Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sheep, deer and now windfarms?

At last - someone on the Yes campaign talking sense about a Scottish currency post-independence. Dennis Canavan usually does talk sense, which makes Calton wonder why he is backing Yes Scotland? Oh well, we all have our blind spots, although Canavan is spot on with his analysis of why Scotland should have its own currency rather than Sterling. Unfortunately the SNP continue to be deaf as well as blind to the views of their Yes Scotland partners, or perhaps Calton should say fortunately, as it plays right into the hands of the unionists and Calton is becoming more pro-union with every day that passes.

Talking of blind spots, it looks like Calton is going to need a few when he visits the mountains in future. If the new plans to protect wild land from wind farm development go ahead, he will be safe from flying into a turbine, however, it looks like the pockets of designated mountainous wild land are going to be surrounded by seas of turbines and so the view is hardly going to be unspoilt. Also, some very scenic and wild lower areas are not included in the core areas of wild land drawn up by SNH, notably large parts of Ardgour, Ardnamurchan, Moidart and Morar, which presumably means that they will be targeted by windfarm developers. This seems completely crass given the near-impossibility of building any houses in some of those areas due to draconian planning restrictions. If new houses have been deemed to be detrimental to the scenic nature of eg Moidart, how much more detrimental will wind turbines be! Calton thinks that SNH should go away and think again.

Monday, 29 April 2013

What planet are they on?

It seems that John Swinney doesn't believe the SNP's line that it will be alright on the night either when it comes to independence and company pensions, according to the word on the twittersphere this evening. If Calton had a subscription to The Times he could read all about it online. As it is, all he can see is the first paragraph of the relevant article. That is worrying enough, with its mention of the 'substantial changes at a European level to safeguard all the current private sector pension funds' which would be needed. Swinney is far more optimistic than Calton if he thinks that the problems are surmountable. This is the EU we are talking about. The words 'tanker' and 'change of direction' come to mind. It's not the same as pulling a few levers and sending the train down a different track, Mr Signalman Swinney. It really seems sometimes that the main qualifications for belonging to the SNP are positive thinking and an outrageous optimism that defies reality. Living on another planet also helps.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pensions - no laughing matter

It is a well known fact that we are not saving enough towards our retirement in this country, however it is a miracle that anyone is bothering to save for it at all, given all the current uncertainty surrounding pensions. First, we had the Westminster Government moving the goalposts (and Calton is still trying to work out exactly how many years National Insurance contributions he has) and now we have the possibility that a yes vote in the independence referendum will throw another huge spanner in the works for Scots. Does anybody really believe the SNP's line that it will all be alright on the night? Not Calton. He wants to see the figures, especially since part of his retirement income is going to come from a UK-wide company pension scheme. EU insistence that cross-border schemes be fully funded is a) going to prove a major headache if Scotland becomes independent and b) could scupper a large number of company pension schemes and, indeed, companies, not to mention the pension expectations of their employees. At the risk of being branded a clown by Ken Clarke (pot? kettle?) Calton sees this as yet another good reason for us to leave the EU (and stay in the UK).

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Stamping out stamp duty

It's about time the stamp duty on property was revised, although Calton tends to agree with Stephen O'Neill of Newton Property, Glasgow, who advocated a tax on profit when you sell rather than a tax when you purchase on today's John Beattie show. Interesting idea, however it looks like John Swinney is going to stay with taxing buyers, albeit on a sliding scale rather than the current system which involves a step change at certain values, with a knock-on effect on the market around those prices. Calton is not sure how much the change will help first-time buyers outside of the Capital given that most will be looking to spend under the current limit of £125k rather than the new proposed threshold for the tax at £180k, however the measure will help lower income home owners to move tax-free and will also benefit pensioners downsizing to smaller properties below the new threshold. It's definitely an improvement on the old system and, since Calton is not a property millionaire, or even a semi-millionaire, he is seriously considering delaying his next property move until after the introduction in 2015.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Ahm no playin wi you

It doesnae matter how much you want to play - if the other team grab the ball and walk off the pitch, you're scuppered. If the other team are the rUK with George Osborne as manager, they'll probably take the goalposts as well. OK, so John Swinney can throw a strop and refuse to pay oor share o' the debt. Nah nah ni nah nah! (Thumbs nose.) Or the SNP could grow up and realise that they can't always have things all their own way. That would be a good starting point for negotiations in the event of Scottish independence, instead of all the current assertions from the Scottish Government which seem to completely ignore the fact that, if rUK don't want to play ball, there's nothing we can do about it. If Swinney is genuine about having a "rational and considered discussion" with Westminster, it's time he actually put his mouth where his money is and got on with said discussion. At the moment there's far too much rhetoric and not nearly enough reality.

Monday, 22 April 2013

How to lose the grey vote

There may be a case for taxing better off pensioners at the same rate as younger people, and universal benefits such as free bus passes certainly should not start until state pension age, however the idea that pensioners should pay more council tax on their homes is just not on. Yes, it would be sensible for people to downsize as they age, thus freeing family-sized homes for families, however it just isn't that simple. People get very attached to their homes, especially when they've worked hard all their lives to pay for them and have invested a lot of time and effort into them. Finding a suitable smaller home is not always easy, nor is selling a larger home in this era of stalled and stagnant housing markets. Also, pensioners with larger houses do not always have the income to go with them. The real solution to the housing problem is to build more houses and lend more money to those who want to buy them. Many older people are already helping their children and grandchildren to buy homes by providing deposit money. The better off pensioners are also providing employment for an army of carers, cleaners, gardeners etc and a lot of the money tied up in houses eventually finds its way back to the state via care home fees when elderly people are no longer able to stay at home. Think tanks like the Fabian Society obviously have to justify their existence by coming up with wacky left-of-field policies every now and then. Politicians with any sense ignore them.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Good week, bad week

Calton has just had an email informing him that his energy bill will be increased by 27.5% as of next month. How much of this, he wonders, is going to fund wind turbines like the one in Hatton, Aberdeenshire which blew down in a gale recently? If, instead of subsidising windfarms, our government subsidised clean coal power stations, perhaps Scottish Coal would not now be in administration with the loss of nearly 600 jobs. Miners facing redundancy will hardly be cheered by the sight of turbines popping up all over the countryside, as windfarms do not bring much long-term employment, although there may be some jobs going in clearing up the fallen ones after every storm. There's no such thing as an ill wind......That was the bad week. The good week is that this blog will not be affected by the new press regulation, seeing as how the turnover is zilch and the number of employees is zero, Calton being the sole, self-employed author. Also, those who, like Calton, are feeling somewhat disenfranchised by the main Scottish political parties now have a new one to vote for - The Alliance Party of Scotland. About time too.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The first sour grapes - 2013 vintage

Yet another person who should think first, tweet second - SNP Councillor Gillian Renwick.

She's now backpedalling fast, saying that she was only 'asking a question'. Aye right, Gillian!

Throw away the key

Is Calton the only one who is thoroughly sickened by convicted criminals complaining that their sentences are too long? The latest one is Colin Ross, sentenced to a minimum of 20 years for beating an American woman senseless on the Great Glen Way. She later died of her injuries, inflicted with a metal pipe and a boulder. Ross has been assessed as being a high risk to the public if at liberty and, if Calton had his way, would never see the outside of a prison again. So why is his sentence being reviewed? The answer seems to be because a couple of other criminals, convicted of particularly nasty crimes, have had their sentences reduced. Is our legal system going completely insane? Does public protection not matter any more? Are our appeal court judges totally out of touch with public opinion? It's high time Kenny MacAskill got in there and sorted this out.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Standing up for the underemployed

Calton has always wondered how the Office for National Statistics comes up with the figure for the total number of people out of work, given that the only hard measure which we have is the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance, and this is always lower than the total unemployment figure. Be that as it may, it is encouraging to see a fall in the number of unemployed in Scotland, coupled with a rise in the number of people in work. What is not so encouraging is the rise in recent years of the 'underemployed' - those who are in work but not for as many hours as they would like to be, or not using their skills fully. Calton is not convinced that the answer to this is more training - it's not lack of skills which is the problem but a lack of decent, full-time jobs - however it is good to see that the plight of the underemployed has been recognised by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee at Holyrood. According to the Convener of the Committee, Murdo Fraser MSP, the effect of underemployment can be similar to that of unemployment on both income and the ability to get a job in the future. While there is a limit to what the Scottish Government can do in this situation, cracking down on unscrupulous employers who are moving employees onto self-employed or zero-hours contracts would be a good start. Employees are in a vulnerable position at the moment due to the recession - the government needs to ensure that their rights are protected.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sense and sensibility

The decision to postpone the Holyrood debate on Thatcher's legacy is a triumph of sense and sensibility in Calton's opinion. Whether or not there is such a thing as society is a pertinent question in 21st century Scotland and worthy of debate. Delaying it by one day will hopefully ensure that MSPs from all parties can contribute their views and will avoid the slur of insensitivity being cast upon the Scottish Parliament.

There is no doubt in Calton's mind that there has been a marked decline in neighbourliness and a marked increase in insularity in many areas of Scotland since the 1970s, particularly urban areas. Whether this was caused by Margaret Thatcher's policies or would have happened anyway is harder to determine. The decline of traditional industries and the sell-off of council houses certainly broke up some communities but can hardly be blamed for the rise of the individualism which now characterises our society. Communities are often born out of adversity and so it is more likely that the boom years of the Blair-Brown Government are responsible for the me-first-to-hell-with-everyone-else mentality we now have, although it may have its roots in the Thatcher years. Certainly New Labour did little to reverse Thatcher's policies; in fact the gap between rich and poor accelerated under their government. The question now is: how can we create a caring society? It will be interesting to see if any MSPs have the answer to this on Thursday.

Monday, 15 April 2013

It's not fair!

Right from an early age we all have a built-in awareness of what is fair and what is not - just ask any young child. The proposal to make car drivers automatically at fault in any collision with a cyclist completely goes against this innate notion of fairness. Putting the onus on the car driver to prove that they are not at fault also goes against the idea of innocent until proven guilty. Yes, cyclists are more vulnerable than motorists, but they are no less likely to be the ones at fault if an accident happens. If the ones cycling around Edinburgh are anything to go by, they may even be more likely to be the ones causing the accident, given the way in which they frequently jump red lights, cycle across pedestrian crossings and otherwise ignore the highway code. Not that Edinburgh's drivers are paragons of virtue - Calton is quite glad that his normal mode of getting around the capital is above street level, giving him a bird's eye view of what is going on down below. What is really needed to reduce cycling casualties is for all road users to become a bit less aggressive and a bit more tolerant of other road users, regardless of how many wheels they are on, and for everybody to obey the highway code. Automatically blaming the bigger guy is not the answer.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Heading for the rocks

It really doesn't matter who is right about Scotland's share of the UK's debt because, if we become independent and the SNP remain in power, however low our debt starts out, it will soon go through the roof thanks to the prolific spending policies of the SNP and Scotland's ageing (and unhealthy) population. The worrying thing is that we are going to have to go into the independence referendum not knowing how the UK's debt is going to be divvied up, and Calton, for one, does not have the same confidence as the Deputy First Minister in the strength of Scotland's position. The same goes for the allocation of UK oil and gas revenues. What is clear is that Scotland has benefited over the years from a greater spend per head than the rest of the UK, partly in recognition of the contribution from her oil and gas to the overall UK economy. This is something which does not appear to figure in Sturgeon's calculations and, if Sturgeon thinks that the UK Government has mismanaged the economy over the last 30 years, she should remember that 13 of those years were under the 'spend, spend, spend' Labour Government of Gordon Brown's Chancellorship and Premiership. Even the Labour Party now agree that cuts need to be made but the good ship SNP is still steaming full ahead on the same disastrous course as the Great Broon - straight for the rocks.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Help our farmers

Calton does like people who are not afraid to speak their mind. Like Sheriff Richard Davidson, who likened the recent sectarianism at football matches legislation to "mince". Like Nigel Farage, who has just described the leaders of the three main political parties in England as an "out of touch bunch of college kids" who have "never done a day's work in their lives". Nadine Dorries clearly has some competition. As do local councillors from the main parties in next year's local government elections in England. UKIP are gaining support because they identify with the concerns of ordinary people, like immigration from Eastern Europe and windfarms, not gay marriage and trying to reform the EU (a hopeless task if ever there was one). Meanwhile, here in Scotland, our Government seems to be spending most of its time bandying about statistics to try and prove that we could go it alone. Out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people? Hmmm. At least Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has recognised the plight of Scottish farmers and has promised help. Let's just hope he delivers.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Would you give planning permission to this supermarket?

It's a dilemma. On the one hand, we all know about the Tesco effect on towns which, in the case of Fort William, might just kill off the High Street completely, however if they didn't offer convenient, competitively priced one-stop shopping with free parking, none of us would shop there. (Calton actually tries not to as much as possible but even he occasionally darkens their doorway.) Whatever the pros and cons of new out-of-town superstores, Fort William High Street has been granted a stay of execution with the recent announcement by Tesco that the Blar Mor store is not going to open until 2015 at the earliest. Not such good news for the residents of Caol, Corpach and all villages further west. It has to be said that Tesco has form on this - there is still no sign of a store being built off Carnegie Drive in Dunfermline in spite of the site having been cleared some months ago and surrounding roads rerouted. Some Lochaber councillors are calling for Tesco to release the site to a competitor. Perhaps they shouldn't have given the go-ahead to Tesco in the first place. Other towns may wish to learn from the experience of Fort William and Dunfermline.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

This is not the time

Calton thinks it was completely inappropriate for the First Minister to mention his disagreements with Margaret Thatcher's policies in his interview earlier today and he sincerely hopes that Salmond is not invited to the funeral next week. There is a time and a place for voicing criticism of someone and it is not in the days between their death and their funeral. There will be plenty of time for that sort of thing after next week but, for the moment, Calton agrees with former PM Tony Blair when he calls for some respect. The gatherings in Glasgow and other places to celebrate Thatcher's death were in very poor taste. Whatever you think of her policies or her as a person, she was a mother, a friend and a colleague and people are grieving. They should be able to do so without the spectacle of ghoulish celebrations in our towns and cities. It will be to Scotland's shame if we cannot show respect to the dead and the grieving, starting with our First Minister!

Monday, 8 April 2013

What goes around, comes around

Interesting that, according to Radio Scotland, the only thing Scots liked about Thatcher's policies was the right to buy your council house, because that is the one policy Calton has always disagreed with. It contributed to house price inflation by allowing people to buy houses at a 70% discount and then sell them on 3 years later at full market value. It massively reduced the number of social rented homes available for those who can't afford to buy, an issue which is still haunting us years later, and the homes left in council ownership were poorer stock in less desirable areas. It was a boon for many who were able to take advantage of it, but not all were prepared for the responsibilities of home ownership, where you can't just pick up the phone and call the council if something goes wrong, and now many of those who bought have reached the age where they are going to have to sell their home to fund care in their declining years, demonstrating that what goes around, comes around. Thatcher was right in that local authorities do not make the best landlords, however the solution was to transfer housing stock to housing associations, not sell it off cheap.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

In your dreams Nicola

When it comes to deciding whether to believe Frank Field or Nicola Sturgeon, it's a no-brainer, for Calton at any rate. It was not for nothing that Field was appointed poverty tsar by the coalition government in Westminster even although he is a Labour MP. He knows what he is talking about and is not afraid to speak his mind. Conviction politicians are a rare breed these days but Field is up there with the best of them. So, when he says that an independent Scotland will face an unaffordable pensions and welfare bill, Calton believes him. Let's face it - although parts of Glasgow have a lower life expectancy, well-off pensioners have been retiring to the nicer parts of Scotland for years, to the extent that some places resemble little England, and the net result is that we are going to have a higher proportion of over-65s to under-65s than down south. That means a bigger pensions bill with fewer tax payers to fund it. Sturgeon seems to think that oil revenues will solve all our problems and allow us to have a Scandinavian-style welfare system without the taxes to match. Dream on Nicola.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Labour - the party of the squeezed middle class

Calton has absolutely no time for Labour's whinges about the new tax regime. Gordon Brown abolished the 10p tax rate, thereby taking more tax from low paid workers, so his pal Ed Balls does not have a leg to stand on. Under the coalition government, the tax allowance for this year is £9440 and it will be £10k next year, taking many of the poorest in our workforce out of the tax regime altogether. It's easy to score points by complaining about the reduction in tax for the rich but, unfortunately, over-taxing them just causes them to move their money, or themselves, offshore. Better to keep them in this country paying at least some tax and providing employment (Calton is ever the pragmatist). And who are the families who will be £4000 worse off, according to Balls? Not the low paid, that's for sure. The new tax rules are squeezing those in the 40% tax bracket. Better that than squeezing the poor, like Labour did. So much for their working class roots.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The nanny state - colluding in child abuse?

Calton does not think for a minute that all those on benefits are swinging it or are having kids just to get the child benefit, however you don't have to knock on too many doors in our towns and cities to find out that quite a lot of people know of at least one family in their neighbourhood who are doing quite nicely on the state, thankyou very much. Like the single mum with five kids who was given a privately rented 5 bedroom house, opposite a lady Calton knows, and who had enough money to afford regular taxis here, there and everywhere, plus a boyfriend who, although not living with her, put in a fairly regular appearance. Philpott was an extreme but there are plenty of others who have made a career out of not working, assisted by the state. We know that there is now a problem with generational unemployment - no wonder when kids see their parents doing well without having to go out to work. Such children may be well-looked after and well-behaved but they are learning to be dependent on welfare, not on their own efforts. Is that not a subtle form of child abuse, colluded in by the nanny state?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

We need to talk about benefits

George Osborne is quite right in saying that we need to have a debate on whether the state should be paying for those who clearly do not want to work. In seeking to ensure that children do not have to go to bed cold and hungry in modern Britain, we have created a situation where, instead, they are being used as income sources by the likes of Mike Philpott. Which is more damaging, Calton wonders? Children should be valued for themselves, not for the money they bring into the home, and some are still going to bed cold and hungry in 2013. Scrapping the subsidy for renewables which we are all paying through our fuel bills would be a good start to solving that particular problem, as would reducing fuel duty, which affects the price of nearly everything we buy in our supermarkets. Shifting the focus away from topping up the earnings of the low paid via tax credits to supporting businesses to pay a higher hourly rate would also help. The increase in the tax-free allowance to £10k is already helping to take many low-paid workers out of the tax system and Calton is very much in favour of it - one of the few things he agrees with the Westminster Libdems on. Work needs to pay and welfare should only be for those who really need it, not the work-shy.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

No easy answer

The UK is in debt up to its neck and it's predicted to more than double in the next two years. We are in serious shit. We need to either cut spending or raise taxes, or both. We've already tried printing money via quantitative easing and we're still in the shit, plus the value of our savings is being eroded by low interest rates and rising inflation. That's why Calton has little sympathy with those who are protesting against the latest benefit cuts. Our welfare system is bloated and unaffordable. It desperately needs reform, which is going to be painful. What is being ignored in the current arguments is the pain also being suffered by pensioners who see their life savings being eroded by low interest and high inflation. The pain suffered by workers who have not had a pay rise for years, for whom 1% would seem like a dream. Yes, we should be looking after the old, the sick and the vulnerable but we also seem to be looking after a lot of other people who do not fall into those three categories and that has to stop. The under-occupancy reduction in housing benefit needs to have some discretion built into to it for disabled people and for those who can't immediately find a smaller property but we really need to free up larger properties for families on the waiting lists and that seems to be getting forgotten about in all the hoo-ha. There's no easy answer to our nation's problems but one thing is for sure - spending our way out of debt is not an option.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

What a load of b*****s

Calton would like to thank all his readers for contributing to this blog reaching over 10,000 pageviews since it started. He is back in cold but sunny Edinburgh, just in time to avoid singeing his wings in Lochaber. Who would have thought that Fort William could be so dry? Anyway, it's back to the same old same old here in the capital, with John Swinney still singing the praises of a currency union with England in the event of a 'yes' vote next year. He continues to think that an independent Scottish government would have the full fiscal and economic freedom to vary tax and spending to deliver economic growth and to serve the best interests of the Scottish economy in such a union. Bankers to that - Ron MacLeod and Hamish Patrick to be precise.