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

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

US Senate forced to accept its writ does not extend outside the US

So the US Senate has postponed its hearing on whether BP influenced the release of Megrahi from a Scottish prison. I wrote about this last week here.

As I have written at length, I disagreed strongly and fundamentally with the decision of the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') to release Megrahi, a convicted criminal, on grounds of 'compassion'. However, I have always accepted that it had the right to make that decision in accordance with its interpretation of Scots Law, even though that decision was entirely discretionary and wrong in my view.

Scots Law, and I am no 'Scottish nationalist' (that hardly needs saying - Ed), is not subordinate to the English 'Common Law' any more than it is to US law. Scotland has always had its own legal system, prior to and since the Act of Union with England and the fact that since 1999 there has been a devolved Scottish Parliament has not fundamentally changed anything, except that many domestic Scottish matters are now dealt with by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') rather than the Secretary of State for Scotland within the UK government.

What is really laughable, though, is that a few US Senators seem to think that their writ extends beyond US borders and that they can effectively coerce governments of foreign countries to appear before their committees. The posturing of a few US Senators ahead of their mid-term elections this November is of no moment to me or anyone outside the US, however interesting and indeed important (in some respects) US domestic politics may be in the wider world. I think Senator Menendez of New Jersey is playing to an audience in his home State ahead of elections, and good luck to him - but it is of absolutely no consequence to our Scottish devolved administration, nor indeed to the UK government, which has, as politely as they can, told he and his colleagues to 'get knotted'. I do not agree with the decision to release Megrahi, but I agree completely with the decision of the Scottish Executive to decline Senator Menendez's 'summons' as completely outrageous. The US Senate can of course hold whatever hearings it cares to, and Senator Menendez can verbally 'stamp his feet' in frustration all he likes, it really is none of my business, but neither he nor the US Senate can compel or coerce the government of a foreign country to submit to its authority; it really is that simple.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Megrahi release saga rumbles on ...

I'm not going to rehash the arguments for or against releasing Megrahi last year, a decision taken by the Justice Secretary in the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government'), Mr Kenny MacAskill MSP; I thought then and think still that the decision was both wrong and foolish. My articles written at the time on the matter give my detailed view of the matter:

- Scotland sends a convicted murderer home "to die" (20AUG2009)
- Bill's not popular in some quarters locally it seems (22AUG2009)
- Majority 'oppose' Megrahi release (28AUG2009)
- My absolutely final word on the al-Megrahi release saga (01SEP2009)

Now that final article linked to above, written on 1st September last year, might be thought to be contradicted by this present article, but in fact it is not because this article is on a whole other aspect of this saga, relating to judicial and constitutional territoriality. However, before continuing this article I think it useful to quote the final two sentences from my last article above:

"Whatever we may think of the decision by Mr MacAskill, it was made in good faith I have no doubt (if in my view for misguided reasons), but it is done and cannot be reversed. We must now live with the consequences, whatever they are."

At the time of the release the US authorities expressed their view opposing the release very vociferously, but as I wrote in the first article linked to above "We have our legal system and they have their's and they have done many things in recent years which have been found by many in this country to be revolting or merely unjust in recent years, and precious little notice have they taken of the views and sensibilities of what is supposed to be their closest ally in the world."

In recent weeks a US Senate hearing has been taking place into the oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico involving oil company BP, a company with strong British links historically, even though it is today a truly multinational conglomerate with a large proportion of its shareholding outside the UK, with US shareholders holding a very significant stake in the company. It has been suggested by some US Senators that there may be a connection between the release of Megrahi and a deal agreed with the Libyan authorities by BP. Now these US Senators have 'invited' Mr MacAskill and the Scottish Prison Service's medical chief Dr Andrew Fraser to travel to Washington to give evidence before the US Senate hearing. The Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') has declined this 'invitation'. Also invited are Mr Jack Straw MP, former UK Justice Secretary and Mr Tony Hayward, BP chief executive, neither of whom have yet announced a decision on this matter. It will be recalled that Mr Hayward recently gave evidence before the US Senate in connection with the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill.

My view is very strongly that no official of the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') should attend the US Senate hearing. I am no friend of the current ruling political party in Scotland, the SNP, nor do I care for the First Minister, Mr Alex Salmond MP MSP, but I watched him being interviewed earlier today on BBC News on the matter and have to say I agree completely with his analysis, which followed very closely the statement issued by a spokesperson on behalf of his administration:

"Since the Lockerbie atrocity in 1988, all matters regarding the investigation, prosecution and compassionate release decision have been conducted according to the jurisdiction and laws of Scotland.

"Clearly, the Senate Committee has responsibility to scrutinise decisions taken within the US system, and Scottish ministers and public officials are accountable within the Scottish Parliament system. That is the constitutional basis of our democracies.

"The Scottish Parliament's justice committee has already undertaken a full inquiry into the decision on compassionate release, and the Westminster Scottish affairs committee has also examined the issue in terms of the formal inter-governmental relations that exist within the UK. That is right and proper."

The US is a close ally of the UK (which includes Scotland), but the two are completely separate countries and it would seem to me totally invidious, on principle, for any official of a UK government or a devolved part of the UK such as Scotland, to accept or imply acceptance of the jurisdiction of a foreign country. I cannot imagine any official of the US Federal Government or one of the US States agreeing to give evidence before a Parliamentary Committee in the UK, nor would it be correct for them to accept such an obligation - the furore that that would arise in the US amongst the public there were such testimony to be offered by any US public official before the parliament of a foreign country, even of a close ally such as the UK, would be intense and entirely justified.

The Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') has stated its willingness to supply further written evidence to the US Senate and that is as much as the US Senate can expect, indeed my view is that even this is too much. I may disagree strongly with the decision taken by Mr MacAskill, but it is clear that he took that decision with due regard to Scots Law; that is the end of the matter so far as I am concerned.

Finally, the comments made by Labour's Holyrood justice spokesman Richard Baker, to the effect that it was "perfectly legitimate" for US senators to ask Mr MacAskill to travel to Washington and answer questions are in my view completely wrong-headed and betray a complete lack of understanding of the constitutional issues involved, specifically relating to the sovereignty of the UK; I have no love for the SNP, but it is immensely pleasing that the Labour Party is no longer in power in either Scotland or Westminster if this is the care and attention they give to this country's status as an independent country; of course Labour is the political party that when in government agreed the unequal US/UK Extradition Treaty 2003 with the US, so they have 'form' in their dereliction of national duty.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Ireland gets civil partnership law

Irish President Mary McAleese yesterday signed into law the country's Civil Partnership Bill, after having been approved by the Seanad ('Senate') by 48 votes to 4 on 9th July after having been passed by the Dáil ('Parliament') the previous week.

According to the linked article the Bill cannot take full effect until 'commensurate changes take place in social welfare, tax and pensions legislation' and that relevant changes in the 'Finance Bill and Social Welfare Bill [will be] drafted following December’s budget'. All this means that Civil Partnerships are likely to begin in Ireland only at the beginning of 2011.

I last wrote about Ireland's plans to legislate for 'civil partnerships' in January 2008 and at that time it was thought that the legislation might come into force at the end of that year; in the event it has taken much longer, but the change is of course extremely pleasing, however delayed it has been.

Dog ban signs to go at Nairn central beach

There's an article in Nairn's local 'dead-tree' rag ('The Nairnshire Telepgraph' - no online presence) this week advising that the signs prohibiting dogs from the 'Central Beach' at Nairn between April and September each year are to come down.

Basically the signs became illegal effective 2002, following the adoption of the Scottish Access Code, but Highland Council had 'kept the signs in place because dogs still have to be kept under a measuure of control at the beach'. However, according to the Nairnshire article:
"In the last few days the bad signs had been challenged by a member of the public and it had been decided to remove them."

Call me an old cynic, but I wonder just how many other illegal signs purporting to enforce non-existent rules, or legislation which is no longer in force, are Highland Council still using, until some brave member of the public has the temerity to challenge them?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Her Majesty the Queen grants First Minister Salmond an audience

I noticed in yesterday's Telegraph, in the 'Court Circular' there, that Her Majesty the Queen received in audience The Rt Hon Alex Salmond MP (First Minister of the Scottish Executive) on 13th July, during Her visit to Scotland. The audience took place at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Her official residence in Scotland.

I thought it was very revealing that Mr Salmond, MP, MSP, was referred to by his correct legal title (that is - First Minister of the Scottish Executive), not by the fantasy title of "First Minister of the Scottish Government" that he has assumed for himself since taking office in 2007, without any statutory justification whatsoever.

Her Majesty is after all the person who signed the Scotland Act 1998 and nowhere in that document is the style and title of "First Minister of the Scottish Government" provided for. Maybe one day, if the Scottish people vote in sufficient numbers for the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom and for the creation of a separate State (whether monarchical or republican), we will have a "Scottish Government", but that day is not yet here and Mr Salmond has no right to use that term until one is created. Frankly Mr Samond's use of this term makes me think of some other jumped-up nobodies who have given themselves ridiculous titles over the years (such as Idi Amin who styled himself as "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor[B] Idi Amin Dada, VC,[C] DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular" or Jean-Bédel Bokassa of who styled himself "Emperor of the Central African Empire", not to mention Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi of Libya who has variously styled himself "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" and "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution".

I am being exceedingly pedantic, I know, but Salmond's unsubtle assumption of a title he has no legal entitlement to use is not the only instance (nor the most serious) where the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 has been ignored and glossed over. I refer to the more serious issue of the number of MSPs which remains at 129, despite the provision in the Statute requiring a reduction in the number of MSPs in proportion to the reduction in Scottish representation at Westminsiter from 73 MPs to 59, which would imply that the number of MSPs should in fact now be 108 instead of 129. The political fudge a few years back in the Scottish Parliament which allowed this to happen is totally disgraceful and reflects simply that 'jobs for the boys [and girls]' is seen by MSPs as more important than adherence to law. The apparatus of the Scottish Parliament costs us a great deal of money and continuing to pay for 21 MSPs without any basis in law is just another example of how the Scottish people's interests are regarded as secondary to the naked greed of our political representatives.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The 'Dark Lord' speaks

'Lord' Peter Mandelson plugs his new book of 'memoirs'; I saw this advertisement on television a few evenings ago and almost choked on my supper!

How much do you think this will be 'remaindered' for in a very short period? Not much more than a Pound I should imagine.

Salmond 'frit'

First Minister of Scotland and 'all round good egg' [not] Alex Salmond thinks so little of the voters of Scotland that be believes they will be confused if they are asked to vote on two matters at the same time. The UK government proposes to hold a referendum on whether the voting system for Westminster elections should be changed from the traditional 'first past the post' (FPTP) to the 'alternative vote' (AV) system on the same date, 5 May 2011, that the next elections will he held for the Scottish Parliament . A subtext to this fear on Salmond's part is that his party, the SNP, did pretty poorly in the recent Westminster elections, managing only to maintain its number of MPs at 6 (out of 59), when it had hope to raise its Westminister representation to 20. Mr Salmond has therefore written a rather laughable letter to David Cameron, the new Prime Minister, pleading his partisan case:

"I believe that your proposals to hold a referendum on the same day undermines the integrity of the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"These elections are of profound importance to our citizens and I believe they have the right to make their electoral choices for the respective devolved chambers without the distraction of a parallel referendum campaign on the UK voting system.

"When you visited Edinburgh shortly after your election, you placed great emphasis on what you called 'the respect agenda' between the UK government and devolved administrations.

"It is not clear how the decision to hold the AV referendum on the same date as our elections, and to do so without any prior consultation, fits into the spirit of that framework."

The Coalition Government's (Lib Dem) Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has rightly dismissed Mr Salmonds's 'mewlings' thus:

"To say that this will confuse voters is to underestimate the intelligence of the Scottish people.

"Many countries routinely hold elections and referendums on the same day. I am confident that Scotland can do the same.

"There will be ample time in the election campaign to debate all the issues facing Scotland, and for Scots to make their judgment about who is best placed to deal with them."

Of course Mr Salmond knows that relatively few people, whatever they may say in opinion polls, are actually prepared to go into the voting booth and vote for the 'fantasy politics' that the SNP specialises in. At the May 2010 Westminster election the SNP managed only 19.9 per cent of the vote in Scotland (up from 17.6 in the previous election) although it edged past the LibDems into second-place in number of votes. Bizarrely the SNP suffers from the same problem as the Scottish Conservatives in that their support is too thinly-spread around the country to gain very many seats under an FPTP voting system, so it is possible that an AV system would be to its advantage, just as the d'Hondt voting system for the Scottish Parliament has unquestionably benefitted the SNP, even though it has allowed it to operate only as a minority Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') since the last Scottish parliament elections in 2007.

Salmond knows that his only hope in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections in 2011 is to stir-up discontent with Westminster in the hope (probably vain) that he can increase SNP support. The reality, Mr Salmond, is that the vast majority of Scottish people are far to savvy to fall for your brand of 'snake-oil' politics. The referendum on the UK voting system and the 2011 Scottish Parliament election should go ahead on the same date next year; the Scottish people are plenty intelligent enough to decide and quite importantly it will save quite a lot of money to do so. Why does Salmond believe the Scottish people cannot be trusted?

PS/ This is my 3,000th blog-post since I began this blog in April 2002. How long will it take me to get to 6,000 I wonder ...

Thursday, 8 July 2010

BWV 1052 - just because ...

J S Bach - Harpsichord Concerto No.1 in D Minor - BWV 1052

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The cleanliness of Moroccan toilets - and poetry, too!

I came across a most interesting article in the Big Brother Maroc blog this evening, linking to a website there devoted to the notion that lavatories, toilets or whatever 'euphemism' you wish to employ, do not have to be disgusting, but too often are. It aims to focus attention on really crass examples and thereby encourage the operators of these locales to clean up their act. I post two photographs below, the first completely disgusting and the second not (it would seem) bad at all, to show that filth does not have to be the norm:

The filthy toilet on the train between
Casablanca and Mohammed V Airport

The pretty clean-looking
Cervantes Institute, Casablanca

A long time ago I lived in Morocco for a couple of years and have been back a few times in later years, so am always interested when I hear mention of the country as I enjoyed living there a lot. My memories from there, so far as toilets are concerned, range from the perfectly pleasant to the completely awful, but in all honesty the same could be said about many (if not all) of the countries I have lived in or visited. I do recall that the male staff toilets in our Casablanca office were particularly disgusting (on one occasion a 30 feet section of drain had to be replaced because it had become blocked with - well suffice to say it wasn't pretty! The real problem was an over-enthusiastic use of toilet paper - the consumption of this commodity there was truly extraordinary, for a staff complement of only about 55 in all.), but on the other hand other 'traditional' toilets there were often perfectly clean, if 'exotic', for someone used to a sit-down lavatory. However I did spend a day in what might laughably be called an hotel room in the southern Moroccan town of Tan Tan (map) which remains to this day (36 or 37 years later) the most awful I have ever experienced - straw-filled bolster mattress, no sheets, just a rather soiled-looking blanket; it didn't do me much harm though, as I'm still around to tell the tale! Tan Tan is about 350 Km south of Agadir, itself about 360 Km south of Casablanca, where I lived.

I think this idea of highlighting unsavoury toilets could usefully be copied for other countries - it would provide a useful service for residents and travellers alike and perhaps encourage operators to do better.

Oh, the poetry! In the Big Brother Maroc blog I found this sentence in the relevant article particularly delightful and expressive:
"En plus, pour vos soirées ou sorties, n'hésitez pas à consulter ce site pour éviter les endroits les moins propices à notre confort sphinctérien."
(In addition, for your evening celebrations or your excursions, don't forget to consult this website so you may avoid places less conducive to your sphincteric comfort.)
- don't you just love it? There are a lot more turns of phrase in that blog that have brought a smile to my face!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Pride London - an estimated 1 million celebrate!

I didn't see a segment about today's Pride London event in the BBC1 News at 5.35pm, but they do have an article up about it now, with embedded video-clip. I'm glad to see that some of the players of the Kings Cross Steelers Rugby Football Club (of which I have been a supporting member for many years) were well in evidence near the beginning of the clip.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Belgium assumes EU Presidency today for the next six months

Belgium has taken over the role of presidency of the EU today for the coming six months, replacing Spain in the role. Despite the fact that Belgium does not currently have a government, the country's caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme 'has dismissed any concern about Belgium's commitment to the EU presidency program, which he said enjoyed wide cross-party support' and is quoted as saying that his 'country's role as EU chair would be "more limited than in the past" anyway'. Make of this what you will.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is quoted as saying: "I am absolutely convinced that Belgium, which has always been at the centre of the European Union, will remain there." and "Even after the Presidency period, I am fully confident that Belgium has strong European belief."

A clue to Belgium's likely role is given in this quotation from Peter Becker, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), speaking to Deutsche Welle (whose article is linked to above): "It will be a very pro-European presidency."

The website of the Belgian EU Presidency is here (English language version - the website exists also in French, Dutch/Flemish and German). The Belgian presidency will be succeeded by that of Hungary (see also here), for the followinng six months after which Poland will hold the role for the second half of 2011.

However the Lisbon Treaty has changed many things - there is now the role of President of the European Council (currently held by Mr Herman Van Rompuy), held for a maximum of 5 years (in 2 two and a half year segments) - there is an 'explanatory' document here (in .pdf format), which you can find, if you know where to look, in the EU website here.

My views about the EU have been changing in recent times; I was formerly a committed 'Europhile' and still am to a large degree, but I have become considerably more sceptical about the long-term direction that is being charted. Whilst the Lisbon Treaty has changed many things, it has not changed the desire of individual nations to feel like they 'rule the roost', hence the continuance of the 6-month rotating 'Presidency', although with a reduced mandate. It strikes me that the whole institution of the EU is becoming increasingly unwieldy and difficult to understand for most ordinary citizens. One might be forgiven for believing that this last is precisely the aim of the EU bureaucrats who control it in practice; to baffle the 'peasants' with complexity.

Anyway, for good or ill, Belgium has the role of Presidency of the EU for the next six months.