Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Glasgow - Job Evaluation Update

The Coronavirus outbreak has caused huge amounts of  disruption across the globe, but this has also led to new ways of working (from home where possible) to ensure that normal, everyday life doesn't grind to a complete halt.

So I'm pleased to report that the vital work of replacing Glasgow's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme continues, at least as far as A4ES and the trade unions are concerned.

In recent days our resident A4ES job analyst - Giuliana (Jules) Mazzoni - has been wracking her brain to come up with a way of continuing with her work and has come up with a great solution by conducting JE interviews via Skype or telephone.

Jules has been pushing ahead with the JE exercise, despite the uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus epidemic, and is working remotely to support jobholders in Glasgow City Council whose jobs are due to be evaluated.

What this means in practice is that Giuliana will send all participants a link to the JE questionnaire beforehand, by email, along with some user-friendly guidance to help jobholders complete the questionnaire.

The interviews will take place over  as many sessions as people need. For telephone interviews this may require three sessions at around 30-40 minutes at a time. Skype or video calls will probably require only one or two sessions.

The first interview has already been completed and here's what the jobholder (Margaret) had to say:

"The interview has been a lot easier than I thought. Some of the questions seem a bit daunting at first, but Giuliana was able to explain them and help me see how they applied to my job as an Escort. 

"I love a chat so it would have been good to do the interview face to face but doing it over the phone was easy and we were able to do it over a few phone calls this week."

Escort - Glasgow City Council

So while this wretched Coronavirus business raises lots of new challenges, I think it's fair to say that with some good, old-fashioned Scottish grit and imagination we have found a way to keep going - and thanks are due to Jules and Margaret for getting things off to a flying start!

A4ES is now looking for people in the following job roles to play their part in either a telephone or Skype interview (which can be done while in lockdown or self-isolation):

  • Secondary School Support for Learning Worker
  • Escort
  • Glasgow Life Assistant
  • Home Carer
  • School Crossing Patroller
  • Catering Assistant
  • Clerical Assistant (non education)
If readers would like to volunteer, please get in touch with Jules at: 

Giuliana@action4equality.co.uk or on: 07563 190261

The last word goes to Jules who is looking forward to hearing from lots of people in the target job groups in the days ahead.

"Conducting the interviews remotely although different to what we would usually is working very well so far. 

"We can take the interview at whatever pace suits you and we can be flexible with times. I will be available outside agreed interview times to offer any help or guidance when you are looking through the questionnaire.

"Doing this via telephone or Skype means that we can be more flexible on the length of interview which may suit a lot of jobholders better than sitting down face to face for 2–3 hours. 

"So don't be put off by the lack of direct face-to-face contact because we can still gather all the data we need from home!"


Carnaptious Cat

The Coronavirus lockdown brings lots of challenges on how to share common spaces with other family members and although we don't currently have any pets, I have to admit I'm on the side of this carnaptious cat.


Trump's A Terrible President

Donald Trump's self-isolating brain has to walk back his ridiculous suggestion that the Coronavirus pandemic could be all over by Easter.



Coronavirus: Trump extends US guidelines beyond Easter

Media caption - "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won"

President Donald Trump has said federal coronavirus guidelines such as social distancing will be extended across the US until at least 30 April.

He had previously suggested that they could be relaxed as early as Easter, which falls in mid-April.

"The highest point of the death rate is likely to hit in two weeks," Mr Trump said.

He appeared to be referring to peak infection rates that experts fear could overwhelm hospitals.

White House medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci had earlier warned that the virus could kill up to 200,000 Americans.

Dr Fauci said that it was "entirely conceivable" that millions of Americans could eventually be infected. 

Live: Our rolling coronavirus coverage
Trump backs away from New York 'quarantine'
What this crisis reveals about the US

The US now has more than 140,000 confirmed cases.

As of Sunday evening, 2,493 deaths had been recorded in the country in relation to Covid-19, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University.

The US last week became the country with the most reported cases, ahead of Italy and China.

What did Trump say?

Speaking during the latest Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House on Sunday, the president said that measures such as social distancing were "the way you win", adding that the US "will be well on our way to recovery" by June.

Suggesting that the "peak" of death rates in the US was likely to hit in two weeks, Mr Trump said that "nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won - that would be the greatest loss of all".

Analysts suggest that when Mr Trump referred to a peak in the "death rate", he probably meant the total number of recorded infections.

He said the decision to extend social distancing was made after he heard that "2.2 million people could have died if we didn't go through with all of this", adding that if the death toll could be restricted to less than 100,000 "we all together have done a very good job".

Mr Trump had previously said that Easter - 10-13 April - would be a "beautiful time" to be able to open at least some sections of the country. On Sunday he said that lifting restrictions at Easter was "just an aspiration".

"I wish we could have our old life back... but we're working very hard, that's all I know. I see things, I see numbers, they don't matter to me. What matters to me is that we have a victory over this thing as soon as possible," he said. 

Media caption - Why staying at home in is a matter of life and death

The president also talked on Sunday about the medical response. He said that "rapid testing" had been approved to get Covid-19 results within five minutes, and that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers would be tested.

What's the situation in the US?

Nationwide measures mean citizens must continue to avoid non-essential travel, going to work, and eating at restaurants or bars. Gatherings are limited to groups of under 10 people.

But stricter restrictions apply to millions in some of the worst-hit states. 

Image copyright - EPA Image caption - A field hospital has been built in Central Park as New York City deals with more than 33,000 cases

On Saturday residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were instructed not to travel elsewhere within the country for 14 days.

Non-essential gatherings in New York City are banned and most businesses are closed as the city faces more than 33,000 cases. Police can issue fines of $250-500 (£200-£400).

In California, a "shelter in place" order remains.

What about the shortage of equipment?

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Trump accused hospitals in some states of "hoarding" ventilators, face masks and other critical medical supplies.

"We do have a problem with hoarding... including ventilators. Hospitals need to release them - in some cases they have too many, they have to release medical supplies and equipment," he said.

Hospitals "can't hold [ventilators] if they think there might be a problem weeks down the road", he said, alleging that some were "stocked up".

Media caption - Coronavirus: Lack of medical supplies 'a national shame'

The availability of ventilators is a major concern among health professionals as demand has surged. A number of states have warned that they will soon not have enough to treat patients suffering from Covid-19.

The virus can cause severe respiratory issues as it attacks the lungs, and ventilators help to keep patients breathing.

What's the global picture?

More than 33,000 people are now confirmed to have died worldwide after being infected with the new coronavirus.
Some of the latest major global developments include:

  • In Germany the number of confirmed cases has jumped to over 57,000 - an increase of 4,751
  • Australia has tightened its restrictions, with public gatherings now limited to just two people and playgrounds, outdoor gyms and parks closed from Monday
  • South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has said emergency cash payments will be made to all households except the top 30% by income
  • In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that about 20,000 former NHS staff had returned to work to help the fight against coronavirus
  • Spain recorded a new daily record of deaths, reporting 838 victims on Sunday
  • Italy recorded 756 new deaths over 24 hours, bringing the total to 10,779 - a slight drop in the daily toll
  • France reported 292 new deaths, bringing its total to 2,606 as specially modified trains began transporting patients from the worst-hit areas to hospitals in the south
  • Tight new restrictions in the Russian capital Moscow allow residents to leave their homes only for medical emergencies, essential work and to shop for food or medicine
  • The price of oil has sunk to levels not seen since 2002 as demand for crude collapses

Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3)

Ian Dury and the Blockheads with a huge list of reasons to be cheerful - despite Coronavirus.


Reasons to be Cheerful (1)

It's good to see that thousands of 'stranded' UK citizens are being helped to return home during the Coronavirus pandemic.

But I think it's also fair to point out that a fair number of these individuals (up to 60,000 apparently) have been irresponsible because the Foreign Office advised against all non-essential travel two weeks ago on 17 March 2020.

So anyone who still set off on holiday after that date, against official advice, has good reason to be cheerful and grateful.  


Coronavirus: Foreign Office links up with airlines to fly stranded Britons home

Media caption - Dominic Raab said charter flights will be arranged for countries where commercial flights have stopped.

Tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic will be flown home under a new arrangement between the government and airlines.

BA, Virgin and Easyjet are among airlines working with the government to fly Britons back to the UK.

The government has also pledged £75m to charter special flights to bring home UK nationals from countries where commercial flights are unavailable.

The number of people who have died with the virus in the UK has reached 1,408.

Speaking at the government's daily coronavirus briefing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said an "unprecedented" number of UK travellers were trying to get home "from young backpackers to retired couples on cruises".

"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people travelling around the world," he said.

Under the new arrangement, airlines would be responsible for getting stranded passengers home where commercial routes remain an option.

Where commercial routes do not exist, government financial support will enable special charter flights - operated by the partner airlines and others - to fly to priority countries to bring back UK residents.

Mr Raab said priority would be given to the most vulnerable - including the elderly or those with pressing medical needs - and also to countries where there are large numbers of British tourists trying to return to the UK.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry criticised the plans as "just more of the same", and called for "a fresh, comprehensive and fully-funded strategy to bring our British nationals home".

Outlining the partnership, Mr Raab said airlines should offer alternative flights "at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled" and allow passengers to change tickets - including between carriers.

He added: "So for those still in those countries where commercial options are still available: don't wait. Don't run the risk of getting stranded.

"The airlines are standing by to help you - please book your tickets as soon as possible."

Virgin, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan Airways signed a memorandum of understanding relating to the arrangement on Monday, while British Airways has also said it will work with government to get people home.

Other airlines are expected to join the new arrangement, Mr Raab said. 

'Desperate situation'

Image copyright - SALLY WEBB

June and Leslie Webb, both 77-years-old with underlying health conditions, are trying to return to Southend, Essex, from Goa, western India.

The couple were due to return to Britain on Monday after a two-and-a-half week trip, but their flight was cancelled after India declared a 21-day lockdown on 24 March.

They have since booked a non-refundable £700 flight for 2 April, which was also cancelled, their daughter-in-law Sally Webb told BBC News.

"My mother-in-law is in remission from cancer and my father-in-law is diabetic," Mrs Webb said. "The situation is getting desperate."

She added that the couple had about a week's worth of medication left and were reporting food shortages where they were staying.

Mrs Webb has been working with her sister-in-law to get them home, but said the government briefing was "the first bit" of information they had received about repatriation efforts.

"It doesn't give us a lot of hope because obviously India is on lockdown," she said.

"The fact is that even if the UK are able to get the Indian government to release the lockdown, they have got to get all of the other Brits as well as our in-laws home.

"We just want a flight, any flight and we want them home safe."

Mrs Webb added that she would like further details about how long it would take to get a flight, "just so I could give my in laws some reassurance".

Speaking to BBC News following the daily briefing, Ms Thornberry said she was "disappointed" that there was not more detail and that some questions "simply hadn't been addressed".

"What happens if your insurance has run out whilst you are waiting to get on a flight, what happens if your food or your medicine is running out - there aren't any specific answers to that," she said.

Ms Thornberry added that she had received "worrying" emails from British people around the world about commercial flights, including one family of six who had been told it would cost £61,000 to get them home from Australia to Yorkshire.

"That's simply unacceptable," she said.

Instructions for UK travellers to return home can be found on the government's foreign travel advice website.

The Foreign Office said it has already helped hundreds of thousands of British tourists return from around the globe including 8,500 from Morocco, about 5,000 from Cyprus, and an estimated 150,000 from Spain. 

Fresh hope for airlines in crisis?

From the moment countries started closing their borders, it only felt like a matter of time until the government had to step in in a more concrete way to get a vast number of stranded British people home.

Up until now, the Foreign Office has been pressuring countries to lift travel restrictions and co-ordinating with UK airlines that have been running empty planes out to destinations to bring people home.

It was a commercial operation and it worked up until a point.

But with so many people stuck in all corners of the globe, and anger growing among many who found themselves in precarious situations, the government ultimately had to provide funding to ensure a more extensive repatriation programme was possible. 

Airlines are in dire financial straits and £75m is, in aviation terms, a relatively small sum. But by helping government now, they'll be hoping government helps them through this crisis and beyond. 

Monday, 30 March 2020

We Need To Talk About Alex (6)

Alex Bell, a former special adviser to the former First Minister, steps into the debate surrounding Alex Salmond's trial and acquittal with the following memorable lines:

"When your best defence is ‘I’m sleazy but not criminal’, it’s nothing to smile about

"A married, avowedly Christian man is revealed as a creep." 

The evidential test in a criminal trial is 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt' which normally places great weight on independent witnesses and third-party corroboration.

But that does not mean Alex Salmond has no civil case to answer for his behaviour as First Minister.  


Defence witness brands Alex Salmond an insecure 'creep'

By Tom Gordon - The Herald

UPDATED - Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon

ONE of Alex Salmond’s defence witnesses at his recent trial has described him as an insecure “creep”.

Alex Bell, who was a special adviser to the former First Minister, said Mr Salmond had been cleared of sexual assault charges by effectively arguing “I’m sleazy, but not criminal”.

Mr Bell said: “A married, avowedly Christian man is revealed as a creep.”

Meanwhile one of Mr Salmond’s supporters, the SNP MSP Alex Neil, has said he should be back at Holyrood where he would “enhance the reputation” of the parliament.

Writing in the Courier newspaper, Mr Bell suggested his old boss, driven by insecurity, was now hell-bent on proving he was the victim of a conspiracy, even if it damaged the SNP and Scotland.

He said the party was dividing into two camps, those who support Mr Salmond and those around Nicola Sturgeon, and “the two camps can only tear each other apart”.

He said: “Salmond’s character has already been smeared, by his own defence team. Sturgeon’s is about to be trashed, on a theme of ‘who knew what and when’.”

Mr Salmond was cleared of all 13 sexual assault charges he faced on Monday after a two-week trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

He signalled afterwards he would reveal evidence he could not present in court showing there was a concerted effort to discredit him.

He is now writing a book about what he called the ‘nightmare’ of the past two years.

One of the allegations Mr Salmond faced was that he assaulted a civil servant known as Woman B by grabbing her wrists and attempting to kiss her in Bute House.

Woman B told the court the alleged evening incident was “like wrestling with an octopus”.

Mr Bell, then Mr Salmond’s head of policy, said two other members of the First Minister’s staff asked him to go up to the drawing room as Woman B was alone with Mr Salmond.

Asked by prosecutor Alex Prentice QC why he had gone back upstairs, Mr Bell told the court: “To ensure that the welfare of my colleague was OK”.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict on the charge.

In his article, Mr Bell, a pungent critic of Mr Salmond’s political strategy in the past, said: “When your best defence is ‘I’m sleazy but not criminal’, it’s nothing to smile about.”

Arguing Mr Salmond would now be out for revenge on the Scottish Government, Ms Sturgeon and others he blamed for his situation, he said: “Salmond is driven by a core insecurity which is compensated for by a determination to defeat all comers.

“Why’s he insecure? I’m a writer, not a shrink. What I do know is that he will not step back.

“He’d rather win the argument than be right. Though the two may be confused in his mind.”

He said that as Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon’s respective camps slugged it out, the SNP would look divided.

“Already looking shaky on policy, and weak on independence, they will now be doubted on questions of character and judgement.

“If it weren’t for the unknown virus factor, you could begin to imagine that they won’t win the 2021 Holyrood election.

“That Labour under Keir Starmer might revive. That it’s all over now.

“Salmond’s fightback has begun.”

He added: “In his sights are the majority, governing party the SNP, the Scottish Government, who he may sue for the experience of being falsely accused, and the structure of the state.

“That mouth, so often the source of a barbed remark, or a cheeky grin, is set to start eating Scotland up. He’ll take bites out of everyone if it means he wins the argument.

“He won’t stop, because he can’t, his insecurity drives him to never stop.

“And much as Scotland once swallowed his lines, he now prepares to swallow Scotland.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “It’s a reasonable gauge of Alex Salmond’s character that even his own defence witnesses are laying into him.

“And it seems now the former First Minister is willing to tear the SNP apart simply because he likes the idea of winning.

“This very public civil war within the party of government is the last thing Scotland needs at this moment.”

In a separate development, Mr Neil, who has called for a judge-led inquiry into whether Mr Salmond was the victim of a state conspiracy, said the former FM should return to frontline politics.

Mr Salmond lost his Gordon seat at Westminster in 2017 and resigned from the SNP in August 2018.

Party rules say he must wait until August this year before he can reapply for membership, meaning he would miss the candidate selection process for the 2021 Holyrood election.

The rules also say that because he publicly announced his resignation, his application to rejoin would have to be approved by the SNP’s ruling National Executive Committee.

This is dominated by Ms Sturgeon and her supporters.

Mr Neil and another supporter of Mr Salmond, MP Joanna Cherry QC, have said Mr Salmond should be readmitted to the party he once led as soon as possible.

Mr Neil, a former health secretary, told the Daily Record: “I do not see why Alex should not be back in the party. He was acquitted of all charges. The SNP cannot ignore someone of his talents and achievements. I would be happy for Alex to be back at Holyrood.

“He nearly led Scotland to independence. He would absolutely enhance the reputation of the Parliament. He’s a heavyweight.”

Trump's Leaving' Today!

The Late Show bids a not so fond farewell to Donald Trump who is leaving his home town of New York at a time of the city's greatest crisis - worse even than the harrowing events of  9/11. 

Good riddance if you ask me - I'm sure this is one 'Native New Yorker' who won't be missed.


Murder in Manhattan (11/09/19)

I occasionally re-post on the blog site the words of a poem I wrote many years ago in the wake of 9/11.

I decided to do so again this year because of the news that America's biggest hypocrite, Donald J Trump, had invited Taliban leaders to Camp David on the very eve of 9/11. 

Having had the bare-faced cheek to castigate President Barack Obama for even daring to talk to the Taliban back in 2012.


Murder in Manhattan (11/09/19)

I wrote a poem about the attack on America on September 11th 2001 shortly after watching the two hijacked civilian planes slam into the Twin Towers in New York.

I've taken to publishing what I wrote on the blog site every September, but I have to say the whole business is given added poignancy this year.

Especially after the ludicrous comments from Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in which he alleges some kind of 'moral equivalence' between the death of Osama bin Laden and the cold-blooded killing of thousands of innocent people (including many Muslims) by a gang of murderous Islamist fanatics. 


Murder in Manhattan

As I watched the terrible events in New York on 9/11 2001 l wrote down my feelings at the time and here is what came out:

Murder in Manhattan

Death came unseen one morning

Out of a beautiful clear blue sky

On friendly wings

Innocent lives snuffed out by fanatics

Kill and be killed


Alien to humanity or common sense

Brutal and wicked beyond belief

Shocking, horrible to behold

Beamed live to homes across the world

Loved ones consumed by fireballs

Never to say goodbye

Lost in the rubble or jumping for their lives

Desperate and fearful

How much did they suffer?

Only loss and despair for those left behind

And terrible anger

At the waste of so many lives

Can hope and dignity survive?

To triumph over such barbarism

Provocation and restraint

Honour your dead

Protect your people

Yes, but refuse to become like your enemies

Mark Irvine

September 11 2001

Bogus Complaints to Facebook

Here's my latest letter to facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the company's founder, chairman and chief executive.

Later today I'll share details of how readers of my blog can send a message of support by asking Facebook to expose the person behind these repeated, malicious complaints.

Dear Facebook

Bogus Complaints to Facebook and Account Suspension

Please find below a letter to Mark Zuckerberg regarding the repeated suspension of my Facebook account.

I now plan to share my experience more widely on social media because Facebook's decision to suspend my A4ES page, instead of dealing with the person who is making these malicious complaints, is manifestly wrong.

I have provided you with my contact details in a separate email.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Dear Mr Zuckerberg (by email) 

Bogus Complaints to Facebook and Account Suspension

My Action 4 Equality Scotland Facebook page has again been suspended this evening (29/03/2020) as a result of yet another bogus complaint that my A4ES posts violate Facebook's Community Standards.

As explained previously, the various complaints made to Facebook are untrue, malicious and defamatory - yet Facebook has failed to identify and deal with the perpetrator of this cowardly, dishonest campaign.

I would be grateful if you could inject some much needed common sense into this bizarre situation by asking your staff to identify and deal with the person who is responsible for making these bogus and damaging complaints.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine


"Be Brave, Be Loud, Be Heard."

The nine women who gave evidence at Alex Salmond's trial have their say on the decision to find the former First Minister 'not guilty' or 'not proven' on 13 charges of sexual assault. 

"The jury has delivered a majority verdict on the charges brought against the former first minister. We are devastated by the verdict. However, it is our fervent hope that as a society we can move forward in our understanding of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"In defending Alex Salmond, Gordon Jackson quoted Woman H and said his client should have been a “better man”. He said behaviour, which others described as demeaning, intimidating and humiliating, was “trivial”.

"The behaviours that Alex Salmond and his defence team admitted to in evidence were not and are not trivial. Today we want to send a strong and indisputable message that such behaviours should not be tolerated — by any person, in any position, under any circumstances.

"This has been a traumatic process. However, we thank Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for taking our experiences seriously and for allowing our voices to be heard.

"Many of us did speak up at the time of our incidents but were faced with procedures that could not deal with complaints against such a powerful figure. Others were silenced by fear of repercussions.

"It was our hope, as individuals, that through coming forward at this time we could achieve justice and enact change. We remain firm in our belief that coming forward to report our experiences and concerns was the right thing to do. But it is clear we alone cannot achieve the change we seek.

"The outcome of this trial will pose many questions and be cause for much debate. But as politicians, commentators and society reflect on this case, we would ask you to consider whether behaviour, which is so often merely described as “inappropriate” or is tolerated by society, is acceptable towards your daughters, granddaughters, sisters, wives, friends and colleagues. Many of them will already have suffered such conduct. Often in silence.

"We would also request that as you debate, you conduct it respectfully and stay mindful of the many women in Scotland who may have had traumatic experiences and are considering whether or not Scotland is a country in which they can come forward to seek help and support.

"All people should feel safe, valued and equal in society and their workplace and it is imperative to ensure robust complaint structures are in place. We should all take strength in calling out bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault wherever it takes place.

"And we should all seek to create an environment in which people can challenge and report these behaviours without hesitation or fear of retribution. Some say that women’s fight for respect has gone “too far”. We argue it has far to go. To those who have spoken out in support — thank you, we see you. While we are devastated by the verdict, we will not let it define us. We hope through shining a light on our experiences, it will serve to protect and empower women in the future. Be brave, be loud, be heard."

Woman A, Woman B, Woman C, Woman D, Woman F, Woman, G, Woman H, Woman J, Woman K