Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Thursday, 24 April 2008
Having taken a bit of heat from a Lib Dem blogger for asking whether reporting the strike at Grangemouth was responsible, I shouldn't have been surprised when his party leader showed his irresponsible side at FMQs today.
While Wendy tried to ignore the problem and hit the FM on special access - a move that spectacularly backfired when Annabel Goldie, Nicol Stephen, Cathy Peattie, Jamie Hepburn and Jack McConnell all questioned the First Minster on the situation at Grangemouth - Nicol Stephen wanted the headlines to himself.
Much like his unfounded claims that the Trump Development "smelled of sleaze" - which indeed, he still has not apologised for - his rant about falling petrol stocks was simply aimed at getting his name in the papers. Forget the fact that he might worry a few thousand more people into filling their cars up, prolonging the problem and worsening the situation - this was a cheap attempt at making political capital out of the situation. It was political opportunism at its worst.
Former FM Jack McConnell asked if opposition leaders would be kept informed of the situation to which the FM replied positively - though he must now be having reservations about this if Nicol Stephen is to continue airing these types of views.
I understand that this is a public interest story - as Brian Taylor says, the public wants to know what is going on, whether they will be able to purchase petrol and when the situation is to be resolved. But it is not the time to play politics. Nicol was wrong on the Trump affair and he is wrong now.
A third very public strike and he must surely be out. And Wendy will probably not be far behind him.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
So... Hillary did it, and beat Barack Obama 55-45% in Pennsylvania. It was a big win - and got her back into the race for the Democratic nomination. The win got her a further 81 delegates with Obama picking up 70.
According to her reading of the situation (which includes the votes cast for her in Michigan & Florida - states which were disqualified from the nomination process) she's now ahead of Obama by about 100,000 votes (15.1m to 15m). Without those states, Obama leads by 14.4m to 13.9m. But, given that the race is based on delegates and not the popular vote in primaries (as caucuses also deliver delegates) it makes more sense to look at the delegate scorecard. And on that front, Obama still leads. Associated Press has the Illinois Senator on 1,719 delegates, with Clinton on 1,591, including superdelegates who have already pledged their support. 2,025 is the magic number required for the nomination.
Obama is also ahead in polls in the remaining larger states of North Carolina and Indiana, both of which go to polls on May 6th. After that, primaries in Oregon, Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico and caucuses in Guam will decide the contest by the beginning of June. Failing that, the Democratic National Convention meets in August to endorse their nominee.
Meanwhile, Republican candidate John McCain is keeping quiet over who he wants to win the Democratic race... and the length of time it is taking them to decide. He's creeping ahead in the polls though, implying that the Democrats indecision may well be contributing to a defeat in November...
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Monday, 21 April 2008
There's a question mark in the title before anyone goes off on one.
The Grangemouth situation. The plant is being closed down while a trade dispute is settled. The BBC (and other media outlets - both print and TV) is reporting that there is huge panic buying at petrol stations across the country. It has pictures - taken on Sunday - to prove it.
Only the reason petrol station forecourts were full on Sunday is that they are always full on Sundays. People fill up their cars for the commute to work all week, making the petrol stations that bit busier on a Sunday. So the pictures they have are of that - people making their regular Sunday trip to the petrol station to fill up for the week.
All these images and the reporting (scaremongering?) does is make people think that there will be a petrol shortage - and then these picture will in fact become a reality across Scotland, and there really will be a shortage. In short, I'm not picking a side in the dispute - its an industrial dispute and requires both sides to sit down and hammer out a deal. What I am saying is that the press are building up the tension in it - making it more difficult to find a solution, and ultimately panicking Scotland's drivers.
Incidentally, while I'm ranting, I saw this on BBC news - it was reported by the BBC's "Scotland Correspondent." No, not BBC's Scotland's reporter doing a slot for the UK news, the UK news sent a reporter - who they've cleverly called a "Scotland Correspondent" to "Grangemouth, in Scotland" to report this to their audience across the UK. Surely it would have been more economically efficient - and environmentally friendly - to use a reporter from BBC Scotland.
So that's what my TV licence gets spent on...
Friday, 18 April 2008
Thursday, 17 April 2008
After a two-week break FMQs was back today and... well, could it really have gotten any worse for wee Wendy?
I'd like to say that it is better to stay silent and let people think you a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt but honestly...
Presiding Officer: "Ms Alexander, final question."
Wendy Alexander: "I do not have another question..."
Really? So the ONLY thing that is of any concern to the leader of the Labour party in the Scottish Parliament is the SNP Government's commitment to provision of PE in schools - a commitment which the First Minister announced today that, in spite of weekend reports to the contrary, the Scottish Government is to meet.
What happened to the vulnerable two year olds? The voluntary sector? The poor? The weak? The vulnerable? None of the things which have been at the forefront of the Labour leader's questions in previous sessions found their way to her mind at that point.
She might as well have said "I don't have any more concerns. Your party are doing an amazing job, I think the PE provision is great, scrapping the graduate endowment was brilliant and I'll bring the party round on LIT and even independence." Because if she doesn't want to hold the Government to account, one can only assume that she finds what they are doing pretty good. I also expect her to forfeit her questions at FMQs next week as there is clearly nothing she needs an answer to.
Not so much a case of "No further questions Your Honour" as "I cannae think of owt mair tae say - I'm jist nae smairt enuff."
By the way - Brian Taylor's rather cynical take on todays FMQs is hilarious and well worth a read.
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Short one this - and probably less controversial than the previous one. Today represents the fifth anniversary of the signing of the European Union's 2003 Treaty of Accession which was signed in Athens in 2003. The Treaty saw acceptance of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia into the EU on the 1st of May 2004. It extended the EU's terroritory and allowed more extensive freedom of movement around the continent for EU citizens.
But has it been a good thing? Certainly for the former Eastern bloc countries, accession to the EU has given them a better economic foothold in the modern capitalist world. But there are those - notably Eurosceptics and other, more right-wing elements - who blame migration from these states for the current problems facing the UK (and other EU states).
So which is it? Well... it probably depends on who you talk to. On this, I'm less than convinced either way. I think the skilled migrants that are here do the jobs residents here do not want to do, and, for their part, try to integrate - often times successfully - into their local communities.
But do I think the EU works for Scotland? That's a post for another day...
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
I read with some dismay this post by Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting yesterday on the issue of allowing gay blood donors.
Nothing against Jeff you understand - he makes in point in an articulate and structured way, using statistics to back up his argument. He even quotes Ross Finnie in opposition to his own argument - which, in most cases, would be sufficient for me to support him. However, not this time.
This remains [one of the] last example[s] of official discrimination and not only is it outdated it is morally wrong. The idea that we might face a shortage in blood - and that people might die - because we refuse to accept the blood of homosexuals is simply wrong. Its also hypocritical - the Blood Transfusion Service import blood from Australia where donation of blood from gay men is permitted - to cover the shortfall. Is there something inherently wrong with the blood of gay men over here but not in Australia?
I might be opening myself up to criticism of hypocrisy given my less than enthusiastic support for the Hate Crimes Bill currently in the Scottish Parliament - the sentiment of which I have no problem with - yet wholeheartedly support this proposal. I think it is more inconsistent to argue for the Bill but against this, but if you think I'm wrong (Jeff) I'm sure you'll let me know.
I have many gay friends. I lived with two gay guys when I was at uni. When one - and it was always the same one - brought a guy home we'd wind him up the same as if any of my other flatmates had brought a girl home. He used to complain that, despite his father being ill and requiring blood, he was not allowed to give blood - in spite of how much care he took with the men he was with.
On this, I agree with Stephen Glenn (another Lib Dem - bad day for me!) when he says that a blanket ban based on sexual orientation rather than sexual practise - where the real risk lies - is bizarre. In the same way that you increase your risk of lung cancer by smoking, you increase your risk of an STD by having unprotected sex. Your sexual preference in either case is not relevent.
Another healthy debate on the blogosphere - I look forward to some strong opinions.
Monday, 14 April 2008
Here's a quick post on something that I found... slightly bizarre.
MSNBC is reporting that nearly 1 in 3 Hillary supporters said they would back John McCain for President if Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination. More than a quarter of Obama's supporters said they would support McCain if Hillary wins.
So that's something else in McCain's favour. This not having a candidate thing is starting to hurt the Democrats even more than I had expected it to. And every day that Obama & Clinton hammer each other (they're at it again in Pennsylvania at the moment) is another than John McCain looks more like the next American President.
Saturday, 12 April 2008
While global attention has focused on the US Presidential Election - which does not actually happen until November - there have already been a number of elections already this year with influential consequences, if not with a global impact then certainly resonance within their region. Cyprus elected a communist as head of state at the end of March, while the outcome of the Zimbabwean election two weeks ago is still unknown, but its result will shape both the future of Zimbabwe and its relations with neighbouring states and the rest of the Western world.
Paraguay, Lebanon, Tonga, Iran, Niue and Haiti will all go to the polls later this month, while Italy tries to resolve its parliamentary mess with its 62nd election in 63 years when polls open tomorrow.
Italy's economic difficulties are well documented, and after former European Commission President Romano Prodi was ousted in a vote of confidence in January, tomorrow's election is three years earlier than intended.
The Italian party system, if you are not familiar with it, is incredibly fragmented. Prodi's Government consisted of a 9-party coalition, with no fewer than 17 parties represented in their parliament. It's a system I looked at when considering the impact of the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament - and it is why the German electoral system has a 5% threshold for parties to gain elected representatives. Subsequently, the problem Italy faces is that when a party decides they disagree with the Government policy, the coalition falls and nothing can get done.
The election tomorrow sees former PM (and President of AC Milan - and the guy who owns most of Italy's media) Silvio Berlusconi - who at 71 is the same age as John McCain - leading in the polls against the leader of the centre-left, former mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni. However, given that the polls remain incredibly close, victory for either is unlikely to bring any change to Italy - and their hands are tied by the economic conditions in the country. There is some discussion that a German-style "Grand Coalition" might be an option, although this has been discounted by Berlusconi.
We'll have a better idea on Tuesday as to the future shape of Italian politics - for all that it matters to us. Though, given the role that Italy as one of the founder members of the EU, that impact might well be keenly felt across the EU's 27 member states. I guess only time will tell.
I enjoy blogging. I think the banter on the blogosphere - often times partisan - is great. I think bloggers cover a lot of ground, a wide variety of political topics. I think the level of intellect is generally pretty high. I think that the nature of most blog topics is mostly well-informed.
And then you get some vitriolic partisan attacks. And I agree with Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting. Despite Calum being a candidate for the party I am in, I think his latest blog post leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
I have a healthy interest in politics - if I didn't, I wouldn't be bothering with this. I disagree with about 9/10ths of what is said on Kezia Dugdales' blog. But I don't have any problem with her or her right to say it.
Calum has taken issue with Kez organising the Scotland for Obama campaign. He thinks Obama is a "shallow politician" and is "all presentation and no substance." Fine. I disagree with him - I think the guy is pretty genuine, but, for reasons which I have to keep explaining to people (and reasons which I guess at some point I'll explain on here) I support John McCain for US President. I note that Calum hasn't had a pop at me, Jeff or anyone else on the blogosphere for registering our support.
For me, saying I support John McCain is like saying I support Celtic, Athletic Bilbao or the New York Jets. It's picking something that you think is good and actively looking out for that thing. I'm not telling Americans who to vote for - I'm showing who I support. And I think that is what Kez has done with the Scotland for Obama campaign.
And I don't think the level of criticism directed at her for that is merited.
On other things however, she is most definitely wrong.
[EDIT] - on reflection from the comment from the [rather smarter than I am] Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting, I think that last line should probably read, as he put it, "On other things however, I choose to respectfully disagree." The absolute tone of what I said was probably not right - just really trying to emphasise that I differ with Kezia on most things but I'm fine with her having the opportunity to express that opinion, unlike some others.
Friday, 11 April 2008
While the focus in Scotland tends to be on (a limited number of) Scottish polls - if you look elsewhere on the blogosphere this week you'll find various reports - I thought I'd look at the wider picture of a UK General Election (and they say Nats are narrow-minded!). Might just be that I (like Anseo, Jeff & Aswas) am an electoral geek or because it is the last day of recess and it is so unbelievably quiet but this poll caught my interest last week.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
Monday, 7 April 2008
Sunday, 6 April 2008
I notice that the blogosphere has been strangely quiet on the Olympics this week, with only Aswas & Kezia Dugdale alluding to their feelings on the matter. I guess that would indicate the same sentiments that have been professed by athletes, celebrities and politicians on the matter - that politics and sport should not mix.
On that, they could not be more wrong. As Aswas has written - as, indeed, have I in the past week - everything that occurs in this international and inter-relating world interacts with everything else. The Olympics do not exist in this athlete-only vacuum where their opportunity to be the best in the world at their chosen activity once every four years is the only thing that matters. Don't get me wrong, I admire the motivation that drives athletes to achieve that, the focus that it takes to achieve their place at the Olympics never mind a medal, whatever colour. But to suggest that exists outwith other global conditions, that achieving a medal trumps all else, is not only wrong, it is on the verge of moral bankruptcy.
I know the reasons for not boycotting the Olympics - the Dalai Lama hasn't even called for it. (As an aside, Gordon Brown has suggested that is his prime reason for not calling on it. Question for me is, if the Dalai Lama now called for a boycott, would the PM join him?) Boycotts have not achieved anything in the past - Olympic boycotts that is. But in 1980, when Thatcher called for a boycott, the world was a very different place. The USSR was a fully-fledged superpower. Telling it to do something or setting conditions upon it was always going to have little or no impact. But China today is not the USSR of 1980. True, it is on the verge of becoming an economic superpower. But in the international society of the 2000s with that level of power comes responsibility. China's record in human rights is appalling. Its treatment of Taiwan and Tibet is nothing short of despicable. But the world turns a blind eye.
It turns a blind eye because it does not want to offend a burgeoning economic superpower. It turns a blind eye because China has the largest army in the world. It turns a blind eye because China has massive reserves of US currency that, if it were inclined, it could instantaneously dump, crippling the US economy and with it the global market. No nation, not even the US with its military might, has the ability to cope. Even the EU, seen in many quarters as a future economic rival to China, has been surprisingly quiet on the issue (surprising given its Copenhagen Criteria and its refusal to allow Turkey entry based on similar human rights abuses).
So today when I watched the protests in London at the Olympic torch relay I found myself sympathising with those protesting, maybe even with those who disrupted it a little. Of course their efforts will make no difference. The Olympics will go ahead as planned, the torch will proceed through Tibet as planned and Gordon Brown will not discover a backbone prior to the opening ceremony of the Olympics in which he is scheduled to play a part. And, most disappointingly, the human rights abuses that China continues to perpetrate - against people it claims as its own - will not stop.
So why then, was I pleased to see the protests? Well, it made me realise that, although our politicians (except, for once, Lib Dems!), our athletes and even some of our celebrities were unwilling to speak out against China's actions, there were plenty members of the public who were willing to stand up, to speak out and even, in some extreme cases, be arrested for an issue which they believe in strongly.
And that, for an ageing cynic like me, allowed me to rebuild some of my confidence in people. Just a little.
Friday, 4 April 2008
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, one of the most influential figures the world has seen.
He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and overturned the policy of racial segregation on Alabama's public transport system. Seven years later he led the 1963 March on Washington and delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal..."
"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring - when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city... we are free at last." It was and is a powerful oratory.
His efforts led to a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the youngest person ever awarded such an honour. He was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, aged 39.
Martin Luther King is always someone I've admired. His determination that there was a better way, that all men are equal, was as inspiring then as it is now. He was a true giant in our history, and his ideas continue to have relevance today.
And yet, despite his influence, there is still much to do.
Every day in our international society people around the world are persecuted, for their race, religious beliefs, lifestyle choices or gender. While Martin Luther King changed the world for America, the world outside still needs change.
I come back to the topic of China and the Olympics. For those who claim to be statesmen, leaders of men, the opportunity is there for them to make a similar difference.
Martin Luther King stood up when he saw injustice and said this is wrong. Why won't our leaders? Why won't Gordon Brown stand up and say that the way China persecutes its population is wrong?
Leaders lead. That's why Martin Luther King is a giant among men. And that's why today's world leaders are nowhere near the man he was.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
It might equally shock you to know that once again, I'm going to agree with Ms Dugdale on something else that she proposes. With the Olympic torch due to arrive in London, there are suggestions that, in order to make a (symbolic) point about China's appalling human rights record, the PM should wear an orange tie, a colour associated with the Tibetan monks whose protests have been brutally subdued. I think he should not only do that - but go further and put more pressure on China.
Now, I have not - yet - made any comment about either China, Tibet or the upcoming Olympic Games, for a number of reasons. But there has been so much said about the topic I have to stick my tuppance worth in.
The idea of boycotting the Olympics is an idea for which I have an incredible amount of sympathy for. I understand that the Olympics is for athletes what the World Cup Final is for footballers or a Presidential election is to politicians, the pinacle of their career. But what is the point of reaching the pinacle of your chosen activity if you have to abandon principles to get there? It seems to me that, while the boycotts in the past have had more to do with politics (Cold War mentality) than anything else, this time the reason for a boycott is much greater - there are human lives at stake.
I applaud Steven Spielberg for his stance, and George Clooney for speaking out. But the Games will still go ahead if all the athletes turn a blind eye to China's human rights violations and turn up to compete. I'm not accusing our sporting stars of being spineless or anything, but it does appear to me that people who are role models for future generations have more than just a responsibility to themselves to go to the Olympics and do their best - they have a responsibility to those that look up to them too. Its time they took that responsibility a bit more seriously and looked at the wider picture. What matters more - the opportunity to go down in history as someone who won gold at the Olympics or someone who took a principled stance against one large nation and their awful human rights record?
Of course, with China set to become an economic powerhouse, other states, large and small, powerful and not, are tripping over themselves not to offend them. The IOC must've known that giving China the Games would cause such a political fuss, but to deny them would have caused offence. But that decision was taken some time ago, and now the decision to compete rests not with politicians but athletes. I applauded English cricketers during the Cricket World Cup when they refused to play Zimbabwe because of the political situation there - and forfeited points because of it. That was a case where the plight of people in a foreign land mattered to sporting heroes, and they took a principled stance, defied the principle that sport and politics should not mix and boycotted Zimbabwe. And while it never removed Mugabe from power, nor did it do anything substantial to help the situation in the country, it sent a powerful message. Similarly, stopping apartheid South Africa competing in international sports slowly changed the way that nation saw itself.
Sporting heroes have a role to play as ambassadors not only for their sport or their country, but for humanity. Human rights are being ignored. Refusing to compete at the Olympics would show China that these violations will no longer be ignored.
Incidentally, STB's tale about a certain MSP's beard was something that will trumatise me to my dying day...