Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Victimless Crime?

For a crime that many people were claiming has no victims, the conclusion of the Tommy Sheridan trial has a queue of people claiming to be victims.  Unfortunately there was a lot of BS being spoken by those claiming victimhood.

We can now say that Tommy Sheridan did visit swingers clubs, and we can say that Sheridan was unfaithful to his wife.  Sheridan claims that he is the victim of a vast conspiracy to bring him down, where in the future films will be made starring Kevin Costner.  The truth is that Sheridan was the victim of a conspiracy by his party to oust him from his position, and was a victim of his own vanity.  The film of that will star a couple of guy’s from River City.  Sheridan let his vanity take over when he began his libel case. 

Had he not launched the case he might have been able to laugh it off and make a comeback a couple of years down the line.  Instead of which, Sheridan adopted the same moral high tone of Cecil Parkinson and David Mellor and painted himself as an honest man with family values.  Were this a certain kind of blog, I would be speculating about exactly what kind of relationship the Sheridan’s have.  After all Sheridan’s career is now dust because of his desire to keep his extravagant sex life out of the public eye, and more importantly from his wife.

First in the queue for victimhood are the SSP. If memory serves, they ousted Sheridan from the leadership and started to brief against Sheridan from the off.  Not exactly the wronged stance they have been attempting to re-write in recent day’s.  Unless i am very much mistaken, adultery, sex clubs are not illegal.  After all, this is the UK not Iran.  Yet the SSP took the puritanical line, that this kind of behaviour was not acceptable and that Sheridan should be removed from his post.  I should point out two things here. Firstly I don’t think Sheridan’s behaviour was acceptable, but secondly i don’t think he had the full support from his party.  Which is why i think his ousting as SSP leader is the only conspiracy on show here.  I think that winning 6 seats at the 2003 Holyrood elections went to some people’s heads, maybe Colin Fox’s, maybe Carolyn Leckie and maybe people thought that we don’t need Sheridan, and oops here’s an opportunity to get rid of him.

Not that this post is the only one gunning at the pious positions taken up by the anti-Tommy camp.  The rival party set up by Sheridan, Solidarity, has backed their man and attacked the SSP hierarchy for taking the side of Rupert Murdoch in this argument.  Conveniently ignoring the fact that Sheridan “slept” with a News of the Screw’s columnist.

The truth is that the real victims of Sheridan’s conviction, and the events surrounding it, are voters of a left wing persuasion.  At a time when a right wing government (wearing a red rosette) has been replaced with an equally right wing government (wearing a fetching blue/yellow combo), politicians from the Solidarity/SSP camps have shown themselves to be selfish, duplicitous, sneaky, untrustworthy, and perfectly at home in adopting Tory family values.  They have preferred to train their fire on each other than on the enemy.  In short they have made themselves un-electable.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Pressing The Nuclear Button

In amongst the heat and fog surrounding Vince Cable’s comments regarding the Dirty Digger, there are two things that strike me.

Firstly he did not say “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win” – the quote is the very definition of taken out of context with the full quote being “No, he has minority shares and he wants a majority - and a majority control would give them a massive stake.

"I have blocked it using the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have got. I can't politicise it but from the people that know what is happening this is a big, big thing.  His whole empire is now under attack... So there are things like that we do in government, that we can't do... all we can do in opposition is protest."

I am picking my fights, some of which you may have seen, some of which you may haven't seen.  And I don't know if you have been following what has been happening with the Murdoch press, where I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win." .

I might be alone in this but I think that Cable meant that the News International perception was that he had declared war, by referring the bid in the first place (as opposed to waving the bid through as has been the precedent for the past 30 years).  Had he not opened his mouth, i suspect that “we” would have won.

The second point is about the impartiality issue.  News International owns “The Bun” and the “News of The Screws”, both of which are influential among key voters.  For this reason, politicians have been bending over backwards to accommodate the requests from News International, starting with the purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times in 1981.  New Labour were just as bad as the Tories when in office, so it is sad, but not a surprise, to see the Blairites John Denham & Hilary Benn rush to suck up to Rupe by sticking the knife in so quickly. It’s hardly consistent for the comentariat (those who have taken the Murdoch shilling in the past or now) to bleat on about impartiality.

Cable has blundered badly by revealing his thoughts and views to two strangers.  We shall see whether Cable will remain in post and for how long.  However the bigger punishment though will be paid by a broadcasting sector that will see a further strengthening of a dominant player.  Remember as well that Cameron & his then shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt were happy to shape their policies to the Diggers wishes – they advocated the scrapping of OFCOM and the reigning in of the BBC in columns penned for The Sun.  I think that we will now see News International given the green light to buy the rest of BSkyB, especially as it looks like Hunt has been given the decision over BSkyB.  Impartial huh!

Friday, 17 December 2010

More Toothlessness From the FSA

One of the news stories that I missed while I was away was the  FSA announcing that they had cleared the Royal Bank of Scotland of any wrongdoing, quantifying their judgement by stating that RBS had made “a series of bad decisions” that “were not the result of any lack of integrity by any individual and we did not identify any instances of fraud or dishonest activity by senior individuals or a failure of governance on part of the board”.

It is worrying that the FSA, above everyone else, has failed to grasp the accusations levelled at RBS.  The charge against Goodwin, McKillop and everyone else is not that some sort of fraud occurred.  It is that in the course of events, the board of RBS did not show due diligence when approaching the takeover of ABN Amro.  In short the charge against RBS is that of criminal negligence.  What the FSA have done is akin to investigate a murder and found no charge of murder, when manslaughter had taken place.  Not that the FSA were able to uncover any smoking gun, with Adair Turner saying in his letter to Andrew Tyrie that “We find that, while there are undoubtedly instances of highly questionable judgement, there was not behaviour which could be subject to a successful enforcement action.” I have said before that the RBS board were very keen to push the takeover of ABN Amro through, before seeing the key debt reports.

It is interesting though that RBS have blocked the publication of the full judgement.  The FSA have in response to this written to the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie requesting help to resolve this impasse.  The FSA in the letter are looking to publish by March of next year.  Interestingly, in Robert Pestons own post about this, he reminds us that in the US, RBS are in the middle of a lawsuit involving investors who believed that they were misled by the bank’s directors.  Peston makes the point that this is the equivalent to taking the third amendment.  Critics would argue that this is RBS trying to hide evidence.  Their actions here do make them look guilty.  Of course in this country, only the rich can afford law suits, this is the reason why RBS are not in trouble here.

The letter to the Treasury Select committee raises the issue of the constraints that the FSA are tied into, constraints which hamper the regulatory processes.  Unfortunately as the financial sector continues to try and wind the clock back to 2006, the FSA have shown themselves to be ill equipped to go after the main culprits.  This does not bode well for their investigation into the collapse of HBOS.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Perfect Storm?

NB: This post was written before the resignation of Stewart Stevenson, which as this post argues was overdue.

For many years, we have laughed at the south of England for their inability to cope with snow fall in winter, and how any kind of snow fall brings the south east of England to a stop. Ah the schadenfreude!

That joke is now on us, thanks to the inaction of Father Jack lookalike and Transport minister Stewart Stevenson.  There were weather forecasts on Sunday predicting that there would be heavy snow showers on Monday morning, there was even a weather warning for that time.  Our pilot even said that heavy snow showers were forecast for Glasgow around the time we were due to arrive.  So why were the gritters not working the streets?

It was supposedly raining just before the snow started.  I do remember that the weather was calm, if very cold as we made our way through a deserted Paisley at 6am on Monday morning.  With not a gritting lorry in sight.

Stevenson might have got through Monday or Tuesday with little damage.  Any hope that he would have escaped any serious damage though will have sank with the series of interviews, culminating with his infamous interview on Newsnicht Scotland – where he claimed that no snow was forecast.  The BBC and the Met Office soon countered the lie, by re-playing weather forecasts from Sunday.  More curious was the interview with Salmond on Wednesday morning where he talked ad nausium about the forecast for Monday at 08:01, at which point snow was already falling.

Stevenson should have been formulating plan B throughout Sunday evening in preparation for “The Perfect Storm” – as Salmond put it.  He should have been in contact with AMEY (who hold the contract for maintenance of Scotland’s motorways) and the local authorities (who have been even more remiss with their winter weather programmes – large parts of Glenburn & Foxbar were still untreated up to Thursday morning).   His inaction has made Scotland even more of a laughing stock than it is already.  Does it not occur to our politicians to seek expert advice from countries who deal with these conditions on a regular basis?

What is clear though is that by seeking to blame the lack of any accurate forecast,  Stevenson, Salmond and the rest of the SNP have left themselves exposed as being inept and incompetent. With the Holyrood election’s now under 5 months away, an old phrase springs to mind – a phrase often repeated in the Sunday Post.  Oppositions don’t win elections, Government’s lose them.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Time To Name & Shame

With the cuts about to hit the fan, the blame game is in full swing.  The unions blame the Tories, the “Left” here in Scotland blames the SNP, the Lib Dem’s blame, well everyone but themselves, while the Tories blame the last government, despite agreeing with everything it did, untill the Westminster Elections came into view.   So, for everyone, including “the left” who seem to have found some sort of money tree which hands out free money (why else do you explain their osterich like Anti-cuts campaign?), here’s a sort of cut out and keep guide as to why UPplc is in such a hole.
Brown: Tending the Garden,
When New Labour took office in 1997, New Labour decided to keep with Thatcherite economic policy, despite having a mandate to change direction.  This put in place the foundations of the current recession in two ways.  Firstly, when Gordon Brown announced the new tri-partite regulatory arrangements, primarily in the Mansion house speech of June 1997, he directed the new Financial Services Authority to adopt a “Light Touch” to the regulatory process.  Whatever the intention, this sent the message that financial companies could do as they pleased when they pleased – essentially that it was business as usual.  The second mistake that Brown made was in relation to closing the small black hole that the Tories had left New Labour to deal with.  Instead of putting up the top rate of income tax from 40% – this would have put a brake on consumer spending and on house prices.  Brown taxed the shares & managed funds ie pension funds.  As a result, this destabilised pension funds up and down the country, causing them to lose value.

Thanks to the lasiz faire attitude to financial companies, as long as the money continued to roll in, no one cared where it came from.  As a result, companies started to offer 100%+ mortgages, with minimum reference & financial check’s, and little adherence to salary multipliers.  Northern Rock were chiefly involved in this market, but others moved into this area too.  However, Northern Rock became the symbol of “Sub Prime” mortgages in the UK. 

The guy who broke “The Rock” was the BBC’s business reporter Robert Peston (left), who reported that Northern Rock had asked for a loan from the bank of last resort.  This seemed to send millions of people in a panic, as they worried about their savings – causing the first run on a bank in living memory.  The report would have been fine, but for the two vital bits of information which was missing.  Firstly, banks had received loans from the “bank of last resort” in the past – it was used to alleviate a shortage in liquidity in the banking system, so The Rock were not in as bad a situation as they would be.  Secondly other banks had money loaned to them at the same time as “The Rock”, Barclays were rumoured to be one.

This data protection breech meant that banks and financial institutions were now going to be more reticent in lending to each other.  Which meant that financial institutions that had bought into the supposed financial goldmine of “sub prime” were finding that it was now a mine field.  One such company was the Bank of Scotland, who had become exposed to Sub Prime in the US as well as here, through it’s merger with Halifax.
Another company exposed to Sub Prime was the Royal Bank of Scotland.  However what brought RBS down was the aggressive programme of takeovers overseen by their CEO Fred Goodwin (pictured right (on the left) with his chairman Robert McKillop).  In 2007, Goodwin saw the takeover of the Dutch bank ABN Amro as crucial to the growth of RBS, and was very keen to land the bank, especially as there was a rival to win the bank, Barclay’s (with rumours that Santander were also monitoring the situation).  Scottish politicians were also particularly keen to see RBS land ABN Amro, despite the growing awareness of sub prime and doubts surrounding ABN Amro’s exact debt position.  Goodwin & RBS won the race when Barclay’s pulled out of the race (did they find out about ABN Amro’s position, or did they already know?).  However Goodwin had not read his debt reports, as ABN Amro was heavily exposed to US sub-prime, and as a result was heavily in debt.  With liquidity drying up in the wake of Northern Rock, RBS found itself on the critical list, alongside HBOS, Bradford & Bingley's, Alliance & Leicester and Northern Rock.

By September 2008, the situation had become so serious that the government had to act.  Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, RBS and the newly merged Lloyds TSB/HBOS group were either fully taken into government ownership, or majority government ownership, as Alistair Darling baled out the banking sector, thus creating the current government debt.  Interestingly, at no point did Her Majesty’s opposition query the course taken by the government.  They did not question the lack of regulations, the bank bale out, the “nationalisations” of the bank’s, or did they press for criminal action against the heads of the banks that were brought down.  Indeed, George Osborne was pressing for even less regulation in 2007, and Osborne was nowhere to be seen when Paul Myners gave Goodwin his pension.  Since the start of 2010 though, the Tories & the Lib Dem’s have decided that New Labour caused the deficit with their policies and that it should be tackled.  Tosh, utter tosh.  New Labour caused the deficit by not reigning in the financial sector in this country.  The real legacy for Gorgon Brown is that he created the conditions for the current government to come along and turn the clock back 50-100 years, and let others take advantage of the diminished conditions many people now, and will, live under.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Person Gets Engaged Shocker!

So let me get this one right, we are maybe going to see the beginning of the end of the Euro, or the beginning of the end of Ireland as an independent economic country, less capable of taking economic decisions than…  well Scotland.  We are still in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s, which our government have taken as a sign to enact the scorched earth policies they strenuously denied they would enact pre-election – egged on by the Lib Dems.  So what has been dominating the news today.  Why today’s the day that the engagement of William & Kate was announced.

It is good news, if you are a fan of the Royals.  For the rest of us (who think that the most real depiction of the Royals is a cross between “The Borgia’s” and “Spitting Image”), any goodwill will have evaporated within five minutes of hearing the news with the already unbearably awful fawning coverage.  For fear of loosing my DAB, I switched off the radio at lunchtime after 10 minutes of the stuff.

And what about all that “Bringing the Nation together” rubbish, what nation exactly are you talking about?  It shows an ignorance of the make up of the UK when “The Nation” is normally wheeled out, normally at World Cup time.  When it was wheeled out at lunchtime, it showed an ignorance of the  deep grindingly black pit many people face regarding their future and their families future thanks to the scorched earth policy pursued by the current government and their cheerleaders.

I do hope that, on a personal level, William & Kate do enjoy their time together.  If only because I would imagine being at the centre of the sort of media scrutiny they are about to be put under, will not be pleasant.  Particularly with The Firm as the in-laws.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

After Minimum Pricing…

Minimum Pricing finally hit the wall  yesterday as it was voted out by the Holyrood parliament.  While the fallout & acrimony continues, there are two points to be made.

While Minimum Pricing was undoubtedly the flagship policy of the SNP’s Alcohol bill, a policy which deserved to fall because it wouldn’t work (as has been discussed here & here).  There were two other proposals which deserve closer scrutiny, partially because they too failed to make the Alcohol Bill (Trebles all round Scottish Labour!!!), but also because i think they would have had more chance of working than Minimum Pricing.  The Tightening of Licensed premises would have set a higher standard for public houses, while the rise in the age where alcohol could be purchased from off-licences would be able to give shop owners a better chance to assess whether someone was over or under age.  Of course this regulation would be nullified if underagers got an older adult to buy alcohol for them, however some sort of sanction against this act should be looked into.

The second point is that Scotland’s alcoholism is talked about as a disease to be cured.  However there is another point here, that the love of Mr Booze is a symptom of something else.  Whether it’s an inability to cope in our dark, damp (and currently very windy) country, our need for a “prop” after working long hours or just that…  well there’s nothing else to do.  Our Booze culture is very heavily ingrained into Scottish culture.  Right down to the lack of coffee shop’s open late into the evening, public houses & king Booze dominate the Scottish mind-set.  Perhaps a way is to provide alternatives, to incentivise restaurants & coffee shops to open late on into the night.  For young people, the alternatives would be to provide amenities and places to gather.  As well as that, and this is a local point, public transport could be made an awful lot more accessible at night (try getting around Paisley at night).

Or is Scotland’s booze culture so ingrained that any attempt to dilute it is doomed to failure?  The Chewin’ the Fat sketch (“Gauny have a drink”) is spot on about the relationship many people have with alcohol.  Minimum Pricing might have been stifled at birth (which some of us think is a good thing, even if the motives are nebulous to say the least).  It does look to have started a discussion on how best to proceed.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Every Little Helps: How Labour Could Still Loose Next May

In our corporate world, brand trust is everything.  Companies & organisations fight for trust.  In Scotland if the last Westminster elections are anything to go by, Scottish Labour is the most trusted organisation in Scotland.  It looks as well, if the (single) poll is correct that Labour will be in the box seat to set up the next government of Scotland.

Reservoir Dogs, schemie style
Pollsters believe that the SNP are now clearly second favourites to retain power next May.  While the SNP have their own problems, which if they iron them out could still put the SNP in the mix.  Scottish Labour might have sown the seeds of their own downfall next year.  And not just with the robust/offensive attitude shown towards their political opponents (“Ginger Rodents” and calling Salmond’s life story “Run Fat Boy… Run”)

The highest profile policy announcement at their conference in Oban was the commitment to scrap the Council Tax freeze.  You may remember the high profile campaign by COSLA and by the leader of Glasgow City Council Gordon Matheson a couple of months ago to have this measure scrapped by the current administration.  Scottish Labour have committed themselves to scrapping this measure, but have said that they will put a cap of 2% on council tax rises.  In a funny way Iain Gray (above, right) has produced a policy which pleases no one.  Hard pressed people will see their council tax rise by 2% for every year of the next parliament, at precisely the moment where the Scottish economy needs people to spend money to put needed liquidity into the economy.  Scottish Labour councillors are not happy either, they did not want a cap – it cannot have escaped their notice that Council Tax for Band D homes is 20% lower here than it is down sarf.  The argument will be that this is to ensure the survival of frontline services, but surely there are enough examples of Labour largesse to torpedo this idea (just please let it not be the Tories supporting TPA that exposes it).  The recurring theme of Grey’s ideas is that they really do not go far enough and smack of being stuck between two stools.
A classic of this stance is his pledge that he and his ministers would take a 5% pay cut if he was elected.  While a cut of £5000 is not to be sniffed at, the First Minister still takes home around £130,000, which in Recession Scotland is somewhat exorbitant. If Gray really wanted to make a statement, he should have announced a cut of around 20-25% in his and his cabinet’s salary.

While the proposed cuts to the amount of Police services looks good on paper, this is a proposal which will cost money in the long run… as will the proposal to amalgamate all of the health boards.  A much better proposal would be to get rid of the majority of middle management of the NHS.  And what of “Education, Education, Education”.  There are pledges to help to deal with illiteracy and numeracy problems, and to re-employ teachers “thrown on the scrapheap”.  However there are no proposals as to how to pay for this.  The last time Scottish Labour were in power, councils up and down the country signed up to renovate their school buildings using PFI.  Today, PFI repayments take an estimated £800 million out of education budgets up and down the land.  I would think that would have more relevance to our ailing education system than the current government.

Gray’s pledges do not have the look of the next Scottish government, and they still have the legacy of Jack McConnell about them – do less better.  The policies do appear plausible enough to the hard core Labour voter, who will trust Labour more that they trust the SNP. However they have given something for the SNP to attack, particularly on Council Tax.  They have also given un-costed pledges on Education & Health.  They may well be favourites to win on May 5th (and I think that they will win) but they have given the SNP several lines of attack.  Let the spinning commence.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Assassination of Consumer Focus by The Taxpayers Alliance

*before starting, can I make a declaration of interest.  My Beloved is a board member for Consumer Focus Scotland….

One of the casualties of the so called “Bonfire of the Quango’s” is the consumer organisation “Consumer Focus”, which was the offspring of the merger between Postwatch & Energywatch (the Scottish organisation also incorporated the old Scottish Consumer Council).  It costs the tax-payer £5.2 million a year, it produces policy initiatives, It has the right to demand commercially sensitive information from the companies they are investigating (thanks to an Act of Parliament) and has secured high profile victories against Npower (securing a refund of £70 million) and on ISA’s (securing a refund of £15 million).  It’s communications have been clear & concise (TCF anyone?), and generally Consumer Focus looks like a success story in protecting consumers from bad business practice, having been set up 2 years ago, but with a long, credible, evidence based history of looking after the interests of consumers.

So why has the Tax-Payers Alliance mounted an ultimately successful attempt to have this organisation scrapped?

The TPA believes that “it duplicates the work of many companies, charities and campaigns who advise and represent consumers.”  Which companies exactly does it duplicate?  The TPA is also guilty of not doing it’s research.  Consumer Focus encompasses the sterling work of the watchdogs Postwatch & Energywatch, and the wide spectrum of work carried out by the Scottish Consumer Council.  The new organisation was given statutory powers to be effective in their new position as a ‘consumer champion’ Where exactly are these powers to go? They cannot be given to a charity. How can you get an advice charity to do the work of a quango?  And no offence to Citizens Advice, but they are seriously stretched as it is. How will they be able to take on the sheer magnitude of work currently carried out by Consumer Focus?  I have no experience of using Citizens Advice, mostly because it was impossible to actually contact the Paisley office (there was a voicemail message to contact them in office hours – not the best message to leave in todays timeshift society).  CAB must be having the same doubts, there are rumours that they were reluctant to take on their new role before being “persuaded” to by the government.

This is not the first campaign built on poor research, as Subrosa mentions here with TPA’s ignorance of Devolution and the concept of Holyrood running the NHS independently of Wesminster – while complaining about free prescriptions.  Then of course, there was this campaign where TPA couldn’t wait on the facts before getting the boot into lobbying.

The ‘modus operandi’ of the TPA though is “Together we can save taxpayers across the country millions of pounds.” – they are essentially a body standing up for tax-payers. So how can they effectively torpedo an organisation which has saved consumers (tax-payers) millions of pounds, and has an extensive evidence base of the many ways in which they have made things better for consumers!  Of course the question which should occur to everyone is who asked them to stand up for me or you?  I am glad that someone is standing up for us poor repressed tax-payers, but have serious concerns  about this less than transparent organisation.  The TPA somehow doesn’t quite go after the targets that it should.

While targeting an organisation which only costs overall between £5-12 million to run, where is the TPA campaign against the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has been revealed by Private Eye to be a deeply corrupt organisation, more concerned by the enrichment of it’s own backers.  Oh and where are the howls of protest over the inept HMRC, who failed to protect people’s personal data, who’s computer systems were giving people inaccurate tax-code’s and who recently dropped their court case against Vodaphone over the takeover of Mannesmann (which people were protesting against this weekend), and have not to date, started any litigation against Tesco.  As well as depriving the country of the use of £6 billion, the dropping of the Vodaphone case gives the red light to tax avoidance from big business, squeezing even more the hard working honest tax payer.  So much for standing up for the ordinary tax payer.

The jibe about the TPA is that it has always been a front organisation for the Tory party.  It is notoriously reticent about publishing where they get their money from, publishing abbreviated accounts since 2006. Yet this is an organisation which has gained a reputation for being fair and standing up for ordinary tax payers, even though one of it’s directors refuses to pay tax to HMRC, preferring to live in the Loire instead. 
I may be wrong but i remember during the 2004 US Presidential elections that organisations that kept their political allegiances quiet while taking part in the hustings began to gain traction in the media across in America.  The success of the Tax-payers Alliance has shown that this is one trend which has made it’s way across the water.  The challenge for the general public/the blogosphere/whoever is to challenge the voracity of these organisations, and to uncover their motives as quickly as possible.  Perhaps it is time to seriously scrutinise this organisation, and see what skeletons they are hiding, and at the very least advise them to do proper research before they shoot their mouths off about things they are ill-informed about? The fact that the Tax Payers Alliance has gathered credibility among the UK media so quickly with so little scrutiny of their arguments should really be a lesson for us all.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The SNP: What Went Wrong In May & How They Can Win Next Year

Whoa!, that’s a big title…

The most depressing thing about the night of May 6th (apart from the prospect of a Tory election win, remember they were only about 160,000 votes short of an overall majority – with many UKIP votes denying the Tories that majority) was the glacial movement in the political landscape in Scotland.  This weekend, the SNP will gather for the first time since that election, perhaps to mull over May, but also to make plans for retaining their tenancy of Bute House.

The SNP went into the General Election with high hopes of a breakthrough.  However as the campaign went on, they became more and more sidelined.  They became pre-occupied about the Leaders debates, and the effect the increased exposure for the big three was having on the exposure of the SNP and their policies.  As a result of their attempts to get Alex Salmond on to the podium (who lets not forget, wasn’t actually standing for any form of office at this election), the SNP came across as surly.  Having said that the debates were a poorly structured attempt to Americanise our much more complex democracy.  I would hope at the next Westminster election, that more flexible structures can be agreed.

The main problem with the SNP in May was simply that they had not worked out their narrative for this election.  This is not a new problem for the SNP, there has not really been a reason to vote SNP in General Election’s since the inception of the Scottish Parliament.  As the pro independence party, you would have thought that devolution would given the SNP the opportunity to push the case for independence at Westminster elections, and the opportunity to push for government/policy ideas in Holyrood elections. 

Yet the SNP have not gone down this route.  For this election the SNP went with an anti-cuts agenda, with the slogan “More Nat’s, Less Cuts”.  As a result, Scottish Labour massacred the SNP, with their variants of the “Ripped-off-Glasgow” campaigns.  That was before a bunch of parents drove a coach and horses through the SNP’s slogan by bringing up the cuts implemented by…  er…  the SNP led Renfrewshire Council.

Until the SNP choose the narrative for future Westminster elections, the Holyrood elections represent their best chance of electoral success.  With an OK under the circumstances parliament behind them (with a lot of popular policies being postponed due to adverse “electoral arithmetic”), the SNP should be looking forward to a second term.  However, the Ripped-off Glasgow campaign has hurt the SNP’s chances, while Labour has resurrected their vanity project – the GARL –pledging to build the project as was designed (regardless of affordability) in the hope that this will be as popular as they seem to think it is.  The release of Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi has also hurt the SNP in the polls.

So how can the SNP win next May?  They have made a good start by re-affirming their policy of the Council Tax freeze.  Despite Scottish Labour claims of a 3% cap, the Municipalist wing of Scottish Labour will be looking to close the 20% gap between Council Tax rates in England & Scotland.  I also think that they should have been more flexible in their attempt to get LIT off the ground, I think that this should come back on to the table.

Whatever policies the SNP formulate & announce over the course of this weekend’s conference, they must also attack Scottish Labour’s spin.  The inability to combat Scottish Labour spin cost the SNP the Glasgow North by-election and also cost it momentum in the West.  Scottish Labour have gone on the attack by claiming to protect front-line services, in their arguments for the scrapping of the Council Tax freeze.  The SNP should not be coy about flagging up to the Scottish electorate, the general largesse which Municipalist Labour are accustomed to.  I mentioned a couple of posts ago that Ed Milliband needs to employ his version of Alastair Campbell.  The SNP would be best advised to do likewise as this will be a nasty, spiteful,vindictive election battle, with no prisoners taken.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Boredom Causes Boozing

This is a letter published in the Paisley Daily Express, dated 8 October.  It is in response to a letter published on October 1, which was written by Andy Doig, the SNP's Parlimentary candidate for Paisley at the Holyrood election.

Dear Editor
I write with regard to the letter's published in the Paisley Daily Express dated 1 October 2010 relating to underage drinking.
In Mr Doig's letter he states that local authorities are "at the front line of defence against the scourge of underage drinking rather than Holyrood", he goes on to praise the current administration for their hard line on this issue.  While I am sure that they are, the actions taken do not appear to be making a difference as there are still groups of young people out at weekends congregating around areas of disused ground drinking.  The evidence of a hard night's drinking can be seen with the broken bottles & discarded cans which litter the landscape of our schemes. 
Mr Doig also attacks Mr Henry for his stance on Minimum Pricing.  The Labour stance on this policy is that they disagree with it because it will put money into the pockets of the supermarkets, with estimates in the region of around £140 million.  While this is a mute point, Mr Henry should have objected because this is a measure that will not work.  When people want to drink, they will drink.  Minimum Pricing will not act as a deterrent to alcohol consumption.  Its effect instead will be to create a spiral of debt and despair, with people maybe resorting to crime to "fund" their habit.  Rather than "save another generation in Renfrewshire from the social devastation and family breakdown caused by cheep drink", it will re-enforce the social devastation and family breakdown caused by alcohol addiction.
So how do we solve this problem?  Alcohol dependency is a complex issue which cannot be resolved by simplistic measures like Minimum Pricing.  As regards to underage drinking, there is something our council can do to help.  They can provide a cheep alternative to hanging around derelict ground drinking cheep booze.  They can put themselves in the position of so many of these people and ask themselves the question "What is there to do on a Friday/Saturday night in Paisley?".  Maybe then they will understand that boredom is the main driver of underage drinking.
Yours faithfully

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Another Blairite Speech?

Having only seen selected highlights of Cameron’s “wonderful” speech yesterday, I was wondering if the following points were made but somehow failed to make it to the 10 o’clock news.

While saying that we are all in this together, and using military language to express this.  Did Cameron explain why his Chancellor and HMRC dropped their case against Vodaphone, over taxes not paid when Vodaphone bought Mannesmann in 1999?

Did Cameron explain why, even though they are against tax avoidance, they are soft on big business avoiding paying tax?  They wrote off £6 Billion by dropping the aforementioned Vodaphone case, while no action appears to have taken place against Tesco.

Did Cameron announce a full inquiry into everything surrounding the Lockerbie bombing?  After all, the unsafe verdict of three Scottish judges has done more harm to the standing of Scotland and Scottish justice than the sight of an ill old man leaving Greenock Prison ever could.

Did Cameron give a rebuke to irresponsible members of his own party who want to remove human rights for workers, and who seem to relish a fight with the unions like football casuals relish a “ruck”?

Did Cameron show that he has put that private education to good use, and show one again that he knows his history by showing off his undoubted knowledge of the two World Wars?

Nah, thought not. It was another Blair mark 2 speech wasn’t it?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Still Toxic After All These Years…

Phah, you leave a comment on Better Nation, and it’s disproved within 12 hours with the appearance on Radio Scotland of, shock horror!!!  a blogger (OK it was the Dalemeister, but still it is still a rarity for a member of the blogosphere to appear in the mainstream Scottish media).  Dale was appearing on GMS as they were discussing why the Cameron effect stopped in Dumfriesshire.


There are several reasons touted for the Tories electoral failures here in Scotland.  Little fresh talent breaking through, with the same old faces holding key positions at the top of the party.  These are exacerbated by the fact that, in the Central belt, and in particular in the West of Scotland, the Conservative party is still seen as the nasty party.  For many people, the years when Thatcher's Conservatives destroyed Scottish heavy industry and cut a swathe through the manufacturing sector were years that will stay in the memory.  Some people though that memories would recede with New Labour in power.  Far from it, the Thatcher years have become something of a folklore, like the dragon that resides in the wood’s.  Ready to awake at any time.  Many people did not forget, and were unwilling to forgive.


Not that there was a lack of people queuing up to remind the Scottish voters.  Labour’s campaign seemed to consist solely of reminding people about the Tories, how ghastly they were and what happened the last time they were in power.  Which i suppose was as potent as the Tories reminding businesses up and down the land about 1979 and all that.  Except the Tories probably don’t need candidates opening their mouths and putting their foot in it.  Gordon MacCaskill put his foot in it several times during the General Election (and will probably do so again, as he has been picked to fight the Paisley seat for the Holyrood elections).  Today has also seen another Holyrood hopeful open his mouth and let his belly rumble.  With friend’s like these…


The interesting thing which no one seems to have mentioned is that while the Tories seem to be failing in attracting votes, this does not, as some commentators suggest, mean that there is a vacuum on the right.  The Tories place as the natural party of the centre right has been usurped, in the Scottish political landscape at least, by Scottish Labour.  It is they who are pursuing the Howardesque line on crime with their policy on Knife possession, as well as their former rising star pursuing a policy of part privatisation of council services.  It is also they who have the current monopoly on “Back to basic’s” style sleaze thanks to said former rising star.


If the key to winning elections is to find that populous middle ground, the Tories have failed to do this with a Scottish electorate which has not forgotten and will not forget the 1980’s.  Jeez they even failed to take the hint when Tory became a stick to beat the SNP with for nigh on 20 years after the collapse of the Callaghan government.  What is it they say about addicts being the last to become aware they have a problem?  With Holyrood elections next year,and Annabel Goldie offering the olive branch in an attempt to carve out some influence after the elections, the Tories need to learn the lessons of the past 30 years.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Post-Modernist Labour?

It’s strange to think that while i thought that Ed Miliband would win, i was still a little surprised when I heard the news coming away from St Mirren’s loss to Inverness Caley Thistle at the weekend.  I'm still not sure that I can see him as leadership material, but he has 4 and a half years to grow into the role of prospective Prime Minister.  He has considerably shorter time to grow into the role of Labour leader.  Think more like October 20th.

To be honest, none of the five really appealed to me.  In one respect or another, with the exception of Dianne Abbott, they all represented facets of the New Labour project.  Ed probably won because he learned the Brown trick of couching New Labour policies in Old Labour language.  That and the Unions were actively campaigning for him.  It is this which has raised the ire of the right wing press, funnily enough ignoring Cameron’s backers, which include two companies who specialise in currency speculation, and Ginsters foods.

Ed Milliband has accepted that Labour lost in May, and thinks that they can regain power in 2014/5, even though it will be tough to win the 68 seats required for a majority.  I think that they can as well.  However there are some things they need to look at.  In May they only polled about 8.6 million votes, a drop of 900,000 votes from 2005.  Presumably Iraq, the “coalition of the willing” and all that caused Labour to shed another 1.2 million votes between 2001 and 2005.  The drop in votes, of around 2.8 million votes,  between 1997 and 2001 though does need to be looked at.  My theory is that this is disaffected left wingers, appalled by Blair’s march to the right.  It is a quirk that more people voted Labour in 1992 (when they lost) than in 2001 (when they only dropped 10 seats from their 1997 result).  A re-positioning of Labour to it’s natural position as a Centre/Left party might bring the disaffected back out to vote for them.

Ed Milliband made a start in this direction with his maiden conference speech, which drew the line on the “New Labour” years, and set out on a path trying to stand up for the disaffected, and for those on the wrong end of Cameron’s cuts.  From the “edited highlights”, i suspect that the speech went for the broad brush approach rather than give any detail.  When he delivered the lines about happy societies being the ones with small gap’s between the rich and the poor, you would have given a penny for the thought’s of Peter “seriously relaxed about people getting rich” Mandleson, let alone Tony Blair.  One lesson the younger Milliband needs to learn though is his media management skills.  Put simply, he needs an Alastair Campbell, or else the Murdoch press and the other sections of the Tory supporting media will eat him alive.  Still the line about Cameron - “You were an optimist once” – was a nice reversal of the line Cameron used to introduce himself to Blair - “you were the future once” – in 2005.

Of a more pressing matter, there are Holyrood elections next May.  There were two parts of the speech which might have implications.  Ed Milliband said that if he agreed with a policy, he would not oppose it from a dogmatic view.  Labour under Iain Gray, and previously Wendy Alexander, have opposed the SNP for opposition's sake.  Gray and Milliband have also stated their opposition to the exorbitant wages given to heads of civil service departments.  Not going to go down well in certain Scottish councils, where council leaders “earn” £60,000, and waste £270,000 on severance payments.  For Miliband, it was a good start, but he has an awful lot of work ahead of him before he even contemplates the next General Election.  However, it was nice to finally hear of a policy from Iain Gray.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Great Scot’s And Not Great Scot’s

It is the 25th anniversary of the publication of the “Who’s Who in Scotland” book.  To “celebrate”, the publishers are asking who the greatest Scot of the past 25 years is, or who has made the most outstanding contribution to Scotland over the last quarter of a century.
There’s not a clear cut favourite for this accolade.  Blair, Brown & Dewar probably have the best case, but also have serious question marks against them.  Electoral arithmetic has conspired against Salmond, while Robin Cook was wasted as Foreign Secretary.  Any thought’s you might have are welcome (I think you might be able to vote through the website or by e-mailing the publishers if you are interested).  Certainly those who buy the book, and those who appear in the book (like for example my fiancee, who will be, i am proud to say,  apearing for the second year in a row) have a vote.
Perhaps an even more interesting question would be who do you think is the Scot who has had an adverse effect on life in Scotland over the past 25 years, the Scot who has through the course of their work set Scotland back?  A couple of people spring to mind, Brian Souter and Cardinal Winning for their role in the “Keep The Clause” campaign. Fred Goodwin oh and Brian Adams MSP for backing Trumptown.
My nomination though would have to be someone who inadvertently has turned Labour from a party which campaigned for the poor and less well off to a party that sounds as if it would rather get stuck into the SNP.  Step forward Rosemary McKenna, the former MP for Cumbernauld, who as chair of the committee to pick Labour candidates for the inaugural Scottish Parliament elections helped to chose a group that were either uninspiring policy wonks, or came from Labour’s “municipalist” wing.  Former councillors who were well versed in the dark arts of taminy hall politics.  Ok the brief was to pick leadership loyalists, but the fact is that in picking the candidates no Ken Livingstone/Alun Michael style controversy erupted here. 
Yet it’s only really in the past parliament where the folly in picking candidates loyal to the great leader has been shown up.  After Wendy Alexander’s resignation, there was not one really outstanding candidate to lead Labour.  Iain Gray won that race, and has struggled to show that he has more charisma than a clothes pole since.  Whether he can formulate the policies which will see him ensconced in Bute House remains to be seen.  It is more likely that Labour will win by attacking the SNP’s record in office, than by unveiling some sort of popular policy initiative, like the Lib Dem’s £10,000 tax threshold which was simple and showed common sense. 
That there does not appear to be anyone capable of standing up for ordinary Scots, and in an eloquent & articulate fashion within the Labour party is something of a betrayal of their traditions, and can be traced back to the selection of candidates for the 1999 Scottish elections.  Like I said, I think that the question of who has set Scotland back is a more interesting question.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Case Against Minimum Pricing.

Last week, Scotland’s alcohol problem and how to tackle it was making headline news with the SNP & New Labour unveiling rival proposals which looked remarkably similar.

Minimum Pricing is a key plank of the SNP’s Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill which is going through Holyrood at the moment.  Other proposals revolve around the regulation of licensing of premises and the sales of Alcohol, but the minimum pricing per unit is the proposal which has grabbed most of the headlines.  While this proposal has received its strongest backing from medical professionals, most of the critics have so far concentrated on the harm to the pockets of “responsible drinkers”.  I would have thought that any criticism would have concentrated on whether this proposal will work.

Where minimum pricing will work is in making the likes of “White Lightning”, “Mad Dog 20/20” and other cheep drinks much more expensive.  Depending on what you think the problem is, this will have two effects.  On underage drinking, this may mean that less drink is purchased.  However, this might also mean that in order to “finance” drinking habits youth crime might well see an increase.  Shop keepers might be under more pressure to sell.  With over-age drinking, an addict still has to “finance” their habit, so again a spiral to debt, unpaid bills, possibly crime,  leading to possible family breakups, will ensue.

One of the jibes made by New Labour has also stuck, namely why should supermarkets profit from minimum pricing?  New Labour believe that minimum pricing will deliver £140 million in extra revenue for alcohol retailers.  The UK wide “floor price”, proposed by Scottish Labour similarly does not spell out where the money raised is to go (the Treasury black hole?) with more police and to the NHS being vague ideas.  It would be the sensible option for the money to go towards addiction treatments.

The problem with tinkering with the price of alcohol is that for many people, it is seen as a silver bullet for Scotland’s problems.  It is not.  Minimum pricing will fail because as well as not being a good enough deterrent to drinking, there are no other measures in place to tackle Scotland’s drink problem, and perhaps more pressing, its underage drinking problem.  Scotland is a dark, damp miserable place at the best of times.  For many people, drink is a way out.  We should be looking at why “Scotland” is an alcoholic, before adding to its problems.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Speaking of The Vicar…

Amongst all of the hype and hyperbole around “A Journey”, there are in truth only really a couple of things that stick out.  Firstly lets ignore Iraq, because what else was Blair going to say on the subject (“actually, you were all right” – aye right).  The theory that we should try and bring to heel dictators somewhat missed the point that, invading Iraq when Al-Qaida are at the height of their powers is…  well removing another enemy of Al-Qaida and opening up another front for them.  The phrase “My enemies enemy is my friend” must have escaped the collective consciousness of Blair, Bush et al.

No, the most interesting things are about his relationship with Gordon Brown.  Blair’s analysis is that Brown had “no instinct at the human, gut level. Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero." is an accurate description of the previous occupant of Number 10.  An excellent planner of events and policy, but lacking the nimble footedness and empathy with the voters, traits which Blair himself had in spades.  The absolute nadir of their relationship is said in the book to have occurred in March 2006 when Brown threatened Blair with an investigation if he did not drop the Adair report into pensions, this included a pledge to link pensions to earnings.  So much for Browns so called left leaning views, if he was so willing to use OAP’s as bargaining chips in his personal game of…  well chess isn’t really Gordon Brown is it?

Blair is also rather damning about Browns followers - “The curse of Gordon was to make these people co-conspirators, not free-range thinkers. He and Ed Balls and others were like I had been back in the 1980s, until slowly the scales fell from my eyes and I realised it was more like a cult than a kirk” – and also about his time as PM “never going to work”, quantifying that in various interviews, like here in the GuardianBy the time we came to the end I had a very strong view that unless Gordon absolutely kept to the policy agenda that we had by then devised – because we had a process called Pathways to the Future or something, which was a process that really tried to set out how you took New Labour to a new level – my view very strongly was that if he did that he would win and if he didn't he would lose. And by the time I left my general view was that he would probably depart from it and therefore lose.” I personally think that Brown’s time in charge is essentially 2 and a half years of chickens coming home to roost from the decisions made by Brown as Chancellor, maybe he should have started this “pathways to the future” programme, but essentially Brown lost because of the decisions he made as Chancellor which came back to haunt him as PM.

The other interesting thing to come out is Blair’s support for the policies being put forward by the Lib-Con government.  Blair was always the best leader the Tories never had, and always had advisers that used to be SDP people, so is anyone really surprised at this.  The really interesting quote, which is something i have argued for, rather than the ostrich approach adopted by other socialists in this country “What you can say is that you are withdrawing the stimulus too fast and therefore putting the recovery at risk. You can say that we would make these changes rather than those changes. You can say that actually there are better ways of reforming your public services to get the results that you want and the value for money. Say all of those things and you can be on a winning wicket. But if you simply say we're going to be the ones saying no, the public is going to say that's fine, but you're being unrealistic and we've got to deal with this.”.  I find it maddening that fellow socialists think that cuts are only an option to reducing the deficit, they don’t seem to understand the truth that Liam Byrne’s note that the money had run out was closer to the truth than many people would admit .  The best course of action would be to identify your own options for cuts, reducing the layer of middle management in the NHS, cutting the wages of over paid heads of service that kind of thing (oh and of course not writing off £6 billion in dropping your case against Vodaphone – i really hope someone starts to kick up a stink about that scandal…). 

Of course Blair’s book is going to come across as “I was right, and this is why”, with that slightly pious tone which attracted the nickname of “The Vicar” in Private Eye.  We simply are not going to get contrition on Blair’s part over Iraq and Afghanistan.  Blair’s synopsis of how the coalition are getting on though is interesting, in terms of what the “progressive parties” should be campaigning for.  Blair has ensured that his is a voice that will be heard for years to come, despite being the head of a government that was not nearly as radical as he believes it was.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Heir to Blair Indeed!

One of the reasons that I voted Lib Dem was that there was a pledge that tax loopholes and tax avoidance would be clamped down on.  Quite how this pledge sits with the news that Phillip Green has been asked to advise the government on how to cut waste is anyone’s guess.  One can only wonder what the Lib Dem “backbenchers” make of it all.


To be fair, Green does pay UK tax on his salary from BHS/Arcadia.  The problem is that this is a company which is owned by Green’s wife, Christina Green, and her immediate family.  Chez Green is not based in the UK, therefore do not pay Income Tax to HMRC.  As a result the UK taxpayer is having to make up a shortfall of somewhere between £400-500 million, with the tax-take on dividends between 2002 and 2004 (when the company stopped paying dividends) and additional £120 million (estimate).


What these amounts to not take into account is the profits made from investments made into and from offshore companies.  According to the In The City column in Private Eye, the original takeover was executed through a Jersey based company called Taveta Investments (sole director, Mrs T Green).  Taveta now owned 92% of Arcadia, with HBOs owning the other 8 %.  In 2005 alone Arcadia paid out £1.3 billion in dividends to Taveta, with a tax liability calculated to be around £360 million.  The Eye reports that this dividend “was only possible because Taveta Investments increased it’s bank borrowings by £1.675 billion.  Most of this was courtesy of a £1 billion syndicated 7 and a half year loan…  just how much of the loan HBOS took is unclear, but it would have been a big slice.  Taveta still owes some £550 million of it back


The Green’s “earn” £20 million a year, none of which is taxable by HMRC.  As Green himself put’s it “We do pay all our taxes in Britain…  My wife is not a tax exile.  My family do not live in the UK.  It is somewhat different.”  In good times, this appointment would be dubious at best, but in times when a lot of hurt and a lot of pain is going to come the general public’s way, to appoint someone who has not been 100% committed to this country shows a distinct lack of judgement .  However this decision is not the only questionable appointment Cameron has made in his short premiership.


In June 2010, the government appointed John Browne as an efficiency Czar, tasked with identifying efficiency savings and ways to cut public spending.  Browne had been the Chef executive of BP until 2007. It is his cost-cutting programme at BP, which compromised health and safety regulations, which  should put a shiver up everyone’s back.  Those cuts arguably led to two major accidents at BP installations,  the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 and more recently the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which caused friction between English Tories and American’s as the oil continued to seep into the Gulf of Mexico.  We can only hope that whatever cuts John Browne recommends, that he has learned his lessons from his tenor at BP.


What this does exemplify is that Cameron is developing the habit of not really thinking about his appointments and advisors.  This is a trait he shares with, of all people, Tony Blair (I’ve just noticed as well that Browne’s title is the rather Blairite “Efficiency Tzar”).  Remember the various people Blair would schmooze with?  We also remember the way Cameron touted himself as “the heir to Blair” in around 2006.  What is surprising is how quickly, and with so much gusto, Cameron has adopted some of the Blair hand book.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Case For The Council Tax Freeze

If you look at the media, the case for the lifting of the current Council Tax freeze is irresistible.  Even one of Scotland’s leading bloggers, Jeff SNP TV,  has said that Iain Gray is right when he called for the scrapping of the Council Tax freeze.  Glasgow City Council’s main argument is that if the freeze is not lifted, then front-line services will be at risk of being eroded, or worse, axed altogether.

This has not stopped Glasgow City Council from indulging in its own cuts process.  Already, key council services have been spun off into “Arm’s length” businesses, with councillors reported to have received a share of some £400,000.  At the same time, Glasgow City Council was undertaking a school closure programme, which affected 2000 children.  I would have though that council services should have received more money, while councillors and heads of service show an example and take a pay cut.  With such largesse on show for the councillors, you would have thought that the person running Glasgow City Council at that point was on drugs or something.

It’s not just Glasgow City Council that is hoping that the green light for Council Tax increases will cover up past and current mistakes.  One of the interesting nuggets to come from the Independent Budget Review is the figure £800 million.  This is an estimate of the amount that all of Scotland’s local authorities will pay this year servicing their PFI/PPP debts.  In effect that is an estimated £800 million disappearing from Local Authorities budgets, never to be seen again.  No wonder there are problems with finding work for teachers.  The next figure I have for you is £44 million.  That is the amount Scottish Local Authorities pay in “consultancy fees” – this one was picked up at an anti cuts meeting, I think that the UNISON rep gave me that one.  So Councils pay people a combined £44 million to tell them what to do (Renfrewshire’s share is about £1 million, again source UNISON), can anyone tell me why we vote for them?  No?  Gordon Matheson is definitely struggling to justify his £60,000 salary then.

Forgotten among the political posturing is us, the poor saps who have to shell out to pay for all of the glorious largesse.  The Councillors, the local authorities group UNISON, and New Labour seem to have forgotten that we are still in a recession.  The price of food is still going up.  The price of fuel, one suspects, will go up once again over the winter, powering a rise in inflation past its current mark of 3.1%.  VAT is due to go up in January.  The price of public transport is set to increase as well, and to cap it all there are rumblings of an increase in interest rates.  With all of these price rises, where, one wonders, do our Councillors, COSLA & Iain Gray think that ordinary Scots are going to get the money to afford a council tax hike.  And it will be a hike.  Under New Labour, and then successive New Labour/Lib Dem administrations, Council Tax has gone up by an average of 47% between 1997 and 2007.  Yet it was noted that Band D council tax is 20% lower in Scotland than it is in England.  I wonder if COSLA have noticed this despite backing Glasgow City Council’s plan for a 3% rise.

In this light, a council tax rise will add more pressure to hard pressed people & families, already struggling with rising bills from other quarters.  It might not be an exaggeration to say that there might be blood on the hands of councillors if this goes ahead.  For what, to bale out councils who refuse to get real and properly cut their cloth’s.  This post and last should contain enough example’s to make you wary of the arguments put forward by the likes of Pat Watters, Gordon Matheson and Iain Gray in favour of the removal of the Council Tax freeze.  For Iain Gray to advocate this measure, he should be ashamed.  Labour used to have a reputation for standing up for the poor.  New Labour now only has a reputation for burying the poor.  Final proof that hollow class sloganeering will only get you so far.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Some Shock Treatment

There was a book that came out by the Canadian author Naomi Klein a couple of years ago, “The Shock Doctrine”, where Klein argues that free market “reforms” have been pushed through while countries have been reacting to events, disasters.  It is hinted in the book that the Falkland's War was such an event (though it wasn’t the war itself that led to the reforms, more the 140+ majority in the following years election).  Countries reacting to extreme events having to undertake unpopular “reforms”, hmmmm…

It was this which came to mind last week with the publication of the Independent Budget Report, the panel was led by Crawford Beverage the former Scottish Enterprise chief executive.  The review, which has been compared to the original Beverage Report which recommended what became known as the Welfare State, even quotes the original by saying “The first principle is that any proposals for the future … should not be restricted by
consideration of sectoral interests.”
.  Yet I think that this is exactly what this report does.

Lets take for example the future of Scottish Water.  The Scottish Futures Trust have been lobbying the government hard for the privatisation, mutualisation or otherwise of Scottish Water.  The report states, dryly, “…we are of the opinion that alternative models should still be considered…  which should permit the release of significant capital to the Scottish Government for other projects while allowing the attraction of private investment and the return of any surplus to the public benefit”.  As an exercise in looking at how government is expected to get through the recession, is fair enough.  As a report into how the country is to get through, those paragraphs are pitifully inadequate, and does not explain why normal Scottish people should put up with increases in their water bill and a decrease in the quality of service just to fill a hole in the finances.  We might not be able to afford not to shift Scottish Water from the public finances but we cannot afford to de-nationalise Scottish Water.  In this respect, it will be interesting to see if it is still New Labour policy to keep Scottish Water nationalised.

Another issue where action is as unaffordable as no action is the current Council Tax freeze.  It is noticeable that the councils and the council’s organisation COSLA has been lobbying hard for the abolition of the Council Tax freeze, saying that council services have been suffering because of the freeze.  The real reason for the council’s lack of money will be the PFI bills for all of the schools built & renovated  between 2003 and 2007, the report estimates that councils will spent £800 million alone on PFI/PPP re-payments for this year .  Council’s have not necessarily made the best choices over the past couple of years either, whether it’s the £278,000 pay offs to former employees or giving inflation busting pay rises to heads of service or even the £40 million councils pay to consultants, councils are hardly in a position to be pleading poverty.  It is noted in the report that Band D tax rates in Scotland are 20% lower than in England (£1,149 versus £1,439)  one hopes that this figure doesn’t catch the eye of COSLA.  A council tax hike of 20% will pit even more people into financial trouble.

The lessons here though are give an economist a centimetre and they will give you the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.  Almost every item has been costed, and with the exception of Care for the elderly and the proposal to reform the free transport, the value to the general public has been looked into.  With every proposal, only the monetary cost has been researched, with the knock on effects of cuts to public services, changes in the status of Scottish Water etc…  With private companies lining up to take over public services down south, this report sees the possibility of the same thing happening here.  There are cuts that can be made to public services.  Unfortunately, this report follows the lead of Osborne and goes for the cut which will harm those that are not wealthy.

Monday, 26 July 2010

5 Questions the Americans Should Answer (Part 2)

Continuing from the previous post, in the spirit of clearing up this affair which the American’s have entered into.  Here are 3 more questions that the American’s should answer about their role in the Lockerbie bombing and their part in the conviction of Abdelbasset Ali Mohamed Megrahi…

3) Did the FBI Fabricate evidence surrounding the fragment of explosive timer?
A fragment of circuit board (pictured right) was found by the police in the neck of a shirt collected from the luggage from the downed plane. The fragment was marked “cloth, charred”, before being overwritten with the word “debris”. No explanation was given for this. After spending time being examined at the Royal Armament Research & Development Establishment in Kent, the fragment was sent to the FBI, where it was examined by Tom Thurman. Thurman found that the fragment resembled a part of a MST-13 – a type of Swiss made timer used by Lybia, particularly as there appeared to be printed letters on the fragment “MEBQ”. This was translated as MEBO, the name of a company which makes MST-13 timers.

So why fabricate such conclusive evidence? Well the investigation was heading towards Syria and Iran being the powers behind the bombing, which would be problematic given that Thurman invited Dumfries & Galloway’s finest 8 weeks before Iraq invaded Kuwait, and any action against Iraq would require the consent of Iraq’s neighbours, namely Iran & Syria. Also one of the selling points was that the MST-13 timers were accurate. Any terrorist would have set the timer to go off then the plane was over the sea. The time of the explosion, 38 minutes into the flight makes it likely that the timer was a barometric timer – also known as an Ice-cube timer. Coincidentally, one of Thurman’s predecessors alleged that Thurman circumvented established procedures and protocols in the assignment of evidence to examiners. Essentially Thurman was accused of fabricating evidence. The investigation took place, and Thurman was cleared in April 1997. Thurman left the FBI shortly afterwards, and rather strange for a man described by Time magazine as a legend, was not called to give evidence at Camp Zeist.

Not that the FBI were alone in being economical with the actualite. The CIA leaked the original story linking Libya to the Bombing in December 1990, the Independent picked it up. The follow-up story gave the source as “The former head of the CIA’s counter terrorism section… Vince Cannistraro”. Cannistraro had worked with Oliver North, and was supposed to have been an expert in circulating information damaging to the Libyan government.

4) Why are Abdul Giaka and Tony Gauci in recipt of money from the CIA?
Abdul Giaka was a “source” for the CIA who maintained vehicles for the Libyan intelligence organisation (JSO), and also worked for Libyan Arab Airlines. One of his colleagues was Lamin Fhimah, who Giaka told the CIA kept explosives in his desk drawer. He also identified a senior JSO officer (Megrahi) as being in Luqa Airport, Malta, on 7th December to his CIA handlers. This information did not become relevant until the fragment emerged. Giaka left Malta in July 1991 on an American warship, and was given a regular salary. During the trial, the judges described Giaka’s evidence as “at best grossly exaggerated, at worst simply untrue”. So apart from the above (and we have to question whether this is true), why was he paid, and what for?

Tony Gauci was more of a central figure. The clothing which was found to be in the same suitcase as the bomb was traced back to Mary’s House, the shop in Silima which Tony owned. In theory Tony sold clothes to the Lockebie bomber, this fact alone led to 11 years worth of interviews. Tony was first shown pictures of terrorists with links to the PFLP-GC. Tony said that Mohammed Salem was “someone who looks like the man but is too young by 20 years”. He was shown a picture of Abu Taib – “I thought than this was the man who bought the clothes from me. His hair and face were very similar”. When he was shown a picture of Megrahi in February 1991 he said that the photo resembled the man he had sold the clothes to “though he would have been 10 years older”, yet at the trial Gauci picked Megrahi out of an identification parade as the man he sold the clothes from. This evidence seemed to be the key evidence, yet should have been taken apart for Gauci too had dollar signs in his eyes.

Gauci said that he was alone in the shop when the man came into the shop, as his brother had gone home to watch football, the man came and bought an umbrella as it was raining outside. As he was leaving the man put up the umbrella and walked down the road to pick up a taxi. His Brother said to the police that the date in question was the 23 November, as two games were played in the afternoon, one of which was defiantly the UEFA Cup tie between Dynamo Dresden and AS Roma. Paul Gauci was not called to give evidence. Possibly because it would be revealed that Megrahi was not in Malta on that date, but Talb was in Malta in late October and had a ticket that would have got him back to Malta in late November. Talb was also in possession of other clothes bought in Malta when his flat was raided after the bombing.

5) Why would American senators (?) say to families of the victims at a meeting at the American Embassy in February 1990 “Your government and our government know exactly what happened at Lockerbie. But they are not going to tell you”?
A group of British relatives went for a meeting with seven members of the President’s commission on Aviation security and terrorism. One of those there was Martin Cadman who remembered that after the meeting broke up and they were moving towards the door, they started talking to two members of the commission; Calman thinks that they might have been senators. One of them came away with the above astonishing quote.

The issues surrounding the Lockerbie bombing are complex and labyrinthine. I’m not holding out any hope for answers, but the above questions show how two faced the Americans have been in their claims requesting justice. However there is one question that Cameron should answer. Are you going to set up an enquiry into the Lockerbie bombing, or are you going to follow the lead of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown, and snub this request?

(sources for these pieces: BBC, Washington Post, "Lockerbie: The Flight From Justice" by Paul Foot)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

5 Questions the Americans Should Answer (Part 1)

With the first anniversary of the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset Ali Mohamed Megrahi (Pictured left, at his trial in 2000) approaching, the release has suddenly appeared on the radar of American senators and politicians, who have been struggling to jump onto the bandwagon launched by Hilary Clinton. Clinton condemned the release while Obama and Cameron launched an astonishing and ill-informed attack on the Scottish Government (that’s Government Cameron, call yourself Prime Minister). Obama, Cameron & Clinton seemed to be ignorant (or chose to ignore) that there are serious doubts about the conviction. The American authorities themselves are not blameless in this sad episode where the truth has been a victim in the race for favours and commerce.(NB: Part two will be posted on Monday)

1) Why did Bush and Thatcher agree to “play down” the truth?
In January 1990, an article appeared in the Washington Post which stated “President Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher secretly agreed last spring to play down the truth about who blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. After both leaders had intelligence reports pointing the finger at a terrorist hired by Ayatollah Khomeini, Thatcher called Bush. In that conversation they agreed that neither could stand the political heat of making the evidence public because both were impotent to retaliate.

When the intelligence reports began to leak last March (1989), Thatcher called Bush to discuss their problem. Bush didn’t argue when Thatcher suggested that they “low-key” the findings. After the call, word was quickly passed to top officials conducting the Pam Am investigation that they were not to make any off the record remarks implicating Jibril or Iran in Britain
At the time of the call, the investigation was heading towards the Syrian/Iranian backed plot theory, with the culprits thought to be the PFLP-GC (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command). The Transport Secretary at the time Paul Channon is supposed to have made comments to this effect at a lunch with four journalists, comments which despite being off the record still found their way into the press. The call could be seen as an attempt to dampen speculation or as an attempt to throw the press investigation off a more worthwhile question – Why did the security services fail to stop a terrorist attack despite several warnings?

2) What was on Pan Am Flight 103 – Clipper Of the Seas?
We know that Major Charles McKee, a senior CIA agent who had been involved in the release of hostages in Beirut and the former deputy CIA station chief in Beirut Matthew Gannon were among the dead of Pan Am Flight 103, but what were they carrying and what else was on board? After all security services were swarming all over southern Scotland within hours of the explosion. Jim Wilson, a farmer from Tundergarth Mains reported finding a suitcase, neatly packed with a powdery substance that looked like drugs. The police took the suitcase away, but was not asked about the suitcase at the Fatal Accident Inquiry in October 1990. The “owner” of the suitcase did not appear on the list of passengers for Flight 103 either. There were also stories of “a huge red or orange tarpaulin in an open field. It covered a large box or container” – this was guarded by a helicopter and an armed guard. It was suggested by the radio reporter David Johnston that the investigation was held up for two days while the CIA inspected the luggage of their dead officers.
These stories would have been just stories if it wasn’t for the sinister veneer of the experiences of Doctor David Fieldhouse. Doctor Fieldhouse drove from Bradford on the night of the disaster to offer his help to his colleagues from Dumfries & Galloway (Dr Fieldhouse was a police surgeon). From his arrival late on the 21st through to darkness on the 22nd he aided in the act of searching out and labelling bodies, by the time he was finished he had labelled 59 bodies. When he came back on the 23rd, to keep an appointment he was told that his tags had been replaced by “official” 58 tags. The official police figures showed that he had certified 58 bodies. Dr Fieldhouse was then subjected to the most ridiculous smears. The Lord Advocate at the Official Accident Inquiry asked one of the Police Sergeant’s “Would this be another example of Dr or Mr Fieldhouse carrying on a search on his own?” – Dr Fieldhouse was assigned a police officer on his arrival in Lockerbie late on the 21st. Sergeant David Johnson was asked by Mr Gill QC when Dr Fieldhouse submitted the information about the bodies he found, Sergeant Johnson replied “It would be some months later before we were able to ascertain the complete information we had to hand”. With these strange events in the initial aftermath of the bombing, it looks like something was being covered up.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Bloggies…

As you have probably seen, campaigning for the Total Politics awards has started.  I thought that it would be a good moment to have a look at the most read posts here over the past year, you know what they say about birthday’s bringing out a certain retrospection in people...


At 10, posted on 8th April 2010 – Malcolm McLaren Has Died – no explanation required here

At 9, posted on July 31st 2007 – New Pearl of India No Less – about my first visit to this restaurant since it moved from Aitkenhead Road.

In at 8, posted on May 10th 2009 – Was Thatcher Good For Scotland – looking at the Thatcher legacy seen through Scottish eyes.

In 7th place, posted on 28th October 2009 – The Title Track Courtesy of Sandy Stoddart – refuting the claim that it is chic to criticise Paisley.

At 6th, posted on 14th November 2009 – Why The SNP Lost Glasgow North East – looking at how the SNP lost a winnable by-election.

Into the top 5, at 5, posted on 11th July 2009 – Sma Shot Day 2009 – pictures from Paisley’s annual celebration of workers rights.

At 4, posted on 20th August 2009 – The Day Holyrood Grew up – reaction to the release of  the convicted Lockerbie bomber, and victim of the biggest miscarriage of justice in Scottish legal history.

Into the top 3, and at three, posted on May 31st 2007 – Mirador del Atlantico – a post about Gran Canaria.

At 2 is a post about the first of the historic “leaders” debates.  Posted on April 15 2010 – On Tonight's 15 to 1… compared the production of the show to a cheesy ITV game show.  Not so much removed from reality then…

However the most read post of the past year has been a blog posted on September 18th 2008 – The End Of Super Squirrel… – is my reaction to the end of, what was the first bank I ever held an account with.  Proving that the credit crunch still has an effect on people.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Whatever Happened to "... Tough On The Causes Of Crime"?

While the focus has been on Westminster politics, and the coming firestorm of public services (Well, you’re not expecting the various managers & heads of services to cut their own wages are you? Turkey’s? Christmas anyone?) the SNP administration have been quietly getting on with the job of, you know, running Scotland. Last week saw voting on the Crofting Bill and more controversially the Criminal Justice & Licensing Bill.

The headline piece of the Criminal justice bill, and the one which has garnered the headlines has been the proposal to end jail sentences for offences which would have garnered a six month (or less) term in jail. This is controversial because New Labour believes that this is soft on criminals, they have been pushing for their own amendment, a statutory 6 month sentence for possession of a knife. I’m glad that New Labour have suddenly realised that there is a “problem” with knife crime, but I’m rather perplexed that this is a problem which has “suddenly” appeared. Going back 15 years Paisley used to have a serious problem with knife crime, which is why I tended to go out in Glasgow. This is not a new problem. What is new is that we have a generation of particularly nasty, vulgar, violent young people who do not appear interested in anyone but themselves.

What is particularly depressing is that Scottish New Labour has adopted the “prison works” mantra of the former Tory Home Secretary, Michael Howard. According to Paisley’s own Howard wannabe, Hugh Henry “Every week three violent criminals would dodge jail, and every week 12 knife criminals would dodge jail. That’s nearly 800 (no, that’s 654 Hugh, Ed) violent and knife criminals dodging jail every year because Alex Salmond thinks they should be kept in the community” The assumption being made here is that violent criminals should be locked away, regardless of whether prison is a deterrent or will rehabilitate or not.

What this shows is that politicians don’t really have an understanding of criminals, and why crime occurs. Crime is born of circumstances, of economic environment, a feeling of hopelessness, a lack of trust and of mentality. The former shadow home secretary made his name with the “Tough on crime… and tough on the causes of crime” sound bite. It seams somewhat remiss of those following in Blair’s footsteps to concentrate on the first part, but not the latter part. No understanding is shown by New Labour as to why there is a problem with the section of our population who are violent, and no attempt is made to formulate policies which will act as a deterrent to a life of crime.

Something else which has occurred to me with New Labour’s attacks on the Criminal Justice & Licensing Bill is a complete ignorance of the facts and of worldwide opinion. Both Hugh Henry and Richard Baker have raised again the release of Abdelbasset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie, as a stick to beat the SNP’s justice secretary Kenny MacAskil. Megrahi, is depending on who you believe either months from death or could go on for another 10 years, much to the embarrassment of the man who released him because of some sense of pity and sympathy towards his plight. As opposed to the fact that he was innocent and his continued incarceration was a weeping sore on the face of Scottish justice, and continue to be a weeping sore. Even now, the likes of Michael Forsyth are content to keep the myth going.

Henry & Baker really have shown themselves to be totally ignorant of the facts in this case. To summarise, the case was built around Megrahi and Fihimah (you know, the guy acquitted) who were supposed to have put a bomb on the flight from Malta to Frankfurt, which would then carry on to London and then onwards. Except there was an existing security alert in West Germany where the authorities were investigating a Syrian terrorist cell who were putting together bombs housed in Toshiba radio cassette players. This meant that every single piece of luggage was screened, especially for bombs housed in radio cassette players. Of course many people argued that there was no way the bomb could have been put on in Heathrow, but there is no way that the bomb could have been put on its course any other way. Apart from the above, the baggage handler John Bedford testified at the trial about a “maroony brown Samsonite” case appearing in the baggage container for Flight 103 after the team came back from a tea break and the trial also heard that the majority of timers used by middle-eastern terrorist cells were triggered by air pressure so could not have been used had the bomb come from Malta. Kept from the trial was the most damming evidence, that there was a break in reported at Heathrow on the morning of December 21 1988. Is it any wonder the official report into the trial for the UN states “The trial, seen in its entirety, was not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner. Indeed, there are many more questions and doubts at the end of the trial than there were at the beginning… Irrespective of this regrettable outcome, the search for the truth must continue”.

If the likes of Henry & Baker are happy to swallow the myth that Megrahi single handed put a bomb on a plane in Malta, which exploded about 24 hours later over a small Scottish town, what hope do we have that they can understand what will deter people from committing crime.