December 2008 Archives

An actual scandal.

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trumpdogagain.jpgWhen the Trump proposal was approved, part of the deal was that it would include affordable houses for local people. This was crucial to the PR, and the local authority even gave him £5m worth of land to build them on. As the Scotsman put it:

"Under current Aberdeenshire Council policy, developers are asked to provide housing for low-income families in return for being granted permission to work on major developments."

Now the planned homes, the affordable and the presumably unaffordable, have all been put on hold, or potentially even scrapped. If the overall planning permission is really dependent on the housing, as local policy demands, has that permission been withdrawn? Fat chance. If the land given was just for this purpose, has it been given back? Unlikely, to say the least. Did hard-up Aberdeenshire even put any terms on that shameless bung? I doubt it.

The Trump plan was always for hotels, chalets and golf only: the homes were just a sweetener, something to help the SSSI-destroying medicine go down, and they were only needed until formal permission was granted less than two weeks ago. The period between Christmas and New Year is also a great time to sneak out one's bad news and avoid Parliamentary criticism.

The only consolation is that the whole thing may now unravel, and just perhaps we could be free of his half bullying, half bribing approach to development. Scotland deserves better.

Getting about in the future.

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airship.jpgSome people ask me if they're allowed to go on flights, because I work for the Greens. I think it's weird, but it does happen. 

Other people ask what will happen when oil runs out: will we all be stuck in northwestern Europe, eating only potatoes and drinking only whisky? What happens when cars become simply too expensive to run?

Whether you're more worried by climate change or by peak oil, these are all good questions, apart from the first one. You can heat your home 100% sustainably if you put the effort in. The power can stay on, if we make a proper commitment to renewables. But transport is harder.

So here's the good news. Flying will not only still be possible, if we get back into airship technologies, but it could also be more fun and less like being exported in a veal crate. Admittedly, this same prediction has been made for decades and hasn't proved to be true yet. My father once rang me up (I inherited my airship obsession) to tell me that regular airship flights between Cape Town and New York - did I want to go? Of course I did, but that was just another Branson project that never happened.

The downside with the technology for today's short attention span, limited-holiday-allowance lifestyle is that it'll take longer to get from A to B. In the 1930s it took 75 hours to get from Rio to Frankfurt - at even that speed Marseilles is just 11 hours from Edinburgh, and Melbourne just five days away. Personally, I'm fine with that. The world is still accessible, it's just takes a bit more commitment to get to. The views will be better, you won't need to be buckled in, and there'll be space for a cocktail bar, a games room and the like. 

The reputation of the airship is low, for two reasons. First, the Nazis used them, and that's never good PR. They also invented the Volkswagen Beetle, though, and the hippies still bought those. Secondly, the Hindenburg blew up. While a lot more than 35 people tend to die when aeroplanes come down, leaving aside the almost 3,000 people who die on Britain's roads each year, that hasn't stopped the negative associations.

The secret and the problem are both in the buoyancy. The Germans were denied helium by the Americans during the 1930s, which was understandable. Modern semi-rigids use helium, just as the Germans did before the ban, and helium is both perfectly inert and only 8% less lifty (technical term) than hydrogen, a price well worth paying to avoid dying in a massive fireball. One thing's for sure, even if it still used hydrogen in the envelope and had a cigar smoking room on board it'd feel more safe than the "flying bomb" proposed earlier this year.

The buoyancy is also what makes airships energy-efficient - you're not generating lift by endlessly forcing air over a plane, and the engines are just used for altitude alterations and propulsion. I've seen figures which suggest that an airship can deliver the same payload over the same distance as a 747 for one seventh the energy, assuming we stick with fossil fuels. Another way of looking at that is that they can cruise for a week on the fuel a 747 uses to taxi to the end of the runway, enough to get you to Tokyo and back.

Other plans include augmenting traditional sources of fuel with solar power during the day - there's obviously a large surface area for that - or even going 100% electric. Either way, it's a lot closer to sustainability than a plane.

Another substantial advantage is the ability to put people and goods down almost anywhere, reducing the need for those awkward runways and enabling even the most remote parts of the world to trade, or to receive aid or even tourists. They're just as stable as aeroplanes in extreme weather, and are less likely to be hampered by ice formation.

Predictions of the rebirth of the airship have been endless, and so far it's all come to nothing. However, the next time we get an oil price spike (I foolishly predict November next year) it'll start to look more attractive. I'll be at the bar, looking at the view.

Moray - the final frontier.

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scotty.jpgAll the parties make shameless bids for Christmas coverage when the standards are lower, but the most absurd this year is a supposed bid by the SNP to get Richard Branson to fly his"spaceships" from Lossiemouth. 

I have to hand it to the Nats, purely in media terms. Space is always good box-office, and the bearded one has provided a massive archive of absurd promo shots. Angus Robertson is probably still sniggering about the word "serious" in his quote. 

The whole thing is genius, except for the fact that it's as real as Scotty from Star Trek. There's the slight obstacle of having to get MoD permission, and they tend to object to everything that moves.

It also seems less likely that people will pay $20,000+ for up to six minutes of weightlessness nowadays. Even counting the getting there, that's a lot of money for a two and a half hour holiday. Ain't happening.

Thank god, too. As if the prospect of getting the very rich to fly here for brief stops in Trumptown was not financially unsound or unsustainable enough, do we really want to burn gargantuan amounts of fossil fuel getting rich nobodies into the lowest of low earth orbits?

The whole Virgin Galactic thing is all about Branson's self-promotion, his only true skill. To prove that, what would you do if you ran a real serious space programme and some pornographers wanted to shoot a film on your craft? Why, surely you'd have a press conference

Oh no he isn't.

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uglysister.jpgAccording to Scotland on Sunday, a character based on the First Minister appears as a villain in the Tron's Christmas panto - Alex Salamander, an "evil landlord" obsessed with tartan, longwindedness, his tenants' money, and of course himself. 

The article also features what may be the most toe-curlingly awful official quote ever given, but it did make me think what a great pantomime dame the man himself would do. Annabel Goldie could help with his delivery and double entendres, and clearly Kevin Pringle would be the man to advise on the script. 

The litigious Mr Trump.

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trumphaircheckinfo.jpgHere's a cautionary tale for all those politicians keen to suck up to Donald Trump. He arrives, golf course plan under his arm, and is welcomed by local officials who do anything they can to make sure he delivers the imaginary jobs and investment. 

Then it starts turning sour, and he starts to want streets named after himself. Finally, their attempts to get him to comply with even basic planning regulations make him mad, and he sues. For fraud and civil rights violations, no less.

Welcome to Rancho Palos Verdes, in southern California. City's annual income? $20m. Size of the Trump lawsuit? $100m. 

The town has now seen through him, like so many other places he's visited and desecrated. The mayor says: "We have bent over backwards many, many times to work with Donald Trump. I'm sure this lawsuit is really going to anger a lot of the residents." Sample resident email: "please continue not to give in to this bully".

Ah, Aberdeenshire, you are taking such a chance by getting into bed with this man. It will not end well, but don't say we didn't warn you.

Today's financial news in brief.

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stereolabpeng.jpgIt's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

you see the recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
it's alright recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry if things can only get better

This seemed particularly timely last night. Stereolab are absolutely magnificent live - go see them if you ever get the opportunity. Also, you could buy something, perhaps the classic Mars Audiac Quintet or the new Chemical Chords, direct from the band.

Homage to Caledonia.

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saltirespecs.jpgIt's an easy mistake to make. Caledonia? Catalonia? Much of a muchness, especially when you're working for SNP Ministers, and I imagine it's easy to start to see the whole world the way they do (left). 

Here's the intro to a press release I just received (and I look forward to the same treatment for any of my own egregious errors):

Subject: First Minister announces Caledonia support on Saltire Prize 

December 16, 2008

First Minister Alex Salmond today announced Catalonia's support for Scotland's #10 million renewable marine energy challenge after President Jose Montilla Aguilera officially signed up as a Friend of the Saltire Prize.

All together now.. "Catalonia's been everything I ever had.."

Recycle your shoes.

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oldshoe.jpgReposting Boing Boing links is widely deprecated, but following an Iraqi journalist's one-man protest against George Bush - his detention also inspired protests - I do like the idea that we should all send our worn out footwear to the George W Bush Presidential Library. Do it. It'd be good for your sole.


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computerhammer.jpgIf you're still using Internet Explorer for any godforsaken purpose whatsoever, please stop now. The latest security flaws compound more than a decade's worth of abject failure

Relying on IE after all this is akin to a psychological disorder. It's the security equivalent of taping your password to your laptop and tippexing your pin number onto your credit card.

Which makes me wonder why the Scottish Parliament's IT people force all but the most inventive denizens of the building to use it. You should hear the screeching about security when you run something safer or better. Even Westminster's ahead of us here.

Nevertheless, some brave souls, including at least one Minister to my certain knowledge, manage to work around it. Their computers are safer, more reliable, and faster. Their browsers do useful things, like open in tabs, or block insane flashing adverts that are designed to distract you from your work. Their machines no longer cry out to be smashed into a thousand tiny pieces, apart from those still running Windows.

So, anyone working in a restrictive corporate IT environment who wants to know how to move away from IE, drop me a line. Discretion assured.

Unfortunate handles.

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TCPortrait.jpgI know it's wrong to make fun of people's names, but surely we can make exceptions when their names reflect the crimes they have admitted? This week brought us both a US governor caught on tape trying to sell a Senate seat, conveniently named Blagojevich, and a Ponzi scheme specialist whose name, Madoff, the BBC pronounces Made-off, as in Made-off with your money.

Not since Thomas Crapper (left) entered the toilet business can a name like the latter, in particular, have been more apt.
waronterrorafghanistan.jpgDuring this summer's Kingsnorth climate camp the police kicked into full fear-mongering mode, going in in riot gear and generally making £5.9m of work for themselves. 

They even confiscated a copy of "War on Terror - the Board Game", because it contains a balaclava with EVIL written on it. Apparently troops in Afghanistan are allowed it, though (left).

I have the game, and if you're prepared to do some work on the game dynamics and balance I recommend it. Spin the axis of evil and decide who wears that balaclava. Buy yours here.

Anyway, at the time, seventy officers were reported injured by the Kingsnorth protesters, which you can see might justify a heavier touch and some arrests. Today, however, it transpires that the total injuries were just twelve, and they included "stung on finger by possible wasp", "officer injured sitting in car" and "officer succumbed to sun and heat". No officers were injured by protesters, or if injuries occurred they weren't deemed prosecutable. The Guardian reports that: 

One officer cut his arm on a fence when climbing over it, another cut his finger while mending a car, and one "used leg to open door and next day had pain in lower back".

Other officers had toothache, diarrhoea and headaches. Given the protesters took the blame for this motley list of afflictions, Kent Police presumably believe climate campers included special voodoo operatives with dolls in police uniform, poking them with plastic wasps and shining bright lights on them from a nearby teepee. The only other sensible explanation is that it was just the usual New Labour war on peaceful protest, using the police as a tooled-up PR department, just as they used the army on the eve of the Iraq war.

Luke 15:10.

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jesusrefugee.jpgToday just had a fascinating interview on the topic of asylum. The discussion covered the benefits that would flow if society treated asylum seekers fairly, allowed them to work, and paid them benefits like anyone else if they can't get work. It also covered the advantages of giving them proper legal support at the start of their application. 

In short, the interviewee called for a complete turn-around of the UK's draconian and useless asylum system. He explained that Jesus and "the holy family" had been refugees in Egypt, and urged some Christian charity towards their fellow refugees. 

I missed the very start of it, so spent the whole interview thinking to myself "That sounds like IDS. Surely not?" over and over again. But indeed it was he, promoting his report.

It was radical stuff, and I didn't spot anything to disagree with in it, apart from not sharing his interest in Jesus. 

I was, however, reminded of IDS's 2002 rant against David Blunkett's liberal approach (!) to Sangatte, which was "waving a white flag", and a disgraceful and unsubstantiated 2003 rant which explained that terrorists were presenting as asylum seekers. Today he wants asylum seekers to have the right to work - in 2003 he wanted them all locked up.

Rarely will the Bible be quoted here, but today, given the holy family reference, I give you Luke 15:10 - "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one Tory that repenteth."

Cat's paw.

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sheridan.jpgThe inevitable, although delayed, entry of Tommy Sheridan into the Big Brother house was announced in today's News of the World (which also covered our warm homes campaign, pleasingly, as did the SoS). 

A Channel 4 source is quoted as saying "He's our new George Galloway". Yes, precisely he is, in almost every way.

Once a credible politician, although too long ago for most people to remember: check. Then embroiled in scandal: check. Identifies as socialist, but primarily raving self-publicist: check. Hounded out of one discredited party, then formed another: check. Dodgy tan: check. 

If Channel 4 can make him do animal impressions too, it'll all be worth it.

Facing in both directions.

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The SNP have a tendency, like the Liberals, to try and be all things to all people. The First Minister and the Liberal leader accused each other of this exact sin on Thursday at FMQs, like two men stuck down a sewer, each accusing the other of having a bad smell.

The last ten days have shown the SNP's inconsistencies on the environment up in the most graphic manner.

First, they published the Climate Change Bill, which, for the avoidance of doubt is intended to reduce climate change. It's weak in some key places, and even the Tories have pledged to fix some of the loopholes, but I've seen worse Government proposals as a starting point.

However, this week they launched the Strategic Transport Projects Review, which has no hint of a strategy in it, covers public transport ideas so vague they can hardly be called projects, and which failed to demonstrate any actual review of the various roads schemes supposedly under consideration. New bypasses, dualling the A9 all the way to the moon (copyright Alex Johnstone MSP), you name it.

Next they published the National Planning Framework 2, which is full to bursting with warm words about sustainability, but which is designed to remove local planning oversight from demented schemes like the Second Additional Replacement Whatever Forth Road Cars Only Bridge. Public transport and renewables largely take a back seat, although there's some worthwhile grid stuff in it.

Overall, these latter documents could have been designed as an experiment to see how much CO2 can Scotland can feasibly emit. The inconsistencies are glaring and painful.

The roots of the problem are two systematic SNP failures of understanding. First, they think that reducing transport emissions can be done by simply building railway lines, even while boosting road capacity. 

Second, the word "sustainable" confuses them. It appears in the phrase "sustainable economic growth", which is their official Purpose. Purpose, in this usage, is a term so pompous it must always be capitalised, like Historic, as in the Historic Concordat. However often they say sustainable, though, they've misunderstood the meaning completely. They love economic growth, and wish to sustain it. This, for the SNP administration, is the entirety of what "sustainable growth" means. 

For the avoidance of doubt, here's the proper definition of sustainable development, from the Brundtland Commission. It's development which:

"meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"

Relying on the private car and coal-fired power stations, whether "CCS-ready" or not, lets those future generations down. It's time to choose, and I fear it's the climate and the future which will lose out.

Meltdown in East Lothian.

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As followers of Scottish politics know, there are tensions in East Lothian Labour between the MP, Anne Moffat, and the MSP, Iain Gray (aka the LOLITSP, and yes, if you google LOLITSP you get the Labour site). 

She's having trouble being reselected, and in the process accused him of being close to a group of local activists she describes as "bullies", "cowards" and "nasty people". The Nats are rubbing their hands together so vigorously they could start a fire, and it'll almost certainly not have gone away by the LOLITSP's unfortunate Christmas hostage-to-fortune deadline.

All of which makes this picture even more entertaining - thanks to Lindsay for the suggestion. 

The pair of them are pictured being kept apart by what looks like a 20th birthday cake for Torness itself, made in its own likeness. The cake is presumably composed of real but sweetened nuclear waste and cooled with radioactive jam. After the photocall she's going to try and stuff him into the reactor core, but I think he'll fend her off with a cooling rod. 

Anyway, it's dying to be used as a caption competition, I reckon. Entries in the comments please, again with an unspecified prize for the best (Susan, I owe you a bottle for the last competition).

On a more serious note, Labour representatives for seats with nuclear power stations in them are often the most gung-ho for this dinosaur technology - think Brian Wilson, former MP for Hunterston, or Jack Cunningham, former MP for Sellafield. This may matter more when you're hoping to lead a country which is far more nuke-sceptical than your local patch.

Firth of silence.

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Strange Maps is one of my favourite quirky wee blogs, and yesterday it featured the Atlas of True Names, where familiar placenames are given in their original meaning. A few English placenames survive unchanged - Blackpool, Newcastle, Oxford - but none do in Scotland, and many are picturesque. 

I had thought I lived in Edwin's Burgh, but the cartographers confess only an 80% accuracy rate, so don't complain to me about errors. I would also be surprised if Orkney really is properly understood to be the Isles of the Sea Monsters, but I do like living by the Firth of Silence.


Nick Clegg: right about something.

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potatohead.gifPass round the smelling salts. Pinch me. Nick Clegg is correct about something.

One of the Liberals' biggest donors - and no, I don't mean the fraudster - has ditched the party over tax. I initially assumed the sticking point would be Clegg's nonsense about cutting the basic rate, but no, this moron wants them to cut taxes even more on the rich, provided the poor also pay less. This would leave public services paid for by, well, I don't know, but that's not his problem.

A Liberal spokesperson is quoted in the Times piece as saying:

"Lord Jacobs's wider proposals do not stand up to economic or political scrutiny."

I agree, they don't. Neither do the party's unfunded tax cuts either, but Lord Spud-u-like appears to have found an even more absurd position. Off to the Tories with you! 

Security singularity.

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IDcardgothic.jpgThe Times has a great scoop, a leaked document setting out the latest wheeze from the ID card people. All contractors associated with the project will, if the plan goes ahead, be vulnerable to warrantless searches for twenty-five years.

Ironically, the Times story demonstrates where the real risk lies, and it's not with some IT consultants, it's right in the Home Office. The closer to the scheme you are, the tougher scrutiny you need to be under, until you get to the Home Secretary herself, the epicentre of this idiocy. 

It would be at least consistent for Ministers and former Ministers from the Home Office to be made subject to an even more extreme version of the same rule. After all, as Sir Humphrey once said, "the ship of state is the only ship which leaks from the top".

Lone auditor of the apocalypse.

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forthsmalls.jpgThe additional Forth Road Bridge is, I believe, the clearest way yet visible that the SNP government may be brought down. 

To start with, it's totally unnecessary. They swear blind it's a replacement bridge, despite the evidence that the existing bridge will last another 80 years with either dehumidification (cost: £7.8m - £10.3m) or recabling (cost: £91m - £122m).

Ministers are taking a serious audit risk by pretending that these solutions don't work and pressing on with the myth of bridge replacement, rather telling the truth. The truth is that this is an additional bridge, a pointless boondoggle to allow the SNP to claim they're investing in Fife's vital marginal seats economic interests. 

Furthermore, there's no funding arrangement in place for it. John Swinney is due to make a further announcement about this on Wednesday - apparently it'll cost a billion less, down to a mere £3220m, because contractors will work for peanuts in an economic downturn. That sounds worth relying on.

This absurd project is meant to be a flagship for the Scottish Futures Trust, one of the SNP's least well-considered policies. Like us, they disapprove of the PFI/PPP money drain, so their manifesto proposed the SFT as a bond-issuing mechanism - "With better value bonds we can release more money to invest in the frontline."

Then it turns out that bond issues aren't permitted in the Scotland Act, so it was back to the drawing board. The new version is a so-called non-profit distribution mechanism. Sounds reassuring, except that it means only that there's no ongoing profit-taking, and to "compensate" them, the private sector partners take a much larger fee. That leaves them with the exact same profit at our expense, but it's OK, because it's not "distributing" profits. All happy with that?

What it really is was made clear by the Cabinet Secretary to the Finance Committee in May

"The NPD models are part of the family of public-private partnerships, but PPP is a generic family term for all such approaches."

Same swill, different bottle, in other words.

This project will threaten the SNP in a number of ways. The cost will do anything but come down - there's a small prize for anyone who can find an example of postwar infrastructure which has come in under budget. This will mean the local authority cost cutting which is already getting Labour excited will have to become so savage that SNP councils start to fall out with their Ministers.

The unnecessary nature of the project, the economy with the truth about its purpose, and the shamelessly gargantuan amounts of misspent money are likely to attract the attention of the Auditor General for Scotland (pictured). His role includes "investigating whether public spending bodies achieve the best possible value for money and adhere to the highest standards of financial management." There'll be plenty for him to go on with this project, no doubt about it.

The disruption to road transport, ironically, is likely to cause a decade's worth of congestion north and south of the Firth on a scale never yet seen in Scotland. The tailbacks will spread like a bruise across the east coast, leaving the public begging for proper public transport, many of which could have been built for the same money but which never came up the SNP's priority list. A single party administration which freezes up about a third of the country is unlikely to win re-election in my book.

When it's over, if it does indeed get built, $500 a barrel for oil will make the bridge one massive monument to politicians' vanity and to the SNP's dependence on an outdated fossil fuel economy. I doubt it will ever be finished, though. Edinburgh's folly on Calton Hill will seem like pure prudence in comparison, when four vast and trunkless legs of steel stand in the river..

As a trivial footnote, when Liberal MSP Jeremy Purvis was faced with all this waste, he seemed concerned primarily about the small change:

"The trust is an extremely expensive empty vessel. Its cost of £23m is a scandalous waste of money when all that it now appears to be is a lobby arm."

I'm more worried about the 140 to 180 times more money that's being wasted on the bridge project as a whole. Talk about missing the big picture. But then the other opposition parties haven't worked out that there's a political opportunity here. They'd rather hitch themselves to the SNP and be complicit in their failure, it seems, than oppose this nonsense on stilts and be ready to pick up the pieces.

The Scottish Climate Change Bill.

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floodedcars.jpgWell, it's not the Bill I feared, but nor is it the Bill we need. Some areas are better than I expected, others worse, but Parliament has the structure it needs in order to improve the final legislation. 

I'm in a hurry, so all I'll add here are our six recommendations:

i. Accountability. The Bill currently contains no consequences for Ministers who miss their targets. Given that they are responsible for their success or failure, Ministers need to know what will happen if they fail.

ii. Urgency. The current proposal for annual targets suggests a very relaxed start, with very low reductions in emissions until 2020. Earlier shifts will make the biggest difference to Scotland's overall contribution to climate change and provide better opportunities to gain the competitive advantages a low carbon economy will bring. A stronger start is therefore needed. 

iii. Domestic action. The draft Bill contains no limit set on the proportion of Scotland's emissions reductions which can be "bought in" through international credits. It is vital that all or almost all of these reductions are actually achieved here in Scotland. Support for emissions reductions in developing countries is vitally important, but it not a substitute for putting our own house in order.

iv. Scientific independence. The Bill proposes to use the UK Climate Change Committee to provide scientific advice, and to allow Ministers to create a Scottish version if they see fit. However, the Scottish Committee would, if the Bill is unamended, be appointed by Scottish Ministers, not Parliament, which reduces its independence and credibility, not least because Ministers do not always have a working majority in Parliament.

v. Scale. The Bill proposes a long term 2050 target of 80% reductions in Scotland's emissions, but the evidence from the internationally-respected Tyndall Centre and others is that a 90% reduction will be required over this same period.

vi. Policy shift. The Scottish Government's policies as currently designed will aggravate climate change, especially in the areas of transport, energy and demand reduction. Ministers cannot promote airport expansion and a massive road-building programme and simultaneously deliver a credible policy on climate change. The Bill does move towards discussion of the implications for each sector of the economy, but does not mandate sector by sector targets and an action plan to deliver them.

Anything else you'd add? 

And what marks would you give the SNP? I give it a B+, could try harder. It's certainly better than the B- I'd expected.

An admission.

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CCBill.pngI actually enjoy reading legislation. Not the coolest hobby, but there we go.

Sometimes, though, it's magnificent - notably the Scotland Act, which starts with the line "There shall be a Scottish Parliament". As the late Donald Dewar said, "I like that". 

I would have liked the Act to incorporate those extra three words, but I can see why the clerks might not have gone for it.

Last month I even delved into subordinate legislation, the Mogadon of the legislative sphere, but even then I returned with facts relevant to the real world.

This morning's task is the SNP's draft Climate Change (Scotland) Bill. I won't review it until I've read the whole thing, but if there are any policy wonks out there, get stuck into it.

This is unbelievable - Newsquest have told every single journalist on the Herald, the Sunday Herald and the Evening Times that they will be made redundant and will have to reapply for their jobs. Yesterday the BBC told their Scottish staff that another seventy-four jobs will be shed next year, on top of ninety-six from this year.

Both decisions are wrong on so many levels. If they go ahead, we'll have fewer investigations, fewer critical eyes to scrutinise us here in Parliament, hard-working staff will be let go for pure short-termism, their families will face the most anxious Christmases, it's just dire. 

Journalists (much as they often frustrate me, usually by not running programmes or printing papers which entirely consist of Green press releases) are vital to democracy. A country with rigorous scrutiny is one where scandals are spotted, public governance is more secure, where light is cast into dark spaces. We need, believe it or not, more journalists, not fewer. I am aghast.

How minority rule ends.

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Canada just had an election, and the minority Conservative administration gained almost twenty seats while the Liberals lost about the same amount. The Greens got nearly a million votes, but no seats (for comparison the Bloc Quebecois got 1.3m votes and 49 seats).

And Stephen Harper stayed as Prime Minister, full of evil schemes to pollute the planet, to close down the opposition, stifle the economy, and probably strangle kittens (left). 

The opposition funding issue has proved, as Sir Humphrey would say, a brave move, especially in a minority Parliament.

Now the opposition Liberals, NDP and BQ look likely to cooperate (which makes sense, given that the Conservatives are significantly to the right of the centre of gravity both in and out of Parliament). Their plan is to throw out Harper a week today and install either a Liberal or an NDP Prime Minister. If you want to read the transcript of the NDP's conversations, they've been leaked, disgracefully.

Harper's trying to force another election instead, but there's no need if the others can agree terms. He looks likely to be sacked as party leader, too.

Closer to home, Salmond could in theory be turfed out in just the same manner by any three other parties in Parliament working together. However, the Unionisht Conshpirashy don't have enough confidence right now that a subsequent election wouldn't swing even further the SNP's way. But Canada certainly shows what minority hubris looks like.

VAT boost in Parliament canteen.

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BeetrootPotatoSalad.jpgThumbnail image for BeetrootPotatoSalad.jpgLast week, a wee bowl of side salad cost 65p in the Holyrood canteen. Then the Chancellor cut VAT, which means the price was slashed. To 64p. 

Obviously I should do my patriotic duty and help Britain eat its way out of recession, but there's only so much salad I can get through. This change is generating work already, though. 

Every item needs a new label with the new price, you see. The staff were less than pleased at having to do it, but Keynes would recognise it as a variant on his old idea: paying people to dig a hole, then paying them to fill it in again.

Also, because there's hardly ever an opportunity to link to her magnificent food blog, here's my friend Pille's Estonian beetroot and potato salad recipe.

Pure bad luck for Clegg.

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carelesstalk.jpgAnother Liberal leader, another leadership crisis. Neither alcohol nor age this time, just bad judgement. If you missed the story, Nick Clegg and an aide were on a domestic flight, discussing their team, and they were overheard. 

It's like the famous Fougasse (left), except the order of seating was reversed, the German officers were actually just one Mirror journalist, the gossipers were both male, and it wasn't on a bus. Oh, and it won't cost any lives. Other than that, a perfect match.

Here's Clegg on Steve Webb, their climate change spokesman: "We need someone with good ideas. At the moment, they just don't add up." I think Webb's only promoting party policy, but that doesn't make it any less true. They'd move him to Foreign Affairs, except "he'd be useless". And thus fit in with the rest of the team, surely?

In one breath he went on to complain that Julia Goldsworthy gets patronised, and in the next explained she couldn't move to Foreign Affairs because she's "just not equipped to do it". Which is it, Nick?

Chris Huhne, who would have made a slightly more formidable leader for them, is up for demotion too for insufficient "emotional intelligence". Hasn't Clegg heard of keeping your enemies closer? Apparently Huhne was going to be told they needed their big hitters before an election, not him, and this would somehow cushion the blow. Makes sense to me. Good politics.

What the articles don't say is what's happening to Ed Davey, who currently holds the apparently toxic and impossible international brief for them. Is he about to get thrown out of the helicopter? Or if he's simply moving, who else is getting the chop?

The Yorksher Gob, herself a Liberal, has given him both barrels and then whacked him with the handle as well. Apologies for quoting at such length, but it's irresistable.
"He hasn't established himself as a credible force in politics, and no amount of slagging other people off is going to disguise that."

"I think he fully deserves the Cameron-lite label he hates - not because of his politics, which I mostly share, but because of the off-handed and arrogant way he behaves towards people he perceives as less important than him, which I have witnessed first hand. Let me make clear that he is the ONLY example of such behaviour towards the "lower orders" that I have seen at any level of the party. EVERYBODY else seems capable of treating people from the hotel cleaner to the Queen as equally human, but Our Glorious Leader is just Too Important to acknowledge some people, and that just sticks in my craw."

"Fail, Glorious Leader. Epic fail."

This is what happens when you treat leadership like facial hair and change it on a whim. Pay the price. Other Liberals are upset. Even dead ones.

Jim Jay believes it's instant karma for that internal flight.

Pure bad luck that even a political journalist recognised him, I say.

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