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?!?" 
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.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

BAE Systems.

Lots in the news about BAE, Portsmouth, Govan & Scotstoun with the usual attendant scrutiny through the independence referendum eye glasses. I don't know anything about ship building but as usual, I have an opinion.

Here (for what its worth) is what I think.

BAE Systems Maritime is owned entirely by BAE Systems PLC. Its a pretty big set up being as it is the largest ship builder in Britain and one of the largest builders of warships in Europe. You'll know already from the news about the sites in Glasgow (Scotstoun and Govan) and of course the site in Portsmouth. They also run operations in Rosyth, a project management centre in Filton (near Bristol) and since 2011 when BAE Systems Submarine Solutions (your one-stop-shop for submersibles) was subsumed into BAE Systems Maritime - the submarine manufacturing facility at Barrow-in-Furness.

Team GB's £1.2B HMS Astute appears from between the doors of Barrow-in-Furness - home of the UK's main penis factory - eh - I meant nuclear submarine facility.

In all - the maritime side of BAE employs around 7000 people, 4400 of which in ship building activities. To break that down, 3400 in Glasgow, Rosyth and Filton; and a further 1200 in Portsmouth. In total, BAE will cut out 1775 jobs across these facilities - 940 at Portsmouth and 835 across Scotstoun, Govan, Rosyth and Filton. Ship building will end completely at Portsmouth although refitting and maintenance will continue.

First of all, any job loss on that scale is bad, it devastates towns and cities with primary and secondary effects, this shouldn't be a political football but as usual, in the current political climate, it is. Everything Westminster and Holyrood does is refracted through the lens of the independence debate and while some are blaming that on Scotland/The SNP/Alex Salmond (delete applicable) for having the referendum in the first place, that isn't really a logical position to take. I mean for a person to take this view (and a lot are) you'd have to accept two things; firstly that we (which ever way you lean) can ignore a completely defunct constitutional settlement which disadvantages all component nations of the UK and secondly; that the future of Scotland can be mortgaged for some boats that wouldn't even be ours if you believe unionist rhetoric.

Looking to the future, three OPV's* will be built as a stop gap measure in Glasgow shipyards until the plans for the 13 Type 26 frigates have 'matured', at which point, the Glasgow yards would continue with that work. The plans however won't be complete until after the referendum which means, if Scotland does vote yes, in line with Westminster's vow never to build warships 'abroad', those orders 'might' not go to Glasgow shipyards after all.

* This is an OPV or Offshore Patrol Vessel.
Yup, it sounds like blackmail to me as well - if not out & out blackmail then certainly bribery - vote no and you'll get the contract to build 13 Type 26 Global Combat Ship*, vote yes in 2014, while no one is saying you won't - nobody is saying you definitely will. (But do remember, the rUK doesn't build complex warships in a foreign countries, well, that's what they say anyway.)

*An artist's impression of a Type 26 Global Combat Ship.
All of this misses the point though. BAE own these ship yards and they only build warships. Like Grangemouth, this is where the balance between what is good for the people (and the country) butts heads with what is good for private enterprise. Norwegian companies built 106 ships in the previous 12 months - but they didn't just build warships - they built survey vessels, pipe laying vessels, cable laying ships, container ships, tankers and much more besides. UK big ship building on the other hand is held in thrall to the arms industry - and as we are seeing now - its not a great set up.

We can't be too naive about it, competition from Japan, Korea and other places is strong. Instead of attempting to compete, it seems successive Westminster governments haven't even tried - they've sat back and relied upon naval defence procurement and it seems to me - they've done it deliberately.

This isn't Scotland's fault - we have no control over this, nor is it BAE's - they're running a business. The blame sits squarely on Westminster's doorstep. Decades of failure to encourage and ensure diversified shipbuilding, in its place, an over reliance on financial services and city centre consumption. Why is it always the UK who can't compete in ship building? Why is it always UK yards who lose out to Korean or Norwegian yards?

This needs to be fixed, Westminster - fixated by shiny things that go bang made by BAE - clearly isn't the institution for the job. I don't work in ship building so its easy for me to sit here and tell those who do to stay the course or to switch over to a yes vote. No one in Scotland has any control over these issues, what we have is the fall out when it goes tits up. When Phillip Hammond etc has a brain fart in Westminster, it smells here in Scotland.

I have no idea if the type 26 orders would stay in Glasgow if a yes vote wins out, I hope though, we don't trade in a walk-on part in Britain's defence procurement plans for what I think will be a much brighter & more productive future for Scottish shipbuilding.

Similar to Grangemouth, without an accountable Scottish Government in control, the punchline will eventually end up being at Scotland's expense.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Lots of chat, still on-going about Grangemouth. Sometimes these stories become so complicated and internecine - its hard to know what is fact and what is opinion. As usual, this is what some of the parties involved actually want because it masks the real agendas and objectives. Grangemouth is triply complicated: first, there is Ineos who own the site (even this is a simplification,) then you have the Unite union who are supposed to look after the interests of its members working around the site. Finally there is the Labour Party which is going through the process of finding a replacement for Eric Joyce, the out-going ex-Labour MP who got into a bit of bother for brawling in a Westminster bar.

All in, its a pretty complicated affair, J. R. Ewing would have been proud of how Jim Ratcliffe, Chairman and CEO of Ineos and his team played the situation.

Where did it start? (DM link alert.)

Probably way back when this man:

Eric Joyce MP for Falkirk West

Punched this man

Luke Mackenzie (Tory cllr)

and head butted this guy

Ben Maney (another Tory cllr.)
and 'targeted' another two Tories:

Andrew Percy was 'shoved' (Who wouldn't?)

Alec Shelbrooke was 'threatened'
An interesting side effect for the four Tories involved is that its very difficult to find images of them. 99% (a rough estimate) of images returned are of Eric Joyce, that must smart a bit, especially since Joyce is back in the limelight over Grangemouth.

But I digress.

Since then, Eric Joyce decided to stand down as the Labour MP for Falkirk West, that in turn triggered the Labour party selection process for a replacement. Enter Stephen Deans, ex-chair of the Falkirk Labour party and ex-unite union official at the Grangemouth plant. 

Stephen Deans, carrying his homework.

He has been the subject of disciplinary procedures, Ineos claimed he'd been using work hours and company resources (mostly his work's email account) to conduct a political campaign - that campaign being - to (allegedly) make sure a Unite union wo/man got the job of running for Joyce's vacated Westminster seat. Deans had been suspended from his job pending the outcome of the proceedings, the Unite union - displeased at the treatment of their man - threatened industrial action, which in turn led to the shut down of the plant. Ineos claimed that if strike action did take place the plant would need to be shut down and that was a complicated, expensive process which took time to complete. With that in mind, they went ahead and shut it down anyway and refused to start it back up until industrial action was taken off the table.

Unite subsequently did take industrial action off the table but instead of starting the plant back up, Ineos cut out the Unite union and balloted the work force directly on new terms & conditions of employment - a pay freeze, adjustments (downwards obviously) to pensions and a cut in shift allowance. The work force - advised by Unite - rejected the new T&C's and Ineos said the plant would close permanently.

(A quick point of order. Grangemouth has two separate work streams, there is a petrochemical manufacturing plant and a refinery. It was the former part that was closed, the refinery is owned by Ineos and Chinese state-owned Petrochina.)

Ineos made much noise about its survival plan for Grangemouth, Jim Ratcliffe...

...CEO and Chair claimed the site was losing £10 million every month but many commentators failed to see how a tiny saving on wages would assuage these losses, some went even further and questioned the notion the plant was loss-making at all.

Meanwhile, high level meetings were taking place to get the plant up and running again, the Scottish Government pledged actual money (a £9m grant) while Westminster ponied up some loan guarantees. Unite caved in completely, workers had no choice but to accept the new T&C's and Ineos management agreed to reopen the plant.

As you would expect, the media - ever keen to apportion blame as well as credit - claimed that without the backing of Westminster, the plant would have closed. Alex Salmond being interviewed by BBC radio four's Edward Stourton pointed out that the Scottish Government had put up real cash while Westminster got away with offering guarantees - something the Scottish Government could not do under the current devolved settlement.

The usual claims and counter claims from various papers still reverberate, in truth, it was a joint effort from both governments but indisputably led by Holyrood. What is being missed though is how the situation came to pass in the first place. Stephen Deans of Unite stood accused of subverting work resources for political campaign ends and was suspended, so Unite decided to strike. Ineos then took advantage of that to ram home changes to workers terms and conditions, using the strike as an excuse to shut the plant down.

In the aftermath, two questions still remain. How did one man heading up Ineos get to be in a position of such power, not just over the Grangemouth work force but also of an integral part of Scotland's industrial oil infrastructure? And, what is really going on in the Falkirk Labour party?

At this time, the Labour party (there is really only one, the 'Scottish' Labour party doesn't exist as a separate entity) refuse to reopen the investigation into what went on during the selection process. Unite still stand accused of coercing its members into joining the Labour party or signing them up without them knowing in order to ensure their preferred candidate, Karie Murphy, was selected to stand for Eric Joyce's seat at Westminster.

Meanwhile alleged leader of 'Scottish Labour' Johann Lamont managed to talk for around 9 minutes on yesterday's Good Morning Scotland about the Falkirk selection mess and say precisely nothing constructive at all.

There is no punch line to this, workers at Grangemouth are back earning but many contractors are not. It is still not fully known what went on, Stephen Deans might have used Ineos resources for the nefarious political ends of Unite, it in turn may have reacted far too quickly before the results of the disciplinary proceedings were known, and Ineos - in an act of wanton capitalist greed that would even have J. R. Ewing's eyes watering - took advantage of the situation to ram through its own cost cutting agenda.

Not good, not good at all.