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

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.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Murder in Nairn - 12 years ago today - police still "absolutely committed" to solving crime

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Today is the 12th anniversary of the murder of Nairn resident Mr Alistair Wilson. The crime remains unsolved and no motive for the killing, even if one is known or suspected, has been revealed. However, Police Scotland state that they remain absolutely committed to finding his murderer and that the case remains "active".

It is to be hoped that the perpetrator of this crime will be identified and made to pay for it, sooner rather than later.

You can visit the page for this unsolved crime in the Police Scotland website here:

Alistair Wilson

Anyone with any information in connection with the murder of 30-year-old banker Alistair Wilson should contact Police Scotland on 101, or Crimestoppers in confidence and complete anonymity on 0800 555 111.

Contact Us
Contact Police Scotland on 101, or Crimestoppers in confidence and complete anonymity on 0800 555 111

My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

UPDATE (Friday 02DEC2016 20.20 GMT) - To mark the 12th anniversary of the murder, according to this article in the Daily Record published on 30th November 2016, apparently a radio call-in was held on the John Beattie show on BBC Radio Scotland during which an "anonymous caller phoned the John Beattie show as it discussed the case" and provided information, which was not broadcast but has been passed by the BBC to Police Scotland, who in turn have stated that the information provided will be "thoroughly investigated". Perhaps we will learn in due course that this information is significant and will allow the investigation to make progress, but as yet no-one not privy to the investigation can make any inferences and I for one certainly do not do so, although I am obviously extremely intrigued by and interested in this development.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

John Gordon Macintyre, Nairn - Obituary

J Gordon Macintyre
5 October 1931 - 25 September 2016

Rest in Peace

Always known as "J Gordon Macintyre", Gordon Macintyre was a flamboyant and eccentric, but hugely likeable fixture of Nairn (and beyond in certain circles) for many decades. I first met Gordon soon after I came to live in Nairn in September 2000, as I was invited by one of my new neighbours to join her as a guest at a chamber music concert at Clifton House, which it so happens is just around the corner from where I now live, and immediately joined the Nairn Performing Arts Guild (NPAG), a registered charity run by him and which organised chamber music recitals, plays and readings of various kinds. I remained a member until NPAG was succeeded by Music Nairn, when Gordon and his wife, Muriel, decided to move from their long-term home and business at Clifton House (run for many years as a quirky and wonderful small hotel and restaurant, until a few years before they moved), as they now wished to 'retire', to a new home just outside Nairn at Geddes.

From the word go I seemed to 'click' with Gordon - I liked him a lot and I think that feeling was reciprocated. He was an unusual and rather eccentric man, specially when compared with his rather more down-to-earth, fiercely intelligent and occasionally 'waspish' wife Muriel. But Gordon was of course in his own way a practical businessman too, running their hotel and restaurant business very successfuly in his own inimitable and flamboyant way. Muriel sadly passed away some years ago, in June 2009. Gordon was always immaculately and often colourfully attired, often sporting one of his extensive collection of bow-ties or cravates; even in his later declining years, though his attention to the detail of his wardrobe perhaps had slipped a little, he still managed to look smart and certainly always stood out from the crowd in whichever gathering he found himself. I count myself fortunate to have known Gordon, albeit only in the later stages of his life - it made settling in to my new home in Nairn so much more pleasurable.

It so happens I was away at my holiday home in Spain for a month from toward the end of September, as it turns out just a few days after his demise, which I had not heard about when I left for Spain. However, he had telephoned me about a week prior to this (I think therefore only three or four days before before his death) to ask me to postpone a visit to his home that we had been talking about, as he was feeling 'off-colour', saying that he would contact me when he was feeling a bit better. In the light of his death so soon after the call, I now think he was probably telephoning, consciously or unconsciously, to say 'goodbye'. It so happens his obituary was in our local weekly newspaper, The Nairnshire Telegraph (no online presence) only this week, in the issue dated Tuesday 25th October, a month after his death, whereas his obituary in The Scotsman was published only a few days before that on 20th October (read it here), to which it bears a certain similarity, so it is possible his family had deliberately kept his death low-key for the first month, it being inconceivable to me that it would not have been written about sooner, specially in our local newspaper, otherwise.

In any case, I am very saddened to learn of Gordon's death. I am just grateful that I had the pleasure of knowing him and for his friendship.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

A "senior moment" with my refrigerator and temperature monitoring

I feel a bit silly writing this, but perhaps knowing about my forgetfulness might prompt others not to be so careless as I've obviously been.

I have always had a thermometer inside my refrigerator to monitor the internal temperature for chilled food, but I haven't been checking it as often as I obviously should have been - or "putting two and two together" over the past several weeks when certain foods (specially cream, for example) have been "spoiling" far more rapidly than they normally do, so I have been disposing of half-full tubs after only a very few days and buying fresh tubs. The problem is that, because it is summer (or at least what passes for summer in the north of Scotland), I have not been taking account of the fact that ambient temperatures indoors, specially at night, have been considerably higher than in much of the rest of the year.

Although my refrigerator is pretty modern (and large) and works very well, and because it is frost-free requires little maintenance whilst in use, apart from making sure the interior shelving remains clean and hygienic, specially after any inadvertent spillage or leakage, I had forgotten to adjust the rotary thermostat inside the door to regulate the temperature inside the refrigerator part to take account of the warmer weather we've been having recently; the freezer part is completely automatic and has never not done the job it is supposed to.

Yesterday I did check the inrerior thermometer properly, however, and was a little shocked to realise the refrigerator interior temperature was hovering around 12-13 degreesC, instead of the 3-5 degreesC it should be. So I have now turned up the rotary control by several steps. Overnight the refrigerator cooled down considerably, to about 0-1 degrees, so throughout today I've been making small adjustments to achieve the desired 3-5 range. I won't be making the elementary mistake of not checking the internal temperature regularly in future!

I'm now reasonably confident I won't have to throw away so much prematurely spoiled food in coming weeks as I have been finding it necessary to do recently.

NB/ It so happens the refrigerator at my home in Spain is almost exactly the same as the unit in my kitchen here in Scotland (same make and model, slightly different trim and a different body colour), but I've always been much more aware of the need to monitor/regulate the temperature there, because I expect it to be warmer, whereas for most of the year in Scotland it's less necessary, even though the central heating is on from early Autumn until late-Spring, but except in really severe winter weather I prefer not to have the central heating on all night, because I sleep better in slightly cooler air.

Further thoughts on the EU, "Brexit" and related matters

As we are now at the beginning of September, and the end of the main summer holiday period when many politicians, civil servants and citizens generally will have been on holiday, it is I think now appropriate to write the kind of article I am now writing. As has often been the case in earlier years the month of August has, apart from being an hiatus in 'business as usual' for politics, also been a time when eccentric stories become newsworthy for broadcasters searching for things to write about during the dog days of summer.

For most, probably all, of my adult life I have been strongly supportive of the EEC (later the EU) and of the UK joining it and remaining a part of it. Personal circumstances meant I was not able to vote in the 1975 referendum, two years after the UK joined the EEC, to decide whether the country should remain or leave - I lived then in a place called Djibouti (wedged between Ethiopia/Eritrea and Somalia) in the north-east of Africa, and at that time people living outside the UK could not vote in UK elections, except in very special circumstances. But had I been in a position to vote, I would certainly have voted to remain in the EEC.

Broadly speaking, with perhaps just a few qualms, I supported most of what was done later, where it affected the UK. The Schengen Treaty (from 1985 to 1995 until 1997 when it was incorporated into EU law by the Amsterdam Treaty), did not and does not affect the UK, or as it so happens Ireland (that last bit is really irrelevant to me, of course, because even though it might otherwise affect Northern Ireland, there has been a common travel area between the UK and Ireland for a long time, unaffected by the independence of Ireland from the UK). The fact that the UK is an island nation meant, in my view, that it was practical, if not in the view of some I suppose entirely desirable, not to adopt Schengen. I doubt if it would have been easily do-able if we had land borders other than with Ireland. It is probably no accident either that our decision to remain outside Schengen coincided with plans to build the Channel Tunnel link between the UK and France (constructed between 1988 and 1994) - the value of that decision has perhaps only become more sharply defined by the events of very recent years.

The Single European Act, whose main purpose was to enhance 'free trade', ultimately came into force in 1987, having been delayed in its implementation by actions in Denmark, Greece, Italy and Ireland. Interestingly, it is probably the only piece of EU legislation largely championed from inception to conclusion by the UK. Because the UK has, for decades and indeed centuries, been all about 'free trade'. It did extend QMV ('Qualified Majority Voting') though, as part of the price paid [by the UK] for certain other countries (basically France and a few others) to allow this legislation to pass. The subsequent Treates (Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice), whilst ratcheting the EU's control a little tighter with each step, seemed to me 'acceptable' in the greater scheme of things.

What really began to make me rethink my view of the fundamental wisdom of the UK being a member of the EU were the referendums on the now-defunct European Constitution held in 2005 in both the Netherlands and France, in which both rejected its proposals (others had already had referendums to ratify it), which effectively halted that particular process, and specifically what followed a few years later; the UK government had earlier promised a referendum, but the rejections by others made that pointless. Having read the draft European Constitution in great detail myself, in anticipation of a referendum being held in the UK, I too would have voted against it had I had the opportunity.

What followed a few years later was the Lisbon Treaty, effectively the European Constitution rewritten, pushed through in spite of being initially rejected in a referendum in Ireland in 2007, later shoved through in that country in 2009 in the face of the economic crisis facing that country after the 'crash' of 2007/2008; but let's face it, no one really cares what Ireland thinks (certainly not most of the other members of the EU, other than the UK), so they were 'prevailed upon' to allow it to pass. The reality is that the UK independently bailed out Ireland during this crucial period, not because of any undue sentimentality (that is not the British way), but simply in a recognition of the historic intertwining links between the British and much smaller Irish economies, although perhaps influenced also by the social and familial links between the two countries. The harsh reality, though, is that without UK support, Ireland would have been 'sunk', as otherwise Ireland would have been consigned to the same 'hell'/purgatory currently occupied by Greece. As for the semi-clandestine ratification by the UK of that Treaty by our then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, I would prefer to remain silent; the level of contempt I have for that man is infinite and only a modicum of concern about the libel laws of this country will restrain me from writing what I really think about that excuse for a man; as I am also Scottish (and 1/4 quarter Irish as it so happens, with reference to earlier comments) I don't think accusations of 'racism' apply, although I am quite happy to acknowledge that it is my firm belief that the "socialism" that Gordon Brown and those who think like him profess to believe in, is one of the greatest evils that existed when I was born and unfortunately continues, luckily in much reduced form, to this day, I have grown weary of glossing over this basic reality in recent years, so this is the first time, apart from brief allusions to it in Twitter from time to time, that I have really 'let rip' on this issue. Unfortunately there is not a great deal to choose between the destructive effects of the "socialism" offered by Labour ('new', and the 'old' back-to-the-future kind which current leader Corbyn represents) and that offered by the SNP.

On Friday 2nd September our sad excuse for a First Minister in Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, gave up on her 'day job' of actually running Scotland in accordance with the Scotland Act (as amended), in favour of a pointless resurrection of the obsessive and obsessed SNP policy of wanting to rip Scotland out of the UK, despite very recent opinion polls demonstrating that the people of Scotland, apart from adherents of the 'SNP cult' which Ms Sturgeon leads, have little or no desire for this to happen, and far less desire for the holding of another referendum to try and change the result of the referendum held on the matter as recently as September 2014.

Despite the febrile predictions of those who campaigned vociferously for the UK to remain a member of the EU, the economy continues to be robust and the exchange rate of our currency, the Pound, although somewhat lower than before the EU Referendum (but arguably now at a more sensible level to meet both the needs of exporters and holidaymakers requiring to purchase a foregin currency to help fund their annual vacation abroad), has certainly never been in danger of 'collapse' and indeed in recent weeks has been strengthening somewhat from its low point after the EU Referendum - fine, so long as it does not become too strong and begin to adversely affect exports. As with everything else in life, the level at which the exchange rate hovers is a balance of complex and sometimes conflicting interests.

Now that summer is almost over, and more or less normal business has resumed, one imagines (and hopes) that the government will begin seriously to put in place the process of the UK leaving the EU. I am not one of those people that wants precipitate action, but I do want to see some concrete moves in this direction fairly soon, to give voice to the results of the referendum in June. The attempt in the past few days at a tax grab by the European Commission (EC), against the wishes of EU member state Ireland for whose benefit the EC purports to be acting, is just the latest example of the malign anti-competitive instincts of some EU member states and the bureaucrats of the EC and only reinforces the need for us in the UK to get out of the economic and political dead-end that the EU represents.

Monday, 22 August 2016

First review - new Sun Dancer restaurant and bar in Nairn

(Please see UPDATE at end)

The new Sun Dancer restaurant and bar in Nairn finally opened a week ago yesterday (i.e. Sunday 14th August); I do not think it has yet been advertised in any way, certainly it was not in last week's Nairnshire on Tuesday 16th, so it seems to have undertaken what is usually known as a "soft opening". Rumours locally are that it was originally scheduled to open in May, presumably in order to catch the late-Spring and early-Summer trade, but local rumours are that its opening was delayed for various reasons; I will not repeat any of the reasons I heard about though, as this is mere hearsay and the important point, as I see it, is that it has now opened.

I visited with my partner yesterday Sunday 21st August around lunchtime and we had ice cream milkshakes in the ground floor cafe - very nice they were too and the interior is bright, cheerful and modern in feel and the young lady serving us was pleasant and friendly. We asked if we could visit upstairs to see the bar/restaurant and being told "yes" went up to take a look.

It was much more spacious than I imagined it would be (I live close by so have followed its progress over the months). It is well laid out and the tables are not too crowded together. There is a bar area in one corner, with comfortable and quite smart furniture in that part of the floor. The tables and chairs of the main restaurant part are also quite smart and the balcony at the front has some tables and chairs, pleasant for a drink on a nice day or evening. We asked to book a table for the same evening and returned for our meal later with time for pre-dinner drinks.

The staff are friendly and pleasant, although still obviously learning their jobs and getting comfortable with their work environment, drinks and menus, etc. We had a very nice meal indeed, broadly comparable with the two other what I consider decent eateries in Nairn (The Classroom and The Bandstand) and the cost was broadly similar too; the Sunny Brae is lovely too of course, but is rather more refined in many ways than those three (including the Sun Dancer), only being a bit more expensive.

There was a Sunday menu on offer, 2 courses for £15.95, with 3 courses being a few pounds more; there was a small but sufficient range of options for starters, mains and puddings/desserts, although we understand there may be a more extensive menu in due course, but that they are trialling a slighlty more restricted menu, at least at the beginning, not to over-complicate matters. The food as mentioned was pretty good, so this represents good value I think, specially for an evening meal, with drinks (campari/soda, guinness [2 pints in all], a large glass of white and a small glass of red, for the cheese we had for dessert), the total bill was about £66-, rounded up to £71- (for 2 persons) with tip, a bit less than we would normally have added, for the reasons mentioned later in this review.

The table settings are nice (white quality table cloths, decent cutlery and crockery, high quality cloth-like paper napkins) and the dining table seats are quite comfortable and smart. It is obvious considerable care has been taken with designing a very pleasant venue to take full advantage of the lovely views out over the Firth; we had a corner window table just inside the outdoor balcony so the views were excellent, but most tables (even those not directly adjacent to the large windows) will have good views of the Firth.

The only criticism I would have is that the service was very slow and somewhat disjointed, but always pleasant and friendly, although it did require us on several occasions to try and attract the staff's attention after we had been waiting for lengthy periods, both to place our orders and to receive each course, requiring us to query the delays throughout the evening. For example we had to wait 15 minutes after finishing our main course before managing to attract the attention of someone to take our dessert order (the cheese board for both of us, which was excellent when it came, but obviously required no "cooking"), then after 25 minutes of waiting for it to be delivered, we managed to attract the attention of a waitress returning to the kitchen with used crockery from another table, when it was delivered rapidly; probably it had been waiting for delivery to us in the kitchen for some time, I suspect.

Getting the bill took another while, a pattern throughout the whole evening. However, I think this will become a great place to eat in Nairn, assuming they maintain their initial food standards (which are quite high in local terms I'd say), once they become rather slicker in the service area. I put the delays down to the staff still becoming familiar with their roles, so expect and hope this is merely a "teething" problem. I think they have been quite busy during their first week of operation, from what the lady who appeared to be in charge indicated to us, and it was certainly pretty busy on Sunday evening when we were there, so everyone there was flung into the deep end whilst still learning their jobs. We shall certainly visit again in a month or so (rotating it in with the other places already mentioned, which we will undoubtedly visit again in the intervening period), and hope we will have an equally enjoyable meal, but experience somewhat slicker service, once the staff have become more comfortable in their jobs. However, first impressions are that it is a very welcome addition to Nairn's dining scene.

NB/ This review is a slightly more detailed version of one I have already placed in the restaurant's own recently-created Facebook page here.

My aim here, as with all reviews of restaurants and hotels which I add in various places (my own blog or 'social media' or specialised review sites), is to be honest and completely fair. I do not think the Sun Dancer yet has a listing in Tripadvisor, but perhaps that will come in due course.

UPDATE (Sunday 19FEB17 16.50 RST [GMT+1]) A rather tardy comment, but my partner and I, together with a friend, visited the Sun Dancer for a second time on Tuesday 10th January 2017, this time for lunch. The lunch menu offered a reasonable range of choices and all three of us had enjoyable meals, nicely presented. The cost was again pretty reasonable too. Happily, the service on this second visit was much slicker than on our earlier visit, whilst still retaining a friendly atmosphere, without being "over familiar" in any way. The restaurant was fairly busy too, for a Tuesday in the middle of winter, with roughly two thirds of the tables being occupied in the main part of the restaurant (the smaller end part was screened off that day). We again occupied a very nice table by the windows at the front of the restaurant so had excellent views out over the Firth. In summary, I'd say we all three were quite happy with our meal and will certainly return in due course, rotating this newish restaurant with the two or three other pretty good eating places in Nairn.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Why it became necessary for the UK to vote to leave the EU

An article in this week's Spectator magazine has crystalised many of my reasons for voting as I did in our referendum on EU membership held on 23rd June last.

Dan Hannan (still an MEP), for a former committed "Europhile" such as me, brilliantly nails the lies and deceptions at the heart of the so-called "EU project". I voted Leave on 23rd June and have become more certain since then that it was the correct choice. For me this has got NOTHING to do with 'immigration', despite those who voted Remain presumptuously telling everyone who voted Leave that this was the reason we voted the way we did. Frankly I think this illustrates perfectly the sad beggar-thy-neighbour mindset of many (if I hope not most) Remain voters.

Sovereignty is not some esoteric concept, it is the basic choice as to how we make our laws and who is competent to adjudicate on them.

What really changed my mind about the "virtues" of the EU (which are many) is the callous way it has treated Greece, in the name of "EU solidarity"; Greece is not entirely innocent of course, it is not as straightforward as that, but what its treatment does illustrate is that a supranational body, the EU, is prepared to ride roughshod over the democratically elected government of a small and relatively "unimportant" member state, not for any noble reason, but simply to protect the financial institutions of its most powerful member state, Germany. To be frank, it is a moral outrage. I am equally disgusted by the petty arguments of some of my former "friends" who think the GBP exchange rate is sufficient reason to sell the soul of our country, the UK. I loathe almost everything Gordon Brown ever did as Chancellor and Prime Minister, but the one good thing he ever did was to make it impossible for the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to take the UK into the cesspit of the poorly-designed Euro, a continuing shambles, which tries to align the economies of vastly different countries, without the real and necessary mechanisms which make a 'currency union' successful, for example those which allow the US to have a common currency across 50 diverse economies, or the UK to have a similar common currency across its four component parts (and the separate regions of those four component parts).

Those mechanisms involve not just "benefits", but "obligations", which means sticking to certain basic rules - which means that countries within the Eurozone which flout the laid-down budgetary deficit rules regularly, rather than exceptionally, need to understand they cannot continue along this path if the currency union is to have any meaning and achieve longevity. This is however merely a symptom of the malaise at the heart of the EU. It seems that certain larger member states think they can flout fiscal and other rules, simply because they are large and economically significant, or powerful politically, whereas smaller states must be punished severely if they step out of line. This is not "democracy". The UK is undoubtedly a "more significant" country economically and politically, along with 3-5 other EU member states, but above all we are a democracy, and have been for quite a long time, and we think we believe in that old-fashioned concept called "fair play", not just "might is right". If I believed that true "reform" of the EU was possible I would have been amongst the first to have argued that the UK should remain a member, but empirical evidence over many years has demonstrated that this is not possible. We can and must leave the EU, and that is what we voted for on 23rd June, to ensure our democratic future as a free and successful economy, not as a vassal member state of the increasingly undemocratic entity that the EU has developed into. Other EU member states, including some if not all of the more powerful ones, have stated repeatedly that they wanted the UK to remain a member of the EU, but have consistently shown that they are unwilling to, or incapable of, making the "reforms" necessary for a true democracy such as the UK to remain. 23rd June 2016 was "crunch time" and the bluffs with which the EU has endeavoured to fob us off for many years have lost their power that day. Personally I very much regret that this decision has been made necessary. I believe that a brighter future for the UK is possible outside what has become the straightjacket of the EU. I wish the EU a bright and successful future too, of course, but am much less sanguine about that.