Thursday, 3 December 2009
Friday, 9 October 2009
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
Monday, 21 September 2009
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
The news that the Boundary Commission have completely ignored representations made from Badenoch and Strathspey, from our MSP, Fergus Ewing, from myself and from The Highland Council and made no changes at all to their recommendation that Badenoch and Strathspey be carved up for electoral purposes between Inverness and Lochaber in a pathetic blind adherence to the numbers game is nothing short of an utter disgrace.
Despite this being about the boundaries of the Scottish Parliamentary Constituencies, the decision is a reserved matter and will be made by Westminster's poodle in the north, The Secretary of State for Scotland, not by our own Parliament.
The breathtaking and dismissive arrogance that denies us even a local inquiry hearing into our grievances is yet more evidence that devolution is an increasingly unsatisfactory half way house. How is it possible that a raft of clearly expressed views, including unanimity across the political divide in Highland Council, can be ridden over roughshod by an undemocratic bunch of numpties reporting to an anachronism from the past?
It is quite extraordinary that these clowns in Edinburgh can actually consider it reasonable to expect the MSP for the new constituency that will include more than half of our area, on the western side of the Cairngorms National Park, to be able to represent constituents from Aviemore down to Lochaber, across to Uig in north Skye, then back across to Dingwall, north of Inverness. Aviemore to Uig is 163 miles. This is twenty three miles further than it is to Glasgow City Centre, and an amazing thirty six miles further than the trip to Holyrood itself. All this would be bad enough by itself, but to take all of the connections of the area of Badenoch and Strathspey and rip them apart in a divorce that nobody wants for the sake of equality of numbers is total idiocy. In rural environments, equality of numbers is in no way related to equality of representation.
All we have left to battle on with now, given that the Boundaries Commission won't even give us a local inquiry because they say 'they have enough information to come to a decision' is to write to the Secretary of State for Scotland to urge him to reject the Commission's proposals.
Friday, 28 August 2009
Friday, 21 August 2009
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Sunday, 16 August 2009
Monday, 10 August 2009
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Our local newspaper, the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald, has a regular column entitled 'Foolscap' - a collection of disconnected jottings with a humourous edge that as often as not, pokes fun at local worthies, but occasionally produces the odd real gem.Such was the case this week, with the tale below ....
A TALE for our times. One day a wealthy tourist arrived in a small town, let us call it Nethymore.
He walked into the only hotel, laid a £100 note on the reception counter and went to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one.
The hotel proprietor took the £100 note and ran to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher took the £100 note and rushed to pay his debt to the pig farmer.
The pig farmer took the £100 note and ran to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel. The supplier of feed and fuel took the £100 note and rushed to pay his debt to the town's 'lady of the night', who in these hard times had given her "services" on credit.
She ran to the hotel to pay off her debt with the £100 note to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.
The hotel proprietor then laid the £100 note back on the counter so that the wealthy tourist would not suspect anything.
At that moment, the rich tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, picks up his £100 note saying that he does not like any of the rooms, and promptly leaves town.
No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.
And that, dear reader, is how our Government is doing business today – and possibly a leisure company near you.
There's no denying foolscap's story made me smile - definitely better than reading the news. But, of course, the flaw in the argument is that the hotel keeper didn't actually get to keep the £100 note, so he is still out of pocket. So the paradigm here might just be that the hotel keeper in this story is you and me - the taxpayer. The banks still pay their executives big bonuses; the Westminster crew continue to fiddle the books; companies get rescued; like the transfer market in football, the money just keeps moving round - and the fatal flaw is that it's our money, but there's precious little chance of our getting it back, whilst the dole queues continue to grow. How much would we give for the rich tourist - a one G Brown Esq - to take his money and leave town?
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Friday, 3 July 2009
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Monday, 18 May 2009
Shafts of sunlight glinting in the trees
As you catch the first snowflake on the mountain
Heart aglow although your fingers freeze
In every passing moment of contentment
You feel in every season of the year
Who do you think has made this magic for you?
How can you not believe Our Lord is here?
Among the deer
Beside the swiftly flowing stream, Our Lord is Here
Our Lord is here
His presence clear
His words are calling through the glens
Our Lord is here
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Thursday, 7 May 2009
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Monday afternoon saw me down at our superb Highland Council run Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore. Around a year or more ago, after a planning meeting in which it was agreed that a sleeper house could be demolished, I featured on the front page of the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald, calling for a survey of the sleeper houses that remained in the area, lest they might all disappear before we realised, and expressing the hope that the Folk Museum might be able to save some. I'm delighted to say that I was invited down yesterday to the opening of one that had been moved from the grounds of a house in Newtonmore and lovingly re-set into a mid nineteen fities setting.
Saturday, 2 May 2009
They are alll ready and willing to act on behalf of this Nation's interests. Why would anyone vote for any other party when these men and women have got what it takes?
She also criticises the government's handling of the issue of the Gurkhas, saying it put itself "on the wrong side of the British sense of fair play, and no party can stay there for long without dire consequences". For a change, she's more or less right, if calling for the fundamentally impossible - but what are the motives of a government minister making such a critique? Is she looking to get herself fired to up her profile come the inevitable labour revolution? She can't possibly have her sights on the leadership herself .... can she? Certainly, another Maggie Thatcher, she's not - in terms of political stature, that is. She says she's really saying to all other ministers that they have to re-connect with people on the streets - get out and meet people - but John Prescott said that much better in his usual uncompromising way. Yet for all that, the picture is one of dis-unity, of petty squabbles and opening up of wounds. The clock is surely ticking on the last days of this government. But what of the alternative? Here in Scotland, we have a credible alternative - one that's already in Government, and doing very well thank you, despite the best efforts of London Labour at sabotage. In England, though, the current most likely alternative is the Tories. The effect in Scotland would be to put in Westminster a party that would try to do far more than Labour ever dared to crush the Scots latent desire to be a Nation again. A party whose mantra might well re-introduce that cursed missing verse of the 'National' Anthem - "Lord grant that Marshal Wade May by thy mighty aid Victory bring. May he sedition hush, And like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the Queen." Such a party may well accelerate our drive for independence, and might have the same effect in Wales, too. But would the Tories under David Cameron's Will O' the Wisp set of pseudo policies, really be good for England? It will not be too long now, before we will all have the opportunity to ask that question - and the opportunity to consider that if the - now dominant -new force in Scotland are the Scottish National Party, in England, too, it will be vitally important to ensure that at the very least, a credible third force holds sufficient balance of power to prevent the worst excesses of either Labour or Conservative administrations.
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
The trouble with the global communications world is that the capacity for the eccentric, the uninfomed and the opinionated becomes infinite. Come to think of it, this blog is testament to that!
Shelter Scotland have welcomed the move. Director Graeme Brown said "There's no point in running a bath with the plug out the other end and that's what we continue to do when we build good quality affordable rented homes and then sell them off at a discounted price." The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has welcomed the move. The Liberal Democrats have welcomed the move - Jamie Stone is quoted as saying "There is now an overwhelming case to abolish right to buy for new build council and social landlord houses."
So who, I wonder, might think it not such a good idea? I'll give you two guesses .... Yes, that's right, New Labour (Old Tory) and New Tory (Old Tory). Extraordinarily, Labour spokesperson Mary Mulligan described it as a cynical attempt to divert attention from the Government's failure to help housing associations build more affordable homes. That would be £50M worth of failure then would it? And whose economic situation might it be that makes it difficult to build in the first place? Tory spokesperson Mary Scanlon said that right to buy was "One of the great successes" of the last Tory Government. What kind of rose-tinted spectacles are you wearing Mary? Sure, every council house sold off is one more opportunity for a family to get a heavily discounted hutch up onto the housing ladder, but it's also another lost affordable home for a young family just setting out and flying the nest. Why should people start on the personal profit trail if it's at the expense of those who, as a result, can't even get a roof over their heads at a sensible price when they most need it, at the start of their working lives. Perhaps a better way might be to come up with some kind of scheme that incentivises those who are considering the first rung of the ownership ladder to take the step and move out of their social housing, freeing it up for someone who needs it.
But the real iniquity of it all lies inextricably with this discredited and tired Westminster Government. Labour spokespeople in Scotland can bleat all they like about 'failure to help housing associations' - but their masters in Westminster created a spurious scheme to persuade Local Authorities to get their tenants to agree to transfer of council stock to housing associations or trusts, in return for writing off council house debt. If, as in Highland, council tenants were very happy with their councils - even if it was on a 'better the devil you know' basis - the vote was an emphatic NO to the big Westminster bribe, then tough luck - other councils can have their housing debt written off, but you can't - you've been naughty boys and not gone along with what we want, and it's our ball, so we'll take it away. Meanwhile, I think it's some 43% of all council house receipts that go towards servicing our council house debt. So it's Westminster who are the main impediment to a resumption of council house building in Highland, and it's Westminster who are agin the idea of stopping the right to buy. And for the avoidance of doubt, no, it wouldn't be any better under Cameron's cronies.
Monday, 27 April 2009
Another issue discussed today was efforts to rationalise the office spaces used by the council in Kingussie - we are scattered in five locations and the plan was to try to get everyone in the same location, but this is looking problematic, to say the least.
On a lighter note, though with a serious element, we were discussing arrangements to fly the armed forces flag for seven days from June 22nd, armed forces day. Naturally, we were happy to support the brave men and women who fight for our country - even if we don't always agree with the politics that says they have to - but Councillor Gregor Rimell's impression of the hoy-poloy of the armed forces had us all in stitches - a kind of local version of It Ain't Half Hot Mum. It's always good to know that there is room for some humour in your day - whatever you do.
Turning to domestic matters, yesterday, we heard that our daughter would be performing in a choir in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on Sunday June 28th, just a few days before her birthday, so it was onto the Flybe website to snaffle whatever flights we could for a trip down. Turns out that my other half will fly down on Friday morning, but I will go on the Saturday as I have a Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning meeting in Ballater on the Friday. Then we'll come back on the day after her birthday. This will be a great opportunity to show off the pictures and videos from India, from whence we will have returned just a fortnight earlier.
And today's thought ... so there's an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico which seems to be hitting them hard - although I heard one report that the '100 dead' was nowhere near the truth and that '5' might be nearer. And someone in Spain is a little bit ill, along with a couple of folk in Scotland who have 'mild symptoms'. In the words of Douglas Adams in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy ...
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Thursday, 23 April 2009
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Saturday, 18 April 2009
Friday, 17 April 2009
Planning in the Cairngorms National Park is unique. There is nowhere else where the planning authorities remain the Local Authorities (Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Angus) but the Park has the option, within twenty one days of the lodging of an application, to decide that the application raises issues of significance to the aims of the Park and that therefore, the Park's planning officers and the Park planning committee (which consists of the entire board) should decide on the application. Most applications don't get called in in this way - but some do - either because they are obviously controversial, or simply because they do directly impact on one or more of the Park aims. Call in doesn't mean that the Park is 'against' an application - it just means it thinks it is important enough for them to want to have a say. The side effect of this is that, since we have to decide this within twenty one days of any application being lodged, we have to meet every fourteen days - spring, summer, winter or autumn, in between Christmas and New Year included - keeps us on our toes....
The informal discussion invloved a presentation by the entertaining duo of 'Gergask Air' - Councillor Jaci Douglas and board member Lucy Grant, who transported us in their make believe world to the year 2050 and what the Park had achieved, by making changes in how it inter-related with partners and public, beginning way back in 2009. Fortunately they transported us all back to 2009 (apart from Convener David Green, who they seemed to want to leave lost in space), with plenty of food for thought on how we might improve things. From that we went on to a couple of working groups to look at what we do well and what we do not so well.
After lunch, we turned to the vexed question of a web portal for the Park, which has been in gestation for two years now, but still has issues in relation to delivering fair and equitable linkages to all members of all business organisations who have quality accreditation and should therefore appear on the portal. This is a really complicated problem because there are so many organisations that tourism businesses - especially accommodation providers - might choose to join - andwe can't be seen to be favouring one over any other. We need to work with the business community to obtain concensus on a way forward - but quickly!
Then on the Ard Gheal, the new group of four affordable houses built under the auspices of the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust, on land made available by the Forestry Commission. The houses actually cost around £160,000 each to build in the end, but with grants and part ownership, the price for each family was much reduced. Fergus Ewing MSP did the honours opening the development. Back then to the car, where a flat offside rear tyre greeted me - but a trip down to the boathouse at Loch Insh Watersports found Jonny Freshwater with a compressor to hand to oblige with a refill.
And finally .... today's beef - BBC Breakfast TV did a piece this morning on how the Royal Mail were withdrawing five post bus services from remote parts of the Western Highlands - but totally failed to mention that Hiughland Council had reacted swiftly to put emergency measures in place to maintain a public transport service in these areas whilst a more permanent solution was worked out. They had their story, and they were sticking to it, even when I contacted them to point out what we were doing. Such is life!
Thursday, 16 April 2009
So lets try and make a start.
This morning saw me make the trip which my sit up and beg Ford Fusion can now make on its own, up to Inverness - the Headquarters of almost all things Highland Council - for a meeting of the Audit and Scrutiny Committee - the only committee chaired by the official opposition - which we in the SNP currently are. It's role is to scrutinise and audit pretty much anything and everything - if it moves, scrutinise it till it stops, then audit it.
OK, so that's not really what it's about, but it has a serious role in ensuring that decisions are taken properly, policies and procedures are fully followed, and money is spent appropriately. Most interesting issue this time was an audit of job appointments, in which, amongst other things, it was discovered that five out of a sample of thirty five new appointments didn't get issued with contracts of employment. The audit recommendation was to ensure that all service managers informed human resources as they should so that contracts could be issued. But I know that there are many people washing around in the Council system who have never had a contract of employement, so I asked what they were going to do to track these down and fix it. They seem to have something planned, so we'll see.
After a bite of lunch - HQ's notoriously unidentifiable sandwiches - it was back home to log on to have a look at the test site for the National Park's new web portal - not yet launched, but intended to link to via local tourism marketing organisations' sites. The more I dug, the worse it got - inconsistent results and problems with some businesses not being found, or not being linked to. There is still some way to go with this, so I needed to take a trip down the four miles to Grantown to talk things through with the staff involved and agree what I was going to say at tomorrow's board meeting, and why. Perhaps there'll be more on this subject later. For those with a high boredom threshold and a death wish, watch this space.