Monday, 30 December 2013

Back to the 19th century?

We have a shortage of housing, unemployment (and, in particular, youth unemployment) is high, it can take 3 weeks in some parts of Scotland to get a doctor's appointment and NHS dentists are scarcer than hens' teeth - so would someone please remind Calton why we need thousands more immigrants from Eastern Europe? Unfortunately, unless we leave the EU (which is Calton's favoured option), we are powerless to stop a new influx in two days' time, regardless of what some Conservative activists may think. Even if we succeeded in delaying the ability of Romanians and Bulgarians to move here until 2018, that is just postponing the problem. The Tory activists are at least right in one thing - more immigration will only fuel tensions, particularly in poorer areas where people are already struggling to find homes and jobs and to access vital services. Calton is not against immigration per se - he is against unlimited economic immigration from poorer countries within the EU and one look at the graph in this BBC News article will tell you why. The number of Eastern European workers in the UK has gone from less than 50,000 in 2003 to 800,000 in 2013. There are areas in Glasgow where one bedroom flats house 15-20 people. That's a higher population density than when the Victorian tenements were built! If this is the sort of Scotland which Alex Salmond and his party wants, Calton's response is "no thankyou". A return to overcrowded tenements and streets overflowing with rubbish hardly seems to be progressive - it's more like a regression to the 19th century. Is this really Scotland's future?

Friday, 20 December 2013

Calton's Christmas Message

The First Minister's choice of image for his Christmas card tells us a lot about what he believes and where he wants to take us as a nation. It depicts a fictional 4th Magi or Wise Man - Artaban - who misses out on seeing Jesus because he is caught up with helping others he meets along the way. He is a seeker who never finds but who is finally admitted to Heaven on the strength of his good works. It all sounds very nice but, actually, it is the antithesis of the Christmas message - which is that none of us can ever do enough good to merit entrance to Heaven and so God sent, not a muscular wise man, but a helpless baby to do what we cannot do and save us from our helplessness, failure and sin. Accepting that baby requires a humility which the First Minister seems to lack. It looks like he would rather try to reach Heaven by his own efforts, like Artaban, and the Scotland he wishes to create is one in which the gospel of Christ is increasingly marginalised, as the baby Jesus is in his card. Artaban sought and never found but Christ promises that all who seek will find Him. Just as #lostbear was found by his owner this week and regained his identity as Roar the Lion, we need to seek and be found by our owner, God, the one who created us, and, in so doing, find our true identity. That is the real message of Christmas.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Out of touch Tory?

"Out of touch Tory" is not a phrase Calton usually associates with Murdo Fraser MSP, however the man does seem to be out of touch with the stark choices facing many people this Christmas when he tweeted this:
When families are struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes, never mind buy presents for the kids, suggesting that the only way you can wish someone a proper Merry Christmas is by spending 50p on a stamp is, quite frankly, demonstrating that you don't know what being poor is. OK, it is a bit crass (and lazy) to write a one-line email and then send it round your entire email address book with one click. Calton can see Murdo's point in that regard but, the reality is, even those who are fortunate to have a job these days are becoming reluctant to use Royal Mail to distribute their Christmas wishes at 50p a pop. Even a very modest Christmas card list of 40 names would cost £20! Many people are opting instead to send e-cards or personalised email greetings and either save the money or give it to charity and Calton is wholeheartedly in agreement with this, even although it means that the old eyrie looks a bit bare compared to Christmasses past when you couldn't move for cards falling about your ears. So, please don't be offended if your Christmas greeting from Calton Hill arrives over the internet - apart from anything else, the Barn Owl who usually handles Calton's mail is still recovering from delivering the White Paper!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Don't forget the poor singles

Calton is not at all surprised that those in poverty are now more likely to be working than on the dole. He's also not surprised that they are likely to be single, childless adults. If you don't have children, you lose all benefits as soon as your income goes over about £100 a week but you don't qualify for working tax credit unless you work at least 30 hours a week. That is becoming increasingly difficult in these days of zero hours contracts and part-time work. The result - a lot of single people stuck in a poverty trap. It is good that child poverty has fallen, according to the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, and pensioners are also better off, however a truly just, fair society will look after all its members, something which British society is currently failing to do. If we don't end the scourge of low wages and under-employment, we are stoking up a problem for the future when poor single people reach pension age and do not have anything apart from the state pension to fall back on. Perhaps the new Universal Credit should recognise the reality that full-time employment remains a dream for many people and include a graded benefit rather than the current step-change at 30 hours a week. Now that would be progressive.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A stark contrast

It is frightening the way some people are trying to silence their opponents in this supposedly democratic country. The latest example Calton has heard was Jeanette Winterson on Any Questions? last night. She had been given plenty of air time to make her points, some of which were quite pertinent, but that didn't stop her trying to silence Andrew Lansley when his turn came. When told by Jonathan Dimbleby that Lansley was entitled to have his say, her response was "I'm not sure about that" and repeated shouts of "NO". Not only was this extremely rude, it was a deliberate attempt to stop another panellist from putting forward his point of view and it was totally undemocratic. Thankfully Dimbleby sat on her (metaphorically speaking) but not before she'd shown herself to be a screeching dictator with no time for anyone else's views. The very essence of democracy is free speech. The minute we start denying certain people the right to air their opinions, we start down the slippery slope of censorship which leads to dictatorship. Winterson's behaviour was the very opposite of another man in the news this week - Nelson Mandela. He was willing to work with his opponents and to listen to them. That is why he is being revered right now. The contrast with Winterson could not be more stark.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Things can only get better?

The SNP truly are deluded. Faced with negative comments from Wales over the Sterling zone and warning noises from Spain over EU membership, their response is to say, effectively, that the rUK would be mad not to include Scotland in a currency union and the EU would be insane not to want Scotland as a member. Well, which of them has lost their marbles is a matter of opinion - in Calton's opinion it's the SNP, not Wales or Spain.

The other common delusion currently doing the rounds is that things couldn't possibly be any worse than they are at present, under the Westminster government, so we would be better off voting for independence. Wrong. Things not only could be a lot worse, they will be a lot worse. You've only to look at the costs involved in some of the proposals in the White Paper (renationalised mail service, separate TV, new passports, separate tax system) to realise that Scotland will be the poorer if we go it alone. Divorces cost money and it's the Scottish people who will foot the bill for this one. Far from being a richer, fairer nation, we will be impoverished for decades and it's pensioners and the poor who will suffer the most. If that's scaremongering, Calton is guilty as charged but the vision the SNP have set out for Scotland is what is truly frightening.

(Oh, and by the way, Calton was half-asleep yesterday morning but he's sure he heard someone from the SNP say that "independence in Europe" is the only sort of independence currently on the table, and, of course, that is no independence at all. Nice to have that clarified by the Yes campaign.)

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

If this is Utopia, no thankyou

It may well be sensible, reasonable, logical, etc, etc for the rUK to be in a sterling currency union with us post-indy but the noises coming from England and Wales are not positive at the moment. It would inspire more confidence if the SNP listened to those noises, rather than ignoring them, and answered the questions the noises generate, such as the one posed by Drew Smith at Holyrood this afternoon (35 mins in), instead of ducking the issue, as the Deputy First Minister did.

Calton has still to digest the contents of the White Paper (literally) but one thing did stand out today and that is the SNP's nightmare vision of an independent Scotland bankrolled by the taxes of women freed from the drudgery of caring for their own children by increased state provision of nurserycare, which will, in turn, provide 35,000 low paid jobs for women, caring for other women's children while their mothers work in the modern equivalent of the old mills - call centres and warehouses. The irony of it all seemed, unfortunately, to be lost on Ms Sturgeon as she enthusiastically presented this Utopia that could be ours, if we vote yes. Yet another reason to vote NO.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Time to grow up

What a bunch of chancers! Having secured Westminster's agreement that the result of the independence referendum would be binding, the SNP now seem to think that anything in their white paper, to be published tomorrow, will also be binding on Westminster. What planet are these people living on? They seem to think that things will happen, Oprah-style, just because they say so. Calton sincerely hopes that they will be brought down to earth with a bang and the sooner the better. If a nation could be built on airy assertions Scotland would certainly be well-equipped to become independent. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that - the hot air from Holyrood doesn't even manage to warm Calton's eyrie never mind build something of substance. Westminster have agreed that if we vote yes, we get independence. Everything else is up for negotiation and the Welsh have quite rightly said that they want a say in any agreements which affect them. We would do the same if the positions were reversed. It's time the SNP grew up and realised that you don't always get something just because you want it - that's childish thinking. If we are to have any hope of going it alone as a nation we need mature leaders, not big kids.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Precious metal

As long as it is possible to do, as Calton did today, and walk into a Scottish scrapyard with a few bits of copper pipe (which he found in his loft) and get £3 per kg cash with no questions asked, idiots will continue to risk not only their own lives but those of others in pursuit of a quick quid. Calton was under the impression that the Scottish Government was going to bring licensing of scrap metal merchants into line with that of England and Wales but it doesn't seem to have happened yet. "Bring it on" is all he can say, a sentiment probably echoed by the residents of Greenock, not to mention communities across the north of England where metal theft is high due to the ease of shipping the stuff north over the border for conversion into cash. Alex Salmond likes to think that an independent Scotland would attract business but Calton doubts he was thinking of the illegal cross-border scrap metal trade. This is one area where having the same approach as England and Wales would definitely be a good thing.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Vote Yes for total dependence

The European Commission, an unelected body euphemistically called the 'executive arm' of the EU, has been coming the heavy on Spain and Italy over their budgets. And this is the EU which self-styled supporter of independence Alex Salmond wants us to remain part of (if they'll have us)? Nein danke is all Calton can say. How anyone who believes in self-determination can, at the same time, think that EU membership is a good thing is a mystery. The same applies to a currency union with England. We already have that as part of the UK - if it's such a good thing, why vote for independence? We have the best of both worlds with devolution. Why risk it for a very uncertain future as a supposedly independent country which will, in reality, be totally dependent on either the EU or the rUK? If the SNP really believed in self-determination they would ditch the idea of being in the EU and would be making plans for us to have our own currency as the preferred choice, not a plan B or C. Sadly, they don't have the bottle. If they did, Calton would consider voting Yes. As it is, it's No all the way.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Would someone please kill this bill?

Calton has to give Margo MacDonald 10/10 for perseverance and 10/10 for bad temper. The former is for introducing another assisted suicide bill and the latter is for her performance on Call Kaye this morning when called upon to defend her bill. The fact that Margo lost the rag with someone who opposes her bill clearly demonstrates what an emotive issue this is, and legislating on the basis of emotions is never a good idea, nor is legislating on the basis of a few tragic but unusual cases. Dr Stephen Hutchison of the Highland Hospice is quite right when he highlights the inconsistency of our government trying its hardest to dissuade people from taking their own life on the one hand and yet, now, discussing a bill which would facilitate suicide. Calton is also worried about the fact that, if the new bill becomes law, there will be lethal doses of drugs floating about the community for up to 14 days if not used by the person who has requested them! What sort of training and assessment is going to be given to the "facilitators" who would collect these drugs from the chemist and, presumably, administer them to the patient since this bill is concerned with those who are unable to commit suicide unaided? Whatever the training, the thought that a certain class of people would be able to administer lethal drugs with legal impunity is chilling. Calton does not want to see Scotland go down this route - hopefully our MSPs will agree and boot out this bill, again.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Hobson's Choice - the army or unemployment?

While Calton can understand calls for the army recruiting age to be raised to 18, he does not agree with them. No-one is forcing 16 year olds to enlist and they cannot do so without the consent of their parents. They also do not see active service until they are 18. Yes, joining the army may result in significant mental, emotional and physical injury or death. So does becoming one of the many unemployed youth with no hope of finding a job. A recent review by the World Health Organisation has highlighted joblessness as a major health risk to young people, with suicide an immediate risk and chronic diseases such as cancer and stroke a risk in the long term. In an ideal world there would be no wars and there would be plenty of jobs for school-leavers. This is not an ideal world and closing the door to one viable career option for 16 year olds will not make it any better. Staying on at school until 18 is not appropriate for all young people - for some, the alternative of going into the forces provides them with the discipline they need and training which will stand them in good stead. On this day, as we remember the fallen, we also demonstrate our support for our armed forces. We need to take better care of them when they come out of the army, whether by choice, by redundancy or through injury and we need to take care of the youngsters who stay at home and struggle to find a job. Our young people deserve better than Hobson's choice.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

It's not the immigrants who are the problem

Calton has never disputed the fact that most immigrants to this country are hard-working and make a positive contribution to our economy. It is no surprise to find that, in recent years, they are less likely to be in receipt of benefits than Brits. The problem is, the ready supply of skilled people with a good work ethic has allowed us to ignore the fact that many of our young people are unemployable and many of our unemployed do not want to work. If we did not have uncontrolled immigration from the EU, genuine jobseekers would find it a lot easier to find a job and the work-shy would find it a lot harder to hide. We would not have such a huge problem with youth unemployment and business owners would be putting a lot more pressure on the government to sort out our education system so that it turns out employable youngsters. As it is, the influx of Eastern Europeans is masking a growing problem within our society. It is also fuelling resentment because, now, they are not just doing the jobs Brits don't want to do - they are doing jobs that some Brits do want to do. Recession has made us less fussy when it comes to a job, which would be no bad thing if the jobs were available. Given the announcement today of up to 1000 job cuts at BAE Systems yards north and south of the border, it is time for both the Scottish and Westminster governments to take a serious look at whether we can afford a further influx of Eastern Europeans at the end of the year, especially when we have no idea how many will come. We should let in the immigrants we need and the ones who need asylum but call a halt to unrestricted immigration from the EU.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Can Unite live up to its name?

If all employers treated their workers fairly and legally, unions would not be necessary. Unfortunately that is not the case and unions play a vital role in protecting workers' rights, particularly now that it costs £400 to take an employer to an industrial tribunal - a sum far beyond many low-paid workers' means. That doesn't mean that it is OK for unions to intimidate or bully managers or their families in the course of an industrial dispute. If the recent allegations about Unite's "leveraging" tactics prove to be true, they have crossed a line which should not be crossed. The fact that, at the moment, Unite's leadership is entirely unrepentant is even more worrying. Calton is old enough to remember the bitter industrial disputes of the 70's and 80's and does not want to see those days return. Unions need to accept that businesses are there, first and foremost, to make a profit, not provide jobs for the boys. Global changes can sometimes mean the end of the gravy train for a particular industry and businesses need to constantly adapt to survive. Sadly, it seems that the entrenched union mindset in some industries will always militate against helping firms to weather the inevitable downturns. Conflict instead of cooperation seems to be the order of the day. Now if Unite could work with the management and owners of Grangemouth to turn the business around, then it really would be worthy of its name.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Cheviot, the Stag and Scottish Gas

It is ironic that consumers in the North of Scotland are facing higher energy price rises than those in the South, while, at the same time, large swathes of the Highlands are being turned into an industrial landscape with the construction of the Beauly-Denny power line and a large number of windfarms. It is also ironic when several rural areas on the Scottish mainland are now being considered for fuel discounts, including some in the Highlands. Someone, somewhere is not joining up the dots. Petrol is currently 10p per litre higher in Wester Ross than it is in the central belt and the proposed extension of the discount scheme is too late to save petrol stations such as Achnasheen from closure. Rural communities are being disproportionately hard-hit in these times of austerity - they need a helping hand with fuel bills both for transport and heating if we are not to see another Highland clearance, this time with wind turbines replacing people. If the European Commission does not agree with the extension of the fuel discount, we should tell them where to go. The same goes for Scottish Gas.

Friday, 18 October 2013

SNP energy policy - getting warmer

Well! They say a week is a long time in politics. It's less than a week since Calton said don't hold your breath for the SNP to remove unfair subsidies from consumer fuel bills. Now Nicola Sturgeon has announced just that, at the SNP's conference in Perth. Perhaps they've been reading this blog. Whatever the reason for today's announcement, it is very welcome in Calton's opinion. It is manifestly unfair that poor people should be paying more on their fuel bills in order to help even poorer people, especially now that we know that children of working parents are more likely to suffer poverty than those of unemployed parents. Some of the people struggling the most to pay their bills are now people who earn just enough to stop them receiving benefits but not enough to cover the rising cost of living. Calton is not against helping those in fuel poverty but the help should come out of general taxation, not through our fuel bills. Subsidies for home insulation should also be means-tested. In this respect, Nicola is thinking what Calton is thinking. Now all we need is for Westminster to take a lead from the SNP and the SNP to remove subsidies for windfarm builders. Calton is still not holding his breath.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

SNP energy policy - turning folk blue?

So, let's just see if Calton has got this right - not only are hard-pressed consumers paying 9% of their energy bills to subsidise green energy, the taxpayer is paying £725,000 to councils up and down Scotland to help them cope with the avalanche of wind farm planning applications which is threatening to bury them alive. More than 2500 in the last 18 months. If building windfarms is so popular, why are we subsidising it? You only subsidise things which need encouragement. It's time this scam scheme was stopped, before it pushes even more families and pensioners into fuel poverty. If removing the subsidies results in fewer planning applications, so much the better because then councils will be able to cope with them. Councils should also be left to make the decisions on individual planning applications without Scottish Government interference - Calton does not believe that the Scottish Government is able to strike the right balance between providing green energy and the need to satisfactorily address the impacts on communities and the environment, due to its over-ambitious green energy targets. If the SNP/Greens have their way, you won't be able to see Scotland for a forest of turbines and we can wave bye-bye to our tourism industry. Forcing price freezes is not the way to go - governments can't rig the market - but removing unfair subsidies is within the control of the Westminster Government and would be within the control of an independent Scottish Government. Don't hold your breath if it's SNP. Your face will turn as blue as your frozen extremities.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The cost of keeping nothing secret

 The voters in South Dunfermline could be forgiven for wondering which are the parliamentary candidates and which are the council candidates, going by the election leaflets Calton's contact in Dunfermline has sent him. The would-be MSPs all seem to be more exercised by issues such as the proposed closure of a local school, local bus services and the state of the town centre, none of which they would have much control over if elected, than issues of national importance, such as the economy. The Green candidate is even concerned about the ability of Pars fans to buy their club! The Libdems are relying heavily on Willie Rennie's track record as MP for the area, conveniently forgetting that he was comprehensively booted out by Labour's Thomas Docherty in 2010. Calton suspects that Labour will do the same to the SNP this time round, especially with the latter's choice of a recycled Lothians list MSP as candidate to replace the disgraced Bill Walker.

Meanwhile the SNP seem to be increasingly sensitive to accusations that they have been in any way "economical with the truth", leading to journos and other bloggers/tweeters inventing new euphemisms for telling porkies. Calton's current favourite is "saying one thing in public and another behind closed doors". Whether or not the SNP are being honest with the people of Scotland is a matter of debate. What is clear is that a good number of people, including Johann Lamont and Calton, think that they are not being honest, which means that the SNP have a massive credibility problem. The onus is now on them to prove that they are being honest and are not hiding facts which are inconvenient to their arguments for independence. Otherwise they are going to struggle to convince people to vote yes next year. And spending £20k on legal action to keep the fact that they didn't have any EU advice secret doesn't help their cause.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Put your clothes back on girls

Calton is 100% in agreement with Annie Lennox over the classification of pop videos. It's not about restricting freedom of expression. It's about protecting young children from viewing material which is not suitable for them. Calton has seen primary age girls copying dance routines which they have seen on the TV and, frankly, he did not know where to look. Some of the moves they were making, in all innocence due to their age, were highly sexual and Calton can't help wondering if, in their twisted minds, paedophiles are using such behaviour as justification for their perverted desires. Children are innocent but they do not inhabit an innocent world and exposing them to sexual imagery which they then, very naturally, copy, could be exposing them to even greater danger. Calton also finds it very sad that, instead of getting an education and a job and being valued as a person, which is what girls fifty years ago were encouraged to do, young girls today are being given the message that the way to get ahead is to flaunt your body - having talent is not enough it seems. It is significant that Lennox is in her late 50's and another supporter of her call for pop videos to be rated is Margo MacDonald, who is 70. They grew up in an era when women were starting to be told, and believe, that they were equal to men and both have significant achievements to their credit. What happened that, now, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus are the role models? The farmer who told Rihanna to put her top on had the right idea and so has Sinead O'Connor.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

It's not worth the paper it isn't written on

Calton is just not convinced that registrars (and other marriage celebrants) will not be forced to conduct gay marriages against their religion or principles if it becomes legal in Scotland, no matter what Alex Neil says, because some militant homosexuals will not be happy until they have forced everyone to agree with their viewpoint. The ink will hardly be dry on the legislation before a legal challenge is mounted, especially since the Scottish Government have made it clear that there will be no discriminatory opt-outs for public servants, including registrars, written into the legislation. The lack of such opt-outs also means that teachers who do not want to teach about same-sex marriage will not be protected. It seems that David Cameron has now realised that it was a mistake to force through gay marriage legislation in England, not least because of the slump in membership of local Conservative Associations. If only Alex Salmond would learn from others' mistakes. Deputy Presiding Officer Elaine Smith's suggestion that Scotland put same-sex marriage legislation on hold, until the impact of the change south of the border can be assessed, is eminently sensible in that context. Her fears that redefining marriage on the basis of 'love' will lead in future to the legalisation of polygamous relationships are entirely reasonable - after all, why not? - and it is to her credit that she is willing to speak out, given the vilification she has been subjected to. How many other MSPs have effectively been silenced by the virulence of pro-gay marriage campaigners?

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Time to teach the difference between fact and theory

If it is true that teacher Leonard Rogers told a science class that the theory of evolution is "not proven", as reported in the Sunday Herald, he was quite correct. Any scientist worth their salt knows that you cannot prove a scientific theory - you can only disprove one. Complaining parent Adrian Smales should know that as a scientist himself. All that scientists can say with any confidence about any theory is that it fits the facts as we currently know them. Should other facts emerge, the theory may be disproved. Evolution is not a fact - it is a theory. So is creationism. Now, if Rogers has been teaching creationism as fact, he is wrong. It can't be proved any more than evolution. However, if he has been teaching pupils the difference between facts and theories, that is all to the good and will stand them in good stead in the future. Facts are things which we can observe and measure. None of us can observe what happened even hundreds of years ago, never mind millions of years ago, because we were not there. All we can do is observe what has survived until the present time and make deductions about how it came to be there. Those deductions may, or may not, be correct. It is time the myth that evolution is a fact is exposed and children are taught to think and make deductions for themselves, based on the real facts. Is that not what Curriculum for Excellence is all about?

Monday, 23 September 2013

Promises, promises

It seems that the SNP will promise anything if they think it will secure votes. This time it's pensions. Previously it was the council tax freeze, which has resulted in cash-strapped councils cutting services left, right and centre. No longer can voters decide whether they want to pay more for better services or pay less for fewer services when it comes to council elections. The matter is now outwith council control. So much for local government. What Calton wants to know is: what is going to be cut in order to afford better pensions in an independent Scotland? We may not live as long as the English but we are still an ageing population with fewer young people to pay for our pensioners. As Labour's pensions spokesman, Gregg McClymont, says - Nicola Sturgeon "cannot credibly say that something is affordable if she doesn't know how much it costs". Having failed so far to win over the electorate with reasoned argument and hard facts, the SNP are resorting to an appeal to peoples' baser instincts i.e. cash in pocket. Sadly, some people will fall for it and, if we become independent, we'll all pay for it.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Police Scotland - making it up as they go along?

It seems that Police Scotland have unilaterally decided that the Bible is illegal, or, at least, the Gospel of John, which is what a street preacher was quoting from when he was arrested in Perth on Wednesday. Actually, it seems that officers were making up laws on the hoof as, according to preacher Josh Williamson, they first of all complained that he was too loud, then told him that the noise level was not an issue but someone had made a complaint and then, finally, that the content of his message was illegal before arresting him for breach of the peace. They also arrested another man who protested against Williamson's arrest on the grounds that it was a denial of free speech. Now, as Calton understands it, the Police are meant to uphold the law, not invent it. Preaching the gospel is not a criminal offence in Scotland. Williamson was not using amplifiers and was willing to tone his voice down to an acceptable volume if asked to do so. Unfortunately it seems that the Police were determined to stop Williamson preaching and were grasping at any excuse to do so. We still have freedom of speech in this country but only if the Police do not take the law into their own hands. Calton is in total agreement with Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Legal Centre, who has said of this latest arrest that “Freedom of speech is a precious freedom that we must uphold. This injustice must be tackled to halt the chilling effect already felt by many Christians. The threat to freedom of speech is a concern for wider society, not just for Christians. ... It’s evident that police all over the UK need clear guidance on this matter. ... It’s up to police chiefs to take a lead and issue guidelines so that this stops happening.” Calton also wonders if Williamson would have been arrested had he been preaching from the Koran.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Tyrannosaurus - alive and well in South Lanarkshire

Oh for goodness sake. When Calton first heard on the radio about an 'extremist Christian sect' trying to influence schoolchildren he thought they must have been indoctrinating them into being suicide bombers at a gay pride march or mosque. What else would justify the removal of two head teachers and the exclusion of the religious group from the school? It turns out that, actually, a local church had handed out booklets on creationism to primary school children. Some people (and South Lanarkshire council) have no sense of proportion. Calton tends to agree with the EIS when it says that "schools should not be a place for any interest group to push its activities", provided, of course, that it also applies to Stonewall pushing books such as King and King in primary schools. And if primary age children are "too young to assess the contents" of the creationist books, as asserted by the Secular Society, they are also too young to assess the contents of King and King and other books promoting homosexuality. It sounds to Calton like this whole thing is a storm in a teacup whipped up by a few vocal parents, backed by a politically correct council and stirred up by the Daily Record. Have they not got more important things to worry about than whether or not man co-existed with dinosaurs?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The voters in Dunfermline deserve better

Surely it is more important that the various political parties, and the SNP in particular, tighten up on their selection procedures for election candidates to ensure that the electorate in Dunfermline don't get another Bill Walker, rather than discounting good candidates because they happen to be male. Apart from anything else, the people of Dunfermline are not daft enough to vote for someone just because she is a woman, as evidenced by the fact that Willie Rennie beat both Catherine Stihler (Labour) and Carrie Ruxton (Conservative) to win the corresponding Westminster seat in the 2006 by-election. There was a lot of feeling at the time that Ruxton in particular had been parachuted in, over local council leader Stuart Randall, at least partly because she was a woman, causing ructions within the local Tory party. Calton is all in favour of more female MPs and MSPs but positive discrimination and quotas don't work. Candidates have to be selected on their merits. Anything else is unfair on voters.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Do we want to see ourselves as we really are?

Given that Scotland is now the second-fattest nation in the world, do we really want our High Street mannequins to more accurately reflect society? It might be quite effective shock therapy mind you. Shops could always put a burger in one hand, a coke bottle in the other and a fag hanging out the mouth to add to the effect. Calton is struggling to think of any other way of getting Scots to realise how fat and unhealthy they are. It was interesting to hear Jo Swinson wriggling out of directly answering John Beattie's point today that the average woman's dress size has increased from a 12 to a 16 in the last few years but does that mean that we should now be promoting size 16, which is overweight for a lot of women, as normal? Calton thinks not. Being even moderately overweight increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer and other health problems and if a woman is overweight in her 20s, she will probably be obese by the time she is 40. The same applies to men. Yes, there is a problem with anorexia, body image and self-esteem among young people and the use of size 8 or 10 mannequins does not help, however there is an even greater problem now with obesity and there is a danger that using size 16 plus mannequins will simply normalise being overweight. It would be better if models and shop dummies were a healthy size, neither too thin nor too fat. Otherwise Swinson's latest campaign risks undermining all the Scottish Government's efforts to tackle obesity.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Give them a bike

In the 19th century, people moved from other parts of Scotland to Glasgow to find work. Now it seems that a reverse migration is needed, with the news that Glasgow has the highest number of workless households in the UK, never mind Scotland. Unfortunately, the sluggish state of the housing market and a general lack of affordable rented homes in most, if not all, parts of Scotland makes moving to find work very difficult. It also seems to Calton that the welfare system does not encourage relocation. Moving costs money, something which the unemployed do not have. It also requires motivation - the confidence that a move will bring an improvement. The sad thing is that Eastern Europeans are more motivated to come and work in Scotland than some Scots are to move to the other side of the country to find a job. Instead of taking the initiative, many unemployed seem to expect the state to provide for them, both in terms of benefits while unemployed and also by subsidising companies to set up businesses in areas of high unemployment. Instead of moving to find work, people expect work to come to them. Sadly, companies which receive large amounts of public money to locate in Scotland quite often leave when the subsidies dry up. The Scottish Government would be better advised to spend the money on improving public transport and providing affordable rented homes in areas where there are jobs. Grants to enable unemployed families to relocate to areas where workers are needed might also be a good idea. The Government needs to encourage mobility but there's no point in telling people to get on their bike when they don't have a bike to get on.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

SNP - listening for once

Calton is pleased to see that automatic early release is to be scrapped for violent/sexual offenders in Scotland. About time too. Nice to see the SNP actually listening to the concerns of the electorate for once. It would be even better if they scrapped the same-sex marriage bill, now that over 50,000 people have signed Scotland for Marriage's petition against it. That's more than the combined membership of all political parties in Scotland. Who said single-issue politics was dead?

As to the rest of the rather uninspiring raft of legislation introduced today: Calton is in favour of scrapping the right to buy for council tenants. It should never have been introduced in the first place. He also hopes that changes to licensing of scrap metal merchants will bring them into line with England and Wales, thus making Scotland less of a safe haven for metal thieves. And he dearly wishes that Alex Salmond would stop blaming Westminster at every opportunity. It's getting boring. And we still have more than a year to go!

Monday, 2 September 2013

It was the SNP

It seems completely absurd to Calton that an MSP can be jailed for up to a year and still remain an MSP. Whoever dreamt that one up needs their head looked. How can an MSP possibly represent his/her constituents when in prison? If the rules governing MSPs convicted of offences had been properly drafted first time around we would not now have the unedifying spectacle of Bill Walker's brass neck in hanging on to his seat, Willie Rennie's motion to get rid of him and the Presiding Officer scratching around for ways of at least ensuring Walker doesn't get paid if he goes down. Sort it out Trish.

PS. Calton entirely agrees with Willie Rennie that Walker should quit but can't help wondering if the Libdem leader has his eye on the Dunfermline seat - the Holyrood equivalent of the Westminster seat Rennie lost to Thomas Docherty in 2010. (Rennie is currently a list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife region.) It might have been better if someone else had instigated the motion for Walker to stand down. Somone in the SNP, for instance. After all, it was the SNP who selected him as a candidate.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Crossbow killer still on the loose

Calton would like to apologise to his regular readers for the lack of posts recently - he has had his beak stuck in a book. The RSPB British Birds of Prey book by Marianne Taylor with photos by Stig Frode Olsen to be precise. You can see how Calton was so riveted - apart from anything else he had to check that Stig had got his best side - although he was somewhat less than impressed with the description of Sea Eagles as "squat-bodied, cumbersome, short-tailed, long-necked, short-legged and big-headed". It went on to describe our expression as "outraged" - so would yours be given that list of epithets! That aside, it is an excellent book which details the struggles (still ongoing) between birds of prey and (some) humans and the attempts by other humans to assist us. Given the enduring popularity of the Mull Sea Eagles and the desire of many people, not just bird-watchers, to see an eagle, it is sad that Golden Eagles are still being killed on some of Scotland's shooting estates. It is downright tragic that Hen Harriers have all but disappeared from grouse moors in the North of England due to persecution and there was a successful initiative on twitter to rename August 12th "Hen Harrier Day" this year.

Unfortunately the persecution does not stop at raptors. News came today that a second gull had been shot with a crossbow in Inverness. Now, gulls are not Calton's favourite birds, however shooting them with a crossbow bolt, leaving them to die a lingering death, is utterly deplorable. Calton hopes that the person or persons responsible will be swiftly brought to justice for causing such unnecessary suffering. If you have any information that could lead to the apprehension of the individual(s) concerned, please contact Police Scotland - you could help prevent an even greater crime.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Polyamory is not for the birds

As the Scottish Parliament considers legalising same-sex marriages, it is worth remembering that, no sooner was the ink dry on the legislation allowing them in England and Wales than a legal challenge was launched to force the Church of England to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, making a nonsense of Maria Miller's 'quadruple lock'. Not only that, but all those scare-mongerers who warned that widening the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would open the door to demands for other types of relationship to be recognised don't seem quite so laughable now, as the BBC turns its attention to promoting polyamorous relationships.

Now, Calton may be old-fashioned, or maybe just old, but sea eagles mate for life with a bird of the opposite sex, because even a rudimentary understanding of biology shows us that two (and only two) birds, one of either sex, are required to produce a chick and both are needed to successfully rear it to maturity. (And, while he remembers, Calton would like to congratulate the East Coast couple on their first son. Hopefully they will think of a better name than 13white1 soon!) Why humans should want to deviate from this family set-up is, quite frankly, beyond him and his real concern is what effect it will have on the children? If consenting adults want to make life hard for themselves by having multiple relationships, that's up to them (one is hard enough work Calton would have thought) but children don't have the choice. Some would say that it doesn't matter what sort of family children grow up in as long as it is loving, but do we really know that? What about stability? We do know that heterosexual marriages are more likely to last than heterosexual unmarried couples. We don't have any reliable data yet on homosexual or polyamorous relationships. That doesn't seem to stop social work departments embarking on what may turn out to be the biggest social experiment of all time in placing children with homosexual couples, sometimes in preference to heterosexual couples.

Marriage, between one man and one woman for life, has been the foundation of our society for centuries. We might like to think that we are more enlightened in the 21st century but that assertion hardly stands up to scrutiny when you look at our society. We are not progressing - we are regressing. So, what gives us or our politicians the right to redefine marriage, and by inference, the family? Nothing, in this eagle's opinion.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Tinkering while UKIP gains ground

It's a bit rich for Labour politicians to go on about companies recruiting more local workers when they (Labour) presided over an education system which has failed to get a generation of young people ready for the workplace and it would seem that they (Labour) deliberately encouraged mass immigration as a way of forcing acceptance of the philosophy of multiculturalism. And we all know how well that worked out. As long as companies can get cheaper, better workers from outside the UK they will do so - it's called capitalism. It's up to the Government to limit immigration if they want to keep jobs for British workers and that will not be possible as long as we remain in the EU. That is why UKIP are gaining support in many parts of England. Unemployed Brits are fed up of seeing jobs go to Eastern European immigrants and it is fuelling resentment, especially when getting a job means that an immigrant passes the residency test and can then get a council house. The three main Westminster parties all realise this but are not prepared to do what is necessary to sort it i.e. leave the EU. Instead they are all tinkering round the edges and fighting with each other rather than dealing with the problem. No wonder the voters are losing patience with them.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

OK four-eyes

Calton has reached the age where he has to perch a pair of glasses on his beak to read or use the computer however there is nothing wrong with his distance vision, unlike many of those who regularly get behind the wheel of a car. DVLA has issued updated guidance stressing the responsibility of motorists to ensure that their eyesight is up to the job but, as long as there is no requirement for regular eye tests after a driver passes their driving test, we will continue to see accidents caused by poor eyesight. Given that it costs nothing in Scotland to have your eyes tested every second year, there really is no excuse and Calton fully supports Brake's campaign to 'sharpen up'. It's not always easy to realise (or admit) to needing specs but the alternative - living with the knowledge that your poor sight has caused a crash - is far worse. So go and get your eyesight tested, as Calton did last month. Don't wait for the Government to make it compulsory (which hopefully they will do).

Monday, 5 August 2013

Wanted - a minimum hours guarantee

It's not just zero-hours contracts which are being abused in theses times of austerity and business retrenchment - it's also self-employment contracts for workers who should be employees, as Calton has already pointed out. Both types of contract can offer workers flexibility and can be appropriate but, all too often, workers are not being given any choice in the matter. If they refuse to accept what's on the table they know that someone else will. Many people on these types of contracts are low paid - the last thing they need is uncertainty about the number of hours they will get each week. Self-employment contracts offer no job security at all as they can usually be terminated without notice. Employees have, for some time now, accepted that the days of big annual pay rises are over. Some have even accepted pay cuts in order to keep their jobs. The least employers can do is give them some sort of minimum hours guarantee and there should be a crack-down on those employers who are using self-employment contracts in order to get out of having to comply with employment legislation.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Getting it badly wrong for every child

It may seem like a good idea, especially in a week that has seen details of the horrific abuse suffered by Daniel Pelka at the hands of his mother and partner, to assign every child in Scotland a 'named person' or sort-of guardian angel to ensure their wellbeing, as proposed in the Children and Young People bill currently going through Holyrood. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Our social services are struggling to cope as it is, with many social workers not feeling confident that they could identify children at risk from internet grooming, just to take one example. Assigning an approved adult to every single child, whether they need it or not, is just going to take resources away from where they are really required. Legal experts are concerned, and so is Calton, that such legislation could be illegal under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which protects a parent’s “private and family life”.Whereas, previously, the criterion for intervention was that a child was 'at risk of significant harm', under the new legislation, the named person will be able to intervene if he/she considers that the 'wellbeing' of the child is at risk, 'wellbeing' being defined by the Government. This sounds to Calton like a charter for politically-correct liberals to impose their view of an appropriate upbringing on families whether they want it or not. Religious families who wish to bring their children up in the faith may well be told that it is not in the childrens' best interests. It could be a way of outlawing smacking, and other forms of discipline, by the back door. Instead of children, it will be parents on the naughty step. If, like Calton, you are concerned about the ramifications of this dystopian legislation, you can read more and sign a petition urging MSPs to reject it here. Calton strongly believes in protecting youngsters but interfering in family life to this extent is not the way to do it.

Monday, 29 July 2013

In support of Criado-Perez

First it was campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez on the receiving end of rape threats for, gosh, suggesting that a woman's portrait should feature on a banknote. Hardly the sort of thing to threaten the ego of any reasonably secure male, one would have thought. Now MP Stella Creasy is getting the same sort of threats for supporting Criado-Perez, which just goes to show that some men are a) incredibly insecure and pathetic, b) total cowards for hiding behind the internet and c) have nothing better to do with their time (and probably nae mates either). If it was just a case of offensive comments, Calton would probably agree with Guardian columnist Tanya Gold about shaming rather than criminalising, however, specific, detailed threats of rape should be taken seriously and reported to the police. The fact that they are made in an online forum makes no difference and Calton is pleased to see that, in this case, the police have taken the matter seriously and arrested a man. Calton supports the right to free speech but it should not be abused to make threats of violence, including sexual violence, against anyone and platforms such as Twitter need to make it easier for people to report threatening comments. It's time we sent a tough message to the nasty little trolls out there. If the beak and talons are not enough of a deterrent, anyone threatening violence against this eagle will be reported to the police. You have been warned.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Time to count them in?

It really beggars belief that we just don't know how many people are coming into this country and how many are leaving. What is the point of setting immigration targets when we can't measure if we are meeting them? What is the point anyway, when we have no control over immigration from EU countries? Calton is not against immigration. He is against uncontrolled immigration, which is what we have got at the moment. How on earth can government and local authorities plan for housing, schools, medical facilities etc when we don't know how many people we are planning for? The UK has finite resources and a limit to the number of people it can support. Large numbers of migrants can stretch those resources to breaking point and cause tensions within communities. The Government needs to get a grip on the situation, not by setting arbitrary limits on non-EU immigration, but by looking at immigration as a whole and obtaining accurate statistics on which to base its decisions. Anything else is just empty posturing.

Friday, 26 July 2013

It's not worth it

It had to happen - a man has been jailed for stabbing two people in an argument over the independence referendum. So much for 'positive debate' - positively lethal debate more like. He's just lucky no-one was killed and his wife still wants him back. She'll have to wait a few months since he's been jailed for over a year. Calton recognises that the whole independence issue generates strong feelings but resorting to violence over it is not good. Is this really the image of Scotland we want to project to the world? And is this not the logical end-result of the violent and aggressive comments which some people seem to think acceptable to use on the internet when "discussing" independence? Calton's concern is that, no matter which way the vote goes in 2014, there will be people who will not accept it and some of them may think that violence is the way to achieve their aims. We already have a problem with sectarian violence in parts of Scotland. Post-2014 we could have a problem with nationalist/unionist sectarianism. If this is to be avoided, it is incumbent upon us all to conduct the debate with respect and in a peaceful manner. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

In support of wilderness

Calton has decided that he likes John Lamont. Faced with whining from Scottish Renewables over planning changes that may limit windfarm construction, the Scottish Conservative Chief Whip is reported as saying "It's no surprise to see Scottish Renewables concerned at the prospect of the wind farm gravy train grinding to a halt." Quite. The man talks a lot of sense. So does Alan McCombes in his article 'For Scottish Wildness' over at Bella Caledonia. The Monadhliath plateau above Newtonmore is a truly spectacular area of wilderness where, on a summer's evening, once all the hillwalkers have headed home, one can be truly alone with birdsong the only sound and cairns the only man-made structures to be seen. We don't have that many places like it, which is why the proposals to build giant wind turbines there are so disturbing and out of place. It's not just that they are large structures which necessitate unsightly access roads and the destruction of large areas of peat to build them. It's the fact that human (and eagle) eyes are designed to be attracted to movement and so moving structures are far more visually intrusive in a landscape than static structures. The eye is drawn to them, whether we will or not. That is why Calton supports the Save the Monadhliath campaign and is against the proposed Stronelairg windfarm. In an age of industrialisation and stress we need somewhere to go to escape it all, if even just for a few hours.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

SNP - changing direction with the wind?

Well that was quick. No sooner has the First Minister told us that oil and gas are important to the Scottish economy when a leaked Scottish Government document says that we need to move away from "price volatile fossil fuels". Calton tends to think that the leak is more trustworthy, since it is more in line with the SNP's policy of covering the countryside and coastline with windfarms, subsidised by the Scottish consumer. If the SNP are serious about tackling fuel poverty in an independent Scotland they can start by removing this subsidy, which hits the poorest hardest, and telling windfarm developers to stand on their own two feet financially. That's exactly what English consumers will be telling us to do if we vote for independence but expect them to continue subsidising our renewables industry! And just where is the evidence that Scots are more pro-windfarms than the English? Is this just another 'wishful assertion' by the SNP? Or, to put it another way, yet more hot air from a government which does not listen to the electorate? (And, while we are on the subject of renewables, the link Calton put for the tidal project at Kylerhea in an earlier post ceased to function shortly after he linked to it but it seems to be back up again and can be viewed here.)

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Alex oils out of the tricky questions

If Calton remembers rightly, it was not so long ago that Nicola Sturgeon was calling for positive debate on the independence referendum. She must have forgotten to tell Alex Salmond, who spent a large part of his slot on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme this morning slagging off Westminster. The man really doesn't do himself, or us, any favours. One minute he's saying that we don't really need the oil revenues - they are just a nice wee extra - and the next minute he's talking about squeezing every last drop of oil and gas from Scotland's waters, or so it seems. We'll certainly need every last drop if we're to see anything like the figure of £300k for every man, woman and child in Scotland. When pressed on when we would start saving into an oil fund, post-independence, the First Minister would not be drawn, presumably because he knows that, although it sounds like a good idea, it is not without its problems, and he would not comment at all on the issue of fracking. What Calton really wants to know is why we are covering our mountains with windfarms when there is still lots of oil and gas out there which the Scottish Government has every intention of using to the max?

Monday, 22 July 2013

For adults only

It's nice to see that Scotland is already leading the way in making the possession of rape pornography an offence. Calton also welcomes the proposals to have an opt-in for 'adult content' online - if you want to view such stuff you should be adult enough to admit it and, if you don't, you will welcome the automatic filtering. It is naive to expect parents to be internet-savvy enough to censor their children's viewing. This measure will help to make parents aware that their choice of whether or not to allow pornography will have an impact on what their offspring can see and will hopefully make them think twice before removing the family friendly filters. They are there to protect our youngsters from material which will disturb and corrode them, giving them a wrong view of relationships. Childhood innocence is under threat as never before in this country and anything that seeks to address this problem is welcome as far as Calton is concerned.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Hot air with nowhere to go

After spending some time at the sea on Friday, Calton decided to visit the mountains on Sunday, making the most of his chances to do so before they disappear under a forest of wind turbines. While there he kept his eyes peeled for any sign of the East Coast youngsters however they were nowhere to be seen and neither could he see any Golden Eagles. Unfortunately there is still a lot of work to be done to persuade shooting estates not to poison or otherwise kill raptors. On the windfarm front there was good news today with the refusal of planning consent for a windfarm near Drumnadrochit. How the developer can claim that it would have supported 1000 jobs over its lifetime is beyond Calton. He supposes the devil is in the detail - 999 jobs for a short time to build the thing and 1 job to permanently look after it (including sweeping up the remains of dead birds from around the towers and switching the whole thing off when it gets too windy). Meanwhile, it transpires that the government's Green Deal may result in people being roasted if we get any more summers like this one, especially if they live in the top of 1960s flats or modern detached homes. All that insulation is great in the winter but it prevents the heat escaping in summer. Perhaps there is something to be said for traditional methods of house-building using natural materials like slate and stone. Calton is certainly appreciating the slightly cooler temperatures after the heatwave of last week.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

A true reflection?

Calton does not know how Alex Salmond can say that, in a newly independent Scotland, Scottish voter's wishes would be truly reflected when his government has ignored the majority of voters who responded to the consultation on same-sex marriage saying they didn't want it, ignored the 51% of Scots who say they will be less likely to visit a scenic area which has turbines and ignored local democracy when it didn't agree with Scottish Government policy. The only thing that will be truly reflected in an independent Scotland is the size of Salmond's head in the narcissistic pool he's looking into. If the First Minister truly believed in democracy he would not only be giving us a referendum on being part of the UK, he would also be offering us one on our membership the EU. Salmond and his sidekick Sturgeon don't believe in democracy any more than Calton believes in letting seagulls get away with all the fish. What they really believe in is rule by a political elite on the basis of what they think is 'right', if their words and actions are anything to go by. Salmond may be in love with his reflection but handsome is as handsome does in Calton's book and Eck ain't looking so good by that standard.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Alex Salmond - an embarrassment for Scotland

Firstly, a big congratulations to Andy Murray for a superb win this afternoon. All the more so given the fight his opponent put up. Great tennis. Just a pity Alex Salmond had to get his oar in by waving a Saltire at the end. Thankfully the cameraman found better things to point his camera at.

It seems that the SNP are not the only ones not taking democracy seriously - former PM Tony Blair seems to have decided that it's not always the best thing in the Middle East. Looks like the Arab Spring has gone straight to Autumn, a phenomenon we Scots are pretty familiar with, although this year it looks like summer might just last more than one day. Calton's eyrie is certainly still sweltering in the heat from earlier on. For that reason he's going to finish this post and go and get himself a nice cold glass of white wine to toast Andy's win with. Cheers!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

They're aff their heids

According to the SNP, the Police have better things to do than investigate the alleged rigging of the Falkirk Labour candidate selection. Calton couldn't disagree more. What is more important than upholding democracy and investigating alleged infringements of it? If we turn a blind eye to vote-rigging and gerrymandering, wherever and whenever it happens, we may as well install Alex Salmond as El Presidente for life and be done with it. Of course, that's probably what the SNP would like. They've certainly shown scant regard for the wishes of the people since they got their majority in Holyrood and Nicola Sturgeon seems to think she rules by some sort of divine right. The Stuart monarchs thought the same and look where it got them. One of them lost his head and the Highland clans lost a lot of good men trying to put his descendants back on the throne. The present-day successors to the Jacobites are off their heads if they think that democracy doesn't matter. It matters a lot.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

And the winner of the 2013 Stable Door Award is ...

Calton has decided that the 2013 Stable Door award goes to Nicola Sturgeon for her announcement that the right to buy policy will be scrapped in 2017. Since the policy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher's government, 455000 council and housing association homes have been sold to tenants in Scotland in one of the biggest social engineering projects of the 20th century. It was a transfer of wealth on a massive scale which inflated the housing market from the late 80's until the end of the boom in 2008. Many people benefited from it but we are now living with the consequences - unaffordable private homes and a severe lack of social housing. Unfortunately, it's a bit late to shut the stable door - nowadays only around 2000 sales take place each year, compared to 32000 in 1989/90. Not that Calton disagrees with shutting it - better late than never - but he does wonder why the SNP didn't make it more of a priority when they came to power in 2007, when more than 7000 homes were being sold off each year?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Crackdown still leaves silent killers

Calton welcomes the new crackdown on killing of birds of prey, although raptor persecution has been illegal for quite some time now and that has not stopped it happening. At least the new measures announced by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse indicate that the Scottish Government means business on this. That, or they have realised that the public don't like hearing about yet another poisoned eagle, buzzard or red kite. Calton wonders when the penny will drop that the public also don't like hearing about birds being killed by wind turbines. Eradicating poisoning, trapping and shooting of raptors will still leave silent killers dotting our hillsides, just waiting to clatter an unwary bird on the back of the head. The SNP's slavish adherence to ridiculous renewables targets is not only impoverishing the Scottish population, it is also trashing the countryside, killing wildlife and ruining our tourist industry. And it's not only wind turbines which threaten the countryside and wildlife - a proposed tidal scheme for Kylerhea will make a mockery of the scenes we have all recently been watching on the BBC Hebrides programme. Four towers sticking up out of the water just north of the ferry route have the potential to scare off the seals, and, with no seals to force the fish to the surface on the flow tide, the seagulls will not fish, and if the seagulls don't fish, the sea eagle will not be there to steal their fish and delight the tourists. Plus, it's just an accident waiting to happen with a combination of strong tides, amateur yachtsmen and four large obstacles in the water. It will spoil a beautiful, scenic spot and how many local jobs will it provide? Precious few, Calton suspects.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Teth aile nan Eilean Siar

Calton finds it really hard to believe the unnamed Scottish Government spokesperson who said, apropos the proposed Western Isles interconnector, that "Improved grid connections will enable the huge renewable energy resources of Scotland's islands to create jobs - up to 3,500 jobs in the Western Isles, almost 2,900 in the Shetlands and over 4,500 in the Orkney Islands by 2030." In the construction phase maybe but permanently? When, as Calton has already pointed out, a seven turbine windfarm can be managed by just two part-time technicians? If you do the maths, that means that there would need to be about 25,000 turbines on the Western Isles to give that level of full-time employment. That's 21 turbines per square mile and 8% of the total Western Isles population working on them. Well, they'll probably need to be right enough, because their tourism industry will have suffered the same fate as the White-throated Needletail and there will be no birdlife left anywhere on the islands - just a lot of sad little corpses littered around the bases of the turbines. Just as well the BBC filmed 'Hebrides' when they did. Or maybe the unnamed spokesperson is talking a lot of hot air?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A close escape

Calton is just glad he didn't decide to go to Harris for his holidays. Otherwise it might have been him lying on the ground under a community wind turbine. Having said that, Calton is generally in favour of small, local wind turbines and it is just really unfortunate that a rare visitor to our shores fell foul of one. What a majority of the visitors to our shores do not want to see is large scale industrialisation of our countryside with large windfarms, if the opinions of Scots are anything to go by.  It is encouraging to see that most Scots support the idea of protecting our wild land. Calton just wishes that more land would be designated as wild. Wildlife tourism is becoming increasingly important to the Scottish economy, helped by TV programmes like Hebrides, and it is about time the Scottish Government recognised this. How many more birdwatchers would have visited Harris if the poor White-throated Needletail had not come to an untimely end?

Friday, 21 June 2013

Taking the heat out of the independence debate

Calton would like to apologise for the lack of posts recently but it has just been too hot to blog. Summer has finally arrived. The result of the Donside by-election was disappointing, not so much because the SNP managed to hold on to the seat - no surprise there - but because the four 'main parties' took the top four slots. An upset by one of the smaller parties would have been nice. As it is, the result gives the BBC the justification to carry on largely ignoring minority parties, which is a pity.

Bill Clinton has brought some much-needed words of wisdom to the independence debate while speaking at the Scottish Business Awards in Edinburgh. Hopefully his warnings will cool off the intemperate behaviour which has unfortunately characterised the debate so far, to the detriment of Scotland's future, whichever way the vote goes. His call for respect by both sides is particularly pertinent.

Monday, 17 June 2013

More power to the people

Calton fully supports the idea of the island councils having more control over their own resources - in fact, he supports the idea of all councils having more control over their own resources - but it ain't going to happen under the SNP. This is the party which has imposed the council tax freeze - popular with voters but which hamstrings democratically elected councils from making their own decisions about local tax and spending. This is the party which wants full control of fiscal policy for Scotland but is not willing to give the same control to Scottish councils. This is the party which calls in council planning decisions on windfarms and overrules them. This is the party of centralised, central-belt size fits all, government. What is the point of trying to find ways to boost the turnout at local government elections when those elected do not have any real power? If the Scottish Government stopped interfering with councils we might see more people interested in who they vote into local government, because it would have a direct impact on their daily lives. It's called accountability.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Strength in numbers

Before we all get too excited about the news that Scottish unemployment is falling, we need to reflect on the fact that a new study commissioned by the Scottish Government shows a rise in underemployment. More than 10% of the workforce are underemployed i.e. working less hours than they would like. There are less full-time jobs now than in 2008, although the situation is improving, and wages have fallen. More people are self-employed, partly as a response to the lack of jobs but also, worryingly, due to a trend for small employers to put people who should be employees on to self-employed contracts, in breach of HMRC rules. Such employers know that it is more than their job's worth in these hard times for employees to complain about the change which robs them of the right to paid holidays, sick pay and other rights as employees. It is in these circumstances that trade union membership comes into its own. Calton was not a supporter of the militant trade unionism of the Thatcher years but he is a believer in the value of trade unions when it comes to ensuring a fair deal for low paid workers. He also believes that health and safety whistle-blowers should be protected, not blacklisted. Times are hard, but that doesn't mean that unscrupulous employers should be allowed to exploit this.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

What about the penguins?

OK, Calton is aware that we are now into the silly season, in spite of the fact that he has the central heating on again tonight, but please, someone tell him that it's not true that the SNP are considering censuring the BBC over Question Time? Really? Because they included Nigel Farage and George Galloway? Mind you, the SNP have form when it comes to complaining to the BBC. Calton was not aware until this evening that Douglas Hurd had written a book about rabid Nats which was turned into a BBC programme in the 70s, provoking much complaint from the SNP. Some things never change. As far as Question Time goes, Calton thinks it entirely reasonable to include UKIP, since their candidate in Donside is doing better than the Libdems. Next time, Dimbleby should include one of the inmates of the penguin enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo, since they also have done better than the Libdems. If the criterion for inviting people on to QT is that they have MSPs in Holyrood, all that does is perpetuate the same old, stale old, dysfunctional system. It's time the minority parties were given a voice and it's time the SNP remembered that it's not so long ago that going from 2 to 7 MPs was considered a good result for them.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

How not to get washed away

The SNP want independence but they want to keep the pound. And the Queen. And the pensions and benefits system, at least for a while, provided they can change it to suit their own agenda. What is the point? The more we think about independence, the more it becomes obvious how intertwined we are with the rest of the UK and how difficult it would be to separate. That is why Calton is planning to vote No next year, even although he believes in the principle of self-determination in general. When it comes to the specifics, it is just too risky, especially in the current economic climate, and it seems unnecessary when we have so many devolved powers, with more possibly on the table. Even the Scottish Tory leader seems to be coming round to that idea, thus provoking the ire of some Conservatives who elected her on the basis of her 'line in the sand'. Looks like the tide has well and truly washed that one away, leaving Davidson looking ever so slightly tottery. Better to build your foundations on a rock, Ruth.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Protecting our children comes first

Underneath the forbidding exterior, Calton is a bit of a softie when it comes to youngsters and is following the progress of Fingal and Iona's new chick with great interest. On a much sadder note, he grieves every time he sees the photo of April Jones' smiling face and is glad that her killer will never be released. He is also totally incensed that the man responsible for sexually assaulting a 4-year old boy in Asda's toilets has only been given two and a half years - half the sentence passed down to the sewage tanker ram raiders! Have we got our priorities completely and utterly back to front? What sort of disincentive to interfere with children is 30 months? Particularly with the insane policy of automatic early release? More to the point, how long will that little boy continue to be affected by what happened to him? Rehabilitation of offenders is all very well but protection of our children needs to come first. Parents will hardly be reassured to know that Christopher Morrison will only be under supervision for 42 months after his release. Anyone convicted of sexually assaulting a child should be locked up until the risk of them reoffending is zero. If that means they leave prison in a box, so be it. That's still more humane than their crime.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Head in the sand

Calton is just not convinced that our Prime Minister is right to say that the Woolwich murder was a betrayal of Islam and the Muslim community. Tony Blair is much nearer the truth when he talks of a "strain within Islam" which is "not the province of a few extremists" and is "not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies". Blair is urging politicians to be honest about the problem - something which Cameron seems to be reluctant to do. Of course it's easy for the former PM to talk - he no longer has to worry about votes - but that doesn't mean that what he says is not true. We will never deal with radical Muslims as long as we pretend that their actions have nothing to do with the teachings of Islam. In fact, we insult the radicals by saying that we know their motivation better than they do. Instead, if we want to get to grips with the problem of radicalised British Muslims, we need to start by understanding them, and that means taking our heads out of the sand and facing some difficult truths. Unfortunately, although our PM is here in body, his head still seems buried in an Ibiza beach.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Brian's boring debate

The Scottish Parliament was designed to give small parties a chance of being represented. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the BBC, which only invited what it saw as the "four main parties" on to the panel of the hustings for the Donside by-election held yesterday under the banner of Brian's Big Debate. Really, Calton would have thought that an experienced political journalist like Taylor should have known better. The excuse was that a "main party" was one that currently had seats in Holyrood. What happened to the Green candidate in that case? And, given that the Libdems are trailing UKIP in the polls, can we really continue to treat them as a "main party"? It's time that the SNP, Labour, Conservatives and Libdems were given a good old kick up the backside - Calton is tired of the same old arguments being trotted out again and again and he is glad to hear that Nigel Farage is planning another trip to Scotland. Yes, sometimes Farage is inexcusably rude but he is also a breath of fresh air compared to the politically-correct, lily-livered liberals and socialists who currently comprise a fair number of our elected representatives. Here's hoping UKIP kick at least one of the "main parties" into touch in Donside.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The game's a bogey

At last we seem to be getting somewhere with a sensible fisheries policy which will hopefully end the shameful practice of discards and help small boats. About time too, although it still has to get through a vote in the European Parliament. Groan. Calton is just surprised that Richard Lochhead is still a fan of the EU given the hassle he's had over this. When is the penny going to drop amongst the SNP that, if we were not in the EU, we wouldn't have the hassle? It's called 'independence' folks - if you've the bottle for it. Forget William Hague's idea of a red card - Calton thinks we should grab the ball and walk off the pitch. There are times when the game's just not worth the candle.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Some things are irreplaceable

Does anyone seriously believe the Scottish Government when it says that “We are committed to protecting wild land in Scotland"? Seriously? When every trip up north which Calton makes reveals yet more turbines dotting our hillsides, not to mention the construction site that is the Beauly-Denny power line? There is almost as much windfarm capacity in the planning pipeline as we have already built and almost four times as much is in the process of being scoped at the moment. If all is approved, we will go from the 4.4GW currently installed to nearly 30GW. How many more turbines will that be? More to the point, where will they be situated? Current proposals drawn up by SNH designate pockets of protected wild land but many truly wild areas have been left out and windfarms will be visible from many of the protected areas because the pockets are so small in size. It is a patchwork approach designed to satisfy the SNP's energy policy, not protect Scotland's scenery and related tourism industry. It's time the Scottish Government called a halt to large-scale windfarm development in Scotland's wild areas and looked instead at unobtrusive schemes such as the underground hydro generator at Inverlael near Ullapool. Because if we trash our countryside, we won't get it back.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Another step towards the Scottish Autumn

It's not surprising that the Scottish Government are bringing forward a bill on same-sex marriage before the results of their consultation on it have been published. These government consultations are looking increasingly like irrelevant nods to public opinion by a party which has no intention of listening to the electorate. All Alex Salmond's promises about protecting the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with gay marriage are only so much hot air - the only ones who will be protected, it seems, are ministers or denominations who do not want to conduct the ceremonies. There does not seem to be any protection for teachers, registrars, foster carers and would-be adopters, social workers, marriage guidance counsellors and so on and so on. If the bill is passed, it will be a huge step backwards for freedom of conscience in Scotland and a big step towards the Scottish Autumn. The fact that the SNP are trying to introduce it before the independence referendum shows some desperation on their part - they have presumably come under intense pressure from the gay lobby to do so. Not content with sowing division in Scotland with their nationalist policies, the SNP are now set to tear the nation apart over gay marriage. Their legacy is already apparent; their fate will not be long in coming.

Monday, 27 May 2013

It's willpower we lack, not legislation

Do we really need new legislation to deal with people who advocate beheadings and other such things? Surely we already have the wherewithal to act, given all the recent 'hate' crimes created by our parliaments. The problem is not lack of power - it is lack of willpower to tackle those who are promoting violence, especially, it seems, if they are Muslim. There is also an unwillingness amongst the political elite to accept that not all immigrants to this country want to become good little British citizens. Some of them despise us as morally decadent and see us as responsible for waging war on Muslims in other countries (with some justification). They don't want to become like us - they want to make us like them, by force if necessary. They use our freedom of speech for their own ends while seeing us as weak for allowing it. They have no respect for British traditions and customs - all that matters is that their violent version of Islam is implemented in this country. We have now seen the tragic consequences of our laissez-faire approach. Calton does not want to see free speech controlled but those who abuse it to promote acts of violence should feel the full force of the law of this country. Then we might all be able to feel more secure, including the moderate Muslims who have been targeted in the backlash from Drummer Rigby's murder.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Lost for words

Calton cannot summon up any enthusiasm for blogging about Scottish politics in the wake of the Woolwich murder. He is still trying to comprehend the awful truth that a British soldier has been hacked to death on the streets of London. It is truly horrendous. His deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and colleagues of Drummer Rigby.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Banking on banking reform is not a good idea

Oh dear, here we go again. The Scottish Government has now received legal advice on Scotland's position regarding the EU if we become independent, but they won't tell us what it is. Given that their position has moved from 'automatic EU membership' to 'negotiated membership' post-independence, can we really trust what they say in their forthcoming White Paper without seeing the advice which is behind it? And can we really trust the SNP with our savings when Nicola Sturgeon seems to be banking on global reform of the banking sector to prevent a repeat of 2008? What about pension protection? Does Scotland have enough solvent company pension schemes to pay in to our own protection scheme so that members of collapsed pension schemes are compensated? Calton thinks not. As far as pensions go, there is definitely strength in numbers. A lot of questions like this are going to surface over the next 16 months and the Yes campaign are going to have to come up with better answers than they have done to date if they want to have any hope of convincing the likes of Calton that Scotland should go it alone.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Not so expert independence experts

Nicola Sturgeon has rolled out Hollywood film producer Iain Smith, award-winning chef Roy Brett and events expert Prof Joe Goldblatt to back her argument that Scotland would be better off independent. Unfortunately, Brett seems to be confused between Westminster, which is in charge of VAT, and the EU, which determines our fishing policy. Under the SNP's plans, an independent Scotland would only be able to control the former - the fishing policy would still be out of our hands. Maybe he should stick to cooking. Calton also has his doubts about Goldblatt, who thinks that an independent Scotland would "become one of the most successful tourism destinations in the world". Not once the SNP have covered it with windfarms it won't. It will also not be so attractive to film companies for location shoots once the landscape has been industrialised on a grand scale (unless the next Bond film has a helicopter chase though a windfarm as its opener). Scotland does have a lot of assets and a lot of great businesses. We are being hampered by Westminster's restrictive immigration policies, brought in because they have no control over immigration from within the EU. The answer is not "independence within Europe" but for the Scottish Government to work with Westminster to help businesses by reducing red tape (much of it from the EU), and to agree an immigration policy which takes account of Scotland's needs. Unfortunately there is not much sign of that happening between now and next September.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Haste ye back Nigel!

Calton thought for a minute that Alex Salmond was talking about himself when he was recorded as saying "This is a man who doesn't like getting challenged because, when the obnoxious views of his party are put to him, his bubble deflates very quickly." but then Calton realised that our First Minister never deflates so he must have been talking about Nigel Farage, thereby earning this blog's Black Pot of the Month award. The way Farage has been treated in Scotland, not just by the demonstrators yesterday but also by the presenter of Good Morning Scotland this morning and by the SNP leader who dismissed him by saying "people shouldn't take someone of Mr Farage's mentality seriously", is nothing short of shameful. It casts all Scots in a bad light and exposes the nasty underbelly of Scottish Nationalism. Farage is quite right to call it fascism. As someone on twitter so aptly put it:
Calton does not agree with all Farage's views but you've got to like someone who continues to speak his mind in the face of those who try to bully and intimidate us into silence. Haste ye back Nigel!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Farage and Amazon

So, let's see if Calton has this right - Amazon were given £2.5m by the Scottish Government to expand their operations in Dunfermline and Gourock and, in return, the company has paid £2.4m tax. That does not sound like a very good deal. OK, so they have created some jobs, of which quite a few have gone to Eastern Europeans. The arrangement seems to be that Alex Salmond, that well-known supporter of the EU, says that we need more immigrants to fill the jobs which his government is paying companies like Amazon to create. Here's Calton's idea - we leave the EU, stop paying companies based in Luxembourg large sums of money to provide jobs for non-UK nationals and use the money to improve the employability of our young people instead. If Amazon don't like it, they can take their low-paid jobs somewhere else. If we didn't have an open door to any EU national who wants to come and work here, we wouldn't need them. (Calton realises that he risks being mobbed a la Farage next time he visits the Canons' Gait for daring to air such views but, tant pis, someone needs to say it.) The bottom line is this - subsidising industry to locate here doesn't work in the long term. Improving the skills of our workforce does.