Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas from me & Irn Bru



I think Irn Bru's "Snowman" ad from last year is one of the best pieces of Christmas advertising ever. Hope you have a tremendous Christmas, and I'll be back blogging more frequently post-Festive season.

Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Iain Dale says what most of us are thinking


A poll on Iain Dale's Diary invites readers to vote for their person of the year in a number of categories. A screenshot of one of those features above.

It appears that - and assuming Mr Dale's interest in affairs of the Scottish Parliament is not quite that of Scottish bloggers' - the Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament's reputation preceeds him.

For those of you who don't know who I mean, that person is Iain Gray.

Though Iain GREY (as Iain Dale would have it) might well be more appropriate.

I'm assuming it is just a wee mistake on Mr Dale's part... But still... He's on the money with it!

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Joke Technician


Went to see Jimmy Carr at the Edinburgh Playhouse last night. While some (most) of his material would be... inappropriate, I did find a couple of lines I could share with you.

Quoth Jimmy:
"I thought that with this EU integration thing, racism was at least lessoning. Not so. Just look at some of the signs in shops across the country:

'No cheques accepted'.

Even the BBC is at it. Reporting on trends in racism the reporter said:


'Let's look at the polls'."

Other than that, there's not much I can share with you. Good stuff though!

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Sunday, 21 December 2008

Scottish Round-up

As part of the new team helping out with the Scottish Round-up, I had the pleasure of writing this week's edition. You can read it here, should you wish!

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Saturday, 20 December 2008

Potential Christmas #1



In solidarity with Scottish Tory Boy's campaign to see a better version of "Hallelujah" make the Christmas Number One spot... what about this version from the Chris Moyles Show?

He is right though - Jeff Buckley's version of it is the best cover by a mile.

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Friday, 19 December 2008

Life catches up...


Sincere apologies for the rubbish level of blogging this week. I'd like to suggest I'm busy, but I'm only really as busy as a) everyone else and b) I normally am, so it is a poor excuse. But given it is the last full week before Christmas, I'm up to my eyeballs in wrapping paper and still trying to do some constructive work on my literature review, something had to give. Anyway, here's some things I learned this week:
  • It is NOT the smartest idea in the world to call your boss an @rse****. Thanks to Mr McGeady for this nugget of wisdom.

  • If you make a birthday cake for your girlfriend and (against all odds!) it turns out pretty decent, she will no doubt expect one again the following year.

  • The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley. Just ask Scottish Tory Boy, who managed to salvage an evening (which was tremendous!) when both his guest speakers had to pull out at the last minute.

  • Bernard Ponsonby, he of STV political reporting, does an uncanny impersonation of Alex Neil MSP.
I'm off to start drafting this week's Scottish Blogging Round-up as I have been honoured with the opportunity to compile it this week - so you have that to look forward to on Sunday! In the meantime, I can't promise to blog more, but I can promise to try to blog more... if that helps at all!

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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Met Police: "Serious failings" in Green arrest


You don't say.

The story can be read here.

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Monday, 15 December 2008

Honda, not Brown, saves the world


According to Top Gear anyway.

Apparently Honda have developed a new car... which runs on compressed hydrogen. It emits only water, and costs about the same as petrol to fill. Of course, it is only available in California at the moment.

Quote Jeremy Clarkson:
"While everyone was worrying about Honda pulling out of Formula One, Honda has actually saved the world."
Of course, some would argue pulling out of Formula One did just as much to save the world...

And yes, before anyone else suggests so... I probably did watch too much TV this weekend.

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Quote(s) of the day (yesterday)


Former Scotland football manager Craig Brown on the Politics Show yesterday:
"The GB team...Quite clearly, being very patriotic and Scottish I am bitterly opposed to that because I don't trust FIFA's assurance that this thing won't be binding for the future..."

"There is not one genuine football - Scotland - supporter that I know who's in favour of this."
Guess he will be berated from all sides as a closet "bigot" Nationalist...

Incidentally, the MSPs' favourite sporting pundit - one Charles "Chic" Young - also appeared on the Politics Show yesterday. The following statement (at 30.10 on the film) is attributed to him:
"I think its one thing politicians sticking their noses into football in the first place. But sticking their boots into it - and me in particular - is another thing altogether."

"If I had the slightest excuse, I would be the 'Guy Fawkes' of Holyrood and I'd try to blow the place to smithereens."
Surely the counter-terrorism police must be called regarding this very public threat on an established democratic institution?!

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Sunday, 14 December 2008

Some Foulkes never stop


With a hat-tip to The Steamie, the Scotsman's new political blog site, I learn that Lord George Foulkes has launched his own YouTube channel, which can be found here.

I'm all for politicians finding alternative ways of connecting with the electorate, and I'm impressed that Lord Foulkes has taken it upon himself to update voters with what is going on in the Scottish Parliament on a weekly basis (with no hint of bias at all...). I suspect though, as the good Lord is 66 and probably doesn't know his technological proverbial from his elbow, that his staff have a lot more to do with that side of it.

Just a shame his views are a wee bit on the biased side... for the opposite view to Lord Foulkes, the Scottish Government's YouTube channel is here. Don't say I don't give you both sides of a story!

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Saturday, 13 December 2008

A musical guide to the gay marriage debate


A short comedy musical on Proposition 8 (passed in California on election day banning gay marriage in the state) starring some big film-type people.

I know... I'm mixing politics and religion again. I really shouldn't do it. Interesting to hear what people think about the subject though... I expect there might be some raving extremes here - on both sides.

My problem is I don't know where I stand on the issue. Someone help me out?

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Friday, 12 December 2008

Ah, democracy...

"The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colours breaking through."
Alexis de Tocqueville



Forget Canada and, well, the UK's problems with democracy at the moment. There's a biggie over the Atlantic at the moment.


Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has been asked to resign by the Attorney General of the Illinois and the President-Elect. Why?

Well, it is nothing to do with his John Travolta-haircut. Apparently the Governor had been trying to "sell" the Senate seat vacated by President-Elect Obama to whoever planned on donating the most money to his (the Governor's) re-election campaign. Several issues to deal with here.

1) Illinois state law allows for the Governor to appoint "a person of his or her choosing" to fulfil the term of office of a Senate seat for the state should a vacancy arise (as has happened with Obama's former seat - it is illegal to work for two branches of government at the same time). In a number of states, a special election is called, but in Illinois, the Governor, one man, has the power to appoint an individual to serve the population until the next election date. America - home of democracy.

2) Said Governor was allegedly vetting his potential candidates for the position by finding out which was prepared to offer him the most financially rewarding deal - well-paid positions in organisations, donations to his campaign etc. Again, democracy in action - as long as you can afford it.

3) Finally, the Governor was found out. How? His phones were tapped. Freedom of speech? Just as long as the words you are saying aren't problematic for anyone.

Another fine mess.

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Working on commission


A source who knows more about the Lib Dems than I do passed on the following tidbit of information regarding everyone's favourite party:

The Lib Dems have, over the last few weeks, been considering walking away from the Calman Commission.

Apparently, the absence of any recommendations on fiscal autonomy - a key Lib Dem policy - in the Commission's First Report saw the party think about ditching it. Commission member, and former leader of the Scottish Lib Dems Jim (now Lord) Wallace suggests here that the Commission has been directed to "improve the Parliament's financial accountability" which to him - and to most others - suggests the need for fiscal autonomy.

Apparently (and I'm using that word on purpose) it was the fact that there was no real recommendations at all in the report (and a good deal of kicking them under the table from the Tories and Labour) that saw them bite their collective tongues and retain membership.

Personally though, I think it was a political decision. What isn't, you might ask? And it'd be a fair point. But let me point this out. If the Calman Commission went ahead - without the Lib Dems - then it they would be squeezed out (even more than they already are). With the Scottish Government's National Conversation on one side and the Calman Commission to "redo" devolution on the other, the Lib Dems would face two choices: join the Government's consultation (which is looking at all the constitutional options - including independence) or sit out the most important constitutional question facing our country at the moment. Neither for them looked a particularly good option.

So, they're stuck contributing to a Commission that they feel won't provide the answer that they want it to... any ideas what they can do? Answers to Mr T. Scott - who'd be grateful for some guidance on this delicate issue.

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Thursday, 11 December 2008

Mistletoe and whine


This is a short post because I'm incredibly busy. Someone thought it a good idea to have "some friends" over on Friday night... and "some friends" has turned into "almost everyone we know" (but not really) and thus there is loads to be done - alongside all the reading I have to get through, presents to wrap, politicians to mock...

Anyway, I wander off topic. This is really a response to my last post and a question I want to ask people who read this:
Are those people who classify themselves as "atheists" or those who do not subscribe to Christian beliefs hypocrites if they indulge in present giving or any other feature of the Christmas holiday?
A question that has been bothering me for a while. Guess if the answer is yes then we're talking about a huge percentage of the population.

I don't know if I think it or not - I just wondered if there was anyone with a strong view on the issue?

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...


Now here's a line I didn't expect to be writing any time soon:

I agree with Boris Johnson, Iain Dale and Tom Harris MP.

And I'll tell you why.

Boris is appearing at the GLA Christmas Carol Service - and apparently annoyed some of his staff by putting out a press release calling it just that - a Christmas Carol Service. Apparently the PC brigade in his office had it down as a "Multi-Faith Concert."

But that's not all. Apparently the Christmas Tree for City Hall has to have "no Christian symbols, colours or fairies... [no] political colours... [and] no star or fairy." A Christmas Tree devoid of anything that symbolises Christmas.

Now I accept that we now live in what could be described as a multi-faith society. And I'm all for making that easier for everyone - tolerance of each other for their different beliefs etc makes for a better society. But this is ridiculous.

Christmas IS a Christian holiday. There's no getting away from it. And if that offends people then they need to take a look at themselves and think about why they get up in the morning. Okay, historians will tell you that the date was half-inched from Pagans who had a celebration in late December and that a lot of what goes on - the trees, decorations etc - have also been taken from that holiday. But, at its base, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and a celebration of that. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you accept Christianity or not, the reality of the situation is that we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas if it were not for Christianity.

So when you are sitting on Christmas Day opening presents or eating your 17th sausage wrapped in bacon (a personal record!) remember why.

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Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Not how I remember it...


A friend working at the European Parliament sent me the above cartoon. Guess that is the outsiders' view of what goes on in a politicians office. But its not really accurate - unless, of course, things have changed dramatically since I left...

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The eighth ugliest building in the world...


....according to the Scotsman and Virtualtourist.com that is.

What do we think? Is it that ugly? Or should we just, in true Scottish style, be gutted that we only finished eighth in the list?

ps - apologies for the lite blogging - I'm trying to juggle Christmas, reading, writing and blogging, and not succeeding all that much. Must try harder!

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Monday, 8 December 2008

Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill

2005 result:
Thomas Clarke LAB – 24,725 (64.5%)
Duncan Ross SNP – 5,206 (13.6%)
Rodney Ackland LD – 4,605 (12.0%)
Lindsay Paterson CON – 2,775 (7.2%)
LABOUR HOLD
Majority: 19,519 over SNP

Candidates:
Tom Clarke MP (LAB)
Fiona Houston (CON)

Swing required: SNP – 24.45% LD – 26.25% CON – 28.65%

Council area: -
North Lanarkshire (LAB majority)

Scottish Parliament: -
Coatbridge & Chryston: LAB (majority - 4,510 over SNP)
Hamilton North & Belshill: LAB (majority - 4,865 over SNP)
Cumbernauld & Kilsyth: LAB (majority – 2,079 over SNP)

Electorate: 67,647
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Coatbridge & Chryston: 47,990 (70.9%)
Hamilton North & Belshill: 19,124 (28.3%)
Cumbernauld & Kilsyth: 533 (0.8%)

Prediction:
With a huge majority, Tom Clarke should be returned with relative ease for Labour. Don’t expect the other parties to flood this constituency with activists – Clarke’s majority of 19,519 is the largest numerical majority of any MP currently serving at
Westminster. Barring any unforeseen difficulties, this is a relatively straightforward constituency to call.

LAB HOLD

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Friday, 5 December 2008

"The world's coldest banana republic"

Latest news from Canada: The Governor General (The Queen's representative in Canada) has suspended their Parliament, on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, until late January when a budget will be presented to the chamber. The opposition parties had tabled a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister for Monday, which was likely to pass.

Here's what each of the parties said about it:
Harper (PM - Conservative): "Today's decision will give us an opportunity - I'm talking about the parties - to focus on the economy and work together."

Dion (Liberal): "For the first time in history the Prime Minister is running away from the parliament of Canada."

Layton (New Democrat): "He's trying to lock the door of parliament so the elected people cannot speak."

Duceppe (Bloc): "We don't believe him and we don't have confidence in him."
Uncharted territory, and as I alluded to in an earlier post, questionable action for a democratic state. Here's some things to think about:

The Conservatives won the election, albeit without a majority, and attempted to govern (again) as a minority - something that is fairly common in Europe. Yet, questionable in a democratic sense - if only a minority of those electing (say 35-40%) want you to govern, is that democratic? I guess it depends on the electoral system - if it is a plurality system (such as Canada's First-Past-The-Post constituency system) then that can be reflected in the national vote, and as such, probably does provide a mandate to govern as a minority.

The Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois all returned (considerably) less members than the Conservatives but collectively their number is more - and indeed, constitutes a majority in the parliament. As representatives of the people in Canada, do they have a mandate to oust Harper as PM and take over the government? Well, short answer - yes. If the PM is not acting in what opposition parties see as the best interests of the country, then they are doing thier duty to challenge him. Usually this wouldn't involve a constitutional crisis, but Harper is running a minority government - he has to find some support from opposition parties or his government will fall. He has failed to do so, and therefore, they legitimately have a shot at replacing him.

Is it democratic to circumvent parliament, ask the Queen's representative - who, by the way, is not elected - to suspend parliament so you can avoid losing power in a vote of confidence and cling on to your job? I'm not so sure about that one.

In the short term, the Governor General has saved Harper's job and preserved parliament - at least until it returns in January. In the long term, I'm not sure that this action hasn't done more damge to the fragile political situation in Canada.

Democracy in action - you gotta love it!

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A casualty of European integration?


On the whole, I'm broadly pro-European Union expansion eastwards. Aspiration to membership of the largest free trading bloc in the world aides former communist states in establishing free market economies and helps fledgling democracies to function.

But they've gone and spoiled it now.

When the Russia won the Eurovision song contest in May 2008 on the back of "political" voting from its neighbours, Eurovision "King", Sir Terry Wogan, threatened to quit his role commentating in the UK - a role he has held for 35 years.

Sadly, Wogan, the greatest cynic of his generation, has held true to his promise, and will not entertain us with his dry wit at the next event in 2009. Instead, Graham Norton will take over, which begs the following question:

Who is going to watch it now?

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Thursday, 4 December 2008

It's snow joke...


Every year!

Every year a tiny amount of snow causes absolute havoc on the roads in England and Wales. I mean, yes, it occasionally catches people out in Scotland too - obviously, I'm not trying to make out that isn't the case. But its the sheer scale of the chaos and helplessness that seems to grip the island when the first snowfall of the winter arrives - drives me nuts!

Maybe it was growing up in the north east of Scotland. I had a paper round for four and a half years. I think the newspapers failed to make it to "remote" Keith maybe half a dozen times in those four years. On every other occasion, they got delivered - including several winters in a foot and a half of snow. I had a great time - was always nice to be the first person - at 6.30am - to make footprints in the freshly fallen snow. And most of the time - if the snow was that bad - school was cancelled, though I don't remember having more than, what, a dozen days off for snow over my whole time at school.

I also visited Canada in January of 2005. Temperatures on arrival: -20c. While I was there, it fell as low as -35. Up to two foot of snow. Did you hear anyone there complaining? Can't get into work? Don't worry about it.

But not here. The common attitude seems to be "I WILL get there" which is the cause of the majority of the problems. That, and the fact that people still seem surprised that winter actually comes to these islands...

So, if you have any snow near you, do yourself a favour - so you don't end up on the BBC website. Think about your journey. If it is not essential, don't travel. And if it is, then be sensible, drive carefully and watch out for the ice.

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Oh (dear) Canada!


With a hat tip to James at Two Doctors, I learn that, after the inability of Stephen Harper's Conservatives to secure a majority of seats in October's Canadian election, the opposition parties have a plan to kick him out of office.

The Conservatives, in minority government, have 143 of the 308 seats - 12 short of an overall majority. The opposition Liberals have 76, the New Democrats have 37 and the Bloc Québécois - the Quebec separatists - have 50. Add them together and you get 163 - more than a majority, and enough for a collective vote of no confidence in Stephen Harper and his government.

The Liberal/ New Democrat/ Bloc plan would see current Liberal leader Stephane Dion become Prime Minister, while the New Democrats would get six of the 24 Cabinet posts. The Bloc has pledged support for 18 months. However, to avoid a motion of no confidence, Stephen Harper intends to ask for a suspension of parliament - and then another election. The Washington Post calls it "one of teh worst political crises in Canada's history" while the Canadian National Post suggests if the plan goes ahead, Canada would become "the world's coldest banana republic."

As a student of politics, it is a fascinating situation to watch unravel. Despite losing 27 seats in the previous election, the leader of the Liberals may become the next Prime Minister, with the support of a party who wants to separate the territory it represents from Canada. But it raises a huge number of questions about the nature of democracy. Two telling quotes from the exchange between Harper and Dion:
Harper: "The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if you want to be prime minister, you get your mandate from the Canadian people, not the separatists."
Dion: "Every member of this House has received a mandate from the Canadian people... The prime minister doesn't have the support of this House any more."
Difficult to believe, but I agree with both statements. Harper won the election and thus has a mandate to govern - but with a minority government, you have to find ways of co-operating with opposition parties in order to pass legislation. Equally, the opposition parties have lost confidence in his ability to govern effectively and have agreed (with an overall mandate greater than that of the Conservatives) a plan to govern in his place. But is that democratic? Indeed, is any coalition government? Or, for that matter, a minority government?

Makes you wonder what will happen in Scotland if the unionist parties ever decide to gang up on the minority SNP administration and force a vote of no-confidence.

I'd suggest the answer - by no means a popular one given the current political and, well, natural climate in Canada at the moment - is to have another election. But then, presumably, all that would happen would be that the Conservatives would lose some seats and the horsetrading would begin all over again.

Quite glad it isn't my job to sort out this mess really!

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Eyes front

I got the following series of pictures in an email entitled "We've all been there lads" - which I think sums it up fairly well...





Good to know that even celebrity demi-Gods like Mr Beckham get themselves into the same bother with women that us mere mortals do!

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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

RC church supports death penalty for homosexuality

Sensationalised title - yes.

But true nonetheless.

The Vatican is to oppose a UN Resolution calling on governments to decriminalise homosexuality.

You can read the Irish Times take on it here while the International Herald Tribune has the story here.

And there was me thinking Catholics were concerned with the right to life yet now stand opposed to ending death sentences for those who are "convicted" in countries where homosexuality remains a crime.

It's a bizarre world we live in.

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When is a Springbok not a Springbok?


I understand that the South Africa Rugby Union side will no longer have the Springbok as its crest on the left-hand side of the shirt. It will be replaced by the national flower of South Africa - the King Protea - which adorns the shirts of South Africa's other national sporting sides. A smaller version of the Springbok will appear on the right of the shirt.

So you're probably wondering why this story makes it onto a politics blog? Well, I will tell you. The rugby side, up to the 1990s, was a manifestation of the apartheid regime, with only white players allowed to don the Springbok jersey and some in South Africa - including politicians and sportsmen alike - have called the Springbok "divisive". However, opposition to the move comes from across racial lines, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bryan Habana, the speedy South Africa winger both supporting the Springbok and suggesting that the issue is a minor one - that there are bigger issues to be fighting over.

When South Africa first won the Rugby World Cup on their reinstatement to the sport in 1995, then-President Nelson Mandela presented the trophy to the triumphant South African captain Francios Pienaar wearing his number 6 jersey (above). This was seen as an image of national unity - of bringing the nation together, both black and white, and triumphing as a united nation. This stopped any ideas of changing the symbol at that time.

However, the side that won the RWC in 1995 contained only one non-white player - winger Chester Williams - while only 2, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen were in the side that most recently won the tournament in 2007. Suggestions that rugby remains the preserve of the white man continue to dominate South African rugby, and it was felt that the changing of the symbol - while retaining the Springbok in a smaller capacity - would reduce this.

I'm not convinced it will, and I'm not sure how I feel about the issue. Sure, I deplore what happened under apartheid and all that it represented, don't get me wrong. I'm just not convinced that changing the symbol of South African rugby from an animal to a flower is evidence that progress is being made - they need change at grassroots level.

As a student of nationalism I know how much symbols matter, of course they do. I don't make light of it for any reason other than this: if the symbol is to change, then peoples' minds have to too. Otherwise, what is the point?

Thoughts?

PS - If the symbol of South African rugby is to become the Protea, are they no longer to be known as the Springboks? And if so... will England, with their 42-6 defeat last week, be the last side that the "Springboks" ever beat?

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Monday, 1 December 2008

Central Ayrshire

2005 result:
Brian Donohoe LAB – 19,905 (46.4%)
Garry
Clark CON – 9,482 (22.1%)
Iain Kennedy LD – 6,881 (16.1%)
Jahangir Hanif SNP – 4,969 (11.6%)
LABOUR HOLD
Majority: 10,423 over CON

Candidates:
Brian Donohoe MP (LAB)
Phil Gallie (CON)

Swing required: CON – 12.15% LD – 15.15% SNP – 17.4%

Council area: -
North Ayrshire (LAB minority)
South Ayrshire (CON minority)

Scottish Parliament: -
Ayr: CON (majority - 3,906 over LAB)
Cunninghame South: LAB (majority – 2,168 over SNP)
Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley: LAB (majority - 3,986 over SNP)

Electorate: 69,161
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Ayr: 33,544 (48.5%)
Cunninghame South:
32,760 (47.4%)
Carrick,
Cumnock & Doon Valley: (4.1%)

Prediction:
Despite the Tories holding onto
Ayr in the Scottish Parliament, this remains very much Labour heartland territory. With a majority of over 10,000, Brian Donohoe should be safely returned for Labour in a straight Labour-Tory fight. Phil Gallie will give him a decent run for it, though he won’t be returning to Westminster. He should slash the Labour majority, possibly in half, and give the Tories hope for winning the seat next time out – though it is a big Labour area. If the Lib Dems are having a particularly bad night, look out for them dropping to fourth while the SNP shore up their vote on the back of an increased national share of the vote. LAB HOLD

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Sunday, 30 November 2008

Happy St. Andrews' Day

Happy St. Andrew's Day to you all. I've just seen the Scottish Government video for Homecoming 2009 - with certain Scottish stars singing 'Caledonia'. Have to say, some of it is pretty good. Some of it, pretty cringy... Here it is:



Sam Torrance for the X-Factor next year anyone? I reckon Chris Hoy might make the outtakes...

Incidentally, when our rugby boys are on, does anyone know what the picture is in the background? Looks like Strathisla Distillery in my hometown (Keith) but does anyone know different?

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Friday, 28 November 2008

Our democracy: just or well?

Or just Orwell?


I'm with my blogging comrade Scottish Tory Boy on this. Just as the use of counter-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Icelandic banking collapse was ludicrous, so too the heavy-handed arrest of Tory MP and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green on charges of "conspiring to commit misconduct in public office" are ridiculous.

Basically the guy is doing his job as an opposition MP. He was arrested for making public information which the government wanted kept hidden away - not for reasons of national security but for political gain. He didn't release into the public domain launch codes for Trident missiles, he made public four pieces of information leaked from the government - two issues regarding illegal immigrants, one a list of "rebel" Labour MPs and one an embarrassing letter from the home secretary suggesting the recession may increase crime levels. None of those matters are of national security issue, and as far as I am aware, none fall under the category of terrorism against the state - therefore use of counter-terrorism legislation is neither warranted nor justified.

One issue that interests me though, is the question of knowledge on the part of the government. My understanding of the counter-terrorism laws - and I could be wrong about this - was that the Home Secretary was to be notified if they were to be used. IF that is the case, then surely Jacqui Smith should have known about it - and should, surely, have passed that information onto Downing Street? The Met Police informed London Mayor Boris Johnson of impending arrest. I find it difficult to believe that someone who holds the highest office of any Tory MP would be told of something of this magnitude but that the Home Secretary was ignorant of it.

Tom Harris, Labour's blogging MP, "shares some the concerns of the public" on the isssue, and concedes the effectiveness of Green as an opposition MP in tracking down information and using it against the government. He suggests that a member of the government probably knew about the arrest beforehand - but if that is the case, why are Government MPs saying otherwise? He has previously rubbished claims that we are living in an Orwellian state. I wonder how much more evidence he needs.

I think this is a worrying development - but, sadly, the natural progression of Labour's anti-terrorism legislation. I didn't think something like this would happen so quickly or to such a high-profile figure, but the evidence is there, should it be required, that the counter-terrorism laws have made it easier for the police not only to run roughshod over civil liberties but to arrest opposition MPs for doing what is basically their job - being critical of the government.

If this is democracy, what the hell are we fighting for?

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Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross

2005 result:
John Thurso LD – 13,957 (50.5%)
Alan Jamieson LAB – 5,789 (20.9%)
Karen Shirron SNP – 3,686 (13.3%)
Angus Ross CON – 2,835 (10.2%)
Liberal Democrat HOLD
Majority: 8,168 over LAB

Candidates:
John Thurso MP (LD)
John MacKay (LAB)

Swing required: LAB – 14.8 % SNP – 18.6% CON – 20.15%

Council area: -
Highland (Other [IND GROUP]-LD-LAB coalition) (previously OTH-SNP – June 08)

Scottish Parliament: -
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross: LD (majority - 2,323 over SNP)
Ross, Skye & Inverness West:
LD (majority - 3,486 over SNP)
(SNP MAJORITY ON REGIONAL LIST in
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross AND Ross, Skye & Inverness West)

Electorate: 46,533
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross: 40,731 (87.5%)
Ross, Skye & Inverness West:
5,802 (12.5%)

Prediction:
A relatively straightforward hold for the Lib Dems in what should be considered safe territory for them. Although the Lib Dem vote will be squeezed nationally due to SNP-LAB and CON-LAB tactical voting,
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross should remain an intact LD stronghold. Expect the majority to be slashed to around 4,500-5,000, although who the main beneficiary will be is difficult to tell. I think that Labour voters might, in realising they won't win the seat, transfer votes to the Lib Dems - to stop the SNP winning - thereby losing second place to the Nats, who will shore up their regional performance at the SP election. An easy-ish LID DEM HOLD

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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Not tonight Darling, I've got a(nother) headache...


I'm trying to get a handle on this economic situation, but as has probably been painfully obvious to you dear reader, I'm struggling to work out what's going on. I'm recounting what has happened over the last year - that I can remember anyway (with the help of the BBC):
  • First (arguably) it was Northern Rock, whose collapse led the Chancellor Alistair Darling to bail it out to the tune of £25BN.

  • Then Bradford & Bingley post losses of over £25m for the the six months to June 2008.

  • Fast forward to August and Darling wakes up to the crisis - openly stating that the UK is in its "worst economic crisis in 60 years." To help out - and try to stimulate the housing market - the Treasury raises the threshold for stamp duty to £175,000. But the help barely registers. Bank of England holds interest rates at 5% in September.

  • Then HBOS takes a nosedive, and, despite this BBC report from September, continues to negotiate a solution.

  • Bradford and Bingley is taken under the government wing and nationalised in late September, with part of its operation sold to Santander.

  • The PM - rather than the Chancellor - announces that a guarantee on savings will be raised to £50,000.

  • Darling & Brown then announce a £37BN bailout for three UK banks - RBS, Lloyds TSB & HBOS. Stabilises RBS share price which had fallen dramatically.

  • Unemployment rises to 1.79 million in October 2008, while the Bank of England cuts interest rates from 4.5% to 3% in early November.

  • Which takes us up to this week, and the Chancellor's decision to cut VAT by 2.5%. Oh yeah, and now Woolworths have gone into administration, with MFI likely to join them shortly.
Now I know that none of this has happened in a vacuum, and that the global economy has gone, for want of a better phrase, tits up. And I'm not an economist so I don't fully understand the whole situation. But here's how it appears to me.

The government has acted when it feels like it has been forced - the bank bailout(s), the interest rate cut (which is technically independent, but probably lent on slightly by the PM and Chancellor), the savings guarantee and the VAT cut.

That action, it seems to me, is reluctant. I think they want the market to sort itself out. But the problem is, it doesn't seem to be doing so. Or, it does, but not in a way that helps the economy get out of a recession.


The problem, I think, is a lack of trust. The consumer doesn't trust the government not to raise taxes again, so they save instead of spend. The government doesn't trust the market to fix itself so it is interfering. And the banks, well, they don't trust anyone - let alone other banks - and so have dramatically cut their lending.


Seems like if we can learn to trust again, we can learn to love again... no wait, I've stumbled into a boy band single or something. Think the point is, trust matters. And I'm not convinced that I trust chancellor to be doing what is right just now

And I think a lot of people think the same way.

Read more...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk

2005 result:
Michael Moore LD – 18,993 (41.8%)
John Lamont CON – 13,092 (28.85)
Sam Held LAB – 7,206 (15.9%)
Aileen Orr SNP – 3,885 (8.6%)
Liberal Democrat HOLD
Majority: 5,901 over CON

Candidates:

Michael Moore MP (LD)
Chris Walker* John Lamont MSP (CON)
Paul Wheelhouse (SNP)

*It appears that Chris Walker was asked/forced/coerced into standing down as the candidate in favour of MSP John Lamont, who won the second selection fairly easily...

Swing required: CON – 6.48% LAB – 12.95 % SNP – 16.6%

Council area: -
Scottish Borders (Other-CON-LD coalition)

Scottish Parliament: -
Roxburgh & Berwickshire: CON (majority - 1,985 over LD – GAIN FROM LD)
Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale: LD (majority - 598 over SNP)
(SNP MAJORITY ON REGIONAL LIST in Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale)

Electorate: 72,430
of Scottish Parliament Constituencies -
Roxburgh & Berwickshire: 44,846 (61.9%)
Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale: 27, 584 (38.1%)

Prediction:
A two-horse race between the incumbent Lib Dem Michael Moore and Conservative challenger Chris Walker, Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk could prove to be one of the tightest fought seats in
Scotland. High on the Conservatives list of targets, the work done by John Lamont in taking part of the Scottish Parliamentary equivalent should stand the party in good stead here. Another factor in play is the Borders Council is run by a coalition between the two main contenders. A 6.5% swing is all that is required for the Tories to win here, and I think if it is a good night for them nationally, that is managable. Expect fireworks, and afterwards, a new Conservative MP for the constituency. CON GAIN

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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Thoughts on the Pre-Budget Report


Enough has been written elsewhere regarding the government plans to stimulate the economy with a 2.5% cut in VAT (the first cut to VAT for over 30 years) and a 45% tax rate for all earnings over £115,000 so I won't really go into it in detail here.

Just wondering though, if either the government, the opposition or those reporting the story think people are stupid. Take these positions:
  • The government: believes if it cuts VAT people will spend more money (despite it only making a 2.5% difference in cost!) rather than save it for what they think will be tough times later. They also think that further tax on the rich will boost government coffers.
  • The opposition: believes that people won't spend more due to tax cuts - they'll save it for when the taxes not just returned to current levels but increased. They think the government plans are a short-term fix, and that increased borrowing will put a massive strain on the economy.
  • Those reporting: think that if they report concerns that the economy will go to the ground if people don't spend more money then people are more likely to spend instead of saving, probably out of patriotism/ willing the economy to recover.
Have I summed up the respective positions correctly? And if so, don't they all presume people are, well, stupid? Because I don't think it is quite as simple.

People will probably spend a bit more now VAT has been reduced - in the short term - but they'd probably decided on a budget for Christmas, and will probably stay within that limit (and I know my limit is pretty low, regardless of any change to VAT). But after that, into the New Year, people are less likely to keep digging, fearing a huge tax hike - so instead put their money away in bank accounts.

So the government is probably right - their idea will stimulate the economy both short and long term. In the short term, it will be the British economy. In the long term - the Swiss (think about it).

Read more...

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