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

Sunday 29 June 2008

Wendy Alexander bites the dust

Wendy Alexander has, at long last, felt obliged to take the 'walk of shame' and resign as Leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament as a result of the crookery uncovered in how she funded her leadership campaign followed by her failure to comply with the relevant reporting requirements in a timely manner.

It is perfectly true also that there may be some truth in her assertions that this is all a gigantic plot by Labour's 'enemies' (i.e. the SNP) to exploit her difficulties for political purposes. However, there would be nothing for the SNP to latch onto if she had obeyed the law in the first place.

I have been reading over the past couple of days various blog comment to the effect that Wendy Alexander is not a 'crook' in the conventional sense because she was not making a personal gain by her actions (an example is referred to here). In a purely financial sense this is undoubtedly perfectly accurate, but this does not (in my opinion) address the real issue in any fundamental way. It is also a crude and mechanistic analysis to which I do not subscribe. Political influence is all about - well it's all about power, the power to decide how the country is governed, the power to help legislate the legal framework under which we all must live. That last bit is very important - 'the legal framework under which we all must live', and that includes politicians! Some politicians seem to think that their obvious good intentions should somehow justify them 'bending' the rules occasionally. Complete stuff and nonsense! If the laws of this country are good enough for everyone else, then they are good enough for our politicians - and that includes Wendy Alexander.

I believe I have written about Ms Alexander only twice before - last December when the irregularities surrounding her campaign funding came to light and I experessed my surprise that she had not already resigned, and about four years before that when her role in choosing the location of the new Scottish Parliament building was revealed. The point I make is that she is an ambitious politician (absolutely nothing wrong with that) who has actively sought influence over the governance of this country for many years and has succeeded in this aim, at least until May 2007 when the voting public collectively decided that her Party's influence should be curtailed, at least for a while. Her willingness to 'bend' the law is perhaps an indication that the voting public needs to consider very carefully whether she should be entrusted with real power ever again. Her protestations that her oversights (i.e. law-breaking) were unintentional may be true, but the sanction imposed upon her (a one day parliamentary ban) is mild compared to what would probably have been visited upon any ordinary citizen who had inadvertantly broken the law. She has belatedly done the right thing by resigning and should be grateful her actions have been treated so leniently. Above all she should quit moaning! A period of silence from her is profoundly to be hoped for.

Even Gordon Brown's friends recognise he is useless

(Please see UPDATE at end)

One might almost feel sorry for Gordon Brown and, if he hadn't been such a ruinously wasteful Chancellor during his 10 years in the job (despite the nonsense many people still spout about his disastrous time running the Treasury), one might actually be a little regretful of his current woes, but as it is it seems to me he is simply, and not before time, reaping the whirlwind of 11 years of Labour having squandered the reasonably-performing economy they inherited in 1997.

Here we have the Health Secretary and a member of the Cabinet, Alan Johnson, permitting himself to be quoted in a newspaper, and a right-of-centre one at that, saying:

"I guess in the analogy of Wimbledon, I mean Gordon's not interested in strutting his stuff on the show courts and he's quite happy to do it on the outer courts, which makes him quite unique for a politician."

- this is the Prime Minister he is talking about, not some junior Minister in an obscure department! He then goes on to damn the man further with some exceedingly faint praise:

"In terms of what he is achieving, in very difficult circumstances, I think it's been a good year."

This simply continues the 'demolition job' many of Brown's closest collleagues indulged in during Andrew Rawnsley's documentary a couple of weeks back. It is quite obvious that Cabinet discipline is now almost non-existent and that Gordon Brown no longer has the respect of his close colleagues or the authority to impose any kind of self-restraint on them.

Likewise Labour Party sympathiser and former donor, Sir Gerry Robinson, spoke earlier today pretty bluntly about Labour's prospects with Brown as Leader:

"It is very straightforward. I think Labour are looking in a lot of trouble and I think Brown is showing all the signs of not being a capable leader," he told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.

"These crises don't happen accidentally. It's not just an issue of timing; it's an issue of either getting it right or not getting it right. And it doesn't feel right.

"In the end, politics like everything is about leadership and leadership is about a capacity to make us feel we are doing the right thing at the right time and making everybody feel good - that the country's in good shape.

"If you haven't got that capacity then I wouldn't back it frankly, And I don't think Gordon has that capacity. It is a very, very difficult position to come back from. In fact, probably an impossible position to come back from."

It really is no good someone in such a prominent position wanting to stay in the side-lines and Alan Johnson's and Gerry Robinson's comments illustrate quite clearly that they think that, too. How long can Brown continue as Leader of the Labour Party when even 'friends' are willing to state publicly just how awfully badly he has performed as Prime Minister?

UPDATE: (Monday 30JUN08 01.30 BST) It now seems certain there will be a by-election in the Glasgow East constituency, caused by the resignation through ill-health of incumbent Labour MP David Marshall. Although Mr Marshall held his seat in 2005 with a very substantial majority it is now being speculated that Labour could lose the by-election and that if this happened that Brown's own position as PM might no longer be tenable.

Adam Smith statue unveiling - Friday 4 July 2008 - Edinburgh

I have been asked to help publicise the forthcoming events in Edinburgh next week, when a statue of Adam Smith will be unvelied on Friday 4 July opposite the City of Edinburgh Council Chambers at 12.00 noon.

I am happy to do so.

Below is the text of an email I received during last week (when I was myself away visiting Glasgow):

Hi Bill

Apologies for crashing into your emails but I am trying to publicise an important Scottish event, the unveiling of the new Adam Smith statue in Edinburgh on 4 July and associated events.

I enclose details of two major events associated with the unveiling of the new Adam Smith statue in Edinburgh (opposite the City of Edinburgh Council Chambers) on 4 July at 12 noon.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) hardly needs an introduction and his significance as a leading light of the Scottish Enlightenment through his books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) is recognised by people from all academic disciplines.

The new statue, by Alexander Stoddart, was provided by private subscriptions arranged through the Adam Smith Institute, and is the first major statue of Adam Smith to be erected in the world.

The statue is located by the Cathedral and opposite the City Chambers, where Smith worked as a Scottish Commissioner of Customs from 1778 up to a few weeks before he died in 1790. He was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, not far down the Royal Mile. A little further on is Panmure House, Smith's residence in Edinburgh, where he lived with his mother, Margaret Douglas Smith (1690-1784), and his cousin, Janet Douglas (d.1788) for twelve years, and regularly dined and debated with many members of the Scottish Enlightenment.

We would appreciate your help in disseminating news of the unveiling of the statue to your readers and inviting them to attend the associated events.

If you have any questions or need additional details please call Tom Clougherty on
Tel +44 (0)20 7222 4995 or email:

Gavin Kennedy

The events scheduled for the coming week:


Adam Smith Statue Unveiling 3-4 July 2008

Thursday 3 July 2008
RECEPTION AND DEBATE: This House would prefer to be led by the Invisible Hand Chaired by BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor.
- Proposing: Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (former Scottish Secretary), Dr Madsen Pirie (Adam Smith Institute) and Andy Hume (past World Debating Champion)
- Opposing: Brian Wilson (former Energy minister), Alex Neil MSP (Scottish National Party) and Kenny Fleming (former Observer Mace Champion)
- In The Caves, 8-12 Niddry Street South, Edinburgh EH1 1NS (off Cowgate) 6.30pm for 7pm

Friday 4 July 2008
By Nobel economist Professor Vernon Lomax Smith, High Street, Edinburgh, near Parliament Square and the Mercat Cross 12.00 noon for 12.15pm.

Monday 23 June 2008

Away for the rest of the week ...

I shall be away for a few days, in and around Glasgow - visiting gardens, museums and art galleries - call it 'domestic tourism'; I'm looking forward to it. I'll be back late on Friday so may get a chance to write here again during the coming weekend.

Thursday 19 June 2008

Highland Council coalition falls apart

What I predicted earlier this year has just happened.

The fact that there were twice as many (34) 'Independent' councillors, as against the 17 SNP members in the coalition was always irrelevant. 'Independents' (the clue is in the name!) are a diverse group of individuals with a wide range of viewpoints; expecting them to form a coherent and consistent voting bloc was always going to be well-nigh impossible. The 17-strong SNP does, on the other hand, have a coherent strategy and furthermore we now have a minority SNP Executive (aka 'Government') so that can't, in practice, have hindered their cause either, I would have thought! They were always going to try and dominate the coalition and so it has proved, the quote is from Black Isle councillor Mrs Isobel McCallum:

"I think the SNP just went one step too far. I’m sorry that we didn’t manage to work together. I think we could have, had the SNP been less controlling. The SNP needed to recognise themselves as the junior partners on the coalition and they failed to do that."

Naturally, outspoken councillor Roddy Balfour encapsulates the problem very neatly:

"This was inevitable. It’s been an unhappy alliance generally. Independents can’t go on being made subservient to a group with such a lust for power."

As expected, Convener councillor Sandy Park has an emollient, but utlimately mmeaningless comment (as usual):

"I’m disappointed because we did have a tremendous working relationship with our partners. We have to sit down, regroup, rethink and see where we’re going."

- it's a little like the headless-chicken antics of EC President Barroso and most other European Union member states' reactions to the Irish 'no' vote in their referendum on the Lisbon 'reform' Treaty!

It's not even as if the SNP are the largest single political grouping in Highland Council, as the LibDems have 21 councillors! I don't care for the LibDems much either, but I think it explains a lot about the thinking behind the 'Independent' grouping's decision to form a coalition with the number-two single political grouping if one recalls that at the same time a minority SNP administration was being formed at Holyrood. It was inevitable, in my view, that the SNP grouping in the coalition was always going to [try and] take over in such circumstances and it illustrates the poltitical naivete of at least some of the 'Independents' that they did not see this coming from the very beginning.

Here are some earlier posts I've written about Highland Council since the last elections in May 2007:

Highland Council Independent/SNP coalition - falling apart? (13FEB08)

A welcome rebuttal of parochialism in the Highlands of Scotland (7AUG07)

Highland Council's 'Independent'-led administration a little too independent for some tastes ... (28JUL07)

'Comrades' announce plans to increase Highland tractor production over coming four years ... (21JUN07)

Nairn councillor set to be Highland Council Convener (15MAY07)

So-called 'Independents' on Highland Council in coalition with SNP members (15MAY07)

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Waves on the beach in Nairn

On a bright calm evening there are few better places to be than strolling along the beach at Nairn, listening to the waves lap on the sand.

Gordon Brown on England and Britain

I daresay it was simply a 'slip of the tongue', unless Gordon Brown woke up this morning believing he was serving Queen Elizabeth I (*) as Prime Minister, rather than Queen Elizabeth II, but during PMQs today Brown was answering a question about Britain's military and how it might or might not be integrated with other European forces. In any case, as part of his answer he denied the "English, British and French navies" would be merged.

I wasn't aware that England [any longer] has a navy!

(*) Or perhaps there is some incredibly convoluted Freudian slip going on? Ardent Scottish nationalists often aver that, in Scotland, QEII is in fact QEI, because the one most people know as QEI was Queen of England, not the United Kindom. Is Gordon Brown, subconsciously, a Scottish nationalist?

Or was it simply another instance of our Prime Minister, who happens to be Scottish, trying too hard to ingratiate himself with the majority population of these islands, the English, and getting it as badly wrong as he usually does?

Highland Council planning officials recommend refusal of another supermarket

This time it is in Portree (Skye) and the supermarket operator is Tesco.

There seems to be a growing pattern of Highland Council recommending refusal of planning permission for new supermarkets on the basis that "the proposal would affect existing businesses"; one can't help wondering whether lobbyists on behalf of 'existing businesses' have rather too much influence; also perhaps Inverness business/politcal interests have a long-term interest in keeping the rest of the vast Highland Council region economically dependent on Inverness. I am no particular lover of Tesco, or indeed any other supermarket operator, but I expect many people on Skye make weekly or monthly trips to Inverness to do a massive shopping at Tesco or Morrison's there and to benefit from the lower prices available there than in outlets nearer to home.

The new Skye bridge and the subsequent removal of the toll charge will undoubtedly have made it easier for people to visit Skye, but it also makes it a lot easier and cheaper for people who live there to get off the island. We are constantly being told that energy costs are rising, and indeed the evidence is pretty clear. Also that we must try to live 'greener'. I would have thought that in this context planners should be encouraging the development of cost-effective businesses nearer to where people live to reduce the need for regular lengthy car journeys. Perhaps the guidelines under which planning officials operate need to be updated to take account of the world we now live in - one where energy is no longer cheap and plentiful, but one in which such a scarce resource must be husbanded carefully.

I hope that if the people of Skye want this new Tesco outlet in Portree they will make their views known loud and clear to their local councillors so that a planning decision is taken based upon what they want, rather than according to the vested interests of a small number of local businesses. This is what happened in Nairn recently.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Irish voters to be asked to think again on Lisbon Treaty?

This is what the Telegraph is speculating at any rate.

Obviously the foolishness of the Irish voters in voting the 'wrong' way last week in their referendum is not 'acceptable'. Read the final paragraph of the linked article to see just how despicable this arm-twisting is going to become:

Under the existing Nice Treaty, the next Commission, due to be appointed in November 2009, must legally be reduced to a size less than its current “college” of 27 members, one for each EU country.

The Lisbon EU Treaty also calls for a smaller Commission but, unlike the existing rules, the cut is not legally binding and can be reversed.

"If the Irish wanted to keep their commissioner they have done a pretty bad job. At the moment if we were to axe a commissioner it would be easy to guess whose it would be," said a diplomat.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am strongly pro-EU, but I think the behaviour of most of our politicians across the EU has been quite deplorable in the past few days; a notable exception is Vaclav Klaus, Czech President.

David Davis and his voting record on gay issues

There has been a controversy in the blogosphere over the past couple of days over whether or not David Davis is a 'homophobe'; an earlier related article there has now disappeared (heading: "David Davis 'wells up' at civil-partnership ceremony" - first lines of text: "Political blogger and newspaper columnist Iain Dale has revealed this week how his civil partnership ceremony, which took place on Sunday, brought a tear to the eye of senior tory David Davis.").

Whatever David Davis is or is not, his voting record in the House of Commons on matters affecting homosexuals is very clear; he has voted against most changes (i.e. liberalisations) affecting homosexuals and on the remaining votes he was absent. He seems never to have voted for any changes affecting homosexuals.

His voting record on other topics can be accessed here.

From the updates to the first link above, written by someone who knows David Davis well, it would appear that in his personal dealings with gay people he is courteous and friendly and any suggestion that he is 'homophobic' is strongly disputed by that person (just as a few years ago he disputed that John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia at the time, was a 'homophobe'). However, as a legislator, David Davis has used his vote in the legislature either to oppose gay rights or to abstain on such votes, just as John Howard did in Australia when he was in power. To put it mildly there is some kind of dichotomy going on here!

None of this detracts from the fact, however, that on anti-terror laws and ID Cards, David Davis has voted moderately or strongly against the Labour government's proposals to tighten controls. He voted against the proposal to extend detention without trial to 90 days, but he did vote for 28 days, so his record is not entirely 'clean', quite frankly.

I do not resile from my strong support for his stance on the specific issue of the erosion of civil liberties, though, but it would be quite wrong to be deluded into believing David Davis to be some kind of 'libertarian', for it has for many years been quite obvious that he is no such thing.

California Dreamin' ...

... and now, for Californians, the dream is a reality!

Yesterday at 5.01pm local time, same-sex marriages became legal in California (free registration may be required). There was celebration and criticism.

Unlike in other jurisdictions in the US where gay marriage is permitted, California will allow Americans from out-of-state to avail themselves of the new legislation. It may all come to an end in November if opponents get a question added to the ballot. I hope that won't happen and if it does I hope it will be rejected. Whatever happens, though, there will be several thousand legal gay marriages by then, almost impossible to roll back! It's a good day!

Sunday 15 June 2008

Confused and confusing policies on age of majority from Scottish Executive

The SNP Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') seems to me to be putting forward a whole range of confused proposals concerning theage at which people may or may not do certain things. Its stated aim is to reduce the confusion that youngsters may justifiably experience with current rules (i.e. a voting age of 18 with some other rights granted at a lower age, for example the age of consent, the right to marry or the right to serve in the army). It seems to me however that the most important civic right we have is the right to vote. It may be justified to grant certain 'lesser' rights at a lower age, but once one has attained the age when one may vote then all other rights available generally to citizens should be granted, otherwise one would end up having different classes of voters.

However, recent announcements from the SNP Scottish Executive (aka 'Government') will end up creating just such anomalies:

- suggestions to lower the voting age to 16; it needs to be granted authority by Westminster to do this and is proposing interim changes to 'test the water';

- the Scottish Parliament has just passed legislation to ban those under 18 from using sun-beds; this is consistent with the current voting age, but if the voting age were reduced to 16 would, I suspect, be open to legal challenge;

- the Scottish Executive (aka 'Government' wishes to raise the age at which people may buy alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences from 18 to 21, although there are no proposals to amend the age at which alcohol may be consumed in venues such as pubs, clubs or restaurants.

I think this is a hotchpotch of confused ideas masquerading as rational policy with, for the SNP, the added benefit of contriving yet another area of dissent with Labour and the Westminster government. There may well be a case for looking at all three issues detailed above, but if the policies which result are to be credible then a great deal more thought must go into them to ensure they are consistent and likely to withstand legal challenge. I think what they show currently is that the SNP is merely indulging in soundbite populist politics.

Labour MP defies government on 42-day detentions and civil liberties

The Labour government seems intent on ploughing on with its dangerous and sinister policy of dismantling hard-won civil rights in this country, but at least one Labour MP has now decided to say very clearly what I imagine many of his fellow Labour Party MPs secretly believe, but few are reluctant to talk about openly yet.

Bob Marshall-Andrews MP is quoted today in the Observer as saying:

"They can't muzzle the whole of the party, and it seems to me foolish in the extreme in the present climate to start describing civil liberties as a stunt,' he told The Observer. 'I have had emails asking, 'Why does it take a Tory to say this'?"

And it's a good question! However, the answer is pretty straighforward, too. Socialists tend to believe that the 'State knows best' and tend to believe that as a result the master/servant relationship between citizen and government would really better be expressed the other way round. Countries all round the world have tried this and failed. People don't like it and, given the free choice, get rid of governments operating under this model.

Normally, open defiance like this of Party policy would lead to the whip being withdrawn, although with over 40 Labour MPs having voted against the Government last week, Marshall-Andrews is in good company. He is also not the kind of man easily pushed around. Can Gordon Brown really afford to take a firm line? I tend to doubt it, but we'll know more after Labour's parliamentary committee meets on Wednesday. Labour has been trying to mock David Davis for his 'maverick' stand, but it seems the smile may get wiped off its face pretty quickly, if this is a guide.

Friday 13 June 2008

It's confirmed - Ireland rejects EU Reform Treaty!

The official results have just been announced: 53.4 per cent voted against, 46.6 voted yes.

Whilst I am very pro-EU, I was opposed to the rejected EU Constitutional Treaty (rejected by France and the Netherlands), and the present EU Reform Treaty is considered by most to be almost indistinguishable and has just been rejected by Ireland. I think we should have a referendum too, as promised by the Labour government before the 2005 General Election.

Despite the fact that unanimity is required for the Treaty to come into effect, already European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has stated that the Treaty is "alive and we should now try to find a solution". There IS no solution; the Treaty is DEAD! The same nonsense was trotted out for several weeks after the Constitutional Treaty was rejected by France and the Netherlands a few years ago, but eventually they were forced to face up to the fact the required ratification within two years of its signing could not happen, because both countries declined to ask their citizens to vote a second time.

In the world of realpolitik, however, because Ireland is one of the 'small' countries, there will undoubtedly be attempts to circumvent the Irish rejection and continue with the Treaty's effects, something that obviously could not work with one of the larger countries such as France, one of the countries rejecting the earlier Treaty. However, the harsh legal fact is that all 27 countries must ratify EU Treaties for them to come into force, so however much Barroso or the British Labour government or anyone else may huff and puff, the Reform Treaty is now dead.

If the British government wishes to press on with ratification, then:

to see if the British people will sanction this action.

I suspect that what will happen in practice is that yet another treaty will be concocted, unless the European Commission can be made to realise the game is up!

Good luck Steelers!

Starting today there will be a weekend of rugby in Dublin, when the Kings Cross Steelers, a London-based mainly gay rugby football club (of which I am a supporting member) join gay rugby teams from around the world to take part in the fourth Bingham Cup rugby tournament, a tournament named after Mark Kendall Bingham, one of the passengers killed aboard 'Flight 93' on 11th Setember 2001.

I will be following the Steelers' progress as best I can during the next three days, but meantime wish them good luck! And an enjoyable weekend for all the teams and spectators!

Ireland says 'No'!

Although it won't be confirmed until later in the afternoon, it nows seems very likely that Irish voters have rejected their Government's recommendation to implement the EU Amending Treaty. Well done!

(Guido's reaction is here)

Police State Britain - the fightback begins!

David Davis is not my favourite Conservative politician, largely because of his long-standing rigid views on social matters (judging by his voting record in the House of Commons on equality issues affecting the gay community) and his championing of the Conservative policy to repeal the Human Rights Act if elected, deliberately conflating this as a creation of the EU, when its origin is the ECHR, which pre-dates the EU/EEC several years and was largely drawn up by British lawyers in the aftermath of World War II.

However in resigning as an MP to force a by-election on the issue of the growth of the 'police state' and 'surveillance society' largely created by the Labour government since it came into power in 1997, I suspect he may have found the issue he was always destined for and I applaud wholeheartedly his principled stand on this vital issue, even if I am under no illusion that his views on social matters are likely to have changed much; indeed this issue is addressed squarely here. His resignation announcement yesterday was certainly a powerful indictment of Labour and its attemtps to push through increasingly authoritarian measures of which the latest is the attempt to legislate for 42-day detention without charge:

This would be an extension the already far too long 28-day period which, worryingly and perplexingly, Mr Davis seems to have supported. I think he has to clarify why he thinks that the 3-day detention period, which had existed for a long time, was no longer good enough, considering that we have had two major wars in the 20th century and more recently considerable domestic terrorist activity over the status of Northern Ireland. From what I understand there are adequate emergency powers available to government to cater for dramatic situations, without the need to legislate to lock people up for increasingly long periods (3 to 14days, 14 to 28 days, a failed attmept to go from 28 to 90 days, now from 28 to 42 days). Having said all this, David Davis's desire to widen this to cover the whole issue of increasing State surveillance of citizens certainly strikes a chord with me; I have been writing about the dangers of Police State Britain for some years. It is good to see him joining the battle to oppose this in such a personal and courageous way. Nevertheless I hope someone will ask him detailed questions about his current view on the Human Rights Act; perhaps it requires modification, but certain basic protections it enshrines in law must not be jeopardised, such as those which proect the LGBT community.

Finally no-one should be fooled by Labour attempts to portray David Davis as 'unhinged' or that the Conservative Party is in 'disarray'; unlike the quasi-Stalinist outfit that Labour is, the Conservatives accept people may have different views on detailed policy issues, but I doubt very much that this present situation constitutes 'disarray' for them. Labour's propaganda spin should be seen for what it is - a government that has run out of ideas and is lashing out in its death-throws. I do believe that much of the British media and 'political class' have fallen for Labour's ridiculous posturing; I think the greater perspective of some of the foreign press, at least, is much more balanced.

Thursday 12 June 2008

A Doric Lord's Prayer

I do not consider myself a Christian ( I haven't been into a church except as a tourist or for hatchings, matchings or dispatches in several decades), but like most people I was brought up in a nominally Christian household, albeit with a very relaxed attitude toward the practice. Nevertheless I could probably, even now, recite the words of "The Lord's Prayer" without thinking too hard about it, so I was interested to see here a version of the prayer in Doric, the dialect of Scots that originates in the north-east of Scotland. I spent several years of my childhood living near Aberdeen so am familiar with at least some of the vocabulary of the dialect and find it quite attractive to listen to, but have never used much of it myself, barring an occasionalword very rarely. See what you think - as many readers will be familiar with the words in English, it shouldn't be too difficult to decipher the meanings of words that are unfamiliar:

Oor Faither, fa bides in hivven,

We’ll aye hae a gweed conceit o ye.

Yer croon winna be ill tae fit,

Sae yer wye o it maun be the wye o it,

Doon by, nae less nor the wye o it in hivven.

Gie us oor mait an a pucklie loaf the day, an ilka day.

An dinna haud it agin us nor we mak a cuddy o things,

Jist as we widna skelp fowk fa chunce their haun agin us.

An dinna scunner us wi wyes tae swick,

Bit ding doon ony o Aul Nick’s coorseness.

Michty me, bit ye’ve a haud o aathin,

Sae it’s michty you an aa,

An aat’s jist rare,

Ivnoo an fir ivvermair.

Fairly aat, min.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Britain: well on the way to dictatorshipp - and incompetent with it

So this evening we had the news that Gordon Brown's Labour government won the vote on 42-day detention without charge, with a tiny majority of 9 - solely as a result of the support they received from the Democratic Unionist Party, undoubtedly the most reactionary political party in the UK (not excluding UKIP or even, amazingly, the BNP). I hope Gordon Brown and his [few remaining] genuine Labour supporters (i.e. not those who simply 'whored' themselves out today in the hope of retaining their seats at the next election) feel proud of what they have achieved. My own view is that this 'success' will be one of the factors that lead to Labour being defeated at the next General Election. On the other hand, all the opinion polls seem to show that a substantial majority of the population supports this further deeply authoritarian change, so maybe most people really think they won't mind living in what is effectively now a 'police state'; personally I consider this to be unconscionable complacency from a population used to living in a reasonably-prosperous and reasonably-liberal democracy for some decades. One must just hope that none of the complacent majority, or their relatives or friends, finds him/herself caught up in the nightmarish 42-day black-hole 'oubliette' regime that the government hopes to leave us as its legacy. Always provided of course that the government (aka 'regime') can get it through the House of Lords. The general commentary this evening seems to conclude that it will be kicked out by the Upper House; I consider this to be yet more complacency and I do not subscribe to it.

Now we come to Labour incompetence, and inevitably with Labour (whether under Blair or Brown) that cannot ever be excluded - there is indeed no shortage of examples of incompetence to choose from. However, as there was a prime example of this alarmingly-frequent characteristic of Labour's idea of how to run a country revealed today, the very day they got their 42-day detention amendment through the House of Commons, let's highlight that. Yes, these buffoons have managed to administer a system that allowed a senior civil servant to leave two supposedly 'secret' documents on a train! A development one informed (if not politically-neutral) commentator described as the latest fiasco in a:

"long line of serious breaches of security."

This is unfortunately unlikely to be the last such breach of security whilst Brown and his accomplices remain in power.

PS/ I have long thought of the people behind this influential and somewhat reactionary 'Conservative' website as buffoons, too. Their apology this evening, whilst in some ways exemplary (i.e at least it is intellectually honest), reveals them to be - yet again - supporting a position that is as inept as it is despicable and as usual on the wrong side of history.

Monday 9 June 2008

Dispatches: Gordon Brown ...

(Please see UPDATE below)

Where did it all go wrong? I've just been watching Channel4 and its Dispatches programme about Gordon Brown's performance during his first year in office (for the next week you can watch the episode here with the 'catch-up' feature, and here is the link to an online article about the programme). I expected it to be a bland, generally-favourable analysis, specially as it was to be fronted by Andrew Rawnsley whom I have always assumed to be more 'left' than 'right'.

There are two ways to interpret what unfolded between 8pm and 9pm tonight during the programme, I'd say.

We had the spectacle of senior Ministers such as Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw basically saying that Brown was slow at decision-making. Straw made the point that he was a lot slower at this than Tony Blair had been. Smith opined that it "wasn't necessarily a bad thing". There were many other Labour 'worthies' giving their two-penth worth, mostly seeming to express support, but once I thought about the precise words they were all using I did begin to wonder. Even Brown's schoolboy friend, now ennobled as Lord Elder, whilst generally affectionate toward Brown, didn't seem to me to hold back on saying what he really thought, albeit heavily-coded. Remember these are senior government ministers and fellow-Labourites talking about a serving Prime Minister, not people reminiscing about events that occurred twenty years ago.

So what was the programme all about? What were the motives of those who made it and, more importantly, of those senior Ministers who agreed to paricipate? One interpetation is that this reflects an admirable openness at the heart of Government, both in relation to the Prime Minister and to the Labour Party's, and Gordon Brown's, current very low standing in the opinion polls. The other interpretation is that it was a pretty clear (if coded) public admission by his own senior colleagues that they have saddled themselves with a huge electoral liability in the person of Gordon Brown. Whilst it might be nice to imagine that 'openness' was the participants' motivation, everything I have seen of Labour in their 11 years in power indicates that this has never been their way of doing things so is most probably not credible. We are therefore left with the strong possibility that it was simply senior colleagues, totally fed up with the incompetent performance of their Leader, deciding to say what they think of him. Normally such things would be done in private interviews with a Prime Minister, either singly or as a group. The fact that serving government ministers agreed to say what they did on a television programme is, to me, pretty cataclysmic.

I must just remind myself, however embarrassed I feel for Mr Brown to have had this public 'drubbing' (and make no mistake that the ever-so-polite eliptical language in which it was couched constituted just that), that every word they spoke was justified. The sooner Brown goes, the better.

PS/ I shall be very intrigued to read how other bloggers and comentators have reacted to this programme. Is my interpetation shared, or do others take a completely different view entirely?

UPDATE: (Tuesday 10JUN08 10.04 BST) For the next week you can watch the Dispatches episode on Gordon Brown here.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Cormac Murphy O'Conman on 'Straight Talk'

I'm just watching Roman Catholic Archbishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor on Straight Talk with Andrew Neil. Not yet online, but there is a link to the schedule for this interview here.

His answers on the subject of the covering-up of paedophilia by Roman Catholic priests and Bishops were disingenuous to say the least. The only reason these odious hypocrites were forced into cleaning up their act is because the secular legal process, particularly in the US, caught up with their lies and prevarications and extracted huge financial penalties. They had no alternative but to change, or go bankrupt.

The only rat-free part of the planet, perhaps?

I seem to recall having reports over the years that most of us live within 9 or 10 metres (or is that feet?!) of a colony of rats, wherever in the world we happen to be. However the small Scottish island of Canna (near Skye) is shortly to be declared rat-free, after a three year programme to exterminate them. The eradication programme was undertaken in order to protect a seabird colony and the island's population of wood mice (130 of which were transferred to Edinburgh zoo before the culll began). In fact the island seems effectively to have been free of rats for about two years, but I suppose they wanted to go through a couple of breeding seasons to make sure.

However, the first linked article above mentions that the success of the project will officially be declared during a visit to the island of [Scottish Executive/'Government'] Environment Minister Mike Russell MSP. Now, from what I have seen and heard of Mike Russell over the years, he is a decent-enough fellow (being a member of the SNP notwithstanding - that's a joke, just to be clear), but I do wonder if a part of the planet where a politician sets foot can ever, truly, be declared 'rat'-free. This cynical thought on my part is not one of which I am in any way proud, but given the shenanigans over recent years with expenses claims by a number of our elected political representatives I hope those who read this (even perhaps anyone with SNP sympathies) will forgive me.

Friday 6 June 2008

Is 'zany' always bad?

Wednesday evening, before telling her "You're Fired!", Sir Alan Sugar summarised his feelings by telling Lucinda that she was 'too zany' for his company. I can understand his sentiments, but I must admit I think that people who take a chance with people like Lucinda are unlikely to lose out - she seems definitely to be an 'original' and I confess to thinking she was in many ways the best of the 5 remaining potential 'apprentices' on Wednesday. I thought that one very telling remark by Sir Alan Sugar during the course of the latest show, that he was 'too old' to be bothered with certain things [such as Lucinda's 'zaniness'], inadvertantly said rather more about him than he perhaps realised (or cared). Of course as a very Iwealthy man who is now quite elderly I can understand his viewpoint, but it does seem to me to raise questions about the continuing validity of the premise of the programme. Does he want a genuine 'apprentice' or a personal assistant or even a care assistant? Probably none of these, but I do get the definite impression that Sir Alan is now merely going through the motions and has become a little bored with the whole procedure, which has become somewhat formulaic in the past couple of years as it has gained in viewer ratings - indeed it seems to have lost whatever business validity it may once have had and become simply a ratings chaser and a vanity project for Sir Alan.

Anyway, this post has taken me in a completely unexpected direction from when I started to write it! What I really wanted to say is that I think there is definitely a place for 'zany' people such as Lucinda; prickly to deal with, but correctly motivated worth 10 of most corporate 'drones'. Personally I rather liked her, even if I don't think I entirely trust her; indeed one of Sir Alan's questions to her indicated he may have felt similarly, but found it easier to justify the sacking by focussing on her 'zaniness'. What prompted this post was in fact this post at Chicken Yoghurt featuring a video-clip of Christopher Walken doing a Jackanory spoof on the Jonathan Ross show. He is certainly one of the 'zaniest' and most briliant actors I can recall. Christopher Walken has always seemed to me to be one of the most unusual and versatile actors around and whilst many of his film roles have involved somewhat sinister, not to say unhinged, characters (see a film biography here), I have always seen him as quite a knowingly witty and flexible character, traits exemplified in spades in this amazing dance routine to the musical compilation 'Weapon of Choice' by Fatboy Slim:

In summary, I expect Lucinda will continue to thrive quite nicely, if idiosyncratically, in whatever she chooses to do next.

Thursday 5 June 2008

What an artist did for some publicity - and it has worked ...

... although perhaps not in precisely the manner he had anticipated.

Yazmany Arboleda decided to rent a small vacant store in Midtown, Manhattan (New York) and to publicise his art exhibition stencilled the folowing on the storefront window:

“The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama.”

Now he says he's surprised and claims (free registration required) that the secret service is violating his rights; I suppose they may have been a little heavy-handed to begin with, but can you blame them? Obviously both Obama and Clinton, and I would imagine McCain as well, are under secret service protection as potentially the next US President (Clinton no longer, at least in 2008, one supposes). Mr Arboleda says his "exhibition is supposed to be about character assassination. It’s philosophical and metaphoric".

(thru Kenneth in the (212) )

That's what they're calling it now, is it?

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Conservative MEP Giles Chichester has admitted to a "technical breach" of the rules on MEPs' expenses.

Guido and Mr Eugenides use more approrpriate words: corruption and crooks. Guido also has the goods on another Conservative MEP by the name of Den Dover, a litigious fellow by all accounts; Guido has a little additional fun at this gentleman's expense by slightly altering his name to 'Ben Dover'.

reports that David Cameron has given these 'honourable gentlemen' 48 hours to explain themselves.

Curiously enough there is very little noise about this from either Labour or the LibDems. I wonder why?

UPDATE: (Thursday 5JUN08 16.20 BST) Giles Chichester MEP is set to resign as leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, whilst still insisting it was merely a 'technical breach'! However, according to the report 'European Parliament officials have confirmed he may have to pay some of the cash back'; all well and good, but I'll believe it when I see it! By the by, Guido has a quote from Labour MEP Richard Corbett: "I suppose I should be jumping up and down with glee but I'm afraid we all get tarnished with the same brush." - you see, they're all at it! Just how gullible do these crooks think we are?

Police State Britain: 42-day detention update

A joint committee of MPs and Peers has today published a report stating its belief that 'the plans breached European human rights laws and the amendments offered were "inadequate to protect individuals against the threat of arbitrary detention"'. The chairman of the committee, Labour MP Andrew Dismore, is quoted as stating:

"The government has talked of a major emergency, the 'nightmare scenario' of simultaneous plots across Britain or two 9/11s at once.

"Yet the amendments tabled by the government provide for possible events falling well short of that."

In other words their 'what if' scare tactics are not working as completely as the government would have wished!

The committee concludes its repot thus:

"No amount of additional parliamentary or judicial safeguards can render the proposal for a reserve power of 42 days' pre-charge detention compatible with the right to liberty in Article 5 of the ECHR (European Convention of Human Rights)."

Now I am no lawyer, but if the above conclusion were to be upheld by a judicial committee of the House of Lords then the present 28-day detention period should also be declared ultra vires as it seems to me it is not qualitatively different from the 42-day detention limit which the government now proposes.

Make no mistake, this is a matter of prime importance. I was very disappointed yesterday that at Prime Minister's Questions this matter was not included in the questions from either of the leaders of the Conservatives or LibDems, although I was pleased to see that at least one [female] Labour MP had the guts to ask the PM a pointed question on it. She of course got more 'waffle' in response!

The general opinion on Andrew Neil's 'The Daily Politics' was that David Cameron would not ask a question about it because whilst his Party and the LibDems were opposed to the policy, public opinion polls seem to show that only a relatively small number of people throughout the country are perturbed about this further proposed drastic erosion of civil liberties so there is no political 'mileage' in it for the Conservatives. It also seems to be the case that too many of the potential Labour MP 'rebels' have been won over either by the government's blandishments or simply by fear for their own political futures if they continue to oppose government policy. Completely odious and despicable.

There is a great propaganda war being waged by the government at present to try and get the vote it needs next week. I urge anyone who reads this to start making as much noise about this as they can to try and thwart them - only by making enough Labour MPs see where their true long-term interests lie will they ignore their own base short-term interests and vote their consciences.

For those complacent fellow-citizens who either think the 42-day limit is necessary or acceptable I urge them to consider the following. The dirty unspoken assumption is that 'only' brown-skinned or Moslem people are going to be affected by this change and the not-so-far-under-the-surface racism of many people means that a lot of people don't see that as a problem. It will be no good them complaining when, in a few years time, some perfectly ordinary middle-class white citizen is swept off the street into the State's clutches with little right of redress because they have said or read something that the government of the day finds unacceptable! We have already seen how CCTV and other covert surveillance is being misused and I find it very frustrating and alarming how complacent so many people are about their basic civil rights. There are yet another couple of alarming posts on SpyBlog recently here and here which frankly scare the bejeebers out of me; you need to read the whole of the first lengthy linked post before the implications begin to sink in.

My most recent previous article on the 42-day limit proposals is here.

Website outages and 'The Planet' fire in Houston

(Please see UPDATES at end)

Internet users may have noticed that since last Saturday a wide variety of websites and facilities have been unavailable, the result of a fire at 'The Planet' data server centre in Houston, Texas.

So far as this blog is concerned this affected 'StatCounter', as its name suggests a service I use to track visitors to this site; 'StatCounter' seems now (since Monday or Tuesday) to be back to normal. Also affected, however is WeatherPixie - Wikipedia article here. This is a very clever utility that allows quite comprehensive weather data in a very attractive graphical form to be embedded into websites and blogs.

'The Planet' is itself providing updates on progress to restore fully their services here (message from the CEO here - this is a .wav sound file). The CEO advises that full restoration of all services is not expected to occur until the weekend of 13/14 June, by which time they hope to have received all the replacement equipment they require and to have made significant progress on restoring their data centre. Hopefully the WeatherPixie utility will be restored by then; I had been considering removing the code from the blog page until this happen, but as it does not seem to be resulting in slower page-loads than usual I am not going to bother doing this, but will reassess the situation in a couple of week's time if the service is not restored by then.

UPDATE: (Thursday 5JUN08 18.25 BST) My little blog had a visit from someone at StatCounter after I wrote the post above - see the comments, where a link was provided to a page on the StatCounter website where a pretty full report is given on how that comapny dealt with the outage at 'The Planet'; I must say it makes interesting reading. As an aside I have often wondered how organisations such as StatCounter (and for that matter Bloglines) can provide what is generally a pretty exemplary service and do it for free - in any case it is very pleasant to see such responsiveness from an organisation like StatCounter to which I have never paid a bean - thanks!

2nd UPDATE: (Thursday 5JUN08 21.43 BST) Hurrah! 'WeatherPixie' has come back to life.

3rd UPDATE: (Saturday 5JUL08 12.17 BST) After about 10 or so days of successful functioning, 'WeatherPixie' went dead again and remains so now; cause unknown. About a week ago, therefore, I decided to replace this utility in all my blogs and websites where weather information appears. On this blog and certain other sites I'm now using 'widgets' from myweather2 and on my Spanish blog I'm using in addition a widget from (used also on my Spanish website). If 'WeatherPixie' ever does come back to life again, I'll probably re-install it instead, as I like it - it gave quite a lot of useful information in a very compact and visually-pleasing format. Ah well, life must move on meantime.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Police State Britain: the 42-day detention 'protect the public' myth

There is an absolutely appalling article in today's Telegraph, basically a piece of government propaganda, written by Peter Clarke (until recently head of the counter-terrorism command at Scotland Yard). There is so much to write about this outrageous attempt at extending the right of the State to lengthen the [already far too long] period it may hold citizens without charge from 28 to 42 days, but I will limit myself (today is my birthday after all) to one of the many highly-disingenuous justifications for the change:

When I was asked, in 2005, by the home affairs select committee how many terrorists I had been obliged to let go through lack of time to investigate, I inwardly despaired. It was the wrong question. We should look forward, not back. The fact that we have been able to convict more than 60 terrorists in the last year or so is irrelevant.

The better question would have been: "Is it likely that there will come a time when the present 28-day limit is insufficient?" The answer would have been, "undoubtedly". That is why we should legislate now, and not in panic in an emergency.

Oh, this aims to sound very re-assuring (or at least Peter Clarke presumably hopes it does), but what is he really saying? Basically there might, sometime in the future, be a case where, whatever limit on detention without charge is set, the period allowed would not be sufficient for the police to formulate actual charges against a detainee. This was the same when the period was 72 hours and is the same now with 28 days. It would be the same with 42, 56 or 90 days. Even if the period of detention were to be set at, say (just to be ridiculous), 5 years, there might come a time sometime in the future where the police contended it was not adequate for them to investigate exhaustively their suspicions of a given detainee and come to the conclusion that no plausible charges could be brought.

This idea that we should legislate for every theoretical contingency in the future is tanatmount to saying that people should be able to be held indefinitely, just in case. I'm truly amazed at the brass-necks of these people, expecting us to swallow their half-baked ideas and ignore this blatant attempt at normalising increasingly-long periods of detention without charge as somehow being 'for our own good'! The mindset of these would-be tyrants seems to be that the concept of 'habeas corpus' no longer has a value.

As for Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's attempts to placate Labour 'rebels', disingenuous does not even begin to cover it!

PS/ I find it extremely depressing that a writer for the Spectator is so easily-duped by the current propaganda offensive by the government to have its way. Frankly this is far more important than Party politics and the suggested desire by potentially-rebellious Labour MPs not to inflict further harm on an already-weakened government and is most certainly no justification for them going against their consciences - it is not something to understand, rather it is something to condemn them for if they take this course of action and for which their electors should punish them at the next election for their treachery against the long-term public interest and the democratic future of this country.