March 2009 Archives

Touchy Trump.

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Thumbnail image for trumphaircheckinfo.jpgDebra Storr's posted a letter from The Donald Himself on her blog following her detention on his land, and it's fascinating stuff. 

From it one can learn that he:
  • Is opposed to the use of PR and the media: "It is disturbing that you chose to voice these concerns through a Glasgow based public relations firm instead of the proper and customary channels."
  • Has just worked out that she's against his project altogether: "It is clear that your intentions are not constructive.."
  • Remains unaware of his own financial difficulties: "Our many supporters realize that during these difficult economic times, while other developers have been forced to cancel projects, the Trump International Golf Links - Scotland development is moving forward.."
  • Isn't familiar with the work of the RSPB and others, nor the fact that you don't save a wild space by building on top of it, nor indeed the concept of a split infinitive: ".. we are the only organization that has studied the land at Menie and created a viable program to responsibly manage the site, stabilize the dunes and preserve them for many generations to enjoy."
If you wish to discuss the project and its many shortcomings with him, or perhaps how inappropriate it is for him to try to bully our elected councillors, his phone number is at the bottom of the letter. I'll call later in the week and let you know how I get on.

Also, if you want to emulate his hairdo, the Mail has a guide.

Withdrawal method.

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havesomeliberty.jpgThe BBC had a misleadingly promising headline today - "UK troops begin Iraqi withdrawal". I assumed they were handing over to local people, but no, they're handing over to the Americans. 

Glad as I am to see British involvement diminishing at last, will this actually feel any different to those occupied in Southern Iraq? Reuters suggest the Americans may be even less popular because of their "fearsome, and sometimes trigger-happy, reputation".

Not quite a sultan.

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The Sunday Herald also ran short pieces on political satire yesterday by the parties' press officers, including one from me. It's not often we go head-to-head, nor work under our own names, but this was all a bit of fun to mark the release of In The Loop. Not at all competitive, though the headline was "generous".

Here's a wee set of video clips from those I cited:
That Was The Week That Was (includes some edgy civil rights stuff)
Yes Minister (how planning's really done)
House of Cards (an Urquhart monologue which the Brownites might not like)
Thick of It (some quality Tucker)
Wernher von Braun (the immortal Tom Lehrer)
Mark Thomas (does a number on the arms trade)
Jon Stewart (the recent feud with Jim Cramer)

Also, anyone wishing to leave marks out of ten for the original articles may do so in the comments. No favouritism please.

Delusional and pathological.

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alternativeroute.jpgThe Sunday Herald had an advance on today's landmark report from the Sustainable Development Commission (press release), which describes Ministers' attempts to rebuild the same failed economic system, built on growth at all costs, as "delusional" and "pathological". 

These are delusions and pathologies the SNP share with Westminster. The Nats describe their central purpose as "sustainable economic growth". Sustainable should mean "designed to work within our long-term ecological capacity", but here it's a proper weasel word, meaning something they would like to sustain.

In particular, they suffer from the delusion that they can engage on the biggest road-building and airport expansion programme Scotland has seen since the 1960s and still meet any kind of carbon emissions targets. New roads plus new public transport does not reduce emissions, and to think so displays a pathological misunderstanding of some pretty basic science and economics.

Although they're government-funded, the SDC have clearly had enough of being polite about abject government failures of this sort, both north and south of the border. In a quote that would fit well on the cover of a Green manifesto, Professor Jackson, the report's author, says:

"Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society."

They're so on the same page as us that I even lifted their perfect image (above).

By coincidence, Holyrood debated the economy last Thursday. The patchy and limited understanding of sustainability across the chamber makes it pretty depressing fare - the usual exceptions apply. I fear we'll wait a long time before we have a Scottish Government which even understands the problems we face, let alone capable of pursuing constructive answers to them.

Pawn to Queen 4.

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chessresign.jpgBrown's discussions about changing the rules of monarchical succession to give the women of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha equal rights are a classic distraction. Some mid-level strategy wonk suggested it'd take people's minds off their economic problems and spur a new round of glossy and unrealistic TV programmes full of ruffs, thrones and pageantry. 

It also has the advantage that it looks radical and anti-discriminatory if you squint really hard, and so it appeals to the former republicans on Labour's benches. But why now? The Prime Minister is quoted as saying: 

"There are clearly issues about the exclusion of people from the rights of succession and there are clearly issues that have got to be dealt with."

Really? Dealt with now? Is there a clamour on the streets and in the blogs to amend the succession. Or some other urgent need we're not aware of? Even if QE2 (QE1 for any nationalist pedant readers) were gravely unwell, Charles is her eldest offspring, and his two sons would continue to follow him in the order of succession. 

The anti-Catholic aspect of succession might come up sooner, true, and if we are to have a monarchy it's certainly absurd for any such discrimination to continue to be enshrined in law (and yes, this applies to the sexist priority given to male heirs too).

Brown goes on to say:

"But I think in the 21st Century people do expect discrimination to be removed and they do expect us to be looking at all these issues."

The idea that this would remove discrimination in matters royal is patent nonsense, though. Above all, this is a family firm: sure, you can marry in, but that's a pretty unpleasant prospect even considering only the attention you'd get from the tabloids. 

The "discrimination" is actually far wider - it's against everyone who isn't born into this family or invited to marry into it. You will never be head of state (on the safe assumption that the minor royals don't read this blog), however male and Protestant you may be.

If we actually wanted a true equal opportunity system for heads of state, devoid of any discrimination against any of us, we'd have a ceremonial elected president, a la Ireland, Israel and all the rest. Catholic women, like the rest of us, could then stand on their own merits. I suspect that Gordon Brown knows that, buried away somewhere in that residual core of principles that he ignores.

On gender balance.

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There's been a lot of hoohah on the blogosphere about all-women shortlists. (Against, mostly Nats like Jeff and Mr Macnumpty, also Political Dissuasion: for, Labour voices like Kez and Yousuf).

Without wishing to sound like a Liberal, I think they're both right. All-women shortlists are indeed a crude and anti-egalitarian way to try and build gender equality. 

However, I can't stomach the complacency, the desire of some to stick their fingers in their ears when others point out that Parliament is about 35% female, down from almost 40% in 2003.

The position in our local authorities is even worse, and declining. Less than 22% of Scottish councillors elected in 2007 were female, marginally down on 2003, and even further down on 1999 (pdf).

The Green approach is different - our constitution requires that at least 50% of our candidates for winnable seats are female. There's an exemption for sitting MSPs, which is one of the reasons both my MSP employers are male, true, but at the Council level we're exactly 50/50.

Looking beyond the obviously winnable seats, we balance there too, but not as tightly. 40% of all candidates, minimum, must be female, and 40%, minimum, must be male.

Now, this certainly makes it more complex to select candidates, as Green activists will tell you, but it can't be seen as discriminating against either gender, nor is it "positive discrimination". Indeed, in one branch there would have been an under-representation of men without this mechanism.

It's not a magic bullet. It should only be a transitional mechanism, although that transition might be lengthy. It doesn't cover other sorts of equalities, from transgender to race and class. 

This principle has, however, encouraged more women to put themselves forward, and through it we've selected more good women to fight and win elections, women who continue to grow in those roles and who inspire more good candidates to come forward each time we select.

I know it's also easier for us than it is for other parties, given our focus on PR elections like the Holyrood lists and local authority contests. But couldn't other parties try something that's not one of the two failed models the blogosphere has adopted, just as the other parties have? (Malc is an honourable exception here) 

It's a classic false opposition. Parties shouldn't be excluding men, but nor should selection meetings where the loudest and deepest voice wins be the norm.
rbsgiant.jpgToday's reports that Not-Sir Fred Goodwin's house has been vandalised are upsetting. 

No-one wants to see mob rule, except perhaps the mob. Personally, I prefer democracy.

It's also absurd to blame one man, no matter how grasping, for the massive systemic problems supported and facilitated by Governments of all colours, north and south of the border.

Having said that, if one absolutely had to suggest a form of vandalism for his house, wouldn't Rory McInnes's approach have been a better idea? Or something similar? 

(note: I am also not encouraging vandalism of the Cerne Abbas Giant)

trevorsfinger.jpgEven in such a steep economic decline, there are always silver linings. The demise of the utterly unsuitable Caltongate project could be one of them. The last Labour administration (left) was curiously close to the developers, the newish SNP/Liberal administration loves them, and SNP Ministers weren't going to break the habit and stick up for local residents. Not on a planning issue.

However, with only the Greens and Margo opposing the scheme either in the City Chambers or Parliament, it's taken the market to deliver victory. With Mountgrange in administration as of today, the only risk (flagged in that article) is that the directors will buy the scheme back from Deloitte and try to revive it. I doubt it'll wash.

There'll be a street party on the High St if this is confirmed. With the centre of the city no longer under the shadow of the bulldozer, mostly thanks to the hard work of Sally, Julie and others from Save Our Old Town, perhaps we could all turn to the matter at hand: how to do something constructive with the part of the site that was the old bus station. The Council should start with proper and long overdue consideration of S.O.O.T.'s proposals.

Update: Apparently the bank calls its loan to Mountgrange "a toxic asset". Shame they didn't notice the toxicity a little earlier..

Trust the public.

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climateprotestaustralia.jpgHowever engaging the polling figures are on the ups and downs of the Tory lead over Labour (wait a minute, there's one guy holding both puppets!), ComRes in today's IoS has a more interesting stat for environmentalists.

83% of those polled said they were "ready to make significant changes to the way I live to help prevent global warming or climate change", actually slightly up since the start of global financial meltdown.

A recent Yale and George Mason survey in the States also came up with some eye-catching numbers on this issue. 69% of Americans said the US should sign up to an international treaty designed to reduce emissions by 90% by 2050. 

What's more, it's not just "we'll do it if everyone else does": the same survey shows 67% of Americans saying they should reduce their emissions regardless of what other countries do, with just 4% hardcore climate change deniers supporting no emissions reductions at all.

That 90% by 2050 figure is so radical that in this country only the Scottish Green Party and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research back it, incidentally. Next time the SNP, Labour or the Liberals tell you they back radical action on climate change, tell them even the much-judged average American is ahead of them.

Comrade aviators.

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gangoffour.jpgA frank and open exchange of views is going on down south between real Greens, specifically former London mayoral candidate Siân Berry, and some people who get billed as lower-case-g greens, notably George Monbiot. 

To complicate things an actual upper-case-G Green candidate in Oxford also went nuclear, allowing the Independent to go to town on us. 

The absurdity of the piece is made obvious when you see that one of the greens they cite as having had a road-to-Sellafield conversion is a former Labour cabinet Minister with a 100% record of backing nuclear power.

The battle proper kicked off when Siân put this piece up on her blog, criticising Monbiot's sell-out on nuclear power, and more seriously, attacking their haircuts (Monbiot, Lynas, Tindale and Goodall, left). 

Her arguments on nuclear were sound, but it was the following section that appeared to get his goat in particular:

"Like the young women mentioned above, these chaps have a few physical and biographical characteristics in common, largely a tendency to be over 45 with the haircut of a WW2 fighter pilot and the experience to know better than play so crudely into the hands of an industry on the make."

It's hard to deny that the four of them would fit in, visually, in the cockpit of a Spitfire. Goodall, bottom on the left, looks more like he's been promoted and flying a desk by now, but it turns out that her charge was particularly apt for him. He commented on her blog as folllows:

"Unlike those conchies Monbiot and Lynas, I was actually trained to be a fighter pilot."

No such good humour was forthcoming from Monbiot, who instead decided to take his plane on a kamikazi assault on the Green Party, Guardian megaphone in hand. His shameful straw man job on her arguments was followed by a declaration that he's not going to vote Green again. 

It's obviously his right to take the huff about the haircut crack (see how easy those straw men are, George?), and if he wants to find a pro-nuclear party to vote for there are plenty of options. 

He'll find Labour, the Tories and the Liberals just as weak as they ever were on all the other climate issues, though. 

On one side there's a clear explanation of the reasons why nuclear is the wrong choice, not just as the only option, but as any of the options. To quote Siân again:

"..there are so many other, less technically challenging, more job-heavy, cheaper, easier, quicker, etc etc projects out that would balance energy needs with production and cut carbon at the same time."

On the other side, there are four people who should know better giving succour to the backers of the most unsafe and uneconomic form of power ever implemented, pretending it's a proper low-carbon, affordable and sustainable technology, and doing so in the pages of the red-tops

They're entitled to their opinions, but I just wish the media wouldn't keep calling them environmentalists. If a former SNP politician or independence activist came out for the Union, it'd be news, sure, but it wouldn't be a split in nationalism, it'd be someone leaving nationalism. 

I'm with the Wrens on this one, tempting as it is to side with the peacemakers. Also, is there something in the water in Oxford?

Happy Patrick day.

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pheyepatch.jpgSome people partied yesterday, but today is not only Patrick's 36th birthday but also the day his bill on hate crimes was up for its Stage One debate in the chamber. 

Despite some hostile noises at an earlier stage, it was backed unanimously and now seems certain to pass into law. A good birthday present indeed.

The picture to the left shows Patrick preparing for a speech to a room full of intellectual property specialists, incidentally.

The Prime Proliferator.

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shahirannukes.jpgOne of the substantial pleasures about McCain's defeat last year was the repudiation of his Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran approach to Middle East politics (youtube). It's almost hard to remember that there was so much talk about another war just months ago, despite the fact that it would clearly have made the Iraq invasion look like a teddy-bear's picnic.

How quickly things have changed. Gordon Brown not only supports the Iranian civilian nuclear programme, but threatens them with sanctions if they don't develop it. It's like the 1970s all over. The truly odd thing here is that even George Bush opposed Iran's plans to go nuclear. OK, he wanted to terminate it with a demented bombing run, but at least he linked civilian nuclear power to military nuclear proliferation. What on earth is Brown up to?

Perhaps coincidentally, there has also been an extraordinarily high volume of spin on show in the BBC coverage of nuclear power over the last couple of days. Here's just a few samples.

"No cost-effective low-carbon technology should be off-limits", including nuclear, according to Lewis Macdonald MSP on Newsnight. He's obviously not seen the numbers - nuclear emits about four times more CO2 than renewables, and will cost us billions and billions once you take into account waste, decommissioning and all the rest. He also claimed that "nuclear waste issues have been resolved". I take it he's found a way to convert these dangerous materials into butterflies and champagne.

Moving on, the British Energy person on GMS this morning said we have had "an almost utopian mix" of generation in Scotland - that would be one which in 2006 included 59% climate-busting coal, oil and gas, plus 26% coming from expensive, unsafe and unreliable nuclear stations. He also claimed that on a typical day nuclear provides 66% of Scotland's electricity, which is proper lies (see that 2006 data above). 

Anyone would think they've got a pig in a poke to sell us. And the Iranians.

Liberal conference reviewed.

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liberalpartyconference.jpgThis unsolicited summary of Liberal conference (left) arrived from a journalist friend who shall remain nameless:

"Their conference - or more accurately lack of it - was truly a thing to behold, like some Taoist riddle about the enormity of nothingness."

It did strike me as odd that they would spend a weekend talking about how we shouldn't be talking about independence. Perhaps that's also some kind of kōan.

Doomsday averted?

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mistyforth.jpgYesterday's SoS covered some deft Swinney spin over spending levels. Although it had a new title - a "doomsday budget" - it was essentially a rehash of the usual SNP point-at-Westminster approach to spending matters. 

The prospect of Scottish budget cuts totalling £2.3bn was floated, a shortfall blamed on the recession, presumably spun as the Downing Street Downturn. The paper explains:

"After inflation, the freeze would be equivalent to a 10% cut in spending on education, health and transport in Scotland, threatening every school, hospital and road project in the country."

Yikes! If only there was a massive, dirty, flaweddisruptive and pointless project currently valued at an eye-catchingly similar sum that could be cancelled instead, which would enable the Scottish Government to provide the actual services they were elected to deliver. 

But what does this story mean? Are the two numbers really coincidental? John Swinney's too smart for that. It's just possible he's preparing an announcement that this white elephant will be cancelled, albeit one that will have to be billed as postponement or similar, and, obviously, blamed on London. Unlikely, perhaps, but it can't be ruled out.

In the speculative hot seat.

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gavel.jpgToday's YouGov poll isn't great for us, up just one seat to three, but with the caveats about polling firmly in place, the outcome is nonetheless interesting. Labour and the Tories are up as well, the Nats and the Liberals are down, but despite the oscillations we'd still be absolutely central on these numbers.

Labour as the largest party would be one seat short of a majority with their old love, the Liberals. They could make the numbers either with the Tories (ain't happening despite the lack of policy differences) or with the SNP (ditto). The Nats' preferred partners on current form remain the Tories, but the pair of them would be three seats short collectively, while the SNP/Liberal combination would be a substantial six seats short - sorry, Tavish.

Either way, barring some pretty ugly and unlikely combinations, we'd be in demand again in this scenario, only even more so. A minority adminstration might well be the most likely outcome again, but there are a couple of options that would only work with Green support either inside or outside Government. With numbers like this I think we could, if we wanted to, find out pretty quickly which of the other parties are most committed to the business-as-usual soggy middle they all get to sit in week after week. 

How much are we bid for cancellation of the AWPR? Any advance on 70% renewable electricity by 2020? Insulate every home in Scotland by 2025? Do I hear 2021?

Something must be done.

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Thumbnail image for BrewdogRake.jpgTwelve days ago, Labour's justice spokesperson in Holyrood, Richard Baker, described the SNP's drink proposals, including a minimum price for alcohol as "unfair, unworkable and unsupportable" at present. Despite concerns about European legality, presumably raised by the supermarkets, the UK Chief Medical Officer today floated a similar approach on behalf of the Labour government. 

Moving on from Labour's internal problems ("they never write, they never call"), I'm not convinced that a 50p per unit price would deter many people, and the main problem still appears to be the widespread flouting of existing licensing laws. Until that legislation is properly implemented, which even brave Kenny Macaskill seems unable or unwilling to deliver, there's little point changing its scope.

No-one's arguing about the problems drink causes, but this idea looks like Yes Prime Minister logic. Something must be done. This is something. Therefore it must be done.

There is one credible argument in favour, though. Good beer will always cost more than that. Dire chemical-tasting cooking lager is all that can undercut it. Perhaps we should instead set a minimum quality for drink? 

Update: See also Macnumpty's take on this.

It's all about the Benjamins.

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benfranklin.jpgWriting about the diminished number of billionaires yesterday took me into the realm of trillions of dollars - the remaining 793 of them being worth a collective $2.4tn. A trillion bucks is such a mind-bending sum of money: thank goodness someone's illustrated what it looks like in c-notes. 

That final image is two pallets high. If the billionaires pooled their wealth, you'd need to go almost five pallets high. 

For contrast, here's a trillion pennies stacked up. (via MetaFilter)

The Member will sit down.

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When the occupant of the Presiding Officer's chair tells a Member his time is up, it's bad form to challenge it. When told again, it's certainly ill-advised to say: "With friends like you.."


Same as it ever was.

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shoeing.jpgDuring the runup to the Iraq war, the Bush White House used a clever (for them) line during the protests. See, they said, see how free you are here in America, because we're a democracy. Those poor Iraqis, if they tried to protest they'd be locked up, tortured and all the rest by that evil Saddam. 

Here's just one example: "People in the United States, unlike Iraq, are free to protest and to make their case known."

It was a clever line even though protesters in the States regularly get arrested or imprisoned, sometimes for campaigns I agree with, sometimes for other campaigns, and even though the US did indeed regularly torture people. It felt more true than it was, relatively true, because Saddam was indeed such a monster.

But what's replaced him? A corrupt despotism, a puppet regime which the UN says has committed more torture than its predecessor, a banana-free republic which has just jailed shoe-throwing journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi for three years. Peter Mandelson must be jealous. 

Whatever the Bush-Blair invasion was about, it's clear it wasn't to make an Iraq free for political protests. And how does that sentence compare with others recently issued? Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam's key goons, just got fifteen years for ordering the killing of forty-two people

Sharing the pain.

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champagnesmash.jpgForbes reports that this year there are just 793 people on its rich list, down from 1,125 last year. That's almost 30% fewer billionaires, and many of those that remain have taken a substantial financial hit from the global meltdown. 

Warren Buffett, for instance, is down from $62bn to $37bn, not even the annual GDP of Uruguay

Between them the remaining billionaires are now worth just $2.4tn, which is a bit more than Britain's annual GDP but a chunk less than Germany's (those last three links all to a GDP table). 

A sense of perspective.

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desertskull.jpgLast week, Parliament backed a report on the National Planning Framework 2, which will exempt a list of "national projects" from planning objections. Top of this list is the superlatively unnecessary additional Forth Road Bridge, now defined by Parliament as necessary. The Liberals joined the SNP to vote it through, while the Tories joined us in voting against, I believe simply because the final text on energy wasn't nuclear enough. 

Although we Greens remain the only party in Parliament opposed to this project and to the airport expansions also being rammed through as part of the same process, I'd have thought this decision by Parliament would be newsworthy. Nope. Just one local story from the P&J.

Yesterday, Stewart Stevenson, Minister for More Of Everything, got grilled by Patrick's Committee on the Climate Change Bill, and according to PA, was "clueless". Did his hours being put on the spot get covered in the media? Nope. There's a bit of PA copy, then the previous mentions are all about him taking credit for new roads.

The policy debate gets ignored, even as scientists meeting in Copenhagen warn of even more radical acidification of the seas, and even greater sea level rises. Is it just me, or is the disconnect here absolutely terrifying?

The Macneil's family values.

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angusmacneil.jpgWhen the Nats decided to attack Nick Clegg's weekend with his new baby, what made them think Angus Macneil was the right person to take that on? Labour should also be ashamed of themselves for their contribution. They couldn't even find a named person to get ugly with the Liberals: perhaps John Prescott was busy.

A snub, or just good parenting?

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cleggbaby.jpgNick Clegg's not going to the Scottish Liberal conference this weekend, and they've been asked to deny it's a snub. His wife gave birth last month, but had been scheduled for this weekend, so they booked Vince Cable instead. 

Honestly, does anyone in the real world think it would be better for Mr Clegg to spend the weekend listening to Mike Rumbles bang on about potholes rather than being with his family?

No more buggy whips.

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romancarriage.jpgIt's usually painful for employees and owners when industries become obsolete. Exceptions include the pyramid-makers - the slaves were no doubt relieved when that particular trend came to a halt. 

As the current economic crisis deepens, it's putting more and more categories of business under threat, and many sectors are still feeling the impact of the internet on their old business models. 

A friend of mine is fond of the metaphor of the buggy whip manufacturers who got put out of work by the arrival of the car industry - as the demand for horse-drawn carriages fell, they failed to diversify. No-one cried for them, least of all the horses.

Now the wheel of fortune has turned and the car industry itself is in trouble across the globe. Demand is falling, bailouts are being demanded, and bankruptcy looms large. Their desperate measures to survive seem doomed, and their efforts to get off fossil fuels and into electric seem so tokenistic.

Newspapers are another matter, though, although the comparison isn't new. Today's ABCs, the circulation gospel, show every publication in Scotland down apart from the Times and Sunday Times. They shouldn't feel smug, though. Last time I looked it was only the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph who held their own, and everyone's trendline is downwards. Collectively, just looking at the dailies, they lost just short of 108,000 readers in the last year, presumably mostly to the web.

In America, papers are closing left and right. Here there have been job cuts at the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Mail and the Record, the Sunday Herald and the Herald, and others. At the local end, there's been a net loss of 42 papers across the UK, but no major nationals have folded here. Yet.

The Scottish Government and COSLA are doing their bit to hasten the end. They're advertising online, instead of in the papers, and saving £10m doing so. As a taxpayer, I'm obviously happy to see Government save money, and searching online is easier for many than remembering to get the Friday papers. 

However, the newspapers aren't just advertising sheets. I don't want to see the Scotsman collapse just to be replaced by Craigslist. The advertising sections fund actual journalism, investigation and news-gathering (and yes, the mere reprinting of press releases too). 

Part of the problem with making the case for journalists is that they often share last place with politicians in polls about who the public trust, at least prior to the bankers' collective fall from grace. Despite their many failings, though, journalists provide a real public good, holding public figures to account and shedding light on malpractice.

Bloggers won't fill the gap, either, as David Simon (originator of The Wire) found out when he investigated a fatal shooting by the Baltimore police:

"Well, sorry, but I didn't trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick's identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn't anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

"I didn't trip over a herd of hungry Sun reporters either, but that's the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it."

If the slow-motion demise of the newspaper industry doesn't alarm you, you don't understand it. If the papers are to have a future it seems unlikely it's in print rather than online, but we'll be poorer and more vulnerable if they don't find some kind of viable business model to turn to.

Update: As Cities Go From Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero (NYT, Bugmenot to bypass registration)

On not subbing.

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At the end of last month AllmediaScotland reported that the Record and the Sunday Mail would be merging their editorial operations. A spokesman for Trinity Mirror was quoted as follows:

"The current, five step editorial process - from reporter to newsdesk to designer to sub to revise - has remained largely unchanged for decades. This will be replaced with a new, three-step process - content creation, multimedia desk, page finishing - driven by simplified workflows and supported by cutting-edge technology."

Now, I've never run a newspaper, and I'm sure they know what they're doing, but the five steps in the original process are all clear and practical, whereas the three new steps sounded like either jargon or euphemisms, with some key bits missing. 

Presumably "page finishing" is meant to include sub-editing, but it could just be demoting proper subbing to mere spell-checking. Which might lead to more of this:


"Post-Trump syndrome."

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donaldtrumpcalm.jpgA lot of people have lashed themselves to the mast of the Trump empire, from the First Minister and his predecessor to, most divisively, the upper echelons of the Aberdeenshire Liberals. His golf course and holiday chalets will apparently bring £1bn to the area, 6,000 jobs, and extend the very tourist season itself. Never mind the protected status of the site, this scheme would secure the international glamour (left) other sand dunes can only dream about.

It's lucky for all these brave cheerleaders for Mr Trump that he's such a reliable businessman. Otherwise, one might wonder whether the whole thing is what geeks call vapourware. 

You can ignore his casino business, which has filed for bankruptcy over and over again, because he quit the company last month. Presumably he jumped before he could have his catchphrase used against him. I'm sure these guys are wrong about why that might be, so let's look only at his construction projects.

The $790m Nakheel project in Dubai: suspended. The Trump International Hotel and Tower: loan default, blamed by Trump on the "act of God" known to everyone else as the recession, unfinished, with lawsuit. Trump Tower in New Orleans: on hold. Trump Parc in Stamford: falling debris. Trump Soho condos: breached planning regulations, being nimbied to death.

The list goes on and on, but a particularly scandalous example popped up today. A scheme he was running in Baja California has collapsed, leaving some very angry people who've lost millions in deposits. That article has some extraordinary elements, worth quoting at length.

  • Ivanka assured buyers in an October 2007 newsletter that all Trump projects were immune to a slowdown.
  • All that remains of Trump Baja is a highway billboard with a large photo of Donald Trump that advertises condos for sale.
  • Admiration for the celebrity developer and star of "The Apprentice" has now turned into anger and disbelief as Trump's luxury hotel-condo plan collapsed, leaving little more than a hole in the ground and investors out of their deposits, which totaled $32.2 million.
  • "I can't even stand to see Trump's face on TV."
  • Homeowners and brokers in Baja welcomed the publicity and higher prices that Trump brought. Now they wish he never came.
  • "Everybody is shellshocked. I call it post-Trump syndrome."

I wonder if John Swinney will end up feeling like Guadalupe Mendoza when his unimpeachable decision to clear the Menie plans starts to unravel. Describing her purchase, Mendoza told AP: "I did it in less than a minute. I remember my head was hurting and thinking, 'My God, what was that?' I was thinking maybe I should have asked questions. It was like a roller-coaster ride." 

Martin Ford was right: this obscene scheme should never have gone ahead. The silver lining is obvious, though. The markets and Trump's own incompetence now seem so likely to scupper it that we shouldn't even need the fallback plan.

Just desserts.

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clownpies.jpgGunk, pies and flans have a long and honourable history both as entertainment and protest, and surely we can all agree that if someone has to take custard in the face, Peter Mandelson isn't a bad choice.

To those who regard this kind of protest as silly or stupid, I'd simply ask if it's as stupid as his efforts to expand airports, nuclear power and coal plants. I'd also like to know what you're doing to try and stop him. 

Finally, it's good PR: the stunt automatically becomes the picture the media will use to cover his so-called low carbon summit, which was the tawdry business-as-usual affair one might expect. They'll then have to explain why there's opposition to him - there's hardly any in the Commons, after all.

Scottish Press Awards.

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newspaper.jpgMike at AMS has the shortlists today. There are too many categories for me to make predictions all the way through, but here goes for a few. 

Scoop of the year: I think Gerri Peev will be hard to beat. Her story about an Obama aide describing Hillary as a monster went round the world.

Columnist of the year: From the shortlist, I'd vote for Joan McAlpine, both for style and for resisting party lines, even on the numerous occasions I don't agree with her.

Political journalist of the year: Heaven forbid that someone in my line of work should pick and choose from the luminaries on that list. 

Tom Harris: proper hypocrite.

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harrismerge.pngPresumably Tom Harris thought he was being brave and clever by channelling the spirit of Peter Lilley and attacking young mothers yesterday. He also probably thought he'd get some tabloid kudos for outflanking the Tories to the right, and the Mail did indeed back him. However, he also got a doing in the Record, and rightly so.

His diatribe was built around a peculiarly hypocritical core. In one breath he says teenage girls "have been indoctrinated with the lie that they'll never amount to anything, and have fulfilled that prophesy by making no effort to achieve any qualification", then he goes on to tell them that their choices "result in a greater burden on the state, and lead to the continuation of the underclass". No room there for self-awareness.

And, as Patrick said in the Record piece, where are Harris's admissions of Labour's failures on poverty, on sex education, on the pay gap, etc? Where is the basic biological acknowledgement that babies have fathers as well as mothers? 

Harris's courage is the typical courage of the right, brave assaults on the most vulnerable in society, brimming with sexism and class hatred. Yet again he's proved how utterly out of touch he is.

The future of low-cost flying.

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I wouldn't normally repost from B3TA, but this is rather special, apropos of the pay-to-pee idea.


Nuclear foundation.

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nuclearcake.jpgThe Renewable Energy Foundation sound like a nice lot, don't they? One imagines them funding labs full of researchers in white coats looking to make solar panels more efficient, or perhaps contemplating efficient grid connections for remote renewables projects to supply our cities.

Instead, they're actually a pro-nuke and anti-wind lobbying group, made respectable by their name and nothing more. They're backed by the radioactive Ian Fells, who some have harsher words for, and the demagogue Noel Edmonds.

They're also hosting a conference next week, with Tavish Scott as the keynote speaker. Could this be related to the fact that his former MSP colleague Euan Robson has also taken REF's irradiated shilling? Surely the Liberals aren't warming up to go nuclear as the basis for another ill-conceived line of attack on the SNP?

ingrammoney.jpgAdam Ingram, the former Labour Minister pictured left with friends, doesn't like East Kilbride Green activist Kirsten Robb. He got caught profiting from contracts related to his former Ministerial job, and she turned the heat on him locally. 

A series of letters then appeared in the local paper from former Labour Councillor Tony Carlin, defending Adam Ingram and attacking Kirsten. Except the letters weren't really from Carlin, and he came right out and said so. Ironically, the forger had even called Kirsten a liar. The News of the World has more.

The longer a government serves in office, the more likely it is to become corrupt, especially when it's clear the electorate are about to turf them out. Labour MPs could be forgiven for wanting to polish up their CVs, but I suspect honesty and hard work would be more appealing than either fraudulent and self-serving astroturf campaigns or consultancies with truly incompetent IT companies.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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