Thursday, 29 November 2012

Turning tables on the loan sharks

Calton is very pleased to see that the Westminster Government has agreed to restrict the amount of interest which can be charged on payday loans. In an ideal world this sort of finance would not be needed. As it is, at least some sort of limit will now be imposed on the hitherto eye-watering interest rates charged by payday loan firms, which just served to keep people enslaved to short-term, high-interest credit. All praise to those who have worked hard to bring this legislation into being, including the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. It would be nice if he now turned his attention to the soaring energy bills which are forcing people to take payday loans in the first place.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

History repeats itself

In the wake of the hoo-ha about the number of renewables jobs, Calton thinks it is worth pointing out that Tullo windfarm near Laurencekirk, which has seven 100m turbines, is "managed by only two part-time technicians, who also manage another windfarm" according to an article in this month's edition of the Scottish Mountaineer, the magazine of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. So, once the Scottish Government has covered every square inch of land available with turbines and the construction phase is over, there will be no point in looking to operational windfarms for employment. Haven't we learned anything? Have we forgotten Kishorn, Nigg, Ardersier, Portavadie? Are we doomed to keep on repeating the same mistakes because our politicians don't seem to be able to learn from history? (And, if we vote for independence, we can add Faslane to the above list along with one of the BAE Systems yards on the Clyde.)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

What are the odds?

Highland Council has received 121 objections to the Glenmorie Windfarm in Sutherland, as opposed to one letter of support. That's 121 to 1. The Scottish Government has had 209 objections and 32 letters of support. That's 13 to 2. What are the odds on the Government, which has the final say, agreeing to the plans, even if it means overruling Highland Council? Calton reckons 100 to 1 on, going on past form.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Not a law unto themselves

Most normal people are able to differentiate between a general policy and specific situations. Not so the social workers of Rotherham Council, who have removed three children from the care of foster parents because the couple are members of UKIP, which, as we all know, is against unrestricted immigration from the EU. The decision was made in spite of the fact that the couple seemed to be making every effort to accommodate the childrens' language and religious background. In other words, the fosterers were not letting their views on immigration in general influence the way they treated these particular children. Unfortunately this is not the only instance of social work departments deciding the suitability or otherwise of parents and carers at least partly on the basis of their political affiliations, as the case of Anne Murgatroyd demonstrates. Fortunately the Rotherham case has triggered such an outcry that investigations have been launched and questions asked. Any decision involving children inevitably includes information that is not appropriate for the public domain however social work departments must be accountable for their decisions and should not be able to hide behind confidentiality. If they are discriminating against people on the basis of membership of legal political parties, this needs to be brought to light and rooted out. Social workers will only be trusted if they are not a law unto themselves.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Coal - the answer to fuel poverty

The coalition government in Westminster obviously hasn't a clue about how ordinary people are struggling to pay their energy bills, otherwise they wouldn't have just voted for a £100 rise in our annual bills by 2020! Their energy policy is a shambles, and the Scottish Government's one is even worse. There is no ideal way of generating electricity and the sooner our politicians grasp that nettle and start thinking about their constituents, the better. In the years following WW2 this country invested hugely in building steam locomotives when the rest of Europe was going electric. The reason? We had massive reserves of coal and didn't want to be dependent on any other nation. Would that today's governments had the same sense. We still have large reserves of coal, which could produce cheap energy without us being dependent on any other nation, and Calton doesn't see why we shouldn't be using it, especially when China is building coal-fired power stations like there is no tomorrow. The Greens will answer that there will be no tomorrow if we keep burning fossil fuels, however a couple of coal-fired power stations in Scotland is a drop in the ocean, especially if we invest in carbon capture. The real answer is to put money into improving our housing stock so that it takes less energy to heat it. That way, we all win.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Plumbing new depths

Alex Salmond plumbed new depths in FMQs today by dragging in the Iraq War in his attempt to deflect attention from the real question of funding for Scottish colleges. Unfortunately Johann Lamont's questions were so wordy the substance got lost in the detail, and, with it, the killer thrust that might have skewered Slippery Salmond. Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie both made a better fist of it by adhering to the philosophy 'less is more', however even they faced an uphill struggle against the SNP majority. It is understandable that opposition MSPs became rather heated yesterday over the question of corrections to figures and ministerial accountability. It seems to be all too easy for Ministers to make a mistake, go back and correct it later (with or without a 'mea culpa' to the chamber) and think that that is the end of the matter. It also seems that there is one rule for the SNP and another for Labour, given that the leader of the SNP expected his apology for his mistake over college funding to be accepted with 'good grace' but the Presiding Officer has not extended the same 'good grace' to Labour MSP Michael McMahon. Having asked for, and accepted, an apology for his wholly inappropriate outburst yesterday, she subsequently decided that it was not sincere enough because it had been tendered too quickly and has suspended him for a day! McMahon's comment was made in the heat of the debate, he apologised immediately, that should have been the end of it. Instead, it is Marwick, if anyone, who has undermined her position by her heavy-handed actions, in Calton's opinion.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

It's the economy, stupid!

It's a pity Alex Salmond doesn't read this blog - if he did, he would have known that the renewables industry only provides 11,000 jobs in Scotland, thus saving him another embarrassing climbdown. The First Minister also doesn't seem to listen to Radio Scotland's Business Scotland program on a Sunday morning. Calton would have thought that that would be mandatory listening for any politician keen to help the Scottish economy. Perhaps Salmond thinks he has more important things to think about although Calton finds it hard to imagine what. Standard Life are axing 130 Edinburgh jobs, Vion are pulling out of Scotland throwing more jobs in the meat processing industry in doubt (in addition to the hundreds going at Broxburn) and, while the announcement that Areva is bringing turbine manufacturing jobs to Scotland is welcome, we'll need to wait and see just how many actually materialise. The biggest issue on most voters' minds is jobs. Is it too much to ask that our First Minister also makes it his top priority?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Mike Russell - nil points

What has got lost in all the recent calls for resignations and fulsome apologies is the fact that funding for Scottish Colleges has indeed dropped this year. We have also seen the resignation of a College Head amidst accusations of spying on the one hand and bullying by the Education Secretary on the other. This does not give Calton confidence that the Scottish Government are tackling the problem of the number of NEETs in Scotland. Not that he would have any more confidence if Labour were in power - they were the ones who removed a large number of school-leavers from the unemployment figures by the simple expedient of keeping them in school or further education, regardless of whether or not that led to a job in the longer term. Calton thinks it is high time the Education Secretary got round the table with business leaders and worked out a plan to ensure that our young people are employable when they leave education, at whatever point they choose to leave it, instead of indulging in party political point scoring. At the moment he gets nil points from Calton.

NEET - Not in Employment, Education or Training

Monday, 19 November 2012

Heading for the buffers

John 'The Signalman' Swinney is just itching to get his hands on the economic levers he thinks independence will give him. Trouble is, there's only going to be one lever - oil - and a pretty dodgy one at that. Calton wouldn't like to depend on it to stop the Flying Scotsman heading down the wrong track towards the buffers. Scotland is a one-commodity economy (or will be when Alex Salmond has trashed tourism with all his windfarms) with a high level of public spending. Can the SNP not recognise an imminent train crash when they see one?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

More from the Biased Broadcasting Corporation

Calton was frankly horrified to hear questioner Stephen Bedford ask 'does Israel deserve a future' on Radio 4's Any Questions? program last night and equally horrified that the BBC should allow such an obviously biased question. (For those who didn't catch it, fast forward to 12 minutes in the iPlayer version, unless you want to listen to a ten minute discussion on the election of Police Commissioners in England.)

To suggest that any nation does not deserve a future is tantamount to advocating genocide and Calton is wondering if, in fact, the question constitutes a hate crime under our new legislation on such matters. Perhaps someone should phone the police and find out. What is encouraging is that all four of the panel stated quite clearly that Israel has a right to exist and two at least were just as shocked as Calton was at the way in which the question was framed. In these days of heightened tension in the Middle East it is quite reasonable to question whether the actions of Israel or any other nation are legitimate or proportionate, however, questioning a nation's right to continued existence is not reasonable. Nor is it helpful.

Yet another example of BBC bias. Shame on them.

PS. It also didn't escape Calton's attention that Jonathan Dimbleby gave the number of Israeli strikes on Gaza but omitted to mention the number of rockets which have been fired into Israel from Gaza. Calton was just so incensed last night that he forgot to mention it!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Big Brother is watching you

Calton is very relieved to see that Adrian Smith has won his case against Trafford Housing Trust. Mr Smith wrote a comment on his personal facebook page, in his own time, on his own computer, saying that gay church weddings were "an equality too far". Trafford Housing Trust demoted him and slashed his pay because it thought that his comments "might upset co-workers". Now, if Smith had used the Trust's email system to send an email to all his colleagues airing his views on same-sex marriage the Trust might have had a point. As it is, Calton finds it very worrying that an employer should seek to have so much control over the expression of religious or political views by its employees in their own time and on their own personal social media pages. It's bad enough that you can now get your collar felt for upsetting someone by stating your opinions (or displaying Bible verses). Trafford Housing Trust have taken this one step further by disciplining an employee for expressing views which 'might' upset someone! If this sort of thing continues, the title of George Orwell's seminal work will only have been out by 28 years.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

How to worry a rat

Calton is surprised to find that Labour has never called for Alex Salmond's resignation. That glaring omission may well be rectified in the light of the First Minister's subsequent admission that the figures he quoted at Johann Lamont in FMQs today were in fact wrong. Looks like a ding-dong argument has been followed by a right clanger. It wouldn't be so bad for the First Minister if he hadn't kept on repeating the incorrect figures. As it was, he reached bedrock in his enthusiasm for digging and so has all the further to climb to get himself out of the hole. It will be interesting to see if he dumps all the dirt on his hapless Education Secretary Mike Russell. Given that Salmond trotted out the incorrect figures in defence of Russell at FMQs, the question of the Education Secretary's future is still moot, especially since it is clear that Johann Lamont is not going to let the matter drop any time soon. A terrier with a rat would hardly be more tenacious.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Working for a living wage

There is an argument which says that paying workers a 'living wage', as Angus Council has just pledged to do, will cost jobs however, on balance, Calton thinks it is a good idea. It is true that some workers on minimum wage can get their income topped up by tax credits however there are stringent rules which prevent many part-time workers being able to claim working tax credit which disproportionately affect women, since they are more likely to be in part-time, low-paid jobs. The living wage will therefore benefit those women and that is to be welcomed. After all, let us not forget that the burden of caring, not just for children but also for the elderly, falls on women and often prevents them from taking full-time employment or from progressing in their career beyond low-paid work. It is also a fact that, if you give more money to low-income families, they spend it, with a resultant boost to the local economy. And a rise in wages means a drop in the need for top-ups from the state. Sounds like a win-win situation to Calton.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

No flies on them

Nice to see that their Lordships are awake enough to recognise a leading question when they see one. Not only awake, but unhappy that, once the section 30 order giving Holyrood the power to hold the independence referendum has been passed, Holyrood will then be in control of the question and the campaign finance limits. They are quite right to be concerned, as Calton has already highlighted. The House of Lords does an excellent job at scrutinising the fine details of legislation. If they have concerns about the Edinburgh Agreement, they should be addressed. The independence referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It has to be both fair and proof against any legal challenges. Thankfully their Lordships are on the case.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Salmond - a modern Canute?

It's no surprise to Calton that the Home Secretary is powerless to prevent unrestricted immigration from Bulgaria and Romania come the end of next year. Freedom of movement is what the EU is all about - if you don't like it, the only option is to leave the EU. Now there's an idea! Not one that our First Minister is considering, admittedly, however an increase in Eastern European immigrants into Scotland nearly a year before the independence referendum may concentrate his mind a bit. It did not escape Calton's notice, on a recent visit up north, that the majority of people serving him in shops, cafes and petrol stations were Eastern Europeans. They were polite and helpful and they have a reputation for being hard-working, however, if their numbers were to increase dramatically it would almost certainly fuel tensions with locals in areas with high unemployment and a lack of affordable housing, ie most of Scotland. If Salmond sticks with his plan to stay in the EU he will be as powerless as Theresa May is to stop the inflow. So much for having control over our own economy. As well try and stop the tide coming in.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

What do they take us for?

It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious - Alistair Darling makes a very pertinent point about monetary union eventually leading to political union and all the SNP can say in return is that "Dozens of countries have become independent from Westminster since 1945, and none have chosen to return to London rule." Yes, but how many of those countries retained Sterling? Not very many. Either the SNP are a bunch of thickos who can't understand basic economic principles or else they think that we are. The latter would tie in with their arrogant attitude when it comes to listening to the people of Scotland. It may well fall on deaf ears as far as the Scottish Government are concerned however Calton would like to say again that full independence can only be achieved with our own central bank and our own currency. To suggest anything else is nonsense.

Friday, 9 November 2012

It's all in the wording

While we are on the subject of rats and other rodents, Calton is pleased to see that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has a sense of humour, although Calton's favourite ginger rodent remains the much-missed Wee Red Squirrel. It is worth taking a look at his blog even now for the articles and the links under 'The truth will set us free'. Where Calton and his ginger friend diverge is on the wording of the referendum question, which Calton thinks is too biased towards the SNP. It will be interesting to see what the Electoral Commission make of it.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

More than one way to skin a rat

Nadine Dorries is being a bit naive in expecting to sit around the campfire in the celebrity jungle discussing topics such as lowering the time limit for abortions. Frankly, Calton can't think of anything calculated to kill the conversation amongst contestants faster. On the other hand, the furore over her decision to take part in 'I'm a celebrity' and her reasons for entering have ensured that everyone reading about it online or in the newspapers is now aware that Dorries supports a 20 week time limit, which just goes to show that there is more than one way to skin a rat (or snake or crocodile).

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What did we do???

If His Grace is correct in saying that we get the leaders we deserve, what on earth did Scotland do to merit 2002 days of Alex Salmond??? Calton's mind boggles. Not only that but the likelihood is that we are going to get at least another 730 days (until the Independence Referendum) before Eck bows out, and that's only if we believe his promise not to go "on and on". His loyal Deputy has congratulated him on his political longevity, presumably because she is young enough to still have a shot at the top when he finally shuffles off his first-ministerial coil, but if it was Calton, he'd be chewing nails and sharpening his claws in the background. Let us not forget what happened to Margaret Thatcher after she vowed to go on and on. There's something to be said for limiting a leader's time in office, as they do in the US.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Three answers

If Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had any sense they would listen to today's warning from Jim Sillars and Gordon Wilson on Scotland's position in the EU. The suggestion that we have talks with other members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is eminently sensible. Why the SNP persist in thinking that membership of the EU is the only way forward is totally unfathomable to Calton. Can they not recognise a car crash when they see one? Are they too proud to listen to former grandees of their own party? Do they deserve our vote at the next election? (Answers: no, yes and no, in that order.)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Twenty questions

Calton is not a fan of the great Broon, however the former Prime Minister is quite right to call on the SNP to comment on "twenty unanswered questions" about independence and its effect on the Scottish nation. His reason for wanting to stay in the UK is obvious - he wants to avoid the "massive rupture" which leaving the union would undoubtedly cause and which the SNP are playing down for all they are worth. It would be helpful if the SNP would actually answer some of the questions posed by Brown instead of trotting out that old chestnut about not having the power over jobs, the economy and welfare. We'll be lucky if we have any jobs and economy to speak of in 2014 after two years of uncertainty.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

A looming superstorm

Alex Salmond has referred himself to an independent assessor over allegations that he misled Holyrood over the EU legal advice affair. Calton would also like to see an independent investigation into whether or not Salmond can keep the promises he has made to "protect the important principles of freedom of speech, conscience and declaration of faith" if same-sex marriage legislation goes ahead. The Scottish Government has made a number of assertions over the last few months about protecting the rights and freedoms of those who oppose same-sex marriage but it now seems that they may not have the power to do so, given that it would require changes to UK equality legislation, UK employment legislation and UK charity legislation. It also seems that they may not have the will to do so, given that the only protection being considered by the Scottish Government applies to individual marriage celebrants who do not wish to conduct same-sex weddings. This leaves other individuals who do not agree with same-sex marriage, such as teachers, youth workers, foster carers, parents and bloggers like Calton, open to discrimination and possible legal action because of their views, contrary to the impression which the First Minister has given whenever the issue of same-sex marriage and its impact on freedom of speech and religion is raised. The fracas over EU legal advice has left Salmond blustering in the wind but that will be nothing compared with the superstorm which will erupt if it turns out that his promises to protect freedom of speech are only so much hot air.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Better never than late

It's good to see that Barclays and Coutts have decided to withdraw sponsorship from the Stonewall awards next year unless the 'Bigot' award is dropped however it beggars belief that they did not know what they were sponsoring this year given that Nationwide, one of last year's sponsors, withdrew after getting serious flak over their involvement. Their move today smacks of damage limitation in the face of a media storm. Stonewall do good work in preventing bullying of homosexuals, however, when they use the term 'bigot' to try and censure the speech of those who don't agree with them, they become the bully. Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong target in Cardinal O'Brien. Nobody, Calton least of all, would have objected if they'd picked whoever said that gay people should be shot dead but the Cardinal's comments on gay marriage are not in the same category. His comments may be offensive to homosexuals but many people are deeply unhappy with the idea of marriage being redefined and feel that the Cardinal speaks for them. In labelling him a bigot, Stonewall also labels them bigots. Such name-calling only widens the gulf between the two sides of the debate and the fact that Ruth Davidson got booed for objecting to the 'Bigot' award at the Stonewall event reveals the petty nature of some of Stonewall's supporters. Stonewall would do well to dissociate itself from such people.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

No Guarantees

It is becoming more and more obvious that we are going to go into the independence referendum without a clear idea of what Scotland's position will be in the EU if we vote yes. The UK Government won't ask the European Commission for its view before the referendum happens and the Scottish Government can't ask the EC before the referendum happens because Scotland is not a member state at the moment. So we are going to have to make the most important decision in the history of modern Scotland without all the relevant information available to us. Wonderful. What is clear is that the SNP cannot guarantee to deliver on their vision of an independent Scotland, in the EU, using Sterling even if they do get a yes vote because their vision depends on securing the agreement of both the EU and the remainder of the UK post-independence. What is Alex Salmond going to do if they don't agree? Nuke them? (Oops, sorry, Calton was forgetting that an independent Scotland would be a nuclear-free zone.)