Parliament: 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the overall planning permission is really dependent on the housing, as local policy demands, has that permission been withdrawn?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.

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. 


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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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Parliament category from December 2008.

Parliament: November 2008 is the previous archive.

Parliament: January 2009 is the next archive.