Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Labour-Led South Lanarkshire

The day after tomorrow is the big day - I can hardly wait.

South Lanarkshire has until Friday - 2 September 2011 - to comply with a decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion.

What will this increasingly ridiculous council do?

Comply with the carefully reasoned decision of the Scottish Information Commssioner - or waste even more time and taxpayers money by appealing (yet again) to the Court of Session.

If the latter, I'm going to have to contact the Scottish Labour leader - Iain Gray - again.

Regular readers will know that Iain Gray is keen that public bodies - inclduing the Scottish government - comply with decisions of the Scottish Information Commissioner. 

So clearly Iain Gray will not want Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council - making a fool of Scottish Labour's principled stance.

Let's hope that South Lanarkshire Council makes the right choice - and stops bringing freedom of information into disrepute.

CENSORED in South Lanarkshire (25 May 2011)

Here is the 'guts' of the document censored by South Lanarkshire Council - following my freedom of information request about Single Status and Equal Pay.

The council has removed or redacted a whole section of Paragraph 2.2.1 - presumably because this lets the cat out of the bag - in terms of what council officials were really up to back in 1999.

What's amazing is that elected councillors appear to have left the whole business of Single Status and Equal Pay - up to the most senior officials who sat on the Corporate Management Team.

Incredibly, the subject of Single Status and Equal Pay - the biggest issue facing the council - is not discussed at any council committee - between the summer of 1999 and the spring of 2003.

So much for local democracy.

Which appears to have been casually cast aside to suit the council's Corporate Management Team - who now want to keep their deliberations secret.

But that's what the House of Commons tried to do as well - in relation to MPs' expenses.

And look what that did for MPs - and the House of Commons.

"1 Purpose of Report

1.1 To outline the principles of Signle Status and seek the Corporate Management Team's approval for a strategy to implement Single Status in the Council.

2 Background

2.1 The introduction of Signle Status removes the divisions in conditions of service between APT&C and Manual employees and provides the Council with an opporuntiy to re-engineer the organisation and re-configure our workforce.

2.2 Alternatives Available for Implementation of Single Status

2.2.1 Achieve Single Status through the Existing Organisation







2.2.2 Achieve Single Status through an Organisation for the Millennium


3 Proposals


4 Recommendations

4.1 It is recommended that implementation is progressed on a phased basis by initially approving these principles (under Paragrpah 3), with further reports submitted to the Corporate Management Team outlining each specific stage. As part of the first stage, Corporate Personnel Services will liase with the Trade Union side to obtain their agreement of the principles. and progress implementation thorugh a partnership approach.

4.2 The next step will involve rolling out the principles of Single Status to managers and this would be achieved through the delivery of a series of Corporate Road Shows.

4.3 Following this, a further report will be submitted to the Corporate Management Team by 31 December 1999, detailing the proposed timetable for implementation.

4.4 It is recommended that the Corporate Management Team agrees the principles of Single Status and the proposals for roll out as outlined."

More to follow - so watch this space.

One Helluva Apology

The Scottish government has saved Edinburgh City Council from complete disaster - even though the much-derided 'trams project' - has made monkeys out of the taxpayer.

Last week Labour and Tory councillors joined forces to stop the trams in their tracks at Haymarket - with the new 'service' racking up losses of £4 million a year - and passengers having to complete the journey into the city centre - under their own steam.

Some advert for Scotland.

But thankfully the Scottish government has stepped in to save these idiots from themselves - and end the pretence that any of them actually know what they are doing.

Local democracy, my arse - more like the Keystone Cops taking over the transport network.

Now the irony is that the SNP government never wanted to spend £500 million of public money - on Edinburgh's trams in the first place.

But Labour and Lib Dem MSPs ganged up in the Scottish Parliament and voted the scheme through - leaving the SNP minority government of the day no choice but to comply.

The budget originally allocated to the project has now all been used up - because of the council's incompetence and mismanagement.

The cost of getting the trams into the city centre - St Andrews Square - will run to an extra £300 million or so - which the council will have to borrow with council taxpayers picking up the tab.

Even then - at a cost of £800 million and counting - the trams will not go all the way to Newhaven - and all the disruption in Leith will have been in vain.

No wonder the citizens of Edinburgh are spitting mad - in days gone by they'd have marched on the City Chambers - pitchforks and torches in hand.

Putting the issue to a referendum wouldn't solve anything - because people are so angry they would just vote the whole thing down - and then there would be nothing at all to show for all these hundreds of millions of pounds.

So the First Minister has done the right thing - painful as it is for everyone involved - especially people living and working in Edinburgh.

What might sweeten this bitter pill is that the key councillors behind this disastrous chain of events - should announce that they are standing down at the next council elections in May 2012. 

Because the councillors involved - and the MSPs who voted in the Scottish Parliament to give them £500 million of public money - owe the rest of us one helluva apology.  

Wasting Public Money

The idiot Hearts fan who attacked Celtic manager - Neil Lennon - during a televised football match back in May - continues to waste the time of the police and the courts - and everyone else caught up in this ugly incident.

John Wilson (26) is charged with attacking Lennon - and the charge is 'aggravated' because Wilson is said to have shouted sectarian abuse at Lennon at the time.

Yesterday an independent witness - Peter Croy (61) - the operations director for G4 Security  gave evidence that Wilson shouted - 'Lennon, ya Fenian bastard', as Wilson was being restrained on the ground.

Wilson does not deny the attack - which to Scotland's shame was witnessed around the world - but denies the aggravated element of his crime.

Now the evidence of Peter Croy - as an independent witness - must have been available to Wilson and his lawyer - before the trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court got underway.

Yet the defendant - John Wilson - is still allowed to waste everyone's time when the essential facts appear clear - which makes a complete mockery of our criminal justice system.

So I hope this clown gets the maximum possible sentence under the law - as a warning to others who might  follow in his footsteps. 

Mickey Mouse Degrees

As I read the Sunday Times at the weekend - I thought that old petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson's at it again - ranting on about something or other having sniffed too many petrol fumes.

Jeremy was in top gear as he laid into the standard of education and Mickey Mouse degrees - at English universities.

He claimed that courses in 'Dance with Waste Management' and 'Third World Development with Pop Music' - were available as bona fide degrees - in real universities.

No, I said to myself - he's gone stark raving bonkers this time - but the truth is old JC is bang on the money - as a quick visit to the internet confirms.

Because a degree in 'Dance with Waste Management' is actually available - at Northampton University.

So too is a degree in 'Dance with Equine Studies' would you believe - though where that fascinating subject is taught - I have no idea I am glad to say.

Quite how these ridiculous topics get public funding is beyond me - even more laughable is the notion that they can be taught to degree standard.

But they are responsible for me doing something I never thought I'd do - which is to take my hat off to Jeremy Clarkson.

Because the old petrolhead makes a fair point - you know.

Trade Union Fat Cats

The annual TUC conference takes place next month and some people - me for one - will be waiting with baited breath - to hear what the brothers have to say about the 'fat cat' behaviour of Unite and its recently departed general secretary - Derek Simpson.

Meantime the Private Eye has performed a service in keeping this issue in the public spotlight - while the TUC, Unite and all the other unions - try desperately to brush the whole affair under the carpet.

Here's what the Eye has to say.

TUC News - Pay daze


Derek Simpson, former joint general secretary of Unite, hit the headlines when he topped the trades union rich list by pocketing a farewell package worth £519,659.

Alas, uncomradely elements in Britain's biggest union are questioning whether the £361,347 "severance" element of the package was properly paid. If not, they say, shouldn't he be obliged to give it back?

Simpson's severance payment was supposedly authorised at a meeting of the general purposes and finance committee (GPFC) of the former union Amicus in March 2008, prior to its full merger with the Transport and General Workers' Union, which created Unite. Some attendees of that meeting, however, have claimed that it wasn't properly constituted - the minute taker, for instance, having been asked to leave the room.

One person who was there, Aliatair Fraser, has written to Unite's general secretary, Len McCluskey, telling him that Simpson's severance payment was not discussed at the meeting, and no vote was taken.

The only mention of the subject was by Simpson's sidekick, Les Bayliss (Eyes passim), who at the time was one of several Amicus assistant general secretaries (AGS). Bayliss claimed the union "had looked after our enemies", a reference to severance payments made to officers who were unsympathetic to simpson and who had been forced out of the union before claiming "we should be generous to our friends". But no further discussion took place.

Other chums of simpson, such as another Amicus AGS, Ed Sweeney, have argued that Simpson should have received a severance deal based on a higher "notional" salary, rather than his actual pay.

Simpson retired at the end of an extended term of office and was not made redundant, so many Unite members are puzzeld as to how he could be entitled to any form of "severance" payment.

If the payment was in breach of union rules and nothing is done about it, activists such as Jerry Hicks - runner-up to McCluskey in last year's election for general secretary - are threatening to take legal action to recover the money. McCluskey, meanwhile, says he only heard about the severance deal recently and hasn't a clue who authorised it. Ordinary members are mightily reassured."

A key point to note here is that Unite the union - will be investigating this issue itself - just like the police used to do in the bad old days.

Unlike other areas of public life - trade unions are completely unregulated and there is no external independent figure to whom ordinary union members - or members of the public can takle a complaint.

Now this would matter if trade unions didn't have their fingers in lots of different pies - such as playing a decisive role in handing the leadership of the Labour party to Ed Miliband - the favoured candidate of the Unite leadership - and one Derek Simpson.

Unite is also Labour's biggest donor - and pours millions of pounds into Labour coffers - on a regular basis.

So a big step forward would be a independent regulator - with powers to investigate complaints against trade union bosses and union hierarchies.

Who at the moment feel free to 'lord it' over ordinary members - and treat their complaints with lofty disdain.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Talk of the Steamie

I completely forgot that yesterday was a bank holiday and that - far from returning to work - lots of people might have been enjoying a well-deserved long weekend.

So I am re-publishing Sunday's 'Talk of the Steamie' post.

Which has certainly stirred things up a bit - if the e-mails I've received already are anything to go by.

Talk of the Steamie (Sunday)

I kept my mobile phone on all day yesterday - but no word from the mysterious reader who contacted me last week.

Not to worry - maybe they don't look at the blog site over the weekend.

But other readers can help - by spreading the word and making sure this is the 'talk of the steamie' in South Lanarkshire - as folks go back to work on Monday morning.

So I'll keep putting these little reminders up - until I hear something which will be soon - I'm sure.

Because complete confidence and discretion is assured.

Calling South Lanarkshire (Saturday)

A reader from South Lanarkshire sent me some very interesting information through the post the other day - in a brown paper envelope - which somehow added a sense of mystery and excitement - I have to admit.

Now the information contained in this little 'parcel' is intriguing - and potentially explosive - but I would like to discuss a couple things with the person who kindly went to a lot of time and trouble to get it to me.

Completely confidentially - of course.

I am only too well aware of how careful people are about speaking out these days - because sadly there are forces out there who would like to punish potential whistleblowers - just for standing up and telling the truth.

So the supplier of this information can be assured of complete discretion at all times - the need to remain anonymous is well understood - and absolutely guaranteed.

But I would appreciate a word to check on one or two things - and I can be contacted in either one of the following two ways.

By e-mail:
By mobile phone or text: 07947 795222

I don't have a voice mail service on my mobile phone - to avoid being hacked by the press - or anyone else for that matter.

A Hopeful Carer

A reader from South Lanarkshire has sent me an e-mail - the contents of which are reproduced below.

I have to say it's always nice to hear from those at the sharp end of the fight for equal pay - because that's what this is all about.

The lowest paid workers in the land - who have been betrayed by the very people - who were supposed to be looking after their interests.

If you have something to say - or want to get something off your chest - drop me a note at:

As a general rule I don't publish people's names and personal details - for obvious reasons.

But so long as readers' comments are reasonably polite - though colourful language is perfectly acceptable - I am happy to post them on the blog site.

So don't delay - if you have some thoughts to share or something you want to say - get writing today.

"Dear Mark

I was very pleased to read the publication today in the Hamilton Advertiser about the ongoing equal pay dispute concerning South Lanarkshire Council.

It was an interesting bit of reading considering the amount of time it has slowly been going on and on.

Reading this had for one time felt a bit of closure hopefully.

I would like to thank you for all your persistence and time it has been greatly appreciated.

I think I can speak on behalf of everyone involved in this dispute you have fought effortlessly and we hope it has not been in vain.

Thank you very very much.

A hopeful carer"


India has a regular stream of visitors to the blog site - which I find quite surprising.

India is a vast country - a place I have yet to visit and apart from its wonderful cuisine - India is a land I know little about.

Along with most other Scots I love Indian food - though the irony is that most 'Indian' restaurants in Scotland are actually owned and run by people who hail originally from Pakistan.

The cuisine of northern India is very different to people's diet in the south of the country - which is largely vegetarian - or in Kerala where fish and seafood recipes are 'king'.

But whether the cooking is vegetarian or involves meat or fish - there's nothing quite like a good curry - and so many Scots agree that it's become our other national dish.

I can cook good curries too - something I learned when I worked in London many years ago - and lived close to Southall which has an abundance of wonderful shops, cafes and restaurants.

London - in West Ealing to be precise - is where I started to cook daals and tasty curries of various kinds - because the spices were easy to pick up in the local shops and markets.

I also had some Sikh neighbours - one of whom was a NUPE steward at the time - who invited me to their daughter's wedding - a magnificent affair complete with a Bhangra Band and the biggest outdoor cookers I have ever seen - cooking up a storm.

The music, food and drinks were splendid - and that's where I discovered that Sikhs (the ones I know anyway) have a great love of Scotland's national drink - whisky - especially Johnnie Walker Black Label.

I have a friend over in India at the moment, a journalist - Dean Nelson - who comes from London originally though Scotland is his adopted home - when he's not in India.

Dean's better half - Pamela Timms - has a great passion for 'Indian' food and has built up a successful web site specialising in street food recipes - which I have sampled and very good they are too!

The only thing I know about India is that it is a largely Hindu nation - though people of all religions and none at all - are able to live in relative peace and harmony.

Personally speaking, I find all religions completely bonkers.

But if I were going to become a religious convert all of a sudden - I think I would choose something really  colourful and exciting.

And Hinduism with its Elephant God - Ganesha - and a whole host of others - just seems so much more lively and interesting.

A big downside of India of course - is its ridiculous caste system which condemns some of its people to a lifetime of poverty and misery.

Which sits rather oddly with India's image - as a modern, secular and democratic country.

But I would love to visit India one day nonetheless.

So where's the invitation Deano - in the post?

Red Letter Day

Today is a 'red letter' day for the blog site.

The reason being that today I have just published post number 2,000 - which is no mean feat though I say so myself - given all the competing demands on my time.

When I started out I had no idea where all this would lead.

I still don't in the sense that the blog site is no longer just about equal pay.

Regular readers will have noticed - long ago - that I write about a wide range of issues these days.

But while the focus of the blog site has changed and expanded - standing up for the little 'guy' remains its true purpose - against the hypocrites and bullies who wield undue influence over many aspects of public life.

How long it will all last I can't say with any certainty - but for so long as I think I can make a difference - I will keep the blog site going.

Occasionally people ask me why I don't have a comments section - for people to add their own views.

The answer is simple - I don't have the time or resources required to monitor and - if necessary - moderate readers' comments which is a big job in itself.

However I'm awlays delighted to hear from readers - and I'm happy to post people's comments on the site - if anyone wants to contact by e-mail at:

And if you want to remain anonymous - for obvious reasons - just say so and all your personal details will be withheld.

So for the moment I'm going to allow myself a small celebration.

2,000 posts and counting seems as good a reason as any - and that's a lot of words you know.

Deputy Dawg

John Prescott - that old sea-dog and former deputy leader of the Labour party - has been at it again.

Putting his foot in it - or mouth in it - as is his wont on a regular basis.

Private Eye has again exposed just what an old phoney JP is - with his frequent blatherings on TV and Twitter.

Here's a piece from the latest edition of the magazine.

"Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull in the county of East Yorkshire was, as ever, quick to jump on a Twitter bandwagon , appending the scathing - #whereisthegovernment - hashtag to his 'tweets' about the Eurozone crisis.

He also took to Andrew Marr's sofa after the first night of the riots to announce that he had been in charge "every August for ten years, I had the tsumami (sic), I had the 7/11" (he was presumably referring to the Asian tsunami, which took place in December 2004, and either the terror attacks on New York in September 2011, or London in July 2005).

"I had one minister phone me up and say 'I can do it from down in Cornwall on the beach', " he continued, warming to his theme. "No you bloody well can't, get up here, I want a full team sitting in cabinet discussing the issues."

And how exactly did the artist formerly known as John Prescott react to criticism of defence secretary Geoff Hoon's decision to go on a family holiday following the suicide of Dr David Kelly in August 2003?

"Everyone has to have their holidays," he announced on Breakfast with Frost.

Just count your blessings - that the country was in such safe hands.

Monday, 29 August 2011

And Now The News

Sometimes I wonder how the television and radio manage to churn out such pap and nonsense - without someone somewhere standing up and saying:

'I refuse to read this rubbish - it's a complete insult to the viewers' and listeners' intelligence!"

Take today for example.

I heard a 'news' story this morning on the radio in which someone was calling for the Lockerbie bomber - Al Megrahi - to be extradited - presumably to America.

But how could this happen?

Because Al Megrahi was already jailed for his crime and given a life sentence by a Scottish court sitting in The Hague - but was then  subsequently released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds.

A decision that was of course fully supported by the UK (Labour) government at the time - though that didn't stop Labour in Scotland behaving hypocritically when the decision was announced - and trying to exploit the situation for their own ends.

So what is this latest nonsense all about?

Admittedly Al Megrahi has refused to die within the three months anticipated originally by Scotland's top medical experts - inconvenient maybe but hardly a crime.

In future I would urge newsreaders to go on strike - and refuse to read out such drivel.

Unless of course they've nothing better to do with their time - in which case that's a different matter altogether.

Running a Whelk Stall

Renewed calls are being made today for the Scottish Government to take over the Edinburgh 'trams project' - from the bams who are 'running' things just now.

I wrote about this back in June and supported the suggestion - even though it amounts to a 'poisoned chalice' for Alex Salmond and his SNP government. 

But the truth is that elected politicians and senior officials in Edinburgh - have shown the world that they couldn't even run a whelk stall - if they were given one for free.

So the First Minister should put party politics aside - even though the SNP opposed the crazy idea from the outset - and rescue the good people of Edinburgh from those currently masquerading as our capital city's 'civic leaders'.  

Now this has some implications for local democracy - which COSLA keeps banging on about - the notion that local decisions are always better decisions.

Well tell that to people in Edinburgh because the 'trams project' provides convincing evidence -  that local government is not always better government - despite what COSLA says. 

Come to think of it what does COSLA have to say about the 'dog's dinner' - that Scotland's second largest council has made of its trams?

It's the biggest scandal in Scottish local government for years - yet the voice of Scottish local government has little - if anything - relevant to say.

So I say step up to the plate First Minister - and push all these people to the sidelines - because that is where they all belong.

The Whole Nine Yards (24 June 2011)

The Edinburgh Evening News is running a big campaign - unsurprisingly - over the scandal involving the city's trams, or the lack of trams - to be more precise.

The newspaper is calling for control of the project to be taken out of Edinburgh City Council's hands - and handed over to the Scottish government, presumably.

Now the obvious question is: 'Why would the government accept such a poisoned chalice?'

But in the circumstances I think that is probably the right call.

Because sadly local government has shown that it is simply not up to the task.

Regular readers will recall that the trams project only came about - because of political interference in the Scottish Parliament.

Where Labour and Lid Dem MSPs ganged up to force a minority SNP government to stump up £500 million - of taxpayers money to fund the doomed scheme.

Edinburgh City Council also chose to hand the project over to an arms length company or ALEO - a practice which has attracted great controversy in Scotland's largest council - Labour run Glasgow.

So the whole thing is a mess - not just a bit of a mess - but The Whole Nine Yards of a mess.

And the Scottish government is probably the only organisation with sufficient clout and expertise - to restore some sanity and public accountability.

In the meantime, I wouldn't spend another single penny of taxpayers' money - until the way forward is clear.

Edinburgh - Male Claimants

A regular reader from Edinburgh has been in touch - a male claimant, a school janitor - who wants to know why it's taking so long to settle his outstanding equal pay claim.

Well the truth is that Edinburgh City Council is the problem - it's been dragging its feet and refusing to settle these claims for years - on behalf of male workers - non-bonus earning workers such as school janitors and social work drivers.

Apparently the city council has been far too busy digging up Edinburgh's streets and wasting hundreds of millions of pounds - on its ridiculous trams project.

Meanwhile these male claimants - and other groups of former APT&C workers - have still to get their equal pay claims settled.

A big test case was heard earlier this year at the Court of Session on behalf of the former APT&C claimants - but the written decision has yet to be released.

So sit tight and fingers crossed.

Efforts have been redoubled to knock some sense into the council - over the male claimants and as soon as there are any developments - I will let people know.

Meantime here's a previous post about Stirling - which settled its janitors' claims earlier this year - we will get there in the end.

Can I Have My Money Back? (March 2011)

I know this sounds like the title for a Gerry Rafferty song.

But this post is my small tribute to a group of male janitors from Stirling - who pursued an equal pay claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland - in the teeth of opposition from their trade unions.

In 2006 - if I remember correctly - I went to visit this group who were all very interested in equal pay - and the work of Action 4 Equality Scotland.

Problem was - they were all warned off by their unions - who said they had no chance of a successful claim - because equal pay was only for women.

But janitors didn't receive bonus payments - unlike other lower graded male jobs such as refuse workers and gardeners.

"So, why don't we have a claim?", the Stirling janitors wanted to know - not unreasonably.

Well the answer - of course - is that they did.

The only difference was that the women workers had first to win their own claims - which opened the door to what was called a contingent claim by the male janitors.

And the rest is history - but now all the janitors want to know if they can get their union contributions back.

For all those wasted years in which the unions did nothing about equal pay - for the janitors individually or as a group.

I think the answer to that is probably not - and the cost of pursuing a refund would outweigh the likely benefit in any event.

So as one of the janitors said to me - the best response to the unions is that 'we were proved right in the end and that's all that counts - along with the cheque that's now in the bank'

A case of he who laughs last - laughs longest.

Snogging Golden Retrievers

Mad Ozzy Osbourne - of Black Sabbath fame - has another career which may not be familiar to regular readers of the blog site.

Ozzy also writes a regular column for the Sunday Times magazine - with the catchy title: 'Ask Dr Ozzy'.

But comes with the following health warning:

Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional. Caution is advised.

Yes, by all means proceed with care but Ozzy has been through the 'university of life' - which counts for a thing or two in my book - and besides his column is often hilariously funny.

Witness the following question and answer from this week's magazine.

Q. I'm a happily married father-of-two, but after a long session in the pub the other day, my assistant tried to snog me. That would have been awkward enough if my assistant weren't also a man (10 years my junior). Should I fire him?

Anonymous, Stoke

A. Depends how drunk you both were. During one of my old drinking sessions, I could have snogged a golden retriever and been none the wiser the next morning. Make a joke of it, unless you think he's genuinely got the hots for you. I don't think firing him is called for, unless something else went on that night you're not telling me about. Meanwhile, in future, get drunk with your friends, not your employees.


As ever - sound advice, wisdom even - and from a man who once bit the head off a live pigeon.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Talk of the Steamie

I kept my mobile phone on all day yesterday - but no word from the mysterious reader who contacted me last week.

Not to worry - maybe they don't look at the blog site over the weekend.

But other readers can help - by spreading the word and making sure this is the 'talk of the steamie' in South Lanarkshire - as folks go back to work on Monday morning.

So I'll keep putting these little reminders up - until I hear something which will be soon - I'm sure.

Because complete confidence and discretion is assured.

Calling South Lanarkshire

A reader from South Lanarkshire sent me some very interesting information through the post the other day - in a brown paper envelope - which somehow added a sense of mystery and excitement - I have to admit.

Now the information contained in this little 'parcel' is intriguing - and potentially explosive - but I would like to discuss a couple things with the person who kindly went to a lot of time and trouble to get it to me.

Completely confidentially - of course.

I am only too well aware of how careful people are about speaking out these days - because sadly there are forces out there who would like to punish potential whistleblowers - just for standing up and telling the truth.

So the supplier of this information can be assured of complete discretion at all times - the need to remain anonymous is well understood - and absolutely guaranteed.

But I would appreciate a word to check on one or two things - and I can be contacted in either one of the following two ways.

By e-mail:

By mobile phone or text: 07947 795222

I don't have a voice mail service on my mobile phone - to avoid being hacked by the press - or anyone else for that matter.

Private Eye

Private Eye - as you'd expect - has had a field day in the wake of the London riots.

Making fun of the great and good is the Eye's stock in trade - but some of them deserve to be made to look ridiculous - not least that old phoney 'Lord John Prescott of Hull'.

Here's an extract from a article which 'spoofs' the reaction of prominent public figures - to all the violence and looting.

                             What They Said

Prominent Figures Give Their Verdict On The Riots That Have Shocked Britain 

John Prescott

There can be no excuse for this behaviour and no justificating of what happened but the blame for the riotising and lootifying has to be put squarely at the feet of the Tory government who don't give a damn about the working classes because they all went to private public schools and swan around in big houses playing croquet and having affairs with their secretaries dressing up in ermine robes and giving themselves titles forgetting about the really disadvantaged people of Britain such as myself.

Inside the latest Private Eye are also to be found - the thoughts of Ken Livingstone (Boris Johnson's to blame) - Patrick Mercer MP (call in the army) - Desmond Morris (go back to nature - modern living is the cause) - and Reverend J.C. Flannel (I feel everyone's pain). 

Successful Scots

Earlier this year I published two posts about Jackie Kay's book - 'Red Dust Road'.

A few months later and Jackie's memoir has been voted 'Scottish Book of the Year' - which is richly deserved and comes as no surprise - to me at least.

I hope I played a small part in Jackie's success - by singing its praises on the blog site.

But if you haven't read the book as yet - you must do so.

Because it will warm your heart - make you laugh like a drain - and bring tears to your eyes.

Red Dust Road (26 May 2011)

I've just finished reading Red Dust Road - the life story so far of Jackie Kay - one of Scotland's best known poets.

Jackie has an interesting 'hinterland', as they say - adopted soon after she was born by John and Helen Kay, lifelong socialists from Glasgow.

Jackie's birth mother was a young Scottish woman from Nairn and her birth father was a young Nigerian student - whom she met briefly while he was studying in Aberdeen.

Red Dust Road tells the story of Jackie's life with John and Helen Kay - and her subsequent search for her birth mother and father.

The book is a delight - funny, sad, powerful and poignant - all at the same time.

The opening chapter tells the story of Jackie's reunion with her birth father Jonathan in Nigeria - where he has become a born-again Christian - and she tells the 'hilarious' tale with remarkable honesty.

As she does when speaking of her birth mother - whose Mormon beliefs convinced her that adopted people ask to be adopted - while still in the womb.

Apparently, her mother believed that Jackie had found the perfect parents - in John and Helen Kay - because her birth mother had prayed for this to be so.

Jackie recalls: "I tried to picture the embryonic me, knocking on the wall of her uterus, shouting: Oi, you, can you get me adopted?"

I knew Jackie's father John Kay - he was the Industrial Organiser of the Communist Party in Scotland for many years - and knew everything there was to know about the trade unions in those days.

A fine man - who would have scoffed at all this religious mumbo jumbo - some of which has clearly rubbed off on his daughter, Jackie.

But the amazing thing is that Red Dust Road is not in the least bitter or resentful - just thankful and hopeful for the future - which I think sums up the true spirit of John and Helen Kay as well.

I'll have what he's having (3 June 2011)

Jackie Kay's memoir - Red Dust Road - tells a delightful tale about the crazy things that loving parents sometimes - unwittingly - visit on their children

Philip Larkin had something to say about that - in one of his famous poems - but Jackie Kay seems to have survived, blossomed even as the result of her experience.

It certainly doesn't seem to have done her any harm.

The background within 'Red Dust Road' is that Jackie is 7 years old - and her Mum and Dad (Helen and John Kay) have gone off on holiday for three weeks - to the Soviet Union as it was then.

But their two children can't travel with them - so they stay behind in Scotland with family friends.

After week or two with one family, Jackie recounts the following story in her book - which clearly left a vivid impression.

"So they took us to another comrade, who we'd never met, who lived in a wee cottage on the outskirts of Edinburgh at the end of a very overgrown garden.

I was seven; Maxie was nine. The wee man baked a huge gooseberry pie. I've never tatsed another like it. The juice from the gooseberries was oozing out of a hole in the middle.

The wee man had peculiar habits. He would pee into a milk bottle at night, and in the morning the bottle would be half full of his pee, an intense orangey yellow. I remember seeing the bottle on the shelf in his kitchen, and staring at the colour for ages, half appallled, half fascinated.

Then he would beat up a raw egg for his breakfast, add a little of the piss, to 'gie it the right consistency', and half a pint of milk, transfer the mixture to a glass and knock it back in one.

'Never been sick a day in my life', the old man said.

I couldn't wait for my parents to come back from Russia."

I'll bet - but I haven't laughed so much in ages.

Facing Up To Discrimination

Here's an article I wrote more than tenyears ago for Business am - a new Scottish newspaper at the time which sadly lasted only a few years - before biting the dust.

I wrote for Business am on a regular basis - soon after I turned my back on a twenty-year trade union career - and long before equal pay came back into my life with a vengeance.

I was reminded of the Business am article while reading the apology of Lothian and Borders Police to the family of Simon San - who was killed in a racially motivated attack in Edinburgh in August 2010.

Simon San was a Chinese man who was set upon by a gang of street thugs - for no reason other than they took pleasure in teasing and tormenting him - because of his ethnic origin.

Lothian and Borders Police have now apologised for not treating the incident as a racist attack at the time - but the San family believe they have been denied justice.

Because their son's attackers were not charged - with an aggravated, racially motivated crime.

I agree with the San family - because casual discrimination in Scotland exists in many walks of walks of life - which is what the Business am piece was all about. 

Ten years on I wouldn't change a single word.

But you can see even more clearly now - in 2011 - how the entrenched pro-Labour culture within the trade unions in Scotland - has worked to the disadvantage of ordinary union members. 

Independent trade unions - not affiliated to any political party - would have stood up to the Scottish employers on equal pay.

The present lot didn't and, in reality, are incapable of doing so - while they remain so unrepresentative - and wedded to just one political party.      

Facing up to discrimination

Accusations of discrimination strike a raw nerve these days. In the wake of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence no one wants to face the humiliation dished out to the Metropolitan Police. At the same time, the public reacts against the charge that prejudice is everywhere, on the streets, at work and in our homes. Surely, Scotland has a new politics; our public institutions don’t discriminate routinely against fellow citizens, do they?

These are murky waters indeed. On the one hand there’s no doubt that discrimination is an everyday fact of life. Police in Scotland recorded 2,242 racial incidents last year, a 70% increase on 1998/99. What are the implications of Lord McPherson branding the biggest force in the UK (The Met) institutionally racist?

No one accused individual police officers of racism in the Stephen Lawrence case since that would have missed the point. The public inquiry concluded that the Metropolitan Police failed in its collective duty of care; that Stephen Lawrence and his family were treated badly because they mattered less, because police officers were initially unsympathetic, because race and colour were unspoken issues.

In Scotland, the Chhokar family has also had to endure the pain of watching their son’s murderer go free, and the authorities are wholly to blame. The defence of the accused was hardly unique; pointing the finger at each other was predictable and should not have proved fatal to the prosecution case. How could such a basic mistake have occurred? The state now has to show this was not the result of casual prejudice. Although institutional racism is not about overt, deliberate acts, its effects can be just as powerful. Ultimately, it is hard to imagine the Chhokar family being treated so badly had they lived in Balerno or Newton Mearns.

The Scottish executive is resisting calls for a public inquiry. The Chhokars have voted with their feet believing there is little point cooperating with a judicial inquiry that fails to protect their interests, as they see them. The reputation of Scottish justice must be damaged by the failure to find an agreed way forward. Officials and politicians seem oblivious to the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Exceptional cases require exceptional solutions; satisfying the demands of a grieving family is surely not beyond the country’s most brilliant legal minds.

Discrimination can be shocking, but it can be mundane as well, conditioned by a way of life. Reports confirm a pay gap still exists between men and women, despite legislation outlawing sex discrimination since 1975. Are nasty employers are to blame or is the problem more complex and deep-rooted? The uncomfortable truth is that much of the discrimination against women is structural, the result of how society organises itself. Women are still largely responsible for childcare. Stereotyping means that young women, even today, are more likely to become secretaries than managers. Changing these attitudes is the key to combating sex discrimination. Employers have a big responsibility, like everyone else, and deserve what they get for flouting the law, but the bosses are not alone.

Scottish local government is the country’s biggest employer with around 280,000 workers. Women dominate the lowest pay scales and have done for generations. Trade unions demand an equality led approach, equal pay audits to tackle the problem. The reality is that sex discrimination by employers is not the problem; women get stuck on the bottom of the pay ladder because society hands men and women different roles. Part-time cleaners (one of the largest groups) are trapped by jobs with few opportunities, not by glass ceilings. How about training people to become classroom assistants or teachers even, as adult returners to education, supported by proper childcare facilities? Now that would be radical!

Unions are often at the forefront of the equality debate. Unfortunately, their track record as equal opportunity employers is appalling. Most have far to travel before promoting themselves as non-discriminatory employers, particularly in Scotland. Equal opportunity employers reflect the local environment and believe in tackling any imbalances in the composition of the workforce. Why then are virtually all senior union officials active members of the Labour Party?

Embarrassingly, the answer is that unions institutionally discriminate against non-Labour supporters. An SNP or a Lib Dem supporter could be a typist in a Labour affiliated trade union, but not a manager. The movement is in favour of equal opportunities, but politics gets in the way of unions acting as good employers. In Scotland, a lot less than 40% of union members support the Labour Party, yet statistically impossible numbers dominate trade union hierarchies.

In polite company, people put their own house in order before telling others how to run their affairs. Trade unions are no exception, but would run a mile from an independent equal opportunities based audit of their employment practices.

800 words 

Mark A. Irvine

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Calling South Lanarkshire

A reader from South Lanarkshire sent me some very interesting information through the post the other day - in a brown paper envelope - which somehow added a sense of mystery and excitement - I have to admit.

Now the information contained in this little 'parcel' is intriguing - and potentially explosive - but I would like to discuss a couple things with the person who kindly went to a lot of time and trouble to get it to me.

Completely confidentially - of course.

I am only too well aware of how careful people are about speaking out these days - because sadly there are forces out there who would like to punish potential whistleblowers - just for standing up and  telling the truth. 

So the supplier of this information can be assured of complete discretion at all times - the need to remain anonymous is well understood - and absolutely guaranteed.

But I would appreciate a word to check on one or two things - and I can be contacted in either one of the following two ways.

By e-mail:

By mobile phone or text: 07947 795222 

I don't have a voice mail service on my mobile phone - to avoid being hacked by the press - or anyone else for that matter. 


The blog site had its first visitors from Hungary the other day - a central European country I know a little about - from working in Slovakia its next door neighbour to the north.

In fact there are so many ethnic Hungarians living and working in Slovakia - that they have formed their own political party (whose name escapes me) - which has representation in the Slovakian Parliament in Bratislava.

It's a bit like Scots in England having their own party - and representation - at Westminster.

If I remember correctly the Hungarian People's Party (or whatever it's called) actually forms part of Slovakia's coalition government - which is elected by proportional representation (otherwise  minorities wouldn't get a look-in of course) - and has done for years.

The capital of Hungary is Budapest which sits in the banks of the Danube River - but what many people don't know is that Budapest is actually two separate cities - historically speaking at least.

Centuries ago Buda and Pest were rivals - sitting on opposite sides of the Blue Danube - until they were  united into what is now the capital of modern Hungary.

Hungary is famous for its 'paprika' the red spice made from capsicum peppers- which can be sweet or fiery - and is a key ingredient in Hungarian Goulash - a spicy creamy stew normally made with good quality beef and mushrooms - though you can easily knock up a vegetarian alternative. 

When I worked in Bratislava a Hungarian woman gave me a gift of the finest Hungarian paprika - which she said would knock the Spanish stuff into a cocked hat - any day of the week.   

Being a great lover of Spain and Spanish cooking - I couldn't possibly comment - beyond saying that it was first class - 'double plus excellent' as an old friend of mine used to say.

I'm imagine Hungary is also famous for a great many other things - good quality wines I know for sure, like a surprising number of central European countries - and it does have to be said that they hammered Scotland at a football a few years ago.

But who doesn't these days?

And just to show that I'm not bitter - I am happy to post some more information about Hungary on the blog site - if any readers or visitors would care to enlighten me further.

Labour's Lost Mojo

Good Morning Scotland (GMS) - aka the Derek Bateman show - is always makes for a lively and stimulating start to the weekend - for those interested in politics and current affairs.

Today one of the main topics was the contest to succeed Iain Gray as leader of the Scottish Labour party - following its catastrophic defeat earlier this year in the Scottish Parliament elections.

But the damning verdict of one of the GMS guest commentators - Angus McLeod of The Times newspaper - is that there's no one sufficiently talented amongst the current crop of Labour MSPs - to make a real fist of challenging Alex Salmond and the SNP.

In other words whatever talent Labour's got - could not fight its way out of a wet paper bag.

Which I think sums up the present position perfectly - because Labour still doesn't understand why it went down to such a terrible defeat - and why it lost the trust of the Scottish people.

Equal pay is an obvious example - where Labour-controlled councils, a Labour-led COSLA and Labour-supporting unions - turned a blind eye yo pay discrimination for years. 

Things began to change when Action 4 Equality Scotland came along in August 2005 - and began to explain to low paid women workers how badly they had been let down. 

By powerful Labour-led institutions - that had failed to protect their interests.

Now why did that happen?

Because all of these Labour-led, Labour-supporting institutions would say they have always believed in equal pay and equal opportunities - but that's true only in theory not in practice - to my mind anyway.

The truth is that equal pay for low paid women workers was just not a big enough political priority for these Labour institutions - despite all the rhetoric and fine words.

The Scottish teachers McCrone Agreement which cost £800 million was a bigger priority - as was the Edinburgh trams fiasco - which Labour and the Lib Dems imposed on the SNP-led Scottish minority government at a cost of £545 million.

So you pays your money and you makes your choice - and in Labour's case it has made lots of wrong choices.

The only way to turn that around is to accept and admit what a complete arse the People's Party made - on vital 'bread and butter' issues such as equal pay.

If a new party leader can do that - then the people of Scotland might just start to believe - that Labour has found its 'mojo' once again.

"Bitter Equal Pay Battle"

Here's a good article on the ongoing fight for equal pay in South Lanarkshire - which appears in this week's edition of the Hamilton Advertiser.

The piece might well be published in other local papers - which are part of the same newspaper group.

Readers will note that the Hamiton Advertiser is asking its readers what they think of the 'equal pay battle' in South Lanarkshire - either via the telephone (01698 283200) or by e-mailing the paper at:

So this is a great opportunity to let a local newspaper know what people in South Lanarkshire really think - about the way in which council and the trade unions have behaved over equal pay.

To my mind the Labour-led council and the Labour-supporting unions have been far too close to each other - in each other's pockets effectively - and the people who have lost out are the lowest paid council workers - mainly women of course.

If readers contacting the newspaper are worried about using their own names and personal details - just say that you do not want to be identified - because the paper will withhold this information.

"South Lanarkshire Council locked in bitter equal pay battle"

"SOUTH Lanarkshire Council are currently locked in a bitter battle with their own staff over equal pay.

No fewer than 2133 employees and former staff – most of them women – have lodged claims under the Equality Act and sex discrimination legislation.

The women believe the council pay them less than men, even though their jobs are of equal worth and, in some cases, require higher qualifications.

Lawyers have been instructed to represent the claimants at an employment tribunal pre-hearing which resumes later this month.

It has been going on intermittently since September, 2009, and is likely to conclude in early October after hearing over 54 days of evidence. It’s one of the longest pre-hearings on record.

Lawyers engaged by the council have finished presenting their case and, from August 31, the claimants’ solicitors will give their evidence.

The tribunal panel, chaired by employment law judge Frances Eccles will then have to decide whether the way in which the council evaluated jobs, following the introduction of equal pay legislation, was fair. A decision is expected before Christmas.

If the council lose the case, they will have to fork out millions of pounds in back payments – stretching over the last 10 years – to the claimants, many of whom are low-paid frontline workers in schools and social work.

South Lanarkshire Council are one of the last authorities to settle their claims under equal pay legislation.

North Lanarkshire Council in April last year agreed to pay out £16m to hundreds of workers who were threatening legal challenge.

A year earlier, Glasgow City Council paid out £26m to 4000 female workers who had equal pay claims outstanding.

South Lanarkshire Council thought they had settled their equal pay issues in 2003 when they concluded a so-called ‘single outcome agreement’ with unions.

But the row has rumbled on since then, with employees claiming that the agreement graded jobs unfairly in comparison to others.

Bosses at the council have continually resisted releasing information – on how the council evaluated traditionally male-dominated jobs in the authority – to lawyers acting for the female claimants.

Earlier this year, they lodged an appeal to the Court of Session against a decision by Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion ordering them to release the data. The court has yet to hear the council’s appeal.

That Freedom of Information request was lodged by Mark Irvine, the independent consultant and former senior union official, who is representing many of the claimants on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Mr Irvine, who runs the Action 4 Equality Scotland website, instructed Edinburgh-based labour law specialists Fox Cross Solicitors to represent claimants at the employment tribunal.

He said: “What we have been trying to do is to get South Lanarkshire Council to explain how they went about putting together the new pay structures."

“South Lanarkshire are unique among Scottish councils in not being willing to tell people what rates of pay are for specific jobs."

“It seems to be a state secret in South Lanarkshire.”

Mr Irvine, who has had to used the Freedom of Information Act to extract pay data from the council, said the local authority’s appeal to the Court of Session would cost thousands of pounds of public money.

“Why are they trying to keep that information under wraps if they don’t have something to hide?” he added.

Mr Irvine said the claims being processed by Fox Cross and Action 4 Equality came from home carers, cooks, catering assistants and teaching assistants, some of whom had retired since the proceedings began.

He added: “You can have a cook in charge of a school kitchen who is managing a staff of 10 and requires qualifications for her job."

“She can be paid less than traditional male manual jobs, typically a refuse worker, gardener or driver.”

Many of the female claimants say their jobs did not attract the ‘bonus’ payment paid to those in male-dominated posts such as binmen and roadworkers. These further skewed rates of pay in male and female-dominated sections of the council.

Council Leader Eddie McAvoy estimated that if they lose the case they will probably have to pay about the same required by North Lanarkshire to settle their cases.

He added, however: “The council’s position is that the deal struck by the council with the union took care of all the (pay inequalities).

“The lawyers, including counsel, hired by the council to represent them in these cases are very confident that the council have no case to answer.”

What do you think of the council staff’s equal pay battle? Let us know by contacting editorial on 01698 283200 or by sending an email to

Friday, 26 August 2011

Censorship in Scotland

South Lanarkshire Council has until next Friday to comply with an important FOI decision - on equal pay - from the Scottish Information Commissioner.

The censors in South Lanarkshire are behaving in exactly the same way - as the House of Commons behaved over MPs' expenses - hiding the truth because it is both inconvenient and embarrassing to the powers that be.

So here's the pocket history of this whole affair - from which you will glean one thing at least - Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council has something to hide. 

"Censorship in South Lanarkshire"

"Here's a previous post from 17 May 2011 - which explains the background to the ongoing row about censorship in South Lanarkshire Council.

The Scottish Information Commissioner upheld my appeal (see post dated 14 July) - and has ordered South Lanarkshire Council to disclose the information previously withheld - by no later than 2 September 2011.

But you can see for yourself just how long this Labour-led council has managed to delay and frustrate - a perfectly reasonable FOI request.

So the question is this - 'If the council has nothing to hide, why does it behave in this way?'

No doubt the very same question was asked of the House of Commons - over MPs' expenses claims - and look what happened there."

"Censorship in South Lanarkshire"

"The MPs' expenses scandal at Westminster introduced many people to a new word - redacted - which means to censor or obscure.

The House of Commons authorities took this quite literally and zealously - at the time.

And in response to very reasonable and sensible FOI enquiries about MPs' expenses - the bureaucrats blanked out all the embarrassing references - to items like duck houses and dog food.

As you do.

Now it turned out that many MPs believed such items to be essential to doing their jobs - and made claims for years on the public purse.

Which was of course complete baloney - even according to their own rules.

But we only know this through the persistence of FOI campaigners - and the Daily Telegraph newspaper, of course.

Which leads me on to censorship closer to home.

Because the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) - Kevin Dunion - recently confirmed that SIC will investigate an FOI appeal I lodged recently - in connection with South Lanarkshire Council.

The council has provided me with minutes from a meeting of its Corporate Management Team - which have to do with Single Status and Equal Pay.

But the council has blanked out - redacted - the juicy bits which they find embarrassing and inconvenient - presumably because this will let the cat out of the bag.

I'll have much more to say about this in the days ahead - as this is truly scandalous behaviour on the council's part - in my opinion.

I expect that many MSPs will agree - so watch this space for further details.

In the meantime, let my letter to SIC speak for itself - I am happy to send readers copies of all the background correspondence - if anyone would find that interesting.

"Dear Scottish Information Commissioner

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry which I initiated on 17 February 2011.

I asked South Lanarkshire Council to review its initial decision, but I am dissatisfied with their response in relation to Document 1 – a written report to a meeting of the Council’s Corporate Management Team – which the Council has redacted to avoid public scrutiny. As a result, I would like to register the following appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

1. In my view the council have produced no evidence to show that the release of this information would be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs; quite the opposite in fact, because it would have the effect of holding senior officials and elected councillors to account.

2. The information relates to the introduction of a non-discriminatory Job Evaluation Scheme as required under the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

3. Unusually South Lanarkshire Council decided not to implement the tried and tested Gauge JES – which had the national approval and backing of the Scottish local authority employers and the trade unions.

4. Instead South Lanarkshire Council implemented its own ‘in-house’ scheme which is the subject of considerable controversy amongst council staff – and the wider public.

5. The redacted information relates to decisions of the Corporate Management Team in deciding how to implement the 1999 Single Status Agreement which came into effect in July 1999.

6. The underlying issue is whether South Lanarkshire Council was saying one thing in public and a different thing in private. In other words was the advice given to the Corporate Management Team thorough, professional and in accordance with good practice - in terms of job evaluation and equal opportunities?

7. In my view the release of this information would demonstrate whether the council acted properly at the time and, as such, there can be no prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in 2011.

8. I attach a separate letter to South Lanarkshire Council dated 18 April 2011 regarding an Equal Pay Review instructed by the Council’s Personnel Services Committee in July 1997. The results of this ‘comprehensive review’ were never made public and discussion of the issue effectively disappeared from Council committees between July 1999 and March 2003 – as the minutes show.

9. In my view, this was a deliberate tactic by the Corporate Management Team to avoid proper public scrutiny on a matter of strategic importance. In choosing to deal with the matter in this way South Lanarkshire Council prevented the wider body of elected councillors, the council workforce and the general public from understanding what was going on – in particular the scale and extent of pay discrimination against female council jobs which was kept ‘under the radar’.

10. I believe that the redacted section of the Corporate Management Team minute of 18 November 1999 contains important information regarding South Lanarkshire Council’s attitude towards the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement and the Council’s use of public money.

11. Instead of delivering on its public commitments towards the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement, South Lanarkshire Council secretly decided to maintain the higher bonus related earnings of traditional male jobs - thereby continuing the widespread pay discrimination which existed at the time against predominantly female council jobs.

12. In my view, therefore, there is a compelling case that this information should now be published in the wider public interest and that is the basis of my appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I look forward to hearing from you soon and if I can be of any further assistance, please let me know.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

List of enclosures

1. Original FOISA request to SLC dated 17 February 2011
2. Initial SLC response to Mark Irvine dated 16 March 2011
3. Review request letter to SLC dated 23 March 2011
4. Final response letter from SLC to Mark Irvine 20 April 2011
5. Background letter to SLC dated 18 April 2011 – regarding SLC’s Equal Pay Review"