Saturday 30 April 2016

The day my window became a tourist attraction

Well, as of today, my front window is a tourist attraction. People have been stopping, taking photos with their mobile 'phones, calling their mates to tell them to come and have a look, and generally providing me with an ever increasing level of laughs.

It's obviously the posters that are getting to them, but they have been up since the 31 March, and none of my neighbours has even mentioned them. That's probably because they are sick and tired of me bending their ears about the need to ensure that the list vote is used to try and ensure that Holyrood is more responsive to public opinion, which a double vote for the SNP would not do, but never mind that now.

What's going on is that today is the last Saturday of the month and my street has a trendy food festival which all good Leithers ignore, but which pulls people in from the more salubrious parts of Edinburgh. They are the ones who have decided to take in interest in Uncle Ken's window display.

Folks, we have two votes on Thursday, so I am splitting my vote!

The parties strut their final stuff as Scotland's election day looms

Today is the final Saturday before Thursday's vote, so I wandered along to the Foot of the Walk to see what the parties had to say for themselves as we head into the final straight.

The SNP stall is massive, and well stocked with balloons for the kids, pens for their parents and tons of party literature. It's manned by enough volunteers to answer people's questions, and believe me there were plenty of people stopping off to speak to Ben Macpherson, the candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith. That's him on the left of the photo, talking to one of his future constituents.

I met Ben for about two minutes a fortnight ago, but he greeted me by name and said nice things about this here blog. Given that I often cannot remember what I had for breakfast, I was impressed that his political talents are already so well developed. 

Labour were represented by these two guys, along with a woman and Malcolm Chisholm, the retiring MSP. They told me that they hope to grab two or three seats on the list, which strikes me as a reasonable hope. They might even manage four, given that they are certain to lose the constituency to the SNP. It really all depends if their vote holds up on that all-important second ballot paper.

Of all the activists that I spoke to today, these were the two that I would most like to go and sink a pint or three with. They came over as sane and sensible, just like you expect from men of my generation - ahem...

The Greens were represented by these two blokes, who told me that they are hoping to improve on their 2011 performance, which saw them take one seat on the Lothian list. That may very well happen, if their mainly under thirty voting core remember to go along and vote - always a problem for a party that relies on the kiddie vote.

Finally, we have RISE, which is an alliance of various small parties and grouplets. Their stall was attracting quite a bit of interest from the passing shoppers, even though it was stuck in a corner and seemingly out of the way. Needless to say, they are very confident of making an electoral breakthrough, as all minor parties are until the votes are counted.

You might be wondering where the Tories and Liberal-Democrats were, and so was I, but nobody seemed to know or care. They have candidates for the constituency and  full slates for the list, but if they cannot be bothered to set up a stall in the centre of Leith, on a day when the whole town and his wife will probably walk past, then they cannot hope to do well on Thursday. I think we should forget about those parties, don't you?

The SNP are clearly going to take the seat, but there is still everything to play for on the list. If Labour can get its vote out on the day then maybe, just maybe, they can surprise themselves by increasing their representation on the Lothian list.

That would be good for them and good for democracy.

Thursday 28 April 2016

Elaine Smith is the living proof that not all Labour's candidates are deadwood

Meet Elaine Smith, who is seeking to be returned as the MSP for  Coatbridge and Chryston, a division she has represented since Holyrood was established in 1999. She is a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, and her campaign can be summed up in her own words of "tax the rich, invest in education and stop the cuts." 

She is up against Fulton MacGregor, who is the SNP candidate. By all accounts he avoids answering questions, dodges hustings, and represents a party that is split from top to bottom in that constituency.

Nationally, the SNP has reneged on the promise that it made last year to increase taxes for the wealthy, and since the Central Scotland region could only muster a derisory 6.4 percent for the Tories in 2011, you would expect that to be a vote loser for the SNP in a region that has seen its economy destroyed over the past thirty-odd years.

Perhaps needless to say, given that this is today's Scotland, Elaine Smith is fighting for her political life, and looks pretty certain to lose the battle.

That is a pity, because Labour needs to sit back after next week's impending train wreck and remember exactly what it was created to achieve, and people like Elaine Smith will be central to that debate.

Stripped of all the verbiage, Labour's foundation stands on the principle that it is the party that will keep the wages up, the management down, and the benefits flowing to those who cannot work due to the vicissitudes of capitalism. Everything else, all the social policies that now dominate the party and its thinking, were originally nothing more than add-ons that aimed to increase the party's support amongst middle class types.

Labour forgot that simple truth a generation ago when it became the party of social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it created an enormous void that the SNP was only too happy to fill. However, the SNP cannot become the party that will tax the wealthy and their middle class stooges at a level that is appropriate to even begin repairing the damage that their votes have inflicted upon us down the years - but a party that has its roots deep inside every council estate and job centre can.

That debate should start on the 6th May, with the likes of Elaine Smith adding her weight to it from her position as an MSP.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Why the 2016 Scottish elections are so boring

The plan was to post a running commentary of this year's Scottish General Election, but since this is the most boring election I have ever witnessed, I decided not to bother. Given that the first time I ever voted was in October 1974, I have a lot of elections to look back on, but I have never experienced anything as predictable as the current one.

That the SNP will be returned to office is accepted by all and sundry, with the only question being the size of their majority. As the Scottish parliament was set up with the aim of ensuring that no single party would ever be able to dominate the chamber, that fact alone should tell the reader just how popular the governing party is. Out of 129 seats, we can expect the SNP to take around 70 on the 5th May 2016, something which is a tribute to their own abilities, as well as being a condemnation of the opposition parties.

The simple truth is that the SNP has produced a very good government for Scotland, which means that an awful lot of people who voted No in the independence referendum will  vote for the SNP next month because they are quite happy with all the goodies that are provided by that government.

The Tories have already given up the ghost, with their manifesto telling us just how much they will oppose the SNP government. Think about that for a moment, as even the Liberals back in the day used to tell us what they would do if they became a government, but the Tories cannot even work up enough enthusiasm to do that. Instead, they cling pathetically to their last remaining strongholds in the Borders, and pray that the Grim Reaper does not scoop up the last of their voters before the election is over.

As for Labour, at least they are putting forward a programme for government, but the problem is that hardly anyone believes a word that they say. The party's voters are jumping ship to the SNP on a daily basis, with the result that Labour and the Tories are in a race to see which party suffers the most next month. Will the Tory vote die off quicker than Labour's abandons that party? We will know in less than a fortnight.

To make matters even dafter, a bout of quite entertaining infighting has already broken out in Labour's ranks even before the polls open, as various factions try to take control of the mangled corpse of that once proud party.

So what is there to report? The activists are all being very active, but there are hardly any window posters to be seen because the population at large knows that the SNP will be returned handsomely to government next month.

Which is as it should be.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Best Brexit poster ever

Probably the best Internet poster ever. Says it all, really. Let's spread it around the web.

Monday 18 April 2016

The SNP promise to help the disabled

This is the first really good news for the disabled since the scummy Tories took power in 2010. Well, good news for those of us who are disabled and who live in Scotland, that is.

The Tories started to replace Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment in 2012, and PIP aims at one thing and one thing alone, which is to reduce the benefits' bill by doing over the disabled. In Scotland, the SNP government plans to subvert that in the following ways:
1. Reform the whole assessment procedure to remove the stress that the current private provision of the "service" creates.
2. Restore the long-term awards for people with a condition that will never improve.
3. Create sensible time-scales for the assessment process.
4. Ensure an open and accessible appeals process.
5. Continue to provide DLA/PIP as a non means tested benefit.
People will complain and say that PIP is harder to apply for than DLA, but it is a step in the right direction for the disabled. 

Looking ahead, all of this will need a new Scottish social security ministry to oversee the quarter of state benefits, excluding pensions, that are on the cusp of being devolved. As this ministry replaces the infamous ATOS with state employees to carry out and administer the devolved benefits' process, that will create several hundreds, at least, of new, permanent jobs here in Scotland.

For the disabled, we can finally start to look forward to a system that was similar to the one that we had before the cataclysm of 2010. It will not be perfect, nothing ever is, but it will at least aim at meeting our needs, instead of seeking to save money for a government that only wants to reduce taxes for the rich and the middle class who grovel to them.

Another good reason, as if you needed one, to give your constituency vote to the SNP next month!

Saturday 16 April 2016

Scottish Cuisine: Stovies

Stovies look a bit like scouse or potato hash, but they have one secret ingredient which makes them very different and utterly divine. They are cooked with genuine beef dripping, and it is regarded as an insult to the Scottish nation if anyone makes them with any polyunsaturated piss-oil. I had forgotten just how great food cooked in dripping tastes until I moved up here and discovered that the only cooks who don't use dripping are those who prefer lard instead.

Yes, yes, I know how veggie oil took over in the 1960s down in England, but it never did in Scotland. My mother bought it as well, much to my father's disgust, because it was so much cheaper than proper dripping back then, but today an eight ounce block of beef dripping can be had in your local Tesco for just 60p, so there is no longer any excuse to eat badly.

Right, settle back 'cos here's Uncle Ken's recipe for stovies:

You will need:

1 ounce best beef dripping
1 pound mince
1.5 pounds potatoes
2 onions
Salt and pepper - and in my case chilli powder, 'cos of all those years in Mexico.

Now then, pay attention as I'll only say this once:

1. Slap the dripping into a saucepan that is big enough to hold everything, and set it on a medium-high heat.

2. Toss the onions in. I buy mine frozen and ready chopped: you know it makes sense, don't you? So a couple of good handfuls will do. Otherwise chop up a couple of onions if you want to make work for yourself.

3. When the onions are nice and soft, throw the mincemeat in and let it brown.

4. Chop your potatoes into 1/4 inch scallops.

5. Put the potatoes into a bowl and half fill with boiling water. Put that in the microwave and cover with a plate, then zap it on full power for five minutes.

6. Take the potatoes out of the water and add them to the saucepan that has the mince in it.

7. Give it all a good stir, and add your salt and pepper. Trust me, you cannot have too much salt and pepper so go to town with it.

8. Turn the heat down to low-medium, cover the saucepan with a lid, and leave it all to bubble away for about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, if you can remember. Don't worry if you forget, as the burnt bits on the bottom only add to the taste of the final dish. 

Some people add a half cup of water with a beef stock cube in it, but I don't, since I prefer my stovies dry. In any event, if you buy cheap mince it tends to have water in it, anyway, which saves you the bother of adding it yourself. I sometimes do add a handful of chopped mushrooms, if I think on, as well as a similar handful of chopped carrots, if there are any to hand in the freezer, since they all add to the bulk, but they are not essential to the dish.

The nice thing about this quintessentially Scottish dish as that if  friends arrive unexpectedly all you need to do is slap some more spuds, carrots and mushrooms into yesterday's pan to bulk it out a bit more and feed 'em on the cheap.

Just remember: never, ever use anything other than beef dripping for your stovies!

Tuesday 12 April 2016

The SNP tax policy is a mess

Until just the other week the SNP was telling everyone how it wanted more powers to increase taxes on the wealthy. As from next year it will have those powers and it has begun to lip-flop over using them. The SNP really needs to count its lucky stars that the opposition parties are so appalling, otherwise this issue would threaten to take a big chunk out of their working class vote.

The line being put forward to avoid raising the top rate of tax to 50 per cent is basically that the rich would avoid paying it, either by leaving Scotland or using good accountants, so the government would actually collect less revenue than they do at present under the 45% rate.  Looking at that line, Old Uncle Ken can see some major flaws in the argument.

The first is that if the wealthy do leave the country then they lose all the goodies that Scotland gives them. It is not just the free prescriptions, it is also the frozen council tax, and free university education that their offspring enjoy. Looking ahead, the wealthy will gain from the government's pledge to reduce Air Passenger Duty by half in the new parliament, since it is the wealthy and their middle class hangers-on who fly the most. By way of contrast, your average Leither would probably count a day out at Edinburgh's Portobello as being about all he could afford.

In other words, and assuming that the wealthy are rational, then they will suck up the tax increase so that they can continue to enjoy all the other goodies that this government gives them. Goodies that would cost far more if they moved south of the River Tweed.

Those who do leave cannot take their jobs with them, so those positions will remain in Scotland. If you think about it, people earning over £150,000 a year must be in jobs that cannot be done via a perch in a tax haven like Monaco, otherwise the people doing those jobs would already be living in that country. So anyone who really does not want to pay the new rate, who can afford to move to a city like London and pay the house prices there, and who can find a new job in that city, will have to leave his old job in Scotland. Thus those vacancies would be filled by new people who are willing to pay the Scottish rates of income tax. 

The wealthy do not have the option of using creative accountancy to save their money, because the new powers that Holyrood will have relate only to earned income, and that is related directly to where people live. So Holyood has them by the balls. They either leave the country, or pay the higher rate of income tax.

If they try to play cute, then Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has already said that it will cooperate with its new, Scottish counterpart to ensure that dodgy practices are dealt with firmly. So it is not just that rich men's balls are held, but that they can also be squeezed  by both governments acting in unison.

Taxation, of course, is about more than just revenue raising. It is about sending a signal  to the world at large about the type of country that is levying the taxes. The SNP has made a big issue over the past few years about how Scotland should be run more fairly than England because the Scots are naturally collectivist by temperament. Now they have a chance to put that rhetoric into action, and they are back-peddling furiously.

Labour, the Liberal-Democrats and the Greens have all pledged to raise taxes. As things stand the SNP are in bed with the Tories in their desire to hold them down.

The SNP needs to decide quickly if it really wants to have to start hearing again the old political charge that it is nothing but the party of Tartan Toryism.

Friday 8 April 2016

Sexy Mexican cops on patrol

You have to love the Guardian for knowing exactly what type of clickbait is needed to bring the punters in, all frothing at the mouth, and clicking away like buggery. Sexism is usually a good one, but sexism coupled with state power is far better. Hence the non-story about a former Mexican general called Rolando Eugenio Hidalgo Eddy, who set up a police group made up entirely of tasty totty and then dressed them in a way that maximised their attributes.

Actually, he did it twice, once in  Aguascalientes, and then in Querétaro, and his Aguascalientes girls earned the approval of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who was only too happy to be photographed with some of them during his 2013 visit to the city:

When Hidalgo left his Aguascalientes post, the girls lost their high heels, but still parade in uniforms that are both clean and well-fitting, unlike those worn by most Mexican plods.

What the poor Guardian does not realise is that nobody in Mexico has any interest in Western notions of professionalism, because that is not what work is about in any shape of form.

Work is about doing what you have to do to get the most amount of money for the least amount of effort, and it always has been.

Go to any government office - and if you are a foreigner then you will have to fairly regularly -  and you are pretty much guaranteed to see some drop-dead gorgeous girls who spend their time chatting to each other and anyone else they fancy. They will be the mistresses of some middle ranking fellows in the office. I say middle ranking because the girls have to actually show up  from time to time, even thought they don't have to do any work. If their men were really important then they would be able to draw their government salaries without having to show up.

That's life in Mexico, so complaining about it is a waste of time.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Lesley Hinds, Labour's no-hoper for Edinburgh Northern and Leith

Normally political candidates will have a group of supporters around them in their publicity shots, but nobody seems to want to be pictured with Lesley Hinds, Labour's forlorn hope in Edinburgh Northern & Leith. Unless you include the cat, that is.

Which raises the question, what self respecting Leith moggy would want to be seen even from the rear with Mother Hinds? 

The creature could be a familiar, of course. You can never tell with today's Labour, and certainly dark, supernatural forces are the only reason that I can think of when I wonder why the party chose to foist this awful woman on the poor people of Leith.

Seriously, in August of last year I was enjoying a pint or three along the Royal Mile at the height of the Edinburgh Festival, when I fell to talking with a fellow from East Kilbribe who was over here for the day.

It turned out that he was probably the last living member of the Liberal-Democrats in that part of the world, but as soon as he knew where I was from began to laugh dementedly. Then he told me that Edinburgh Northern & Leith is the Lib-Dems targets seat in our fair capital.

Not to win, you understand, but to save their deposit, and maybe even avoid taking the wooden spoon. All because of Lesley Hinds, who the Lib-Dems reckon is so appalling that people will even forget their stint as Tory stooges in Westminster, just to keep her out.

Says it all really.

Monday 4 April 2016

Introducing Jack Caldwell, the independent choice for Edinburgh Northern & Leith

At just 22, Jack Caldwell is probably the youngest candidate standing for my seat of Edinburgh Northern & Leith. He's also an independent, so certainly needs all the publicity he can get. He comes over an an amiable fellow, with a heart that is clearly in the right place, so here's his appeal for your vote, written exclusively for this here blog of mine:

My name's Jack Caldwell and I'm standing as an independent candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith. I've lived in the area for nearly 20 years and work at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street. 

I started this campaign back in October when I took a look at the lukewarm offerings from Scottish Labour and the Scottish National Party and thought that there needed to be someone who has been through the current school system and incarnation of the mental health services (I was diagnosed with Asberger's Syndrome in 1995), and fight for people who perhaps can't naturally  speak out against services they rely on receiving poor treatment. 

As well as that, now I see we need someone representing this diverse area who won't be getting whipped to think along party lines. As it stands, there is only one independent candidate in all of Edinburgh.

I believe Edinburgh Northern and Leith has been harshly hit by council cuts, which has resulted in an increase of litter and a rise in social, economic and health issues, among many other trends which I've detailed on my website. These cuts come from the City of Edinburgh Council consistently having it's funding slashed by Holyrood, headed by a government which claims to be opposing austerity. Of course, tracking the economic inequalities from there opens another layer of worm-filled barrels.

Instead of falling into the classic politicians trap and playing the blame game, my campaign is focussed on positive ways forward to tackle growing inequality, poverty, health (and specifically mental health) funding cuts, and to move away from September 2014, which I'm sure few of the other parties are wanting to do just now for a multitude of reasons.

I was one of the first people in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election to pledge a 1 pence tax rise to protect public services and the still the only to centre my campaign around the bread-and-butter local issues which are as important as voting on legislation, such as pushing the council to extend the trams to Leith Walk, Newhaven and Granton. Feel free to take a look at my manifesto for a whole page dedicated to tackling issues that are unique to Edinburgh Northern and Leith, something no party manifesto contains.

 Jack Caldwell
The independent choice for Edinburgh Northern & Leith.

Twitter: @jackformsp
Take part in a campaign that promotes civil liberties, government transparency and is against budget slashing!

Saturday 2 April 2016

Avoiding a parteienstaat is another good reason to split our votes in May

Actually, not acting seems to be the order of the day in Scotland, with seemingly every request for information being turned into a grinding battle of attrition as the commission drags it feet at every turn. So when RISE, a minor Trotskyite party which supports independence, asked for just four e-mails from two people back in September 2015, they still do not have an answer today.

To make matters worse, Rosemary Agnew then wrote to RISE, telling them that she has put on hold all such information requests that might be critical of government ministers until after next month's elections are over. In other words, a state functionary is seemingly acting in the interests of one particular political party, and to describe that has unhealthy for the body politic is putting it mildly.

We do not have a word in English to describe this type of set-up, so political scientists have borrowed from the German when they talk about a parteienstaat system. It is what happens when the state bodies are controlled by the political parties or interest groups, and although troubling to many Germans, their system has the advantage of having more than one political party in the mix. We don't, as our parteienstaat is controlled by just the SNP.

You can understand why state functionaries like Rosemary Agnew don't want to pick a fight with the government. She will have to deal with the same group of ministers after the election is over because no sane person believes that the SNP will lose.

Nor should they, because they are the best of the bunch, but that does not mean that our support for the party should be cult-like and uncritical.

For that reason, I repeat what I said in yesterday's posting, that the need for people to split their vote on the 5 May 2016 is important for our democracy. By all means vote SNP for your constituency, as I will, but I will also vote Labour for the list, even though I know how God-awful they are at present.  I believe that the need to turn back the encroaching Scottish parteienstaat is that important, and there are my two window posters to prove it.

Friday 1 April 2016

Here's why I will vote SNP and Labour next month

On the 5 May Scotland has a general election, and if you read yesterday's posting then you will know that I plan to vote for the SNP in the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency, and Labour for the Lothian list. There are several reasons why I think that a split vote is important this time around, so let me go through them with you one by one.

Firstly, I have a thing about pluralism. Sorry, but I just do, and not only that but I have a serious aversion to strong governments of whatever hue.

I wasn't always that way inclined. As a youngster I was thoroughly enamoured of a strong government, heading a strong state, because to many people of my generation that meant strong Labour governments that nationalised industries, and kept the wages up and the management down. Then came 1979 and the long years of agony that followed, and I realised that a strong government need not necessarily be a leftist one. As a result, I prefer to have governments that need to cut deals with other parties to get their legislation passed. I just feel more protected that way, if you want to know the truth.

Secondly, although I am by and large happy to see the SNP stay in power, I am far from happy about some of their policies which have a nasty streak of authoritarianism about them.  We could start with the Named Person Scheme, but let's not stop there - let's consider the banning of alcohol at football matches and the odious bit of legislation that makes thuggish policemen the arbiters of musical taste at those same football grounds.

The ban on drinking at football stadia dates back to 1980, so we cannot blame the SNP for that. What we can do is blame them for allowing booze to be sold at rugby grounds whilst keeping the ban at those where football is played.

We can also blame the SNP for an odious bit legislation which bans the singing of some songs at all football stadia. There is even a list of songs that can be sung and those which can't which is an entertainment in itself to read, by the way. What this legislation ignores is that very many people in Scotland identify themselves via the old Catholic or Protestant ideologies that were still common across Britain when I was a child. It may have died out in England, outside Liverpool at any rate, but Scotland is a separate country, as the SNP never tire of reminding us.  Again, none of this legislation applies to rugby grounds, because those are where middle class chaps go to enjoy themselves: only the plebeian game of football is targeted.

It is unlikely if either the Named Person wheeze or the banning of football chants would have passed Holyrood had the SNP not had an overall majority. If you want an end to legislation like this which only aims at making the middle class feel even more self-righteous than they do already, then the need to ensure that the SNP does not have an even bigger majority in the next parliament strikes me as pretty damned important.

Thirdly, and looking specifically at Holyrood, the parliament was set up without a revising chamber, but with strong committees that would do the job of legislative revision. That was fine in a chamber that was never supposed to have a government with an overall majority, and it is important that we get back to the Holyrood that functions in the way that the founding fathers intended.

Finally, although I voted Yes for independence in 2014, my vote was strictly utilitarian. I have little or no interest in scotch mist, and had the level of devolution that was created by the Scotland Act 2016 been on offer back then I would probably have voted for that, instead of full independence. We did not have that choice, so many of us were bounced into throwing in our lot with independence.

However, on the 5 May we will be voting for a set of parties that will govern Scotland within the United Kingdom. We will not be voting for an independence movement because that matter was decided, for at least another generation, in September 2014. It is time to start holding the SNP to account for the policies that we do not like, whilst accepting that actually we do like most of their policies. For that reason we want the SNP to stay in power, but not to give them too much power.

Labour is slowly but surely beginning to climb out of the hole that it dug for itself over the past few years of Blairism. The party wants to increase taxes on the middle class, and the SNP jibe that what Labour actually wants to do is raise working class taxes rings hollow in Leith where anyone earning over £20,000 a year is, almost by definition, a member of the bourgeoisie. Or a drug dealer, you can take your pick.

The party is not yet ready for government, but it needs to be given time to prepare to challenge for it in the future. Dumping Labour now makes no sense, especially when the Tories are coming up with policies that are aimed squarely at the middle class. Those policies could cut into the SNP's middle class underbelly, and might lead to the SNP moving to the right to get those votes back. The SNP needs to be threatened from the left as well as the right, otherwise we could be left as high and dry in Scotland as we are in England.

For all those reasons, I reckon that a vote for both the SNP and Labour makes sense on the 5 May 2016.
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