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Showing posts from November, 2010

Victorian Employers in South Lanarkshire

Alex Neil MSP continues to champion the cause of council workers in South Lanarkshire - who are still fighting for equal pay. Here's a copy of a recent press statement - in which Alex Neil compares South Lanarkshire Council to a Victorian employer. "MSP Neil calls on South Lanarkshire Council to stop acting like Victorian employers" Central Scotland SNP MSP Alex Neil has strongly criticised South Lanarkshire Council for treating many of its employees with contempt over the issue of single status and equal pay. Mr Neil, who has taken up the case on behalf of hundreds of South Lanarkshire Council's workers, says the treatment being meted out to employees reeks of the contempt with which Victorian employers treated their workers. At issue is the Council's refusal to provide the basic information it used to decide the wages of hundreds of workers as part of the introduction of single status, ie equal pay for the same work. Many women workers in particular are

Lording It Up

The Telegraph newspaper continues to perform a great public service - by drawing attention to the expenses claims of members of parliament - this time in the House of Lords. Details of the expenses racked up by Scotland's 61 'noble' peers have been released - totalling 32 million - including overnight accommodation and travel costs. Lord Maxton claimed the highest sum of £63,429 - followed by Lord Sewell and Baroness Adams of Craigielea who each claimed £63,215. Labour peer - Baroness Adams - was ordered to return £4,100 in expenses she claimed as an MP - but challenged Parliament to sue her for the money. Since leaving the House of Commons and joining the House of Lords - Baroness Adams has picked up more than £60,000 a year in allowances since 2006 - but has spoken in just three debates, according to the Telegraph. Baroness Adams emerged as the second costliest peer this year - with claims totalling £63,215 - including £28,000 in overnight expenses and £11,000 to tr

Plan B

In the end the Scottish weather did more to disrupt the football calendar - than the strike action of referees. And up till now - the only real casualties have been a Category 1 referee who resigned over the weekend - and the Head of Refereeing Development at the Scottish Football Association (SFA) - who seems to have been sacked. So, let's hope the referees have a Plan B - because the tactic of withdrawing their labour and leaving an empty chair at the negotiating table - has patently failed to work. In football as in life - Jaw Jaw is normally a better option than War War.

Having A Laugh

The 'Members Briefing' from Unison in South Lanarkshire is proving to be a big hit with readers - though for all the wrong reasons as far as the local union branch is concerned. Here's another little gem from from December 2005 - setting out Unison's 'advice' to members on - Single Status, Equal Pay and South Lanarkshire: "In brief, other councils are now rushing to catch up with the position arrived at in South Lanarkshire some time ago." Now whoever wrote this must have been having a laugh - because no other council in Scotland has done what South Lanarkshire Council has done. Seems to me that Unison was just acting as a mouthpiece for South Lanarkshire Council. Instead of standing up for the interests of their low paid women members - who have lost out - compared to their counterparts in other Scottish councils.

Unison Briefing

A number of readers from South Lanarkshire have already been in touch - to ask if they can get a copy of the notorious Unison branch briefing on Single Status. Well, the answer is - of course you can. All you need to do is to drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com - and I'll send you a copy straight back. Angry union members should use this document - which is dated 1 December 2005 by the way - to ask some very pointed questions of the local Unison branch. Because the advice to local Unison members has been completely contradictory - and many union members may have lost out - as a result. See previous post dated 19 November 2010 - 'Don't Get Mad, Get Even'.

Compare and Contrast

A kind reader from South Lanarkshire has sent in a Unison 'Members Briefing' from December 2005 - which makes the union look completely daft. Here's an extract of what it says; "Councils and unions also had to cooperate to introduce a Job Evaluation system that measured jobs and ensured that jobs of equal value were paid equally - 'equal pay for work of equal value'. Across the country employers refused to progress local negotiations either never started or proceeded very slowly. Except in South Lanarkshire, where the council were keen to progress. Negotiations led to the introduction of the common conditions for all staff and the implementation of the Council's job evaluation scheme - the Competence Initiative. UNISON, GMB and TGWU were fully involved in the negotiations. Finally, following a ballot of all members, an agreement was reached." So in December 2005 - Unison were acting as cheerleaders for South Lanarkshire Council - extolling t

Men In Black

The ongoing refereeing dispute is turning Scottish football into a farce - with the footballing authorities looking more and more like the sporting equivalent of - the Keystone Cops. The referees have a strong case - but they're going about things in completely the wrong way - by their visible lack of strategy - and unbelievably bad negotiating skills. In fact, as Craig Brown (the Motherwell and former Scotland manager) points out - the referees have not even tried to make common cause with anyone else - before refusing to play ball. So instead putting forward ideas and suggestions that could bring about some welcome changes to the game - the whistle blowers simply exit stage left. In a thoroughly petulant display - which is, of course, as ridiculous and childish as some of the behaviour - that Scotland's referees have been complaining about in the first place. The 'beautiful' game has a lot to learn from other sports - including rugby, tennis and cricket. W

You Heard It Here First

On Wednesday (24 November) I posted an article on the blog site - about the ongoing row over the Scottish Parliament's tax varying powers - entitled 'Much Ado About Nothing'. The very next day the following comment piece - by Iain MacWhirter - appeared in the Herald newspaper. "This taxing question is just so much ado about nothing" Published on 25 Nov 2010 "The world held its breath yesterday as conflict erupted between North and South Korea; Ireland braced itself for civil unrest as its government imposed a crushing austerity budget; and higher education and school students took to the streets and occupied universities over tuition fees. And Holyrood spent the afternoon rowing over the unspent cost of collecting a tax, the Scottish variable rate (SVR), that no-one intends to raise and is about to be abolished. Cover up? Abuse of power? Grow up. There is a strand of infantilism in the Scottish Parliament that occasionally causes MSPs to get things out

Who's Sorry Now?

Turns out that the idiot 'protester' who threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower in London - during the tuition fees riot - is another posh middle-class boy. Not - as some suggested at the time - a signed-up member of 'Anarchists R Us'. Edward Woollard, 18, pled guilty to a charge of violent disorder at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court - and his solicitor said on his behalf: 'Mr Woollard is pleading guilty and I make it very clear - he is very sorry for his actions.' A charge of violent disorder carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison - under the Public Order Act. Woollard's parents watched from the public gallery - as his case was referred to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing - at a later date. The 18-year-old attends a top performing school - Brockenhurst College in Hampshire - and is studying for A -levels in politics, classics and philosophy. Woollard apparently lives with his parents - in a four bedr

Much Ado About Nothing

The Scottish Parliament will spend much of its energy today - debating the 'loss' of a tax varying power which no one has ever used. In fact - since Holyrood was established in 1999 - no one has ever got as far as suggesting that the parliament's tax varying powers should be used. And - surprise, surprise - and no one is seriously suggesting - that the parliament's tax varying powers should be invoked now. To do so would involve a complete waste of public money - which politicians are normally happy to spend - so the fact they are showing such restraint makes a welcome change. Should the parliament have been told before now? Yes, definitely. Is it all a big fuss about nothing? Yes, definitely. Should the parliament be finding better things to do with their time? Absolutely - because it makes the Scottish Parliament and our politicians - look completely ridiculous.

Children First

As I read an article about education reform the other day - in my mind's eye I could see the teaching establishment - working itself up into a rage. A group of teachers from the Teach First scheme - that recruits high-flying graduates to schools in deprived areas - has suggested that teachers should lose their rights to long summer holidays. Instead, the group says that the school day should be reformed - with flexible rotas. Under which some teachers would start early in the morning - and others work until late afternoon - or at weekends. The Teach First graduates highlight a school in New York that increased its pupil learning time by 20 days a year - under a deal whereby teachers booked holidays at different times. Staff working hours remained the same - but the school was also able to cut class sizes. Now that's what I call putting children - and learning - first.

Election Mandates

Len McCluskey election as the new leader of Unite - has prompted lots of Guardian readers to comment on the newspaper's web site. Most people registering a view are rightly unimpressed at the poor turnout. Less than 16% of the union's membership participated in the ballot - which does raise serious questions about trade union democracy. If 84% of the electorate cannot be bothered to vote - something is clearly wrong - and union leaders should do more than just shrug their shoulders - and move on. Some commentators also attack Len McCluskey - on a personal level - which is clearly rather unfair. Len has still been elected after all - he just needs to avoid getting too carried away. Because any over the top attack on the government - and its mandate to govern - will sound completely ridiculous. From a union leader elected with the backing of only 6.8% - of Unite's 1.5 million members.

Prince of Darkness

I watched a programme on BBC 3 last night about Lord Peter Mandelson - aka the Prince of Darkness - entitled 'Mandelson: The Real PM?' It was a strange experience - rather like one of Jamie Oliver's early Naked Chef programmes. The format had the disembodied voice of a young female film-maker - posing rather vacuous questions off-camera - while remaining completely detached from proceedings. Only at the end - as the credits rolled - was the film maker's identity revealed - Hannah Rothschild, giving a clue to behind the scenes connections of the great and the good. As it turned out the programme was a big disappointment - a slight, if inoffensive, commentary on the death throes of the last Labour government - with little new to say. The sub text was true enough though - because Lord Mandelson really did become a life-support machine for Gordon Brown - whose vital signs had signalled a slow but sure political death. Yet Mandelson road to the rescue time and again -

What Do They Want, When Do They Want It?

Scotland's top referees are apparently going on strike next weekend - which could be a blessing in disguise - depending on which team you support. But this is not a strike at all - in the normal sense of the word - because referees are not employed by the Scottish Football Association (SFA). Instead referees are contracted to provide a service to the SFA - which they are planning to withdraw for one weekend - although the target and purpose of their action is far from clear. Is it the SFA? Is it the fans? Is it individual clubs? Is it the press? So it will be interesting to see how this pans out - how will we gauge success or failure - what are the referees' demands? Because it is sensible to know who the 'enemy' is and what your objectives are - before embarking on industrial action - since doing so afterwards is rather pointless. At the moment the referees seem to be lashing out in every direction - which may create an even bigger mess than the problem

Unite Election

Len McCluskey has been elected as the new leader of Unite - the UK's biggest trade union. McCluskey received 101,000 votes - or 6.7% of Unite's 1.5 million members. The other candidates were: Jerry Hicks who came second with 52,000 votes (3.5%) Les Bayliss who came third with 46,000 votes (3.0%) Gail Cartmail, the only woman, with 39,000 votes (2.6%). 238,000 members took part in the ballot - which represents 15.8% of the 1.5 million members claimed by Unite. Len McCluskey has been a member of the Labour Party for the past 39 years.

Moonlighting MPs

I seldom read the tabloid newspapers, but sometimes you've got to hand it to them - they are great at ferreting out stories - that expose the behaviour of the 'great and good'. Here's one from the Mail on Sunday - about the exploits of former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown - who likes to project a 'hair shirt' image - as far as his personal lifestyle is concerned. Yet he apparently insists on first-class travel and five star accommodation - when abroad on lucrative speaking engagements - while 'moonlighting' from his day job as an MP. "Gordon Brown gave his first paid speech since leaving Downing Street yesterday, earning an estimated £60,000. Mr Brown – who has barely been seen in public since he stepped down as Prime Minister in May – was a keynote speaker at a summit in New Delhi, the Indian capital. He gave a 50-minute speech on the global economic crisis and how to prevent another one, which is estimated to have earned him around £1,200 per

More Kind Words

More kind words from a regular visitor to the blog site - a male reader this time: "Dear Mark Big big fan of the web site and all the janitors I speak to are fans too. Keep up the great work - without people like you we would be in the dark because the unions never ever help the low paid workers. Cheers and good luck. W"

Hijacking Democracy

Labour's new leader - Ed Miliband - has been enjoying a short spell of paternity leave - which has allowed some of his cabinet colleagues an opportunity to make the headlines. Alan Johnson - the shadow chancellor - has led the way with a call for the reform of the Labour party. Johnson - a former trade union general secretary - declared that the voting system which elected Ed Miliband was wrong - and should be changed to weaken the grip of the trade unions. Instead Johnson is calling for the full introduction of 'one member one vote' - not very revolutionary, but long overdue nonetheless. Labour's electoral college means that a tiny percentage of trade union members - are allowed to hijack democracy - because the penny numbers who take part in the process - still cast 100% of the trade unions votes. Here's what I said about the election result at the time. 6% = 70% = 90% The Labour party's electoral college makes about as much sense - as one of the Mad Ha

Don't Get Mad - Get Even

As regular readers know - after years of being in denial - Unison has suddenly decided that some of its members in South Lanarkshire - might have an equal pay claim after all. See previous post dated 16 November 2010 - Unison in Turmoil. Sounds a little odd to me - especially as South Lanarkshire Council claims that Unison has been at the heart of local negotiations over single status - since 1999. But set that aside for a minute and consider what Unison is actually saying - to its members in South Lanarkshire: 'We recently commissioned an assessment of the scope for equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire - and we believe that as in other areas there may be some potential for some members being able to pursue equal pay claims'. Now Unison members who have loyally followed the union's advice - by doing nothing about equal pay for all these years - should be asking Unison some pointed questions: 1 When was this 'assessment' carried out? 2 Who did the 'ass

Voting With Your Feet

Here's an enquiry from a long suffering union member - and regular visitor to the blog site - who has finally decided to vote with her feet: "Good Morning Mr Irvine I am writing to you regarding the equal pay claim brought against my employer. I have a claim and I am being represented by Unison. However I feel that they have no real interest in their female members and the only information I get is from your Action 4 Equality Scotland site. I am a care worker and have been with the council for 10 years and I would be grateful if you could advise me how I could transfer my claim to Action 4 Equality Scotland and Fox Cross Solicitors. I am also considering leaving the union altogether especially when I heard it being described as a "multi million pound business" by one of its officials. Yours sincerely CA" Well the simple answer is - just send me your contact details - and I'll take care of all the rest.

Spending Public Money

Here's a response from South Lanarkshire's chief executive - to my letter querying the council's use of public money - see post dated 16 November 2010. Predictably, the chief executive does not even attempt to explain the council's actions - and instead just refers to the pension scheme regulations - in a typically bureaucratic response. So the matter will now be referred to the Accounts Commission for Scotland - which has a remit to ensure that councils always strive to achieve 'best value' - in spending public money. Dear Mr Irvine I refer to your letter of 28 October 2010 and my subsequent e-mail of 29 October 2010. In relation to your complaint, I would have the following comments:- a) & b) The Council do not accept that we have acted improperly or in contravention of the pension regulations in connection with the termination of Mr Cuthbertson's employment. The Local Government Pension Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 1998 No 366 are intended to

Synthetic Anger

The newspapers are full of quotes today from allegedly 'furious' MSPs - if you believe the headlines. Apparently, our opposition MSPs are spitting tacks - because the Scottish government has not kept the parliament's tax raising powers up to date. To do so would have required paying a large sum of public to HM Revenue & Customs - who control the database that would be used to raise or lower income tax - by up to 3p in the pound. What a load of old baloney. Because not even the trade unions are calling for a hike in general taxation - since everyone knows full well that such a suggestion would go down like a lead balloon - with the voting public. Now maybe Holyrood would be debating higher taxes - if Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish socialists were still in the parliament. But of course they're all too busy - dealing with other pressing matters these days.

Unison in Turmoil

Unison is in complete turmoil in South Lanarkshire - as the union finally admits that it might have got it wrong all along - over equal pay. The credibility of the union is now in tatters - as officials concede that they may well have given poor advice for the past five years and more - against the interests of their own members. The union is writing to all members in South Lanarkshire - with a weasel-worded message to say that - 'some members' may have a valid equal pay claim after all. As regular readers know - this comes after many years of the unions betraying the interests of their own low paid members - by doing deals with the council that benefited the better-off. Unison in South Lanarkshire - according to reliable local sources - has been actively discouraging members from pursuing claims up until now. And the Unison members who followed this advice have lost out - because their claims should have been registered years ago. The reality is that while Action 4 Equal

Expert Commentators

Has anyone else noticed all these expert commentators popping up - to have their say on the 'gender impact' of the planned cuts in public spending? 'Women will be affected disproportionately' - they say - some from the safe haven of their well paid jobs in academia - and elsewhere. But the obvious question is: What have all these experts been doing for the past 10 years? Because the gender impact of paying bonuses - to only traditional male jobs - far outweighs the impact of any spending cuts. For the past 10 years Scottish councils have been routinely paying male workers - up to 50% more than female workers - for every hour worked. The women have been doing equivalent jobs - or jobs with much greater responsibility than the men in many cases. Yet the expert commentators have had nothing to say.

Spending Public Money

Here's a letter of complaint regarding the use of public money in South Lanarkshire Council. I ' ve also submitted a separate FOI request on this subject - because South Lanarkshire Council - in my experience - is seldom willing to disclose such information - readily and willingly. Archie Strang Chief Executive South Lanarkshire Council BY E-MAIL Dear Mr Strang Executive Director of Corporate Services – Early Access to Pension Benefits I would like to raise a complaint with South Lanarkshire Council over the circumstances surrounding the departure of its former Executive Director of Corporate Services, Alan Cuthbertson, who was allowed to access his pension early from 31 March 2006. As you know, I have uncovered the following facts from the council following a FOISA request in August 2010: 1 The employment of the Executive Director, Corporate Resources, Mr Alan Cuthbertson was terminated on conclusion of his fixed term contract with access to pension benefits in line

Empty Union Rhetoric

The unions are coming under pressure to say something meaningful - about the public spending cuts coming down the track. So far, they resisted saying anything about the government's proposal to implement a public sector pay freeze - but only for workers earning above £21,000 a year. The significance of £21,000 a year is that it would help to protect the lowest paid workers - two thirds of whom are women - in the council sector. The government's announcement comes - of course - on the back of a complete pay freeze for all council employees - which has already been announced by the council employers - via COSLA. So a relaxation of this policy - funded by the Scottish government - would be a big deal for the lower paid. Yet the unions say nothing - other than to put forward ridiculous 'pie-in the sky' alternatives - that they know will never get off the ground - because they are not being made seriously. The only proposal put forward by the unions - so far - i

More Kind Words

More kind words from regular visitors to the blog site: "Dear Action 4 Equality Scotland A huge thanks you to you and all staff concerned with my settlement. I am so delighted with the amount I received thanks to you. ML" " Dear Mark Just a note to say thanks to you and your team for all the hard work you had getting our great settlement - well worth the wait. NL"

ROK Redundancies

Building services firm ROK has announced more redundancies - a further 268 staff in Scotland are to be laid off - after a deal to save part of the business collapsed. Last week over 700 job cuts were announced - including 69 in East Kilbride. Who knows whether the workforce saw this coming - and whether there was any prior warning or effective consultation. If not the workers involved may be able to bring a claim to the employment tribunals - for a protective award. If successful, a protective award could be worth up to three months pay - worth fighting for if you've just been thrown onto the dole. So, if you know anyone that works for ROK - tell them to get proper advice before they agree to anything - put forward by the company's administrators.

Voting Reform

Voting Reform Voting Reform Be clear, therefore, that Labour is not trying to protect fairness from those who would destroy it but to perpetuate an unfairness from which Labour itself benefits. Inequality of constituencies is not the only source of bias in the electoral system – but it is certainly one of them. For the past five parliaments it has been biased towards Labour. No amount of red herrings about the danger of reducing the number of MPs, or the inappropriateness of including more than one major change in the same bill, should be permitted to distract from the essential propriety of correcting that bias. To claim this bill should be opposed because it is partisan is not just opportunism, it is an Orwellian inversion of the truth. The principled stance would be to give the reform bill its second reading. Both of its main pillars – equalising seats and paving the way for the AV referendum – are progressive reforms. If Labour wants to make alliances with rightwing Tories to unpi

Raking It In

Former labour MP Margaret Moran is still doing very nicely thank you - from the MPs' expenses scandal. Moran was forced to stand down after claiming £22,500 to treat dry rot at a seaside house 100 miles from her constituency in Luton - and stands to collect a £500,000 windfall from two former parliamentary homes - both of which were renovated at public expense. Moran has just sold her Luton house for a profit of £185,000 and is understood to be keen to sell her Westminster flat too - according to the Sunday Times - which could realise an even greater profit of £300,000. Moran's properties have been improved over the years - with new bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens installed where necessary - and all at the taxpayers' expense. Incredibly the former MP is allowed to keep the profit element from the two houses - as they increased in value over the years - and as Moran repeatedly 'flipped' from one property to another to take advantage of Westminster's gen

Edinburgh's Shame

Gina Davidson wrote an excellent article on equal pay in the Edinburgh Evening News last week - here it is again for anyone who missed what Gina had to say. Another group which has been treated very shabbily by the council - past and present, not just the present lot in power - are male workers in predominantly female jobs such as Home Carers and Catering Staff. Now these men do exactly the same job as their women colleagues - who were made settlement offers years ago - yet the men are still waiting for justice. No other council in Scotland has done what Edinburgh City Council has done - every other council in Scotland has made offers to men and women in the same jobs - doing exactly the same work. Pay discrimination against men is every bit as wrong as pay discrimination against women - and 'scandalous' is the right word to describe the council's behaviour. Let's hope they get their finger out soon - and start restoring the city council's battered reputat

Burma Campaign UK

If any readers would like more information about the fight for human rights and democracy in Burma - please visit the Burma Campaign UK at the following address : www.burmacampaign.org.uk The site has a wealth of background information about Burma - and its pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. And it contains plenty of ideas about what people can do on a practical level - to support the Burma campaign from the UK.

Pay Policy Helps Low Paid

The Sunday newspapers report today that the Scottish government will announce a new pay policy next week - which will freeze the pay of public service workers earning more than £21,000 a year. Now this will bring the usual howls of protest from the trade unions - who always talk a great fight about protecting the low paid - yet never take decisive action. But the reality is that the new government pay policy is actually a big improvement for low paid council workers - because up until now they also faced the prospect of a 0% pay increase until 2013. Earlier this year the Scottish employers (COSLA) imposed a pay freeze for all council employees for the next two years - which was reported on the blog site on 4 September 2010 (see below). So the Scottish government is actually behaving more progressively than the council employers - who proposed a 0% increase for everyone. The trade unions of course indulge in a lot of windy rhetoric about low pay - but would never agree to such a de

Bloggers of the World - Unite!

The Times newspaper reported yesterday on a Palestinian atheist who secretly blogged against Islam's 'blind faith' - found himself being threatened with life in prison for 'insulting the divine essence'. Wow - that's really heavy - and to think I've been a great supporter of the Palestinian cause all these years. Walid Hussein - 26 - the son of a respected Muslim scholar was caught after his mother found atheist texts on his computer - cancelled his internet connection - which forced Walid to use an internet cafe to post his blogs. Somehow the cafe owner took pictures of Walid's 'blasphemous' facebook pages - and reported him to the Palestinian Authority's intelligence agency - which promptly arrested Walid for his 'thought crimes'. Walid now faces life in jail for calling Islam a 'blind faith that grows and takes over people's minds where there is irrationality and ignorance' - and comparing Allah to a 'primit

Pro Patria Mori

Over the years there have been plenty of wars and military adventures - which have never enjoyed my support - enthusiastic or otherwise. Equally, there have been times when I though that the civilised world should have intervened - to stop genocide in its tracks. Rwanda being a prime example - where the world stood by - and watched tribal slaughter take place in Africa on a biblical scale - despite the presence of UN troops. On Remembrance Sunday I always think of my two uncles - Edmund and Pat - who served in and survived the Second World War - including the British army's desperate retreat from Dunkirk. I don't slavishly wear a poppy - and feel no need to wear my heart on my sleeve - though I always make a donation to the British Legion. I heard some crazy person on the radio the other day - saying that she had refused to wear a poppy ever since she spotted Tony Blair wearing one at some memorial service - this apparently drove the poor woman over the edge. How bo

Cash Strapped Councils

A regular reader has passed on some news - about the festive frolics planned by some of Scotland's 'cash-strapped' councils. Apparently, Renfrewshire Council - which announced 500 job losses recently - is paying X-Factor loser Olly Murs £15,000 to switch on the Christmas lights. Now I don't even know who Olly Murs is - but he is performing for 30 minutes before the big switch-on in Paisley. So that's about £30,000 an hour - not bad work if you can get it - but why go to such ridiculous and costly expense? South Lanarkshire are planning to spend £45,000 on six switch- on events - and North Lanarkshire - not to be outdone - is spending £50,000 on seven events. No details are reported on what £95,000 will buy for the good citizens of Lanarkshire - but if anyone does know, drop me a note. East Renfrewshire Council is not spending a penny on Christmas light ceremonies - maybe someone's volunteered to do it for free - overcome with Christmas spirit and goo

Why Subsidise the Well Off?

Readers have probably noticed that a young man was arrested yesterday - on suspicion of taking part in Wednesday's student protest at Millbank Tower in London. Turns out the young man is not the one who hurled a fire extinguisher into the crowd below - but he was allegedly involved in the general mayhem and vandalism on the roof of the building. Even more interesting is the fact that he comes from an apparently wealthy family - which owns a large country house worth up to £1 million - set in its own expansive grounds - in leafy Berkshire. Jackson Potter - a 23 year old student at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridgeshire - joins the ranks of those charged with disorderly behaviour. But you have to ask yourself this: Why should the public subsidise the cost of sending someone like Jackson Potter to university - when he and his family seem to come from such comfortable means?

Never Give Up, Never Give In

In its own way, today's release of Burma's pro-democracy leader - Aung San Suu Kyi - is every bit as significant as that of Nelson Mandela - although the road ahead is not so clear. Because Burma's military leaders show no sign of releasing their firm grip on the country. Whereas in South Africa was apartheid effectively dead - by the time Nelson Mandela was finally allowed his freedom. Yet this is still a day for great celebration - for everyone who has fought injustice in their lives - at home or abroad. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a prisoner in her own home for almost twenty years - she has not seen her two grown up children for a decade and more. She was also prevented from saying goodbye to her dying husband - knowing that if she left the country and its people - she would never have been allowed to return. Sometimes the human spirit is truly incredible - in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi - indomitable and inspiring spring to mind as well.

Not So Usual Suspects

More revealing details about the London 'student rioters' - continues to spill out via the press. An odd bunch, really - not the kind of people you'd expect to find - they're certainly not from the ranks of the poor, downtrodden and dispossessed. Luke Cooper - 26 year old tutor in international studies at the University of Sussex - not a student at all, of course - and presumably well paid for his 'horny handed' toils in higher education. Lewis Evans - a 17 year old school boy who was pictured hurling a chair through a plate glass window at Millbank Tower - aspirations unknown and unreported. Clare Solomon - 37 year old president of the University of London Union - who has held various university union positions for the past seven years - apparently . Tanzil Chowdhury - 22 year old with a degree in law and politics from Manchester University - former grammar schoolboy from Skipton, North Yorkshire. Bryan Simpson - 22 year old student activist at the Univer

Midlothian Update

Midlothian Council has been blowing hot and cold for months - over new settlement offers. Discussions have taken place in recent months, but no conclusion has been reached - despite the best efforts of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Fox Cross Solicitors. A further CMD hearing (Case Management Discussion) on the Midlothian cases is due to take place on 6 December 2010. If no agreement has been reached before this date - the aim will be to list a GMF hearing of the Midlothian cases - because the talking can only go on for so long. The council has no excuses for its foot dragging behaviour. Midlothian asked the Scottish government to borrow extra funds to meet the back pay costs of equal pay - and Scottish ministers granted their request months ago. So it's time to put up or shut up - the council has until 6 December to come to its senses - after that all bets are off.

Violence Breeds Violence

The tabloid newspapers are having a field day - in the wake of the student march and protest in London over tuition fees. Some newspapers have published the comments of Labour activists and Labour MPs on social networking sites - which make very interesting reading. John McDonnell - Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington (London) said: "The real vandalism is not a few broken Millbank windows but £9,000 fees destroying the hopes of young people going to university." I bet John McDonnell wouldn't hold the same view - if an angry and out of control mob - gathered outside his own home or place of work - sprayed graffiti all over his walls - and generally smashed the place up. Any responsible politician or student leaders knows that the scenes at Millbank Towers were bang out of order - peaceful protest is one thing - violent and threatening behaviour quite another. And anyone who tries to make excuses for this kind of nonsense - is simply trying to encourage a repeat

Spot the Difference

A well informed reader has contacted me to say that a difference between Jim Devine and Phil Woolas - is that one was a former Unison official and the other a former GMB official. Good point - and well spotted. But I don't think a bit of old fashioned trade union rivalry - can explain the difference in treatment between the two former MPs. The one found guilty in the courts has the sympathy of at least some of his fellow Labour MPs - who have launched a 'Save Phil Woolas' campaign. The other (Jim Devine) has been found guilty of nothing - as yet - but is about as popular amongst his fellow Labour MPs - as a live hand grenade. Who said politics was a dirty business?

Edinburgh and Equal Pay

Here's an excellent article on equal pay in tonight's Edinburgh Evening News - written by Gina Davidson - who quite rightly lays into the behaviour of Edinburgh councillors - past and present - city council officials and trade union leaders. Good for Gina and the Evening News - the city council should try facing up to its responsibilities - instead of wasting public money on defending the indefensible. Equal pay-up is long overdue SCANDAL is a word over-used these days. Everything from Wayne Rooney's extra-marital expenses to Cheryl Cole's inability to choose which of her X-Factor proteges to give the boot should, apparently, leave us scandalised. But there is a real scandal going on in Edinburgh right at the moment. One that no-one apart from those at the sharp end are talking about. Unsurprisingly, it involves the city council and money. More surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the trams. What it does involve are 340 people all fighting to get the money t

Spot the Difference

Labour's old guard is out to defend the indefensible - and not for the first time The party's dinosaur elements is trying to gloss over the behaviour of Phil Woolas - the fomer MP and government minister who has been booted out of Parliament - for spreading malicious lies about his Lib Dem opponent in the May general election. The argument of the 'Save Woolas' brigade is that their man has not received - due process. Because Woolas has indicated his intention to appeal the damning verdict of two high court judges - and presumably he remains 'innocent' in the eyes of some at least. Unless and until he has finally and incontrovertibly been proved guilty - in some higher place or court - which might take years, of course. Well these same tender mercies were not shown to the three former Labour MPs now facing court charges over their election expenses - Jim Devine (a Scot and former Unison official), David Chaytor and Elliot Morley. None of these chaps h

Scotland's Shame

Scotland's real shame is its Jekyll and Hyde relationship with alcohol - which has blighted the lives of so many individual Scots and their families for years. Far from a new generation of Scots embracing a more relaxed, social drinking culture - widely practised in other parts of Europe - binge drinking still has a fierce grip on the Scottish psyche. So much so that all the health - and other indicators - that highlight the real costs of Scotland's excessive drinking culture have been ringing alarm bells for years. Yet our legislators and politicians can't agree with a programme for action - which tells you that the Scottish Parliament still has a long way to go. Because for Holyrood to do its job properly it has to cut through all the vested interests - including party politicking - that try to slow down and block social change. The SNP government's minimum alcohol pricing plan was never a 'magic bullet' - capable of solving Scotland's alcohol pr

Calling Home Carers - South Lanarkshire

I am interested in speaking to any regular readers from South Lanarkshire - who are either still employed as Home Carers - or who are recently retired as Home Carers. In particular, I am keen to have a word with anyone who remembers the home care 'service reviews' - which apparently took place prior to the introduction of the new Single Status pay arrangements in April 2004. Any documents or letters from that period - would be of interest as well. So, if you were involved in that process - either as an employee or even as a union rep at the time - drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Knock, Knock - Who's There?

Speaking from personal experience - I can vouch for the fact that most students are decent, hard working young people. I can't think of anyone that I know who would deliberately throw a fire extinguisher from a great height - into a group of innocent bystanders below. Yet whoever carried out this insane act cannot have been too smart - not a first class honours candidate, surely? Because in this modern world such actions are inevitably caught on camera - and then broadcast for the world to see - often only minutes later. The only good thing is that the young man responsible must have spent a really sleepless night - wondering when the knock on the door will eventually come. And if his friends and fellow protesters have any sense - they'll turn him in without a moment's hesitation - he deserves his fate. What will be interesting to see in the next few days - is whether those caught up in the wanton violence and vandalism in London - are actually students. Or th