September 2008 Archives

Some advice for Werner Faymann.

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austrianresult.pngThe Austrians had yet another election yesterday, and it wasn't a pretty sight. Just like Germany, the centre-left and centre-right were in a grand coalition, and if I were in the German SPD or CDU I'd be looking over the border in alarm.

The equivalent centrist parties are down, although they are still the largest parties. Depressingly, the main winners were two extreme rightwing groupings. There's also a strong Green vote, just short of 10%.

There are also, unusually for Europe, no leftists and no liberals, which reduces the options significantly. The results are above - click for a larger image.

92 seats is a majority, and the permutations are grim. Again, a grand coalition is the only way two parties can get to that number. There are no other options to make a majority without the hard right, and for the centre-right to make any other majority they'd need both lots of extremists.

Anyway, it's a mess. Werner Faymann is the social democrat leader and the likely Chancellor, and there's an obvious way out for him - minority government. The Greens will be sensible ad hoc partners, and on budgets and other key legislation he'd need to woo the centre-right. 

There is a silver lining - the two extremist parties hate each other, and may well vote opposite ways just to spite each other. Sometimes they will win votes, sure, but only if they overcome their animosity to each other, and bring the centre-right in as well. 

It's the only answer to a grim question. Come over, Herr Faymann, have a chat to Salmond and see how you too could learn to stop worrying and love minority administration.

Update: my calculations above were wrong, and the SPD could get to 93 seats with the FPÖ - that's the only other two-party coalition that could work. Except for the ideological gulf, of course.

All rights reserved.

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highlighter.jpgWhile searching for a particular response to our 2007 manifesto, I found an interesting document published under FOI - a review (580k pdf) of that manifesto by a Scotland Office civil servant. 

Specifically, it's a "Selection of material focusing on those aspects of the Manifesto which could impact on relations with the UK Government and the pattern of the Devolution Settlement."

The highlighter pen got quite an outing. Tackling climate change and airport expansion, opposing nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and reversing rail privatisation all got blue-inked, and that's just from our key pledges. 

Some of these are understandable, especially nuclear weapons. But airport expansion in Scotland is a planning matter for local authorities, Scottish Ministers, and the Parliament. And why did the regulation of supermarkets not get highlighted? Or the defence of civil liberties? Given Westminster leads on the abolition of civil liberties you might have thought otherwise.

Anyway, I was interested to see what they made of us. And it turns out it's not just the radical Greens who had The Treatment. The equivalent exercise was also conducted on the SNP, the Liberals, where the author speculates fruitlessly about coalition, those dangerous constitutional rebels, the Tories, and even the Scotland Office's supposed friends in Scottish Labour.

Impact on relations with the UK? We all do it, apparently. And now you know a little more about the constructive way the Scotland Office spends its time.

Agreeing with the Republican right.

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jokerburnsmoney.jpgI don't think I've ever done that before. Let's see: war, homophobia, racism, climate change denial, fraud, hypocrisy. Nope, never agreed with them on any of that. Yet the $700bn plan to nationalise US banking losses put Obama on the wrong side, backing Bush despite the cost to his own plans, while the only congressional opposition came from the Republicans, specifically Senator Shelby, who said:

"What troubles me most is that we have been given no credible assurances that this plan will work. We could very well spend $700 billion or $1 trillion and not resolve the crisis. Before I sign off on something of this magnitude, I would want to know that we have exhausted all reasonable alternatives. But I don't believe we can do that in a weekend."

Now, they've got absolutely the wrong end of the stick about the plan. Republican Senator Jim Bunning said the plan was "financial socialism, and it's un-American". I always thought socialism was about giving money from the rich to the poor, not the other way round as per the Bush/Paulson/Bernanke plan, but perhaps I misread Uncle Karl. While their specific concerns are not the same as mine - 180 degrees away, in fact, given my sympathies are with this lot - the conclusion was the same. This plan is bonkers and it won't work.

But now even the Republican opposition has collapsed - presumably they finally worked out that the plan was a massive give-away to their pals - and it'll all go through. Will the credit ratings agencies now do what they'd do to anyone else picking up these toxic debts, and mark down the US Government for the first time from AAA? If you're looking for signs of the impending end of the American imperial phase, that would be a pretty clear one.

Incidentally, over here, the New Labour response is as weak and captured by the markets as the Obama response. Will Hutton wrote today, backing the scheme, that "Once again, the left is coming to capitalism's rescue". Is this a model of capitalism the left should really want to rescue, even with his sea of caveats?

Brown's response was also a mass of absurdities and inconsistencies. He decried the "age of irresponsibility" which he himself has sponsored, then in the next breath said:

"I have told President Bush today that facing global turbulence Britain supports the US plan. Whatever the details of it, it is the right thing to do."

Isn't it irresponsible to support a plan like this irrespective of the details? It's the classic failed politician's response, and it goes like this. Something must be done, and this is something, therefore this must be done. We should perhaps be grateful that this time he's not recommending wasting our money. Nevertheless, this whole scenario feels as though the Joker or the KLF have been put in charge of the global banking system.

Cracking down on nuisance callers.

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I don't have a landline, but a pal who listened to the first 5 seconds of her Clegg-call before slamming it down (previously discussed here) points me to this decision blocking their quasi-survey masquerading as market research. 

They now have to quit this no-doubt expensive operation or face prosecution, no matter what their activists would like to believe.

I got a leaflet through this week from them which worked on a similar basis, offering dubious choices on environmental policy for the party to misuse in subsequent press releases and attempting to harvest my email and mobile number. 

Why would such a questionnaire exclude options like opposition to Edinburgh airport expansion, or support for congestion charging? Only because they appear not to trust their arguments to actual debate on the issues. As a friend asked last time I wrote about this: "Why has it taken people so long to tumble to the Lib Dems?"

Internet and real life converge.

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The debate about the demise of capitalism banking crisis now plays out partly online, as one would expect, given the scale of the problems. The $700bn US bailout plan may unravel, and the Wall St Journal claims 'Wall Street' no longer exists (fancy a namechange then?). As Joe Stiglitz put it to the Today programme earlier this week, "they've now found a sucker, the American taxpayer, to take [these debts] off their balance sheet". The Lloyds TSB acquisition of HBOS may now face opposition too, although the scandal is less obvious and the opposition more muted. 

People get bored by the technicalities of banking and finance - I know I do. But these deals have one thing in common: the bankers get let off the hook, and the public loses out. In the first case, the US Government's "bad bank" would use taxpayers' money to pay off Wall Street's gambling debts (as MacWhirter noted), and in the second case Lloyds gets to waive competition law to snap up HBOS.

In the face of all this turmoil, the Americans have at least got their internet-related satire working much more effectively than us. First, in the spirit of the FAILblog, I give you Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke giving evidence on their massive gift to the rich prudent measures to restore confidence in the banking system:

Next, here's some pseudo-spam that's been going round. Thanks to Aaron for the spot.

From: Minister of the Treasury Paulson

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Chocks away.

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balloonchair.jpgLembit Opik does love his odd modes of transport, most recently embarrassing his party with a stunt on a Segway

Previously, he used to give the Liberals that other-worldly touch with his obsession with asteroid strikes, prevention thereof. I always suspected he wanted to go on the spaceship himself for that mission.

Today he turned up in Fife to back their local candidate from the cockpit of a plane, presumably to get the message across that Liberals back aviation, not carbon cuts. Or perhaps to try carpet-bombing the residents of Glenrothes with leaflets that say "Only the Lib Dems can win here", which would be just as accurate as usual.

One curious thing, though, is that the release says he was "behind the wheel" of the plane, presumably his Mooney M20J. I am not an expert, obviously, but I think the word here is "yoke".

It looks like one or two of his colleagues would rather he tried the balloon chair (pictured), though, unless there is in fact a genuine campaigning reason why he's resigned tonight.

In praise of.. Ecuador.

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sealion.jpgIt sounds like tree-hugging taken to the next level - rights for forests, rivers, and even air? 

Yet this constitutional proposal before the Ecuadorian people promises exactly that (detailed wording here), to help Ecuador take on the multinationals who currently use the rivers as open sewers for their industrial waste, amongst other egregious behaviour.

Ecuador has extraordinary natural riches to protect, including the various iconic inhabitants of Galapagos (like the sealion cub pictured above). Constitutional rights might not be the most immediately obvious way to deliver those protections, but it's an interesting idea, and I hope we get a chance to see how well it works.

Second class response.

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shutletterbox.jpgSome three weeks ago Robin put down a motion here which invited the Nats to offer to bear the cost of loss-making post offices, and to recognise the essential social role they provide. Currently just one other MSP has signed it, and you won't be surprised to know it's Patrick.

Next time you find yourself listening to an MSP from any other party blathering on about saving their local post offices, ask them why they didn't sign up to the only proposal yet that would have saved the lot in one go. I'll tell you why, though. It's a dirty little secret.

These people actually love post office closures. At the Meadows Festival, it's all the Liberals wanted to talk about (although I insisted they talk about airport expansion). A threatened closure is a perfect campaign opportunity, a way to get local members motivated and to get into the local media. The printers here on the fourth floor whirr with little else.

The scandal is that they don't want to fix the problem, and one way to tell is that they only want to save the specific ones in their constituencies. I don't know about you, but I sometimes find myself in other parts of the country wishing there was a post office too.

Some are more hypocritical than others - and yes, Nigel Griffiths, I mean you, because you did vote for closures and then you campaigned to save them. But the same lack of an alternative applies to Liberal, Tory and SNP campaigners. As far as I know, anyway. Perhaps they've got a great plan - I know the Liberals considered privatisation, which would be one sure way to get as many closures as possible in the shortest time.

The bottom line is this. If they don't sign the motion, and they don't come up with an alternative of their own (which I would love to hear), you can tell they have no interest in fixing the problem, and just want to profit from the consequences. 

If they sign up, we could build a common campaign, and make post office closures a thing of the past. For instance, 43 closures were announced today, and Jamie Hepburn railed against them. Sign the motion, Mr Hepburn, start the ball rolling, then we'll know you're serious. 

Representation or aspiration?

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I like this anti-McCain impromptu jpeg below, but then again I am not exactly the target audience. Might the cult of material aspiration in the States blunt what seems like an obvious message to the likes of me? Given that folk buy into that attitude elsewhere, at an emotional level, might they not do so in an election as well? The test would be: how did Diddy's shout out to his brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia for cheap oil for his private jet go down?


Motivated Greens.

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firstplacepig.jpgA poll in yesterday's Independent On Sunday asked, as usual, how likely people say they are to vote (p5 here, 125K pdf). The keenest voters? Greens (average 9.31/10), then SNP and Tory supporters (9.19/10). 

Surprisingly, perhaps, Liberal voters (8.88/10) reported as least likely to get out, behind Labour (8.91/10). 

I'm not sure why, but my guess is distaste for Clegg's promise to cut taxes'n'services. 

The headline figures aren't as good for us, sure, but it's a firmer starting point.


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In case anyone at conference was wondering why I looked distracted this weekend, it's because I had this specific song as an earworm. It's DJ Zebra mixing Shaggy and Rage Against The Machine, in case you're not down enough with the kids to tell that straightaway.

Prepare to be boarded.

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Today is, as you landlubbers have no doubt forgotten, International Talk Like A Pirate Day. By what is nearly an extraordinary coincidence, Parliament was yesterday discussing buccaneering of another sort. Here's Patrick challenging the consensus:

If you want to go a bit further back and look at what happened to our old mutuals, this educational film by Terry Gilliam really is the best summary. It also sets out how the fightback might look.

Part 1, Part 2 below.

The title, incidentally, is my favourite pirate chatup line.

Conference beckons.

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If you're thinking of coming and haven't booked, it's not too late. Details here.

Financial mathematics.

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bankmaths.jpgIn the beginning, there was the Bank of Scotland, the Halifax Building Society, Lloyds Bank and the Trustee Savings Bank (wikipedia links). In 1994 Lloyds took over the TSB, and in 2001 the Bank of Scotland took over the Halifax. Now, all four are one megabank.

Both these original mergers saw high street banks take over organisations which had begun as very different beasts, operating on less purely commercial lines.

155 years ago, the Halifax began as an extremely prudent building society, operating "for the mutual benefit of local working people". In the mid-90s the lure of unsustainable profits proved too much for the Halifax, and £19bn of wisely-saved assets were just given away during the demutualisation. 

This was the beginning of the end of Halifax, and just four years after it was floated on the stock exchange, it was swallowed up by the Bank of Scotland. I know it's unfashionable in Scotland to care about what happens south of the border, but at the time it was clear that the town of Halifax had lost a substantial asset, as had the working people who were the original intended beneficiaries.

The TSB, for its part, was an aggregation of small savings banks, run by trustees along "democratic and philanthropic guidelines". By 1970 there were 75 such banks, holding the then substantial sum of £2.8bn in assets. In 1984 they were united by legislation, and the TSB became virtually indistinguishable from the other high street banks.

It took just eleven more years for this new more commercial entity to be swallowed by Lloyds Bank, although in this case a small element of the philanthropic guidelines were retained, as 1% of pre-tax profits still go to charity.

In both these cases, creative and prudent Victorian financial structures were gradually stripped of their purpose and their capital. Private and secure institutions floated on the stock market as the short-term gains from speculation, massively leveraged loans and exotic derivatives grew more appealing. 

The depositor was essentially forgotten, and these banks competed to throw more and more money they didn't have at the mortgage sector, before trading these worthless debts as if they were actual assets.

Looking at the latest merger, it's dependence on exactly this money-go-round which caused the collapse of HBOS. Lloyds was a suitable buyer precisely because it had retained far more prudent approach to the secondary markets.

Personally, I am convinced that there are clear models we should pursue if we want to see a sustainable future for financial services. First, there are still building societies. The Nationwide in England may be the largest UK-wide, with £159bn of assets, but we have our own mutual stars like the Dunfermline Building Society. There's definitely room for more.

Second, there are banks we will surely never see a run on, prudent organisations which invest in society and which rely on deposits, not inter-bank lending. The Cooperative Bank and Triodos are the two most obvious examples. The Royal Bank of Scotland would be well advised to get on board with this more sustainable model as quickly as possible (and, while we're on the subject, to reject schemes like Sakhalin 2), although I know it'd take a massive amount of work to do so.

Thirdly, we are seeing a small rise in the role of credit unions, which operate in line with many of the original social objectives of the building society movement. 

In the longer term, if we have institutions which are based on this limited element of Victorian values, we will be able to weather these storms. They're traditional Scottish principles, too, as Patrick pointed out at First Minister's Questions today. Thrift, self-reliance, sustainability, and even prudence. We'll be lost without them.

Update: here's what that ??? should look like.

Cyber anti-nat.

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I've long bemoaned the poor standard of discussion on newspaper websites, with slavish, abusive and irrational SNP supporters usually the main culprits. A challenger arrives today, though, on this Telegraph article (note: I hit the complaint button, so the comment may disappear). 

Now, plenty of cybernats use appalling comparisons, with Brown normally compared to Mugabe using the super-clever phrase "ZaNu Liebour", but this comment goes right to the classic idiot's favourite - Hitler. 

Thumbnail image for cyberantinat.pngIn case anyone's not familiar with Godwin's Law, the original states that as time passes in an online discussion, the probability of a Nazi analogy tends to 100%. More recently, it has been redefined to mean that anyone making such an analogy automatically loses whatever argument they're engaged in. I hope we can all agree that's what's happened here.

Note: I am not related to this particular "James", before anyone suggests otherwise.

First nomination in.

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tennant.jpgTo no-one's great surprise, Patrick Harvie (pictured) has today put his name forward to succeed Robin as co-convenor of the party. 

More than one journalist observed that "Patrick Harvie Not To Run" would have been more newsworthy, but they will have to be disappointed.

Just to be clear about the process, the fact that we have only two MSPs for the next two years and seven months does not mean Patrick will automatically be selected. 

Unlike certain other parties I could mention, the ballots have to be issued, and any two party members in good standing may nominate another to stand.

With this in mind, I will remain scrupulously neutral, despite having a desk mere feet from Patrick's. As the role is co-convenor (male), I also get to use that much-deprecated phrase - may the best man win.

This is a recording.

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robotphone.jpg"Hello. As a Liberal representative, your number has been specially selected to receive this important message. Living in Scotland I have had the gargantuan misfortune to have experienced eight years of misrule by Liberal Ministers, breaking countless promises on issues like the environment, planning, transport, and civil liberties." 

"We watched Liberal Transport Ministers in particular impose climate-busting motorways, ignoring local opposition and public inquiries alike. I also had to stomach English Liberals claiming that tuition fees had been abolished in Scotland, when your colleagues had merely renamed them and postponed the point of payment."

"I can only think of a single positive achievement by those Ministers - PR for local government, which helped me and many others elect Green councillors for the first time last year."

"Overall, the experience led me to conclude that I would be reluctant to vote Liberal even if you were the last party left on earth. Thank you for listening."

Cairns has gone.

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cairns.jpgThe rumours were true. Perhaps that's why the Gaelic TV people who interviewed Robin this morning were having trouble getting hold of Cairns earlier.

Who's next? And will he do a Geoffrey Howe interview?

Update: Apparently Caroline Flint is next up. I'm waiting for Jack Straw, though.

Dog's dinner.

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doggy-dinner.jpgTim Luckhurst wrote an extraordinary piece for the Guardian yesterday, full of praise for Iain Gray, yet I feel the new LOLITSP won't be pleased by it. 

He is not a "standard-issue numpty" like Jamieson or Kerr, Luckhurst says, backed up by the evidence that Gray had a public-school education. 

He's "open-minded", which is confirmed by the fact that he's been seen reading the Guardian. Surely a low bar, especially for a Labour politician?

Tim then advises the LOLITSP to call on Gordon Brown to resign, which sounds like friendly fire rather than advice intended to be helpful. I know Ministers down south are eyeing Brown up like a well-done roast (Cabinet pictured above), but the rest of us know a change of leader won't solve their problems.

Finally, he argues that Gray has to prove that "social justice and separatism are incompatible". So, in principle, Scotland would be incapable of achieving social justice without being part of Great Britain? That's a pure faith position, impossible to prove, not to mention counter-intuitive given how badly the status quo has failed to deliver social justice.

Revenge of Iron Claw.

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phonebook.jpgIain Gray has had good coverage with his promise to rip up Labour's 2007 manifesto and start work immediately on the 2011 version. 

While there are parts of it that particularly need to be discarded, like the bit about retaining Council Tax, is it just me who feels queasy about all that policy simply being discarded?

I mean, I know much of it wasn't any good, and it was about as well written as a phonebook, but still..

Let us imagine that you are represented by a Labour MSP, and one way or another, most of us are. 

They all pledged to deliver that 2007 manifesto, and people voted for them knowing that. Despite losing overall, it should be governing their elected representatives' activities in the Chamber and in Committee. Instead it's been ripped up and there's nothing to guide them, nothing to hold them to.

For comparison, here's the executive summary of our manifesto, which Robin and Patrick are working away on until 2011:

o Tackle climate change, cut pollution every year.  
o Deliver world class public transport, not road and airport expansion.  
o Support local business and social enterprise, regulate supermarkets.  
o Keep the NHS and water public, reverse rail privatisation.  
o Say no to Trident and nuclear power, invest in renewable energy.  
o Tackle poverty, provide warm, affordable, energy efficient homes.  
o Stop demonising young people; defend civil liberties and promote equality. 

Also, here's a short video showing Iain Gray actually ripping up their manifesto.


Chasing a sinking ship.

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eurodesign.JPGVince Cable is apparently bouncing the Liberals into a more sceptical position on the Euro. 

First, it's tactical, of course, being the Liberals: " is a ship that has sailed out of the harbour. There is no point in jumping into the sea and swimming after it." 

Second, it's a slightly vague recognition of the problems the Euro has caused a number of European economies: "There are various things that we have learnt about euroland, and about the eurozone, which are clearly problems that need to be resolved." 

Consider the problems the MPC have each month here - do they cut rates to try and kick-start the housing market, or do they raise them to try and bring inflation back within Brown's targets? For five months they've been stuck in these headlights, and have kept interest rates steady at 5%.

Now imagine trying to set one interest rate across a continent with varying inflation rates, and varying economic conditions. For example, Spain's inflation is at 5%, Italy's at 4.1% (same link), while the Dutch are at 3.25%. Simultaneously, the Guardian reports that Latvia's house prices have fallen 24.1% over the last year, Germany's have gone down 6.9% over the last two years, while in Spain, France and Greece they're still rising at a little over 3%.

How on earth should the European Central Bank reconcile all that? How would you feel if you lived in Latvia, and interest rates were set to suit Germany, or vice versa? Where's the democratic oversight? (Note: Latvia are part of European Monetary Union but have not yet adopted the single currency, but their currency is pegged to the Euro).

Anyway, if the Liberals do come round to the flaws in monetary union, this would leave the only British party wishing to subscribe to a Europe-wide interest rate as... the SNP. I've never understood their argument that we shouldn't let London make our economic decisions for us, but instead they should be taken in Frankfurt. 

To quote an SNP press release: "With distant London in charge, Scotland will just keep on slipping further behind." Isn't Frankfurt even more distant?

In that same release, the Nats cite Iceland, Ireland and Norway as the so-called "arc of prosperity". They're an interesting experimental lab, actually. Ireland's on the Euro, while Iceland and Norway are out of the EU altogether. Personally, I'll take the latter model, but let's see what happens.

Footnote: there are plenty of Greens who believe in the single currency, including many here in Scotland. For some, it's a key symbolic part of being pro-European. Personally, though, I am comfortable being utterly pro-European but against monetary union, as per the party policy, set in an internal referendum in 2001, which reads as follows:

"The Scottish Green Party believes that governments should be free to set their own levels of taxation, public spending and public borrowing in areas that only affect their own country. We consider that European Monetary Union will undermine local and regional economies and that it takes no account of environmental or social criteria. It is run by a collection of bankers subject to no effective democratic control, but able to override democratic decisions made by member states. We therefore oppose Scottish membership of the Euro."

Robin to hand over leadership.

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The Herald ran a big interview with Robin this morning (part 1, part 2), in which he says why he's not standing again for co-convenor, and why he doesn't intend to run again for Holyrood in 2011. I joined the party ten years ago this month, and Robin has been at the heart of the Scottish Green Party much longer than that.

Everyone who was in the party during the dark days which followed the false dawn in 1989 tells me Robin was the glue that held the party together, in terms of energy, drive, and finances. I am absolutely convinced that both the party's hard work and his extraordinarily broad personal vote were essential to the breakthrough in 1999.

Even though he's not going anywhere, really, this is still a pretty emotional day. Thank you, Robin, for all of it.


How the Large Hadron Collider works.

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This YouTube video was apparently created by a CERN employee, and it's extremely clear. Via Neatorama, my favourite site of the week, who also put up Ten Things You Wanted To Know About the LHC But Were Afraid To Ask.

I also like the emergency stop button below, which is also from the same place. If all the reassurances in the last part of their list fail, someone will hopefully press this.

Finally, according to a friend of mine who subs on one of Scotland's newspapers, he's been correcting copy about this experiment all week. The third and fourth letters of the middle word of the device keep being transposed. Easy mistake to make.

The drawbacks of eco-living.

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Six weeks ago I gave a total stranger $2 over the internet, back when that was about £1. In exchange, he did me the drawing below based purely on the title of this item, and it arrived this week.

Information on how you too can get your $2 cartoon is here. Even with the decline in the value of the pound, I still think it's a great deal. And watch out for those bears.


Sex officials in oil scandal.

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nakedoilprotesters.jpgThe BBC ran a story today about the "ethical failure" at the American Department of the Interior, entitled US oil officials in sex scandal

Earl Devaney, the investigator, found that officials rigged contracts, moonlighted as private contractors, and had sex with workers they were meant to be overseeing. All in the name of market intelligence.

The line I particularly noticed was "Sexual relationships with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length". It might just be me, but is there a good reason why he appears to have exempted spanking?

I also mistakenly read the second word of the headline, seeing it as "oiled", while a wag here imagined a future Green government being exposed to the opposite sort of scandal, as per my title above. 

Agreeing with Henry.

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ziplake.jpgHenry McLeish today pointed out the bleeding obvious: that the £400m in Council Tax Benefit should stay in Scotland to offset local taxes, irrespective of the model Parliament eventually backs. 

Like Henry, I don't think the SNP plans as proposed are the right solution, but that's a different question.

The fact is that this money comes from tax receipts collected in Scotland as well as elsewhere in the UK. Sure, the legislation limits the taxes it can be applied to, but I'd bet the Block Grant that legislation would be changed if a Labour First Minister wanted to amend local taxation. 

Let Labour make the case against Local Income Tax. There's plenty of material there, just as there is with the Council Tax. But simply to threaten to withdraw this money is pure petty-minded-ness, not to mention bad politics. Why give the Nats a new grievance to play with? Don't Labour understand that's still a key part of the way the SNP expects to achieve independence? (Labour understanding of independence pictured above)

How roads are built.

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closeupprotest.jpgOur friends at the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route Inquiry bring reports of yesterday's events. First, as discussed here, the Reporter decided to ignore his responsibilities under European law, thus exposing the taxpayer to the risk of judicial review should Ministers decide to build the road. 

Oh, wait, they've already decided.

Then the consultant from Jacobs took the stand. He first admitted that the road's objectives were changed to include traffic relief on the A90 after the route was selected. So you choose your route, then select your objectives? Sentence first, then trial!

He also confirmed that the route layout at Kingcausie was wrong because "of a simple mixup between East and West". These people are in charge of a massive bulldozer and are about to be let loose on the Aberdeenshire countryside. Reassured? Me too.

Despite supposedly being the lead consultants on the route, it also transpired they were told about the hybrid route which Tavish foisted on Aberdeenshire just 30 minutes before the press release went out. He will have loved the front page of yesterday's P&J - this headline, slating him, above a massive pic of protesters

Finally, many of the local community support a tunnel, some seeing it as a positive project and some on the basis that it would be less worse than the AWPR. Jacobs looked at the tunnel, and we'd always been told there was a report from them which it wasn't viable. 

Astonishingly, when pressed on the nature of this report, Galbraith admitted it was "more like a few chaps around a table with a sketch who took a look and said, 'I don't think that'll work'."

I leave a review of this extraordinary statement to "Bystander", one of our pals at the Inquiry.

"So there you have it; Jacobs' definition of a report. I hope all you people in industry and commerce are taking note. Were any other 'reports' from Jacobs like that? Were the few chaps on their second or third bottle? When you are next in a town-centre pub, have a close look at the beer mats- one of them may well have the 'report' of the Murtle tunnel on it."

gordonchimney.jpgHats off to Greenpeace - six of their activists just persuaded a jury to acquit them of criminal damage for the graffiti to the left, on the chimney of the coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth. 

The best bit about this is that the jury effectively said "this criminal damage was an attempt to stop a more serious crime, the criminal damage caused around the world, by coal plants like this, through climate change".

It's the same sort of defence we used in our anti-GM case, but we had to wait for the appeal to get off, not least because Kingsnorth was heard by a jury, but we just had a sheriff.

If Labour or the SNP press ahead with more coal plants, they know they will be on thin legal ice now, and the potential protesters know it too.

The witnesses for this case notably included NASA's Professor James Hansen, an absolute star of early climate change science, and more detail on his evidence, including his written statement, is available here.

Greenpeace planned to write "Gordon, bin it", but I actually prefer the shorter version. Like Dennis Potter christening his cancerous tumour Rupert, after Murdoch, they renamed a grossly polluting chimney Gordon, after Brown. It's not just the dirtiest form of power generation, aside from nuclear, it's actually criminal.

A Scottish Daily Show.

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Now we're to have a proper Scottish TV channel, we need a Scottish version of the Daily Show. I am a massive fan of Jon Stewart, who mixes absurdist satire, rigorous fact-checking and whimsical face-pulling in equal measure. But who would front it up over here?

My nomination is Douglas Fraser, who is sadly only with the Herald for a few more days before he jets off to the BBC to cover business matters. 

Now, obviously it'd be bad for him to leave a new job straight away, but I think this Scottish channel might take a wee while to set up.

Don't take this to imply that I think Douglas is a lightweight: quite the opposite, this is serious political TV with a mass audience. His sense of humour is acute and well-informed, too, and, like Jon Stewart, he would be massively trusted in such a role. The campaign starts now. 

Sample recent Daily Show gloriousness is below, via The Curvature.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

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caboc.jpgMy favourite Liberal MSP (I know, I know, tough contest) is undoubtedly Jamie Stone. His CV is a motley affair, including a spell running Highland Fine Cheeses, the family firm behind Caboc, a yummy soft cheese. 

According to the Metro today, it's 50% fat, which explains the yummy, and sales are up 40%. 

One Rory Stone is quoted as follows: "I can't understand why people still want it."

First, what modesty. Second, why indeed would people buy such fatty foods, especially in Scotland, renowned as we are for our healthy eating? Rory and Jamie are clearly chips off the same block of Stone. 

Caboc is available from all good cheesemongers, and is online here. Hopefully a share of the profits isn't diverted to support the Liberals.

Disclosure: this may or may not be related to the fine hospitality he showed me one summer a few years ago.

Absolute Worst Possible Route.

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Yesterday I had a lovely day out in Aberdeen with Greens and other activists, joining Aberdeenshire locals protesting outside the Inquiry into the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.

There's little more rewarding in politics than supporting local community campaigners, although this campaign will be a hard one to win when the First Minister is prepared to bend the truth in the name of forcing a road through. Our protest pointed out that this is an Inquiry where the decision has been taken to build the road no matter what, where all discussion has been prevented about the AWPR's effectiveness on traffic reduction, its economic, social and environmental impact, and about the alternatives available.

Salmond then went on the radio urging everyone to take part, as people always find this kind of Inquiry worthwhile, neglecting to address the fact that no-one I've spoken to has ever seen an Inquiry where the answer was known in advance. It's pure window-dressing (see above).

After our protest, Road Sense's QC pointed out a flaw in the Inquiry under European law. Because of the protected nature of at least one of the environments under threat, the Inquiry has to look at all the options, including not building the road. The Reporter will rule on this today, but the road's supporters should be urging him to back this line of argument, for two reasons.

First, if your road can meet the usual tests, the same ones the M74 failed, then make the case in public. Second, if the Inquiry continues on the current path then it will be obvious how any final decision by Ministers can be judicially reviewed. Do you really want that?

Hopefully I'll be able to keep updates coming here from my friends on the inside. P&J coverage is here and here, along with an absurd editorial here. Scotsman here.

Thanks to all who turned out at such an ungodly hour, including Ben, Daniel, Lindsay, Sarah, Sarah and Tom, who also posted on this, as follows. Love the title.

Update: the Reporter's decision is out. They ignored the legal concerns. No surprise there.
You may think I'm slow on the uptake, and here's some proof. Sarah Palin's speech last week included the following dig at Obama:

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."

Here are the two best responses:

That should resonate with what the Republicans call "The Base", which incidentally translates into Arabic as Al Qaeda.

And, also via Chez, comes the following corker. (noticed by others)

Apologies for the American spelling throughout. I am bilingual, and I like to practice. I do think it provides a little local color, though.

Eight years and four months.

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coolingtower.jpgApparently this is a good timescale to make the changes we need on climate change. It is, of course, better known as 100 months. I'm not convinced by arbitrary deadines, and am not sure what is so vital about January 2017. 

Also, how do you sign people up halfway through? Will the domain name count down? And one final complaint: it's not clear who's behind the site, except by reading the linked-to Guardian site. 

The answer is NEF, incidentally, who I've been fond of in the past.

Having got all that snark off my chest, I did sign up, and will report back on what their monthly activity recommendations are. If they're something more substantial than urging us to turn the taps off when we brush our teeth, which surely they must be, I'll be ready to take it all back and encourage you all to sign up.

Special Taliban MRSA.

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As a recent convert to RSS, sometimes there's just too much to read. Make time for spEak You're bRanes, though. It's like the Cybernats times Private Eye's Dumb Britain, filtered through the Daily Mail, and is of course a Chris Morris reference. The content comes from the BBC forums. The final part of this is magnificent. And here's a little Day Today, just because.

Rights, camera, action

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A friend and fellow green activistamnesty.gif has just gone to Kenya to film part of a documentary for Amnesty about poverty and human rights, and she's blogging about it

I'm delighted to see Amnesty broadening its work, much as the traditional anti-torture, pro-rule of law, pro-freedom of speech stuff remains depressingly vital. I just gave them a tenner, and you can do the same or better here.

A mandate for change.

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carolinelucas.jpgOur sister party in England and Wales just elected their leader, and duly chose the magnificent Caroline Lucas MEP. She's smart, passionate, engaging, radical, and absolutely the right choice. If I were a member and if I had as many votes as Jack McConnell apparently does up here, I'd have voted for her seven times.

Looking around the internet for responses, Tom Harris regrets the diversification of British politics, Iain Dale is more charitable despite being a climate change denier "not [being] convinced by all the arguments on man made global warming", ASwaS backs Caroline to win in Brighton and urges the party up here to change, some Liberals are worried (rightly, I hope), and Jim Jay is naturally delighted.

Note: the update follows comment from Iain Dale below, and I'd be pleased to read any thoughts on the distinction he's describing. I'd also welcome Iain filling me in on the specific arguments he isn't convinced by.

Polling frustration.

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Thumbnail image for QuestionMarks.jpgThe Sunday Times has some Scottish numbers, but they're incomplete, with no number for us at all. The list vote they report is SNP 35%, Labour 25%, with the Tories and the Liberals on 14%. 

That leaves 12% unallocated. In 2007, of voters who didn't back one of those four parties on the list, about half of them voted Green. So are we on 6%? Who knows. Maybe we should have an election and find out.

What could we buy with £2.4m?

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kennedybillboard.jpegMichael Brown continues to damage the Liberals' reputation, not because money was allegedly fraudulently given to them, but because they have shown no intention to return a penny to those who may have been defrauded. 

The Observer has a new line on this today. Robert Mann, one of those who believes he was defrauded, is suing the party for his part of the money back - £632,000 of the £2.4m in question.

Brown billed 5th Avenue Partners as an "investment opportunity", but Mann's money was wasted on helicopter rides for Charles Kennedy and billboards with his face on it, all to encourage people to do something equivalent to abstaining in the 2005 election.

What I didn't realise last time I looked at this was that the Electoral Commission can, according to the Observer, "take the donation into the public purse if it is found that it is not permissible". 

The Liberals' defence is that they've spent the money, but if Brown is found to have fraudulently obtained it and donated it, the fact is it doesn't belong to them, and they should hand it over. Imagine an associate of a petty thief trying to tell the police and the courts that money can't be returned because it's been spent. 

And just think what government could do with that money instead. 

If it was spent here in Scotland, it could boost the Saltire Prize by almost 25%. If it had been spent in Wales, it would have paid for the revival of their language and culture centre in Gwynedd. The Northern Irish could fund 3,600 childcare places. It'd be more than enough for the English to start making Basildon beautiful

And wouldn't any of those uses be better than letting the Liberals blow it on Focus leaflets and dodgy "only we can win here" charts?

Index-linking the Union dividend.

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brownchancellor.jpgLast week Gordon Brown, the former chancellor, declared himself now open to changes in Scotland's funding arrangements. This was widely interpreted, not least by John Swinney, as movement on fiscal autonomy, but it wasn't anything of the sort. 

He actually said "The Scottish Parliament is wholly accountable for the budget it spends, but not for the size of its budget. And that budget is not linked to the success of the Scottish economy."

What would it look like if the block grant were linked to the success of the Scottish economy? For these purposes let us pretend that growth in GDP is an comprehensive indicator of success.

If Scotland's economy shrank, the block grant would shrink in tandem. Poverty would increase, and the need for government funding would grow, yet Scotland would be given less money to fund the relevant services. Conversely, the less support Scotland needed, the more money would be provided. 

Let's imagine, though, with their limited economic levers, that Salmond and Swinney manage to engineer some localised Irish-style flim-flam boomlet that didn't spill over into Cumbria and Northumberland. Would UK tax revenues then really be diverted north of the border in massive amounts? Unlikely.

This is a long way from fiscal autonomy, which is the right to raise taxes as the Scottish Parliament sees fit. It's more like performance-related pay.

And because the most important economic powers haven't been devolved, Scotland's budget would be even more directly dependent on the vagaries of economic policy largely set in Whitehall. 

Brown's quote could be extended: "And the success or failure of Scotland's economy is not linked to the powers of the Scottish Parliament." But that would take him places he doesn't want to go.

From Uzbekistan to Holyrood.

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craigmurray.jpgYou may know Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was sacked for opposing torture (his version) or being drunk at work, misusing an FCO Range Rover, etc (their version).

His blog notes that while in Edinburgh yesterday he had a "Quick lunch with senior friends from the Scottish Lib Dems and SNP, to quietly forward agreement on the replacement of Council Tax by a local income tax."

This place was dripping with Liberals yesterday, up to The Clegg himself, but did anyone spot Craig? Or notice who he spoke to? I particularly like "quietly" there. I'm supportive of Craig's attitude on torture, naturally, but my view is that things I do quietly don't appear on my blog. 

Anyway, given the numbers, I'm surprised he didn't drop in and see us as well. Without a discussion beyond those two parties, abolishing the Council Tax simply will not happen. Which would be a shame..

Milton and Keynes.

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keynes.jpgYesterday in the chamber Alex Salmond, Iain Gray, Jeremy Purvis, Margaret Curran, Malcolm Chisholm, Ross Finnie, and Andy Kerr all made reference to the work of John Maynard Keynes. 

But every last one of them pronounced his last name wrong, to rhyme with Beans when it should sound like Canes.

How do I know this? One of our most determined activists is a relative of his, and she listened to the debate, getting more and more cross. His Wikipedia page also confirms it. 

Why do the Liberals not know this, when they claim him as their own? Answers would be welcome in the comments. No tracts, please.

(the title is a random train of thought: perhaps Milton Keynes is named for Milton Friedman and Keynes, and perhaps the pronunciation of the town's name has caused this misunderstanding?)

Requiem for a Tory.

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slatfatf.jpg(note to readers not interested in Holyrood gossip: you can safely ignore this one)

Some people think those of us on the ecologically-minded left should hate all Tories as a matter of ideological principle. But then people think all kinds of bonkers stuff. 

Yesterday Scottish Tory Boy apparently terminated his blog, and we will be worse off for it. How could you not respect someone who did so under a heading taken from Douglas Adams?

However, there has to be more to this than meets the eye. The boy loves gossip, and it'll keep finding its way to him.

STB claims that one of the reasons is that he has no internet at home, and can't afford it. Come off it! You work for two Tory MSPs, and if they don't pay you enough to get the internet at home then there's something wrong with the free market.

No, something else is happening. Perhaps a conspiracy, perhaps a cover-up, or at least a hidden agenda. Here are the top five scurrilous theories currently circulating :

1. STB is terrified that his Celtic-supporting mates will discover he's a Tory and thinks they're almost onto him. 
2. He's about to defect to the Liberals.
3. He's about to divert his attention to some top secret blog project.
4. <deleted for legal reasons>
5. Derek's told him to get back to work.

I just made all five up. But #5 sounds plausible to me. Nevertheless, the campaign to get him back online starts now. I've got a fiver towards your internet, mate.

It's pie time.

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mcaveetypie.jpgStrangely, the Herald's website is claiming it's tomorrow (Thursday) already. I'm pretty sure it's not, but I do like to read the papers as early as possible. 

Anyway, we had a finger in this pie, the 100m and £100 challenge from Frank McAveety to Alex Salmond, and it certainly tastes delicious. The proceeds will go, if Salmond accepts, to Robin's preferred rainforest charity. 

Frank, you will remember, lost his job as Culture Minister partly because of an unfortunate incident with a pie and chips.

I confess to encouraging Frank to draw the comparison with Usain Bolt, but perhaps two MSPs renowned for their love of food might prove a spectacle of an altogether different sort. Others have suggested a pie-and-spoon race, and Frank thought the response might be a challenge to an actual pie-eating contest.

Whatever happens, it draws attention to the original issue, the failure of the SNP to include aviation in their climate change bill targets, right? Right?

turbineanddarkclouds.jpgThe SNP set out their programme for government today, including a Climate Change Bill. Their manifesto last time was clear:

"In government we will introduce a Climate Change Bill with mandatory carbon reduction targets of 3% per annum and also set a long-term target of cutting emissions by a minimum of 80% by 2050 - above the UK target of 60%." (2007 SNP manifesto, p.21)

Annual targets are important because they make Ministers accountable. Each year they have to come before Parliament and say something like: ".. last year we achieved a 2.6% cut in our emissions, which is well below the target set in the legislation. With this in mind, we are increasing next year's budget for public transport, we will reject plans for new coal-fired power stations, and require all Scottish government agencies to switch to 100% clean energy."

The simple issue is this. Who will be in office in a year? The SNP, barring something unforeseen. Who's accountable then? They are. Who will be in office in 2050? No-one knows. Who's accountable? No-one. 

Update: Cochrane says "And, of course we won't be able to see if the Climate Change Bill has worked until 2050. I'll keep you posted."

Yet the annual targets have been dropped, and all that remains is the 80% target for 2050. Have the SNP gone native? Or have they taken it away just so they can look magnanimous by putting it back? It was even suggested to me today that annual targets would go back in exchange for our votes on Local Income Tax. I don't think so.

Not least because the votes are there in the chamber. I listened to the debate today and heard the case for annual targets made by (amongst others) Malcolm Chisholm for Labour, Alison McInnes for the Liberals, and John Scott for the Tories. 

With us, that's a massive majority for some kind of annual targets, whatever the SNP do. If they vote against, it's 81-47, assuming Margo votes for targets. So the question is this: what level should they be set at?

Let's follow the science. We back the Tyndall Centre's analysis. 90% is a better longterm target, and that means we need at least 4.5% annual cuts if we want to do our bit. 

I'm delighted to see the other parties, especially the Tories and the Liberals, really standing up for annual targets. Let's see if they back a sensible number, though.

Like the SNP, only Alaskan.

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shotgunabstinence.JPGIt turns out that Sarah Palin used to back the Alaskan Independence Party, logo: polar bear. Presumably she left because they were too pro-polar bear and insufficiently in favour of warming the globe. Or maybe they believed in sex education.

Anyway, I didn't know they had a nationalist party. Perhaps that's why Malcolm's so keen on her and McCain.

Double your No2ID money.

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Thumbnail image for harvieIDcards.jpg
How often do I quote Liberal blogs favourably? Pretty rarely. Here's one, though.

NO2ID is an excellent grassroots political campaign, building knowledge about the ID cards and the database behind them, which quickly translates to opposition. I'm pretty sure they're going to win, too.

So, on with the quote.

From 1st September 2008, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd has generously agreed to match, pound for pound, any *new* income that NO2ID receives. 

Which means that for every pound you give from 1st September NO2ID will receive TWO pounds to spend campaigning against the ID scheme and database state.

Please send your donation by cheque to the NO2ID office (please mark your envelope 'JRRT'):

The NO2ID Campaign
Box 412
19-21 Crawford Street
London W1H 1PJ

Or you can donate by credit card or via PayPal using the 'Donate' button on their website.

Maybe next time the Liberals won't abstain on ID at Holyrood too. We can hope.

My top six green ways to get about.

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1. Foot. Still wins for me. For those of you that don't do it, it's like cycling except the equipment's cheaper, you don't arrive at your destination as sweaty, and you are less often required to have the dangerous experience of mingling with cars.

2. Train. If you've brought your own food and your MP3 player is charged, is there a finer way to get from A to a reasonably distant B? The views are excellent, and no other form of transport reasonably allows you to work on the move. If I could take the train every time I left Edinburgh that'd be fine by me. Especially if it was a TGV.

3. Tram. When Edinburgh's trams arrive, they will mysteriously cease to be unpopular even with SNP candidates. Instead they will be revealed to be just as comfortable, smooth, affordable and clean as they are everywhere else in the world. Unless the Liberal/SNP local authority botches it all up.

4. Bus. Edinburgh is blessed with buses, and I love them. Apparently even Maggie didn't hate them as much as had been thought. They lose some points for fossil fuel use, though, and it'll be a while before we get electric ones.

5. Electric car. So many to choose from. Personally I'm more interested in a Tesla Roadster than a G-Wiz, but the EV-02 sounds promising too. They all lose a lot of points because of the energy it takes to build them, and obviously we need to scale our renewables ambitions up even further if this is going to be practical. But if something's going to kill the internal combustion engine, it's probably the battery.

6. Bike. I would really have to be pressed to use a bike. See the section on walking. Also, you can't ride a bike and safely listen to music, so that's a big black mark for me. I know I should be more keen: perhaps a recumbent or a multi-person bike (left) might persuade me otherwise? Or the Solo-Duo, which fuses the electric car and the bike, and which looks like something from Woody Allen's Sleeper? No, that'd be cheating.

This is just my list, for me. I know the embodied energy calculation makes bikes greener than electric cars: in fact, I'm sure they're #2 in any objective list that goes just on green-ness.

Resisting the "choice architects".

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dungbeetlevsearth.jpgA wee while ago, a pollster knocked on my door and asked if I would like to take part in a study of attitudes to climate change, commissioned by the Scottish Government. Obviously I did, not least because I want to know what Ministers are interested in. I explained what I do for a living, but they don't screen anyone out by employment or similar.

Disappointingly, the focus of the questions was almost entirely on what we, the public, should do. How important is it for me, as a consumer, to buy some kind of notionally happy-pig pork? Tough question for a vegetarian, that. How important is it for me to turn the taps off while I brush my teeth? We're on the record on that one.

There was next to nothing about what Government should do. Do you back binding annual targets for greenhouse gas emissions? No question. If you support targets, what should they be? 3%, as per the SNP's weak manifesto pledge? 4.5%, as per the Green manifesto? Somewhere in between? No question. Do you think the Scottish Government should spend more than £5bn on their roads programme, or put the money into public transport instead? Unsurprisingly, no question.

You can tell a lot by the questions asked. And the SNP's aim with this kind of research is clear - to make the public feel bad for not doing more to tackle climate change, and to shirk any responsibility themselves. Constructing a list of questions like that is the clearest demonstration that the choice architects have been at work.

As a footnote, there was a curious error in the poll. I got given a booklet with numbered answers, each associated with a particular question. For instance, there was a list of sources for information about climate change, and the question was "who do you trust?". Clue: independent scientists, not either Government.

One of the other questions listed opinions from "Climate change is an immediate and serious problem that we should tackle now" through to "I do not believe climate change is happening". I looked at the list, and just said "the first one", or whichever place Green option was listed at. 

The interviewer looked shocked, given that I'd outed myself as a Green, and it turned out the prompts were in reverse order to the options on his laptop. It was just easy to spot the error because he knew what I'd say, and he could tell I wasn't a climate change denier. Who knows how many others have had their views misrecorded on this question?

So if when the poll comes out from the Scottish Government, feel free to ignore the results from that answer. And do please resist the implicit idea that climate change isn't something the SNP administration should help tackle.

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Along with Jeff (formerly SNP Tactical Voting) and Malc (formerly In The Burgh), I now co-edit Better Nation, a group blog. Stuff will still appear here, but more will be there. Better Nation

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2008 is the previous archive.

October 2008 is the next archive.