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.