Monday 31 October 2011


Lithograph of the Black Prince (2nd left)
Under an ancient law dating from 1337 which has never been revoked, The Duke of Cornwall has the right to veto legislation of the Westminster parliament if it affects his private interests.

Breathtaking, isn't it?

Nonetheless, ministers have been forced to seek the duke's permission on matters as far ranging as road safety, gambling, the Olympics, co-operative societies, economic development, housing, regeneration, energy and planning amongst others. 

Whilst his mother technically has the right to interfere by "advising, encouraging and warning" on matters affecting her subjects, and a veto over matters that affect the royal family, it seems that  HRH, has a secret right to demand changes to Bills if they get in the way of his private interests.

The information came to light as the result of a Freedom of Information demand by the Guardian. The government recently exempted official correspondence between ministers and the Queen, Charles and William, from FoI legislation (meaning that Charles could continue to summons ministers to discuss legislation without it becoming embarrassing). However, with their customary panache from messing up, clearly no one thought to include this "right" in that  cover-up legislation, which, ironically, was unobtrusively tacked on to a Bill on openness in government!!!! 
Coinage of Edward, the Black Prince

The legislation originates from Edward III  when he created his son, the Black Prince, Duke of Cornwall and has been passed down since that time, seemingly without alteration. The Duchy provides Charles with £18 million a year of private income, quite separate from the money given to him by the state for royal duties and maintaining his wife.

The revelations have caused both MPs and Peers (although why the peers, I'm not sure) to protest and demand publication of details about how these powers have been used to interfere in legislation. Both the government and Charles' office is refusing to give any details of any changes that he has demanded. The Liberal MP for St Ives in Kernow, said that he was astonished to hear that Charles has a veto over government business, and a minister Lord Berkeley who was recently obliged to ask permission over a marine navigation bill, wondered why other landowners who would be affected by it should not have an equal say.

Charles has been accused on many occasions of poking his nose into government and meddling in the affairs of ministers. While some may think that a disastrously out of touch Cabinet might benefit from a little steering in the direction of the needs of the people, it's surely the constituency MPs who are supposed to do that. Not someone whose reality is so far removed from Mr Average as to be on a different planet and in a different time zone.

Sunday 30 October 2011


Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail has an interesting proposition for the 81 Tory rebels who refused to vote with the government on last week's debate on the EU.

He suggests that they, as men of principle (well sometimes anyway), should break away from the Conservative Party and set up a new right wing party basing it on a Europe-free England. I say England, because none of them is from Scotland, the only Scottish Tory MP, David Mundell, being a junior member of the government.

What would the result of this be?

The Conservatives currently have 306 seats. If they were to lose 81 that would leave them with 225. Their coalition partners have 56,  giving the coalition 286 seats out of a total of 650. Oops.

Either Cameron and Clegg could carry on in a minority government or they would be forced to dissolve the coalition and ask the Queen for a dissolution of parliament and a General Election. They might try the former, but inevitably it would not be long before the latter would be forced upon them by a confidence vote.

So who would win that General Election. There would be some impressive names  and formidable intellects in the supposed new party, including the likes of John Redwood and David Davies. (The latter could easily run as its leader.) Of course, for balance the party would also have the burden of the un-formidable brain of Louise Mensch.
Bill Ca$h

Who knows who it might attract from the rest of the Tories once a General Election were called. It would obviate the need for UKIP and with so much more chance of electoral success that that party, would almost certainly take the majority of their votes, and their candidates. Euroscepticism is not an exclusively right wing philosophy. Indeed Labour, when, years ago, it was a left wing party, was Eurosceptical. But it tends to be a policy of either the right or the left, rather than the centre. (It's possibly the only time you would see Dennis Skinner and Bill (I'll take) Cash in the same lobby.) But this is a Tory breakaway party, unlikely to attract the left, so it's my guess that the new party would be fairly hard right wing, neocon, Atlanticist. (Liam Fox and adjunct would feel at home there).

So how would that affect Scotland?

Well, it's unlikely to be popular here, not because of  a lack of Euroscepticism, but because it would be fairly hard right, and that philosophy goes down like a lead balloon in Scotland. However, a UK government made up of these people from England would drive Scotland, and perhaps Wales running into the arms of independence, possibly Northern Ireland running for the comfort of Dublin and hopefully Kernow looking more towards Mebyon Kernow.

So, I am all for it.  Go for it guys. Ditch Cleggie's best mate, Dave, and strike out on your own. You can rid the England of  Europe and damned soon afterwards of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall... 

Video: Louise Mensch being toasted by the "Have I got News for You" team. Honestly, you stupid woman, if you have a brain cell in your empty head it should tell you that if you are not clever and you are not funny, it's a seriously bad idea to take on Ian Hislop and Paul Merton at the same time. 


November is the time that I renew my AA membership, something I've done for around 10 years.
And every year I've noted approximately when they would take the money out of my account and put the rest of the paperwork in the bin.

But for some unknown reason, this year I read a little more of the literature that they sent me, including all the new deals they were offering and some of the new "freebies" that they were treating us to.

And while I was reading I noticed to my astonishment that some of the "freebies" (which of curse are not free at all but covered in the cost of the membership) are only available within the confines of the M25, London, England's orbital motorway.

So effectively members of the AA outside the M25's warm embrace are subsidising members within.

"So", I thought to myself, "I'm paying out more so that drivers in London can get a better service? I don't think so. At least, not any more I'm not. I'm leaving. I'll find other cover which isn't London-centric, and which will probably be cheaper anyway".

So I phoned them to tell them of my decision, and instruct them not to take any money out of my account. Well of course you can't just do that, after you have negotiated the "choices" they put there to "help them to direct you to the right department"  you have to explain why you are leaving. 

I could, of course, have said "mind your own business", but I'm not that kind of guy, and the lad was only doing his job. So, although I don't know what made me do it, I lied. I think that I didn't want to sound like a grumbling Scot, although  on reflection I was wrong to hide that. I should have grumbled. Anyway, when I was asked for a reason for leaving I told them I could no longer afford the cost, that times were hard and that everyone was having to make cuts... blah blah, blah... 

You could have knocked me down with a feather when he said, "Well Sir, you've been with us 10 years, I could offer you a 10% discount". "Ah you could, could you", I thought. "I wonder that you didn't think to offer me that when you wrote!" But, I'd made my mind up; I wasn't going to subsidise London members. So I said no.

"Well sir", he said, "I could offer you your membership and half the price", he continued.


It seems that  at least some big organisations are prepared to give a discount rather that lose your custom.

So, if you have AA membership, and you have had it for a while, when your renewal date comes up, you might want to try them out for a discount.

Furthermore, other contracts from now on will not be renewed without some negotiations.

I just thought I'd pass it on to you guys!

Friday 28 October 2011


While the rest of us see our savings diminish, our salaries static, our houses losing value, our pensions disappearing and prices rising at the fastest rate for 12 years, it's probably not comforting to know that a fund that John Major thought to set up for himself, and other retired prime ministers, is handing out vast sums to people who have absolutely no need whatsoever for the money.

Major clearly thought that, although he was a bit of a disaster as a prime minister, he should be entitled to more than just his pension, the royalties from books he wrote, the fees for speaking engagements and radio and television appearances, and so he set up the Public Duties Fund, after only one year in office, to provide money for ex-prime ministers for answering letters and attending public functions. So it's easy to see where his priorities were.

Goodness, I answer letters and attend functions for no fee whatsoever, but of course I accept that prime ministers may get a few more of both to do that I do. (Mind you, I would have thought that it was an honour to be asked to come for dinner at the palace when a foreign big noise was in London. But no, they need payment.) Anyway, with that in mind you would have assumed that it would be a relatively small amount, but you would be wrong in that assumption.

No: it's a lot. Over £1.7 million in 5 years.

Indeed Mrs Thatcher, who for the last five years has attended very few functions apart from Liam Fox's birthday party, and presumably answered very few letters due to her poor state of physical and mental health, has claimed, in that period, no less than £535,000.

Over half a million going to an incredibly rich old woman for doing virtually nothing. Isn't it the Tories who complain that Winter Heating Allowance shouldn't be going to people who don't need it. And that's only £750 over 5 years. We're all in it together, except some.

Why does she get it anyway? Major introduced it in 1991. She was on the back benches by that time. On the rare occasion that the lower orders get some sort of boon, it is never backdated. But for that lot it is. As Cilla would say "Surprise, Surprise". But it does show that if you make the rules, you can benefit nicely from them.

Major himself over the last five years has claimed £490,000. Nice work if you can get it.

Of course, you might know it, the nasty money grubbing war monger on the right here (ironically), who must have difficulty remembering how many jobs and incomes he has, has put in claims for £273,000 in the four years since he stood down.

Don't they make you sick?

Thursday 27 October 2011


For supposedly decent, fair people who form the government of the UK, the Tories have some very strange friends, not least among which is a man who goes by the name of Adrian Beecroft, a multimillionaire venture capitalist who has some pretty dodgy businesses. 

Mr Beecroft (above) has given more than half a million pounds to the Conservatives under Cameron, which, I suppose, makes him quite a good friend of the prime minister. 

Recently Beecroft  was asked by Steve Hilton (below left), the prime minister's policy tsar, to produce a report with some "blue sky thinking" (always a dubious process) on employment law. And indeed he has obliged...although not too many employees would consider the skies to be particularly blue if much of what he has proposed were to be approved.

One of Beecroft's companies, "" (classy name for a company that makes pay cheque loans to poor people) was found by "Which" to have quoted £36.72 on a one month loan of £100. That's an interest rate of 4,394%. That might give you some idea of what kind of a bloke he is before we even start on the details of the report.

One of Mr Wonga Beecroft's suggestions is that companies should be able to sack under performing employees. 

Not unreasonable, I thought when I read it. But can't they already do that?  

Oh yes, they can and indeed, I have. 

The thing is that Wongaman wants to be able to do it with no explanation, as in:

"Right you, clear your desk and get out within 10 minutes." 


"Because I say so".

Imagine how that could be abused...

The Tories have already doubled the time people must work before they can take an employer to a tribunal for unfair dismissal, although in my opinion an unfair dismissal is an unfair dismissal regardless how long you've been with the company. But now Big Chief Wonga suggests that the government should get rid of tribunals all together. Not only that but they should cut back on flexi hours; get rid of parental leave and change maternity leave to make things easier for firms. 

Well, everyone to their own ideas, and I've only had experience of the flexi-time issue, but I found that the scheme which I devised and implemented for the company I worked at, boosted productivity. 

But it seems that he has included anything that will make more money for the likes of Wonga Beecroft.

And that's not the only part of governance that Beecroft has put his thumb in. He has advised even deeper cuts in National Health spending (clearly with his fortune he goes private, so it won't be affecting him), and has advised that research support for charities such as Cancer Research is unaffordable. (He must think he won't need that either!!! a dangerous presumption to make.) It probably won't surprise you to know that some of the companies he is involved in stand to make a very considerable amount from the semi privatisation of health care in England.

I wonder if Mr Beeswax has advised No 10 that every company should do as his Apax company does, and register itself in the Cayman Islands, where the corporation tax is 0%?

Incidentally, the final photograph has no connection to the story at all. I found it while looking for something else and thought it was too good not to use, and try though I could, I couldn't weave the House Elf into the post...

Wednesday 26 October 2011


A senior figure at the Bank of Britain England (Martin Weale), has said that England Britain may be falling into recession, again.

Nah, surely not? How could that be when there is no Plan B, because Plan A is faultless?

All the growth predictions that Osborne came up since the day he took office with have been wrong. And still there is no plan B. Initial explanations were that it was all the fault of the last Labour government, and now it's all the fault of the €uro Zone. 

So Plan A++  is  that David Cameron sits in on discussions about how to solve the €uro crisis, and given that his record on solving economic crises is so unflawed, everyone except that ungrateful little Napoleon blokey (who's only crabby because the baby keeps him up at night) should be delighted. Right?

And when he's sorted the €uro, maybe he'd like to visit Washington where Ben Bernane's got a few problems; then China, with a rate of growth  which has slowed to 9%. Doubtless a few lessons in Cameronics  would have their economy looking like new pin.

What is it with these British prime ministers that they need to save the world, when they can't even save the UK?

Tuesday 25 October 2011


I thought you might like to know that I received a reply from Sophia tonight. Actually she posted on the story from a few weeks ago: but because I guess most people don't look back over old posts, I thought it would be best to post it up here.

You can tell she's feeling a lot better because the sense of humour is back in spades...

Here's her message:

This feels a bit weird, like turnin up tae yer ain funeral. As if that's no bad enough, it's like turnin up *late* tae yer ain funeral!

tris, ah'm truly bowled ower wi yer kind words, baith aboot ma stories, an aboot ma recovery. It pits me in mind o that saw aboot no listenin at doors cos ye'll nivver hear onythin nice aboot yersel. Weel, mibbe ah should start listenin at doors a bit mair aften! (haha, ah said that wi a straight face like ah've nivver bent doon at a key-hole afore...)

Serious bit comin...

It wis Munguin's Republic that first turned me oan tae the bloggin malarkey, tae the affirmin wee community that graws up aroond it, the back-an-forth banter that we yaised tae get in *real-life*, an the pleasure o writin that shines through in yer ain an Munguin's posts. So ah thocht ah wid gie it a stab masel...

It's no half hard work tho, eh? Ah enjoyed it, mair than ah thocht ah ever wid, an kept it up, longer than ah thocht ah ever wid, but oh! did ma brows no half get furrowed..?

Then ah had ma wee malady. It wisnae ma fingers that were ill, an it wisnae ma heid (fer yince!), so really, it shouldnae hae stopped me typin, but it did. Then there wis the recoverin, ma convalescence, an the gettin back intae the saddle so tae speak...

An then there wis Twitter... Like yersel tris ah had had an account fer ages an couldnae see the point in it, but when ah did, it took me ower like a case o the diphtheria! It suits ma style ye see, in that it's immediate, it's conversational, an it's entirely inconsequential! When Mr Pangloss got me a wee Bramble fer ma birthday ah dinnae think he realised whit he wis daein. Noo he has tae mak an appointment tae speak tae me, when ah can fit him in atween Tweets..!

Ah'll stop noo, afore ah pit ye aw tae sleep wi ma witterins, but no afore ah thank ye again fer yer sentiments, an extend the thanks tae aw yer contributers aboon. Ye've made an auld biddy awfy awfy happy th'day. Ah promise ye wi ma haun oan ma hert that ah'll be back tae pester ye again, an hopefully breath a bit o life back intae shootinfaetheshin while ah'm at it.

In the meantime, as ah mind a wee boy yince shoutit tae me as ah wis diggin him oot o a collapsed tenement up the High street...

"Heave awa lads, ah'm no deid yet!"

love an kisses fae a biddy that bides up a stair in Leith xx 


The Conservative manifesto included a pledge to allow the subject of any petitions signed by a large number of the public to be discussed by parliament. A pledge perhaps that with hindsight they would have been wiser not to make, and given their record of breaking pledges, one they were ill-advised to keep, while discarding so many others.

It was inevitable that the vexed question of Europe would arise at some point, given that there are vast swathes of the UK where the EU and all its doings are as popular as stomach cramps. Why no one foresaw yesterday's situation, and why no one had thought out plans on how to deal with it leaves me with a sinking feeling of incredulity and, frankly, fear. For if the government cannot act to protect itself, how on earth will it ever protect us.

We all know what happened. Cameron invested his own reputation in the debate, his ability to spin and sell, his authority and backed it up with a series of punishments to be meted  out to miscreants who failed to vote with his three line whip. And still they ignored him. In vast numbers. 81 Tories voted against the government; it's thought that a further 15 abstained.

Why did they do it? Cameron demands loyalty and respect from his backbenchers. He comes from the kind of privilege that tends to get its way, and he doesn't care to be made to look weak. So there will be retribution. But as the BBC's Nick Robinson explained, these MPs were acting either on deeply held convictions, or from fear that if they defied their constituents (or at least their constituency members) they would not be selected next time round. As for the threats of promotion blocking? Most of them are middle aged men, and they know that any promotions will go to either Liberal Democrats or to Tory women (because Cameron needs to mend fences with female electors and he is under some sort of misapprehension that they way to do this is to promote female MPs). So they are risking little.

Cameron has promised EU reform and the repatriation of powers from Brussels (mostly in the form of employment law), achieved by holding a veto over the head of the €uro block which will almost inevitably move towards closer fiscal union (so that countries like Greece can be held accountable for their finances, and elsewhere even elderly gigolos will have to make an attempt at running their country between buying chasing young skirt.  But like most of what Cameron says, it was froth and bubbles: this year, next year, sometime, never. And clearly his backbenchers, or around 90 of them, thought that too.

Is he wounded? Yes. Fatally? Doubtful, at least in the immediately future. I expect a lot of anti-Europe rhetoric now. Already responsibility for the mess that we call the British economy has transferred from the last government to the €uro-zone, seamlessly, without touching the Tories. But backbench MPs are politicians too. They can spot flannel at a mile away. Perhaps from today the coalition of two, is now a coalition of three. The Tories, the Liberals and the Other Tories.

One piece of advice for Cameron from Munguin's Republic. If you are looking for an attack dog to take John Humphries to pieces the morning after the night before, don't ever, ever again send wee Govey. He was catastrophic this morning as he stuttered and stammered about being €urosceptic, and the prime minister being erm, €urosceptic and colleagues and ...erm friends in the party, and erm...respect and erm bringing back power, erm, what? ...erm some powers, erm sometime, erm.....

If Cameron was listening he must have been hiding his head in his hands as disaster unfolded on the radio. Tony Blair was scared of Humphries. That should tell you all you need to know.

Sunday 23 October 2011


As  a Scotsman, with an "auld alliance" kind of feeling for France, I was sorry to see the Coupe du Monde go by a whisker to New Zealand. C'est dommage! On the other hand, well done the All Blacks. It's been a long time coming guys. Enjoy!

From Inverness the prime minister, David Cameron, was being told by first minister, Alex Salmond, to butt out and mind his own business over the referendum. Interestingly, in Brussels he was being told the same thing by Napoleon Nicolas Sarkozy over the €uro. Funnily enough many of his own MPs are saying exactly the same to him over the question of the EU vote. Now Mr Cameron, Munguin's Republic respectfully suggests that you get on with your job and sort out the UK's bloody mess... and butt out of other people's business.

Foxy was warned about Werritty by MI6, we learn today. For pity's sake. He was told by his private office, he was told by the permanent secretary, and he was told by MI6 that there was a security breach. Why did the prime minister not know? And if he did know, why did he not act? Because he is weak and vacillating? Because didn't want Fox outside the tent? Because he thought that if he gave Fox a sufficiently long rope he would hang himself? Well he has; but it really looks bad that the prime minister allowed this risk for so long.

Philip Hammond has been throwing his newly found weight about. Promoted only last week from English transport blokey to the new Foxy, he has taken it upon himself to warn Tory MPs that if they defy the three line whip on a referendum on Europe they will be punished. Six of the best and no jam rolly polly for 4 weeks? Actually they will miss out on chances of promotion and could find themselves deselected in the boundary changes. Hmmm! There are 60+ of them, so that's a lot of deselecting, but I thought that the constituencies, many of which would see the EU at the other end of the world from England,  chose the candidates. Maybe the Tories aren't as democratic as the SNP.

Am I the only one that isn't surprised by President Karzai's  commitment to be on the side of Pakistan in the event of a war with America (which would doubtless mean Britain too). As Karsai is stepping down after his term of office is finished, to spend more time with his money, it hardly seems important what he thinks about anything. But is there seriously anyone who would have expected Afghanistan to be America's best buddy? It really doesn't work like that.

Talking of America, it seems that the lovely Michelle Bachmann's campaign to be Republican candidate for the presidency has come unstuck, yet again. It's been a funny old campaign which leads they eyes of the world to the Snows of New England, as Danny (our man in America) always describes the first primaries. There seem to have been a shed load of favourites who, once they opened their mouths and proved what dummies they were, rapidly became unfavoured. Ms Bachmann is one of these. The darling of the far (and I mean F A R, loonie, nutty, religious right) was up there for a while, and Obama must have been whooping with joy. She was as unelectable as the Emperor of Japan. But she, like the rest, bombed after a short while. Now it seems her campaign team in New Hampshire has resigned, and first she denied it, then had to admit it. She'd have  made a fine president! 

Pics: (1) We haven't won the Rugby World Cup for a long time, but we dance good, huh! (2) Awa an' mind yer ain business: Il vous faut se taire, posh boy! (3) Fox on the run. (4)  House master Hammond laying down the law and bringing back the cane. (5) What's that you say? A couple of million to be on your side? Make it three and it's a deal. More bent than the Vatican Bank is the lovely President Karsai. (6) The candidate from Iowa, Michelle Madman.


I've never done this before, but this article, pointed out by Cynical Highlander (who has a habit of pointing me in the direction of articles I've missed),  was too good to miss. And although CH provided a link, because of problems some of us have had with Blogger, I've been using a pop out box for comments, which means that links show in the tiny comment box. 

I'm sure the Observer won't object. The heading is a link to the article which is having a look at to enjoy the comments. My favourite reads something along the lines of: "Another article on this. That's the third we've had in an many weeks." They make you laugh, don't they? Imagine, Scotland getting three articles in three weeks? What a waste of newsprint!

In five years' time, the Union will be no more

Neither Labour nor the Tories has the means to stop the SNP's drive to independence
At its appointed time, the moment of truth chose a plain basement hotel suite in Inverness on a grey afternoon to manifest itself. Afterwards, the man from the Guardian turned to me and we, unionists both, knew that the other had caught it too and that little required to be said: Scotland will become independent at some time in 2016 and there is nothing that the parties of the Union can do to resist it.
The messenger was Angus Robertson, the SNP MP for Moray, and also the most formidable campaign organiser of any political party in the United Kingdom. At a fringe event across the river and away from the main SNP conference, he had been debating the nature of the question that will appear on the party's prospectus for independence; should it be simply an outright "Yes" or "No" for sovereign independence or will a second question be added, the "devo max" option, which leaves Scotland independent of England in all but name?
Some of those journalists present may have scented the rare prospect of a schism opening up on this issue but in the end it didn't seem to matter. What did emerge was a statement of intent from Robertson showing that he and his colleagues have the battle plans drawn up, the intelligence gathered and the heavy artillery in place.
Yet this wasn't a barnstorming, blood-and-thunder peroration from the eloquent Robertson; instead, he sounded the death knell for the Union in elegant and mellifluous tones: "Independence is now not an abstract"; "The people want to be persuaded"; "This will transform people's lives". This wasn't a politician trying to sell an idea; this was a man telling us that the sale has been made and to start preparing for life in a different country.
Labour simply does not have politicians who can match the calibre of Robertson or any of Alex Salmond's ministerial team. Even if they did, they do not possess a vision and certainly not the purpose. Throughout the next few years, teams of SNP volunteers will call at every household in Scotland; they will be on a mission and be armed with a vivid narrative.
In response, Labour and the Conservatives have only talked of Armageddon. They tap the sides of their noses and repeat Sir Humphrey Appleby's nightmare "when the chips are down, the balloon goes up and the lights go out". They do not have a potent narrative for expressing their reasons for retaining the Union. While the SNP foot soldiers have already been out on manoeuvres, Labour and the Conservatives still do not know the identity of their next leaders. The SNP have fortified themselves with an array of technological wizardry that has already identified their core vote and probably where they all shop for their foundation garments.
The party now has almost five years to ensure that each of their most committed voters will turn out on referendum day. It has taken several years to harness this technology for the purpose. If Labour bought the gadgetry tomorrow they will yet be years behind the SNP in trying to unravel its secrets and unlock its potential.
To observe the annual SNP annual party conference is to witness an evangelical gathering in full cry. This isn't a political party and it's more than a movement – it's nothing less than a fully developed religion and its guiding star is now in the ascendant. Soon, it will settle above a place where everything for which it had ever hoped will come to fruition. It is reckoned that more than 1,000 party delegates have thronged the Eden Court theatre on the banks of the River Ness, an astonishing turnout that took even the gnarled veterans of the press by surprise.
Among the visitors and observers were delegations from around 20 or so overseas political parties and embassies. It seems they, too, have begun to notice that history-changing events are afoot and are eager to come, bearing gifts for the birth of a new order. Even the random nature of circumstances seems to be obeying a hidden but elemental force.
Events are now arranging themselves neatly in a line that suggests a preordained outcome. Alex Salmond, the first minister, was even handed a gift the day before his opening address to conference that must have caused him to entertain the notion that his destiny is intertwined with the nation's.
The Westminster government's cancellation on Wednesday of the £1bn carbon capture scheme at Longannet was handled in a high-handed and dismissive fashion by Chris Huhne, the energy secretary. It was an open goal and Salmond tucked it away confidently. Westminster again was "turning its back on the Scottish people," he said. The project had failed for want of a sum of money equal to one-tenth of the £13.4bn in oil revenues reaped by the Westminster government, he claimed.
For six months now, each of the two main opposition parties has been effectively leaderless as uninspired party contests have stretched on interminably. The Tory establishment's choice for the ticket is a young MSP who has never managed to win a constituency election, while Ed Miliband's knowledge of his party north of the border doesn't yet extend to knowing the names of all three leadership contenders.
By the time the referendum takes place, Scotland will have hosted the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn takes place in 2014. By the time of the referendum, Salmond is entitled to think that not only will we all vote for outright independence, but we'll all be wearing kilts and singing A Man's a Man for A' That in the old language as we do so.
My Labour roots are old and run deep, but on 20 October 2011 a small epiphany occurred on the banks of the restless River Ness.

Saturday 22 October 2011


I'd like to say a big thank you to BBC News 24 for mentioning the fact that the SNP conference was taking place today in Inverness.

Of course I don't know what they covered earlier on, but I watched the headlines at 8pm tonight and they mentioned  that Alex had acknowledged in his speech  that many Scots had shown interest in "devo max" or "independence lite". And that was the all the coverage. The government of one of the constituent nations (the only one to be a majority government) was having its conference and the BBC acknowledged it was happening. Stop.

Thank goodness there isn't a special tax to pay for this BBC thing... oh,  yeah, I forgot. There is. About three Bank of England pounds a week we pay to be neglected. 

Anyway, I've heard a lot of unionists tittering about the SNP has gone soft; it knows it can't manage without the mother of the empire to keep it afloat; it knows it needs a subsidy from hard working English taxpayers (Boris), and the brains of people like George Osborne, Tessie O'May and William Hague. 

Well people who take that view will likely be voting for the union anyway, so it won't matter. But it may occur to the more cerebral that the true reason for offering a third option is exactly what the SNP has said it is.

Polls seem to show that the majority of Scots want that option on the referendum. 

I don't want it. Not for a second. 

It would leave England in charge of our foreign policy and our defence. So we'd off to bomb more Muslim nations with oil, as we have been doing for the last 10 years and more. Scotland doesn't need folk like Ten Pints Hague representing us abroad, and we definitely don't want to continue to be represented in everything at Brussels by English Ministers who have no responsibility for, knowledge of, or interest in, Scottish affairs. 

Nope, I don't want it, but a lot of Scots do.

It's maybe hard to believe that a political party could be in touch or listening to what people want. It's certainly not what we are used to. In England they have had a listening exercise on the NHS this summer, and having listened, they appear to have heard very little of what anyone has been saying. 

A few months ago we had a referendum in the UK organised by the Tories and the Liberals. It offered two choices for UK voting methods. A vast number of the population wanted neither of these choices, but great interest had been expressed in a third. The third, however, would have seriously reduced the number of seats gained by the two big London parties, and so the third was not allowed. In short Cameron rigged the referendum to get the answer he wanted.

And of course we discussed (above) the lengths that Dave is going to to subvert democracy on Europe. He clearly thinks we're too stupid to be trusted to make informed decisions. Just like I think he's too stupid to make informed decisions.

My point is that we are not used to politicians who accept that it's the people who should decide these matters, and if  a large number of them give a preference in polls (which the parties are perfectly prepared to quote when they show what they want them to show) then that preference should be on the referendum paper.

So did it ever occur to the titterers, I wonder, that that is why the SNP wants the third option on their referendum ballot paper? Probably not, and if it did it wouldn't make a good story anyway. 

Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday 20 October 2011


They are in a bit of a flap at Downing street. 

Poor old Dave, there he is in the middle of his packing for Australian, and the part of being a prime minister that he, in fairness, probably does not badly, that of meeting leaders from other countries for talks of a very general and probably rather inconsequential nature, and breaking bread with them, and the Queen... and all hell has broken out over the last few days. Foxy, Letty and Djanogly, making asses of themselves, and now this pesky democracy thing.

For, having enshrined in law the right for MPs to discuss any topic upon which more than 100,000 of us mere UK inhabitants have petitioned to have discussed, the government is less than happy that the very one subject that our Dave wanted even less than toothache, has appeared.

The EU: in or out?

It's no secret that a good number of MPs on the right of the Tory party loathe and detest the EU. They wouldn't have taken us in, and they want to take us out. But that is not Tory policy. 

For all the vitriol she poured on it and on the leaders of the other big countries (remember how she pronounced Mitterrand?) she kept signing up to more and more of the EU. Major too. (In the interests of fairness I'd have to say that Labour were just as 'guilty' of signing up to deeper European co-operation; even Brown, who became more and more sceptical as time went on, signed  the Lisbon treaty.)

The debate has even been brought forward from Thursday, after Downing Street made it clear that the prime minister wished to speak in this backbench debate before heading for a warmer place. 

And a further complication is that David Nuttall  has tabled an amendment proposing a third possibility be added to the referendum. (Now where did I recently hear of a third question in a referendum?) That of renegotiating the terms of Britain's membership of the union. At the time of writing 76 MPs, including 50 Tories, have signed Nuttall's amendment.

Downing Street has not ruled out the possibility of tabling its own amendment proposing a white paper be published on the subject with the possibility of a vote sometime in the future. Oh, they make you laugh, don't they? 

However, this morning it was made clear from Downing Street that Conservative and Liberal Democrat members should vote against a referendum. (Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the Liberals have this referendum in their manifesto? Oooops!) Threats have been made that a three line whip will be put on the debate, meaning that all members from the two governing parties will be obliged to vote the way that Downing Street instructs or suffer the consequences. 

(Ah democracy: don't you wish we had one?)

Government interference in what is a back bench debate is going down like a lead balloon. Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee has questioned minister' participation in the debate. It seems that Dave, rather like Tony, wants everything to go HIS way and it looks like he is going to have to smooth some ruffled feathers over the weekend.

One of Cameron's apparent allies, Nadim Zawahi, has somewhat arrogantly suggested that what we should be doing is helping the EU to get over its current financial difficulties, and in return we should be allowed to take back powers to London. Help them with financial matters? 

Would that not be the blind leading the blind?

Wednesday 19 October 2011


I'm at something of a loss to understand why the government is determined to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of inflation that excludes housing costs, when determining how much prices for the fabled hard working British family are increasing. After all, along with food and heating, housing is one of the absolute must haves for all of us. However, the fact that it is generally lower than the Retail Price Index (RPI) may point us in the right direction.

And that is particularly important in the month of September, for it is that month's inflation figure that dictates the rise in pensions and in state benefits. And the CPI's 5.2% is decidedly more manageable for the government, than the RPI's 5.6%.

Even using the lower measure, the estimated cost of the increase is £1.2 billion: a large amount given the disastrous state of the British Exchequer.

As Gordon Brown found, when he palmed pensioners off with a 50p a week rise, it's not politic to give a derisory sum to the retired, especially when you've already nabbed between £50 and £100 a year from their meagre incomes to pay back the bankers' bail out. They could be said to have done their bit.

However, no such sympathy is widely felt for the unemployed, who are characterised as being work-shy, and the sick, who are characterised as shirkers hiding behind maladies imaginaires.

And so it is that it has been trailed widely that all benefits apart from retirement pensions, won't, this year, increase at the rate of inflation. 

Mostly people on benefits are the poorest in the country. Yes, there are exceptions,I know, but in reality relatively few, despite what the Sun and the Daily Mail would have us believe. Many are working in low paid jobs and have tax credits, many have been thrown out of work recently by government cuts and can find nothing else. And hard though it may be to believe, many of the people on Incapacity Benefit have  illnesses which lay them horribly low.

For people on these low incomes, whether they be waged or unwaged, times are very hard. The bulk of their income goes on food and heating, clothes and council tax water payments (in Scotland). So with food inflation at around 10% and fuel inflation even higher, their incomes are stretched to breaking point. Edwina Currie may have laughed at the notion that people in the UK were going hungry, but that only shows how completely out of touch she is (if a fling with John Major wasn't enough to indicate that already).

I realise that for civil servants on £20,000 who have not had a pay rise for the last couple of years, and won't for the next couple of years, it may be galling to see benefit claimants pick up a 5% rise. But none of them was too worried when inflation was 1% and they carried off pay rises of 4% and more. The thing is, you either set these benefits by the rate of inflation, or by the rate of wage increases. You can't pick and choose...well, not if you set out to play fair.

I hope that the government will give careful thought to how they proceed with this. You can only push people so far before they start to get really cross, and the current government seems determined to pick fights with everyone at the same time.