Sunday, 13 December 2009

Meet My Friend Pain

See, the problem with blogging hiatuses, enforced or not, is that when events happen, an outbreak of itchy fingers follows soon after. I’m typing this the evening after the pre-budget report where Darling did himself no favours by targeting the low paid (once again) and everyone else. Except the villains of the piece, our friendly, greedy bankers and MP's.

What do you mean they got hit with a huge tax hike? Have they not got clever accountants who can evade paying their share? Darling’s proposals in this respect were like a blunt instrument, designed to appeal to the “Labour” constituency, rather than put forward proposals which will be a proper disincentive for the excessive “bonuses”. This won’t work, especially amongst those of us who remember New Labour’s refusal to condemn greedy bonuses until Obama came along, while seeming to be content to put taxes up for the low paid. This week's Private Eye features a reminder of Brown's treatment of Non Doms being different when they were giving money to New Labour.

In any case it’s not the well off who will pay for the greed and vanity of the City, it will be the ordinary person in the street, VAT will go up again and an extra 0.5% will be put on to National Insurance contributions, with the possability of tax hike's further down the road. That of course does not mention the game of my cut is bigger than your cut that Darling and Osborne have been rather tastelessly playing with each other in front of fearful public sector workers.

While Darling was busily giving with one hand and taking away with the other, George Osborne was convincing absolutely no one that he is the Chancellor in waiting. Yes New Labour have driven this country close to bankruptcy, and yes their handling of the economy is questionable, but Osborne has not said that he disagrees with the bale-out of the banks, the light touch regulation regime or the various PFI/PPP schemes. All of whom have contributed to the black hole at the heart of UK plc’s finances. I suspect that true Thatcherite’s would secretly have rather let Northern Rock, RBS and HBOS go to the wall rather than prop them up with billions of pounds of public money, but then their friend’s would have been up to their necks in the brown stuff.

Osborne went on and on about Darling and Brown driving Britain into recession, but the truth be told, Brown and Darling drove Britain into recession with Tory policies. Millions of pounds disappear each year into the second mortgage scheme originally known as the Private Finance Initiative. Used with such zeal by New Labour to fund the refurbishment of Schools and Hospitals up and down the country, the current SNP/Lib Dem administration in Cotton Street are extremely reticent in discussing PPP’s role in Renfrewshire Council’s financial woes. PFI was originally the brainchild of the former Conservative Chancellor Norman Lamont. The Thatcherite wing of the Conservative party always pride themselves in believing in little or no regulation for business, no surprise that Brown’s policy of “light touch” regulation raised not one complaint from the Conservatives, at least until the Banks started to fall. Conservatives also always believe in low taxation, and cutting taxation, whether it was in the interests of the country or not. Yet they have been stony-faced when Brown cut taxes when times were good, even going so far as introducing a starter rate of 10%. The Tories did not complain about fixing roof’s at this point, and they certainly did not complain when the 10% tax rate was abolished, the New Labour MP Frank Field lead the rebellion against that folly.

During the initial responses, the most impressive voice was that of Vincent Cable, who hit the nail on the head once again with his analysis that New Labour had not learned from their mistakes and were intent on building the UK economy on sand once again. It’s a pity the SNP representation at Westminster was so ordinary and anonymous, they had to roll John Swinney out for the news. The SNP MP that was brought on to Newsnicht seemed to get caught up in the debate without making his mark. John McFall the New Labour chairman of the Treasury committee trotted out the already worn out slogan for the next election, that there was only two choices between a Tory government and a “Labour” government. On the evidence of this week’s Pre-Budget Statement, that’s a choice between a red Tory party and a blue Tory party, both sides seem incapable of telling us the truth or do not have the necessary proposals in place to cut the deficit while keeping the economy moving. Time to hear about a third way methinks.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bit of A Blogging Hiatus

Just a quick post to say that I won't be blogging for the next couple of weeks.  There are 2 reasons for this.  Firstly, with Chrismas coming up I will be busy with festive stuff.  That and I will have to move out of my house this week while repairs go on with my damp ceiling!  No Wi-Fi for me for the next week then.

Older readers will be aware that I try and put together my picks of the year.  My top 5 sporting moments of the year will be appearing on Fan With A Laptop during the festive period.  Normally here I would be picking my 5 Television moments of the year.  However, having been busy with other things, and been generaly dissapointed with the standard of Television this year, I have decided to pick my top 5 Television programmes of the decade.  I will also try and pick my 5 albums of the decade, if I can decide which ones to pick (and no Amy Winehouse won't be appearing).

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Today's No S**t Sherlock Award

"Bush "Marked Iraq 3 Days After Sept 11"

headline, Metro 1st December.

Bit conservative of the Metro there. After all, didn't Wolfovitz & Rumsfield took to the news channels in the immediate aftermath of those terrorist attacks to blame Saddam Hussain?

Wardog and the Misunderstanding of New Labour Voters

With a paucity of corruption stories or stories of Footballers sleeping around, the red top tabloids seem to have trained (much to the joy of their “up-market” cousins) on the blogosphere, with the two targets to fall in recent weeks being the “Wardog” blog and a blog called “Universatility of Cheese”.

Obviously there was a link to the “Wardog” blog, and “Wardog” (or Bruce Newlands) was a follower of this blog. I read his blog a couple of times, it was ok. I did miss the uber-controversial post though where he took umbrage at Jim Murphy’s manners, having been floored with the cold a couple of weeks ago.

What I did notice on Bruces blog though was a certain frustration, definitely anger, towards New Labour supporters. Wardog did say that these people get the MP that they deserve, which kinda struck me as slightly petulant, and more worryingly, ignorant of the New Labour spin machine.

One of the reasons I pinpointed about the SNP’s failure in Glasgow North East was their failure to play the New Labour spin. This is seen today in the Paisley Express where Wendy Alexander once again play’s the GARL card…

Another Early Christmas present for Renfrewshire would be the re-instatement of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link which would bring 1300 much needed local jobs. I am delighted that Scotland’s to six business organisations are backing the the campaign to build the link

Yes, this is a newspaper column, so I would expect letters asking Alexander how she would pay for GARL, and wondering how this could be paid for in the middle of the worst recession… ever. A recession made by her big pal Iron Broon.

This is an example of the drip drip effect happening. If this is being printed in Paisley, one wonders what the effect is in other parts of the Central belt where New Labour has an almost mafia like presence. The effect of this drip drip effect was seen in Glasgow North West a couple of weeks ago, and the SNP did nothing effective. As a result many people believe that Glasgow was ripped off, that “their” money is being diverted to better off people. Their votes went to the non local candidate as a result.

In the 1990’s when faced with an overwhelmingly anti Labour press, Blair, Campbell,Brown and Mandleson decided on tactics to get favourable press. As a result, Campbell the enforcer was born. I’m not saying the SNP should copy New Labours spin tactics (though an equivilant to the “rapid rebuttal unit” wouldn’t go amiss). However, the parallels are there. A seemingly hostile press can be tamed.

One would like to think that once the distraction of the Independence Referendum abates, then Team Salmond will refocus on running Scotland, after all the chances of successfully piloting an Independence Referendum through this parliament are probably next to nil (and I have already posted about what Salmond should do next… ). What is certain is that for team SNP, November 2009 will not be looked back with any relish. The New Labour fight back has begun.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

2 Questions on Calman...

1) Why are New Labour prevaracating about transferring, for example controls on airguns, Drink drive limits and speeding limits? These powers could easily be transferred quickly, leaving the more complex (and not necessarily that good) proposals on fiscal autonomy

2) When are these powers going to be transferred? New Labour say they will transfer these powers after the election should they win. The Tories, currently the most likely victor of that election, have refused to comment or to commit to a time frame, which leaves the Lib Dems as the only cheerleader of the non national conversation.

No wonder these proposals look fairly radical, I'd be surprised if any of them happen this side of the election after next.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Night "Indie" Broke

One of the most annoying documentaries in recent years was the BBC’s “The Seven Age’s Of Rock” – where the history of rock was split into 7 neat packages. The episode about Prog Rock was interesting, Punk on the other hand only concentrated on London and New York and stopped at the start of 1978, in other words missed out on the really interesting bits. “Indie” Rock (my god, how I hate that term) suffered the worst in terms of re-editing of History. According to the programme “Indie” was invented by The Smiths and saw its peak with the Brit-pop years. Utter Tosh.

“Indie” – if we have to use that term – was a by-product of the Punk ethos of anyone can do anything, including setting up your own label. Stiff, Chiswick, Rough Trade and Fast sprung up in the immediate aftermath of Punk, following in the footsteps of New Hormones. The “Indie” charts sprung up soon afterwards, followed by the “Indie” standard-bearers throughout the 1980’s – Factory, Mute, 4AD and for a bright period ZTT. During this period “Indie” defined an attitude rather than a genre, of outsiders looking in. Bands on Independent labels did have hits, but they were few and far between – New Order, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode were the most successful.

However 20 years ago this week, this cult period came to an end as bands on Independent Record labels all of a sudden came into the mainstream. Manchester having had a heritage in producing fine bands was about to go into its vintage period. The first two bands to emerge released records on the same date – and appeared on the same edition of “Top Of The Pops” 20 years ago this week. In the day glow corner was the latest band from Factory, the Happy Monday’s. They had 2 albums under their belt (“Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile(White Out)” and “Bummed”), their release was the era defining “Madchester Rave On EP” – lead by “Hallelujah”. Madchester went on to be the tag given to every band from the Manchester area which emerged over the next 12-15 months or so (Baggy seemed to be applied to bands outside the Manchester area – major label backed Blur were initially a “Baggy” band).

In the paint splattered corner is the Stone Roses. They were a much more rock oriented outfit than the Monday’s and had released only the one album. “The Stone Roses” though was well on its way to being acclaimed by wannabe music journalists as the best album of the decade. Their release was the double a-sided “Fools Gold” b/w “What The World’s Been Waiting For” – with Fool’s Gold being the track most played and the one performed on the afore mentioned edition of Top Of The Pops.

For both acts, appearing on Top Of the Pops was the point when both bands sales took off. Fools Gold went top ten, and the follow-up, “One Love” got to number 2 in the summer of 1990. For the Monday’s, commercial success did not happen with the Madchester ep, but with the follow-up release “Step-On”, released in March 1990. This moment also ushered in a “golden period” for Independent record companies, as many of the best records released over the next 18 month period were not released by any of the major record labels. “Getting Away With It”, “Enjoy The Silence”, “Dub be Good To Me” & “What Time Is Love?” all examples of the calibre of records released by the “Indies”. Even the choice of act to record the official England football teams World Cup record seemed to chime with the zeitgeist, as New Order, under the guise of Englandneworder, went to number one with “World In Motion…”.

I suppose the thing which brought this period to a close was just there started to be a gradual deteriation in the quality of the records released with the “baggy”/”madchester” sound. Pretty soon, people moved on to the next thing, Grunge and the sound of Seattle. For the Independent record industry, things wouldn’t be the same again. They were all no longer part of a cottage industry where all that mattered was quality. Sales became more and more a part of the equation, especially as Britain fell into recession in the early months of 1991. Invention was the first casualty of this new reality. Creation had been releasing albums from artists heavily influenced by the 1960’s – then one of their acts (primal Scream) took the revolutionary act of getting a DJ to re-mix one of their albums. The result – Screamadelica – won the inaugural Mercury Music prize. Creations next release was a pointer for where the “Indie’s” were going to go. “Bandwagonesque” by Teenage Fan Club was full of references to the Beatles and the Byrds and harked back to an era in British music where British music was the best music in the world.

The road to Brit-Pop had begun.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Why The SNP Lost Glasgow North-East

So New Labour claimed their first by-election win in a year with their huge win in Glasgow North-East. While all of the vanquished have been playing the time honoured game of clutching at straws, for 2 of the defeated this is a serious slap in the face.

For the SNP, this is a crushing defeat. They had high hopes of winning this seat, and were certainties to push New Labour close. Instead they conceded a majority of 8111 to New Labour. There are 3 main reasons for this defeat. Firstly the SNP dithered and dallied about who to go for to run. There were rumours that Grant “Tartan Hero” was going to be the candidate. In the end the SNP chose David Kerr, a former BBC reporter, as their candidate.

Kerr did not adapt immediately to the task. Quotes attributed to Kerr emerged where he claimed that Universities such as the University of West of Scotland and, more pertinent to the election campaign, the Glasgow Caledonian “Did not have much of a reputation to tarnish”. There was also criticism of Kerr’s brand of Damien Day style reporting, brandishing guns in a supermarket car-park in one report shown on the news. Outraged New Labour spin doctors also tried to paint Kerr as the albino monk from “The Da-Vinci Code”, as it emerged that Kerr was a member of the Opus Dei sect. All of which damaged Kerr, especially as there seemed to be no response from the SNP to these accusations. The SNP’s own accusations about the New labour candidate, Willie Bain, that he was such a local boy that he still resided in London seemed to be ignored by the local electorate.

The biggest bearing on the campaign thought was the SNP government’s decision to scrap the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. The leader of Glasgow City council, Stephen Purcell, launched an astonishing attack on the government, accusing them of being “Anti-Glasgow” – conveniently ignoring the fact this plan was not universally embraced in Paisley, where the GARL link would be built. The “Anti-Glasgow” jibe became the cornerstone of the New Labour campaign – and the SNP seemed incapable of playing the spin. The “Ripped-Off-Glasgow” leaflets struck a chord, despite the viable explanations, and the construction work getting fully into its stride for the M80 motorway.

The SNP should have countered by pointing out the tough choices made, because of circumstances created by Gordon Brown’s position either as Chancellor or as Prime Minister. They should have led by saying this was a recession created by greed and encouraged by Brown. They should have pointed to the greedy bankers being let off the hook by New Labour decisions. They also should have made a pledge to look at more cost effective options, like a railway line taking in Govan, Braehead Shopping Centre, Renfrew and terminating at the Airport, or a Mono-Rail from Paisley Gilmour Street Train Station to the Airport. More than anything else it was a failure to spin the scraping of the GARL properly which led to this crushing defeat.

Not that the SNP were alone in being humiliated. The Conservatives are on course to win the next election, with an average poll lead of 14% over New Labour. Yet in this By-Election they polled only 1075 votes. One of the Tories, in trying to sideline the SNP, claimed that the people of Scotland had to make a choice between Brown or Cameron. The people of North West Glasgow gave their response in no uncertain terms to that.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Don't Mention the Recession

There is an exacerbation among SNP supporters about the inability of (New) Labour voters to see the mess left by the pink Tories. That these voters are somehow happy with their lot. To be honest, and I speak as someone who shakes their head when their parents parrot the New Labour line, there is still an element of distrust towards the SNP within the Labour Party constituency, that the SNP are really tartan clad Tories.

There are reasons for the stance which the SNP government has taken on certain policies, cutting Business taxes for example is designed to stimulate growth, and not to reward big business (like for example the corporation tax cuts Brown has made). The freeze on Council Tax is there to help hard working people, rather than an excuse to cut services. Etcetera etcetera…

An example of how New Labour have twisted the Scottish governments policies into being against the common 5/8th’s comes from Monday’s Paisley Daily Express, which featured local MSP, and Count Dooku lookalike, Hugh Henry. According to the wit and wisdom of Mr Henry…

The latest report on deprivation in Scotland from Alex Salmond’s administration shows the number of most deprived area’s in Renfrewshire has increased between 2006 and 2009. The SNP Government’s statistics show that, over the last couple of years, more area’s in SNP-controlled Renfrewshire are amongst Scotland’s poorest.

There is a problem in two respects. The First is that Renfrewshire had just about the worst financial settlement in Scotland. This is because the SNP is trying to shift money to the better-off areas which normally vote SNP. And yet our SNP council sits silently and refuses to complain.

The second problem is a lack of action locally. In Glasgow despite it’s many deep rooted problems, progress is being made. We need a similar determination to Glasgow’s to start addressing the problem. We need to demand more money from Alex Salmond’s government. If we fail, we should not be surprised when we see a rise in the social costs and problems which come from increased deprivation

I think the most striking thing about these comments is that Mr Henry seems to have not noticed that… well… we are in the middle of the worst recession since World War 2… at least. Money is tight, no one has money. 2006 probably marked the start of things going wrong, while 2007 saw the first signs. Both Barclays and Northern Rock went to the bank of Last Resort for loans, guess who kept their name out of Robert Peston’s reports then. Oh and Fred the Shred was about to make a critical blunder.

The other thing that Mr Henry seems to have missed out is his proof that the SNP are moving money to their pet areas. When Renfrewshire was run by New Labour, they would never do such a thing… apart from all the spending showered on Ferguslie Park… and Johnstone… oh and Shortroods. Sure houses in Glenburn had nice canopies installed and double Glazing put in, followed by Central heating. But that was all in a period between 1998 and 2000. Did I mention that Glenburn was represented by 2 SNP councillors during this period? Of course New Labour promised a re-generation fund of £50 million before the 2007 elections. Has this money disappeared into the great big PFI hole in Cotton Street, or was this more New Labour spin with no substance?

Mr Henry mentions Glasgow as making progress. Where? It’s still a horrendously backward city in places with health problems which read like the 1801 census. At New Labour led Glasgow has trumped Renfrewshire Council in one respect, it has closed more than one school, and certainly knows how to waste public money in parting with high ranking officials.

Yet when we were more prosperous, New Labour failed to close the gap between rich and poor. We have no money because Gordon Brown gave all our money to the bankers, so that they could congratulate themselves with big bonuses for failing to regulate themselves. Will Mr Henry ask for more money from Brown?

I thought not.

Scratch the surface and New Labour’s bluster is exposed as little more than that. For the SNP though, their fortunes are not helped by the economic blunders made by Brown. Equally the SNP’s claims are tainted by their association with George Mathewson (who was on the Royal Bank board that employed Fred Goodwin) and Brian Souter (he of the Keep the Clause campaign). It seems that the SNP are finding the task if defending their record in office difficult at this moment.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

With Impecciable Timing...

With MP’s today singing from the same hymn sheet and asking us to draw a line under their theft and fraud perpetuated against the British tax payer, this advertisment made a timely re-appearance on Monday night…

Im sure we could all think of at least one MP who deserves the treatment hinted at in this advertisement, maybe one of those flippers.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Title Track, Courtesy of Sandy Stoddart

One of the main reasons why this blog is called Dispatches From Paisley is because I stay in one of Paisley's sink estate's which have become infected like some sort of cancerous growth by the effects of too much drink & drugs. Whether they are a by-product of poverty is an argument for another post. Throw in the feral young adults which stalk our street's attacking innocent by-standers, and you will get the impression that it is not a nice place out there.

For the most part it's not, but Paisley and in particular it's sink estates have been served poorly by it's political leaders, for the most part Labour ones but in recent years the SNP have struggled with the poisoned chalice bequeathed to them by New Labour in 2007. It's a war out there, against the onslaught of ned culture, and the front line feels very close.

This brings us to the most recent recipient of the Freedom of Renfrewshire, the famous sculptor Sandy Stoddart. In an interview at the weekend Stoddart used his platform to criticise Gerard Butler and Paolo Nutini who had in turn criticised Paisley.
In turn Stoddart said "Telling the story of this town as a drug-infested hell-hole is an absolute lie… They do this because it is chic to appear to have come out of a battle zone. The modern culture valorises all these dysfunctionalities. These people could just as well have mentioned the friendliness of the people in Paisley or the architecture that is being brought back from ruin. We have a university with a crack physics department with time booked in CERN [the European Organisation for Nuclear Research]. The point is, why is it that what we hear is all the negative? It's because the negative is easy and glamorous."

Hmmm… not quite sure the negative is that easy and glamourous, as the pictures of a heavily vandalised close near to where I stay can testify. Round the corner from where I stay looked more like a war zone 5 years ago, before some enterprising ned's decided to set fire to the empty tenements. I could go on and mention the man killed because he tried to move some young adults away from his property, or the repeated spitting that goes on by people, alongside the vile language.

The thing is though, the factors mentioned above do happen in other places. Paisley's problem though is that it is no longer an attractive commuter town, and as a result there is a rise in the level of the uneducated, low earning/benefits dependent class of the population. Not all of these people create the problems for Paisley, but there are problems which need to be tackled that the council are not dealing with. Paisley is not a bad place, it's just that it's wrong to gloss over the bad bits and only talk up the good bits.

I'm now off to see what a "superannuated demagogue with no talent" looks like.

Friday, 23 October 2009

All You Fascists Bound To Lose

Though It was difficult to differentiate between the real Fascists and the Socialist Workers Against Racism mob or whatever they’re called, the leader of the BNP Nick Griffin did manage to get on to Question Time tonight. As someone looking to see Griffin hang himself with his twisted rhetoric, I was a tad disappointed.

There were a couple of reasons for this. As discussed at the time of the European Elections, the BNP are probably the best proponents of the “art” of spin in this country, this is an unmentioned factor in their “victory”. This seemed to extend to their Leader’s responses, which at times was evasive but seemed to get himself out of trouble at key moments. The other reason was that, apart from the dignified Bonnie Greer, the other panellists were way below par. Jack Straw in any debate is about as useful as a wet fish anyway, and the Tory wasn’t much better. Chris Huhne was the big looser here though as his ideas came very much second place behind attacking Griffin.

That really was the problem. The panellists were pre-occupied with attacking Griffin, and in a scattergun fashion. They didn’t focus on their own thoughts and answers. If they had, Griffin would have been left to destroy himself. The BBC were absolutely right to invite Griffin on to Question Time, I just wish the rest of the panellists had taken the opportunity on offer to expose Griffin properly.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

5 Thoughts About The Conference Season

With the main protagonists having now had their last main conference before the General Election, there are some thoughts which occurred during those conferences.

1) The Lib Dems have taken the first step to re-distribution of wealth re-appearing on the political agenda.
Roundly criticised by many at the time, there is still some bemusement at Vince Cable’s balls up, but his announcement of a tax on properties worth £1 million is the first stirrings of a return to the political charts of re-distribution of wealth. Oh and actually it is a good idea, even if it does look like a Blue Peter toiletry set of an idea. The idea of taxing those people with wealth disappeared when Thatch swept to power, and seems to be returning essentially because no one else has any money at the moment.

Cable’s idea seems to have been influenced by this and by not appearing to signal a possible re-assessment of Council Tax rates, which despite being favoured by every council up and down the country would be a massive vote loser. Thus an idea with solid principles ends up looking rather cobbled together.

This was a great pity as Cable could have taken the baton from the TUC, who were calling for tax loopholes to be closed and tax avoidance to be pursued with more rigour as an alternative to the massive cuts to our public services.

2) The gap between the political classes and everyone else in the UK is growing.
Nick Clegg started his conference talking about “Savage Cuts”, Brown talked about cuts, while the Tories struggled to hide their relish at the prospect of cuts (only the SNP talked of defending Scotland’s position, while talking up the hard choices they have made). Everywhere you looked politicians were talking about cuts to public services.

Missing from the conversation amongst themselves were the cuts people were really interested in, cuts to bonuses in The City, cuts to expenses for MP’s and cuts in MP’s only interested in themselves (there are a lot of them out there). Also missing from politician’s lips was any talk of prosecutions being brought against any of those bankers whose criminal negligence brought about the current recession. Not surprising when you realise that New Labour ennobled 3 of the four Horsemen of the Economic Apocalypse.

3) New Labour have still to acknowledge the problems they have caused to this country.
This might be a recession which came from America, but it is also a recession brewed and exacerbated by the UK’s approach, or lack of, approach to financial regulation. However listening to the various New Labour politicians, they honestly do not think that they have anything to apologise for, or for that matter do not think that there are any further actions to take regarding regulation. They are already trying to fudge tax avoidance laws which were agreed at the G20 conferences, and Brown seems to be intent in re-writing the past 13 years. Browns speech was classic I wasn’t there, it wasn’t really me, as he unveiled a set of policies which had they been properly thought out would have been ok, had Brown not been a key architect in New Labour since 1994.

4) The Conservatives have not “sealed the deal”
This conference was billed as the conference where the Conservatives would show that they are ready for government, and hopefully (for them) win the trust of the British public. That this has not happened is probably down to the talk of cuts emanating from the conference, and details of which cuts they would make while in government. I’m sure many of our senior citizens are looking forward to working to 66, and a 25% cut in the budget for the MOD is still a cut, whichever spin you want to put on it. The appointment of the former army chief Richard Danett also looked like the worst kind of political opportunism (Cameron should have appointed him when in government) that you only thought Mandelson/Campbell would have been responsible for. For whatever reason, the Tories poll rating seems to have dipped slightly, with an average lead down to 12 from 15 before the conference season.

One cut not discussed at the Conservative conference were plans to scrap the broadcasting regulator OFCOM. Strange really as I’m sure the Conservatives, being the upstanding honest politicians that they are would have gone to great pains to rebut any suggestion that this had anything to do with the change in the S*n’s political allegiance. What do you mean you didn’t know the Tories had a policy.

5) Salmond really has to reign in his ego, or it could all end in tears.
Fortune favours the brave, and if Alex Salmond is nothing else he is rather bold with his predictions and statements. His goal of 20 SNP seats is a bold target, but not necessarily an un-gettable one. The problem is that it would require a spectacular set of circumstances for this to come about, everything would have to go the SNP’s way. A more realistic target would be double figures or trying to beat the 11 seats won in the election of October 1974.

This example of Salmond’s mouth running away with itself pales into insignificance compared to his comparison of Kenny MacAskil to the principles of Mahatma Ghandi over the release of the Lockerbie Bomber Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi. Unlike many critic’s, it’s not the release of the convicted Lockerbie Bomber which sticks in my throat, but his continued, and frankly embarrassing, support of the Scottish legal system which, despite the evidence, convicted Megrahi. The trial was one of the biggest injustices the world has ever seen, according to the UN observer Dr Hans Kochler, a “disservice has been done to the important cause of international criminal justice”. Yet MacAskil thinks that Scottish justice did a good job.

These two quotes had overshadowed a conference which did not focus on cuts. Their poll figures in the coming weeks will be interesting.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Saving Election NIght

Gosh, 2 posts in the one day. Wonders will never cease, especialy as this is my 152nd post (i somehow missed my 150th post...)

OK I am late in coming to this topic, after all both Tom Harris & Iain Dale have both blogged on the prospect of the result of the next Westminster Elections not being known until late on the Friday. I have been kind of ambivalent on the subject, at least until the subject came up on today’s Daily Politics’ show.

The BBC got Katy Clarke, an MP for New Labour and the former king of the Swing-o-meters Peter Snow to make the case for having as many of the counts go ahead straight after the close of polls as possible, and Newcastle councillor Gerry Keating arguing for the counts going ahead on the Friday morning. The arguments for holding counts as soon as the polls close appeared to be based purely on preserving the coverage and drama of election night, which it was argued promotes politics and democracy in an apathetic age. While I agree about the drama of Election night, the example given was the “Portillo moment” – which while it was satisfying to see an up to that point arrogant politician felled by the electorate the reaction of Mellor to his defeat was much more of a memorable moment (unfortunaely, we got more of him on 606), I couldn’t help but be swung by Gerry Keating’s arguments.

Gerry’s arguments were based around having to arrange their count for the Friday for accuracy purposes. In the age of postal votes, he argued that it was not possible for an accurate count to be made on the Thursday night, unless either electronic voting or earlier closure of the polls (he advocated 8pm closure) were brought in. Therefore to ensure accuracy, Friday counting was a must for Newcastle council. I would have thought that this was an irresistible argument considering how much scorn we in the UK poured on the US 9 years ago for their inability to organise an election. Its scary enough that the problems still remain in the USA regarding Election reporting i.e. reporting exit polls as the actual result. More recently the 2007 Holyrood Elections were marred by counting machines, brought in to speed up the counting process, which couldn’t read the ballot papers (as it turns out a lot of the electorate couldn’t read the over complicated ballot-papers either).

Forgotten in the argument for an Election night is the fact that most people don’t stay up to all hours desperate to find out what happened in that key 3 way marginal in Norfolk. Most people go to bed when the polls point one way or another. In 1992, we went to bed when it was clear that Major was going to win, and that was about 1:30-2am. Major didn’t actually win until about Lunchtime on the Friday. Confirmation of Thatcher’s first election win came late afternoon on the Friday. The point is most people do not stay up all night as they have work the next day, they go to bed when they see which way the runes are reading.

Friday counts can be exciting, I remember listening to the results of the first Welsh Assembly come in while at work, and also a couple of years ago sneaking a peak at the BBC website when the regional top up votes were counted for Holyrood. I don’t think late Thursday counts should be kept at the sacrifice of accuracy.

What Are the SNP For?

With the “main players” in next years Westminster Elections having finished their conferences, all that remains are the minor parties. The one “minor” (in a UK sense) party who could seriously upset the applecart are the SNP, whose own autumn conference starts today.

The SNP have been in government at Holyrood and despite the twin circumstances of poor parliamentary arithmetic and worsening economic climate, they have been something of a success. Indeed, come the next Holyrood elections due in May 2011, the SNP could find themselves with more MSP’s and more clout in terms of coalition-building. Everything in the SNP garden looks rosy.

This however is not the case. The flagship policy of a referendum on Independence looks likely to fail to get through parliament & there have been mutterings from the opposition about broken promises (Promises broken for the above reasons). The next Westminster Election might also provide some discomfort for the SNP. Both of the “main” parties will be pushing the line that there are only two viable choices come the next Election, Tory or Labour. New Labour are already pushing the line that a vote for the SNP will let Cameron into power. Comedy Dave’s lot are pushing the line that only the Union is safe with them.

With the SNP likely to be squeezed, certainly in broadcasting airtime terms (before the normal campaign regulations kick in when the Election is called), this weekend will be crucial in formulating policy and strategy for the SNP. The question which needs to be answered thought is, in the post-devolution landscape, what do the SNP stand for at Westminster elections?

The really obvious answer to that question is independence. The post devolution landscape gives the SNP the ideal opportunity to develop two distinct strategies, with a more pro-independence streak reserved for Westminster Elections. I have previously put forward the argument that the SNP should turn the next election into a referendum on the Union. Turn the tables on Westminster’s gruesome twosome and ask them with national debt at record levels, with inequality rising, and both of them indulging in a game of my cut is bigger than your cut, why we should trust any of you.

The SNP have previously won seats with promising to fight for Scotland’s corner. With a convergence in views within the two big parties, only winning 4 (out of 59) Scottish seats is no longer good enough for Scotland’s party, and certainly will condemn the SNP to another 5 years (at most) of being sidelined at Westminster by the "big two". In order to reinforce the change in the Scottish political landscape, the SNP must change how they see the Westminster Election.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Blogging Service Can Now Resume.

Sorry for the break in blogging, having had problems with the internet connection in my home.

The problem appears to have been resolved, so normal service can now resume...

Monday, 5 October 2009

The "Seal The Deal" Conference

With the SNP’s party conference to come at the end of the month, this week sees the last of the contenders for government. It has been 2 years since the Conservatives took the lead in the polls, with a record lead of 20+ percent in mid 2008. That has fallen back and grown, but the current poll lead is 12/13%. This is projected to deliver a Conservative majority of between 42-45 seats (as opposed to 100+ seat majority as recently as August). Yet all is not as well with the Conservatives as it should be for a party striding towards power.

While the distinct lack of real policies do have an impact, and I suspect this will to a certain respect be rectified this week. The caginess to impart any policy information may have led people to speculate about what the Tories are trying to hide. New Labour have already tried this by painting the Tories as itching to cut public services, before their own figures were leaked. Whether they have anything to hide is anyone’s guess, and this perhaps is the subject of another blog closer to the election, but for a party trying to paint itself whiter than Blair-white their reticence does not give off good vibes.

There is though a forming consensus about Cameron’s Conservatives that they are ahead in the polls not because they are seen as the next government in waiting, but because they are the beneficiaries of an anti Brown vote. There is polling evidence that Cameron’s lead is not a solid lead, which a change in leader for New Labour would lead to reduced majorities or even a hung parliament. This is before polling from here in Scotland is considered, where the Conservatives are currently on 22-23%, not really the desired mandate for Cameron here. Even this weekend, there was a poll saying 49% of people questioned did not know what Cameron stood for.

The Irish have also put a rather large spanner in the works as well. On Saturday, the results of the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty were announced. The Irish backed the treaty, with 67.1% voting for the treaty and 32.9% voting against the treaty. This has rather exposed the Conservatives splits on Europe, with Cameron using rather more diplomatic language than he would have done a couple of years ago. This has not gone down well with certain Tories, who want more clarity regarding a possible referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

These are reasons why the Conservatives are rather more nervous than they should be, certainly reports suggest Cameron was uncertain when interviewed by Andrew Marr this morning. This conference has been described by various commentators & bloggers as Operation Seal the Deal, as they see Cameron as having to have a good conference and spell out key sections of their policy ideas, in order to “seal the deal” and ensure a Conservative victory at the polls next spring. I suspect that even if they do this, and policies are announced, I don’t think that they will win by very much. My long term prediction is a Conservative victory, but with a majority in single figures. Unless the New Labour vote collapses, this scenario is still a possibility.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

As The Sun Set's On New Labour...

David Dismore has had one of the most interesting and challenging jobs in Scotland. When he took over as editor of the Scottish edition of “The S*n”, its circulation figures were trailing badly behind the “Daily Record”. Slowly but surely he has hauled the S*n up, and 2 years ago they overtook the Retard as Scotland’s most read newspaper. It is a position they hold to this day.

The carve-up by former “Bizzare” editors Coulson (now the Tories spin-meister) and Mohan (now the newspaper’s editor) has rather put Dismore into a tight spot, namely who should the Scottish S*n support during the Westminster elections. His decision to back away from supporting New Labour, but not to support Cameron’s Conservatives immediately, buy’s him some time. However his next move will be fraught with danger and needs to be thought out carefully.

A decision to follow the rest of the country, while it wouldn’t be commercial suicide, we would possibly see those built up circulation figures start to drop back. Lets not forget that to the majority of Scottish people, the values of the modern Conservative party are still completely alien to the shared Scottish experience, while there are still areas which are downright hostile to the Conservatives’. Any sniff of siding with the Conservatives would be toxic to sales figures in these areas.

The other alternative open to Dismore would be to follow the lead set by the paper in 1992, and to back the SNP. For the Tories, this had the desired effect of splitting the anti Tory vote and allowing them to hold on to 11 seats in the Elections of that year. The newspaper’s circulation still trailed the “Record”, but it became something of a laughing stock in its brazen attempts to split the social democratic vote. Some of the SNP’s policies did not sit easily with the S*n’s values either. This is even more of a problem now with the possibility of an Independence referendum.

A S*n/SNP link up would be uncomfortable for both parties. The SNP would be getting support from a newspaper whose values can be most diplomatically described as unreconstructed. The SNP kind of have form here, they pocketed £500,000 from Brian Souter, figurehead of the ill-thought-out Keep The Clause campaign, and seem to have weathered this storm. For the S*n, there would be a severe loss of credibility (I know, I know a paper who believes that stories about Jordan and the WAG’s are somehow news having credibility) as the paper who attempted a “1992” by putting Scotland in a noose if the SNP won. It is also pro-union and is against the proposed referendum.

The decision made in Wapping has put the tartan version of the S*n in a tight spot. New Labour has let people down badly, and it is right to say so. However there is still about 30% of Scotland who heavily support the old party, that’s a lot of people to annoy. So what is it Mr Dismore, your credibility or your sales figures? Either way I’m sure there will be the sound of laughter coming from Pacific Quay.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Why AJ4PM?

This week sees New Labour gather in Brighton for their last Party conference before the next election, an election they are expected to lose heavily. It is also expected to be Gordon Brown’s last conference as Labour leader. Whether he is removed from office in the coming weeks, or resigns in the wake of Cameron’s expected election victory remains to be seen. What may well emerge this week is discussions about the post Blair/Brown party and where it should go next.

The headline evidence for this is the casting around for Browns successor/replacement (delete where applicable), which brings us to the rather strange AJ4PM campaign, run by some right wing bloggers. Alan Johnson is the current Home Secretary and appears to have adopted Alistair Darling’s old “safe pair of hands” reputation as being someone who gets things done. However out with the bounds of cabinet collective responsibility, we do not know precisely where Johnson stands on key issues. We do not know where he stands on Taxation, on Afghanistan or on the tightening of financial regulations. Brown when he was Chancellor seemed to be able to let people know what he thought about key issues without opening his mouth. Brown also seems to have cultivated an image of himself as being one of the brothers, rather than a key architect of New Labour.

Because of this, it is doubtful that Johnson has the fire, ruthlessness and intellect which will be crucial in the rebuilding of the Labour Party, whether it caries on with the ill advised New Labour project or not. He does exude a certain amount of likeability which will get you some distance in politics, but likeability alone will only take you so far, just ask John Major.

I suspect the real reason for the AJ4PM campaign is to encourage a coup, which might result in a new leader, which would certainly lead to a much more imminent Westminster Election than would be the case with Brown staying put. With the Conservatives leading the polls with an average of 40% to Labours 26%, with a projected majority of between 62-64 seats. Which party would like an election sooner rather than later?

This is not to underestimate the decisions which have to be made about the future direction of Labour/New Labour, and the post mortem which is essential if the Labour party is to re-emerge from New Labour. However New Labour simply has to ditch a lot of its matey-ness towards big business and produce policies in favour of the people it has steadfastly ignored in their years in office.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Does Polly Know Something We Don't?

Polly Toynbee, the New Labour comentator sems to be playing the ultimate in fantasy politics here...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Conference Time Is Here Again!

There are a few things which tell you that summer has gone and winter is rather depressingly around the corner, the football season starting, the end of whichever test series England are playing in, and lastly the start of the Conference season.

Last week saw the Trades Union Congress annual conference, which was hijacked by our dear leader’s string of profanities and constant use of the C word during his speech to conference. They seemed to attract a lot of criticism from sections of the blogosphere for being unrealistic with their aims and with their attempts to critisise Brown and Cameron’s my cut is bigger than your cut style of debate. However, because the majority of workers in the public services have been able to preserve their quality of life, this should not be used as a stick to dumb down general working conditions, rather that we should be looking at why conditions in the private sector are so poor in this country. Just a thought but one borne of exasperation at the constant re-running of the 4 Yorkshire men sketch anytime public services crops up on the BBC’s Have Your Say strand.

This week sees the first of the proper political party conferences, when the Lib Dems gather in Bournemouth. I am quite happy to admit that I have voted Lib Dem in several elections. However for the forthcoming Election it is looking doubtful that I will be voting Lib Dem.

The main jump the shark moment for the Lib Dem’s, and I suspect that this is the case for many people on the soft left of the political spectrum, was the coup against Charles Kennedy. After that they have struggled to fill the void in terms of ideas and presentation. Kennedy’s successor, Menzies Campbell, was an advocate of the war in Iraq and argued against the stance Kennedy took. When he took over, he tried to carry on Kennedy’s position with regard to the war in Iraq. Campbell was also called to be the bridge between the old social democratic wing of the party and the new “Orange Book” wing – who believed in liberal economic policies.

It’s maybe a sign of where the Lib Dems now see themselves that when Campbell stood down in October 2007, his successor was not one of the old guard from the “social democratic” side but someone from the Orange Book wing of the party. It is a path which if the polls are correct, will not bring electorial dividends. The Lib Dems are averaging around 18% in the polls, which translates into about 40 seats in an election, a loss of 20 seats.

With the economic difficulties set to continue, and an election due to be fought with this in the background, it is somewhat dispiriting to hear Nick Clegg join the big boy’s who’s dick is bigger competition with regard to cuts to public services. What we really need is new ideas on how to fix the country, ideas the Lib Dems used to provide before they became the orange Tories.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Some Quotes on G A R L's Scrapping

Common sense has prevailed. This is the right decision for the local area.
It is good that the Scottish Government realise that the rail link was simply a case of the emperor with no clothes. There was no economic case for the project
” – Archie Anderson, Chairman – Paisley North Community Council

People in this part of town spoke out strongly against the rail link from the start. The most important thing is that this would never have taken more traffic off the roads” - Lib Dem Renfrewshire Councillor Mike Dillon

With the airport link facing significantly higher costs and at a time when public funding is under serious pressure, I understand the decision, although of course there is some disappointment.

Renfrewshire has secured lasting benefite from the projects early stages, such as the development of new pitches and we’ll continue to press for the completion of the planned new changing accommodation at St James Playing Fields
.” – SNP Leader Renfrewshire Council – Derek MacKay

The Scottish Government has a clear anti-Glasgow agenda. They are investing billions of pounds in the east and north east of Scotland, with projects such as the new Forth crossing, and giving Glasgow the crumbs off the table” – New Labour Leader Glasgow City Council, Stephen Purcell

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Let’s be honest, anything the SNP announced today would have been shouted down by the swivel eyed experts in selling their granny for political gain, but by axing the Glasgow Airport Rail Link the SNP have really got the backs up of many of the West Coast New Labour MSP’s.

Half of the reason for this is of course this was something of a vanity project for New Labour. All along there was something quite distasteful with the speed this was being rail-roaded through parliament, and the patronising fashion in which dissenting voices were dismissed by the powers that be. We’re building a world class transport link, who cares about some football pitches? Quite a lot of people did actually, which is why New Labour in Renfrewshire lost some votes in the council elections in 2007. As distasteful was the SNP’s acceptance of the project.

In the wake of this decision, what is needed is to look at the project and see if there are any better proposals that can be put in place, with possibly the emphasis on value for money. I have never understood why alternatives were not discussed or dismissed out of hand, these alternatives should now be looked at. For example, a train line to the Airport via Renfrew and Braehead Shopping Centre was mooted by the SSP, while another proposal was a monorail from Gilmour Street to the Airport.

What is not needed is finger pointing and acrimony isn’t that right Purcell?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Another 1979 Blog

30 years ago saw the nationwide debut of one of the most startling and original British bands ever. Even though they stopped when their singer died 8 months later, their influence is growing.

Joy Division were made up of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Steven Morris and the late Ian Curtis. Bernard, Steven and Peter would go on and reform weeks later under the name New Order.

I had heard “Love Will Tear Us Apart” on the radio a couple of times, but the first time I had come across them was when I bought Substance 1987, which included a couple of songs credited to Joy Division – "Ceremony" and "In A Lonely Place". By the time I tried to get a hold of a Joy Division album, I had bought 2 other New Order albums, "Technique" and "Brotherhood". This brings me to the clip below.

A week after I bought Substance 1988, there was an episode of Sounds of the 70’s which should clearly be subtitled the “punk episode”. Towards the end came this clip, without the John Cooper Clark bit…

The band performed on a programme called “Something Else” on September 15th 1979, and played “Transmission”, their debut single and “She’s Lost Control”. The appearance didn’t really do very much for sales of the single or the album “Unknown Pleasures”, but it did set a benchmark. There was a buzz surrounding “Love will…” even before Curtis’ suicide. However the melodic bass, the digital delay drums pushed to the forefront of the mix and those strange off kilter sounds (the album was recorded in 10cc’s studio in Stockport) makes “Unknown Pleasures” the last great innovative rock record in the British rock cannon.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Blowing Apart The General Election

The next General Election due before June next year looks to be providing one of the most uninspiring choices as to who should be Prime Minister. In the red corner, we have a New Labour PM who has so far demonstrated that he does not follow up his words with his deeds, witness Browns dithering over the crucial regulation needed over our financial services and financial industry. Brown is the very epitome of all talk and no trousers.

Not that the Conservatives should be so smug. In the blue corner, Cameron has so far shown himself to be the very worst kind of band-wagon chasing politician, spouting forth on anything, and even inventing new swear words (twit????). Anything to deflect from the distinct lack of policies. So who do you chose, the devil you know… or the devil you don’t.

However, there is a party who, if they were as brave as they were a couple of weeks ago in releasing the “convicted” Lockerbie Bomber, could save us all from boring he said she said campaigning. The SNP have said that they will introduce their Independence Referendum Bill in the next year, but if we are being honest, the SNP won’t get their bill through Holyrood, parliamentary arithmetic will see to that. However the SNP should turn their attention to practically the next best thing, turning the next General Election into a de-facto referendum on the Union.

I think (and I might be wrong here) that the mechanism for this is that if the majority of Scottish MP’s elected are SNP MP’s then the mechanism is apparently there for independence discussions to begin.

If the SNP do this, they will be able to put forward the arguments for Independence, and importantly how they think they can make an independent Scotland work. It is this last part that the SNP will have to work on, as this I suspect is the main sticking point for many people who see the case for independence as not proven. For many people, the “union dividend” is a huge part of their lives, so the figures will need to be cast iron and independently verified, not that this will stop attacks from the other parties. An alliance with other pro independence parties will also be a must for the SNP if they are to do this.

A pan-independence campaign will also put the two tone conservative parties on the back foot, with Cameron and Brown being forced to defend the Union, and themselves. I think that a re-write of several campaign itineraries would ensue, and the Unionists would be caught off guard. How they do this should be interesting as both parties have squandered the Oil Dividend on tax cuts for the rich and the creation of the lazy poor class. Nah, we’ll probably get the usual scare tactics. What will be interesting will be any interjections from the former Glasgow councillor Vince Cable, still the most respected MP in Westminster.

Of course, this could all backfire on the SNP. New Labour and the Tories could wheel out the dirty tricks book. After all statistics don’t lie, they just tell you the answer you want. Either way, we have reached a point where we have to ask ourselves where we want to go from here, especially with two poor candidates for Prime Minister and two (I would imagine) dull manifesto’s. General Elections used to be the natural point for this, but in post devolutionary times General Elections have had the feeling of being slightly irrelevant. The key policy decisions for most Scottish people now come at Holyrood election-time. With the two contenders for Prime Minister equally uninspiring, it’s time… for the union to defend itself.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Worse Than The Wire

Well, now the Tories have really put their foot in it this time. How dare they say that parts of Britain were like the US television series “The Wire”. The actual quote is…

The Wire has become a byword for urban deprivation and societal breakdown in modern America."
"When The Wire comes to Britain's streets, it is the poor who suffer most. It is the poor who are the ones who have borne the brunt of the surge in violence under this government. It is they who struggle to live their lives against a constant fear of crime. Far too many of those features of what we have always seen as a US phenomenon are now to be found on the streets of Britain as well."

Well, I have one thing to say to Chris Grayling, the Tories Home Affairs spokesman, parts of Britain are so much worse than the Wire (in a different way), and has been since… well John Majors tenor as Prime Minister at least.

The problem is that politicians as a whole do not treat the poor seriously and are only too happy to paint every poor person as a dole scrounger. Does anyone remember the statistic, which came out during the Holyrood Elections 2 years ago, which claimed that Scotland was poorer than it has been since the 1960’s. Probably not, the big political arguments were about who supported Independence and who didn’t.

If the Tories really cared about the working poor, they would have made more of a song and dance about the scrapping of the 10p Tax Band, if New Labour really cared, they would have cut income taxes for the lowest paid, rather than take 2.5% off of VAT. However, the real stain on our housing estates are the lazy poor, as it is this group where lawlessness is most prevalent.

Benefit dependency is rife with many young adults on the scrap-heap by 16, alcoholism is at epidemic levels, while gang culture is a huge part of the landscape in Scotland. There was a report a couple of weeks ago which suggested that this was a factor in employment statistics, with young adults unable to take up jobs in rival gangs area’s.

I remember 10 years ago working for Community Education Scotland when they polled young adults in Renfrewshire. One of the things that came out quite strongly was that there was nothing for them to do in Renfrewshire. The situation has improved a bit, but in terms of facilities, I’m not sure that it has improved to the extent that it needs to.

Grayling’s speech is typical of most politicians contribution regarding the less well off, talking down to people rather than engaging with the problem(s). Living in a sink estate, I can see exactly the problems affecting housing estates. In fact, living in a sink estate has been the inspiration behind this blog’s title. However, until all sides get their act together, then the common 5/8th’s will continue to be let down by all sides.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Day Holyrood Grew Up.

The Lockerbie bomber has left Scotland on board a plane bound for Libya after being freed from prison on compassionate grounds. Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, was jailed in 2001 for the atrocity which claimed 270 lives in 1988. The decision to release Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, was made by the Scottish Government.
The White House said it "deeply regretted" the decision and some of the US victims' families reacted angrily

At about 25 to 2 this afternoon, the Justice Minister Kenny McAskill announced the release of the only person convicted of the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 – The Clipper of The Seas. Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer, and is said to have months, if not weeks to live. The decision to release Megrahi, especially after the leeks a couple of weeks ago, has attracted criticism and unwarranted ignorance in equal measure. The other day on Radio 5 Live, the American commentator Charlie Wolf wondered why this decision was taken by a "regional assembly", in complete ignorance of 300 years of Scottish history and many more of Scot’s Law. Brian Taylor’s response was restrained and measured.

It is in this atmosphere that McAskill has made the brave and grown up decision to release the convicted killer, on compassionate grounds. There are people who are angry at this decision, their response from the other side of the pond has been particularly vociferous. President Obama has described the release as “a mistake”, while Kara Weipz, who lost her 20-year-old brother Richard Monetti, said: "I don't understand how the Scots can show compassion. It is an utter insult and utterly disgusting. It is horrible. I don't show compassion for someone who showed no remorse." On top of this, Iain Dale speculates the possibilities of some sort of boycott of Scottish goods.

In the face of this hostility McAskill’s decision was brave. To have that amount of pressure put on you to go one way, only to make the opposite decision is brave, whether it's the right decision or not. However the reaction above all rather assumes that Adbelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was the sole person who placed a bomb on a flight to Frankfurt at Luqa Airport in Malta, which connected on to the ill fated Flight 103 from London Heathrow, in short it assumes that the conviction of Megrahi was not the biggest miscarriage of justice in Scottish legal history.

McAskill throughout his speech went to great pains to praise the Scottish legal system, yet in his heart of hearts he must have known that Megrahi was convicted on some seriously shoddy evidence and unsound circumstantial evidence. It is unlikely that the bomb made it through Frankfurt without being detected, as the security services in Germany were on the lookout for bombs hidden in Toshiba electronics devices. This theory was also further undermined by the settlement out of court by Granada when Air Malta sued regarding the link. Commercial Solicitors Norton Rose proved that none of the 55 bags checked on to the flight from Malta to Frankfurt were ascribed to passengers travelling on to London.

Indeed it came out around the trial that there was a break in on the morning of December 21st at Heathrow, an incident which was covered up for 12 years. One of the loaders reported that one of the containers had two extra pieces of luggage than there was when the loader went off on his tea break. One of those additional pieces of luggage was a “maroony brown Samsonite”. It was agreed by all the experts that the bomb was contained within a Samsonite. The discrepancies here are only the tip of the iceberg, but should have been enough to cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution case.

I personally feel very sorry for Megrahi. The guy is going to die convicted of a crime that I certainly think he did not commit and it is in the best interests of higher powers than you or me that he stay convicted. I think Kenny MacAskill today made a sensable grown up decision, and completely ignored the noise from the other side of the pond, the special interest groups or the noise from down south. He sought out the information he needed and made his decision based on that. MacAskill made the kind of decision we expect all our polititians to make. In this respect, Holyrood finaly came of age today.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

"Who's That Tit Of An MEP Then?

Hmmm, a pretty good assessment of Daniel Hannan by Absolute Radio’s Christian O’Connell. I dunno, just because he got Comedy Dave to swear on live radio a few weeks ago.

All kiddin aside though, the mask has now slipped from Dave’s nice nice Tories. Hannan is something of a hero of the right for his video attacking Brown in the European Parliament, when Brown visited. He does make valid points, and these are points made here on this blog. However, being a Tory his remedies are not the remedies I would prescribe, they would be best described as cuts cuts and more cuts. He should have put “Land of Hope and Glory” on the video. I mean, wow Tory attacks New Labour politician shocker. Whatever next, Tory grandee calls for tax cuts for the rich shocker.

His appearance on American broadcasting’s equivalent to our own Daily Mail is unwise to say the least, particularly for someone representing the government in waiting (if the polls are to be believed). One of the reasons for America being an uncivilised country is that healthcare is still very much tied to wealth. Obama recognises this and is trying to get further than Clinton did (his failure effectively sunk his first administration). However American politics is much more of a cesspit of corruption than anything here (with the exception of the parliament Hannan is a member of), and this has been shown with the arguments put forward by the healthcare companies, and their spokesmen in the Republican Party. As far as I can tell, the main argument is essentially the cost in terms of taxation and about how socialist it all is. The argument Obama should be using is how barbaric the current system is that you are turned away from a hospital if you cannot pay, no matter how serious your condition is. 16% of GDP is spent on health in the US (compared to 8.4% in the UK, that’s the UK not England, the UK. Got that Yanks, good), yet 45.7 million people in the US do not have healthcare. That is not the sign of a civilised society.

Hannan’s argument was that the NHS has been a “60 year mistake” and he wouldn’t inflilict the NHS on anyone. Well gee thanks for that. We all have things to thank the NHS for, for me personally the reconstructive plastic surgery (still in its infancy at Caniesburn Hospital) done on my left hand nearly 30 years ago being the most obvious reason for my gratitude. Yes, the NHS has its faults, most of which have been caused by politicians (of both sides) over the last 30 years worshiping at the altair of private enterprise, and believing that the public sector was bloated and needed trimmed, regardless of whether it was working or not. Politicians like… well Hannan really are to blame. For Andy Burnham to attack Hannan for being “unpatriotic” is something of a pot/kettle interface.

To my mind, Hannan’s biggest crime is to go along with the big fat Republican lie about the NHS. The claim by Roger Helmer, a fellow Tory MEP, that “80% of Americans are getting better health care than we are in the UK” is also to my mind an unsubstantiated claim. The Investors Business Daily also claimed “people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.". That’ll be British born Stephen Hawking then, who is on record as saying that he “wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS".

So to finish, here’s BBC4’s new enfant terrible Charlie Brooker on the nice, friendly, more right wing than Hitler American news networks.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Another Step Towards Dignity

Congratulations to Debbie Purdie on winning her right to have the assisted suicide law clarified. It is inhumane that anyone could be arrested and subjected to possable criminal prossecution so soon after seeing loved one's die. Ms Purdie's win is a huge blow for the euthanasia lobby, im so pleased that the Law Lords have seen sense on this subject.

One minor quibble though. Simon Gillespie, in the wake of the verdict said "There are 100,000 people with MS across the UK...". However the prevalance study of his own organisation is not sure of the true extent of this under-exposed disease, stating "New research funded by the MS Society shows that there are likely to be around 100,000 people with MS in the UK." Not good for the organisation which identifies the wrong vitimin (D rather than D12) as being beneficial to MS Sufferers.

No excuses, its now time to get that MS register up and running.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Diageo: A Warning From History

Things I missed in the last few week’s while working late number one…

James Robertson was a grocer in Paisley, who in the 1860’s started to make marmalade and jams, particularly the “Golden Shred” brand of Marmalade. It is now more famous for adopting the “Gollywog” as a trademark in the 1920’s. However, in the 1970’s Robertson’s decided to leave their Paisley home in Stevenson Street.

Arguably it has never really been the same since they left Paisley, as other companies went past Robertson’s in the sales stakes. So much so that last year, Robertson’s owners announced that the Robertson’s brand would be discontinued.

So what are the lessons for Diageo, owners of Johnny Walker, who have announced their intention to pull out of Kilmarnock and Port Dundas, merging operations into their Shieldhall plant. It should be mentioned, since it appears absolutely nowhere on the BBC website, that Diageo made a profit of £1.63 billion last year. The main one would be not to turn your back on the people who make your product. I’m sure sales of Robertson’s dive-bombed in the wake of the move. I’m sure as well that other products who left Scotland in an acrimonious manner, have not recovered sales here. Timex springs readily to mind.

The other lesson would be to ensure that the quality of your product remains intact. Robertson’s Jam had apparently never been the same since they left Paisley. As I said earlier, other rivals took over. Notably Hartley’s, who Premier Food’s are going to concentrate their energies on. Scotland has more than Johnnie Walker, in terms of fine Whisky.

No-one has come out of this situation well, apart from the Diageo employees who continue to set the standard for dignity which our elected representatives failed to do… once again. The finger pointing and blame game, simmering away between the SNP and New Labour does no-one any good. Time to find your spine chaps.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Sma Shot Day - 2009

Last year I blogged about Sma Shot Day, which is an annual fixture in the Paisley calendar. This year’s event took place last Saturday (July 4th). I would have posted these pictures sooner, but for events, overtime at work and just generally not having enough time in the day.

In the words of the website, this is what Sma Shot is about…

This Saturday 4th July 2009 is Sma ‘ shot day in Paisley, the day traditionally begins with a parade from Brodie Park this year leaving at 12 noon, weaving its way to Abbey Close, led by a replica of the Charleston Drum with Tony Lawther at the realm of the drum, The parade shall feature banners representing Ferguslie, Toonheid, Sandholes, Sneddon, Causeyside, Newtoun and Charleston.
A wealth of stalls, funfairs, street theatre and onstage entertainment – including a re-enactment of the Sma’ Shot Story by local youth theatre PACE, and the ‘Burning of the Cork’ – will ensure that Saturday night will be a memorable one.

This year there is a later start to the parade as it weaves out of Brodie park at 12 noon, and with the whole day overhauled this year to include sections designed to meet age groups there is something for everyone, Clyde 1 , street entertainers and the highlight of the night starting at 8pm for the festival of fire and burning of the cork and music this is the ideal time to spend your day in Paisley.

What is Sma’ Shot Day? The festival came about as a result of a political battle fought between the weavers of Paisley and their employers, the manufacturers, in the 19th Century.

The Sma’ (small) Shot was a cotton thread which bound all the colourful weft threads into the warps of the famous shawls.

However, the Sma’ Shot was unseen in the finished garments and so the manufacturers, known locally as ‘corks’, refused to pay for the thread. The weavers had no choice but to buy the thread themselves. Without it the shawls would fall apart and the weavers would not be paid for their work. A long dispute followed.

The Charleston drum, which was beaten through the streets of Paisley to summon the weavers in times of trouble, was beaten once again to rally the weavers in protest marches. After a long and hard struggle, the manufacturers backed down and the weavers were paid for the Sma’ Shot.

In 1856 the first Saturday in July, a traditional holiday for the weavers, was renamed Sma’ Shot Day in honour of the victory.

From that day and for many years, the Charleston drum was used to rally weavers and lead them to the departure point for their annual trip, usually “doon the watter” to Ayr.

The demise of the weaving industry, the introduction of the five day working week and a change in local government brought an end to Sma’ Shot Day in 1975, but in 1986 local councillors and the people of Paisley decided to revive this great tradition.

Since then, on the first Saturday of July, once more the beating of the Charleston drum rallies the people of Paisley to a gathering outside Paisley Town Hall, and a procession is held through the streets of Paisley, led by ‘The Cork’, an effigy of one of the manufacturers defeated by the Paisley weavers

Last Saturday was a better day than last year, at least there was sunshine, and while the parade has evolved rapidly over the past couple of years, I am not really too sure about moving the burning of the cork to later (arount 10pm-ish) on the Saturday.

We did see the PACE group’s re-telling of the story of the Sma Shot, well acted with a script which was a cross between Titanic and Strike! The irony of a day in honour of people, who if they pulled the same stunt today would be universally condemned by the “dignitaries” now queuing up to support Sma Shot Day, was... well you I think can write the rest.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Shuts Newer Schools

On Friday, the South Primary School will shut its doors for the last time. By the looks of it though, this will not be the end of the most controversial episode in the current SNP/Lib Dem administrations short time in office at Cotton Street, and shaping up to be the most controversial school closure since the aborted attempt to close Paisley Grammar 20 years ago.

Last week, the Paisley Express reported (not in a breaking news style, this story is 14 days old, but hey at least they reported it) on the guerrilla tactics employed by disgruntled parents, tactics which are the reason behind some of the comments on this blog (there is also a blog, the link to which can be found on the blogroll). These include placards under official SNP placards which read “SNP – Shuts Newer Primaries” which were only on view on Euro-election day, and a large poster at the South which reads “Paisley – Proud Past Promising No Future”.

All of which is perfectly legal, we live in a free country and are perfectly free to demonstrate against injustices, except those against the USA but that’s another blog. Except our council leader Derek “boy” Mackay clearly disagrees with the democratic process. In an astonishingly petulant interview, the boy Mackay warned that any further displays of disorder would result in him throwing his rattle out of the pram. I’m paraphrasing of course, what he actually said was…

We had a successful day in the Euro Elections and those activists behind the rogue posters have revealed another face of the South Primary campaign – that they would rather have us shut Lochfield Primary”

Lochfield is far more viable than South Primary, even if it is an older building. Lochfield Primary has 414 pupils and is 75% occupied, compared to South, which was two thirds empty and had just over 100 pupils

Gee, Paolo Nutini got a warmer response for being more scathing (and spot on) about Paisley, even if the boy MacKay was deeply patronising about his parents, respected members of Paisley’s business community for as long as I can remember. However there are 2 questions which spring to mind, which were sadly remiss from Cameron Hay’s PDE article, questions which should really have been put to the boy MacKay. These are

1) Have you fully looked at every alternative to closing a 22 year old facility, compared to amalgamating school rolls into a 50+ year old building, a decision which is clearly ill thought out and very poorly explained?


2) Do you have any plans for the South Primary site? Do you have plans to sell the site to the owners of the Ex Vita-foam factory – Aldi, or do you have other buyers lined up?

Remember kid’s, answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Most Offensive British Advertisement since…

We’ve had about 6 months of stories about expenses fraud, and news about poor judgement in the highest reaches of the economy. So is now really a good time to start showing these highly stereotyped advertisements about benefit fraud?

Bearing in mind that the former Work and Pensions minister, James Purnell, would have been the person to have commissioned this public information film, isn’t it ironic that Purnell has been accused of fraud himself.

For the record, the last advertisement I was offended at was one for Nuts magazine (or was it Zoo?).

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why Has Gordon Brown Failed?

There were points on Friday where he looked like he wouldn’t survive the day as Prime Minister. Hell he is still hanging on in there, and appears to have weathered the storm for the time being. However, the question has to be asked. Why has Gordon Brown failed as Prime Minister?

The first thing to say is that he has failed. There are people, even members of my own family who would say that Brown has been unlucky. This is just burying your head in the sand. So far his failures have taken us to the brink of the nightmare scenario for many normal Scottish people, a Thatcherite Conservative government. So apart from being a general klutz, and being Scottish (which offends the Daily Mail/Torygraph/Times reading mindset who think that British Prime Ministers should be upstanding Home Counties type who speak with an East Ren accent), we should establish the key reasons for Browns failure in Number 10.

1) It’s the Economy Stupid – For a man who spent the previous decade ensconced in Number 11, Brown has been remarkably poor in handling the economy since he took over. His sureness of touch even deserted him in the months before becoming PM, when he took the remarkable decision to raise taxes for the poorest paid.

Yet it is the credit crunch which has destroyed Browns reputation in one fell swoop. Despite the protests, there are 3 actions Brown could have taken which would have slowed the onset of recession and made it a less severe downturn. Brown could have raised the top rate of Income Tax sooner. Indeed, he could have done this in 1997 when the Institute of Fiscal Studies claimed that there was a black hole in the finances, during the Election campaign. Instead Brown decided to raid the pension funds. He could have imposed a tighter regulatory regime on the financial services rather than the disastrous “light touch” regime which is similar to the Tories Lazez Faire approach to the Financial Industry in this country. More recently he could have insisted that our banks are less strict with their lending in order to aid the liquid economy.

2) No Clean Break from Blair – Despite being one of the key architects of the “New Labour Project”, Brown has always cultivated an image of being more of a believer in socialism than Blair or Mandelson. Yet this doesn’t really bear any scrutiny, with many examples of his time in the Treasury coming to mind. This didn’t stop many members of the Scottish press trumpeting Brown as being one of us. People who really should have known better.

Browns promotion should have seen a range of policies designed to take New Labour into the post-Blair era in a more comfortable manner. Though personally I would have liked to have seen an end of the Thatcherism-Lite era, and seen a revival of real Labour values. Instead of which, Brown has carried on the New Labour mantra without putting his own stamp on things, and by stealing policies from the Tories. The main policy stolen from the Tories was the intention to look at Inheritance Tax… weeks after “boy” George Osborne announced that a Conservative government would raise the Inheritance Tax threshold, thus spiking Browns plan to hold a General Election in the autumn of 2007.

The key point here though is that Brown has singularly failed to promote any vision of where he would like the UK to be going, far less a roadmap to take us there. The “Blairite” outriders who would like the removal of Brown despair at the lack of “New Labour” policies – policies which saw 3 consecutive election wins but shed 3.95 million votes in the process.

3) Lack of Clear Communication – Brown is not the best communicator, his image as a dour Scotsman is probably an accurate one, speaking as a dour Scotsman. It does seem as though he struggles to empathize with people, something his predecessor (whatever you say about Blair) had in buckets. Sorry, but this is a perceived failing when his version of sympathy sounds like reading the phone book.

4) Slow Reaction to the Expenses Crisis – Perception is everything in politics, and the perceived wisdom is that Cameron has had a better expenses crisis than Brown. Sure he had to get rid of one of his advisors (Andrew Mackay) and his fellow MP (Wife and contender to be in Cameron’s first cabinet) Julie Kirkbride, but he did get rid of them. On the other hand, Brown held on to Darling, but more crucially he kept Hazel Blears and James Purnell in their posts, until they decided to knife Brown in the front. Can’t remember whether Caroline Flint had been accused of expense fraud, if she had it would have been an awful hat trick of assassins who should have been sacked first.

Politicians have to regain our trust after this scandal, and there has been nowhere near the required justice for MP’s actions. Brown’s response to the scandal was to announce, not that he was going to make Westminster’s expenses system as transparent as Holyrood’s, but that he was looking into the way we vote for MP’s. Ridiculous, and completely the wrong time to bring this up. Still at least he didn’t re-employ any disgraced former ministers like Peter Hain. Ooops!

If Brown is to recover, there are several steps he needs to take to remedy these problems. He needs to come up with some policies which will appeal to the common 5/8ths; he needs to stand up more for the ordinary man in the street. He needs to stop being an apologist for the banks, and get them to start lending to small/medium size businesses. Most of all, he needs to listen, and show that he has listened instead of patronising us all. As Geoff at SNP Tactical Voting observed at the start of the week, Brown could still pull off a remarkable election win. Cameron is still the most likely victor in the next General Election, but he is not home al Votingand hosed yet.