Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 31 December 2005

A Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year to all ...

AULD LANG SYNE (Robert Burns: 1759-1796)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd monie a weary fitt,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Friday, 30 December 2005

Unmarried and same-sex couples may now adopt jointly

Effective 1st January 2006 unmarried and same-sex couples will be eligible to adopt children jointly, provided they are otherwise suitable. Previously such groups were able to adopt, but with only one member of the couple being able to adopt as an individual with the other member of the couple having no legal status in respect of the adopted child.

As with the Civil Partnerships Act, which recently became effective in England and Wales, the Scottish Executive chose to adopt the same changes simultaneously in Scotland so that the changes affect the whole of the UK. Whilst the Church of Scotland has on balance accepted that the change in the law is beneficial, the Roman Catholic Church, in the person of its most senior representative here (Cardinal Keith O'Brien), has expressed the view that youngsters would be victims of a "distorted social experiment"; luckily these views have not been allowed to prevail here by derailing the amendments to the legislation.

I readily agree, indeed I would insist, that the prime consideration in ANY adoption must be the well-being of the child or children in question. I do not think this change in legislation will have any material effect, in a practical sense, on this fundamental requirement when potential adoptive parents are being vetted. What it will do is help to ensure that as many children who need this facility may find homes with adoptive parents who can provide them with safe, secure and loving homes.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

Signing off for Christmas

There has been a great deal happening in the past few days, some good (about which I have written) and a great deal more less good, notably our Prime Minister's performance at the recent EU meetings in Brussels, but serious as this was it pales into insignificance against what we learn about plans to introduce individual vehicle tracking throughout the length and breadth of the UK, theoretically for our protection, according to the police. Police State Britain seems likely, if he has his way, to be the legacy Tony Blair leaves to a 'grateful' nation. Oh yes, and for those of you making full use of your credit cards this Festive Season, the trade gap seems to have widened further in the most recent quarter; the public's spending habits, the government's fiscal policies and our declining international competitiveness as a nation are all contributing to this less than happy developing scenario.

After having had a visit to the gym tomorrow, I shall be picking up my mother and we shall both be leaving the following day (Christmas Eve) to spend the weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in Aberdeenshire, about 80 miles or so from here, probably returning late Tuesday. I'm looking forward to not being in the front-line of catering and entertainment duties for the first time in quite a few years. On this cheery note, I'll sign off now until the middle of next week and leave you with this:

With all good wishes
for a Joyous Christmas
and a Peaceful, Happy
and Prosperous
New Year

A small ceramic tree in a quiet corner of my apartment

I shall be enjoying 'festive fare' on my usual modest scale with just a very few glasses of the produce of the 'Bonne Veuve' each day to bring some sparkle to events. Go in Peace.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Civil Partnerships begin in England and Wales

Today there will be approximately 687 gay couples in England and Wales who will be going through the procedures necessary to register their civil partnerships. A veritable 'avalanche' on the first day the law takes effect there.

Amongst those 'getting hitched' today are high-profile celebrity couple Sir Elton John and his partner David Furnish; I have just been watching them leaving the Guildhall at Guildford (close to one of Sir Elton's homes) after signing the register and they look very happy. Good luck to them both.

Another couple who have become civil partners today are the Rev Christopher Wardale and Malcolm Macourt who signed the register in Newcastle followed by a blessing at a church locally at which the former Bishop of Durham, Rev David Jenkins, preached, depsite a warning from the Bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Tom Wright, that clergy could face action for taking part. Possibly there are 'troubles' ahead for the Rev Wardale with his ecclesiastical superiors, but for today I simply wish them a very happy day and future life together.

I must keep this brief because I will be leaving shortly on an hour's journey to attend a funeral; an elderly neighbour has finally lost her valiant struggle against cancer.

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Five couples plan to civilly partner in Scotland today

Today is the first day that the Civil Partnership Law becomes effective in Scotland and according to this BBC report there are five(*) couples here who plan to 'do the deed' today. A very interesting case, not in Scotland but in London, is that of a couple who have been waiting for 39 years (39 years!) for the law to allow them to be legally recognised.

No doubt in a few years time civil partnerships will have become so routine that most will go unremarked except by those close to the couples, but for the moment there is a feeling of euphoria in the air which has infected this writer! Congratulations to all the happy couples!

UPDATE: (Tuesday 20DEC05 23.57 GMT) - (*) Since I wrote this the linked article has been amended to say that 7 gay/lesbian couples would be signing the civil partnership register today in Scotland. It also show a photograph of the first such Scottish ceremony in Edinburgh. One of the others ceremoniestook place in Aberdeen, at which one of the guests was the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, apparently a friend of the couple.

Monday, 19 December 2005

First civil partnership ceremony takes place in Northern Ireland

Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close became the first(*) gay couple in the UK to sign the Civil Partnership Register. Today at Belfast City Hall the two women exchanged their vows and became the first same-sex couple to have their relationship legally recognised by the State; they were followed by two men and a further female couple.

Congratulations to them all!

(*) - there have been a small number of earlier civil partnerships since the Civil Partnership Act became law on 5th December, specially permitted prinicipally because of the poor health condition of one of the partners.

The Western Isles opts out of Civil Partnerships legislation

The Western Isles of Scotland have said that none of its registrars wish to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies and the Council, along with church ministers in the islands, backs them in this.

According to this article in the Scotsman, though, the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh is determined to ensure that civil partnerships be "available right across Scotland and they would use all the powers open to them to make sure this happened". One method they are considering is to fly outside registrars into the islands to carry out civil partnerships. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive is quoted in the Scotsman article as saying:

"There are powers in the act which will allow the Registrar General to authorise a registrar from out of the local authority area to register a civil partnership. We would hope not to have to use these powers and will look at everything on an individual basis, but the powers are available."

- it seems that the Scottish Executive hopes that their determination to thwart the efforts of Western Isles Council, to make the carrying out of these ceremonies locally an extremely difficult process, will avoid a high profile case being brought before the European Court of Human Rights (or under the domestic Human Rights Act?). I can understand this, but I am not so sure that avoiding such a confrontation is the best long-term option. I'd suggest a better way of bringing these 'cowboys' to book would be to cut off all subsidies for the ferry crossing to the mainland and any subsidy which airlines receive for flying there as well, and let these small-minded bigotted islanders 'stew in their own juices' for several months! The Western Isles is said to be very beautiful in parts, but I have always avoided going there, because it sounds such a miserable place ...

To end on a more positive note, the Scotsman article notes also that roughly 150 couples across Scotland have indicated an intention to contract Civil Partnership agreements.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

687 gay couples plan to 'tie the knot' on 21st December

On the first day that gay partnership ceremonies may be carried out under the new Civil Partnerships Act, 687 couples have made arrangements to do the deed in England and Wales, with 20 in Westminster (covers the Soho area) and 12 in Brighton and Hove. Apparently 400 couples have notified Brighton and Hove Council they plan to 'partner' (*) and 198 have booked for this to happen between 21st December and the New Year.

So far I have not seen a report about what the figures are for Scotland. The General Register Office for Scotland has an excellent website (link here) giving full details of the procedures required of those wishing to register a civil partnership, as well as a helpful list of do's and don't's.

I hope that in a few years time that when a same-sex couple announce their decision to 'partner' (*), this will arouse no more comment than when an opposite-sex couple decide to marry.

(*) - From now on this blog will use the word 'partner' as a verb when it is being used to signify that two gays or lesbians are registering under the Civil Partnerships Act; this will avoid blurring the issue by using the verb 'marry'. If some object to this adaptation of the English language, the solution is quite simple - amend the law to allow same-sex couples to have a legal 'marriage' so that I can simply use the word 'marry'.

New links added - December 2005

There has been a crop of new or newish blogs that has come to my attention recently and it is about time I put links to them in my blogroll. So here goes:

Burning our Money - Wat Tyler introduces it thus: "They spend 42% of our income, yet fail to deliver decent services. They promise prosperity, yet tax and regulate our economy into stasis. They talk up social justice, yet consign millions to welfare dependency. Enough is enough. We the peasants demand our high-spending, high-living, conflicted politicos mend their ways". Trenchant writing, with a note of black humour. It began earlier this year, but had an 'hiatus' from April to December. Read and enjoy/weep - depending on whether you are in the state's pay or whether you are a harassed tax-payer.
GavPOLITICS - Gavin Ayling tells us his blog is "English, Rationalist and Liberal Conservative". Whether the last is a completely accurate description I leave you to judge, but it is well-written and not 'beady-eyed' for the most part, except possibly on matters touching on the EU; seems liberal enough in other areas.
Mr Eugenides - 'The Greek' seems, from what I glean, to write from Edinburgh and writes in a pithy style, puncturing all sorts of balloons. It is quite amusing to read.
Things I can't tell boyfriend number 1 - introduces his blog by saying: "My gay activities which my boyfriend doesn't know about". Not to everyone's taste and you need to be quite broad-minded to read it; on the other hand many 'straight' young men behave in exactly the same way towards their female partners and no-one seems to bat an eyelid about that! Tells us he works in an investment bank in London - he seems to be able to get out of the office whenever necessary to keep his 'trysts'. Some aspects of what he writes mirror quite closely my own life during my 20s and 30s, although I won't specify precisely which aspects!
timrollpickering - Tim Roll-Pickering tells us he is based in London and describes his blog thus: "The blog of a rather dull person who created this just in case anyone cares". A little harsh on himself, I suspect. Seems to be a 'liberal' Conservative, earlier supporting Ken Clarke, but who switched to David Cameron in the leadership election race. Presumably has strong connections with Northern Irleand as many of his posts cover developments there in great detail. Well-written and level-headed.
An Englishman in Osaka - the title says it all really. I've been reading this blog for quite a few months now. It is amusing and high-lights the quirks of what is in some ways quite an alien culture. Having lived in that part of the world and visited Japan on buisness a number of times I find it quite interesting to look in on occasionally - perhaps you will, too.
'til the cows come home - Mak tells us his blog is a "Tale as old as time: Midwestern Boy moves to New York City. Boy discovers blogs. Boy chronicles his exploits and conquests for the world, and his mother, to read". He is also gay. Amusingly written and with a nice turn of phrase. Worth a peek.

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Police chief questions verdict on 'slap' killing

The above is the headline in an article yesterday's Telegraph. According to the article: "A police chief has expressed disappintment that a jury returned verdicts of manslaughter rather than murder in the trial of a gang of youths who killed a man in a 'happy slapping attack'."

I wrote on Thursday (link here) about this and my own anger, and confusion, that the verdict in the killing of gay barman David Morley had resulted in the conviction of the four adjudged to be the perpetrators on the lesser charge of manslaughter, rather than murder.

Of course I am disappointed, too, and share Metropolitan Police's Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur's dismay at the result. However, I believe in trial by jury (I have written about this often in the past, in relation to other matters) and it would be hypocritical of me to deviate from this view simply because a jury has returned a verdict I do not like. By all means let the Police and the CPS learn the lessons from this case. I am in no position to judge why the individual members of the jury took the decisions they did and of course I have not heard all the evidence that they must have been presented with during the course of the trial, even if I have my own private views and worries about what may be behind these. The only comment I would make is that the jury selection procedure might perhaps be looked at; on the other hand I am wary of the danger of 'packing' juries to achieve a desired outcome. Nor do I believe in the idea that 'double jeopardy' might be a valid idea, except possibly (and even then I remain a little doubtful) when genuinely new evidence has come to light which would cast doubt on a verdict - this does not seem to be the case here.

UPDATE: (Monday 23JAN06 23.55 GMT) The four killers have now been sentenced - three get 12 years, and the fourth gets 8 years.

Thursday, 15 December 2005

Ford US reverses last week's gay advertising ban

Ford in the US has decided yesterday to reverse its decision last week to cease advertising its Jaguar and Land Rover brands, because of pressure from the AFA (American Family Association), a pressure group advocating 'tradtional family values' and which has anti-homosexual policies. Reuters quote Joe Laymon, Ford's group vice president for corporate human resources, as saying: "It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford's desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue behind us". I suspect strongly that a rapid reassessment of its own corporate long-term interests has brought Ford back to a position in conformity with its long-standing even-handed attitude toward the gay community. See also this article at billandkent.

Killing of gay barman judged to be manslaughter, not murder!!

David Morley was killed by a gang of four aged 21, 18, 17 and 15. The 15-year old is a girl who was only 14 years of age at the time of the killing in October 2004 and was found to have taken part by kicking Mr Morley's head "like a football".

The gang have been found guilty of the charge of manslaughter, but cleared of the charge of murder and will be sentenced toward the end of January. Their convictions also included a charge of causing "grievous bodily harm".

The victim's father, Jeff Morley, is understandably angry that his son's murder was described as a "happy slapping" killing and is quoted as saying:

"It makes me angry that it's described as happy slapping because that makes it sound as if it was something not very serious, what actually happened to David was a lot more than slapping."

- yes, they did a lot more than that, they killed him! Quite why the agressors have been found guilty of manslaughter and not murder is beyond my simple understanding.

A tragic aspect tangential to this vicious killing is that Mr Morley had survived the horrific attack on the Admiral Duncan pub in Old Compton Street in April 1999, where Mr Morley was then employed as a barman. The blast had killed 3 and injured 73 in this area with a high concentration of gay businesses. The blast was perpetrated by David Copeland, a racist homophobe who was sentenced in July 2000 to 6 life terms and is serving his sentence in Broadmoor top security hospital, for what is quaintly described as a "personality disorder" - a more accurate term for this man is, in my view, an evil 'complete and utter nutter'.

PS/ The Blogger host was 'playing up' when I tried to publish this before going to bed last night - let's see if it's working better now ...

UPDATE: (Saturday 17DEC05 12.10 GMT) An assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has voiced his disappointment at the 'manslaughter' convictions when his work with the CPS on the case led him to believe that convictions for 'murder' would have been appropriate. I have written my views on this development here.

2nd UPDATE: (Monday 23JAN06 23.55 GMT) The four killers have now been sentenced - three get 12 years, and the fourth gets 8 years.

ID Cards Bill in House of Lords - read and weep

I watched part of the Lords debate on this on Monday and was dismayed by much of what I heard. As with earlier stages of this and other Bills relevant to our freedoms and rights as citizens, a good source of commentary is again the excellent Spy Blog whose article on this week's Lords' proceedings is here - one can only hope that the note of optimism in the first comment to this post is justified at Report Stage for the Bill.

'Big Brother' goes EU-wide

The European Parliament has approved rules forcing telephone companies to retain call and internet records for use in anti-terror investigations.

When I saw this story my immediate reaction was (apart from anger that our privacy is once more being curtailed in law) was that Spy Blog would probably have some words to say on this latest intrusion into our lives - indeed he has. Read also the attached comment(s) which add further pertinent analysis.

Sadly (and outrageously!), but not surprisingly, the UK government led the calls to implement this new EU Directive. Thank heavens we have a Government devoted to protecting our best interests, eh? (I'm now retching quietly, I hope you understand.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Council Tax in Scotland set to rise well above target ...

... say MSPs. The Scottish Parliament's finance committee expects the rise in council taxes from next April to be well above the target of 2.5 per cent set by the Scottish Executive and worry they could rise by upto 6.6 per cent - the latter figure is what the rise would have to be to cover the expected overall council deficit of GBP85m, together with the 'efficiency savings' of GBP58m demanded by the Scottish Executive.

Committee Convener Des McNulty is quoted as saying:

"We have raised questions over whether the delivery of efficiency savings can be properly monitored and over the inequitable treatment of local government.

"We are asking the executive to look again at the efficiency savings it has set for its own departments and at its approach of imposing budget cuts in areas which affect frontline services, such as local government and health.

"It is clear that, in terms of cash releasing savings, local government appears to be contributing 10 times more in percentage terms that the enterprise and lifelong learning department ... and double that being contributed by transport."

- remember that Mr McNulty is a member of the same Party, Labour, that is the major component of the Scottish Executive.

In fact there seems to be a remarkable unanimity between his comments and what Scottish National Party finance spokesman John Swinney and Conservative finance spokesman Derek Brownlee are respectively quoted as saying.

There is an excellent article in today's Telegraph (probably only in the Scottish edition as it does not yet seem to be online) by Scottish political correspondent Alan Cochrane in which he comments on the level of expenses claimed by MSPs last year having reached almost GBP10m. He reckons, and it seems to be pretty fair comment, that such items are the inevitable consequence of Devolution and that those who voted for it in 1997 should reflect that this extra tier of government comes with a [pretty substantial] price tag - the building itself (10 times over budget) and the costs in salaries of the MSPs and all the associated personnel and associated services [thought to be] necessary to support this. Perhaps they might also reflect upon this when their Council Tax statements drop on their doormats in spring of next year.

Oh my Gahd, my secret's out ...

Your Hidden Talent

You have the natural talent of rocking the boat, thwarting the system.
And while this may not seem big, it can be.
It's people like you who serve as the catalysts to major cultural changes.
You're just a bit behind the scenes, so no one really notices.

(thru The Devil's Kitchen)

Who owns the Buncefield oil depot at Hemel Hempstead?

I ask this question out of simple curiosity as I don't recall any mention of this in any of the copious news reporting I have seen of the tragedy on the television or heard on the radio. Probably because no 'blame' is thought to be attributable to anyone over this incident (which seems at this stage simply to be a random accident), the mass media have not thought this was a matter worth mentioning. I find this a curious omission, when you recall that the reporting of many tragedies in the past, where no 'blame' could legitimately be laid at the doors of any of the companies directly involved (the airlines operating the four airliners hijacked on 11SEP01, or the airline which operated the Concorde which crashed not too long ago and led soon after to the whole Concorde fleet being grounded permanently, to take just a couple of examples) inevitably made mention of the organisations involved. Perhaps because in this most recent tragedy there were no fatalities? Perhaps it is a case of those responsible for the PR of the two companies involved (see below) doing their most important job, in reality, superbly well by keeping their clients out of the news. Who knows?

In any case, a very little research reveals that brief details are mentioned in this BBC report and a little more detailed information is provided in this Bloomberg report, if any ordinary person other than myself is at all interested - you'll need to scroll to the end of each article to see the relevant information.

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Holyrood - former project director to take early retirement.

I've just read that Barbara Doig is to take early retirement and will receive "a substantial one-off payment and a pension based on her final salary".

Now, whatever I may think of the way in which the project to build a building deemed suitable to house our new Scottish Parliament, our elected representatives and the administrative staff required (and my views on that will probably be clear to anyone who has read my blog for a while - I highlight just a very few of the articles I have written over the past three years on this subject), my only comment is that there are a number of people much higher up the 'food chain' than Mrs Doig (specifically amomgst our elected representatives) who took not only the political decision to build the thing as it is today, but (at the very least) must have been aware of and acquiesced in the appointment of Mrs Doig to a role way beyond her managerial capabilities. What about making snide comments about the assets, accrued or to come by way of pensions, of those who were amongst those really responsible for this whole sorry episode - the First Minister who wanted that particular site and that particular architect appointed in the first place and the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament in post throughout most of the period until the project was completed? Well I have made a few snide comments myself in the past about the roles these gentlemen seem to have played, by commission or omission, in realising the building, but even I think it would be inequitable to go after only some poor woman who was given a role she had neither the authority nor the capacity to control effectively whilst glossing over, in practical terms, the others whose negligence and/or vanity allowed this to develop as it did.

Monday, 12 December 2005

A Bach Christmas : BBC Radio 3 16-25 December 2005

BBC Radio 3 is going to broadcast the complete works of Bach (Johann Sebastian Bach) in a marathon 214 hours of broadcasting over the ten days beginning on Friday 16th December and ending on the afternoon of Sunday 25th December.

For people, such as me, who consider that J S Bach was the greatest composer of classical music ever to have lived (or, possibly, ever likely to live) the prospect of having the opportunity to listen to many of his works over such a short period is enticing, to put it mildly! However, very unfortunately, not even I will be capable of listening to everything, but I shall certainly make it my business to be near a radio (or a broadband internet connection) for as much of these ten days as possible and to listen to whatever is being broadcast provided it does not conflict with other activities.

Two items of music that I shall make a particular effort to listen to are Cantatas 112 and 185 (but see below):
- the first is "Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt" and will be broadcast sometime after midnight on Monday 19th December;
- so far I am unable to trace when the other, Cantata 185, will be broadcast; cantata 185 is entitled "Barmherziges Herze der Ewigen Liebe" - my recording of this is one I obtained over 30 years ago and because it is on a 33rpm vinyl LP disc has become somewhat worn over the years. I have been trying, for at least 15 years, to find a replacement recording on CD, but to date I have not succeeded; I suspect that my recording must be very rare. I bought it in about 1974 when I lived in Casablanca (Morocco) and the recording was on the 'Joker' label, with the performance being given by the Swabian Choral Singers accompanied by the Stuttgart Bach Orchestra

The broadcasts commence on Friday 16th December at 7pm British time (19.00 GMT) with the Christmas Oratorio - parts 1, 2 and 3 (BWV 248) and end with parts 4, 5 and 6 of the same oratorio on Christmas Day, 25th December, at 3.30pm (15.30 GMT). A fitting end to a magnificent ten days! If you are outside the UK you can still listen to this (although I expect the sound quality might not be quite so good over PC speakers, unless you have a quality speaker system hooked up to your internet connection) by clicking here and then on the 'Radio Player' button at the top of the page.

Government estimates there are 3.6 million gays in the UK

For the first time ever the Government has released its official estimate of the numbers of gays and lesbians in the UK. Apparently the exercise to try and quantify the proportion of the population that is gay was conducted to establish the potential impact of the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act, permitting civil partnerships between same-sex partners to be legally recognised, thus giving rise to various obligations and privileges hitherto available only to married (therefore heterosexual) couples.

The figures show that slightly over 6 per cent of the UK population is thought to be lesbian/gay and government actuaries believe that by 2050 3.3 per cent of homosexuals over 16 years old may have registered civil partnerships, compared with the roughly one third of the heterosexual population which it is believed will be married.

Another interesting nugget in the government's figures is that "the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) says there are an estimated 1.5 million to two million homosexuals and bisexuals in the 30 million-strong workforce", roughly comparable with the overall level of employment amongst the whole adult population. The DTI estimate is based on a number of studies over the past 15 years.

Although the figures are in no way definitive [how could they be?], they do probably represent a pretty realistic estimate and I think it is extrmely helpful to have this kind of recognition that gays/lesbians are [and always have been] a significant sector of the population, with needs and resources as valid as any other demographic within our society.

Friday, 9 December 2005

No, seriously, I'm not a nerd ...

... except I did take the test, so there must be something at least a little 'nerdy' about me .... how about you?
I am nerdier than 23% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

(thru Tottyland)

Thursday, 8 December 2005

Things I will not tolerate in this website!

Over the past few days there have been numerous distasteful comments left in several of my recent posts, all appearing to emanate from the same person, who styles him-/her-self 'rebbiker'; I am now pretty convinced that this person is posting from the Wilayah Persekutuan and more specifically Kuala Lumpur area of Malaysia. As with many internet users his/her IP varies, presumably because the ISP (Adsl-streamyx-tmnet) uses dynamic IPs for its clients, so it is a question or banning each IP range as it is used - this is what I have now decided to do systematically whenever this person posts yet another comment which contravenes the Terms of Use I have set for use of this website, rather than adding my own comments to his'/her's which I had been doing until a few days ago. Incidentally a person using the name 'rebbiker' has posted offensive comments here occasionally in the past (so far as I recall such comments began over two years ago), but the recent spate of comments has become tiresome.

I reiterate that I welcome comment in this website, positive or negative, but there are strings attached - I will not permit profanity nor comments which may reasonably be construed as being racist, sectarian or homophobic in nature or which appear to have been made primarily to promote commercial activity. Naturally in some cases this will entail some degree of interpretation and I try, to the best of my ability (and my blood pressure!), to err on the side of caution when deciding to censor or delete offensive comments, but the person doing the interpreting is me so far as this website is concerned so if any person, whether it be 'rebbiker' or anyone else, is unhappy with any of my editorial decisions, then the stark truth is that I do not care - I make the decisions, period. There are many other places on the internet where people can indulge their wish/habit of using profanity or participate in discussions where bigotry of all kinds is tolerated. This is not one of those places.

Scottish health board area to be split into two ...

... to do what, exactly?

Scottish health Minister Andy Kerr has announced that the Argyll and Clyde NHS board is to be abolished in March 2006 (i.e. at the end of the current financial year for most public bodies) and two constituent parts absorbed into two other health board areas. Argyll and Bute is to be transferred into NHS Highland - run out of Inverness. The remainder is to be transferred under the control of NHS Greater Glasgow.

The reasoning for this re-allocation is said to be to coincide with local government authorities and one can understand the organisational reasoning for this, upto a point (as Private Eye might say). However, has Andy Kerr ever looked at a map and seen just how far Inverness is from the southern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula? Anyway, let that pass ... no doubt video-conferencing, emails, etc will make this factor unimportant [perhaps].

However, the announcement also includes the detail that the Argyll and Clyde NHS board is GBP80m in deficit and that ministers have concluded that "[since] there was no prospect of balancing the books (and) the debt will be written off". In other words, the deficit will be absorbed by you and me, the taxpayers!

The report also states that: Mr Kerr said that redrawing the boundaries would make no change to the services that people currently accessed.

I have a question for Mr Kerr and others within our Labour/Lib-Dem coalition Scottish Executive. What is going to change in the way the health provision services are run in the future in the areas currently within the control of the Argyll and Clyde NHS board to reduce the risk, preferably eliminate it, of deficits being run up in future. Is more 'funding' (aka tax money) going to be provided or is it simply getting rid of the administrators who run the existing borad that is expected to do the trick? Or are the administrative functionss going to be enlarged in the Greater Glasgow and Highland areas to cope with the additional work, and if so will this be openly admitted, or somehow disguised. And what of their own financial positions - do they both currently return suprluses or deficits? In the case of the Highland board I think I know the answer already and, as you may imagine, it is precisely the answer you would have expected.

So is all this just a trick of accounting (and political) ledgerdemain, or is there going to be real change to improve the way in which funds allocated are spent for the primary purposes for which a health service exists - to help to prevent and cure illness - rather than to provide jobs for increasing numbers of bureaucrats. My own prescription would be pretty radical - I'd have done the abolition bit, then I'd have stopped. Naturally this solution would not appeal to the socialist state sector addicts who run our affairs in Scotland, nor indeed to most of those responsible for keeping these clowns in power.

PS/ In another report I have just seen, Auditor General Robert Black said the Scottish NHS was on course for a £183m deficit in the current financial year. He said it was "difficult to assess" whether the NHS was delivering value for money.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

The Conservatives have a new Leader ... and he can perform

I've just been watching David Cameron during his first outing as Leader of the Conservative Party at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) and thought he performed extremely well. I think I detected a very slight nervousness (or parhaps bashfulness might be a better word) when he stood up to ask his first question, but he very quickly seemed to find his stride - his rebuke to Hilary Armstrong (Labour Chief Whip) for barracking him immediately he stood up, and his patience until he was satisfied she would allow him to continue without further such childishness, was quite refreshing. His technique of seeming to agree whole-heartedly with Tony Blair, and his promise to support the Government's Education Bill, despite whatever opposition Blair may provoke from his own Party with some key aspects of his proposals, demonstrated that Cameron has a strategy to discomfit the Prime Minister - quite interesting and amusing to watch. Cameron's remark that Blair had been "the man of tomorrow, once ..." was quite telling and provoked a wry smile from the PM himself. It was by no means a walkover for Cameron, of course, as Blair performed pretty well himself, specially because he sensed (at least on this occasion) that his normal bluster against the Opposition could no longer work, when his new opponent was unwilling to join him in the usual ya-boo style of exchange which has characterised PMQs.

A fine start, then, for David Cameron. His election as Leader yesterday by a two to one margin over David Davis (Cameron 134,446 votes/68 per cent, Davis 64,398 votes/ 32 per cent) should give Cameron the ability to implement the changes he wishes to make to Conservative Party policy, but we have so far only the broadest outline of what his plans entail in practical terms. For myself I am cautiously hopeful that his brand of consensus-style politics, and his avowed desire to regain the centre ground of British politics, may allow the Conservative Party to improve its electoral prospects with policies that I can pretty whole-heartedly support. However such support is somewhat premature until David Cameron fills in many of the policy gaps, or at least provides a more detailed picture of what he proposes than he has revealed so far. I did download a membership application form from the Party's website yesterday, but I won't be filling it in and sending it off just yet - before I re-join I want a little more clarification ...

Monday, 5 December 2005

The day has arrived! Civil Partnerships legal from today!

The Civil Partnerships Act enters into force today, allowing same sex couples to start the process formally which will lead to the first Civil Partnership ceremonies taking place fifteen days from now (the equivalent for a marriage of 'reading the Banns'). I think this is a great day. At long last, same sex partners in committed relationships will be able to do what heterosexual couples have been able to do for a very long time - show a public, legal commitment to each other with all the rights and responsibilities that involves.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

Will new Vatican ruling on gay priests provoke schism?

This seems to be the possibility raised by an article in LifeSite. One of the more amusing quotes is from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, who said in an official statement: "The Instruction is not saying that men of homosexual orientation are not welcome in the priesthood." - and adds its own rather dry comment that this is despite the fact that the [ official Vatican] document says exactly the opposite.

What a mixed-up organisation the Church seems to be. I expect that, in practical terms, the new dispensation will quietly be ignored or subverted by a significant part of the Church.

Gay parish priest victim of unprovoked homophobic attack

Now you can't even eat a burger on your way home without the risk of being beaten up because you are gay. And this didn't happen in some major urban ghetto, but in a place which I have always thought of as a relatively genteel town on the south-coast, Bournemouth. The parish priest has chosen to have his name published after the attack, because he is well-known both as a priest working to promote safe sex in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and as a gay man himself and he hopes others will learn from his experience.

The attack was carried out by a man, accompanied by a woman, carrying a metal baseball bat - it seems unlikely that this is the kind of equipment that would normally be carried by someone of an evening who was not going out specifically to look for someone to beat up.

1st December - World AIDS Day

Remember ...

- visit the website here .


What is AIDS?
I really don't know
each day I find myself with more questions to be answered
But where do I turn for the right one?
I pray please don't knock next at my door,
For when I hear the knock I will not answer
the one to open all doors.

Tashina Latouche

- read this and other poetry relating to AIDS here.

UPDATE: (Thursday 1DEC05 14.03 GMT) A timely reminder from from an NHS Consultant with NHS Glasgow that AIDS can affect anyone: "The myth still persists in some places that HIV/Aids is an illness that affects particular groups of people, and that's just not the case." Indeed.