Monday, February 28, 2011

Lord Bonkers turns Agony Aunt

Oh my, His Esteemed Noble Lord Bonkersness is turning his next Liberator diary into an advice column.

This is going to be hilarious. I haven't looked forward to anything quite so much since Cathy and Claire's advice column in Jackie in the 1970s.

And it promises to be much more useful, and probably more controversial, than the one Jordan did for OK! magazine up until she fell out of favour with Mr Desmond.

Whether you're a party leader balancing needs of family, party and coalition partner, or a rookie candidate on your first campaign, Lord Bonkers, who has more than a century of political experience, will put you right.

If you want to read His Lordship's esteemed wisdom, you'll have to subscribe to Liberator, the radical underbelly of the party. Make sure you go to, though, not, because the latter sells sex furniture. Not quite the same thing.........

But, of course, an advice column would be nothing without problems to solve, so if you need some confidential advice, you can submit your problems to him. There is potential for a lot of fun, here, people..............

Holyrood Hustings: Breakthrough Breast Cancer Scotland

Breakthrough Breast Cancer Scotland are holding an election hustings to discuss issues around breast cancer, and women's health in time of recession on 9th March, that's a week on Wednesday, between 7 and 8 pm at the Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile.

Speakers are:

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP

Jackie Baillie, Labour

Ross Finnie, Liberal Democrat

Nanette Milne, Conservatives

Alison Johnstone, Green Party

Members of the audience will get the chance to ask questions and can register to attend by contacting the Breakthrough Scotland Campaigns Officer, Janis McCulloch, via e-mail or by phone 0131 226 0769. I'm intending to be there, tweeting away as long as I'm allowed to, so hope to see you, too.

If you are holding a hustings in these elections, or know of any taking place, let me know and I'll publicise them here.

So much to look forward to this week

What I really need at the moment is something that's going to dissolve all the cotton wool in my head and help me concentrate. I have a stinking cold which has laid me low for the last few days, and I have loads to do this week - and at the moment, no energy and motivation to do it.

I didn't sleep very well last night so am walking round like a zombie today. I have sent Anna to school despite the very obvious signs that she's coming down with it too. I stuffed her bag full of tissues and cough sweets because she has an after school Eco Club that she's been looking forward to for weeks starting this evening.

However, in the spirit of Fraulein Maria, when the cold strikes, or the bee stings, or whatever, I resolve to concentrate only on good things to cheer myself up.

Firstly, look what Anna and I found in the garden this morning:

This little purple crocus bud is a sign that this hellish Winter is hopefully coming to an end. It's probably a cue for the next load of snow to arrive, but it's an unmistakable declaration of intent from Spring. My favourite season of the year, with cute lambs, leaves and flowers is almost here.

Also this week, I should be getting Sarah Brown's memoir, Behind the Black Door, which is published on Thursday. Whilst I baulk at the idea of giving the likes of Blair and Mandelson any money, I am happy to invest in this one. I am a complete sucker for real life stories of what it's like to live in the White House or Number 10, which is why my bookshelves are full of books by US Presidents and first ladies or children. I couldn't bring myself to buy Cherie Blair's book, but I like Sarah Brown.  She's personable, approachable and real and I'm really looking forward to reading her account of her eventful years in Downing Street.

Not that I'll have much time to read it over the weekend as I'm off to Perth for Scottish Lib Dem Conference. This is the first time in 3 years I've been well enough to even contemplate going and I really can't wait. Unfortunately it's only a 2 day event this year, on Friday and Saturday, to encourage people to get back to their campaigns, motivated and invigorated (or tucked up under the duvet, sleep deprived and hungover, more like) on Sunday. There's loads to do, and, of course, all the things I want to go to are on at the same time. My big dilemma is whether to go to the Conference dinner, featuring Alistair Carmichael, or to the Liberal Youth Scotland quiz on Friday night. I love Alistair and he will be so funny that most of the diners will be spontaneously bursting out laughing for days afterwards, but there is a fairly relevant £35 price difference between the two events. The LYS event is apparently legendary, though - a quiz which morphs into a debate about all sorts of stupid things

I am also going to have to get the measuring tape out to see if my Handbag of Awesome, my wonderful, totally perfect for me handbag given to me by one of my best friends for my birthday last year, is small enough to go through the security scanners, a by-product of us being in Government.  It is pretty massive, easily big enough to transport all the crap I routinely insist on carrying about with me. It has to be less than 640mm x 430mm. If it isn't, I shall just cry because I don't know what I'll do without it.

Anyway, I now have a hot date with a very large pile of Residents' Surveys so I shall love you and leave you for the moment.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lib Dem Voice let me write for them on Nick Clegg's letter to Gary McKinnon's mother.

Regular readers will know that I've taken quite an interest in the case of Gary McKinnon, the man with Asperger's Syndrome under threat of extradition to the US on computer hacking charges.

Nick Clegg strongly supported Gary's case, but has now written to Gary's mother turning down her request for a meeting with him.

So, how do I feel about that? Well, those nice people at Liberal Democrat Voice have let me write this article for them on the subject, so please go and take a look. 

Would you say "yuck" to breast milk ice cream?

The BBC reports that a Covent Garden restaurant is going to be selling ice cream made from human milk, called - wait for it - Baby Gaga, at £14 a scoop. The milk, donated by London mother Victoria Hiley, for which she is paid £15 for every 10 ounces, is pasteurised before being mixed with Madagascar vanilla and lemon zest before churning and freezing.

The BBC's video shows people saying that the idea is "yucky" but who then like the taste. It all reminds me a bit of the episode of Friends where Ross gets himself all in a panic about tasting his ex-wife Carol's milk. Do people really think that the milk they buy in the shops is some sort of magic powder mixed with water and put in a plastic bottle? It was once in a cow's stomach, for goodness sake.

I have to say that any women who donate their milk to this project are in a much more privileged position than dairy cows whose welfare was called into question in a report a couple of years ago. I would have a much clearer conscience about consuming it than I do when I have cows' milk or other dairy products.

Mrs Hiley says she wants adults to realise how good breast milk tastes so that they might want to feed it to their own babies. An imaginative method of breastfeeding promotion, if ever there was one. I like the fact that later on she says that she gives breastfeeding support to mothers. That to me is the key to increasing breastfeeding rates - giving mothers the information and support they need to overcome any problems they encounter. 

PAD Photos 19th-25th February

Here are this week's PAD photos:


My Zumba teachers Cheryl and Nadia before a charity fundraising class to raise money for the Scottish team going to the Tae Kwon Do World Championships in New Zealand.


View from the front row at my first ever Ice Hockey match, the Edinburgh Capitals against the Newcastle Vipers. Unfortunately, the local lads lost 10-2, but I loved the atmosphere


I get that I'm turning into a Grumpy Old Woman here, but, honestly, Amazon, that box, for that product. Really?


A trip to Edinburgh to buy school shoes also saw us call at Build a Bear. This is Anna's newest addition to her huge cast of cuddly toys, named Flora after her childhood toy rabbit who was lost in Mallorca.


Yay! My Conference badge and agenda have arrived. This will be the first time in 3 years that I've been fit enough to go - so long as I can get rid of this stinking cold before then. Please cross everything you have in hope that we all stay well enough to go.


This was one of the last presents my wonderful Great Aunt Vera gave me. It's a witch ball. The idea is that any witches trying to get into the house will be trapped inside. I am presuming that this is only bad witches - I mean good ones are always welcome.

Anna won the Judo Class Player of the Week trophy. You can see me reflected in it taking the picture with my iPhone.

Friday, February 25, 2011

No 2 AV claims rejected by Channel 4 Factcheck - but I disagree with Yes Campaign

No to AV needs to keep the fight for voters clean.
Not my words, but those of the Channel 4 FactCheck blog when dissecting the ridiculous claims by the No 2 AV campaign that the introduction of AV would require the purchase of costly voting machines. Central to Channel 4's evidence was that of an Australian who confirmed that Australia manages perfectly well without e-counting.

Presumably the no campaign are putting their mud out early in the hope that some of it sticks in people's minds, or are repeated as fact by lazy journalists for the duration of the campaign.

The No Campaign ads are pretty disgraceful. Emotive pictures of sick babies and soldiers have been appearing in papers and online up and down the country with the slogan that "He needs a maternity unit/bulletproof vest and not a new voting system." It's interesting, though, that the No Campaign's representative on Earth, Labour MP Tom Harris, didn't use the arguments in these ads when he debated the issue with Malcolm Bruce last night on Politics Now shown up in Scotland. It's one thing for these papers to appear in the media, quite another for people to stake their personal credibility on them.

However, I have reservations about the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign's decision to ask the Advertising Standards Authority to intervene. Previous dealings with the ASA have convinced me that it's pretty toothless and extremely timid. A refusal by the ASA to get involved is bound to give the No Campaign an excuse to crow.

My particular gripe with the ASA came over a photoshoot Katie Price did for OK magazine (reported here in the Guardian) not long after her daughter was born. Despite extremely strict rules regarding the advertising of infant formula, Miss Price was shown on several pages feeding her baby out of a branded bottle of infant formula. Some of the next pages contained full page advertisements for the same brand of follow on formula (which to my mind is an invention of the Prince of Darkness designed primarily to get around the International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes anyway). I and many of my friends complained to the ASA, who sent a very bland, non committal reply and did nothing. If the ASA won't take on an issue where the law is fairly tight, they aren't going to risk intervening in a political campaign where the law is more vague.

The Yes campaign wants people to sign this letter to the ASA. I'm not going to, because I think it could ultimately be counter productive because I have no confidence in that organisation. However, that's just me. Charles Kennedy thinks differently - an e-mail came in from him today saying this:

Dear Caron, 
Over recent days No2AV have published a series of ads in local papers that can be described as distasteful at best, shocking and outrageous at worst.
The premise behind the ads is that the country can't afford the alternative voting system. That by saying Yes to AV, voters will be taking £250 million away from sick babies in need of care, or soldiers in need of armour.
I say this kind of behaviour shows exactly why the UK can't afford to say no to AV. 
It's clear that the No campaign don't have the integrity to regulate themselves, but this is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change politics in the UK. We mustn't let the country get distracted by the No campaign's cheap tricks.
Yes to Fairer Votes are calling on the Advertising Standards Authority to issue guidance on this campaign - and fast. Please add your name today.
The No campaign are building their arguments on scaremongering. They are doing a massive disservice to the voters of the UK. This is a serious subject and we need them to engage in honest, open debate. 
This debate must centre on the future of politics in the UK, re-engaging voters and giving a voice to people, this is too important to be sidelined by petty backbiting and cynical campaigning. 
UK voters are entitled to decent, honest and truthful advertising campaigns - these adverts fail on every count. Join us in calling for the ASA to step in today, so that we can get on with the debate the country deserves. 

We can't waste this opportunity.
Charles Kennedy

I won't go into a strop if you listen to him instead of me - but I wouldn't be confident that it will get the desired response, even though the Yes Campaign's argument is pretty watertight.

And if you haven't discovered it yet, go and have a play on Argh to AV. It's truly genius and lots of fun.

Help my friend Graeme raise funds for Alzheimer Scotland

Have a look at this video in which the Duchess of Hamilton tells of her husband's distressing experiences in hospital which have led her to spearhead a 3 year fundraising campaign to provide hospital staff with greater awareness of the needs of patients with dementia and to provide specialist nurses.  Like they say, often the things that are needed aren't rocket science, but if people don't understand the condition, basic needs of Dementia sufferers in hospital can be left unmet, or preventable medical intervention becomes necessary.

That's just one aspect of the work of Alzheimer Scotland. Dementia is really hard for both sufferers and those who care for them to live with. I don't have any direct experience myself, but a fair few of my friends have, and in fact two of them lost their dads last October to the condition.  Alzheimer Scotland can support people through the minefield of legal, emotional, financial and day to day care issues and their support is vital.

My friend Graeme Littlejohn, who works for George Lyon MEP, is one of those who lost their dads last October. Graeme is a brave, active, outdoors type who does things with a surfboard that I could only have nightmares about. He was one of the crazy souls who undertook the Team Hopeless-Ness venture in 2008  for Alzheimer Scotland. In three weeks' time he's doing a half marathon in Alloa and hopes to raise £500 - although with the generosity of people in the last 24 hours, which has almost seen him get half way to that, I hope that he'll be able to raise that target. In fact, I think it would be good if he could beat the £1200 the Team Hopeless-Ness caper netted. There is a little widget just on the right hand side of my page and if you can see your way to adding to his total, you can do with just one little click.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The EU, Fluffy Handcuffs and the Alternative Vote #yes2av #argh2av #no2av

What's the best thing to do when you're being pelted with lies, inaccuracies and emotionally charged nonsense?

Disarming with humour is usually quite an effective tactic and a genius has come up with the perfect antidote to the No2AV Campaign's latest advertising campaign. The No2AV ad features a series of heart rending images of babies or soldiers, for example, with a caption saying "he needs a maternity unit/bulletproof vest/ etc not an alternative voting system.  The thing is that No2AV are talking complete bollocks about the cost of introducing AV which they put at £250 million because they say that costly counting machines will have to be bought. No so. They aren't needed and the vested interests within No2AV, who want to preserve power in the hands of a small elite rather than give it to voters, are cynically using vulnerable groups to promote their nonsense rather than argue the merits of the system, or indeed defend first past the post. You can see an example of the ad on the brand spanking new Total Politics website. It seems a little less overwhelming seeing it today on my laptop than it did yesterday when I saw it on my iPhone

If you've been on another planet for the last 24 hours, or aren't on Twitter or Facebook, you may not have noticed a serious of messages saying such things as "Margaret Beckett needs a pony not an alternative voting system" or my favourite "The EU needs fluffy handcuffs not an alternative voting system."  There are all manner of variations on those themes so you can find hours of amusement on the Argh to AV site. It runs on the same principle as the brilliant Daily Mail -o-matic headline generator.  I suspect some sort of award for digital campaigning will come the way of Argh to AV in the future.

With just over two months to go before polling day, I can't imagine that the bottom of the No2AV barrel has yet been scraped. Heaven knows what they'll come up with next.

Commemorating 100 million missing women - Garterstitch 100's International Women's Day Project

The world isn't really separated into those who can knit and those who can blog, but I certainly can't do the former, so instead I'm going to publicise an imaginative project taking place in Glasgow for International Women's Day.

It's estimated that 100 million women are missing from the world today for various entirely preventable reasons, ranging from sex trafficking to gender motivated infanticide to complications in childbirth which would be fixable easily with the correct medical help.

In order to commemorate these missing women, a blanket, made up of six inch squares, representing a stitch for each woman, is being knitted and will be displayed on the day at the Glasgow Tramway Theatre and subsequently sold to make money for The Women's Support Project, Glasgow Women's Library, Apneap, Care (don't worry, not the homophobic lot which I was initially worried about until I checked it out) and the Fawcett Society.

If you are capable in the knitting direction, why don't you have a go at knitting a square?  There are full instructions here about how to do it and where to send it. All squares have to be in by Tuesday 1st March. 

I think raising awareness of the problems that women face across the world is really important, as is raising money for those organisations who are trying to help them. Garterstitch 100 is a good initiative and I hope this inspires you to be a part of it. 

Thanks to Vonnie at Adventures of a Lady in Training for drawing my attention to this.

Former MP Jim Devine declared bankrupt

It's never nice to see a life disintegrate, however much the problems are of that person's own making. So I feel sad to read that Jim Devine, the former MP for Livingston recently found guilty of MP's expenses fraud has now been made bankrupt.

His former office manager took the bankruptcy action after he failed to pay £35,000 awarded to her in compensation for the appalling way he treated her. I'm sure that no amount of money can truly make up for the bizarre ordeal she underwent and in the end of the day, it would have been much better if those events had never taken place.

It's clear that when he leaves prison, after the inevitable custodial sentence is passed in a couple of weeks, he's not going to have much when he comes home and his future employment prospects are not great.

A sad demise for someone who abused the enormous privilege that came his way.

BBC Liberal Democrat Conference policing costs report gets its facts wrong

I was a bit bemused to see this report on the BBC website for a number of reasons. The report contrasts the alleged £2 million cost of policing the 3 day Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in Sheffield in 2 weeks' time with the £15 million of cuts the Police Force has been told to make next year. For a start, the phrase next year is critical to that sentence - the conference policing cost is coming out of the tail end of this year's budget.

First in my long list of issues with this report is the simple inaccuracy of their statement that "the Party cancelled a conference in London in December due to protest threats." That is complete nonsense. What actually happened was that the headteacher of the school where the event was going to be held was concerned about the effect of protests on other users of the school, including children, on that day. The London Regional Executive, with just days to go, tried its hardest to find an alternative venue, but just couldn't at such short notice. As you can imagine, places are booked up in the run up to Christmas.

Secondly, I can't imagine that this Conference in Sheffield is the first held by a governing party where there will be protests. In fact I know it isn't. Remember the 80s, anyone? Also, I was one of those many thousands who marched on 15th February 2003 in Glasgow to the Labour Conference at the SECC where Tony Blair was speaking, to protest against the impending war in Iraq. I wonder what the comparative policing costs for these events would be.  The right to protest is a fundamental in our society and, yes, it's going to cost money. It's an essential part of democracy.

Thirdly, the report quotes a Labour Councillor from Sheffield who's clearly trying to stir up trouble. It's worth remembering that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have been engaged in a not always civilised war of attrition in Sheffield for many, many years. To say that there's no love lost between the parties would be a fairly massive understatement. Anyway, Cllr Shaun Wright said that "it was "ironic" the force would have to pay for the service for the political party who had a hand in devising its cuts."

You have to wonder what Cllr Wright is trying to say, here. It's not as if there would have been much less in the way of cuts had there still been a Labour government. In fact, there might have been a Lib Dem/Labour coalition imposing those cuts. What would he have said then? Actually, I do know - he'd have blamed the Lib Dems because he doesn't like us. Is he saying that Governments should never do anything that people don't like? Is he saying that people shouldn't protest? What's his point?

I presume the reason that South Yorkshire Police Force have taken the decisions they have on policing are because of the violent anti tuition fees demonstrations in London. You actually have to wonder whether these protests would have been quite as violent without the hypocritical hysteria whipped up by the Labour Party. I don't think that there's any excuse for rampaging vandalism, but I do think that if Labour's contribution to the debate had been more civilised and honest, the overall temperature might have been lower.

The BBC report is a bit of sloppy journalism, put together without much thought or checking the facts. I'm not impressed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Charles Kennedy in historic re-election as Glasgow University Rector

Just dropping in quickly to let you know (courtesy of student James Harrison on Twitter) that our Charles Kennedy has become the first person since Benjamin Disraeli in the 1870s to be re-elected as rector of Glasgow University.

He won the contest with writer and comedian A L Kennedy by 2601 votes to 565.

I don't know if there's an equivalent position in English universities, but the Rector is there to represent the students on the University Court.  As leader, he championed the cause of free university tuition in 2 elections and famously rebelled on the night of that vote. As a former President of the Glasgow University Union he has a longstanding commitment to the university.

A good and well deserved result for Charles, and for the University. It's good to know that he'll have some voice in shaping higher education policy up here.

Farron, Floella and Co talk about Lib Dem values in action

Channel 4 let a bunch of Lib Dem parliamentarians take over their political slot recently. This is their effort, which I'll let you watch before I nitpick.

The good things:

I liked the broad brush stuff - it was the heart and values stuff rather than a list of achievements. I liked Farron making the point that if you liked Lib Dem ideas in the past, you never really got to see them put into practice, but we're making a difference now. I also liked him saying that we didn't bottle out of power when we had the chance.

There was a good mix of winning issues mentioned - pupil premium, raising of tax threshold, warmer homes, restoring earnings and pensions link and rebalancing the economy, but all woven together in terms of the values they showed.  Scottish Liberal Democrat spokespeople, watch and learn. We don't need lists, we do need the Liberal Democrat heart and soul to be let out to speak for itself.

The bad things.

Mostly men, mostly in suits, all middle aged, filmed in offices or near Westminster. A bit of imagination, please!  Where are Lynne Featherstone and Ros Scott, or Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott when you need them? Were they even asked?

I'm getting obsessed about Chris Huhne's hair at the moment. I know it's not healthy (my obsession, not his hair). I just feel like he needs to get it cut and evened up a bit. It's got so bad, that I even took this photo when he was on Question Time recently.

Update: It appears I am not alone in thinking that this was altogether too male. Jo Shaw tweeted me last night to say:
I agree with your point re the cast of the prog, and so do others-led by @ we've emailed Cowley Street about it.
I won't be holding my breath, but lets's hope that the penny starts to drop sometime soon. It does us no good to portray ourselves as a middle class, male party when it's patently not the case.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bill Aitken resigns as Holyrood Justice Convener

Bill Aitken has tonight decided to step down as Holyrood's Justice Convener over comments he made to the Sunday Herald about a series of rapes in Glasgow. I've written at length on this in recent days so I won't go over that ground.

I'm glad he's done the decent thing as I've said he should go all along. However, there's a bit of me that would rather he'd got what he'd done wrong. His resignation statement implies that he doesn't really feel that he's transgressed in any way:

"In politics, you have to have a thick skin. But this issue is no longer about me. For far too many people, perception is reality. 
Today I am standing down as convener of the Justice committee. 
"I do so with a mixture of emotions. Frustration at allowing myself to be misrepresented. Anger at being misrepresented. And remorse to rape victims and their loved ones for any hurt they feel."
The New Statesman last week published what they say is a leaked excerpt of the comments, and I'm not sure that gives Bill Aitken anywhere to hide.

Anyway, he's gone now. Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown had this to say on his departure:

It’s highly unfortunate that Bill Aitken’s distinguished political career should end in this way as a result of badly chosen and ill-advised comments.
“He has been an excellent convener of the Justice Committee.  However it is important that no rape victim feels in any way that their rights would not be fully and totally upheld and defended by the Parliament and Parliamentarians.” 

Although I don't think I've ever agreed with Bill Aitken, I do understand what Robert has said about him being a good parliamentary performer up until now. It's a shame that he'll be remembered for these comments more than the 12 preceding years. 

The pressure mounts on Bill Aitken

This time last week I was a bit worried that I seemed to be the only voice in the Scottish blogosphere writing about Bill Aitken's appalling comments about a series of horrific rapes in Glasgow. Thankfully that's not the case as Jeff at Better Nation, the Burd,  Bella Caledonia and Lallands Peat Worrier have also called for him to go. There is even a Facebook group calling for his resignation.

Aitken's comments were truly repulsive and certainly not appropriate for the convener of a respected parliamentary Justice Committee. The only person responsible for rape is the rapist, and comments from a senior politician blaming the victim could act as an even greater deterrent to women to report this crime.

I am perplexed as to why the media haven't been more vocal about it, though. Aitken's comments were in my view even worse than those made by Richard Keys and Andy Gray on Sky Sports and we all remember the furore about that - although that may have been more about getting one over on Murdoch than any concern for the issue.

A stooshie on the internet is one thing, but I'm pleased to note that Green MSP Patrick Harvie has actually taken action within the Parliament by tabling a motion calling on Bill Aitken to resign. I am assuming that this is one of these EDM-like motions which won't actually be debated but which MSPs sign up to. I'm hoping that this will attract enough cross party support for him to realise that he doesn't command the support of the Parliament and to go quickly. I am shocked that Annabel Goldie is allowing him to stay in position. She presumably has given him a telling off and she certainly said all the right things, but it does her no good to keep him in office.

I said last week that I might be prepared to forgive and forget if he really made a genuine effort to understand the issues. Last week was the time for him to do that. It's too late now.

The text of Patrick Harvie's motion is as follows:
Unacceptable comments by the Convenor of Justice Committee - That the Parliament condemns the attitude shown by Bill Aitken MSP on the subject of rape during a recent interview with the Sunday Herald newspaper; considers that Mr Aitken’s comments during this interview betray a disregard for the seriousness of rape, and imply support for the view that a victim can be held responsible for this most vicious crime; believes that this view, though disturbingly widespread, is rooted in misogyny and ignorance; considers these comments to be incompatible with the role of Justice Committee Convenor; believes that the Parliament’s credibility to deal proactively with issues of sexual violence would be undermined if the proximity of dissolution resulted in failure to hold Mr Aitken to account for these odious and shocking comments; and calls for Mr Aitken’s immediate resignation.
Can I suggest that everyone brings this to their MSPs' attention and asks them to support it in whatever way they can?

The scariest thing you will ever read

I'm going to post a link to something that will upset you. There is no way you can read it and not be really distressed. It's over three weeks since I read it and it's the sort of thing that can give you nightmares.


Simply because it's one of those things that you, or someone you love, might need some day, to shock them from a dramatic course of action that may have unintended and far-reaching consequences. I hope you don't need it, but you will never forget that you read it. There may come a time when your knowledge saves a life.

It is the raw and terrifying account of how a man hanged himself in front of his family just a few weeks ago. His wife is convinced that he didn't intend to actually die, that he thought there would be time for people to rescue him, that he hadn't realised that death occurs pretty much instantly.

Lori wanted this to be shared. I feel so much for her and for her family. They will never get over losing someone they loved so much as well as the traumatic circumstances of his passing.

Her story is here.

If you are ever feeling in such distress that you are considering taking your own life, wherever you are in the world, try talking to the Befrienders outside the UK or the Samaritans in UK and Ireland. As their site says, they listen to anyone in emotional distress without judging or offering advice and will do so completely confidentially.

Holyrood Hustings: get your tickets for Scotland Votes' 4 topical debates

In the run up to the Scottish election campaign, some high profile debates will be taking place to explore the main issues. I'll post details of as many as I hear about so that you can get tickets if you want.

Scotland on Sunday, in conjunction with Weber Shandwick and Scotland Votes have set up a series of 4 debates on successive  Mondays beginning on 7th March with the relevant spokespeople from the four main parties. In the interests of fairness, I really have to wonder why the Greens aren't going to be there, though.

Anyway, all events take place in the Scotsman building on Holyrood Road on the following dates:

Monday 7th March: Education. Annoyingly, at school run time, 3pm

Monday 14th March: Justice. At an equally annoying 3.30 pm

Monday 21st March: Health. At a much more civilised 12.30 pm

Monday 28th March: Economy. Also at 12.30 pm.

I don't have to be too annoyed about missing the first two, though, as they will be streamed live on the Scotland Votes website and I will be able to tweet through them to my heart's content.

Anyone can get tickets for them, and they're free - so register here for as many sessions as you can attend. I hope to meet some of you at the last two.

Sinister speech by Saif Gadaffi threatens brutal endgame

I had fully intended to go to bed early last night. Listening to the brutal ramblings of a deluded despot's son. Yet at 11pm, which would have been 1am in Tripoli, I found myself transfixed by the 40 minute speech, containing some not very veiled threats, by Saif Gadaffi, son of the Libyan dictator.

I found it quite chilling. He dismissed the brutality of the Police and Army firing live ammunition at protesters as mistakes by untrained officers. Yeah, sure, it's an easy mistake to make. He said that the evil foreign media was exaggerating what was going on and that there had only been 84 casualties. I'm sure anyone looking out of their windows in Benghazi would know different.

Gadaffi Junior looked as if he knew fine he was lying as he kept rambling on about how Libya was not Tunisia or Egypt. His desperate arguments included:

  • the protests were being run by a few drug addicts and drunkards
  • that the country would be divided and you'd need a visa to get from Benghazi to Tripoli - it would be like North and South Korea
  • that a conversation with our foreign secretary William Hague had led him to believe Libya was vulnerable to foreign occupation. You kind of wonder if Saif's dad's mate Tony Blair's illegal invasion of Iraq gives that statement some false credibility.
The sinister bit, though, was his threat that he and Daddy would fight till the last man, woman or child was standing. This vile bunch are not going to give up power easily and despite being brought in from the cold in recent years, they aren't so bothered about upsetting the international community.

I feel for those brave Libyans out on the streets in Tripoli, Benghazi and other cities. They must know that if they continue, they risk a brutal onslaught from Gadaffi, but if they stop, they'll be rounded up and made an example of.  So far they seem to have responded to Gadaffi Jr's rant on state tv by ransacking the HQ of said state tv. Forty years of pent up anger and resentment at a regime that's kept them repressed and in poverty. 

It's all incredibly worrying. I hope that the Libyan people can rid themselves of this vile regime without it turning into a bloodbath. The BBC are reporting that the cities in the east, pretty much under opposition control this morning, are pretty peaceful now, but the violence has now spread to Tripoli.

The Bahrain regime, which I wrote about yesterday, is bad enough, but Gadaffi's response promises to be more irrational and brutal. On Bahrain, I'm glad to see that one of my favourite F1 drivers, Mark Webber, has publicly said what most others are thinking, that the race planned for 13th March should not go ahead.

It certainly looks like much of the old order is being forced to recognise that at least things can't go on as they used to across the Arab world. It'll be a while before we know what the outcome will be. I read yestersday, though, that despite women being part of the protests in Egypt, they are excluded from the body that's discussing the new constitution. That does not bode well. It's not going to be good enough to replace the old guard with new regimes which do not give equality to women, or protect them from abuse.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bernie Ecclestone must pull #F1 out of Bahrain now

I said on Twitter on Tuesday that if the Bahrain Government was going to fire on its own people, then the Formula One season opener due to take place on 13th March, as well as the testing the previous weekend, should be cancelled immediately.

I am horrified to see that Bernie Ecclestone, someone you may remember who gave a million quid to the Labour Party when they still had ethics, so you'd think he'd have a passing interest in human rights, has now left it to the Crown Prince of Bahrain to decide whether the race goes ahead.

Until now, the Crown Prince as portrayed to us has been that friendly, benign figure Martin Brundle talks to on the grid. I remember a couple of years ago that started with Brundle being uncharacteristically obsequious and ending with him patting HRH on the shoulder and taking his leave with a "take care".  Last year Eddie Jordan interviewed this man and did all but prostrate himself before him.

We've seen another side to Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad Isa Al Khalifa, though, these past few days. He was in charge of the Army when they fired on their own people in Pearl Square Manama in a series of protests that has left 6 people dead and hundreds injured. His subsequent withdrawal of the Army and willingness to talk is, quite simply, too little, too late.

I'm assuming the reason Bernie wants the Bahrainis to make the decision is motivated by money and contractual issues. If FOM makes the decision to pull out, are they open to claims for costs incurred by the teams? However, if it's the Bahrain Government advising it isn't safe, would that minimise any liability?

The Telegraph reports that the teams are reluctant to go, but want the decision to be made for them, again, presumably, because they are worried about Bernie suing the backsides off them if they pull out unilaterally. Each of the dozen teams will have at least 30-40 people with them, from mechanics to catering staff to IT people. They will be concerned for their safety. The Bahrain Government might well say they can guarantee the safety at the Sakhir circuit itself, but it won't be a good look if people have to walk past tanks to get in, and you have to think about the safety of the teams as they make their way to and from the circuit. The F1 circus is actually scheduled to hit town at the beginning of March when the final test takes place, so they could potentially be there for almost a fortnight. I suspect that test will be moved to Jerez or Barcelona so that teams won't actually arrive in Bahrain until Tuesday 8th or Wednesday 9th March. That's still 6 days when the volatile situation could erupt.

Just say they do go ahead and things kick off during the race weekend. Would the Crown Prince order the Army to fire on the people? What level of brutality would be used to keep them off the streets? Surely Ecclestone can see that a massacre would not be a good thing for F1 to be associated with - especially when it could be avoided.

We have this crazy situation where the Foreign Office website advises against all but essential travel to Bahrain, yet Ecclestone leaves it up to someone with a vested interest to make the call, the same person who has already shown that he considers it acceptable to fire live ammunition on peaceful protesters whose demands were modest, to say the least.  Is it not time to find some moral fibre and realise that F1's presence in Bahrain at this time is not going to help?

I've never been a huge fan of the move to hold races in places like Bahrain and China where there is no concern for human rights. Amnesty's report on Bahrain wasn't that great before all this started with reports of torture that made me wince. Imagine being locked up just for criticising the Government or the Royal Family? It's something that we in this country can't really comprehend.  The situation has clearly deteriorated since then. For the safety of everyone, from the people of Bahrain to F1 and media personnel, that race should be cancelled immediately. To do otherwise would be to condone a repressive regime's attempts to cling on to power without legitimacy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

PAD Photos 12th-18th February

My PAD photos for this week:

A trip to Beecraigs Loch

Valentine lilies


You know when you realise you've forgotten to buy wrapping paper? Not a problem. Just get a piece of paper out of the printer and ask obliging daughter to decorate it.

What poor Benjamin Bunny has to take for the next 4 weeks


Loads of snow, as seen from the train at Drumochter Pass


Stone skimming at Chanonry Point near Fortrose with my sister and niece. Saw seals but no dolphins.


This is the first grown up meal my niece Laura has cooked for me. Utterly delicious risotto.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Clegg and Cameron: People love a good argument

I'm not sure whether to be amused or bemused at the coverage of Nick Clegg and David Cameron's speeches on the AV Referendum today. I mean, all the headlines seem to have the word "clash" or some variation of it. Is this because people would much rather read about people having a row than a well mannered debate?

There was never any obligation for Clegg and Cameron to take the same side on this issue, nor any expectation from anyone in either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats that they would. 

Today, just 36 hours after the Act allowing the Referendum to definitely go ahead on 5th May, Clegg and Cameron set out their opposing views in separate speeches. If nothing else, the attention that this attracts will hopefully stimulate interest in the referendum and the portrayal of it as a bit of a stooshie might help with that, however inaccurate it might be.

Nick Clegg's speech is reproduced in full below from his website, where you can also see his interview with the BBC on the subject. I will write in more detail about the content of both Clegg and Cameron's speeches soon, but after two days of late nights at my sister's, tonight is going to be an early one for me.
Enjoy Nick's speech:

It is nearly two years since the expenses scandal broke but the damage it did to our politics remains.

The reputations of MPs and Parliament are still tarnished.

That’s because the problems at the heart of our politics go deeper than expenses.

Cash for honours. Cash for questions.

Former cabinet ministers for hire.

Family members paid £40,000 a year to do nothing.

For years now, huge numbers of people have chosen not to vote because they think it doesn’t matter. They think their voice will be ignored.

Who can blame them?

For years, politicians and parties have courted the votes of a few thousand people in marginal seats and ignored the rest.

For years, MPs with jobs for life have put their feet up and taken you for granted.

For years, single parties formed governments when barely a quarter of the people voted for them.

No wonder people have given up caring.

No wonder confidence in politics is so low.

No wonder people are so ready to believe the worst about their politicians.

Westminster is often referred to as the mother of all parliaments.

Our democracy should be a shining beacon to people across the world.

It should be something we can be proud of. Yet, so often, it is not.

There is no single way to solve our problems. They can’t all be fixed over night. But there are changes we can make.

We can give people the right to sack corrupt MPs.

We can stop MPs speculating on the property market with your money.

We can bring democracy to the House of Lords.

We can make sure every vote is worth the same.

And we can change the way we vote so that no one’s vote is wasted and MPs are forced to work harder to win and keep your support.

We have a chance to do that this May when the Fairer Votes referendum takes place.

What’s wrong with First Past the Post?

The choice in May is between two ways of voting, the First Past the Post system we use now and a new way, the Alternative Vote or AV.

It is no secret that the Prime Minister and I come at this from different directions.

What we do agree on is that the people know best. We both want as many people as possible to get involved and make their feelings known at the ballot box.

And what we are clear about is that this referendum is not about the Coalition Government.

Whatever the result we will continue to work together in the national interest.

Before I talk about why I believe the Alternative Vote is a fairer system I want to talk briefly about the one we have now.

First Past the Post was perfect for a time when the choice was only ever between two parties.

But that hasn’t been the case for a long time, not only because of the Liberal Democrats but other parties too - the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales, the Green Party and UKIP.

Politics has changed and it has changed for the better.

It is more reflective of the broad range of opinions in British society.

In 1951 the two old parties shared 97% of the vote.

In 2010 they couldn’t muster two thirds.

Research has found that the result of the last election was decided by fewer than 500,000 votes.

That’s out of nearly 40 million eligible voters.

And last year more than two-thirds of MPs were elected with fewer than half the voters in their constituencies choosing them.

That means most of us are represented by an MP that most of us did not vote for.

Where is the democracy in that?

Where is the legitimacy in that?

What was fit for the 1950s is not fit for the 21st century.

First Past the Post leads to a whole host of problems.

It makes politicians more concerned with getting their own supporters out than to appealing to anyone else.

It means that MPs can go about their business without ever having to appeal to the majority of their constituents.

Surely we can all agree that MPs should work hard for your vote.
Yet increasingly First Past the Post makes it easy for MPs to ignore you altogether.

Under First Past the Post, there are huge numbers of MPs with jobs for life in places where one party wins election after election and no one else stands a chance.

If you live in one of these places and you don’t support that party, what are you supposed to do?

You either vote, knowing deep down your vote is wasted, or you just don’t even bother.

It is because there are so many MPs with jobs for life that there are so many who can take their constituents for granted.

And it is because there were so many MPs taking their constituents for granted that so many abused their expenses.

There was a clear link between how safe an MP’s seat was and how likely they were to abuse the system.
When a person is corrupt they should be punished.
When a system makes corruption more likely it should be changed.

So no, First Past the Post is not working.

It is out of date and it is at the heart of so many of the reasons that people don’t engage in or care about politics.

It means most MPs are elected without the support of most of the people they are supposed to represent.

It means millions of votes make no difference whatsoever.

It means millions of voices going unheard.

First Past the Post is not working and it’s time to do something better.

Why AV is better

Under the Alternative Vote, politicians will need to aim to get half of their constituents to choose them.

That means they will have to work harder to appeal to more people than before.

It means they will have to reach out to people who were ignored under First Past the Post.

It means they will no longer be able to rely on just their core supporters and ignore everyone else.

They will be more legitimate and will carry a stronger mandate from a broader range of people.

That can only be good for our democracy.

Under the Alternative Vote, there will be fewer MPs with jobs for life in safe seats.

That means people whose voices have been ignored will be listened to again.

It means that parties will have to compete for votes in every corner of the country and not just those few marginal seats.

It means more people get listened to and more respect for the different opinions and feelings we share as a nation.

That can only be good for our democracy.

Under the Alternative Vote, there need never be another wasted vote.

That means you can use your vote positively.

It means you can feel confident voting for the person or party you want to win and not have to think tactically about who can win.

That can only be good for our democracy.

The Alternative Vote puts you back in charge.
You get a bigger say in who your MP is. A bigger foothold in our democracy. A bigger stake in our country.

And that will mean more people getting interested and involved in politics, knowing that their voices will be heard and that their actions can have a real impact.

And that can only be good for our democracy.

The Alternative Vote is a simple change that will make a huge difference. It means MPs working harder, more voices being heard and power put back where it belongs - with you.

Taking on critics

Opponents of AV say it is too complicated.

In fact it’s really simple.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

All you do is put a number one next to the person or party you want to win.

You put a number two next to your second favourite and a three next to your third favourite.

And if you only want to vote for one person then you can.

They use a form of AV in Australia and we use it to elect the Mayor of London.

It’s not too complicated for Australians or Londoners.

This is not some strange, complex system. It’s simple and it’s fairer.

Opponents of AV say it is somehow against British tradition.


The beauty of the Alternative Vote is that it is evolution not revolution.

It’s a small change which will make a big difference.

It not only keeps the link between MPs and their constituents, it strengthens it.

Opponents of AV say that it will produce unstable governments.

This could not be further from the truth.

The Alternative Vote can and will produce strong, stable governments.

Research looking at every election since 1983 shows that if AV had been used the same party would have won and formed a Government, if with a different majority. But all MPs will have had to work harder for your vote.

The only election that would have resulted in a hung parliament was last year’s, just as it did under First Past the Post.

Australia has had AV for 80 years and they’ve had fewer hung parliaments than we have with First Past the Post.


Do you remember how it felt when you heard about MPs spending your money on duck houses and having their moat cleaned?

Do you live somewhere where the same party wins every time and you feel powerless?

Do you ever look at politicians and parties and think these people don’t care about me?

That's what this is about.

We deserve something different.

We deserve something better.

We deserve a new way of doing things.

First Past the Post doesn’t work any more.

It leaves too many voices unheard.

It leaves too many people powerless.

It is at the heart of why so many people don’t vote.

The Alternative vote is better, fairer.

It puts you back in charge and makes MPs work harder for your vote.

When we have the chance to clean up politics and make our democracy better we should take it.

We have the opportunity to do that in May by voting Yes to Fairer Votes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scotland lags behind on marriage equality

It's great to see that Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat minister for Equalities in the UK Government is bringing in measures to allow religious organisations to conduct civil partnerships. For Daily Mail journalists, that's allow, not compel, ok?

This means that England and Wales will be way ahead of Scotland where nobody seems to be showing enough will to advance the cause of equal marriage.

I think that true equality is good for the whole of society, not just the groups of people it benefits. What can be better than tolerance and mutual respect? Having one system of legalised partnerships for heterosexual and same sex couples just tend to reinforce discrimination.

That's why I was glad to see that Lynne's plans are a staging post rather than a journey's end.

We have also identified a real desire to move forwards to equal civil marriage and parnerships, and will be consulting further as to how legislation can develop, working with all those who have an interest in the area.
Over recent months I have spoken to many LGB&T people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships.
My friend Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow,although speaking in a personal capacity on this,  was on Newsnight Scotland the other night making the point that what gay couples wanted was to get married. He struck exactly the right tone, I thought. You can watch him here.  I did cringe a bit when the reporter called him Kevin. I know the pain of being called Carol at numerous points in my life. Having an unusual name is fabulous - but people get it wrong all the time.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have policy on equal marriage which I hope finds its way into our manifesto. It's time progress was made up here.

A trio of good news on forests, housing benefit and defeated dinosaurs

Honestly, I turn my back for five minutes, and loads of good things happen.

First of all, the ridiculous plans to sell off forests in England are being shelved, according to the BBC after attracting vocal opposition from rural campaigner and MPs like the Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron. This reminds me of how similar plans were scrapped in Scotland after opposition from Scottish Liberal Democrats including leader Tavish Scott.

Secondly, it seems that Housing Benefit will not be cut for people who have been unemployed for a year. I know that Liberal Democrat Ministers have been fighting hard within the Government to make that happen, first delaying the change and now getting rid of it completely. There is much to welcome in the Government's Welfare Reform Bill, published today. I wrote about the proposals in November, highlighting the good things, and the stings in the tail I didn't like.

Both of these show a Government that is more willing to listen than any I've known in my life. It's also the first Government to have Liberal Democrats in it in my life.This is not all about serendipity.  I think that the nature of Coalition Government has meant that the tone is softer. When was the last time that a Tory Government reconsidered a planned change to the benefits system, for example?

Finally, the Labour and Tory dinosaurs in the House of Lords who were trying to derail the AV referendum have failed. The Bill received Royal Assent at pretty much the eleventh hour last night. The referendum will now take place on 5th May as planned. I liked this recent post from Mark Pack which drew some surprising conclusions about the nature of political reform.

Anyway, I can now go back to being led astray by my little sister. Seriously, there was no wine drunk in the house last night until she came back from work at midnight. It must be her fault. See you tomorrow.

How to dose a rabbit

While Anna & I are away, it's been up to Bob to dose poorly Benjamin Bunny with his parasite zapping medicine.

Having seen our battle scars, he decided to try something different to the towel wrapping & syringing.

Benj loves Brussels Sprouts so Bob carefully separated the leaves of some for him, and put the medicine in them & gave them to him for his breakfast. He wolfed them down.

The medicine is quite runny so Bob then wiped up the excess with broccoli florets & hand fed them to him.

This worked for today. It may not work tomorrow but it's a tactic which might help if you have a bunny who doesn't like taking his medicine.

There's a huge improvement in Benj since Monday. His head is still tilting but he's a much happier boy. Fingers crossed this works.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:In bed at my sister's

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blogging will be light.......

.....because Anna and I are off up to Inverness to visit my sister and her family until Friday night.

Bob will still be here - and will have to cope with giving Benjamin his medicine. That'll be fun, I'm sure.

If I feel the urge to tell you something, I'll have my iPhone with me, but I'll most likely see you at the weekend.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Stephen Fry back fairer votes #yes2av

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I fully subscribe to the notion that it is not possible to have too much Stephen Fry or Colin Firth in your life. I have been successful in passing this philosophy onto my daughter who has long adored the former and is now getting quite into the latter.

I'm pleased to see that Stephen and Colin head up a list of celebs who are backing the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign. Martin Bell, Joanna Lumley, Firth's King's Speech co-star Helena Bonham-Carter, Art Malik, Eddie Izzard, Billy Bragg, John Cleese and Tony Robinson.

Colin Firth said:

"The referendum is a once in a generation opportunity to change our clapped out politics for good. I’ll be voting Yes."
I liked Stephen Fry's comment, too:

"The last couple of years have been faintly depressing for anyone who cares about the health of our political system.  Yes, Westminster has made a start putting its house in order, but we still have a voting system in place that is not up to the job."

But it's not really about celebs, is it? Ordinary people up and down the country explain why they will be voting yes in the referendum in a new campaign video. Their reasons include wanting to make their MP sweat, being fed up of having to vote tactically and negatively to keep someone out rather than put someone in and wanting to ensure that people's votes are heard and that they count.

One contributor is 16 year old Niamh Francis from Edinburgh. She isn't old enough to vote in May, but knows what she wants for the future:

"I’ll be too young to cast my vote in this referendum, but it’s my voice at stake just the same.  I’m joining this campaign because when I vote for the first time I want it to mean something. I don’t want to have to vote tactically. I want to vote for something not against something."
Here's the video in full.

Oh, and if you hear the No lot talking about having to spend a fortune on counting machines, it's nonsense. They count the votes by hand in Australia and in fact in the US, their electronic voting system was considered a barrier to implementing AV. It's interesting to note that the No Campaign, made up primarily of those with power protecting their vested interests, spends its time scaremongering, while the yes campaign has ordinary people telling a positive story.

My video blog for Scotland Votes: the inside story

Remember last Tuesday I wrote about how scared I was, going off to make a video blog. Well, there's nowhere to hide any more. It's up. And I could just ignore it, but I thought it would be best if you were exposed to it alongside my plea in mitigation.

As some of you know, I write for the Steamie blog on the Scotsman website. We Steamie bloggers were invited to do a video blog to kick off the coverage of the Scottish elections for the Scotland Votes website.

I was mildly petrified at this, not just because of the face for radio issue.  It's not that I can't talk, as the field of donkeys without hind legs near my house can testify, it's just that doing it with a camera in my face tends to interfere with my natural flow. Anyway, I wasn't going to chicken out and last Tuesday morning gamely arrived at the headquarters of Weber Shandwick with lovingly prepared script in trembling hand.

Kez Dugdale had done hers the week before, filmed in front of a window. When I went, I was told to stand next to a mildly rude looking plant in front of a black wall. I joked at the time that it looked a bit funereal and I may have chosen not to wear a black top if I'd known that was going to happen, but never mind, you learn from experience.

My delivery is, shall we say, less than perfect. To my eternal shame, I completely mucked up the bit on civil liberties. It's just such a key issue for me and for us. I suspect whatever was close to the end was going to come into danger of running out of memory space. The finished article, though, is less bad than I remember.

The first take was a bit of a nightmare. When I watched it back, I realised that I was moving around, presumably with nerves. It looked like I was dancing. Seriously, you could have put on a backing track, so, second time around, I was concentrating on trying not to move as well as get the words out in approximately the right order.

Anyway, the evidence is below for you to judge for yourself. I think I should probably stick to written blogging in the future, but I actually did enjoy the experience, and Noman from Weber Shandwick, who filmed me, was so lovely and encouraging.

Like chefs deconstruct their signature dishes - you know, a Tiramisu becomes a bit of chocolate sponge next to a pile of gloop, I thought I'd deconstruct the video by letting you have a look at the script I had prepared so you can see how the words should have come out:

I want to talk a bit about where the Scottish Liberal Democrats are at and highlight a couple of what are for me key issues.  We’re in upbeat and determined mood. Alex Cole-Hamilton in Edinburgh Central has built a vibrant grassroots campaign that’s seen him knock on over 10,000 doors since last Summer. The reception we’re getting across Scotland is much warmer than the opinion polls would suggest, I think because people like what we’re about.
Even at a time when money is very tight, we’ve made the tax system fairer – from April, 90,000 Scots on low incomes won’t have to pay tax any more. Labour talk about a living wage for public sector workers, but already we’re doing something better which covers everybody, including pensioners.  
As the mother of an 11 year old, for me it’s all about education. I want my daughter to have an education that challenges her to the absolute limits of her capability.  I don’t want her teachers being dictated to by a minister in Edinburgh – they know her best and they should decide how and what she learns.
No child should ever be held back because of their background. Even with free university education, only 1 in 5 students comes from the poorest areas in Scotland.  That has to be tackled and I think that the Liberal Democrat idea of a pupil premium, extra money, targeted on those kids will make a huge difference.
The Lib Dem approach to public services has always been that they should be people centred, with decisions made as locally as possible. I’ve been very worried by the rush to create one national police force. I think it’s ridiculous – policing needs in Rogart, or Findhorn or Campbeltown are very different from priorities in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
I remember the worry of my husband being out of work for nearly a year in the mid 90s. That’s happening to too many people now. Lib Dems have ambitious plans to grow our economy, so all of Scotland can benefit, to create long term, stable skilled jobs in areas where we excel, like green technology and renewable energy.  
For me, personal freedom and civil liberties are hugely important Last year we voted against the almost casual quadrupling of pre-charge detention in an afternoon. We take freedom seriously and always instinctively fight for it.
I want to leave you with three things  which sum up what the Liberal Democrats will be campaigning on this year – freedom, opportunity and giving power to local people.

The woes of Benjamin Bunny

Our lovely little rabbit Benjamin is not well. Normally he and his brother Patches come bounding out whenever we go to see them, even at 6 in the morning when Bob gives them their carrots for breakfast.

They were a bit quiet at the end of last week and there was food left over, which was unheard of. On Sunday Benjamin developed a head tilt. I googled and was very scared by what I saw and hoped that it was the one thing that was relatively simple to sort rather than the many conditions which forecast doom. I actually didn't sleep very well on Sunday night because I was so worried about him.

I took him to the vet yesterday and she reckons he has E-Cuniculi rather than an ear infection and he doesn't have the pus associated with Pasteurella. This means a 28 day course of oral medication.

One thing about our Benj is that he really isn't so keen on you going anywhere near his mouth. They get handled and cuddled a lot, but their daily affection tends not to involve us poking around in their orifices. He has always, since bunnyhood, not wanted his nose touched and we've respected that.

The vet gave him his medicine yesterday. This involved wrapping him up in a towel, and warning us that bunnies could break their back if they struggle too much. That frightens me. I was able to sleep last night by indulging in the fantasy that we'll stick him in his carrier today, say "Come on, Benjie, come to Mama and get your lovely medicine", and he'll just come and sup from the proffered syringe. He did seem to like the taste yesterday....... I'm sure that won't happen and if anyone has any tips for dosing a recalcitrant rabbit, please tell me.

The consequences if he doesn't take his medicine are not good, so it's kind of essential that we find a way that's not stressful for any of us.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Vince Cable on Andrew Marr yesterday - on bankers, bonuses and half full glasses

Business Secretary Vince Cable appeared on Andrew Marr's show yesterday for the first time since his wee spot of bother before Christmas. Unfortunately, Marr stuck completely to politics and didn't ask him about his spin round the dance floor with Erin Boag in the Strictly Christmas special, but Vince did have lots to say about the banks and the economy.

Vince was quick to say that this week's agreement with banks is "by no means a finished article" but was "helpful in getting the banks, including the private banks who are not owned by the state to make commitments in terms of lending to small and medium sized companies." Marr pushed him on the lending part of the agreement which he described as "pretty weak". Cable said that it was a two sided arrangement - banks have agreed to make more money available to SMEs and the Government is going to step back from threatening the banks with higher taxes." However, he did say that if the banks didn't play ball, then the Government would look at its relationship with them again. I would like to say I felt sure about this. If it were only Vince making the decision, I'd feel a lot more comfortable. I said the other day that I didn't think a 6% increase was enough to see the growth we actually need.

He did talk about the major changes to come in terms of "fundamental surgery" on the structure of the industry - getting more competition and separating off the retail and investment elements of the banking system.

On Matthew Oakeshott, described by Jonathan Calder on Liberal England as "widely seen as Vince Cable's representative on earth" all he would say that was that in "friendly discussions" with him, he'd suggested that the glass was "more half full than half empty" pointing to the fact that most of the major developments with the banks had taken place outside the Merlin agreement, citing the taxes and disclosure legislation on top earners.

Marr challenged him that he was not as tough on the banks as he used to be. Vince replied:
"I remain forthright - these are extraordinarily large bonuses which I think most people cannot understand. Let's be clear why we would object to enormous salaries in banking and not football. What is different is that banks are underwritten by the state, they have a state guarantee and that's why the enormous payments are so offensive. And in order to deal with that guarantee, and banks being too big to fail, we have to look at their structure and that's why the Banking Commission is crucial."
Marr pushed him about separating the casino banks from the everyday life banks and Vince acknowledged that this was part of the solution but that there also had to be more competition to give customers a better deal, for example small businesses paying such enormous margins.

Marr asked him if we'd notice the difference. Vince outlined 3 aims that he wanted to see: "banks more competitive, safer and not making large excess profits which fuel the bonus culture"

Asked about whether departing Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's assets would be frozen as Switzerland had done, Vince said that he'd be worried if the banks had been involved in anything improper. He did say that one thing the Government had cracked down was "stopping the banks engaging in large scale tax avoidance on behalf of their corporate clients".

He said he didn't agree with the 91 Liberal Democrat councillors who had written to the Times to complain about the pace of the cuts. Vince said they did have a point about the need to reform local government finance to make it more genuinely local.  A bit of an evasive answer, emphasising a small part of the letter

He also talked about launching major initiatives in terms of trade and apprenticeship to try and secure the economic growth we need.

All in all, Vince was in good form - the language may be more diplomatic than it once was, but the intent to deal with the banks is as strong as it was in opposition and he seems determined to see it through.

You can watch the interview in full here. 


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