Thursday, 29 January 2009

FMQs: Live Blog

Well, I'll never make it writing the Official Report or Hansard (quotes are not exact quotes) but an interesting exercise nonetheless. Don't think I've seen the FM quite so angry... I don't know how I'd score it today though. Any thoughts?

Hugh O'Donnell - how do we support children who have been excluded from schools? FM - £500m spent on area. Thanks him for constructive nature of question.

David Stewart - will the Scottish Government appoint a victims' commissioner. FM - no plans at present. Follow up - will FM support his Members' Bill on the isse. Answer - Justice Secretary will discuss with him when the consultation is published.

Willie Coffey - Discussions with Scottish Enterprise re: recession. Salmond: Regular discussions, more advisors... follow up is more of the same.

Constituency question from Michael McMahon - which the FM agrees to act upon.

Salmond: "I am perfectly happy to have discussions... but you cannot sit down with an unbreakable policy like the 2p cut in tax that the Lib Dems have suggested and expect to get an agreement."

Scott: "Is FM prepared to sit down with other parties? And fiscal plans were made in boom times - are they being revised under bust times?"

Salmond: Conciliarity noises to Tavish Scott. "Even if the SNP agreed with their tax cut - no support for it across the chamber."

Salmond: Yes

Tavish Scott: "Is Scotland in recession?"

Salmond: This needs to be done in the interests of the Scottish people.

Goldie: "First priority is to pass budget." "In the interests of no one in the parliament for it to be a laughing stock" - from a Tory who opposed the parliament itself. The Tories get it.

Apparently so. Salmond does agree - with a smile - which suggests that if the budget fails again, we may well be heading for another election.

Annabel Goldie: Falling Scottish economy was why Tories negotiated in budget. Gives Labour a bit of a whack. And makes clear that the Tories will not support Labour running for Government in the Scottish Parliament. And asks if Salmond agrees. Is this a pact?

Salmond says he has made two offers to Labour demands which have been met... and names another one. He rants out a list - rather effectively - of things that are at risk if the budget doesn't pass. He's pretty angry.

Gray "responsibility" of SNP to react to economic situation and Labour door still open to negotiations.

But Salmond hits back, furiously. And probably wins that one.

Gray: The Tories are the SNP's "loyal servants". He makes a decent hit with the issue that the budget money will still be available in June...

Salmond agrees - in a sense - but then whacks Labour for partisan politics. PO chides MSPs for clapping.

Gray quotes Einstein - and the definition of insanity. Mentions apprenticeships as potential for budget negotiations.

Salmond quote the Daily Express in response... oh dear.

Gray: "I want to offer the FM the opportunity to explain to Scots how he aims to get support for his new budget."

Iain Gray, up first, as usual.

General questions just finishing up... and I'm having a cup of tea. Unlike Tom Harris, I do like unconventional tea. Cranberry, raspberry and elderflower it is today...

Well, I'm doing nothing else right now and though FMQs might be interesting today, so I think I'll live blog it. Anyone guess what some of the questions might be?


Budget: Analysis of the parties

Having taken time to sleep on the budget outcome - and not instantly chuck accusations of skullduggery around - I've come to the following conclusions about what happened and how it looks from the outside (at least to those that are watching closely).

So, in order of how they voted, how do the parties look this morning?

The SNP Government will survive this setback. Depending how this is portrayed in the media, they will be made to look like victims of the big, bad opposition parties (their line) or hapless, unprepared and, well, bungling (everyone else's line). The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between. Yes, the SNP have been kicked in the teeth by the failure of their budget bill to pass. But it was oh so avoidable... and I think in their heart of hearts they know that.

The spectre of an election in the middle of a recession looms large over the upcoming negotiations, and though Salmond knows he cannot call one, he also knows that if he resigns, they may be able to kill enough time before the deadline for a new FM passes. So, though it is being portrayed by some (mostly Lib Dems) as throwing the toys out the pram, an election - were the government to resign - seems the most logical outcome.

The Tories got from the budget they came for, and are now seen as a constructive opposition party - and not, as so many thought on the creation of a Scottish Parliament, a roadblock to progress. Derek Brownlee has worked sensibly with the Finance Secretary and extracted the concessions the party wanted so they could vote for the budget. If none of that changes - and I don't suspect it will - they will vote for a revised budget.

And then there's Margo. Well, she bled the Finance Secretary dry of money for Edinburgh (and still, truth be told, wanted more) for her solitary vote in support, which, ultimately, proved fruitless. She comes across as a shrewd, hard-nosed operator but - as I heard David Whitton complaining about on Radio Scotland last night - she only represents one city. The parliamentary arithmatic makes her vote relevant - but only if Labour maintain opposition to the bill. She should remember that (and so should the SNP).

And so, to those in opposition to the bill. The Greens have been lambasted left, right and centre for their role in this but, like the SNP, their press could still go either way. They could be portrayed as budget-wreckers, making unreasonable demands and hijacking the budget for their own ends (as has in fact been the case in serveral quarters) or they could be viewed as principled, standing by the fact that they didn't get what they wanted out of it and voting it down. I think there's a bit of both there. They know their position as potential kingmakers here and tried to get something into the budget that they wanted - partly because there was so much in it that they didn't like. But I think this shows the new direction the Green Party will take under new co-leader Patrick Harvie. I think previously, under Robin Harper, they would have swallowed it and abstained, allowing it to pass... now, Harvie's Greens must be taken at their word.

Labour in opposition too, but more passive opposition than I think they could have been... this leaves open an opportunity for Swinney to circumvent the Greens and Margo. I reckon some kind of deal on skills training might be enough to see them vote for it (I don't think we'll see them abstaining again in a hurry). Labour bloggers have been somewhat restrained in their analysis, with Ewan Aitken, like me, holding out for the day consensus politics takes hold at Holyrood. I fear that day might never come!

Which brings me nicely to everyone's favourite consensus politicians - the Lib Dems. Will's analysis of their position is probably about right. I don't see how any party who demands massive budget cuts then walks out when they are told to stop being daft can now turn round and say they are "open to negotiations" over the revised budget. I'd suggest that Mr Purvis doesn't wait by his phone.

With that in mind, it is a bit surprising that I agree with Stephen Glenn (but only a wee bit) when he says minority government is about consensus, about listening to others. That's what the SNP Government have to do now, to pass this revised budget. Otherwise... well, interesting times ahead.


Wednesday, 28 January 2009

It falls...

So, the budget bill, with a tied 64-64 vote, has fallen.

I've spent the day at the hospital in Stirling (just visiting, thanks for asking) away from media sources, relying on text messages from sources at Holyrood passing on information regarding the vote.

Much has been written about the implications for the process, and indeed, for each of the parties involved. I'll add my own analysis tomorrow, when I've had a chance to look more closely at the day's business.

Interesting times...


Tense times at Holyrood

Will the Scottish Government survive the budget vote today?

There's only one game in Edinburgh town today, and that's the Scottish budget. Appears to be on a bit of a knife-edge... just like last year.

Here's my take on it.

Obviously (barring any slips of fingers) the SNP MSPs will vote for the budget. That's 47 votes in the bank. And I think that the Tories, despite playing coy with it, have probably secured enough in the way of concessions (and probably much more than they would have done had the negotiations been with a Labour Finance Secretary - which they will no doubt realise). Their 16 votes will also probably go with the budget. That makes... 63.

Here's the problem. The Lib Dems are... probably certain to vote against it. Which makes it 63-16. And with the mess that Labour made for themselves by abstaining last year, they will probably end up voting against the proposals. Which makes it an ever so tight 63-62 with three votes (Greens and Margo) to go.

I'd suggest, despite not being an easy woman to please, John Swinney has sweetened the deal somewhat for Margo MacDonald, giving her all the money she wants for Edinburgh (and some for Glasgow too!). Her vote would make it 64-62 in favour.

And then there are the two Green votes. According to James, their votes are in no way locked down. And I don't think they will be. Partick Harvie has made it quite clear that there are a lot of things in the budget that the Greens don't like - certainly enough to vote against it.

And indeed, were they to vote against (making it a 64-64 tie) the Presiding Officer should vote with the status quo - that is against the budget (as Stephen notes).

But I remember the stage one process this time last year. The vote at that time was 64-62, with the Greens getting enough from the Government and abstaining.

What money the same vote again? I wouldn't be surprised if, with all the through-the-night negotiations going on, the Greens have been given something - not the £100m per year scheme that they wanted, but something - to let them abstain from voting.

I guess we're about to see how well (or otherwise) John Swinney and others have played their hand...


Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Should Auschwitz be preserved?

On Holocaust Memorial Day (which is today) I thought this was an interesting debate to have.

The concentration camp at Auschwitz, where acts of unspeakable cruelty occurred, is apparently falling to pieces, and with no cash to restore it, it may well crumble away. But should it be allowed to crumble, the place where cruelty wrought abandoned? Or should it be preserved, a monument to the victims who passed through its deadly gates?

I don't know. I've never visited the place, and as a member of a generation whose only link to the war is a sole surviving grandmother, I'm not sure I will ever comprehend the place.

Studying at university alongside a cosmopolitan student body, discussions with German students always fascinated me. Most, despite not themselves yet 30, still carry a nation's guilt at the acts of leaders' of their nation over 60 years ago.

"But that's crazy," I'd argue. "You are no more responsible for Hitler's lunacy than I am for all the wrong done in the history of my country." But to no avail. The Holocaust is a tie that binds modern Germany to its scarred past, shaping the thoughts and actions, not only of its student ambassadors but its leaders and its foreign policy.

If that institutional memory continues to bind Germans, then why must the building remain? All that remains in that place are the the silent voices of its victims. No good can come of maintaining it as a grisly monument to sins never to be forgotten.

But places and symbols matter. And the memories of those who survived the place, of those whose relatives did not. To my knowledge, I have no connection to the Holocaust. To that end, I don't feel comfortable saying definitively whether Auschwitz should be preserved or demolished. Let those who have been touched by the horrors inside decide its fate.


Monday, 26 January 2009

The BBC and the Gaza appeal

I know some bloggers have taken to boycotting the BBC (though again, what good will it do? Unless you are going to stop paying your tv licence...) for their stance on the Gaza appeal.

But I do agree with the bloggers. I think they should broadcast it - and I think they have been leant on by the pro-Israel lobby to stop them - but their reasons for not showing the appeal are merited, if a little... inhumane isn't the right word, but it'll do.

They've said they don't want to take sides in the conflict. They've said it's a complex issue. They've said that it would compromise their impartiality. And these are all fine reasons I guess.

Except that it's crap. The reason the BBC (and indeed, Sky) don't want to broadcast an appeal to help Palestinians (which would show Israel in a bad light) is because they fear recriminations. They expect that, were they to show the appeal, Israel would suspend their filming rights there - which, in fairness, they probably would.

So rather than aiding people who are suffering because of Israel's tactics, the BBC is hiding behind impartiality in the hope that no one sees through it. In doing so they are actually doing what they intend not to do - implicitly condoning the behaviour of one side in this conflict. But then, business is business.



Friday, 23 January 2009

Six Nations Facebook Group

If there are any Facebook users/ Malc in the Burgh readers who are interested in the upcoming Six Nations Championship, I've set up a group for discussion of the tourney, ill-informed chat, Lions predictions and general banter.

If you'd like to join up and spout equally ill-informed nonsense about your nation's chances, you can do so here.


Thursday, 22 January 2009

Royal Bank of.... Stupid

This makes sense.

This does not.

In the first instance, AIG is to end their £14m-per-year sponsorship of Manchester United on the back of their financial meltdown and subsequent bail-out by the US Government.

In the second instance, RBS, on the verge of announcing record-breaking losses of close to £8 BILLION and now 70% under public ownership, with share prices falling as low as 11.6p, has announced that it will continue to sponsor the Six Nations Championship - to the tune of £20m.

Obviously I'm not an economist and I don't know how these things work. But 70% of that £20m is public money. So why are they allowed to spend it on what is effectively advertising? I mean, I like rugby as much as a the next guy (and I can't wait to see us beat Grand Slam holders Wales in a couple of weeks) but surely, when you are making a loss that big, advertising should not be a primary concern?

Just a thought.


Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The big Inauguration questions

You've got to hand it to the BBC. They do know how to ask the Big Questions.

They're reporting on the Inauguration of President Obama has been classy. Let me just point you in the direction of this page, which emphasizes this point.

If you have been affected by the issues raised on this page, then you can use the comments at the foot of the page to register your views. I'm not kidding.

"Would you have advised Michelle Obama to dress differently for the Inauguration?"

Cutting edge political discussion. Our licence fee going to good use. Thank you, Auntie Beeb!


Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The words that will shape the next 4 (or 8) years.

44th US President Barack Obama's Inauguration Speech:

"My fellow citizens,

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them— that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence— the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America."


1001 Days that Shaped the World

Apologies (again) for the slowdown in blogging. I guess I'm feeling utterly uninspired by global events and the New Year has brought with it its usual January slump. Who knows, maybe after today I'll have some positive stuff to write - though as we all know, good news isn't really news at all.

On that note, I'm currently reading a book I got for Christmas titled "1001 days that shaped the world." It is an interesting book, and runs from the Big Bang as its starting point to the Chinese earthquake of May 2008, with 999 other world-shaping events in between.

It is written very much from a western, if not Christian, perspective, taking Biblical events as fact for some of the early events - which are, at the very least, debateable. Nonetheless, its very interesting to read about some of the events that these authors think have shaped the world. Funnily enough, there's no mention of the creation of the Scottish Parliament - though the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland does merit inclusion.

I guess another event today may make it into the next edition. But that got me thinking. Any suggestions for a "top 5 world changing events? Interesting to see how different people rate events I guess. Maybe not. But if you are bored/ inspired/ reading my waffle, feel free to post your thoughts.


Thursday, 15 January 2009

"I like to fish"

I don't to turn this into a day of Bush-bashing... but these clips are well worth a giggle at.

Favourite? "The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing"... as he indicates his left with his right hand, and vice versa.

At least he knows there is a career opportunity for him in the future. The Comedy Club is always looking for new "talent"...

Hat-tip Ewan Aitken for the clips.


Who said Germans don't have a sense of humour?

Link here to German publication Speigel Online.

You don't have to be able to understand German to look at the pictures. And you will want to look at the pictures.

Not long to go now!


Wednesday, 14 January 2009

"Not dyslexic, just stupid"

So says Labour MP Graham Stringer.

Apparently, dyslexia is just a myth. Kids just aren't learning properly - according to Mr Stringer - because the wrong teaching methods are being used.

I'm not dyslexic (or, as Mr Stringer would have it, no' very bright) but I do believe the condition exists. I find it bizarre that - if what he suggests is right - a couple of my friends are dyslexic yet attended exactly the same English classes, right through school, that I did.

Anyone else - as cynical as I am - and think he just wanted some headlines?


Open up the cheque-ka-ka book

Must be nice to have no worries about the credit crunch.

£500,000 A WEEK just to kick a football? That's £2 MILLION every month. Minus tax, of course.

And he's not even the best player in the world any more. At least he appears like a nice bloke.

Crazy money. Actually, just crazy.

But here's a thought. Why doesn't Gordon Brown just ask Manchester City to go and spend some of the money in the nearest shopping centre? That way, he might not have to end up bailing out every industry in the country.

ps - not to lower the tone or anything, saying Kaka in Spain might lead to some embarrassment: "caca" is the Spanish word for "poo." True story.


Saturday, 10 January 2009

Protests - what are they good for?

I was dragged out to go shopping in Edinburgh this afternoon... and saw in passing the "anti-Israel's actions against Gaza" march.

Now don't get me wrong, I agree with the sentiments - as is probably obvious from previous posts on the subject. But I guess this is where my cynicism surfaces.

Given that millions protested against the Iraq war - and no one in the government paid any attention, given Israel has ignored UN Security Council resolutions to stop the conflict, in what way will protesting in Edinburgh make a difference?

Now I know that's not the point of protesting - or is it? Am I just the kind of person that looks for an end point in any kind of action - appreciating that some things are intrinsically good but that the outcome of action are how they should be judged? I don't really know. Maybe Stephen Glenn - who spent the day in the rain at the march - can explain what was the expected outcome from today's action.

I admire the sentiment and the motivation to get something done... but I'm sceptical that today will have achieved anything other than annoying some drivers in Edinburgh who couldn't get through the centre of town. Anyone think otherwise?


Friday, 9 January 2009

My year in the blogosphere

As of January 7th, this blog is one year old. Which is rather impressive given when I started it, I didn't really think I had that much to say. Actually, who am I trying to kid... I've always had lots to say, I just didn't think anyone would listen. So thanks, dear reader, for listening (reading) what comes into my head, and I hope you will permit me to take a moment to navel-gaze...

317 posts in one year... not bad going I suppose (though nothing like the excellent but slightly blog-crazy Jeff's total of 678!), interupted by an ill-health enforced absence during the summer. And it has been an interesting year.

My year in blogposts:

So that was my year, a staggering 23,000 hits. I hope this year is as entertaining (blog-wise!).


Thursday, 8 January 2009

What I meant to say yesterday...

I'm not usually a big fan of Robert Fisk's work, but this article in yesterday's Telegraph really picks up on the hypocrisy of the Israel attack on Gaza - that, were Hamas the perpetrators, the term "war crime" would be bandied about like it was going out of fashion, yet Israel's actions are in their "defence."

As someone put to me yesterday, subjectivity plays its part. Whatever "side" you support in a conflict, you inevitably view it through a particular tint of glasses. Which is why terms like "terrorist", "war crime", "conflict" and even "war" have lost their meaning in today's society. When people start ascribing value judgements to concepts they lose their neutrality.

It might sound like I'm criticising Fisk here, but that is not my intention. He makes a good point about the value judgements ascribed to the actions of Israel and Palestine. There are a couple of points I'd like to make.

Firstly, if you are currently supporting Israel's "defence" of their people, think about where you stood on apartheid South Africa. I know it is not a great comparison, but there are similarities. Did you support the brutal suppression of a majority in a land by incomers (I know, in the case of Israel, that is a controversial point - again proving the subjectivity of the situation)?

Secondly, what makes the actions of a state (Israel) more legitimate than those of a (arguably) a terrorist group (Hamas)? Academically and historically, a government in a state has the powers of control - exercised through the legitimate use of force. But, arguably, in this case, both Israel and Hamas are legitimate actors - Hamas as the democratically elected government of the Palestinian Authority. I'm not arguing that neither side can then be disqualified from being branded as terrorist simply because they are acting on behalf of a state (or, in Hamas' case, a quasi-state). It it the actions which are perpetrated - on both sides of the divide - which that judgement should be made upon.

I don't think "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is right, at least, not if the terms are used correctly. Yes the views are subjective and yes they are deeply ingrained. But if we look solely at the actions involved we shall see no value judgement, no sides taken. Rather, the acts are judged independently of the actors.

This is the point I was trying to make yesterday. Obviously, both are at fault. But neither side can claim the moral high ground, as some commentators would have us believe.


Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A mess of our own making

Israel and Palestine.

What a mess.

I don't really know where to start, and I think that is part of the problem. Other bloggers have rallied to the defence of Palestinians in the latest conflict/Israeli offensive (depending on your point of view) while others have suggested that, whatever Israel does, it must be supported. I'm not of that view - and I will explain why.

Israel was formed in 1948, unilaterally declaring independence from the British mandate of Palestine, as a home for the Jewish population there and from across the world. Immediately afterwards, Israel was invaded by surrounding Arab states. A year later, a ceasefire was called and the Green Line - the de facto border of Israel - established. UN estimates of 80% of the Arab (Palestinian) population (710,000) fled Israel at the time, while mass immigration of Jews from across the world saw Israel's population grow from 800,000 through 2 million in ten years, to around 3 million today.

The whole story of the conflict (attacks, counter-attacks, politics) is way to long to relate here, but I do suggest, for an easy-to-read, abridged, version, Teach Yourself: The Middle East Since 1945 which has the basics of it.

So Israel, with 3 million inhabitants, surrounded by nations hostile to its existence, has found a way to survive for over 60 years. But it has not found a way to secure its borders, nor has it found a way to safeguard its people. Since the foundation of the UN, Israel has been the largest transgressor of UN resolutions. In the name of defence, Israel has attacked - as it is doing so not in Gaza and as it did so in Lebanon in 2006 - civilian targets. And yet the UN is powerless to stop it, because the UN is financed by the US and the US has to bend to the wants of its powerful Jewish lobby.

I am not an apologist for Hamas. I recognise that their actions are not those of democrats and they are not the acceptable face of Palestinians. But Israel's actions can no longer be condoned - whatever the US says. US support for Israel simply makes the situation worse. It gives Israel a clean slate at the UN, more financial backing for attacks against civilians and, perhaps more dangerously, provides further ammunition for Islamic fundamentalists who are already pretty angry at the West.

Maybe Samuel Huntington's conclusions (if not his method) are correct in A Clash of Civilisations. All I'm sure about in this situation is that when, eventually, Israel decides it has destroyed enough of Gaza, this won't be over. There will never be a lasting peace in the Middle East. We've meddled too much in affairs which are not ours.

That's a bit deeper than usual, no?


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

You've got a friend...

I had thought I'd give the cynicism a miss for a bit this year, then I remembered that I really am cynical about most things... and a pessimistic bum to boot.

So when I saw that Tony Blair is to be awarded the Medal of Freedom from outgoing US President George W Bush (along with Australian John Howard and Colombian Alvaro Uribe) for being a "staunch ally" of the US, I nearly choked on my cereal.

Getting a medal for being a good pal? I thought the US had spurned the honours system? Next thing you know, if you donate some money to a political party, you might end up being a Sir or Dame. Oh... wait.


Monday, 5 January 2009

2009 at a glance...

Hullo again, and Happy New Year. I hope everyone has had a grand old festive season, didn't eat too much and is ready for all that 2009 is going to throw at you. I've been away from the 'Burgh since Christmas Eve, and with NO (yep, zero, zip, none) internet at my parents' house, I've had to give blogging a wee break. And no, they don't live in a cave... just the North East of Scotland.

Let me start the New Year with a big thank you. Over 23,500 hits on this page since I started it in February 2008. That's either a fair few of you looking at these meanderings or my mum reading it a lot. Given the lack of internet at home, I'd like to thank all of you for coming back to read what I have to say. I hope to keep up the blogging for a good while yet, despite the blogging "retirement" that seems to be going round.

So, lets have some predictions for 2009:

1) First up, the biggie. Gordon Brown will put all his eggs in a June General Election after Labour don't do as badly as he thinks in the May Euros/ English Council elections. Brown's handling of the economy shrinks Tory poll leads but not enough to stop huge gains at their expense and resulting in a hung parliament and months of wrangling over power (see Canada 2008).

2) In Scotland, the SNP will double their seat tally at Westminster, but fall short of Alex Salmond's prediction of 20 seats (more to come on seat predictions in the coming weeks). And their government of Scotland will continue to be slow and unspectacular but effective... a "softly, softly approach", doing less but doing it better.

3) Staying with the Scottish Government, and after a struggle, the SNP will pass their next budget - though Labour will do significantly better than last year and extract some key concessions. And after this "success", the First Minister decides to shake things up a little, and reshuffle his Cabinet - but only three faces will change.

4) The Lib Dems' poor poll showing in 2008 will not improve any in 2009. They will lose their deposit in yet another by-election and see their vote slide away in council by-elections in Scotland. By the election they will win only 12% of the vote and less than half their current seats.

5) The Tories will replace the lacklustre George Osbourne as Shadow Chancellor at a "quiet" but opportune moment... a month before the next budget. Replacement? I'd like to say Ken Clarke... but would Cameron be that brave?

6) SNP Tactical Voting's Jeff will return home from his travels to a job at the Scottish Parliament... though perhaps not working for whom you'd expect!

7) Despite the mood-lifting election of Barack Obama in the US, I think there will be another assasination attempt on him. My gran told me she wanted John McCain to win because "people would hate him less and wouldn't want to kill him." There's a lesson here - listen to your Gran. I hope I'm wrong about this one.

8) Obama will base his policy on "restoring" peace between Israel & Palestine on Jed Bartlet's approach in season six of The West Wing. And if you don't know what I'm talking about - watch it!

9) Kris Boyd will swallow a whole tattie & bean pie and apologise to George Burley who immediately sticks him in the starting line-up for Scotland's next game. Though, by the end of the year, the national team can no longer qualify for the World Cup.

10) Finally, footie. Celtic will win the SPL for the fourth time in a row and Gordon Strachan will decide he's had enough crap from the fans and resign. Walter Smith will be sacked/resign (not sure the Chairman has it in him to sack his best bud) and Ally McCoist will take over. Aberdeen will finish 3rd, Inverness bottom and St. Johnstone will be promoted. In England, Arsenal miss out on Champions League football to Aston Villa while... you know what, I'm going with it: Liverpool will win their first Premier League title. Blackburn, West Brom and Stoke City will be relegated. And Barcelona will get their hands on the Champions League trophy.

And that is 2009 in a nutshell. Wake me up in time for Christmas. I'm off for a lemsip... smorran wi' the cal!



Feel free to get in touch with me if you have an issue with something you've read here... or if you simply want to debate some more! You can email me at:

baldy_malc - AT - hotmail - DOT - com

Comment Policy

I'm quite happy - indeed, eager - to engage in debate with others when the topic provides opportunity to do so. I like knowing who I'm debating with and I'm fed up with some abusive anonymous comments so I've disabled those comments for awhile. If you want to comment, log in - it only takes a minute.


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This blog is my own personal opinion (unless otherwise stated) and does not necessarily reflect the views of any other organisation (political or otherwise) that I am a member of or affiliated to.
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