Monday, January 31, 2011

How many pair of shoes do you have?

I hope you don't think it's an impertinence to ask such a thing. It's just that I was discussing the subject with some friends of mine at Andrew's wedding on Friday night.

One of the participants in this discussion has so many pairs of shoes that one of her friends once thought it was appropriate to give her the biography of Imelda Marcos as a present. She probably has a pair for every weekday of the year.  And I have to say, she chooses very well.

I have never been that bothered about clothes and shoes. If I have money, I'll spend it on books, DVDs or holidays. I'm sure that I keep Amazon in business. I am also incredibly clumsy. If I can fall over I will, so the idea of wearing shoes with high heels is not one which excites me. That reduces my options quite a lot.

So,while my friend has hundreds of pairs, mine can be counted on the fingers of one hand: my trainers, for exercising, my boots, my boring black mary janes, some gold stripey muley things and my hippy Summer sandals which qualify me to be a Liberal. That's it. I tend to wander around barefoot at home as well as I really don't like wearing shoes unless I have to. I do miss my exotic red and brown patterned pumps, though. Anna made me buy them in a Next sale a few years ago but they fell apart this Summer. I wish I'd taken a photo of them. I shall have to find a replacement for this Summer.

So are shoes for you a creative expression of your inner self, or something that keep your feet warm? Let me know.

Egypt: what will the uprising mean for women?

One of the first things I think about when I see scenes like those in Egypt and Tunisia at the moment is what the events are going to mean for women in the area. After all, what use is a new Government if it doesn't reflect the hopes and aspirations of all the people? The Huffington Post recently expressed concern that the situation in Tunisia could mean an erosion of women's rights, which are among the strongest in the Arab world.

I had been concerned at the lack of women shown in various news reports, but apparently that is not the case. I've had a brief saunter around the internet and I've found a few interesting articles which I thought I'd share with you.

First of all, there's a new group on Facebook, Women in Egypt, showing photographs of women taking part in the protests.

Anne of Carversville accuses some in the American media of editing out women from their reports:
Women of Egypt are not only participating in the demonstrations but acting as leaders. The American press should readjust the gender lens in which they are portraying the women of Egypt, clearly editing out footage of women in Egypt in action.
Slate says that women are a substantial part of the protests.

Egyptian born, New York based journalist Mona Eltahawy is delighted that Mubarak seems to be on his way out and sees uprising spreading throughout the region as she wrote in yesterday's Observer:
And Arabs from the Mashreq to the Maghreb are watching, egging on those protesters to topple Hosni Mubarak who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, because they know if he goes, all the other old men will follow, those who have smothered their countries with one hand and robbed them blind with the other. Mubarak is the Berlin Wall. "Down, down with Hosni Mubarak," resonates through the whole region.
I wanted to read some more of her writing and found a couple of interesting articles on her website, one where she takes apart a Sunday Times columnist for suggesting that if you're drunk and are raped, it's your fault, and the other where she talks about life as a Muslim feminist where she says:

I'm in a boxing ring. On one side is Bill Keller's right wing: bigoted and xenophobic. On the other side is the Muslim right wing, which uses Islam against me to fuel its misogyny.
I'm a bumble bee who carries ideas — pollen — from one place to another in the hope that they will blossom into a wild and challenging orchard. The pollen might be sweet, but I “sting like a bee” because like the great Muhammad Ali, I will not hesitate to knock you out.
I like her style so I'll keep an eye out for her work in the future.

If you have seen anything interesting about the participation of women in the uprising in Egypt, let me know.

Lib Dem Voice's Alex Foster on Come Dine with Me this week.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

My sister raved at me incessantly about Channel 4's Come Dine With Me for ages before I finally got around to watching it. The first episode I watched was the Christmas Special in 2009 which featured David Gest, Sherrie Hewson, Diarmuid Gavin and Hannah Waterman. I literally cried with laughter.

If you haven't seen it before, the premise is that a group of people compete, over successive nights, for a prize of £1000, by hosting a dinner party for their fellow contestants. They are then scored on their efforts, and the person with the highest score gets the money. Of course, they don't choose people who are always going to get along with each other, and part of the show involves people exploring, and bitching about, the others' houses.

I don't watch every episode, but I will be glued this week as Lib Dem Voice's Alex Foster is taking part. He cooks tomorrow, but is on every night at 5 this week on Channel 4.

He talks about the application process here on his own blog. I'm really looking forward to seeing how he does, and finding out whether the Nottingham Lib Dems' campaign funds are going to be augmented if he wins.

Is Holyrood result delay a slight to Scotland?

Scotland on Sunday reported yesterday that the results of the Holyrood election in May will be delayed by a day while the UK wide fairer votes referendum is counted overnight on the Thursday.

This has been met with outrage by some Nationalists, including SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin who feel that this is disrespectful to Scotland:
The result of Scotland's general election in May this year is to be delayed for around TWO DAYS. Scotland will be left in limbo from 5 to 7 May not knowing who their MSPs are and, more importantly, not knowing who will be governing Scotland. And all this at a time of great financial uncertainty
Ok, let's take a look at what she's saying. Is it really going to matter that much that we won't know who our MPs are until the Saturday? I actually don't think so. The financial markets really don't care about what happens in Holyrood, and, despite dire warnings of meltdown, they coped remarkably well with the wait for the Coalition to be formed in Westminster.  Financial concerns are just not an issue. The mechanics of Government will carry on and ministers will stay in office until a new Government is formed.

In fact, I think that a delay in the Holyrood count is not a bad thing. By the time polls close on Thursday, political activists, candidates and leaders are all knackered. Rather than being tucked up under the duvet with a mug of Horlicks, they then have to pull on some smart clothes and head to the various counts. In every election so far, those counts have gone on pretty much all night. At some time on Friday, we know the make up of the Parliament and then some of these people, who've had hardly any sleep in 36 hours, and not that much for the month before, have to start making rational decisions about who is to govern.

In each election so far, it's taken about 10 days to sort things out. In 1999, the election was on 6th May, but the Coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats wasn't formed until 16th. In 2003, the election was on 1st May, yet the coalition wasn't formed until 14th May. The negotiating teams for the parties, who were comprised of people who had been knocking on doors for a month and had topped that off with a sleepless election night, had then gone straight into a whirlwind of meetings. These meetings routinely start at 9am and some nights went on until 3am. And all this for 10 days to 2 weeks. How wrecked do you think these people are by then?

I think that this year, we get the chance to give everyone a break on the Friday to catch up with some sleep, and have a chance to catch their breath and recharge their batteries before embarking on what is likely to be a lengthy process. Even in 2007, it took the SNP nearly two weeks to get Alex Salmond sworn in as First Minister, and there were no negotiations involved.

I found it quite amusing that Iain Gray, Scottish Labour leader, is having a strop about the delayed count. Given the mess the Scotland Office, under Labour control, made in 2007, you would think he'd have the sense to keep schtum. His comments that we won't know who the first minister is until the weekend after polling day are, as I've shown above, completely disingenuous given that it never has been confirmed for quite a while after.

It really is the most practical way of dealing with counting both elections and has benefits for us in Scotland.

There are some who have an issue with the referendum being held on the same day as the Scottish elections. I'm not one of them. I think that it's sensible and thrifty to do it all at once. Maybe people who complain ought to go and vote in the States where people will often have to choose Federal and all sorts of local representatives as well as giving their opinion on all sorts of propositions. Have a look at the array of ideas voters were offered in the 2006 mid term elections to see what I mean.

The important thing is that these election counts are conducted in an orderly manner. You have to remember as well that they are counted by real people and we can't expect them to work through the night on Thursday and stay up all day Friday too. That's just not fair.

I think we should take a closer look at the benefits of a one-off delay in the Holyrood results and not just throw our hands up in horror because we perceive a slight that isn't there.

Keep up the pressure to save Brenda Namigadde from deportation

Last Friday I wrote about how Ugandan lesbian Brenda Namigadde faced deportation because a Court had ruled that there was no evidence that she was in fact homosexual.

I really don't want to see us going down the route of the Courts making arbitrary judgements over someone's sexuality.

Political Scrapbook had a story yesterday which alleged that the judgement had been made at least in part because Brenda had no literature relating to her sexual orientation.  How ridiculous! And if she had have done, how would that have proved that she was a lesbian?  It's just irrelevant, and I find it unacceptable that Judges' subjective view of how lesbians "should" behave, when there is a fair chance they have no idea of any such thing, form the basis of a decision which could lead to someone's death.

Thankfully, Brenda was given a last minute reprieve - apparently after she had been put on the plane to take her to Uganda. Her case will now go to judicial review.

I hope that that comes out in her favour. However, if not, she'll face deportation again. That's why it's important to do what we can to raise awareness of her situation and encourage people to write to Theresa May. She could end this by looking at her case and using the discretion we know she has to allow Brenda to stay.

Chicken Yoghurt has a more comprehensive list of e-mail addresses for the Home Office in his blog post about Brenda.

As an aside, I see in the BBC report that Labour Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper says:
 "LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people in Uganda have faced arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and ill treatment, and the new plans for even more homophobic laws are deeply worrying."
That's all very well, but I'm not sure I can ever forgive (actually, I am sure, I can't) Yvette Cooper, or anyone else who was in the last Labour Cabinet responsible for a policy of deporting gay people and telling them to be discreet. By their deeds you shall know them and all that. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rennard slams Labour attempts to delay fairer votes referendum

Former Liberal Democrat Campaigns Guru Chris Rennard writes today for Liberal Democrat Voice about the Labour shenanigans in the House of Lords over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. In a nutshell, this Bill has to get through Parliament quickly in order for the fairer votes referendum on 5th May.
His article makes fascinating reading. I particularly liked the anecdote about Labour Peer Tommy McAvoy - Chris found out that he'd only spoken 4 words in the entire 4 years of his time in the Commons, yet on this Bill alone has spoken 77 times.
It just shows up how Labour old timers are doing their best to derail one of the most significant constitutional changes and deny people their say - and Chris shows that their tactics have the blessing of their leaders in the Lords. What's completely bizarre is that the AV referendum was actually in Labour's manifesto.
Party President Tim Farron weighed in on this a couple of weeks ago, saying:

"Labour peers are holding the democratic process hostage by blocking any progress of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
“Ed Miliband has spoken of a new way of doing politics but the tricks employed by Labour peers are the worst example of petty party politics.
“Their claims of scrutiny are completely undermined by their own pantomime performance in the House.
“It is time Ed Miliband showed some leadership and took control of his party. the people should be allowed to have a say on their voting system and this blockade by unelected Labour has-beens of the referendum Labour committed itself to in its manifesto must end.”

For once it wasn't Tim's words that was the most exciting thing about that article. It was the list of the sorts of amendments Labour had tabled on the Bill. It kind of reminded me of the "delete all and replace with bollocks in big red pen", or deleting every second letter in a motion so that you ended up with a sentence calling for the Chair to be sent to Manchester that you used to get at LDYS Conferences, although with less maturity. This is it here:

 1. Labour peers are filling time in the debate with rambling and off-topic interventions, e.g. Lord Harris of Haringey last night who said “So what were the reasons for choosing 600 [MPs] as opposed to 650, 630, 575 or 585? I was tempted to say that there was some sort of arcane numerology about this. Noble Lords will be aware that 650 is the product of three prime numbers: two, five squared and 13; 630 is of course the product of four prime numbers: two, three squared, five and seven. I defy anyone to find a similar formulation or number that involves five prime numbers. Maybe my noble friend Lord Winston, or some such person could come up with something.”
2. A large number of amendments have been tabled to be able to stretch the debate as much as possible, often being withdrawn after lengthy debate.
i. Amendment 31 provides for the question to be translated into Scottish Gaelic even though no other election or referendum ever does so.
ii. Amendment 36A allows citizens of EU countries resident in the UK vote in the referendum even though they do not have the right to vote in a general election.
iii. Amendment 39AB bans talking about the referendum on the alternative vote nor about the merits of different electoral systems in party election broadcasts during the referendum campaign.
iv. Amendment 48 would see the result of the referendum reported to Parliament the first day Parliament sits 14 days after the certification of the result. This happens in no other election or referendum.
v. Amendment 63YB would prevent the Act coming into force until the House of Commons has become larger than the House of Lords.
vi. Amendments 73 and 74 as well as 76 and 77 are the same bar a change of verb.
vii. Amendment 78 states the Boundary Commission must speculate on how many people might be living in a constituency at the time of a general election before changing the boundaries.
viii. Amendment 124 would place the list of candidates on a ballot paper in reverse alphabetical order rather than the customary alphabetical order.
ix. An amendment to clause 11 would see the wealth of a constituency taken into account in boundary revisions.
x. There were nine amendments to change the date of the referendum (numbers 5 – 13)
xi. There were nine amendments to change the question (number 16 – 27)
xii. Amendment 28 and 29 added questions which bore no relation to the voting system, asking if people would like to vote on Saturday and whether there should be compulsory voting.
xiii. Amendment 35 provides for prisoners serving sentences of less than four years to be able to vote in the referendum, even though they do not yet have any such rights.
xiv. Amendment 37 will not allow anyone to vote in the referendum unless peers are given the right to vote in parliamentary elections, even though they have never been allowed to do so.
xv. Amendment 44 names the geographical areas of the UK in which people would be voting.
xvi. Amendment 45ZA state the Electoral Commission need to certify every electoral register for accuracy before the changes to the voting system can be made after a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum.
xvii. Amendment 53 substitutes ‘make publicly available’ with ‘publicly announce’, which in practice would have the same effect.
xviii. Amendment 58ZZF will not allow the Boundary Commissions to review the new constituency borders until House of Lords reform has been completed.
xix. Amendments 112 and 113 uniquely changes the time of polling, e.g. a closing time of 23:00.
xx. Amendment 122 would have the presiding officer of a polling station show the empty ballot box to the first voter rather than the customary “anyone present”.

Mark Pack wrote the other day that crossbenchers were becoming irritated by Labour's games, which seem particularly puerile in the face of Government attempts to move this forward by listening to genuine concerns.

It would be an outrage if unelected Labour old timers were able to prevent people having their say on how MPs are elected. If they carry on like this, they not only show themselves up, but they may well find, as Chris Rennard says, that procedures in the Lords will change, to prevent members behaving like this in this way in the future.

Olly Grender is now writing for the New Statesman

I have been thrilled to bits in recent months to see Olly Grender, who was the Party's Communications Director when we made our big leap forward in 1997, doing the rounds of various media talking an awful lot of sense.

I particularly liked her appearance on This Week just before the tuition fees vote. Andrew Neil went in with all guns blazing, challenging her that it would be ridiculous for Vince Cable to abstain on tuition fees, expecting her to defend that line, and she completely disarmed him by agreeing with him (and me, to be honest, as I'd thought exactly the same and written about it extensively).

She's a much more effective commentator than the people who jabber and point and shout. She makes her point well and takes you along with her.

Anyway, it's good to see that the New Statesman have given her a regular blog on their site. In case you didn't know already, bookmark it immediately because she's already written some good stuff, like this one on Chris Huhne. During his leadership campaigns, he was portrayed as a bit of a leftie, but it was always clear to me that he wasn't. He is, however, incisive, hugely intelligent and a key player in the Coalition.   I also loved this piece on Alan Johnson's resignation - "politics needs people with messy lives". I love the Nancy Seear story in that too.

I've obviously added her to my blogroll so you will be able to catch up on all her posts.

I hope she doesn't mind, but I did a little bit of internet stalking research before I wrote this post and I found this profile of her. It's 11 years old, but it says a lot about the excellent reputation she has amongst her peers. The Tories were in a pretty dark place at that time, and to have one of them describe her as "likeable...scrupulous, a tough manager and has integrity" is quite remarkable.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

#PAD photos 22-28 January

This week's PAD photos:


A couple of blankets on a sofa, or the den of a clan of warrior cats?


Bob's been to Maplins and bought us a Laser light cube in the sale


My pressie from the Maplin's sale - can you believe this wee thing holds 250GB


Burns Supper!


A gratuitous cute hamster photograph


An enjoyable piece of writing homework which made us both laugh


My iPhone clearly isn't suited to taking photos in the dark. There is the outline of an Andrew Reeves there, but for decent photos you're going to have to wait until I find the cable that links camera to the computer.

Daily Mail Fail of the Day - as they expose wife beating ways of their pet gay basher

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

For years, the Daily Fail has been happy enough to run to the odious Director of Christian Voice, Stephen Green every time they wanted to indulge in a bit of gay bashing, even as recently as a fortnight ago. Melanie Phillips even had him as a sort of poster boy for poor persecuted Christians in a column 5 years ago. Her hateful column earlier this week which attracted such rightful opposition on Twitter and elsewhere (thanks, Johann Hari)

Today they unveil him as a wife beater.  I'm not sure why they care. As I wrote the other day, they don't really get domestic violence.

To most of us, it's been fairly clear for a very long time that Stephen Green is a deeply unpleasant, bigoted individual. The Fail say in today's article that he "revelled in his self appointed public role as guardian of the nation's morality." Perhaps their own newspaper ringing him up regularly for quotes played a role in encouraging that delusion.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why would the Tories want to put about rumours of an electoral pact with the Lib Dems?

Today's Herald carries a report which states fairly categorically that a Conservative Cabinet Minister has confirmed that there will be some level of electoral pact between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives at the 2015 General Election.

What a load of complete and utter nonsense!

I suspect that every campaign in every seat, every by-election will be scrutinised in greater detail than ever before to see whether one party seems to be soft-pedalling. You would think by now that journalists would know that squeezing the vote of the party in third place is an essential part of winning any seat. The Party in third, particularly if they are a long way behind, are highly unlikely to throw the kitchen sink at their campaign. This is exactly why we need a fairer voting system, because most of our votes don't actually count. At least a yes vote in the Alternative Vote referendum in May this year would ensure that MPs had to secure the support of 50% of voters, and not be elected on barely a third of the votes cast, which is maybe only a fifth of the electorate as they are now.

If you subscribe to the notion that the Lib Dems and the Tories are heading for a bit of electoral footsie and flirtation, then you have to assume that the Tories have gone soft in the head. This is not a bunch of cuddly teddy bears we're dealing with. They will be going hell for leather to secure an overall majority in 2015, and will fight us, and we them, to the best of our abilities.

So why are Tory Cabinet ministers apparently briefing the press that there will be a pact? Well, it's quite mischievous, because it does us a lot more harm than it does them. By undermining our independence, they hope to scare off not just our voters, but our activists, leftie peace loving hippies like me. Just think about it. They want, they need to win some seats in the south west if they are going to secure a majority. They think that the AV referendum will be lost, so they'll be fighting under the current system. They want to put about the whiff of an electoral pact, and get it sort of accepted as fact, by 2015 to try to send some of our voters into the arms of Ed Miliband. A rising Labour vote in the South West under the current system will help nobody but......the Conservatives. And it's not going to do us much good where we are trying to gain seats from Labour either.

So, I think the Tories are just stirring it for their own electoral gain. You don't hear any of this sort of talk from Liberal Democrats and nor will you, for very good reason. The Tories know fine there will be no pact, but they think it's in their interests to inculcate the idea that there is into the national psyche.

Governing in the national interest with them for five years is one thing, but there won't be any turning the business arrangement into an office affair. We are likely to be offering very different ideas for the future in 2015 and each party will be trying to win as many seats as possible. The Herald might like to reflect on motive, rather than just excitedly print everything it's told as if it were Holy Writ.

Congratulations to Andrew and Roger Reeves on their wedding day #bigfatgaywedding

Twenty two years, 5 months and 2 days ago, at almost exactly this time,  I celebrated my wedding in the Hawes Inn in South Queensferry.  It was lovely to look out on the Firth of Forth, to see Bob's native Fife in the distance and the two majestic bridges.

Today, on a similarly sunny but a lot colder day, my lovely friend Andrew Reeves marries his partner Roger, also in South Queensferry, but across the road and a bit further along. 

He's written a really beautiful and poignant post this morning explaining exactly why they have chosen today.

I'm looking forward to celebrating with Andrew, Roger and many of our friends, including Mr Lovely Doctor Chocoholic and my friend Jo, whom I haven't seen since Anna was a baby. Already Mr Reeves is excitably tweeting us through his Big Day.  His day is so far a lot less traumatic than mine - when I was in parlous danger of missing my own wedding after my hairdresser turned up late after a night at the Glenlivet Fireworks the night before. I think the word Glenlivet is crucial to the understanding of why he was late. And maybe a bit pale too.

Since his arrival in Scotland 3 years ago, Andrew has been a total inspiration as a campaigner, but also, more importantly, as a funny, loyal, supportive friend. I don't know what I'd have done without his cheery banter on Twitter when I was ill. He was one of a lovely group of thoughtful people who kept my spirits up all the way through.

So, congratulations to Andrew and Roger on their special day and my best wishes for many more happy and peaceful years together.

Government must not allow Brenda Namigadde to be deported to Uganda

We will stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution
There it is, clear as day, from page 18 of the Coalition Agreement. At the time, it was so reassuring to see. Under Labour, LGBT people had disgracefully been told to be discreet if their country of origin took a dim view of their sexuality. It was good to see in black and white that the Coalition, even with Tories in it, took the right, humanitarian approach.

Today the Guardian has a report that Brenda Namigadde, a Ugandan lesbian, faces imminent deportation because a judge doesn't consider that there is enough evidence of homosexuality. I think it's a very worrying development if the judiciary starts to question someone's sexuality. I mean, how on earth do you prove something that by its very nature is private and relationships may have been conducted in secret? People may not be willing to give the names of partners for fear of them being persecuted. In this case, though, there is evidence both of a previous relationship and of persecution because of it.

Theresa May as Home Secretary has discretion to allow someone to remain here in compelling and compassionate circumstances. Do you get more compelling than a direct threat to you from an MP who wants to have LGBT people put to death as the Guardian reports.

I've written to Theresa May, e-mailing her on asking her to use her discretion to allow Brenda to stay in the UK. It would be an outrage to deport someone to a country where a prominent gay rights activist has been brutally murdered only this week.

This is a big test of the Coalition's new policy and I want to see it pass with flying colours.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Become a Godmother - help the UN help women all over the world

I've just become a godmother - not to a cute wee gurgling baby, but to a UN Agency, the new UN Women. This is a brand spanking new organisation which aims to promote gender equality and women's rights all over the world.

The Godmother idea is quite a clever one from VSO. They don't want this new agency to sink without trace. In the next few months crucial decisions will be made about future funding. Our Government will be deciding how much money to give to it. Given that the Overseas Aid budget has been protected from the cuts, there is no excuse for the Government to not support this new body and give it some teeth.

There's going to be a day of action in Westminster on 16th February which sounds like great fun. I only wish I could go.

I'm only scratching the surface here mainly due to time pressures at the moment, but I'll be coming back to this in the next few weeks. In the meantime you might find this article from the Guardian by Madeline Bunting, Women's Rights are in Danger of Becoming a Wordfest. Also, have a look at the video below about women in Bangladesh to see why they need the help of a powerful international agency. I've often written about how frustrated I am that women's rights feature exactly nowhere in discussions between world leaders. That needs to change, and this agency is part of the solution. I expect the US to put its money where its mouth is, especially as Hillary Clinton has been proactive about getting women's rights on the international agenda, but we need our government to support it too. So, Lib Dem ministers (not that any will be reading this, but there's the faint chance one of Nick Clegg's office might catch it on a Google alert), make sure that we contribute a meaningful amount to this effort.

Salmond's smoke & mirrors on high pay proved wrong by figures

Alex Salmond was at his smuggest at First Minister's Questions today.

He rightly anticipated that Scottish Liberal Democrat leader was going to ask about high pay in the public sector, as this is something that we are very concerned about. After our intrepid researchers had discovered that we were paying out almost £53 million more to people earning more than £100,000 than we were last year, despite John Swinney's promises to tackle it, Tavish tackled Salmond about it last week, asking:
A year ago, the First Minister told me that high pay had already been dealt with. We asked the same 160 public sector organisations how much they are spending to pay staff more than £100,000 per year. They told us that last year they spent £281 million and this year they are spending £334 million, so spending on high pay has gone up by £53 million in one year. I am puzzled because, although the SNP Government’s pay policy promised punitive action on high pay, spending is rising quickly. Does the First Minister still believe, as he has just said, that those who have the broadest shoulders should carry the biggest burden?
Salmond thought he could explain it all away by making out in the most sarcastic terms that Tavish  hadn't realised that it was all down to consultants on the highest pay bands going up from £98k to over £100k, and that explained everything.

What? The entire extra £53 million?

Trouble is the figures don't quite reflect that. You would think, wouldn't you, that if Salmond was right, then it would follow that the pay bill for those paid £80-100k would have shrunk by the amount of those lucky 6-figure consultants' salaries?  Not so. I've had a look at the figures. In fact, the number of people being paid £80-100k has gone up, by 70, at a cost of an additional £4.7 million over last year's total. In fact the total in that pay band is £170.8 million.

What we know is that 305 more people, at an additional cost of over £57 million, are earning over £80,000 compared to last year. That doesn't sound like tackling high pay in the public sector to me. As Jeremy Purvis said yesterday:
We find it difficult to accept that, at a time when NHS workers who earn less than £21,000 will get an increase of just £250 and people who are on £21,000 or above will have a freeze in their pay, consultants, who are among the top-paid people in the NHS, will still be able to nominate themselves for a £70,000 annual bonus. We do not think that that is fair or appropriate. We heard the cabinet secretary mention those who have the broadest shoulders. I think that people who earn over £100,000 have broad shoulders. I do not think that it is right that, in the past year, when the Government has claimed that it has put punitive measures in place, that pay bill has gone up by £53 million. That is not fair, and it is not those with the broadest shoulders who are taking the most responsibility

The actual question Tavish was asking today was not to do with high standard pay, but with bonuses, which reveal some very worrying trends.

He asked:

These bonuses were signed off by his Government. They are the First Minister’s bonuses. It was his policy which promised “punitive action” on high pay. So why have bonuses gone UP at Scottish Water,
at Scottish Enterprise and at the Scottish Prison Service by 50 per cent?
Bonuses are up to £48million in the public sector. High pay is up fifty million pounds. So will the First Minister tell us what has been cut to pay for his bonuses and high pay? 

Salmond thought he was going out there today with a suit of armour to fend off whatever Tavish would say to him. He was left wearing a fig leaf and an embarrassed smirk.

Liberal Democrats highlight failures and unfairnesss of SNP's final budget

I spent much of yesterday listening to Scotland Questions, PMQs and the terrorism statement in the House of Commons yesterday, but unfortunately missed out on much of Holyrood's budget debate because I had to go out. I'm just catching up on it now. 

I was quite amused by Linda Fabiani's outraged and defensive reaction to a simple question from our Robert Brown. All he did, when she was talking about the effect of the VAT increase, and implying how evil UK taxation was, was to ask what the rate of VAT was in independent Ireland.
That is typical. When they do not like what they are hearing, they start being nasty to other nations.
For the record, it's 21% in Ireland, higher than in the UK. 

It was Robert and Jeremy Purvis who made the main speeches for the Liberal Democrats yesterday, highlighting the budget's failure to plan for economic growth, to tackle high pay in the public sector, to properly consider whether some measures such as concessionary travel, free prescriptions and free school meals for all were sustainable in the current climate and to deal with the concerns of the college sector.

For that reason, the Liberal Democrats have reserved judgement, abstaining in yesterday's stage 1 vote. In previous years our intervention has ensured more help for business and and extra 7500 college places and it's in those areas this time, as well as proper action on public sector high pay, that the party is looking to see improvements.

Jeremy Purvis outlined the key Liberal Democrat priorities:
We have set out our priorities—to create jobs, to ensure that every child gets a better and fairer start in life, to help business to grow, and to work against climate change. We have also indicated that we are prepared in the coming years to look at different choices when it comes to reforming the public sector landscape in Scotland.
Here, in some detail, is what Robert Brown and Jeremy Purvis had to say. I was particularly interested in Jeremy's rationale behind voting against the SNP's Tesco tax earlier in the day - you have to look at the whole context in which we operate, by the looks of it. We could get more money in Scotland, sure, but Tesco as a whole would end up paying less UK tax as a result and we'd all be poorer. Taxing a major company is always an option which looks attractive, to me as much as anyone, but the devil is in the detail, and you don't want to cut off your nose to spite your face. You're no better off if you rob George to pay John.
If large retailers’ profits are so huge and if their shoulders are so broad, why on earth does the SNP want to slash the corporation tax that they pay? Tesco paid £840 million in corporation tax at a 28 per cent rate in 2010. The SNP wants that rate to be 20 per cent. I do not know why on earth it wishes to give tax cuts of hundreds of millions of pounds to large retail companies.

Robert made a thoughtful contribution, drawing parallels between the Finance Secretary's job dealing with a reduced budget to our ministers finding the mess they did when they took over. He also returns to his earlier comparison with Ireland.

Without question, the budget debate takes place against a more sombre economic background than any that we have known for many years. When the United Kingdom Government came to office last May, it inherited the worst fiscal deficit since the war. It is undoubtedly true that my Liberal Democrat colleagues in London have received extraordinary abuse for the actions that they have taken in the national interest since then. More than any, we know that Opposition is an easier place than Government. We know too that the previous Labour Government, which presided over the circumstances that led to the banking crisis, ducked many of the hard choices. The total cost to the economy of the banking crisis is estimated at between £1,700 billion and £9,000 billion, according to Bank of England figures

Before the forthcoming financial year, the SNP Government has not required to make cuts because of the recession. For all the huffing and puffing about independence and fiscal autonomy, and despite their dodgy dossiers about easy and automatic growth under full fiscal autonomy, SNP ministers are—privately—hugely relieved that the UK Government had to bail out and rescue the Scottish banks and that they have the stability of the Barnett formula to buttress the Scottish budget at this difficult and volatile time.
The downside is that one could be forgiven sometimes for having the impression that the SNP lives in a parallel universe in which public debt grows on trees and does not have to be repaid and in which the recession and the banking crisis affect faraway countries of which we know little, as with independent Ireland, whose problems Jim Mather thinks are caused by an incompetent Government.

Independent Ireland, which has a large banking sector, provides a mirror for our situation. Of course, the SNP Government always drew it into evidence in previous years. Ireland does not have the critical mass of the UK’s economy and resources or a stable coalition Government to deliver a recovery plan over four or five years. It probably brings a wry smile to the cabinet secretary’s face that the Irish Government depends on a bunch of erratic and unreliable Greens. The Irish public have had public sector cuts, job losses, wage cuts, emergency tax imposts and VAT at above UK levels. They now have hugely unhelpful political turmoil and uncertainty, and the Irish fiscal crisis still threatens not only Ireland’s future but the euro zone’s stability.
Having set out the context, he then turned to the practicalities of the Budget offered by John Swinney:

My first criticism, in suggesting that the budget does not match up to the challenge, is one that the Finance Committee made. The Scottish Government rides two horses. It must ask the question that the Finance Committee asked: is the primary aim of the draft budget the protection of services, in particular universal services, or is it economic growth? I accept that there is an overlap in that regard, but the priority needs to be to grow the Scottish economy.
In that context, the Scottish Government seems to be insufficiently focused on creating skills, providing opportunities and equipping enough of our young people with what they need if they are to march forward into the future with confidence. That is particularly the case in relation to colleges.
 There is common ground between Liberal Democrats and members of other parties in the Scottish Parliament, who have been critical of the extent to which benefits such as prescription charges and free school meals have been the main direction of the Scottish Government’s policies. If we spend money on certain things we cannot spend it on other things.
Scotland’s Colleges identified a cut of £48 billion, or 10.4 per cent, in colleges’ budgets, at a time when investing in skills and young people should be central—[Interruption.] There might be issues to do with budgets, but that is what Scotland’s Colleges, which is in a position to know something about the issue, said. For Liberal Democrats the issue was a priority that we pushed with the Government in the context of last year’s budget. That resulted in funding for a further 7,500 places. The issue remains a priority and something of a litmus test for us this year. There is also a significant issue to do with stretched budgets for college bursaries.
He concluded that:
Much of the budget spend is welcome. Support for schools and young people, doctors, hospitals and the sick, and central and local government services could scarcely be anything but welcome. However, the cabinet secretary has a distance to go before stage 3 if he is to satisfy Liberal Democrats that his priorities are the right ones and his budget is a budget for Scotland and for our young people.

Jeremy was quite feisty. He can share Mike Moore's habit sometimes of being a bit too quiet and serious, but he had some fire in his belly yesterday. 
As it stands, this budget fails the test that the Government itself set, which was to grow the Scottish economy. That was supposed to be the Government’s single purpose—indeed, it added a capital P to the word “purpose” in all its literature, giving it a somewhat theological emphasis. That purpose, which we and most parties in the Parliament shared, has now gone.
The Finance Committee was clear—it could not have been clearer—that the purpose was not being met, and was not being matched by the spending priorities in the budget. The committee went further still in its report, which calls for more information before stage 3. The report also asks why the strategic priorities have changed, and whether the Government carried out an assessment of the impact of its previous priorities on its purpose before that purpose was changed to the current one.
There is no question about the fragility of the Scottish economy, or about the fact that we can look across the Irish Sea to see close at hand a situation that could potentially be replicated in Scotland if wrong decisions are made here. There is also no question but that we must tackle a structural deficit that could choke spending on public services for the next generation unless we handle it properly. We are spending as much on servicing the structural debt interest alone as it would cost to build a primary school in Scotland each day of the week.

When the Chinese delegation was in Scotland recently, it was interesting to note that the Chinese Government has bought more UK debt than the entire amount of trade deals signed with that country, not just in Scotland but across the UK, over the past year. There is no question but that our own business community has subdued confidence, and no question but that the pipeline of construction projects, which had already withered under the SNP when budgets were growing, is now in a dangerously low state.
On business anger and frustration with the SNP
The Government has tried to spin that the budget contains a revenue stream of financing that will build new infrastructure, but the same Government scrapped those schemes when it came into office. I met businesses in the construction industry recently and I do not need to make up that there are real anger and emotion, because they were palpable. One business said to me that the real crime was not that the SNP got rid of the public-private partnership approach but that nothing was put in its place. The Government accepts that the pipeline of projects has slowed. That is why the SNP is asserting that it is building as much as the previous Government, but that is clearly not the case. The growing gap between the SNP’s assertions and reality is becoming clear.
On high pay in the public sector:
We find it difficult to accept that, at a time when NHS workers who earn less than £21,000 will get an increase of just £250 and people who are on £21,000 or above will have a freeze in their pay, consultants, who are among the top-paid people in the NHS, will still be able to nominate themselves for a £70,000 annual bonus. We do not think that that is fair or appropriate. We heard the cabinet secretary mention those who have the broadest shoulders. I think that people who earn over £100,000 have broad shoulders. I do not think that it is right that, in the past year, when the Government has claimed that it has put punitive measures in place, that pay bill has gone up by £53 million. That is not fair, and it is not those with the broadest shoulders who are taking the most responsibility. We also believe that the prescribing bill in the NHS is spiralling too much, with reduced health outcomes.
Pointing out how much money the SNP had given to "broad shouldered" Tesco:
If such companies’ shoulders are so broad, I am surprised by how much the SNP Government has given Tesco in regional selective assistance grants in the past three years. It was given £1.7 million for Tesco Bank in October 2010. In Joe FitzPatrick’s area—Dundee—Tesco was given £1.25 million. The most striking grant was for the Tesco Bank headquarters in Edinburgh in June 2009. Alex Salmond opened the headquarters, which came with a £5 million RSA grant. The money that the large retail levy will raise will probably cancel out the grants that the SNP Government has given Tesco
We shall have to see if Swinney is in a listening mood, and willing to make changes before the final stage 3 debate.  Will we have the drama of 2009 or will a consenus be achieved in time?

Daily Mail Fail of the Day - on domestic violence

Just in case you had thought that the Daily Fail had changed its ways after its shock and horror over the behaviour of now ex Sky Sports sexists Andy Gray and Richard Keys (which had more to do with bashing a rival newspaper group), we see today how they really don't understand what it is to be a victim of domestic violence.  They seem to think that a landmark and correct court judgement will lead to a stream of greedy women claiming a council house if their partner shouts at them.

They really haven't got a clue.

Anyone who has lived with a possessive, controlling, abusive partner knows that they don't need to actually hit you to cause severe, long term emotional damage.

Imagine having to account for every single mile that's been driven on your car and undergoing hours of interrogation as a suspicious partner accuses you of infidelity.

Imagine what it must be like to be verbally torn to bits because you used too much washing up liquid.

Imagine what it must be like to have your partner tell your young primary school age kids, maybe waking them up at midnight to do so, that you are useless and that they have never loved you and that they (kids) are just as bad.

Imagine a life where you have to think about every single thing you say, and where you actively don't broach certain subjects for fear of setting off a tirade of verbal abuse.

Imagine a life where you have no access to the family finances and are dependent entirely on what your partner who gives you too little money and expects too much from it.

Imagine a life where if you take longer than your partner thinks reasonable with a doctor's appointment, that they assume you're having an affair and interrogate you for hours.

Imagine a life where who you see and when is strictly controlled by your partner, leaving you isolated and friendless with your connections to your family severed.

Imagine a life where you're told that your children will be taken away from you and you will never see them again if you don't behave in exactly the way your partner requires.

Imagine the effect of alcohol added into that mix.

In all the examples above, nobody's hit anyone, but can you see how over time being on the receiving end of that sort of behaviour would be incredibly debilitating? How much self worth do you think you'd have if everything you ever did was criticised? Eventually you come to believe that you are worthless and that your partner has every right to be so exasperated with you. You don't see an escape and you feel powerless. What sort of environment is that to bring children up in?

That sort of behaviour is as damaging as actual physical violence. The Government knows that. That's why it defines domestic violence as:
 "Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality." 
The Fail seems to think that women will just be able to walk out the front door one day, go down to their Council offices and get the keys to a spanking new council mansion. The reality is very different. It's likely that the best the Council will be able to do is to put you in homeless accommodation, likely to be the shared, if not, likely to be in not the best state of repair and you may be moved from it at any moment to somewhere else.

You may have nothing but the clothes you're standing up in. If you're lucky you might have managed to grab a couple of outfits for yourself and each child as you made your escape. Your'e unlikely to have any of the comforts of home, that you've spent your life working for. They all stay with your abuser.

You might have to live far away from your support network, or your kids' schools. How do you continue to work if, for example, you work strange shifts and your abuser was integral to your child care arrangements?

Putting yourself and your kids through this sort of upheaval is not an easy thing to do. Most of  the time it happens after a sustained period of many, many incidents of abuse. Many people  are actually told by their partners that they can't get help if they're not being hit so it can take a long time before they realise there's a way out. Maybe that's by picking up a leaflet in their library, or seeing the Women's Aid phone number in their GP surgery.

It makes me furious to think that Councils think it acceptable to turn away victims of domestic abuse on the basis that they have not been actually hit. I'm glad that the Courts have accepted that the definition of violence can include non physical abuse. That should set a useful precedent because turning in need away is just not acceptable.

The Fail, implying that this will lead to women who are a bit pissed off because their husband shouted at them once demanding housing, is way off the mark as usual.

I watched a discussion on Newsnight Scotland the other night in which a psychologist, an academic and a policeman were almost struggling under the weight of the things they felt needed to be done to sort this problem out. As the policeman said, the actual violence is the tip of the iceberg. It's the deeply ingrained mysoginy in our culture where inequalities between men and women are tolerated and even encouraged that needs to be tackled. It's truly shocking that 1 in 4 women will suffer domestic abuse of some sort during their lives, and that 2 women a week are actually killed by their partners.

Women's Aid provide invaluable help and assistance to women who have been abused in all sorts of ways by their partners. They not only provide accommodation, but also advice and support for both the women and their children, to help them through the emotional and bureaucratic minefield they've just stepped out into. If you want to know about the realities of domestic violence, read their website, and not the Daily Fail.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Michael Moore needs to toughen up at Scotland Questions

To my shame, I have to confess that today was the first time I've ever watched Scotland Questions all the way through in this Parliament. I have usually been way too disorganised to find out when it was on and just caught the end when switching on for Prime Minister's Questions.

In the last Parliament, I got heartily fed up of listening to then Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy spouting pure poison, using the word patriot as if it were a political weapon and putting the emphasis on bashing anyone who dared disagree with him rather than actually answering questions in a constructive way.

Mike, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme, being ministerial and statesmanlike and not lowering himself to brash politics, apart from a couple of half digs about the deficit. He put in a competent performance asking the questions, but let both the SNP and Labour away with way too much. I'm thinking particularly on the issue of fuel duty. This Government has done more in 8 months on that issue than the last one did in 13 years, so Mike should take no nonsense on it from Labour.  And as far as the SNP is concerned, they dragged their heels and procrastinated, doing precious little to help George Lyon MEP build a case for derogation, as I wrote last year. If we don't pull them up every time they criticise, they will, by shouting loud enough, create the impression that they're the only ones who care about the issue when in fact, actions (or lack of them) speak much louder than words.

Bill Clinton needed a robust rapid rebuttal operation in 1992 to nip in the bud all sorts of nonsense that the Republicans were spreading about him. We need to do the same for the whole of the next 4 and a bit years, but especially in the run up to the Holyrood elections in May.

Other highlights of the session included questions from Mike Crockart (who resigned as Mike's PPS over tuition fees) and Mark Lazarowicz on whether the Green Investment Bank could be established in Edinburgh, a question on whether Prestwick Airport could be re-named Robert Burns Airport (sadly, not the Government's choice, but not a bad idea, to be honest) and Bob Smith securing a meeting with Mike over delays in high speed broadband in the north east.

There were plenty questions on the visit of the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister and the trade agreements which were made. I've written before that, however cute their pandas are, I feel quite uneasy about the amount of trade we're doing with them without challenging them on human rights. It as particularly galling today it took an English Tory to raise that as an issue. I was annoyed that there were comparatively few Liberal Democrats present. Jo Swinson I know had a school visit, but a few of them were missing.

It was, however, satisfying that those who were there did actually ask proper, testing questions, with no obsequious plants. Alan Reid added to the fuel duty angst, quite rightly, and Charles Kennedy pushed Mike quite hard on the effects on Scottish universities of the tuition system.

One final point, it was good that Mike kicked off proceedings with a tribute to former MSP and MP Phil Gallie who, one Labour MP said was more working class than most Labour MPs today. I didn't know him, but I've heard reports that he may have had some strange ideas, but he was essentially a good guy. It was a nice touch of Mike to pay such a warm tribute to him.

Liberal Democrats win some arguments on Counter Terrorism, but fight must go on

There are times when I really wish we were in Government on our own. Then we could simply reduce the pre charge detention time to the matter of hours, or certainly less than a week, that it is across Europe. Then we could completely get rid of measures which restrict people's liberty when they haven't been found guilty of anything.

Today's announcement by Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May on the review of counter terrorism legislation has some welcome steps in the right direction. For example:

  • The end of Section 44 searches where Police could stop anyone they felt like or stop people innocently taking photographs
  • The halving of pre charge detention 
  • Legislation will be drafted, but not introduced on extension of powers in an emergency - good because it means that it will be scrutinised when everyone has a clear head, and not in the heat of the moment. As someone said on Twitter, that requires an opposition which behaves like mature adults - but in its absence, our Awkward Squad should do fine
There's some bad stuff, too, though.
  • Control orders as we know them will go, but there will be a replacement which, although not quite as bad, is still subjecting people to sanction without having ever being found guilty of anything. That's just wrong.  There was some hilarity in the house (inappropriate really, given the circumstances) over the difference between a curfew and the newspeak sounding "overnight residence requirement". It still means that individuals could be put under effective house arrest, but for less time than the current 16 hours under the Labour system.  
However, some of the worst aspects of control orders will be abolished - people won't be shifted away to other parts of the country away from their family; they will have some access to mobile phones and the internet. They will still be forbidden from going to places where it would be difficult to keep them under surveillance. There's a lot of scope there - does that mean they can't go to the cinema, the swimming pool, the shops?

The fundamental issue for me, though, is that  the replacement, although better and requiring stronger evidence (belief rather than suspicion) and the approval of the High Court, still punishes someone who has not been convicted of a crime through the proper procedures of the law. We have situations now where an injunction, for example, is placed on someone without them having prior knowledge of the proceedings in an emergency, but they always have the chance to have their say in court. That's not the case with these sanctions when the person  may not be told what the evidence against them is. That flies in the face of the principles of justice as far as I am concerned.

I would like to see Nick Clegg say that we Liberal Democrats do still believe that these measures should be abolished, but in coalition we have to make compromises - as I assume that's still the case and on our own we'd get rid of them.

I think that if the Tories had been left alone, they would have pretty much kept the Labour framework in place. They might have toned down some of the stop and search powers, but they would have left control orders untouched.

The Liberal Democrats in Government have done some good work in moderating them, but it's still not good enough as far as I am concerned. I recognise our efforts, but my heart is very heavy.

Given Labour's draconian record, there's no way we could have got a better result than this. If we had done nothing and determined to vote against any renewal of powers, for example, Labour would have voted for them. We were in a no-win situation, but even then, we have managed to secure some major concessions.

However, it is incumbent on senior Liberal Democrats to say that they don't think the review has gone far enough and that if we were governing alone, we would go further.

Liberty has given the measures a mixed reception, with Shami Chakrabarti saying:
“We welcome movement on stop and search, 28-day detention and council snooping, but when it comes to ending punishment without trial; the Government appears to have bottled it. Spin and semantics aside, control orders are retained and rebranded, if in a slightly lower fat form. As before, the innocent may be punished without a fair hearing and the guilty will escape the full force of criminal law. This leaves a familiar bitter taste. Parliament must now decide whether the final flavour will be of progress, disappointment or downright betrayal.”
Much more positively, the report includes the replacement of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - the broad police power for stop and search without suspicion. This follows Liberty’s European Court of Human Rights victory last year in the case of protesters Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton.  
Safeguards will also be introduced to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which allowed councils extensive snooping powers. This follows the high-profile case of Liberty’s client, Jenny Paton, who was subjected to council surveillance for three weeks in 2008.  Poole Council claimed that it was acting under the RIPA in order to discover whether the family lived within the catchment area where the children went to school.  In August 2010, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled the council’s surveillance of mum-of-three and her family unlawful.  As announced on Monday, pre-charge detention will be reduced from 28 to 14 days.
I can't find anything in there that I disagree with. My head, though, knows that no other outcome from today was possible and that our input is clear if not sufficient. If we had an opposition who gave two hoots about civil liberties, then we might have had a fighting chance of repealing these measures completely, but we don't and we simply can't do it on our own.

Not for the first time, I wonder how things might have been if we'd got the Parliament we asked for last May. There would have been about 140 of us, more than double our current 57. We'd have had a great deal more bargaining power. 

Learning the Reggaeton Shuffle and the Merengue March - STV teach us Zumba

Do you know your Beto Shuffle from your Cumbia Funk?

Do you have the slightest clue what I'm on about, or does that last sentence make you scared?

There's no need to be - these weird sounding things aren't medical procedures, they are Zumba moves.

I'm now into my second week of Zumba classes and so far I'm really enjoying them. I have to say that last week the Wednesday class was much harder going than the Monday one. Wise people on Twitter suggested that two a week was maybe a bit too much to start with, but I think my body can cope with it and I will listen to it. I have no desire to slump back into the horrors of the last couple of years, believe me, so I won't take any risks.

I'm going to Nadia's and Cheryl's classes at Livingston Station Community Centre in Deans at 10 am on a Monday and a Wednesday. I've enjoyed the variety of the classes so far. I naively thought we'd be doing the same routine all the time, but there has been just the right amount of familiarity and new ground in every class which helps you build a wee bit of confidence that you know what you're doing, but stops you getting bored and thinking you know what's coming.

I was interested to see that STV are running an online Zumbathon on 27th January (that's tomorrow night) at 6.30 pm. To help with that, they've put up a series of video guides with instructor Donna Giffen which teach the basic steps. I'm sure that today in my class, I'll be deconstructing the routines in my mind to identify the moves which make them up. I'm hoping that what I've learnt online will enhance my often hilarious attempts to master the choreography.  When the instructors say don't worry if you're on the wrong foot, I am sure they're talking to me because I invariably am.

I don't really think that fitness DVDs in your own home, or online classes such as this, can ever replicate the dynamic of a class. There's something about actually being there with your fellow travellers. Not everyone can get to or afford classes, though, so this is a great idea.  I'm not sure I'll be back from doing the usual Thursday night chauffeuring runs in time to participate, but if you fancy it, you know it's there.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Last chance to vote in the National TV Awards aka Get Out The Geek Vote!

Just a reminder that the National TV Awards are on tomorrow night. So at least Tommy Sheridan will have something frivolous to help alleviate the stress on his first night behind bars.

Anyway, I suspect that all the Lib Dem Who fans I know would turn their noses up at the thought of voting in something like this, but I can never resist an election, so I need to Get out the Geek Vote.

Matt Smith and Doctor Who are up in a couple of categories. I reckon Steven Moffat's name has to be on the best Drama award given that it's Who v Sherlock but you can never take these things for granted.

I particularly wanted to make my views known in those categories, and the talent show one where I obviously voted for Strictly.

There is also an award for Topical Magazine programme. Now, I know we Lib Dems tend to go for radio in the morning, either Good Morning Scotland or the Today programme, but can I put a special mention in for BBC Breakfast which is up against Loose Women and This Morning?  Now, it would obviously be better if it had just BBC Breakfast on the days Bill Turnbull presents it, but unfortunately we don't have that option.

If you are sufficiently moved by this post to want to make your views known, you can do so here.

Burns' Night - why I really can't be bothered with it (or Eck and his iPad, haggis and henpecked husbands)

I first posted this on Burn's Night last year. I'm not a fan of the occasion. Just to add a wee bit more for 2011, though, I actually had no idea that "fresh" haggis was banned from the States until I saw that link to the BBC report on SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin's Facebook on Sunday night. I have to say, they have a cheek, given that they inflict what passes for chocolate over there on us. I mean, Hershey's Kisses are utterly vile. If you've never tried them, seriously, don't. Given the number of people of Scottish descent who live in North America, it probably is a good idea that the Government is trying to get the ban overturned - it would certainly create a few jobs at places like MacSween's. As I say later on in the article, I loathe the stuff, but I don't want to see it treated unfairly.

Anyway, the re-run starts here.....

All over this past weekend, Burns Suppers have been taking place all over Scotland to honour our national bard. Sometimes I wonder why, though. For all the atmospheric rama of Tam O'Shanter and the poignancy of Ae Fond Kiss, he was not above spouting some misogynist bile. Andy Gray would no doubt be proud of this one.(that last sentence was added today - but maybe Burns would have been a football commentator if he'd been alive today)

Not that I'm one to hold grudges, but I do nurse my wrath to keep it warm on this one, The Henpecked Husband:

Curs'd be the man, the poorest wretch in life,
The crouching vassal to a tyrant wife!
Who has no will but by her high permission,
Who has not sixpence but in her possession;
Who must to her, his dear friend's secrets tell,
Who dreads a curtain lecture worse than hell.
Were such the wife had fallen to my part,
I'd break her spirit or I'd break her heart;
I'd charm her with the magic of a switch,
I'd kiss her maids, and kick the perverse bitch. 

For sure, the picture he paints of this woman is not a pleasant one, but, frankly, if a man is capable of the last 3 lines, then he deserves everything he gets.

Having said that, the haggis, neeps and tatties are cooking away as I write. Weirdly, it's vegetarian haggis. I'm pretty much a hardcore carnivore (although there are a few rules about whatever meat I eat having had a nice life), and Bob would not be bothered if he never ate meat again. However, his preference is for the real McCoy when it comes to haggis, which I won't touch, cos I think it's disgusting. It's the only time I'll ever knowingly choose a vegetarian option. And before you all start omparing me to the woman in the poem, I'd make a proper one for him if he wanted - although when I say make, I more appropriately mean picking one off the shelf in Morrison's. I mean, there's no way I'm handlling any sheep's stomach.

So, if you're celebrating tonight, have fun - but remember that there are bits of what he wrote that have no place in 21st century Scotland.

Back to today, Alex Salmond has recorded a special Burns Day Message which Joan McAlpine has put on her blog. What's interesting is that he boasts about his new iPad, much to my great envy, on the video version, although those words have been removed in the version that appears on the Scottish Government website. 

Ok, I'm scared about the economy now - Lib Dems need to watch this carefully

There is no pretending that today's news of an unexpected contraction of the economy is in any way good. I'm no economist, but there's I didn't come down in the last shower either, so I don't buy George Osborne's airy reassurances that it was all the fault of the snow. Nor will I take any nonsense from Labour about it being all the fault of the Government when their spending cuts haven't kicked in yet.  In fact, if we didn't get our normal Christmas boom, isn't that going to have a knock on effect for the rest of the year?

There's a bit of me that's fearful that this is as good as it's going to get for a while and that there might be a call for the Government to moderate its deficit reduction plans to ensure that we don't end up putting loads of public sector workers out of jobs when there aren't any in the private sector for them to go to, and when there are more unemployed people that the public sector needs to efficiently support.

I get the argument that the deficit needs to come down. I've never been sold on why it needs to be quite as fast. What the Government can't do, though, is stand by and watch the economy sink without taking action to help stimulate it.

Those of us around in the 80s remember how awful it felt when Margaret Thatcher came out with things like "the lady's not for turning". It seemed very callous in the face of mass unemployment and it kind of felt that the Government was throwing us to the wolves.

I expect our ministers to be taking a close look not just at the figures on a sheet, but on the human effect of what they mean and do their best, within the Government, to ensure that people aren't abandoned. I don't know enough about the ins and outs of it all to say exactly how that should happen, but I don't want to see - and I can't imagine - a Government with Liberal Democrats in it being as intransigent as the Tories were in the 1980s.

I don't want to get too Cassandra like because from what I hear these men in pin-striped suits in the city are sensitive types who lose their confidence quite easily (such a sensible foundation for an economy, really) so I don't want to suggest that we're all doomed, but we might be if the Government gets this wrong. No pressure then, Nick, Vince and Danny...........

Update: The Elephant, who actually does understand about the economy, has some good advice for the Government. I am still scared, but maybe there is a way out of it. I took the word creative out of what I thought our ministers should be. Maybe I should put it back in.


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