Thursday, December 31, 2009

An Honoured New Year for Stewart, Brawn and Lloyd - but what about Brucie?

I'm just sipping some tea, earl grey, hot in honour of Sir Patrick Stewart who has been knighted in today's New Year's Honours list. About time too! He's one of our best actors. I'm looking forward to watching his and David Tennant's Hamlet which is waiting for me on my Sky Plus.

Of course, being a Star Trek fan, he will always be, above all, Captain Jean-Luc Picard to me. The role required great versatility. From being assimilated by the Borg, tortured by the Cardassians, to playing detective in the Holodeck, to the episode where he was stuck in a turbolift with a bunch of kids, he played the role brilliantly.

And then, of course, there's honours for the Brawn F1 team whose triumph over adversity is one of the hopeful stories from this year. Team Principal and all round lovely genius Ross gets an OBE. A friend of mine said last night that really it should have been a Dukedom for all he's done over the last 20 years and I see his point, even if I can't stand that level of royal patronage. Jenson Button, the world champion driver gets an MBE.

The last name I want to pick out from the list is Phyllida Lloyd, the director of Mamma Mia, who gets a CBE. Anyone who has made as many people smile as she has deserves recognition. Apparently, according to the channel 5 programme the other night, 1 in 4 households in the UK own a Mamma Mia DVD. I've watched the film many times, the first being as a birthday present from my friend Siobhan at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. I think that was the night she introduced me to this, too. If you haven't tried it, you are missing out.

I am completely mystified, though, at the continued lack of a knighthood for Bruce Forsyth. I absolutely love him to bits and his shows have been entertaining me on Saturday nights for as long as I can remember. Why hasn't he been recognised with a knighthood as many of his peers have been? This article from the Torygraph says he can't be considered until next year because he was awarded a CBE in 2005 and there has to be a 5 year gap. Even so, why did he have to wait that long for an honour at all? And I don't want to sound full of doom, and I hope he's going to be with us for a long time to come, but surely there has to be some flexibility on these things as people get older?

I've just been looking at the full PDF of the list and I'm on my high horse a bit. Now that we're in the 21st century, don't you think we could just have one form of address for everyone, regardless of gender? I mean, you have, in the OBE list, Ross Brawn and Susan, Mrs Knox. If you're not married, you have a Ms in front of your name. Is that really necessary?

Anyway, if I'm going to make this party tonight, I am going to need to go and have a nap, so this rant is now officially over.

The Scotties are here - Scotblogs Awards 2010

First I should say that they aren't really called the Scotties. That's just me being me. It is kind of appropriate though. If you think it's a bit vomit inducing, think of it as a tribute to a certain Enterprise based engineer.

Those nice people at Scottish Round Up have introduced the Scotblogs Awards to honour the best of the Scottish Blogosphere. The Awards take place in two stages. First, they're looking for nominations e-mailed to by 13th January at 6pm. They also want to have suggestions for categories by the same deadline.

Then there will be a second phase where people can vote for the nominees on the shortlist which will run from 14-27 January at 6pm. What's interesting is that alongside the reader votes, there will be a Strictly Come Dancing style scoring system with the final score incorporating scores from an esteemed panel of judges.

So, there you have it. I could pretend modesty, but I'd really like it if you'd nominate me and even better if you'd vote for me when the shortlists come out. I shall be nominating lots of people too. What's important is that this is a chance to showcase the Scottish blogging. There are lots of excellent blogs out there covering a huge range of subjects. I want to learn about lots of blogs that I never knew about over the next few weeks. Thanks to the talented Mr Stephen and his colleagues at Scottish Roundup (I actually typed Scottish Roundabout and for a moment was tempted to leave it, seeing as I'm doing this week's on Sunday.)

The End of the Decade?

Well, I don't often agree with Tom Harris, as you might remember. However, we have found some common ground. My world is polarising at the moment, into two camps. Those who believe that a new decade starts tonight and those, like Tom and I who believe that, actually, the new decade starts at the end of 2010.

The advantage of the latter position, of course, is that you get to celebrate twice. Tonight with everyone else and again next year.

Anyway, I should probably leave this post until next year, but I won't, for reasons I'll show you, but this, shockingly is the fifth time I've seen a 9 year turn over into a 0 year. That's bound to get me all nostalgic, so I thought I'd look back at those five occasions and how my life was at that stage.

1969 kind of passed me by. I was only two and a half after all.

1979 was the start of a long, dark, scared period of my life. We'd moved from Inverness to Wick in the Summer and I started High School barely knowing anybody, which was quite tough. Already I was being bullied and just didn't have the skills to deal with it. I was far away from two of the greatest sources of light in my life, my Granny and Grandma, who were still in Inverness. Going from seeing at least one of them several times a week to barely ever was horrible.

Those years were desperate in many ways. I'm fairly certain now that I was clinically depressed for at least the first few years of the 80s. There were times when things were so dark that I seriously, and secretly, contemplated suicide. I guess being in that state didn't endear me to anyone which just exacerbated the problem. Thankfully, when I was in third year at school, I met some really super, lifelong friends and that helped but I'd say it's only really in the last 10 years that I've felt free of the shadow that period in my life cast. Why am I writing this now? I guess to say to anyone else in that position as a lonely, miserable teenager who can't see a future for themselves is to have hope that all will be well. I never thought that I'd ever be happy and I am. I'm glad I didn't give up.

It wouldn't seem right to leave out the song of the moment which touched a chord with me. It's also the reason why this post has to be this year as it specifically mentions ten years' time at the end of '89.

One thing I do remember about Hogmanay 1979 is saying, much to my parents' disapproval, that by the end of the new decade, I'd probably be married. As it happened, I was right. Given the circumstances, I think it was something of a miracle that I found someone as good, kind and decent as my husband.

1989 was another time of transition. We'd married in August 1988 and almost immediately made a short lived move to Ayrshire. No sooner had we unpacked than it was clear that my husband was going to lose his job. We had to move again, much further afield this time, to Nottinghamshire. We made what I think we both acknowledge was a huge mistake by buying a house on the edge of a village when I didn't drive. At the time of the New Year, we'd literally just moved into our house and a friend I'd made herself moved away. I have to say that I really didn't like the area and pined for Scotland. It was an unsettling time, but during the 90s I made lots of friends and got more and more involved in the Liberal Democrats to the extent where it completely took over my life.

From 1999 it all gets a lot better. Anna had been born in June and she was a very happy, smiley, chuckly baby. I bought her an ultra cute blue and red velour Winnie the Pooh Christmas outfit which she just about wore out. Our hopes for the Year 2000 were that we'd be able to move back up to Scotland. Bob was applying for all sorts of jobs. Our wishes came true in March 2000 and we've been here ever since.

And now, at the end of 2009 we have a bright, sparky 10 year old who is very individual, confident and independent in a way that neither of us were. We've certainly put a lot of thought into creating the conditions for her to develop that way. I never wanted her to doubt, even for a second, and even when she's strayed from the path of righteousness, shall we say, that she's loved, no matter what. Tonight, we plan to be celebrating with the lovely people on our street. We're lucky to have absolutely the best friends in the world and whether they're with us tonight, or far away across the UK and the World, we'll be thinking of them.

Whether it's the end of a decade or not doesn't really matter, although it's fun to argue the point. Wherever you are reading this, I hope that 2010 is happy, healthy and peaceful.

Sweet Dreams from the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Oh, I know I'm asking for trouble with a headline like that. You may mock, but there is a serious point to it all if the number of folk who are usually around on Twitter in the middle of the night is anything to go by.

I was lying in bed last night, uncharacteristically, and somewhat ironically, unable to sleep. The buzz of my blackberry alerted me to this.

Jim Tolson MSP for Dunfermline West asked the Scottish Government's Health Minister Shona Robison a series of questions relating to sleep disorders and prescriptions of drugs to aid sleep. The answers were worrying.

In 3 years, 130,000 people have consulted their doctor for help with some sort of sleeping disorder. For all those who feel that bad, I expect there are many more having trouble sleeping. In that time, the NHS has spent £1.1 million on sleeping drugs.

I have always needed my sleep. One night without eight hours I can just about manage. Two nights and I turn into the witch queen from hell. Three nights and anyone around me had better run for the hills. Fortunately, for most of my life, I've had no trouble getting to sleep, and once I'm there, you have no chance of waking me up unless you have a rather large stick of dynamite or a very cold, wet sponge. Even then, you're likely to get nothing more than a barrage of abuse for your trouble before I turn over and pull the duvet over my head. Sleep deprivation was one of the things I was really scared about when it came to having a baby. Happily, Anna and I slept in perfect harmony together, and although she didn't actually sleep through the night until she was around 2 and a half, it never really bothered me.

I have had periods in my life, mercifully brief, when sleep has eluded me and it's been utterly horrible and miserable. It affects you physically, because you just feel like lead and your head feels like cotton wool. It has to affect your judgment even if it's not dangerous. Having a chronic problem with insomnia must be indescribably awful.

There was an episode of the West Wing where President Barlet hadn't slept for five nights and a psychiatrist was brought in at great expense to try to get to the bottom of it. Thanks to my friends on Twitter, @draml, @allanmknox @thurible and @NickThornsby who reminded me of the title so I didn't have to get off my backside and look through my boxsets so I can show you this clip.

Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Ross Finnie has called for more investment in Sleep Clinics to tackle the problem which seems to be much more sensible than throwing drugs at it. He said:

"These are revealing statistics on a little-known affliction. Many thousands of people across Scotland are silently battling with sleep disorders, which can be physically and mentally debilitating.

"Insomnia ruins lives, while sleep apnoea and narcolepsy can be fatal.

"The vast majority of these GP consultations are for insomnia. Effective treatments are available at Scotland's sleep clinics but more must be done to improve access. Sleep clinics must be made a priority.

"By sending more people to sleep clinics we can keep them off sleep medicines and slash Scotland's prescriptions bill.

"I am worried that this could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of Scotland's sleep problems.

I'd say his solution was infinitely preferable to the Scottish Government sending Alex and Nicola round to sing a lullaby, particularly as we already know that the First Minister's singing voice isn't his greatest asset. Sorry. I couldn't resist. I have a feeling that this is kind of like that picture they keep publishing in Private Eye of Andrew Neil, which must have been going on for 20 years now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Labour undermines Royal Mail by using its competitors

One of the things I think is essential for is for us to have is a mail service which delivers to every house in the country for the same cost. Otherwise if you live in the Outer Hebrides, or some remote part of Yorkshire or the Scottish Borders, you might have to cope with a less reliable, less frequent, more expensive service, or no service at all.

For all its faults, the Royal Mail is best placed to deliver that service. The Government claims to care about Royal Mail's future, yet Liberal Democrats have learned, through answers to Parliamentary Questions, that no fewer than eight Government Departments use its competitors. Three of these departments, Culture, Media and Sport, Communities and the Foreign Office don't use Royal Mail at all, while the other five, Children, Schools and Families; Health; Justice; Transport; and Work and Pensions use other services for part of its mail.

This comes not long after the SNP Government switched the Scottish public sector contract to TNT as Andrew recently reported.

I'm glad that Liberal Democrat Shadow Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael is exposing Labour's claims to care about the future of Royal Mail on one hand while it stabs it in the back on the other.

He said: "“Ministers should be doing all they can do to support this vital service, instead of handing contracts to their competitors.”

Crystal Ball Check - did my predictions for last year come true?

I see Mark has bit the bullet and has gone over his predictions for this year to see if any of them came true. He did ok. Before I commit to any soothsaying for next year, I think I'd better check whether my crystal ball is in working order.

So, here's what I said 363 days ago.

"1 Obama will have a brief honeymoon and then his popularity will drop like a stone as the recession bites in the US and he fails to magic it all away when he takes office. He has already tried to manage expectations about this - in his victory speech he said that he couldn't do it all at once, but I suspect that people will want too much, too soon from him. I think any blip will be temporary as he has the communication skills to deal with it and things will be better by the mid-terms in 2010."

I was kinda right with this one - he has had a drop, but not that far, which is quite something given the way his much needed healthcare reforms have split the nation. There's still more to come, but he's done well to get as far as he has with it. Let's hope that the next few months everyone in the world's wealthiest country will have access to healthcare. When he started out, his approval ratings were in the 60s and 50s, now they're in the 50s and 40s. He's not been as tough as I would have liked on climate change and I'd hoped that he would have had more of an impact on the Copenhagen conference but he's so many zillion times better than George Bush.

2. There will not be a UK general election in 2009. I don't think the polls are clear cut enough to make Gordon think it's worth the risk. Once he calls the election, there will be a particularly vicious, dirty scrap between Labour and the Tories south of the border which will probably endear neither of them to anybody. Nobody can really predict the outcome and literally anything could happen and I doubt that he would want to take the risk. I think Gordon should announce that he's going in April 2010 and introduce legislation for fixed term parliaments and have done with it.

Well, I got this one right, but Gordon didn't take my advice. The bit about there being a vicious scrap between Labour and the Tories still stands. I haven't seen anything this year that makes me think that either will inspire.

3. The Liberal Democrats will make steady progress throughout the year. This might not come out so much in the polls, but more in the preparation and continuing the structural changes we need within the party. I think that we will do better than we think in the European elections.

I'm going to claim this one, too. I think this has been a fabulous year for us. Vince Cable and Nick Clegg have hardly ever been off the tv. It actually did show in some polls which have shown us neck and neck with Labour but the only one that really matters is the one where people put their bits of paper in the ballot boxes. We are, however, way ahead of where we started in the last two elections which bodes well.

4. Tavish Scott already hit the ground running as Scottish Lib Dem leader in 2009 and will establish himself as the true opposition leader in Holyrood. Annabel is too schoolmarmy and Iain Gray too boring to make an impact. In Tavish we have a warrior with Viking tenacity and fight in him - watch this space as he makes further dents in the Salmond ego and shows the SNP Government up for its failings.

This one is a work in progress. Annabel has shown herself to be nothing more than Alex Salmond's poodle in many ways. There's usually a shadow between Tory words and Tory deeds and nowhere was this more prevalent than when Tavish Scott and the Lib Dems tabled a motion of no confidence in SNP Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop. The Tories had previously slated her on many occasions, but wouldn't commit to voting for the motion.

Iain Gray, well, he's a nice man, but that's about it. He put his party in an untenable position over the release of Megrahi, slating the SNP Government for releasing him, despite the fact that the London Labour Government hadn't exempted him from the relevant prisoner exchange agreement nor had they ensured Megrahi's family had the necessary visas to stay near him in Scotland. He doesn't really land many punches on Salmond at FMQ, not that that display of willy waving should define success in any way.

I'd say that Tavish has made steady progres this year.He's done well on the economy, and his forests campaign and the Hyslop affair were highlights. While commentators thought we would lose our Euro seat, Tavish led an energetic, successful campaign to get George Lyon elected He's taken Salmond to task for not quite having all his facts right in Parliament and he has not only bested him at FMQs, but actually got Salmond to engage in constructive debate sometimes.

The year ended with an excellent victory in a council by-election in Bearsden for the Liberal Democrats - no sign of a bounce for Cameron or Gray or Salmond there.

5. Having screeched to a halt in Glenrothes, the SNP juggernaut actually starts to go into reverse. Questions will be asked about what exactly they have achieved, and if they fail to move on key issues such as their extra national income tax, their illiberal plans to stop 18-21 year old adults buying alcohol in off licences and the joke that is their Scottish Futures Trust to name but 3, then they are going to come seriously unstuck.

Well, they're not seriously unstuck yet, but the glue is starting to come apart. The Scottish Futures Trust is still a joke, we're no closer to being able to fund the vital new Forth Crossing and the SNP's performance both in Glasgow North East and the Euros was pretty dismal. They've picked up some local Council by-election seats, but when they've been faced by a Lib Dem campaign at full throttle, as they were in Inverness earlier this year, and in Bearsden last month, they've done really badly.

6. Unless someone takes Israel by the scruff of the neck and says, ok, unless you stop your disproportionate and aggressive behaviour, we are not going to give you any more money/weapons/invites to the White House for tea and sandwiches etc, then the situation in the Middle East will get a whole lot worse. Obama and Clinton need to give the Israeli Government a good talking to, and threaten them if they have to. It will be better for everyone in the Middle East in the long term if they do.

A year on, Gaza is still a humanitarian disaster. The EU and the US could do a lot more to end the blockade, as Nick pointed out in his Guardian piece last week.

7. The banks will end free banking on current accounts in credit and start charging either a monthly fee, or a charge for every transaction. The last few months has proved that they simply don't care about public opinion and they don't really get what they have done wrong. It's time to make sure that the necessary regulations are put in place to avoid their irresponsible behaviour from putting the economy in jeopardy again. If they won't act in a sustainable way by themselves, then they have to be forced to.

Well, this hasn't happened, and the OFT let down millions of ordinary bank customers by ruling in favour of the banks' ridiculous charges. My bank will now charge £5 for unauthorised overdraft - that's £150 per month, as much as my Council Tax - except to anyone paying that, the bank would take their charges first. This year has proven, though, that bankers don't care, they're having a laugh at our expense, and there doesn't seem to be anyone in Government in possession of the relevant backbone to properly regulate them. They didn't even have to think for themselves how to do it cos Vince told them what to do - split the sector into high risk investment banks which could do what they liked pretty much and low risk personal and business banks which would be regulated within an inch of their lives to protect our savings. Simples, as they say.

8. A major broadcaster will throw all their toys out of the pram in spectacular fashion after being prevented from doing something perfectly legitimate, but mildly outrageous, because of fears of a Daily Mail Brand/Ross style backlash.

Another blank, although the BBC has just been stupidly craven and sometimes just plain stupid. At the start of the year, their refusal to screen the DEC Gaza appeal was unjustifiable. Then, just the other week, they ran a discussion entitled "Should Homosexuals be Executed?" like it was a legitimate question. I despair.

9. Homelessness reaches crisis point as repossessions and evictions force families onto the street and local councils simply can't cope with the demand for emergency accommodation. Preventative action now might help, but I suspect people will have to endure incredible misery before something is done to help them.

While this hasn't been as apocalyptic as it sounded, homelessness and poor housing is still a huge problem. I'd be surprised if any public representative didn't have several people a week coming to them complaining about substandard housing, or about being stuck in a house which is far too small for them, or that they can't even get into social housing and are stuck in punitively expensive private lets.

10. On a lighter note, the Pet Shop Boys new album will be fabulous, as will the new Harry Potter film. And David Tennant's departure from Doctor Who will be spectacular and emotional. Don't ask me who the new Doctor will be - although I suspect it won't be either David Morrissey or Lesley Sharp. Oh, and Andrew Lloyd Webber will produce a fabulous and very catchy song for Eurovision, which will still get trashed in the competition because of political voting.

Right on the first, the second hasn't happened yet, but I still stand by it, right on the third but that wasn't difficult, half right on the last.

My Top Ten Liberal Democrat Moments of 2009

It’s the time of year for reflection on what the year has brought and what we can learn for the future. For journalists and bloggers alike, this usually involves lists. Lots of them. I’m going to add to your list overload by outlining what I think are the ten best Liberal Democrat moments and achievements of the last year.

[UPDATE, several hours later. How in the name of goodness did I not notice that this was my 900th post? I guess it was appropriate that it should be a review one.]

It’s been a year of turmoil in the economy and politics with the recession only being knocked off the front pages by the MPs’ expenses scandal. In the midst of all the bluff and bluster, it was the Liberal Democrats who provided the voice of reason and common sense combined with a passion for change and meaningful reform on a whole range of issues. I think it’s been our most successful year since the last General Election. We approach the 2010 election in better shape, and with higher poll ratings, than ever before, not least because of the work of the people below.

In the best of traditions, in reverse order, here we go:

Number 10

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if a driving instructor was convicted of sexually assaulting a client, that they would never be able to teach anyone to drive again? Not so, at least until this year when Dunfermline and West Fife MP Willie Rennie’s Driving Instruction (Suspension and Exemption) Act 2009 came into force. Until then, there were no powers to suspend someone as an Approved Driving Instructor, even if hey had been convicted of such an offence, pending their removal from the Register, a process which could take several months. Willie took action after a constituent had approached him having seen her driving instructor out teaching within days of being convicted of assaulting her.

In Ninth Place

Tavish Scott’s campaign to save a quarter of Scotland’s forests being sold off by the SNP which contributed to a climbdown by Minister Mike Russell.

Eighth spot

George Lyon being elected as Scotland’s new Liberal Democrat MEP in June. Some commentators had tipped the SNP to gain the seat which had been held by Elspeth Attwooll for 10 years but after a spirited campaign, George won through. He’s been to the Copenhagen Climate change summit (on the train) and blogged his way through it on the Steamie. He’s also fought for Scotland’s farmers and consumers, campaigning against farmers’ exploitation by the supermarkets.

Super Seven

Liberal Youth’s freshers’ recruitment drive saw a record breaking number of new members across the UK. The revitalised organisation has been at the forefront of campaigns against student debt, for the banning of mosquito devices and for an end to a lower minimum wage for 16 and 17 year olds. They also launched a fantastic new website. Given the Party’s renewed commitment to ending tuition fees, they are well placed to go from strength to strength in 2010.

Liberal Youth Scotland has had a cracking year, organising a demonstration in support of the Rev Scott Rennie, the Church of Scotland Minister whose appointment at Queen’s Cross Church Aberdeen was confirmed by the General Assembly in May, proposing successful motions to Conference and being a campaigning force to be reckoned with, helping at Action Days across Scotland.

Splendid Six

Wouldn’t it be good if someone came up with an idea that would give families more options for childcare which would help them find the solution that worked best for them? Isn’t it a bit daft to give 12 months’ maternity leave to the mother and a couple of weeks to the father when it might make more practical and financial sense to share the care? Oh wait, somebody already did. Earlier this year the Liberal Democrats passed a policy motion which if implemented would give new parents 20 hours of free childcare a week as well as parental, rather than maternity leave, of up to 19 months, to be shared between parents in the way that they choose.

Fabulous Five

When Israel launched its attacks on Gaza last year, I was proud that Nick Clegg was quick to condemn these atrocities. One of the last times I went out properly before ill health took a grip was to the Edinburgh demo against the attacks in early January where John Barrett MP for Edinburgh West, among others, spoke movingly.

Nick hasn’t abandoned the people of Gaza. Last week he wrote this for the Guardian, outlining their terrible suffering and calling for the blockade to be lifted for humanitarian and environmental reasons.

Fantastic Four

The Real Women Campaign led by Jo Swinson MP has brought the issue of airbrushing to the fore. Even Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton wrote about our policy to ban airbrushed photographs aimed at children and to clearly label others. Recently, the very picture of Twiggy highlighted by the campaign was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. It’s a start on the road to lifting the pressure, particularly on girls and young women, to conform to an unattainable body image. There is much more to be done, and here are the instructions on how to complain about other clearly airbrushed photographs.

The Real Women Policy paper is so much more than airbrushing, though. It contains proposals to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value, to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, to ensure that no woman is denied access to support if she’s suffering domestic violence, to improve safety by extending the network of support for victims of rape and sexual assault.

I think it’s great that Jo has done so much to highlight these issues and has had so much positive media attention for them and the positive Liberal Democrat approach.

The Bronze Medal

This is shared between two people: Firstly, Nick Clegg for his honest and straightforward approach to the MPs’ Expenses scandal. It helped that he did so in a background of no Liberal Democrat being involved in a major abuse of public money and with a long standing Liberal Democrat record of voting for maximum transparency on publication. He was quick to start his Take Back Power campaign, saying MPs shouldn’t go home for Summer until they had enacted serious political reforms.

Secondly, to Mark Thompson, writer of the Mark Reckons blog for this iconic post which I think has done more to advance the argument for electoral reform than anything I’ve heard in over a quarter of a century in politics.

The Runner Up

Our credible authoritative leadership on the economy, fair taxes and public spending proposals. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up to Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable talking sense on breakfast television. He was the first to come up with a credible Recovery plan to get us through the recession. He urged the Government to change banking forever so that never again would ordinary people’s and businesses futures be put at risk by super rich bankers playing high stakes casino games. He knew from the start that public spending would need to be reduced to pay off the deficit and brought forward a plan to protect the most vulnerable. Under his proposals, nobody earning less than £10,000 a year would pay tax, saving the most needy £700 per year. A cap on public sector pay rises to £400 per year would still give a modest rise to the lowest paid who need it most.

In addition to that, the Party identified significant savings such as getting rid of ID cards and not proceeding with a like for like replacement of Trident.

The Top Spot

Moment of the year has to be that afternoon when Nick Clegg stood in front of the Palace of Westminster with Joanna Lumley after the Government had been defeated on a Liberal Democrat motion which called for Gurkhas to be given the right to live here. Nick’s argument was simple – if someone is prepared to die for this country, then they should have the right to live here. It’s the sort of fairness that is at the heart of Liberal Democrat values and I was proud that we had led on this and ultimately forced the Government to back down.

Gladstone Anniversary in the Snow

Yesterday, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Liberal statesman William Ewart Gladstone a group of hardy Liberal Democrats gathered in the snow and ice to remember him. I was not among them. To my eternal shame, a septuagenarian from deep in the borders managed it, but I didn't manage to get past the snow and ice on my street. Mind you, my neighbour fell over the other day and broke her wrist, which did nothing to make me like the wintry conditions any better. She can't get an appointment at the fracture clinic until next Thursday, either, because so many other people have similar injuries.

The photo was kindly sent to me by John Barrett MP and shows, among others, Lord Steel and Robert Brown MSP.

After the terrible news yesterday of Akmal Shaikh's execution, Kelvin makes a salient point linking Gladstone to events in China.

In looking for Gladstonian wisdome to share with you, I found some quotes from him which are particularly close to my heart:

"Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea."

“If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited, it will calm you.”

How very appropriate that he shares his birthday with my lovely granny who just loved her tea, a trait I have inherited.

I hope those who gathered yesterday went and had a nice, warming cuppa after the ceremony.

A lot of what Gladstone was saying 150 years ago is relevant today. Take a look at this:

“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”, As true now as it was then.

“Selfishness is the greatest curse of the human race” is particularly relevant as we remember, 30 years on, how the last Tory Government encouraged self advancement and discouraged community, with Thatcher herself eschewing the notion of society. Surely we're not going to make that mistake again......

As Labour and Tory continue with their ridiculous, phony class war which comes as a welcome distraction from having to defend policy or record, Gladstone's view is alive and well in today's Liberal Democrats, standing up for ordinary people:

“All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes.”

And finally, can you get more idealistic and optimistic than this?

"We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace."

Gladstone lived through an age of constant political reform, where the franchise was being slowly extended and stood for cleaning up politics, improving conditions for workers, making sure all children were able to go to school. In the 20th century, the welfare state and the NHS were founded on rock solid liberal principles. Today's Liberal Democrats recognise that there is much still to be done. Education, reducing poverty and political reform which brings Government closer and more accountable to the people are at the heart of what are, have been and always will be about.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Could Akmal Shaikh's Execution have been avoided - 2 questions for the Goverment to answer

Like many others I went to sleep last night fearful that there was little hope that 53 year old mentally ill British citizen Akmal Shaikh would avoid the executioner in China this morning and, sadly, my fears were confirmed when I woke up this morning.

I don't think the use of the death penalty is ever justified. Murder carried out by the state is still murder. No exceptions. Having said that, murder carried out by the state of someone who is mentally ill takes brutality to a whole new level.

The charities Amnesty International and Reprieve should be commended for their valiant attempts to save Akmal Shaikh, but their efforts were probably always doomed to failure without meaningful intervention by the British Government. As far as I can see, all the Foreign Office and Gordon Brown did was to ask nicely for the Chinese Government to show clemency. That was never going to work with a regime that doesn't value human rights in any way. I want to know exactly what went on and how much diplomatic pressure was put on China and whether it was threatened with any meaningful consequences if it went ahead with this execution.

The statement the BBC has published from the Chinese this morning makes sickening reading:

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British government's unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge [them] to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations,"

You can sense the swaggering of the bully in those words. The Chinese regime clearly thinks it can do what it likes, not just on human rights, but on climate change, too.

But perhaps this wasn't the first time Akmal Shaikh had been failed by the British authorities. I don't know much about his personal treatment, but I do know that many people with mental health problems don't get the support that they need. Mental health support is very much the poor relation in the NHS family and the quality of care a person gets varies according to what's available in their area. What sort of care did Akmal Shaikh get and if it had been more effective, would he ever have been in such a vulnerable state that he was duped into smuggling the drugs?

Akmal Shaikh's death is shocking because of its manner, but it should make us all think about how people with mental illnesses are treated, and we should maybe also wonder why his name wasn't on the page of every tabloid newspaper from the time he was arrested. It couldn't possibly be because he was mentally ill and not white, could it?

UPDATE: I thought I'd draw your attention to three fantastic posts on this and the wider issues surrounding drugs policy and the death penalty, two from Sara Bedford who fisks Leo McKinstry beautifully and one from Jeremy Rowe.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Christmas Present Ever

Well, that's it for another year. We actually had a proper white Christmas, too. Of couse we did, white is all we can see outside our window, but we had some fresh stuff fall, just for a few minutes, but that's all it needs, around 10 yesterday morning.

Anna was delighted with her presents. She had been thrilled the night before by reading Santa's tweets, particularly when he found the time to reply to her. I'm still not convinced it was the real Santa, despite the fact that he knew her name, talked to her about her letter and confirmed that the glitter in the reindeer food is important (helps them fly, apparently), but maybe I'm just an old cynic.

I was relieved that he bought her as many books as he did - we just can't keep her in reading material. Along with the usual stash of Christmas annuals, she was delighted with a book from one of her favourite authors, Michelle Paver, more Michael Morpurgo, the remaining books in a series she had read the first one of at school but they didn't have the rest and, finally, the Guinness Book of Records. Weird? Maybe, but Bob's cousin gave her an old copy (from 2003 I think) a couple of years ago and she was fascinated by it.

For the first time, she's started to show an interest in popular music. Much to Bob's disgust, Cheryl Cole and JLS CDs arrived, although my sister tried to up the taste factor a bit by providing Michael Jackson's This is It.

I was happy with my stack of books - Delia's updated Christmas book, The Brawn Story, by Christopher Hylton, the new Marian Keyes, the Strictly Annual and the memoirs of the Almighty Vince. In a way I'm glad that my husband probably paid full price for the above because he just can't work Amazon. The demise of Borders Books is not a good sign for the traditional bookshop and I don't want to see any others go the same way.

While I got everything on my list and was very happy with it, the best present of all came from Anna. It was an A5 notebook filled with 121 pages of all sorts of things to do with Christmas. It had the words to traditional songs, poems and stories she'd written herself, her own drawings, puzzles she'd made up, her book recommendations, all linked together in her own quirky, very individual way. Unfortuantely she won't let me publish any of the poems or stories here, and she's asked to see this before it gets posted. I guess I have to respect her right to privacy on that one.

I really appreciate the amount of time and thought she's gone to over several weeks preparing it for us - and it's something we'll always treasure. It's not just words on a page, it's a snapshot of our daughter at 10 and a half.

The rest of the day went well - very relaxed, as is the way in our house. I love cooking Christmas Dinner but took a few short cuts - M and S roast potatoes and veg and, to my eternal shame, gravy, so all I had to do was get the turkey ready for the oven, make my Grandma's stuffing, throw the bread sauce together, peel some sprouts and manage the putting in and taking out of things from the oven once the turkey was made. I have, however, saved the turkey juices and the veg water from yesterday, so we will be having proper gravy tonight.

The only fixed point in the day was Doctor Who, but I'll write about that separately. I think I might need to mug up on some Time Lord history first.

Do you like cheese with your mince pies?

I'm on a bit of a quest to prove that I'm not the only one in the world who likes to eat mince pies made with puff pastry with a slice of cheese.

I have to say that I don't mind if I am the only one in the world who likes them that way because I'm not one to conform for the sake of it, but surely I can't be alone.

Brief mentions of this strange habit in the Twitterverse have brought howls of disbelief and the word "weirdo" was used at one point. Not in any sort of seriousness and by one of the loveliest people in my world and with an x attached, but it was used.

Another friend mentioned that it's tradition in Yorkshire to have Christmas cake (without icing) with cheese so mince pies have a lot of the same flavour. I think doing it this way in our family comes from my Grandma who never had her mince pies any other way. I eat sweet ones too, but if I make them it's always as an accompaniment to cheese.

Anyway, if you have never heard of doing it this way, and think it sounds appealing, why not try it?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Snow, Glitter and Dentists - our story of Christmas so far.

This is the view outside our house - or at least it was yesterday morning. Not much has changed since then except it's got colder. I am completely pathetic about it and just won't go out in it. End of. No exceptions. I fell on ice and couldn't walk for 5 months in the early 90s and that's left me with an almost phobic hatred of the stuff. The snow itself is very very pretty and nice to look out on. I'm just very very glad we don't have to travel anywhere and am very grateful to my husband and daughter who have done sterling work trudging back and fore to the shops to ensure we have supplies for our Christmas Dinner. I don't remember as bad snow as this since the Winter of 1990. I remember that being quite close to Christmas as well. We lived in Nottinghamshire then and lost the power and water for about 3 days. Thankfully at that time we had a coal fire and the local Chinese takeaway soldiered on and provided the entire village with sustenance.

One of the vital supplies I was missing this morning was glitter, for the special homemade reindeer food. I mentioned this on Facebook and was met with a storm of protest from various people that this could be dangerous for them. Well, all I can say to the Elf and Safety mob is that, as any fule no, Santa's reindeer aren't just ordinary run of the mill specimen. They are, as Anna pointed out, magic, flying reindeer and they have diffeent needs. We've been giving them our classic recipe of one part crushed weetabix, one part oats and one part glitter for many years and we haven't lost one yet. It's at times like this I really miss Costigan. He'd have put paid to the tabloid style scaremongering!

I have never seen Anna so excited about Christmas. She just loves the snow and spends every spare moment out sledging. Our lovely friends Anne and Stevie have taken her to the local park with their children every single day. Bob went too yesterday and was very grateful from the sustenance he got from Stevie's hip flask. Perhaps this helped to protect him from the pain when a whopping great bit of his incisor came out. The poor man has had to go to the dentist this afternoon to get a filling. He has a habit of Christmas dental emergencies - when we were in Mallorca 3 years ago he lost a filling. Thankfully, that one didn't involve any pain or urgent treatment.

So, we're finally ready for what we hope will be a quiet, chilled out Christmas. The house is an absolute tip, because I haven't found the energy to give it the scrubbing it needs, but I don't care that much. Frankly, when I do have energy, I prefer to use it in more interesting ways than cleaning. I probably take the ethos that people and fun are more important than housework too far, but there are worse things, I guess.

My wish for you, dear reader, is that you have a peaceful and relaxing festive period and that 2010 is a happy, healthy year for you.

By the way, if you are looking for a wee bit of Christmas Eve fun, you can track Santa on his travels. I live blogged this last Christmas Eve which was probably strictly speaking unnecessary, but it brings back happy memories.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

F1: He's Back - Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn together again

You may remember that I got a tiny bit excited in the Summer when Michael Schumacher announced his albeit short lived return to F1. Unfortunately, that didn't come to fruition because of his neck injury at the time, but that episode clearly poured fuel on that one smouldering ember of passion for being a full time racing driver. I guess it's a bit like being thrown back into an election campaign at full pelt having sworn you'd never do it again because the last one nearly killed you. That passion and drive never really leaves. It might occasionally hide, but it'll always be there.

Today, he threw his hat into the ring for next season, not with the team that's been his home since 1996 and where he was a consultant, often seen at Grands Prix, but with the genius who guided him to his seven world titles, Ross Brawn, who is now team principal of Mercedes GP. I guess for a man who last year saved the doomed Honda team at 59 minutes past the eleventh hour and then led it to victory in both drivers' and constructors' championship, luring the best racing driver of all time out of retirement is child's play.

Some of the translation in this statement from his official website is a little weird but I have to say it brought a bit of a tear to my eye. The passion he has for the sport just jumps out and grabs you by the throat.

The BBC got an exclusive interview with him which you can watch here. He's on sparkling form. I do think, though, that Mercedes really ought to get some new microphones because the one he's holding looks very silly.

Much of the excitement and drama of this year's F1 season has taken place off the track, with the threat of a breakaway series, the stooshie over the future of the British Grand Prix and the scandal of Crashgate. Next season we are promised a treat on the road. By the time we got to Abu Dhabi in November, Brawn, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren were all up there with similar cars. Qualifying session thrillers, going down to thousandths of a second on the last flying lap were commonplace. Now Mercedes have given themselves an ace by reviving the best driver/strategist combination in F1.

There's always the risk that it won't be as good. I can't imagine the working relationship between Brawn and Schumacher changing though. The two of them trust each other implicitly and work very well together. Schumi really has nothing to prove, though. He's won seven world titles. He is one of the best drivers there has ever been, if not the best. He will still have all of that and maybe even more titles to his name. He will simply take the car he's given and push it to the absolute limit of its being. It's what he does.

I don't see why he shouldn't be whip the backsides of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, Vettel and Webber at Red Bull and Alonso and Massa at Ferrari. I doubt any team will get off to the commanding lead that Brawn and Jenson Button created last year though so I think it'll be thrilling. Schumi's also older and a lot wiser than he was 15 years ago.

You can hear Ross Brawn talking about his view of it all here.

I think what worries me is that the tabloid press is going to try and get up a frenzy of hatred towards him. They'll paint Mercedes as the German team, despite it being based in Britain and run autonomously by an Englishman, and McLaren (with its German Mercedes engines) as the British team and we all now how rational they can be when they do that. It's all going to be one spiteful yawn.

Anyway, I'll be supporting Schumacher and Ross Brawn all the way. And of course, Mercedes announced this week that the worlds of F1 and Harry Potter will combine as they now have a patronus. Oh, wait.......

David Steel to speak at Gladstone 200th Anniversary Event

Sometimes I'm too trashy even for my liking. How on earth can I have been an active Liberal Democrat for over a quarter of a century without knowing that one of the most famous Liberals of all time, four time Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, shared the same birthday as my beloved Granny, 29th December? Obviously not the same year, as the GOM (Grand Old Man, or God's Only Mistake as Disraeli rather snippily put it) was born on 29th December 1809.

The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that this means that come next Tuesday it's 200 years since Gladstone was born. Scottish Liberal Democrat Nigel Lindsay has organised a wreath laying ceremony for 10 am at the statue of Gladstone in Coates Crescent, Edinburgh.

Yes, I know it's horrendously early and it's probably going to be freezing cold, but this is history, and an event worth commemorating. David Steel is going to be speaking at the ceremony and that's definitely worth getting out of bed for. The statue is literally a few minutes' walk from Haymarket station and there are plenty nearby coffee houses we can go to for thawing out purposes afterwards. So, if you're in or around Edinburgh next Tuesday, 29th, at 10 am, you are very welcome to come along and honour the life of an iconic Liberal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Auntie's moral compass flushed down the toilet as BBC asks "Should gays be executed?"

Well, I thought I was unshockable.

Until this lunchtime.

Until I came across this.

I really hope that by the time you read this that link has been taken down because someone has seen sense and realised how utterly objectionable it is.

I am speechless (and that takes a lot) that a corporation with a reputation for being the best public service broadcaster in the world has seen fit to host a discussion entitled "Should homosexuals be executed?".

I can't believe that they think that this is a legitimate question for discussion and, what's particularly worrying is that the fact that it might lend credibility to the harbingers of hate who are trying to introduce the appallingly bigoted legislation in Uganda.

Andrew wrote passionately the other day about why this legislation is just so wrong.

For the BBC to promote discussion on this topic could be seen as inciting hatred. If they'd put "should black people be executed?" it would have rightly have been against the law so why do they think that they can get away with this?

If you are as outraged as I am, please complain to the BBC here.

UPDATE: The ink was barely dry on this post when the BBC finally seems to have realised it may have dropped a big one. They have changed the header to "Should Uganda debate gay execution?" which isn't really much better. I mean, you can't really answer yes to that question without infringing their rules of posting which are:

"We reserve the right to reject messages which:

* Are racist, sexist, homophobic, sexually explicit, abusive or otherwise objectionable"

They've also closed this particular debate down which I guess is progress.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

High Noon at Home Office - Free Gary Demo today

If you happen to be in Central London this lunchtime, and you support Asperger's sufferer Gary McKinnon's case not to be extradited to the US on computer hacking charges, you might like to support his family and friends as they gather at the Home Office between 12 noon and 2 pm to protest at the Government's failure to protect him from an unfair process.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be there lending his support as he's supported Gary's case from the start.

Gary's mother, Janis Sharp, has fought tirelessly for her son and deserves our support.

She wants those of us who live too far away from London to send a card to the Queen asking her to intervene with the Government on Gary's behalf on the basis that she effectively signed away UK citizens' rights on the advice of the Government. Obviously the Queen is never going to intervene publicly. However much the idea of Her Majesty nabbing Alan Johnson, Joanna Lumley style, at a public event appeals, it would be wrong for an unelected monarch to do so. She does, though, meet Gordon Brown once a week and if she gets a lot of cards, she might discuss it with him privately. Anyway, it can't do any harm.

I'm 500 miles away so I can't be there physically but will be in spirit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Marion Lindsay: Remembering my Grandma 25 years on

I've written before about what a wonderful influence my Granny has been on my life, but I've never told you about my other fantastic Grandma. Between them, these two inspiring and very different women helped to shape the person I am today.

Marion Lindsay was my other Grandma. She passed away 25 years ago today, when I was 17. Her death was really the first time I had experienced that horrible, searing pain of loss that cuts right through you every part of your mind and body. I miss her to this day. I'm maybe a bit surprised that I feel quite so emotional as I write this.

Whereas my Granny was a traditional granny, grey haired, full of stories and gentleness, Grandma was a much more glamorous, tempestuous character. Others in the family had a very different experience of her but I can only really speak for my own which was a fun filled, happy, close relationship. There was hardly ever a cross word between us.

She was heavily involved in amateur dramatics, in the Florians drama group in Inverness. The first practical experience I can remember of this was when I had to run up and down the stairs so my breathless voice could be recorded to be the voice of a ghost in the Noel Coward play Blithe Spirit where Grandma was playing Madame Arcati.

She was also an incredibly talented artist. I remember having to sit for hours when I was four or so while she painted me. I remember the blue dress with red and white flowers I was wearing but the painting, unfortunately, no longer exists. My parents have in their house a portrait of my father as a choir boy when he must have been around Anna's age and a still life that she did.

When I was very small, I spent mostly all my weekdays with my Granny and my weekends with Grandma. After I went to school, I went to Grandma's most Saturday afternoons. I don't remember anything other than fun. I had a puppet theatre there - I particularly remember having the scenery and characters for Aladdin and we used to enact all sort of scenes. She was always very keen on getting me to write things down and use my imagination. I've never really been that great at that sort of creativity but she squeezed every tiny morsel of potential in that direction out of me.

Grandma was not exactly an advert for healthy living. She smoked like a chimney and to this day, I still find the smell of cigarette smoke mildly comforting, which was no doubt a factor in me taking up the habit myself when I was a teenager, an addiction which only pregnancy and motherhood would rid me of. She was a complete sun worshipper, too. I remember many happy afternoons, in her garden, watching her baste herself with factor 2 Hawaiian Tropic which is another smell that I absolutely love. There's a photo of her, on her 60th birthday, taken at my uncle's house in Canada where she's looking amazing in a bikini.

She was also a complete and total devoted Thatcherite. Remember when Maggie did her "The lady's not for turning" speech - at the same time, Grandma was involved in a production of Christopher Fry's play "The Lady's not for Burning." Grandma actually rang up Downing St to ask if she could display a big cardboard cut-out of Mrs Thatcher saying "What I really meant to say was go and see "The Lady's not for Burning." Of course they said no, but she said they were quite tickled by the idea. She was mildly exasperated by my growing liberalism and peace-loving hippyness but she coped with good humour.

I don't think I ever doubted her love and pride in me. I remember the day after my Higher results came through in the Summer of 1984 a parcel arrived for me containing a beautiful ring, which I still treasure along with the heartfelt letter that accompanied it - on pig paper, of course.

She was obsessed with pigs - she had them everywhere. Cuddly pigs, pig plates, pig tea towels, pigs made of glass, metal and pottery. There were hundreds of them and that probably explains why I have a bit of a soft spot for them.

When we moved from Inverness to Wick when I was almost 12, it was devastating to no longer see her regularly. I'd speak to her on the phone and used to still go to stay with her but it was never enough. When I was 15, she developed bronchial cancer which must have been absolutely terrifying for her. She laughed it off, though, buying herself a beautiful 3 colour gold bracelet which she called her "I stopped smoking cos it gave me Cancer" bracelet. The last time I saw her was in October 1984, when we went for lunch at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness and you could tell how the disease had grimly taken control of her.

I suppose every blog posting worth its salt has to turn to food at some point, and it's worth saying that two of the most delicious things I've ever tasted in my life were my Grandma's gravy and my Granny's potato soup. Neither I nor anybody else has ever been able to replicate them exactly.

I might have been at the back of the queue when common sense was being handed out, as my mother always used to tell me, but if that meant I was at the front of the line for amazing grandmothers, I'd say that it was a price well worth paying.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sports Personality of the Year - why I won't be voting for Jenson Button

You would think, wouldn't you, after all the F1 posts I'd put you through detailing my obsession with Brawn GP during the course of the season, that their World Champion Driver Jenson Button would be my first choice for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, due to take place at Sheffield Arena tomorrow night.

Well he's not. I'm quite cross with myself for being so grumpy about it, but I just can't forgive the way he left Brawn. If Ross Brawn and Nick Fry had just laughed it off, then I might feel better, but it's clear that he has seriously annoyed them.

I'm not normally one for holding grudges and it's not the fact that he's gone to McLaren. People change jobs all the time and he had the perfect right to do what he wanted. It's more the way he went about it. Almost from the second he won the championship, stories started to appear in the papers about how underpaid he was at Brawn, and how, bless he'd had to have his own overalls cleaned. I just felt he was behaving like a spoiled brat. Sure he'd won the Championship in a season that had turned out to be a struggle after a flawless start, but he's 30 years old, for goodness sake, and he was acting like a prat.

Then, on Friday 13th November, he went to visit the pretentiously named McLaren "brand centre" in Woking. Not subtly, you understand. The press were made aware of it with McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh coyly saying he'd just popped in to say hello.

I guess there was nothing McLaren wanted to do more than stick two fingers up at Brawn. After all, Whitmarsh knew fine that Mercedes was buying the Brackley team and ending its partnership, albeit gradually, with McLaren. I guess it's the sporting equivalent of introducing your husband to someone and then watching as the other two go off together. The desire for revenge is perhaps understandable. For McLaren. What Jenson was doing allowing himself to be used by the McLaren machine to that end is beyond me. As much as Brawn needed him to come up with the goods, there is no doubt in my mind that he would not be world champion if it were not with for the Brawn Team's genius in coming up with a car that was so much ahead of the field at the start of the season.

All I've written before, about how Jenson completely deserves to be World Champion and how well he'd done for the team still stands and how loyal he'd been by staying with the team last year, but I can't forgive the disrespectful and discourteous manner in which he left the team that had helped him to achieve his dreams.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Breaking News! Lib Dems gain Bearsden South from Tories

Congratulations to new Councillor Ashay Ghai and the fabulous East Dunbartonshire team. Details to follow!


Well, that was posted much earlier. I was outside the school waiting for the bell to ring in the freezing cold when I saw that brilliant result come through from East Dunbartonshire. I blogged that brief headline from my blackberry. What a clever geek I am, indeed.

I spent a fair amount of time in Bearsden (and Bishopbriggs and Milngavie for that matter)in the run up to the 2005 election delivering leaflets in all weathers for Jo Swinson. I also spent a lot of time in the area as a child because my much loved Auntie Vera and Uncle Sandy lived in Milngavie. I never did find their house. It was on Mugdock Road and was, I think, called Cranford. I spent loads of time with my Grandma when I was wee and she often used to take me to stay with Auntie Vera so the whole area has a very special place in my heart. I have nothing but happy memories there - I've forgotten about the damp, sodden, freezing Easter Monday in 2005 in Bishopbriggs, honestly. I've also forgotten that blistering hot Sunday afternoon on some very long drives and huge houses which I think must be in Ashay's new ward.

Anyway, enough of my rose tinted spectacles and on to the by-election. In the words of Craig Revel Horwood on Strictly, this is fab-u-LOUS. I know our new Councillor Ashay Ghai from campaigns past and I think he'll bring a real energy and positivity to the Council.

There have been two major by election contests between the Tories and the Lib Dems this year and the Tories have been found wanting in both. David Cameron just isn't cutting it up here. In fact, he doesn't seem to be cutting it in very many places. Our friends in Cornwall have had some stunning and not entirely expected by-election victories from the Tories recently and in Devon yesterday we took another seat from them. We came close as well in another seat in Hythe. It's clear that people are not convinced by Cameron's Tories in significant parts of the country.

Perhaps part of the reason up here is that at Holyrood they're so tight with the SNP. We're kind of used in general to their being a bit of a shadow at least between Tory word and Tory deed and this was no clearer than on the matter of the demotion of Fiona Hyslop the former Cabinet Secretary for Education, now Minister for Nothing Much in Particular cos Salmond's taken the important bits out of her job. They'd been at her for ages, referring to her as Hapless Hyslop
yet when somebody actually did something constructive to get rid of her, what did the Tories do? The somebody is Tavish Scott and the Liberal Democrats, who made it clear to all the other parties that they would use their opposition day on 3 December to put a motion of no confidence in Ms Hyslop. The best the Tories were ever going to do on that motion was to abstain. They would not vote against the SNP. Maybe now is a good time to look back to March and a Friday afternoon of fun with a Tory logo maker.......

And as for the parties of Government at Holyrood and Westminster, well, they were a long way back. Labour came last, not an impressive result from a party that says it's a challenger in Jo's Westminster seat and the SNP weren't that far ahead of them. Hardly what you'd call a vote of confidence.

For those of you to whom numbers matter, here's the full result:

Stage 1:
LD 1110
Con 1261
SNP 783
Lab 626

Stage 2:
LD 1381
Con 1306
SNP 972

Update: I've updated this because I got the Tories and the Lib Dem figures the wrong way round the first time at the second stage.

Stage 3:
LD 1770
Con 1499

It's definitely been a great day for the Lib Dems and I send my heartfelt congratulations to everyone who worked so hard, in the freezing cold, to deliver a winning campaign.

I'll give the last word to local Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson:

"I’m delighted Ashay Ghai has won this by-election. There is no sign of a David Cameron bounce in Scotland.

"This is a tremendous boost to the Liberal Democrats as we head towards a general election."

The MP's Expenses that worry me the most

You'll know that while I've been exasperated at the lack of transparency in the MPs' expenses system and the unholy conspiracy between Labour and Tory MPs over the years to keep information secret, I generally think that MPs are mostly good people who work hard to serve their constituents. While yesterday's publication of MPs' Additional Costs Allowance, covering their accommodation claims for the year 2008-2009 sent the tabloids into a frenzy about a few cases, the vast majority of the money spent was absolutely necessary to enable MPs to do their jobs. It would be unfair to say that most of the ones I know are worth their weight in gold because they're all quite thin, especially Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, who has lost so much weight this year, so I'll just say that they're worth my weight in gold. That's much more accurate.

I have issues about MPs in spitting distance of London being able to claim for second homes in Central London but nobody could ever seriously argue that Scottish MPs shouldn't have their accommodation expenses met - unless, of course, they wish to see us return to the days when only the landed gentry or the super rich could afford to sit in Parliament.

Ok, I have a few quibbles with some cases. £43 for a garlic crusher - they sell them in ASDA for significantly less. Even my one, which was quite expensive from Pampered Chef didn't cost half of that amount. And Jim Devine, for heavens sake, have you never heard of insurance? Quentin Davies' bell tower, whether he likes it or not, will become the duck island of this tranche of claims, even though we didn't actually foot the entire bill for its repair.

There are some things which have hit the headline that I'm prepared to forgive. Gordon Brown submitted a duplicate receipt - it happens, it was noticed, it was sorted. That's why there are people employed in the House of Commons, as there are in private companies, to sort these things out. I would hope that nobody in any sort of job would be penalised for making what was in the end of the day an administrative error.

Eric Joyce, our costliest MP, it seems, got his arse kicked by the Commons authorities over a claim for trips abroad. Well, so the headline says, but if you delve into the story, his trips were paid for by other people (and, yes, I'll be checking the Register of Interests when I have time, but I expect to find the details there), but it took some time for the money to come through and Mr Joyce had charged the money on his Commons travel card. The Commons authorities decided stopping his expenses for a while was the way to concentrate his mind on sorting it out. I can let that one pass.

There is one claim that really worries me, though. Alex Salmond's. For the whole year it was less than £600. Cheap isn't always good. When the people of Banff and Buchan voted for him in 2005, they had the right to expect him to serve their interests at Westminster. And, yes, you can do so much without going there, but if you're going to represent their interests properly, you have to show up more than once every blue moon. His constituents will have been affected by the Equitable Life scandal, pensions, benefits, the disastrous 10p tax, support for our troops in Afghanistan, ID cards, taxation, training opportunities for unemployed people (or, more appropriately, the lack of decent support), 42 days'detention - all of which have been dealt with by the House of Commons in Alex Salmond's absence. A good constituency MP will also try to raise awareness of local issues by introducing new legislation or by raising an adjournment debate with a Minister who can actually do something about it.

The truth is that people need decent representation in both Parliaments at Holyrood and Westminster, which is why the Kelly Report said that MPs shouldn't also serve in other Parliaments. Labour has failed to legislate on this and David Cameron, while calling for the law to be changed, stands by while Tory MSP John Lamont tries to get into Westminster.

I don't mind paying the costs which are necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy and I don't see a benefit of having an MP who is cheap because he's never there.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Proud Mummy Moment

I have to apologise for neglecting you this week. I've been doing a lot more than what has become my usual which ended up being way too much yesterday, leaving me collapsed in a heap about 24 hours ago, able to do little more than lie on the sofa and snore. Blogging may therefore be more erratic again for the next little while. The good news is that this morning, although I still felt tired, I wasn't lying in bed unable to move as I would have been a few weeks ago. I have been a lot more careful today, but it's always worth testing what the limits are every so often. My last trip to the hospital sugggested that I could be in for 1-2 years of this, so I'd better get used to it.

My problem is that I am absolutely useless at pacing myself. If I have some energy, I am consumed by an insane and irrational optimism that makes me think "yay, I'm better" and I tend to go at stuff full pelt until I suddenly just hit a wall and collapse. Maybe I'll learn, but in some ways I don't want to because one day I will be right and I will be better.

Anyway, the hardcore politicos among you will probably be highly disappointed by this post - but I have no sympathy for you because you were warned in the title. You didn't have to click on it.

My daughter has given me a whole load of tear jerking proud mummy moments recently. From demonstrating the St Bernard's Waltz at her school St Andrew's Night ceilidh, to reading a poem in Scots (those of you who know her will realise how hard that must have been for a child who has an very soft Scots accent)at the same event, to attaining her level D in writing recently. She has such a happiness and zest for everything she's doing at the moment. Barely a week goes by without her flying out of school, full of sparkly eyed excitement for something they've done. They do such interesting things these days. In February, she'll be part of a Scottish Opera programme of performing in schools. The other week the kids were split up into teams and they had to design a chocolate bar and present it, Dragon's Den style, to the head teacher.

Anyway, the reason I'm so proud today is that her class was set an assignment to write a new fairy tale and the writers of the five best efforts would get to read their stories to the Primary 1 kids. I haven't seen the final version, but I did have a sneak peak at her story plan. It involved a feisty Princess rescuing her best friend, with the help of some woodland animals (singing rabbits who were able to charm snakes away from the entrance to a pit they were guarding, for example) from an evil sorcerer king. I had typed wizard, but was corrected. What do I know?

I'm as proud of her for absorbing my rants about the portrayal of female characters in fairy tales, which she has been subjected to for virtually all her life as for being chosen to read to the younger children.

I'm really glad she is so enthusiastic about writing. She carries round a notebook now and is forever scribbling away. She's very versatile too. I can really only do blogging and that, for me at least, is little more than splurging my random thoughts onto the keyboard with very little filtration process between my brain and the screen. On the other hand, she can do poetry, which scares me at the best of times, almost effortlessly.

Her grandmother, my mother-in-law, did proper writing. She defied the expectations of her family to sign the publishing contract on her book, a collection of Scottish Fairy stories called the Blacksmith and the Fairies, just six weeks before she died in 1987. Much to my amazement, the link above is to Amazon - I can't believe it's still on there. I must show my husband when he gets in. She also wrote a self published collection of poetry some years earlier. Anna never knew her, which is a great shame because they would have got on so well. She would have loved Anna's curious, quite quirky, mind.

I just hope that Anna's voracious appetite for words in any form continues to grow. I literally can't keep the girl in books, and neither can our local library. It is up, therefore, to her favourite blogger to keep her in reading material. Although she does have an alternative that she likes. Please don't report me to Social Services!

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Joshua Deeth Foundation – honouring a much loved baby son

When you first become a parent, it’s a daunting experience, no matter how much you’ve always dreamed of it. How on earth do you meet the needs of this small person? Thankfully, you come into contact with others in much the same boat and you can help each other chart a path through those challenging early years of raising children. It’s quite a bonding experience and I know that the people I shared those special years with will be friends for life.

When Anna was small, I met a lovely group of other mums at a local toddler group and we spent a lot of time together. Although some have moved away and we don’t see each other so often now, time and distance don’t really seem to matter for our children as much as for us. Louise is one of those special mums. She’s pretty much on the same page as I am with the attachment parenting stuff, except she’s better at it. She now lives in Crieff and has 4 lovely little girls. Over the years, I got to meet her fantastic, close family, including her younger twin sisters, Nicola and Emma, both of whom have become loving mothers themselves.

Nicola had her first son Charlie in 2007, and a wee darling he is, too. In August this year, her second son, Joshua was born. On 22 November, sadly he passed away, having just been diagnosed with an extremely rare neurological condition, Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia Type 1. Nicola’s husband Stephen eloquently tells Joshua’s story here.

I can’t imagine a greater ordeal than Nicola and Stephen have been through and I have so much respect and admiration for the way they are dealing with their devastating loss. In amongst the pain they are feeling, they’ve found the energy and motivation to want to help others in the same situation. They have set up the Joshua Deeth Foundation, to honour the life of their son, to raise awareness of his and other rare neurological conditions and to support other parents. Nicola spoke to the Press and Journal and the Ross-Shire Journal the other day.

You might remember earlier this year that I wrote about Amy and Friends, a charity set up by Jayne Hughes to help others with her daughter’s rare condition, Cockayne Syndrome. In a relatively short space of time, the work of Amy and Friends has provided lots of help and support to other parents, as well as retreats for the children, but, crucially, has brought together medical professionals across the globe and given out information about new treatments that are being developed.

When Jayne’s daughter Amy was diagnosed with Cockayne Syndrome, there was literally no information available for her. Her work has ensured that there is somewhere for parents to turn, a source of light when they’re scrabbling around in the dark, numb and shocked.

The point of this post is to give Nicola and Stephen support in publicising the Joshua Deeth Foundation. If you’re reading this and you can think of someone they can help, or give them any information to enable them to help others, please get in touch. Please also spread the word by sharing on Facebook or Twitter or in any other way you can think of - you never know when it might reach someone who can either help or needs help.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Subrosa no more

Politics, they say, is a tough old world. It can be, but I've survived in it quite amicably for over quarter of a century. I don't mind being involved in robust and at times torrid debate. In fact, if truth be known, I've found it easier than in some other things I've been involved in. You tend to know exactly where you stand with people, for a start.

Being involved in politics has been good for me - it's given me most of my friends, some of whom are lifelong and I love being part of a super community of Lib Dems across the whole UK and beyond. In the blogosphere, too, I've come across some really good, bright and funny people who more than make up for any slight hurt feelings at harsh comments.

What I'm trying to say is that while politics and blogging can be as frustrating as hell sometimes, I don't let them get me down. It's only if anything threatens my friends or family that I get really upset. I tend to be quite protective of the people I'm involved with. Mostly so of my lovely family, of course, but also of friends. And during the last few elections when I've been responsible for our candidates, I've wanted to give them as much support as was humanly possible. The phrase mother hen was used more than once about me in jest, and probably appropriately.

I am upset this afternoon to read that Subrosa has stopped blogging, completely out of the blue. It's not as if she wants to, either, but someone has found out her identity and has made her aware of that in a way that has made her uneasy. Stephen has also expressed his sadness at what's happened.

I don't agree with Subrosa on a fair number of issues, but I've enjoyed reading her blog and discussing things with her over these past few months. I love the sheer range of the things she posted about - the funny little video clips and Hootsmon headlines that would brighten a dull afternoon. Her passionate support for our troops and her doubts about the continuing mission in Afghanistan will be very much missed in the blogosphere.

On a personal level, she has shown me nothing but kindness and support during my illness. I'd only have to say I was worried about something on Twitter and she'd provide me with really good information and references to hslp me.

I can kind of get the desire to find out who is writing anonymous blogs if they're putting out defamatory material, but there are many anonymous bloggers who have perfectly valid reasons for wanting to mask their true identity. It makes me angry that people can't respect that. Subrosa's blog was of the highest quality and she didn't indulge in any sort of personally abusive behaviour. I was horrified earlier this year when the Nightjack blogger's real identity was forced out by the Times newspaper. There you had a serving Police Officer who was able to give us a valuable taster of what his working life was like, an insight that helps understanding.

There are some people who for various reasons can't or won't blog under their own names but their viewpoints and experiences are worth reading about, they inform, they challenge and sometimes they delight. Subrosa is one of those bloggers.

I'm going to miss her, especially as she's one of the relatively few female political bloggers in Scotland. There is a bit of hope, though. She says that

"Who knows, perhaps when investigations are complete I may feel I can return, but I would have to be totally convinced the safety of my family and home were not at risk"

It's awful that someone who has done no more than entertain and challenge us with her thought provoking blog feels she has to give it up because she fears for the safety of her home and family. I don't know who it is who has uncovered her identity and it may be that they actually meant no harm and will be able to reassure her on that point and she'll be back soon. The nature of the blogosphere is that people will drift in and out, but I'm very sad that someone has felt forced out in these circumstances.

Cheeky Bankers laugh at our expense

There are some things you really couldn't make up.

Just imagine if you had made such a muck up of your job, taken so many short term risks that your company needed almost £37 billion of public money just to keep it going.

Would you not think you were lucky to still have a job? After all, 3,700 of your lesser paid colleagues have been shoved on to the dole queue because of your short sighted incompetence? That's not to mention the misery your actions caused to people who are now losing their homes because they were lent money they had no hope of paying back. Or the businesses owners facing financial ruin because the banks wouldn't lend them the money their sustainable business needed to keep going.

Would you really have the nerve to jump up and down bemoaning the loss of a multi million pound bonus, saying that if you didn't get it, you'd just go and get a job elsewhere?

I expect that it won't just be the ex and soon to be ex employees of RBS who will be at best bemused by the threat of the directors to resign if they aren't allowed to pay huge bonuses to senior bankers. Most people will find it quite hard to understand the unfairness of it being business as usual if you're rich while ordinary folk pay the price of their failure.

I just hope that Alistair Darling has the backbone to tell them to get lost. It'll be interesting to see which side the Tories take in all of this. It makes me think that I want all the people at RBS who are getting these huge bonuses properly investigated and sacked if they are found to have made unsustainably stupid decisions.

I'm glad to say that the Almighty Vince is being his usual common sense self:

“I would welcome their resignations, as the bank cannot hold the taxpayer to ransom.

“As a state run bank, the Government must finally take control and ensure that both its pay and lending practices are in the public interest."

Vince has said all along that the banking sector should be split up into tightly regulated banks for small business and personal customers and high risk taking investment banks that would not be bailed out by the taxpayer. The tantrums of the grossly overpaid we see from the RBS directors show that they either don't get what they did wrong, or, more likely, they do, and they are just having a laugh at all of our expense.

We taxpayers are going to be paying for the economic meltdown they contributed to for at least a generation.

I wonder what the same highly paid individuals would have said if their lower paid staff had demanded even a modest increae in salary. Would they have listened or would they have said "take it or leave it"? If anyone knows what pay rise frontline counter staff at RBS or any other bank are getting, do put in a comment. These people have had a hideously stressful year and they deserve every penny they earn.

It will be interesting to see what side the Tories come down on. Vince has been quite clear on where we stand. Will Cameron and Osborne back the greedy bankers? It would be ridiculous if having spent months slamming the Government for the necessary (if at times misdirected) fiscal stimulus to get us out of recession, the Tories supported the waste of millions of pounds of public money to pay huge bonuses to very rich people.

UPDATE: Nobody says it better than the wisest elephant in the history of the Universe

UPDATE 2: on the other side of the argument, you might like to read what a sensible lawyer has to say. Scott argues that the threat of the directors to resign is entirely rational. What he's effectively saying is that these rich bankers can dictate their terms and if the company doesn't meet them then their directors could be up for not carrying out their duties properly. What about their obligations to the majority shareholder, though, the British people? He's right about one thing, though - the Government has to legislate to make things happen and so far it's been unwilling to do anything meaningful to regulate the banks.


Related Posts with Thumbnails