December 2009 Archives

BrownKissinger.pngThere's another blogawardfest in the offing, courtesy of the Scottish Roundup gang, of whom I am but a generally sleeping partner. 

I'm on the panel, though - there will be a panel vote and a readers' vote, but no union block vote - so I think it might be best to state now that if kindly nominated, I will decline. For real.

My personal hope for these awards is to find some new or largely unnoticed quality writing to fill the gaps in my RSS reader left by the demise of Wardog some great blogs, and for the "scene" to be strengthened with some new blood. Longer term, I think Scotland's political bloggers, collectively, should consider aiming at some more ambitious joint projects. This could be a great first step, and an enormous thank-you to the tireless Duncan Stephen for organising it. 

Where are the Lego sprouts?

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legoturkey.jpgTwo days ago, the Telegraph warned us that there was a shortage of Lego, and on the same day's paper, that there was also a shortage of sprouts.

Worse, as the shocking pic to the left shows, there appears to be a complete dearth of Lego sprouts. And her Lego glass is empty. Disaster.

May your Christmas (or Winterval, if you're from Birmingham) go better than that.

Left behind in Copenhagen.

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climateshame.jpgLate on Friday I read a document linked to from Twitter, supposedly the near-final agreement at Copenhagen. It had flaws, but many of the key demands were still there, and was certainly better than the expectations at the time. 

By Saturday morning it was clear that the good bits had been excised. What was left was a sham and a carveup, not a credible deal worth a signature. The expectations had been right after all.

It's not hard to see why. Almost two hundred governments met in Denmark, but not one was led by a Green*. Most thought they were in the negotiations throughout, but almost all were excluded at the end. The final document was instead delivered by a small cabal - the US, China, India, Brazil & South Africa - with the poorest states cut out, the island states cut out, and Europe itself entirely excluded.

This betrayal was therefore delivered by the most left-wing American president since FDR, a notionally communist regime (although more accurately an authoritarian capitalist one), the more left of the main Indian political blocs, the most left-wing Brazilian government in modern times, and a South African president promoted by the South African Communist Party over his predecessor. 

Gordon Brown wasn't in that room, but no-one could imagine he'd have improved it. After all, he's part of that same market-obsessed post-left soggy consensus, and his Panglossian review claimed that:

Clearly none of the various forms of vague leftism on offer are going to save us. Last week they stood together as they abandoned the environment, they abandoned the planet's future, and they abandoned social justice too. They are not part of any progressive consensus worth supporting: they are just another of the obstacles to progress.

Incidentally, if you want to know what Obama's priority really was during Copenhagen, his Twitter account gives a hint. From the start of the summit to Saturday lunchtime, his staff (one presumes) posted twenty-five comments. Just two were about Copenhagen, and thirteen, a narrow majority, were about healthcare reform. An important issue, sure, but should selling out the public option really come ahead of saving the world?

Update: I just spotted this on Jon Snow's blog, predating the failure of the talks.

"Not one of these world leaders is an elected Green. These are all mainstreamers - Communists, Social democrats, Islamic Revolutionaries, Christian Democrats and the rest, conventional mainstream politicians with no environmental power base.

"And the issue that has brought them together, once the preserve of open toed sandal wearing green protesters and green politicians, is climate change. They have taken a collective decision for mankind to attempt to preserve the ecology of the planet we all live on."

Or so it would have been, if they hadn't taken a collective decision to shaft us. 

* Pop quiz: which country was the world's first to have a Green Prime Minister?

The Three Degrees.

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DesertSkull2.jpgThe head of the IPCC says Copenhagen should consider a maximum temperature increase by 2050 of 1.5°C. 

"Some parts of the world", he said, even at this level, "will suffer great hardship and lose their ability to lead a decent and stable form of existence. If we are going to be concerned about these communities, then maybe 1.5°C is what we should be targeting."

He then went on to say:

"But if we can find means by which those communities can be helped to withstand the impact of climate change with substantial flow of finances, then maybe one can go to 2°C."

How can this be acceptable in any way? Carbon offsetting has always been a joke, but allowing rich countries to pollute more just provided as they pay for flood defences in the developing world is an extremely sick joke indeed. The hardship he talks about is flooding, starvation, desertification, plus the rest of the four horsemen.

The rich countries should be ashamed of themselves if they make an offer of this sort. If they do, I hope Africa and the island states would have the courage not to have their future (and ours) bought off. 

The objective of Copenhagen should be to agree a fair way to reduce emissions, not to compensate some for a failure by the rest to do so. 

By the end of 2008 we'd increased the planet's temperature by 0.7°C. If the world stopped polluting tomorrow, the emissions already out there would take us to 1.4°C, so 1.5°C would clearly be extremely ambitious.

But even 2°C isn't on the rich countries' agenda. Their offers so far would give us an estimated 3°C rise by 2100, leaving one in ten of the world's population flooded out or facing starvation, and a staggering 50% of all the world's species under threat.

How anyone in politics can see this scenario as a price worth paying for airport expansion and road-building I simply do not know. How can anyone with a conscience in politics put this second, fourth, tenth or nowhere at all in their list of priorities?

Scottish politics hardly sets a good example. Our Ministers have come back from a week of telling anyone who'd listen (mostly the oil industry and other Scots, I hear) that they've got a tough emissions target. 

With Parliament now closed until next year, the rumours continue to say that the SNP are getting ready for the next item of business: slipping out a massive expansion of the motorway network during recess. It ought to be a crime.
salmondJCB.jpgSalmond's trip to Copenhagen is not going well. His awkward Newsnicht interview on Monday made clear why he's there: promoting his two prime causes, independence and himself (iPlayer link).

The much-vaunted Arnie meeting didn't happen, though the Governor did meet the Welsh FM. Perhaps the delegate from California was impressed that the Welsh, despite more limited powers, have signed up to 10:10 while the SNP have refused

Then it turned out the meeting itself was sponsored by fossil fuel extractors and burners, which led to protests

Jarring as that is, it's not the central weakness in his visit. The main problem is that all he has is a semi-decent target, something which was forced upon him by the non-Tory opposition. Every time he gets a chance to act on climate change, he chooses either to stall or actually to make things worse.

The rumours circulated here last week that the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, one of the most pointless and cynical road projects ever proposed for Scotland, was about to be approved this week. Tory MSPs reported being told by Ministers: "don't worry, you'll get what you want". 

The rumours then claim that some smart person spotted the possible inconsistency between the FM being in Copenhagen and his team announcing they would bulldoze a motorway through the Aberdeenshire countryside, so the timing got switched. They'll do it next week now, I understand, once no-one cares about climate change any more.

Lagging behind.

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warmscotland.pngLast year, regular readers will know, the Green MSPs proposed a massive national insulation programme to cut household bills, help tackle climate change, and boost jobs. The signals from Ministers were positive until the final hour, then it fell apart. 

It had become clear that the SNP were going to stick to the same old New Labour means-tested approach, despite all the evidence it wouldn't work. 

They were also convinced that we were bluffing about the need to take a more radical approach, and instead they listened to the siren voices arguing for business as usual. The Budget duly fell, and then, because they didn't need Green votes the next time round, they just did the bare minimum to make it look like they'd been listening.

Subsequently, to nobody's great surprise, it became clear that their timid mini-programme was indeed destined not to deliver, nor would their related loans programme, also promised during the Budget.

Since then WWF have published a fascinating report on proper free area-based loft and cavity work (full report as pdf here). The report draws on three well-run schemes, delivered in Hadyard Hill, Girvan and Fintry.

It shows that it cost £1 to allow householders in these three communities to save £1 on energy bills - remember that's a recurring saving. The Warm Deal, the Scottish Government's precursor to the Energy Assistance Package, cost almost two and half times as much to give similar savings.

The main argument against our approach is a seductive one: we should target the fuel poor, and make insulation free for those on benefits or over a certain age. Surely that'd be the most efficient use of money? It sounds it, until you remember that climate change is also an important objective here.Furthermore, in these three places WWF found that between 21% and 69% of all those in fuel poverty wouldn't have met the Scottish Government's criteria, and they'd have had to pay.

The only way that information was discovered is because these schemes were open to everyone. It has to be the way, at least for the cheapest and most cost-effective measures. There's a lot more in the report, and I really recommend it.

The strange thing about last year's Budget was the sheer scale of the opportunity missed by the SNP. Labour's efforts in London have been ineffective means testing, and they had a chance to show they could run Scotland better. They had the powers, and they flunked it. It would have been theirs, not ours: their signature achievement to go into the next election. Who knows what that will be now? I think failure to get the referendum through is a poor substitute.

The model we're proposing, was perhaps counter-intuitively implemented by a minority Tory council, in Kirklees (aka Greater Huddersfield). Dave Cameron noticed, and he launched his next local election campaign there.

He's not forgotten, either. His scheme, announced today to show Labour up during Copenhagen, is on an ambitious scale, albeit with some obvious flaws in it (Tescos and M&S probably aren't the best partners). But compared to the Tories, it's not just Labour who are lagging behind. The SNP are too.

Who's local?

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The North East's paper of record is undoubtedly the Press and Journal. It sells more copies in Scotland than the Mirror, the Times and the Telegraph put together. They have run pretty balanced coverage of the Trump development of recent times, but this weekend they decided to take sides. The sides available are as follows:

Left, Molly Forbes, 85, local resident, who doesn't want to get evicted from her home. Right, Donald Trump, 63, alleged billionaire from New York, who wants to evict her.

74% of Scots oppose these evictions, and just 13% support them. Yet the P&J has decided now to give only Mr Trump's side of the story. He's more local than some of the campaigners, such as those who are from Aberdeenshire but live in Glasgow. Even the P&J might have to concede Trump's not quite as local than Molly, though. Welcome, again, to Royston Vasey.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the P&J's excellent team of journalists have had this forced upon them from elsewhere: their instincts will hardly be to side with the remote and powerful against the local and vulnerable. 

The paper hasn't yet printed any letters in response, although one would imagine they've been sent in, but it has for now allowed comments on those articles. One notable contribution turns the editorial around as follows (as noted above, I do disagree about the paper's prior record on this story):

"DONALD Trump's plans to build his golf course, hotel and housing complex at Menie Links, near Aberdeen, have been created and manipulated at every turn by the vociferous and very active Trump International Golf Links group. It has operated under a cloak of pseudo-concern for the area and cultivated the impression that it is concerned with the welfare and jobs of ordinary people and a sustainable future for Aberdeenshire. Now we know differently. 

The group is orchestrated and financed by people whose home and work is largely well away from the north-east of Scotland. Its co-ordinator, though quoting his Scottish roots at every turn, now chooses to live in America, while its legal advisers, website designers and several leading executives also hail from far away. It relies on cash injections from its patron, a well-known and often-named millionaire financier, and vocal and thoroughly biased support from its poodles in the local "news" media. 

It now becomes crystal clear why TIGL was so coy about its real plans, and its credibility is comprehensively blown apart. It is only right that those whose quality of life will be directly affected by Donald Trump's plans should have their say on the development, however, constant opposition and innuendo has been orchestrated against them by TIGL, who have little interest in the area other than making money out of it. Indeed, there is more than a hint of suspicion that many of its executives are those who will attach themselves to any money-making cause, regardless of its location and regardless of the wishes of the people it seeks to deprive of their homes. This newspaper has forthrightly failed to give a balanced voice to all those who have wished to become involved in genuine debate about Donald Trump's plans. That courtesy was extended to TIGL in the belief that it was bona fide group of businessmen seeking to benefit Aberdeenshire. Today, it has been found out." 

Plaid testicles.

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spquaich.jpgTomorrow night the Holyrood hacks, formerly known as the Lawnmarket, will attend Scotland's most scurrilous awards ceremony, the famous Tartan Bollocks. The Bollocks in question are awarded as a quaich for the most gloriously inaccurate political journalism of the previous year. 

Here's a full list of the winners (losers?) over the ten years of the Bollocks.

1999: Carlos Alba and Dave King, for an SNP leadership challenge that never materialised.

2000: Angus MacLeod, for claiming Robin Cook would be the next First Minister.

2001: Hamish Macdonell, for predicting Murdo Fraser would take over from David McLetchie (note, this was two years before Murdo entered Parliament, and four years before Annabel in fact took over).

2002: Douglas Fraser, then at the Sunday Herald, claimed the Tories were on the verge of coalition with Labour.

2003: Magnus Gardham and the Record mocked up the wind turbines destined for Holyrood's roof. Or not destined, as it turned out.

2004: Jason Allardyce, for a piece about where terrorists would plant their mortars on the Crags to hit Parliament. Contained a handy print-out and keep guide.

2005: Campbell Gunn, of the Sunday Post, won for two pieces, one predicting David McLetchie's job was safe just before he resigned, and the other claiming the canteen was about to ban pies. Quite the contrary: it's one of the only items on the menu here every single day, as Frank McAveety knows to his cost.

2006: Mark Smith got the black spot for a tale of SSP shenanigans including the burning of a wicker Tommy. Turns out it was largely true, although I don't know which bits. Mark has my sympathy.

2007: Paul Hutcheon took the prize for a confident prediction that a Labour MP was about to defect to the SNP. Apparently the defence was that the article itself alarmed the would-be defector, but if one's own article makes itself untrue simply by being published...

2008: Andy Nicoll, whose excellent book you can buy here, had stories on consecutive days which claimed "Wendy bounces Gordon into referendum" and then "Gordon bounces Wendy into referendum". It's not up there with some of the Bollocks from the past, but it seems pretty likely that one of those stories couldn't be true.

The overwhelming theme is, incidentally, predictions. I understand the argument that journalists need to go out on a limb and read the tea-leaves, but it's no wonder that's a bit of a precarious task. My prediction is that tomorrow night's winner will, again, have made a prediction that simply can't be stood up. 

Update: My prediction-prediction appears to have been right. Lorraine Davidson of the Times won for this piece, full of prognostications that never happened. A new prize for the "best" blogpost from a journalist's blog was also awarded, with Brian Taylor picking up the Wardog Memorial Trophy for this piece.

Update again: Here's the 2010 winner. 2011 approaches..
The Blogfather's position on climate change has certainly evolved over the years. 

In 2006 he was pointing out that urgent action was required, just that the Chinese would have to make it. 

By 2007 he was linking to Exxon-funded propaganda with the immortal slogan "They call it carbon dioxide. We call it life", but without explicitly endorsing them. Later that year he was calling for balance - check out the first excellent comment to that piece.

Balance is a nice idea. If someone suggested you take a balanced position between the scientific consensus on one hand and the wingnuttery adopted by UKIP's Christopher Monckton, I'd recommend telling them to get stuffed.

Last year he was tired of the science being rammed down his throat, and it's true, the truth can be inconvenient.

His latest post is truly spectacular, though. Seriously, would you use this graph from the Daily Mail to prove temperatures aren't changing? That looks like a fairly clear trend to me.

And yes, the title contains a subtle joke just for Jeff.
andrearnie.jpgThe gap between the SNP's 2007 manifesto and their achievements is a rich seam of opposition taunts for Alex Salmond. It even inspired the LOLITSP to do a notorious impersonation of Andre the Giant (pictured left carrying the Governator) and tear up said manifesto at FMQs.

Your Local Income Tax, they shout, where is it? Your class size reductions? A single thing built by the Scottish Futures Trust? That nice bowl of fruit? This is just a warmup for the forthcoming mother of all "broken promises": the failure to deliver a referendum on independence.

Some of this is fair game. The Scottish Futures Trust was meant to be an alternative to the bonkers PPP/PFI approach shared by Labour and the Tories, and Scottish Government bonds would have been a good way to deliver that. Except that the Scotland Act doesn't permit it. And the SNP really ought to have done their homework on that in advance.

Some of the flak, though, like the Local Income Tax element and the forthcoming referendum round, is simply ridiculous. The Nats are a minority administration. They need the support of Labour or any two other parties to make a majority. Labour opposed LIT, as did we, so they sound absurd when they complain that the SNP never delivered it. It'd be like us complaining that they've not built the Aberdeen Western Peripheral.

My view is this. If SNP Ministers try to get stuff done that we oppose, we'll criticise them and try to find others who share our position to work with. We certainly won't call it a broken promise if the bad stuff doesn't happen. When the SNP come forward with proposals we can back, we'll try to help them get it done. Why is that so complicated?

Thanks to Malc for the inspiration for this post. Get a blog, mate!

Serious questions in Anglicanism.

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Many had expected the current Archbish and Primate of All England to be a braver man than his predecessor

Yet he says the election of a lesbian, Rev Mary Glasspool, as an assistant bishop in Los Angeles raises "very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole."

Indeed it does. Here are some of them:
  • Is Anglicanism generally a tolerant faith, or a faith for homophobes?
  • Will the Archbish personally side with the loving and tolerant, or with the conservative haters?
  • Is there even a God? 
Sorry, that last one isn't specific to this situation. 

Back on topic, it appears the answers go like this. Churches which celebrate same-sex relationships as part of the spectrum of happy human life risk the Communion, but those churches who support laws to jail gays and lesbians for life have to be pandered to. 

Ordinarily non-Christians like me should stay right out of theological disputes, but this is an issue with grave real-life consequences, and fence-sitting by the Primate is unacceptable when gays and lesbians find themselves under such threats.

If he wants to see how it should be done, these Unitarians aren't doing full weddings for anyone until they can do full weddings for everyone. If Jesus were suddenly to appear out of nowhere I think I know which kind of church he'd be heading to.

Small reshuffle: two demoted.

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russellsalmondcunningham.jpgThe focus of the Holyrood media pack's attention today and tomorrow is on the demotion of Fiona Hyslop from Education to Culture, but that's not the curious part of this mini-reshuffle. 

It might seem a clear jobswap with Mike Russell, but actually he too has been demoted, perhaps for carelessness in his private office.

Unusually, I like Mike. I hold a high opinion of him, although not necessarily as high as he does of himself. But until today he was Minister For Making Scotland Independent as well as Minister For Tartan and Homecoming. Fiona Hyslop goes to a Culture Ministry stripped of that first role, which has gone instead to the Maximum Eck himself. 

It couldn't be clearer. The job of Chief Cheerleader For Independence is what made Mike's old job so central. The constitution might be a side-issue to most Scots, but not for the Nats. As it was, it was like being Minister for the Environment in a Green government, or Minister for Privatisation in a Tory administration.

Reshuffles, like Newtonian physics, are a zero-sum game. The profile and the importance have gone somewhere, taken away from the underlings. In keeping with tradition, Salmond's promoted himself.

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About this Archive

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

November 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.