Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Back to Fred

Given that Fred Goodwin received his knighthood in 2004 for 'services to banking', it was entirely appropriate that he was stripped of it today, since he was responsible for bringing the Royal Bank of Scotland to its knees. He still walked away with a huge pension pot, only agreeing to refund some of it under the threat of legal action by RBS. Calton agrees with Vince Cable, who said at the time that Goodwin "obviously has got no sense of shame", unlike his replacement Stephen Hester, who has just turned down his annual bonus. The fact remains that there is something rotten in the heart of our banking system which needs to be addressed rather than relying on bank bosses to 'do the decent thing'. The unbridled capitalism of the Blair-Brown years has to be reined in and the enormous gulf between rich and poor must be narrowed if we want our society to be fair and prosperous. The alternative is increasing social unrest.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Protectionist? Moi?

Calton is generally in favour of free tuition in Scotland however he does not see why we should be providing it to students from other EU countries when more than half of those countries charge fees to Scottish students studying in their institutions. Predictably, there has been a rise in the number of EU students coming to study in Scotland and a drop in the number going to England since England introduced tuition fees and Scotland scrapped them. If Scotland becomes independent but stays within the EU and England does the same, we will also then have to provide free tuition for England students since they will be a fellow EU country rather than a part of the same country, as they are now. Scottish students studying in England would pay English tuition fees as they do now. Of course the solution would be for Scotland (or the UK) to leave the EU, which is Calton's preferred option. Protectionist? Mais oui! Given that EU students are costing us £75 million a year, can we afford not to be?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Not so fast

Calton is now back home and enjoying the benefits of broadband again after the struggles of posting from Glencoe yesterday on very-narrow-to-non-existent-band, which leads him to think that installing broadband in the Highlands would do much more for Highland businesses, and therefore employment, than installing windfarms. He is not alone in thinking this. There are plans to bring super-fast broadband to some areas of the Highlands, however it is not happening nearly fast enough to keep up with demand. Some may say that you go to the Highlands to get away from modern life but, increasingly, visitors expect not only good mobile phone coverage but also mobile internet. Calton is one of them, because how else can he keep his readers up-to-date when he is on one of his occasional forays up North?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

View from the heights

Calton has decided to have a break from politics for a couple of days and so has flown up to Glencoe for a Burns Supper with some fellow mountain-lovers. From his vantage point above the Devil's Staircase this afternoon he could see for miles around and not a wind farm in sight, which is increasingly unusual in the Highlands these days. His keen eye spotted the ski tows on Meall a' Bhuiridh and the reservoir which used to supply the aluminium smelter at Kinlochleven but both of those have blended into the landscape over the years, something which large wind turbines are unlikely ever to do, and both the ski development, and the smelter in its heyday, provided more local jobs than windfarms do. What the Highlands needs is sustainable, long-term employment, not blots on the landscape which require very little maintenance once installed (unless they blow up in a gale)!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Die another day - maybe

It was nice to see Alex Salmond being forced to answer some questions about what independence would actually mean in First Minister's Questions today. Johann Lamont is shaping up to be a reasonable opponent for Alex, with Ruth Davidson providing good backup. Sadly, neither of them quite managed to pin Alex down as he twisted and turned over the issue of monetary policy. He hid behind the fact that Westminster politicians no longer set the Bank of England interest rate while completely ignoring the fact that they do set the inflation target that the BofE has to meet. Had either Johann or Ruth picked him up on that it would have been a killer blow. Unfortunately neither of them did and so the First Minister lives to fight another day. You're going to have to do a bit better than that, ladies!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Much ado about nothing

Calton listened to the First Minister's speech in Holyrood earlier today and at the end of it, he had to agree with Willie Rennie - it was all 'much ado about nothing'. OK, so we now have a question (although a second one has not been ruled out) and we have agreement that the Electoral Commission will oversee the referendum. We are still getting a bit bogged down in the details rather than concentrating on the 'substantive arguments', as Ruth Davidson calls them. Thankfully, Douglas Fraser has written an excellent article on an independent Scotland's currency options, which confirms the points Calton has made in earlier posts - in particular, Alex where's your bottle.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Do not resuscitate

Please, would someone put a 'do not resuscitate' notice on Margo MacDonald's End of Life Assistance bill. It's only been a year or so since it was killed off and here it is, coming back to life again like something in a bad horror movie. If it really meant assistance at the end of life Calton would be all for it, but since it actually means assistance to kill oneself, and not necessarily at the end of one's life, he is opposed to it. He is just not convinced that
a) enough safeguards can be put in place to prevent abuse
b) it will not adversely impact the provision of good palliative care and
c) it is not the start of a slippery slope to full euthanasia.
It would be nice if the bill were to suffer a sudden death, however it looks like being another long-drawn out process, consuming lots of parliamentary time and effort which would be better spent getting justice for the Farepak victims and harpooning loan sharks. If Margo is a reader of this blog, she obviously isn't taking it to heart!

Monday, 23 January 2012

The great benefits black hole

There's been a bit of a hoo-ha tonight over the Lords' vote to exclude child benefit from the Government's proposed household benefit cap but Calton thinks it's a bit of a distraction, given that the real black hole into which benefit money is disappearing is excessive rents on large private properties rented by unemployed families. Properties which working families can only dream of owning (or renting). Many working families have to relocate to find or keep a job. What's so wrong about unemployed families having to do the same in order to find a cheaper place to live and so be less of a burden on the taxpayer? The current situation, where a single mother can live in a privately rented 5-bedroom, double-garage house in a nice area all paid for by the state, while a few doors down, an elderly woman who has worked all her life, along with her husband, to bring up a family has never been able to afford more than a small 3-bedroom home, cannot be allowed to continue. It's just not fair.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Too much rhetoric, not enough information

Calton seconds Nick Clegg's request for the SNP 'to provide answers about what it (independence) means for defence, for taxation, for investment, the currency'. At the moment there's too much rhetoric and not enough hard facts coming from Alex Salmond and his party. Take, for instance, the First Minister's statement that 'we will share a currency ... but we won't have diktats from Westminster for Scotland'. A great soundbite but Calton is not sure how it will work in practice, given that, although the Bank of England was made independent by Gordon Brown, it still answers to Westminster if inflation goes above the Westminster Government's target of 2%. Sounds like Alex wants to have his cake and eat it - just like another European leader Calton can think of.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Spend, spend, spend

The other thing that worried Calton about Alex Salmond's performance at yesterday's FMQs was the fact that he still doesn't seem to get it when it comes to the necessity for cuts. Labour's Jim Murphy got it, Ed Balls and Ed Milliband now get it but no, not our Alex. He's still following the Gordon Brown strategy of spend, spend and, err, spend. Where are we going to get the money from Alex? Calton thinks we should be told.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The old blame game

Like Johann Lamont, Calton is getting a little tired of hearing Alex Salmond trot out the same old chestnut about not having the economic levers necessary to help the Scottish economy. Not because it isn't true - the First Minister is quite correct in saying that Westminster still holds many of the powers he would like to deploy - but because, even if Scotland becomes independent, he will still not have the economic levers if we stay in the EU. Perhaps that is why the SNP is so keen on continued EU membership - it is much easier to stand up and complain that, much though one would like to help the unemployed, one's hands are tied, than to actually do something about it. At the moment the First Minister spends a lot of time blaming Westminster. The prospect of him spending the years post-2014 blaming Brussels is a very real one, although not one Calton particularly wishes to contemplate.
'Plus ca change - c'est la meme chose'.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Keep it simples

Calton thinks there should just be one referendum question: independence - yes or no? After all, if the answer is yes, who cares about devo-max? And if the answer is no, another debate can still be had on the extent to which we want to be devolved. Simples. Because his poor head is still spinning after reading about all the possible options and permutations (and opportunities for gerrymandering) outlined in this post by the wee red squirrel.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Hungary's downfall

In all the debate about whether an independent Scotland would be part of the EU, it is worth looking at what is currently happening to EU (but non-Eurozone) member Hungary. Its credit rating was downgraded to junk status at the end of last year over fears of mounting debt and sluggish growth. Its currency is now at an all-time low against the Euro. Now the European Commission has started legal proceedings against Hungary over what it perceives as undemocratic decisions taken by Hungary's government which, among other things, threaten the political neutrality of Hungary's central bank.

The problem, as Calton sees it, is that an unelected commission is trying to force a democratically elected government (with a 2/3rds majority) to change its legislation, with the threat of economic sanctions if it does not do so. Now, in this instance, Calton happens to agree with the European Commission's concerns, however the principle remains - should an undemocratic institution interfere in the affairs of a sovereign nation? Is this really what Alex Salmond wants for Scotland?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Harris's Downfall

Calton has to admit that he found Tom Harris's video 'Joan's Downfall' really funny. He also thinks that Tom was entirely correct in deciding to resign from his post as Labour's media advisor given that his brief was to 'improve the level of political debate on social media'. Joan McAlpine has sunk it to the level of mud-slinging with her anti-Scottish comments on twitter, however that doesn't mean that others have to join her. The trouble is that, yet again, attention is being drawn away from the real issues to trivia. Fortunately the wee red squirrel has kept his eye on the ball. Calton is now resolving to do likewise.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Stushie now stoking anti-Scottish sentiment

Calton does not think that the debate on independence is advanced by dubbing those who oppose the SNP's referendum plans as 'anti-Scottish'. Rookie MSP Joan McAlpine really needs to be reined in by her party, otherwise the whole discussion on Scotland's future will descend into the saltire-waving emotionalism described in the article referred to yesterday, which is not a good basis on which to make such an important decision. Of course that may be exactly what Alex Salmond wants. Independence at any price, whether or not the economic arguments stack up or the consequences have been thought through. It's certainly beginning to look like that, given the deafening silence from the SNP leadership regarding Ms McAlpine's comments on Thursday.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Tesco effect

Tesco's share price has plummeted with the announcement of a fall in like-for-like sales over the festive period compared with last year, wiping almost £4bn off the value of the company. According to Robert Peston, "the company admits it misjudged the desire of its British customers for promotional discount coupons in these straitened times". According to Calton, Tesco also misjudged the effect dropping its sponsorship for Cancer Research's Race for Life would have on its customers, particularly when combined with an announcement that it was supporting Gay Pride in 2012. The Daily Mail had a field day, proving that there IS such a thing as bad publicity, and Calton knows several shoppers who decided to take their custom elsewhere. Tesco has now, belatedly, decided to continue supporting Race for Life but the damage has been done and the 'Tesco effect' is now synonymous with 'PR disaster', in Calton's mind at any rate.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Is the stushie stoking anti-English sentiment?

Calton does not, as far as he knows, have any English blood in him (although an ancestor with the surname Winchester has some explaining to do) however he does not believe in blaming the English nation any more than he would blame the Cameron clan for the activities of one David Cameron. It was therefore with some concern that he read the comment on his recent post on independence. If the current stushie between Holyrood and Westminster causes an increase in anti-English sentiment in Scotland then the sooner it is settled the better. We don't need that sort of bigotry and we don't want people who are making a positive contribution to Scotland to feel unwelcome here just because they are not Scottish. What is the definition of Scottish anyway?

Get on with it Alex

Regular readers of this blog will know that Calton is not in favour of a snap referendum on independence. He thinks that at least some time is needed to thrash out the pros and cons of leaving the union, however Autumn 2014 is far too far away. Depending on Alex Salmond's definition of Autumn, it could be 34 months before the ballot. That is nearly 3 years of legal wrangling and political point-scoring which will not inspire business confidence in Scotland and which will be a massive distraction from the real problems we are facing. Calton thinks that the SNP should bring the referendum forward to Autumn 2013 - that is still in the second half of the current parliament and it's not as if they haven't been thinking about it for long enough. Time for them to actually get on with it.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The stushie continues

Calton took his head out from under his wing just long enough to listen to Michael Moore's statement to the House of Commons this afternoon. Since that didn't seem to add anything new to the debate, he has nothing more to say at the moment, however there are a couple of worthwhile articles on the referendum by fellow-bloggers the wee red squirrel and barbarian politics which those who are interested might like to look at. In the meantime, Calton has stuck his head back under his wing to avoid having to hear any more interviews with Alex Salmond, who, of course, is in his element at the moment.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The stushie has started

Calton would be preening himself on the perspicacity of his prediction were it not
a) utterly predictable and
b) totally depressing.
As it is, he feels like sticking his head under his wing and keeping it there.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Cameron's initiative - a dangerous game?

It will be interesting to see what the outcome is of David Cameron's attempt to seize the initiative regarding the independence referendum. Calton has already stated that he does not think the referendum should be this year however, reading between the lines of what Cameron said to Andrew Marr this morning, it sounds like he would like the referendum to be sooner rather than later. This puts Cameron on an obvious collision course with Alex Salmond and Calton's concern is that the focus will shift to yet another stushie between Holyrood and Westminster rather than concentrating on the arguments for or against independence. The last thing Scotland needs is to be bounced into an early referendum by Westminster. Calton thinks that Cameron is playing a dangerous game by increasing the pressure on Alex Salmond. Hopefully the First Minister will hold his ground.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The latest suggestion from the loony left

Calton thinks that Professor Brian Ashcroft (Mr Wendy Alexander) is completely off his trolley in suggesting that higher inflation is the answer to our current economic woes. He may be Emeritus Professor of Economics at Strathclyde University but he doesn't seem to have grasped the basic fact that higher inflation encourages people to take on debt and discourages saving, which is what got us into this mess in the first place. It also particularly penalises pensioners, whose savings are eroded, and low paid workers, whose wages do not keep pace with inflation. To suggest that we are all in this together and so savers should be prepared to take the hit while others borrow up to the hilt is not just bonkers - it is downright wicked in Calton's opinion. He sincerely hopes that our politicians treat Professor Ashcroft's suggestions with the contempt they so richly deserve.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Death by 999 cuts

At last - a Labour politician prepared to come out and admit that Labour would have had to make cuts if they were in power. Calton has a lot of time for Jim Murphy, which is more than he can say for a lot of Labour politicians, and Murphy's comments as reported in the Guardian yesterday only serve to strengthen Calton's admiration for the man, even if he doesn't agree with all Murphy's views (notably those on Europe).

It's high time Labour came clean and admitted that the difference between the cuts they would have made, had they remained in power, and the cuts the Coalition government are making is insignificant, compared to the scale of the problem.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

2012 Wish List - continued

Ruth Davidson has said that nothing is off the table in a review of Scots Tory policies. In the light of that, Calton would like to add the following to his 2012 wishlist:
  • The Scottish Conservative Party to provide a credible opposition to Alex Salmond's 'Independence in Europe' policy by putting the case for remaining within the UK and distancing ourselves from Europe. That way, we stand a chance of being able to cut some of the EU red tape which is hampering our businesses. It will also put some clear blue water between the Tories and pro-EU Wilhelm Rennie/Yohann Lamont, thus giving the voter a bit more choice come 2015.
  • The Scottish Conservative Party to drop its policy of re-introducing prescription charges. No-one should have to stand in a pharmacy, clutching a much-needed prescription, wondering if they can afford to pay for it, as many hard-working people used to do before the SNP abolished the charges. If money needs to be raised, tax sugary drinks instead.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Gunning for Glasgow

Taken in isolation, the complaint by Cathcart SNP MSP James Dornan into land deals made by Glasgow City Council for the 2014 Commonwealth Games is highly commendable. While the games will undoubtedly be a feather in Glasgow City's cap, it is important to ensure that taxpayers' money is not wasted or spent unwisely, and it does seem to Calton that the council have had to pay through the nose for land which, not so long ago, was worth buttons. Of course, it is pure coincidence that Glasgow is currently a Labour administration which the SNP have in their sights for the 2012 council elections.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Where angels fear to tread...

Given that one of Scotland's main health problems, after alcohol, is obesity, Calton wonders if it was really a good idea for Johann Lamont to appoint the obviously overweight Jackie Baillie to the position of Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy spokeswoman. Jackie is known for her campaign for a public enquiry on the CDiff outbreak at the Vale of Leven, and has also successfully campaigned for greater protection of disabled parking spaces, however Calton fears that she will struggle to convince the masses of the necessity to lose weight unless she does so herself. Calton knows that he risks making himself deeply unpopular with this post, and Lord knows, there are probably other MSPs with less obvious but more damaging habits health-wise than Mrs Baillie, however is it too much to expect our leaders to lead by example?

Monday, 2 January 2012

In your dreams, Willie

Calton thinks that Willie Rennie is indulging in a flight of fantasy in thinking that "liberalism, not nationalism, will dominate Scottish political landscape in the years ahead", given the way the constituency map of Scotland changed from orange to yellow in the 2011 election. If there is a rich seam of liberal values in Scottish history it did not translate into Libdem votes. The jury is still out on whether the Scots voted SNP because they wanted independence or because they wanted a centre-left party and were fed up of Labour. (Calton suspects the latter.) What is certain is that they didn't want a bunch of Libdems who seemed to be prepared to abandon their principles and go in with any party as long as they were in power.

Murdo Fraser has realised that the Scots Tories need to divorce themselves from the English party to stand any chance of gaining more seats at Holyrood. Calton wonders how long it will take our Willie to come to the same conclusion?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Calton's New Year Message

It is understandable that both Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson should choose to use their New Year messages to urge Alex Salmond to get on with the independence referendum. The current uncertainty (and continual sniping at Westminster) is not good and could make international companies jittery about investing in Scotland until they see which way things are heading. However, Calton does not think this year is the time to make such an important decision. In common with fellow-blogger the wee red squirrel, Calton believes that a lot more debate needs to take place around the independence issue before it goes to the people. We also need to wait and see what is going to happen in Europe before deciding whether to go for the SNP's oxymoronical 'Independence in Europe' vision or stay with Cameron's isolationist policies. It is therefore with some reluctance that Calton finds himself agreeing with the First Minister's policy of waiting until the second half of this Parliament before holding the referendum, albeit for different reasons!