Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Caron's Moonlightings: Jo Swinson MP questions BBC on all male Sports Personality Shortlist

You might recall I wasn't best pleased yesterday when I'd seen the shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award because it had not one single woman on it. At the same time as writing it, I fired off an e-mail to Jo Swinson MP. She told me that she and other MPs were planning to take it up with the BBC.

They sent a letter to BBC Director General Mark Thompson earlier today. I wrote up all the details over at Lib Dem Voice. 

By the way, they are going to be slipping me the keys to Liberal Democrat Voice Towers every Wednesday in December. The perfect time of year to steal Mark Pack's chocolate..... Don't tell him that's my plan, though.

I've had a couple of days as Guest Editor before - in April I did a Grand Tour of Elections, Referendums and Liberal Democrat Achievements and the previous October we had a day of optimism and hope. So, I want to bring a bit of seasonal warmth and snuggles and fun to the Voice. Do you have any thoughts on what you'd like me to cover in between the devouring of the chocolate?

Labour need to de-toxify themselves after string of poisonous comments

I'm sure Labour's Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran thought she was joking when, as an aside in an interview with Holyrood magazine, she said:
“I think if Alex Salmond went under a bus tomorrow – not that I would ask who drove that bus – but seriously, if he wasn’t there I don’t think there is any other member of that team who could fulfil the role that he is playing and have that relationship with the Scottish people that he clearly does."
Honestly, that bit in bold really was not necessary.

We don't really need that kind of language. Basically she was actually saying that Alex Salmond was a uniquely talented politician - something not even his worst enemies could argue with, but then she ruined it all with that comment. Actually, scrub that - she was trying to say that the SNP was a one trick pony and they'd be nothing with Salmond out of the way - something highly insulting to good people like Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Constance. If Scottish Labour even had one person of that calibre, they'd be doing well.

All this comes in the wake of the awful treatment of SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford by Labour's Scottish Affairs Select Committee chair Ian Davidson to virtually anything that leadership contender Tom Harris says.

You just get the impression that everyone in Labour hates the guts of everyone in the SNP. I still tend to the view that most people in politics are good people and I don't feel comfortable about making jokes about anyone's potential death. It's just not funny. Yes, Salmond annoys the hell out of me a lot of the time, but he's one of the most talented politicians I've known in my lifetime - and not just from Scotland either. I'm quite happy to take the mickey when the occasion demands it, but there are limits.

The SNP Government should be scrutinised to within an inch of its life - but front benchers in other parties, especially Labour, need to moderate the personal comments they make about people.

The Strike: No time for abuse or intimidation #n30

It was a fairly innocent post on Facebook I made last night. Something I thought was pretty innocuous, really.
Caron Lindsay hopes that nobody gets grief for their decision to work or strike tomorrow. They should be respected, whatever they do. There's no place for abuse or intimidation in this.
That was the equivalent of throwing a match into a petrol tanker.

78 comments later, the majority of which I would say were broadly supportive, I'm quite incredulous.

Two things led me to make the posting in the first place. The first was seeing the use of the word "scab" in someone else's Facebook posting. I just don't think abusing people who, for whatever reason, choose not to strike does anything  to advance your cause. If I ever see it happening, it would actually put me off supporting that cause. I have agreed with very few wars this country has fought in my lifetime and if conscripted I would have been a conscientious objector. That doesn't mean I shouldn't have the right to be a British citizen.

Similarly, there should be enough tolerance within a Trade Union towards people who, for whatever reason, feel they can't support a strike. I'm told that they should just accept the view of the majority in the ballot and support their colleagues. The Collective is much more important than the individual's conscience or circumstances, so the reasoning goes. Back in the day, there was much more community support for these things. People who were striking were roughly doing the same job in the same place and they shared what they had and looked after each other. I'm not so sure that would happen these days. Look at local authorities, for example. Unison has members going down from heads of service to the lowest paid manual workers. How far does this spirit of collectiveness spread, then? Will the Heads of Service feed the kids of those at the bottom f the pay scale who are losing pay? I doubt it.

The other reason I made the post was because I'd become aware that some female workers were not going in today, not because they believed in the strike and wanted to support it - quite the opposite. No, they were staying at home because they were frightened of the pickets. It makes you wonder what union officials have been doing behind the scenes to encourage that fear. Can you imagine, though, being a woman trying to get to work and being surrounded by half a dozen burly men invading your space and  trying to persuade you otherwise?  It's not a pleasant experience.

In reality, pickets aren't allowed to abuse and intimidate, but it's not just about what happens on the day - it's working relationships afterwards. If your manager has gone on strike, thinks that strike breakers are scabs and then has to do your appraisal, well, you can see the potential for abuse of power.

The Government have produced guidance on what is acceptable behaviour from pickets. These are the things which are against the criminal law:

.Among other matters, it is a criminal offence for pickets (as for others):
•  to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the sight or hearing of any person - whether a worker seeking to cross a picket line, an employer, an ordinary member of the public or the police - likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by such conduct;  
•  to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards any person with intent to cause fear of violence or to provoke violence;   
•  to use or threaten unlawful violence;   
•  to obstruct the highway or the entrance to premises or to seek physically to bar the passage of vehicles or persons by lying down in the road, linking arms across or circling in the road, or jostling or physically restraining those entering or leaving the premises;   
•  to be in possession of an offensive weapon;   
•  intentionally or recklessly to damage property;   
•  to engage in violent, disorderly or unruly behaviour or to take any action which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace;   
•  to obstruct a police officer in the execution of his duty
On the other hand, it makes me equally angry to see those who are striking described as greedy, or selfish. You don't find so many fat cats cleaning hospital wards or being classroom assistants, you know. Yes, they will probably end up with better pensions than those in the private sector, but they are striking because they are worried about their futures. I'm worried about their futures. The lowest paid will not have to pay more for their pensions, for sure, under the Government's plans but you don't have to be earning that much before the increased contributions start to rack up. You really can't blame people for being angry, especially when they see the richest and most powerful troughing massive pay rises. 

If the Government were doing and were seen to be doing more to tackle that massive inequality, to make many public sector workplaces more pleasant to work in, with sufficient resources to do the job properly,  inspiring managers and a can do culture then I think it would go a long way to easing people's perfectly understandable fury. That's the message I expect our ministers to really push inside the Government.

If I still had a job, I wouldn't be striking today because I think there is an inevitability that there would at some point have to be some adjustments to pensions - we are living longer so it makes sense that the same amount of money isn't going to go as far.

But when it comes down to individual choices, to work, or to strike - these must be respected. Argue about the issues by all means, but don't make scapegoats of people who may be really struggling. Personally, I want people to take part in strikes because they support them, not because they'll be publicly humiliated if they don't. When I see things like "the early picket catches the scab" written on social networking sites, it makes me feel that tolerance and empathy are not part of the trade union movement. When I see people being intimidated in that way, it makes me want to protect them. One of the fundamental jobs of a liberal is to make sure that minorities are not abused in any way by a powerful majority.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Only comfort from gloomy Autumn Statement - Lib Dem win on benefit rise

I look outside and see nothing but gloom and darkness and wildness tonight. I could be George Osborne looking out at the economy.

No, scrub that. I could never be George Osborne. But there seriously isn't much to take any sort of cheer from in what he said today.

The only thing that we can be sure of is that Osborne alone would not have seen any reason to uprate benefits in line with inflation - but that idea was kicked into touch, as has been widely reported, by the Liberal Democrats.

It's an important thing.

Unfortunately, tax credits are not getting an inflation busting increase. That really makes me annoyed. I literally  hate to be taking money away from the poorest families under any circumstances. We can talk until we're blue in the face about the mechanics of tax credits vs streamlining of the tax/benefits stuff vs citizens' income, but in the end of the day, those families will just know that their money will go even less far next year. When I see that in conjunction with a rise in the bank levy just to get what they expected to get, I feel that more could be done.

I would not have been averse to a further, even modest but not necessarily so, rise in Capital Gains Tax so that the high earning city fat cats feel a bit more pain.

The Government is facing a pretty horrific set of economic circumstances. Apart from the legacy of Labour splashing cash for years, there's all the daily, gloomy headlines from the Eurozone - our main trading partners. Sure, we're in better shape than Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland.

It makes me very sad to read that an extra 290,000 people will lose their jobs in the public sector, though. Nobody should ever feel good about effectively putting a large city on the dole queue when we all know the private sector isn't going to replace those jobs, or there won't be a match in skills in the few they do pick up.

So, Danny Alexander is right to send party members an e-mail telling us what the Liberal Democrats have achieved - but he's not right to tell us that we can feel proud of what we've done. Slightly relieved is as good as it gets at the moment. It could be an awful lot worse if the Tories were governing alone - that much gets clearer every day. It still doesn't make it easier to see people made unemployed, and other, poorer folk having more reason to struggle.

My heart is heavy tonight.

I'm very proud of my brave girl - and grateful to Freddie Mercury

In the scheme of things, the very minor surgical procedure Anna underwent this morning isn't a great drama. Or even a small drama. For a child who's been lucky enough never to require much in the way of medical treatment, it was a very new experience, though. Especially when her mother is a State Registered Coward.

We pitched up at the hospital at the appointed time, Anna listening to Queen on her iPod and me faking serenity.

She had to have a local anaesthetic which, she told me afterwards, was very sore, but which she endured without making any fuss at all. The staff said she'd coped a lot better than most grown men. She did it by reciting the words of Bohemian Rhapsody as a distraction. "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?" is always good to hear, whatever the circumstances. It's yet another reason to be grateful to one of my favourite bands of all time.

Anna took a liking to Queen a year or so ago, but recently she's seriously listening to a lot of their work - even stuff I don't know. She was delighted yesterday when our tickets to We Will Rock You at the Edinburgh Playhouse arrived.

So, we then came home and watched The Five Doctors. It looks like her Classic Who orbit is centring around Pertwee and Baker. I love that episode - the evilness of the Master, Tegan and the First Doctor, Cybermen, Daleks, the Brigadier and Bessie. On the other hand, I'm so glad that Russell T got his hands on Sarah Jane - she is proper annoying in that one.

Now Anna has a friend in and they are using Facebook Chat to summon me whenever they require anything.

My sister helpfully reminded Anna via Facebook that today was the day to ask for presents, and she should consider her choices carefully. I'll return that favour with her four children some other year, close to Christmas, shall I?

I may not be around much over the next couple of days. I'm not going to let the opportunity of a rare midweek lie in pass me by and I suspect we'll watch some more Doctor Who. I want to steer her on to a bit of McCoy. Haven't seen Battlefield in years - and the Brigadier's in that, too.

She won't be back at school till at least Thursday afternoon, so I'm going to treasure some quiet time with her.

Cos women's sport just doesn't matter, does it? #SPOTY

Well, you won't find me voting in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year this year, that's for sure.

The institutional misogyny at the BBC is alive and well.

Clearly, in sport as in current affairs, women just aren't worth bothering about.

How else can you interpret an all male Sports Personality of the Year shortlist?

In a year when our Gymnastics team were led by Beth Tweddle to a historic best and Rebecca Adlington picks up gold at the World Swimming Championships again, how can this possibly be justified? And look what Tae-Kwon Do champion Sarah Stevenson has been through this year. And then there's Chrissie Wellington. Yes, that's right, we have a female Iroman Champion. I saw her on BBC Breakfast the other week - she's such an inspiring character and what she does is not for the faint hearted. Certainly puts trotting around a field kicking a ball for 90 minutes into perspective.

The media generally focuses on men's sport - and you'd be forgiven for thinking that football, golf, rugby, darts, cricket, snooker and F1 - with tennis being added in for two weeks a year - were the only sports ever played. No wonder girls grow up thinking  that the way to the body beautiful (which every magazine tells them they need to have or their life is over) is to starve themselves rather than to exercise.

What's really annoying is that the shortlist was chosen by a selection of the very same people who maintain the male orientated focus on sports - sports journalists and newspapers. Those lists have been published by the BBC. 

Giving the same blinkered journalists the choice over the shortlist is, frankly, just perpetuating the problem.

We have plenty women, at the top of their game - but their achievements aren't recognised. I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe it's time for there to be a much more aggressive media strategy for female sports champions. There are several who deserve a place on that shortlist this year. Someone needs to organise an alternative list and leave BBC's Sports Man of the Year to its own devices.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why we need equal marriage

There are no words in this video from Get up Australia, just a beautifully shot portrayal of the ups and downs of a shared life that we can all relate to.

I think my favourite bit is the argument in the car when they get lost. That's happened many a time for Bob and I.


And now, suitably inspired, get yourself responding to the Scottish Government's consultation on changing the law to equalise the marriage rights here. Closing date is 9th December so you have to be quick.

Let's just not have reserved places for Bishops in the House of Lords - make your voice heard

The link I'm going to direct you to in a minute is a wee bit inaccurate, cos it says "No Bishops in the House of Lords."

That's not strictly speaking what the petition that comes with it is asking for. I certainly have no objection to any Bishop standing for election to the House of Lords and getting there with a bit of legitimacy behind him. I say him, because being a bishop is only open to men at the moment and will be until the very earliest next Summer.

However, the plans for the reform of the House of Lords announced by Nick Clegg earlier this year still have reserved places for Bishops in an 80% elected Chamber. I'd prefer a 100% elected Chamber, to be honest, but what I'm most opposed to is the fact that places will still be reserved for Bishops. I really don't think it's appropriate for any religious organisation to have seats kept by for it in Parliament in this day and age.

That's why I've happily signed this petition, from the Liberal Democrat Humanists and Secularists, which calls on our parliamentarians to resist this part of the proposals. The Petition says:

We, the undersigned, believe that there should be no bishops sitting in the reformed House of Lords, in line with the Liberal Democrat policy that no seats in Parliament should be reserved for any group or individual on the basis of their beliefs, religious or otherwise.
The UK parliament is the only democratic country that gives seats in its legislature to religious representatives as of right and we believe that this is unfair, unequal and undemocratic. The government's current proposals give even more privileges to Church of England Bishops than they currently have, and create an independent and largely unaccountable group of individuals inside the second chamber. We believe this is inappropriate and unacceptable in the legislature of a modern democracy. We urge those dealing with this bill to remove this provision from it at the earliest opportunity.

If you agree, please go and sign here.

Rennie highlights independence threat to Scottish research funding

The debate on whether Scotland should become an independent country or not is one which will go on for the next few years until the referendum takes place. However, there's one phrase I'm already sick to death of hearing.

You don't even have to disagree with independence to have this phrase used against you - all you have to do is ask a legitimate question.

You see, even asking questions, probing for detail, is "talking Scotland down" according to Government ministers.  

This is absolute nonsense. I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but most people have huge ambitions for Scotland, whether they want us to leave the UK or not. There is a world of difference between disagreeing with, or even questioning, SNP policy and denigrating our nation.

It came as no surprise, therefore, that when Willie Rennie raised the issue of research funding, Nationalists were falling over themselves to accuse him of talking Scotland down and scaremongering. All they actually need to do is provide a cast iron guarantee that Scotland would be better off in whatever aspect is being questioned. But they can't, so it's much easier for them to cast accusations and aspersions instead.

Yesterday, Willie Rennie flagged up that Scottish universities get, at the moment, £210 million a year in funding from UK sources. Clearly, if we weren't part of the UK, those sources of funding would no longer be open to us. Mike Russell's response amounted to "ach, it'll be fine" with no evidence to back that up whatsoever.

His comments on Twitter, though, about the Liberal Democrats, referring to us as "Fib Dems", are an utter disgrace. He should remember he's a Minister and not a cybernat attack dog.

Let's have a wee look at what Willie actually said:

“Scotland is at the cutting edge of research and development work in the UK. Our universities are doing work which is producing technologies which the applications for could almost be limitless.

“The expertise exists in Scotland, but we could not do all of this exciting new research without the extra bonus funding that we receive from across the border.
“The real danger of splitting Scotland from the UK is that you also split our universities from this vital source of funding which helps to fuel the innovation. We do not want to see a repeat of ‘Silicon Glen’ or cause a brain-drain to better funded projects south of the border.
“Scotland is punching well above our weight in terms of funding. I am puzzled why the SNP would want to jeopardise this. Mr Salmond cannot guarantee that there would be alternative funding sources to fill the funding gap of £210 million every year.
“It is clear that remaining a strong and prosperous part of the UK is best for Scotland’s bright future in research and development.”
Basically what he's saying is that we make up 8.5% of the UK Population, but we attract 14% of the available UK sources of funding - showing that we are doing better than we would expect.  Definitely not talking Scotland down, then. All he's saying is that the SNP can't guarantee that that funding would be replaced under independence. That's fair enough.

I'm sure that if the SNP had guarantees, or substantive answers, to these legitimate questions, they wouldn't have to resort to such intemperate language. If they want to make their case for independence they really should put up rather than tell others to shut up.

Graeme writes on a similar theme here, and also takes to bits the latest SNP claims on independence in the process. 

Mike Moore heads for Brazil to boost Scottish Business

The first thing I did when I heard that Scottish Secretary Mike Moore was heading to Brazil this past weekend was to fire off a strongly worded e-mail to a member of his staff which went roughly along the lines of:

"You jammy *******s, are you going to the Grand Prix?"

It may have been more polite than that - but not much.

You see, I knew it was the final race of the F1 season at Interlagos yesterday - and I know that our Mike is a bit of a motorsport fan. And much as this blog is a big fan of his, the very thought of him mixing with the likes of Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher brought me out in a hysterical and jealous rage. Or as much like that as I ever get, anyway.

Sadly for him, though, he was around 300 miles north east of the F1 action yesterday, in Rio de Janeiro - and, sadly for F1 fans, he seems to have attracted the rain that had promised to disrupt the race. The BBC's Tim Reid complained via Twitter that it was too wet to interview Mike after they'd all traipsed up to the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Tim has also posted a photograph of the famous Copacabana beach which seems to have weather more usual for Gullane at this time of year.

The serious point of all of this is really to say how good it is that Mike as the representative of the UK Government is leading this drive to give Scots business a much needed boost. Just this week, they expect to bring deals worth £3 million back to Scotland and make many more new contacts opening up a huge potential market for Scottish companies.

Mike Moore is keen to use the fact that Scotland and Brazil are hosting many major international sporting events over the next few years as a unique selling point to create bonds between the countries, as the BBC reported over the weekend.

I'm hoping that Scottish businesses will feel the benefit of this trip for a long time to come.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Campaign activists get to have dinner with Barack Obama

I just love this - and I love how natural Obama is with these people. I love all the details about how he spends his days, too.

The other thing is, watching the West Wing, you get the idea that the senior White House staff are never out of the President's bedroom, bringing him news all night long. It's surprising that that hasn't happened since the Fukushima tsunami in March.

Obama sometimes gets a reputation for being a bit aloof, but he comes over as warm and open in this.


Nick Clegg offers hope with £1bn Youth Contract

It was good to wake up this morning to see Nick Clegg on tv talking about the Coalition Government's new Youth Contract, which aims to reduce youth unemployment which, at over a million, is at an unacceptable level.

Nick has always got how important it is to make sure young people were properly supported. In 2009, he launched his "Lifeboat for a lost generation" when Labour were failing to do anything sensible about youth unemployment.

It was really disheartening to see Ed Miliband and David Cameron bandying statistics around at Prime Minister's Questions the other day. Neither of them gave any impression of actually caring about the young people affected. I'm sure that's not necessarily true, but they simply didn't show it.

Every single young person should have access to either a job or some form of training - they should not be just left, unsupported.

To that end, Nick has been promoting the new Youth Contract which aims to:

  • give 160,000 wage subsidies and 250,000 work experience placements
  • at least 20,000 incentive payments to encourage new apprenticeships in England
  • more support in job centres and specialised help on applying for jobs
  • reaching out to most disengaged 16 and 17 year olds to find the best option for them whether it be back to school, apprenticeships or work placements
It seems to be a good range of measures which will help people in the way that best suits them, rather than a one size fits all programme.  It remains to be seen if the wage subsidies will work or whether employers will just get rid of people after 6 months and take someone else on - there needs to be proper safeguards to make sure that doesn't happen. However, Nick explained on BBC Breakfast this morning that employers had said that it was the initial costs of employing someone they needed help with. I want to be sure that any employer exploiting the system will not be given a single penny more of public money.

Let's hope that this set of measures will work and that young people will find it easier to get jobs or training that suits them.

Nick said:
The aim of the Youth Contract is to get every unemployed young person earning or learning again before long term damage is done. “This is a £1bn package and what’s different about it is gets young people into proper, lasting jobs in the private sector. “But it’s a contract, a two-way street: if you sign up for the job, they’ll be no signing on for the dole. You have to stick with it. “Youth unemployment is an economic waste and a slow-burn social disaster. “We can’t lose the skills and talent of our young people – right when we need them most. We can’t afford to leave our young men and women on the scrap heap. We need the next generation to help us build a new economy.  “If people are out of work when they’re young they bear the scars for decades. If they have a false start, they might not ever fully catch up. “These are tomorrow’s mothers, fathers and tax-payers. If they end up falling behind our whole society pays the price.      “It hasn’t been easy to find £1bn but it is the right thing to do. “We won’t allow the children brought up in the boom to bear the brunt of the bust. The next generation must not pay the price for my generation’s mistakes. So the Coalition Government won’t sit on our hands and let a generation fall behind.  “We want to give every young person a reason to get up, a reason to go out, and a reason to feel great at the end of the day. “Despite the huge pressures on the public purse we’re pulling out all the stops.

Help The Burd buy books for vulnerable kids this Christmas

The charity Children 1st  aims to improve the lives of Scotland's children by providing services to help them and speaking out for them to law and policy makers.

The Scottish blogosphere's Kate Higgins, who writes for Better Nation and her own blog A Burdz Eye View works for Children 1st. She's come up with a cracking idea for Christmas - raising money to buy books for vulnerable kids. As she says herself:
Books were a constant companion in my childhood - they still are.  They've opened up worlds, ideas, knowledge and adventures.  They've made me laugh, cry, tremble and learn - sometimes all at the same time.
But some children in Scotland aren't so lucky and miss out on this vital part of childhood.  Some families can't afford to buy books or lack the skills and confidence to share and enjoy reading with their child.  Yet, reading - and reading well - can make a real difference to vulnerable children's lives.
It's something CHILDREN 1ST - the charity I work for - understands.  We know how important reading is and work with parents to help them help their children read.  Often, it's simple pleasures like this that provide real joy.  Reading together can forge strong bonds and give vulnerable children a better start in life, and better life chances.Today (25 November) is Kilts for Kids Day, our national fundraising day where people celebrate all things Scottish and raise money for CHILDREN 1ST.  Well, I'm not much of a runner.  Even less of a baker.  And I definitely can't sing.
But I do read.  And I know you do too.  And together I reckon we can raise enough to buy vulnerable children supported by CHILDREN 1ST services a book this Christmas.  All you have to do is give £10.
Gift aid it and it becomes £12.50.  £7.50 will be used to buy a child a book and the rest will go to help CHILDREN 1ST pay for things like the cost of a support worker who will encourage a parent to read regularly with their child, or for materials that can help an abused child recover from their trauma by expressing themselves through art, writing or play.
We've got less than a month but I'm sure we'll manage it.  Because I know that you know how important books are and what a difference they can make to a child's life.  And I know you'll give, and then encourage your friends and family to do so too.
Oh, and why not share your favourite book from your childhood when you make your donation?
Thanks for your support.
Books were an essential part of my childhood. I was rarely to be found without my head in one. From the St Clare's and Mallory Towers books, to the Chalet School, to the Secret Seven, when I got a bit older Agatha Christie and Jane Austen, Little Women, The Narnia books. And when I hit my teens, it was, sadly, political biographies. Roy Jenkins certainly improved my vocabulary - you couldn't read anything of his without a dictionary by your side.

 For Anna, it's been Jez Alborough and the "Duck in the Truck" books (if you've never read Fix it Duck, you quite literally haven't lived), to the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness to the Warrior cat series via Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket.

Books have enriched my life every day - and I know how important they are which is why I'm so passionately behind Kate's efforts.

You can donate here and follow her progress on Twitter here.

Please give generously - and if you're another blogger please write about this yourself and encourage all your readers to take part in this worthwhile project.

John Barrowman catches thief in Glasgow hotel

We're used to seeing Captain Jack Harkness getting himself into scrapes and fights as he saves the earth as leader of the intrepid Torchwood organisation. We associate the actor who plays him with fluffy Saturday night entertaining and the occasional

Well, it appears that art met reality the other night in a Glasgow hotel where Barrowman rugby tackled a young thief who'd been helping himself to the contents of a fellow guest's room.

The Daily Record has the story.

The striking thing for me is that Barrowman's attitude is not to lock the thief up and throw the key away, but to try to offer a different future by offering a job on the panto he'll be in this Christmas.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

But, Boss, the Prime Minister told me to bring her.......

Yesterday afternoon, I had a text from my daughter's school confirming that they were definitely closing next Wednesday, the day of the massive public sector strike over pensions.

But, that's fine - no problem - because David Cameron and Louise Mensch came up with the perfect solution yesterday at Prime Minister's Questions - Bob should just take her into the office with him.

Mrs Mensch's was I think the third in a series of questions clearly drummed up by Tory whips to give Cameron the chance to have a go at the strikers. This is how it went:

Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that one of most disruptive impacts of next week’s strikes will be on mums and dads with children in school? Will he join me in encouraging employers to allow parents to bring their children to work when it is safe to do so?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the strikes next week. Frankly, the strikes are going to go ahead and everybody should be very clear about where the responsibility lies: it lies with the union leaders and with the Labour party, which is taking their side and backing the strike. She makes the important point that when it is safe for people to take their children to work, organisations should allow them to do so.
Cameron doesn't really care much for health and safety anyway, so I expect he'd consider most workplaces appropriate for children.

Now, I can must imagine what my husband's boss would  say if he turned up with Anna next Wednesday, and it wouldn't be printable on a family blog. I have, of course, suggested to him that he floats the idea today, purely for mischief making purposes.

He's not going to be taking her, obviously, because I'm here to look after her. But if I wasn't I'm sure neither of us would want to subject her to the abuse she'd no doubt get if she walked across a picket line. Adults can (although they shouldn't have to) deal with that sort of thing, but children should not.

It got me thinking, though, what do parents who don't have alternative child care do?

I'm also fairly certain that if my husband put in a day's annual leave to look after her, his employers would simply refuse it and count him as being on strike, despite him never having participated in strike action before or the fact that he is not even a union member. He'd lose a day's pay unjustifiably. We really need to make sure that nobody's penalised in this way for their caring responsibilities - and that includes relatives whose carers are on strike having to go and get elderly parents up, breakfasted, washed and the like.

Last night on Twitter, Purplesun2001 pointed out that most people will have used their annual leave allowance by this time of year so may well have to take unpaid leave to fulfil their caring responsibilities.

I don't agree with this strike - it's tactically stupid. When was the last time a strike actually worked? There are serious issues over pensions which worry me. I'm concerned about the situation in 40 years time when today's young people haven't been able to save up enough to provide for themselves in retirement. Striking will ultimately be counter-productive, though and will only harm the people who take part in it.

I also don't agree with the macho hard ball stuff coming from the Government - with Francis Maude suggesting that the offer could be withdrawn if the strike goes ahead. The Tories who are murmuring about minimum turnouts in union strike ballots might like to look at turnout in particularly local government elections and reflect on that. In the Hillhead by-election last week, just 13% took part - but everyone had the choice and the chance to vote. Even a low strike turnout is more of a mandate than those really scary mass meetings I remember from my childhood. Everyone voted in favour - but what would have happened if they'd tried to defy the union bosses? The potential for intimidation was obvious.

I wonder if we'll see the little Camerons at work with Daddy next Wednesday although I really hope not because it would be pretty exploitative. I'm not sure Cameron really understands the real world of work, though, if that's his solution to schools being closed for strike action.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Oi, media, were you asleep last year when Clegg effigies were being hanged?

There's a lot of fuss in the media about the entirely tasteless antics of St Andrew's university students in burning an effigy of Barack Obama. It's a crude ritual that really should not happen in a modern, liberal society.

No matter how much I disliked someone, carrying out some mock execution on their likeness is not something I'd consider doing.

I don't think these things should be banned, but I have no problem in calling out the perpetrators for being small minded, intolerant idiots.

I do wonder, though, where the media were last year when the lefties were hanging effigies of Nick Clegg during the student demos.

Where was the condemnation and the outrage at this equally unpleasant act?

Double standards, much.

Lallands Peat Worrier revealed - the video

Thanks very much to the nice Mr Moridura for having the presence of mind and the technical know how to put our Lallands Peat Worrier blogger Andrew Tickell's tv debut up here on You Tube.

Here he is, in glorious, floppy haired, rock star technicolour.


Labour leadership hopeful's staffer tells student to "shut the f*** up" at demo

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh comes over as a quiet, thoughtful man. He's certainly always been very mild mannered whenever I've seen him interviewed. I'm not sure he would be impressed with the actions of one of his staffers at today's anti fees march at Holyrood. Edinburgh University Students Association organised the protest against the University's decision to charge students from other parts of the UK £36,000 for their degrees from next year.

Ken Macintosh turned up at the demonstration to show his support for the students, saying he didn't want universities to become the preserve of the rich. Of course, university tuition in Scotland is free for Scottish students - something secured by the Liberal Democrats in the first Holyrood coalition in 1999.  If Labour had got their way, they would, supported by Ken Macintosh who was an MSP at the time, have introduced fees in Scotland the same way as they did in England.

One of his staffers, believed to be Peter Swindon, was overheard telling a student who had the temerity to gently point out Labour's record on fees to "shut the f*** up". Charming.

Funnily enough, the last Labour person I heard abusing people in that manner was Jim Devine, the now disgraced former MP for Livingston who told a bunch of kids to "f*** off" during the by-election in 2005.

Such foul-mouthed public tirades have no place in politics.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Who benefits from the fuss about the #womanontheleft?

I have not been well this week. Pretty average bug for this time of year, but it's played merry hell with my plans to get organised for Christmas. I am being sensible and resting as much as I can.

Spending Monday afternoon in bed, too wiped out to even feel sorry for myself, I missed the Twitter furore over the "#womanontheleft".

When Hugh Grant was giving his testimony the other day to the Leveson Inquiry, some people noticed a woman listening intently. Now, apparently it's the law that any woman in the vicinity of Hugh Grant must clearly fancy him. The thought that she might be paying attention because she is Junior Counsel to the Inquiry,  a position you don't get unless you are an extremely accomplished barrister, seems to have escaped the la la land of social networking.

By the end of the afternoon, Carine Patry-Hoskin, the #womanontheleft was the top trending topic on Twitter in the UK. It was covered on news websites. The next morning. Lily Allen got in on the act, tweeting
#womanontheleft is on. She well fit
That was one of the nicer tweets in amongst a whole load of misogynistic bile.

My first thought on finding out about this yesterday was who stood to gain from detracting from Hugh Grant's evisceration of the media during his evidence, where he described the countless invasions of his privacy by representatives of the tabloid press?

I then read this excellent blog post by Helen Lewis-Hasteley over at the New Statesman and I broadly agree with her bemused reaction to the fuss:
Poor woman, I thought. She spent years training as a lawyer and now all anyone thinks is that she's a dippy bint mooning over a famous actor. 
Helen links to this article by Michael White in the Guardian. It was clearly professional, dispassionate and not at all simpery in any way.

It may be just as well that Hugh Grant fervently believes a film succeeds on its qualities, not on publicity about its stars, because he did his tabloid reputation as a heartless, feather-brained Lothario immense harm in the process of delivering damning testimony on phone-hacking to theLeveson inquiry on Monday.
He was still the diffident, self-deprecating Grant who has won audiences around the world as a light comic actor – not a particularly good one, as he occasionally says himself, though his ad libs in the high court were better than many of his scripts. But he also revealed himself to be thoughtful, articulate, brave in an unheroic way and – at least twice – very kind. No longer the foppish stereotype Brit, more high-minded Gary Cooper in Mr Deeds Goes to Town. How his tabloid tormentors will punish him for this if they can.

Actually, no, I was only joking. It's vomit-inducingly sycophantic.

Today the story drags on with an argument between the Guardian and the Sun over a story in the former which states that Carine was doorstepped by the latter which ended up in the Guardian having to apologise. I wish they'd get their facts right - that's the second time this year (the first being when they apologised over Gordon Brown's family medical records) they've made the News International lot look like victims. The wrongs done to them are, of course, nothing to the outrages they committed on other people, as we are now hearing in testimony at the Inquiry.

It's those horrors that should be at the forefront of our mind and we shouldn't allow ourselves to be distracted from them by incidentals and social media frivolity.

Willie Rennie, his house and the Olympic rings

Willie Rennie has been talking to STV about his enthusiasm for the forthcoming in London next year. You do get the air of excited child in a sweetie shop from him - and for somebody who loves sport as much as Willie does, lots of them being played at the highest level on the same island must feel like all his Christmases have come at once. I'm not sure I quite buy the idea that he'll actually be watching all of it. I can't imagine him sitting still for long enough to do that. He tends to do rather than spectate.  Mind you, word reaches my ears that he used to watch the World Cup and Snooker as a child, so I could be wrong.

I, on the other hand, will be completely glued. It's my birthday on day 5, so I shall be revelling in the swimming competitions at that time. It'll be so good to have the Games happening in the same time zone, so there'll be no sitting up past my bedtime or getting up at stupid o'clock. We didn't get any tickets, but we'll be revelling in the atmosphere.

The London Olympic Committee last week said it was "disappointed" at some of the reaction to the idea of displaying Olympic rings on Edinburgh Castle.  Comments have ranged from "outrage" to "tacky". Even if they are tacky, they'd surely once in a lifetime, history-making tacky. The last time the biggest international festival of sport hit these shores, my dad was 2 and my mum was a few months old. Enjoying this spectacle will be a something we get to do once and we should make the most of it.

Associating an iconic symbol of Edinburgh and Scotland with the Olympics also assists in persuading tourists who are coming to this country for the Games to extend their stay and come north for a few days. We need to take every chance we can to bring money into this country, being spent in our businesses.

Willie didn't give unbridled backing to the plan to put the rings on the Castle - but he did say he was disappointed with the reaction to the plan. He thinks that Scotland has so much to gain from the Games:

“The 2012 Olympics are being held on our doorstep and is a magnificent opportunity, not just for London but for the whole of the UK.
 “The rings on the castle may not be to everyone’s liking but the unfortunate wall of negative comment failed to recognise the opportunity for us here in Scotland. “As a sports addict I’m so enthusiastic about the Olympics that I’m prepared to have the iconic Olympic rings displayed on the roof of my bungalow in Kelty. “The Games will have far reaching effects on all parts of the UK with its legacy being felt throughout the country. The tourism and economic benefits will be ripe for reaping as long as we are ready to capitalise on it.
 “I am urging Fergus Ewing to silence the doom-mongers and urge Scots to get behind Scotland’s part in the 2012 Olympic Games.
 “The Scottish Government needs to play its part to make sure the Olympic Games is something that all of Scotland and the UK can benefit from.”
Knowing how much Willie likes to play sport, I'm surprised he didn't talk more about sports development and the potential for the Games to make sport more accessible for everybody. When we were kids, we'd all get our tennis rackets out after Wimbledon, or we'd play football in the field when the World Cup was on. The potential to get kids interested in such a wide range of sports can't be underestimated. Usually our tv schedules are full of football snoozeathons - this is our chance to bring hockey, netball, volleyball, fencing, gymnastics, swimming and many other sports back into prominence and get kids out in the street playing them. It gets the kids fit and engaged. Can't be bad.

But there's another opportunity here as well - to invest in sporting excellence, to get our most talented young kids the best possible coaching and opportunities. A girl from Anna's primary school is hoping to swim in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 - the Olympics in our country present a great opportunity for her in terms of both inspiration and the chance to give her the best possible chance to fulfil her ambitions.

Scotland's economy, Scotland's athletes, Scotland's people have so much to gain from these Games. We should embrace them with enthusiasm and reap the rewards of doing so.

Willie hasn't commented on whether he wants to see Coal Carrying made into an Olympic sport, though. This picture, taken from this video on You Tube, about 1:50 in shows him about to cross the line in the 2009 Scottish Coal Carrying Championship in his home village of Kelty.

His comment that he'd be happy to have the Olympic rings on his house have won him lots of attention. It would be fine - as long as someone else put them up for him. Anyone who had to listen to the interminable stories of him installing insulation under his floorboards last year will understand why I'm saying that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paul Waugh gives more examples of Lib Dems stopping Tories doing their worst

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the Lib Dems favour tax cuts for the poorest over the rich - that's why we've taken almost a million people out of tax in Government with the raising of the tax threshold - or that we don't want to see employers given the right to fire people at will, but it's good to see that journalists such as Paul Waugh recognise it.

In an article titled "The Lib Dem brakes are still on the coalition" Waugh gives three examples just from yesterday where our influence had stopped the Tories doing their worst.

"No wonder," he says, "that Conservative backbenchers are frustrated."

Remember that as you hit the doorsteps and people express their concerns about the coalition - we have a lot to be proud of and things would be a lot worse without us there.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lallands Peat Worrier to throw off his wig.........

..... and reveal to us who he is.

Maybe all of Scotland already knows this and I'm the last to find out, but, whatever, I'm looking forward t it.

I know his first name from private e-mails, and I know he's young enough to be my son from chatting to SNP activists, but that, so far, is the extent of my knowledge.

I haven't really minded his anonymity - I don't when the standard of writing is as consistently high as he manages. He combines intellectual rigour and a generally liberal mindset with wicked satire. I only have a problem with anonymity when people use it to throw around bile and abuse online. There are occasions when people need to be anonymous for all sorts of reasons, one of them to be able to write honestly about their profession - it's informative and adds to the debate.

But anyway, in just two and a half hours, we'll see who he is in real life, on the Politics Show Scotland. I said to presenter Raymond Buchanan on Twitter that I hoped the make-up department had the right sort of powder for his wig, but he reminded me that BBC Scotland produces Garrow's Law, so of course they will.

Not only that, but The Burd is on this programme too. It's great to see two of my favourite bloggers on the telly. And Mike Moore, one of my favourite people is on too. I literally can't wait.

See you at 12:30. I'm off to the gym first, though. I hope you're impressed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Youth unemployment figures highlight need for more college places - support Willie Rennie's campaign

Hardly a day goes by at the moment without me hearing about some friend or family member's job being in danger. Knowing what I know about the welfare system in this country, I am fully aware that it doesn't provide nearly enough of a safety net for people and losing an income can be absolutely catastrophic. We've been there ourselves - Bob was made redundant in 1994 and we had to live on what I was bringing in. We didn't even have children then, but it was quite a scary time, especially as it was implied to Bob that at his age he'd find it difficult to find work again. Imagine being thrown on the scrap heap at 42? Not a good feeling, I can assure you.

When the unemployment figures came out when Labour were in power, it used to really annoy me to hear Gordon Brown gloating that the number of people out of work was falling across the UK when it was going up in Scotland. You never really heard Jim Murphy talk about the human cost of losing your job. Mike Moore, on the other hand, puts people at the heart of his comments. Yesterday's unemployment figures for Scotland showed a 5000 increase in 3 months. That's around half a football stadium of families and households in crisis.

Mike said:

"The Scottish unemployment figures are a stark reminder we cannot allow any let up in our efforts to get the economy back to full health and people back into work as soon as possible. Each of these numbers represents an individual or a family directly affected by the economic downturn and the UK Government is doing all it can to create growth and reverse this trend.
"The urgency of protecting the UK economy has never been clearer as we witness events in the Eurozone. It is essential that we keep working towards securing strong and sustainable growth for the long term.
"Youth unemployment is a specific concern and I will meet labour market and  employment and skills experts next week to look at the issue in depth. That will help shape the objectives of Scotland's first national youth convention I have organised for March next year, which follows on from a series of seminars across Scotland. These have brought together Council leaders, employers, UK and Scottish Government agencies and local providers to work harder and better for the benefit of jobless young Scots. "
My heart absolutely breaks for young people who aren't able to find a job. We saw a generation put on the scrap heap in the 80s and it just can't happen again. The presence of Liberal Democrats in the Government should help to ensure that there are opportunities for young people. Mike Moore announced yesterday a scheme to give young people an extra 4 weeks' work placement, giving 12 weeks in total, so long as it leads to an apprenticeship. With the Scottish Government saying it'll provide an extra 25000 apprenticeships, this could be an example of much needed grown up working together on the part of Holyrood and Westminster.

What's stopping me shouting about this from the rooftops is this report in yesterday's Guardian in which young people complain about the hours and conditions in which they are being made to work. The potential for unscrupulous employers to exploit these young people. Why take on any employees when you get a steady stream of work experience people for free? What I will say is that the way this works in Scotland seems to be different in that an apprenticeship must be forthcoming at the end of the 12 weeks - but does this mean that  young people can still be put on work experience placement for 8 weeks with nothing at the end of it.

I know that experience in the workplace is quite important to get a job in the first place, but I just feel that there isn't much incentive in this to employers to take on permanent workers. Before I make my mind up on this, I'd like to get some feedback from young people who have been through this programme. My instinct is that without the apprenticeship at the end it does more harm than good.

The conclusion to draw is that by involving apprenticeships, Vince and Mike have made this a lot better. Mike has also been doing lots to specifically tackle youth unemployment. I can't imagine for a minute David Mundell as Secretary of State in a majority Tory Government doing the same.

There is a bit more that the Scottish Government can be doing, though. Because the Coalition is putting money into the FE sector in England, John Swinney's coffers are swelled by an extra £67 million in consequentials. Under the Barnett Formula, whenever new money is invested in England and Wales, we get a proportionate sum but it's up to the devolved government how to spend it.

Willie Rennie wants the SNP Government to put £40 million into Scotland's colleges to restore the 8560 places being cut due to the current funding crisis. If young people can't get jobs, surely we should be investing in college places to make sure that we have the skills to take advantage of the opportunities available. Green technology for example, is part of the way out of economic gloom for Scotland. If we are going to be the renewables powerhouse of the world then we need to have skilled people to operate, for example, windfarms. That's why Tavish Scott last year had a real go a the First Minister last year for not saving a course for wind turbine technicians at Carnegie College.

Liberal Democrats banging on about College courses is nothing new - in the last Parliament this was our budget priority every year and we usually managed to get the Government to do more on student bursaries or college places or both. This year, though, with this extra money, there's a chance to make a real difference to to 8560 young people. If you'd like to support Willie's campaign, do so here where you'll also find details of cuts to places in your area.

Don't boycott male only panels - complain about them

The Burd has posted about continuing, ignominious gender fail at the BBC. The culprit this time is Newsnight Scotland, affectionately tagged #newsnicht on Twitter - again. Female panellists are as rare as hens' teeth on that programme, a source of great annoyance to me, as you can imagine. To be honest, though, I hardly ever watch it - it's on way past my bedtime.

I tend to get equally irate about Question Time, which hardly ever has a balanced panel, politically or in terms of gender. Politics Scotland is also a persistent offender. I've seen shows, like yesterday's, where all the interviewees from Westminster, as well as the pundits, were male.

I was quite stupefied by one of the comments on The Burd's piece which suggested that the BBC overall made quite a lot of programmes aimed at women. So, we're supposed to watch Masterchef and EastEnders while the boys talk about the issues of the day, are we? It's the 18th century, without the corsets, thankfully, all over again.

Kate (the Burd's real name) also mentioned a letter to the Guardian by a group of eminent women announcing that they would boycott events which had all male panels. I get why but I think a retreat from the scene of the crime is in this instance counterproductive. We need to make more noise, not less. We need to encourage audience members of panel programmes like Question Time to embarrass the BBC by making reference to the stupidity of a virtually all male panel - in a calm way, I'm not talking about stage invasions or anything like that, but the point needs to be made, publicly.

At non televised events, I think it's also worth asking the men on the panel if they are not embarrassed to be taking part in something where there are no women. Put them on the spot. Get people to sign letters of complaint to the organisers.

And the rest of us - every single time we see an unbalanced panel, we should complain. I usually say something on Twitter if I notice it - but we need to complain to the relevant organisations and be systematic about it. Here's the BBC complaint form - something I now have in my favourites.

Writing this has reminded me that they haven't replied to the complaint I made about the way the BBC  News Channel treated Miriam Gonzalez Durantez during the Autumn Liberal Democrat Conference, so I've sent  them a reminder this morning.

I think that all male panels are off-putting to women and often lead them to conclude that politics isn't for them because it's not about them. When political parties put up banks of men in suits at a photo opp, it makes me seethe. My lot are just as culpable as anybody else and they hear from me when they get it wrong, you can be assured on that. I remember getting annoyed last year at some footage from a bit of razz at SNP conference when there wasn't one single woman on the stage.

Women's bodies are often airbrushed in photographs, but we're also in danger of allowing ourselves to be airbrushed out of discussions on the governance of the country. We need to find some way of ridiculing those who allow that to happen, to make them feel uncomfortable about it. A boycott is way too silent for that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Charles Kennedy backs Ewan Hoyle for Hillhead

That is all.

Glasgow Hillhead: Vote Ewan Hoyle 1 tomorrow for a fantastic Councillor

Tomorrow, voters in Glasgow Hillhead go to the polls to elect a new Councillor. The Liberal Democrat candidate in this election is one Ewan Hoyle.

I may have mentioned this guy once or twice in passing before. He is a thoughtful, genuine, fiercely intelligent man who literally never gives up. Political parties can be a bit timid when it comes to drugs policy, fearful of upsetting the Daily Mail, and while our party was always the most likely to challenge the orthodoxy, it took some doing to persuade it to do so. Ewan, over several years, did that at Scottish and UK level. He had the sensitivity, finesse and persuasiveness to pursue it to a successful conclusion. The adoption of the policy is one thing, implementation is another and we'll all keep working on that one.

All of these personal qualities make Ewan supremely qualified to be a Councillor. He is another of these immensely talented Liberal Youth Scotland members, like Kristian Chapman and Sophie Bridger before him, who have represented the party in by-elections this year.

One of Ewan's key pledges is to take on bad landlords so that people have safe and properly maintained homes to live in.

Ewan and his team have been knocking on many doors in Hillhead and have had a very friendly reception. Cllr Kenn Elder, who's been Liberal Democrat councillor in that ward since 2007 is very highly regarded and that's always a help.  It's always good to hear from people that  your colleagues are doing a good job.

We know from the evidence of our own eyes at by-election counts that the Liberal Democrats are picking up lots of second preferences in by-elections. On one level, that's encouraging, but if you want Ewan as your councillor, you have to give him your first preference. All the second preferences in the world won't help if he doesn't have enough firsts to stay in the race at the start.

So, if you live in Hillhead,  to elect someone with great sense, tenacity and compassion, go out and vote Ewan Hoyle 1 tomorrow - and encourage everyone you know in the ward to do the same.

Nobody would ever get run over if we banned crossing roads.........

To a liberal the idea of banning anything is instinctively something that has to be scrutinised within an inch of its life. To us, the state has to have a compelling reason to interfere in someone's private life and people should generally be free to go about their business as they choose so long as they are not infringing the rights of others.

And, so, just because doctors call for a ban on all smoking in private cars, this does not mean that one should be enacted, in much the same way as when the Police said they needed to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days, liberal voices ensured that this did not happen.

The BMA's line is that the toxicity of the environment inside a smoky car can be 23 times that in a smoky bar. Adults can make their own minds up about whether they take that risk. I don't think that I would regularly get into a car where someone was smoking. The state has no place to interfere in those decisions. If it did, then by the same logic, Government officials could be employed to go through your trolley at the supermarket and chuck out everything that's bad for you. If you ban people from smoking in their own private surroundings, and cars are part of that, where will the assault on liberty end?

But what about the risks to children? Believe me, my opinion of anyone who, knowing what we know about its harmful effects, exposes children to their cigarette smoke is right down there with bankers and  companies who inappropriately market infant formula in my estimation. Again, though, where do we draw the line? I wrote about this very issue earlier this year when Labour touted making smoking in cars with children a crime.

I said at the time:

There comes a point when the state has to recognise that it can’t do everything.  Smoking in cars when you’re taking your kid to school when the evidence exists that this causes harm is an inconsiderate, horrible thing to do that will probably affect their future health. 
There’s all sorts of things parents do, though, which store up future problems for their children. That’s why poet Philip Larkin famously said “They f*** you up, your mum and dad.”  Evidence suggests that the regime orientated parenting methods such as leaving babies to cry and trying to regulate their instinctive behaviour can cause much more harm than good for future mental wellbeing.  We have a situation where 1 in 4 adults will have mental health problems at some point in their lives. Do we ban these methods in the hope of improving mental health?  I can imagine the outcry if a Government tried. 
What I think would me more helpful, though, is an attempt by Governments and politicians to put the needs of children front and centre, to try to change the culture to make us a much more child friendly place.  We don’t actually seem to like kids very much here – we ghettoise them, try to confine them to soft play areas so that adults can get on with their own socialising. Then we complain when they hang around with each other as teenagers.  Maybe we should be thinking about how we can best integrate them into our lives and accept and enjoy them in every environment. Then it might not be so easy to dismiss the effects on them of lighting up in a small metal box.
I suspect the BMA's agenda is actually to gain a ban where children is concerned by making it look like a compromise on this proposal, but I think that even this would be too far.

I'm pleased to see that the Scottish Government is being quite sensible in response to the BMA's proposal, which I presume is down to Nicola Sturgeon. They say that:

"While we have no plans to extend the smoke-free laws to private cars, the Scottish government is conscious that private cars are now one of the main places for exposure of children to second-hand smoke.
"In developing our refreshed national tobacco control strategy for publication next year we will consider with our health improvement partners what further steps might be taken to protect children from the risks posed by second-hand smoke."

I think Nicola should sit down with Angela Constance, the Children's Minister, the Children's Commissioner, representatives of children's charities and maybe even some children themselves and work out how best to make Scotland a more child friendly culture. That to me is the most sensible way forward. Changing culture takes time, but think back to the when I was a child when nobody wore seatbelts in cars and drink driving wasn't exactly encouraged, but it wasn't frowned upon either.

South of the border, they should do the same sort of thing. A sort of ongoing children's summit, if you like.

 If the Government tried to ban everything that was risky, then we'd literally never go out - and staying cooped up at home isn't exactly healthy either. There are some things you shouldn't legislate for. Personal freedom is precious and we must guard it carefully.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: ITV's The Jury

I am a complete sucker for a good courtroom drama. Lunchtimes during the school holidays when I was a little girl would find me avidly watching Crown Court. There was always that moment of drama on a Friday when The Verdict was declared.  I just wish they'd bring it back - it'd surely give Doctors a run for its money. Not, of course, that I watch that. In fact, when I was in the gym today over lunch time, I chose, as usual, to watch the BBC News Channel while I huffed and puffed on treadmill, bike and cross trainer.

If it's a historical courtroom drama, so much the better. I remember Shadow of the Noose way back in the 90s, telling the story of Edward Marshall-Hall, a famous barrister of the day. I was, of course, delighted to see the return of Garrow's Law last weekend, and not just for wigs and breeches. It's probably worth pointing out, though, that I'm so used to the terminology of the English legal system and very unfamiliar with how Scottish courts operate. We don't have manslaughter up here, it's culpable homicide and we also still have a not proven verdict which last attracted major controversy earlier this year when it was used in the trial of the man who assaulted Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

Last week ITV ran a drama called The Jury over five nights.  It portrayed the re-trial of Alan Lane, whose conviction for the murder of three women was taking place amid a backdrop of a parliamentary attempt to remove the right to trial by jury. The interspersed fictional clips of Today programme interviews and news headlines gave a potted summary of the issues - and it's worth remembering that The events focused on the Jury in the trial and was meant to dramatically illustrate why the system was rubbish. In just five hours of drama, developing the character of 12 jurors is well nigh impossible. There's the woman who's fed up of being left at home alone for weeks on end as her husband goes abroad on business. Then there's the Sudanese refugee desperate to go to the US who's befriended by a rich, retired Jury colleague. The friendship that developed between them was very well done. There's the woman who's feeling constantly sick and the one who shouldn't really be there at all. And who is the mysterious woman hanging around the court room?

I was called for jury service a few years ago but had to defer due to childcare issues. Now that I don't have to worry quite so much about that, I would really love for the envelope to drop through my door summoning me into Edinburgh. Knowing my luck, it'll arrive for a time when I'm on holiday, or just before an election, or the like. It's such a responsibility, but one I think I'd be able to do properly. Someone said on Twitter the other night that they wouldn't be able to cope with a trial where someone had been hurt. It would be horrific, but still, justice needs to be done. There is absolutely no point in locking the wrong person up.

I thought the scenes when the jury were deliberating in this were actually pretty good. You knew all that was going on in their lives so you'd wonder how on earth they'd be able to put that all aside and get on with the job.

I cringed at some technical errors, but then I'm a pedant. The visa application process at the US embassy was so unrealistic that it took the series into the realms of fantasy. Apart from that, though, it was well made, with good use of flashbacks to illustrate the detail.

The absolute standout performance for me, and the reason I'd recommend that you sit down with some popcorn and watch this on the ITV Player, is Julie Walters' portrayal of defence barrister Emma Watts. She had a good script to work with, and the prosecuting guy was a bit of a caricature, but she did a brilliant job. She was persuasive and passionate and I could have listened to her all day. I'd like to see more of that character in action.

The climax was quite shocking for all sorts of reasons that I'm not going to give away. Watching this will be five hours well spent, and you can do so on the ITV/STV player here for another few weeks.

Graeme finally gets around to writing about his time as a volunteer teacher in Uganda

If you don't have time to read a longish blog article right now, save this one as a favourite to enjoy later. In July, my friend Graeme left the comfort and proximity of Starbucks of his office to go to rural Uganda to volunteer as a teacher for a couple of months.

He's finally got round to writing about his experiences. His blog "Hunting for Gems in the Pearl of Africa"  outlines a bit about the history of Uganda, the philosophy behind Volunteer Uganda's programme and about the children he taught. I remember he posted on Facebook about how enthralled they were when he taught them about the solar system.

My Anna is so lucky - her attendance at school isn't dependent on my ability to pay. She learns in a modern environment with all the resources she needs. It breaks my heart to think of children who don't have access to even a basic education because their parents can't afford it.

I was also particularly interested to read about the Teaching First programme, which aims to introduce modern teaching techniques (ie not caning the children or making them learn by rote) into the country to make learning more exciting for the children and suited to their needs.

The work that Volunteer Uganda is doing will benefit the country for decades to come. Graeme has now become an ambassador for them, which means he spends time going round schools, talking to young people and encouraging them to take part in the programme.

This is a well written introductory piece. For his next one, I want to learn more about the day to day experiences he had out there, how he planned his lessons, what a typical day was, how often he was beaten at football by the kids,what he did at the weekends, that sort of thing.

This video, available on You Tube, shows Graeme in some, shall we say, interesting trousers and gives a flavour of his time there.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Willie Rennie - Marriage does not belong to the Church, it belongs to society

I am really proud of Willie Rennie today. I've just watched his appearance on yesterday's Politics Show where he unapologetically made the case for equal marriage in Scotland. You can tell that this is something he really believes in and he argued passionately and convincingly for the change. 

He was on with John Mason, whose motion on the subject of same sex marriage caused such controversy earlier in the year. 

It was really telling to watch Mason wriggle and squirm and do anything other than give a clear answer when asked whether he believed in equal marriage while Willie was perfectly comfortable discussing it openly. 

I thought he was particularly strong on two points, firstly that marriage does not belong exclusively to the church, it belongs to society as a whole, and when he showed the difference between stating a case and making a threat. He had taken the Catholic Church to task last month for overstepping its powers on this.

For me, as you will no doubt be aware, this is about a fundamental issue of freedom - and allowing equal marriage but not forcing it on those religious organisations who don't wish to offer it is the way to give maximum freedom everyone - and I'm glad to see Willie arguing so compellingly for change. He has really gone out there to try to win over hearts and minds on this. 

You can watch that part of the programme here. 

On the Council campaign trail in Edinburgh

Yesterday, I went off into Edinburgh to help the awesome North, East and Leith local party with their campaign for the Council elections.

The City of Edinburgh Council has been ably led by Lib Dem Cllr Jenny Dawe since 2007. They inherited a right financial mess from Labour and have transformed the city in the past 4 and a half years, making communities safer, reducing homelessness, building new council houses, improving social care and getting the city's finances on a stable footing. There is a lot to be proud of in their record. The Lib Dems are the only party to have shown consistent leadership on the issue of the trams.

I went in yesterday to help Tim Wight, our feisty candidate for Forth ward. It was the first time I'd been out delivering leaflets since the Glenrothes by-election in 2008. Illness has kept me on indoor duties since then. I was absolutely shattered at the end of the day but it was well worth it. I ended up very close to where I worked as a nanny way back in 1987 when I'd first moved to Edinburgh to live with Bob.

I spent a lot of time during the Scottish elections working with the North and Leithers, who count among their number the formidable Kevin Lang and the irrepressible Alex Cole-Hamilton so it was good to be back with them. I can highly recommend their campaign days for the standard of the catering alone. It's kind of useful having a culinary god as a campaign manager. We feasted on mellow, silky, aromatically spiced lentil soup and had a wonderful fruit cake with a delicious depth of flavour for afterwards - and there was plenty sweet and flavoursome tablet to keep us going if we flagged.

There was plenty good banter to be had as well.

So, I shall definitely be back there as well. There's lots of work to do between now and May - and we need to be out there, proud and confident, saying it.


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