Friday, 20 December 2013

Show me the money.


Take a good look at the image above before you read the text below, for one of the most effective ways of measuring the true motivations of any campaign is by looking at who funds it.

Yes Scotland say they're not ready to give out details of who's been funding their campaign, we know they received a £1 million donation from Chris and Colin Weir - the Euro-millions winners from July 2011. The Weirs also set up a charitable trust, perhaps by looking at the type of things they've helped to fund, you might be able to form an opinion on their motivations. It goes without saying - any link between those donations and money they gave to the SNP or Yes Scotland is entirely coincidental - I wouldn't seek to link the SNP or Yes Scotland via the Weir Charitable Trust to any of the good and decent things funded by them. What I do seek to do is link the general intent.

We'll have to wait and see what other kind of donations Yes Scotland have been receiving, will they be whoppers from big business with vested interests in Scotland becoming independent? Will oil & gas companies be greasing palms already for favourable trading conditions come 2016? Its hard to say, Yes Scotland have no blat in that direction, I could imagine the SNP being courted by such interests, but not Yes Scotland.

Better Together on the other hand...

Although we can't say for sure, by which I mean, we can't say with absolute certainty that after a Yes vote, when Scotland becomes an independent state, companies will be able to trade across the border seamlessly and with out hindrance. Technically nor can we say Scotland will definitely use the pound, or be in the EU... 

But consider this, imagine you're sitting across a table from me in an otherwise empty room, if I asked you to stand up then immediately sit back down without checking the chair had been moved - given the conditions - would you feel inclined to check the chair was still there?


For illustrative purposes only - Habitat-chic circa 1982
The thing is, you can't know for 'certain' the chair would still be there, but bearing in mind the facts of the situation, its probably safe to assume its OK to sit back down.

Effectively, this is what Better Together are suggesting, if you vote yes, when you go to sit back down, the chair will be gone. Realistically though, what are the chances? There could be a zombie outbreak or meteor strike, short of that - while some bureaucrat in the EU could have a brain-fart - nothing & nobody can stop Scotland using the pound if we become independent, nor would Westminster try because it would be disastrous for the currency and for what's left of the UK.

But I digress.

Better Together announced recently where the big donations came from and its all a bit disturbing.

Around £1.3 million has been raised in large donations - those of £10k or more. Where did they come from though, concerned Scots worried about being torn from the ample breast of a beneficent UK?

No.

Sir Chippendale-Keswick, chairman of that well known Scottish football club Arsenal, gave BT £23k. 


Sir 'Chips' Keswick.
Obviously he's a 'sir' - knighted in the new year's honours list of 1992, he's married to Lady Sarah Ramsay, daughter of the 16th Earl of Dalhousie. He was (and might still be - wiki is vague) a director of the Bank of England as was his father before him. He also sat on the board of corporate donors to the Conservative Party, went to school at Eton and has interests in DeBeers SA, Persimmon PLC and Investec Bank.

'Chips' is an establishment figure, his interests lie in the maintenance of an establishment from which he has and hopes to continue benefiting greatly, I don't doubt he's worked hard and he's welcome to his success, but all of it is conditional on the continuation of a constitutional settlement that makes you and me much poorer than we need to be.

So, Sir 'Chips', I'm afraid while it might be a yes from Blair MacDougall, its a no from me.

Second up is Sir Keith Craig (another benighted soul.)


No one knows what he looks like, not even Alistair Darling.

He chucked £10k at BT but we have to be careful, he's a figure in the British Intelligence establishment. Managing Director of Hakluyt & Company - a British strategic intelligence & advisory firm -what ever that is - they also have sub-offices in New York and Singapore. As a taster though, its a secretive set-up with a reputation for discretion and effectiveness, formed by ex-British MI5/6 types - allegedly, as in please don't have me killed - according to the Sunday Times the company was controversially implicated (allegedly!) in the infiltration of environmental groups while working for BP and Shell.

Allegedly.

What ever, another donation from someone with firm links to the British Establishment and an interest in its continuation. I would check Hakluyt hasn't infiltrated this blog but its only me sitting here. Maybe Hakluyt will be given the contract to yank the chair away if we vote yes? Then again, maybe we're not too wee or too stupid to kick the arse of anyone who tried.

Moving on.

You might think plain old Christopher Wilkins would be easy to explain, turns out not. He doesn't have any letters before or after his name but is a director of North British Wind Power Ltd.


Not a great picture, it seems Christopher Powell Wilkinson (on the left) eschews the limelight. That picture was taken at a place called Bettyhill in the far north of Scotland. I've been there and its bloody lovely, I actually quite like a wind turbine even although they might be terrible at producing electricity, but I don't think unadulterated proliferation of them is a good thing at all. Bettyhill is no place for a wind farm and most people agreed.

Its still less obvious though, as far as I can tell, Holyrood is a good deal more keen on wind power than Westminster. Perhaps Chris thinks he'll have better conditions in which to conduct his business if Westminster controlled planning? I rather suspect though, that since its rich land owners who tend to benefit from wind farm projects, perhaps he's sold his vote to Scottish estate-owning Tories in the hope of future mutual profit?

Christopher Wilkins is an ex-Welsh Guards officer who also helped set up Hakluyt. 

Eek!

The biggest donation came from Donald Houston, a hotel and distillery tycoon.


Who doesn't like a good flat cap?

In total, Donald gave Better Together £600k through two companies he owns (£500k) and out of his own pocket (£100k.) He was heard to say that 'ripping up the union' to 'satisfy the SNP' was a ridiculous idea'. Maybe from where you're standing Donald, perhaps not from where the vast majority of non-estate, distillery or castle owning Scottish public are though.

Donald Houston pretty much owns the Ardnamurchan peninsula, home to the most westerly point in the 'British' mainland among other sites of historical Scottish significance. He also said:
 “We have spent 300 years building up a Union between our countries that has achieved so much”
For you maybe - he then went on to bleat: 
“I hope that other people in the same position as myself are also willing to contribute whatever they can.”
That there are so few people within a million miles of your position is entirely the point, how can someone become so rich and successful yet be that cretinous?

Oh hold on...

Others who donated include a chap called Andrew Fraser - a stock broker who's given the Tory Party a million smacks since 2004. His was the second largest donation to Better Together at £200k.

Historical fiction writer Christopher 'CJ' Sansom previously gave £162k, he recently gave another £133k. In his book 'Dominion' he depicts the Scottish National Party as collaborators with the British Nazi state - don't hold back now Chris, tell us what you really think... He describes the prospect of Scottish independence as 'literally heart-breaking'.


Boo hoo.
I hope your fiction doesn't contain such mawkish over-exaggeration. Although I would say, C.J. Sansom's love of the union is at least more honest than the others mentioned here given that it has its basis in actual love and not pure unmitigated profit or gain in terms of standing in the British establishment.

Finally, Alan Savage Chairman of recruitment firm Orion gave in total £250k. His recruitment firm made its name in the Scottish oil industry boom of the 80's & 90's then expanded internationally during 00's.


Alan Savage, also ex-chairman of Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Add in to that mix Ian Taylor of Vitoil and his donation to Better Together along with others he made to Arkan, a Serbian war criminal - you begin to see the kind of people who want to make sure you vote no.

A collection of rich bankers, Tory-supporting stockbrokers, British establishment military spooks, landed gentry and a mawkish author. With the possible exception of the latter - all have vested interests in keeping things as they are. Unfortunately keeping things as they are for those of us who are not stockbrokers or rich Tory land owners means we get poorer while they get richer still.

Which is why they're bunging a ton of cash at Better Together.

If you vote no, you'd better check before you sit back down again, count on it.






Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Up above the trees and houses...

Alistair Carmichael has been bumping his gums about Scottish business' that support the union not being able to say so for fear of reprisals from the Scottish Government and hordes of wild-eyed nationalist shoppers. I would provide a link, but the interview due to be published tomorrow is in The Herald which on the internet exists behind a pay wall - its one of those papers that doesn't blush when it prints a lot of half truths, misrepresentations and outright lies then charges people for the privilege of reading it.


Alistair Carmichael (centre) before embarking upon a career in politics.
In the article, Carmichael will be muttering:
Earlier this month, the boss of a FTSE 100 company reportedly told Scottish Government representatives he could not make investment decisions in Scotland because of the uncertainty about the tax regime and claimed "the mood of the meeting immediately became very dark; they became very aggressive".
Mr Carmichael said: "We hear increasingly about people, business voices in particular, being disinclined to enter the debate because they think they will be punished as a result."
Asked if he was saying they were being intimidated by the Scottish Government to keep quiet, he replied: "Intimidation is a strong word but there is certainly heavy influence. And you can imagine a situation as the campaign progresses the heaviness of that influence does become inappropriate."
Mr Carmichael said the experience of the FTSE 100 boss was not an isolated incident. "I hear of it time and again. It's always told to me in terms, 'But we don't want you to talk about this publicly'. So people are not yet willing to stick their head above the parapet."
Asked if there was a fear factor, Mr Carmichael replied: "There is very much. This is what business people tell me; that they are scared of the consequences for their business of getting on the wrong side of the Scottish Government."
Without naming names, he noted: "I see it in the media sector. I have seen media outlets feel constrained in their coverage."

My emboldening there, I dare say he's not naming names because Nicola Sturgeon might find out.

Carmichael thinks business people don't want to speak out for fear of intimidation or being punished. Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp from Business for Scotland was on Newsnight Scotland on the 12th of December talking about the cost of food in an independent Scotland with a plummy chap called Daniel Johnston, described as a 'businessman who runs a group of shops' in Edinburgh and supports Better Together.

Toward the end of the interview MacIntyre-Kemp makes an amusing and pretty incisive parting comment. I did try to download the video from iplayer but began to lose the will to live after spending thirty minutes trying to figure the stupid thing out, (isn't it annoying when you are instructed to 'simply click the download button' when no such thing exists? There's even a picture showing you where it would have been if Newsnight Scotland weren't so nervous about having their lies & misrepresentations repeated and highlighted... But I digress...*)


Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp and Daniel Johnston.

Here's a transcript instead, it starts just after they've finished discussing the 'story' about food prices going up if Scotland becomes independent:


Gordon Brewer: There have been allegations, not least by our esteemed economics editor Robert Peston this week that some business' have been, not just in Scotland but some big companies are afraid to speak out on this issue because they might get lambasted by the Scottish Government or boycotted by people at the shops, can you both agree it would be a very good thing if the maximum number of business' involved in Scotland actually said exactly what they think about these things?
Daniel Johnston: I mean, definitely, its why I'm very pleased to be talking on the program ton-
Gordon Brewer: Right thought you would be, are you?
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp: Eh yes absolutely, and in fact, eh, I can tell you that Business for Scotland  now has over 1000 members-
GB: - but you'd like all business' to speak out... 
GMK: ...all business, but the thing is that business' are coming forward, they are willing to speak out about, in favour of independence, but the trouble, the reason-
GB: *garbled* about the ones not in favour to speak out as well?
GMK: well I would encourage them to do so but the reason they won't do so is because they're usually not willing to go on television and back up ridiculous scare stories like this.
Daniel Johnston: Hahaha. 
GB: Ok don't go away...

I am no expert but I think this is a pretty good example of someone being 'owned' on the telly. Kudos must go to Mr MacIntyre-Kemp.

We also know the story about supermarkets raising prices was more 'might' than 'will' - as the Financial Times and The Herald would have preferred us to believe.


Courtesy of www.wingsoverscotland.com
Alistair Carmichael said:  "... And you can imagine a situation as the campaign progresses the heaviness of that influence does become inappropriate." The only thing inappropriate is his tortured use of language. I also imagine the business leaders Carmichael alludes to are a figment of his imagination.

* I now need to uninstall all the freeware I downloaded in an attempt to provide you with a permanent link to the 12th of December's edition of Newsnight Scotland. GMK must have no ego because there isn't anything on the Business for Scotland website - or none of them could figure it out either.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Us and Them (With one very bad word right at the end, its entirely warranted but be warned.)

Listening to 'Call kaye' this morning - about 40 seconds of it - which is all I can really tolerate. Its bad enough in and of itself, but not being a morning person anyway, its not a great way to start the day

There is a little known 1985 film called Cat's Eye which starred a young Drew Barrymore (after her ET appearance but before her substance abuse problems began in earnest.) In it, a wee troll-like character, climbs up on to children's beds, sits on their chest and steals the very breath from their body.


This is how I think of BBC Scotland on a week day morning - GMS then 'Call Kaye'. Unsuspecting citizens vulnerably dozing in that warm, fuzzy area between full sleep and wakefulness. Instead of a wicked little goblin stealing your breath - something else far more malicious is spooning poison into your ear.

Which blethering brings us to the point, one of the subjects of the phone-in was to let unionist supporters and poorly disguised Labour activists free reign on national radio for an hour and forty minutes. But in between the normal programming - the subject up for discussion was whether our elected representatives at Westminster were a true reflection of society in terms of class.

Apparently, according to a report the Financial Times the number of working class people sitting in Westminster has fallen from 16% in Thatcher's day to 4% these days. Meanwhile the British Social Attitudes Survey tells us 61% of punters regard themselves as working class.

The thing is, class is only part of the problem. I don't believe it would be right to exclude a person from a career on grounds of class - whether they are a blue-nosed toff in a penguin suit or a blue-nosed pensioner in January.

The problem is money.

How many of us can honestly say they know what its like to be poor? In the past I've thought I was poor - insofar as - I had no money, but, I always had someone or something to fall back on. We're talking about people who have absolutely nothing and no access to anything. They are wholly - often through no fault of their own - reliant on the state, a state ran by what has become a financial elite who have no concept of the meaning of being poor.

Knowing or not knowing what its like to have money will affect your outlook, but in either case probably won't mean you'd be a crap public servant - as long as you are able to empathise.


Iain Duncan Smith currently puts in place massive changes to the UK's welfare system, yet he has no concept of what its like to be a recipient of welfare payments. He married the daughter of the 5th Baron of Cottesloe and lives in a £1 million house given to him by his father in law. IDS is clearly not 'of' the people who's lives he's having such a deleterious effect on.

Is that his fault? Probably controversially - no.*

What's at fault is a system of government that allows someone like him to attain a position of such sway and effect, where he can enact the disgusting & immoral policies he's currently inflicting on welfare claimants. If you wanted an opinion on living with poverty and deprivation, IDS is one of the last people you'd ask - so why is he in charge of the department who's job it is to ameliorate & limit the very same thing?

Another case in point is the House of Lords, this is sold to us as an upper house which holds elder states-people, politicians and business professionals. They are supposed to oversee the activities of the 'Commons' parliament to limit or augment (as is required) the wilder imaginings of that house.

Bullshit.

Its a vehicle for repaying political favours and rewarding sycophancy & patronage.

If it isn't, tell me how this man:


...managed to get himself ennobled? Jeremy 'who?' Purvis was a Libdem MSP for about 15 minutes and never had a job outside politics - yet - there he sits, earning £300 a day (plus expenses) as Baron Purvis of Tweed. I struggle to imagine what he brings to the table in terms of experience that would benefit those of us living in the real world.

It may be that Purvis and those like him are a sop, he had no money and didn't marry the daughter of a Baron - it may be that Purvis is Westminster's excuse for egalitarian government, (although in terms of earnings he's doing not to badly now right enough.)

If you want to get ahead in Westminster politics, you either need to have money or have such a strong interest in it, you'll sell your morals and/or marry for it.

He's smiling because he's in line for a payout of some £17 million - proceeds from the sale of his own company called 'hotcourse'. Jeremy Hunt will be the richest - by far - cabinet member, at least he earned it himself. (although being head boy at Charterhouse School and contemporaries with Boris Johnson and David Cameron at Oxford probably helped.)
The current system at Westminster favours candidates who have money or connections or both. A person struggling to hold down an average job (never mind the minimum wage) and perhaps juggle a family is never going to have the time or resources to 'run for parliament' - which after voting is one of the things we're told to do if we want to change things.

The alternative being offered to us living in Scotland is Holyrood. Its a young parliament not yet affected by patronage or vested interest, I dare say that will come. But its taken Westminster most of 300 years to get to where it is now, by the time Holyrood gets there, we'll have enjoyed a new, moderately un-cynical and non-self serving form of government for the remainder of our lives and be long dead.

Vote yes for a fairer form of government for the next four generations or so, at which point humans will be living in space stations because Earth's atmosphere will have become too thin to support human life. Only the 'Many Angled Ones' - multi-dimensional beings who in our reality manifest themselves as politicians and talent show judges -  will be able to survive.

Which was probably their plan all along.


* IDS is still a cunt, let there be no doubt about that.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Housing.

Don't get your hopes up, this isn't an incisive commentary on the state of housing in Scotland as part of the iniquitous union. its just me giving you a guided tour of the letting market as it exists - not in our reality but in its own - where adjectives & descriptive prose are thrashed and misused with gleeful abandon.

Keeping a roof over your head is the single biggest outlay many of us have, whether its a mortgage or a private rent. You have to be incredibly lucky/spawny/marginalised in order to qualify for social housing which is the cheapest option these days.

It used to be that renting was much cheaper than buying, you would rent until you had saved enough for a deposit on something a bit more permanent - even I can remember when rentals were reasonable - it wasn't that long ago. Now though, with the advent of buy-to-let mortgages and the increase in demand for rental properties (largely down to the increase in house prices generally and an influx of competition from central and Eastern Europe) housing is one of the biggest challenges facing society today.

We now seem to be in the daft situation where renting is more expensive than funding a mortgage and the costs permeate into every other facet of life. Using Edinburgh as an example, rental prices are so high now, for the single man about town sharing is really the only option. There is a gulf of difference in terms of quality of abode if you're prepared to share; on your own, you might manage a bedsit or one bed flat with the added tang of potentially being stabbed by one of your neighbours - or - you could opt to enter into a sharing arrangement, with the added tang of being stabbed of an evening by the person you're sharing with, but in a much nicer flat.

Shallow Grave: not that far fetched.

Equally, you could adopt a more optimistic approach, you could meet new and interesting people. The company - someone to chat to in the evening after a hard day at the office and whose food you can pinch if you're a bit short of cash.

The truth is, if you share with a friend - at best you will develop a bit of a dislike for them, at worse - you will end up despising them enthusiastically and truth be told; they you. If you share with a stranger, the feelings just develop a bit more quickly -it really is only a matter of time.

Here are some examples. Firstly, we're all brought up differently so have differing expectations - oddities come to light like one flatmate never having grown up having a plastic basin for their kitchen sink but also not having that wee sink to one side to pour away dregs, his family put the plug in and washed their dishes 'raw'. My question was, how did they get rid of the dregs, did they just drink them or did they walk to an open window and shout Gardyloo? 

Or how about the flatmate who thought it was acceptable to leave shit smeared up the inside of the toilet bowl so that when I visited - I in turn gagged then wondered how the fuck he a) managed to get it that high up the side and b) how he managed not to notice before leaving the smallest room - did he want me to score it out of ten, the filthy bastard?

And finally (because that last example was a bit of a nadir in terms of house sharing) how about the flatmate who instead of washing dishes, would just go on to use other kitchenware. I came home one night to find him eating his dinner out of the kitchen sink. I'm joking, it was a large plastic mixing bowl.

I should say, I probably had bad habits too, although I'm positive they were restricted to being a bit obsessive/compulsive so quite fussy about things like - let me think - finding someone else's shit smeared up the inside of a toilet I'm supposed to be able to use or discovering another flatmate using the bath tub as a nosebag.

Onto the letting market. Popular websites for letting include www.citylets.co.ukwww.lettingweb.co.uk or www.s1rental.co.uk. These are portal websites into which all the main estate agents feed adverts. My favourite though is Gumtree, only on Gumtree do you get the truly fanciful language, here's a quick guide to what their words actually mean, they can be found in most ad's describing property for rent, usually prefixed with the sentence:

[insert estate agents name here] are proud to bring to the rental market...

Attractive:
Ugly.

Beautiful:
Ugly, quite ugly.

Bright:
Dark.

Compact:
Fucking tiny.


Cosy:
A bit damp.

Fantastic:
It won't be, it'll be fantastically average.

Luxury:
Has taps.

Modern:
New build with hollow walls.

Quirky:
Something will either be there that you don't expect or not there that you would, like windows or a front door.



Spacious:
See 'Compact'.

Stunning:
Low door lintels, you'll bump your head if you forget.

Unique:
Uniquely shit (otherwise see 'quirky'.)

Well presented:
... in the advert but not in reality.


You can prefix any of those with words like 'extremely' or 'very' but these additions are entirely superfluous, I've never come across a fantastic flat anywhere. Fantastic to me means there's a magic garden in the basement where the Chinese Men's Olympic 10m high dive team dive off miniature trees made of hula hoops in to pools filled with red cola - that is fantastic.

Recently, I found an advert that trumps all of the above:


I'm not sure you'll be able to read it all, occasionally you do get private landlords getting carried away but this comes from an agency called Home Lettings. They've managed to deploy the word 'exhilarating' in the description, its a flat, not a fucking roller coaster - punters are looking for somewhere to live, not a line of coke to snort.

Truly unique it says. No it isn't, its a fucking flat in Prestonpans, it would only be truly unique if it was on the moon - not some joy-free heartless Barrett Homes development in Prestonpans.

Estate agents are also starting to use the Ryanair paradigm. This is where they say they're flying to Madrid (say) but the plane actually lands in Alicante. So it is with estate agents, a flat might be advertised as being in Duddingston, (quite a nice area of Edinburgh) but is actually situated in Niddrie (which isn't very nice at all, no offence.) Equally, Corstorphine (very difficult to pronounce if you're not a local) is nice enough, but often mistaken for Broomhouse which is a total fucking dump - even people who live there would agree.

And we haven't even started on the prices, if it wasn't such a basic human need, it would be hilarious. With each ever more silly advert I see, I want to email the vendor and ask them if they're joking. I earn just above what is considered to be the average wage yet, I cannot afford to live in most one bed flats available to rent in Edinburgh today. It doesn't become affordable - which is to say justifiable - unless you move 40 or 50 miles out. In order to make meaningful savings; if you work in Edinburgh, you need to go north of Dunfermline or south of Galashiels and it goes without saying - anything you save on housing gets spent on additional fuel costs.

Currently I'm unfortunate enough to be able to sponge off parents, I fill their cupboards with food and change the odd light bulb, get embroiled in bizarre activities (my Dad asked me to eject a 'DVD' from his TV recently - guess what type of 'DVD' it was...) I say 'unfortunate enough' because if I wasn't able to, I'd probably just bite the bullet and find some poor soul to share with, I wouldn't get nagged or asked to rub Deep Heat anywhere about my Father's person.

I think I might put an advert on Gumtree... I really do feel I'd be a 'fantastic' flat mate. I'd be terribly 'proud to present myself to the rental market' being as I am an 'attractive' chap with a 'unique' sense of humour. My many charming - some might say 'quirky' - habits are sure to woo the kind of flinty-eyed right wing, Christian homophobic, pet-hating militant vegetarians who usually advertise on Gumtree for flat shares...

I feel certain I'd hit it off with some one...

The beginnings of a new Silent Witness plot mair like, I can see it now, it'll be like The Killing but in Gorgie.




Friday, 6 December 2013

'Tis the season to get ranty.

Back again.

Aberdeen was lovely if a little cold, the future health of all Aberdonians is secured with the opening of a new Health Village. We're not allowed to call it a hospital because it's supposed to be about keeping folk out of them - its all about preventative measures. It'll be the first Hub North Scotland project when it opens to the public next Tuesday, Hub North Scotland is a joint venture company peopled and funded by the private and public sector (via the Scottish Futures Trust.) Over the next ten years, £435 million will be spent in the north of Scotland on public infrastructure, or so it says on the Hub website.

Basically its a replacement for PFI, is it better? A wee bit, private companies are still contracted to build and maintain facilities, but the outcomes are better value for the tax payer - in short - its not anything like as rapacious an exercise for the private companies involved.

Alex Salmond opened the health village, I stood on a walkway above and listened in on the speeches. I fully expected to be shoo'd away by security but Alex Salmond is nothing if not accessible - I could have dropped an anvil on his head from where I was standing.

I take a shit photo, except when it comes to bald heads.

Moving on, and if you come here for what passes for politics and current affairs repartee then stop reading now. What follows is the first in my series of christmas rants - and to further underline my absolute hatred of it all; I refuse to capitalise the word for it.

The television adverts are noteworthy this year. It seems many of the big retailers have employed the kind of agencies favoured by perfume and aftershave companies - the advert runs on and on but it isn't till the end you find out what the fuck it was for. Some woman chasing her dog down a man hole only to be leched upon by David Gandy (well, if one has to be pawed, who better to do it than Mr Gandy.) 

John Lewis with its hare and bear combo, I can't watch it and not wonder why the bear isn't eating the hare and savaging the other animals around the tree they've managed to miraculously decorate. Because you know, that would be my kind of christmas advert, blood splattered snow and dismembered animal limbs decorating the tree which toppled after the bear climbed it to get at the animals cowering at its top for the illusion of safety.

Tesco outdid itself with a time warp homage to their idea of typical family life through the ages, I hate these adverts the most because my family isn't like that. We don't sit round a table gently creaking with xmas fayre, there are no loving smiles - any warm thoughts we're having are drowned out by the silent screaming going on our heads.

Ok, that was an exaggeration, but not much of a one. Christmas (I had to capitalise it there because this is a new sentence) for a great many isn't a time of  joy, love & friendship, warmth, the exchange of pointless gifts and religious obeisance - it is a time which underlines and amplifies what is usually only a barely tolerable level of year-round shiteness. 

Special mention must be made of Ant & Dec in the Morrisons advert. Not since the Halifax 'radio station' adverts have so many been so moved to commit what I'm going to call celebricide. I normally don't mind Ant & Dec, I remember them from their Byker Grove days, who else can remember when PJ & Duncan started their on screen rap/DJ careers all filmed in Newcastle's at-the-time dingiest gay nightclub (called Powerhouse if memory serves.)

Just me then?

The DWP get in with their xmas campaign.

We have the frantic search for gifts to look forward to, I know some people who've already done their christmas shopping. I remain entirely unable to buy anything which does not have a practical use - which complicates and prolongs the xmas gift procurement process. Where as, those who don't deploy the 'useful gift' paradigm can buy any old tat and receive gushing thanks - we who prefer to be more pragmatic have to decide what the person actually needs. I'm lucky, I only buy for two people and last year I didn't even do that, I surpassed even my own levels of christmas-driven desolation and neglected to buy anything for anyone.

In the office I now revel in the discomfort of others as they place their unsolicited xmas cards on my desk and wait awkwardly to be handed one in return. I can't believe this still happens, I've been in this job for nine years and never have I ever exchanged cards - as Justin Hayward warbled in 'The Eve of the War' from Jeff Wayne's  War of the Worlds - but still they come.*

I'll stop now because I could go on for the rest of the month. We'll get back to Scottish politics at some point, over the past couple of weeks though, the lies & misrepresentations coming from the no side haven't really needed to be picked up and dissected because they've been so obviously absurd.

My highlight from recent days? Without a doubt Nicola Sturgeon destroying Alistair Carmichael on the Scotland Tonight special. I lay in my Aberdeen Premier Inn bed cursing Lenny Henry and his lying ways while watching the debate - I would link to it (the debate, not me lying in bed,) but this is just as succinct.

In case you thought I was just another miserable christmas-hating sour-pus; here's a festive picture for you to enjoy.



I'm surprised Better Together don't have Edvard Munch's 'Skrik' as part of their campaign branding.



* The lyrics read:

"The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one," he said.
"The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one - but still they
come!"

although I prefer:

"The chances of any cards coming from Paul are a million to one," he said.
"The chances of any cards coming from Paul are a million to one - so keep your shitey cards to yourself!"

;-)

Monday, 25 November 2013

I'm still here...

You would think, given all the doom laden think tank out-pourings that have taken place, I might have just given up.* Has there been any think tank report saying Scotland gaining independence would be a good thing? Any at all?

The most recent report from the IFS is a case in point but was flawed from the outset, presumably you need to be moderately clever to be in a think tank and to be fair, it was mostly the media misrepresenting, misreporting and leaving huge swathes out in favour of the status quo.

We also have the on-going Scotland Analysis series coming from Westminster just in case the think tanks run out of negative things to say. Recently, in order to save money, instead of these costly and time consuming analysis reports being produced, the UK Government will be sending out who ever happens to be the current Secretary of State 'for' Scotland to shake his head in faux regret at the assembled press corps.

Alistair Carmichael: "Look, its just a shit idea. We don't need reports and analysis for that do we?"

Turns out, the biggest effect the IFS report has had is that there are now people who fear an actual black hole will appear if Scotland votes yes. Seriously, visit Google (other search engines are available) and enter 'Scottish Independence, black hole' and see what you get - its comical.

"Don't worry, Maximillian will be gone soon. The carbon-based bipedal life form known as Carmichael will need replaced at some point."
The Scotland Institute report on defence in an independent Scotland, (written by people who made their careers and nurtured considerable power in a British Armed Forces - so weren't likely to say a Scottish one would be peachy.) The arse gravy coming from Ian Davidson's Scottish Affairs Committee, you know what to expect when they're all prefixed with the words - "The Referendum on Separation for Scotland."

1. Unanswered Questions
2. Do you agree this is a biased question? (Ironic no?)
3. Making the process legal
4. A multi-option Question?
5. Terminating Trident: Days or Decades? (Pithy alliteration.)
6. The proposed section 30 order - can a player also be the referee
7. Separation shuts shipyards. (c/w a government response.)
8. How would separation affect defence jobs in Scotland

The reports are all available via the 'arse gravy' link in the previous paragraph, I am unashamed to say I haven't read any of them. Life is too short so I just imagined various unionist politicians shaking their heads and tutting at me, I think you'll find the effect is the same.

It goes without saying, the Scottish Government's white paper on independence will be released tomorrow (Tuesday the 26th of November) and where all these think tank reports and Scottish Analysis' will be taken as fact and reported as such by the media -  the White Paper will be derided as fiction.

I imagine most opinion pieces about the White Paper will be written already, Better Together will attempt to bog down useful debate with its usual shrill cries of 'not enough detail', 'pie in the sky' or the classic 'where are the answers!?!' (On the internet you terrible bunch of halfwits.) Alistair Carmichael will bumble his way through several interviews like a demented Granddad while Alistair Darling's eye brows breakdance across his forehead under cross examination.

What we'll get is a calm, reasonable document from the Scottish Government then a fever-pitched response from its detractors - much of which - scripted well in advance. The White Paper will do nothing to alleviate Better Together's odd collective 'but where are the answers' selective amnesia, they'll set upon it like a pack of starved dogs round a week old pork chop - once they've chewed over it, they'll vomit out the usual dull voxpops & vapid soundbites about 'Salmond and his ego' or 'unanswered questions' or 'plan b's'. In fact they'll do everything except tackle the White Paper and its contents - why? 

Because they've got nothing but more of the same vacuous promises & meaningless statements made by politicians & scions of the British state who's own best interests trump ours every day of their self serving lives.

Self-interest? Don't be daft, its for our own good.

* I'm currently working in Aberdeen, hence the break, not that any one noticed right enough. (Great city Aberdeen, I really like it so I do.)




Thursday, 14 November 2013

Back to business...

Contained within the dusty cobwebbed virtual shelves that make up BBC News Scotland's on line vault lies a wee story tucked away in the 'Glasgow & West' Section. Its gone now but I took a screen shot:


Independence aid jobs 'at risk' claim
The story suggests DFID jobs at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride could be put at risk if Scotland chooses independence. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening said it would be "hard to imagine" Scotland employing as many staff.

There are 550 permanent and 50 contract staff working in East Kilbride for the DFID, over all the department has a budget of around £7 billion and a total workforce of 2700.

Casting about on the internet for info on how those clever Norwegians do things, they have The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (or NORAD) with a budget of some £27 billion Kroner (approx £2.6 billion.) Its a subsidiary of Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs which employs in total 2400 people across 110 foreign missions the aforementioned NORAD plus two other subsidiaries, FK Norway (a peace corps set up) and Norfund (a private equity company funded by the Norwegian state.)

NORAD has approximately 230 employees, a good deal less than the 600 working in East Kilbride, but it doesn't manage all of Norway's international aid program - much of which is integrated into other areas of Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For comparison, the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office employs around 13,000 people and has a budget of £1.5 billion, its Department for International Development employs 2700 and has a budget of (approx) £7 billion. Norway manages to do both with a staff of 2400 and a budget of £3.4 billion (approx.)*

I know we like to talk about Norway and use it as an example to which we could aspire, when you compare it to how the UK government conducts its foreign affairs and international development, its actually a wee bit embarrassing.

Where the UK can be quite cynical about where it sends aid and the reasons for doing so, Norway is a lot more altruistic. I'm not saying they don't gain because they do, but so does the country to which the aid is being sent, its mutual. As an example here are two links both to the Huffington Post website: The first dated 02/01/2012 then the second dated 11/05/2012. Call me Cindy McCynical but it seems a bit odd that Britain would cancel aid worth around a quarter of a billion smacks to India months after they (India) snubbed a BAE-led consortium building Typhoons in favour of the French aircraft manufacturers Dassault building Rafales.

But I digress.

Its not so much about how much or on what you spend an international aid budget, its about whether Scotland would be able to. According to Justine Greening and no doubt many others with a vested interested in the retention of the union, it goes with out saying - Scotland probably couldn't.

Justine also suggested to Westminster's International Development Committee that disasters like Typhoon Haiyan were better dealt with by a United Kingdom - managing to employ a natural disaster to defend the status quo - which sort of figures when you think about it.


"We heard you were hit by a typhoon."

"Eh, would you like to buy some Typhoons?"

She warned the UK aid budget would be slashed by £900 million if Scotland left, but neglected to point out that if an SNP-led independent Scottish government was in power after 2016, Humza Yousaf (SNP External Affairs Minister) on its behalf pledged to exceed the 0.7% of GDP most European countries give by pledging 1% of Scotland's GDP for international aid. All of which means Scotland's aid budget would be around £1.5 billion - replacing the £900 million Justine said would be 'slashed' from the rUK's aid budget.

I know some unionists have problems identifying higher figures from lower ones but, £1.5 billion is definitely more than £900 million. Bearing that in mind, Justine Greening is - as you would probably imagine anyway - talking mince.

Finally, if you don't agree with Scotland having such a generous aid budget then don't vote for the SNP, wait and see what the other parties are offering. Do remember though, if you are contemplating a 'no' vote in September next year, nothing will change one way or the other because Scottish votes in Westminster elections rarely count.

These days it doesn't really matter what Westminster party you vote for, in terms of policy, there's barely a gnat's chuff-width between them. If you want your vote to count, it'll only happen with a fully autonomous Scottish Parliament.

As you well know.

* If - like me - you were wondering how Norway managed to do more with a lot less and still be ahead of the UK in giving international aid. In cash terms the UK does spend more, but only because our economy is five times bigger than Norway's. Aid is worked out as a percentage of GDP, not as a mean sum of money. Ergo, Norway spends a higher percentage of its GDP (nominal)** (GDP $485,416 25th largest) than does the UK (GDP $2,429,184  7th largest.)

** Not to be confused with GDP per capita (meaning cash per person) where Norway enjoys being in 4th position and the UK languishes down in the doldrums in 21st place - (World Bank figures.) Scotland's place? According to OECD figures - 6th largest (rUK 16th.)

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A couple of things...

... Because I haven't added anything for a while. I'm positive nobody here is interested in the issues that challenge my otherwise tawdry, run-of-the-mill existence. Suffice to say, it was a big decision and not one I took lightly when I decided to take the plunge and have elderly infirm parents. These challenges can manifest in strange ways often at opposite ends of the spectrum - from pretty-fucking-serious at the hard end to actually-quite-funny at the soft end.

I'm going to digress ever-so-slightly, if its the execrable state of Scottish politics and Media you come here for, skip the rest - I'll get to that later - rest assured.

So, the pretty-fucking-serious side of things. My mother went into 'respite care' on Monday, which should be OK, it gives the people who do the main caring a bit of a rest. However, the respite beds are in a mixed care & nursing home. Turns out there is a difference, 'care homes' tend to have old folk in who are not so far along they can't look after themselves, 'nursing homes' on the other hand deal with those who are suffering from things like dementia and other fairly extreme geriatric conditions.

My mother has Parkinson's Disease (and a raft of other unconnected medical complaints each one more esoteric than the others.) However, she's compos mentis and able to feed herself but does have quite high care needs in the area of mobility. So it was a bit of a surprise when her stovies turned up a heck of a lot smoother than what could be observed being placed in front of other inmates. In the NHS and social care, there is a lot of chat about dignity, so its a bit off (shall we say) when with out asking, assumptions are made and liquefied foodstuff appears in front of what they like to call 'service users' and a care assistant brandishing a plastic spoon pulls up a seat.

My mum was a bit nervous so we'd sat in a smaller, usually unused, dining room. Later on, after more solid foodstuff had been taken, a rather sweet looking old lady came into the room asking if she could be taken to a local town, she then dropped her crimplene trousers to her knees and looked as if she might - how shall I say - go to the toilet?

I suppose its difficult, mixing those who've lost their battle with dementia with those who haven't. My Mum knows Parkinson's will eventually morph in to some form of dementia, there will come a time when she won't be 'compos mentis', is it desirable to place her with those who've already slipped over the edge? I don't wish to sound overly harsh, but when a person has slipped over, they're usually not aware of their predicament, until then, surely you have to do as much as is practical to at least avoid giving vulnerable people a glimpse of things to come? When it does eventually come, hopefully they won't be sufficiently self-aware to notice.

I have no idea how that sounds, you can become hellishly pragmatic in these circumstances, hopefully not overly so.

I won't even start on the occupation known as 'Social Work', I'm sure at the beginning of their career they had the best of intentions, but it has to be the crappiest most ineffective job in existence. When they fuck things up (which they seem to do quite frequently,) I find myself phoning up to ask if they're doing it deliberately. They say no but I suspect the opposite is true. I often wonder how many elderly mums have been driven to an early exit because they didn't have anyone around to limit the wilder imaginings of the social work industry.

If you're thinking about asking social services for help with elderly relatives or wild children, think again, then again and again. Think some more, then ask, 'is this really the last resort?' The answer will be no because social work involvement goes beyond the last resort. Asking social work for help isn't like asking for a round peg for a square hole: its like asking for a giraffe to go into a teapot.

But listen, I'd hate to sound mawkish and/or moany (although I probably do,) so here's something I put on Facebook recently concerning my Dad.

I do his shopping, he writes a list and I go to the supermarket to get it. He's also elderly with a panoply of medical complaints (the main one of which was self-inflicted - not that any one deserves it.) Alcoholic Liver Disease (or ALD) is an absolute corker of an illness to get, you drink whisky (etc) till your liver shrivels up into a useless black blob, if you survive that, all the other organs struggle to make up the numbers doing untold damage to themselves in the process.


A healthy liver

An unhealthy liver.
(Think of this image as more of a 'serving suggestion' as opposed to an actual unhealthy liver.)

One of the side effects of ALD is, it leaves you unable to remember you did it to yourself. Its almost funny, you spend forty odd years getting tanked up, it catches up with you and if you survive the initial organ failure - you spend the rest of your life, as if in a fug of forgetful, drink addled dopiness - its called Hepatic Encephalopathy apparently.

How ironic is that? An alcoholic can drink till they drop, the family then has to pick up the pieces and the ALD sufferer has no idea its their fault.*

As an Old Age Pensioner in a good bit of discomfort, my Father is - and I'm not pulling my punches here -  a cantankerous old fusspot and incredibly rude to boot.

When he used to go shopping himself he'd borrow an electric buggy and woe-betide anyone who got in his way. I watched one day as he dragged an empty pram he'd snagged with a back bumper the length of the Gyle Shopping Centre, (did I mention he's also quite deaf? It was a side effect of the extremely powerful antibiotics they give him to stop his kidneys emigrating to his arsehole.)

Anyway, he's quite exacting, he likes Schweppes lemonade, not the diet variety mind, the normal fat stuff. So I went with his list and procured all that was on it, except... Schweppes lemonade. Sitting afterwards in the car park, I took a stab at guessing how the conversation would go:

Dad: "This isn't Schweppes lemonade! I asked for Schweppes lemonade!" 
Me: "I know." 
Dad: "So whats going on, it said Schweppes lemonade on my list, what are you playing at?!? *Insert melodramatic sigh here*" 
Me: "Well, I saw that on your list and I saw Schweppes lemonade on the shelf. But, for no particular reason I bought Tesco's own brand lemonade." 
Dad: "Fuck! What did you do that for eh?!?" 
Me: " I Didn't.  THEY DIDN'T HAVE ANY SCHWEPPES LEMONADE LEFT." 
Dad: "..."


I love my dad dearly, but its almost tempting to buy Tesco's own brand lemonade or to buy his ten lottery tickets with six lines on one ticket then four on the other unlike the five & five configuration he can't seem to live with out. Or refusing to buy him a Daily Record (because its a total fucking rag.) Or to tell him I'm a firm supporter of Scottish independence (he's a rabid Tory.) Or to buy Lime juice produced by someone other than Rose's...















... just for the entertainment. His default reaction is always annoyance, but he always ends up laughing, even if there is no Schweppes lemonade.

It would be easy to wallow in self pity or rail at the cruelty of fate. But to be honest, with out actually tipping over into becoming 'bubbly', who has time for that? Recriminations are pointless at the best of times, recriminating with fate is almost as pointless as the occupation of Social Work.

Humour is the way forward, always has, always is and always will be. 

* My Dad is what is known as a functioning alcoholic. If you were to suggest he was an alcoholic at all he'd be horrified so we've stopped doing that, he forgets anyway. Functioning alcoholics hold down jobs and seem perfectly normal. My Dad was - and still is between swear words, random racism and homophobia as only people of a certain age know how - an extremely warm and generous character who hasn't touched a drop since he became ill.**

Sometimes though, he can be quite challenging. ;-)

** Except for the alcoholic ginger beer he bought 'in error' last summer which I had to 'dispose' of in his stead.