November 2009 Archives

- note: this post is the result of a bet I lost with David Maddox last week. My real view is [redacted].

When I pick up a paper I look for two simple things. A good breadth of straight news, and some incisive comment, ideally from various political perspectives. Sometimes I'll also take a look at the back page to see who's gubbed Hearts most recently.

And the news is all there in the Scotsman, from the ultra-local to the international, all played with a straight bat. 

The politics, which as you might expect is the section I watch most closely, is scrupulously balanced. If you think you can decipher who the team vote for in the privacy of the polling station, you'd better rely on a lucky guess. The remaining cybernats disagree, but even quoting Holyrood's largest opposition party in a news story makes you a Unionist stooge in this crowd's eyes.

As for the comment, it certainly covers the whole range. At one end you have the exceptional pairing of Joyce McMillan and Lesley Riddoch: for all the latter is missed from the radio, her new free rein perhaps suits even better. At the other end: Gerald Warner. I originally thought he was a parody of the Kirk Elder type, and I was astonished to find out he's real. I remember him saying in 2004 that democracy had failed us, and that we should therefore vote for something else in that year's Euros. This is the kind of stuff I still prefer to read for laughs where possible.

The Scotsman clearly gets blogging, too. The Steamie started as the best collaborative media blog in Scotland, it evolved to allow me and four other compadres some partisan access, and then expanded again to include candidates for the recent Glasgow North East byelection. Elections may or may not be contested primarily online one day, but when the UK General and Scottish General elections are concluded in little over eighteen months it seems likely the Scotsman will have hosted much of the best of Scotland's online political debate.

So, Scotsman journalists, don't listen to the cybernat loonies. You're doing a fine job, despite the pressure to deliver ever more in ever less time. These are tough times for the industry, but Scotland and Edinburgh both need a good independent local paper: you're it.

To illustrate how short of evidence the critics are, I give you this extract from the paper's Wikipedia page:
"The last decade or so has seen the paper replaced by The Herald as the pre-eminent Scottish quality newspaper in terms of readership. [citation needed]"

Citation needed indeed.

Note to Johnston Press, though. If you put up the paywall around the Scotsman, as you have today with the Carrick Gazette and the Southern Reporter, you'll throttle that which makes the paper valuable, and cut your journalists and commentators off from the debate. 

The partial paywall already does that to some Scotsman opinion pieces. Whatever trickle of cash that move has brought in, it has kept that part of your content out of the online discussion and reduced the paper's reach accordingly. You let the cybernats rant below the news stories, but prevent the bloggers even linking to the entirety of a comment piece. All wrong.

The company's still making a decent profit, and if you want to protect it there's plenty of scope for other sorts of innovation. I know I'm in no position to criticise, but a more readable and functional website might be a start.

Finally, if you have to put some of your comment behind the paywall, how about Gerald Warner instead of Lesley and Joyce?

The Universality of Shame.

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freedomwallace.jpgThis sort of daft behaviour doesn't predominantly damage the SNP. Like other worse scandals of the type, it mostly damages the reputation of blogging, and more seriously, the reputation of politics in general. 

Getting abusive while anonymous online may feel cathartic, but it tends not to help your cause, even if you don't get caught on the eve of the boss's big day.

For a more forgiving perspective, Jeff has more.

Tom Harris in "wrong on PR" shock.

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TomHarris.jpgYou can't argue with the quantity of blogging that Tom Harris puts in, but he will insist on being wrong. Today's egregious example is on the topic of proportional representation. 

It's perhaps no surprise that someone on the hard right of the Labour Party would oppose fairer elections, and it's also pretty clear why the Scottish Parliament as a whole gets up his nose.

The issues MSPs discuss and decide upon at Holyrood tend to be the main issues of the day: there are exceptions, sure, like the economy, welcoming asylum seekers, and whatever wars Labour's gotten us into lately. Scottish MPs just don't get the limelight any more, and that must sting, especially for an ex-Minister.

Today Tom weighed in against his colleagues' doomed PR for Westminster plan, which is about twelve years too late. "In Scotland and Wales", he opined, ""assisted places scheme" MSPs and AMs represent no-one.."

In fact, Tom, 73 MSPs are elected in a relatively undemocratic manner, usually by a minority of their constituents. First Past The Post "assists" these Members, especially those like Kenny Gibson, who won his seat last time with just 30.7% of the vote. Conversely, 56 of our MSPs are elected to reflect that radical thing: the will of the electorate.

Thanks only to the PR element, the numbers of MSPs in Holyrood aren't that far from the popular will, but those 73 less democratic elections do skew things. The SNP got 33% of the constituency vote and 31% of the regional vote, but 36% of the MSPs. Labour got fewer votes in both, but still picked up 34% of the seats. Conversely, Greens got 4% of the vote and just 1.5% of the seats. 

If we had to abolish one kind of MSP, Tom's preference is clear: he'd get rid of the more representative kind. I can't agree.

Donald Trump has met his match.

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Molly Forbes, 85, has today lodged legal papers with Edinburgh Sheriff Court over the planning permissions recently granted to The Donald for his gated golf community. Last month his nauseating son revelled in the fact that their vainglorious media launch wasn't attended by any protesters:

"I don't care that there's none of them here. They are probably playing in their sandbox right now. It's recess at school and they probably weren't able to get their parents to write them a permission slip to leave."

It's ironic, really, given that Junior only gets to do stuff his daddy lets him do. They're also trying to build a huge sandbox for rich tourists, and finally, they will now be challenged in court by someone not exactly of school age.

Molly Forbes

He also described those against his father's plan as "extremists". Molly, he means you. It's extremism now to want to stay in your own home. It's extremism to want the Council to follow its own rules. I guess I'm with the 74% of Scots who count as extremists on this, then.

First, swallow a fly.

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talibanfighters.jpgThe US Government's Afghan policy follows a clear pattern: identify who you dislike most and arm their enemy, then rotate and repeat. During the Russian occupation, arm the mujahideen, even if some of them have some funny ideas. Then arm the Northern Alliance to help take on the Taliban.

That worked fine for getting the Talibs out of power, but now they're an insurgency, best pay them to let you get the weapons through to fight them. Who else can you rely on? 

That story also features a security/mercenary company called Four Horsemen International, which is brass neck on an almost admirable scale.

Finally, if paying insurgents not to fight you so they can buy bigger guns doesn't work, and who knows, it might not, you're going to need some new militias, also known as "pockets of tribal resistance". How long before American foreign policy-makers are swallowing a cat to go after this latest crowd?

The great backgammon challenge.

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gammonboard.jpgDavid Maddox is at it again on the Steamie, denigrating backgammon as "a random throw of a dice". Actually, it could hardly be a more appropriate training for politics. Henry Thoreau said: 

"All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it."

Indeed, and a bet is called for. So here's the challenge. David: let's play seven games of backgammon, and if you win I'll write three hundred words here about why the Scotsman is the country's best newspaper. 

If I win, I'll need three hundred words on why one might consider voting Green. They can go on the Steamie, here as a guest post, or even in the actual Scotsman if you wish, and I'd be happy for you to explain that you don't mean it, you just lost a bet.

Tell you what, let's say you won the first game before we start. The board's in the cupboard behind me. Bring it on.

Update: Wonderful. The challenge has been accepted. See the comments.
Where now for the doomed Trumpton-on-Sea project? To evict or not to evict? Will the crumbs from a rich man's table persuade locals to tolerate a mini-clearance? When will local Councillors realise they've lost the public (usual honourable exceptions apply)?

Reading the two quotes below, Kremlinologists might deduce that something changed between the end of last month and the start of this week, or that the two men to the left don't see eye to eye.

16th November. George Sorial, Trump's development director:
"It seems like the Green Party and TUT are the only ones who continue to talk about the use of CPO [Compulsory Purchase Orders] at Menie Estate."

28th October. Donald Trump Jr:
"The CPO process has always been a last resort but it is something that remains on the table."

If Trump is prepared to pledge never to request or to use Compulsory Purchase Orders, that would be news, and welcome news at that. The truth is that he and his mob still need the evictions for their masterplan, they just don't want to talk about it any more. 

It's not hard to see why. Between those two quotes it's become clear how spectacularly unpopular those evictions would be, and Sorial's line is just more spin.

After all, headlines with a question mark at the end are usually best answered in the negative.
Thumbnail image for alternativeroute.jpgWe face two serious oil-related threats, both related to burning too damn much of the stuff. First, we're warming the planet, causing climatic instability and a variety of other symptoms. Second, we're at or near the peak of global oil production, currently burning four barrels for every one we discover.

Some believe the end of cheap oil will provide a natural limit on climate change emissions. Superficially tempting, but simply wrong. More likely we'll see increasing efforts to extract dirtier fuels, like oil from tar shale and coal, ready or not for the fantasy of carbon capture.

Then there are the denialists. Some of them, like wingnut Tory MP and Dan Hannan acolyte Douglas Carswell, don't accept the science either on anthropogenic climate change or on oil output. Apparently it's all a cover for radical and anti-democratic Marxists determined to reconfigure the West.

I'd love it if they were right on the science. Imagine the climate experts and geologists were both wrong: there's actually unlimited oil, and we can burn it without consequences. I'd do a lot more flying, for a start. I'd rather not be spending much of my life trying to push Governments to do the right thing. 

The trouble for Carswell and Plimer, etc, is that the evidence for both climate change and peak oil has never faced any serious challenge, and they can't do much more than point to polls. Proper polls are good tests of public opinion and political preference (we've been getting good mileage recently from some YouGov numbers on the deeply unpopular Forth Bridge amongst other things), but they aren't a good test of factual premises. Medieval pollsters no doubt would have found plenty of support for flat-earthism: so what?

The reality is that these threats are properly scary once understood, and many people prefer reassurance to troublesome realities. The ceaseless tide of unsubstantiated bullshit from Carswell, Plimer and others gives just enough cover for many to doubt the need to change. "Opinion is divided", they can say. 

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw but now can't find. A billboard on the left of the frame says "Rigorous Scientific Research" and one to the right says "Rumour, Myth and Fiction". Two rabbits sit in the middle. One says to the other: "Surely the truth has to be somewhere in between?"

If we do enough to avert the worst consequences of climate change it will have been despite the best efforts of the wingnuts, some of whom are about to enter Government at a UK level. If we fail, they will have an almost unimaginable amount to answer for.

We've arrived. Last night on Rush's radio show he had a go at us over golf balls (even if Patrick was described as "a US lawmaker"). I kid you not. You can listen to the craziness below - the golf item is from 11 minutes 45 seconds, with Patrick quoted from about 14 minutes 10 seconds.

The cost of power.

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nothanks.jpgSuddenly, as impotence looms, Labour have gone nuclear in a major way. They aren't really making a decision, they're just clearing the way for the Tories to do so, and guaranteeing that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition will sit idly by after the election.

Nuclear remains, of course, uneconomic, which is why no stations have been built here since the dog days of the last Tory administration. If Ministers want it, we'll have to pay. The Telegraph confirms that: an average household bill will go up by £227 if this goes ahead.

Meanwhile, over at the Times, they're telling us we'll also be soaked for the £9.5bn cost of carbon capture and storage, which currently doesn't work anywhere. That's just a starting estimate based on 15 years' worth of levy, but the final figure could be twice that over 30 years. 

If we're going to pay out massive sums to support our future power needs, why on earth won't Labour, the Tories or even the Lib Dems push effective clean energy rather than these costly technological dead ends?
elephantbridge.jpgIt's satisfying, commissioning opinion polls, especially on topics where the other side is rich and powerful but hasn't published any poll results. That always makes me suspect our position is popular as well as right.

The one we released today (thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland and the ForthRight Alliance for co-commissioning it) covered Ministers' plans for a new Forth Road Bridge. 

But is that the real choice that Ministers face? Could they definitely repair the existing bridge? There are two ways it could be delivered. First, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority are highly confident that the dehumidification of the cables will work. It's underway, and it's costing £10.3m, which is pocket change in bridge terms. 

To give the SNP the maximum benefit of the doubt, though, let's assume that that dehumidification fails. We'd then have to go to recabling or cable augmentation. There are three variants of this approach: replacement above, augmentation above, and augmentation to the side. Any of these would simply work, guaranteed: it's a standard operation, with lots of international expertise available. 

A report from FETA in February 2008 showed that this would cost between £91m and £122m, depending on the option chosen. Perhaps by coincidence, FETA just got a shiny new website and the report is no longer available. I'm not saying it's a deliberate whitewashing, mind: as I've recently been reminded, sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. You can see the Google cache of the report here.

In case there's still any doubt about the potential to fix the existing bridge, the proof is, ironically, in the spin deployed by Ministers in response to the story in today's Scotland on Sunday. They say "we are building a replacement crossing as well as utilising the existing bridge". I can imagine more accurate words than "replacement" to use there. Perhaps "additional"?

So £122m is the top end for fixing the bridge, and that's what YouGov offered as one option. The other, again giving the SNP's spin machine the benefit of the doubt, is their current upper estimate for an entirely new bridge - £2,300m.

Despite the constant deluge of spin, by almost two to one the public just don't think that's a sensible choice. To sum up, the new bridge would be:

Unaffordable. Scottish Ministers don't have the money. They begged Westminster for it, and sensibly, got knocked back. John Swinney and colleagues ceaselessly complain about "£500m of Labour cuts", yet they're planning to blow more than four times that on this structure.

Unsustainable. It's just more road capacity. Labour argued for a "multimodal" bridge, with rail or light rapid transit built in as well as a road route, but the SNP didn't listen. The existing bridge, magically repaired despite all the Ministerial bluster, will supposedly be reserved for buses and taxis, but no-one believes that. As drivers sit in jams on the new bridge and look downstream to the probably empty old bridge, they'll understandably get a bit miffed. If there's one constant since 1999, it's Ministers doing whatever the motoring lobby want, and that reservation for public transport will melt like snow off a dyke.

As a result, there'll be four lanes of traffic feeding into Edinburgh, and congestion levels will inevitably worsen alongside carbon emissions. This ignores the opportunity cost, too - if the same money were spent on public transport, the SNP could be cutting emissions and congestion rather than worsening them.

Unnecessary. There's no argument against simply fixing the existing bridge, apart from the unsubstantiated handwaving about economic impact. The real reason it's being pushed for so hard is two-fold. First, there's a misconception that people in Fife vote for whoever promises them more bridges. Second, Alex Salmond loves his hard hat openings, and who knows, the bridge may even end up being named after him. I look forward to watching the Labour leader's face if that happens.

Unpopular. Our poll had crossbreaks by voting intention, and every party's voters are against it. The closest you come to sympathetic is amongst SNP voters, but even they aren't convinced by John Swinney's arguments. In these times of budget pressure, Tory and Labour voters are the most sceptical, as you might expect, but there's not much in it.  

Going by the constituency vote, here's the specific extent to which all the other parties are out of touch with their supporters:
Conservative » Repair: 64%, Replace: 30%, Don't Know: 6%
Labour » Repair: 59%, Replace: 32%, Don't Know: 9%
Lib Dem » Repair: 56%, Replace: 37%, Don't Know: 7%
SNP » Repair: 51%, Replace: 41%, Don't Know: 9%

Bad politics. Public transport projects across the country are getting put on hold, with GARL just the most obvious example. When the budget and the timescale get blown, and when Fife and the Lothians are snarled up in congestion, the new bridge will plumb depths of unpopularity that will make my time on the Parliament building project look like a walk in Holyrood Park.

Right now there are four opposition parties, and just one, the Greens, arguing against this scheme. I keep expecting one of the other parties to get the arguments against and join us to campaign for repair instead of replacement. Whoever does so can clearly reap a massive political reward, a reputation for prudence, and some pretty substantial environmental credentials.

The alternative is for it to be just us holding the SNP to account while the others go down with them, and while we have to watch the bridge eating a decade's worth of discretionary capital spend. Who's with us?
theadygil.jpgLike many, I find the jar-rattlers and direct-debit-form-wranglers intensely irksome. It's not just that I'm tight: I've given some serious thought about which charities to support, and I already make regular payments to each.

It occurred to me today to talk about the organisations I support in my own tiny way, and to put up some donation links. 

I feel strongly about all four of them. Typically they're not the big names in the voluntary sector: to pick a topical example, although both Poppy Scotland and the Peace Pledge Union do good work, my view is that my donations will make more of a difference elsewhere. 

In reverse alphabetical order..

Survival International. The leading charity defending the land and rights of indigenous communities. As an anthropology graduate, this was the first organisation I started giving regularly to. Most impressive recent action? Helping the Bushmen to take the Botswanan Government's eviction plans to court, and winning. Donate.

Shelter Scotland. The largest organisation I give to, slightly going against my rule of thumb. For me, homelessness is Scotland's most glaring social problem, and Shelter are practical and effective. If you want to see how pragmatic campaigning works, check out this pageDonate.

Sea Shepherd. A more militant offshoot of Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd specialise in anti-whaling campaigns, and some of my money just went to buy the insanely impressive new boat shown above. Story here. The relationship between them and Greenpeace ain't great, but I think they both do great work. I give to Sea Shepherd both because they're smaller, and because you know exactly what your money goes on - directly saving actual whales. Donate.

Scottish Green Party. You won't be surprised to know that I donate to the party, and as a member of the party's Operations Committee I can assure you a little goes a long way. If you find yourself agreeing with any of my ramblings, please donate here.

Scottish Green conference 2009.

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Patrickbeingfilmedsmall.jpgThe party gathered in Dumfries at the weekend for Annual Conference, and despite the comedy mumping and moaning from elsewhere, turnout by the membership was about the same as last year when we met in Glasgow. 

The venue was the very impressive Easterbrook Hall, part of the Crichton campus, fittingly, and the organisational skills of Chris Ballance and the team meant the whole weekend went very smoothly *. 

We didn't get as much media as I'd have liked, though, or indeed as much as I'd expected. BBC came out (left), and we got a bit on STV too. Patrick also did the Politics Show, and our voting intention figures got a great show in the Sunday Herald and News of the World. 

This was our first conference since Debra Storr and Martin Ford said they were moving our way, and Debra renamed her blog accordingly. They were both very warmly received, and I was pleased to hear positive feedback from them too - apparently attendance at Green Conference is roughly the same as Lib Dem Conference, despite them having four times the membership.

It was also the first conference since Louise Batchelor joined - every serious political party needs a former BBC journalist nowadays, so we're clearly in the big league. I'm looking forward to finding out from her everything we're doing wrong with our media strategy. I bet she's got a list.

Socially it was magic too - I forget how many good friends I see only at conference, and having somewhere to stay with proper mod cons on Saturday night made a big difference. My strangest moment by some margin came earlier that evening. 

We went out for dinner to a country pub in a wee village called Haugh of Urr. First, we looked thoroughly out of place in their Halloween fancy dress party, then we were serenaded by a red-jumpsuited Elvis. Finally Jack Charlton turned out to be at one of the other tables. Not a Jack Charlton impersonator: the real thing (left).

Policy discussions, though? Dunno, I missed them all. Fringes? Nope, them too. If you want a flavour, some of them both were discussed in the appropriate Twitter hashtag. Maybe next year. Stressful as the runup always is, I'm looking forward to it already.

* One exception, though, which was not his fault, was being told at 2pm on Sunday that "all the logins for the wifi have been used up". My first question every time a conference venue is proposed is normally "will we have wifi?". Next time it'll be "will they guarantee wifi all weekend without bogus logins or interruptions of longer than an hour, or failing that give us half our money back?"

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About this Archive

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

October 2009 is the previous archive.

December 2009 is the next archive.