Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lake Marie - John Prine

Lots of really great songs don't tell a story, in the old-fashioned sense of having a beginning, a middle and an end.

Yet they can still stir the emotions with powerful moods and memories, as is this case here with my favourite song of the moment - 'Lake Marie' by the late, great John Prine.  


Lake Marie by John Prine

We were standing
Standing by peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh

Many years ago along the Illinois-Wisconsin border
There was this Indian tribe
They found two babies in the woods
White babies

One of them was named Elizabeth
She was the fairer of the two
While the smaller and more fragile one was named Marie
Having never seen white girls before

And living on the two lakes known as the Twin Lakes
They named the larger and more beautiful lake, Lake Elizabeth
And thus the smaller lake that was hidden from the highway
Became known forever as Lake Marie

We were standing
Standing by peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh

Many years later I found myself talking to this girl
Who was standing there with her back turned to Lake Marie
The wind was blowing especially through her hair
There was four Italian sausages cooking on the outdoor grill
And man, they was sizzlin'

Many years later we found ourselves in Canada
Trying to save our marriage and perhaps catch a few fish
Whatever seemed easier, that night she fell asleep in my arms
Humming the tune to, "Louie Louie"
Aah baby, we gotta go now

We were standing
Standing by peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh

The dogs were barking as the cars were parking
The loan sharks were sharking, the narcs were narcing
Practically everyone was there
In the parking lot by the forest preserve

The police had found two bodies in the woods
Nay, naked bodies
Their faces had been horribly disfigured by some sharp object
Saw it on the news, on the TV news, in a black and white video

You know what blood looks like in a black and white video?
Shadows, shadows, that's exactly what it looks like
All the love we shared between her and me was slammed
Slammed up against the banks of Old Lake Marie, Marie

We were standing
Standing by peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh

Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh
Whoa, wah, oh wha, oh

Standing by peaceful waters
Peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Peaceful waters

Standing by peaceful waters
Peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Peaceful waters
Aah baby, we gotta go now

The Story of Lake Marie

John Prine, RIP.


Never Gonna Let Him/Her Go! (09/04/20)

John Prine and Iris DeMent have great fun explaining how some couples stick together 'in spite of themselves'.


John Prine - 'Sam Stone' (09/04/20)

John Prine, the American songwriter, has just passed away as a result of complications from Covid-19.

I can still remember the words of Sam Stone, one of the first songs to make a really big impression on me as a teenager.

The song is about the aftermath of the Vietnam War - a conflict which Donald Trump avoided, of course.

Not because of any principled or conscientious objection on Trump's part, but because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and the infamous drafting-dodging 'bone spurs' in his heels.   


Sam Stone by John Prine

Sam Stone came home,
To the wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knees.

But the morhpine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone's welcome home
Didn't last too long.
He went to work when he'd spent his last dime
And soon he took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold roared through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin' other peoples' clothes...

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon,
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair.
Well, he played his last request,
While the room smelled just like death,
With an overdose hovering in the air.
But life had lost it's fun,
There was nothing to be done,
But trade his house that he bought on the GI bill,
For a flag-draped casket on a local hero's hill.

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Hypocrisy On Public Sector Pay - Who Gets What And Why?

Last year the Scottish Government found the money for a pay deal which gave school teachers a much better pay increase than other public sector workers - an extra 4% over three years at a cost of £120 million a year. 

One year on and the Scottish Government's decision is even more difficult to justify as much lower paid, front-line council workers have been right to the fore in keeping essential services going doing the Coronavirus epidemic.
So I hope Minister's are now suitably ashamed of their behaviour because the cost of living for low paid council workers - the cost of bread and milk - is just the same for them as it is for their school teacher colleagues.

Because there was no logic or justification in going the extra mile to find extra millions for school teachers while treating other groups of workers, such as council care staff and refuse workers, so much less favourably.

The Scottish Government likes to 'talk the talk' when it comes to equality and fairness, but it really just amounts to so much hot air if the politicians don't practice what they preach.


Fair Pay - Who Gets What and Why? (05/06/20)

I think it's fantastic to see our newspapers and media commentators waking up to the fact that low paid carers and other front-line workers deserve much more than just a 'clap' for keeping the country's vital services going during the Coronavirus crisis.

But I think it's also worth asking, "Why did you have nothing to say when this same group of workers were considered to be worth so much less than Scotland's school teachers during the past public sector pay round?"

£120 million a year less to put a price tag on the Scottish Government's public sector policy see post below dated 05 May 2020 - "Hypocrisy on Public Sector Pay".

The same is true of many other groups of workers including council refuse workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff and so on - many of whom are in the private rather than public sector, of course.


Scottish Government - Hypocrisy On Public Sector Pay

Last year I called out the Scottish Government over its hypocrisy on public sector pay after senior ministers decided that some public service workers are 'more equal than others' in terms of their cost of living pay increase.

Now I've nothing against Scotland's school teachers, but the truth is that there was no case for agreeing to a much better pay deal for teachers compared to other council employees including carers, cleaners, catering workers, classroom assistants, refuse workers and so on.   

I put the extra cost of that pay deal at £120 million a year with every additional 1% for school teachers costing the taxpayer £30 million each year going forwards, even though the cost of living for all Scottish public service workers is exactly the same.

The national emergency over Coronavirus makes the Scottish Government look even more ridiculous, of course, because it's the lowest paid council workers who have been keeping essential, life and limb services going under the most difficult and trying of circumstances.

So how can they not be worth the same as a school teacher?


More Equal Than Others (09/03/19)

The Scottish Government has just agreed to finance a pay deal which treats one group of local council workers far better than the rest of their colleagues.

The BBC reports that Scotland's teachers have been awarded a pay increase of 13.51% over three years while the rest of the local government workforce is getting just 9.5%.

Yet as readers of my blog have pointed out the cost of bread, milk or anything else for that matter is the same for a School Cleaner or a Classroom Assistant - as it is for a School Teacher.

As this is a 'cost of living' pay increase there is absolutely no justification for treating one group of workers far better than the rest.

So if I were still working for the trade union movement, I would be re-opening these pay negotiations with a demand for an extra 4% increase for Home Carers, School Cleaners, School Catering Workers, Clerical Workers, Nursery Staff and so on - because there is no way they should be treated as second class citizens when it comes to public sector pay.

Scotland's teacher strike averted after improved pay offer

Scotland's largest teachers' union has called off its planned strike ballot after an improved pay offer was made.

The ballot of EIS members was due to get under way on Monday.

However, the new offer from the Scottish government was discussed by the union's national council this morning and the union is expected to urge members to accept it.

The EIS is calling the development a "significant success for Scotland's teachers."

Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney said he had "looked again" at the pay offer and decided to "increase the funding".

The new offer is for:

  • A 3% rise effective from last April
  • A 7% rise this April
  • A further 3% rise next April
This represents a compound increase of 13.51% over the course of the three years.

The offer means a teacher who has not been promoted could earn more than £41,000 by next year - about £5,000 more than they earn just now.

The EIS received a letter outlining the new offer this morning ahead of a meeting of its national council.

The 11th-hour improvement follows a campaign by the EIS which has continued for more than a year.

Tackling workload

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, "The EIS launched the Value Education, Value Teachers campaign in January last year, with the aim of securing a fair pay settlement for Scotland's teachers.

"Throughout the campaign, it became increasingly clear that - in addition to pay - teachers also have serious concerns about issues such as the recruitment and retention of teachers, professional development, workload, and the level of support for pupils with Additional Support Needs.

"These issues then became a factor in the ongoing discussions via the SNCT."

Mr Flanagan said the offer also includes;
  • additional commitments aimed at tackling workload
  • supporting teacher professional development
  • and enhancing the teacher leadership programme. 
He added: "Taking all of these elements together, it represents a package that the EIS is now recommending to Scotland's teachers.

"This offer represents a significant success for Scotland's teachers, and for Scottish education. It has been secured through strong campaigning under the Value Education, Value Teachers banner, and delivered through the committed collective stand taken by Scotland's teachers.

"By standing together and remaining united, our members have secured a strong deal for Scotland's teachers which will also deliver stability and security for Scottish education."

Education minister Mr Swinney welcomed the union's decision to suspend the ballot.

He said: "The Scottish government and Cosla made a strong offer to teachers which, by a narrow margin, was rejected. Given the importance we place on valuing teachers and improving the attractiveness of the profession, I have looked again at the investment the Scottish government is making."

Mr Swinney believed that the fresh offer would provide the "stability we need to make the reform Scotland's education system needs and deliver the best possible outcomes for our young people".

The NASUWT union intends to ballot its members on strike action later this month over concerns which include pay and workload.

However, because of the size of the EIS, if its members accept the pay offer there would appear to be no possibility of change to this latest offer.

Is this crisis over?

By Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent
Image copyright - PA Image caption - Campaigning included a rally in George Square

Strike action is the ultimate weapon for any trade union.

For professionals like teachers, it can be a particularly difficult step to take.

Some in the profession today remember the bitter, long-running teachers dispute of the 1980s all too well - either as young teachers or as pupils.

To maintain the analogy of a strike as the nuclear option, some in the profession were clearly hopeful that moving to "Defcon 1" - the imminent threat of action - would prove enough to secure an improved pay offer.

And so it has proved.

Two previous pay offers had previously been described as final.

The government and councils clearly pulled out all the stops to avoid a teachers' strike.

The Scottish government wants to be judged on education. It knew all too well that few would judge its record on actual education policy if they saw teachers on a picket line and children getting days off school.

Both sides will be hoping now that the debate can move back on to education policy and practice - efforts to raise attainment and close the gap between how well children from relatively rich and poor backgrounds do. Genuine disagreements still exist - not least over standardised assessments in Primary 1.

Unions will be keen to ensure that efforts to deal with concerns about workload and resourcing are about more than good intent.

But after a 14 month campaign, it looks like peace has broken out.

Hypocrisy Over Public Sector Pay (03/02/19)

Some SNP supporters are keen to bash the unions over public sector pay, but as you can see from this Twitter exchange the very same people are less enthusiastic about explaining how one group of workers are entitled to a better pay rise than their council colleagues.

The fact of the matter is that the Scottish Government is guilty of rank hypocrisy over public sector pay - and union members have every right to be angry.

Mark Irvine @Mark1957

replying to @GrahamP58 @Scotsfox

If the Scottish Government believes that school teachers are worth a 12% pay increase over two year years - why aren't other council workers worth the same rise? Surely some council workers aren't more 'equal' than others since they all face the same cost of living pressures.


Hypocrisy Over Public Sector Pay (31/01/19)

I've had lost of comments on my post about the Scottish Government's hypocrisy over public sector pay, but the one that follows sums things up rather well of you ask me.

Bread n milk is the same price for us all bloody shocking


Now I think I'll share this particular post with Glasgow's constituency MSPs all of whom represent the SNP, of course.

And I would encourage readers to take heart from the equal pay campaign and ask their local MSPs what they have to say on the matter - including Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who represents Glasgow Southside constituency.

I've posted their contact details below in the post dated 13/01/19.


Hypocrisy Over Public Sector Pay (30/01/19)

The BBC reports that the Scottish council employers, via COSLA, have made an improved pay offer to school teachers worth 9% to April 2019 and a further 3% in April 2020.

Compare that to the three year offer to the rest of the council workforce which is 3.5% to April 2019, plus 3% to April 2020 and another 3% to April 2021.

So after 2 years teachers' pay will rise by 12% while their council colleagues' pay will increase by just 9.5% after 3 years (the teachers pay increase is fully funded by the Scottish Government).

All of which begs the question - where is the fairness or social justice in paying one group of local council workers much more than another?

Because low paid council carers, cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers and classroom assistants all face exactly the same cost of living pressures as teachers.

And, of course, all Scottish council workers have endured the same policy of public sector pay restraint in recent years.    

So if the Scottish Government can dig deep for teachers surely it should do the same for the rest of Scotland's local government workforce.


More Equal Than Others (08/01/19)

Here's an interesting story from The Sunday Times which contains a strange 'boast' from the deputy first minister, John Swinney, that Scotland's school teachers are being offered:

"a better deal that for any group of public sector workers in the UK"

Now I don't begrudge Scotland's school teachers a good pay deal, but if extra money can be found for one group of council employees - why don't cleaners, cooks, catering workers, carers clerical workers, classroom assistants etc all deserve the same?

The rest of the workforce have all experienced the same policies of pay restraint in recent years and face the same the same cost of living pressures as everyone else.

So if teachers can be regarded as a 'special case' why not apply the same logic should apply to the thousands of low paid claimants in Glasgow who are still fighting for their rights to equal pay?

I think it would be great if Glasgow claimants raised this question with the City's MSPs - contact details to follow.  


EIS teachers set to reject 8% pay deal

By John Boothman - The Sunday Times
Thousands marched in Glasgow over teachers’ pay last year - ALAMY

Deputy first minister John Swinney has urged teachers to accept an improved pay deal, describing it as “a better deal than for any group of public sector workers in the UK”.

Swinney said that the Scottish government and local authorities had made a pay offer “which would see teachers receiving a minimum 8% increase between January 2018 and April 2019. We urge the teaching unions to put this to their members for approval.”

However, the offer falls short of union demands for a 10% increase and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) indicated this weekend that it will be rejected.

Teaching unions claim that the real value of teachers’ pay has fallen by 20% over the past decade and a large rise is needed to boost recruitment and retention of staff.

In October, more than 20,000 people marched in Glasgow in support of the teachers’ pay demand.

There is speculation that if a pay deal cannot be struck soon, a formal ballot on strike action is likely.

The Scottish government and councils offered a 3% pay rise for the whole profession in November, but this was rejected as “divisive” by unions.

The dispute comes as figures collated by the Scottish Conservatives show that between 2004 and 2018, the number of teachers in Scotland fell by almost 4,000.

The Tories say Scotland’s schools are experiencing a “lost generation” of teachers between the ages of 43 and 60, whom they claim are leaving the profession in droves, removing significant experience from classrooms.

Liz Smith, the party’s education spokeswoman said: “These statistics are deeply worrying in terms of the numbers of the most experienced teachers leaving the profession early. It is this retention issue which is as much a concern as the fall in the number of teachers in our schools, which has taken place while the SNP has been in power.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said the latest statistics “showed a well-balanced age profile across the teaching profession”.

She added: “Teacher numbers are now the highest since 2010, with primary teachers at the highest level since 1980.
“We want to keep people in the profession and attract new entrants into teaching. That’s why we have increased targets for recruitment into initial teacher education and created new routes to make it more practical and flexible for people to access courses.”  

Who Gets What and Why? (07/09/16)

Over the past 16 years Scotland has put an extra £12.6 billion pounds in the pay of the country's school teachers, courtesy of the landmark McCrone Agreement which increased their basic pay by an eye-watering 23.5% in the year 2000. 

The implementation cost of this fully funded pay increase was £800 million a year and this huge sum of money is now part of the Scottish Government's base budget - a budget which virtually double between 1997-2007, as did the spending power of Scotland's 32 local councils.

A year earlier the Scottish council employers signed up to the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which was designed to tackle low pay at the bottom end of the local government pay ladder and sweep away years of widespread pay discrimination against a wide range of very low paid, female dominated jobs.

The 1999 Single Status Agreement covered over 100,000 of the lowest paid council employee and included cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers, classroom assistants, home carers and so on.

The cost of 'single status' was estimated at £450 million at the time, but unlike McCrone the landmark equal pay agreement was not fully funded and relied upon future pay settlements and productivity gains to achieve its worthy goals.

So looking back all these years later the position is that 70,000 teachers have benefited to the tune of £800 million every year while more than 100,000 of the lowest paid council employees have had to fight tooth and nail for their right to equal pay.

Interestingly, a debate is now underway about the standard of teaching in Scotland's schools and one body of opinion is that the underlying problems are exacerbated by relative poverty and poor living standards amongst working class parents.

Now I don't grudge teachers a decent pay increase, but I think it is obscene that one group of council employees should be treated so much better than another which is, of course, exactly what happened over the McCrone and Single Status pay agreements.

The McCrone Agreement was struck by the Labour/Lib Dem coalition government which was in power in Holyrood at the time, but the deal and allocation of an extra £800 million every year was supported by all of the mainstream political parties including the SNP which now dominates the political scene north of the border.

So the big question is how do the people at the bottom of the pay ladder catch up and improve their circumstances, comparatively speaking, if those above them in the pay pecking order keep pulling ahead?

If you ask me, a far better and more socially just use of that £800 million a year of public money would have been to allocate a large chunk of it to the people at the bottom of the pay ladder.

But for this to happen, in future, the government of the day will need to stop using public money to bolster the interests of comparatively well paid groups in Scottish society who also benefit hugely and disproportionately from other areas of public policy such as free university tuition and the extension of free school meals.


Glasgow Councillors - Full-Time, Part-Time and Second Jobs

I shared this post about the behaviour of two Glasgow councillors during lockdown back in May 2020.

But the most interesting thing for me was that after looking at the City Council's register of interests it seems that both Cllr Wilson and Cllr Morgan have other remunerated employment in addition to their councillor salaries.

Now the basic salary for a 'backbench' councillor is currently £17,854 (from 1 April 2020) but this was set, quite deliberately, as a part-time rate because the role of backbench councillor was not regarded as a full-time job.

The original salary was set as a 'two-thirds' rate by SLARC (Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee) having taken evidence from a whole range of interested parties and given recommendations to the Scottish Government - which agreed with SLARC.

So the full-time equivalent salary for a backbench councillor is really £26,781 a year (ie £17,854 divided by two = £8,927 x 3 = £26,781) for the purpose of comparing a councillor's pay in Glasgow with other council jobs.

In other words a Glasgow councillor is paid more than most of the city council's equal pay claimants though Glasgow and COSLA (the Scottish Councils' umbrella body) both called previously for all councillors to receive a minimum salary of £25,000 a year - for even backbench councillors.

But going back to Cllr Wilson and Cllr Morgan - Glasgow city council's summary of councillors' expenses shows the following information for 2019/2020.

Cllr Wilson 
Gross Salary - £25,026.98

Cllr Morgan  
Gross Salary - £17,403.83

Cllr Wilson received an enhanced salary because he is  the Chair of the Council's Licensing and Regulatory Committee which means that he is paid more because his role is regarded and full-time and carries more responsibility than a part-time 'backbench' councillor.

Cllr Morgan received a part-time salary of £17,403.83 - two thirds of full-time rate which is now £26,781.

But arguably the most interesting thing of all is that both Cllr Wilson and Cllr Morgan enjoy other paid work on top of their Glasgow councillor salaries.

Cllr Wilson declares that he receives remuneration by working as an Appeals Officer for the Department of Work and Pensions and also from the South West Arts and Music Project - even though his £25,026.98 a year salary from Glasgow City Council is regarded as a full-time commitment.

Cllr Morgan's register of interest declares that she also receives additional remuneration from her job with North Lanarkshire Council as an Accommodation Officer - on top of her £17,403.83 salary with Glasgow city council.

Now the register of interest entries for Cllr Wilson and Cllr Morgan do not explain these additional earnings, or whether their second jobs are full-time or part-time, but if they are full-time and paid the average UK salary (currently @ £26,000) this would take their combined earnings to over £40,000 and £50,000 respectively. 

So I think it is fair to say there is a real issue here, especially if the practice of second jobs is widespread in Glasgow and other Scottish councils.

Because why would anyone set a salary in Glasgow at a particular level (on full-time or substantial part-time hours), if the person appointed to that role is free to take on another full-time job or a significant part-time job elsewhere.

The Scotland wide scheme of councillor salaries is no longer being monitored because the former SNP finance minister, Derek Mackay, disbanded SLARC several years ago and Mackay himself was forced to resign in disgrace from the Scottish Government earlier this year.

So there is no longer and independent watchdog keeping an eye over Scottish local government although I would argue there should be more, rather than less, scrutiny of Scotland's 32 local councils these days.


Glasgow - Tales From Lockdown (27/05/20)

I do love it when politicians get on their high horse over other people's behaviour while turning a blind eye to events closer to home.  

The recent furore over Dominic Cummings is a case in point and it reminded me of this story in The Herald which reported on the behaviour of two Glasgow SNP councillors during 'lockdown'. 

Lockdown in Scotland began on Tuesday 24 March 2020 and the next day Cllr Wilson was quoted in The National, from America where he was 'stranded', which reported that Cllr Wilson and his family would be self-isolating when they got back to Scotland.

Yet on the 3rd April 2020 The Herald reported that Cllr Wilson had left the family home in Cardonald to be with his party colleague on the opposite side of the city.

Now I could be wrong, but I don't remember Glasgow's  politicians calling for Cllr Alex Wilson and Cllr Mandy Morgan to resign their seats on Glasgow City Council.

Wife of SNP councillor 'heartbroken' after he leaves her for party colleague

By Hannah Rodger - The Herald (03 April 2020)

The wife of an SNP councillor launched a brutal attack on her 'cheating' husband after he is alleged to have left her for another party councillor.

Glasgow Cardonald Councillor Alex Wilson is understood to have broken the news to his wife last night, telling Pamela Wilson he was leaving her for Glasgow North East representative Mandy Morgan.
Devastated Mrs Wilson branded the politician's official Facebook page with 'adulterer' and 'cheater' slogans last night, and wrote: "And just like that, 30 years of a relationship is over as Alex Wilson walks out to start a new life with his tart Councillor Mandy Morgan leaving 2 heartbroken kids behind him to go play happy families with her."

Mrs Wilson told The Herald: "I am absolutely devastated. This came completely out of the blue. I don't know how I'll cope financially or how I'll keep a roof over the kids heads.

"He told me he was leaving me to go live with her as they've been planning it since January. We've been together since I was 13, he was 20. It's our 20th wedding anniversary this August."

The couple have two teenage children and just returned from a landmark family holiday to celebrate the councillor's 50th birthday. 

Councillor Wilson and his wife Pam in happier times

Councillor Wilson last week told the media he was concerned about his family being stranded in Orlando due to the coronavirus crisis, and said they would all be self-isolating on their return.

Mrs Wilson said: "I'm now saddled with a £5,000 loan for his birthday holiday, a huge mortgage and the usual bills. I need to find another job too which won't be easy in this climate as I can't be out every night and leave the kids at home.

"I also bought him a French Bulldog puppy in November as part of his birthday and to cheer him up as he had just lost his dad.

"Alex always wanted a frenchie. He walked out and left Stanley behind The Herald has contacted Councillors Wilson and Morgan, and has received no reply.

Councillor Morgan's Facebook page has now been deleted.

However a source close to Cllrs Wilson and Morgan said: “This is a personal matter where considerable pain and hurt has been caused to a number of people.

"They will all need time and space to work this through. They’ve all got to make sure the interests of the children who are involved are protected.”

Scottish councillor stuck in the US tells of family’s fears

By Kirsteen Paterson - The National (25/03/2020)

Alex Wilson with his daughter, Cara

A SCOTTISH family desperate to get home from the US have told of their coronavirus travel fears.

Alex Wilson – a Glasgow councillor – travelled to the US with wife Pamela and children Adam and Cara on a landmark break three weeks ago.

The Orlando trip was organised to celebrate Alex’s 50th birthday and for the first few days all attractions were operating as normal.

However, major theme parks and other attractions began closing shortly after their arrival as Covid-19 cases in the US spiked.

As of yesterday afternoon, there were 48,000 known cases and at least 600 deaths.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Holyrood to ban evictions from private rented accommodation

Now the family are “checking flight information every hour” after their carrier British Airways cancelled their flight home, leaving them to reorganise their trans-Atlantic travel. Currently booked onto a succession of three flights home, the family fears further delays could put them at risk of contracting the virus.

Alex told The National: “We got here before it all really started taking off and we thought it would be okay. But it has really ramped up and, I think, taken a lot of people by surprise in Scotland and in the US.

“I couldn’t believe how quickly it’s been going up.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK citizens not to undertake any non-essential travel for the next 30 days and to return immediately if commercial flights are still available.

The SNP councillor said: “We have had no symptoms and we haven’t come across anyone who has. We have a flight to Miami, another to Heathrow and another one back up to Scotland and of course we’ll isolate ourselves when we get back.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: Holyrood will enforce coronavirus lockdown if necessary​

“But we’ve had no real advice for travellers and we don’t really know what we are coming back to.

“Our flights have been changing right, left and centre.

“The first flight is quite quiet but the main one back to the UK is really busy. They’re repatriating a lot of people.

“Obviously the air on planes is recirculated and there may be people on there who might not have shown symptoms yet, so we are worried.

“It’s really worrying for us.”

Since the shut-downs began, the family have spent most of their time in their rented villa, using local supermarkets for supplies. There have been the same runs there on essential items as have been seen in the UK, with shortages of toilet roll and other sundries.

READ MORE: Wetherspoons boss tells staff to go work at Tesco after leaving them with no pay

Alex described an air of tension amongst the local population, many of whom work in hospitality and other low-paying industries. 

He said: “The lines in Wal-Mart have been massive, there are loads and loads of people wearing masks and gloves.

“Every time you go to a petrol station or use a shopping trolley, there’s a staff member who’ll come along with a spray bottle of disinfectant and clean down everything you’ve been touching. They are really on the ball and they are on top of it but when we first got here there were only 1700 cases in the States, so even despite all the effort they’re making it is still spreading.

“Restaurant staff have been really worried about their jobs. They only make $5 (£4.26) an hour and they rely on tips, so when customer numbers started to go down that really affected them.

“Some were saying they’d rather be paid off because they would make more on social security than they were taking home in their pay.”

Disney and Universal Studios parks have all closed in an unprecedented move, which has also extended to attractions elsewhere in the US.

St Patrick’s Day parades were called off in several cities, while the NBA basketball and NHL hockey leagues have scrapped their seasons.

We Need To Talk About Derek 2 (10/05/20)

Scotland's former finance minister has not been seen in public since being forced to resign back in February.

Nonetheless Derek has still been entitled to draw his £65,000  a year MSP salary which means he's 'earned' £16,000 over the past three months. 

To add insult to injury Derek is also entitled to a £12,000 compensation payment which will take his earning for the past quarter to £28,000. 

More than the UK's average annual salary in just 13 weeks and much more than most of Scotland's front-line workers are being paid for being at their work and keeping essential services going during the Coronavirus epidemic.

Now know this is all within the agreed 'rules' of the Scottish Parliament, but so were the 'rules' covering MPs' expenses in the Westminster Parliament which, of course, led to the biggest political scandal of modern times.

So if you ask me, the Scottish Parliament should tear up the rule book and bring in some much needed changes including a power of recall over Holyrood MSPs.  


We Need To Talk About Derek (07/05/20)

The Times reports that the Scottish Government's former finance minister, Derek Mackay, is to receive a £12,000 compensation payment for losing his job - despite the fact that Derek's fall from grace was his own stupid fault.

Now the article says that the Scottish Parliament has no option but to make this payment which must be true - no doubt it's part of the parliamentary rules.

But parliamentary 'rules' were part of the problem when it came to the MPs' expenses scandal at Westminster and if you ask me, the same is true of Holyrood.  

Derek Mackay cannot possibly be doing his job as an MSP properly if he has not been seen in public for three months and Derek will have a real brass neck if he agrees to accept  a large sum of money after losing his job in such unedifying circumstances.

The reality is that Derek Mackay is clearly able to decline or return any money the Scottish Parliament is duty bound to offer him because of its hidebound rules. 

And the Scottish Parliament could also benefit by introducing a Power of Recall over MSPs - a power that already exists in the Westminster Parliament and which has been used to good effect recently, of course.

Disgraced Derek Mackay gets £12,000 payoff

Derek Mackay resigned over texts he sent to a teenager- Photo KEN JACK/GETTY IMAGES

By Marc Horne - The Times

Derek Mackay, the former finance secretary, is set to receive a £12,000 severance payment this week, despite not being seen in public for three months.

Mr Mackay resigned from Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet in February after it emerged he sent 270 messages to a 16-year-old boy including one in which he said: “I think you are really cute.”

He is entitled to a severance payment of £11,945 — the equivalent of three months’ cabinet salary — for losing ministerial office. This sum is paid out by the Scottish parliament after 90 days.

Mr Mackay has earned more than £15,000 as the MSP for Renfrewshire North & West since early February.

There is no mechanism to remove him from Holyrood, and he remains entitled to his £64,470 salary as an MSP. If he continues as an MSP until the next Holyrood elections, he will also be entitled to about £50,000 as a “resettlement grant”.

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “Given the circumstances of his resignation, it’s pretty outrageous Derek Mackay is due a ministerial payout.”

Mr Mackay failed to respond when asked if he intended to accept the payment, or give it to charity.

A Holyrood spokesman said: “The Scottish parliamentary corporate body has no discretion in relation to the making of payments.”

Scottish Government - Compare and Contrast (10/02/20)

Andy Nicoll, associate editor of the Scottish Sun, makes a strong case that the Scottish Government's handling of the Derek Mackay affair has differed markedly from another 'unfortunate text messaging incident' involving former SNP minister, Mark McDonald.

Read what Andy Nicoll has to say via the link to the Scottish Sun below.


Derek Mackay scandal has rocked Nicola Sturgeon and it was clear to see today at Holyrood

By Andrew Nicoll - Scottish Sun

A DARK cloud loomed over Holyrood this morning.

The place had a distinctly weird feeling about it — every gate had a photographer stationed outside, just in case Derek Mackay decided to come in that way.

Strain of Derek Mackay scandal shows on Nicola SturgeonCredit: Getty Images - Getty

Inside, in the Garden Lobby where MSPs and staffers congregate, there was an atmosphere too.

Among the SNP there were looks of stunned astonishment.

This was Derek Mackay they were talking about, their Derek Mackay — their wee Deek.
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Deek that chaired party conference after party conference. Deek that was about to present the Budget. And now this. This!

Even the Tories, who might have cause to rejoice at such a body blow to the SNP, were far from gloating. They understood how serious this is.

Their leader Jackson Carlaw seemed surprised when he was corralled by TV cameras but he didn’t hold back.

Derek Mackay’s behaviour is a blow to the reputation of the Scottish Parliament, he said.

MSP Derek Mackay bombarded teen with texts  Credit: Alamy

And he went further. He said what everybody else was already thinking: “By any standard judgement of what constitutes the grooming of a young individual, this would pass that test”.

Resigning as Finance Secretary is not enough, said Mr Carlaw. Mackay should get out of Holyrood right now, he said.

There was a time when Nicola Sturgeon would have agreed.

A couple of years back, ex-Children’s Minister Mark Macdonald was hustled into her office for a brief interview after, well, an unfortunate text messaging incident.

His feet did not touch the ground. In no time at all, he was on the back benches, subjected to an internal SNP inquiry and he resigned from the party before the meeting scheduled to kick him out.

He was banned from Holyrood for a month, sent back to work in a windowless office in the basement and, in all likelihood, he will be on the dole after next year’s Holyrood elections.

Nicola Sturgeon made it clear she wanted him out the door.

“He was elected as an SNP MSP. If his behaviour is such that he himself considers he cannot continue as an SNP MSP, then it would be appropriate to give his constituents the opportunity to elect a new MSP.”

Mr Macdonald’s behaviour was certainly inappropriate and regrettable — but it’s not in the same league as what Deek has admitted.

He’s a politician but, if Derek Mackay had been a teacher, nurse or doctor, he would be struck off the register for what he has done.

And yet Nicola Sturgeon did not sack him, she allowed him to resign.

She didn’t even accept his resignation there and then, but waited to see how much evidence there was against him before going public with his departure.

It’s as if, between them, they thought there might be some way of finessing this, some way he could cling on. The First Minister denies that, of course.
According to her Press spokesman, Mackay was not sacked because he resigned first. His resignation was not announced because “Derek has family to speak to and people close to him.”

And he was not suspended from the party until today because it was only today that the First Minister became aware of the scale of the allegations.

It was “inconceivable” that he could continue as Finance Secretary after this, she said. But apparently not “inconceivable” that he remained part of the SNP.

“We were not in possession of the full detail of the exchanges until it was published late last night,” said the spokesman - as if there’s a certain amount of hounding 16-year-old boys which might, in certain circumstances, all things considered, be forgiveable.

Nicola Sturgeon looks battered down by all this. She arrived in the chamber dressed in black with John Swinney by her side. Solid, dependable Swinney.

Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney at HolyroodCredit: Alamy Live News

John Swinney also dressed in a dark suit. Both quite funereal.

The First Minister sat in her usual place. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman sat beside her — relieved that, for one week at least, she didn’t have a target on her back.

Nicola stared straight ahead through the long minutes of General Question Time as MSPs talked about fingerprints, TV licences and benefits, as if anybody cared.

She had her eyes raised heavenwards with a far-away look about her — like a martyr on the way to the stake.

And then she gave her “very short statement” on the scandal.

If she hoped that might defuse things a bit and take the sting out of First Minister’s Questions, she was disappointed.

Jackson Carlaw said Derek Mackay had damaged the reputation of “her government, her party and this Parliament.” Could the First Minister be sure that nobody else among Mackay’s 26,000 Twitter followers had been approached?

Mr Carlaw read out the NSPCC definition of grooming. “How difficult is it to recognise his conduct has the very worst connotation?” he asked.

Nicola Sturgeon was close to throwing in the towel.

She said: “Members across all parties have faced difficult allegations about members of those parties.

Our story revealed the texting scandal

“All of us have to make sure that the action we demand of opponents is action we would do ourselves.”

It sounded like a plea for mercy but none came.

Labour’s Richard Leonard went on the attack, talking of “an abuse of power nothing short of predatory. He should go as a member of this Parliament.” Even the Greens said it was “appalling.”

At last the torment was over. Normally when MSPs leave the chamber they chat on the way down the long glass corridor.

Not this time. It was a grim, silent trudge. Like a cortege shadowing a hearse on a final journey.

And then the First Minister appeared, John Swinney still at her side, her jaw set until she was halted by a wall of reporters outside the lift that takes her up to her private offices.

She could not say more while Derek Mackay is under investigation by the party, she said. No, it would be wrong to try to direct the police in an inquiry, she said.

John Swinney was there, shepherding her through the crowd with a hand on her back.

She looked frail. Diminished.

Scottish Government - Missing The Point (09/02/20)

The Scottish Government has not emerged unscathed out of the Derek Mackay affair and its initial response by email certainly tried to play down the seriousness of Mackay's actions.  

"Given you yourself state that there is nothing illegal or unlawful in the messages, can you advise on your justification for publication, given the intrusion into private and family life, and correspondence including digital communication."

The fact that there appeared to be nothing illegal or unlawful in Mackay's 270 messages to a 16-year-old schoolboy rather misses the point, of course, given the age difference, power imbalance and inappropriate nature of the Government Minister's behaviour.

Read the BBC's report via the link below.

Derek Mackay: Scottish government denies trying to block newspaper claims

Image copyright - GETTY IMAGES Image caption - Mr Mackay quit just hours before he was due to unveil the Scottish government's budget for the coming year

The Scottish government has defended its handling of the Derek Mackay scandal amid claims it tried to "throw up hurdles" to prevent publication.

Mr Mackay quit as Scotland's finance secretary after the Scottish Sun revealed he sent 270 messages to a 16-year-old schoolboy.

The newspaper says the government demanded to know the name of the boy when it was approached for comment. 

It also says it was asked to justify its "intrusion into private life". 

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the government had "simply asked for information to give us the veracity and the substance of the points that were being put to us"

Further newspaper allegations about Mr Mackay's behaviour were published on Friday morning, with the Daily Record reporting that he sent dozens of unwanted messages over a four-year period to a married SNP activist, including one asking: "Got any naughty pics?"

Meanwhile, the Herald claims that Mr Mackay, 42, was banned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from drinking during SNP conferencesbecause of concerns over his behaviour.

Mr Mackay has not responded to requests for comment about the allegations against him.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw accused the Scottish government of being "more interested in protecting its own reputation than in the welfare of potential and actual victims".

He added: "A pattern of behaviour is now beginning to emerge, and it's vital the SNP leadership - instead of spinning - acts to establish a complete picture."

The Conservatives have called for a confidential hotline to be set up so people can report any concerns about Mr Mackay.
Image Copyright @ChrisMusson@CHRISMUSSON

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that she had not known about Mr Mackay's "unacceptable" behaviour until Wednesday evening, and was "not aware of any further allegations" against him.

Mr Swinney, her deputy, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that he had been "utterly stunned" by the revelations.

He said he had not heard any "revelations of this type" about Mr Mackay in the past, and had no previous concerns about his behaviour.

The Scottish Sun has claimed that the Scottish government's initial response to being told about the allegations against Mr Mackay was to attempt to "throw up hurdles to prevent us from publishing the bombshell revelations".

It said these attempts included: "Demanding to know the name of the 16-year-old schoolboy as well as asking for our 'justification for publication, given the intrusion into private and family life, and correspondence including digital communication'."

The newspaper stressed that it had not identified the boy to the government, which subsequently refused to comment on the allegations.

Media caption - Scottish Sun political editor: 'The family are not baying for blood'

Chris Musson, the political editor of the Scottish Sun, spoke to the Podlitical podcast about how the newspaper broke the Derek Mackay story, and what the boy and his family wanted to achieve by going public.

Listen to the full episode here

Mr Swinney insisted that the government had taken "decisive" action once the seriousness of the allegations against Mr Mackay became clear.

He added: "The government became aware of these allegations at about 6pm on Wednesday night, and we simply - because of the significance of what was being put to us - asked for information to give us the veracity and the substance of the points that were being put to us.

"We saw nothing in writing until we saw the first edition of The Sun later on Wednesday evening, so we were simply asking for the detail that we would ask in any situation where allegations are being put to us so that we can be confident about the detail that is being asked."

Media caption - Nicola Sturgeon: “It was unacceptable and falls seriously below the standard required of a minister."

Mr Mackay is said to have quit as finance secretary on Wednesday evening, although his resignation was not made public until the following morning. It has been reported that he is in line for a £12,000 severance payment.

He was subsequently suspended by the SNP pending further investigations "when we saw the full detail in the Sun newspaper printed in their edition on Thursday morning", Mr Swinney added.

Mr Mackay now sits as an independent MSP, although he has been urged to stand down completely from Holyrood by opposition leaders who have said his behaviour could "constitute the grooming of a young individual".

Why did Mr Mackay quit?

The Scottish Sun said that Mr Mackay persistently contacted the schoolboy over a six-month period, and told him that he was "cute".

The newspaper detailed allegations that the politician contacted the boy "out of the blue" in August of last year and sent about 270 messages on Instagram and through Facebook.

It has published a list of messages - the most recent of which is from earlier this week - involving Mr Mackay and the boy, in which its says the MSP invited him to dinner and to attend a rugby event.

The newspaper also reported that Mr Mackay contacted the boy several times on Christmas Day, and told him on another occasion that he was "looking good with that new haircut".

In a statement released on Thursday morning, Mr Mackay said: "I take full responsibility for my actions. I have behaved foolishly and I am truly sorry. I apologise unreservedly to the individual involved and his family."

Mr Mackay, who had been widely tipped as a future first minister, came out as gay when he left his wife in 2013.

His resignation came just hours before he was due to present the Scottish government's spending plans for the next year - a major set piece event in the Scottish Parliament.