Friday, 30 March 2012

Don't Panic!

Given that 97% of Scotland's filling stations had fuel earlier this evening, the only thing which is in danger of running out seems to be our supply of common sense. What is the point in filling up the tank now when we will get at least 7 days' warning of any fuel strike? The Westminster Government have got their advice badly wrong, with tragic consequences in one case. Calton would just like to reiterate Fire Brigade advice, namely, that petrol should not be stored in the home and should only be stored in approved containers. He would also like to reiterate Corporal Jones' advice when it comes to possible fuel shortages - Don't Panic!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Keep Scotland a free drug zone!

There's been a bit of a hoo-ha this week with the release of figures showing an increase in the cost of prescriptions in Scotland since the prescription charge was abolished. Calton would just like to point out that the percentage increase in the cost of drugs dispensed to sick Scots between 2010 and 2011 is actually only 2.2%, which is well below the rate of inflation for those years, and therefore represents pretty good value for money in Calton's opinion. As he has said before, no Scot should have to stand in a pharmacy with a much-needed prescription, wondering if they can actually afford to pay for it. In this respect, Scotland leads the way in setting a good example to our southern neighbours. Re-introducing charges would definitely be a backward step.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Justice for asbestos sufferers

Calton is pleased to see that the Supreme Court has ruled against insurers who were trying to get out of paying compensation to thousands of workers who have been exposed to asbestos. Ideally, no-one should be injured through their work and where they have been, compensation should be paid promptly to them or their surviving families, not dragged out through the courts. Asbestos-related conditions can take years to manifest themselves but that should not mean that a claim for compensation cannot be made. It is good to see this being recognised in today's judgement.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Give us a break George!

Calton is up North at the moment, where the hills are rugged and the broadband is super-slow, so don't expect too much scintillating comment for the next few days, however he does want to take the opportunity to say how disappointed he is that the Chancellor refused to give hard-working families and small businesses a helping hand in the budget by reducing the cost of diesel. Not only that, but the planned increase of 3p per litre in August is still going ahead! How can George Osborne possibly justify this? We are an oil-producing nation and yet our pump prices are among the highest in the world! And the only solution Labour can come up with is to cut VAT, like that will make much difference. If the SNP want to win votes for independence, all they need to do is to promise to slash petrol prices. It would be a shoo-in.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Shooting ourselves in the steel-capped boot

The Scottish Government is missing a trick, according to last night's File on 4. Unlike their Welsh counterpart, they are playing too literally by EU procurement rules and Scottish firms are losing out as a result. Instead of using steel from the Dalziel works in Motherwell for the new Forth Bridge it is coming from Spain and China and that is just one example. Yes, we need to ensure that we get value for the taxpayer's money when putting contracts out to tender but surely, we should also be trying to support our own indigenous businesses. Other EU countries do so by specifying that tenders meet criteria such as providing apprenticeships as well as being competetively priced. The Welsh Assembly has learnt to do likewise, however it seems that Alex Salmond is too big-headed to learn from them. If the SNP are so keen on Europe, why can't they learn how to use EU legislation to best advantage for Scotland instead of giving away Scottish jobs to EU nations and getting sod all in return?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Stop experimenting with education

Calton thoroughly agrees with the idea of promoting Scottish studies in schools, if only to educate the likes of the caller to Radio Scotland this morning who thought that nothing of any note happened in Scotland before the Parliamentary Union! However the real priority has to be making sure that our young people leave school with the right skills to enable them to find a job. It is particularly depressing that a significant percentage of employers find that school leavers lack basic literacy and numeracy. They also seem to lack the soft skills so essential to enable them to fit into the workplace such as teamwork, problem-solving and communication. Calton hopes that the Curriculum for Excellence lives up to its name because we cannot afford to fail yet another generation of children by playing around with their education. It's time politicians realised that our schools are not laboratories for their political experiments.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Keep the Borders beautiful

It is a pity that the bid by the John  Muir Trust and the Borders Forest Trust for the Talla and Gameshope Estate was not successful. The Borders contains some wonderful scenery which is under threat as much, if not more, than the Highlands from the iniquitous ubiquitous windfarm. Judicious planting of mixed woodland and management of overgrazing by the afore-mentioned trusts would have done much to improve the estate, encouraging recreation and tourism plus providing sustainable forestry. Calton hopes that the successful bidder will take on board at least some of their plans and will resist the temptation to earn a quick buck by desecrating some wonderful hills with wind turbines.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Too much green tape

On one of his forays south of Edinburgh yesterday, Calton spotted yet another former industrial site being redeveloped for housing - the old Curtis papermill at Dalmore, Auchendinny. Granted, there are new industrial developments at the Bush but Calton doubts if they employ as many people as the mining and mills used to employ in years gone by. Penicuik has become yet another Edinburgh commuter town. The Scotsman on Saturday had an excellent article on the need for us to do something about our manufacturing industry. Scrapping some of the red tape imposed on us by the EU would be a good start. It is EU legislation that is shutting down Cockenzie coal-fired powerstation, in spite of the fact that it is one of the cheapest ways of generating power that we have right now. It's all very well being green when you're in the black. We're in the red and the emissions from Cockenzie are a drop in the ocean compared to all China's coal-fired stations. Time to stop this nonsense and look after our own interests for once.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Walter the Sissie gets trounced

In FMQs this week, Willie Rennie (in a good impersonation of Walter the Sissie) whined about the 'serious forces' (an Archbishop and a Cardinal) ranged against him and his fellow-supporters of gay marriage and challenged Wee Eck to stand up to Big Brian (Soapy) Souter. As if that's going to happen. Instead, Wee Eck told Walter where to go in typical bully-boy fashion. Seems like a waste of a question to Calton since the only purpose of it was to try and embarrass the First Minister about yet another of his rich friends. Johann Lamont has already tried to do that and failed, as the ability to be embarrassed is not one of Alex Salmond's more obvious qualities. And let's face it - if the Libdems had as powerful a backer as Souter, would they not try their best to keep him (or her) onside? Walter must be wishing he had a big pal like Soapy to protect him from Eck.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Cash for tidal power at a low ebb

The tourist industry in Scotland accounts for 10% of our GDP and employs over 200,000 people. Why then is Alex Salmond determined to jeopardise this vital industry by covering the coastline and countryside with windfarms? Does this make sense? Calton thinks not. Investment in renewable energy would be better spent in the wave and tidal sector which is struggling at the moment for lack of cash up front to allow development to continue. At a time when fuel poverty is increasing rapidly it is also criminal to be adding to household fuel bills in order to line the pockets of windfarm landowners. If the Scottish and Westminster Governments are serious about helping the hard-up (and industry) they should start by cutting windfarm subsidies and lowering electricity bills.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Glasgow - the end of an era

So that's it, at least until the election - with the resignation of another councillor today, Labour lost overall control of Glasgow City Council. To lose one councillor may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose seven looks like carelessness. (With apologies to Oscar Wilde).

Decaff buckie

Calton is pleased to see that the Scottish Government's Minimum Alcohol Pricing bill has passed its first hurdle without opposition. What a difference an election and a couple of new party leaders makes. It would now be good if the SNP were to include Labour's idea of limiting the amount of caffeine allowed in alcoholic beverages because if there's one thing worse than a drunk, it's a caffeinated drunk.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

20-20 vision

It is a real shame that the free eye tests which were introduced by the Scottish Government in 2006 are not benefitting the poorest in society, because quite apart from giving you an accurate prescription for spectacles (if needed), they can also spot the early signs of more serious eye conditions such as glaucoma. Perhaps the sometimes considerable cost of glasses for those not on benefits is part of the problem - although having keen eyes himself, Calton has long felt that it is unfair to financially penalise the more short-sighted members of society for something which is not their fault. Whatever the reason for the low takeup of eye tests, something needs to be done to make people aware of their entitlement and the very good reasons why they should make use of it.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Trump waxes hysterical

You've got to hand it to Trump - he doesn't mince his words. He's now talking of the First Minister becoming known as 'Mad Alex - the man who destroyed Scotland' because of Salmond's insistence on wind power being our salvation. It's hysterical, although not in the way that Willie Rennie meant. What is not so funny is the way in which the Libdem leader insists on playing sidekick to Alex in the latter's aim to cover the Highlands, Islands and Everywhere Else with turbines. Is Calton not right in thinking that, of the four Libdem MSPs Willie has left with him in Holyrood, two have constituencies in the Highlands and Islands? If the windfarms don't bring the 'tens of thousands of jobs' which the Scottish Government is promising, those MSPs had better start planning an alternative career, otherwise they may end up 'spending more time with their families'.

Pride and pocket

Having already lost his knighthood over the RBS debacle, Fred Goodwin is now also facing possible legal action from disgruntled shareholders who believe that they were misled into paying £2 for RBS shares in a rights issue just months before the crash. Calton wonders which is more painful for Fred - the dent to his pride in losing the 'Sir' or the potential hit on his pocket? It could be a double whammy. One thing is certain - there are a lot of RBS shareholders who have suffered losses through Fred's mismanagement of the bank, including a number of pension funds. Calton doesn't blame them for wanting their day in court.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

No comment

Oh great. Slap bang in the middle of party conference season and Calton starts having problems with his ISP. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Credit card max

In her analogy of Scotland being the talented, well-educated wife with her own income, Joan McAlpine forgot to mention that she (the wife) is also maxed out on her credit card, along with her husband (the UK). Time for a reality check for both?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The buckie stops here

There is so much going on in the news at the moment that Calton hardly knows where to start, however he is pleased to see that the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson have decided to support the minimum alcohol pricing bill. As he said in an earlier post, anything that deters people getting tanked up on cheap booze has to be a good thing.

It has also been good, albeit rather depressing, to see some up-to-date economic figures this week. Good, because it stops the SNP hiding behind 4-year old data, depressing because it confirms that Scotland is spending more than she earns, even taking oil and gas income into account. That means that the SNP policy of continuing to spend during the recession is looking even more threadbare. It's very convenient for Alex Salmond to blame Westminster cuts when put on the spot at FMQs - what's he going to do if he does succeed in becoming the leader of an independent nation? Who's he going to blame when the buck stops with him?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Saving Cat's delicatessen

Calton is pleased to see that a last-minute Tory attempt to scrap the Scottish Government's so-called 'Tesco tax' has been unsuccessful. The levy is part of measures to try and improve the health of this nation by taxing supermarkets and larger shops which sell alcohol and tobacco. Hopefully it will also help small shop owners who are being forced out of business by the large concerns - Calton notes that there is a stushie in Bruntsfield at the moment over a new Sainsburys and its likely effect on local businesses. The unregulated retail free-for-all so beloved of the Tories is not healthy for either the population or small shops - some regulation is necessary if our high streets are not to become boarded-up wildernesses. How will Alexander McCall Smith cope if Cat's deli is forced to close?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Something fishy off the coast of Fife

As if Scotland's fishermen didn't already have enough problems to contend with, their livelihood is now also being threatened by windfarm developments. Instead of learning from the plight of fishermen in Holderness, Yorkshire, the Scottish Government is going ahead with plans which will directly impact fishing off the East Neuk of Fife. This, in turn, will affect an area which has already suffered the decline and death of the mining industry. It may also have a negative effect on the tourist industry in East Fife. Are the East Neuk villages going to be quite as quaint and attractive with huge turbines just offshore? It would be a different matter if the windfarms were going to provide local jobs. Instead, the subsidies paid for by an extra premium on our fuel bills will go to line the pockets of foreign companies. The Dutch have realised this and cut subsidies to windfarms. Time for the SNP to do the same.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Limited room for manoeuvre

So, Alex Salmond has finally admitted that if an independent Scotland wants to use Sterling, it will have to have a fiscal stability pact with, er, the rest of the UK. That will be the countries which Scotland has just thumbed its nose at and divorced itself from. Does he really think that we are going to get good terms in those circumstances? Especially when you consider that the remainder of the UK will still be 10 times larger than us. We will very much be the junior partner and the only thing worse, as far as Calton can see, is joining the Euro. He notices that the First Minister also managed to neatly sidestep Andrew Neil's pertinent question on whether such a stability pact would limit Scotland's room for manoeuvre. That's because the answer is of course it would! Nice try Andrew but two damaging admissions from the SNP Leader in one interview is probably a bit too much to hope for.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A ferry tale

Calton has fond memories of the Glenachulish and her sister vessel, the Glenloy, in the days when they plied the narrow waters between North and South Ballachulish.Then, however, the detour was not so great if the ferries were unable to run or had stopped for the night. Now we have a whole community dependent on just one of the ferries to avoid a 140 mile detour and get their kids to school. Hopefully the Glenachulish will be back in service by tomorrow after grounding last week, however a long-term solution needs to be found, either in terms of a bridge or substantial improvements to the road. Given similar problems of landslides now regularly closing the 'rest and be thankful', perhaps some of the money which the Scottish Government has earmarked for infrastructure projects should be directed towards helping keep these vital lifeline roads open as a priority over dualling the A9, which would be nice but is not essential.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Labour's big gun - boom, bust

Johann Lamont must be really desperate if she is reduced to drafting in former Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown to support the unionist cause. This is the man who presided over a debt-fuelled, deluded boom, changing the goalposts continually to try and make out that he was still following the golden rule of prudent borrowing, the man who raided our pension funds to provide the money for a spending spree we couldn't afford and who was quite rightly kicked out of office as soon as the electorate were given a say in the matter. Does the Scottish Labour Leader really think that he is going to be an asset to her campaign? Calton thinks he should be chained up behind bars like other big beasts.

Building up a head of steam for 2013

The Scottish Government has said that it is using "every lever available to support Scottish businesses, secure new investment and create and safeguard jobs". Every lever that is, except the lever of certainty about the future of Scotland. Now the Chief Executive of Scottish Engineering has added his voice to those who, like Calton, would like to see the independence referendum brought forward to Autumn 2013, not 2014. Dr Peter Hughes is also reported on the BBC News website as saying "It is important that our politicians start to answer the key questions which we have been asking rather than indulge in political rhetoric which does nothing to advance our understanding of the key elements involved." He must have been watching First Minister's Questions yesterday.

Scotland used to have an engineering industry we could be proud of. If we want to see it return we need to give it the environment which it needs to flourish and that includes political stability and certainty. It's time for the SNP to stop prevaricating and put Scottish interests first.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Get the gloves off

Really, do our political leaders have nothing better to do than to trade comments on who drank what beverage with which media mogul? Is that the most pressing issue at the moment? It would seem so, given the considerable amount of time it took up at FMQs today, much to Calton's disgust. Alex Salmond couldn't resist having another go on the sun bed this week, contrary to Calton's advice, however Johann Lamont should know by now that slinging mud at the teflon-coated one only results in getting splattered by return. And when is someone going to put forward a motion to abolish the tradition of opposition leaders having to ask an innocuous question first, before getting their teeth into the First Minister? It just gives Alex yet another opportunity to be smug without actually giving any information of interest. It's turning into a farce. Scrap it and let the fight begin right from the off.