Sunday 31 January 2010


An article in the Mail on Sunday previewing a new book by the journalist Andrew Rawnsley reveals what we have long known about the Prime Minister. He is, in fact more of a Prime Monster.

The book claims, among other things, that Brown:

Hit a senior aide, as he rushed to a reception at Downing Street; Physically pulled a secretary out of her chair and sat down himself to type a memo, because she could not keep up with him; Hurled foul mouthed abuse at aides in a Washington hotel room, after it emerged that he had been snubbed on several occasions by Mr Obama.

This is not the first time that we have heard of foul mouthed rants from the Son of the Manse. We have also heard of furniture being smashed, and of Nokias flying across the room.

The book, “The End of the Party”, published by Viking and out on March 1, also contains details of the relationship between Blair and Brown, and that between Brown and Mandleson, and of how they buried the hatchet when Mandleson returned to government as a peer to save Brown's butt last year. It should be a fascinating read.

Number 10 has of course denied the reports, describing them as fanciful, but it is thought that Labour is worried that the revelations may damage the party in the run up to the election.

In another humiliating episode for the government, Mrs Clinton when invited to stay at the grace and favour residence of the Foreign Secretary, Chevening, a delightful mansion with 115 rooms set in a large country estate, is reputed to have joked... “It had better be before May 6 David!”

So America has written them off as well. Oh well, parting will be such sweet...erm.... sweetness!

Saturday 30 January 2010


Gordon Brown has plans to stay as Labour leader after the election even if his party is defeated according to The Sunday Times. He has told colleagues that he won’t stand down unless the Tories win a significant majority. He considers his enemies too divided to force him out. If the May election is indecisive and there is the possibility of a second election he believes he should lead them into it.

With many of his fiercest critics standing down at the election and others likely to lose their seats, he is optimistic that his plan can succeed. Friends of Brown believe he will want to remain if David Cameron’s majority is 20 seats or less. He is banking on a hung parliament or a small majority for the Tories resulting in a second general election within a short period. A hung parliament is looking increasingly likely with two polls this weekend showing a narrowing of the Conservative lead.

Brown’s critics reckon that his decision to remain is part of a plan to ease his friend Ed Balls into the party leader’s job. And Brown is supposedly opposed to Harriet Harman becoming a caretaker leader during any leadership contest, like Margaret Beckett did following John Smith’s death in 1994.

In recent weeks Balls has been courting Labour MPs, trade unionists and grassroots supporters at party events. It is a reasonable guess that if there is a rout, much of what remains of the Labour Party will be from the Left, which is Balls’ natural constituency. In opposition Labour chose their shadow cabinet by votes. However, these votes are traditionally rigged by the Whips and it is reckoned that, with Gordon Brown still in charge, Nick Brown, the chief whip, would use these tactics in Balls’ favour and against the likes of Harman and Miliband, leaving Balls with the coveted shadow chancellor’s job. This is a high profile position giving Balls the chance to shine savaging the Tories' financial policies.

It is fair to say that if the Tories form the next government, support for them could collapse once their plans to cut spending, however much they are trimmed back, start to be felt. The last time Labour left the country bankrupt, Thatcher came in with a drastic cutting policy. It hurt people badly and, had it not been for the Falklands Conflict and the short sharp win it afforded Britain, it is quite likely that she would not have won a second term.

Brown knows that more war is the last thing that the population wants now. Without a war victory to save him, Cameron’s time at the top may be very limited; a single term would be no surprise...and that is what Brown is counting on. We may not have seen the last of Prime Minister McCavity!

Update: Dean the Tory has a really funny clip of Cameron giving Balls a real put down at:

The Guardian reports that Tory leader David Cameron Speaking in Davos on Friday gave a clear sign that the cuts (that he assured us all were so necessary during his, I’m telling the truth moment, before his party’s conference) would be more modest than had been hitherto been expected in order to prevent Britain facing a Greek-style debt crisis this summer.

Cameron, speaking at a British business lunch, said the mood towards deficit reduction was changing, with the arguments moving in favour of the Conservative approach. The Conservative leader went on to say that his party would want to take early action if it won spring's election but that it did not need to be particularly "extensive".

His remarks came as the International Monetary Fund pledged to support Greece, which is in the midst of an economic crisis, were it asked to do so.

Conservative sources denied that Cameron was back pedaling on his strong pledge to tackle Britain's budget deficit in light of weaker than expected growth figures estimate of 0.1%. Labour said it was an indication that the Opposition leader was being forced to temper his approach.

The business secretary, Lord Mandelson said “there is less conviction and swagger than there was before. They have gone a little bit wobbly. They appreciate the risks a bit. It has pushed them into some confusion”.

Oh dear more mixed messages from the Tories then. Honest John one minute with its going to be hard and bleak under the Tories and you wont be able to retire till you are 67, oops that didn’t work. And the next minute it won’t be so bad after all. Not back pedaling? Then what is it? Oh yes all things to all people as usual: 99% for effort, 0.1% for substance.

Nice to see Lord Voldermort getting his tuppence in as usual, thanks for that inspiring and incisive input you graciousness, what a revelation!

Friday 29 January 2010

British Banking System No Longer Stable and Low Risk: Standard and Poor

We have been lectured till our ears hurt by Gordon Brown telling us how he saved the banking system, saved the world, put us in the best possible position to lead the world out of recession. We in Scotland have had our neighbours insulted by the fourth rate Secretary of State for Scotland telling us that Ireland and Iceland were backward looking basket cases, and that that is how Scotland would have been if it hadn’t had the blessed United Kingdom to bail it out.

So sure enough, when it came, 3 months after the rest of the G20 countries of course, we were somewhat surprised to find that our “leading” was being done from the rear, and our growth figure was in fact only 0.1%. The Chancellor was obliged to say that even this pathetic little figure could be a blip, and that the figures by next month might be negative again.

A further blow came yesterday when the alarm was raised over the Government’s ballooning debt crisis. International credit rating agency Standard & Poor warned in a report that Britain’s banking industry was no longer stable. It was seen as a further sign that the massive deficit that Britain is running might leave the country close to bankruptcy. And it came amid new warnings of a Bank of England interest rate rise. Standard & Poor’ statement said: “We no longer classify the United Kingdom among the most stable and low-risk banking systems globally.”

It seems to me that we are likely to hit the second leg of the recession in the next few months. A growth figure of 0.1% over the period that included the rush to spend that typifies every British Christmas, is hardly a ringing endorsement of the economy. The fact that unemployment reduced slightly over this period is also not terribly surprising. As anyone who has worked in the employment business could tell you, it happens every year.

But January and February are always hard months for businesses. As well as the credit card bills landing on the mat, there will be the yearly pay offs in shops and restaurants, bars and clubs that mark the end of the spending spree and return to normal.

I wonder how long it will be before the inflation that the quantitative easing is bound to set in train, will start to hit us and add to the misery?


Thursday 28 January 2010

“Unfortunately for the First Minister, patting himself on the back doesn’t count as PE”

First of all, I want to say that I am flattered that Subrosa asked me to cover for her today with FMQs. However, this is her baby and I’m sure you will be delighted to know that normal service will be resumed next week.

My first question is: does anyone know why on earth the opposition party leaders start their questions with the same questions every week, to which the First Minister gives the same replies? It’s a bit of a waste of time at their salary level.

But then again, why stop at the first question for Iain Gray. He really seems to have little appreciation, even after all this time, that he should ask questions for which the First Minister has no answer, and certainly ones that cannot be turned right back at him and at the Westminster Labour executive. So his questions were all about capital spending. Capital spending which is of course much governed by the amount of money that is given to Scotland by Westminster. Alex was able to point out that there are drastic cuts promised by London in the money available for public spending. Why then Gray thought it appropriate to blame the Scottish government for cuts was beyond me. Of course he wanted the opportunity to mention GARL, and SFT. But as usual his information was out of date, and he put so much into his questions that Alex was able to answer only the bits which showed the government in a good light.

Annabel was on form on the subject of PE in schools, but she too was out of date with her figures. The manifesto promised two hours of PE a week for children. Although huge progress has been made, there is a deal still to achieve. But Opposition leaders must remember that a four year term of government means just that. The Curriculum for Excellence starts this year, and results should be judged once it has been put into place. These questions gave Alex the opportunity to point out the dichotomy between the Tory’s desire to cut public spending and the demands that all schools have tennis courts (suggested perhaps by the exciting new of Andy Murray’s win, which had come minutes before). However, Annabel’s one liner that forms the heading here was a classic and had the whole House (and me) in stitches.

Tavish made a sensible contribution by asking about the increasing number of people being turned away from colleges. The First Minister responded by agreeing with him. He pointed out that the funding for colleges had increased in real terms and extra money had been made available for areas especially badly hit by the recession. Labour jeered at this exchange which gave Alex the chance to point out that when constructive points were made he would be ready to listen, but that that never happened from the Labour leader.Tavish sat down with a beam of pleasure on his face having been praised by the head boy.

Further questions from Christine Graeme and Mary Scanlon dealt with the horrific problem of children self harming. Jack McConnel looking stubbly, but with his tie on this time, asked about mental health facilities in his constituency, and from Angela Constance there was a question regarding support for prison staff, following a prison disturbance in her constituency.


Wednesday 27 January 2010


Tony Blair got the OK to invade Iraq after the Attorney General was told by US lawyers that he was wrong to oppose the war.

Peter Goldsmith told the Chilcott Inquiry that he changed his advice a few weeks before war broke out after meetings with American legal advisors. He had previously warned that UN resolution 1441 did not provide a legal basis for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

He changed his mind in February 2003 after evidence from American officials including Condoleezza Rice. Goldsmith said their description of the negotiations that lead to the Security Council resolution helped convince him that a second resolution was not required.

In his initial draft opinion, which he gave to Blair on January 14, Goldsmith warned that he thought a further resolution authorising the use of force was necessary. He said the change of decision rested on the interpretation of “two or three” words in resolution 1441.

Goldsmith gave his “provisional advice” to Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, on February 27 which said there was a “reasonable case that a second resolution was not necessary.”

So says The Times in its coverage of the Chilcot inquiry.

It occurs to me that the reason that there is an Attorney General is that he is available to give legal advice on matters pertaining to English legal matters to the cabinet. My question would be, why it was necessary for him to be told that he was wrong by the Americans, and if we are going to listen to American interpretation of law, why do the English/Welsh/Northern Irish pay for their own Attorney General? In these hard times would it not be a good idea to ditch the post, save the millions that running his department costs and let the Americans tell them what to do?

The next point is that Mr Goldsmith was Attorney General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As Scottish soldiers were involved in going to war and Scottish people in funding it, would it not have been good to have some advice from a Scottish equivalent (Advocate General for Scotland)? Or were we not important enough?

But my real conculsion is that old Peter is telling porkies here, and that the truth is that, after having given advice that Tony Blair did not want to hear, Mr Goldsmith was ambushed in the corridor by Alistair Campbell and that big fat bruiser Charlie Falconer, and told that it would be in his best interests (wink wink) if he rethought his advice.... After all, reading the stuff in the picture above, he doesn't sound like a very honourable sort of bloke does he?


Tuesday 26 January 2010


First he said that Britain wasn’t in recession. (Lies of course!) Then, when he admitted that it was, it was only because every other country in the world was in recession. (Lies of course!) Then he said that it was the best placed nation to lead the world out of recession because of his prudent management of the economy. (Lies, of course...unless by leading he means from behind, and after everyone else!)

Britain is the last of the G7 economies to emerge from economic decline. The slump, lasting six consecutive quarters, represents the UK’s worst recession since comparable records began in 1955. It is also a ridiculously slight emergence at an estimated growth rate of 0.1%.

So much for the financial genius of Mr Gordon “I’ve ended boom and bust” Brown.

According to the Times: There are growing fears that Britain could tip back into recession after figures showing that the economy staggered to growth at the end of last year. The tiny 0.1 per cent uplift achieved from October to December, far worse than most City economists expected, threw Labour and Conservative election tactics into confusion. Gordon Brown’s hopes of hailing a lasting recovery were dashed amid signs that the next three months could be as difficult as the last.

Conservative plans to promise immediate spending cuts also looked questionable as analysts suggested a double-dip recession, in which the economy moves out of negative growth briefly only to go back into a second downturn soon afterwards.

So it’s back to the drawing board for both of the major parties. (The SNP doesn’t count remember: Mr Murphy says so.)

But worse still: Sterling fell on foreign exchanges and fresh concerns were expressed over the government’s ability to tackle Britain’s budget deficit.

Bill Gross, co-founder of Pimco, which runs the world’s largest bond fund, urged investors to steer clear of UK government bonds. He wrote on his website: “Gilts are resting on a bed of nitroglycerine. High debt with the potential to devalue its currency present high risks for bond investors.”

Given that the finances of the UK have been in the hands of the same man for the last 13 years, is it not something of which he should be heartily ashamed? Has he not completely and utterly cocked up our whole financial situation and subjected us, and our children, to a hitherto unimagined debt?

Is he not a complete and utter failure, and the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had, bar none?


Buckfast Tonic Wine, better known to us as "Buckie", "commotion lotion" or "wreck the hoose juice", could be banned if Scottish MEP Catherine Stihler's proposals, made to the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, are approved.

She wants to ban caffeinated alcoholic drinks which she says are linked to crime and health problems. Buckfast, which has been linked by police to violent behaviour, contains as much caffeine as eight cans of coke.

Additionally Mrs Stihler pointed out that one energy drink can increase the chance of heart attack or stroke. She said: "Surely it is high time for a ban on alcoholic caffeinated drinks. The combination of alcohol and caffeine can be fatal. Caffeine addiction can lead to a whole host of medical problems, not to mention its link with crime and violence on Scottish streets. The fact is many consumers are unaware of the damage they are doing to their bodies and lack the essential information to make an informed decision about what they purchase."

A documentary, a couple of weeks ago pointed out that the tonic wine had been mentioned in 5,000 crime reports by Strathclyde Police in the last three years. Labour MSP Richard Baker backed Mrs Stihler's proposals demanding action to reduce access to caffeinated alcohol and tackle the impact it has on violent crime in Scotland.

I have doubts that any of this will do any good. Teenagers bent on getting drunk and high on caffeine and booze are probably about bright enough to work out that mixing coke with vodka, or cider or both will end up doing the job just as well. Buckie is not cheap, and they already mix it with cheap vodka for it to have the effect it does.

I maintain that we need to find out why a large proportion of our population feel that the only way that they can get through a day is in a state to bacchanalian oblivion. Once we know that, and act to improve our lives, then maybe we will rid ourselves of the scourge of drunkenness.

If, in the meantime, legislators wish to get involved, they may wish to find a way of making it illegal to sell this type of drink in glass bottles, which become extremely useful weapons once their contents have no longer any need of them....

Monday 25 January 2010


Amazingly, according to the Caledonian Mercury, Labour will ignore the SNP completely during the General Election campaign in Scotland.

Jim Murphy, who will be leading the Labour Party’s election campaign in Scotland, told the Mercury that Scottish Labour party was going to concentrate solely on the Tories during the campaign, even though the Nationalists represent the biggest threat to Labour in most seats around the country and the Tories have only one seat in Scotland.

He said: “The people of Scotland know, or almost everyone in Scotland knows, that the SNP are not in with a hope in this election. They are irrelevant.”

How incredibly silly to discount the party that is in government as irrelevant. How odd too, given the most recent (European) election results, that he should dismiss the SNP in this way.

Of course Murphy’s strategy is in tune with Labour’s message throughout the UK. The election is between Labour and the Conservatives. But it is a strange one in Scotland where recent polls show that it is the SNP and Labour who are players in the country.

The Scottish Secretary has already been delivering leaflets in his East Renfrewshire constituency with a simple anti-Tory message. This could be explained by a poll over the weekend which suggested that Murphy would be one of several high-profile Labour MPs to lose their seats if the Tories secure the levels of support they have at the moment. In short Mr Murphy personally is in danger from the Conservatives, rather than from the SNP.

I imagine that the SNP will be dancing with joy at the strategy. No one would deny for a second that the only two parties who can form a government at the next election are Labour and the Conservatives, but to concentrate on what is the forth party in Scotland (in Westminster terms) seems to be folly beyond measure.

Still, who am I to disagree with the great Mr Murphy? (Snigger.)


A new newspaper was launched today in Scotland.

The “Caledonian Mercury” is Scotland's first on-line newspaper, a leader in what surely is to be the future for newspapers the world over, given the circulation figures of the dead tree press.

Professionally presented, the Mercury, edited by a former Scotsman editor, Stewart Kirkpatrick, provides coverage of the wide range of reading material that you would expect from a modern broadsheet type organ. News, Sport, Heritage, Entertainment, Outdoors, and a group of stories under the heading “Strangelets”... Nope, I’m not telling you what they are; go and have a look for yourself and put the hits number up.

Many of us have been complaining for a long time now that with The Scotsman, The Record and the BBC firmly in the pocket of the Labour Party, and The Herald leaning that way too, it was time for a decent Scottish newspaper which would reflect other intelligent viewpoints from our country. We wanted some way of reading news about Scotland without having to get it from the pages of an English newspaper. It seems that we are to be given that opportunity.

Let’s hope that the paper lives up to our expectations, and that there is sufficient support to make it worthwhile for the editor and staff to produce it...

I, for one, am looking forward to it being my first port of call for Scottish and worldwide news.


Sunday 24 January 2010


Time after time it breaks my heart to see kids, not much more than children; lads who have only just started their real life, lose that life in this stupid, awful, pathetic, unwinnable war.

On Friday young Peter Aldridge died in an explosion in Helmand. Rifleman Peter Aldridge, for all his youth, was already more of a man than most of us back home. He had faced things most will never have to face and seen things couldn’t begin to cope with. He was the 250th British soldier to die in Afghanistan.

His family said that he died a hero, and added: “He was determined to get his first tour of duty under his belt. He believed in the Army and was proud of his job and we are so proud of you Peter.” He said that if he had to die, he wanted to die a soldier.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Jones, said: “The last thing Rifleman Aldridge said to the medic treating him at the scene was to tell his mother that he loved her.”

If that doesn’t break your heart, then it must be made of stone.

To the Prime Minister I would say: Bring these lads back Mr Brown. Please, before any more of them, still in their teens, still more schoolboys than adults, are killed. To Peter, I say: Thank you. You did this for us even if we don't deserve it. You did it because it was your duty. We are, or should be, grateful and proud of you and all your colleagues.

Saturday 23 January 2010


The parents of two brothers whose lack of upbringing led them to torture two innocent children face prosecution for neglect and child abuse. Additionally appeals will be launched by children’s charities to have the sentences given to the thugs lengthened to double the minimum tariff of 5 years.

The brothers were given an indeterminate sentence for the prolonged sadistic attack in Edlington, near Doncaster, last April. It is thought, however, that they pose such a high risk to the public that they may never be released. Doncaster Council has apologised to the families of their victims after a damning report revealed a litany of failings by its social services. A review uncovered 31 missed opportunities to take action that would have prevented the crime. Unbelievably only one member of staff has faced any disciplinary action.

David Cameron claimed that the case was symptomatic of levels of social breakdown. Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, denied that the scandal reflected Britain’s problems.

The brothers, two of seven sons of a drug-addicted mother and a drunken, violent father, had previously carried out numerous attacks on both children and adults. In this case they lured two friends of 9 and 11, to a secluded location for a 90-minute orgy of violence. They robbed them, threatened to kill them, stripped them naked and forced them to perform sex acts on each other. They punched and kicked them, stamped on their heads and threw bricks and heavy stones at them before trying to strangle them with a metal noose and a clothes line. One of the lads blinded by blood, lying face down in mud, eventually begged to be left to die.

Psychiatric reports gave detailed accounts of the boys being physically abused by their father and watching him punch and kick their mother. From the age of 9, the elder boy smoked cannabis at home, drank alcohol and watched extremely violent and pornographic DVDs. Psychiatrists said that he appeared to be lacking in any empathy towards his victims.

Cameron is right to point out that this is symptomatic of a broken society, but if he is pointing the finger of blame at Labour, then he must remember that Edlington was, until 1986, the home of one the largest coal mines in England. Whenever he thinks that Britain started to break, he must remember that Mrs Thatcher’s decimation of the coal industry left poverty and social exclusion in its wake, and whilst it’s not all her fault, she must take a share of the blame.
Ed Balls shouldn’t feel complacent either. The unbelievable slackness of the Social Services may well be at least in part down to the horrific paperwork burden that he and his stupid target driven government has forced on the authorities. And I wonder what kind of council allows people to be living within meters of the housing shown in the picture, as these people are Mr Balls. Would it be a Labour Council?

But the people who simply cannot be left to get away with this are these children’s parents. We are not talking about a single mother here, the children’s parents are married, and were they earning enough, would be entitled to a subsidy from taxpayers under Mr Cameron’s plans. Social Services have a role to play in the upbringing of children from dysfunctional homes, but one way to fix Broken Britain would be to insist that parents took responsibility for their children or paid the price.


It seems that I am going to have to revise my thinking on the question of Minimum Pricing.

I have always felt that putting the price of the very cheapest alcohol up will not stop people who want to drink or who rather, are determined to drink come what may.

The government in Scotland have been for it and have proposed legislation. The Labour and Tory oppositions in parliament were against it. The Tories (with whom I agreed) suggested that if police used the power they already had that would be sufficient. (Well, I don’t know that it would be sufficient but it would go a long way to clearing up the streets.) The Labour opposition opposed it, because someone said to Iain Gray, “You are in opposition, so you must oppose stuff. OK?” And he blinked and nodded and blinked again and... he opposed, albeit ineffecually.

Last week it became apparent that the Labour Party in England had decided to include a minimum price for alcohol in their manifesto for this year’s election throwing the Scottish Labour position into somewhat embarrassing dubiety.

Now it seems that Ian Duncan Smith says that David Cameron should impose significant increases in taxes on beer, wine and spirits if elected prime minister. In an interview with The Times, the Tory’s social policy supremo accuses the supermarkets of “being as close to immoral as you can get” by selling alcohol so cheaply, and of “creating alcoholics”.

He says that the political parties are “in the grip of cowardice” for failing to advocate a big jump in the cost of alcohol for fear of alienating the voters before the general election. “We are into unpopular territory, but to deal with something like alcohol that is damaging the fabric of the nation we need to raise prices. There is a direct connection between the price of alcohol and consumption.”

With the Medical Officers of Health from both Scotland and England backing this policy, along with the BMA and the Royal College of Physicians not to mention the NHS Federation... and now, the English Labour and Tory parties seeming to come behind it, I think that I’m beginning to be a little outnumbered.

Needless to say, the drink manufacturers and the supermarkets were down on Mr Duncan-Smith like a ton of bricks, claiming that their selling of drink at rock bottom prices has nothing to do with the problem.

I’m going to give some very careful consideration to my views... and I may come back red faced and offer the Scottish Government a full and wholesome apology.

Friday 22 January 2010


Margo MacDonald launched her End of Life Assistance Bill yesterday in which there are proposals to allow anyone aged over 16 and registered with a GP in Scotland for at least 18 months, to request help to die, so long as they have been diagnosed as terminally ill or permanently physically incapacitated, and find life intolerable.

The MSP, a sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, has already said she would like to be allowed to bring about her own death if her condition deteriorated but she insisted her attempt to change the law was not personal, pointing out that there were many who suffered progressive, degenerative conditions far worse than her own. The future, she said, for people in those conditions was very unhappy, unpleasant and undignified.

This is a highly controversial subject from which there has been much shying away over the years. It involves a wide range of potential problems ranging from protecting people from greedy relatives who want rid of a troublesome, time consuming, ill family member, or who wish to inherit sooner rather than later, on one side.... to people who genuinely cannot bear to see a relative suffer horribly, for what may be months or years. It involves doctors being involved in killing rather than saving lives, something which brings the BMA down on the opposing side. And of course it involves religion. Indeed one of the reasons given for the anticipated failure of the Bill is that the religious lobby is so strong. Strange in a country which has little in the way of church going.

Personally I support Ms MacDonald’s Bill.

Life can be wonderful; it is what you make of it. It really is a bit of a gamble. You have to do your best with the cards you are handed. Most people do this and try to enjoy what they can, sometimes putting up with and overcoming horrific problems.

However, there can come a time when there are no good cards left: when you are paralysed, when you require someone to do everything for you. The most personal of things have to be shared with a carer. There is no pleasure in life; there is only frustration, embarrassment, loss of dignity, a feeling of total uselessness, pain (sometimes horrific), horrible, degrading and painful procedures to keep you alive. And for what?

Perhaps for those with vast amounts of money to spend in private clinics with first class care, this may be, not bearable, but not too unbearable. The state funded alternative does not stand thinking about.

Surely it should not be beyond the wit of man to overcome the problems of the greedy and find a way for those who wish to end their lives to do so. Given that we are all going to die in the end, I don’t see that it is so terrible. I wouldn’t want to see anyone forced into it, particularly those who believe that their God forbids it. But for those of us who prefer the idea of dying, to that of living in agonising pain and humiliation, I fervently hope that this Bill progresses the subject.

Well done Margo. Why should Dignitas, and the dignity it offers, be only for the rich?

Thursday 21 January 2010


I read the excellent reports and observations from both Subrosa and Dean the Tory on First Minister’s Questions this week. Both made it clear that Iain Gray had been particularly pathetic this week, plumbing new depths for even him. So, ever eager for a laugh, I popped over to the BBC iplayer and watched the performance. All I can say is: you can always trust Subrosa and Dean to get it right.

Just because this is an independence and republican leaning blog, it does not mean that it does not take a serious view of the security of Scotland’s head of state. The question for debate today was mapping of footpaths close to the Queen’s private Scottish residence at Balmoral. It is reasonable that this question be investigated in the light of security issues; it is not right, of course, that the matter should simply be accepted without question.

Mr Gray, however, seems to have found that royal security is either close to his heart, or he imagines that it may do him some good electorally. And so, he wasted all his time at First Minister’s Questions on this subject. Just like nothing else of importance was happening in the country.

Mr Salmond, clearly forewarned that Mr Gray was likely to tackle the matter (having been on Radio this very morning talking about it), came to the chamber armed with all the facts of the matter and paperwork to support it. Rosanna Cunningham, the minister responsible, had done everything correctly. She had investigated the security concerns (not simply accepted them) and had ordered that offending footpaths not be mapped. Mr Salmond had the letters to prove it. It was an open and shut case. Most people would have retreated at this point, but Mr Gray went on and on asking the same question over and over again, and being humiliated more and more on each occasion.

Was he successful?
One way of judging a leader’s performance is the cheers and waving of paper, banging of desks and clapping of their supporters.... There was none for Gray. No one said a word, no one clapped, and no one banged on his desk. Faces were long. Gray was stuttering. On the other hand Mr Salmond was clapped and cheered. So, Salmond 5, Gray 0. Again!

Dean mentions the fact on his blog that the Government of Scotland deserves a decent opposition, and I would agree with that. But i would go further. The people of Scotland deserve a better opposition. This weekly display of amateur incompetence may make life easy for Alex, but it is an embarrassment for the people of Scotland. Gray should stand down and let a proper leader form a proper opposition.


I don’t know that Harriet Harman's efforts to re-open the debate on class really matters so much when we read about George Osborne's treatment at the hands of the authorities.

The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found that the Shadow Chancellor breached rules in two years in claims he made for mortgage interest on his property in Cheshire. Commissioner John Lyon conducted an investigation into Osborne’s claims after complaints that he claimed for the interest on a £450,000 mortgage on his farmhouse in Cheshire when the property cost him only £445,000.

Mr Lyon found that the mistake was not intended. Overall Osborne over-claimed by £1936 of which he had already paid back £270.

Needless to say a statement (which I could have written in advance) has been issued by Osborne. "I am happy to accept the Committee’s report. I am glad that they acknowledge that any breaches of the rules were not intentional, not major, and did not provide me with any significant financial benefit.”

Undoubtedly all of that is true. However, it was misappropriation of our money. Mr Osborne, like all the other MPs in the same situation, was not appearing in court, and was given the opportunity of paying the money back with no penalty whatsoever.

My point then is that a small businessman, who had incorrectly completed his VAT return with the same level of benefit, or a pensioner claiming housing benefit and forgetting that they had a savings account somewhere with £500 in it, would almost undoubtedly not have been so lucky.

I have no doubt at all that Osborne wouldn’t risk his career over £1,666. He’s a rich man and the sum is a trifle to him. But he, and the rest of the MPs who fiddled their expenses, have been treated incredibly leniently in the scandal whereas we still have rather draconian punishments for “ordinary” people who appear to have benefited from state money that they are not entitled to.

A separate thought though, given that Osborne expects to be Finance Secretary: it might be a good idea for him to go on an Arithmetic course.


Harriet Harman is likely to reopen the class war tomorrow with a speech saying that it is still the biggest factor in determining individual achievement. She hopes to put the fight against inequality at the heart of the general election campaign.

According to the Guardian, Harman will talk about a government commissioned report by a panel chaired by Professor John Hills. It is anticipated that she will say that the report makes uncomfortable reading for the government and open a debate on the scale of the problems facing a class divided country.

She will say that public policy can still have a significant impact on inequality by intervening at certain key points in a person's life, such as pre-school years or re-entry into work after having children. She will insist that the big choice at the next election will be which party people trust to ensure that as a society "we do not return to the days when inequality was spiraling and where a tiny minority of the population got all the rewards".

In her speech to the leftwing pressure group Compass, Harman is expected to point out that how inequality is cumulative over an individual's lifetime and is carried from one generation to the next and that persistent inequality of class overarches the discrimination or disadvantage that can come from your gender, race or disability.

I am not a huge fan of Harman, as readers of this blog will doubtless know well, but in this matter I’m inclined to think that she has a point.

It seems to me that class is at the bottom of so many of our problems. I spent some time teaching languages with a group of people from accross Europe: France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria and Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. As you might imagine they came from a variety of backgrounds and from geographical locations as far apart as the German-Polish border and the South of Spain. One thing that they had in common was their incredulity that class, accent and position played such a massive part in our lives.

In my opinion, compared with some of Harman’s more idiotic flights of fancy into for example, women’s rights, this speech may make some sense.

The report's findings, however, are politically sensitive since they will surely revive accusations that Labour is embarking on a class war. Whilst a government report cannot be hidden completely, given that the Prime Minister spent so much time last week denying class to be an issue in the Election camplaign, it is hard to see why Harman is taking it as the subject of a major speech.

Posturing for after the election perhaps?

Wednesday 20 January 2010


As usual, when there is a takeover or merger story, with the probability of hundreds or maybe thousands of job losses, amalgamations and relocations for people at the bottom who have no say whatsoever in the outcome... there is a tale of greed and avarice for the man at the top who has a great deal of say. Such is life...

And so it is with the latest story of a British company being bought over.

Todd Stitzer, the American chief executive of Cadbury will receive: a £12m pay off; a year’s salary of £985,000; a bonus of around £2m, and the right to cash in shares worth £8.6 m. So it’s a pretty fair bet that he thought it a not bad idea, and that come Monday morning Mr Stitzer will not be queuing to sign on for £60 a week at the local Dole Office!

Cadbury's resistance to the takeover melted yesterday as Kraft Foods, known for Dairylea and Philadelphia cheese, increased its offer to £8.40 a share. Investors will also get a 10p a share dividend, taking the bill to £11.9 billion. Cadbury employs around 45,000 people in 60 countries. It has 5,600 staff at eight sites in the UK and Ireland.

Cadbury chairman Roger Carr said the board was recommending acceptance even though it inevitably meant job losses. He did not say how many jobs would be threatened but said the axe would fall at Cadbury's HQ in London.

Workers at the company's landmark Bournville plant in Birmingham had no idea what is going on or what it might mean in terms of job losses. Jennie Formby of the union Unite said: "This is a very sad day for UK manufacturing. A successful, iconic, independent UK brand will now be owned by a giant company with massive debt. The sad truth is Kraft will be under pressure to pay down their debts and this raises real fears for jobs."

Gordon Brown promised to fight for Cadbury's British workers. He said: "We are determined that, at a time when people are worried about their jobs, jobs in Cadbury can be secure." And Business Secretary Mr Mandelson said he would do everything he could to keep Kraft to the undertakings that have been given.

I imagine that a huge sigh of relief will be heard from miles away at the utterances of these two. Meatime it's reassuring to know that at least Todd will be alright!

Tuesday 19 January 2010


Today’s appearance of Geoff Hoon before the Chilcot Inquiry was always going to attract much interest after the release of his letters a week or so ago. From the report in The Times, it seemed that the star turn did not disappoint.

In his evidence Hoon admitted he worried Britain would struggle to take part in a full-scale land invasion and admitted delays in ordering equipment led to shortages of armoured vests, desert boots and clothing. Emergency Treasury funding was used to prepare soldiers in the months before the invasion because the Ministry of Defence had been told to reply on efficiency savings to buy new equipment, he told the inquiry. Gordon Brown, then Chancellor, only approved the additional money five months before the start of the war.

Mr Hoon reported a further delay in ordering equipment because Tony Blair refused to allow active war preparations as they might have harmed diplomatic efforts to secure the United Nation’s resolution used to justify the invasion. Hoon admitted he considered that the Army was stretched to deploy a division to Iraq when they were already committed in Afghanistan. He proposed more limited involvement by way of air and naval support for a US invasion but he was overruled.

Mr Hoon said had been unaware of a series of private notes sent by Blair to Bush in which, according to earlier evidence by Alastair Campbell, he assured him of Britain’s support if it came to war.

Because of the delay in preparing for the invasion some kit failed to reach the front line in time for the start of the war in March 2003. Mr Hoon said. “There were complaints about desert combats. Quite a lot of soldiers went into action in green combats and they didn’t like it. Some soldiers did not have the right boots.” A shortage of enhanced combat body armour had been the cause of deaths.

Mr Hoon revealed that he opposed Mr Blair’s decision in July 2004 to commit British forces to southern Afghanistan. The concerns were shared by the military chiefs who wanted to be clear that they weren’t going to be involved in two substantial operations simultaneously.

It also emerged that the Attorney General had warned Hoon during the run-up to the war that it would be difficult to justify military action. However, Mr Goldsmith eventually gave his legal backing just before the invasion.

Edward Davey, the Liberal’s Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, demanded that Mr Brown appear before the inquiry before instead of after the Election.
“Once again we can see Gordon Brown’s fingerprints all over this, but no sign of the man himself,” he said. “The Prime Minister should appear before the Iraq Inquiry before the election to give voters an informed choice. Instead we are being left with a huge Gordon Brown-shaped hole in the evidence.”

It seems to me that there was little point in us having a Secretary of State for Defence, and paying him a salary, when whatever he said was discarded and overruled. Some might say that a bigger man would have stood up to Blair and resigned if necessary. That said, the Military chiefs appear to have been utterly against a further involvement in Helmand, but when Blair walked all over them they too folded their tents.

Brown and Blair must be formidably frightening people if they can scare the life out of the Military chiefs and the Secretary of State for Defence en masse. Or is it just the threat of the withholding of honours that is frightening?

Monday 18 January 2010


I was interested in the analysis that Alan Cochrane made of the Tory Party in Scotland in his column in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph.

Cochrane analyses the chances of the party in Scotland and concludes that the signs are not good. He is critical of Ms Goldie and, in particular, of her very poor performance at FMQ on Thursday. He suggests that it is time for a major rethink on where the party is going, how it is led in Scotland and the tactics it is adopting.

Of Goldie, he correctly points out that she had her worst day ever at FMQs. She chose the wrong subject, was rebuked twice by the presiding officer and got a history lesson from Alex Salmond. All true, but perhaps unfair, as she has been the only opposition leader worthy of the title in the last 2 years. He points out that it is no secret that Miss Goldie does not have the support of her entire parliamentary team. But then, Margo is probably the only party leader that does!

He sais: “There are also signs that the pressures of leadership, which includes increasingly insistent instructions from a London head office that appears to know nothing and care less about a different set of circumstances north of the border, are having a detrimental effect on her performances”.

Ms Goldie tackles Salmond on how his government will cope with Labour’s recession, because that is what matters in England. She asks repeatedly what Salmond plans to do with the reduction in taxpayers’ cash that will be the inevitable result of the Treasury’s squeeze. However well this may work in England, it simply gives Salmond a stick to whack Labour’s planned spending cuts. Why is she trying to hold the English government to account?

Cochrane's answer to that is that she is being directed by Central Office in London. Michael Crow, political editor of STV, the Scottish Tories’ Press Officer reports not to Miss Goldie but to London. And it is from London that the tactics of the Scottish party are being dictated because Cameron is deparate for more than one Scottish MP in June. Given the Tories’ history in Scotland you couldn’t make that level of stupidity up.

So Ms Goldie is asking all the wrong questions, attacking the wrong government, because she is being directed by people who may never have actually been to Scotland! Instead of tackling the FM on the “right to buy” that was being abolished as she spoke on Thursday, Ms Goldie asked Mr Salmond what measures he would take to tackle the cost of Parliament, which is nothing to do with him. She made it worse by messing up her history and receiving a lesson on the English King Canute from Alex Salmond. Cringe!

Mr Cochrane concluded correctly that it was a “dreadful performance which caused a great deal of head shaking and angry muttering among Tory MSPs”.

I have a huge amount of respect for Annabel Goldie. Her solid common sense mixed with sometimes coquettish wit has livened many a FMQ for me. But if the Tories want to run their campaign from England and exclude her from the process, then they will fail. They must be a Scottish Party, run in Scotland, by Scots and FOR Scots. Otherwise Mr Mundell may not be the lone Tory from Scotland... there may be none!

Sunday 17 January 2010


I’m lucky; I have my own personal Alistair Cooke.

My good mate Danny just sent me an email with his usual collection of news stories from the other side of the Atlantic. Always interesting and at the same time amusing, Danny manages to mix serious stuff with trivia. I had a good laugh over the irony that George Bush, who had made such a complete mess of organising the disaster relief in New Orleans after the Katrina Hurricane, had been jointly appointed with Bill Clinton to oversee the co-ordination of American aid to Haiti. Of course the post may be largely 'for show', with Secretary Clinton having already visited Port au Prince, but Presidents Clinton and Bush with their huge influence certainly show the world, and Haiti, that America is involved at the very highest levels, and who knows how many of the "haves and the have mores" will part with money for President DubYa!

A much more worrying issue followed. Here it is as Danny sent it.....

“....An unbelievable story is unfolding in Massachusetts. Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat is being contested there in a by-election next Tuesday. And the polls now say it's a toss-up. The Republicans may actually get it.

BEYOND BELIEF....the Kennedy seat IN MASSACHUSETTS....going REPUBLICAN???!!!!

And if it goes Republican, the Democrats will only have 59 seats in the Senate. This would almost surely kill the health bill when it comes back out of the conference committee for final vote of the two houses of Congress. The vote will be 41-59 in the Senate and a Republican filibuster will kill it. And imagine what this would mean for any future Obama administration bills i
n the Senate. So all eyes are on Massachusetts this coming Tuesday....”

It is hard to believe that after all the work that President Obama and the Administration leaders in the House and the Senate have put into this bill, which would extend health care to the working poor in the world’s richest country, that it could all be lost because of the death of one of its greatest proponents.

Saturday 16 January 2010


Gordon Brown has warned middle class voters they could face a Tory squeeze and indicated that Labour would not fight the election class war strategy. He admitted that Labour would cut public spending but said the way out of recession was to “unleash a wave of social mobility not seen in this country for more than six decades”. Referring to his own middle class upbringing, he said the party would continue to campaign as "New Labour" and not shift leftwards in a bid to secure a fourth term.

In a speech to the Fabian Society Brown said: "I believe in an aspiration Britain. Opportunity and reward cannot be hoarded at the top, and it is not enough just to protect people at the bottom. I want to see the talents and potential of all the British people fulfilled: social mobility for the majority. And I believe that a fair society is one where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to fulfil their dreams, whether that is owning a bigger house, taking a holiday abroad, buying a new car or starting a small business. So let me be explicit today; social mobility will be our theme for the coming election and the coming parliamentary term."

First question that comes to mind: Why has it taken till now for this to be the message of New Labour? If Brown believes in all this nonsense he spouts, where has he been for the last 13 years?

In his haste to rush back to the middle classes, and cover what appears in several ways to be a "Balls-up", will Brown remember the core vote, or are they to be ignored as they have nowhere else to go (or so he thinks)?

You see, in all this nonsense that is supposed, I imagine, to lift our spirits, I wonder if Brown taken into consideration that some of these aspirations are so far above some of our people as to be impossibe dreams? Millions of people work hard and “play by the rules” (whatever that means) and earn barely enough to eat and heat their tiny homes. For some owning a house is not an aspiration. Many will never be able to afford to get their foot on the property ladder, mainly thanks to the moronic house price boom allowed by this government and the subsequent crash, overseen by Brown. For some having a new car is something that will never happen; a 10 year old banger is a luxury, and as for starting a business.... don't make me laugh. The Prime Minister keeps on telling us that “up and down the country people say.... blah, blah....” Does he ever listen to anything people say, or are the ones that he meets handpicked to tell him what he wants to hear?

There is no doubt that to achieve the targets that government has set we have reduced the standards of every exam so that people pass them, but there are some for whom no exam will ever be easy enough (see the literacy figures discussed in Parliament only this week).

What aspirations should these people have Mr Brown? What jobs are you going to create for them? What aspirations should even the literate have; the ones who work for minimum wage? I'll tell you Mr Brown. Staying alive and feeding their kids next week. That's what!

I read somewhere that King Abdullah of Jordan disguises himself and wanders around the streets in Amman, going to cafés and shops, listening to what people are REALLY saying. I would suggest that Brown try that.

Friday 15 January 2010


There was an interesting item in yesterday's Daily Telegraph (Scottish Edition) by Alan Cochrane concerning the proposal by the Scottish Government to allow local councils to cease to advertise Public Information Notices (PINs) in their local newspapers and to use the internet instead.

I was amazed at Mr Cochrane’s vehement condemnation of John Swinney for daring to suggest that savings of £6 million per annum, could and should be made by not advertising things like planning applications and road closures in the appropriate local paper. Never mind that research indicates that only about 2% of the population actually read these notices. Mr C was incensed that in this time of straightened circumstances for local titles with falling circulations and declining readerships this vital source of revenue might be under threat. In other words council tax payers across Scotland should be paying to support a tranche of local newspapers that almost nobody reads by placing a whole host of adverts that hardly anybody, of the few who read the paper, will read. Great stuff Mr Cochrane of the Daily Telegraph and how right you are.

Might I also point out that a whole host of English Newspaper muscling in on the Scottish action by adding a few Scottish stories and calling it a Scottish Edition will also be significantly reducing those poor old local titles circulations. A good example, I note Mr Cochrane, is your own newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. I looked through the entire paper copy yesterday and found that in the Scottish Edition the majority of the stories were English in origin and many were only of English interest.

One has to ask oneself why these local papers are failing and ask why they are not doing something about it other than expecting to be bailed out with a subsidy by hard pressed council tax payers.



The BBC wastes vast amounts of the licence fee on “big-name” presenters, imported US television shows and sports rights at the expense of quality programming, according to an independent review by the Policy Exchange think tank.

The corporation spends a disproportionately high amount of its £3.5 billion a year licence fee income on chasing the 16-35 age group through digital channels such as BBC Three, it said. "Star" salaries also came in for criticism.

It proposed a radical overhaul of the corporation, including the abolition of the BBC Trust governing body and the establishment of an external regulator which would monitor the BBC's spending of the licence fee. Other proposals included the sell-off of BBC Worldwide. It suggested that the public service broadcasting system, which aims to provide programmes of value to society, is not working. Both ITV and Channel 4 have PSB obligations but the report said ITV should be allowed to opt out, spelling the end of its regional news bulletins.

The report's author, Mark Oliver, an ex-government adviser and former head of strategy at the BBC, said the corporation's desire to chase audiences across all age groups was illustrated by its sports coverage, outbidding rivals for the FA Cup and Formula One coverage because they appeal to working class and lower middle class men under 40, a group which the BBC finds difficult to attract.

Channel 4 and Sky have complained that the BBC drives up the price of sport and US imports. It paid £400,000 per episode for Heroes, broadcast on BBC Two, which in turn forced up the cost of shows such as Channel 4's Desperate Housewives.

The report also criticised the BBC for spending millions on the iPlayer catch-up service, Freesat and Project Canvas, a plan to deliver television via the internet.

Amongst its recommendations, the Policy Exchange called for the BBC Trust to be scrapped. It said the Trust had not been able to hold the corporation to account in the face of scandals such as 'Sachsgate', the scandal involving Ross and the comedian Russell Brand, the report said. The calls come after Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, suggested last September that the Trust be abolished and said the corporation had probably reached the limits of "reasonable expansion".

Responding to the proposals, a BBC Trust spokeswoman said that the Trust had been focused on protecting the public value and independence of the BBC against inappropriate political or commercial influence. Anyone proposing change to the current governance arrangements must demonstrate that they won't put either that value or that independence at risk.

It’s high time that the BBC was slimmed down and returned to its core business of supplying a proper public broadcasting service. The overblown size and totally disproportionate salaries and fees paid to executives and “stars” are not only insulting to the licence fee payers, but also seem to be increasing costs for other media.

Can an incoming government please act quickly to restore some sanity to this tax black hole?


Thursday 14 January 2010


For some time now it has been the policy of the SNP to tackle the drink problem in Scotland by introducing a system of minimum pricing.

It is not a policy that I agree with for a couple of reasons.

As the Scottish Government has no power to tax, the extra money will simply go to the shops who sell the drink. As Tesco would say "every little bit hurts" and the increase in cost will not put people off buying drink, or at least very few. Those who steal to get drunk will simply steal more; those who take it out of the household budget will spend less on clothes or worse food, in order to afford their drink. For most of the heavy drinkers, drink is a compulsion, an addiction, not a pleasure.

But the arguments for and against have been rehearsed on this forum on numerous occasions and the point of this post is not to repeat them in detail. There is, however, an interesting new development. Labour in Scotland has until now taken the stand that this is a bad idea; that it will penalise moderate drinkers, that it will hurt the drinks industry and that it will antagonise some of their core vote. So today it finds itself in rather a difficult position. It appears, according to the lead story in the Scottish edition of the Daily Telegraph (but not to be found online), that Mr Brown is going to put a minimum price for alcohol into his manifesto for the next Labour government in England.

To be fair to both SNP in Scotland and Mr Brown in England, the Chief Medical Officers from the two countries have backed the policy, as I think, have the BMA, the NHS Federation and the Royal College of Physicians. In light of this Andy Burnham, the English Health Minister has developed a series of policies to bring minimum pricing into effect. They still have to be presented to the Cabinet, where it is said that Mr Mandleson is strongly against them on the basis of them being politically dangerous.

Clearly this puts Mr Gray in an embarrassing position. He is faced with the choice of an embarrassing U-turn or taking a position which is opposed to his English bosses'. It will be interesting to see which one he takes and how many of his already divided shadow cabinet he can take with him.

Wednesday 13 January 2010


Britain, and therefore Scotland, has sunk to 25th place in International Living magazine's 30th annual survey of the best countries to live, scoring 73/100 behind Uruguay, Lithuania and The Czech Republic. France came out on top for the fifth year in a row.

The survey analysed 194 countries and based results on nine criteria including the cost of living, leisure and culture, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure, safety and climate. This involved looking at everything from the average cost of a cup of coffee, to average house prices, tax and inflation rates, GDP per capita and the number of people per musuem.

The top ten were:

1. France
2. Australia
3. Switzerland
4. Germany
5. New Zealand
6. Luxembourg
7. USA
8. Belgium
9. Canada
10. Italy

The Bottom 10 countries were:

1. Somalia
2. Yemen
3. Sudan
4. Chad
5. Afghanistan
6. Sierra Leone
7. Djibouti
8. Eritrea
9. Guinea
10. Angola

So let's be grateful were not living in any of these last ones, but it would be nice if, while we were running the world as America's deputy, trying to make IT a better place to live (as we say we are) we might find some time to get ourselves into the top 20 countries in the world to live in..... they did. ... As usual we got left behind.

I'm betting we'd be farther up than 25 if we were independent!


Horrific Earthquake Hits Some of World's Poorest People

“But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

That was the phrase that came to me when I heard this morning about the horrific earthquake in one of the world’s poorest countries. Thousands are feared dead after a massive quake with a magnitude of 7.0 hit Haiti. The US Geological Survey said that the epicentre of the earthquake was 10 miles from Port-au-Prince, which has a population of 2.5 million. A tsunami alert for the Caribbean region was issued immediately after the earthquake struck at 9.53 pm GMT. Minutes after the initial tremor, there were two aftershocks, measuring 5.9 and 5.5.

Communications were widely disrupted, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the damage as violent aftershocks shook the country, destroying the flimsy buildings. The United Nations headquarters and the World Bank were among scores of buildings that were toppled, including the presidential palace, government buildings and a cathedral. An hotel popular with tourists collapsed burying up to 200 people, while roads and bridges also lay in ruins.

The international relief charity Food for the Poor reported that the whole city was in darkness and that thousands of people were sitting in the streets with nowhere to go.

An earthquake expert at the University of Southern California said that the earthquake’s size and proximity to the capital had probably caused widespread casualties.

I heard on the news this morning that the UK has a team of fire fighters ready to fly out to Haiti as soon as it can be arranged, but with communications wrecked, it is difficult to know when that will be.

Many British Charities have launched appeals for money to help: Save the Children has made £50,000 available immediately from its funds. The Red Cross has set up an appeal at or telephone 08450 535353. It’s good that we feel that we can help people far less fortunate than ourselves.

I was interested in some of the comments on the Daily Mail’s story. Louise in Mid Glamorgan said: “Yes, that’s very interesting but we’re a bit tied up with our own problems at the moment”. Tom, MKUK replied: “A bit of world news not your cup of tea Louise? I hope you can overcome your terrible plight and make it through the snow to Waitrose for supplies soon. I’m sure the people of Haiti will be praying for you in your hour of need.”

If you want to see examples of the good and the bad in us, a visit there is worthwhile.

Donations can be made on the High Street, by calling into any bank or post office and quoting Freepay 1449, or at branches of any of the DEC's member charities. The DEC is composed of 13 major UK aid agencies: Action Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.

Tuesday 12 January 2010


Plans to alter boundaries of Scottish Parliament seats could assist Labour to win the next Holyrood election even if it gets fewer votes than the SNP. John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, said that the proposals which were announced last week could make the bias towards Labour in the Scottish electoral system even greater (according to an article in today's Times).

Support for Labour being more geographically concentrated than the SNP’s, the party has more success in first-past-the-post seats, 73 of the 129 at Holyrood. To redress this balance there is an additional 56 regional list seats, allocated using a method of proportional representation in each of eight regional clusters of constituencies. However, Labour still gains because in some regions there are insufficient list seats to correct fully the disproportionate constituency outcomes.

The professor suggests that changes proposed by the Boundary Commission for Scotland, a UK government quango (wouldn’t you know?), will worsen the situation. For example Kilmarnock, one of only two SNP-held constituencies in Central Scotland, is to be moved to the South of Scotland. However, there are insufficient list seats to compensate the Nationalists for this loss. Meanwhile, Cunningham South, which is held by Labour, is moved out of the South of Scotland into the West of Scotland. Labour, though, is not reliant on winning list seats in the West, so that gain will not be corrected.

Professor Curtice said: “This loss for the SNP is unlikely to be compensated for on the list allocation. So the Nationalists will be down one. If these changes had been in force at the 2007 election, then Labour could have won more seats than the SNP with fewer votes. The redistribution runs the risk of making the existing pro-Lab bias in the system even worse, and this is arguably not good for democracy either.”

The UK Parliament is expected to make a decision on the proposals later this year. However, the SNP wants Westminster to transfer its powers over Holyrood elections to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP played down the implications of the changes planned for the next Holyrood election in 2011. Its spokesman said that it would fight hard to win as many seats as possible.

Admirable as that is, should we not be working towards a fairer and more representative parliament, regardless of who the winners would be. We have already heard much of how the Tories have to have a 10% advantage over Labour in the UK to break even in seats, and surely the Liberal’s representation is Westminster is lamentably small in relation to the numbers of votes that they poll.

On the basis that Labour has made a complete mess of running elections in Scotland should not the whole business of democracy be devolved to Holyrood, where for all its faults our system is far fairer than in London?



Thirty year old Jessica Davies showed no emotion as she was jailed for 15 years for unpremeditated "voluntary homicide" of Olivier Mugnier, 24, after having picked him up in a bar in St Germain-en-Laye, Paris in November 2007. She was high on what the prosecutor called a "destructive cocktail" of alcohol and drugs. The pair returned to her first floor flat and started to make love. When he failed to "perform", she went to the kitchen and returned with a knife, sinking it almost five inches into the victim's thorax all the way to his spine.

Describing her as a "sulphurous seductress", solicitor for Monsieur Mugnier’s family accused Davies of having a "selective memory" about the killing and shifting her version of how much she remembered. The lawyer referred to a psychiatric report on Miss Davies which described her "ambivalent feelings of desire and hatred towards men", which she often saw as "pure sexual objects".

Miss Davies’ lawyer said her act was the result of displaced self-harm, born out of unbearable psychological distress: "This was not the crime of a thief, or a pervert, or a sexual crime. It was a suicidal act". (Erm, no, it was a murderous act, she killed the lad, not herself!)

The nine-man jury heard expert opinion that she was in an "altered state" when she committed the crime. They accepted that she was sincere about a claim of a total blackout during the killing except "the sensation of the knife going in."

Davies said before the verdict: "I want to express the extent of my remorse and just say that I assume my responsibility and the consequences. ”What I did terrifies me. I dare not even ask for forgiveness from Olivier's family. I can assure you that it will never happen again," she said. However, minutes after the verdict, she could be seen smiling and joking with police minders, which is more than poor Olivier can hope to be able to do.

We hear a lot about women being warned to take great care over who they go home with, but not so much about lads. So let that be a serious warning to you guys. Be very careful who you pick up in bars....

Monday 11 January 2010


There is no doubt in my mind that there is something wrong with some of the parenting in Scotland, or indeed in Britain, and I look forward to a challenging debate on how, in a new parliament, with a new government in London, we can make changes that will help children to have a happier and better start in life. Today David Cameron set out his stall on this matter.

In a departure from previous Tory administrations, Mr Cameron said that as Prime Minister he would promote active intervention in families to build a “responsible” society. The institution of marriage, the best environment in which to raise children, would be supported by tax breaks, and schools (a devolved issue here) would see a return to traditional values of respect and deference.

He called on the entire community to ensure that children picked up responsible messages, and warned businesses and advertisers that unless they stopped “sexualisation and excessive commercialisation” of young people, legislation could follow.

Mr Cameron pointed out: "What matters most to a child's life chances is not the wealth of their upbringing but the warmth of their parenting. Of course there's a link between material poverty and poor life chances, but the full picture is that that link also runs through the style of parenting that children in poor households receive.”

He also set out a new policy on Sure Start Centres for parents with young children. He said he wanted Sure Start to focus on the most “disadvantaged and dysfunctional” families, with staff paid by results.

Well... that’s enough to be going on with. A mixed bag of good, bad and indifferent here.

His warning to business and to advertisers is good. Stop treating children like adults. They are not. They have been exploited and sexualized for too long and it is a relief to hear someone, not so much in the pockets of big business as the current government, promise action.

I worry about a return to “respect and deference” though. Both of these things are good of course, and I’d love to see more of them, but before you encourage people to demonstrate them, there has to be something worthy of that respect and deference. I wouldn’t want to encourage kids to show respect to, for example, our lying, cheating politicians, just because they think themselves up there and us down here. Too much deference is the reason that they managed to steal so much from us without fear of being found out.

And I have a real worry about the mixed message Mr Cameron is sending. Children don’t necessarily thrive where there is more money, he tells us, but he proposes to pay couples to get married (children or no). Is this to please the Daily Mail?

Finally I note that after years of “paid by results” organisations, usually private sector ones, it still hasn’t got through to the people at the “top” that TARGETS DON’T WORK. I know. I’ve been there. Guess what Dave... Everyone, and I mean everyone, CHEATS. The people who really need help are ignored because it can take months, maybe even years, to tick just one box with them. The easy to help are helped, because within a week, all their boxes are ticked. Simples!

More thought required..... please!

Sunday 10 January 2010


It was all silliness, this coup......

......At least that was how Brown dismissed it in an interview with The News of the World. Amazingly, obviously unaware of his lack of drawing power, he also promised to serve a full term as leader if Labour was re-elected.

He told the paper (somewhat disjointedly and incoherently): "I can't answer for the feelings of one or two people. But politics is full know, large numbers of people are involved and they have to make their own decisions. They have got to be free to make the choices they want. I'm sorry it happened. I think it was a form of silliness."

Then the signs of delusion started to show: "I am the Prime Minister and am determined to remain so. I am determined, I am resolute" he said.

Brown revealed too that he had been turning to Tony Blair for advice. "Tony and I talk a lot," he said. "We have kept in touch and I have been drawing on his advice, as I always do. Tony Blair is one of the greatest British Prime Ministers. He served the country with huge distinction and is, to give him credit, responsible for a large number of reforms that we made. He is a very good friend of mine and always will be."

Here we have to be mindful of the publication Brown chose for his post coup interview... TNOTW, it continues: Glamorous Sarah will be thrust into the election limelight after Labour chiefs identified her as the PM's greatest asset. She has redrawn her diary so she can be constantly at her husband's side during the hectic four-week run-in to polling day. Sarah says: "I will support Gordon and the party, the same way I always have."

Still the same old nut job then. He thinks that telling the public that he will be there for another 5 years will be some sort of incentive to vote Labour; he expects us to believe that he and Tony are good friends; and he, who promised that he would never use his family in politics, will be thrusting his wife into the limelight.

It’s a woeful state of affairs when you biggest asset is not in fact your leadership, your intellect, or any of your policies, but your ...erm "glamorous" wife.