Tuesday, 24 April 2007

9 Days to Go: A Quick Overview...

Like the title says, 9 days to go, and I have realised that I haven’t given some sort of overview on how the elections here in Scotland are panning out.

So far all the opinion polls place the Scottish National Party at about 5% points ahead of New Labour. There are several reasons for this; the SNP campaign is a steady campaign which so far has not hit any real controversies. This will change as newspaper editors begin to scrutinise the SNP manifesto a lot more closely. Indeed the Sunday Herald at the weekend ran with the news that the SNP had ‘dropped’ plans to regulate bus franchises from their manifesto; this coincides with the donation from Stagecoach owner Brian Souter (Bearing in mind the chaos that is Paisleys public transport system, regulation might be a good idea).

The other reason is that the New Labour campaign has been utterly atrocious. From ministers appearing on television and appearing not to know their own party policy, to political heavyweights venturing north to lecture the natives on the evils of independence (And they still haven’t told us where they get this magical “A vote for the SNP will cost every household £5000”), the New Labour campaign has been a nightmare. Yesterday they wheeled out “Football Legends” to persuade us to back the union and vote Labour. Yea, right, like thousands of us voted Conservitive in 1992 because Paul Daniels, Phil Colins and Frank Bruno were Tories, that made us all vote Conservitive… er no, that’s not going to make us forget the declining economy, the feral children running amok in our streets or the useless police.

As for the other parties, the Lib-Dems have improved from their bad start, where their leader failed to realise that it is wise to check that the microphone is switched on (or the faux-pas over Penilee playing fields), the Conservatives have been painting themselves as the true defenders of the Union, then in the next breath promising more powers for the Scottish Parliament. The rest, hmmm. The Greens have been talking about responsibility, while the Scottish Socialists and Solidarity have been squabbling amongst themselves. Actually, to be fair, the SSP have been doing all the goading on this one. Ah, if only they weren’t so pious.

Still, there are 9 days to go, and lots of votes still to be won if I am anything to go by. See you next time.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The Best Brittish Band Ever!

Hullo. I wrote this blog a while back, and somehow forgot to post it on this page. You may remember... ooooh it must have been February a blog about the Outstanding Contribution award at the Brits, where I listed who I thought deserved the award more that Oasis (or when I came up with the list the Eurythmics). I kind of ummed and aahd about whether I would put New Order into the list. Instead, I’ll just do a blog about them, even if there is already blog about them on some derelict space

In 5th and 6th year we were allowed to apply for bursaries, which was a kind of student grant for people in 5th and 6th year at school (6th year is the last year at secondary school, the next level on is either college/university or the wonderful world of work) I got mine for 6th year, after loosing out in 5th year, and I did what most young people do when they get some money, spend it!

My first couple of albums were a couple of old Erasue albums and the Pet Shop Boys Discography compilation, late 1980s Electronica going firmly against the fashion of the time which was grunge and heavy guitars, most of my contemporaries were into, randomly, Iron Maiden, Gun's and Rose, Metallica and a new band frome Seattle called Nirvana. One day while in town I spotted a copy of Substance 1987, New Order’s singles compilation, and I bought it.

I had liked a couple of their singles, Blue Monday and True Faith, and I had also been a fan of singer Bernard Sumner’s side project Electronic. The mark of a great band is if you listen to something and think that I have never heard that before. I did that lots of times listening to Substance. “Everything’s Gone Green” (track 2) was the first to get me, sound of some sort of drum machine being switched on, then this mad twanging melodious baseline. The whole thing settles down for the first verse which ends with the chant of “It seems like I’ve been here before”. There is an instrumental break at this point before the second verse, by which time you realise that there is some sort of electronic noise beneath the sound of the gutars/bass and all the reverb cymbals.

I liked what I heard, so I bought some more of their albums, buying 1989’s “Technique” (left)about a month later, followed a few weeks after Christmas 1992 by 1986’s “Brotherhood”. Then Regret came out, it was and still is a great pop record. In the mean time, I got a bit into Joy Division, buying their Substance 1977-80 compilation.

I like them because the songs sound inventive, and so different to anything that had been produced before. They also pull off the trick of writing upbeat, sweet records about pain and heartbreak. The artwork for their records is also fabulous, from the day-glo of Technique to the fusing of the ancient to the modern in “Power Corruption and Lies” (top), which is repeatedly voted one of the best album sleeves of all time. They deserve to have a film written about them, and sadly “Twenty-Four Hour Party People” isn’t it.

The are, and remain, my favourite band.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Elections But No Politics!

Hi there, after a few days of politics, I thought that I would write about something a bit different today. The shortlist’s for the Players Player of the year has been announced both sides of the border.

Here in Scotland, the nominees are Artur Boruc, Lee Naylor and Shunsuke Nakamura of Celtic and Aberdeen Captain Russell Anderson, with the winners announced on 22nd April.

In England, the nominees are Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs & Paul Scholes of Manchester United, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, Liverpool captain Steven Gerard and Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Again the winner will be announced on the 22nd April.

However, while it is good to celebrate the top performers, I feel that the spotlight should also fall on those players who perhaps did not play so well. I remember several years ago on the excellent Baker and Kelly-Upfront phone in show, still I believe the best football phone in show ever, Danny Baker asking for what he described as “your nomination for the anti-footballer of the year. Just a name and a reason”.

I think that it would certainly spice up the dull (and a bit too worthy) football shows. So what about it out there in the blogoshere. Anyone reading this nominate your anti-player of the year.

My nomination would be Tony Bullock, not just because he’s not as good as our other keeper, Chris Smith, but because there were points this season where you wondered why Bullock was in the team (I think he was in the team from the 1-0 win at Hearts in September till the 5-1 loss at Hibs just before Christmas). Outside of the buds, my nomination would be Barry Ferguson of Rangers, he’s not had a great season, had flattered to deceive and is just overrated by a fawning media.

Look forward to reading your comments. See you next time

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Open Letter to New Labour

Dear Mr Henry

We am writing in response to your letter of March 2007 (pictured left). I note that unlike the SNP, you have not asked me for my priorities and issues which will decide my vote come May 3rd. In case you are interested, my open letter to the SNP will be of some interest. The overall tone of the letter is that I feel that, to quote an old advertising slogan, “Britain is not working” and to paraphrase your own leader, the union must “evolve or die”.

You say that Scotland and Paisley South is changing for the better. No it is not! The gap between rich and poor has increased and Scotland is collectively poorer than it was in the 1960’s. Sure, employment rates are high, but most people are working at rates barely above the minimum wage. Combined with low inflation rates and “historically low” mortgage rates, this creates a false economy built on debt and credit. When the bubble bursts, we will all be in trouble. Indeed, inflation is rising, mortgage payments rise with interest rates, but wages don’t – you do the math!

You say that New Labour has invested record amounts of money on schools and hospitals. You have done this using PFI/PPP which is effectively a second mortgage on these properties. Why does your party try to keep the true costs hidden from the British public, by ruling that these costs are “off sheet”? Is it because they would cast new light on the Chancellors record, and interfere with his prudence rules? Also, the NHS needs to concentrate more on helping those in society with illnesses and disabilities outwith their control.

Crime is a shared priority. However, your new laws are not working. Anti social behaviour, especially in adolescents, is still rife. As I said in my SNP blog, there are gangs of children drinking on a Friday & Saturday night. Why is that still happening? The parents must take a share of the blame, as must the politicians. There is a lack of things for teenagers to do, or where to go, especially when the parents don’t care. After all, did you not promise to be “Tough on the causes of crime” too?

In the face of all this, the Scottish education system is struggling. Yes, you have allocated more money for schools, but surely that must go hand in hand with supported employment options? Students are leaving school, with good qualifications, even degrees, but cannot get jobs! Our education system must evolve too, to try and engage with young people. Hope is a strong emotion, and one our younger generations are sadly lacking. Ambition needs to be encouraged, and sustainable employment must be a long term priority.

I also agree we need more police on the beat, but the police need to be trained properly & thoroughly, and taught that ordinary members of the public are not the enemy. Improvements in the police force do not require just more police, but better policing too, work smarter not just harder. Anything more than a speeding fine or a parking ticket, or publicity orientated crimes and the police are not interested.

You also argue against the SNPs proposal to change the way we fund local government. As you have recognised with the additional bands, the council tax is unfair, in that it attacks people’s aspirations to a good house. The way I see it, there are flaws in both of your arguments. Perhaps the SSP/Solidarity system is fairest, I am not sure. What I am sure of is that the present arrangement of financing Local Government is unsatisfactory, and does not provide value for money. There should be some sort of graduated ‘scale’, to ensure that those who can afford it pay more, while the poorest in our society pay less. The balance of wealth in our country needs to be addressed, as our ‘false economy’ slides into a sea of personal debt.

However, therein lies another huge problem. We have to address the whole section of our society who simply do not want to pay their way. Nobody, if fit to do so, should be allowed to not work and live on benefits. Single parents should do voluntary work, or build up ‘work credits’, learning a skill in order to work at some point. We need to encourage young parents that they need to pay their way too, not just expect the state to pay for their family! Addicts should be in recognised treatment programmes, if they want to continue receiving benefits. Parents need to take more responsibility for guiding their children – after all, they are the adults of tomorrow, and if they don’t learn social skills and self respect at home, what chance will they have? It would be a helpful idea to have every child of primary school age required to be in a sport or recreational club/group – this way they would learn social interaction and teamwork at an early age, meaning less problems as they grow up. Thus, we start tackling anti-social behaviour at ‘grass roots’ level.

We have a lot of other sensible, common sense ideas, and we are both in that almost forgotten group – the ’30 somethings’ - workers, voters, mature adults who care what happens to our country, and have good ideas on what you, our elected politicians, should do to help our country evolve. Perhaps if you can put the ‘political game’ aside for a minute – you might see our point of view!
Call it ‘constructive criticism’ from the electorate.

Yours sincerely
Allan Moore, 31 and Angela McCormack, 35

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Explaining the Blast and other things

Hullo, just a quick blog today.

Bit of a nothing weekend, apart from the fact that I now know that St Mirren are doomed to relegation. How do I know this? Well in yesterdays Paisley Daily Express, there was an Interview with Tony Blair, who was here electioneering. Obviously after the stuff about education, health etc etc (unlike other news organisations who relegated the 34 dead in Iraq story behind the young couple split shocker story), Blair was asked about St Mirren, and he backs us to stay in the SPL!!!

Yep, we’re guffed!

The other thing I was going to talk about was my blast. For those of you not on yahoo, it is a kind of heading messagy thing that goes at the top of the main page. For the past 6 weeks it has been a quote from the excellent comedy panel show “Mock the Week”. One of the regulars is a Glasgow comedian by the name of Frankie Boyle, who was one of two acts worth watching on the now defunct BBC Scotland show “The Live Floor Show” (the other being the Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolfe III, a spoof American preacher).

So the quote comes from the last round, which is an improvisational round where the comedians are asked to come up with the worst lines for any given situation, for this situation it was the worst line to be heard on Comic Relief night, this line – “Remember 20% of all money raised goes to a grinning African warlord wearing a necklace made from the bones of dissenting villagers...” was Frankie’s opening gambit.

I put it up because there was an element of truth about it, and I was getting really fed up of smug, rich, celebrities on the television telling us that we can help, as if the situation in Africa is ever as simple as that.

Rant over. See you next time!

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Open Letter to the SNP

Dear Mr Salmond

I write in response to your letter which I received last week. I am particularly taking up your invitation to let you know if your party is on the right track.

In 1997, there were several reasons why I did not vote New Labour, and I feel that some of these reasons may or may not be the reasons behind me not voting for the SNP come May 3rd.

At the moment, I feel that perhaps your party is conservative in its ambitions for what needs to be done. There are many things wrong with Scotland, but “Smaller class sizes, boost small business and create jobs, abolish the council tax, keep local services just that… and put more police back on the beat” only really scratches the surface. Also, I feel that your party may be too ‘business friendly’ You keep harping on about all the businessmen who have given you donations and support – concentrate on people like myself and my partner – we are the ordinary people on the street! I would like to think that our votes are as valuable to you as the ‘money people’.

My priorities would be a proper, free at the point of delivery health service, where all the doctors conduct themselves in a professional manner, in professional surroundings. Zero tolerance to violence and abuse is a necessity, but it cuts both ways – professionals should not be allowed to ‘abuse’ this protection! We want the patients to behave better, but who is monitoring the health professionals? Doctors and nurses can behave badly too. We deserve a quality health service. Lots of money is thrown at addiction services – yet we have situations where cancer patients have to wait for treatment – this is just simply wrong!

Public transport is another area that should be a priority. Paisley is Scotland’s largest town, yet public transport all but stops after 6:30pm. We are supposed to be more environmentally conscious, yet we are not encouraged to leave our cars at home, as public transport is so poor in many areas. I try to be socially responsible, yet the council cannot even empty my blue recycle bin when I use it!

Crime is another priority. “Tough on Crime and Tough on the causes of crime”, we should be hard but fair on criminals, as well as looking to eradicate the causes of crime, remove poverty, make underage drinking more difficult, and have more amenities for young people. We have neighbourhood wardens in Glenburn, but I still saw a crowd of teenagers drinking in the streets on Friday night and causing problems on the street. The wardens are not any more effective than the police at discouraging anti-social behaviour. Where are the parents? Do they know, or even care what their children are doing? The next generation seem to have no respect for anyone, and think they are above the law.

The law also needs to be less of an ‘ass’ too. There are too many vagaries and grey areas, which encourage criminal acts. The police are totally ineffectual – anything more challenging than a parking ticket or speeding fine they just aren’t interested. They seem to want people to choke our already burdened court service with things they could easily deal with.

As for the local council – what a group of useless, greedy people. Paisley town centre is sliding quickly into decline, while the council tell us they ‘plan to spend £7.5 million revamping it. Would it not be more useful to save it before it’s too late? Our 40 councillors spent almost a million pounds in expenses – while services are cut and council tax rises. This is crazy!

Another point – my partner and I are both homeowners and council tax payers. Yet the council will not assist us with anything, and make us pay for everything. We deserve the same consideration as tenants – we all pay our council tax! Indeed, they are constantly trying to find ways to make us pay more, like ‘management fees’ and ‘common charges’

The council tax system is totally unfair. I believe it should be largely based on ‘disposable income’, as should the benefits system. The system is still open to abuse. People should pay their way in society if they are able to do so. Why should I meet my drunken neighbour with his carry-out as I go out to work in the morning? Or listen to loud music and noise at night from a young, single parent on benefits, who has never worked, when I have work in the morning?

As you point out, in 4 years ordinary Scots have expressed their anger at the war in Iraq, their support to make poverty history (even if vulture funds will undermine this agreement) and their disgust at the thought of the next generation of American operated weapons of mass destruction being based not far from Scotland’s largest city, but we still feel ignored, patronised, belittled by “our betters” who come “north” and lecture us on what we should and what we shouldn’t be doing. These “betters” are the same people who have led Scotland backwards and have hindered our development. It is time to build a Scotland we can be proud of. I hope you find my suggestions helpful.

Yours sincerely

Monday, 9 April 2007

April 9th 1992

Hi there, yet another political blog by the way.

This is the 15th anniversary of the first General Election that I stayed up for, but not the first one I remember, that one was the 1987 election, which because our school was being used as a polling station I had the day off. Ironically the self same school will be my local polling station when I vote next month in the Hollyrood & local council elections. I don’t really remember much of that election except Thacher won her 3rd election on the trot.

Anyway, her successor, John Major waited almost 5 years before calling the n
ext election. When the election was called for April 9th, the Conservitave’s only trump card was the tax cuts which they had announced in the Budget. On the minus side for them, and the plusses for the Labour party was that Britain was going through a recession, the second worst in our history.

Strangely enough I wasn’t too confident of a Labour victory. I thought that surely it would be an end to 13 years of Conservative government. Funnily enough it was a grey day, not unlike it is today.

I should point out that though it was the first election that I stayed up to watch the results, I was still 15 months away from being eligible to vote. The way things usually go is that polling lasts from 7am through to 10pm, with the BBC/ITV (and Sky) announcing the results of their exit polls just after the polls close. Nothing really happens until the first results usually come in, usually from about quarter to 11. It is possible to know which way the wind is going by about half past midnight.

However, on turning over at 10, both ITV & the BBC exit polls showed that Labour, had not done enough to win the Election, but would be the largest party in a hung parliament. The polls had been pointing towards a Labour victory until the start of that week. The results when they came in didn’t look all that great for Labour either, they were holding on to seats (the inner city seats tend to get their ballot boxes to the count quicker, therefore they declare first) but with similar majorities from 1987. Then at about quarter to 12, Basildon declared.

Basildon was a must win seat for Labour, but the Conservatives held the seat. At that point myself, my parents and pretty much every Labour supporter in the country knew that the Tories would get back in. Sure we had the consolation of the Conservative party chairman (and architect of their election win) Chris Patten losing his Bath seat to the Lib Dem Don Foster, but we went to our beds knowing that we would have 5 more years of the Tories in power. By the time i awoke the next morning, Major still required 5 seats for a majority (
they won a 21 seat majority)

That election was a turning point, but not as the pundits predicted at the time. We Scots were angry at being tricked into voting SNP, but letting the Conservatives in through the middle to steal 2 seats. At the time the Conservatives were the only party not committed to any sort of devolution, yet they only gathered 25% of the vote in this election. As demands for home rule grew, other people were drawing their own conclusions, namely that socialism is a vote loser, and gee don’t those Lib Dems have some good ideas. So while Labour had fought its last election as the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats were fighting their first election as the Lib Dems, and would be more influential than they would realise.

After watching repeats of the coverage today, I’m amazed at just how much has changed, and at how quickly fortunes can change.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

30 Days to Go: The Own Goal


The campaign has already begun for the Holyrood & local elections. So far I have received 3 pieces of election literature, 2 of which I am currently trying to pen open responses to (these letters were from the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond & the New Labour education minister, & local MSP, Hugh Henry).

In the meantime, it appears that the Lib Dems have scored something of an own goal amongst St Mirren fans. Several weeks ago the local (Labour) council announced a deal to renovate Penilee playing fields, in Paisleys east end, and turn it into a football & training academy. It had become dilapidated after Pailsey Grammar stopped using the area for PE and Sports days.

However, this idea (for the plans are not yet set in stone just yet ) has been hijacked by a bitter and cynical burst of NIMBY-ism, allegedly orchestrated by the local Lib Dem councillor. Now I don’t know anything about that, but there is an interesting sideline to this story. When the story of opposition to Renfrewshire Councils plans first appeared in the local press, the councillor was flanked by a jogger who claimed that she would have nowhere to go if this plan went ahead. Now wouldn’t you know, it has bee discovered that the mystery jogger is a prospective candidate in another council ward… for the Lib Dems.

This controversy has died down a bit in the past couple of days, but there have been rumblings about leaflets being handed out at tomorrows (St Mirren V) Hibernian game. I shall keep you informed. You can click
here to read the fan zone yourselves.

One last thing. Apparently, Defence Correspondent of the Herald Newspaper described the conditions for War Correspondents during the Falklands War as like going out to your back garden and digging a series of holes in the worst winter imaginable with your next door neighbours trying to kill you “or it was like going out on Paisley on a Saturday”.

Now I know what Paisley is like on a Saturday, it can be rough, but not as bad as that. I was interested to see the outrage from paisleys local politicians. Local Politician Hugh Henry said that “I was raging when I heard it. It was very insulting and just Doesn’t reflect Paisley”. Former provost of Renfrewshire Ronnie Burns said the remarks had “no value at all”. Me, I’m perplexed that all these (Labour) politicians can get upset at remarks like these and yet do nothing to deal with the real problems in Paisley. Of course, some of our local politicians are the same politicians who thought that it would be a great idea to bring a Casino and licence a Lap-Dancing club in Paisley. Those would be great for the image of Paisley….