I've got a guest post at Bella Caledonia containing my speech to the Scottish Independence Convention from a few weeks ago. Go here.
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.
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.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Alex Salmond for his Christmas card this year. It's terrific.
It has though come in for criticism from opposition parties because it has the Scottish flag on it.
I have never understood why unionist parties accuse the SNP of manipulating the saltire for party political ends. Every party uses their country's flag. Politicians in most states do so too, it's natural. In the US, they wear it on their lapel. It just so happens for Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems, that flag is the Union Jack (see pictures below).
The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that it is Scotland's flag itself that is being objected to.
The artist that did this year's Christmas card is Gerard M Burns. One of his paintings also has pride of place in the First Minister's office. The painting was actually commissioned at the time the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999 but was quickly banished till the SNP won in 2007 because the saltire on it was considered too big.
For the other parties, it seems the only useful purpose the saltire should serve is to provide the blue for the Union Jack.
In fairness to Labour though, Jim Murphy has been trying to convince his party to adopt the saltire. By trying to foist it like this on his troops though, it is as close as you can get to politicising the flag. The forced photoshoot with Iain Gray at this year's Labour conference is case in point.
It won't make any difference for Labour to be seen more comfortable with the saltire. They actually have to be able to come up with policies which are relevant to Scotland, and which will very likely have to be in the face of their counterparts in London. Are Scottish Labour capable of independent thought?
The new revelations contained in the Times contain more than a whiff of the 'divide and rule' mentality. It's absolutely extraordinary that a proposal could seriously be floated in Whitehall to stoke up independence movements in Orkey and Shetland in order to redraw maritime boundaries all the better for London to take in North Sea oil revenues.
The tone of the proposals and the fact they could even be aired displays once again the utter contempt in which Scotland has been held by successive London governments. Scotland is seen as nothing short of a cash cow, only for us to be further mocked by being told that we’re too poor to be independent. In reality, they knew back then that had we been independent, we’d be running ‘chronic surpluses to a quite embarrassing degree’.
This is no small matter. These deceits have meant that where we could have invested in our national public infrastructure with substantial oil revenues for thirty years, we’ve instead got some of the poorest areas in Western Europe. We could be infinitely better off right now, and it is making Scots angry.
Interesting piece by Newsnight's Stephanie Flanders on Sovereign Wealth Funds. It's estimated that these funds from the big Middle Eastern oil kingdoms and the Far East have trillions of dollars to invest, and are becoming increasingly influential in the West given the turbulent economic times.
US banks for example have been bailed out to the tune of $70bn recently for example. If Northern Rock was to have a saviour, it was likely to come from the Middle East.
Flanders lists the biggest of these funds, with number one being Abu Dhabi's. Can you guess who's second? Saudi? Kuwait? China? Wrong, wrong and wrong again - the second largest in the world may raise some eyebrows - Norway at $380bn.
They've only been saving since 1996. Flying in the face of all logic, I wonder if any of Scotland's unionists are still going to tell them their oil wealth is unsustainable. Despite stashing some cash away, Norway has six times in a row been listed as the best place in the world to live by the UN. All of these sovereign wealth funds are in effect 'rainy day' funds for their countries. Scotland doesn't have such a legacy, despite having as much oil as Norway, and indeed I heard recently more than somewhere like Dubai.
Maybe this is what Scotland could have done if it had been allowed its chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree.
I don't normally post up whole articles from the press, but the issue of Scotland's oil is very important to me, and the Herald don't seem to archive their old stories:
Alex Salmond yesterday claimed there is now "proof positive of Westminster deceit" over Scotland's oil wealth.
The First Minister was speaking after documents released under the 30-year rule showed the thinking behind the decision of Jim Callaghan's Labour Cabinet to create a specific region called the UK Continental Shelf so that oil revenues would not accrue to Scotland.
Trade Secretary Edmund Dell wrote a briefing for the Cabinet on March 30, 1977, stating: "There was no agreed way of allocating the North Sea area to the indigenous regions, and the attempt to do so would inevitably distort the regional accounts.
"The great majority of the profit would accrue to Scotland, and would represent almost a doubling of the Scottish GDP, which in 1974 had been about £6.5bn."
Now that all the political parties have united in the view that Scotland's constitutional arrangements need updating, I am genuine when I say that I'm looking forward to hearing what the unionist parties are going to put forward - with their rationale.
David Cameron has been first up with his stab at it. I was, some would say unsurprisingly, left very disappointed. The Tories and their stablemates need to find reasons for the Union. Here's what Cameron came up with:
The three unionist parties at Holyrood have launched their own commission looking into Scotland's constitutional future.
They refuse to take part in the government's National Conversation. This is because that has independence on the table, while their commission is limited. The commission though is part of the national conversation whether they like it or not - because it's in response to it.
The result will be more powers to the Scottish Parliament. When launching the National Conversation, the First Minister challenged the other parties to join it and justify where our powers should end. And now they have risen to this. It will be fascinating to see what they conclude.
Scotland's airports have been fitted out with new posters welcoming people to the country.
With the slogan "Welcome to Scotland" are different iconic images dependent on which city it is. At Glasgow Airport, this picture is plastered up of a Muslim boy from the demonstration I helped organise a week after the airport attack in June.
It's a great move. The location and the image neatly sum up how Scotland reacted to the outrage - by coming together and uniting against those that want to kill and maim.
Incidentally, does anyone know who this young man is? From what I gather, he's not been able to milk his fame properly.
While one photographer was looking for a picture like this, another took this one below:
I came across this copy of the Scotland Act in the foyer of the Scottish Parliament yesterday. Click on the image for a larger version of the Act that brought back into existence the Scottish Parliament in 1998.
This particular copy is personally signed by Tony Blair and addressed to Donald Dewar. He says:
It was a struggle, it may always be hard : but it was worth it. Scotland and England together on equal terms!
Who would have thought this is what Tony really intended? We must redouble our efforts to make his vision a reality!
Strathclyde Police's new chief constable used his first interview in the job to declare that it was "almost certain" that Scotland would face another terrorist attack. Stephen House said he would be "surprised" if there wasn't.
I think this is an extremely pessimistic view. If he's basing his assertion on intelligence, then we should be able to stop this before it happens.
This is a similar to the idea recently floated by intelligence services that there are 200 "hardcore" people in Scotland and 20 who are of "significant interest". It sounds like they have been identified - why is it not possible to arrest them and put them on trial like Atif Siddique, the lyrical terrorist and the paintball terrorists?
If Mr House is making a political statement, then I don't think his views on the matter are any more deserving of publicity than anyone else's. There's the possibility of another attack of course, but it's by no means certain. To talk up the ability of the terrorists to get round our security services is curious for the man in charge of police.
Scottish Futures has Gerry Hassan's full article declaring his support for independence. The writer, policy analyst and Labour Party member's article was published in the Sunday Times, but for some reason its Scottish edition doesn't appear online.
His views, not just about the opportunities independence brings, but also on the nature of the British body politic, particularly chime:
Independence provides the Scots with an opportunity to develop a new national narrative and story - one which motivates and inspires us, including most elements of Scottish society, giving us a sense of purpose and mission.
This would be exciting and emboldening for most people in Scotland - and not without some risk. However, there are so many more opportunities. Scottish independence would be good for Scotland and good for the United Kingdom, dealing a crucial blow to the deformed nature of Westminster and British politics. And it would be good internationally, weakening the Atlanticist nature of British foreign policy. I would like to contribute a small part to this.
As I was growing up, Scotland's glorious exists from tournaments were at the competition stage proper rather than qualification level. Our participation at a major finals again cannot be far off now though.
I was obviously willing the team on yesterday along with the rest of the country. We were playing the world champions Italy and it's fair to say we battered them for most of the game. The mouth was watering at the propsect of a summer abroad again. I was at the last one in France 98 and had the time of my life. Maybe it's about getting lost youth back, but I hope it's more than that.
We're very well placed for South Africa 2010. The draw is next week, and rather than being fourth seeds as we were for this campaign, we'll be in Pot 2. There will be 13 European teams to go to the World Cup from eight groups as opposed to the 14 that qualified from 7 for Euro 2008. This means a play-off between teams finishing in second place, which we should be able to handle on current form no problem.
More than this is the personnel situation. We've got genuine talent all over the park now from Craig Gordon at the back to Faddy up front. Alan Hutton showed once again against Italy that he is the 'White Cafu', while Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher and the experienced Barry Ferguson form a formidable midfield triumvirate. Around the SPL clubs there is more waiting to burst through the ranks in the coming period.
The joy in Glasgow at getting the 2014 Commonwealth Games is probably best summarised by pictures like the one above more than by any words.
It's fitting that the Empire's second city gets a chance to host the games. It will display Glasgow in all it's glory - a city that has been transformed in recent years against the grain of popular perception, and will go through even further regeneration in time for 2014.
The benefits for Glasgow need to be seen in the context of what it did for Manchester. The games reinforced Manchester's reputation for cool and success, so much so that the popular perception of the place is now as England's second city despite Birmingham being larger.
Recently it was reported that Alex Salmond is ready to give his support to an opt-out system when it comes to organ donation.
IndyGal had a motion successfully carried on this at SNP conference. I don't do apologies for puns, but this is an issue that is close to my heart.
Whether the system is opt-out or opt-in, as a country we are taking a position on the issue. I think we should have as default the view that people would want to take the option to save lives. If they do not wish to do this though, they can register to not have their organs harvested.
I don't know why I'm surprised about the Holyrood opposition parties' carping about today's summit on Trident held in Glasgow.
After their faux pas yesterday, Labour turned South Korea into Zimbabwe. They are irate about the Scottish government 'meddling' in Westminster affairs. This incidentally has not stopped Labour MPs in the past criticising their Scottish colleagues. Indeed, David Cairns MP once described hospital closures as "madness". Those in Edinburgh did not return the favour, even when they shook hands with Mugabe, even when they slaughtered hundreds of thousands in Iraq.
One can understand why Wendy Alexander is keeping quiet on Trident. What is less comprehensible is the Liberal Democrat position. It is Nicol Stephen that has contributed to turning this into a Union vs Independence stooshie. I was at the summit today. This is not what is was about - it dealt with devolved competencies such as jobs and the environment as well as issues such as Scotland's role in the world.
I'll be at the Trident summit tomorrow in Glasgow and am immensely looking forward to the discussions that it will herald.
Today, the news is that the Scottish government is seeking support from the 189 signatories of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for it's anti-nuclear stance, as well as looking for observer status at the UN to be party to nuclear discussions.
Fantastic moves, which have crassly been described as of the "loony left" by Scotland Office minister David Cairns. Labour now seems to be not just out of touch with the people, but also the Parliamentary bubble. The majority of Scottish Parliamentarians in both Holyrood and Westminster oppose Trident replacement.
Another source at the Scotland Office sought to portray Alex Salmond's move as making alliances with Iran and South Korea. Presumably they meant North Korea. Let's hope an international spat doesn't ensue. But hang on a minute, North Korea isn't a signatory to the NPT so wouldn't even have received a letter. Just as well the spinner behind this line remained anonymous.
This was a man who was one of the most vociferous in favour of going into Iraq, believed that the response to Iraqi prisoner abuse by US and UK troops was to be "slow to condemn" and be "very quick to support and understand", and is a former drinking buddy of another war criminal Radovan Karadzic. He is also said to have sexually harassed Labour colleague Dawn Primarolo.
In the words of other colleagues, Reid is a "patronising bastard". This was amply demonstrated by his call last year for Muslim parents to watch their children. This from a man who regularly belted out IRA ditties during his own youth.
I think I'm probably down about this as I thought we were getting shot of this man at the next general election. Rather, we're going to be treated to more Reidisms in the years to come. At least Tony Blair had the common sense to bog off to the Middle East. Still, it could be well worth getting a hold of some Celtic shares just to turn up to the AGM.
Today Atif Siddique from Alva was found guilty of all five terrorism charges he faced.
Given the high profile and dramatic nature of the original arrests last year, it is important to point out that the trial did not uncover a plot, much less an active plot, to cause death and destruction here in Scotland.
What we heard throughout the trial was a story of a teenager who was involved in ideas, particularly on the internet, which he shouldn’t have been. This was motivated clearly by his concern for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, wars in which our country is still involved. The challenge for the Muslim community and wider society is to stress the legitimate forms of dissent against these policies – through the democratic process.
The Scotland on Sunday report on proposals being floated that alcohol fuelled crimes should face stiffer sentences than the same crimes committed when sober.
It's astonishing that this isn't already the case. The Herald reported last month that Justice Secretary Kenny MacKaskill was considering the change, which is already the way things are handled in England, and sends out the right message about the use of alcohol.
I've never been drunk myself, but I do get the feeling that people use it as an excuse for all sorts of inappropriate behaviour that they are really conscious of doing, albeit emboldened in a way that they would normally not be. If they have genuinely lost control of their senses, then that is something that they have done to themselves and should have been more careful about their limits.
Whatever the case is, people shouldn't be citing it as a mitigating factor, it should rightly be an aggravating one.
It's been an incredible week. The despondency of the attack on Glasgow airport a week ago was turned on it's head in Glasgow today at the extraordinary Scotland United Against Terrorism rally.
It was called by a few of us younger folk in the Muslim community and quickly backed by the city's mosques and Islamic organisations. We had hoped for a good response from the rest of Scotland in terms of standing with us.
This was the aftermath of an attack on an Asian shop in the Riddrie area of Glasgow yesterday. Someone reverse-rammed a car into the premises and set it on fire. It seems like a copycat revenge attack after what happened at Glasgow Airport.
More pictures here. I only got there after they'd removed the car. Disappointingly, there has been hardly any media coverage of this. I heard from the PA that this has happened, but the way that it was being spoken about was that it was a relatively minor incident. When I got there, they were demolishing the building.
It's been a manic few days. I had actually planned to blog throughout the aftermath of the Glasgow airport attack, but even with the whole mobile blogging thing, chances to sit, reflect and pen a few words have been few and far between.
So apologies on this being my first post since Saturday night. Media demands in the aftermath of terrorist incidents further afield have always been great, and I just really deal with the Scottish media. This time, with the world's cameras and notepads parked variously outside Glasgow's airport, mosques, hospitals, it's been flat out.
I visited the airport today. You have to salute the brave police, airport staff and members of the public who confronted the would-be killers at Glasgow Airport on Saturday. John Smeaton has rightly become national hero with his tale of how he punched the man on fire. How I envy him. I would have loved to be delivering some good punches, kicks and more. If there are more of his ilk want to set themselves on fire, then let them come to my place and we’ll have a bonfire.
10.23pm: Most thought it wouldn't happen here. The grim reality of today's events have left most people I've been speaking to extremely depressed. For me though, it's more about anger.
I am seething. From my information from the police, this, along with the incidents in London are serious events. Let's not have any conspiratorialising.
Any thought that there is any rhyme or reason to this kind of terrorism must vanish. Here we are at the beginning of a new chapter. We have a new prime minister in the first days of his new job after any dealings with the last one became just impossible. And what do these characters put at the forefront of his agenda straight away?
Nobody has benefitted from any of this carnage, whether it's 9/11, 7/7, the cause of good decent humanity has been set back years. It's not going to win any hearts, change any minds. If it's about advancing Muslim causes, I can't think of how anything has been advanced - quite the opposite.
5.15pm: News has come in of the car which crashed into and set ablaze Glasgow airport. Hope no one is hurt. I was picking up my brothers along with my two children from that very door just a few hours earlier.
Early news suggests it was deliberate. If so, can't express how angry this makes me. Would also fit into the pattern of the car incidents in London in the last couple of days. Very disturbing, and I pray there is no more.
From the Herald:
Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, said it was "possible" that the private sector could get involved in so-called shared equity schemes, where housebuyers pay for a proportion of the property and another party pays for the remainder.
Ms Sturgeon's comments came just a week after she ruled out any expansion of private sector involvement in the NHS. So far, only the public sector has been involved in the shared equity scheme, with housing associations providing part of the capital to help people buy their first home.
But appearing before the local government and communities committee for the first time since the election, Ms Sturgeon said she was relaxed with the scheme being extended to involve the private sector.
She said: "We are keen to talk to mortgage lenders and others about how to lever in financial support to help people get on the property ladder."
The scheme as described above sounds very much like the ijara system of mortgages. To date, no one offers these in Scotland, despite many providers like HSBC having done so in England for many years.
If it is such a system, this is finally very good news for the country's Muslims. I get calls every week asking if there are any developments in the area yet, and despite murmers of some of the Scottish banks doing something, nothing tangible has appeared.
However, it may be something entirely different. I'm not clear how any of this would help get people onto the property ladder - normally the requirements are pretty much the same as the conventional market.