Monday, 31 October 2011


I’ve not looked at the TV listings for later tonight - but I'm sure that somewhere or other John Carpenter's famous film - Halloween, starring Jamie Lee Curtis - will be showing.

A good film - though not his best - I would have to give that to Starman and Jeff Bridges - which blends a road movie and a comedy - into a clever play on 'ET goes home'.

Time for a sequel I would say - to see what became of the Starman's earthly son.

But what the TV schedulers should be listing on Halloween is the Michael Jackson short film - Thriller - which caused a sensation in its day.

First broadcast in 1982 - John Landis - who made Amercian Werewolf in London - showcased the American superstar at his very best.

To my mind it would be a fitting tribute to Michael Jackson - and a counterpoint to his sad and untimely death.

Here's the You Tube link to a performer with the world at his feet - just a shame things didn't stay that way.

Alice Cooper

Somewhere around 1974 I went to see Alice Cooper and his band play live - at the  Apollo Theatre in Glasgow.

But it's taken me all this time to realise what a 'nutjob' the man is - and not just because of his  support for the T-party in America.

No what did it for me are his fundamentalist religious beliefs - which he has been sharing of late with the great British public - presumably because he's over here at the moment doing another UK tour.

Anyway, I digress - because the important thing is that while Alice plays golf every day - he also wants the world to know that he's a man of faith.

"I'm Christian. I believe in evolution inside individual species, but I believe in Creation first. I think God created the species and then let them evolve. Even (Stephen) Hawking once admitted that he believes in Creation, because as a physicist, you can't get something from nothing."

Now I'll let Stephen Hawking speak for himself - but Alice and his creation fantasy can't be allowed to go unchallenged.

Because it sounds like something out of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial - a landmark legal case from America in 1925 - which eventually overturned a state-wide ban on teaching evolution in Tennessee schools.

Science, reason and common sense prevailed in the end - but only after a long fight - and if the religious right in America get their way - people might have to do it all over again.

The whole point about evolution and natural selection is that it's a continuous process - over millions of years - no Creator or God popped up at convenient intervals - to  insert  a few more links in the chain.

Now Alice is free to believe in anything he likes - in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or even the Easter Bunny.

Just spare me the proselytising - that I can do without.

Running Scared

Newspaper reports at the weekend confirm that the three candidates out to becomethe next Scottish Labour leader - Tom Harris, Johann Lamont and Ken Macintosh - re all running scared of the trade unions.

Maybe that's a wise move - in the short-term at least - because Ed Milband won the Labour crown from his brother David - only through the backing of the trade unions.

Which have one third of the votes - even though a tiny percentage of trade union members bother to vote.

Anway the Sunday Herald reported that at Scottish Labour's weekend hustings - all three candidates backed the public sector pension strikes - planned for next month.

Which is predictable - but still a bit depressing nonetheless.

Because one of the key issues involved - the introduction of 'career average' pensions to replace 'final salary' schemes - is all about fairness and ending discrimination.

Why should a school cleaner continue to subsidise the pension arrangements of a headteacher - or the council's chief executive?

Because that's what's happening now - and that's one of the key recommendations in John Hutton's report - on which the government's plans are based.

John Hutton was - of course - the widely respected Work and Pensions Minister in the last Labour government.

And Hutton knows fine well that 'final salary' pensions schemes are an affront - to everything that Labour is supposed to stand for - because they rob from the pension poor and give to the pension rich.

But now that Labour's in opposition - it's a lot easier to just duck the issue - instead of calling a spade a spade.

Shameless - the lot of them - if you ask me.

The Squeezed Middle

I am waiting with baited breath.

To see if Ed Miliband stands up for the 'squeezed middle' - in response to a government  announcement at the weekend - that will remove tax breaks for people who have second homes.

Now that seems like a perfectly sensible idea to me - why should the rest of us subsidise fellow citizens who can afford to have a second home?

But every announcement that's made seems to meet with the same dreary response - the squeezed middle is being hardest hit by government spending decisions - so let the axe fall somewhere else.

To my mind it's something the Labour government should have done years ago - when it had every chance to do so.

And I've nothing against people having a second home - I just think they should pay their way - without relying on a handout from the state.

So let's hear from Ed Miliband and the Labour party have to say.

Maybe they'll even welcome the proposal - and give the government some credit - where credit's due.

You're So Vain

George Galloway as a cat on Big Brother 
The Amercian comedian - Jay Leno - is credited with the the famous barb that - 'politics is show business for ugly people'.

Now that may be true - if a tad cruel - but it doesn't stop our politicians being terribly vain - about how they are portrayed in the columns of the press.

At the weekend the Independent newspaper ran a delightful article about the private archives of the great political profile writer - Andrew Roth - who died last year.

Apparently Roth researched and kept a file on every MP, Member of European Parliament and Peer from 1950 - until his death in August 2010 - aged 91.

Roth's archive became a treasure trove for political journalists and biographers - according to the Independent - but not all of his subjects agreed with how they were portrayed.

Ed Miliband - for example - took exception to the description of his nose and George Galloway objected to being described as a "Bollinger Bolshevik" - because of his love of the high life.

Andrew Roth had an intriguing background - he came to the UK having been driven out of nhis ative New York by the McCarthy Witchhunts - and made London his new home from home.

Here are a few of his pen portraits - which appeared  in the Independent at the weekend.

George Galloway
"Is it fair to call me a 'Bollinger Bolshevik' when I have never tasted the stuff?" asked the former Labour and later Respect MP in a list of 20 corrections, dated 2003. Roth decided to keep the phrase. Other corrections include: "Dr Chris Mason is a man"; "My ex-wife... does not live in Blackheath"; and "My eyes are blue". Roth's 7,000-word profile of Galloway ends: "London house in Streatham; pied-a-terre in Glasgow; villa in Algarve."

Ed Miliband
"One thing I haven't corrected is 'camel nose'," wrote the now leader of the Labour party in 2005 of an earlier draft of his profile which described him: "Tall, large head on narrow shoulders, sallow complexion, dark hair, camel nose, staring look, effortlessly fluent, supremely confident, eager, boyish manner." "I leave it up to you," he added, "but it struck me as slightly odd. What kind of noses do camels have anyway?!" Roth agreed, and the offending metaphor was removed.

John Bercow
In six pages of corrections sent in 2003 the now House of Commons Speaker claimed, among other things, that his hair was "no longer centrally-parted or spikey!". Roth instead documented how Bercow had progressed from aggressive right-winger to Portillo-style social liberal "with only his hair formerly parted in the centre". Bercow also rejected the accusation that he had "a talent for abandoning sinking ships in favour of others floating in his desired direction".

Liam Fox
Fox's brief letter of 2004 refers to a scandal that engulfed the former Defence Secretary long before Adam Werritty came along. "I would like you to make an amendment to remove the word 'racist' which referred to a joke I made at a private occasion." In 2000, Fox was forced by Tory leader William Hague to apologise for a joke he made at a Commons Christmas party: "What do you call three dogs and a blackbird? The Spice Girls."

Nick Brown
The Newcastle MP and, later, chief whip under Gordon Brown, wrote pages of corrections in 2003 to a profile he described as "pretty hopeless". He objected to the use of the term "vendetta man" and the accounts of his rift with Peter Mandelson, who was "certainly no worse than anyone else in political life... I don't see why you've singled me out for disliking him more than the rest of the Parliamentary Party dislike him".

Fair Dinkum, Cobber

Qantas flights resume after industrial dispute
'Fair dinkum, cobber' - is an Australian saying which no one has ever directed towards me - but means 'fair play to you, mate' - as far as I know.

And that seems to be an apt phrase top use in connection with the Qantas dispute - which seems to have ended - vitually overnight. 

Qantas had grounded all of its flights in an increasingly biiter dispute with its trade unions - whom the company accused of making unreasonable demands.

But instead of dragging things out for months on end - the issues involved were put to an independent arbitration panel - which seems to have ruled in the company's favour and ordered everyone back to work.

Now I don't know much about the independent tribunal involved - but it does seem to have done the trick - by coming down largely in favour of one side or the other - instead of splitting hairs.

If that's what has happened it's called pendulum arbitration - which means just that - choosing between different and sometimes highly polarised arguments.

The advantage being that it encourages both sides in an industrial dispute to behave reasonably - not to exaggerate things.

Otherwise if the dispute is referred to arbitration - then the party that has been rowing its boat out too far is likely to lose.

In the UK we have ACAS - the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - but this quango does not enjoy the best of reputations and lacks real teeth.

Everyone involved in a industrial dispute in the UK has to agree to ACAS becoming involved - and it has no history of moving quickly to bring in decisive judgments - as the long-running BA dispute being the perfect example.

So maybe our Aussie friends have come up with a good idea - Fair Work Australia is the name of the independent tribunal - which has brought the Qantas dispute to a swift end.

Fair dinkum, cobbers.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Meet the Press

I came across this cartoon of Dominique Strauss-Khan (DSK) and the former American President - Bill Clinton - both of whom have a 'trouser problem' - as they say in polite circles.

DSK is facing more lurid allegations about his personal behaviour - during his time in office as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - in Washington.

Watch this space. 

Funny or Offensive

File:Spice Girls in Toronto, Ontario.jpg

For any football fans out there struggling to discern the difference between what's genuinely funny - as opposed to really offensive - I offer the following 'joke':

Q What do you call three dogs and a blackbird?

A The Spice Girls.

Now I'm sure most readers will know straight away - into which category these comments fall - without things having to be spelled out - in letters six feet high.

And it's the same with sectarian behaviour by football fans - you know it when you see and hear it - it ain't that hard to spot.

By the way do you know who made the offensive and unfunny Spice Girls remark?

None other than the former defence secretary - the Fantastic Mr Liam Fox, a fellow Scot - who made delivered his bon mot at a House of Commons Christmas party - in the year 2000.

Apparently the Tory leader at the time - one William Hague - forced Mr Fox to apologise for his crass and boorish behaviour.

Good for him - and if William Hague can tell the difference between what's funny and what's  offensive - then so should Scottish football fans.

Mind you the Fantastic Mr Fox doesn't seem able to count properly - because there's actually five Spice Girls not four - though one of them did leave for a while.

Bus Lanes and Red Lines

As the row between Elidh Whiteford MP and Ian Davidson MP rumbles on - I was reminded of the strange affair of the Glasgow MP's parliamentary expenses.

Which were reported in The Telegraph newspaper - back in 2009.

Now like so many MPs at the time - Ian Davidson's expenses claims were approved - no rules were broken apparently.

Yet this just confirmed what a cavalier attitude that many 'honourable members' had - towards spending public money.

Here's what Christopher Hope had to say in The Telegraph - but what I can't fathom is how it was any easier to deliver furniture coming from Glasgow.

Surely a vehicle from Scotland - would still have to contend with the bus lane and the double red lines?

And what about all the time, effort and potential expense of driving up and down the M74, M6 and M1 - as well as negotiating the horrendous traffic getting in and out of central London?

All sounds a bit odd if you ask me - thankfully the rules on MPs' expenses have now changed - though only because a lot of them were caught 'red-handed' and shamed into mending their ways.   

The Telegraph

MPs' expenses: Ian Davidson paid friend £5,500 to renovate flat then took him shooting

Ian Davidson, a Labour member of a Commons committee that monitors Whitehall spending, paid £5,500 to a family friend to renovate his flat and then took him shooting with members of the House of Lords.

By Christopher Hope - 20 May 2009

Mr Davidson also had reclining furniture that cost nearly £1,500 delivered to his Glasgow home when he was claiming his Commons allowance on the flat in south London. He said the suite was later driven to London.

The MP claimed for both bills and was paid in full.

Expenses claims show that Mr Davidson, a member of the Commons public accounts committee, arranged for a handyman from Glasgow to renovate his south London flat between 2005-06 and 2007-08.

The Labour MP for Glasgow South West took the handyman, who he described as a “family friend”, shooting at two events organised by the National Rifle Association.

In one match he was on a Commons’ team against the House of Lords. Mr Davidson said he “could not recall” whether the handyman paid his own costs.

Claims filed under the Additional Costs Allowance show that Mr Davidson ordered reclining furniture worth £1,459 in March 2007.

Under the Green Book rules, the allowance can only reimburse MPs for “expenses wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from their main UK residence ... for the purpose of performing their parliamentary duties.”

A note from a Commons official concerning Mr Davidson paying a property search agency to help him find a new flat records how the MP “had already claimed £1,000 of taxpayers’ money with nothing to show for it. Concerned about how long this would go on for.

“Mr Davidson explained that he wanted to use the agency because — away from home a lot — no time to house hunt — unfamiliar with English house-hunting. He had not expected this to take so long. The market was difficult — not sure how much longer it would take.

“Not sure about terms of contract but that he might have to pay £5k in all. He didn’t remember who he spoke to originally who had authorised this spend.”

In the event, the bill for finding Mr Davidson a flat came to £6,000. The fees’ office agreed a proportion of this sum. He also billed the taxpayer for more than £11,000 to move flat.

Mr Davidson said permission to employ his “family friend” had been “specifically requested from the fees office and agreed on the basis that it would be cheaper than employing a London firm.

He said: “He accompanied me on two occasions to a shooting match with the National Rifle Association. Since a competition had already been arranged to shoot at Bisley, I sought and was given agreement for him to participate as my guest.”

Mr Davidson said he had the furniture delivered to Glasgow “since someone is invariably in and my London house is on a bus lane with double red lines.” He said he hired a property search company because he had “spent many fruitless hours looking for a suitable property and then decided to seek professional help”. The fees office had agreed it was an “acceptable cost”.

Two Andy Gorams

I listened to a succession of seemingly intelligent football fans make fools of themselves yesterday.

As they sought to portray new measures to stamp out sectarianism in football - as an attack on their civil liberties.

'Who is going to decide what's offensive and what's not?' - they asked disingenuously - as if they had all just come up on the Clyde on a bicycle.

One chap even had the gall to suggest that if you don't like to be offended - then you shouldn't go to football matches - the implication being that such behaviour goes with the territory.

Spare me all the mental gymnastics and logic chopping - I couldn't disagree more.

Because the only thing that distinguishes football from other sports is the sheer size of the crowd - and the difficulty in policing such large numbers of people.

But that doesn't give people a licence to behave badly or cause real offence - in ways that would quickly get them arrested - if they behaved that way in the street.

Nor is it hard to tell the difference between football fans setting out to cause real offence - and just having a laugh at the 'other side's expense.

Football banter can be really funny - sectarian behaviour is not.

I imagine that even Andy Goram - who broke more Celtic hearts than most Rangers players down the years - could manage a wry smile at the Celtic fans who used to chant:

'Two Andy Gorams, there's only two Andy Gorams!'

After the Rangers and Scotland goalkeeper had been diagnosed - with a mild form of schizophrenia.

Not only was it genuinely funny - but Andy Goram had the last laugh most of the time.

And I'm sure he took the view that he who laughs last - laughs longest.   

Scottish Times

A new digital newspaper is about to launch in Scotland - the Scottish Times.

Here's the link for any readers who want to take a look - at what the new newspaper has to say for itself.

I wish it well. 

Scotland could do with more choice - more spark and intelligent debate - in our national newspapers.

Somehow the Sunday Mail just doesn't do it for me anymore.

Labour's Double Standards

Here's what I wrote about Iain Gray and the Labour leader's double standards - over Freedom of Information - back in July 2011.

South Lanarkshire Council's appeal to the Court of Session is still rumbling on in the background - costing South Lanarkshire Council and the Scottish Information Commissioner a small fortune in legal fees - all of it public money of course.

Yet while the Labour leader was quick to condemn the Scottish Government for mounting such an appeal - and refusing to accept the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner - Iain  Gray has said absolutely nothing about the behaviour of Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.

I wonder why?

Freedom of Information (July 4 2011)

A few weeks ago I wrote to the leader of the Scottish Labour party - Iain Gray, MSP.

The reason being that the Labour leader had spoken up strongly about freedom of information - during the Scottish election campaign.

So I asked Iain Gray whether he would do the same - in relation to Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council - which is also defying a clear decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I received an acknowledgement from Iain Gray's office - but not a substantive reply to the points I raised - despite sending a reminder.

I now believe the Labour leader is ducking the issue - simply because it involves a big Labour-led council - but readers can make up their own minds.

Here's what I had to say.

Iain Gray MSP

Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Dear Mr Gray

Freedom of Information

I followed the recent Scottish election campaign with great interest and noted your positive comments and strong support on the subject of Freedom of Information.

I wonder if you would like to intervene in a situation much closer to home - one that involves Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.

For years the council has been refusing to publish proper details about the pay levels enjoyed by traditional male council jobs - information which every other council in Scotland released a long time ago, without any fuss or bother.

The Scottish Information Commissioner issued a decsion in April 2011 which required South Lanarkshire Council to release this information at long last, but since then the council has lodged an appeal with the Court of Session - using taxpayers money of course.

The circumstances are similar to the one during the Scottish election campaign where - as Labour's Scottish leader you called on the government to stop wasting time and comply with the Scottish Information Commissioner's decision.

I wonder of you would now do the same in relation to South Lanarkshire Council - as I'm sure your views will be listened to very carefully by the council's Labour leadership.

I look forward to your reply.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

PS I enclose a copy of a recent letter to the Scottish Information Commissioner - explaining the background in more detail.

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

Blowing a Gasket

Scottish Labour leader - Iain Gray - seems to have blow a gasket in Glasgow yesterday - in a valedictory speech to the party faithful.

Iain was addressing a special meeting of party members to vote through new changes - which will strengthen the role of his successor as Scottish Labour leader - and used the opportunity to launch a vitriolic attack on the SNP.

Iain spoke of the forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland and warned party delegates:

"You will be attacked, you will be smeared, you will be lied about, you will be threatened.

The 'cyber Nats' and the bedsit bloggers will call you traitor, quisling, lapdog, liar and worse.

They will question your appearance, your integrity and your sexuality. They will drag your family and your faith into the lies and the vitriol.

If you are a woman it will be worse."

Now I've had reason to criticise Iain Gray in the past - but to the best of my knowledge  I've never questioned his sexuality or faith - or called him a quisling or a lapdog.

But I have challenged his double standards.

For example, in being quick to attack the SNP government on Freedom of Information - and its willingness to waste public money in cynical appeals to the Court of Session.

Yet Iain Gray had nothing to say about Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council - doing exactly the same thing.

I think a spell on the backbenches will serve Iain well- for the future.

Because he seems to have lost the plot - and getting a bit of perspective back into his life will do him a whole power of good.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

How's About That, Then?

Sir Jimmy Saville - the veteran broadcaster - has died at home at the age of 84.

Probably best know for his hit TV programme - 'Jim'll Fix It' - Saville was a strange character, but one who delighted in making other people's dreams come true.

Louis Theroux made an intriguing documentary film about Jimmy Saville - a few years ago.

Which suggested that the entertainer had another, much darker side - to his larger than life personality. 

But he will be remembered fondly by many people - not least for all his great charitable work - for organisations both big and small.  

Regulator with Teeth

At last - a regulator with real teeth.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) deserves a big pat on the back.

No sooner has it exposed the poor standards of care for many elderly hospital patients in England and Wales - than it goes on to highlight some truly shocking behaviour amongst midwives.

In one case which has hit the headlines - an exhausted woman in labour was told by a midwife to ‘hurry up or or I’ll cut you’.

Now I've heard some foolish union reps trying to excuse this behaviour - by pointing to an alleged lack of resources. 

But this simply will not wash - as the CQC makes crystal clear - there is no excuse for staff treating their patients in this way - end of story.

Lots of people are overworked and stressed in their jobs at times - but that doesn't give them a licence to rob people of their dignity - or treat them with undisguised contempt.

Which is what has been happening - according to the CQC - the health watchdog for England and Wales.

Now the CQC does not have powers to punish individuals - or the NHS organisations that employ them.

But it can name and shame the offenders - and that's exactly what the CQC is doing to great effect.

The whole point of regulation is to stand up and speak out - without fear or favour - by making unannounced visits and publishing your findings.

If other regulators behaved this way - notably in relation to the banks - the country might no be in the same mess we find ourselves in today. 

So more power to the CQC's elbow - other regulators should be following its lead.

Spread Like Wildfire

The bosses of Britain's top companies are in the dock - after a revelation that the average pay increase for company directors in the Footsie 100 - was a whopping 49% last year.

Now like most good stories this is not quite as dramatic as it sounds - because in a small sample (which this is) just a couple of returns can distort the 'average' result quite badly.

The statisticians out there will know that it's always better to use the 'median' figure - which is a much better indicator of what's really going on - because it screens out rogue results whether high or low.

And the median increase turns out to be 16% - not 49% - which is still a disgrace - but it's better to get your facts right and not exaggerate things - in  my view anyway.

So what can be done about Britain's bosses handing themselves such huge pay rises - when everyone else is struggling with the cost of living?

Well the people behind the survey - Incomes Data Services - could tell us all who the companies are - the names and details of the worst offenders.  

I'm sure people would raise their voices with the companies concerned - if they buy their products or use their services.

I know I would - but I don't know where to start.

Maybe the anti-capitalists in London and elsewhere can do something practical to help - because they seem to have lots of time on their hands.

Knowledge is power - and if these details are posted on the Internet - then ordinary people will respond and be inspired to take up the fight.

Whereas at the moment they don't know who to name and shame.

What the anti-capitalists need to grasp is that most people are not anti-capitalist - but they do hate corporate greed and bad behaviour.

Tap into that rich vein of support - and it will spread like wildfire.

But it requires hard work and imagination - and a willingness to get ordinary people on your side. 

No Bevvying

Jimmy Reid will be birlin' in his grave.

Apparently the anti-capitalist protestors in London - outside St Paul's Cathedral - are arguing amongst themselves about the 'no alcohol' rule.

According to press reports, the protestors took a democratic decision to ban bevvy from their camp - but this has not gone down a storm with everyone.

Some of the occupiers feel it's one establishment replacing another - and just who do these people think they are - laying down rules for other free spirits.

Now in the days of the UCS work-in - Jimmy Reid and his fellow shop stewards didn't go in for all this namby pamby voting business - they knew the world was watching and they laid it on the line.

'There will be no bevvying' - Reid declared in his famous speech to the assembled workforce - no one dared question his authority because they knew what he was saying was right.

The Occupy London protestors should take a leaf out of Jimmy Reid's book.

Because who will take you seriously if the St Paul's camp is just an excuse for a drunken party or two - especially at weekends.

Grow up and get real.


The blog site had its first visitor from Libya yesterday - which pleased me no end.

Because only months ago it was touch and go as to whether NATO would intervene - to prevent a horrible bloodbath in Benghazi - as Colonel Gaddafi boasted of his intention to hunt the rebels down like dogs - house by house. 

The Prime Minister - David Cameron - deserves great credit for the courageous stand he took at the time.

Many in his own party - and those on the opposition benches - were less that fulsome in their support - ready to exploit the situation if the Libyan mission failed.

Six months on things have changed out of sight.

Muammar Gaddafi lies in a sandswept grave in the Sahara Desert - his odious son Saif al-Islam is on the run.

But the Libyan people face a bright future which was in the balance only a short time ago.

Libya has a population not much greater than Scotland - and huge natural resources to help the country get back on its feet.

Which I hope it does soon - on a path that leads to democratic elections, a stable peace and freedom of speech. 

I'd like to go to there sometime - after all Libya has all the advantages of other Mediterranean countries like Spain or Turkey.

So why not develop its tourism industry - as part of its longer-term future?

Now that would be a real legacy - after four decades of cruel dictatorship.

Rules of Evidence

A cruel and heartless killer - Vincent Tabak - was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for the murder of Joanna Yeates.

But what's worrying is that the trial judge had to tell the jury he would accept a majority verdict - before they returned their decision - guilty by 10 votes to 2.

Quite what the 2 minority jurors were thinking is beyond me - and just how wrong they were was proved shortly after the verdict was announced - as the judge released more information about Tabak's behaviour which had been withheld from his trial.

Tabak pleaded guilty to manslaughter - but denied murder - and if just a few more jurors had swallowed his lies - he would have got away with his heinous crime.

As it stands he must serve a minimum of 20 years in prison - before he can apply for parole - but in truth a dangerous man like him should never be released.

Tabak exploited the fact that the only witness to his crime could not give evidence against him - because he had strangled her to death - then calmly tried to cover his tracks - researching the best way to present his manslaughter defence.

Joanne Yeates' family, her boyfriend - and another completely innocent man - were put through hell - after Tabak had hidden his victim's body in the boot of his car - before dumping it by the side of a road. 

Yet the man's hardcore porn habit - which he indulged before and after his crime - while the police investigation was underway - was not divulged to the jury.

Even though his 'habit' featured graphic sexual violence - including strangulation and bondage.

To my mind the rules of evidence in such trials should be changed - because the accused person's behaviour, especially a pattern of behaviour - goes to his credibility as a witness.

As things turned out ten jurors - a majority - saw through Tabak's cynical lies and attempts to 'blame' his victim.

But two were completely taken in - and that's what I find worrying.   

Where's the Beef?

The contest to elect the next leader of the Scottish Labour party gets underway in earnest today - with the first round of official 'hustings' - which allow candidates to strut their stuff.

Only three people have thrown their hats into the ring for party leader - Tom Harris, Johann Lamont and Ken Macintosh - one Westminster MP and two Holyrood MSPs respectively.

All nice enough individuals - but you have to say this is definitely Labour's 'B' Team on display.

The big beast in the Labour jungle have all decided to sit this one out - which is really surprising - because the party faces its biggest test ever - with a referendum on Scottish independence looming in 2014.

The biggest Labour figure of them all - Gordon Brown - sits licking his wounds in Fife after losing the 2010 general election - and a particularly bruising experience as Prime Minister.

All the same in Labour's hour of greatest need you would expect him to step up to the plate - yet for some reason he seems to prefer the life of a backbench MP - and jetting off to Abu Dhabi on a regular basis.

Other experience Labour figures who might fit the bill - Alistair Darling, John Reid, Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander - all seem equally disinclined to ride to the rescue.

Which must confuse Scottish Labour party members - who will soon decide on their champion - the person to pick up the gauntlet and cross swords with the SNP leader - and Scotland's First Minister - Alex Salmond.

'Where's the beef?' - the voters might be forgiven for asking - and they'd be right.   

Friday, 28 October 2011

Campbell Christie

Campbell Christie (74) - former leader of of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) - passed away earlier today at the Strathcarron Hospice in Denny - following a short illness.

Campbell became general secretary of the STUC in 1986 - he was invited back from London to take up the post - because the king makers at the STUC wanted a big personality to fill the shoes of James Milne - his immediate predecessor in the job.

At the time the STUC was still heavily influenced by the Communist Party - which made it possible for someone of independent mind to get the top job - instead of a lackey from the Labour party.

And so Campbell agreed to take up the reins - left London and his senior position in one of the civil service unions (SCPS) - and headed north.

Campbell had a his fondness for long, interminable speeches - and I recall during a particularly sleep-inducing soliloquy at one STUC congress - when a clumsy delegate dropped a heavy object on the floor - which made a loud crack.

Quick as a flash another delegate quipped - 'Somebody's shot themselves' - as a ripple of laughter rippled around the hall.

But Campbell was well thought of by everyone in the Scottish trade union movement - he was a Labour party man at the time - but never tribal or sectarian in his political outlook.

Campbell understood the importance of working with other political parties - and reached out to other community based organisations - including the churches - at every opportunity.

At one point Campbell invited the then leader of the SNP - Alex Salmond - to address the Scottish TUC which upset the Labour supporting union bosses - who controlled the STUC general council at the time.

Incredibly the Labour uber-loyalists on the STUC - forced Campbell to withdraw the invitation and tell Alex Salmond he was no longer welcome to address the annual conference.

Twenty years on it's the small minds in Scotland's trade union movement - that look insular and foolish - because with the STUC a mere shadow of its former self - it's clear that Campbell's non-tribal approach was the right one all along.

Scotland's First Minister - Alex Salmond - paid Campbell Christie a fulsome tribute earlier today and said he was a key figure in the campaign for a Scottish parliament and a strong voice for democracy in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Very true.

Alex Salmond went on to say:

"Campbell was loved by many for his principles, his humour and his courage.

Campbell's life will not just be measured in the offices he held or the achievements he won, many as they were, but also in the generosity of spirit and dignified manner which distinguished all his actions.

I speak for the nation in sending condolences and sympathy to his beloved wife Betty and family."

How times change - rest in peace, comrade - you did your bit and then some.

Frozen Planet

I was blown away by Sir David Atttenborough's new series for the BBC - Frozen Planet.

Just goes to show you what planning, skill and dedication are needed - to bring these events to life.

The programme had so many spectacular moments - it's almost impossible to choose just one - but if I had to I would single out the pod of Killer Whales looking for a meal.

For all the world they looked like a family of humans - studying the menu carefully - before deciding which species of seal to have for dinner - a Weddell Seal as it turned out.

And when the Orcas popped right out of the water - as the two camera guys set up their shot - I bet they got the fright of their lives - for a moment at least.

The great thing about David Attenborough is that at 85 years of age - he displays the same  passion for his work that he had 50 or 60 years ago - as a young man.

It's a bit like listening to Scotland's best loved rugby commentator - Bill McLaren - whose enthusiasm for his boyhood game knew no bounds.

While it would be easy for Sir David to sit in a studio doing a voice over - he's out there with the rest of the team - not doing the really heavy lifting these days I'm sure - but sharing and expereincing the same harsh conditions.

Frozen Planet is bound to inspire a whole new generation of admirers - who may never follow in the great man's footsteps - but they will care about the planet they live on - a whole lot more.

Wheat and Chaff

I've watched two films recently - one in the cinema and one on the TV - and one is as good as the other one is bad.

First the good news - City Island - a made for TV film as far as I know - starring Andy Garcia from The Untouchables.

It's a quirky yet heart warming tale of a New York family - who hide things from one another.

Some of their secrets and small and inconsequential - others are dark and potentially explosive.

The plot is bizarre but works on every level - a comedy, a drama, a love story - of a big hearted city - and its crazy mixed up people - who are all trying to find their way in life.

Andy Garcia plays a 'corrections officer' (prison guard) with ambitions to be an actor - his two kids are at that stage where they think their parents are dull and boring or worse - and there's more fear of his wife than excitement in their marriage.

Not only that he's just discovered a grwon up son - from a previous relationship - who turns up as a jailbird in his own prison (correctional facility).

The rest is a joy to watch.

The other film I thought I'd share with you is a bit of a stinker - to be perfectly honest.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) - I saw at the cinema - and I thought I'd be blown away at the quality of the acting.

Gary Oldman, John Hurt &Co all strut their stuff to great effect at times - but the story is told in a plodding, slow and dull manner.

Good acting is one thing - but on its own it doesn't quicken the blood - or make you care about the characters and what's happening to them.

Also, the film requires either a throrough knowledge of the John le Carre book (TTSS) - or a recent viewing of the famous made-for-TV version - starring Alex Guinness some years ago.

I spent the first half hour wondering who the hell everyone was - what they were doing - and why.

At the end I couldn't recall the motivation for the revenge killing - and the film didn't explain - was it love or politics?

Anyway, without the chaff - there is no wheat.

So I'm just putting TTSS down to experience - a bad experience - though I'd watch City Island and Andy Garcia again - any day of the week

Scottish Ambulance Service

While I'm on the subject of Freedom of Information - I thought I'd share the response I've received to a recent FOI request - to the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).

What a contrast between the SAS and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde - with the SAS essentially refusing to answer simple questions about their 'rest breaks' policy - because the issue is still under discussion.

Well it's been under discussion for years apparently until the Scottish Health Secretary - Nicola Sturgeon - stepped in and banged a few heads together.

But I'm not asking for any confidential information of course - certainly nothing that would interfere with any internal negotiations that are underway.

So what's the big secret?

Given the very unhelpful and defensive reply - I have already asked for a review of their initial decision - which the SAS has to respond to within 20 working days.

I'm all excited because the 20 days are nearly up - meantime you will note that SAS response which says that their Employee Director is not paid any additional remuneration.

If that is correct - then it seems to be at odds with the practice elsewhere in NHS Scotland -  Greater Glasgow and Clyde, for example.

The mystery deepens.

4 October 2011

Calum Kerr
Head of Corporate Affairs
Scottish Ambulance Service

By e-mail

Dear Calum

FOISA Review Request

I refer to the FOISA response of the Scottish Ambulance Service dated 3 October 2011 (received today 4 October 2011) - a copy of which is attached to this letter for easy reference.

I would like to ask for a review of this decision because the SAS has not responded to my questions numbered 1 to 5 - and I can see no valid reason under FOISA for withholding this this information.

As far as I can tell Questions 1 to 4 relate to historical information which cannot prejudice any ongoing discussions regarding SAS policy on 'rest breaks' - while the SAS has simply not answered my request in relation to Question 5.

I note your answers in relation to Questions 6, 7 and 8.

I look forward to hearing from you and would be grateful if you could respond by e-mail to -

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Dear Mr Irvine


Thank you for your email of 2 September 2011 requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act Scotland 2002 which has been processed.


You asked:-

1. How many ambulance personnel are affected by the current SAS policy on rest breaks?

2. How many ambulance personnel have opted to give up their uninterrupted rest breaks - and what is the current annual cost of the additional £5 payment?

3. In 2010 (or equivalent 12 month period) on how many occasions were ambulance crews interrupted during their rest breaks - what percentage does this figure represent?

4. If an ambulance crew is interrupted during a rest break - is the crew still entitled to a break later on during that same shift?

5. Does the Employee Director of the SAS Board get time-off with pay to perform his trade union duties and if so how much time-off - full-time release, for example?

6. Does the Employee Director receive additional remuneration - for acting as a member of the SAS board and if so, how much per annum?

7. How is the Employee Director appointed - by a vote or following an interview process, for example?

8. Do other employees of SAS receive additional remuneration for acting as board members - i.e. in addition to their substantive jobs?


1 – 4 We are currently negotiating with staff around meal break issues and would not wish to comment at this stage until the negotiations are complete. I will write to you again should that position change.

5 - 7 Employee Directors are nominated by the staff side and receive no additional payment.

8. No Executive members of the Board receive extra money for attending Board meetings. Non Executive Directors are different as they are not employees.

Review Procedure

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which I have dealt with your request, you are entitled to require a review of this decision. Should you decide to request a review you must:

Apply for a review of our decision in writing within 40 working days of the date of this notice and include:

• An address for further correspondence
• A description of the original request and
• The reason(s) why you are dissatisfied with our decision

You should address your request for a review of decision to:

Mr Calum Kerr
Head of Corporate Affairs
Scottish Ambulance Service