Thursday, 30 September 2010


Subrosa and I have agreed to take week about at writing up a short report on the spectacle of comedy that is First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.

This week it's her turn. You can find her report and a video of the proceedings here


Hazel Blears must be one of Labour’s biggest liabilities in their search for a new path and a return to government. Having fiddled at every turn, (although the police found nothing over which they could prosecute her) and good Blairite as she is, done her best to undermine Gordon Brown, she went on tv to wave about a cheque for £13,000 that she had “withheld” from the Inland Revenue, as if she was doing us all a massive favour.

Despite all that she did; all the nest lining and troughing, she was re-elected to her constituency, albeit with a reduced majority. What hope is there for the country if we elect that calibre of MP. And that calibre of MP is promoted to Cabinet level.

I’ve never come across a less able or seemingly less intelligent cabinet minister. And Mrs Blears is also a not to terribly accomplished liar. The above video shows her being caught on lying though her teeth in another “rock the boat” moment on the Daily Politics Show.


It would have seemed reasonable to suppose that the first threat to David Cameron’s authority would have been from a Liberal Democrat (and let’s face it the only one with the balls to do that is Vince Cable).

But it appears that that challenge has come from Liam Fox whose letter to Cameron about cuts to the Armed Forces was leaked to and published by the Daily Telegraph yesterday. The public support for Fox from military commanders has angered Cameron, but he has issued a statement saying that he supports the Defence Secretary.

But for all that support Cameron and George Osborne told Fox to find even more cost-cutting measures and rejected Fox’s attempts to shield the Navy from the brunt of the cuts.

Mr Fox's letter warned of "grave consequences” if the defence budget were to be cut by 10%. But the next day the National Security Council met and ordered Fox to make even deeper cuts. It looks like Cameron has decided that the navy and naval equipment is not to be spared, which may be very bad news for shipbuilding on the Clyde.

However it seems that there is, as you would expect, massive support within the senior ranks of the military for what Fox is doing. This may be the first time for a very long time that the senior officers are behind the defence secretary, even if that puts them at loggerheads with the prime minister. Big name after big name, Dannatt, Jackson, Muxworthy, Williams have backed Fox, and of course Labour’s Ainsworth joined in to make a political point, as if he wasn’t a complete dead loss as Defence minister.

Given all the publicity, and indeed criticism of the last government for starving our soldiers of the funds to do the job in Afghanistan, it seems almost unbelievable that the prime minister will not go along with Fox’s demands.

And what a bonus we are throwing the Taliban. Now they know that the US has a timetable for withdrawal and they know that Britain is too broke to stay in the country, they must be rubbing their grubby hands with joy at the thought of getting rid of the enemy and then their corrupt, mentally unstable president, whom you will remember we helped them elect, and going back to exactly where they were in 2001!

Cameron is unmoved by all the pleading and Osborne is incandescent with rage telling ministers not to go over his head to the Prime Minister.

I make no bones about it; Liam Fox is, from everything I have ever read about him, one of the most unappealing men you could hope to meet. He is a bigot and he is a fiddler and he tried to cover who paid his expenses on trips to Sri lanka. But this time i think he is right. No matter what kind of a mess the Labour government left the country in, we are at war. It is utterly vital that the men we have sent fight in this idiotic conflict are given the very best equipment and support possible.

If not David Cameron will find himself in the same position as Gordon Brown, when troops turn their backs on him and refuse to speak to him or shake his hand.

If you and your chancellor, who have never served, insist on 10% cuts Mr Cameron, I think that the country will expect you to remove our troops from the war immediately. Nothing less will do.

Just as an afterthought. The MoD has to make savings of 10%. Cabinet ministers took a pay reduction of 5%. Is it me or is there an us and them situation going on here?

Pics: Liam Fox, Richard Dannatt

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


I hope you will excuse me returning to the same subject today. I promise not to become obsessed with it....

It’s just that I’m not sure why it is that people are so surprised, shocked and hurt for poor wee David Miliband, and why they think that Ed is some sort of evil Enver Hoxha or Kim Jong Il figure waiting to collectivize our farms and have the workers march to victory sweeping the aristocracy away in their efforts to create a Stalinist of Maoist state.

Dealing with David’s hurt feelings is easy. He’s in politics for heaven’s sake. At the age of 29 he was head of the Blair policy unit, and at 41 the youngest Foreign Secretary since David Owen. He didn’t get there by being sensitive. He has some wounded pride. He needs to get over it. He’s got the punching power to end up in charge of something else, somewhere else. Don’t waste your sympathy on him. His type could fall off the top of the Scott Monument and walk away. Clearly his wife wanted it badly enough to cry, but she’ll get over that too. Like I say, he’ll survive.

Of course, in a way I can see why the Conservatives would rather have had David Miliband. There would be no serious opposition to anything they are doing. Miliband wouldn’t much mind how quickly the deficit is paid off; he would side with Cameron on constitutional issues against Clegg. One would wonder if Labour wouldn’t just join the coalition and leave opposition to the Celtic fringe countries.

The Daily Mail (of all papers) summarized Miliband the younger’s speech at the bottom of a particularly vitriolic piece by the chateratti commentator Quentin Letts (see above; click for readable size). What is terribly “Red” about any of this stuff?

* He says that it was wrong to go into Iraq. So did the Tories before the election. They said if they had known all the facts they wouldn’t have agreed to the invasion(!)

* He says he will have no truck with gratuitous striking and tells the unions they should not either. Can’t argue with that.

* He says that it’s wrong that a banker (of the gambling type) can earn more in one day than a care worker does in a year. Well, is it right, remembering that both these sets of people are state employees in many cases?

* He wants to see the banks lending to medium and small businesses. Doesn’t everyone, given that they provide jobs and are, or should be, the life blood of the country?

*He points out that there is no merit in paying off the entire deficit if we do not build a society worth living in. Can’t argue much with that, can you? Getting the economics right is no good if everyone hates living here.

* He agrees that Labour let too many foreigners. Most Tories must be pleased about that, surely? (Even if Vince Cable has pointed out that a sad lack of indigenous skills training over 30 years does mean that we actually do need them, and he is backed in that by the Tories’ friend, big business.)

The rest is navel gazing, but frankly no one would have said anything different. I mean, it isn’t our fault we don’t like Labour. It’s Labour’s fault we don’t like Labour.

Any thoughts?


Ed Miliband's first conference speech as Labour leader may have been slightly overshadowed after David Miliband, who was sitting in the audience, was caught mouthing something to Harriet Harman who was sitting next to him.

Despite his public show of loyalty it’s clear that David is far from pleased, and his wife is said to be raging about the election.

In his speech Ed disowned a huge amount of what New Labour had done. He condemned tuition fees, lack of any real regulation of the City, and Brown's idiotic claim to have ended boom and bust.

However, when he got to the Iraq war, he described the decision to invade as "wrong". That was when his brother reacted. Miliband Snr turned to Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman who was sitting next to him applauding and said: "You voted for it, why are you clapping?"

Harman replied: "I'm clapping because he is the leader. I'm supporting him."

Shortly after that Ed mentioned that he had been nicknamed Forest Gump by some of David’s supporters, and the cameras swung to David who was shaking his head.

I doubt that in all honesty David Miliband will stay as a member of the shadow cabinet, but if he goes, and particularly if he resigns his seat so that he can carry on his ambitious career elsewhere, he is going to look like a huffy little man who didn’t get what he wanted, and surely Labour has had enough of that kind at the helm.... so they may have had a narrow escape.

After his own speech on Monday, when he made an appeal for Labour to unify behind Ed, his wife Louise was spotted in floods of tears backstage, and it is said that she is extremely angry that Ed stood, after he apparently advised David not to try to oust Brown
a year and more ago. That he won by the narrowest of margins, and thanks to the section of the party that these people like the very least...the trade unionists....must be the saddest of blows to the Milibands Senior.

When asked about it, Ed said he hadn't seen it. He went on to praise his brother for his support in response to his speech.

David Miliband may not be the only person to have trouble with things that were said. Ed made it clear that he was against the tight restrictions the last government introduced, curtailing personal liberty with the excuse of the Bush/Blair “war against terror”. This put him at odds with Postman Pat, another trade unionist. And Ed has backed Ken Clarke’s policies of intelligent sentencing, which Jack Straw described as madness. (Jack Straw is more of a Michael Howard type of man.)

We shall see what the next few days bring, but as the papers are totally obsessed with this, now might be a good time to bury bad news as Labour comes apart at the stitches.

(In the second picture wee Spud looks as if he doesn't even recognise the guy on the platform, don't you think?)

Monday, 27 September 2010


Our last story featured two men who have given a reasonable amount of money from their salaries to charity. Yes, they could afford to do it, but they most certainly didn’t have to. Their acts not only have benefited the charities that they favoured, but will have put pressure on other people in the Edinburgh scene to copy their acts of generosity.

Then there is “Lord” Ashcroft.

He was given a seat in the House of Lords, in the parliament of the UK, in 2000 after agreeing that he would live here and pay tax on his worldwide income. He gave his word to that effect to William Hague, the then leader of the Opposition, who boasted that Ashcroft's decision would benefit the Treasury to the tune of tens of millions of pounds a year.

However, 10 years later, Mr Ashcroft admitted that he had lied to his friend and had, in fact, never bothered to fulfil the conditions of his peerage, safe in the knowledge that, once given, a life peerage cannot be revoked.

Some friend! His actions, or rather inaction, has caused doubt to be cast on the judgement of Hague, who accepted him at his word and did not bother to check that these tens of millions were pouring into the Treasury coffers.

On April 6 of this year, as a result of the revelations in the Daily Telegraph and Times about the criminal activities and near-the-knuckle goings on in “their Lordships’ House”, Labour brought in a new law forcing Lords to pay tax on their worldwide income and assets.

So..... on April 5 of this year "His Nobleness" did what any money grubbing, second rate tightwad would do. He transferred ownership of his main UK company to a trust for the benefit of his children, who otherwise, of course, would be penniless when he died, thus saving the Treasury the bother of collecting millions in tax.

Interestingly, a month before the new law took effect Ashcroft said that he agreed with the new tax rules for the House of Lords. He left out that he didn’t agree with them for himself... only for other lesser lords.

None of this has strictly been illegal. Certainly, putting your money into a Trust so the Treasury can’t get their greedy hands on it, is perfectly legal. Many people have done it, including famously the Wintertons, so that they could avoid tax and continue to receive rent payments on an apartment they now owned (because we had paid the mortgage for them). It’s greedy, it’s despicable and it’s tax avoidance, which the government is pledged to reduce, but it’s legal.

The earlier stuff about lying to the leader of the Opposition in order to have him recommend you for a peerage is also probably not illegal. Ashcroft did some sort of a deal with the Treasury behind Hague’s back so he covered himself there. Our man is far too smart to actually break the law.

But doesn’t it contrast sharply with the previous story of decent men?

No wonder he is set to stand down as deputy chairman of the Tory party. He is not a credit to them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron had put his foot under the ignoble lord’s fat backside.

BBC’s Panorama, tonight at 8.30 is entitled “Lord Ashcroft’s Millions”. It should be worth an hour of our lives.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


The Sunday Post carries a story which shows three people in rather a good light.

The first of these is Paul McBride QC, who as a member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), working a few days a month for them, is entitled to a salary of £9,000 + expenses for each of the next four years.

He has decided to do the work pro bono and, as such, has given up in the region of £40,000. The work of SLAB is to administer civil and criminal aid payments in Scotland.

Mr McBride, who is one of Scotland’s top QCs, said that he thought that, with the level of constraint in the country at present, it was appropriate for those who could afford to, to set an example. He had been highly critical of Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release the Lockerbie bomber last year, and his re-appointment to the board, a post in the gift of the Scottish government, had come as a surprise to many in the legal profession not least himself.

Mr McBride said that he had appreciated the “non-partisan” gesture by Mr MacAskill, and had decided that he would donate his salary and expenses to charity. He said that it was unfortunate that so many people thought that people in public service were there for the money, rather than to provide a service and he wanted to help reverse that view. He was following in the footsteps of his colleague, the chief executive of SLAB, Lindsay Montgomery, who donated £20,000 of bonuses to charity.

So credit is due to both these men. It’s fair to say that they both receive very generous salaries and payments and Mr McBride has certainly earned a good deal of money over the past years, but nonetheless, their gestures are examples to others who are rich enough not to need their entire salaries... and frankly will make people who are paid vast amounts and do not need the money, but keep it all the same, look rather greedy.

Credit too, is due to Kenny MacAskill. Whatever you think of his politics, or indeed his decision to release Al Megrahi, it would be easy for him to favour only those who agree with him when it comes to public appointments. And he didn’t.

It’s a real change to discuss good news. But it’s a nice one.


Winner Ed Milband..... and, pictured below, the other contenders

So it’s Ed.

If I’m honest, I don’t really care much for him, but he was the best of a mediocre bunch.

Diane Abbot and Andy Burnham were frankly ridiculous outsiders. The more Abbot said the more I realized why she was and always had been a back bench MP. And the more that Burnham said the more I was glad that his Cabinet remit was England only. (Compare him with Nicola Sturgeon and rejoice that you are Scottish, regardless of politics.)

Ed Balls was, if you strip away some of the probably undeserved reputation (and the daft wife), a man with some decent and sensible policies.

But of course, from the beginning, as Tony Benn had predicted many years ago, it was clear that it would be a Miliband who led the party once the Blair/Brown ‘partnership’ was truly over.

So, as they were all applauding and cheering the man who lost them the election yesterday we all wondered which one it would be. Should we be glad that the choice was Milly junior, rather than Milly senior?

I think so. David is Blair’s creature. Blair and Mandelson! The south-east of England is all that matters, the north has nowhere else to go, and half the country lives in the prosperous belt around London. I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t have been able to get a cigarette paper between the policies of Miliband Snr. and Camerclegg.

Does that mean that Ed is left wing? Well, not by historic standards, no. He’s not a Tony Benn or a Michael Foot. He’s not even a Denis Healy. He may be to the left of his brother and Tony Blair; he was against the Iraq war and for the 50p tax band, but so was most of the country. He’s no firebrand.

Is he a creature of the unions? To an extent, yes, but it has to be remembered that despite the fact that it was union members’ votes that swung it, gone are the days of the block vote. Individual members sent in individual votes. And union members are no longer the wild radicals that struck because they had carbolic soap and hard toilet paper; whist the management had Lux and soft tissue.

So will he be a slave of the unions who put him where he is? No, I don’t think so, mainly for the already stated reason that the block vote is history. It wasn’t the unions who put him there, it was the union members. Smart Tories are avoiding the union argument, as it can be so easily blown apart the first time that he condemns unnecessary strike action.

When the cuts come, and the unions take action (as they undoubtedly will), of course there will be times when Labour will support them; there will be times when we all support them, I suspect. But the new leader has been swift to point out that he will support reasonable cuts, and the government will have his backing where it is in the interests of the country.

In the days, weeks and months to come of hardships like people of my age, indeed people under 70, have never endured, it will be necessary for the country to have an opposition which is ideologically capable of opposing where it is appropriate. The alternative would be unthinkable. The Liberals have been lost (at least for the present) to the opposition and the nationalist parties in Westminster are too small to have any major impact.

Camerclegg unopposed would be frighteningly dangerous.

So I wish Ed Miliband success in the difficult task ahead of him.

Saturday, 25 September 2010


Nice Mr Cameron has given an interview to the Daily Telegraph pledging that there will be tax cuts for the middle class once the mess is sorted out. And that it will be in this parliament.

So now we know why he is rushing double plus quick, to cut the services that keep low earners and pensioners going. He needs the money for middle class tax cuts.

This is a wide ranging interview in which he takes time out from the serious stuff to tell us that his new daughter sleeps in a cardboard box. Isn’t that sweet...just like tens of thousands of people all over the country...except her cardboard box is inside a posh council house in Downing street, or an even posher one in the country at Chequers, whilst most of the rest of them are under bridges..

He warns the police not to be alarmist over the cuts. He tells them not to suggest that the cuts will mean fewer police on the streets. I expect they are supposed to say. “No bother Dave. We can do exactly the same as before with only 75% of the money....” Having backed the new MPs’ expenses watchdog when he was looking for disgruntled people’s votes, he is now going to reform it because some MPs are a bit upset that the world doesn’t stop and bow to them. Clearly the cuts for normal people don’t apply to MPs.

He says too that Universal benefits could be at you may have to go beg for your pension, and prove you are a pauper before you can get your winter fuel allowance, despite having paid National INSURANCE all your life. Maybe MPs should be means tested for their expenses in these times when we are all in this together. After all David himself claims for mortgage payments on one of his three houses despite being indecently rich and having a wife who earns in excess of £300,000 a year.

He has backed both William Hague and Andy Coulson, and feels that people have been unfair to them. Poor Mr Coulson is being punished twice he tells us! And presumably we should take Mr Hague at his word and not doubt either his sexuality or his judgment which by most people’s standards is simply abysmal.

He describes how he sees it when this is all over, remembering he has told us services will never return to how they were in the past, but promises middle class tax rebates before the next election.

With Mr Osborne’s spending review just over 3 weeks away, Cameron very generously tells us that he intends to trust the public to accept the truth about spending cuts.

Accept the truth...? From a politician? After what we have had over the last year? You must be having a laugh Mr Cameron.

All I’ll say to you is “Wisteria”.
Pics: Mr Cameron's collection of houses.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Fresh from their wee break last week, hobnobbing with the rich and lecherous ... sorry famous.... the party leaders returned to the fray this week at FMQs and kicking off, as usual, for the away team was Elmer Fudd, proof positive that a break doesn’t always do you any good. Instead of concentrating on the task at hand, and leaving enough room for backbenchers to ask questions that actually matter, Elmer was concerned about the poster on the wall of St Andrew’s House which he described rather grandly as North Korean, and then spoiled it by referring to the "great", rather than the "dear" leader.

Eventually h
e got round to the question, or series of questions about economic growth or not, in Scotland, in which he got his figures wrong, cherry picked the Rowantree Foundation’s report and stuttered, on at least one occasion prompting Mr Ferguson to remind him that it was First Minister’s QUESTIONS, and could he come up with one, please? Eck as usual wiped the floor with him, quoting good news about more house building and renewable energy jobs coming up. As Eck pointed out, the Scottish government could do a deal more if only it had the power; something Iain Gray’s party was happy to deny it. He ended with a rousing piece, Salmond at his best, recounting with ever rising hysteria and obvious relish, and to the delight of the chamber, advice given to him on election strategy by none other than Hootsman jouro Bill Jamieson..... the two words that strike fear into the heart of every Scot...."Iain Gray".

Annabel was next up for a turn, refreshed and somewhat flushed, pre
sumably from her encounter with El Duce, and showing off her superior education, she started off with a quote in Latin (someone should tell her Philip is Greek!!) "Via, Veritas, Vita", she intoned somewhat superiorly, and, knowing that no one else in the place would have a clue, she translated; "the way, the truth, life".

This was the posh way to introduce the question of university funding and a speech made by Anton Muscatelli , principal of Glasgow university. The good professor, it seems thinks that his university will soon be broke and urgently needs government to look at ways to ensure that his massive salary can be maintained. To be fair he had been quite complimentary about the SNP government’s funding over the years, a fact Annabel in her Roman flush, neglected to mention. But it was a fair question for all that. It’s serious and Eck took it seriously. There was to be a green paper on ways of funding, but the government did rule out upfront fees. So, it seemed, did Annabel. She was for a graduate tax, possibly forgetting that it is not in the Scottish government’s remit to impose that!

And so to Farmer
Tavish and his eminently sensible questions about the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, to which Mr Salmond gave perfectly sensible answers. The Scottish team has a delegation in India and can inspect the accommodations for themselves which puts them in a better situation than many other teams. Tavish was rightly concerned that some of Scotland’s top athletes were unable to compete due to other commitments. The FM explained that the climate in Delhi has meant that the games have had to be moved to a time in the year different from the usual one. Glasgow, with no such climatic problems (it’s cool and damp all year round) will have no such issues and the Games should not clash with other major events.

See Elmer, if ask sensible non point scoring questions, like we pay you to, you get intelligent answers.

Jackie Bailey was put in her place over public enquiry into the C Diff outbreak; Alec was asked about prisoners’ votes by several MPSs. It was suggested to him, and he agreed that our elections should be run by the Scottish government; there was a question about European human rights in an independent Scotland, one on teacher numbers, and on public sector pay and bonuses.

Too few, I fear, from back benchers because Iain Gray takes up too much of the half hour wittering round and round like a crazy carousel, and the PO is too busy doing an imitation of Joyce Grenfell in her nursery teacher role "Don't do that George" to shut him up.

And so to lunch ..............

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

1947 + 65 YEARS =..........OH, 2012! ......DUH

I was incredulous when I read in The Herald that, when confronted with the fact that there will be a vast increase in the number of pensioners in 2012 as the baby boomer generation reached 65, that the Department of Work and Pensions described it as “staggering”.

They were apparently completely unaware of this impending increase in the number of people reaching pensionable age. Their forward planning obviously didn’t make any use of the statistical information that has been available to them for, ...well around 65 years, that the number of births in the post war years was incredibly high and that these people would all start to claim pensions at the same time. Well duh!

In fact more than 800,000 people in the UK will hit 65 in 2012. Aberdeen will see the biggest rise at a 33% rise compared to 2010, whilst Edinburgh will see a 25% increase.

The London government wants to bring forward a rise in the state pension age, and decisions are expected shortly. Some more good news for us all, no doubt. Plans have already been laid to increase retirement age to 68 between 2024 and 2046, but it now looks like these proposals may be have to be brought forward in order to reduce the impact of the increase on the economy (and of course the bankers' bonuses, which are sacrosanct) in view of the fact that someone in the DWP has woken up to the fact that if you had a massive increase in births in 1947, unless they all died prematurely, you would have a massive increase in pensioners 65 years later. Do we pay these people?

At present, the state pension age is 65 for men and, for some bizarre reason in this age of equality, 60 for women born before April 5 1950.

You can always rely on a government minister to say something patronising and superior and Pensions Minister Steve Webb (of expenses fame), was no exception to the rule: “People”, he said, “are now living longer, healthier lives and most 65-year-olds can expect to live until their late 80s. State pensions need to reflect this and we need to make sure that the system is sustainable in the face of increasing longevity.” So there!

He clearly knows a lot about ordinary people’s lives and ordinary workplaces then. Silly twerp.

Needless to say, with the worst state pension provision in the Western world, thanks to Maggie Thatcher, and one of the worst company final salary situations thanks to Gordon Brown, most pensioners are probably going to die of starvation or cold long before they get to their late 80s. And if they don’t they will wish they had as state provision for them disappears quicker than Lord Ashcroft when a tax demand arrives on his mat.

Incidentally, if any government minister happens to come upon this story (well Steve Webb could be one of these self important prats that Googles his own name), could you please note that in Scotland the weather is a lot colder than in England, and already people are putting their heating on.... or are sitting in the cold, whilst in London the temperatures have reached 25 ˚C.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


We didn’t vote Tory and we barely voted Liberal Democrat, so the government probably feels within its can dump the worst of its miserable policies on us, with no political fallout. And to prove it, they are to launch a pilot scheme to remove people from Incapacity Benefit and put them on to Employment Support in Aberdeen (another one will be trialled in Northern England). It’s strange that the Tories didn’t want to do anything like that in their heartlands of the south, where half the population lives and where there are plenty Incapacity benefit claimants.

With targets to reach the medics (for they are not necessarily doctors) of a private (for profit) company, will examine IB claimants and try to get them off the more expensive benefits, which are paid in recognition of long term illness and inability to work. Perhaps Camerclegg think that the resultant rise in unemployment in Scotland can be blamed on the Scottish Government? Labour had the same idea and had to admit that, although the medics were happy to deprive ill people of their money, the courts were not. On tribunal appeal more than half the cases were overturned by judges and doctors appointed by the English Ministry of Justice.

Now it has emerged, thanks to a parliamentary question in the London parliament, that some Scottish rail services may have to be reduced because the new rolling stock may not be able to run on lines North of Edinburgh.

Mike Weir, asked the English Transport Secretary about something that those of us north of Edinburgh are concerned about: the future of direct train services between London, Aberdeen and Inverness.

The reply from Theresa Villliers was that the future of these railways services would depend on decision, yet to be made, about the type of rolling stock. Clearly this is a question of electrification. Lines from England to Edinburgh and Glasgow are electric, but no one bothered to electrify the lines north of Edinburgh. If then the new trains are electric, then there can be no direct service.

So, it seems that if you have to make the long (well, it is in the UK) journey between Aberdeen and London, or Inverness and London, then you will have to rely on local trains to get you to Edinburgh, where you will be obliged to change for London and the south (including the continent).

Labour had proposed purchasing duel fuel trains for the Scottish lines, but the Coalition has put that on hold. I presume that this means that despite the railway companies being private, making profits and giving their directors huge bonuses, the government, or the public if you like, still has to pay for the trains. Nice business.

Long distance travel in the UK is already a misery in comparison to travel in France, Spain, Italy or Germany, and the cross border trains that ply the continent at half the price and twice the speed of UK ones. Scotland's railways are, even by comparison with Englands, a travesty. Is it necessary for us to be subjected to further inconveniences and train journeys be made longer?

The British Election 2010: the view from Belize!

The Right Honourable the Baron Ashcroft has cemented his leadership of the Tory awkward squad by resigning as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and issuing a stinging rebuke to David Cameron and his coalition in the form of a 133 page book entitled “Minority Verdict”. Thankfully this is going to be his “first and only contribution” on the subject. But as we know Lord A is a great believer in the adage that promises and pie crusts were made to be broken. Evidence his solemn promise to his then leader wee Wullie Hague to stop being a non-dom and actually pay taxes on his trillions like... err... ordinary British people (on condition of course that he gets to sit in the Houses of Parliament without the actual need to be elected). So look out for more of his inane wittering on the subject of how we all should be acting and voting.

The book is the good Baron’s take on why the Tories did not get the thumping majority that he thought the people of Great Britain ought to have given his party after all the money he shelled out on the election. It seems that his view of how the ordinary British man/woman ought to think is markedly different from ....erherm, well reality. The view from Belize City is that David Cameron and the Tories were wrong to agree to the televised debates as this enabled the Lib Dems to grasp the real change initiative. Of course it may have escaped the good Baron’s notice (what with the entire Atlantic Ocean between him his cosy Caribbean retreat and the rest of us) that during the height of the “I agree with Nick” furore, the Lib Dems were polling way up in the high 20s and at some points were second to the Tories with Labour in third. But this did not actually transmit into real votes, and yet again the Lib Dems limped home in a dismal third place.

He also concluded in his “book” that the Tories failed to get their message over to voters, who had little clear idea of what the Tories stood for. Yet again the view from Belize may have rendered the good Baron’s judgement somewhat simplified. Did he not notice that in England the message came home loud and clear, while in the devolved areas it clearly did not. No doubt popular wisdom in Belmopan is that England extends from Lands End to Wick and he can’t understand why those bits on the edges didn’t swallow his message hook line and sinker just like the English did.

Finally and most laughably of all he went on to criticise the Tory leadership for not giving him more support when he was caught out being a greedy, lying, cheat in March when his continued non-dom status was revealed despite the by then ten year old pledge to wee Wullie to actually make a contribution to the nation in whose Parliament he has a seat. Hardly surprising considering the red faces all round that that little bit of chicanery produced at Tory central. My opinion is: why don’t you take your book and you billions and F off back to the back of beyond, your contributions are most certainly not welcome. And there you are one and all, an instance where I do agree with the Tories!

Monday, 20 September 2010


Sebastian Coe’s prediction of a huge boost to tourism in London could be drastically wide of the mark, according to precedents of Sydney, Athens, and Beijing.

The last three Olympic venues anticipated far larger numbers of tourists than, in fact, there actually were.

And when you think about it, of course, it is not particularly surprising. Unless you are directly involved in one of the sports or widely enthusiastic about it, you’d be as well to avoid the actual games. After all, in most countries, probably every country, there is first class television coverage and events can be enjoyed perhaps more clearly than from the back of a stadium.

For all the money spent on the facilities and infrastructure (and that has been a vast amount) there will always be too many people in one place at one time during events like this. In the case of London I can’t imagine that transport, for example, would be able to cope with much more in the way of numbers. The already creaking tube (metro) service will be pushed to breaking point; buses and taxis likewise.

Cost comes into it too. Every country hit by the recent financial problems is going to be making some sort of cuts. People may also wonder, given the severity of the British cuts, what they might be coming to. Travel to London may be more than people will be able to afford in 2012, and certainly the cost of staying in London is horrendously high by comparison say with Paris, Luxembourg, Edinburgh, Brussels and even Geneva. In my own experience hotels have worked out at around twice the price in London, and the service and quality of accommodation is markedly lower. Olympic organizers and Mayor Boris Johnson have an uphill struggle to convince travellers that London will be affordable and they have appealed to hotels not to try and cash in by increasing their prices. However, business is business and it is bound to happen.

Other tourists tend to stay away during the period of the Olympics, anticipating that the hotels will be crowded and facilities stretched, and this affects the whole of the UK, because so many holidays begin and end in London with tours to other places, including Scotland, in between. The European Tour Operators’ Association pointed out that Athens has a far lower profile than London, yet when its visitor arrivals dropped by 6% in the Olympic year, regional Greece fell by 11%. It is not only a London problem.

Of course the Dept of Media and Sport have rubbished the worries. They say that no one seriously believes that any tourist accommodation will remain unfilled during the Games themselves. The Games, they say, are a “long-term investment in the future of Britain's visitor economy and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance the image of the UK as a visitor destination”.

But then they would, wouldn’t they?

Incidentally, has anyone heard if the Olympic Games will have to undergo a 25%-40% reduction in cost?


“But the Future Jobs scheme is to be axed in the Coalition cuts. It is by no means all. Liverpool City Council has been told its Area-Based Grant budget – the money local councils get from central government – is being cut by £9.28m for the current financial year. And that is before the Coalition cuts proper start next year.

Already being axed are funds for a project to help unemployed people in the most deprived areas of the city set up their own businesses. A project to speed the rehousing of people
made homeless by mortgage repossessions will go. Free sports and recreational facilities for young people have already gone. Free fruit and vegetables for primary school children have been reduced. A keep-fit programme to help the elderly stay active has been cut, which will almost certainly send some of them into residential care earlier than need be the case.

Quit Smoking and Cut Down on Booze projects have been cut. So have handyman services available to help the old and frail cope. Grants available for families with children with Specia
l Educational Needs have been cut. So has a scheme to provide free smoke alarms for the old and vulnerable. “

The above piece is cut from the Independent (linked to the story).

It gives some idea of the kind of things that are being cut in the interim. And all this is before the real cuts start to happen next year.

We are told that we must have cuts so that the UK government can replay the massive borrowing undertaken by the last government. By my recollection at least half of that borrowing was done to secure the future of the banks, which are now, according to
The Telegraph are making excess profits for loans....... and which as we all know have returned to the champagne and oyster lifestyle that they were enjoying in the run up to the crash that they created.

Don’t you just think that it’s wrong, plain wrong, that the old and the frail, the unemployed, the sick and the poor are paying back the money these ...erm... bankers..... gambled and lost?

I’ve been here before with this story and I make no apology for highlighting it again. It wasn’t these people’s fault, and although at least some of them wouldn’t mind sharing some of the pain, this kind of cutting is disproportionate.

Lack of some of these things will kill people, of that there is no doubt. For others it will just mean lives, already unhappy, will be made a bit more miserable. And in some cases, as hinted in the story, it is short-termism staring them in the face. If old people’s services are reduced, some will have to go into homes and that, in the end, as well as being totally miserable for them, will cost more money.

If this is only the start, what will we be left when the real cuts start? And David Cameron, for whom, and for whose family, none of this is even vaguely relevant, tells us that when the crisis is over the cuts will not be restored (but of course the 50p tax rate will disappear).

And we're all in this together?

Aye right we are.

Sunday, 19 September 2010


The “plot” against the life of the Pope turned out to be a bit of a damp squib... The men who were arrested and kept in prison over the weekend were allowed to go free Sunday morning as not a shred of evidence could be found against them.

No weapons were found in their homes; no explosive materials, no plans or recipes for bombs. Nothing.

It appears that they were working men having a joke in the canteen about the Pope and his expensive visit to the UK and someone suggested something that went a bit too far and everyone laughed. You know how it gets in the canteen...

Frankly given the record of the Church on the child abuse scandal and the fact that the Pope was the guy in charge of priests' discipline for years when it was happening, and that he allowed people to get away with it, I’m surprised that the visit went as well as it did.

Normally the one thing guaranteed to get people REALLY angry is child abuse. It can even get the normally apathetic to stir their stumps and take action. But apart from a few muted protests, nothing much was said about it. The Pope said he was sorry and it seems that that is enough for people. It wouldn’t be for me, but there you go.

So anyway, the plot was a joke in bad taste that got 6 blokes a weekend at Her Majesty's pleasure for nothing much more than I've heard around Dundee over the last few weeks. You’d have thought that London’s finest would have been able to distinguish between a joke in the canteen and a serious terrorist threat. Tessie May really should be looking at how effective these people are.

Mrs Cressida Dick wasn't in charge of the operation was she?

Pictures: The Home Secretary dressed for the office... surely not? Cressida the incompetent moron that organised or rather didn't organise the operation that led to the death of an innocent man because she couldn't find the room she was supposed to be in (and who was promoted as a result of it) Dick. And a small instruction manual which you may find useful if you travel to the English capital and are likely to come into contact with plod.

Don't you just wonder what planet some of these people live on?


Danny Alexander

Danny Alexander has announced that the government will invest nearly £1 billion in an effort to reduce the billions lost in tax avoidance and evasion at the top end of the market.

The attack on tax dodgers is expected to raise an extra £7bn each year by 2014-15.

Danny, in a move which I am 100% behind, placed tax evaders in the same category as benefit cheats. And, I imagine, in an attempt to show that the Liberals are getting some concessions out of the coalition, he insisted that, in the forthcoming spending review, there would be moves to ensure the government could be ruthless with the wealthy that chose whether or not to pay tax.

The money will be used to set up a criminal deterrent system against tax evasion, a new dedicated team of investigators to crackdown on offshore evasion, as well as cyber crime teams and online specialists. Why didn’t we already have all these things Labour?

He is also planning to increase investment in detection technology to prevent alcohol and tobacco smuggling, which cost the Treasury dearly.

He said: "There are some people who seem to believe that not paying their fair share of tax is a lifestyle choice that is socially acceptable. It is not. Like the benefit cheat, their actions take resources from those who need them most. Tax avoidance and evasion are unacceptable in the best of times but in today's circumstances it is morally indefensible."

Nick Clegg, on the Andrew Marr show had a go at Labour for not doing more to clamp down on tax loopholes, which is something that Gordon Brown promised in opposition that he would do in government.

Interestingly Clegg said that it was unfair that the better-off could afford experts to help them avoid paying tax when others suffered “pay and pension misery” as the public spending cuts bite. So there you have it. We are in for misery, and that was straight from the Deputy Prime Minister’s mouth.

I remember that only last year Nick said that he went into politics to become Prime Minister. I wonder how he feels about bringing “misery” to the poor within 6 months of achieving office.

The Public and Commercial Services Union estimated last week that around £120 billion of taxes goes uncollected every year. If their figures are to be believed, then it seems that if people would only pay what they owe, we wouldn’t have to suffer any of this “misery”.

And although the move is to be applauded, the difference between the £7 billion that Danny’s plans may bring in and the estimated £120 billion that the rich steal from us every year is still...well..... it’s still £113 billion!

Doubtless the overall population of the UK will reduce over the next couple of years as the super-rich take themselves off to live in a place with a more favorable tax regime, or where the unfavorable tax regime is administered as inefficiently as ours has been over the past 30 years.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


I’m a great believer in coalition government. I’ve heard a lot about how it produces weak government but I’ve never seen any proof of this. What it undoubtedly means is that politicians have to work far harder to do their job.

During a period of coalition government in Scotland we prospered and enjoyed more sensible government than our counterparts in England with their “strong” government, even although the major partner in our coalition formed England’s government.

But for coalition to work there has to be a wide range of policy agreement in the parties coalescing, as well as in their support. The trouble with Britain’s electoral system is that it largely excludes small parties, which makes coalition much more difficult. In some European countries a number of small parties with similar views, will coalesce with a larger party which will provide the Prime or First Minister. In Scotland the Liberals and Labour managed to find enough of a left of centre bias in both parties to marry together quite successfully for 8 years.

In London the Liberals are finding it difficult to accommodate some of the policies of their senior partner. But then that’s not surprising considering the Liberals are a party of the centre left to left, and the Tories of the centre right to right.

So no-one could deny that Nick Clegg will have his work cut out for him at this year’s Liberal Conference. He will doubtless hope that being pushed off the front pages, despite being Deputy Prime Minister, by the Pope’s visit does not portend even worse things to come.

But in a week where the Business Secretary has criticised the Tory policy of restricting immigration from outside the EU on numbers rather than need, and some Liberal back benchers have reacted furiously to George Osborne’s assault on Incapacity Benefit recipients, it cannot be helpful that Shirley Williams, surely one of the Liberals most respected grandees, has criticised the coalition plans to reform health in England, yet again.

Lady Williams has said that the NHS, improved with extra money last year, is now delivering good outcomes on a par with European hospitals and much more cheaply than the private US health system. She accepted that modest changes would be in order but said that transformation to a system run by reluctant and inexperienced GPs dependent on private advisers could split the coalition.

Certainly Nick has his cheerleader, in the form of Joan Walmsley, who urged delegates to maintain party unity, and asked Lib Dems to avoid "rubbishing" Tory policies.

The thing about a workable coalition is that it really shouldn’t need to ask its members not to 'rubbish' the other party’s policies, but, if people as senior in the party as Shirley Williams and Vince Cable feel able to do it, then I can’t imagine the rank and file membership paying much attention to Mrs Walmsley.

What the bigwigs of the party have to remember is that, while they sit in the back of their ministerial limos and take home the ministerial salaries, it is the ordinary Lib Dem workers, councillors and MPs who face the doorstep wrath of the Liberal voters. Joan Walmsley, from the comfort of the red benches (having been rejected by the electorate on two occasions) doesn’t have to worry her privileged little head about such things.

Oh and Nick, power is not there for enjoying; it’s for using to make this place a bit more bearable to live in. If you think you are there to enjoy it, best leave now.


Thursday, 16 September 2010


Well... it came and it went and it cost a fortune.... and of course the Duke of Edinburgh put his big clumping foot in it...

“Hello Ms Goldie. Are you wearing tartan knickers?” said old Phil, betraying a lack of something in his upbringing.

Displaying, in her turn, good humour and quick wit, Annabel replied: “I cannot possibly comment and even if I had, I could not possibly exhibit them.”

Smart old bird is our Annabel. She knows when not to display her undergarments. And I for one am not buying certain reports that she winked saucily at the Duke as she said it...

It's a thought though, that if any other man had said that to any other woman, he would have
had his collar felt, spent a night in the pokey out at Saughton, and got himself 5 years on the sex offenders’ register.

However the Duke had to make do with yet another headline proving that, even after all these years, when he is let off the bosses leash for a few seconds, he’s just a dirty old sailor at heart... and Ms Goldie is surely only grateful that he managed not to say it in front of the Pope.

Meanwhile another octogenarian linked "atheist extremism" throughout Europe to Nazism, which was rich coming from an ex Hitler Youth in the form of Pope Benedictus XVI. Remembering that, despite all the Masses he is conducting, this is a State visit, meani
ng that he is here as the King Pontiff of a small Mediterranean State and thus the visit should be about politics and not religion, that was not the most diplomatic of starts.

To be fair, the good Cardinal Kaspar managed to start it off badly before the poor old Pope had left Vatican City by likening England to a third world country. So, to parody the song, things could only get better.....

Well, this time they did. The Pope was fed haggis, neeps and tatties for lunch, Susan Boyle gave him a blast of her powerful pipes, and the sun shone for him....

Which was just as well as the poor man had to do all this with just his wee white skull cap.

Was it a case of “and then his hat blew off”?

No, I don’t think so. It seems that whist the Pope's motocade was heading down from the Palace, this wee wuman was spotted running hell for leather (if you'll pardon the phrase!) away from the procession clutching a red hat which matched perfectly her red shoes, gloves and bag, and shouting, “Efter a’ thay years.... it's’s mine... IT’S MINE..... as she disappeared down Mary King’s Close.....

No one we know, I suppose!?

Pics: Philip of Edinburgh; Annabel looking cross; His Holiness avec ... and sans said hat.

Whatever happened to that share owning democracy?

Last night I watched a TV show about advertising in the UK. And guess what came up big time but Satchi & Satchi, that institution much loved of the Tories and often credited with keeping Thatcher in power for the entire 1980s.

Who should we see bumping his gums on there but that Michael Heseltine, when it came to the section on advertising the great sell off of the UK family silver that was privatisation. And the multi million pound campaigns used by the Tories to pursue their own political agenda. Which was to all intents and purposes to hobble the power of the unions by whatever means necessary.

Of course Heseltine was in fine fettle frothing away like a singing kettle reminding us all of what a fabulous idea it was to off load the nationalised industries at bargain basement prices in order to create the utopia that is a share owning democracy. Of course Michael, like most Tories, lives in his own version of cloud cuckoo land when in actual fact the real world was much more sordid and grubby.

The state sanctioned sell off of national assets has to be one of the times in this countries (the UK) sordid history where the very worst of motives and traits came to the fore. Everybody who could joined in the carpet baggers charter and cashed in by buying up shares in what had hitherto belonged to everybody, and selling them off after less than a week at an enormous premium. Even the most rabid socialists where there in the queue desperate to tell hissing Sid to make sure they got their quota of British Gas shares.

What we are all forgetting is that these state monopolies had before privatisation belong to every man, woman and child in the nation. What the Tories did was to take our property and sell it back to those of us who could afford it at rock bottom prices to enable us to then cash in by selling them on to international conglomerates at a price greatly inflated to that which we paid. That was of course all well and good for those that had money to spare, but millions didn’t and they were effectively robbed.

Did we end up as a shareholding democracy? No we didn’t the shares were quickly sold on and are now all held by foreign corporations like Santander. Thanks a lot Satchi & Satchi.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


Mr Cameron is going to lead a fight back against “vested interests” that say that their particular bit of the world should not suffer cutbacks. Good luck to him.... No, wait, bad luck to him. Why shouldn't people have vested interests? It's their job, their career, their kids' future, their lives.

He is particularly concerned that the police, who have warned of a ‘Christmas for Criminals’, should be put back in their box.

But surely the people who say that if you cut staff you will receive a worse service are not wrong, are they? I mean, it’s just an uncomfortable fact that, if you cut the policing budget, you are likely to have fewer police, working with inferior equipment, which in turn will mean that criminals will be the real winners.

Not long ago Annabel Goldie made it a condition of her support for the government’s budget that there be 1000 more police on the Scottish streets. She said, quite rightly, that the Conservatives had secured an important concession which would make life safer for Scots. What goes up, must come down..... QED.

People (the government tells us) are behind the coalition’s cuts, but no one wants to be a victim. I’ve heard pensioners agree that there must be cuts, but then decrying the possibility that concessionary travel passes or to winter fuel allowances be cut. I heard a woman yesterday deploring the possibility that care homes will have to close and residents sent home to their families. The woman has to work; she can’t have her elderly mother to stay. But she adds she’s very much for the cuts... just not cuts that will hurt her.

Simon Heffer, surely a government supporter, points out that whilst the RAF can be cut, there must be no cuts to the Army and Navy because, he says, the world is looking very dangerous. Well Simon, we’ll just have to take a back seat and not interfere with all the things that are looking so dangerous. It’s not like we are needed. America only wants us so that they don’t look as if they are on their own.

We are all in this together whether we are happy about it, or like me, unhappy. I’m not a banker and I don’t owe a h
alfpenny, not on one single credit card, not on a store card, not on a mortgage, so I consider this crisis to be not any of my doing. So, I’m in it together, without being in it at all. But undoubtedly my library will close, the parks nearby will not be planted with flowers, the grass will be cut less frequently, my bins will be emptied on fewer occasions, the ponds will cover with algae, the roads will not be repaired, and on the few occasions I want a policeman, I will have to do without. I'll have to wait longer in queues, and I'll get even more nonsense when I come into contact with public bodies. And that’s just the start.

C’est la vie.

That the poor will be affected more than the rich goes without saying. It’s unavoidable. A few inconveniences at the top will equate to lives made intolerable at the bottom.

But that’s what you get when you allow a stupid man full reign on the finances because you have a weak and vain prime minister who lacks the courage to challenge his chancellor. That’s what you get when that stupid chancellor wants to go down in history for having beaten boom and bust, as if that were possible, and then demands to be prime minister. That’s what you get when greedy bankers see a chance to do all the things that, if they know anything about economics at all, they know will implode one day. And that’s what you get when you replace these vain, stupid, irresponsible, glory seekers with a group of heartless incompetents who have never known what it was like not to have a couple of million in the bank.

Welcome to Britain. And you wonder why I want independence?