Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday, 24 June 2016

EU Referendum results - the UK votes to leave the EU

Somewhat surprisingly, the EU Referendum in the UK yesterday, 23rd June 2016, has resulted in a narrow but decisive vote to 'Leave'. Although this is the result I favoured, so am pleased, it has still somewhat surprised me. In due course, quite possibly after a change in leadership of the Conservative Party, as the Prime Minister David Cameron announced this morning that he plans to step down as Leader and therefore as Prime Minister in the expectation that a new Conservative Party leader will be in place for the Autumn Conservative Party conference, to be held this year between 2-5 October in Birmingham, the country's departure from the EU will formally be triggered under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which generally provides for a 2-year period for negotiations by a country wishing to leave, although this period may be extended by mutual agreement.

Full details of the results are available via the BBC EU Referendum microsite here - as mentioned above, the overall result was quite narrow (Leave - 51.9%; Remain - 48.1%) on a turnout of 72.2%.

Within the UK as a whole, the following regional results were declared:

England and Wales both voted to 'Leave':
- England (Leave - 53.4%; Remain - 46.6%; Turnout - 73%)
- Wales (Leave - 52.5%; Remain - 47.5%; Turnout - 71.7%)

Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted to 'Remain':
- Scotland (Leave - 38%; Remain - 62%; Turnout - 67.2%)
- Northern Ireland (Leave - 44.2%; Remain - 55.8%; Turnout - 62.9%)

The only other matter of particular interest is that within England, much of London voted to 'Remain', along with Scotland and Northern Ireland this was insufficient to outweigh the 'Leave' majorities in much of the rest of England and in Wales. In some parts of London, the results were fairly close, but in other boroughs 'Remain' had considerably more votes than 'Leave'

You can find more detailed infrmation about specific areas in the BBC microsite linked above.

It will take a little while to see how this development is going to play out in various ways over the next couple of years. I am cautiously optimistic, overall.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The EU Referendum in the context of Scotland's place in the UK

In my most recent article on the EU Referendum, just over a week ago ("Thoughts on the Pound and the Stockmarkets ahead of the EU Referendum" - link here), I mentioned at the end that I would write about it in the context of Scotland within the UK "hopefully in the next day or so". This is that article.

The reason this article has been delayed for longer than I had originally planned is largely because of personal circumstances (my own travel arrangements and having my partner here for several days after a month apart whilst I was in Spain at my home there), but an additional couple of days were added to the delay because of the shocking incident in which an MP was murdered on the street close by her constituency office. I am not going to comment on what may have motivated the perpetrator - there has been enough of that, much of it hysterical and intemperate, in the media and so-called "social media". The only comment I would make is that the rush to judgement by some has, curiously, overlooked the bile directed at this lady prior to her killing by supposed supporters of the Labour Party, or at least the part of it that is now in charge of its destiny - here is a link to a Tweet in which is embedded some of this bile: There are unpleasant people in all political parties of course, and some with no connection to any political party, but a bit of calmness and, above all, objectivity is badly needed.

Anyway, onto the main subject of this article. As I indicated in my last article, referenced above, it was my intention to vote 'Leave', but that article was written whilst I was still in Spain. Since then I have returned back to the UK and waiting for me was my postal vote ballot paper and associated documents (explanatory notes, return envelope, etc) and I mailed off my ballot paper last Monday, having put my 'X' in the 'Leave' box as I earlier suggested I would. I'm not going to rehash all the points I made in my earlier article - I have formed a view, for good or ill, with which some will agree and some will disagree. I believe in a democratic system and will be happy (more or less) to accept the result in due course, whatever it is. Obviously I shall be happier if 'Leave' prevails, preferably by a comfortable margin, but will accept with good grace the decision if it goes the other way to 'Remain', hopefully also with a comfortable margin.

In the context of Scotland, it is the announced intention of the Scottish Government, currently led by the Scottish National Party (SNP), to press for another 'Independence Referendum', should Scotland vote to 'Remain' next week, but the rest of the UK vote to 'Leave'. The last referendum was held in September 2014 and the result was that a comfortable majority of Scots wished to remain within the UK, a decision that pleased me greatly. I wish Scotland to remain in the UK - I am quite comfortable describing myself as British and Scottish, or Scottish and British if you prefer it that way. Many of my friends from other parts of the UK are happy to consider themselves British too, but in addition English, Welsh or Northern Irish as is appropriate - this all seems very normal to me. I have never felt anything other than 'at home' when living in or visiting all parts of the UK and the banter about 'Jocks' and kilts has almost always been completely good-natured. Most from other parts of the UK who live in or visit Scotland feel the same way, in my experience, although it is undeniable that there have been lapses from this good-neigbourliness by a few of my fellow Scots on occasion, generally supporters of the aims of the SNP sadly. Although I would in general have been in favour of voting 'Leave' in the upcoming EU Referendum in any case (but I am not a fanatic about it - I was until a few years ago a strong supporter of UK membership of the EEC/EU, but have gradually changed my views to some extent), it is certainly in my view wise to do my little bit to try and ensure that the margin between how the rest of the UK decides to vote next week and how people here in Scotland decide to vote is not significant, as the opinion polls might lead one to believe may be the case. Opinion polls have seemed to show that there is stronger support for 'Remain' here in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. We won't know how accurate these polls were and are until the 'morning after the night before' (so to say) of the vote on 23rd June.

In the two urban settlements here that I have most recently visited (Nairn, where I live, and Inverness, which is only about 15 miles distant) I have no clear feel for current local sentiment, although those I have spoken to seem to favour 'Leave' and it is the case, which to be honest I find quite bizarre and perplexing, that the only posters I have seen on public display (on lamp-posts and the like) are those favouring 'Vote Leave'; I have not observed any at all which advocate 'Remain' or 'In', in either Inverness or Nairn. As this part of Scotland is now largely represented at both Westminster and Holyrood by SNP MPs and MSPs, who presumably favour 'Remain' in accordance with that Party's policy position, there seems to be a disconnect of some kind. Either the opinion polls are badly wrong or SNP supporters have developed a reticence in displaying their views that certainly never existed in the run-up to the Scottish Referendum in September 2014. Who knows what the truth is, but we will all know overnight next Thursday/Friday how the country (the UK) has voted overall and how the various component parts of it have voted too. It promises to be an interesting week, but I hope it will be reasonably calm and that there will be no more violence of the appalling kind that happened in Birstall, West Yorkshire a few days ago.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Thoughts on the Pound and the Stockmarkets ahead of the EU Referendum

Firstly, the Pound FEX rates simply aren't "collapsing" either against the USD or the EUR in the way ‪the "Remain" side‬ said they would & according them "are"; the stockmarket is reasonably OK too with normal ups/downs. There are lots of economic problems in the world, of course, but my view is that the UK is performing tolerably well and certainly pretty favorably compared to our friends in the Eurozone. Check for yourself. Discount the "propaganda" which purports to tell you a Leave vote will result in disaster, being spewed out incessantly by "Remain".

The markets do not lie - the markets are ultimately interested in only one thing, ensuring that the "bets" made by market players result in net positive results for them (i.e. "profits").

The USD is being bolstered by the recent positive effects of fracking in the US for that country's domestic energy availability, the EUR is being maintained at a reasonably stable level only by the "magic"/skill of the current President of the ECB, Mario Draghi; it certainly isn't happening because of the underlying strength of most of the Eurozone economies, as even some of its major economies (Italy, Spain and France for example) are perilously close to disaster, even if a couple are perhaps headed more or less in the right direction.

However you plan to vote in the EU referendum being held in the UK on 23rd June, don't be scared into a choice to Remain based on this highly prejudiced (aka 'false') economic data. If Remain is your choice, fine, but don't pretend that whether we remain or ‪Leave‬ will result in "economic disaster" either way. As someone who broadly favours ‪Leave‬, I make no claims of "disaster" flowing from a decision to remain, if that's what happens. My view is that after a relatively brief negative "glitch" should we ‪decide to Leave‬, that in the longer term the UK, and the rest of the EU if it learns the correct lessons, will benefit.

My focus in the EU referendum has got little or nothing to do with "immigration", what it does have to do with is the democratic deficit which increasingly exists as a result of our EU membership, where few if any know the names of any of their local regional MEPs, who in any case have little real power - that resides in the European Commission, who aren't elected by anyone. People will refute that by saying it is the European Council (heads of government and ministers in different functions from all the EU member states - all "elected") which ultimately decides, which is partially true, but the reality is that it is the European Commission which sets the agenda for future changes, And anyone who understands anything about organisational dymanics knows it is those who control the agenda that controls the organisation, just as it is those who write the minutes of meetings in any organisation, if not properly monitored and corrected when they make a "mistake", who control what goes into the agenda for future meetings - that is the European Commission in the case of the EU. The European Parliament, where MEPs sit, is not able to introduce any new legislation, only debate what is put forward to it by the European Commission. Don't believe me? Well, in that case I suggest you find out how the protectionist cartel that is the EU really operates. It talks about being a free trade area, which it is internally, but it erects barriers against the outside world to protect inefficient EU domestc producers against more efficient external producers - this affects not only food prices paid by EU consumers, but most other aspects of the EU economy. It is unfortunately no accident that the EU is the poorest performing part of the world in economic terms (I really don't count Antarctica - it survives only as a result of massive state subsidies from those countries which maintain research bases there). For these and some other reasons I shall be voting Leave on 23rd June.

One of these additional reasons has to do with how the result could potentially affect the position of Scotland within the UK, to which I am very strongly committed. As a subsequent article will show, hopefully in the next day or so, this is yet another reason why I shall be voting Leave.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

For Europe, Against the EU

The first and most important thing to bear in mind is that Europe is not the EU and the EU is not Europe - Europe is a lot wider than the restrictive 'corset'/'straitjacket' of the EU.

For Europe, Against the EU. It’s not a contradiction in terms. The EU is a deadweight around the neck of this exciting continent, limiting the power of its peoples and submitting its parliaments to petty bureaucracy and diktat. Just ask Italy and Greece! The video embedded below argues that the referendum is an opportunity for the British public to strike out against the risk-averse, technocratic elites of Brussels and Whitehall, and an opportunity to inspire publics across Europe to do the same.

Watch, share and vote Leave on 23 June. Unless you prefer to remain in the gilded cage that is the EU, of course - gilded it may be (for some, at least), but it is still a cage.

Brexit the Movie - essential viewing before you vote in the Referendum on 23rd June

Watch this in full and then decide if you want the ‪#‎UK‬ to remain in the ‪#‎EU‬ - or not:

If you decide, after watching this film (1 hour 11 minutes in length), then at least you won't be walking into the decision completely blind - and will have no excuse for complaint afterwards if we do vote to 'remain' in the EU and things go belly-up, as I fear greatly they will. It'll be too late then to whine "but I didn't realise".

PS/ Just to be clear, I am a supporter of neither UKIP nor its leader Nigel Farage, although he appears in this film, but then so do many others of great reputation and stature.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Nairn - Highland Council refuse collection schedules - 2016 to 2018

You can download a calendar of the refuse collection schedule for your street/area within Highland Council by visiting its website here. Enter your area/town by clicking on the drop-down menu in the "category" box and your town and/or street name (leave out 'street', 'avenue', 'terrace' etc, insert only the actual name) in the "keywords” box. Once you find your area, you can download the collection schedule, which will be in .pdf format. Currently available are refuse collection schedules for the period April 2016 to March 2018.

NB/ For information, my earlier articles in July 2011 and November 2014 (respective links links here and here), in particular the first linked article, has somewhat more detail about what may be put in the various bins/'wheelie bins', although of course the refuse collection schedules embedded there are now out of date. Since then, Highland Council has reorganised its website considerably and the way this information may be found has changed, as described above.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016; results (constituency and regional) in Highland Region

Well, all 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament have now declared their results and as expected the Scottish National Party [SNP] have 'won', but crucially have lost their overall majority, with the principal gainers being the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party [SCUP], who succeeded even above their own expectations by pushing the Scottish Labour Party [SLP] decisively into third place.

In the 3 constituencies in the area, where the vote is 'first past the post', the results were as follows; the first shown below is the constituency in which I can vote and the other two are shown here for information:

Inverness and Nairn
- CADDICK, Carolyn Ann (SLD) - 4th (5,445 votes, 14.2%, +2.7%)
- EWING, Fergus Stewart (SNP) - 1st (18,505 votes, 48.3%, −3.2%)
- MOUNTAIN, Edward (SCUP) - 2nd (7,648 votes, 20.0%, +8.4%)
- STEWART, David (SLP) - 3rd (6,719 votes, 17.5%, −4.2%)

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
- FRANCHETTI, Leah Esther (SLP) - 4th (3,334 votes, 10.4%, −8.7%)
- MACKIE, Struan (SCUP) - 3rd (4,912 votes, 15.3%, +5.0%)
- ROSS, Gail Elizabeth (SNP) - 1st (13,937 votes, 43.3%, −5.1%)
- STONE, Jamie (SLD) - 2nd (10,024 votes, 31.1%, +8.8%)

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
- CAMPBELL, Ronnie (IND) - 5th (1,116 votes, 3.1%, +1.5%)
- FORBES, Kate (SNP) - 1st (17,362 votes, 47.6%, +1.4%)
- MACLEAN, Angela Margaret (SLD) - 2nd (8,319 votes, 22.8%, −7.7%)
- MUNRO, Robbie (SCUP) - 3rd (5,887 votes, 16.1%, +7.2%)
- STEWART, Linda (SLP) - 4th (3,821 votes, 10.5%, −2.4%)

Voting also took place in a regional 'List' system under a form of proportional representation, with the regional results where I live being:

Highlands and Islands Region (showing names only of those elected as 'List' MSPs - using the d'Hondt method of voting, the Additional Member System)
listed in alphabetic order by political party or individual name
Details of registered parties and party list candidates
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
"Ruth Davidson for a Strong Opposition"
(Douglas Ross, Edward Mountain, Donald Cameron)
- 3 seats, 44,693 votes, 21.8%, +10.1%
Scottish Green Party
"Re-elect John Finnie"
(John Finnie)
- 1 seat, 14,781 votes, 7.2%, +2.1%
Scottish Labour Party
"Choose kids, not cuts"
(Rhoda Grant, David Stewart)
- 2 seats, 22,894 votes, 11.2%, -3.3%
Scottish National Party (SNP)
"Nicola Sturgeon for First Minister"
(Maree Todd)
- 1 seat, 81,600 votes, 39.7%, −7.8%
RISE – Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism
"Scotland’s Left Alliance"

- 0 seats, 889 votes, 0.4%, +0.4%

Scottish Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
"Christians Together"

- 0 seats, 3,407 votes, 1.7%, −0.3%

Scottish Liberal Democrats
- 0 seats, 27,223 votes, 13.3%, +1.1

Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement
"Tommy Sheridan - IndyRef2"
- 0 seats, 793 votes, 0.4%, +0.3%

UK Independence Party (UKIP)
- 0 seats, 5,344 votes, 2.6%, +0.7%

Details of individual regional candidates
STOCKAN, James Wilson
- 0 seats, 3,689 votes, 1.8%, +1.8%

Turnout was 55.6%.
- full results for the Scottish Parliament election 2016 are in the BBC website here.

At a personal level, I am pleased that there are now 3 'List' MSPs representing the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party in the Highlands and Islands Region, out of 7, namely Douglas Ross, Edward Mountain and Donald Cameron - congratulations! This is an increase of 1. Other changes are that the Scottish National Party have reduced their 'List' representation from 3 to 1, with the Scottish Green Party gaining 1 seat (nb/ John Finnie was a 'List' MSP in the last parliament 2011-2016, but sat for the Scottish National Party for the period 2011-2012, then as an Indpendent for the period 2012-2016).

The only other comment I wish to make here is that whilst I am not a 'vindictive' person (I do not think), I am personally pleased and relieved that one particular person standing for the SNP as fourth on their 'List' for this area, namely Nairn councillor Liz MacDonald, was not elected; my blog article written during August 2014 (see here) explains why. In my view she has no place in public life; harsh I know, but there are certain kinds of behaviour which are completely unacceptable in a civilised society for an elected official.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

UK and EU; should we stay or should we go (*)

(* - with a hat-tip to 'The Clash')

Tomorrow 5th May we will be having elections of one kind or another in every part of the UK - regional parliamentary or assembly elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and local elections in England, plus of course the mayoral election in London, not forgetting also a bumper crop of elections to select 41 Police & Crime Commissioners across England and Wales - and by Friday we will know what the immediate fallout is. The BBC has a dedicated 'homepage' for all of these elections here. I've written several blog articles recently about the Scottish parliamentary elections in my immediate area; please scroll down if you wish to refresh your memory.

However, not much more than a month from now, the UK will hold a referendum which is arguably at least as important if not more; whether to remain a member of the European Union, or not. There are two 'official' campaign groups, supporting the 'remain' and 'leave' sides respectively and you can visit their website here (for 'remain') and here (for 'leave').

Over coming weeks in the run-up to the referendum, I shall undoubtedly be writing more on this topic in this blog, but meantime I have started the ball rolling by writing brief news updates in my own personal website here in the 'homepage', with a slightly more detailed (but also completely neutral) brief section in its dedicated EU page here (nb/ this page has existed in my personal website more or less since I began the website in its current form in 2002). In that latter page I have included a couple of relevant links which I repeat here, because they will undoubtedly be mentioned regularly in passing in media reporting as the referendum date of 23rd June 2016 draws closer:
- Lisbon Treaty Article 50;
- HM Government official EU Referendum website.

The referendum question will be:
"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

The only other remark I wish to make at this stage is that whilst HM Government's official position is to recommend that the UK remains a member of the EU and its website linked to above reflects this, the level of 'objectivity' of the arguments advanced for this position is hotly disputed by some and I myself tend to share some of that scepticism, although I have not yet made up my mind finally how I will vote.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Inverness (INV) gets back flights to Heathrow (LHR) after a gap of almost 20 years

Whilst I think the existing flights from Inverness to London airports such as Gatwick and Luton are good, there is no getting away from the fact that flying into London or via London through Heathrow opens up huge additional possibilities, particularly as Heathrow is the UK's major international 'hub' airport. So the news that British Airways is to reinstate flights from Inverness to Heathrow after a gap of almost 20 years is unequivocally a "good thing" in my view.

I've taken a look in the British Airways website at the flights available currently (one a day in each direction) and these appear to be at pretty convenient times during the day, to suit both the business and leisure traveller. In particular, those arriving off of long-haul flights into Heathrow early in the morning will probably be able to catch the flight upto Inverness, whereas those who are leaving on a long-haul flight from Heathrow in the late-afternoon or early evening should be able to make the connection on the lunch-time flight out of Inverness in many cases. This will undoubtedly be very convenient for business travellers, but also to long-haul leisure travellers, whether travelling East or West from or to Heathrow.

The convenience for many buisness or leisure travellers of flying through Heathrow however comes at a price, so if one is not going further than London by air, or coming further, there may be little advantage in using this new service from a cost perspective, but for those coming from or going to long-haul destinations using flights via Heathrow, then the convenience of not having to transfer to/from Gatwick will be a major advantage, because it adds to be safe at least a couple of hours when a trip between the two airports is required, not to mention the additional cost, whether you travel via one of the regular scheduled coach services or take a taxi - going around a part of the M25 during working hours is unlikely to be a fast or particularly comfortable experience.

Of course some long-haul flights do go through Gatwick too, so for some travellers it may still be more convenient to take flights to/from Inverness there, but the reinstated link with Heathrow will provide much greater convenience and flexibility for many travellers to/from the Highlands of Scotland.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

How we eat, how we are taught to eat in our home environments

People's eating habits are often defined by their childhoods and whether their own parents were 'conservative' or 'adventurous' in their eating habits. I am thankful that both my parents, specially my mother, were reasonably adventurous (not so much my father, admittedly), but both were good cooks and pre-prepared rubbish was never a part of my growing up. That's another thing, my father was not a stranger to the kitchen, so whilst growing up neither me nor my brother thought there was anything remotely strange about trying out new ideas in the kitchen. Obviously I am now somewhat older, so my childhood relates to the 1950s and 1960s, and I have become aware since then that for some of my contemporaries their home environments were radically different. One's home environment as children helps to define the adults we become, for good or ill. Some of the best people, however, are those who have transcended the most difficult early years - I can't say I'm one of those, but I sure do admire those who are.

I'm often astonished at the food 'dislikes' that some of my acquaintances exhibit - and I don't mean those who are vegetarian or vegan, for example, because I've eaten some delicious food of both varieties over the years. What I do mean though is those who are unwilling even to try anything 'different' from what they have ever eaten before, or people who, for example, live in places where abundant local delicacies are available, but who studuously avoid/loathe them in favour of heavily-advertised processed food instead, because that's what they were encouraged to eat by lazy parents. It applies also, incidentally, to those who don't wish to try vegetables or fruits different from the limited range they were exposed to by their own parents in earlier years, whether it might be an avocado pear, an asparagus spear, a pomegranate or a persimmon, etc., not that there's anything wrong with a potato or a carrot, of course. One thing I just cannot understand, though, is that many children (and perhaps their parents too) seem to find perfectly ordinary, nutritious and delicious green vegetables or salads "yukky"; even from my youngest years I LOVED things like broccoli and lettuce, for example, even if it took me a little longer to appreciate the joys of a fresh beetroot. I don't recall ever being pressurised to 'like' anything (well, apart from salted herring, which both my parents relished, for some inexplicable reason, ha ha), but it was never suggested to me that I was somehow being 'brave' when given a piece of broccoli or some Savoy cabbage to eat - my own parents enjoyed eating these so I learned from them - well apart from the afore-mentioned salted herring,the problem being not the taste or even the texture, but the fine bones.

In my area, with an abundance of fish and seafood, or excellent beef or venison, for example, I occasionally encounter people who HAVE NEVER EATEN FISH, for example, not that they have tried it and found they don't like it. I recall years ago being at a dinner party not far from here and one of the other guests, having said he had never eaten fish (having been born and brought up in a small coastal town not so far from here, with a major fishing industry), relishing a delicious salmon mousse and on being told what it was, admitting to our hosts how delicious it was. So my message is - try it, you may like a food unfamilar to you, you may not, but then at least you'll have knowledge rather than prejudice to guide you.

There are of course a few foods I don't like, or in a very few cases actively"loathe" (e.g. tripe), but I have formed my views by trying them, not whining "yuk" when first presented with them, but I don't discount the possibility that at some stage in the future I might come to tolerate if not actively "like" them, hopefully not at pistol point, ha ha.