Friday 27 February 2009

Six Nations - week three predictions

I'm 5/6 on Six Nations predictions so far (I though France might sneak a win in Dublin). Which is pretty impressive for me because oft-times I go out on a limb and pick an obscure result or two.

Well, that time has come.

This weekend I'm going with France to cause a bit of an upset by beating Grand Slam winners Wales (still an upset by my book despite the fact the French are at home). The match is on tonight at 8pm.

I'm also backing Frank Hadden's boys to have enough to see of the Italians at Murrayfield tomorrow, though I suspect the match might be pretty tight and a turgid, forward-battling snoozefest for the majority of it. But I think we might just squeeze it. If not, Hadden is most certainly a goner.

And finally, at Croke Park in Dublin the Irish are unchanged for the third match in a row to face England who have cursed indicipline for their performances so far. Surprisingly, I'm going with the away side. I've seen enough improvement in England over the last two games - and a sense that they "want it" this week. If they can keep within the laws of the game (and keep as many men on the field as possible) I'll go with them to cause an upset.

France 21 - 17 Wales
Scotland 22 - 10 Italy

Ireland 17 - 24 England

Now that I've gone with those predictions, surely Wales, Italy and Ireland will come away with wins this weekend. Oh, the joys!


Thursday 26 February 2009

FMQs - 26 Feb

Watched FMQs this afternoon and I have to say, blah.

Iain Gray's line of questioning was... bizarre. It looks like he's trying to put himself above politics and, adopting an exasperated tone, he queried the First Minister taking economic direction from Sir George Mathewson. Salmond batted it away pretty effectively and shrugged it off.

Annabel Goldie wanted the FM to meet the Prime Minister again and discuss the economy - and how the Scottish Government is going to find efficieny savings. Salmond again was effective in response - citing Rhodri Morgan (Welsh FM) and his reaction to money cuts in Wales. But she gets him on the next point - if he Salmond really thinks that the VAT cut was a bad move, why did SNP MPs vote for it? Floundered a bit on the answer - and didn't really give one.

Tavish Scott went on banking bonuses and pensions, which the First Minister agreed with. But then asked about discussions between the FM and the PM - why do they have to be conflict driven. Again Salmond's answer cited the response of the (Labour) First Minister of Wales and the (DUP) First Minister of Northern Ireland in agreement with him and suggested that if they - of different political parties - could agree that the Prime Minister's plans were questionable, then surely the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats could agree as well.

Hardly inspiring stuff. Some consensus on the banking sector, some consensus on alcohol (though not on how to tackle it) and then an obscure question on ID cards and "Sewell" motions.


The Commons at its best

Yesterday saw the House of Commons suspend business after where PMQs should have been, and that event was itself replaced by statements by Gordon Brown, William Hague and Vince Cable expressing condolences to David and Samantha Cameron on the death of their son Ivan.

As others have noted, this was the Commons at its best. None of the usual "honourable gentlemen" or "the member for" rubbish. A House that was, to a man and a woman, silent, respectful and filled with sorrow.

So often politics is pilliored for being out of touch with the public mood. Yesterday emphasised that MPs are people too - with their own families - and that when one of their own suffered a loss they surrounded him with kindness.

I echo sentiments elsewhere. The Camerons should be allowed to deal with their personal tragedy outwith the glare of the public eye - and for as long as they need.


Wednesday 25 February 2009

Parties without partisans

Having a great email discussion with Scottish Unionist at the moment (which will, I think, make its way into the public domain shortly) regarding the nationalist-unionist debate. But it got me thinking about something. Political parties in Britain to be precise.

On the debate we are having (whether Scotland should be independent or not) I clearly define myself as a nationalist. I want Scotland to be independent from the UK. I think that the people of Scotland should be sovereign, I believe in the principle of national self-determination and I guess to all intents and purposes I'm a civic or cultural nationalist (its not about ethnicity).

So that's fairly clear, right?

But I also believe in small government (which in the States would make me a Republican) and in small step change - which is a Conservative doctrine I think. Despite considering abortion wholly distasteful I'd consider myself pro-choice (it is not government's place to decide) and I accept John Stuart Mill's "Harm Principle" - a principle tied very closely to Liberalism. And I very much agree with the principle of Bevan's National Health Service, that it should be free at the point of us. And Bevan himself described a free health service as "pure Socialism".

Apart from pointing out how mixed up my political views are, there was a point to that. As a nationalist, or, at least for me, it is easy enough to reconcile those views. But presumably there are other students of politics, activists, even perhaps MPs or MSPs who have similarly hodge-podge political views. What I mean is, they don't fit neatly into the Conservative, Liberal or Socialist boxes that politics in Britain was meant to be about.

I use the past tense there for a reason. Today's Conservatives are pro-and-anti Europe, the Liberals are for and against freedom of expression and Labour are for and against privatisation.

What's my point? Simply this. It doesn't really matter what your politics are. In the contemporary world, political parties will tailor their views to your own. They've taken Kirchheimer's idea of a "catch-all" party and moved it to extremes. Political parties no longer represent political ideologies. "Conservative", "Liberal" and "Socialist" have become obsolete terms because they only tell part of your - and their story. Politics isn't what it once was, a debate between two unshakeable and unbreakable principles. It is about compromise, about saying and doing things that will appeal to everyone, about doing what is good for the country in the eyes of as many as possible.

Hang on a minute though - isn't that what nationalism is about?


Trivia question

Since the Champions League returned last night, I have a question for you.

Which Brit has played a part in every Champions League Final since the tournament was restructured in 1992?
Best of luck.


Tuesday 24 February 2009

Too statesmanlike for some?

There's been a big hoo-haa (original spelling by the way) over the above photo of Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Some claim that this meeting is a "great moment for Scotland" others have made light of it or generally criticised it as "style over substance".

Maybe with my moderate hat on I can make sense of it.

It would appear that some in opposition camps (who I seem to remember being awfully fond of Mrs Clinton when she was running for an important office) are a wee bit miffed that it is Salmond and not them who is meeting the US Secretary of State. Others, I guess, are more concerned with how the meeting looks (Scotland, you know, not being a state or anything) than if anything substantive came out of it.

The fact that a popular administration like President Obama's (so far, so good) looks like they are taking an interest in "wee Scotland"
is surely good on a stylistic level. And whether or not anything substantive came out of it, the fact that a Scottish FM is meeting at this level indicates a kind of ambition for Scotland that opposition parties seem only too keen to rubbish. On the other hand, it is patently easy to see the meeting as a Nat stunt, with Salmond keen to show Scotland on the world stage and mixing with the big actors - which, inevitably, is how unionists will see the photograph.

So, a mixed reaction I guess. Getting your photo taken with the US Secretary of State isn't going to change the world. Indeed, its probably not going to change anyone's opinion of you either. But it does emphasise ambition. And that is something that we in Scotland don't tend to go for that often.


Tram fools

So here's an idea.

Let's find a capital city somewhere.

Let's have a huge, international festival, have some of the world's biggest stars and draw thousands of people to the city.

Let's run the best bus system in the country in that capital city in 2007 and 2008.

Then let's dig up half the city to lay tram lines, closing streets and seeing businesses lose masses of their turnover (this, of course, before the credit crunch).

Then let's close the main street in that city to put in the ground work for a tram system.

Then let's allow the company who are doing the work to hold the council to ransom for an extra £80m on top of a fixed contract, close the main street but down tools and then delay the conclusion of the project by 16 months.

You probably couldn't make it up.

Yet that's the situation in Edinburgh as I currently see it.

Now I know there are some here who can't wait until the trams are up and running and others who think they are the biggest waste of money since Tore Andre Flo signed for Rangers (£12m lest we forget - comparatively speaking, a bargain).

I don't have anything against trams in principle. I've been in several cities (Bilbao, Toronto) where they work well (albeit the former only has a single line and seems a bit pointless). But I think that if this was going to work it needed the backing of the whole city - and it needed leadership from the Council which, given the divisive nature of the project, it was never going to get.

It's a mess now, pure and simple. And Edinburgh, with the need for new schools etc, looks like it will be paying the price for a long time.


Monday 23 February 2009

Random fact of the day

I was lying on the couch looking at the map on the wall when I started thinking about how it was drawn - with GMT right down the middle and the 12 hours plus and minus GMT to each extreme of the map.

What I wanted to know, was how long it took you to travel somewhere when you ended up a DAY behind your starting time, effectively travelling back through time.

Always something that has intrigued me, I looked it up. The International Date Line lines up roughly (with some diversions around terrirtory) along the 180 degree line of longitude - starting between Russia and Alaska and making its way down through the Pacific between Tonga and Samoa. The map on the left shows this (click to enlarge).

So really the answer to my questions is this. If you flew from Tonga (on the Western side of the IDL) to Samoa (on the Eastern side) it takes two hours. But because you cross the IDL, you arrive 22 hours before you left.

If you flew at 7am this morning (GMT), your departure time (and date) would have been 8pm on Mon 23rd Feb in Tonga. Your arrival time would have been 10pm Sun 22nd Feb.

An easier way to remember it: if Sarah Palin was looking at Russia from her house she could see into the future, for Russia is a whole day ahead of her. Now if only she'd said that she could see the future, people might have elected her VP...

I need to get out more.


A year off the beer

Having read that Scotland ranks 8th in the world in alcohol consumption, I thought it was a good time to reflect upon my year off alcohol.

I stopped drinking this time last year for a couple of reasons - primarily health related. I recently (couple of weeks ago) started drinking again, on the whole because I missed relaxing with a drink now and again - a glass of wine, a wee dram.

I think after I finished my Masters' I saw alcohol as something different. In Aberystwyth, with very little to do, the pub was always a shout and consumption was almost always much more than was good for you. Which, I guess, is the mentality which gets your to eighth in the world.

Now, there's some, with their tongue firmly in their cheek, who will point out that eighth (behind, Luxembourg?! Ireland - understandably - and various other European states) is just not good enough for a country with our relationship with alcohol, that surely if there's one thing we should be world leaders in, it is drinking alcohol. Which, while spoken in jest, points to the attitude and relationship that Scots have with alcohol.

Now I know that Kenny MacAskill's alcohol plans were widely rubbished in the Scottish Parliament, but there is recognition that there is a problem in Scotland with alcohol and a desire to do something about it. Okay the plan might noy have been the way forward, but we need to do something about the dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.

Here's an issue that the parties should be working together on before we do top that league table - but instead, we'll probably get more partisan bickering.


Saturday 21 February 2009

No love in Dubai tennis tale

I've been thinking about a post on this issue for a few days now, and I still can't decide where I fall on it. I am leaning towards supporting the tennis player involved however.

If you are not familiar with the story, I'll summarise it for you. Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer has been denied a visa to compete in a tournament in Dubai - in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has said that, after the three week conflict/ Israeli aggression against Palestinians (delete depending on your point of view) tensions are still running high in the region and they were concerned for the player's safety.

Now, I can understand that sentiment. But there are two things that make me somewhat suspicious about their motives here:

1) They have given a visa to another Israeli tennis player, Andy Ram, so he can compete in the same event. Why is his safety not at risk? And even if it was, shouldn't it be up to the player to decide whether they feel safe attending an event?

2) The UAE doesn't have diplomatic relations with Israel. Which suggests that they may have looked for the first opportunity they could to send a message to Israel. They've said they "don't want to politicise sport" but wanted to be sensitive to recent events in the region.

Now, like I said, I'm not so sure about where I stand on this one. In an earlier post on the subject of Israel's actions I compared the division of peoples there to South Africa under the apartheid regime. I know there are flaws in the comparison, but I maintain that the cases have some similarities. Anyway, the point I'm making is that when the South African government decided that it would have two classes of people, the world stood up and said "that's not one" and boycotted South African goods and - crucially, for this argument - their sports teams were not allowed to participate in international events.

Now I know that is not why Dubai has stopped Peer from participating in the event there - they've given the player's safety as the main reason. But really, if it had been for that reason, would people have reacted in the same way?

Like I say, I have sympathy for Peer. She hasn't any way of shaping Israeli policy. She just wants to play tennis. But South Africa's sporting stars just wanted to play sport too.

The boycott of South Africa worked. Maybe it is time we started giving Israel some tough love too.


Friday 20 February 2009

Guest Blog: Turning the other cheek or a blind eye?

Next time you are asked by a beggar for the change in your pocket would you give it to them? I ask ‘next time’ because it’s a regular occurrence in our city centres and poses a moral dilemma - if you hand over your money are you actually helping someone or potentially perpetuating a dependency problem? Perhaps a donation to a recognised charity or an event like Comic Relief would be your preferred choice?

There is no doubt that in this current economic climate our purses are held tighter than ever before, and disposable incomes are proportionately less than they have been in recent years. But the knock-on effect is not just that there’s less change in our pockets to share with a stranger on a street corner but many of the charities who depend upon public donations and government funding are also struggling to survive.

Where does social responsibility for the homeless and those forced to beg lie? I know that no single political party or government is responsible for the continued existence of homelessness or begging on our streets but I do believe that there is a shared responsibility to take steps to eradicate it – between politicians and citizens. A truly joint venture.

I guess the dilemma is that none of us can single-handedly change the problems that have been endemic in society for centuries, but if as individuals we don’t try to make even a small difference how will we ever build a better world? I know that my spare change won’t make a huge difference, and that my vote alone won’t determine the outcome of the next election, but to do nothing and abdicate responsibility seems far worse.

At a time when we are embroiled in debate about bank bonuses that amount to millions of pounds we should question ourselves and our political representatives about what actions we are taking to help those struggling to exist on the edges of our society, for whom a few pounds, a hot meal and a safe place to sleep could be life changing. Whatever answer is given ask this next question – what more can we do?

Guest Author: PJ


Thursday 19 February 2009

Life, liberty and the pursuit of blogging

I'm having a bit of bother finding the time to blog at the moment - learning languages, lit review and life in general keep getting in the way.

As a response to my extensive busy-ness, I've asked a couple of people if they want to contribute some posts for the blog - the first of which will appear tomorrow.

Don't worry, the standard will still be the same high quality (!) you are used to here, just with an occasional guest author. I'll run with a few and see how it goes.



A flip-flopping guide to saving the union

Hearing a little more on a - rather crazy - theory that is going around at the moment. Goes a little bit like this:

Lib Dems a little - irritated - by the lack of listening to their point of view in the Calman Commission by their larger siblings in the unionist family. This is apparently an ongoing thing (and something I alluded to in December).

Lib Dems don't see the Calman Commission going anywhere - or at least, anywhere they want it to. Lib Dems are looking around for other options.

Lib Dems see an opportunity. After voting against the SNP's budget one week, they voted for it the following week - asking only that Salmond make a submission to the Calman Commission. Salmond was only too happy to agree.

Lib Dems soften the ground somewhat on negotiation with the SNP. Arguably in May 2007, when Nicol Stephen was the Lib Dem leader it was Tavish Scott's opposition to any deal on a referendum that scuppered any coalition deal. Now that Tavish is leader, things seem slightly different (or do they?).

According to this rumour, the Lib Dems are thinking about ditching Calman, coming on board with the SNP to get a referendum on independence through (subject to an "extended powers" option on the ticket) and capitalising on what they hope will be a victory for their preferred option (extended powers) in the referendum. Lib Dems look like "thinking" party - while the other two unionist parties are roadblocks to progress and the SNP licks its wounds over a defeat for its raison d'etre. At least that is the rumoured plan.

Except there are more holes in this theory than a packet of Polos. For one thing, even with Lib Dem support, there is still no majority for a referendum in the Scottish Parliament (47 + 16 = 63) assuming that the Scottish Parliament is allowed to hold such a referendum. And there's a lack of trust thing going on - how much would the SNP be willing to trust a party to help them deliver on not just a key manifesto pledge but their whole reason for existing? And there's the fact that the Lib Dems currently seem to be making up policies as they go along - and changing their mind on everything (see - tax and spend, tax cut, abandon policy; no negotiation on referendum, Tavish as leader "we'll see", a week later "no we won't"). Not exactly conducive to seeing this idea as anything more than another Lib Dem wheeze designed to get them some publicity for five minutes in order to shore up their plummeting poll numbers.

Balancing that is the wager (and Salmond likes those) that the Lib Dems are the means (referendum) to the end he wants (independence) and despite the inherent shakiness such a deal looks like having, he might very much be tempted to "let the people decide" the constitutional future of Scotland.

I'm not convinced that a deal is likely... however, I am pretty sure that if the Lib Dems walk away from Calman - and apparently that IS pretty likely - then they need to do something drastic to save a little face. It may well be that they see an opportunity to put independence to bed for awhile and "save the union" as their particular calling.

The Lib Dems, arch-federalists, saviours of the union? An intriguing prospect!


Wednesday 18 February 2009

Royal Blue

I know this made the news a few weeks ago, but this is the first time I've been in Keith since then, so permit me to revisit it.

The landlord at the Royal Hotel in Keith has banned drinkers from swearing in his bar - too much of it and you get punted out and reported to the police.

According to the folks I was speaking to in the pub (the Ploo) last night (no, not the Royal, it has to be said - I haven't been in there for a couple of years - and that has nothing to do with the swearing ban) most local folk have stopped drinking there. But that would appear to have little to do with the ban. I'm only in Keith a few times a year now, but I always tend to a more "local" bar (ie - less than 200 steps from my parents' house) which has much more atmosphere (and slightly cheaper drinks!).

I'd suggest that, while the publican's stance is principled and somewhat unusual in contemporary society, he does seem to be cutting his nose off to spite his face - especially at a time of an economic downturn. Takings are down (though that may not be directly related to the swearing ban - just the general atmosphere in the place). And no, before anyone suggests it, I don't think you have to swear to make a point (look back over the past year on here for proof) or have an "atmosphere". But you do need people, something that the bar now lacks.

I think that, while it was probably a good idea in his head, the idea has wound up as more of a publicity stunt than anything else. However, it seems to have driven away more customers than it has pulled in.

ps - image above is of the Royal Hotel, South Beach, Florida and has no connection with this story whatsoever. It was the only picture I could find of "Royal Hotel".


Tuesday 17 February 2009

Poll watch - UK

Quick post on Sky News reports on an Ipsos MORI Poll which gives the following votes for the parties:

Conservatives 48% (+4)
Labour 28% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 17% (n/c)

Also in the poll - 64% are dissatisfied with the performance of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.

Disasterous poll for Labour. Mind you, I bet Tom Harris will find a way of spinning it as great news...


Monday 16 February 2009

Capitals quiz - with a twist

I was helping my Gran the other day with a quiz and I thought it might entertain one or two of those whom read this. So here we are - they are cryptic clues to capital cities around the world. Not necessarily state capitals, but capital cities around the world. That's the disclaimer!

Here's an example:

"Is there a cake in this city?" - Answer "PARIS" (Eiffel cakes... or so my Gran tells me!).

So here you go. I'll put the answers in as people guess them. If you guess them! Also, there are a couple I'm not sure of yet!

1. Former Hearts player follows tin
CANBERRA (Juliane)

2. Fix a letter underwater
ANKARA (Malc's Mum)

3. 1+1, 2+2, 3+3, 4+4 etc...

4. Type of map followed by short greeting
OSLO (Malc's Gran!)

5. Two rivers together make this name

6. Escaped mammal

7. Repeatedly give money and leave

8. Add this to coffee in France
SUCRE (Gizem)

9. Swap D for R and drop S in this Aussie soap

10. Put a parent in a sack

11. Support for a broken arm (a drink)

12. Could be underfoot
SEOUL (Linda J)

13. Catchphrase in "Extras" with mirth HAVANA (Finlay)

14. Norse God using razor TORSHAVIN (Anon)

15. Anagram: A U G C L T G P E A I

16. Neckwear hands over cash TAIPEI (Sam)

17. In a field coming after five but before ten
KUWAIT (Finlay)

18. Burial place behind a vehicle

19. Wee Maureen turns whiter
PALERMO (Richard)

20. Organise a wee holiday

Good luck with that!


Saturday 14 February 2009

Geert Out! And don't come back!

I might be inviting controversy here, but I have a wee question. What is the difference between the following two statements?

"The Koran is an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror.... it is a facist book and should be banned like Mein Kampf."
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The first, as you have no doubt recognised, is from a film released by Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who this week was barred from entering Britain for spreading "hate".

The second, perhaps more suprisingly, is a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, addressing a university where he used to teach theology in 2006. Equally unsuprisingly, these words provoked anger in the Muslim world.

Both statements - at their base level - say the say thing: That Islam is a religion which is incompatible with peace, with Western beliefs and ideology and spreads evil. That is not a sentiment I share.

But I do have a question for the Home Office.

If Wilders is to be banned from Britain (and that is something I have huge issues with) surely, in the interests of fairness and balance, the Pope should be too?

Like I say, inviting controversy I know. But there's something in the Pope's "I was quoting a 14th Century text, of course I didn't mean it" defence that doesn't wash with me.


Friday 13 February 2009

To lose one advisor might be unfortunate, to lose four?

Nope, I'm not talking about Gordon Brown's FSA and UKFI advisors.

President Obama has had a fourth nominee for senior position in his Cabinet withdraw their name from consideration:
  • Bill Richardson was the original choice for Commerce Secretary, but withdrew due to a donations-for-contracts investigation.
  • Tom Dasche was meant to be Health Secretary, but pulled out due to tax questions.
  • Nancy Killefer was meant to oversee budget and spending reform, but also had tax questions raised.
  • And now, his second nomination for Commerce Secretary Judd Gregg - a Republican senator - has withdrawn his name from consideration due to "irresolvable conflicts" over key issues, particularly the stimulus package.
You would think that a wee bit more careful vetting would be the order of the day. That, or more careful selection of candidates for key positions.

Man, looks like this "change" thing might not happen quite as quickly as everyone expected. At this rate, President Obama will still be looking for a Commerce Secretary by the time the next election comes round...


Thursday 12 February 2009

The politics of the possible

Swinney & Salmond enjoying better times

There's been quite a lot of absolute tosh written about
John Swinney's decision not to bring forward a bill replacing the Council Tax in Scotland with a Local Income Tax during this Parliamentary session.

I'll write that bit again, just in case you didn't catch it the first time.

There's been quite a lot of absolute tosh written about John Swinney's decision not to bring forward a bill replacing the Council Tax in Scotland with a Local Income Tax

To quote John Swinney:
"The parliamentary arithmetic means that, while we might get the support of the Liberal Democrats for our proposals to introduce a local income tax, the Labour and Conservative parties are united in their opposition.

"In short, we cannot put together a stable majority to enable us successfully to steer detailed local income tax legislation through this parliament."

"The cabinet has therefore decided not to introduce legislation to abolish unfair council tax and replace it with local income tax until after the election in 2011."

Now that, to me, doesn't suggest a huge U-turn. It doesn't suggest that the party have suddenly decided that the policy is rubbish or that they think the current system of Council Tax is great. What it suggests is that the party have recognised their position, in light of the budget fiasco, as a minority government. They've looked around the chamber, seen they don't have the votes to pass such controversial and significant taxation-changing legislation and have decided not to waste parliament's time by bringing forward a bill that is not going to pass. Yet.

They still like the policy. They'll campaign on it going into the 2011 election, telling voters that if they give them enough MSPs they'll be able to pass it. So what is this hysteria from the other parties about?

Iain Gray calls it "the day Alex Salmond's credibility died". What, because he can count to 65?

Jeremy Purvis: "The Lib Dems are now the ONLY party in Scotland that want to scrap the deeply unfair council tax." Well, that's just blatantly wrong. The SNP WANT to scrap it... but the opposition parties don't want to help them. Its the price of minority government.

Lib Dem
and Labour blogs have it that its a huge U-turn, that it is another broken promise, that a key pledge is lying in tatters. Some of them don't seem to grasp the nature of minority government.

At least the Scotsman tells it like it is (and how many times will I get to say that?!!) when they say "LIT dead... for now." And Brian Taylor is his usual analytical self - pointing out, on balance, that opposition parties will attack and the SNP will defend their minority position.

You can say what you want about the policy (and I'm pretty sure I have in the past, though I can't find it on here) but if you haven't got the cards, you haven't got the cards. First the budget, now this. The SNP are learning about minority government. And I guess the other parties are too. As ever, we live in interesting times.

Just read Kez's take on it, which makes a good point about the issue. The SNP know there is not a majority for a referendum on independence, but they are still planning on bringing forward that legislation. That kinda puts the thing in perspective a bit. If only the LOLITSP could think on his feet like that and notice that kind of thing, then he might have a bit more credibility.


Wednesday 11 February 2009

25 random things about me

Here we go:

1) I am trying very hard to get over an addiction to Facebook, Twitter and blogging.

2) I'm failing.

3) I've been going bald since I was about 16...

4) ...yet I've had a beard almost constantly since then, and haven't been clean shaven in over a year.

5) I haven't had a drink of anything alcoholic for over 50 weeks... not like I'm counting or anything.

6) I have a tendency to make lists - often times just so I can cross stuff off it.

7) Yo hablo un poco espanol... y comprendo menos!

8) I have run more than twenty 10K races and six half marathons over the last three years.

9) I ripped my ear in training for Aberystwyth's rugby sevens tournament... and it was glued back together in the A&E.

10) I am a little bit obsessed with the USA.

11) I'm usually fairly pessimistic (which makes for an easier life - if you expect things to go well and they don't, you are disappointed. If you expect them to go badly and they go well, you are pleasantly surprised - much more preferable!).

12) I'm scared of most things: Heights, speed, driving, snakes... commitment, disorganisation, lack of control.

13) I don't deal with any of those things all that well.

14) I delivered a newspaper to Colin Hendry's dad for four years.

15) I captained Keith to a 4-0 Rothes Cup Final win over Fochabers, scoring a glancing header for our second. I was 11 years old and had a full head of hair. It was a fine moment.

16) I was Head Prefect at my school (and also Dux... I'll get my coat - no one really likes a smart @rse).

17) If you put a flag in front of me I could probably tell you which country it belonged to.

18) I once wanted to be an accountant.

19) I still want to earn the salary of an accountant.

20) I don't think there's much chance of that happening any time soon.

21) My cds are arranged alphabetically (and if you know me, you know I'd never have them arranged any other way).

22) I'm pretty much a neat freak - everything has its place, and its usually fairly perpendicular to the nearest surface.

23) I share a birthday with David Boreanaz (of Bones and Angel fame)

24) I don't buy everything I read... I haven't even read everything I've bought.

25) I need to get out more.

I'm not going to tag anyone. If you feel like doing it... do it. Which should really be Nike's new slogan.


Tuesday 10 February 2009

A minor shuffle...

So I got that a bit wrong eh?

Alex Neil becomes new Minister for Housing and Communities.
Mike Russell moves up a step to become Minister for Culture (and a wee bit more).
Roseanna Cunningham becomes Minister for Environment, replacing Mike Russell.
Keith Brown to take over as Minister for Schools and Skills.

Which means movement to the backbenches for Stewart Maxwell, Linda Fabiani and Maureen Watt.

I guess to all intents and purposes a minor reshuffle. Some strength coming in in Alex Neil and Roseanna Cunningham - combative politicians both, and neither exactly bosom buddies with the First Minister. Keith Brown probably got the nod as a move up from his Chairing the Standards Committee.

Guess we'll see the new committee make up shortly too.

Interesting stuff though.


Ministerial Roundabout

Well well...

Rumours from a couple of sources that the First Minister is looking to have a wee shuffle of his Ministers. After nearly two years of government, a wee freshen up in the ministerial department makes sense - though various rumours have been peddled for months up until now, mostly unfounded.

So what do I think?

I'd probably expect that, after the mess of the sportscotland merger and Dougie McDonald's sacking/ the disappearance of his job, Minister for Communities and Sport Stewart Maxwell might head the list of those moving to the backbenches. I reckon Michael Matheson is a good tip to replace him there - he featured as the SNP's spokesman on Sport in the previous parliamentary term.

The chat is also that Fiona Hyslop may get the chop, though I don't know how reliable that rumour is. She's had a tough time as Education Secretary, trying to make good some of the party's more extravagant manifesto pledges (class sizes, scrapping the graduate endowment and student loans). Despite success in some of that, other parties have been quick to attack. I think she's incredibly competent and has done well with a tough assignment. If she is moved, expect Shona Robison (Minister for Public Health) or perhaps Mike Russell (Minister for Environment) to step up. And if either happens, I'd expect Fiona Hyslop to be offered either of their Ministerial roles.

As for other roles - Kez has made a shopping list of Ministers she's like chopped. I might go as far as agreeing with her (to a degree). I don't think Maureen Watt has been a particularly effective Minister, but she is one of the FM's "pals" and may survive. If not, I reckon, Angela Constance might get a step up (though I do believe her current portfolio is Justice and not Education). If not, perhaps Alastair Allan - who does seem to merit consideration as a rising star in the party.

I think Linda Fabiani will survive as Minister for Culture for the time being - with the huge Homecoming 2009 project well under way, a change at its head could hinder its progress. Plus I think she's good banter.

So that's my thoughts:
Michael Matheson replaces Stewart Maxwell as Minister for Communites/ Sport
Shona Robison replaces Fiona Hyslop as Cab Sec for Education
Mike Russell replaces Shona Robison as Minister for Public Health
Fiona Hyslop replaces Mike Russell as Minister for the Environment
Alastair Allan replaces Maureen Watt as Minister for Schools and Skills (less confident about this one!).
Angela Constance misses out this time round.

But I've been wrong before. Anyway, the rumours might be a load of tosh. Guess we'll just need to wait and see.

EDIT: The Steamie has similar news, though they expect Fiona Hyslop to return to the backbenches while - get this - Roseanna Cunningham comes in. Not known as a Salmond buddy... interesting speculation. Apparently an announcement at 11am.


Quiz question

Sat in the pub with some of the Welsh boys on Sunday night, a cracking quiz question was put to me. Well, I say cracking, but only because I'm a geography geek. Anyway, it had me going for the three hours we were there (the guy who set the question told me it took him three days... though he did admit his geography is a bit suspect.

So here's the question:

There are seven countries in the world which have names that consist of five letters, two of which are the letter 'A'. Can you name them?

Obviously its good in the pub because your researcher (Mr Google) is not as helpful. I'll stick the answer in the comments in a couple of days, just to let you have a wee while to work it out. Good luck!

UPDATE: Six of the seven answers have been guessed by readers and are now in the comments to this piece. If you DON'T want to know the answers, don't look here.

UPDATE 2: All seven answers are now accounted for, although no one got all seven. Again, if you are still thinking about it, don't look at the answers until it is driving you completely crazy. And if it hasn't yet, give it a couple of days!


Monday 9 February 2009

Utter shambles

I've waited as long as I can to write this, and I still haven't calmed down any. Or maybe I have a little - when I was planning it at a little after 3.45pm yesterday, the first words were all going to be expletives. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any that could aptly cover what I wanted to say about the utter shambolic disgrace that I watched at Murrayfield yesterday.

There hasn't been such a difference in performance level since Roman emperors decided they might like to see how the Christians performed in bare knuckle fights against lions. Men against boys? It was more like men against little girls who cried when the nasty men in red shirts took their ball away.

I've been to Murrayfield many times and come away disappointed - truth be told - on most of those occasions. But never have I considered, as I did yesterday, that it might be better to pack up and go home after 50 seconds of the second half. Thirty quid spent on the promise of excitement, of the expectation not of triumph but at the very least that the side would bother showing up. I set myself up for the fall and I do it every year, lulled in by the potential, the pride, the hope that one of these times things might fall into place.

It started so well too. The players lined up, the anthems played. They dropped the pipes for the second verse of Flower of Scotland, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, a lump rose in my throat and I barely got the words out. Those two minutes of belief, of hope, of passion were as good as the afternoon got. And then they kicked off.

I really don't think I can do justice to just how awful the performance was. I'm writing this at 1.30am having left more than 8 hours since the final whistle went and I'm still fuming. I can't decide whether it was my naive belief in the players abilty or the sheer hopelessness and complete lack of direction with which they performed but I remain somewhere between angry and disappointed with the Scottish side. Wales were not particularly good. They were probably average at best. But they dispatched with ease a Scotland side that looked like they would recoil in fright any time a Welsh player approached them with the ball.

An advert at the end of the match summed it up for me. "Tickets for Scotland v Italy £20. Get yours today" it said. You'd have to PAY ME more than £20 to go back to Murrayfield again and watch that shambles.

I'd love to find some positives. And perhaps there are. But the only one I can find right now is that in six weeks time this will all be over and I can start hoping we'll be good next year. Until then some dark days loom.

Malc the pessimist returns.


Friday 6 February 2009

News of a sad nature

Sad to hear from a couple of sources both in Parliament and out with that the SNP's Glasgow MSP Bashir Ahmad, the oldest of the SNP MSPs, has died. Needless to say, there is no confirmation from MSM sources at the moment, only word of mouth and a couple of blogs.

I have to say, I am quite sad to hear this news. I can't say that I knew the man at all really, but he always had a word for me in passing when I worked in the Parliament. Others will pay tribute to his trailblazing (first MSP from his background & faith) I will just say what a nice guy he was, and that I hope he has found peace.


BBC - Bastion of British Censorship

You've got to love the BBC.

Actually, if you are a regular reader of MitB, you'll know that you don't really have to love the BBC. But you've got to love the pickle they've gotten themselves into now.

Those fine purveyors of impartiality, those upstanders of British traditions, those "we cannot possibly be seen to be acting unfairly or offending anyone" fine, fine people.

First there was the Russell Brand/ Jonathan Ross hoopla with thousands of complaints. Result: huge apologies all round, resignation of Brand, BBC radio controller and suspension of Ross.

Then the BBC decides not to show the DEC's Gaza appeal film on the grounds of impartiality (and, no doubt, that it will offend some people).

Then Carol Thatcher, after making remarks - off-air - that the BBC deemed offensive, has been sacked from working on The One Show (which is totally rubbish anyway).

So what are they going to do with Jeremy Clarkson, a man not known for his subtlty, who has seemingly offended time after time after time - and remains in his job?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for the BBC to suspend, sack or even discipline Clarkson in anyway. The guy (in the most recent instance anyway) was just reeling off facts (and I guess, his opinion of them) in calling Gordon Brown "a one-eyed Scottish idiot."

Yes, it might be offensive to some, but I reckon the PM has heard people call him much worse. And really, is that any worse than the banter I get? - balding Scottish b****** springs to mind. Outside questioning my parentage (which is patently ridiculous given the lack of hair follicles myself and my father have in common) I'm not offended by it. Because its usually meant in jest. Pretty sure he meant it as a joke. And, obviously, to get some publicity.

So now the BBC has to decide whether it is actually going to go PC-mad and sack Clarkson, or if it is going to lighten up a wee bit. I don't really know what my money is on in this instance.

UPDATE: It seems Clarkson has apologised for "a remark about the PM's appearance" and so the BBC have been spared taking any action against him. What I find, well, bizarre is that so many politicians (from a range of parties) have largely ignored his slight on the PM's partial sighted-ness but are mad at his describing him as "Scottish" - feeling it to be meant in a derogatory manner. Honestly, if you are offended by a description of someone's nationality, you really need to get out of that business...



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
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