Thursday, 31 January 2013

Pay now, travel free later

Calton is all for free bus travel for pensioners but he does not understand why it starts at 60 when nobody gets their state pension at that age now and nobody will get it before age 65 in a few years' time. We are giving away free travel to working-age people right now and, unless the policy changes, the number of working-age people who benefit from it will rise as the state pension age rises. It just does not make sense. It's not as if it is difficult to work out when someone reaches state pension age. You can do it yourself by clicking on this link. Edinburgh has a reasonably good, cheap bus service but other towns and rural areas are not nearly so well-served. Small consolation to struggling workers paying higher fares on fewer buses to know that they will get the last 5 years of their commuting free.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Wanted - something to chew on

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a sea eagle in possession of a good set of claws must be in want of a prey. Sadly, Calton is still in want, the SNP having decided to do the sensible thing and agree with the Electoral Commission. The Deputy First Minister's political nous has obviously not totally deserted her. At least now we can all get on with the debate, spurred on by the knowledge that many of those questioned by the Electoral Commission wanted to know exactly what would happen after a yes or a no vote. Don't we all. Particularly with regard to EU membership. Hopefully it will not be long before Calton has something substantial he can chew on.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

It's all in the definition

It was a bit ambitious to expect the Deputy First Minister to agree in advance with the Electoral Commission's findings on the referendum question but full marks to Labour's Patricia Ferguson for trying. It all hinges now on Nicola Sturgeon's definition of a "very good reason". Calton would venture to say that "not sufficiently biased towards independence" is not a very good reason to ignore the EC's recommendations. The real question is, given the SNP's (slender) majority, will any SNP MSP have the backbone to vote against the Government if it tries to make a fool of itself by pushing through a leading referendum question? Or will they all, like lemmings, follow their leaders over the cliff?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Attack shark

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a ministerial portfolio must be in want of a fight. Richard Lochhead has therefore decided to pick one with Iceland and the Faroe Islands over mackerel. Quite right too - it's about time the Scottish Fisheries Minister showed his teeth. As far as Calton is concerned, Lochhead should quit circling round with his talk of a mediator and go in for the kill. If he wants an example of how it's done, he can always take a look here.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Queen of chutzpah

Nicola Sturgeon's chutzpah certainly knows no bounds as she uses the Royal 'we' repeatedly in her letter to European Foreign Ministers this week. Just who does she think she is speaking for when she says "we have no intention of leaving the European Union"? Not Calton, who has every intention of leaving the EU if he can possibly manage it. Not the Scottish people either, given that they have not had the chance to say one way or the other and will not get the chance under the SNP. Now that there is a possibility of an in-out EU referendum in the UK (or rUK), and given that Scotland exports four times as much to the rUK as it does to the EU, it makes far more sense for Scotland to remain part of the UK, either in or out of the EU, than it does for an independent Scotland to tie itself to the EU and risk its biggest market leaving it. Sturgeon and her SNP cohorts may have been blinded to the facts by nationalistic fervour but most Scots know which side their bread is buttered on, as confirmed by the recent drop in support for independence. The Deputy First Minister's letter to the EU Ministers looks like the increasingly desperate tactics of someone who has been handed a poisoned chalice by the First Minister and knows it. Calton could almost feel sorry for her. Almost.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Bare-faced cheek

Well, it looks like the choice open to us in Scotland is to be ruled by Brussels or ruled by London because the SNP don't have the bottle to rule from Edinburgh. They'd rather continue to have someone else to blame post-independence when things don't get better. Nicola Sturgeon wants us to be like Ireland, whose budget is now scrutinised by the EU because they've had to be bailed out of their financial difficulties. If it wasn't so sad it would be laughable - Ireland is the tiger economy which can't even mee-ow these days unless Brussels gives it permission. It is the great Broon's boom and bust writ large, complete with ghost towns. At least their European Affairs Minister still has some teeth, and a good sense of timing. Her intervention today over Scotland's continued EU membership post-independence probably had our Deputy First Minister spitting nails. Serves Nicola right for having the chutzpah to accuse David Cameron of causing business uncertainty and threatening Scottish jobs by calling for a referendum! What a cheek! Does the bare-faced effrontery of the SNP know no bounds? It seems not.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

It wis the SNP

If St Margaret's adoption agency was the only one in Scotland, there might be a case for removing its charitable status unless it was willing to provide a service for all types of potential adopters. As it is, the Roman Catholic organisation does valuable work in placing needy children with families and should not have its charitable status withdrawn, in Calton's opinion. Couples or individuals turned down by the agency can always go elsewhere to adopt. They have choice. The charity exists primarily to help vulnerable children, not gay or unmarried couples, and if they decide that heterosexual married couples are likely to provide the best home for the children they seek to place, that should be respected. Other adoption agencies may take a different view. That's called diversity. Unfortunately, what we have at present is more like equality fascism and there's no point in the likes of Mike Russell wringing his hands over St Margaret's when his party are busy promoting same-sex marriage which, if passed at Holyrood, will usher in even greater intolerance towards the Roman Catholic Church than we have at present. The SNP crossed the road to pick a fight with the Roman Catholics. They can't now say "ah didnae mean it, it wisnae me".

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

An unconstitutional bill

Sovereignty and self-determination - one way or another they are filling the news these days. Unfortunately some of our politicians don't seem to have grasped the meaning of the words. Cameron has been forced into a referendum promise on the EU because many people feel that we have given away too much sovereignty to Europe. Alex Salmond wants self-determination for Scotland, only to hand it to Brussels instead of London. As Calton understands it, the reason why we don't allow our Monarch to be a Roman Catholic is because Roman Catholics are subject to the Pope, who is not only the Head of the Roman Catholic Church but is also the Head of the Vatican State. If our Monarch was Roman Catholic, it would put our Sovereignty under the rule of the Vatican. (And the Head of the Church of England under the Pope.) So Cameron wants to repatriate powers from Brussels only to potentially hand them to Rome at some future date by abolishing the ban on successors to the throne marrying Roman Catholics. Saying that any children from such a union will not be brought up as Roman Catholics is a nonsense because any decent Roman Catholic will want to educate their children in the Roman Catholic faith. Calton is all for changing the rules of succession to stop girls being ousted by younger brothers but any other change needs to be properly scrutinised, not rushed through parliament without debate, as Cameron and Clegg are now doing. Otherwise the constitutional consequences could be profound. (For more on those consequences read this article by Cranmer.)

PS. Calton often thinks that it would be no bad thing if the Church of England was disestablished, but there's no point in doing so just to replace it with the Church of Rome.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

It's payback time

Calton is not convinced that more college places is the answer to our youth unemployment problem. Let's face it - we've tried it, with a huge increase in the number of young people going on to higher education in the last 20 years, and we still have a problem. What we really need is a return to good, old-fashioned apprenticeships, where school leavers learn a trade, and the discipline of working, while earning at the same time. Ploughing money into supporting businesses to provide such places would be worthwhile and Gavin Brown's idea of raising it by introducing a graduate tax is worth considering. If you have received free higher education and are now earning a good salary as a result, why shouldn't you pay a little back? Calton also thinks that free bus passes should only be handed out to those who have reached state pension age - it's a nonsense giving them to 60 year-olds who are still working. However, Calton parts company with Tory MSP Brown on limiting free prescriptions, as regular readers of this blog will know well.

Monday, 21 January 2013

An unconstitutional constitution

If, like Calton, you are concerned that the SNP are setting the rules for the independence referendum, you can always co-sign Alistair Darling's letter to Alex Salmond on the Better Together website. While he was there, Calton had a look around the site and he has to disagree that the National Lottery is a valid reason for Scotland to stay in the UK! How many of our poorest people have become enslaved to institutional gambling since the lottery began? Too many, and some are hooked to the extent that Camelot are quite confident that they will keep on playing even if the price is doubled. If we do become independent Calton would like to see Scotland become a lottery-free nation.

Better Together does ask a pertinent question via its twitter feed @UK_Together about whether Nicola Sturgeon's independence campaign blog should be funded by the taxpayer. Calton awaits the answer with interest. Meanwhile, The Edinburgh Coffee House has an thought-provoking article on the Claim of Right and Scotland's Constitution. Calton notes that the interests of the Scottish people are paramount in the opening words of the 1989 Claim of Right. Unfortunately he doesn't have much confidence that they are paramount in the minds of the SNP, and he finds it particularly worrying that Alex Salmond is considering tying the hands of future democratically elected Scottish Governments by making it illegal to host nuclear weapons, among other things, via a Scottish Constitution. It is a measure of the man's arrogance that he thinks that he can make decisions for all time and not just for the life of this parliament. The sooner he is booted out, the better, independence or no independence.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

It's a bit rich Dave

It's a bit rich for David Cameron to say that people "shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs" after Nadia Eweida won her case at the European Court of Human Rights. This is the man whose government did not support Eweida and three other Christians when they claimed that the government failed to protect their human rights. This is the man whose decision to go ahead with same-sex marriage legislation will cause many Christians, and those of other faiths, to be discriminated against in the workplace, when they try to adopt or foster children, when they object to their children being taught that homosexual marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage. This is the man on whose watch Christians have been demoted or sacked because they do not agree with same-sex marriage and street preachers have been arrested for simply quoting from the Bible. Cameron plays the 'Christian' card when it suits him but Calton, for one, isn't buying it. Handsome is as handsome does Dave.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A false idea of equality

Calton found it quite chilling the way that three of the panel in last night's Any Questions? were either totally complacent that the introduction of same-sex marriage would have no effect on those who disagreed with it or were quite happy to see anyone who did disagree with it given the sack. Bronwen Maddox thinks that people should be free to do as they like, except refuse to marry a gay couple, Oliver Letwin has no idea of the impact the legislation which he supports is going to have on teachers and Ben Bradshaw seems to think that, as long as churches are not forced to conduct gay marriages, everything's fine. In Calton's opinion, only UKIP's Steve Crowther correctly analysed the situation we now have when he said that it was all about David Cameron, who has deliberately crossed the road to pick a fight with religious groups. No wonder voters are switching to UKIP. Same-sex marriage legislation will only make this country a fairer society if there is reasonable accommodation of those who disagree with it. What the Westminster and Scottish Governments need to remember is that people like Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane have not changed their beliefs - the Government has changed the rules. Both those people have been sacked when reasonable accommodation could have been made for them. They have been sacrificed to the god of a false idea of equality and to Cameron's ambition. They won't be the last.

Oh - and Jonathan - don't look now but your anti-UKIP prejudice is showing.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Freedom Fries and Horse Burgers

The President of the European Parliament has warned that, if the UK tries to renegotiate its agreement with the EU, it could result in the EU breaking up. Here's hoping! 'Tis a disintegration much to be desired, here, if not in the State of Denmark. Meanwhile, President Obama continues to usurp the democratic role of the British people by pressuring David Cameron to stay in Europe, for the sake of the USA, ignoring the fact that the British Prime Minister is not bound to act in the best interests of American citizens. If the USA is so keen on the EU they should join it themselves instead of trying to use a surrogate. It is only 10 years since Americans were renaming those little thin things that come with burgers 'Freedom Fries' over France's opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion. Since when did Europe become flavour of the month with the burger-eating invasion-monkeys? Do they really want their favourite food laced with horse-meat?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Show me the money!

Alex Salmond is of the opinion that most people will not be better off as a result of the Westminster Government's pension changes, however he's not giving any detail of what he and his party would do about pensions if Scotland becomes independent. There was the usual guff at FMQs today about how the Scottish Government is doing its best but is limited under the current arrangements and how much better things would be if we all just vote the right (SNP) way in 2014. Calton has only one thing to say to that. "Show me the money!"

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Let down by the Lords

Lord Forsyth was obviously of the same mind as Calton as he tried to torpedo the progress of the Section 30 order through the Lords today. Sadly he didn't succeed and so Alex Salmond and the SNP are free to ignore the advice of the Electoral Commission if they so wish. They probably do wish, since not listening to people seems to be their forte. Looks like Calton's confidence in the House of Lords was a bit misplaced. He is therefore heading off to bed with his head firmly under his wing and a resolution to try not to worry about the effect independence might have on his pension. Otherwise he'll never get any sleep.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Man the torpedoes!

Calton totally agrees with Margaret Curran because it certainly wasn't the independence debate that was keeping him burning the midnight oil last night - it was the thought of the 5 more qualifying years of NI contributions now needed for his pension! He can't actually see Bute House from his eyrie but he is willing to bet that, if Alex Salmond was awake in the wee small hours, it was not due to worrying about his MSP's pension. By the time the referendum on independence happens, goodness knows how much money will have been spent on it, money that could arguably have been better spent in this trying time, and so we must have an answer that is clear and decisive. It is therefore worrying that the sounds coming from the SNP camp are still ambiguous as to whether they will abide by the Electoral Commission's scrutiny of the referendum question. Michael Moore has fired a warning shot across the bows of the good ship SNP over their dodging of the issue. Calton would have aimed below the waterline.

Monday, 14 January 2013

This time it's personal

Calton was checking the headlines to see if there was anything worth commenting on but he didn't get further than the one on the proposed pension changes. By the time he'd finished checking to see if he is affected (he is), and had dashed off an angry letter to his MP, it was gone 10pm so the choice was blog on the pensions or not at all. He is sure many readers will empathise, particularly those who, like Calton, are nearer retirement than not. How the hell can any of us plan for it when the Government keeps changing the goalposts? Not only does Calton now have to wait until he is 66 before he gets the state pension, he now has to have 35 years of NI contributions when he thought he was home and dry with 30 years! And what is going to happen to his SERPS contributions? He entrusted the Government with them, instead of contracting out, in the expectation that they would give him an enhanced pension. Is that still going to happen? Or are they going to get swallowed up in the flat rate pension so that he gets the same as someone who didn't pay extra contributions? Calton is all in favour of simplifying things (and a decent basic pension) but if you don't reward savers, people will not save. Simples!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Attack Fox

David Cameron must be wishing that he had enough of a majority to overturn the ban on hunting foxes with dogs after Liam Fox's recent intervention on same-sex marriage. With phrases like "ill thought through" and "made on the hoof", the former Defence Secretary has gone on the attack and given the Government a mauling over its proposed legislation. Quite right too - it's a dog's breakfast of a bill, particularly with regard to the Church of England exemption. It seems to Calton, and others, that the reason Cameron (and Salmond north of the border) are so keen to press ahead with this particular legislation has more to do with their legacies than anything else. They may not be able to sort the welfare state or bring down the deficit (or achieve Scottish independence) but they can always say that they were the ones who introduced gay marriage. And, by the time society wakes up to the fact that marriage and the family have been fatally undermined by lax divorce laws, removal of tax benefits for married couples and the redefinition of the very nature of marriage, both Cameron and Salmond will be history. That day can't come too soon for Calton.

Friday, 11 January 2013

There is such a thing as bad publicity

Calton would like to applaud the staff member who took a baby reindeer into Yorkhill Children's Hospital before Christmas so that children who were too ill to go outside could share in the fun. OK, so maybe they should have asked permission but it's heartwarming to think that something like that can still happen in this age of red tape and Elf Ann Safetee. It must have made the kids' day. Let's just hope they didn't then watch Snow Babies on BBC1, where one of Calton's relatives over in Scandinavia was seen snaffling a young reindeer for lunch. Not good PR for Sea Eagles even if they didn't show all the gory details! Calton would like to reassure any young readers he may have that he only eats politicians, and, if the ones at Westminster keep on shooting themselves in the foot, they will be easy prey!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Tell them where to go Dave!

Oh great. Yesterday the Americans were expressing concern over our possible exit from the EU. Now we have the Germans weighing in and telling us we're better off in Europe. Well they would say that, wouldn't they! They don't want to lose one of the few net contributors to the project. Unemployment in Spain is around 25%, Greece is an economic ruin and yet we're supposed to believe that being a part of the EU is economically beneficial. What rot. We've clearly got the Germans worried, judging by their scare-mongering tactics, but they have a cheek to tell us we can't renegotiate treaties when they are busy rewriting the rules of the Eurozone, with an impact on all member countries of the EU. Calton's German does not extend to the equivalent of "butt out" but that is definitely what Dave should be saying to Angela. Schnell!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Bring it on Dave!

As an advocate of free speech, Calton defends the right of the US to express its concern over our future relationship with the EU. It's a free world, after all, and we are free to tell the US to mind its own business. Especially since they have only temporarily avoided the fiscal cliff - perhaps a bit more looking inward on their part would not go amiss. The EU is not what it was even 12 months ago, never mind when we first joined, and so David Cameron is quite right to look at renegotiating the deal, especially in the light of the ever closer integration of the Eurozone countries, with corresponding treaty changes. It has taken a while but the Great British public are finally waking up to the fact that the EU train is going full steam ahead towards a European super-state and that is a direction many people in the UK do not wish to go. It's high time we had a referendum on our continued membership of the EU. Bring it on Dave!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Scottish values

So the SNP have set up a team of experts to look at alternatives to the benefit cuts being brought in by the Westminster Government. Nicola Sturgeon, in an interview in the Sunday Herald, makes it clear that the Coalition Government are being unfair and are out of step with "Scottish values" when it comes to welfare. They may well be but they are also trying to cut the deficit racked up by Labour, some of which Scotland will inherit if we become independent. The experts are expected, among other things, to "provide assurance" on the Scottish Government's cost estimates for its welfare plans. Sounds like they have already been told what the answer should be. Will any of them dare to stick their head above the parapet if the SNP's sums don't add up? Calton is sure that most Scots would like things like free personal care for the elderly and free prescriptions to continue but we have to be able to pay for them. Calton wonders if, in her eagerness to distance her party from Westminster, Nicola has forgotten that being careful with the pennies is also a good old "Scottish value".

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Calton's New Year Homily

If you accept an offer of employment from a company, you need to abide by the conditions of employment imposed by that company. If you don't like them, you are free to find another job. If you want to join a political party, you need to subscribe to the beliefs of that particular party. Otherwise, don't join. If your interest is knitting, don't join the local motorcycle gang and expect them to abandon their bikes in favour of knitting needles. We all understand that. So why do people who don't accept the Bible's teaching on homosexuality join organisations which are based on the teachings of the Bible? No-one is forcing them to do so - they have a choice. There's nothing to stop them forming their own organisations based on their own beliefs. Perhaps Calton is being simplistic but it seems to him that if you don't like the rules of the group, find another group or start your own. If everyone adopted that philosophy, the Church of England would not be in its current ridiculous position vis-a-vis homosexual Bishops. Alternatively, if the CofE were not so hell-bent on maintaining unity, it would have split long ago and both sides could now be concentrating on other more important things. There's a limit to how diverse an organisation can be before it loses its fundamental cohesiveness and/or its raison d'etre. It is maybe presumptuous of Calton to pontificate on the problems of the CofE since he is not a member of that, or indeed any, church, however, if he was able to give advice to His Grace, who has temporarily taken over the reins at Lambeth Palace, it would be to acknowledge the fault lines which already exist and pave the way for an amicable split. Because this is one of the few instances where divorce really is better than continued bickering.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

We need to talk about immigration

The publication of The Prince's Trust Youth Index 2013 Report yesterday has triggered quite a bit of debate about the plight of our young NEETs. Basically, young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training are twice as likely to feel that they can't cope with life compared with their employed peers and many young people despair of ever finding a job. There has been much discussion on the part family breakdown plays in all this (major) and the effects of the recession (great) however no-one seems to be mentioning the obvious elephant in the room - immigration. Easy availability of hard working young people from other EU countries who are willing to work here for low pay has kept businesses going and has allowed our politicians to ignore for too long the fact that many of our own young people are unemployable. No wonder politicians think that immigration is a good thing! They have been hiding the failings of our education system and the bitter fruit of easier divorce laws behind it and our youngsters are now paying the price. Youth unemployment has rocketed and won't get any better once the Bulgarians and Romanians are also allowed to come and work here. How can any country control its economy when it can't control its borders? Unfortunately, immigration has become the new taboo subject - if you don't believe Calton, just try mentioning it at the next dinner party you go to!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013