Friday 31 August 2012


Once again I am indebted to "Arbroath" for pointing me in the direction of a Scotsman article which is worthy of a read. Not often I can say that!

Of course we are all aware of the difference between the standard of living in Norway and that in Scotland, but somehow when it is laid out in print (particularly in a newspaper with an editorial policy that would have us believe that membership of the UK holds the best future for Scotland), it knocks it home.

For me it is a feeling of frustration and anger at the opportunities we have missed to be like our Nordic neighbours, to whom, it seem, I feel more closely related, than I do to London, which I have always felt was pleasantly "abroad". London has much more in common with Paris than it does with Edinburgh... the temperature, kind of natural vegetation, insect life and the lifestyle of the population seems quite alien to one who lives in a cool sub-Nordic climate zone. In contrast Edinburgh and Oslo have much more in common than Edinburgh and London.
We had the same possibilities as Norway, but instead of following the sensible government style of a small and relatively unimportant (in world terms) northern state, which both Scotland and Norway are, the UK used the oil bonanza to deal with massive problems built up because of poor government in the 70s, and to pay for Thatcher's devastation of industry in the 80s. 

The UK simply will not lie down and accept that it is not, and can no longer afford to be, a world power. Its power came from how widespread its empire was (and from the vast monies accrued from the exploitation of that empire's resources). That empire now consists of a few scattered islands, which cost the UK more money than they bring in ...but of course are handy for hiding vast wealth from the taxman, and must be kept at all costs!
Oil wealth has also been squandered on the nuclear race. Since the late forties when Britain was snubbed by America because it did not have its own nuclear programme, vast amounts of our taxes have been diverted to ensure that we obtain weapons of mass destruction, which we cannot ever use (not least because the Americans do not trust us with the firing codes).

Successive prime minsters from Winston Churchill and Harold McMillan to Tony Blair and David Cameron have spent money that might have been saved, or at least spent on our crumbled infrastructure, on this vanity project, because it was more important to them that the UK remain a permanent member of the Security Council, than that old people have heat and kids have schools... or even worse in some ways, that soldiers they send to war on behalf of this quest to remain important, have equipment that works.

One of Cameron's reasons for Scotland stay in the union, as articulated in his Edinburgh speech, was that we "punch above our weight in military terms"... Wow, I'm impressed, but the roads are full of potholes. A recent "No" campaign leaflet pointed out that the UK has well over 200 embassies abroad. Wow again. I'm overwhelmed, but, just what does having an embassy in Côte D'Ivoire do for me? Wouldn't it be better if aged relative (and one day me) didn't have to stay in bed in the winter to stay warm?
The UK's mad privatisations policy meant that, when we finally did set up a state oil company (following the Norwegian example) it lasted a few years in public ownership, was sold off into private ownership, as was Mrs Thatcher's wont, and shortly afterwards bought by BP... Big business wins again. 'Twas ever thus!

Norway now has an oil fund of £330 billion. Scotland on the other hand, has an oil fund of £0.

With 59 MPs at Westminster out of a total of 650, even supposing we could get them to talk for Scotland instead of for their various bosses in London, we wouldn't get anywhere with the notion of an oil fund, despite us being the only oil rich country, or region of a country, in the West that doesn't have one.

Well, it's never too late. In 2014 we can, for the first time, make sure that our politicians speak for us

Let's not waste it.

Thursday 30 August 2012


I read on The Potter Blogger, this series of Myth Busters about sickness/disability, and other benefits claimants, originally produced by Red Pepper.

At a time when the government in Westminster is allowing/encouraging us to believe that 88% of people who have been claiming this kind of benefit, have, in fact, been cheating the country out of money, because they ARE capable of work, while, ironically, the government is closing down Remploy factories left, right and centre, and when disability hate crime is increasing, I thought it was worth a repeat run here and so, with George's permission, here it is:

Welfare reform is almost inevitably contentious. Answering the question of who should receive how much financial support relies on often competing conceptions of fairness, with rival views about who needs, and who deserves, our help, not to mention the most just and efficient way of providing it. These issues are worth debating – but the current debate is being conducted on shoddy terms. Myths and stereotypes abound. These serve not only to unfairly stigmatise claimants, but to obscure the questions we might want to answer about how best the state can provide support to people who need it. 

Myth: There is a major problem of ‘families where generations have never worked’ 

Reality: The academics Paul Gregg and Lindsay MacMillan looked at the Labour Force Survey, the large-scale survey of households from which we get most of our statistics about who’s in work. In households with two or more generations of working age, there were only 0.3 per cent where neither generation had ever worked. In a third of these, the member of the younger generation had been out of work for less than a year. 

When they looked at longer-term data, they found that only 1 per cent of sons in the families they tracked had never worked by the time they were 29. What’s more, while sons whose fathers had experienced unemployment were more likely to be unemployed, this only applied where there were few jobs in the local labour market. So ‘inter-generational worklessness’ is much more likely to be explained by a lack of jobs than a lack of a ‘work ethic’. 

Myth: Most benefits spending goes to unemployed people of working age 

Reality: The largest element of social security expenditure (42 per cent) goes to pensioners. Housing benefit accounts for 20 per cent per cent (and about one fifth of these claimants are in work); 15 per cent goes on children, through child benefit and child tax credit; 8 per cent on disability living allowance, which helps disabled people (both in and out of work) with extra costs; 4 per cent on employment and support allowance to those who cannot work due to sickness or disability; 4 per cent on income support, mainly for single parents, carers and some disabled people; 3 per cent on jobseeker’s allowance; and 2 per cent on carer’s allowance and maternity pay, leaving 3 per cent on other benefits. 

Myth: Benefit fraud is high and increasing 

Reality: The latest Department for Work and Pensions estimates show that in 2011/12 just 0.7 per cent of benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud, including a 2.8 per cent fraud rate for jobseeker’s allowance and a mere 0.3 per cent for incapacity benefits. Even if we put together fraud with ‘customer error’ – people who are not entitled to benefits but not deliberately defrauding the state – the rate of false claims is 3.4 per cent for JSA and 1.2 per cent for incapacity benefit. 

The claim that benefit fraud is increasing is similarly false. Because there have been changes in how fraud has been calculated over time, we have to look at combined fraud and ‘customer error’ for JSA and income support. This declined from 9.4 per cent to 4.8 per cent of spending from 1997/98 to 2004/05, and has since stayed roughly flat. 

Myth: Couples on benefits are better off if they split up 

Reality: This one has recently been comprehensively disproved by research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who concluded: ‘The simplest question that can be asked in testing the couple penalty is: does the benefits system provide a different proportion of a family’s daily living needs if they live together and if they live apart? The clear answer from the calculations in this paper is no. The benefits system provides very similar living standards to families living together and apart.’ 

Research in 2009 for the Department for Work and Pensions looked at whether different benefit systems had any impact on people’s decisions about whether to stay together or not. They concluded that ‘on balance, the reviewed literature shows that there is no consistent and robust evidence to support claims that the welfare system has a significant impact upon family structure’. 

Myth: The welfare bill has ballooned out of control 

Reality: The government has repeatedly claimed that welfare expenditure grew unsustainably under Labour. In fact, total expenditure on welfare was 11.6 per cent of GDP in 1996/97; under Labour it averaged 10.7 per cent up to the crash. Afterwards benefits for children and working age adults rose from an average 4.9 per cent of GDP up to 2007/08 to 6 per cent. This is what you would expect during a recession. 

Myth: Most benefit claims are long term 

Reality: The government persistently frames benefit claimants as ‘languishing in dependency’. So how much of the benefit caseload is long-term? It depends whether you count people at a single point in time or look at people moving on and off benefits over a period. The numbers paint a completely different picture. For example, in 2008, some 75 per cent of incapacity benefit claimants had been receiving the benefit for more than five years, and only 13 per cent for less than one year. But over the period 2003–8, only 37 per cent were long-term while 38 per cent were on benefit for less than a year. So if you count claimants at just one point in time, as government tends to do, you will overestimate how much of the caseload is long-term – and underestimate how many people move on and off benefits over time. 

Myth: Social security benefits are too generous 

Reality: Out of work benefit levels fall well below income standards based on detailed research into what ordinary people think should go into a minimum household budget. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that while pensioners do in fact receive 100 per cent of what people think they need, a single adult of working age receives 40 per cent of the weekly minimum income standard and a couple with two children receives 62 per cent of the weekly minimum. 

Myth: Most people who claim disability benefits could be working 

Reality: There are two main kinds of disability benefits: disability living allowance (to cover the extra costs of disability) and employment and support allowance (income replacement for those not in employment). The most basic misunderstanding is that the latter is only for people who are ‘completely incapable of work’. The welfare reformer Sidney Webb commented in 1914 – in the midst of one of many previous panics about ‘true disability’ – that the only people who could do no work at all were ‘literally unconscious or asleep’. The question is whether suitable jobs exist, and whether these people would be able to get them. 

Once we understand this, three problems face us. First, just because we’re living longer doesn’t mean we’re in better health; improved medical care means that many people born with impairments or suffering traumatic injuries are able to live longer. Second, jobs are in some ways worse than in the early 1990s: people have to work harder and have less control over their job, which makes it more difficult for people with health problems to stay in work. And while we now have anti-discrimination legislation, this only forces employers to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments; the evidence not only suggests these are often limited, but that employers are less willing to employ disabled people as a result. 

Finally, many of the people claiming incapacity benefits are people with low employability in areas of few jobs. These are the very employers that are less likely to make adjustments. Some people end up in a situation where they are not fit enough to do the jobs they can get, but can’t get the jobs they can do. 

Completely incapable of work? Not necessarily. Penalised for their disability by a labour market that has no place for them? Definitely. 

*Cartoon from here.

Tuesday 28 August 2012


Our regular reader, Arbroath1314 pointed out this gem which I felt deserved a slightly higher prominence than where it was as comment 22 on the last post.
It shows how having a good government to compare to the rabble at Westminster effects the way that people in Scotland perceive that rabble.

"Details of today’s ICM poll show that people in Scotland believe that Westminster government and politicians of all three anti-independence parties are doing a worse job than people in any other part of the UK.

"The net disapproval ratings for the Westminster coalition government are minus 24% across Great Britain compared to a huge minus 38% in Scotland. David Cameron’s disapproval are minus 12% across Great Britain compared to minus 34% in Scotland; George Osborne’s are minus 32% to minus 62%; and Nick Clegg’s are minus 26% to minus 34%.

"The Labour opposition leaders in Westminster fare little better with their leader Ed Miliband at minus 13% across Great Britain compared to minus 28% in Scotland; and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls at minus 8% in Great Britain and minus 30% in Scotland.

"The poll breakdowns for Scotland also show the SNP running at 43% to 36% for Labour.

"Now remind me again, WHY are are we better together?!" 

Sources here and here

Thanks Arbroath... Good article.

Monday 27 August 2012


One of Cameron's early boasts when he arrived in Downing Street was that he would deal with the "crazy" (his word, not mine) bonus culture in the Civil Service.

Needless to say, given a pledge from Cameron, last year the number of top Civil Servants receiving bonuses in the five-figure range... doubled. Clearly it wasn't crazy enough for Crazy Cameron.

Seriously, you can always predict that no matter what this man promises, it will be the opposite of what happens.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, there were 10 recipients of bonuses over £30,000 and one, apparently in the MoD, who managed to get himself paid almost £100,000 on top of his salary. Further investigations showed:

OK, the numbers aren't huge, and the total amount spent isn't world changing, but with people from most walks of life being told that they are 'all in this together' and that they must all put their shoulders to the wheel, and particularly in view of Cameron's pledge to end this nonsense, it seems wrong that it not only goes on, but increases apace.
Better together for 'top' people! How's that for a slogan, Alistair?


Against this level of logic and intellect, we don't stand a chance. This makes Ryan and his wee dugs pale into insignificance. 

Even on their Blitz Weekend, Tethered Together may not turn up to man their stalls, and when they do, they may not stay for long. But who needs stalls when you've got Kevin to warn how useless and pathetic Scotland would be without England?

Take your blood pressure pills before you start listening, particularly when he gets to insulting our armed forces.

Sunday 26 August 2012


It has been reported by the Sunday Times that the House of Commons commission, chaired by the John Bercow, is looking at the options for the refurbishment of the houses of parliament in London, which could begin in 2015. This may  involve evacuating the Houses of Commons and Lords, and building replica chambers while the work is ongoing.
The work has been estimated to cost around £3 billion.
But it has been suggested that work has to go on around the MPs and lords the bill could be nearer £10 billion. Lord only knows why.
This much, however, I do know. As a broke state the UK simply cannot afford to spend that kind of money doing up one building to house around 1,500 law makers and their staff. 
Why can't they move to somewhere cheaper if Westminster is in such a terrible state? They are, after all, only ordinary people, elected from amongst their equals to represent them. 
Hopefully we will be gone by the time this idiotic expense comes along.


Goodness me. Faux Pas here, methinks.

Right now I wouldn't be shouting off about the UK welfare system. Remember that this is the system that, to save money, is employing medics to put sick people off benefits. I won't rehearse the arguments over and over again, but right now, if I were looking for something to brag about in the UK, it would most certainly not be anything to do with the UK welfare system.

Secondly and directly to do with the retirement pension, the UK's is the lowest by comparison to the average wage, of any country in Europe. Even the Daily Mail carped on about this (when Gordon Brown was the prime minister).

In short, our pensioners are treated worse than pensioners from any other European state. We can look forward to that situation being guaranteed, can we?

In Britain the state pension is not funded. There is no great vault of money waiting to be paid out. The National Insurance payments that you are making at the moment pay for the current crop of pensioners. When it comes time for you to take a pension, you will be dependent on the payments of a future generation of NI contributors. There isn't actually any real guarantee that you will be paid your pension. The Department of Work and Pensions is so on top of this situation that they declared themselves to be shocked that so many Baby Boomers would become 65 in 2012. gives you such confidence in them. They never thought to plan ahead, given that everyone's ate of birth is available to them.

Perhaps one of the reasons that the state retirement pension is so poor, is that once upon a time, the company pensions schemes in Britain were excellent. But then companies got greedy and abused their pension schemes and along came Gordon Brown with a sure-fire plan to sort them out... by taxing them... and in the process he ruined the company final salary pension system.

The result is that people now have pension savings which will buy an annuity. The amount that an annuity will buy has been steadily reducing over the years, mainly thanks to the incompetence of the UK financial regulators and the Bank of England and its quantitative easing solution to the financial crisis. (You remember QE; it's the one that doesn't work, but does put billions of pounds into the banks' vaults to serve up as bonuses and dividends.)

And finally, with interest rates at 0.5%, and inflation officially at 4% and really at 10%, clearly any money pensioners have put away for a rainy day (unless they managed to get it off to the British Virgin Isles) is losing value at a frightening rate.

So, thanks for the scary campaigning, but I'll take my chances that a Scottish Pensions Minister wouldn't tolerate for a second the idea that people in their 60s and 70s should have to choose between heating and eating and hundreds a year die of cold related illnesses. 

Worth a read.

Friday 24 August 2012


"The Olympic Games made our country proud. I believe these Paralympic Games will make our country prouder still. Already this is shaping up to be the best, the biggest, the most incredible Paralympic Games ever.

"Over these next two weeks, we're going to have more of those moments that will bring us together and make us proud. We are going to show the whole world that when it comes to putting on a show, there is no country like Britain and no city like London." 

David Cameron: Dipstick in Chief

"...when it comes to putting on a show, there is no country like Britain..." 

How appropriate. Because that is what it all is. All show. Just around the corner there's the real Britain; the Britain where kids go to school hungry and pensioners freeze to death, nothing works and everyone except the super rich is miserable. But, on with the show, while we pull another rabbit out of the hat...roll up, roll up....

What a complete and utter bag of scum Cameron is.

He brags about the Paralympics while his stinking government is taking money away from sick and disabled people on a weekly basis. Not only that but it is paying a private company to do the dirty  work for it, and make a profit from it. 

More than 40% of the decisions that this company makes, and that are appealed, are found by tribunal (court) to be wrong. And when (in what after all is a court of law), the claimant is supported by legal or professional counsel, the success rate goes far nearer to 100%.

No other government in modern times has treated our sick and disabled with such contempt and got away with it. And the reason that Cameron's pathetic government gets away with it, is that it has managed to persuade Brits that  people claiming benefits are, in fact, a set of lazy scroungers that have been bleeding the country dry for decades. 

And yet in the UK on average over 30 of these so called "scroungers" die every week, not long after they are told by this scheme they are fit for work. This lying sack of shit of a government, along with their equally despicable partners in crime, ATOS, won't even tell us the truth about the targets that have been set for reducing the cost to the taxpayer and to which the staff are held. 
It's beneath contempt as it is, but then to try to take political advantage from running the Paralympic Games in his precious London, is vomit inducing. At a time when it suits his selfish political ends to shove the union flag down everybody's throat, he revels in something that from his other actions he clearly demonstrates that he doesn't give a flying fig about.

I wish the athletes from wherever they come in the world, the best luck in that world. Truly, I have respect for anyone who trains hard to become the best at a sport, but there can be no doubt that the challenges that many of these guys have overcome to be the best make them real heroes.

As for one of the sponsors, yes, strangely enough, Atos, the company that has taken £100 million from the government to torture our disabled, I hope they go broke. 

And as for the  government that would rather take money from the sick than ask their tax fiddling super-rich mates to fiddle just a little less, may they get what they deserve... whatever that may be.

Thursday 23 August 2012


"The one on the left is showing some ass, the one on the right IS an ass."

Anyone else? Stolen from "Yes to an Independent Scotland" Facebook Page.

Wednesday 22 August 2012


When yesterday's figures on the progress, or otherwise, of Mr Osborne's deficit reduction scheme were announced, the usual culprits got the blame.

There has been, it was reported, a reduction in tax intake and an increase in benefits paid. 

I accept that companies may be cutting prices to encourage sales and as a result making smaller profits and paying less tax. 

But an increase in benefits? How could that be?

Is it possible that there was a massive increase in the number of unemployed? Surely not. According to the figures from the DWP unemployment has been coming down apace, and employment has been increasing. No, it can't be that.

It could hardly be an increase in benefits for the sick because we all know from 'Panorama' and 'Despatches' programmes that 88% of sick people are being taken off Incapacity Benefits and put on to cheaper JSA-type benefits, and, even if large numbers of them are returned to Incapacity by English Ministry of Justice tribunals, the numbers, and the cost, must still be reducing as they weed out the chancers, and of course those who are too sick and too alone to fight. So it can't be that.

We heard that the government had been anticipating a reduction in the deficit of around half a billion, and instead found itself with an increase of 2.5 billion. That's an error of some £3 billion in one short month. Now we know that they aren't overly competent, but you'd think that that kind of mistake would be unlikely if the problem were due to something foreseeable, such as an increase in the number of pensioners. 

Does anyone have any idea which particular benefits increase could have caused such an huge upset in Gideon's calculations?

On the subject of the deficit I noticed something interesting. At a time when the UK is struggling with such a massive deficit it is strange that the part of the government that could be called English as opposed to UK, ie the Department for Education, seems happy to give away nearly £10 billion of state assets.

According to this article, nearly 2,000 schools, and their playing fields, have been transferred to private organisations, for free, in some cases against the wishes of the local community. (What say you to that Mr Pickles? Localism being your watchword!)

Interestingly some of the beneficiaries of this Tory largesse have been:

Phil Harris, a Tory peer and the owner of Carpetright and the Harris Foundation;

ARK Academies, whose board includes Paul Marshall, a Lib-Dem bigwig and Stanley Fink,  Tory party treasurer and donor of £2.62 million to the Conservatives.

Frankly I don't give a stuff about whether or not the Olympics has a legacy, other than having made its sponsors an indecent sum of money. But Cameron seems to care; he bangs on and on about it enough. So why has he  allowed the sale of these playing fields, the result of which will be to reduce the sports facilities available to kids at such an early stage?

And why is it that benefit claimants get the blame for the worsening financial situation when the government appears to have given away billions in state owned property, completely coincidentally, I'm sure, to some of its biggest backers, and all indicators seem to point in the direction of reducing benefits costs?

Tuesday 21 August 2012

100% FAIL

Erm, wrong... and hmmmm...wrong.

You were being a little economical with the truth there Dave, weren't you, or was it just that you got mixed up? It's easily done when you're not overly bright and hopelessly out of your depth.

You have cut the NHS in England, quite substantially as it happens... Thank goodness I live in Scotland, so that's one horror you haven't been able to inflict on me.

On the other hand when it comes to the stubbornly refuses to do anything other than go up and up...due, quite possibly, to the fact that you absolutely insist on keeping in post a chancellor that makes Gordon Brown look as if he had some idea of what was going on...(Incidentally, why? Did he catch you doing something horribly embarrassing at Oxford?) 


One of the problems for "No" campaigners is that they have very little that is positive to advance as reasons for their argument.

I've no doubt that they feel what they feel with all their hearts, but therein lies the problem.  It's mostly sentiment and little logic that forms the basis for their arguments. 

Most of them, particularly Labour supporters, but increasingly Lib-Dems too have nothing good to say about the Tory dominated government in the UK, but they have to somehow make it sound better than a Scottish government, which might largely consist of their own people, without seeming to be anti-Scottish.

So it is little surprise they are left looking less than consistent in their arguments.

Poor old Alistair Darling found himself as a victim of this situation in two articles in The Scotsman yesterday. Darling, the ex-finance minister, warned in one article in the paper, that if George Osborne didn't change direction immediately, he would do immeasurable damage to the British economy from which it would not recover for many years. 

He painted a picture of a gloomy future and, given the unlikelihood that Osborne will follow the Darling plan for recovery, it seems likely that, if Darling is right, things can only get worse. 

Adding a measure of verisimilitude to Darling's predictions David Cameron himself has recently said he thinks that the economy won't start to get better before 2020, and he, after all, is unlikely to be painting an unnecessarily depressing picture of the future under his stewardship. 

A few pages later in the Scotsman, however, Mr Darling wearing the hat of the head of the 'Better Together' campaign appears to argue that Scotland would be better as a part of the United Kingdom, and therefore that it would be worse off with a (very possibly) Labour-led government in Edinburgh making decisions on the economy. 

Summing up his arguments, but 5 pages apart, it appears that Scotland will be better off as part of a state that is heading towards economic melt down and high unemployment, than being a country standing on its own with the chance of introducing economic policies tailored specifically to its needs.

It seems to me that that's a confused message to be sending out, and one which leaves one or the other argument ...or both, looking vulnerable.

I sympathise with his predicament. He has chosen to be,  or been pushed into being, the front-man for a campaign which seems to be Tory dominated, and thus far has been funded by donations from rich boys' dining clubs in the South East of England, at the same time as feeling that he has an obligation to attack the economic plans of the very people with whom he is teaming up.

Politics isn't always easy.

I remember reading that the 3 unionist parties had chosen people to represent them as leaders of the Better Together Campaign. Alistair Darling was to represent Labour, and as the biggest unionist party would take the overall lead. Charlie Kennedy was to be the Liberal voice and Annabel Goldie, the Tory representative. Has anyone seen or heard of either of the other two?

Finally, seriously, who would you like to see leading Better Together? Alistair's position seems rather dubious (and always did). He may be Labour, but he's a tad pan loafy. Would someone a bit more down to earth, and less Morningside be more appropriate?

Monday 20 August 2012


One of the Queen's dogs savaged one of Beatrice's (a blood princess, no less) dogs, apparently. This is front page news for the Daily Telegraph. On the same subject, the day that prince Philip was admitted to hospital with a bladder infection, which they said would be treated with antibiotics, the first 15 minutes of the BBC's 6 o'clock news was dedicated to this. I don't wish the bloke any harm, but I'm seriously NOT that interested in the state of his bladder.

Also the lead on the Today Programme on BBC, and for that matter the Daily Telegraph, is the death of a film director who flung himself off a bridge, in California. Again with due respect to the guy and his family who must be suffering, I'm not entirely sure that that warrants quite so much attention. 

The English part of the UK government (because I know people get riled when I call it the English government, although it is based in England and makes decisions about England alone) has received favourably the notion proposed by Policy Exchange, a think tank close to David Cameron, that they should sell off social housing in nice areas and build new stuff in poor areas with the money. Although this may make some financial sense, it stinks of social apartheid to me. I hope we don't follow suit.
Cameron has been on holiday in Spain, again, which is a bit rich after he lectured us about taking our holidays in the UK to boost the tourist industry. Anyway, he comes back this week to four rows all to do with England:

Ken Clarke refuses to move from the English Justice Department in the upcoming reshuffle....sort that Dave; 

MPs in English commuter land are revolting (OK, I know) over increases in rail fares, which will be 3% above inflation in England, when they are only 1% above in Scotland; 

MPs are revolting (again? do they ever stop) over the plan to raise the time shops are allowed to trade on Sundays in England, from 6 to 8 hours. Apparently Osborne thinks that this is the way to boost the economy. He obviously assumes that the more hours the shops are open, the longer people will spend money, which is, I suppose a not unreasonable supposition if you have a limitless supply of money to spend; 

He's probably heard of Scotland, because that's where a disproportionate amount of his tax revenue comes from; he may like to know that we have no restrictions on Sunday shopping here at all, and it doesn't make any appreciable difference to the economy. Most people spend what they can afford and a bit them an extra two hours to spend their income won't make any difference unless he gives them any more income to spend

MPs are...erm...up in arms ..., nah, they are revolting, over the government's proposals to allow building on the Green Belt in England. The government clearly has problems with its short term memory. Only a few months ago, the Spelman woman was forced into a U-turn on selling off forests because of a campaign by the Daily Telegraph, and leading posh people who matter, including Boris Johnson's sister. Have they forgotten about this, or do they think maybe that the Telegraph and Boris's sister are in Tuscany and won't notice?
Click on pics to enlarge.

Thursday 16 August 2012


I returned to the UK today to be astonished by private confirmation from within the FCO that the UK government has indeed decided - after immense pressure from the Obama administration - to enter the Ecuadorean Embassy and seize Julian Assange. 

This will be, beyond any argument, a blatant breach of the Vienna Convention of 1961, to which the UK is one of the original parties and which encodes the centuries - arguably millennia - of practice which have enabled diplomatic relations to function. The Vienna Convention is the most subscribed single international treaty in the world. 

The provisions of the Vienna Convention
on the status of diplomatic premises are expressed in deliberately absolute terms. There is no modification or qualification elsewhere in the treaty. 

*Article 22* 

1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter 
them, except with the consent of the head of the mission. 
2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises 
of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the 
mission or impairment of its dignity. 
3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of 
transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution. 

Not even the Chinese government tried to enter the US Embassy to arrest the Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen. Even during the decades of the Cold War, defectors or dissidents were never seized from each other's embassies. Murder in Samarkand relates in detail my attempts in the British Embassy to help Uzbek dissidents. This terrible breach of international law will result in British Embassies being subject to raids and harassment worldwide. 

The government's calculation is that, unlike Ecuador, Britain is a strong enough power to deter such intrusions. This is yet another symptom of the "might is right" principle in international relations, in the era of the neo-conservative abandonment of the idea of the rule of international law. 

The British Government bases its argument on domestic British legislation. But the domestic legislation of a country cannot counter its obligations in international law, unless it chooses to withdraw from them. If the government does not wish to follow the obligations imposed on it by the Vienna Convention, it has the right to resile from it - which would leave British diplomats with no protection worldwide. 

I hope to have more information soon on the threats used by the US administration. William Hague had been supporting the move against the concerted advice of his own officials; Ken Clarke has been opposing the move against the advice of his. I gather the decision to act has been taken in Number 10. 

There appears to have been no input of any kind from the Liberal Democrats. That opens a wider question - there appears to be no "liberal" impact now in any question of coalition policy. It is amazing how government salaries and privileges and ministerial limousines are worth far more than any belief to these people. I cannot now conceive how I was a member of that party for over thirty years, deluded into a genuine belief that they had principles. 


ACCORDING to the BBC's Today Programme, the Foreign Office has told Ecuador that Britain has the right, under legislation passed in the 1980s for a one-off purpose only,  and unknown to any of the interviewees on the programme (including the ex ambassador to Moscow), to remove diplomatic status from their London embassy, enter it by force, and arrest Mr Assange.

It is certainly true that Mr Assange is on the run from the English police, having broken the conditions of his bail and "gone abroad" as it were, and that that makes him a criminal in English law. But I wonder if Willie Hague is quite aware of the gravity of what he is considering.

According to the international Conventions on Diplomatic Relations, diplomatic missions are considered to be a part of the territory of a foreign state and cannot be violated by the host state for (almost) any reason.

It seems that Britain, quite rightly in my opinion, introduced law at the time of the siege in the Libyan mission in London, which allowed the SAS to storm the building after Yvonne Fletcher was shot from its windows. That was, however, an example of an embassy building being used for something well out-with the terms of the convention, and thus, arguably, the action was justified.

However, to use it in a situation where someone has sought refuge from what they perceive to be a political use of extradition is surely a error of monumental proportions.

My understanding of the reason that Sweden wishes to charge Assange is that he  allegedly had consensual sex with a Swedish woman, which, at some point became non-consensual, and that this may have involved the use or otherwise of condoms. In any case, it is doubtful that this would be considered a crime in the UK, and it is a question of one persons word against that of another (there only being two people involved in the sex).

Assange fears that he will be further extradited from Sweden to the USA where the authorities want to talk to him about leaking a fair few of their (and the UK's) dirty and embarrassing little secrets.

Whatever the truth of all that is, and aware as I am that everyone who is anyone in London is now on in Tuscany, Monte Carlo or aboard the yachts of Russian oligarchs, I can't imagine that Hague hasn't been briefed that if he does violate the Ecuadorian Embassy, no British diplomat will ever able to do his job again and certainly none will ever be safe again. 

The problem now, it seems to me, is that having indicated that they can do it, it will look like a climb down if Ecuador do not give the man up and the English police do not carry out the FO threat.

Another cock up?

Wednesday 15 August 2012

I urge you to read the interview that James Stafford conducted with the First Minister on behalf of Oilprice. It answers a lot of questions you might have wanted to ask. James, at Scot Goes Pop has their permission to print it in full here

Barney Thomson, who has posted here on occasion, was kind enough to provide the figures for the Arc of Prosperity (Ireland, Iceland, Norway) that the First Minister suggested that we might join after independence. 

We all know that both Ireland and Iceland suffered some financially embarrassment pretty soon after that, and that the then Scottish Secretary in the London government, Jim Murphy, and his colleague, the leader of the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray, insulted both Iceland and Ireland in their attempts to ridicule the Government's position. (Murphy was called out by the Foreign Minister of Ireland and invited to debate the subject with his on RTE. Mr Murphy said he was too busy. He was also criticised by the Icelandic government when he called their country backward looking!)

The last laugh of course is with the First Minister. Ireland's most recent figures show a growth of 1.4%; Norway shows a growth of 4.1% and Iceland, a growth of 4.2%. The most recent figures for the UK show growth of  minus 0.2% and minus 0.8%. George Osborne blames all this on the Euro-zone, of which Ireland is a part, and with which both Iceland and Norway trade, just like the UK does. Goodness knows what their figures for growth would show if only the Euro-zone were not "dragging them down".

Carwyn Jones has now officially said that Wales is happy to host Britain's Weapons of Mass Destruction when Scotland becomes independent. He had previously hinted at the offer, but now it it is reported to be in the Cabinet minutes of the Welsh government. 

I had this weird idea that real Labour (not the effete Blair/Mandelson version) disliked WMDs, but it seems I was wrong. 

I wonder how this will go down with traditional Labour voters in the principality. There are precious few jobs involved in it, and it costs a lot of money in local security. 

Plus of course, there is the downside that if someone decided to blow them up, say by flying an aircraft into them, the explosion would wipe out half your country.

I wouldn't wish that on the Welsh, but I'll be glad to see them out of Scotland, no matter where they go.

I wonder if Mrs Lamont has any opinion on this, or indeed on anything else. Where the hell is she?

This photo isn't related to anything, but a friend from Uruguay sent it to me, and I thought it was beautiful and wanted to share it.

I was amused to read this article in yesterday's Guardian, and very happy to realise that this will not be happening in Scotland.

Tuesday 14 August 2012


Yesterday we heard that the journalists' trade union, the NUJ, was taking issue with Ian Davidson's recent performance on News Night Scotland. Today, something I thought I would never see,  an article from Labour paper The Daily Record (reproduced here in full) deeply critical of not just Davidson, but of the whole Labour party, including Lamont and Darling, for doing the Tories' dirty work for them. 

This is a game changer. Labour supporters read the Record in droves. Their opinion has an element of sway. But, they also have their ear to the ground. They don't stray in their opinion far from what they are hearing on the streets of Glasgow, where they are based. If they are starting to lambaste leading Labour figures, they must be fairly certain that the mood on the streets is open to this criticism.

Yesterday Gordon Brown gave a speech and some amazing interviews in which he seemed to suggest that Chris Hoy couldn't have won a gold medal if it hadn't been for England. (Presumably Andy Murray couldn't have won without Spain then, s that is where he trained). He seemed to accept too that Scots are around 4% worse off than the English. I'm not sure why any Scot should accept that, even one that comes from North Britain! 

Further he seems to think that wage levels would change were the union to split up. But if he were a little more regular in his appearances in the House of Commons, which we pay him to attend, he would know that his friends the Tories, intend to have regional pay rates for all public servants, from council employees to doctors and teachers. 

I think you will enjoy this. The article is open to comments too...
MOST sensible people were glued to the London Olympics on TV these last two weeks.
So they may have missed Ian Davidson, a senior Scottish Labour MP, make a complete plonker of himself when he insulted a respected female BBC journalist.
Isobel Fraser, a poised and dignified presenter of Newsnight Scotland, asked Davidson a question he didn’t like last week.
The Glasgow MP blew a gasket, ranting about “Newsnat” Scotland and accusing Miss Fraser and her colleagues of being pro-SNP, something that will come as a surprise to Alex Salmond.
Davidson heads a Tory/Labour-dominated House of Commons committee charged with looking after Scottish Affairs. This is not the first time he’s landed himself in the proverbial.
The only SNP member of his committee, Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, said she could no longer attend while he was chairman because she said he had threatened to give her “a doing” for speaking to the press.
His language so alarmed English members of the committee that he was forced to explain that he didn’t mean “doing” in a sexual way. Charming.
Mr Davidson was on Newsnight to discuss a report his committee produced into the planned independence referendum – or as they insisted on calling it, the “separation” referendum (no bias there, then).
His report says the Scottish Parliament has no power to hold a referendum. Only Westminster can do that, it says.
The Tory government in London could, however, give the Scottish parliament “permission” to hold the referendum, but only if Westminster called the shots.
Mr Davidson has done an excellent job of delivering for David Cameron.
His committee’s conclusion is exactly the same position as the Tory PM took when he tried to hi-jack the referendum back in January – a move that infuriated Scots.
There’s nothing we hate more than being patronised – and that’s exactly what Davidson and the Tories are doing.
Davidson feels no embarrassment that he is delivering the Tories’ wishes.
That must also go for his fellow Scottish Labour committee members who signed the report. Hang your heads in shame Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde), Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes), Jim McGovern (Dundee) and Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts).
These Labour MPs worked in tandem with the Tories on the committee to produce the shameful report.
Their true blue allies include Fiona Bruce, Conservative member for Congleton, David Mowat, Conservative member for Warrington South and Mike Freer, Conservative member for Margaret Thatcher’s old seat of Finchley.
Is this how low Keir Hardie’s party have sunk? They will use Margaret Thatcher’s successor to strip Scots of the power to decide their own future?
Johann Lamont, Labour’s leader in Scotland also stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories – at the launch of the anti-independence Better Together campaign.
She believes Scotland is better off with a Tory Westminster government slashing benefits for disabled people, squandering Scotland’s oil wealth on tax cuts for the super rich, and sticking to a lunatic economic policy of austerity.
But there are murmurs of discontent. One front bencher, Neil Findlay, recently had a go at Alistair Darling, Labour figurehead for the Tory Better Together campaign.
Findlay wants the Scottish parliament to have the economic power to protect the poorest – yet his party leaders are trying to block a second question on that subject.
Even more damning for Lamont was the verdict of one of her predecessors, Henry McLeish, former First Minister of Scotland.
Mr McLeish said last week the anti-independence campaign was in danger of also appearing anti-Scottish. We can only speculate as to what he meant.