I've got a guest post at Bella Caledonia containing my speech to the Scottish Independence Convention from a few weeks ago. Go here.
I've got a guest post at Bella Caledonia containing my speech to the Scottish Independence Convention from a few weeks ago. Go here.
The above was said by WSJ journalist Scott Patterson on Jon Stewart's Daily show on 5th March (not viewable outside the US) this year. It was not something the conversation dwelled upon despite how significant a statement it was. There may be more in his book The Quants.
I recalled it when reading Robert Peston's blog today. He said:
Research by the Bank of England shows that if banks reduced the proportion of their revenues that they pay out in pay and bonuses back to what it was in 2005 (which was a pretty good year for the banks), they would free up £10bn - which could be used to strengthen themselves by retaining it as capital (which is what the Bank of England and FSA would prefer) or to pay higher dividends.
To put it another way, the failure of the owners to insist that this £10bn be deployed to reinforce the foundations of their banks or provide an income to them is one of the great mysteries of our time.
I'd be grateful if anyone can direct me to this Bank of England report as I can't find it. Thank you to anyone that can assist.
The spark the lit the Scottish referee saga is a bit lame. Referee awards penalty and instantly realises he’s made a mistake. To save face he pretends to have a conversation with one of his assistants and uses it as the pretext to reverse his decision. In the end, the result was correct. As scandals go, it’s hardly Calciopoli.
Since then we’ve had this drawn out in the media for six weeks. Now referees are going on strike because of the refusal of people to let this go. The final straw appears to have been Celtic chairman John Reid’s intervention last Thursday to call for the head of the lying referee – yes John Reid talking about someone else’s lies. No one died or was tortured thanks to Dougie MacDonald.
The SFA are said to be exploring flying in foreign referees this weekend so that games can go ahead. I hope they’ve given due consideration about whether these scabs will come from protestant or catholic majority countries.
Whether or not the strike goes ahead, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of contrition or lessons being taken on board. We’ve had ex-refs telling the public about the abuse and hostility they’ve faced. I fear if it will take a very serious incident before the game which is full of whinging John McEnroes takes note.
It’s been a while since John Ware last produced a documentary containing allegations of extremism. Given the disaster of the last one, that is not surprising. The genesis of that was Israeli military and security service sources. This time there seems to be a collaboration with a discredited London thinktank.
It may be pure coincidence that the same day that Ware’s documentary on Muslim schools aired, Policy Exchange’s released a report on the same topic. It would be good to get clarity on the relationship between the documentary maker and the think tank. Readers may recall that PX were the outfit that forged receipts to show that they purchased extremist literature from Muslim bookshops. To date, no explanation has been offered as to why they would feel the need to do such a thing.
Their latest report doesn’t engage or spend money on such extensive fieldwork this time. Instead, they appear to have left that to Ware and the BBC. The broadcast included interviews with Neal Robinson and John Bald, both authors of the PX report. It also extensively featured Michael Gove, currently Education secretary, who was formerly chairman of PX.
My wish here is not to whitewash the state of Muslim education. There were serious as well as superfluous issues raised by Ware. Textbooks shouldn’t contain details about amputations and speak in derogatory and discriminatory terms about other faiths. It is scarcely believable that this is happening, that so many parents aren’t bothered about it, and that even after so many years of scathing public scrutiny there are still people running Muslim institutions that haven’t got their house in order. It is high time that they joined the real world.
My disappointment is that he didn’t get to the heart of the issues and instead engaged in sensationalism. This isn’t surprising as Ware and PX are obsessed with extremism and presenting stories of it to the public. Witness the time devoted to a preacher who appeared at a school fundraiser who said something objectionable separately somewhere else. Ware and PX do not have the welfare of young Muslims anywhere on their minds, and therefore actually effectively dealing with the problems that exist.
It wasn’t mentioned by Ware, but young Muslims are more likely to leave school without qualifications, more likely to be unemployed, less likely to go onto higher education, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to be in prison than the general population. Educationalists say that the stress of additional evening and weekend Islamic schools does not help and may make things worse. After coming home from school, attending the mosque for hours in an often repetitive and uninspiring environment adds stress and leaves little time for homework or play.
I once heard a Glasgow imam openly speak about the effect of the madrassahs. He said that if you totalled up the two hours a day, this amounted to ten hours a week, 500 hours a year and over the course of ten years 5,000 hours. If you saw a product of this system though, then they wouldn’t be any better off than someone who hadn’t done it.
The system is crying out for a radical overhaul. Currently they are run largely by unqualified teachers operating off a poor or non-existent syllabus. Arguably most Muslim boys attend these madrassahs. There is then a real opportunity to lift attainment by investing in these institutions. Let’s make these classes a more rounded experience, including assisting with mainstream education. Add in a little sport and citizenship and you have real wholesome and beneficial proposition.
None of these big issues were addressed in Ware’s documentary. Ironically, earlier this year he accused the controller of BBC1 of being as “shallow as a paddling pool” upon hearing more “depth” was asked for from Panorama.
There are a number of mistakes cited as to why Ireland has arrived at the point of taking a massive external bailout, from being a member of the Eurozone to the massive debt property bubble built up in the last decade. None of the commentary however cites its departure from the United Kingdom as the source. No one is saying a condition of the money now is that it needs to rejoin either. This is the normality of independence, and when Scotland gets it, no one will look back either.
After announcing the money, Chancellor George Osborne said Ireland "were a friend in need" and did not add that the bailout was necessary due to Ireland’s independence. This was in contrast to former PM Gordon Brown, who was quick after the bailout of RBS and HBOS in 2008 to say that an independent Scotland would not have been able to take the action that he had. Debatable sure, but if we are going to engage in pure speculation, it is also clear today that that had Ireland been part of the UK, the exchequer would not have been able to mount the rescue which has just happened by themselves. We live in an interdependent Europe and interconnected world – Scotland’s future doesn’t depend on London.
The UK banks may need another bailout next year. That is what the £7bn UK contribution is all about given the exposure of UK banks in Ireland. It is also a proportionally modest contribution in terms of the overall £70bn package. 2011 is going to be the high water mark for capital hungry UK banks that need to find £250bn in that period. If they don’t manage it we could be looking at Bailout II. There is no guarantee the UK will be able to raise the money. The Tories spent the general election year talking up a market attack on the UK. And remember in 2009 the worried Labour government were saying IMF bailouts were “like getting wellbeing care or even like going to a spa to recuperate”. Or maybe Norway would help us out.
What Ireland has got now is a loan at a reasonable rate of interest. This money would not have been otherwise available at that price because “the markets” have decided that Ireland should be charged more. The price went up after the country announced harsh austerity measures – at the behest of said markets who then decided that austerity meant low growth and higher risk on the debt.
Ireland’s mistakes were Ireland’s to make, just as Norway’s success has been their own. It’s what is done with political power that matters. We can never know what economic policies Holyrood prime ministers would have pursued over the last few decades had we been independent. What matters now is that if we are to depart a bankrupt Britain, it can’t just be an opportunity to escape the cuts, get the investment in jobs and infrastructure that is needed, and go back to how things were done but with kilts on.
A new kind of economy has to be built on social democratic lines with environment at its core. The current crisis has led us all to seek answers, and there is much discussion still to be had about what the priorities and hallmarks of a new economy should be.
The Daily Star have had a whinge about lights celebrating Eid being up alongside Christmas ones, even though Eid was over and done with last week. Council bosses in Rochdale are reportedly keeping them up to display diversity.
To be honest, as a Muslim I'd be slightly embarrassed to see them up there in my city. Still, I don't think it's cause for headline news of the "CHRISTMAS IS HIJACKED BY MUSLIMS AND HINDUS" variety.
Islamophobia Watch then manage to expand the Daily Star's above picture to show this:
The Star of David is up no doubt with Hanukkah falling 2-9 December. But if the lights are still up on 11 December, are Jews going to be accused of hijacking Christmas by the Daily Star? Of course not, and nor should they. But it's the latest example of how discourse about Muslims in the tabloid press would not be acceptable about other groups. Hope not Hate have started a campaign against the Daily Star today.
We're probably now in for the tabloid season of badwill stories about how Muslims are offended by Christmas and want to take it over. Father Christmas to be renamed Abu Eid, red suit to be swapped for a long black robe, but long beard to be maintained. And everyone to tuck into Turkey that has been "ritually slaughtered" but not electrocuted.
May I take this opportunity to wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
During this year's general election campaign I was very pleased to sign the NUS pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees should I have been elected.
Every SNP candidate did likewise, as did many Labour ones, and every single Scottish Lib Dem. Lib Dems now appear on the news though and say things like "We didn't make a promise, we made a commitment in our manifesto", as Vince Cable did at the weekend. This pledge though is not a party political issue to hide behind.
This pledge that individual candidates signed with the NUS was a personal promise by would-be MPs to vote against any increase. It said "I pledge..." not "We pledge...", or even "Our manifesto says if there is the miracle of us forming a majority Lib Dem government...".
MPs who want to impose spiralling tuition fees on today's students, after benefitting themselves from free university, should do the decent thing and voluntarily cough up for their degree. Three years at £9,000 from around 325 MPs will add the best part of £9m for public funds. It'll show them putting their money where their mouths are, and for once have MPs doing as they say others should.
The NUS are looking into using powers of recall to force out reneging MPs. They should use all legal means at their disposal. I don't know if signing this pledge constitutes any form of a contract, but morally at least we now know they had no intention of fighting for the policy when it came to negotiations with the Tories. They would secure a deal for part-time students, and "leave the rest", which would maintain "clear yellow water" between them, Labour and the Tories.
The coalition are keen on using household metaphors when it comes to the economy. That as the country is in debt, just like in ordinary homes in such a situation, belts should be tightened and swingeing savage cuts to expenditure should be made.
Except, the state is not subject to the same rules as homes. But let's accept the simile for a moment and turn it on its head. Coalition cuts are like breadwinners not going out to work because they've slashed their bus fare budget. We're not going to send the kids out to get educated now either. This is the harm that the Tories and Lib Dems are doing to us, their supposed family.
And if any Lib Dems are planning on talking about "yellow water" again any time soon, the public will bring to mind the age old advice to never eat yellow snow.
I was extremely doubtful of the veracity of this stat, reading it for the first time as I did in one of our quality tabloids. All the recent controversies now suggest the figures may be accurate, but it’s not Muslims consuming all this halal meat.
We have to be grateful to the Daily Mail for providing an ever expending list of outlets that sell halal. This apparently includes Waitrose, Costa coffee, Wembley Stadium and some has even found its way into the supply chain at McDonald’s. The far-right EDL have been protesting outside of Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you fancy a flutter at Ascot, it’s on the menu there too. It’s a sign of how Muslims have weaved their way into the fabric of the country.
The scare story goes that animals have been “ritually slaughtered” by Muslims. This sounds alarming, but is literally a two second prayer said by the slaughterman. If you don’t believe in God, the slaughterman could have been having chat with his workmates instead, or listening to Kylie on the wireless for all this matters.
What the Daily Mail’s meat McCarthyism has settled on as the issue is whether animals have been electrocuted before slaughter. It’ll be interesting to see if this hysteria plants itself in the minds of the British public who have used the word kosher, which has the same issue about stunning, as a byword in quality. However, the situation with halal is more complex than this - the RSPCA state that 90% of halal meat is actually stunned. That is not to say that there aren’t prominent Muslims denouncing this state of affairs and calling for more stun-free produce.
I believe the debate needs to move on a bit and recognise the nature of the industrial meat production that exists today. If we want to look at what Islamic teachings say, there is also the belief that an animal should not see another animal be killed. If you take away the slaughter conveyor belt which animals are hoarded on to, given the quantities of meat being consumed, guaranteeing a classical slaughter is going to drive up prices. Would the Muslim public be willing to pay? My guess is not.
There is a lot of obsessing by Muslims about the state of affairs at point of slaughter. We'll all have received the text messages about boycotting KFC, Nandos or some other outlet. There is though little or no thought about the welfare of animals during their lives. The conditions in which many animals exist should make everyone pause and think – if nothing else, it affects the quality of meat and poultry you are putting it in your body. The disingenuousness of the right-wing tabloids means we may not get week after week of scare stories about the lives of our chickens so that they can be sold at bargain basement prices, but this does nevertheless matter.
A great deal of halal meat is imported. While what is sold at butchers is generally slaughtered within the UK, I understand that the majority of meat used at restaurants and takeaways is shipped in from countries like Brazil and Thailand. This is a not inconsiderable carbon footprint and we need to question its necessity and desirability.
For the sake of our health and planet, we should be eating less meat. Five-a-day prayers accompanied by five-a-day fruit and veg?
Speculation is building that Time Warner and Sir Peter Jackson are set to ditch New Zealand as the location for the new Hobbit movies, the prequels to the wonderful Lord of the Rings movies which were filmed in that similarly sized country to Scotland.
A now resolved dispute with acting unions has led Warner Bros to claim they are worried about their £500m investment if it goes ahead there. Co-producer Philippa Boyens has said that Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and Canada were now pushing to take the project.
A Scottish Government spokesperson has said in response:
“Scotland is an attractive and highly competitive film location with stunning scenery and a skilled workforce. If there are any opportunities regarding The Hobbit, we would want to see Scotland benefit – but we are currently not aware of any approach.”
Slightly disappointing statement. I would hope that 'Team Scotland', whether that be the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Visit Scotland or a combination of them were actively bidding for this rather than waiting for an approach. The film would be a massive coup for the country in terms of jobs in the short and medium term if the tourism generated by New Zealand in the wake of the Lord of the Rings movies is anything to go by.
That is if there is any realistic hope that it will move from NZ. Ms Boyens' claim of other countries bidding for the project is thrown into some doubt though if the Scottish position is anything to go by. Some analysts suggest that the film producers are angling for more incentives from the New Zealand government and this is their bargaining chip.
Even if Time Warner were looking for further tax breaks, the Scottish Government of course does not have the power to do that. Still it would be worth picking up the phone to see what could be done. Scotland is after all home to Torridon (pictured) which is considered to be Tolkien's inspiration for Middle Earth.
UPDATE: Gerri Peev points out that the strong New Zealand dollar may be driving the move. Other countries have been devaluing currencies to boost exports. I suspect though this is certainly not the kind of export NZ are looking for.
35 business leaders intervened on the eve of Chancellor George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review, urging him to press full speed ahead with his cuts by arguing that any public sector job losses would be offset by the private sector.
The letter in the Telegraph on Monday is however at odds with their own personal records, where many of the firms they manage have been responsible for redundancies during the straitened times of the last few years.
They say in the letter:
“The private sector should be more than capable of generating additional jobs to replace those lost in the public sector, and the redeployment of people to more productive activities will improve economic performance, so generating more employment opportunities.”
Among the signatories to this are:
The list is long. 10% of the workforce has been lost at Aveva and Sage over the last few years, yet Nick Prest (chairman) and Paul Walker (chief executive) respectively saw no contradiction in their political statement. Arup have lost 20% (Philip Dilley, chairman).
Diageo CEO Paul Walsh is on the list, despite the well-publicised loss of 500 jobs in Kilmarnock last year. Whitbread (Anthony Habgood, chairman), who run Premier Inn and Costa coffee, shed 600 jobs last year, while Britvic (Gerald Corbett, chairman) shed 50 in Northern Ireland six months ago. Corbett is also chairman of SSL, who own Durex, and who also expect job cuts soon.
Maybe some of these captains of industry suffer from amnesia. The most breathtaking case must then belong to the executive chairman of Boots, Stefano Passina, who just two weeks ago announced 900 job cuts.
600,000 people are expected to lose their jobs in the coming period (and that's the Tory OBR's estimate), and the gentlemen above look set to contribute to the reemployment of not a single one of them, but still see fit to agitate for the increase in unemployment in addition to their own direct contribution to it.
They claim in the letter that:
“There is no reason to think that the pace of consolidation envisaged in the Budget will undermine the recovery.”
However, ASDA finance director Judith McKenna is on record saying: “The scale of public sector cuts and increased taxation is without doubt a concern to customers. While we hope for better times ahead, we're certainly not planning on that basis”. ASDA chairman Andy Bond, nevertheless signed the Telegraph letter. He can’t claim he’s not well advised.
Next chief executive Sir Simon Wolfson signed it, despite only last month (amnesia again) saying that the boom time was over for retailers for the foreseeable future due to spending cuts. Lord Wolfson is a Tory peer, and should have just signed the letter as such.
I agree with the September Sir Simon rather than the October Lord Wolfson. The private sector has already faced tough times over the last few years, and fewer people with money to spend due to increased joblessness means even less consumer confidence and demand moving forward. What these business leaders have signed up to is the strangest suicide note in history. Given the harm it does the public, it would also be the longest boycott list in history, if it wouldn’t just end up in more job losses.
The country is not a business. The state cannot callously cast aside and eliminate the people it puts out of work. It continues to pick up the bill, not just in economic terms, but social too. Unless they are willing to put their money where their mouth is and guarantee a job to everyone put out of public sector employment, they should keep quiet and start creating the jobs they speak of.
High speed rail lines north of Birmingham have been announced by the Conservatives at their annual conference. North to them means Manchester and Leeds.
They are a copy of the Labour plans announced in March – with one crucial difference. That is not even a cursory mention of Scotland being part of the network at some undetermined point in the unforeseeable future after 2032 (the year, not thirty-two-minutes-past-eight). Labour were careful not to totally alienate their base, Tory Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond felt he didn't need to, saying that the rail lines would join onto the existing West and East Coast Main Lines respectively once the HSR tracks finish.
A couple of further points to the ones I’ve made at length previously. Firstly, the snail’s pace of building the line. London to Birmingham won’t be completed till 2025, then it will take a further seven years to link Manchester and Leeds. Factor in the time-honoured British tradition of the project running over time, and it’ll be generations till this sees the light of day. If you take those twenty two years and work backwards from now, Maggie Thatcher was still in power. How much will things move on between now and the 2030s? Shouldn’t we be zooming around in solar powered hovercraft by then? Or teleporting?
Hammond himself cited the Chinese example who will build 12,000km of track in the same time it will take the UK to build 205km. This isn’t just to do with planning permissions, it’s about the level of investment being put in. The UK government will invest only £2bn a year of the £30bn required for it all. These are of course not insignificant sums of money, but we are continually told the lines will pay for themselves in the boost they represent to the economy. It should therefore be possible to do it faster, and to do more faster.
On the do more bit, I speak of the line being constructed in Scotland. This is where the environmental benefits kick in with the modal shift from air to rail. The UK government haven’t even studied the option in any depth. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that they have given up on the union between Scotland and England. It’s entirely possible that if there was a real proper campaign from Scottish business, media and politicians, things could still change. It seems though the UK government want the Scottish Government to pay for it without devolving crossborder rail, and crucially affording Scotland the economic powers to raise the necessary revenue. It will therefore be an end of the political line between England and Scotland that will connect the two up faster, and put Scotland speedily into the heart of Europe.
There has also been a welcome shift since the election in Labour policy towards the economy. While not a u-turn like Iraq yet, it's being described in some quarters as a leftward drift, though I would characterise it as going round in circles. I was in Milton Keynes this week and the Labour Party in their current state could be described as the town’s political equivalent, and not because of the roundabouts. They're a bit of Milton Friedman and bit of John Maynard Keynes, but not quite being one or the other.
They should clearly be saying cuts in vital jobs and services are wrong and will lead us into another recession and possibly depression. We have to invest in our economy to grow it and get the tax take up – the drop in which after all is what caused the deficit in the first place. Someone from the thinktank Demos was on the telly this week though warning Labour against opposing the coalition government’s plans as the public wouldn’t accept any alternative was possible or credible. This standpoint turns the most crucial issue of this parliament into a political consideration rather than one of right and wrong.
What this attitude also ignores is that the coalition have spent a year softening the public for what they’re about to do, from Nick Clegg’s initial clarion call for “savage cuts”, a stream of press conferences about “irresponsible spending that can’t go on”, and leaks about what may be for the chop. Labour similarly have got to get on the front foot with a message about the economy. If as it seems, the Tory-LibDem plans are going to end in misery, it is going to be of no use to have hitched your wagon to their plans.
Labour should not be afraid to campaign against cuts. There is plenty of public unease out there looking for expression. This after all is the party that took us to war in the face of public opinion, the intelligence and international law. Ed Miliband may apologise for the most catastrophic blunder of the last government, but the economy is going to be the biggest one this time around.
I would say they shouldn't get it wrong a second time, but that horse may have already bolted. Because of them, the coalition government look set to be ensconced for the next five years. Labour have already fluffed their lines by contributing to the Tory mood music with their pre-election promise of cuts “deeper and tougher” than Thatcher’s.
There may not be any change now other than if there's huge social unrest. In Scotland, it is easier and more direct. The massive cuts over the next five years can be avoided by taking control of our economy through independence, and there will be an opportunity to vote for this next year.
This post was continued from here.
If I were a Labour member, which clearly I am not, I would have backed Ed Miliband for leader. Between he and his brother, he has the capacity to speak human for some of the time. David for me is a bit too robotic.
I don’t sense a great deal of policy difference between the two, other than on Iraq. Ed says that he opposed the war at the time. If there were any evidence of this to the contrary, it would surely have been produced by Team David by now. The elder Miliband, Ed Balls et al were nevertheless clearly incredulous at Ed M’s position during the hustings however.
Ed is fortunate he wasn't an MP in 2003 as he would have undoubtedly voted for the war if he had been. Just like Harriet Harman, he would have just "went along with what Tony wanted". He wouldn't have been an evangelist either way, he would just have wanted to keep the peace as it were.
This brings us to the David Miliband–Harriet Harman vignette during younger brother’s speech. I don’t view Harman as a hypocrite for applauding the Iraq was "wrong” comments. Rather, it should be seen as an act of humility. One that needs to be taken further. For Miliband Sr to hold onto his position in the face of everything that has happened is stupendously stubborn. He whispered with fury “Why are you clapping? You voted for it”. As if no politician has ever performed a u-turn.
The incident sealed his departure from the front bench. It was clear he could not serve under his younger brother. There is no way Tony Blair or Gordon Browns’ speeches would have been interrupted like that. Even Ed Balls, Andy Burnham or Diane Abbot wouldn’t have seen a disrespect that was particularly reserved for younger brother.
For me, the open air mass was a fascinating window into the Catholic Church. One sees Muslims regularly being ‘holy’ on the television, in prostration during prayer or at pilgrimage in Makkah. But it’s not often you see ordinary Catholics engaged in prayer or observing rituals as we did in Bellahouston Park. In its ritualism, it was very similar to what I’m used to as a Muslim. Men dressed in long robes, wearing hats and speaking in foreign languages. Just the beards were missing.
Baroness Warsi accused the previous Labour government of treating religion as something that foreigners do, but it’s not often that you see white folks engaging in the sacred in public. Maybe that is something to do with our culture of secularism, aggressive or otherwise, that means you don’t do God outside your home or church.
A recurring theme of the Papal visit has been the apparent tension between faith and our secular society. What is frustrating is how the meaning of secularism is constantly confused. What it doesn’t mean is that people of faith cannot contribute to public debate. Ideas and opinions are valid and up for public acceptance or rejection on merit, no matter what their genesis is.
Having established the right of faiths to be at the table, I have to disagree with the views often expressed when there. There is a preoccupation with sexual issues - contraception, abortion and “the gays”. These arguments aren’t new and have been raging since biblical times. When people of faith lead on them though, they appear harsh and hardhearted.
I often have this out with Muslims, that the very same rights that let us practice our faith must be upheld for homosexuals to live as they wish. What's good for the goose and all that. Muslims should not be guilting people about a moral code they do not accept. I cite the example of how in Islam the consumption of alcohol is forbidden. This wasn’t revealed on Day One though, and came much later once followers’ hearts were attuned to God and they would willingly accept such strictures. The focus of faith should then be on winning hearts through mercy and messages of hope. All the major faiths are struggling for language on this, despite the fact that many, many people are looking for spirituality in an age of materialism. Again, this is not a new dichotomy in the thousands of years or religious history.
The long game matters to the Catholic church and any organisation that can invoke successes from hundreds of years ago as the pope did with the set up of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrew's Universities is looking at things over the serious long term. What was disappointing though was the lack of a new idea. In Glasgow, there was no mention of the financial crisis, climate change, global wars or poverty. What is today's version of setting up the ancient universities that we'll be talking about in 500 years time?
Alternatives to the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition's cuts agenda emerge all the time. The IMF of all people have backed the idea of a "Robin Hood Tax" on financial transactions.
This hasn't been widely reported, and instead we get the usual stream of lurid headlines about public spending cuts. I'm not sure if the IMF's plans are strictly along the lines of the RHT campaign given that this calls for the money to be used specifically to tackle poverty and climate change at home and abroad.
Still, using the money to bolster public investment would be infinitely better than the reverse Robin Hood syndrome the UK government is currently implementing. Their plans will hit the poorest hardest.
As well as the £20bn that the RHT would raise, Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK has demonstrated the same amount could be brought in though a bit work to chip at the tax gap that exists. Instead, the Tories and Lib Dems are cutting HMRC operations too.
The coalition government have got no right to be instigating losses of jobs and essential services without having made any serious effort to get the income levels up. This is after all what has increased the deficit in the first place. They have no plan for growth, and any time new money is identified such as the £7bn they say they are going to raise through better tax collection, or through better than expected growth figures for the last few months, the news is not accompanied by good news of less cuts. That's what makes the spending vandalism ideological, and not necessary.
Instead we are treated to constant infantile similitudes with tightening household spending, which Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg treated us to again yesterday in his conference speech. Family finances are nothing like those of a state, but if we take Clegg's comparison, he is about to make members of his own family jobless and hungry in a wanton act of domestic violence.
The US declared combat operations in Iraq at an end this week. Given the lack of confetti, streamers and "Mission Accomplished" banners, it's difficult to conclude that even they do not see the war as anything other than a failure.
It has been a war of paradoxes. Tony Blair took the release of his Weapons of Mass Distraction in the form of his memoirs this week to again restate his belief that the greater freedoms that Iraq now has outweigh the deaths and the collapse in security since 2003.
This is at odds with the way he conducted himself as prime minister at home, where he routinely curtailed freedoms in the name of security, with a raft of "game changing" initiatives such as 90 days detention and control orders. This was to counter the terror threat he himself ramped up with his Iraq war.
When Blair spoke to Andrew Marr on Wednesday, he trotted out the line that he used a month before war at the Labour Party conference in Glasgow the same day two million of us were protesting outside and in London:
If there are 500,000 on the march, that is still less than the number of people whose deaths Saddam has been responsible for. If there are one million, that is still less than the number of people who died in the wars he started.
Blair repeated these figures this week and said Saddam may have killed this number in the last seven years had he been in power. Even if this did end up happening, the point is that the UK wouldn't have done it. Surely your own direct culpability matters. We don't stop a mass murderer by carrying out his deeds for him. That doesn't count. You can't accuse Saddam of having used chemical weapons on his own people, and somehow make out that it's better that we did it for him.
Another paradox. Iraqis have used their freedom to elect what Blair and his neocon allies have railed against for the last decade - an Islamist regime called the Islamic Dawa Party that recognises the sovereignty of Allah, elected under a constitution that has Islam as a "fundamental source of legislation". This is what Blair had British troops lay their lives down for while the pro-war brigade played games to the media here against contrived "radical Islamic" influences. While looking for Islamists under the bed at home, they had jumped into bed with them elsewhere.
To return to the main theme, there isn't an overall rationale for withdrawal at this juncture. The current situation could just as easily have been cited as a reason to continue. This serves as a pointer to Afghanistan. The facts are still being fixed round the policy, which right now is that our troops will remain there. In Afghanistan we'll get the same end result as Iraq. An arbitrary moment for withdrawal leaving us all wondering what it had all been for.
McDonald's have replied to my recent query regarding why they don't recycle customer waste, especially when their counterparts in other countries do. Here's the relevent bit:
"There are many challenges with this, most notably that many UK recycling facilities are contracted for household waste only and not for commercial use. In addition, few facilities will accept 'dirty' paper or plastics, deeming that waste that is contaminated with food or drink residues is unsuitable. That said we are committed to finding ways to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill and will continue to explore this area."
I've replied asking what steps they've taken to lobby the powers that be to ensure sufficient recycling facilities are set up. As I pointed out in my last blog post on this, other chains are recycling with food. Also see the interesting comment by Michael King underneath this article.
For the sake of balance, a similar epistle has now also been sent to Burger King.
Muslim singing anti-Catholic songs, treating all Catholics as terrorists.Words fail me.
One of the features of the current Islamophobia is that it is just the latest manifestation of hatred that has spewed against Catholics, Jews and blacks in the past. To see a Muslim carrying on in such a fashion has left me dumbfounded.
Abdul Salaam or Abdul Hussain as I've seen him referred in different quarters was at the English Defence League protest in Bradford at the weekend.
UPDATE: From Azhar on Facebook: "The best video of him is this one where he desperately tries to
persuade us that the head of the edl welsh division is not racist. This
goes on after the chap says he has sieg heiled,
that he is racist, and that he has swastikas tattooed on his body"
If we do the things that we should, that number will be in the region of 48,000. On the other hand, if we get this wrong, it could only be just 900 jobs that are created.
It's all well and good and should further whet our appetite to unleash Scotland's potential in this field, with famously, one-quarter of Europe's wind offshore. That does mean three-quarters is elsewhere and the report warns that if we don't get it right, other countries will become the leaders in this field instead.
What the report doesn't stress is exactly how much investment is needed, what that should go into, and who should be pumping it in. The report seems to fall into the common trait of the renewables industry in Scotland in dwelling on how much potential there is instead of emphasising how we access it. By way of example, the Conservative government's recent Green Investment Bank Commission recently concluded that UK-wide there would have to be £550bn worth of investment over the next decade to achieve carbon reduction targets, albeit this isn't just for wind energy but also includes upgrading buildings and helping industry. There aren't any such figures readily promoted in Scotland.
Locked away in Annexe E of the Scottish Renewables report are some actions such as finding investment through the UK government releasing the Fossil Fuel Levy money, and making use of the upcoming Green Investment Bank. On the latter, Rob Gibson MSP recently suggested that the GIB should be located in Scotland, a call backed by a leading lawyer (although the Tories seem to be wading backwards on how it will be funded).
The report also states other practical measures: shortening of consent periods; the upgrading of and access to the national grid; and widening mid-career training as well as gearing universities to produce qualified people for the industry.
All of this requires money, money that does not seem forthcoming from the UK government and which the Scottish Government are powerless to raise. The Tories are crazily cutting spending at the time when we need to be investing in new industries, creating jobs and getting into a situation where we are producing things other countries want to buy. This report therefore underscores the need for the Scottish Government to have entirely normal economic powers to raise money to spend in this area. We also should be able to reap the benefits of it, meaning the proceeds shouldn't just be funnelled through to London as it has been with the oil. We should be greener and wealthier from this.
As with so much in Scottish politics, it returns to the constitutional question. It's all very well having values and principles, but if you don't have the power to implement them, they are pretty pointless.
Electoral Commission returns have shown that former PM Tony Blair donated £75,000 to Labour Party coffers for this year's general election drive.
This of course dwarfs the generosity shown to the British Legion with profits of around £5m from his memoirs going towards a gym for injured soldiers.
At the same time, it costs us £6m a year to provide protection to the man who took us to war in Iraq. One book signing next month alone is expected to come in at a quarter of a million pounds. The expenses of bodyguards when abroad fetches £250,000. It is right that former PMs should receive security. Prime ministers before Blair did not engage in so much foreign travel though.
Whenever he jets off around the world, which is understood to be the majority of the time, whether he is doing business for international high finance, or entering war zones as peace envoy, we should not be expected to pay for it. If a bank wants him, they should pay his bills. If the Quartet want him - the man who was pushed out of office because he couldn't say Israel should ceasefire in Lebanon - to try and broker peace in the Middle East, let it be on their own dime. If not, it's not unreasonable for Blair to foot the bill himself from his considerable earnings.
So let him cover the cost of that, and let the government get on with the job of helping injured troops.
The Herald have reported that Edinburgh Airport is increasing its passenger number lead over Glasgow Airport, with the gap up to 200,000 every month only three years after it took over as the busier of the two.
What the article didn't mention is the ongoing ownership issue of the airports, which is something I campaigned on at the general election. They are both controlled by BAA, despite a Competition Commission ruling that they must sell one. BAA successfully challenged the ruling on a technicality last December, with no dispute about the merit of it. The original CC inquiry took two years, and it may take years again just to get to the same point, whereupon BAA are given a number of years to make the sell-off.
Meanwhile Glasgow is languishing when it should be robustly competing with its neighbour. BAA have every incentive consciously or unconsciously to let the current trend continue. This was the whole point of the CC ruling.
This cannot be allowed to go on like this. The UK government can look at forcing a sale through the Competition Act (2000) or if not viable, enacting legislation specifically to do it. They should do so.
Aid to Pakistan has started to pick up after a pitiful early response to one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in recent times. It is still considerably short of the UN's $460m target, which itself appears well below the £15bn or so that is estimated to be needed for rebuilding.
The first bits of aid have been less than those given at the 2004 tsunami and the Haiti earthquake in the last year. By affecting 15-20m people, the current Pakistani catastrophe is considerably worse than both combined.
Comparison to the response to Hurricane Katrina (2005) in the US also bears examination. There, international governmental pledges of support reached $840m. This included $100m from the UAE and $500m from Kuwait.
As seems par for the course with such pledges, not all of this was given, but not just because of reluctance from donors to deliver on promises. The US themselves were found to be wanting when handling donations that came in. Suspicions therefore of how Pakistan would handle aid that arrives, is not unique to them.
It does not help of course that Pakistan is led by a man of Asif Ali Zardari's lack of stature. Criticism of George W Bush for being a day late getting back to the White House to deal with Katrina, and only visiting the hit area two days later, pales into insignificance with the Pakistani prime minister's jaunt to the Abu Dhabi, Paris and London in the flooding aftermath.
He has defended the visits saying that they generated aid. This does not stand up to scrutiny with paltry figures such as France's $2.5m and the UAE's $1.5m compared to their $100m Katrina commitment. Poor contributions from Western countries to Pakistan have been put down variously to associations with terrorism, fear of corruption and racism. It can only be surmised given the response of Muslim countries that their view of Pakistan is even worse. Kuwait's $500m offer to the US is put alongside their $5m pledge to help Pakistanis.
The UK and the US have led the way with £100m and $150m respectively, though it needs to be ensured that commitments are followed through. Analysis of their support says it springs from the relationship in with Pakistan in tackling terrorism. On that, handily we have human resources in Afghanistan, and the US have sent six choppers from the war theatre to help with relief efforts in Pakistan.
It is at times like these though that the absurdity of priorities becomes clear. We are apparently fighting a war in Afghanistan to reduce terrorism, and therefore save lives. That itself is being prosecuted by taking more lives than said terrorism has. Next to Afghanistan is Pakistan. In the former, the UK is spending in the region of $6bn a year waging a war with little discernible effect in life preservation to say the least. Next door, there are 4,000,000 people who have just lost their homes, but only $100m can be found to help them.
No country has suffered more at the hands of terrorism without being invaded than Pakistan. The country has been lurched into crisis after crisis as the 'war on terror' has gone on, spilling more and more into its borders. Yes, Zardari is inept, but again, ordinary Pakistanis suffer him the most. We may question Mr Ten Per Cent's morals, but we can't let that muddy our moral imperative to help people in dire need. The world showing Pakistan that it cares may be just the light that is needed to rebuild not just houses, schools and roads, but the entire fabric and future of the country.
The phrase repeated ad infinitum by the Scottish Government last year after the release of Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi was that it was the “right decision for the right reasons”.
The good faith with which the decision was taken is apparent. There can have been no trade deal. The Scottish Government doesn't even have the economic powers to benefit from that. Yes, the UK government though seem to have sold out for a BP oil deal. Tony Blair was present when CEO Tony Hayward signed on the dotted line in tent of Colonel Gadaffi, Megrahi's boss. The MOU between Libya and the UK, including the prisoner transfer agreement, was thrashed out at the same time. Coincidence perhaps, but the correspondence suggests not.
The Scottish Government rightly rejected this PTA. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill took the decision to release Megrahi on the basis that the prisoner had a prognosis of three months to live in prison due to his prostate cancer. That followed the normal process of law for someone in Megrahi’s condition. The easy thing for MacAskill would have been to let Megrahi rot. If he was a man driven by petty party politics, it would have stuck one to London at the same time too. He’s not a short term man though. He doesn’t do things purely for the sake of courting popularity.
That Megrahi is still alive is not a shock, I myself recently met someone who was given a few months to live due to cancer but seven years later is still with us. Incidentally, they are not exactly living it up, they are dying of cancer. Add to this the likely added life expectancy from moving out of prison to go home.
MacAskill’s opposite number in Labour, Richard Baker, in a real signal of confidence to the Scottish medical community yesterday said his position was that if doctors from the EU and US had come to the same conclusions, he would have backed release too (one can’t help thinking that given Scottish Labour’s track record, Megrahi would actually have been put on a plane to Tripoli in 2007 faster than you could say “Tony’s signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement”). Baker’s release would albeit have been into the community in Scotland, with the security costs of this outweighed by the consideration of Scotland’s image in the world.
By this, presumably he means Scotland’s standing amongst the US political establishment. Because around the world, there is the same feeling that at the very minimum most people in Scotland who have examined the case will privately express – that Megrahi is in all likelihood not the man behind the Lockerbie bombing. If he had died in Scotland from cancer it would have done irreparable damage to our reputation not just in Libya and the Muslim world, but beyond.
This is just pure speculation on my part, but unconsciously the lack of confidence in his guilt may have affected his release. Had he been an undoubted stonecold killer, Megrahi may have remained in prison, and probably be dead by now. We have to be sorrowful that since Megrahi dropped his appeal, we have no obvious method of getting to the bottom of the doubts regarding the safety of his conviction. This is why we need to move beyond the bellyaching, BP conspiracies and political pointscoring, to securing the inquiry - with the evidence that was to be used in the appeal - to get to the truth.
The first time I was introduced to the hallowed ground of the World Trade Centre in New York was during my US State Dept visit in 2008. As we travelled down West Street, our guide pointed across some wasteland and shouted in his brilliant New Jersey accent “There’s Century 21!”.
For the unitiated, this is a department store with top labels at bottom prices. There was some great shopping to be had. Some real bargains I’m wearing still on a regular basis. But the rubble he was pointing over was clearly the WTC site, which went unmentioned. I should also add that one of the best kebabs I’ve ever had, or kabobs as they call them over there, was from a stall on the north-east corner of site. It was halal, but let’s not open another flank of attack for the US loony right.
When Mayor Bloomberg made his fantastic speech in front of a glorious backdrop of the Statue of Liberty a couple of weeks ago, it seemed over the top for such a senior politician to have to go to such lengths on a simple planning application. Still we thought, this should draw a line under it. Never underestimate the forces of hysteria and bigotry though.
One of the things that impressed me most during the visit to the US was the commitment from both left and right to uphold religious freedoms. Much early immigration to the US was from communities fleeing religious persecution in Europe so it was built into the foundation of the country to guarantee the state would not intervene in matters of faith. This is at odds with the models of secularism practised in countries like France who will regulate things like clothing. It is therefore extremely sad to see this whipped up hysteria.
I personally know Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam at the centre of the controversy. I first came across him through his wife Daisy Khan, whose organisation we were introduced to by the State Department on the aforementioned visit. To the GOP throwing round the now all too predictable accusations of extremism, this introduction and visit took place during the George W Bush era.
I’ve no doubt that given their trackrecord of interfaith work that the proposed Park 51 centre will be the community hub that it’s aiming to be. The mosques that we visited across the US during the 3-week trip were on the whole infinitely more outward looking and vibrant than their UK counterparts. I know there is a distinction between mosques and community centres, but many of the masjids we visited had sports halls, first class educational facilities and even health care available.
The truth is though that mosque applications always court opposition wherever they appear now. The Park 51 episode is just the pinnacle of it. In the UK the usual covers for complaint are traffic management and ecological issues.
There was one very curious case in Glasgow recently where an Islamic organisation and sent mailings to local residents attempting to put their minds at rest about their plans to take over a local hall. Except it seems someone had actually forged the organisation’s letterhead and there were no such proposals. Nevertheless, residents got het up and a the local shop began a petition against it. Sections of the community wanting to whip up anxieties for their own nefarious ends are not just confined to NYC.
The Evening Times have been running a campaign for a while now on funding issues affecting Glasgow. The latest is on the state of the roads.
I’d like to see them take up the issue of high speed rail. The government’s current proposals of linking up Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London will put Glasgow at an even further competitive disadvantage.
The UK government may not care about this, but the environmental benefits of HSR will not be achieved unless the network links to Scotland.
The impact of such a campaign would be enormous. If not the Evening Times, maybe the Daily Record? Yorkshire has been successful in being included in the current proposals in large part due to the local newspaper’s ‘Fast Track to Yorkshire’ campaign which was praised in Parliament.
I suggested the idea to a Herald and Times journalist a few months ago and I really hope they end up running with it. The same would go for the Evening News in Edinburgh. With a Y-shaped model, this is one for the east and west coast.
"It is an open secret that Transport for London strategists have long been sceptical of Crossrail. When he left in April 2009, TfL's then boss, Tim O'Toole, pleaded with colleagues to concentrate on upgrading the tube, fearing that London would end the next decade with years of Crossrail chaos still ahead, while the rest of the undercapitalised network degenerated. Johnson was half-persuaded of this, until the construction industry lobby told him Crossrail was a virility symbol and he capitulated. Hammond should kill the project forthwith."
This is interesting as one of the reasons given by the last Labour government about why their limited national high speed rail plans couldn't begin for another full seven years in 2017 was Crossrail. Indeed, Lord Adonis said that HSR would be a successor project to Crossrail.
If Crossrail is unneccesary, let's make a start on HSR now, and use the money saved to make the Tory plans of going from London to Leeds more ambitious to connect Scotland on it. It is after all what will be best for the environment.
After all, Labour were not all that keen on holding onto power following the general election, with the reported words of Bank of England Governor Mervyn King ringing in their ears that whoever won would be out of power for a generation given what needed to be done.
Moribund discussions of cutting free personal care for the elderly, taking away their bus passes, taxing ill health and charging for education is certainly not why the SNP are around. This though is the dominant discussion in media and political circles. The SNP can’t avoid it either, with a tough budget due before the election. Labour are meanwhile allowed to assiduously avoid saying anything about what they’d do.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. The UK has gone from an economic model where the priority used to be solely on achieving economic growth, to one which is aiming to satisfy bond markets allegedly hungry for public spending cuts. The money the Tories are taking out of the economy, and the unemployment that will be created, is widely expected to lead us into another recession - and possibly depression.
Scotland meanwhile has been in surplus even after the banking crash and even despite not having the normal economic powers to deal the economic crisis. Not only must we maintain investment in our communities, but everyone also recognises the need for new industries. Luckily in Scotland we have a massive green energy jobs potential to invest in. We can do this with financial independence. This is a stone’s throw from political independence which is why the London parties are reluctant to embrace it.
So next year’s election is not about who would most competently administer Cameron’s cuts in Scotland. This is clearly where the opposition want us. We must not just talk managerially about the current budgetary pressures. Every public utterance, media appearance and press release needs to state the alternative. This will get us on the front foot from strategies advised by Labour spin doctors for the ConDems to “passport the responsibility for unpopular decisions” onto the SNP. Iain Gray tries to pin everything on Alex Salmond every week at First Ministers Questions.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s the economic powers, eejits.
The president of Pakistan is in the UK while his country is in the midst of its worst flooding in 80 years. 1,500 are estimated dead, with over a million having lost their homes. The situation is forecast to get even worse with more rain.
So it’s appalling for Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, to be seen stepping off planes in the Arabian Gulf, Paris and now London.
To make matters worse, this is not an official state visit. Pakistani security officials last week refused to come to Britain following David Cameron’s remarks about the country playing a double game on terrorism. Zardari will be dropping in on Cameron though.
The real object of the visit is said to be a rally of his party, the PPP, in Birmingham this Saturday (he arrived in the UK yesterday, Tuesday). 3,000-4,000 supporters are expected to be there, to witness something akin to a coronation of his 21-year-old son Bilawal to active political life now that he has graduated from university. The PPP are now playing down the significance of the event, but if it’s not important, it actually makes the state of affairs even worse.
Zardari has come under a torrent of criticism, but he doesn’t seem phased by it. Such lack of accountability and distance from your people is what comes when political leadership is passed as a family heirloom literally written in last will and testaments.