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

Monday, 30 April 2007

It's not time!

I posted my Postal Votes pack today, having thought some more over the weekend about how to use my votes. I'm not going to reveal for whom, if anyone, I voted - except to reveal that I did not, ultimately, choose to vote for 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' (aka 'SNP'), nor indeed for the SNP candidate, in the Scottish Parliament 'List' or 'FPTP' votes respectively, despite what I wrote here. The 'hype' about the inevitability of the SNP triumphing on Thursday continues in the media, of course, but I wonder just how many hard-line traditional Labour voters are actually going to ditch a lifetime of voting for 'their' Party in favour of the SNP; I remain somewhat sceptical about this, although I accept that something does appear to be happening. As for the Local Government elections I have done what I usually do - I have cast my preference votes for candidates that I know personally.

I should really be out this evening in Inverness at a wine tasting (the first since my return from Spain), specially as it is one I much wished to attend (the topic is the Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Nahe). However, my little dog Tara is now a very elderly lady and is, I fear, not destined to be with me for very much longer as she has failed markedly in recent weeks and has become seriously unwell since my return to Nairn. I have another appointment with the vet on Wednesday following on from two last week (on Tuesday and Saturday) and based on what I am advised then may well decide that it is time to let her go 'to sleep' - she is now on a cocktail of drugs twice a day to keep her little heart pumping strongly and to take fluid from her lungs; it is pitiful to watch her decline even if, very fortunately, she is not in any pain, but simply getting weaker by the day, now finding great difficulty in supporting herself on her legs, particularly when she has been lying in her basket for any length of time - which she now does most of the day and night. Her bladder control is now almost non-existent and this must be troubling for her since she has always until recently been such a fastidious little creature about her personal cleanliness. In this blogger's life there are some things more important than mere politics, even for a political junkie like me and even during such a 'momentous' week for Scotland, and the UK, as this may prove to be, so I felt I could not in good conscience take myself off to taste wines when this may be one of the last evenings that Tara is with me.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Bill's new slide-show toy

I just discovered this slide-show utility earlier this evening, as a result of visiting a local Nairn blog (A Gurn from Nairn) which has unfortunately not been updated much for a while, but seems to have been resurrected recently, possibly because of the forthcoming Scottish Parliament and Local Government elections. This slide-show programme seems like a nice idea so I thought I'd give it a whirl and this is what I've come up with as a first quick effort:

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Scottish and Local Election literature in my area

(Please see the UPDATE at the end of this post, in which I have included a couple of additional pieces of literature received today - 2MAY07 - from one of the political parties)

I find it fascinating to compare the different messages that the various political parties try to persuade electors to vote for. I'm also interested in their different presentational styles; some of the messages are not to my taste at all, of course, but even where this is the case some of the messages seem to me to be well presented given the limited resources they probably have available. Isn't there some saying about the Devil having all the best tunes?

The images below are of election literature which I have received through my letterbox. I have not received literature from all the political parties or individual candidates standing at the elections next week, but if I do receive any of these in the next few days I will endeavour to include them in this, or a later, posting before the election day on 3rd May. However I will only include literature which I receive through my own letterbox; I did in fact have site of a couple of other pieces of election literature elsehwere in Highland Region a few days ago, but as one of these items was issued by the British National Party (BNP) I am happy enough to stick with my rule, until and unless their leaflet actually appears in my own letterbox. Please note that I have 'edited' some of the images so that multi-fold leaflets show all sections the right way up: in one case I have combined two leaflets in one image: in another case I have eliminated a section to save space and memory. None of these modifications alters the basic message in any way.

A reader has pointed out a piece of unfortunate (and unintentional) cropping in one of my images; this has now been corrected, but it brings to mind this: "The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today."- (Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass). It's quite amazing how apt this is for the spin we are being subjected to by ALL candidates and political parties in the final stages of electioneering!

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

Scottish Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ's Lordship"

Scottish Conservative and Unionist

Scottish Green Party

Scottish Labour Party

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish National Party

Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party

Scottish Socialist Party

Scottish Voice

Solidarity - Tommy Sheridan

UKIP Scotland

Fraser, Laurie Richard (Independent)

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

PS/ I have still to decide how I will cast my votes, if at all!

UPDATE: (Wednesday 2MAY07 17.10 BST) I received a couple of extra pieces of literature this morning from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, the first urging votes for the Conservative 'List' candidates for the Scottish Parliament because it is said that only a small increase in Conservative votes might result in three, rather than the current two, of their list candidates being elected, so this leaflet promotes the 3rd person on the list by making use of what strikes me as a 'sexy' photograph of the rather attractive young female candidate involved; although she seems eminently well-qualified to be an MSP I note that she works for the Foreign Office (see election leaflet) so assume she will be making changes to her current employment if she is elected. The other item received today is on behalf of the Conservative Local Government candidate for Highland Council (Ward 19, Nairn) - so far as I am aware this person is likely to be merely a 'paper' candidate as he seems to be completely unknown in Nairn and has an Inverness address (as does the Labour Party candidate).

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

Scottish Conservative and Unionist - 3rd 'List' candidate

Scottish Conservative and Unionist - Local Government candidate for Ward 19 (Nairn)

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

Friday, 27 April 2007

Scottish and Local Election candidates in my area - and how to cast your vote

For the record, these are the people for whom I am eligible to vote in the elections on 3rd May. I received my postal voting papers yesterday morning but have, quite honestly, not decided whom I should vote for in any particular category, if anyone.

All of the information about those individuals and political parties standing for election in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Local Government elections has been taken from the official lists of nominations published in the Highland Council website.

Scottish Parliament election:

Constituency - Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber ('First Past the Post')
listed in alphabetic order
- Ewing, Fergus Stewart (Scottish National Party - SNP)
- Harrow, Craig Thomas Alexander (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
- Johnston, Jamie Wiliam Halcro (Scottish Conservative and Unionist)
- Stewart, Linda Ann (Scottish Labour Party candidate)

Highlands and Islands Region ('List' candidates - using the d'Hondt method of voting, the Additional Member System, which is a form of proportional representation)
listed in alphabetic order by political party or individual name (except for 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' which is shown under 'SNP' - much more logical!)
British National Party Local People First (McLean, Scott / Robertson, Roger Cryle) / McBride, Andrew / Tait, Matthew Robert James)
Christian Peoples Alliance - Leader Teresa Smith (Madill, Raymund Paul / Murton, Mary)
Publican Party - Smoking Room In Pubs (Stewart, John Lachlan)
Scottish Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ's Lordship" (Murray, Murdo Angus / Shaw, Alexander James / Forrest, Tom Deans / Turner, Leslie Hew / Cormack, Jessie Banks / Ross, Angus Fraser / Shearer, Andrew / Wallace, Susan Bain / Bond, Anthony Michael / Cormack, Barrie / Forbes, David James / Morrison, Donald John)
Scottish Conservative and Unionist (Scanlon, Mary Elizabeth / McGrigor, James Angus Roderick Neil / Gardiner, Helen Ishbel / Johnston, Jamie Halcro / Petrie, David Dick / MacDonald, Donald Gunn / Jones, Mark Graham / Hodgson, John)
Scottish Enterprise Party (Brodie of Falsyde, Iain)
Scottish Green Party (Scott, Eleanor Roberta / MacLeod, Donnie / Jardine, Judith Anne / Jardine, David Malcolm / Spindler, Ailsa / Falconer, Murray Taylor)
Scottish Labour Party (Peacock, Peter James / Grant, Rhoda / Stewart, David John / Conniff, Christine Mary / Macmillan, Michael Muirdon / Graham, Dawn Margaret / Harrison, Simon Robert)
Scottish Liberal Democrats (Paterson, Jamie / Foxley, Michael Ewen MacDonald / Rommel, Dominique Gilberte Guy / Davis, Jean Mary Elizabeth / Forrester, Allan Dawson / MacLean, Angela / Hay, Alison)
Scottish National Party ["Alex Salmond For First Minister"] (Ewing, Fergus Stewart / Mather, James Stuart / Gibson, Robert McKay / Gibson, Robert McKay / Thompson, David George / Will, Mhairi Euphemia / Wynd, Robert)
Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party (Fry, James Hughes / Stewart, George William / Scobbie, Donald MacGregor / Dickson, Alexander Gibson Ferguson / Galbraith, Theodora Gillian Kingsbury)
Scottish Socialist Party (Nicolson, Donald / Muir, Rowan / Paterson, Rosalind / Hamilton, William / Laird, Richard)
Scottish Voice (Mackay, Hamish Hay)
Socialist Labour Party (Corbett, Brian Andrew / Watt, Claire / Muir, Colin / Entwistle, Dorothy Edna)
Solidarity - Tommy Sheridan (MacLeod, Anne Elizabeth / Arnott, Steven / Aberdein, John Henry / Anderson, Norma Catherine / Walker, Elizabeth / Ward, Francis / Henderson, Deirdre / Laughland, Shona)
UKIP Scotland (Bannerman, David Campbell / Anderson, Philip / Richmond, Iain Hendry / Geddes, Duncan)

Local Government election
Highland Council:

Ward 19. Nairn (Under a new form of voting using a type of proprtional representation called the'Single Transferable Vote')
listed in alphabetic order
- Fraser, David (Independent)
- Fraser, Laurie Richard (Independent)
- Lennon, James (Independent)
- MacDonald, Elizabeth (Scottish National Party)
- Marsden, Graham Stephen Valentine (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
- Park, Alexander Smith (Independent)
- Ross, Robert Lindsay (Scottish Conservative and Unionist)
- Stevenson, Ronald Alexander (Scottish Labour Party Candidate)

Now, how to cast one's votes. Not for whom they should be cast - that is up to you and to me as individuals to decide - but how to vote:

Although the voting systems for the Scottish Parliament (both 'FPTP' and 'List') remain unchanged the two votes have been combined in different sections on one ballot paper; the 'List' options are listed on the left on a pale yellow background, whereas the 'FPTP' candidates are on the right on a pale lilac background.

The voting system for local government elections has, however, changed significantly. The candidates are listed on a second ballot paper, which is white, but instead of simply marking 'X' against one's choice as in the past, one may now vote for as few or as many of those listed as one wishes, numbering one's votes from '1' up according to whom one prefers most.

The votes are to be counted mechanically for the fist time; I hope the system works! It is quite clear that to attempt to count the Local Government votes manually under the new voting system would be a complex and cumbersome procedure, very prone to error. The 'List' votes for the Scottish Parliament elections are also somewhat cumbersome to count. The 'FPTP' votes are relatively straightforward to count, but I suppose it is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough of the right kinds of people to actually do the counting, hence the inevitability of moving to an automatated counting system.

The Electoral Commission has put out leaflets to every household explaining the procedures for voting (visit the website here for more information) and I reproduce below the parts which explain in detail how to complete the ballot papers:

Your votes and how to exercise them

How to complete ballot papers

Click here to see larger images.

I will publish shortly (probably tomorrow) a post with images of samples of all the election literature I have received so far; I have not received leaflets from some political parties nor from some candidates, but will add these in due course if I do receive them before the elections.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Bill is back in Nairn for the summer!

Well, I returned home to Nairn last Saturday, but since then I have been quite busy 'reintegrating' into a domestic existence here; boring things like dealing with a certain amount of mail, disposing of a lot of 'junk' postal items, putting stuff in the refrigerator and coping with a dog who is now quite an elderly lady and who has, in the last few weeks, begun to show her age in a number of ways; more about that in a subsequent post.

Since my last post on 13th April, when I was roughly half-way up France (about 60 Km south of Lyon) I had an enjoyable overnight stay with friends who live in the Vosges area of Lorraine in north-eastern France. The small village where I stayed, Vioménil, has a population of roughly 160 and I suppose one of its main 'claims to fame' is that the source of the River Saône is located there; naturally I had to have a photograph!

Bill at the source of the River Saône - 15th April 2007
(Vioménil, Vosges, France)

Click here to see a larger image.

Apart from this, the Vosges is known for its 'sources' (springs from which water is bottled for sale) and two of the better-known French bottled waters come from the towns of Vittel and Contrexéville which are located not far from Vioménil. Broadly-speaking, Vittel is a water low in minerals which, according to the 'blurb', flushes the impurities out of your system whereas Contrexéville is pretty high in certain minerals and is supposed to aid in 'slimming', although you are not advised to stray too far from a lavatory if you drink a lot of it! I like both of these waters, for the record, but not all waters are the same and it is just as well to be aware of the different effects they can have on the body.

The following day I travelled on to the Netherlands, the last part of this stage of my journey home to Scotland, where I spent five days staying with my brother and sister-in-law in the small village of Sweikhuizen (a short article about the area, in English, is here) in the South Limburg region, having travelled through Luxembourg and Belgium; the day was gloriously sunny (and hot!) and there is some marvellous wooded scenery along the way; my last two journeys through Luxembourg were both in the winter (last January when I travelled down to Spain and some years ago when I was en route to visit the European Parliament in Strasbourg) and whilst it remains beautiful when snow-covered I much prefer it in warmer weather. Soon after my arrival in Sweikhuizen in the late afternoon on 15th April I was sitting in the garden of the local bar in the village enjoying drinks with family and friends - glorious!

One of the excursions I was taken on during my stay in the Netherlands was to a place called the 'three borders point' where the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet. In fact in the early 19th century it would have been the 'two borders' point, because in those days Belgium was still a part of the Netherlands (it became an independent country only in 1830) and indeed Germany did not exist either - so the two countries involved were the Netherlands and Prussia (which later formed an important part of the unified Germany under Bismarck). However, it did become a 'three borders point' even then because of a dispute between the two countries over the zinc ores found in the area near the town of Kelmis (or 'Calamine' in French, after which the sunburn lotion Calamine Lotion is named - the active ingredient is a compound of zinc oxide and iron oxide); as a result a tiny territory called Neutral Moresnet was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1816 and continued to exist until 1919 when it was abolished and absorbed into Belgium as part of the post-First World War Treaty of Versailles.

Well, how could I not have a photograph taken at such a place which has such a curious history!

The 'Three Borders Point'
17th April 2007
- Bill stands in Germany and faces into the Netherlands

An amusing sign in a restaurant window

Click here to see larger images.

The last leg of my journey home began last Friday when I drove to Zeebrugge with my mother (who had been in the Netherlands for a few weeks with my brother) to catch the ferry for Rosyth, just north of Edinburgh, where we arrived around lunchtime on Saturday and by 5pm that day I was home in Nairn - somewhat fatigued, but happy. I've been spending the last five days resting after my journey and doing the various mundane things an absence of three and a half months involves. I come back, of course, to the final stages of the Scottish parliamentary and local election season which will culminate in the elections to be held on 3rd May, just one week away. I received my postal vote ballot papers today; I shall be writing about the elections in the next few days.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Two difficult days of driving from Valencia to Saint-Rambert d'Albon

Yesterday's journey took me from Valencia to Girona, in theory a pretty easy 4.5 hour drive. It didn't turn out quite that way, however. Oh, the motorway is excellent and when I did it in the opposite direction in January it worked out very smoothly. However it was raining heavily for most of the way north yesterday and that always makes for difficult driving conditions I think. One slightly brighter apsect of yesterday's journey was that I had a more than just tolerably good motorway lunch - a plate of very nice Iberian dry-cured ham with a lovely salad to go with it; no wine of course, but you can't have everything! I stayed in the same hotel in Girona as on my way down and had a very comfortable night, with a pretty good dinner. I didn't get online yesterday evening, however, because the hotel had run out of 24hour wi-fi access cards! They need to orgnaise their stock-replenishment better, methinks; they had also run out of the wine I wanted to have - that's a more serious fault, I suppose.

Today's journey from Girona into France and up through the country as far as Saint-Rambert d'Albon (about 60 Km south of Lyon) made yesterday's journey seem smooth in comparison. My SatNav suggested today's trip should take about 4.25 hours and with an hour for lunch and toilet stops I had calculated a journey-time af 5.5 hours. In fact door to door took about 8.5 hours! Firstly it rained again today, very heavily for almost all of it except for the last 50 Km or so. Added to that there was a lot of traffic on the road, specially once we got into France (Easter break holiday changeover day). It took quite a while, too, to get through the border - no problem, except that there was only one car lane open through the frontier control so even though it was just a question of driving slowly through, three lanes of traffic had to filter into that one lane. Apart from the foul driving weather, though, the heavy traffic resulted in a ginormous delay getting through the toll control just south of Montpellier, well over 40 minutes of slow crawling to travel less than 500 metres to pay the toll; almost all the lanes were manned, it's just that there was a huge amount of traffic. The traffic then proceeded to crawl along for a large part of the rest of the way, with a few stretches where decent speeds were possible; I had the 'pleasure' of listening to the road traffic reports on the radio describing the dreadful traffic delays on just the route I was following and suggesting that we all be patient (like when have you ever seen French drivers being patient - lol). Finding the hotel here was another bit of 'fun'; twice round the town with SatNav taking me to a sign only, nothing else. On my second circuit I drove deliberately slowly past this sign and managed to read the small print below the hotel name, which informed me of how to find the hotel.

Now because I am basically an optimistic and happy soul I want to end this 'gripe' of a post on a more upbeat note. Not all the rooms here have wi-fi access and when I was told my room number I asked if it had this; I was told 'no'. I asked if they could give me another room and after a bit of hunting in the room allocation computer was indeed given another room; and I must say the quality of the connection is one of the best I have ever had when using wi-fi; so far the connection has never cut out at all and the speed seems very good and all for EUR9.80 for 24hours (Spanish hotels in the same hotel chain charge EUR12.00 with sometimes mediocre connection quality). The other and more important factor that has lifted my spirits this evening is the excellent dinner I had; nothing fancy, but just good French 'bourgeois' cooking; the French do know how to eat well and in this place the staff really do seem to care about what they are doing.

I have another 4 or so hour drive tomorrow to reach the village where I'll be staying with friends tomorrow night; I certainly won't be online whilst there as these particular friends are not into computer technology at all; they are letter writers, not e-mail senders - they even produce their own stationery. For example envelopes are hand-made, never bought and cards or letter-heads are always beautifully illustratecd by hand. No shop-bought nonsense for these people! Both he and she are good cooks, too - obviously this has particular appeal for me. On Sunday I reach the Netherlands and am there for five days; as I think I mentioned in an earlier post I will probably get the use of a computer when I'm there, but likely only to check e-mail; I doubt if I'll take time to blog anything when I'm there so it'll probably not be before Sunday 22nd April, once I'm back home in Nairn, that I get a chance to do that. So until then, be good - and if you can't be good, be careful.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Mazarron to Valencia - an easy journey

I set off from near Mazarron this morning at about 11.15 and barely three hours later was driving into the hotel carpark here in Valencia, or to be strictly accurate a southern almost-suburb of Valencia called Alfafar. On my way down three months ago I over-rode the route the SatNav had selected (which was the one I took today in reverse) and opted instead for the coastal toll-road which skirts Benidorm; it was a good road although around Alicante there was a lot of work going on constructing new fly-overs, slip-roads etc., so I decided to do what 'Mr Tim' (the voice I have set on my SatNav) suggested today.

Basically shortly before Alicante-proper one cuts inland on the motorway that ultimately leads to Madrid, going in the direction of Albacete. There is a brief section, of about 10 Km, where one leaves the motorway, and re-joins another motorway coming from Albacete to Valencia. Parts of the motorway from Alicante in the direction of Albacete are 'hairy', as it is very busy (or at least it was today) and because it goes through pretty hilly terrain - so there was some spectacular scenery. The break in motorways mentioned above was on a perfectly decent two-lane national highway and wasn't too busy. Once one turns onto the next motorway, heading from Albacete to Valencia, one is on a completely different kind of road, though; long straight sections, occasionally broken by long gentle, sweeping curives as one moved from one valley to the next - of course one covers a lot of road very quickly. The motorway runs through what looks like pretty rich farmland, mostly orange groves as far as the eye can see - I suppose this is the physical evidence of why a well-known variety of orange is called 'Valencia'. I have become used to letting SatNav take me to my intended destination and today that happened extremely smoothly; I didn't bother stopping anyplace on the way as it was such a relatively brief journey. The dog has been given her tea and is dozing again, but as soon as I finish posting this message I'll take her out for a walk before dinner, which I expect will for me be in 2 or 3 hoours.

Tomorrow my journey will be somewhat lengthier, SatNav predicts about 4.5 hours (usually pretty accurate), and with a 'comfort stop' (for me and the dog) and for something to eat I expect I'll take about six hours to reach Girona - a little less than an hour north of Barcelona.

I haven't posted anything yet about the 15 released British military personnel being permitted, very briefly, to sell their stories if they wished. Until the government came to its senses, as a result of the controversy the initial decision caused, and reversed the permission given, supposedly by the Royal Navy without the prior approval of the Ministry of Defence; this has not been stated explicitly by Des Browne, Defence Minister, but it seems to be what his statements today imply. I'm not sure if I belive his story in its entirety and if it is true implies a certain level of dilatoriness in this government's dealings with the military; but we knew that already - Labour regularly displays a lack of sensitivity to, or understanding for, the military 'ethos'. Conservatives don't always get it right either, of course, but I think it fair to say that they generally do it better. Having said all this I was in something of a quandary, briefly, trying to decide what I thought of the concept of military personnel being able to 'sell their stories'. My initial 'libertarian' reaction was: "Good luck to them!" - but a few moments of reflection quickly showed up the flaws in this analysis for unit discipline and the 'camaraderie' which forms such an important element of military life (I am told, because I have no personal experience). I did watch the Faye Turney interview with Sir Trevor MacDonald a few evenings ago and thought that it was moderately well done, although obviously contrived. However I think it would have been better if the interview had never occurred. Unfortunately the British military and, and indeed the whole UK, has been made to look rather silly - as a result of the never-ending media-spinning that this government seems addicted to.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Bill signs off from Murcia ... but, I'll be back !

To coin a phrase. I leave from here (near Mazarron) late tomorrow morning, heading for Valencia as the first overnight stay on my road trip up to the Netherlands - I hope to reach Sweikhuizen, not far from Maastricht, during Sunday afternoon and back home in Nairn the following Saturday afternoon. I'll probably be crossing over the border from Spain into France sometime in the late morning of Friday, having started off from Girona after my second night away from here, heading for St-Rambert d'Albon (about 60 Km south of Lyon)

No more just now, though, I've got to get some (late even for me!) lunch and I expect the technician from the internet office where I stay to be here around 5.30pm to take back the broadband modem which they so promptly installed for me way back in January. So this evening I will be sans-internet; I'll just have to find out what happens in this evening's edition of the Archers tomorrow evening in the hotel in Valencia, assuming I can get a wi-fi connection in the room there; wi-fi is great, but if you don't have optimal reception I find it can disconnect at irritating moments.

My next likely visit out here to Mazarron (Murcia) will probably be sometime in the late Autumn to complete the formalities for the purchase of my house here; it should be ready, I supect, well before then if current progress is a guide so I may bring my Autumn trip forward a little. That'll just be for a couple of weeks, though, as the prelude to another 3-month stay beginning late-January of early-February next year. However a lot will be happening in Scotland between now and then, both in my personal life (about which I may write a little in due course) and Scottish affairs generally, assuming the May elections go the way they seem to be shaping up at present.

¡Hasta luego!

Monday, 9 April 2007

Shoddy attempts to smear 'Cash for Honours' whistleblower MacNeil!

Look, I am no supporter of the SNP (I think we knew that - Ed.), but this exposé by the Sunday Mail (Sunday stablemate of Labour-leaning rag the Daily Record) is just contemptible. It shows how desperate Labour supporters are becoming about their Party's prospects in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections, not to mention the local government elections in Scotland and much of England, that they have to scrape the barrel with this kind of nonsense.

Mr MacNeil has apparently issued an apology to his family for the hurt and embarrassment he has caused them. Fair enough, Angus MacNeil is married and he has a child born around the time the incident took place. He was stupid. So were the two young women. I've been stupid too, in my time - as have, I expect, the reporters who wrote this story, not to mention politicians from more or less every political party you could name. However, no law has been broken, however much the Sunday Mail tries to insinuate this by using such charged words as 'teen girls' and 'teenage school-leavers'; the fact is both were willing participants in this escapade and all three say they now regret it; it is not at all clear, though, how the Sunday Mail got a hold of this story.

In any case I, for one, do not think any less of Angus MacNeil; whatever his personal failings (which are no concern of mine at least in this instance), and whatever his political beliefs as a supporter of the SNP's policies, he has performed a valuable public service in drawing attention to what is a real scandal - the selling of honours for cash. The Labour Party need not think it can divert voters away from the main issue by this attempt at 'proxy' smearing through a tame newspaper - and the main issue is their sleaze and their incompetence.

New blog header banner with flags ...

... of countries I shall be travelling through on my way back to the Highlands of Scotland.

I shall be leaving the Murcia region of Spain on Wednesday and travelling north over the following five days to the Netherlands where I expect to arrive next Sunday. I'll be spending about five days there staying with my brother and his wife before travelling back to Scotland on the Zeebrugge to Rosyth ferry and should be back in Nairn on 21st April. I've changed the banner a couple of days before leaving here because I'll have broadband in the house here only until sometime on Tuesday and shall be pretty busy tomorrow. I'll probably do a little travel-blogging, wi-fi permitting, from the hotels I'll be using during my travel up to the Netherlands (I'll be spending nights in Valencia, Girona and St Rambert d'Albon [about 60 Km south of Lyon] and a final night before arriving in the Netherlands with friends in a tiny hamlet in Lorraine in north-eastern France), but once I get there I doubt if I shall be on a computer much, except perhaps to check my e-mails.

I've really enjoyed my three months here, the first time I have spent most of the winter away from Scotland (since I returned to live in the UK in 1994) and now I'm just looking forward to returning here for a couple of weeks this coming November to complete the formalities once my house here is completed. That'll permit me to come back out here next January for my 3-month winter sojourn here, something I plan to do every year from now on; whilst I love Scotland in the Spring, Summer and Autumn I can can, to be honest, do without it in the winter, specially the 'dead months' of January and February.

Right, it's really late; I've been on the computer all evening updating another website (now done, thankfully) so I had better get off to bed - the dog will want out into the garden anytime between 6am and 8am; she is getting on in years and I'm afraid requires to have 'personal visits' at regular intervals if the house is to remain wholesome.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Lewis should have Sunday ferry service, consultant recommends

A consultant hired by the local council has suggested (UPI article) that ferry services to Stornoway (from Ullapool) on Sundays would bring new jobs to the island. It already has Sunday flights and neighbouring Harris started to run Sunday ferries a year ago, so I think it was only a matter of time before the traditional power of the Lord's Day Observance Society was successfully challenged. Or, as Finlay MacLeod, a writer and broadcaster who supports Sunday ferries puts it:

"I think that in the future, people will look back on the situation here in Lewis and wonder why it took so long and how a single group managed to so dominate civic society on this island."


My only worry is that this latest move might be connected to a 'plea' a couple of weeks ago by Highlands and Islands Enterprise Innse Gall for yet more subsidies to be given to the Western Isles; is this the 'bribe' that the local religious bigots are going to be offered for them to acquiesce to Sunday ferries?

Far-right Party 'imports' candidates for Scottish elections

14 of the 32 candidates standing in the name of fascist Party, the BNP, according to this article, live 'south of the border' (no, not Mexico - Ed), but just happen to have 'Scottish sounding names'. In Highland and Islands region, the BNP candidate is called Roger Robertson, described as a a 'south-east England organiser'. I am proud that this odious political Party (aka fascist thugs) has so little support in Scotland that it has to use subterfuge to procure candidates and has to use deceit to hire fund-raising venues. Of course the whole purpose of this futile exercise, because their electoral prospects are 'zilch', is to qualify for a free TV advert for their noisome policies - but there is an off-switch on the television and there are sufficient alternative channels for it to be unnecessary for any sentient being to have to sit through their five minutes of fame.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

50 metres? Nah! What about 3,272 miles then!

Do you like to swim? I certainly do, but Slovene Martin Strel likes to swim more than most. This 52-year old has just spent 66 days to become the first person ever to swim the entire 5,265 Km length of the Amazon!

Mr Strel has already swum the Danube (3,004 Km), the Mississippi (3,797 Km) and the Yangtse (4,003 Km). Read his story and be amazed at almost every sentence.

Released sailors tell of ordeal

Thankfully the fifteen British personnel have been released by Iran and have been recounting the ordeal they suffered during their time in captivity.

Some people, on both sides of the Atlantic, have denounced their behaviour during their time in captivity, criticising them for cooperating with the propaganda exercise so carefully, and seemingly successfully, mounted by the Iranian government (and it has worked, because so many seem to swallow whole the story the Iranians have peddled with their propaganda videos). I studiously avoided posting here about the whole incident during the time the fourteen men and one woman remained in illegal captivity; I did and do not think it would have been wise for anyone, even the 'voice' that my little blog has on the internet, to engage in second-guessing what was going on in Iran, for fear that even this would be used by the Iranian propaganda machine. Many other commentators, mostly with little or no personal knowledge of military affairs, felt perfectly free to make judgements. I am pleased that, since their return to this country, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band has defended the crew (for the next 7 days you should be able to hear what he said during a Today programme interview here); as he said during the interview the priority now is to continue the debriefing of these fifteen personnel to find out what actually did happen during their time as 'guests' of the Iranians, so that whatever lessons need to be learned for the future can be factored into future operational missions. It appals me that so many, who know little or nothing about such a situation, feel free to jump in with half-baked assessments. And, for our friends on the other side of the Atlantic, our military does not operate, thankfully, to the same 'rules of engagement' which your military does, nor indeed do our military operate to the same rules which formerly governed their own behaviour when captured - of course, neither does this country 'render' people for torture in dubious secret prisons, nor hold 'enemy combatants' in legal limbo outside the jurisdiction of our own court system; quite frankly since the present US administration came into power this country, the UK, has absolutely nothing to learn from the shambles that country has got itself into morally under its President today. We may share the same basic aims, but I'm afraid our methods of achieving those aims are governed by different rules even if our own present government has itself, in my view, lost sight of the bigger picture of what we are trying to preserve in the 'war on terror'; if you have to destroy something in order to save it then the terrorists have won. And what we are trying to save is our liberty and freedom, both physically and intellectually.

Errors in electronic vote counting equipment jeopardise credibility of Scottish election voting

Electronic vote counting equipment has shown "a 4 per cent discrepancy between the number of ballot papers fed into the machine and the number of votes counted" during tests in the Cairngorms National Park.

Such a level of inaccuracy could prove extremely damaging to the credibility of results declared in marginal seats such as Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber constituency where the winning candidate at the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2003 had a majority of only 1,046.

The necessity for some form of automated vote counting has been increased since the introduction both of the Scottish Parliament 'list' votes some years ago and the proportional representation being introduced into local election voting this time around, but if such equipment is unable to give an accurate result then it is too dangerous to rely on it without manual checking - which would seem to defeat the whole point; having assisted myself (as an observer) at a number of vote counting sessions before I realise what a time-consuming and labour-intensive operation manual counting can be, specially where results are close and a recount is called for.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Disney relaxes its policy on gay 'weddings'. Yes, money talks!

Disney has a generally good record in its dealings with the gay community (and was the subject of an 8-year boycott from various conservative 'Christian' groups) until 2005, but until recently permitted same sex couples to rent only 'meeting rooms' at its two US resorts for the purpose of organising their 'weddings' or commitment services there. Now it is to permit gay couples to buy "Fairy Tale Wedding" packages and to hold their 'special day' at locations set aside for weddings at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World; packages start at USD8,000- to include a wedding planner, the ceremony, food and beverages, flowers and table decorations.

Although the latest moves by Disney have brought fresh criticism from religious conservatives that it is promoting a 'gay agenda', the company has issued a statement through a spokesman, Donn Walker, who said:

"We are not in the business of making judgments about the lifestyle of our guests. We are in the hospitality business and our parks and resorts are open to everyone."

... and the 'pink pound/dollar' is just as good as any other, I expect. Well done, nevertheless.

Archbishop of Wales pleads for tolerance in Easter message

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has made a plea in his Easter message for discrimination in the Church against women and gays to end:

"For Jesus there were no prior conditions for being accepted by God whatever your sex, status or position.

"But we still live in a church where it is not possible for women to be bishops.

"And in a church, too, where most worshippers are women but all the major committees and councils of most dioceses and province are run by men and in a communion where gay people feel increasingly isolated and marginalised and even persecuted."

I have, since my teenage years (when I began to realise I was 'different', even though it took me a number of years to accept that I am gay), had little or no involvement with any church - the last religious service I attended, other than christenings, marriages or funerals, was when I was about 16 years old when I was so appalled by the content of a sermon that I asked (and obtained) my parents' agreement that I never had to go again if I didn't wish to; my father had been present at the same service, so he knew what had so upset me.

I am happy to record that what Dr Morgan seems to be asking for is a return to the basics of what Christinity is supposed to be about - love, tolerance and respect for one's fellow human beings, whoever and whatever they are. Somehow this simple message has been lost over the years since Jesus Christ died, according to believers, 'for our sins'. It is particularly appropriate, on this day of all days, to have people such as Dr Morgan re-affirm the basis of his faith; I only wish more within the hierarchy and laity of all church denominations would re-examine their own faiths.

The Church in Wales is an independent member of the Anglican communion.

Nairn murder inquiry scaled back

O course it is difficult to know what may have been going on behind the scenes in relation to the police investigation into the murder of Alistair Wilson in November 2004, very close to where I have my home in Nairn, but this announcement from Northern Constabulary is, regrettably, perhaps inevitable.

My only, somewhat forlorn, hope is that the police have other information, perhaps circumstantial, and they hope to 'smoke the cuplrit out' by giving him/her a false sense of security by thinking that the trail has gone cold and that the crime may therefore remain unsolved. No harm in hoping, I suppose, but it may be that the police statement just has to be taken at face value.

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.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Typical! Blair hijacks return of 15 freed service personnel ...

... with an 'impromptu' press conference outside the door of 10 Downing Street! Luckily his effort his being carred only by the BBC; Sky are simply carrying pictures of the aircraft arriving back at Heathrow. I generally like the BBC, but it's at times like this that one sees just how biased they are in favour of our dispreputable shambles of a government.

"Buggins' turn" at Highland Council

This brief announcement appears at present in the homepage of Highland Council:

Chief Executive:

The Highland Council has appointed its Depute Chief Executive, Alistair Dodds, as its new Chief Executive. Mr Dodds will take up his new post in July when Mr Arthur McCourt, Chief Executive, retires.

Buggins' Turn?

Inverness's Eden Court Theatre may face receivership

I don't think this is the first time that Eden Court has been cash-strapped, not by a long way, but the current major refurbishment of the complex is costing more than envisaged as a result of unexpected problems found during the building work. There is apparently an immediate requirement for GBP600,000 to make up for the lower than expected grant from the Scottish Executive. The Courier describes today's Highland Council meeting as 'crucial'.

Le train en vitesse! C'est super, Non?!

Now this is fast! A French TGV train has broken the world speed record on the Strasbourg to Paris route with an incredible speed of 574.8 Km/H (et des poussières), equivalent to about 357.16 MPH ! An incredible 25,000 horsepower! I saw this on television a couple of days ago when it happened, but I'm glad someone has uploaded it to the internet.

This is a lengthy video (13 minutes), but worth watching, even if you don't understand a lot of the commentary. At least I now know why the overhead cable seemed to be darting back and fort across the train; it's apparently all part of the design for the cable to sweep across so that it neither overheats nor wears unduly any part of the pantograph. If such a speed could be achieved regularly (and a train built in the UK like it) then the Inverness-London journey would take only about 1 hour 34 minutes (as against the roughly 8 hours it actually does take)!

(thru: Scott-O-Rama)

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The price of being ill in Highland is being forced to go cold turkey on nicotine!

Just another story about our crazy, socialist health-care system, the NHS.

NHS Highland has decided to extend the general ban on smoking in enclosed public areas throughout Scotland to cover all the grounds around its premises because, as Chairman Garry Coutts puts it:

"Smoking is the single biggest cause of illness in Highland and we cannot be seen to condone it anywhere on our premises. However we accept that there are still issues we have to iron out with staff and we will do this before formally agreeing to introduce a site-wide ban. We will also ensure that staff and patients have access to help to give up smoking."

Now as anyone who knows me, or indeed who has read this blog off and on, must be aware I have never smoked and abhor the practice - nevertheless I do not have the 'militant' anti-smoking attitude of some people who are often, in my experience, usually former smokers themselves.

However the reasoning behind this change in policy by NHS Highland is wrong-headed, it seems to me, on a number of counts:
- First, what is this about "cannot be seen to condone it"? The Scottish Parliament, God love 'em(!), has decided in its wisdom to ban smoking in all enclosed public premises, but they have not yet chosen to ban it in open-air locations throughout the country. Since when did NHS Highland become a quasi legislative body?
- Second, smoking remains (apart from in enclosed public spaces) a legal activity and whilst I personally find it unattractive to see huddled groups of people outside offices, pubs, restaurants [and yes, Raigmore Hospital, too] smoking cigarettes in a furtive manner, I am aware that nicotine is an addictive substance which it is difficult to stop using once one has become addicted to it;
- Third, Mr Coutts seems to be confused about the purpose of the NHS. It is to serve the needs of ill people. Mr Coutts's qualms about introducing this latest extension of the 'holier than thou' and 'nanny state' aspect of living in Scotland is because "there are still issues we have to iron out with staff". The reality is that in [the 'socialist republic' of] Scotland one must tread extremely warily when contemplating any change in the publically-funded sector of the economy because although people working in such sectors are supposed to be serving the public, the way in which such services operate is in practice entirely centred around the whims of the employees. And of course the public sector of the economy is huge in Scotland generally and even larger in areas such as the Highlands. It really is just like being in the former communist Eastern Europe, except that we haven't had our revolution against the tyranny of Socialism. Yet.
- Fourth the 'nanny state', which Mr Coutts wishes to strengthen, deigns to include some lip service "exemption for patients who staff feel are considerably distressed, anxious or vulnerable" - but I bet that those patients who may be extremely unwell (perhaps even as a result of smoking-related illnesses) will be made to feel as guilty and as uncomfortable as possible if they try and avail themselves of this exemption. Frankly it must be an awful prospect for some elderly lifelong smoker faced with the necessity of going into hospital in Scotland - that really is 'cruel and unusual treatment' under the false mask of patient concern - when what people need is good care in a relaxed and stress-free environment; and few things are more stressful for an addict than depriving them of the thing to which they are addicted when they are ill and vulnerable in hospital.

In summary, Mr Coutts, your method of running the business you are entrusted with sucks!

PS/ And don't get me started about this latest piece of nonsense in the inefficient socialist-run NHS! I speak of course about the apparently loss-making Patienline, the monopoly provider of communications services for patients in hospitals which wants to increase its charges for outgoing and incoming call by huge amounts. I think there has to be something wrong with their 'business' model, don't you?

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

If you're gay in present-day Iraq, well you're not safe!

It seems the US and UK backed Iraqi government thinks persecution of gays is perfectly acceptable, if its rejection of the findings of a UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) report is a clue:

"There was information in the report that we cannot accept here in Iraq. The report, for example, spoke about the phenomenon of homosexuality and giving them their rights," said Mr al-Dabbagh, a spokesperson for the Iraqi government. "Such statements are not suitable to the Iraqi society. This is rejected. They (the UN) should respect the values and traditions here in Iraq."

This is the government that we (the US and the UK) have facillitated being put into place since the last crowd of monsters (Saddam Hussein and his accomplices) was ousted in 2003!!

Some of the consequences of the present Iraqi government's views:

"Anwar, aged 34, a taxi driver, was a member of Iraqi LGBT and helped run one of the group’s safe houses in the city of Najaf. He disappeared in January 2007. He was arrested in his taxi after being stopped at a police and militia checkpoint. His body was found in March 2007. He had been subjected to an execution-style killing.

"Nouri, aged 29, a tailor, was kidnapped in the city of Karbala in February 2007. He had received many death threats by letter and phone in the past, accusing him of leading a gay life. He was found dead a few days later, with his body mutilated and his head severed.

"Hazim, a 21-year-old man, was taken by police officers from his house in Baghdad in February 2007. He was well-known to be gay. After threats because of his homosexuality, his family was forced to leave their home. Hazim’s body was subsequently found with several shots to the head.

"Sayf, a gay 25-year-old, worked for the Iraqi police as a translator. He was kidnapped in the Al-Adhamya suburb by black masked men in Ministry of Interior security force uniforms who drove a marked police car. Almost certainly they were members of the Badr militia which has infiltrated the Interior Ministry and police. Sayf’s body was found several days later, with his head cut off.

"Khaldon, a 45 year old gay man lived in al-Hurriya, a mainly Shia neighborhood of Baghdad. He worked as a chef. The Sadr militia, the Mahdi army, kidnapped him in November 2006. His decaying corpse was found in February 2007.

"Khalid, a 19 year old gay man, a college student who lived in al-Kadomya, was kidnapped in December 2006. Three months later, his family was handed his tortured and burned remains.

"Hasan Sabeh, a 34 year old transvestite - also known as Tamara - worked in the fashion industry designing women’s clothes. He lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad. Hasan was seized in the street by an Islamist death squad and hanged in public on the holy Shia religious day, 11 January 2007. His body was mutilated and cut to pieces. When his brother-in-law tried to defend him, he was also murdered.

"Four gay friends had been receiving threatening letters at their Baghdad houses. All four were arrested on 26 December 2006 by militia at a roadside checkpoint. They were interrogated about whether they were Sunnis. Their identity cards showed that three of the men were Shia. These three men were released after several hours of interrogation. The fourth man, Samer, a 26 year old a Sunni who lived in Zayona, was later found with gunshot wounds to his head, his eyes blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back. His body showed marks of torture and many burns. It is not clear whether Samer was executed because he was Sunni or gay or both.

"Alan Thomas, was a 23 year old, Christian gay Iraqi who lived in al-Gadeer, a Shia majority district of Baghdad. He received many threats for being gay and was eventually kidnapped and executed by Shia death squads in late 2006. His older sister spoke to me over the phone from Baghdad; explaining how the murder of her only brother caused the death of their sick elderly mother. She told me: 'The new Iraqi evil regime does not provide effective protection to the population of Iraq. Shia militias act in collusion with security force gangs to take revenge on the Sunni’s and other minorities.’ "

But the monsters in Iraq are not even 'honest monsters'; like the morally bankrupt creatures they are they are prepared to sell out their odious beliefs when hard cash comes into play:

"Occasionally, some victims of the fundamentalists have been able to buy their survival. Hamid A, a 44 year old bisexual man, from the Al-Talibya district. He was kidnapped twice by the Sadr militia. The first instance was in April 2006 when he, his nephew and his brother were kidnapped and tortured. He was released in May 2006 after his tribe members paid a huge ransom to save his life and the lives of his relatives. Hamid was kidnapped for a second time in November 2006 by the same Sadr militia, when an informant reported that he was drinking alcohol and that he was suspected of being gay. He was held in a big office in Sadr city, along with other detainees - most of them Sunnis and Christians. Again, he was ransomed and is now in hiding; a rare survivor of the Sadr militia interrogation centres."

Even heterosexuals who dare to show decency towards homosexuals and contrive to try and help them, are not safe:

"Heterosexual friends of gays are also executed. This happened to Majid Sahi, aged 28, a civil engineer. He had been helping Iraqi LGBT members in Baghdad. Abducted by the Badr militia from his home, they objected to his association with gay Iraqis. His family was advised by the Badr forces that their son’s "immoral behavior" was the reason for his kidnapping. His body was found in Baghdad, with bullet wounds in the back of his head, on 23 February 2007."

Frankly, now I need to go and get some fresh air!!

I still think capital punsihment is unacceptable, but ...

... I confess to having a few second-thoughts on the matter when I read this story. Is it really an effective use of valuable resources to maintain these young thugs in prison? At the very least I hope sincerely that the sentence of imprisonment for 'life' each has received will mean precisely that; I hope I'm not reading in 10 or 15 years time that they have been released 'on licence'!

Methinks they doth protesteth too much

LibDem and Labour MPs in the city of Portsmouth don't like Boris Johnson's characterisation of this fair city, on pulling up in a car at Portsmouth University:

"Here we are, in one of the most depressed towns in Southern England, a place that is arguably too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs."

A LibDem MP and a Labour MP for the city want Mr Johnson sacked from the Conservative Front Bench.

In a classic soclialistic attempt to muddy the waters the city council responds to his criticism by comparing Portsmouth unfavourably with Bournemouth and Bristol, but as neither of those two places is in South East England, which is the comparison the good Boris was making, I fail to see their point.

Jews in modern Germany - it's not all, but mainly, good news ...

... and this story provides me with my first ever use in this blog of the phrase Quote of the day, attributed to Rabbi Walter Homolka, the principal of the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary:

"But it's always a sign of healing when Jews fight with each other because it means there is no outside enemy to unite against."

That's good, I suppose. I think.

"Scottish Parliament - 2007 Election" blogroll moved to more prominent position in left column

I have decided to move my dedicated blogroll for the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections nearly to the top of my blogroll lists in the left-hand column. It now comes immediately after the 'Filthy Lucre' [because I am a 'capitalist roader' and proud of it] and 'Aggregator Sites' sections [because the only link there at present is what this blog is really all about, even though I try not to be aggressive about it (*)]. The main blogroll, 'Blogs you may like', follows on immediately after these.

The "Scottish Parliament - 2007 Election" blogroll will remain in place for at least a few weeks after the results of the forthcoming election are known, when it will be removed completely as there is already a general 'UK politics' blogroll further down the left-hand column.

As you were ...

(*) In fact no longer strictly true, as I have now added the link to the 'Political Opinions' aggregator, because I have noticed in the past few weeks an increasing number of referrals here from that site, so thought it was about time I reciprocated.)

Bill's Comment Page is five years old today!

Five years already! I did think when I wrote on the occasion of last year's anniversary for this blog that it might be coming to the time when I was ready to call it a day - at one point last Autumn I even thought for a while (when my posting here had become very sporadic) that I would [try and] keep going until today - and then stop. Well that is not about to happen; not for a while anyway! Over the past few months, even though I have been wintering in Spain, I have found it quite interesting to be able to blog on a wide range of topics, some relating to my time here in Spain whilst continuing to look at issues relating to Scotland, the UK in general or 'gay' matters. Over the coming few weeks there is also the excitement of the forthcoming Scottish Parliament and local elections - so even though I shall be travelling back to Scotland later this month I will be blogging on that, and on other issues, before I leave here and whilst 'on the road' will (wi-fi permitting) try and do some 'travelogue' blogging.

I'll continue blogging for as long as I find it worthwhile; over the five years to date there have been a few lulls in posting and there may be more over the coming year - I think most bloggers experience this. At any rate I would like, once more, to thank all those who have taken the time to visit my little blog during the year and occasionally been kind enough to comment on what I have written. And now it's way too late for me to be out of bed - my little dog will be badgering me around 6am or 7am to let her out into the garden!

Scottish Election propaganda - part 1

As I am currently in Spain and will soon (middle of next week) be starting my journey back to Scotland I am not in the best position to receive all of the election messages which voters can expect to receive over coming weeks. However I did receive today, in a batch of mail from Scotland, the first of the inevitable leaflets (I also received a tabloid propaganda message about a month ago from the same political party, but as this was a long way before the election and was in fact in the form of a 'report back' from their Westminster MP I sent it to what I term 'central filing' [aka the trash bin]).

The interest in this piece of election propaganda is that it is tailored for a specific part of the Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber constituency (where I have my UK home); the leaflet is for the Nairn area. I imagine that there are leaflets for other areas within the constituency. It was delivered in an individual mailing under cover of a 'propaganda' pre-election exercise entitled "Craig Harrow's Health Service Inquiry"; he is the Liberal Democrat FPTP candidate for the constituency. I suppose it is quite a clever technique to give the impression (which may even be true, I suppose!) that this particular candidate is in touch with the concerns of voters in my home area.

Craig Harrow - pre-election 'report back'
LibDem FPTP candidate
Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber

Above - front; Below - back

Click here to see larger images.

Obviously the fact that I have published this leaflet here in no way implies that I support this political party or its candidate; for the avoidance of doubt, I do not. I will publish other leaflets as I receive them - this may be toward the end of April, after I have arrived back home in Nairn and am wading through the piles of 'junk' mail which was, thankfully, not forwarded to me here in Spain over the past three months. Prior to the last Westminster election in 2005 I published all the leaflets I received here; a couple of months ago I noticed that this particular post was visited VERY frequently by visitors to my little blog, perhaps by people from the various political parties doing research on what they, or their rivals, had done the last time. (Bill's Comment Page is happy to provide this small service, without fear or favour, to all political parties who field candidates in my area)

Monday, 2 April 2007

Scottish Parliament Elections, May 2007 - candidate information

I am gradually collecting information about the candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections scheduled for 3rd May 2007; however the candidate lists will not close until Wednesday 11th April 2007, so it is not until shortly after this date that a definitive list of candidates will be available when they are published by Returning Officers around the country (the link above is to the relevant page in the Highland Council website, the region in which I have my main residence). A good general source of information about the Scottish elections will probably be the BBC Scottish Elections 2007 page.

The information I am gathering is at present coming from the websites of various of the political parties and I have created a special blogroll to contain all of the links as I become aware of them - you can see the 'Scottish Parliament - 2007 Election' blogroll by scrolling down the left-hand column of this blog; if you float your mouse over the individual links there you will be able to see additional information (for example the names of Party 'list' candidates for the Highlands & Islands Region, or the FPTP candidates for Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber constituency). If you know of other useful links I might add to this blogroll, please email me with details, or you can post a comment below.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Article heading list for latest 6-month period (October 2006 - March 2007) now up

The archive of 'Article Headings' for the latest 6-month period is now available - click here for the period October 2006 to March 2007.

There are permanent links in the right bar to this and earlier 6-month 'Article Heading' indices, immediately below the standard 'Blogger' monthly archive links.

My first trip on the AP-7 motorway extension from Cartagena to Vera

(Please see UPDATE at the end, where I have included a link to a page with detailed instructions for accessing the new road at the Cartagena end when coming from Murcia-San Javier Airport)

I took a drive on Saturday on the Mazarron to Cartagena segment of the new motorway so can confirm that it IS open! As I expected, the road is beautifully engireered and travels through some very attractive countryside. There is one relatively short tunnel on this segment of the route. Good news for Mazarron residents is that the entrance onto the new motorway from there is in process of being amended by the provision of a roundabout just before the tollbooths, thus avoiding the necessity for traffic coming off the Mazarron to Totana motorway to proceed an additional 1.8 Km into Mazarron to go around the roundabout there in order to gain access to the motorway - a sensible move!

The main interchange at the Cartagena end of the extension is not yet completed (certain of the flyovers are not yet in place), but there is temporary access there in both directions from the existing AP-7 coming down from Alicante and passing by Murcia-San Javier airport. I estimate that the new route shaves slightly in excess of 20 minutes (or about one third) off the travel time from the airport to Mazarron - a very welcome thing. The cost of using the new motorway over this segment is 4.75 Euros in either direction, but I think it is well worthwhile because of the pleasure of driving on the new road, as against the relative congestion and complication of using the existing route via Fuente Alamo/Cuevas de Reillo/Las Canovas. The cost of travelling the whole route from Cartagena to Vera is, at the time of writing, fixed at 11.50 Euros. However there are no petrol stations or other facilities on the new motorway, so people using it need to bear this in mind, specially those going further along it to Vera - obviously one may leave the motorway at various points along the route if refuelling is required, but this will add a modest premium to the toll fee quite apart from adding to the journey time. I plan to do the Mazarron to Vera segment during the course of next week - I imagine the new road passes through some attractive scenery there as well.

The images whcih follow are of an information sheet which was being handed out to users at the toll booths during my trip yesterday:

AP-7 Toll Motorway - Extension from Cartagena to Vera
- opened on 30MAR07
The route showing junction numbers

The tariff for using the new section

Tunnel regulations

Click here to see larger images.

This is an update of my earllier posts on 30 March 2007 and 8 February 2007.

UPDATE: (Sunday 08APR07 15.05 RST) For detailed instructions to access the new road at the Cartagena end when coming from Murcia-San Javier Airport please click here. The instructions are based on someone leaving the new motorway extension at Mazarron (Junction 845) and heading for Mazarron Country Club, but if you are continuing along it to Aguilas or Vera simply ignore the final part and continue on to your destination. For a slight variation on this route, but using a toll-free route that is only 10 minutes longer, click here.