Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Oh Danny Boy, The Price of Power's Calling ....

So its all over bar the shouting and it's officially a ConDemNation. This proud little oil rich nation of Scotland has learned the hard truth - vote Labour, get Tory. There is just one Tory MP in the whole of Scotland, yet for the next five years (if it hangs together that long) it will be a Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition that rules over far too many of Scotland's interests, and worse, has ultimate control of Scotland's purse strings. But there are eleven Lib Dem MP's in Scotland, and it was inevitable, therefore, that Nick Clegg's Chief of Staff, Danny Alexander, would be rewarded.

His prize is the post of Scottish Secretary - that anathema of a position that has no real place in post-devolution Scotland - a post that true Liberal Democrat Federalist Principles might well feel to be inappropriate and irrelevant. In fact, a post that the man himself said should be abolished!

But for Danny, this is surely the most poisoned of chalices. It is Alexander's Rag-Bag band who stridently called for the A9 dualling to be brought forward quicker than the SNP Government could possibly afford; it was this same politician who has called for the Scottish Government to pay for the final section of the Inverness Trunk Link Road - yet Lib Dem policy - as set down by this same man - calls for savage cuts in road building. And his new found friends are looking to achieve £6 billion in spending cuts this year alone. How will Danny square the circle? How will he now balance the interests of his own constituency in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey with the needs of the coalition? Let him try to tell constituents that it's not his fault - it's the Tories - or even less likely, that it's Labour's fault. In the words of Roosevelt all those years ago, let him tell that to the marines.

Only time will tell if the Lib Dems have sold their collective soul to the Devil, but for Danny, judgement day may come sooner than he might wish.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Hanging Time at the Westminster Gallows

Apart from the wag who said "If there's going to be a hung Parliament, who do we start with?", the prospect of a balanced Parliament (perhaps a better word than the hugely negative 'hung') raises many questions. Some say that the prospect would be a disaster for Britain; and that 'the markets won't like it'.

Frankly, I really don't care what the fat cats in the markets think of it, but I do care if people are falsely given the impression that this way lies disaster. Certainly not true for the minority government of Scotland, that has achieved so much by working toward consensus on an issue by issue basis. Certainly not true for many other countries where coalition is the norm. Why on earth could the 'mother of Parliaments' not operate when alliances need to be brokered and made?

But then we move on to the question of who, with whom? Here, we need, as an electorate, to take a reality check and appreciate that the constant bleatings of the media aimed at forcing one party or another to say who they would work with is complete and utter nonsense. No party could possibly be daft enough as to give away its negotiating position in advance of the final election result. And in any event, it is not until that final result that the influence any party may have can be seen.

But for Scotland, one thing is abundantly clear - as Alex Salmond says - quite simply, the more SNP MPs are elected, the more Scotland's position will be strengthened. It is an absolute fact of parliamentary mathematics that for each of the three main English parties, when it comes to working out who agrees to what deal in order to form a government, the minority of their seats are in Scotland. It will be anglo-centric policies that will be at the heart of negotiations - despite anything the Scottish Lib Dems may say. When push comes to shove, they will vote with their English colleagues, on issues negotiated for England. SNP members have no such divided loyalty. Their only potential allies their our friends in Plaid Cymru - together, they can be a powerful influence for both Scotland and Wales.

Never before has there been such an opportunity. Never before has the absolute relevance of electing SNP MP's to Westminster been so clear and present. It's a whole different question in the City of Salford, or the leafy suburbs of London. Let England get on and vote for the choices they have - and if that means the Lib Dems do well, then so be it. But in Scotland now, more than ever, Scottish votes must be votes for Scotland. This is no time to let this momentous opportunity slip through our fingers like so many grains of sand. Time to create a strong and influential group of National and local Champions. Time to grasp the chance.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gaelic Tokenism

I don't speak Gaelic (though I'm trying to learn ..... slowly) and I could, as a native English speaker, happily survive without Gaelic - but the language is at the very heart and soul of the history and culture of the Highlands, and creates the fundamental links with all of the Celtic Nations from Ireland through Wales and Cornwall to Brittany and beyond. The language is precious and its state of health is, as described today by Fiona Hyslop, fragile. An extra £100,000 has today been given to help promote early years Gaelic teaching. Yet another example of the SNP Government finding wee bits of extra money that can make a difference when all around bleat and moan. There will doubtless be some who cry 'waste of money' or 'how can we justify this in difficult economic times'.

I don't subscribe to this view. If this was always the approach taken, there would be no arts left; no culture; no sport - in short, if it wasn't seen as a crucial bit of front line service to citizens, it wouldn't get any money. I submit that nobody really benefits from such short termism.

Highland Council has what appears on the face of it to be an excellent gaelic language plan - even though there are some who constantly snipe and would do away with it tomorrow. But I do say 'on the face of it' ..... there are a couple of things though that really get my goat. First is when offices use dual language road sign policy as an excuse for doing nothing with a worn out sign ... 'ah yes', they say, 'but if we replace the sign, we'll have to upgrade it to dual language and that will cost lots more money, because the sign will have to be bigger, so the post will have to be stronger, so the foundation will have to be deeper!' Never mind if that's actually right or not - it sounds like a good story and it will keep councillors quiet.

The other is our tokenism in documents - where the title, and main headings are all shown in both English and Gaelic, but the rest of the document - all of the real content - is in English only. What's the point of that? Who benefits? It doesn't happen in Ireland and it doesn't happen in Wales, where routinely material across a broad front is produced in dual language format. Surely we can do better than this? OK, so to do this with all printed material would potentially double the number of pages (though not necessarily double the cost), but why can't we have a gaelic version? and why can't we have downloadable web based versions in both languages instead of these pointless little main headings. 'Comhairle na Gaidhealtachd' the logo proclaims. Isn't it time we started to be a Comhairle as well as a Council?

Monday, 5 April 2010

The REAL Lib Dem Roads Policy

So now we have it ... our local Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander loves to bleat on about how the Scottish Government has done nothing to dual the A9 and how the Scottish Government is delaying the Trunk Link Road around Inverness. This, of course, is the same Scottish Government that has put dualling the A9 firmly on the agenda, and the same Government that has already committed to funding the eastern section of the TLR - all after seven inglorious years of Lib Dem / Labour inaction.

Yet here we are, come general election time, and Lib Dem policy is to cut three thousand five hundred million pounds (£3.5 billion) or 90% from the roads capital budget and use £500 million to fund cheaper rail fares and £3,000 million to reopen or improve railway stations and lines, and build new ones.

This, of course, is all very well in the congested urban centres of Englandshire, where the balance between private and public transport is surely out of kilter, and getting worse. But here in the Highlands, I challenge Danny Alexander to come clean about Lib Dem plans for road building in his own 'patch' and to tell us exactly which stations and lines he would reopen, improve, or create from scratch. Would he seriously expect us to believe, for example, that electrification of the Highland Main Line would come anywhere other than close to the bottom of a Lib Dem wish list? Or would he, perhaps, re-open the Dava line? I don't think so! And what price Lib Dem promises about the A9 or the TLR now?

The bottom line is that it is the furthest reaches of the United Kingdom, with the most thinly spread of populations - West Wales and the Highlands of Scotland - that will never attain sustainable mass public transport systems, and will inevitably suffer most at the hands of this policy.

What we urgently need here in the Highlands are local champions who will stand up for local issues from a policy base of integrity, not politicians that try to face both ways at once. Only the SNP will stand up for the Highlands in Westminster. We need to elect John Finnie to replace Duplicitous Danny, Alasdair Stephen to displace the spent force that is Charles Kennedy and Jean Urquhart to usurp Viscount Thurso.

Friday, 26 March 2010

A Safer World - but not in Scotland

Today, The United States of America and the Russian Union have agreed to a further 30% reduction in deployed nuclear warheads. The world is a wee bit safer for that - another step toward total removal of these weapons from the face of a planet with no need for them, and no wish for them.

But in Scotland, can we feel that wee bit safer? Our Westminster Government still cling on to their pathetic wish to keep their place at the UN Security Council by dint of keeping hold of, and upgrading Trident missiles and the archangels of underwater death, the submarines that carry them. The real cost of upgrading Trident is £100 billion - I'll say that again - one hundred thousand million pounds - and again - £100,000,000,000.

What, in these times of recession and hardship, against the background of massive national debt, could we do, if we didn't spend this money?

Both Labour and Conservatives would continue with the replacement programme. The Lib Dems as usual prevaricate and only say they won't replace trident 'on a like for like' basis. Perhaps this means they will replace it with something still nuclear, but cheaper?

So even against a background of the world's major powers reducing their nuclear arsenals, still the only option realistically available in Scotland to send the message to scrap the obscenity of the weapon of mass destruction that is Trident altogether is to send SNP MP's to Westminster.

Here in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, it's time to dump dithering Danny Alexander and elect a real National and Local Champion - John Finnie.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Barriers to Barriers

Highland SNP MSP Dave Thompson has been conducting a concerted campaign to get ungated level crossings across the rail network outlawed. There have been so many incidents of people being caught out at these crossings and an appalling 21 our of 23 open level crossings are in the Highlands.

Some parts of the media wholeheartedly backed Dave's campaign, and Network Rail's response to mounting criticism of their unwillingness to address the problem seems to have been two-fold; first, they suggest that the cost of fitting half barriers would be one million pounds a shot - yet in Denmark, similar structures cost a mere £200,000; second, Network Rail has sought to smear Mr Thompson and his campaign, by selectively quoting an email from an industry expert who had initially not been in favour of the campaign, but who has subsequently come to agree with him that barriers are needed, subject to proper assessment, at several Highland crossings.

Network Rail's press release had the temerity to describe Mr Thompson's campaign as 'increasingly hysterical and biased', and worse, when contacted by his office, Network Rail's PR people sought to deny all knowledge of the press release they had issued.

So clearly, Network Rail seem determined to continue to put up barriers to the eminently sensible proposal to fit barriers at these level crossings, but there is another issue here too. Had this been a Labour MP in Westminster, would Network Rail have dared to describe him as 'hysterical and biased? Would they have dared to attempt to deny knowledge of their own press release? Would they have felt it appropriate to be so dismissive of an elected member of parliament?

There seems to be a different view of elected members to the Scottish Parliament and to the Government of Scotland itself. UK organisations seem to think that they are above the need to respect Scottish politicians. It's perfectly reasonable for Network Rail to baulk at the costs of introducing barriers at open level crossings - and the public can make their own minds up as to the priority the organisation attach to safety.

But it is not reasonable for an increasingly hysterical and biased organisation to attempt to discredit a hard working politician in an effort to divert attention from their own lack of action.

Friday, 12 March 2010

words, words, words

Have you ever noticed how particular phrases seem to float into fashion to the point of extreme annoyance, often, thankfully, only to disappear just as suddenly?
In terms of the current round of annoying phrases, it's about two in particular - 'in terms of...' and 'it's about...'
Anyone else fed up of this terrible twosome?

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Asgerd - A response

I'm happy to publish Asgerd's comment on the Lewis Chessmen, despite the criticism therein.
His response is perhaps typically 'academic', though making several points that are fair enough. But I'm not at all sure that it's fair to describe Angus's reaction as 'bullish' - justifiably indignant, yes, bullish, no. And let's not forget that it was the BM who caused the stooshie in the first place.

Personally, I'm quite happy to accept that the pieces originated in Norway, but they are universally recognised as The Lewis Chessmen' and were irrefutably found in Lewis. I'm perhaps somewhat less impressed by the 'I know more than you do' use of the term 'knowlegeable minds', however.

But this wasn't so much a question of a deliberate snub by the BM - more a case of blind academic pomposity failing to understand public perceptions. Actually, for me, the whole issue is just plain daft (as, of course, is the concept of keeping them - though to describe that as 'very irresponsible' is, frankly, boring, and as half-baked as the letters of years ago suggesting the Gauls might steal them), but the BM have brought the whole issue upon themselves, even though, in doing so, they have helped to highlight the forthcoming tour of the Chessmen with some extra free publicity. No bad thing that, then.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Lewis, No More

The Isle of Lewis has apparently joined the long list of 'no more' places celebrated in the Pretenders' Message from America, after the British Museum created a spectacular blunder in a poster on the London Underground depicting the famous Lewis Chessmen. One of the chess pieces is featured with the date 1150-1200 and the word 'Norway' beneath it, despite the pieces famously having been found buried in sand at Uig, Lewis in 1831. There is no mention of Lewis, or Scotland anywhere at all.

Angus MacNeil, SNP MP has secured the support of two other SNP MP's and seven others for a motion in Parliament deploring the poster.

A British Museum spokeswoman apparently said that “It is generally accepted that the chessmen were made in Norway. During this period, the Western Isles, where the chessmen were buried, were part of the kingdom of Norway, not Scotland.”

As Angus MacNeil points out, the Hebrides may have been ruled from Norway but were not part of Norway, any more than India was part of Britain.

Nobody has ever clearly established where the chessmen came from, but they were found in Uig. There is speculation they are of Scandinavian origin but there is also speculation they originated in Scotland and they certainly should be associated with Lewis.

The chessmen will be on display in four venues in Scotland including Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway, between April 15 and September 12 next year.If the British Museum continue to insist on this spectacular snub to the Hebrides and the wider Scottish Nation, then one thing is abundantly clear - when these chess pieces arrive back in Lewis, we should keep them!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Ask Wales, Ask England, But Don't Ask Scotland

Today is a momentous day in Scotland, as the SNP Government publishes their consultation document on the planned referendum, proposing a question on further devolution, and one on outright independence.
The opposition parties are, as one, baying like wolves under a full moon, stating that this is the wrong time, that it's a waste of public money to have a referendum at all, and that they will kill this off at the earliest opportunity.
These are precisely the same opposition parties who, down in Westminsterland, fully support a referendum for Wales on greater powers from the Welsh Assembly, and it is the disunited and totally treacherous Labour Party in England who have promised a referendum on proportional representation if they are re-elected - something the Lib Dems have wanted since the days of Jo Grimmond.
Yet the withered Scottish arms of these wimpish, clueless and gutless parties would deny Scots the opportunity to express their views on the most important question for Scotland since the Parcel O' Rogues in 1707. They say it's a waste of time because there's no way Scotland will vote for Independence - yet they don't dare risk it.
Scots need to have faith in themselves, and courage for their futures - it will be for those of us who believe in Independence to convince them to emerge triumphant from under the thumb of Westminster rule - but it should never be for the rag bag unholy alliance of Labour, Lib Dems and Tories to deny even the opportunity to choose.
In my Westminster Constituency, the hapless Lib Dem incumbent is Danny Alexander, and the SNP Candidate will be John Finnie - the hugely capable leader of the SNP Group in Highland Council.
I challenge Danny to tell me here and now if he supports his pals in Holyrood in their stance not to support a referendum. If he does, every voter in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey should reflect, come May 6th, or whenever, that this man would deny their right to choose, and should exercise their alternative right to choose John Finnie to replace him.

You'd have to be bonkers ......

.... to support a party whose elected members are like this ....

Honesty in Politics

For me, Nicola Sturgeon's frank, open and genuine reflection on her actions in supporting a constituent convicted of fraud, and apology for the mistakes she made is part and parcel of what it is that sets the SNP Government apart from the rest. It is an ability to answer questions - Alec Salmond, First Minister, has been known on more than one occasion to answer a simple question with a simple 'Yes', or 'No', rather than a menage of prevarication. Nicola has time and again demonstrated this remarkable openness with the electorate, and this time has once again clearly shown why she will make a magnificent successor to the Mighty Eck, and with luck, and a following wind, Scotland's first Prime Minister. Everybody makes mistakes, as the Dalek said, climbing off the dustbin, and the concept that we expect our politicians never ever to do so is plainly ridiculous. Yet who else, other than the SNP, have the courage to hold their hands up and say 'yup, got that one wrong, sorry'?

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Pathways to the core truth

This week, it was reported in the press and on TV - but perhaps most notoriously in the Daily Record - that Roseanna Cunningham had been forced, through letters from MI5 and Westminster, to do a u-turn and not include two paths close to Balmoral in the Cairngorms National Park Core Paths Plan. There were calls for her resignation, and all manner of righteous indignation.
The truth of the matter, as reported in a public meeting of the board of the National Park on Friday, is that the park board had decided, before submitting their recommendations, that these two paths should not, in fact, be included. The board had recognised representations made by Balmoral Estate that the proximity of parts of these paths posed a security issue, and that, even though locally they were used by custom and practice, their publication as core paths would not be helpful.
In the course of statutory consultation, there were a number of unresolved objections which meant that a public inquiry would be needed, one of which was an objection that these paths should, after all, be included. The reporter who conducted the inquiry decided that he was not persuaded of the park board's view and recommended their reinstatement as core paths. The minister in fact said she was 'minded to accept' the reporter's recommendations, but nevertheless felt she needed a view on the security issue from the appropriate sources in London, and wrote accordingly.
The advice she received was clear and unequivocal that it was indeed considered that a security threat would be posed, so in the end, the Minister directed that the board of the Park should formally adopt their plan, as they had proposed, without these two paths. The media only reported the leaked letters from London - none of the rest of the facts.
Perhaps, one might think, journalists were simply being lazy and not bothering to discover the full context - but that would be a charitable view that is extreme in it's gullibility. These are 'professional' journos, interested only in a story; 'Minister considers all available advice and accepts park core paths plan' is not a story; and it doesn't give them any opportunity at all for their avowed and oft-evidenced propensity toward Nat-bashing. They were not lazy - they set out deliberately once again to deceive and to mislead. Plus ca change......