Sunday, 31 March 2013

Plook next year?

Calton is not at all surprised that Fort William was a runner-up in this year's Carbuncle award. Its once thriving High Street is now a dismal desert full of empty shops. The situation will only become worse when the new Tesco opens on the Mallaig road, as shoppers to the north and west of the town will no longer drive the extra miles into town to visit Morrisons, which is then only an underpass away from the High Street. Local gossip has it that there are plans to open the High Street to traffic again - a good idea in Calton's opinion. There's no point in having a pedestrianised street when there are no shoppers. Having cars moving along it may just bring some life back into it, especially if they also allow free, short-stay parking. Like it or not, the car is here to stay and charging people through the nose to park does not encourage them to patronise their local town centre. Hopefully the threat of actually being presented with the Plook on a Plinth next year will concentrate the minds of those responsible for Fort William town centre planning, because up until now it has been a disaster. Time for some blue-sky thinking to match the recent weather in sunny Lochaber!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Calton is on his holidays, and is having to pay through the beak for wifi in this beautiful but 3G-free part of Scotland, so don't expect anything scintillating for the next few days. Normal service will be resumed after Easter. In the meantime, he might manage a tweet or two. You can follow him on @CaltonHillEagle.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

More facts, less rhetoric

If Nicola Sturgeon wants to build confidence in Scotland's ability to go it alone, she needs to do so on the foundation of facts, not rhetoric. Information, not assertion. Reality, not spin. Otherwise it's just so much hot air and, as we have already seen, that doesn't go far. Calton has really struggled to summon up the enthusiasm to blog about the SNP's spring conference because it just seems like the same old, same old stuff. They can't win on rational argument so they have to appeal to the emotions. Of course Scotland could go it alone - very few people who are planning to vote NO think that it can't. They just think it would be better not to. Small is not always beautiful. The SNP are also not helping their cause by acting like mini-dictators - Calton was actually an 'undecided' with regard to independence until the SNP started throwing their weight around and ignoring the voters who put them in power, like the people who turned up to hand a petition against windfarms in to the SNP conference. Alex Salmond refused to meet them. If Scotland votes NO in 2014 the SNP have only themselves to blame.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Not enough hot air

It seems that there is no point in looking to Holyrood for an alternative energy source - students have measured the hot air coming out of Westminster and have discovered that, even if all the MPs were talking at once, they would only generate the equivalent of 10 hairdryers! No wonder Calton is freezing - even if you add the heat generated by MSPs burning off their political lunches you still wouldn't get enough to keep the eyrie at a reasonable temperature. Meanwhile the chill wind of press restriction continues to blow through both parliaments - Holyrood Mouse must be feeling a bit like the hamster which was rescued from a blizzard earlier this week. Calton has just signed the Blog Off petition for an unregulated blogosphere and Nick Pickles, Director of Big Brother Watch, has a thoughful article on bloggers and press regulation on Conservative Home. Depending on who you listen to, blogs such as this one, which is not for profit and written by one person, would not be covered by the proposed new Royal Charter however we have yet to find out what the impact on Scotland will be and so Calton is keeping his tinder dry (as much as he can in this weather). The threat to freedom of speech remains a very real one.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Settling for Plan B

Calton is indebted to the First Minister for explaining the difference between fiscal policy and monetary policy at FMQs today, however he is not sure if Alex answered Johann Lamont's question, namely, does the First Minister have a Plan B if the Bank of England doesn't give us good terms on Sterling? Calton is also not so sure that you can separate fiscal and monetary policy quite so easily as the First Minister seemed to be suggesting. Granted, the Bank of England is nominally independent of Westminster, however the inflation target which it is trying to meet is set by Westminster and, should one be in any doubt about the link between the Chancellor and the BofE, the former gave the latter a new remit yesterday in the Budget. Would the Chancellor of an independent Scotland be able to do the same? What if the two Chancellors do not agree on monetary policy? Under the SNP's plans, Scotland would be able to set taxes and spending levels but would not be in control of interest rates, inflation or the money supply. Perhaps Johann is putting her question the wrong way round - why are the SNP settling for Plan B for an independent Scotland when we could have a Plan A?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Banks, blogs and the Budget

To be honest, Calton is still worrying about mulling over the ramifications of the new press laws Royal Charter and the escalating situation in Cyprus to be bothered about think about the Budget. No more fuel duty increases for the time being and a cut in the price of a pint are obviously a good thing but will pale into insignificance if the money in Calton's bank account can be raided at the drop of a hat to prop up ailing banks or if a complaint against this blog results in a huge fine. It's enough to make anyone burn the midnight oil, thereby depleting even further the resources which the OBR and the First Minister so spectacularly fail to agree on.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Don't mention the war(s) Alex

Calton does not often find himself in agreement with the Libdems, either north or south of the border, especially when they start claiming that they are influencing the other parties, however Sir Malcolm Bruce has hit the nail on the head in his speech to the Scottish Libdem Conference when he talks about the damaging effect of the current SNP Government on Scotland. Watching a few FMQs is enough to convince anyone that absolute power has corrupted absolutely and the SNP have no intention of answering any questions that don't suit them. Accountability is zero in this majority situation. When the First Minister starts harking back to Iraq in response to questions from Johann Lamont you know he's struggling. He'll be taunting Ruth Davidson with Chamberlain's appeasement next and when he resorts to Churchill's resignation from the Asquith Liberal Government over Gallipoli, the bottom of the barrel will have been well and truly scraped. Oh, for a decent opposition leader to puncture his pomposity! Is it any wonder that Orkney and Shetland are talking about leaving a Scotland run by Salmond?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Toleration or totalitarianism - that is the choice

Calton is extremely disappointed to learn that Highland Council is opposed to allowing opt-outs for registrars who do not agree with same-sex marriage. You can't force someone to believe something, whether it is the Bible, the Koran, the Great Pumpkin or gay marriage. In stating their opposition to opt-outs the council are saying to some registrars that their beliefs don't matter, are of no value and can be trampled on. In effect, "toe the line or face the boot". Who exactly at the council has decided this? Is it the democratically elected councillors or is it some politically correct civil servants? Whoever it is, they are trying to justify their decision by quoting a 2011 survey which purports to show a majority in the Highlands in favour of same-sex marriage. Calton finds that very hard to believe. Even if true, does that mean that the rights and beliefs of the minority can be disregarded? Is that the sort of society we want to live in? Gay marriage is an incredibly divisive issue, with strong feelings on both sides. If we cannot learn to tolerate each other's views on this and allow opt-outs, we will end up with a totalitarian society. That is the choice we face.


It seems that Calton was wrong when he said that Margo MacDonald's bills (plural) had some built-in safeguards. Apparently the requirement for an independent psychiatric assessment has been removed in her second attempt to get an assisted suicide bill through the Scottish Parliament. Even more reason to boot it out again.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Talk to the shovel

The levy on savers in Cyprus banks is a worrying new development in the Eurozone crisis. Supposedly to teach savers not to save with dodgy banks, instead it is punishing ordinary people by relieving them of at least 6.75% of their savings in return for shares in those dodgy banks. The natural result is that they are all rushing to withdraw their money, with the help of a JCB in one case. If the ECB thinks that savers in other Eurozone countries will not be following suit and stuffing money under their mattresses, they are extremely naive. And if the Germans think that their insistence on this measure will not fan already smoldering resentment against them into roaring flames, they are mad. They have picked on Cyprus, rather than the PIGS, because it is small, weak and has reportedly been a sink for laundered money. Now the plug has been well and truly pulled, the dirty money will go elsewhere and honest savers will be the poorer. The Germans seem to think that is a price worth paying in order to send a tough message to feckless economies - their Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called the levy part of the "fair" distribution of the bailout's burden. Try telling that to the JCB driver.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The threat of a Scottish Winter

Well, there is a first time for everything and this is the first time that Calton can say that he wholeheartedly agrees with Patrick Harvie MSP. The Green Party Co-Convenor talks a lot of sense when he says that "If the will exists in Scotland to see the Leveson proposals implemented, it should not be beyond our ability to ensure that professional, commercial media organisations are properly regulated, but individual citizens are not caught up in the same system." Amen to that. As regular readers will know, free speech is very dear to Calton's heart and so, while he condemns the excesses of the press which led to Leveson, he does not believe that the type of legislation being proposed by the McCluskey Report is either desirable or practical. Of particular concern is the way in which McCluskey attempts to bring all 'news-related publishers' under the same umbrella, regardless of whether they are a not-for-profit, personal blog, such as this one, or part of Murdoch's empire. Although the Report acknowledges, in para 43, that individual blogs would not necessarily have to contribute to funding the new Regulatory Body, the threat is there and would be sufficient to close down many blogs, including this one, if enacted. That would indeed bring about, not just a Scottish Autumn, but a full-on Scottish Winter.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Heading for the cliff

Enough already. Just when we thought that EU leaders had agreed a budget, the EU Parliament wants to  renegotiate it. What are the chances of it being agreed by the end of the year, in order to stop a funding shortfall? Slim to none, in Calton's book. Looks like the MEPs are suffering from fiscal cliff envy - anything the US can do, Europe can do better. We should never have signed the Lisbon Treaty, which is what gave the EU Parliament the power to throw a spanner in the works. Bad idea. It is not inconceivable that all David Cameron's efforts to impose some sort of restraint on EU spending will be overturned by free-spending, anti-austerity MEPs as they rush, lemming-like, towards the cliff. Bring on the EU referendum Dave!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Your life in their hands?

Calton is very concerned to learn that the Procurator Fiscal decided that it was not in the public interest to prosecute Dr Iain Kerr for helping patients end their own lives by prescribing drugs and giving advice on what constituted a fatal overdose. Although Dr Kerr insisted that the families of the patients concerned be consulted, it is clear that no second medical opinion was sought about whether the patients were in their right mind and not acting under any undue influence - basic safeguards which were included in Margo MacDonald's 2010 End of Life (Assistance) bill. Instead, Dr Kerr seems to have acted as both judge and jury on the patients' mental state. This is extremely dangerous, and the fact that the GMC suspended Dr Kerr for 6 months because his actions were, among other things, "not in your patient's best interest" speaks for itself. Calton does not support Margo's repeated attempts to legalise assisted suicide but he recognises that at least her bills have some built-in safeguards. There is absolutely no place in our society for GPs to be taking the law into their own hands and making such life or death decisions on their own. In Calton's opinion it was very much in the public interest for Dr Kerr to have been prosecuted and the same goes for any other GP thinking of emulating him.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Keep politics out of schools

Calton is not in favour of extending the voting franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds for the independence referendum. Yes, some of them may well be mature enough to understand the issues and make a reasoned decision, but many of them will struggle to understand the financial and constitutional arguments and, in the absence of such understanding, will be swayed by peer pressure, emotionalism and how their parents vote. Calton is particularly concerned at the inevitable politicisation of schools if pupils become eligible to vote. At the moment, many schools hold mock debates around the time of elections, which is fine and teaches young people about the way a democracy works, but introducing real politics into the school environment could be a powder-keg. There are also implications involved in adding under-18s to the voters register - Calton would like to know how much it is going to cost local authorities to do this and where the money is going to come from? The SNP are obviously hoping that bringing in this legislation will support their cause. For the Libdems and Labour to be supporting it is something akin to turkeys voting for Christmas.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A room with a view?

The red, yellow and blue tower blocks always did look rather out of place towering over Kincardine, and so Calton finds it hard to mourn their passing, but the fact remains that they provided 181 homes whereas now there will only be 81. 100 homes lost to a council which suspended the right to buy in 2006 because of a shortage of council houses. It may be that there were good reasons to demolish the blocks but Calton does wonder if we are missing a trick here. The towers should possibly never have been built in the first place but they seemed to be the solution at a time when there was a shortage of housing and we are still in that situation today. If Park Hill flats in Sheffield can be renovated, is there something we can learn from them? The architects of these buildings did not design them as cheap and nasty boxes for the masses - they genuinely tried to provide quality housing for the large numbers of families who needed it and it was welcomed at the time. Part of the reason why such housing fell into disfavour is not so much the design but the lack of maintenance and lack of will to deal with problem tenants. If we sorted those problems then perhaps we would not need to be quite so gung-ho with the demolition button. (Of course Calton may be biased - he does like a room high up with a view.)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Man up and call off the cybernats

We're all going to be filthy rich (dances on table top) ... well maybe. Calton thinks that he will just wait a while before buying a boat and calling it the Silver Dollar, because oil prices can go down as well as up. It all depends on who you listen to. Undeterred by David Cameron's bruising encounter with the OBR this week, John Swinney has decided to go head-to-head with them over oil revenue forecasts. Nothing like not learning from other peoples' mistakes. Of course Swinney has to pull something from the bag after the embarrassing leak of last week. The trouble is, he's now leaving the SNP open to the charge of just manufacturing their own figures whenever those of other people don't suit them. (The same goes for the Scotland in or out of the EU post-independence argument.) At some point, the SNP are going to have to accept that not every statistic or report is going to back independence and their response should be to give a reasoned answer and get on with it, not counter with their own set of figures or pet expert. And slagging off a journalist like Douglas Fraser just because they don't like what he says does not help their cause. Man up, SNP and call off the cybernats.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Boot out the blacklisters

There is no place in Scotland for companies who blacklist workers for speaking out about health and safety issues or for belonging to a trade union. Calton fully supports the workers who held a rally in Dundee today against the practice of blacklisting. Their requests that companies that use blacklists are banned from getting future government contracts and that a full inquiry into the practice is held are entirely justified. The Scottish Government has said that it is opposed to blacklisting. It now needs to put its money where its mouth is and make sure that companies tendering for government contracts are properly vetted to ensure that their hiring procedures are above board. Just saying that they are 'not aware' of any blacklisting taking place is not enough. Men have lost their livelihoods just for raising concerns in their workplace. This then deters others from speaking out for fear of suffering the same fate in this time of recession. The result is that health and safety in the construction industry becomes the casualty. Our workers deserve better.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Cockroach or fruitcake?

So Nigel Farage has been cosying up to Rupert Murdoch. So what? Calton wishes a few politicians would cosy up to him because that cold wind coming off the North Sea is really getting in amongst his feathers! Perhaps he should move temporarily to Brighton - there's certainly plenty of hot air coming out of the Libdem conference. Good old Ming seems to have lost his marbles, as demonstrated by his Radio 4 interview where he said that Eastleigh gave them "cause for optimism". They turned out in strength and still only managed 32% of the vote! If rumours of Farage's conversation with Murdoch are true and UKIP do manage to tie up with the Tories under someone other than Cameron, the Libdems are stuffed. Tis a result devoutly to be desired because, let's face it, who wants to be governed by a party of cockroaches? Calton would rather have fruitcakes any day.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Cheap and dirty - the way to go

Not only are American households seeing lower energy bills thanks to fracking, it now transpires that the US is dumping coal they no longer want on to the international market with the result that Scottish coal miners now face redundancy because the price has dropped. Good news for the US but bad news for Scotland. Our energy policy is in a mess - we are desecrating our wild land with windfarms and yet a wave power facility in Inverness is closing, coal is cheap and plentiful and yet we are converting Cockenzie to run on gas instead. We really need to get our act together and formulate an energy policy that keeps the lights on and the bills down while sustaining Scottish jobs -  just building windfarms is not going to do it. Time for the Scottish Government to recognise that clean and green is all very well but cheap and dirty is better. Otherwise the First Minister's words today about providing support to miners facing redundancy will be pretty cold comfort.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Squealing about cuts

Forget all the comparisons with the rest of the UK. The bottom line is that Scotland spent more than it earned last year. Even taking the most generous view of income, by splitting North Sea revenues geographically rather than per capita, we overspent by £3.4bn. That is a heck of a lot of money. Calton has always maintained that the SNP would have to raise taxes in an independent Scotland in order to finance their profligate spending. Now it transpires that, secretly, they are planning cuts instead, including cuts to our pensions. The SNP have also started to realise that oil revenues are volatile - nice to see that you've caught up guys. Better late than never. Now that we are all singing off the same page, how about coming clean with the costs of becoming independent, such as setting up our own tax system, foreign office, defence etc etc etc? Or does Calton have to get the claws out before you'll squeal?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Hoping for a landslide

Whether or not you agree with capping banker's bonuses, it is very worrying that the UK is not in control of the decision, which is being forced through by a majority vote in the EU. This is a decision which should be made in Westminster, not Brussels. No other European nation has a financial centre to compare with London. It is a major driver of our economy and needs to be protected by our parliament. George Osborne is doing his best but the real problem is our continued membership of the EU, which is not in our best interests. What is it going to take for our politicians to realise this? A landslide victory for UKIP in next year's European Parliament elections? Here's hoping!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Common sense for the common man

Knee-jerk reactions are never a good idea but one very good definition of stupidity is 'doing the same thing and expecting a different result'. Another very good definition of stupidity is thinking that winning Eastleigh on just 32% of the vote vindicates the Libdems going into coalition with the Tories and gives them more muscle in negotiations with their bedfellows. Dream on Nick. Your party only retained the seat because the anti-EU, keep-marriage-as-it-is vote was split between UKIP and the Tories. Since Dave seems determined to hang on to what he sees as the 'common ground' (does he even know the meaning of the word 'common'?) and UKIP are now on a roll with their 'common-sense' policies, we can hopefully look forward to right-of-centre voters abandoning the good ship Conservative next time and the country's first UKIP MP. Not that Calton agrees with all UKIP's policies but Nigel Farage is quite right when he says, speaking of the main three parties, that "you can't put a cigarette paper between them on policy". They are also completely out of touch with the common man. Time for a shake-up.

Friday, 1 March 2013

PC gone mad at Strathclyde HQ

Interesting that in all the hand-wringing, analyses and excuses no-one is mentioning the fact that over half the voters in Eastleigh chose candidates who are opposed to same-sex marriage. Ditto the EU. Perhaps if Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings had been able to be more vocal about her Euro-scepticism and support for traditional marriage she might not have been pushed into third place by UKIP. Unfortunately it is all too easy for Cameron to dismiss this as a 'protest vote' and a typical mid-term by-election result. Calton is wondering what his excuse will be in 2015.

In another, related, vein, it has come to Calton's attention that the Crazy Rev has been sacked as Chaplain to Strathclyde Police for expressing support for traditional marriage on his personal blog. What on earth did the Force expect? He's a Minister of the Gospel for God's sake! This is political correctness gone mad with a vengeance. Are they also going to sack all the Roman Catholic chaplains? And the Moslem ones, if they have any? Does the spiritual health and comfort of Roman Catholic or Evangelical Christian or Moslem coppers not matter any more? And whatever happened to freedom of speech? This is a very worrying development, especially for bloggers. Where will it end?