Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region
of Spain in the Spring for several weeks

'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday, 27 April 2017

A week today vote "Anyone but SNP" in the 4th May Scottish Local Government Elections

Just a wee reminder:

When voting in the Local Government Elections on Thursday 4th May 2017, if you are in Scotland, please use your voting choices by voting for "Anyone but SNP", whilst avoiding voting for the Greens, or any "Independent" council candidate who has a record of supporting the SNP/Green "Scottish separation/indpendence" agenda, preferably using at least one of your preference votes (as high up in your list of preferences as possible), by voting Conservative .

Wherever alse you are in the UK (if not in Scotland), I similarly urge you to vote Conservative in next week's Local Government Elections too.

After the final push for next week's Local Government Elections, we voters have a few weeks of respite before returning to the voting booths again on Thursday 8th June to vote in the General Election, when it is doubly important, for those of us in Scotland, to reduce the representation of the SNP at Westminster as much as possible, either by voting for the political party you favour personally (Conservatives in my case, or Labour, LibDems or even, at a pinch, UKIP), or by voting "tactically" for another political party which seems likely to do well in your own constituency - all to maximise the chances of defeating and ejecting sitting SNP MPs. The Spectator magazine has a useful article here to assist you in how best to deploy your "tactical vote" in Scottish constituencies for the Westminster election on 8th June to have the maximum anti-SNP value. The Scottish Greens are allied with the SNP in aiming to split the UK asunder too, so wherever you are please don't vote for them either.

If you are elsewhere in the UK, in England or Wales, I urge you to vote vote Conservative, to unseat as many Labour and LibDem sitting MPs as possible; in Northern Ireland please show your support by voting for a political party which supports the UK.
Keep Scotland British!
Help to re-elect a Conservative Government!
You know it makes sense!

Friday, 21 April 2017

In the General Election on 8th June - vote Conservative

Just five weeks after the upcoming Local Government elections on 4th May, we will be having a General Election in the UK on 8th June.

Do you want the sensible, rational policies offered by the Conservatives, or do you favour a shambolic government by a very left-wing and dysfunctional 'socialist' Labour Party, either alone or in coalition with its fellow-travellers on the left, the SNP and the LibDems?

The choice is very clear:

Vote Conservative! You know it makes sense!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

If you're in Scotland vote "Anyone but SNP" in the 4th May and 8th June elections

Local Government Elections are being held throughout the UK (except NI) on 4th May and a General Election is being called for 8th June throughout the whole of the UK.

Wherever you are in the UK, I urge you to vote Conservative in the General Election and if you are in Scotland, when voting in the Local Government Elections please use your voting choices by voting for "Anyone but SNP", whilst avoiding voting for the Greens, or any "Independent" council candidate who has a record of supporting the SNP/Green "Scottish separation/indpendence" agenda.

Keep Scotland British! You know it makes sense!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Local Government election - Highland Council - 4th May 2017 - candidates list

On 4th May 2017, elections will be held for Local Government throughout the UK (except for Northern Ireland, where I understand the next local government elections will be held in 2019, the last having been held in 2014). You can find information about these elections, and links to fuller information about them via the following links:

- The Electoral Commission;
- General information in the BBC website about Local Government elections in 2017;
- Information in the BBC website about Scottish local elections 2017 (incl. links to all Scottish Council official websites).

I live in the Highland Council local government area, and its website is here, from which there are links to the dedicated Local Government Elections Thursday 4 May 2017 'microsite' here. Various relevant documents are downloadable (in .pdf and other formats) from there.

Highland Council has 21 "Wards" and a list of all candidates (ward by ward) in the forthcoming local government elections is downloadable (in .pdf format) here.

I live in Ward 18 - Nairn and Cawdor, where the candidates (in alphabetic name order) are, with their political party affiliations, if any:

- CUNNINGHAM, Ritchie (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
- FRASER, Laurie ("Independent")
- FULLER, Stephen (Scottish National Party [SNP])
- GREEN, Michael ("Independent")
- HEGGIE, Tom ("Independent")
- MACDONALD, Liz (Scottish National Party [SNP])
- MACKINTOSH, Andrew (Scottish Labour Party)
- MCINTOSH, Louis (Scottish Socialist Party)
- MCIVOR, Paul ("Independent")
- SAGGERS, Peter (Scottish Conservative and Unionist)

Rules for voting
You can vote for as many or as few candidates as you wish, placing your choices in order of preference by putting 1, 2, 3 and so on in the boxes to the right of each candidate's name on your ballot paper.

Final Comments
This article is entirely apolitical and makes no comments, one way or the other, about any of the candidates - it is intended to be entirely factual only. I will probably be writing other articles in which my own preferences will be mentioned, although those who know me or who have read my blog in the past may well be aware of my general preferences already.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

A brief "plug" for my YouTube channel

Although I have had a YouTube channel for not far short of ten years, I have done very little with it to date, partly beacuse of a lack of particularly good camera equipment, but more as a result of a lack of suitable editing software, other than of a very basic kind. However, at least as important a reason was lack of confidence, both in appearing before a camera and in how to structure and edit videos.

However, in the past couple of years, I have been subscribed to quite a decent number of YouTube channels, operated by various other people, and have been trying my best to glean tips from them. For the past few years too, I've had better camera equipment of various kinds and am planning to add additional equipment as I gain a little more confidence, and more recently I obtained a much better piece of editing software, although I am still very much feeling my way with that. But doing is learning, so that's what I am now trying to do a little more seriously than I have before. Along the way I'll no doubt continue to make glaring errors, but I hope to improve gradually.

Until now I have made almost zero effort to tell anyone else about my YouTube channel, other than close family and friends, but I think now is the time to at least make others more aware of it. If you do care to visit my channel, or even "subscribe" to it, I shall be very grateful - but please be gentle with your comments.

My YouTube channel may be visited here.
(To see links to videos I have uploaded, click on the "Videos" link from the link above.)
- as with all my other 'social media' accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube), there are permanent buttons/links in the right-hand column.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Brodie Castle near Nairn and the daffodils in Spring

I visited Brodie Castle near Nairn yesterday, as it was a reasonably pleasant Spring afternoon, with no rain forecast, mainly to see the Spring display of daffodils there, which as usual were rather nice, although perhaps not so good as in some previous years.

After concluding most of my walk around the grounds, I repaired to the cafe/tea-room in the Castle for coffee and cake, with a little shopping later on in the afternoon. I had an enjoyable day.

Here's a short video I took yesterday, which includes clips talen during my visit to Brodie Castle, as well as some clips taken at home before and after my little outing:

Saturday, 4 February 2017

"Theresa May wins Spain’s support over early deal for rights of expat Brits in Europe"

The title of this article, in quotations, is taken from an article published in the Daily Express newspaper yesterday evening - you can read it here.

I've no idea whether this Daily Express article is authoritative or speculative - it would be helpful to see a similar message in other parts of the mainstream media, not to mention direct quotes from both Mrs May for the UK and Sr Rajoy for Spain in particular, although the article does contain a number of direct statements attributed to a spokesman for Mrs May:

Comments directly attributed to a spokesman for Mrs Theresa May, British Prime Minister:

"They both agreed it was an area it would be good to get agreement early on in the negotiations.

"He said we need to get an agreement on reciprocal rights.

"We are firmly of the opinion that we want this issue that is resolved early. There is some broad agreement across member states but not all of them.

"They both agreed it would be an area it would be good to get an early agreement on."
On this basis, these are my remarks on what may have been achieved, but what obviously still requires to be formalised:

This sounds hopeful but I'd be cautious about over-optimism until formal agreement is reached - both the UK and Spain have an interest in resolving this issue quickly, but if Germany and some others remain intransigent, it may not happen so smoothly as this implies - my view is and has always been that the rights of existing EU27 residents in the UK must be protected; it is not the British government that is holding cross-border EU residents to ransom, despite attempts in some parts of the British media to paint this picture, it is countries like Germany.

There should be no illusions about this - Brussels regards Britons in the rest of the EU and residents in the UK from the rest of the EU as bargaining chips in their plans to make the UK's exit (aka 'escape') from the clutches of the EU as painful as possible - the Eurozone is in such a mess that Brussels will go to almost any lengths to keep its banks afloat (notably Deutsche and certain of the French banks, which are heavily exposed in places like Spain, Italy and of course Greece, etc).

Personally I have few qualms about Merkel's 'crazy' immigration policy, because luckily the UK is not a member of the Schengen area, something which is only possible because the UK happens to be comprised of islands off the mainland of Europe (Ireland is also outside of the the Schengen area, it being a practical solution because of its long-standing relations with the UK, but is really for Ireland's convenience, especially given the open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland dating back to, from memory, 1923 - long before either country joined the EEC (now EU).

It is no accident that thousands of prospective immigrants surged through Schengen in to Germany, Finland, amongst other destinations, and to Calais (hoping to smuggle themselves into the UK, until the French government at last took the situation in hand and dispersed them around the country). It is possible that a proportion of the large number of 'immigrants' referred to are genuine 'asylum seekers' to whom refuge must be granted, but it seems to be generally agreed that these represent at most 50% of the total numbers and perhaps considerably less. Although the rules for claiming 'asylum' are that a claim must be lodged in the first 'country of sanctuary' (often Greece or Italy within the EU, but also countries such as Turkey and Lebanon), it has always seemed to me only fair that all EU members should share the burden, certainly financially if not always physically - it is striking that the UK contributes more than the rest of the EU combined to this effort and is second only to the US in this financial assistance. Those 'first sanctuary' countries, all of them, have in my view tried their best to accommodate as many genuine refugees as they can, given their own high levels of unemployment and the fact that their economies are generally much less robust than some of the countries further north in the EU (Austria, Germany, Holland, Finland and of course the UK) and from what I can gather the two of them in the EU (Greece and Italy) had been pleading for help from the rest of the EU, both financial and practical, for some years, but had largely been ignored and left to get on with it as best they could, until the surge of numbers in the summer of 2015 shamed the EU and in particular Germany to accept as many as could travel there - the open Schengen border then (since restricted somewhat in practical terms) made transit across the continent fairly easy, if chaotic - but the drawback was that the huge numbers meant that any real effort to distinguish between 'immigrants' ('economic' or other) and genuine 'asylum seekers' became almost impossible, not aided by the fact that many discarded whatever ID they may have had, or obtained forged documentation from what were considered to be more acceptable 'asylum' countries, such as Syria or Iraq and a few others such as Sudan or South Sudan etc, when many of those concerned probably came from completely different countries, whilch although poor were not in a state of political turmoil requiring 'asylum'. This article is NOT about immigration or asylum, however, but it is impossible not to mention this topic when discussing wider matters relating to EU membership and the rights and responsibilities that status implies.

The UK will always need "immigrants" and generally welcomes them, as we have a robust economy and relatively low unemployment. We also have a long history of accepting refugees in need of asylum and I hope this will continue long into the future, quite apart from our international obligations in this regard. It seems to me that although relatively few genuine asylum seekers arrive direct in the UK from the countries they are fleeing from, even if through equally dangerous countries, that we have to play our part in helping, at the very least financially, those countries where genuine asylum seekers are likely arrive first in Europe. It is certainly unfair to leave it all to Italy and Greece within the EU, or Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, which already have accommodated large numbers of refugees - and are not wealthy countries themselves - simply because geography places them in the path of these genuine refugees.

Coming back to the main topic of this article, however, I do hope the governments of the EU27 overall (and not just Spain, obviously one of the more important member states) will come to their senses and agree quickly measures to protect both EU27 citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27 - the UK government and now apparently Spain want to get this matter resolved quickly. Let's hope sense will prevail in Brussels (& Germany) so that this agreement can de done quickly. Although I didn't agree with 'remainer' Theresa May's seeming intransigence, I have come to the conclusion her robust, but fair, attitude has been the better course to follow and will in due course stand the best chance of allowing this matter to be resolved in a common sense way. But it needs reciprocal good will from the EU27 too - given that, I do not think the UK will be found wanting. But we have taken the decision to depart the EU and the stamping of feet in frustration and anger by anyone is highly unlikely to change this and given the British nature is only likely to harden attitudes here, which frankly is the last thing I wish to see happen.

(NB/ This article is also cross-posted to my "Spanish" blog casabill - the blog [link] - see also link to relevant article).

Friday, 20 January 2017

Recent developments in 'Brexit' - the planned departure of the UK from the EU

Apart from the 'minor event' [irony alert] across the Atlantic today, with the inauguration of a new President (the 45th, President Trump) in the United States of America, there have been some major developments here too, in relation to the United Kingdom (UK) and its forthcoming exit from the European Union (EU), in the past few months. In October 2016 the Prime Minister Mrs May announced that she would 'trigger' Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty no later than 31st March 2017 - you can read more about this here. Much more recently, on 17th January 2017 she delivered a major speech in which she set out 12 key areas in her plans for implementing our departure, one of which specially pleases me, that we will no longer be a part of the 'Single Market' (aka the 'protectionist cartel' of the EU) - you can read more about this here and here.

The 12 key areas referred to above include:
- 1. Certainty;
- 2. Control of our own laws;
- 3. Strengthen the union (referring to the four nations which together comprise the UK);
- 4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland;
- 5. Control of immigration;
- 6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU;
- 7. Protect workers' rights;
- 8. Free trade with European markets;
- 9. New trade agreements with other countries;
- 10. The best place for science and innovation;
- 11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism;
- 12. A smooth, orderly Brexit.).

Naturally there has been considerable reaction to her speeches, not only within the UK itself (and of course from our 'illustrious' [another irony alert] First Minister in Scotland), but perhaps more relevantly from some leading figures within the EU itself; I don't plan to detail that here, except to observe that most of the 'spluttering' responses from EU functionaries and leaders from other countries has been uniformly negative and frankly intransigent. Perhaps not entirely unexpected, but given the shambles which the EU has got itself into, with its badly thought out policies, is still somewhat remarkable, when subjected to critical analysis. Specially of course the Eurozone of the 'single currency', the Euro, but the general protectionist reality of what is purported to be a 'free market' (aka the 'single market'), but of course is nothing of the kind - it is basically a protectionist cartel, specially in anything relating to food, for the benefit of a few members, but certainly not of the UK.

The high unemployment levels, in particular amongst younger citizens, in certain member-states of the EU, mainly amongst southern countries, appears not to concern the Brussels bureaucracy or the leaders of the few Eurozone member countries which benefit directly from the monetary union represented by the Euro. I find this particularly reprehensible. This is indeed probably the major reason that changed me from being a fervent Europhile to someone convinced we as a country had to get oursleves out of this bizarre mess, which is anything but 'democratic'.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

EU Citizenship, Verhofstadt and actual EU law - or does this no longer matter?

I was startled to learn of the somewhat left-field proposal by Guy Verhofstadt (widely quoted in the media, but I include this BBC link here). Guy Verhofstadt, in case you have just crawled from out of some subterranean cavern, is actually an MEP from Belgium and is leader of one of the [minor] groupings in the European Parliament called "Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe", see his page here.

Mr Verhofstadt seems to be implying that a modification of "EU Law" can somehow be "fast-tracked" to allow "EU Citizenship" to be retained on an individual basis by UK citizens, when the UK leaves the EU, as seems to be likely a few years from now.

Now I do not doubt that that this may be a theoretical possibillity, but I think the likelihood of this or any other 'ad hoc' modification of EU Law being "fast tracked" is, ahem, illusory - it might happen after MANY years of tedious negotiation, but the idea such a change could be fast-tracked is just so much hot air, in my view.

To bring this whole nonsense proposal back down to some semblance of reality, here is what the official EU website says about the status of EU citizenship here:

What is EU citizenship?

- Any person who holds the nationality of an EU country is automatically also an EU citizen. EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. It is for each EU country to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality of that country.

- Citizenship of the Union is conferred directly on every EU citizen by the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.
This seems to imply that the status of 'EU citizen' is entirely dependent on being a citizen of an EU member state. Whether it follows that if one is a citizen of a member state of the EU which ceases to be a member state of the EU that such a citizen might retain the status of EU citizen, is not at all clear, whatever Mr Verhofstadt may care to assert.

Frankly, though, I'd never heard of the "Treaty on the Functioning of the EU" before - as this is stated in the official website of the EU one must suppose it is a real thing and not just wishful thinking; have you heard of this before? By the way, if you want to 'blow your mind', you could always read this document and try to understand it - here. This is just a minor example of the "Alice in Wonderland" fantasy-land that the decision of the UK to leave the EU seeks to consign to unlamented history! My best reading of this fantasy is that it is a part, or apparently subsidiary to, the 'Lisbon Treaty'

I think what this whole [probably minor and best forgotten little nugget of an] episode reveals is just how much of a wake-up call the UK has delivered to the schlerotic EU and just how desperate it is to try and defuse this 'crisis' - that is to say, the decision of the UK electorate to leave this cosy (suffocating?) little club.

Natrually it is no surprise to learn that the UK political party, or the remnants of its following after recent elections, in both the UK and the EU, which participates in this frankly minor and inconsequential grouping, is the "Liberal Democrats" - as a true 'Liberal' and a true 'Democrat' I do not wish of course to try and and silence these people, rather do I celebrate the welcome diversity of views which they represent.

However, I would love to know the legal basis under which the so-called "associate citizenship" of Mr Verhosfstadt's fantasy-thinking might be conferred. It is either a naive declaration with little consensual acclaim (from the rest of the EU, or at least its two or three most influential members), or it is a sign of the increasing desperation of the EU hierarchy to try and respond, perforce feebly, to the existential crisis that the imminent departure of the UK from the EU represents. If EU citizenship does not depend on being a citizen of an EU member-state, on what does it depend? Is it proposed that any existing 'EU citizen' holds that status independently of a similar citizenship status of a member state of the EU? If this new status is to be conferred upon UK citizens, presumably it must apply also to citizens of all EU member states. If accepted as a valid EU treaty amendment (fast- or slow-tracked) it seems to imply that EU citizenship may be granted completely independently of any partuclar citizenship status of an EU member state. Is the EU, in Mr Verfofstadt's thinking, to abrogate to itself the power of granting citizenship of the EU to anyone, independently of whatever status they may or may not hold in any member (or former member) atate if the EU?

It strikes me that whilst the UK occasionally arrives at a pragmatic interpretation when responding to contemporary events, it would be highly unusual for an entity so hidebound by its own self-image as the EU to do likewise. Please wake me up when the dysfunctional EU actually bucks it historic reputation and shows it is capable of genuine change, not the kind of desperate gesture politics that Mr. Verhofstadt seems to be peddling.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Over-spending and Debt at Christmas - please try and resist the temptation

I rarely touch on personal domestic matters, but at this time of year many people will become increasingly "excited" over the coming few weeks in the run-up to Christmas or the Festive Season or the Holiday Season or however you choose to describe it. I have little or no religious faith (I hover between Agnosticism and Atheism), but I have felt since I was becoming a teenager and then young adult that the idea that there was some "power" overseeing humanity was so much superstitious nonsense. I try to be "nice" in my personal dealings, so I hope that not too many are offended by my cavalier viewpoint, but ultimately if you are offended I'm afraid you will have to live with it, because in reality I don't much care. You have your views and I have mine.

In any case, however you view the coming few weeks, many people including me look upon the forthcoming Christmas holidays/festival/celebrations as an opportunity to get together with friends and family, eating and drinking rather more than is usual during the rest of the year, also offering hospitality and gifts to various family, friends and acquaintances and receiving similar in return. However, the simplest thing I can urge upon you is to not overdo it, and remember that if you are incurring debts, or your friends and family are, to fund this annual extravanganza, that booms generally are followed by busts. Debts incurred to fund this period will fairly soon have to be repaid, somehow or other. I realise that for younger families with young children that they will want to provide their children with a happy and exciting Christmas and certainly will not wish their own children to feel they are less fortunate than some of their classmate contemporaries, who receive the latest "must have" toys, games, clothes and gadgetry generally at this time of year. I understand the pressures that people face in a "consumer" society. Most of us have budgetary limits in what we can do; some of us have more "discretionary" income, beyond the absolute essentials, than others. Some amongst us have almost no such "discretionary" income at all and whatever "joy" (if any) they can look forward to over the coming weeks will be dependent on the help of others, which I hope will be as generous as others' means will allow.

But for everyone, I would like to urge some level of moderation, both in the desire to "give" and expectation of what you may wish or expect to "receive"; we all want to enjoy oursleves, but not at the expense (surely) of subsequent weeks or months of actual or near penury to pay for it. I volunteered for some years, quite some years ago now, with a charity organisation that sought to help people in various personal struggles and I always remember that another volunteer, when we were both "on duty" around this time of year, tried to explain to me the pressures she was under not to disappoint her own children in their expectations, which she was barely able (if at all) to satisfy. I am not "wealthy", but I suppose I am "comfortable" in comparison to many others, so it's possible that I don't always understand fully the pressures that face some others, I don't deny it, but I am very aware that not everyone is so fortunate as me.

In Nairn we have a weekly newspaper, published every Tuesday, as I have mentioned a few times before - The Nairnshire Telegraph does not have any online presence, so it is not possible to link to their articles, but one item they carry every week is a sort of 'moral homily' from some religious bloke signing himself 'Sandy Shaw - Nairn Christian Fellowship' and they are usually pretty trite, apart from being poorly written and full of logical non sequiturs. I read them, or at least glance at them, every week when I am in Nairn, and usually indulge in a little derisive chuckle and have at least once before written about something I read in the column - for example, in November/December 2011 when I wrote this. The article today (Tuesday, 6th December 2016) is the usual mix of religious mumbo-jumbo mixed in with practical advice, so whilst I find the former risible I am happy to acknowledge that that there is considerable "common sense" in the latter. The article this weeks is pithily entitled "Debt" and I reproduce it below:

The Nairnshire Telepgraph
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - page 8

Whatever your views on "religion" (and I have already expressed my own scepticism and indeed scorn for these "notions" and "beliefs" as they are what I regard as fiction), there is I think a good deal of common sense in the linked article. Do with my article what you will. In any case, enjoy yourselves over the coming weeks, but don't overdo it in any sense.