accounts for 72% of the world's executions in 2008. Four other countries Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States join them to make up 93% all all in the last 12 months.

It could me worse as Amnesty International say that the figures for China are only the minimum estimate, the exact figure is a secret and may be as high as 6,000 to 15,000 according to some activists estimates. This was despite a promise to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to clean up their human rights record ahead of hosting the game in Beijing last summer. Yet while the world was enjoying the hospitality of the games more than 4 times the number of China's own citizens were put to death than the year before.

The change in style of execution has also changed from firing squad to lethal injection a move that Chinese authorities says shows a greater attention to human rights. And mobile death vans travel from town to town to administer the injections cutting costs.

The sharp increase goes against the trend in recent years which showed a decline in executions in China.

Monday 23 March 2009

Naughty Nigel

Oh dear. The News of the World carried news yesterday that Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths appears to have had sex in his House of Commons with a brunette on Remembrance Day.

Today the Scotsman reports that although this may not be the only incident that the Edinburgh South CLP are standing by the man who held a 405 vote majority in 2005. The following quote from the paper shows how concerned they must be about the seat in the next 15 months.

"It is understood that party leaders believe Mr Griffiths has a solid personal vote in the Edinburgh constituency and this would be lost if someone else was brought in to replace him."

Is there enough after being almost wiped out 4 years ago in light of the weekends revelations? How will the Morningside set take to the news?

If Labour are really that worried about losing Griffith's personal vote rather than selecting a new candidate they must really be in a panic about losing another Edinburgh seat where the Lib Dems are a close second and already hold the closest equivalent Holyrood seat.

Update: I see that Iain Dale has added further from that paper that no self respecting Liverpool supporter has purchased for 20 years:

"I am, of course, ashamed my conduct fell below acceptable standards," Griffiths said, "I've little recollection of the evening, but that doesn't make it right."

So from an outright denial in the NotW to a recollection that he has no recollection but admitting that his standards had dropped (amongst other things it would seem), the question now must be why no recollection of that evening? Oh dear Nigel spinning untruths to half truths is just getting more and more embroiled in his own web.

Further Update: You'd have thought that being a man's best man at his wedding may have garnered some support. Not so for Nigel as Mr J. G. Brown of Westminster and North Queensferry whose official spokesperson refused to pass on his comments. Something about not being in Government. Must be bad if even Jade Goody (who was never a member of the government) warranted some words from the busy man attempting to fix our economy.

Hat Tip to Jess the Dog

Sunday 22 March 2009

I'm Not Gonna Start Eating Meat to Fly

According to the Mail on Sunday my choice of diet makes me a terrorist suspect. Now I wouldn't mind but for the first 30+ years of my life anytime I got on a plane or ferry I was more or less considered one because of my place of birth and accent.

The Belfast Departure gate at Heathrow is still down a long corridor all by itself. At least now we do not have to take our luggage the whole way with us down there; we can now check it in at departures like everyone else. But I enjoy a largely meat free diet, usually about 75% of my week minimum, which apparently means that when I pre-order a vegetarian meal next time I fly long haul I'm going to be red flagged as a terrorist.

Now I always order vegetarian when I fly long haul for a number of reasons.

1. It is the healthier option than some indeterminate meat by product.
2. It leave less chance of contracting food poisoning.
3. I like the taste of vegetarian food.
4. (Don't tell everyone) It is always served up hot.

Now I've been deemed a terrorist suspect because of my place of birth, I'm not prepared to have this government make me order meat on a plane just to avoid being flagged up. I'll eat what I want to thank you very much. Although Dr Pack it isn't always lentils that get served up, though I don't complain when they do, he has set up a Facebook group to complain about this latest range of prejudices.

It would include my work colleagues who often book at the last minute. I'm actually often offered the over wing seats (to be able to operate the emergency accent). In fact approx 80% of my flights I'm seated there. I also have many friends who are missionaries who who met their partners when they were. Looks like all those international relationships that developed make them a terror suspect to, or for that matter the many mix race couples here in the UK.

Labour are making generalisations because they clearly are incapable of making sound judgement, reasoned deduction or sensible decisions. Pakistan Airways to New York again for me*, if they are going to flag me up may as well give then just cause.

*It's purely a cost thing.

Friday 20 March 2009

Dunfermline Building Society: Need for Action

Last week Willie Rennie MP blogged about the disproportionate charge that a mutual building society such as the Dunfermline Building Society were facing as a result of the fall out over Northern Rock. The fact that Dunfermline have not shifted from their key business as a savings and loan mutual means that their current difficulties shows the systemic failure of the Government to act responsibly in this current economic crisis.

As Willie pointed out the government was treated everyone the same both high risk banks with heavy investment portfolio and low risk mutuals providing customers a safe mortgage system. The Building Society looks poised to post loses of a mere £26 million, mere that is in comparison to RBS, HBoS, Lloyds-TSB and Northern Rock all of which the government was quick to jump to the defence of and shore up their risky portfolios.

Willie is calling on the government to take action:

"I want to explore every avenue possible in order to secure the future for Dunfermline. We cannot let 150 years of heritage be swept way under Labour's first recession. The business can be a strong concern in the future, but it is incumbent on politicians to help ensure its future."

Tavish Scott also added:

"This is a clear case for government intervention to ensure we do not lose a solid part of Scotland's financial infrastructure.

"I would be very worried if ministers were not already fully involved in seeing what influence they can bring to bear to retain the Dunfermline's independence. If they are not already involved, then they certainly should be."

Then Alex Salmond after pointing out (surprise, surprise) that financial regulation was reserved to Westminster, which restricted the Scottish Government's ability to act said:

"Dunfermline Building Society is a very significant player indeed in relation to the provision of social housing.

"Certainly, we would want the Dunfermline Building Society to remain as an
independent financial institution. There would be general support for that right across Scotland and we certainly stand ready to do anything that we can do in order to assist with that."

How about getting to Westminster Alex, where I believe you still have a seat, and seeing what you can do? Something you have singularly failed to do in the past.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Pope's Prophylactic Fallibility

Well His Infallibleness Benny XVI's comments in Africa have come under much scrutiny, not least in the Vatican's own official website. While His Condomless was heard to say about AIDS in Africa:

"It is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms which even aggravates the problems."

The Vatican's website changed the word for the phrase "merely risks aggravating".

There is another subtle change and dispute in the Italian text of an interview given on the flight to Angola the colloquial term from condoms is preservati this was replaced by profilattici (which covers a wider range of measures) before being changed back. Clearly in light of the comments the Holy See felt that the use of a word from the stem to preserve life wasn't in keeping with the overall effect of the message that was clearly being portrayed.

It is all very well the church trying to teach abstinence and fidelity of those who take Holy Orders were above reproach. But the failure of Priests in sexual celibacy, even to the abuse of children shows how difficult even the Church of Rome finds it difficult to practise what it preaches.

Surely now is the time for the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic world to acknowledge the help that wearing a condom can do to the quality and hope of life in areas so heavily afflicted by AIDS. If every sperm is so precious that it should be used by procreation then sadly the teenage male population would have every available womb in the world starting to create a new life before breakfast.

Nats Want Freedom: Just Not Their Information

The double standards for the SNP have come to light again this time over the Freedom of Information.

Last month they were up in arms with Jack Straw about the UK Government's failure to release Cabinet papers in the run up to the Iraq war. However, when the Scotsman asked them to release the minutes of the Cabinet meeting on 10 February when the Cabinet decided to drop plans to ditch replacing Council Tax with LIT, nothing.

Taking Angus Robertson's words from last month.

"The public feels it was lied to about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and those responsible must not be allowed to hide from an inquiry.

"This Cabinet cover up is typical of the Labour government’s attitude to freedom of information.

"....Those responsible have never answered the most fundamental questions about why we were led into this war.

"The claim that the war was about weapons of mass destruction was a lie, a mere cover story unsupported by the facts, which has cost the lives of thousands of civilians and hundreds of our brave soldiers"

With a slight adjustment we can ask.

"The public feels it was lied to about the reasons for breaking this policy
pledged in 2007, and those responsible must not be allowed to hide from an

"This Cabinet cover up is typical of the SNP government’s attitude to freedom of information and the Scottish electorate.

"Those responsible have never answered the most fundamental questions about
why we were led away from this policy that they still protected staunchly weeks

"The claim that the recession makes it impossible to bring about a fairer tax for the less well off is a lie, a mere cover story unsupported by the facts, which has cost thousands of pounds needlessly to those less able to pay the unfair council tax."

Update: I see that Jeff has taken the contrary view which I find discouraging for a supporter of a party that only wants Open Government (to quote the Jim Hacker plan on this issue) on things that suit itself. It is not a case of either or. If you want to utilise FoI legislation for gaining info you have to also be prepared to tender information when requested.

I suspect that the Scotsman already know what happened in those cabinet meetings and are merely wanting to get the official minute before publication. A dangerous game for the Nats to play.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Ben and Johnny 2

In his first full day in Africa as Pope, Benedict XVI continues in his stance against condoms (the Johnnies of the piece) as a way to stem the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent. He said he'd come with a 'message of hope' but where is the hope for the 22 million across Africa who are already affected, or their wives and families.

The Catholic Church is adamant that education of abstinence and family life is the way to go. He claimed that chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be "the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and Aids". The problem is that in Africa a lot of the spread of the disease has been within marriage where one of the partners (normally the male) has not held their marriage vows. There have been peaks at times of the increase of the infection amongst pregnant women. And some countries have a greater than 15% presence of the infection amongst it's adult population. It is not so much a case of need to save oneself as being uncertain even if you did that you'd be safe.

The fact that as the church would like to point out the spread in many countries has stabilised at around 20% is not because of a new found fidelity but because the rate of new infections and deaths is in a morbid state of equilibrium. The problem is also that 2 million of those infected in Africa have been infected since birth or from breast feeding from their infected mother. There is a generation that will be growing up with the disease.

Of course the Church will want to spread a moral message but is not giving people the chance to life a first and foremost an abomination, especially as there is a easy chance to help. Yeah sure supplying condoms isn't the whole answer as there is education needed that using one is a selfless act, but one that could help defend each participants health. But to outright deny them because to quote Python 'every sperm is precious' yet doing all they can to help those already with life is hypocrisy of the highest magnitude and one that the Church has yet to be brought to account over.

Ben and Johnny 1

Peter Brookes Cartoon in today's Times points out a serious story of the Roman Catholic Church's attitude to Africa and the frisson over how to handle the AIDS epidemic that is sweeping that continent. I hope to write more about that later in the meantime enjoy Mr Brookes' work.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Top O' the Mornin'

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

We'll let you all join in just don't turn too much of the "Black Stuff" green we don't like it like that. It's too American.

As for you lot down in Cardiff, enjoy it while you can we'll be moving the party there for the weekend. At least those who aren't still recovering from Cheltenham. So get the stocks of Guinness in we'll be celebrating come what may, but hopefully the end of 61 years of waiting. But you can join in I'm sure.

Farewell, Bruno Gianelli

C.J. Craig: I think you should talk to some reporters. You are entitled to the status you've earned.
Bruno Gianelli: The only thing I need status for... I'm doing right now.
C.J.: I'm going to be watching this guy.
Bruno: No, you don't have to watch him...
C.J.: We owe you, Bruno.
Bruno: No. I got paid. But thanks. I'm going to talk to Ashley now.

Ron Silver who played Bruno Gianelli that hard nosed political strategist in the West Wing died on Sunday. Like John Spencer his fellow West Wing actor there was a similarity in his life to that of his character. For John who played Leo McGarry played the part of a man with heart problems and ended up succumbing to a heart attack during the hiatus during the final season.

Whereas Bruno changed allegiance for money, for aiming to achieve the ultimate the 50 State stratagem Silver was principled in his political followings. So when after 9-11 he swing from the Democrats to the Republican cause he did it based on his own beliefs and convictions.

At the 2004 Republican convention he called himself a 9-11 Republican and spoke as a registered Independent:

"Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush, the cause of freedom and democracy is being advanced by the courageous men and women serving in our armed services. The president is doing exactly the right thing. That is why we need this president at this time."

While I disagree with him on his beliefs on that matter I do applaud him for being prepared to go against the Hollywood norm at that time, based on his own conviction.

However, to die at the age of 62 from esophageal cancer means he will never get to play many of those older statesmen role and will always be remembered as by me as the go getter, take no nonsense Bruno.

Sam Seaborn: Why are you so bent on countering these idiot leaflets?

Bruno Gianelli: Because I'm tired of working for candidates who make me think that I should be embarrassed to believe what I believe, Sam! I'm tired of getting them elected! We all need some therapy, because somebody came along and said, "'Liberal' means soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on defense, and we're gonna tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to go to work if they don't want to!" And instead of saying, "Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave It To Beaver trip back to the Fifties...!", we cowered in the corner, and said, "Please. Don't. Hurt. Me." No more. I really don't care who's right, who's wrong. We're both right. We're both wrong. Let's have two parties, huh? What do you say?

Monday 16 March 2009

All the "Fun" of a Conference First Thing on Sunday Morning

Ruaraidh Dobson Tweeted early on Sunday:

"I'm looking forward to the lys blood ban motion debate this morning, even if it is in the dead slot!"

Just for the record Jenni Lang the conference convener said to me later:

"There is no such thing as a dead slot, we put interesting debates on first thing on Saturday and Sunday. Plus starting at 10am rather than 9 or 9:30 also helps."

Well no matter what view point the debate on To Investigate the "Blood Ban" proved to be anything but a dead slot, so maybe Ruaraidh was dead wrong. It had all the excitement that policy wonks and constitutional experts prime themselves for. No sooner had Kieran Leach moved the motion with a speech he'd been bouncing excellent facts and phrases off me and Sophie Hall in the foyer since before 9 o'clock. Then Dan Farthing and Siobhan Mathers moved the two amendments than the Chair announced there was a call for a reference back from Galen Milne of Stirling.

I was sitting behind Kieran and Sophie as I had a card in for the debate. Hoping that my small talk at the conference dinner the night before wouldn't put my neighbour Shabnum Mustapha, the chair, off calling me to speak. Kieran turned around to ask me what was going on and as I started to explain when Richard Coxon, a member of the policy committee, moved a point of order from the floor. Talk about excitement and it still wasn't even 10:15 on a Sunday morning.

What conference wasn't fully aware off was that the chair was chairing her first debate, her aide was a first time aide and the mover and summater were also doing this all for the first time. This was kicking off into a quick lesson of conference standing orders for everyone involved. Siobhan, the Chair of the Policy Committee, who had just moved the PC's amendment hovered around the stage to offer guidance. Richard also pointed out that at the Chair's discretion the debate could be heard before a vote on a reference back of the motion after review by the policy committee at a later date.

Well the chair used her discretion and the debate continued with Catherine Carruthers at the third time of asking making her point against the first amendment. That while she was happy as a transfusion receiver to receive blood from men who have had sex with other men, she was less keen on some of the other groups such as non-intravenous habitual drug users donating blood to her. After she spoke I was called without first being warned to stand by (guess the unexpected proceedings caused by the reference back threw the chair of slightly).

So I opened my folder with my notes totalling a couple of underlines in the motion and 5 words and started to speak*. I outlined that my family was one of blood donors. My father and grandfather both were loyal donors, dad actually ran the scheme at school. I also said that I had given blood since before I was a member of the Liberal Democrats. I forgot to include the fact that I was in that first intake of freshers to be signed up for the party 21 years ago. Then dropped my bombshell 4 little words telling more people at one time than ever before that I one of those men who have sex with other men. Went on to talk a little about the illiberalism of that universal, lifetime exclusion and then returned to my seat after the most emotive, personal and powerful speech I think I've ever given at a Lib Dem Conference, as well as being one of the shortest.

I was followed by Ross Finnie. Now it is always a point of worry for the movers of a motion if the party spokesperson on that field is called to speak but they haven't approached you to check what is being covered. So it was that the LYS waited with me in trepidation as the Health Spokesperson rose to add to the debate. Our bated breathes collectively were released when it became clear that Ross was in favour of the motion even if he couldn't remember Catherine or me by name. But he did say it was right for those who are excluded to be fully advised as to why.

The rest of the speech carried on while a little huddle formed down in front of me as certain party experts started to brief Kieran and Sophie over what they would need to do should the call for a reference back pass a vote. They remained calm taking in all the advise and Kieran was hastily writing some notes in case he has to back a speech opposing the reference back. While Sophie somehow continued to make notes for her summation. I was sort of listening both those those discussions while trying to keep a guage not only on what was going on in the debate but also trying to work out how the hall might vote.

Finally after a speech from Cllr. Tim Brent who works as a health care manager who pointed out some of the risk, the time came for the vote on whether to debate the call for the reference back. Shabnum read out the statement again. Then came the time to show you cards, or at least the voting side of it. There was a very thin splattering in favour of a reference back and then a clear majority of cards against included I noted from my position down the front of the hall some very definite and forceful raising from a couple of good friends.

There was time after the debate on the reference back was not needed for Jennifer Stubbs another LYS member to make her first speech talking about the security of our blood product supply.

Then came the time for Sophie to summate she picked up on keys points from many of the speakers and interwove them into a message emphasising as liberal we should be looking beyond the social stigmas and making others look beyond them too.

Then it came to the vote. With the flourish of hands showing in favour I said to Kieran and Sophie that looks pretty clear which was confirmed seconds later by a far smaller group of hands showing against. LYS had two motions at this conference, The Minimum Income Guarantee passed fairly uneventfully, however, Sunday morning with so many of them in the hall was bound to have been an education into some of the nuances of Lib Dem conference politics. I know that Kieran and Sophie especially coped admirably under the unexpected twists and turns.

But anything but a dead slot for an important stance being taken by the party.

*My speech kicks in around 25:20

Sunday 15 March 2009

For Proper Haggis, Neeps and Conference We'll Need a "Press"

"press n. (Scots) a large cupboard, usually built into a recess in the

I'm back from a wonderful weekend in Perth at the Scottish Liberal Democrat's Spring Conference. The Concert Hall in Perth is a magnificent venue and I am so relieved that after 3 years at Aviemore which I couldn't afford, getting to and staying in Harrogate was cheaper one year so I took that option, we were back in Perth. There is so much that I wanted to blog at the time. So much more I could have Tweeted if there had been phone signal in the auditorium. Which leads to the title of this post.

I was speaking to a lot of the other Scottish bloggers. While the main venue had WiFi we failed to utilise that to it's full potential. From Harrogate last weekend we were entertained throughout the weekend from the Lib Dem Voice cupboard. Lib Dem Voice has recently started carrying a Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism column and I think going forward we need to have a Haggis, Neeps and Conference presence our own little 'press' at least at Spring Conference.

We not looking for a lot maybe a couple of dedicated power outlets for the bloggers to recharge our overworked laptops, netbooks or whatnot as we were all constantly trying our best to preserve battery. Ideally these could be somewhere we can catch what is going on in the main hall. Having discussed it with a few of the others there is enough of us to draw up some sort of rota to cover the debates and major events either live or almost live, whilst still allowing us to speak in debates etc.

We'd also see it as a change to encourage some of the Parliamentarians, PPCs, Councillors or just other delegates to write they own contribution to Haggis, Neeps and Conference. I know from discussions with a lot of them the Parliamentarians they they may not necessarily want to write a regular blog, however, I'm sure that in a form of Haggis, Neeps and Conference they would be willing to write a piece about a particular motion or event. You know what I might even be able to peruade Mr "Cool" Carmichael to do that once a year. Maybe expand a little on what they have said in the debate or what not. I also think we may be able to persuade someone, who I already have in mind, to take a camera around the venue and Helen Duffett-like capture some 12Seconds footage for us.

So any of the Conference Committee reading this I'll be writing a more formal proposal on this and getting it off to you propably within the week.

Scottish Lib Dem Conference Day 3

And so the end is near. Last day of the Scottish Lib Dem Conference for this Spring. So one last time here is the live feed of the #sldconf hashtag.


10:oo To Invetigate the 'blood ban'

10:45 Policies for the Future

11:45 Organ Donation

12:30 Emergency Motion

13:10 Speech by Tavish Scott MPS

Saturday 14 March 2009

In Praise of Liberal Youth Scotland #sldconf

I've been attending Scottish conference for a number of years now since I came across in 2001.

I mentioned back at Autumn conference how impressed I was at the way our part encouraged it's youth wing in tabling debate and calling them to speak. We had a good number of contributions from Liberal Youth Scotland in Autumn, far more than I'd seen for a long while, but this conference there has been even more. They have all been of high quality and they had about half of the questions for the Leaders' Q&A session earlier to Tavish Scott and Alistair Carmichael. Some very good questions looking clearly at how they can be involved more and fully in the party.

I was sitting next to fellow blogger Callum Leslie during the debate below when I wasn't called. As soon as he got called before Jeremy Purvis to make the summation I knew my change for today had passed. But not grudgingly Callum made a good speech which managed to get the rare honour of being mentioned twice in the summation.

Outside me and Callum were approached by a runner for a TV crew to do a vox pop. We thought they's missed us as there when she came back near us they grabbed first James another LYS member and then another. However, they did come back and get me but not Callum a reversal of the debate itself.

I know that Callum is looking to becoming an approved candidate in time for the 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament when he will be old enough to stand. He plus several of the other members of the current crop of LYS are certainly capable of being good candidates for the future and MPs and MSPs and I had great pleasure in signing up as a friend of LYS earlier. They may be costly friends to have, especially if they continue to entertain conference like they did so well last night but with the potential I've seen from them in the past six months, not forgetting Stuart Douglas over the past number of years I think it is a worthy investment and I'd urge the rest of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to be-friend LYS as well.

PS I'll let them disagree with me from time to time. After all I've been a Westminster candidate and hope to be so again soI must be part of the establishment. Eek! And 21 years ago I disagreed with the establishment as well.

UPDATE 15 March: Well done to LYS on two excellent presentations on motions on the Lower Income Guarantee and to Investigate the "Blood Ban". The latter saw Keiran Leach and Sophie Hall suddenly thrust into all the drama of conference when a reference back was raised. Which I observed from the seat behind them handling admirably every possibility that was being explained to them of this constitutional uncertainty being thrown upon them. The summation of the former earned Ruaraidh Dobson the Russell Johnson prize for Best Contribution in a Debate at Conference.

My Speech in the More Powers for the Scottish Parliament #sldconf

Here is my speech which sadly was never heard out loud for the above debate.

Conference a few years ago you will remember that we debated and passed a policy of fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

You may also recall that the bulk of that motion faced a substantial amendment from Policy Committee after the words "Conference notes".

I, in my less rebellious persona, spoke strongly for that amendment. Not because I was opposed to fiscal autonomy, but because I said we needed to see it as a part of a greater federalism.

I've lived in London, Northern Ireland and Scotland and I know from personal experience that one policy does not fit all.

Of course I'm not shy in flying my diverse federalist tendencies to the mast. But as I currently reside in Scotland I want what is best for Scotland...except from 5-7pm this evening at Murrayfield.

This policy upholds long held liberal beliefs of decentralising power to the people. The people best able to make changes to effect a smaller section of our United Kingdom; whether subtle or radical. Whatever is needed at any point in time.

Which is why in this motion especially lines 38-41 we offer so much more than just financial empowerment.

In recent weeks my blog has attracted many comments from the Nats and their sympathisers about our stance on just this issue.

They say, "How can we be democratic yet not consider devolution max as part of a referendum?"

They say, "How can we be for fiscal autonomy yet not let Parliament have that ability?"

I say look at this motion!

Not just fiscal autonomy - but a wider framework of federal governance.

To help us tackle our own unemployment -
After all Alex is very, very concerned about a particular 8,664 jobs.

To help us tackle the issues with our shared infrastructure -
We need to get to England even the MP for BAnff and Buchan -With extra powers we can improve our rail links to London and beyond. Making them an attractive alternative to air.

To help us boost our energy strategy - we have the people to innovate in wave and tidal energy, even if the Carbon Trust fringe event didn't help with the kymatology question at the LYS quiz last night. Let's as a government support and utilise them, so we don't lose out on the manufacturing jobs that result as we did with wind.

Salmond and Swinney bemoan not getting financial support from Westminster.

Is that a conversation they're actually having? Well, is it Darling?

We in this motion show the way forward.

Work within the UK - with Westminster - and strengthen how the Scottish Parliament can act.

Unlike the SNP we can make a difference -
and we don't need to sever all ties or cancel everything without replacement in doing so.

You heard what John Sleigh said about the returns from his survey.

Conference I urge you to stand shoulder, to shoulder,

Answer. [pause]

Scotland's call and support this motion.

Conference: So Much to Write Not Enough Time

One of the things I thought would be easier this conference is that having my own laptop with me I'd be finding it so much easier to write up this conference.

Of course your laptop needs power but while there is WiFi in the Perth Concert Hall it is finding the time to actually just sit there and write. The other thing I am finding a little frustrating is that inside the auditorium I am without a signal for Orange. This means two things first I am unable to Tweet little aide memoires to the Twitterverse during the debates and second my time between debates online is then spent Tweeting what I would have done from the auditorium. However, I have copious notes about the Economic Recovery Package debate from yesterday, and will get around to reading my scrawl at some point later.

The other thing of course about the Spring Scottish Conference is that unlike the day long one in Autumn we really do have time for networking. Yesterday for example I did met fellow bloggers, Bernard Salmon, Andrew Reeves, Iain Dale (no not the Tory), Ros Scott, Ruaraidh Dobson and Callum Leslie. If you count the fact that I also ran into Brain Taylor I think I may well have scored the full house of the potential Lib Dem Bloggers.

Last night of course the highlight of the evening was the Liberal Youth Scotland Quiz and Improv Debate night. A roaring success as all of those present left the Ballroom at the Royal George with considerably lightened wallets. In the science round my team Twitter Ye Not realised that having a team full of humanities graduates the closest thing we had to real scientists were social scientists and sci-fi geeks, which meant we at least knew the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything with confidence. However, Alistair Carmichael and Hugh O'Donnell were hilarious as the questioners and comperes.

Our team also provided 3/4 of the contestants in the Improv Debate and with Ben Rawlings we also had one of the names in the hat that was not called upon. But Cllrs Kenneth Elder and Charles Dundas, the eventual finalists, and myself took on a range of bizarre topics for debate. Things that would never grace the floor of main conference not even in LYS's wildest machinations.

What would Karl Marx make of the Internet? Saw Charles Dundas argue that while Marx said religion was the opiate of the masses what was widely not known was that Marx partook in the opiates and therefore was a great fan of religion.

Raffles should be banned? Was a subject suggested by me whilst I was being tackled by Gavin Steele with a wad of raffle tickets. But Kenneth Elder took up the tone of the afternoons debate of Tobacco Vending machines to say that as Liberals we shouldn't be banning anything unless of course it was to stop our young people getting dragged down by the lottery of life.

Beer is an effective contraceptive. Led me to argue that we all know how our drunken self can never find the way home, how much more would our drunken sperm be unable to find their way to let alone get the key in the lock of the eggs waiting for them at the end of their trip. Before concluding that we all know the rumour that after 4 pints we know that any man is any mans, and we all know that cant lead to pregnancy.

Into the final round and after the tight vote by applause in my semi-final Katy Gordon erroneously started to give me a subject for the final. In the end Mr Elder had to debate You cannot get between the love of a man and his sheep. While Mr Dundas had the subject who ate all the pies.

On the sheep Kenneth glossed over the fact that the subject was suggested by a Welshman in the room. Then argued that the wool on the sheep reminded you of that soft jumper from your gran that you just cannot throw away.

However, the speech of the night was from Charles Dundas who looked through the various types of pies. Rattling off the Lib Dems in the room as the potential eaters before a climatic revelation that the person who clearly ate all the pies was the occupant of Bute House.

Then as the Ballroom emptied out and the winners in the silent auction cuddled their acquisitions we all retired to the hotel bar for more networking. But it was a glorious success and LYS are already promising to do something similar again next year. I for one will be there.

Scottish Lib Dem Conference Day 2 Live Feed

Well if Day 1 worked you will have seen the feed of the #sldconf hashtag. Welcome to Saturday's live feed of the Scottish Lib Dem Conference.


10:00 Minimum Income Guarantee
10:30 Financial Inclusion for Low Income Borrowers
11:30 Speech by Vince Cable MP
14:50 Emergency Motion
15:20 Leader Q&A
15:40 More Powers for the Scottish Parliament

Friday 13 March 2009

Comic Relief Give Them a Call

Well I'm up in Perth at the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference. At the moment I'm probably mingling or in one of this evenings fringe events so I am missing the goings on of Comic Relief in more ways than one.

Working as I do in a call centre the faceless people at the other end of the phone during telephons are not that faceless when you know what the job entails. For events like this people will have volunteered their evening to help out the charity in question. Well this evening some of those many the telephones will be even less faceless as I'll be able to put names to some of them as our call centre is one of those taking the calls. So people I see on a daily basis may well be taking you call.

Now that you know that you really have to call 03457 910910 or visit www.rednoseday.com/donate go on you know you want to.

Scottish Lib Dem Conference Day 1 Live Feed

Ok I'm not sure exactly when I'm going to get around to actually blogging about Conference this weekend, although I know me and others will be Tweeting and using the #sldconf hashtag. If all goes well these updates will appear below.


11:10 Tobacco Vending Machines

15:15 An Economic Recovery Package for Scotland

16:15 The Future of the UK Economy

Dun in: Salmond Caught Out

At FMQ's yesterday Alex Samond tried to claim that Dunning Primary School in Perth was commissioned and built entirely under the SNP administration. Fail!

This PDF dated January 2007 lists some key milestones in the work highlighted are 4 stages which may well have started or were planned to before the SNP were elected in as the biggest party on the 3 May 2007.

Problem is Alex that information wasn't all that hard to find. So don't try and hide the wool over our eyes when we all can fact check. This was a project already rolling when you took over as First Minister. Yeah you may well have finalised the contractor but that was a stage down the way from the start of the works. This project started in the previous admistration.