Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Union Strike Ballots

A Conservative MP at Westminster is calling for the reform of trade union strike ballots - so that  a Yes vote is only deemed to be valid if it has the support of the majority of union members.

In other words a majority of 75% based on a turnout of only 20% of members - would no longer have the protection of the law.

The MP concerned - Dominic Raab - is proposing that the new rules would apply to the emergency services and transport workers     

London Mayor - Boris Johnson - has previously suggested that a 40% hurdle should be used.

Interestingly 40% was the figure demanded by Labour MPs - for the referendum on Scottish devolution back in 1979.

Regular disruption to the London transport network appears to be fuelling the debate - but I would hazard a guess that it will gain a lot of public support.

Trade union leaders can take the view that a majority is a majority - and that politicians are often not elected on a 50% turnout of the electorate.

True, but the reality is that trade union ballots have turned low turnouts - into something of an art form.

And the outcome of the ballot clearly affects people lots of other people - who are not entitled to vote but have to live with the consequences of the ballot.

In any event the genie is now out of the bottle.

Instead of sticking their heads in the sand - the unions would be well advised to work much harder to ensure - that all strike ballots have the visible support of ordinary members.

Because if not - their legitimacy will continue to be called into question

Sentencing Policy

If there's one thing about the criminal justice system that makes me see red - it's the sentences handed down to violent sex offenders.

Yesterday I read about another terrible tale in which a 40 year old man received a six year prison sentence - for kidknapping and sexually assaulting a 14 year-old school girl.

The man involved was a father of three - and admitted a previous abduction and  assault.

And that's my point - violent sex offenders are incapable of rehabilitation - in my humble opinion.

Letting violent sex offenders back onto the streets after a few years in jail - simply results in more victims down the line.

Take Peter Tobin - now exposed as a serial killer and finally in prison for life - had a catalogue of offences for violent sex crimes - before he progressed to snatching and murdering young women off the streets.

I'd wager a small bet that if men were the victims of such horrible crimes down the years - there would have been a change in sentencing policy long ago.

Think Really Hard

The Scotsman reports today that an overwhelming majority of Scots - 75% - support the SNPs' flagship policy of freezing the council tax.

Now you can see why Labour suddenly changed its spots and backed the SNP policy - after spending most of the past four years of arguing the exact opposite.

Not everyone agrees - mind you.

Senior figures in some Labour-led councils are unhappy - which is why COSLA has been speaking out recently - although to little avail it has to be said.

The public appear unconvinced that local councils will look after their interests - which is a worrying development for local democracy and local decision-making.

But 'facts are chiels that winna ding' - as they say - with only 19% of Scots (less than 1 in 5) voicing any kind of opposition to the council tax freeze.

Local government likes to think of itself as being closer to local people than either MSPs or MPs - as a champion of local democracy and Scotland's local communities.

But the problem is that the public seem to disagree - and seem to see things in a very different light .

Which suggests that it's time for organisations like COSLA - to get down off their high horses - and think really hard on why that should be so.

Confronting the Bams

Many years ago I was in the company of Hugh Wyper - a leading figure in the TGWU union - and a man who knew a thing or two about dealing with unruly hecklers.

A contemporary of Michael McGahey - the Scottish miners' leader and fellow member of the Communist Party - Hugh was a leading exponent of 'confronting the bams'.

But only if he was treated rudely or with a lack of respect.

A policy now officially endorsed by Gary Tank Commander - for the Scottish election campaign - see post dated 25 April 2011: 'Confront the Bams'.

Anyway I was in Hugh Wyper's company at some trade union march and demonstration in Edinburgh.

At the end of which he was approached - in a less than friendly fashion, as I recall - by a group of people from the Socialist Workers Party - some of whom claimed to be members of the TGWU.

Apparently they were on strike - a much more common occurrence in those days.

But they demanded to know when their leader - one Hugh Wyper - was going to get off his lazy backside and support the said members - because they were paying his 'effing' wages.

Refusing to be intimidated, Hugh enquired politely of the baying mob: "How long have you been on strike, then?"

"Six weeks", they cried in unison.

"Six weeks", answered Hugh incredulously. "Ah've held my 'effing' breath for longer".

And he walked off - leaving the hecklers silent and dumfounded in his wake.

Gary Tank Commander would have been proud.

Top Ups Turned Off

The Herald reports today that outgoing finance secretary - John Swinney - has finally lost patience with Glasgow City Council - over controversial 'top up' salary payments to some of its local councillors - which cost council tax payers £260,000 a year.

Here's an extract of the article written by Gerry Braiden: 

"Finance Secretary John Swinney has confirmed he will use legislation to end the controversial system of payments to Glasgow councillors sitting on the boards of hived-off bodies if the SNP is re-elected next month.

Mr Swinney said secondary legislation would be used to bring the appointments and payments into line with the Local Governance (Scotland) Act, warning that as the city council’s Labour administration has failed to act on recommendations to scrap the Aleo (arm’s-length external organisations) payments a new SNP government would “take what action is necessary”.

The Herald reported yesterday how Glasgow’s system of “patronage” payments for councillors, a legacy of former leader Steven Purcell, has come in for renewed criticism amid cross-party moves for a fresh allocation of lucrative posts on outside bodies.

Council leader Gordon Matheson has come under fire as the organisation continues to pay councillors for sitting on the boards of Aleos, which sees some councillors with little experience earn up to nearly £20,000 on top of a basic £18,000-a-year salary.

The head of the independent body charged with setting payments with Scottish local government called on Glasgow to address the practice “before it gets any worse”.

Yesterday, Mr Swinney said: “An independent review has said this system of payments should end and as Glasgow Labour haven’t put a stop to it voluntarily a re-elected SNP government will take what action is necessary in Parliament to bring Glasgow into line and put a stop to this £260,000 of unnecessary payments.”

Labour leaders in Glasgow had a chance to put their own house in order - but they failed to take the decisive action needed.

So John Swinney deserves credit for stepping in and saying that a future SNP government will put a stop to this nonsense. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Glasgow in the Spotlight

Glasgow City Council is in the headlines again - over controversial 'top up' salaries paid to some of its local councilllors - see post dated 2 April 2011: 'Glasgow City Council'.

THe Herald newspaper has another twist to the story today - as a new call is made to end these payments - which have been widely criticised.

Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson promised to crack down on the payments - which can earn councillors an extra £20,000 a year - on top of their existing salaries.

Glasgow has been told by an independent watchdog - the Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) - to axe the system.

The Herald article says that Finance Secretary John Swinney has intimated that - if re-elected at Holyrood - the SNP will move quickly to abolish Glasgow’s controversial system.

Good for him

Yesterday, the head of SLARC again called on the council to address the practice “before it gets any worse”.

Chairman Ian Livingstone said:

“These enhanced payments are untenable and put Glasgow out on a limb. We recommended to ministers they should be stopped and believe that should be as soon as possible, before the situation gets worse.”

Poachers and Gamekeepers

News that BBC TV presenter Andrew Marr has been protecting his privacy with the use of a celebrity-style 'super injunction' - comes as a bit of a revelation.

In a poacher turned gamekeeper sort of way.

Because as a journalist turned TV presenter Andrew Marr must have broken lots of stories about the private lives of politicians - shaming and embarrassing the people involved.

So why should he be treated any differently?

I think this has come about because Andrew Marr has probably got too much money - and too much time on his hands.

Which is kind of what I said back in March - about the Loadsamoney culture at the BBC. 

 
Loadsamoney! (1 March 2011)

"I'm reading The Finkler Question at the moment - a book by Howard Jacobson which won the Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Too early to say what I think overall - but at the start of the book there's an interesting comment on the BBC - which Howard Jacobson (a broadcaster as well as a writer) has been involved with over the years.

"The BBC, Treslove believed, made addicts of those who listened to it, reducing them to a state of inane independence. As it did those it employed. Only worse in the case of those it employed - handcuffing them to promotions and conceit, disabling them from any other life. Treslove himself a case in point. Though not promoted, only disabled."

The recent revelations about inflated salaries at the BBC - suggest there is more than a ring of truth to Jacobson's comments.

Andrew Marr, for example, is apparently paid £600,000 a year for his current affairs programme on Sunday mornings - which of course take up more time than just a few hours once a week - but £600,000 seems more than a tad over the top.

Don't you think?

Likewise with Jeremy Paxman - Newsnight's anchorman - on BBC 2 four nights a week.

Now I like Jeremy Paxman - he's one of my heroes actually - not least for his verbal mugging of Michael Howard over the controversial 'sacking' and treatment of a Prison Governor - when Howard was a Tory Home Secretary.

But Jeremy Paxman is on a even bigger salary - £800,000 apparently - and no amount of hero worship can justify that kind of celebrity pay package - not in my view anyway.

Because it distorts other pay structures at the Beeb - or at least some of them.

What happens is that all kinds of senior officials demand inflated salaries - to such an extent that people in charge of important but essentially routine management functions - such as finance and human resources - end up on whacking great pay packages worth £250,000 a year and more.

Yet those at the very bottom end - remain as low paid as ever."

Monday, 25 April 2011

Turf Wars

Whether intentionally or not - COSLA seems to be making a good job of wrecking the Labour party's Scottish election campaign.

The latest spanner to be thrown into the works - is over Labour's plans to create a national care service by merging social care - which is provided by local councils - into Scotland's NHS.

Now there are arguments for and against such a move - but COSLA's doom laden predictions about the likely cost involved - does the Labour party no favours.

Because it puts local Labour councils at loggerheads with Scottish Labour leaders - and Labour MSPs.

Not the most edifying of sights when it comes to a sensible policy debate.

Especially as COSLA have pulled a £300 million price tag out of the air - as the cost of moving towards a new national care service.

Seems to me this is just another 'turf war' on the part of COSLA - which is trying to defend its own territory and the traditional role of local councils.

Instead of engaging in a proper debate about what's best for the people who use these 'care in the community' services.

Knives Are Out

The knives are welll and truly out in the 'knife crime' party - as Scottish Labour MPs turn on their leaders before the Holyrood election campaign is even over.

No less than three Scottish Labour MPs were happy to give damning 'off the record' comments to the Sunday Times yesterday - about performance of their party leader, Iain Gray. 

Here's what one of the anonymous Labour MPs said:

"Iain doesn't deserve to take all of the blame because the problem goes wider than that, but it's not hard to conclude from what we've seen that he's not fit for purpose as a leader."

Now these Labour MPs are obviously entitled to their opinions - but to speak anonymously and off the record - is a terrible act of treachery and betrayal.

What do they hope to achieve?

A party where leading figures feel free to behave so disloyally - needs to take a long hard look at itself.

But in the short-run the voters are hardly likely to be impressed.

Confront the Bams

Gary Tank Commander got top marks from me again yesterday - for his latest reflections on the Scottish election campaign. Here's a flavour of what he had to say:

"There wis a report last week by the Glasgow University think-tank. Right, um sorry but whit is a think-tank? Ah ken whit a tank is, and ah ken whit thinking is, and ah dae think in my tank, but ah dinny then call it "ma think-tank".That's like me callin' anything I thiunk in, the think thing, like - "the think-bath", or "the think-walk tae the shops"......exactly: stupid. They should just call it Some Folk at Glasgow Uni said......."

"But according tae the polls, Alex (Salmond) is just aboot pokin' ahead of his arch sandwich-shop hiding rival Iain Gray. Did you hear aboot that? Weeks ago Iain wiz hangin' aboot Central Station in Glasgow when some radges confronted him aboot spendin' cuts - he wisnae happy 'n' done a bolt tae a Subway tae hide  behind a foot-long marinara. Except oan the telly he said he never ran away he walked away. Iain, if you hink you've goat what it takes tae be minister numero uno, confront the bams ......but dinnae dae it in a think-tank."

Confront the bams - don't run or even walk away - now that's sound advice.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Making Things Worse

I heard Michael Kelly on the radio earlier today.

Having a rant about Alex Salmond and the SNP making things worse allegedly - over the hate-filled sectarian behaviour that often accompanies Old Firm football matches.

I wondered why this man would make such a foolish and unhelpful statement.

But then I remembered - as well as being ready with a quote kind on anything to do with Celtic - Michael Kelly is from the old school of Labour politics. 

A former Lord Provost of Glasgow City Council - Kelly takes himself too seriously, I think - just like his Labour colleague from Edinburgh - Lord George Foulkes.

Clamping down hard on this vile sectarian behaviour is long overdue - because Scotland has turned a blind eye to it for far too long.

To my mind the people who makes things worse are peope who make partisan political comments - like Michael Kelly.

Because Strathclyde Police set this particular ball rolling after the disgraceful scenes at the Old Firm 'Game of Shame' in March - not the politicians.

Moonlighting MPs

As if he didn't have enough on his plate looking after the interests of the good people of Fife - Gordon Brown has accepted another 'roving role' at the World Economic Forum (WEF) which hold its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Gordon apparently has his sights set on a paid role at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - worth £270,000 a year.

But in the meantime he will have to put up with his day job as a Westminster MP - where the pay and rations are not nearly so good.

Now I'm all in favour of people being supported by public money to retrain and find new work - though they normally have to be unemployed to qualify for this kind of financial assistance.

In this case the tax payer is forking out £65,738 a year in salary costs alone - for someone who is essentially operating as a part-time MP.

At a time when every public pound is under such scrutiny - shouldn't Gordon do the decent thing and either commit himself to being a full-time MP - or just resign and pursue a different career elsewhere?

All this swanning about in Switzerland - combined with regular trips to Abu Dhabi (see post dated 27 March 2011) - sounds a bit cuckoo to me. 

The Dogs of War

Labour appear to have unleashed a terrifying, new secret weapon in their Scottish election campaign - Lord George Foulkes.

Responding to his party's poor showing in the polls - Lord George tells Scotland in Sunday today what has been going wrong - in his sage opinion:

"Iain Gray has been too much of a gentleman. He has been playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules, but Salmond has been hitting him below the belt again and again."

Now I'd like to say something erudite about Lord George's views on the election campaign - but I don't understand what he's talking about.

His words make sense on their own - individually - but joined together in the same sentence they come out as political gobbeldegook.

So we will all have to wait until the noble Lord spouts forth some more - because this is a man  of undoubted talent.

So talented that he can hold down two jobs - that of a full-time MSP - in addition to his duties in the House of Lords.

"Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war" - is a line from Shakespeare in Julius Caesar.

Come to think of it - maybe that's what Lord George is trying to say to rouse his  Labour troops.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Image Conscious

The papers report today that Labour leader - Ed Miliband - is to have a minor operation on his troublesome sinuses.

Nothing to do with his 'nasally' voice - say Ed's minders - it's to help him stop snoring and sleep better at night.

No doubt Ed's soon to be wife - Justine - will breathe a huge sigh of relief.

But it does make you wonder why people put up with things quite happily - for many years - but feel the pressure to conform once they're in the public eye.

I quite like Ed Miliband's nasal drone - and I admired the fact that the felt no need to get married to his long-term partner Justine - or have his name on his son's birth certificate.

Until he became Labour leader of course - then things had to change.

Just like Margaret Thatcher who had her teeth capped - and voice coaching lessons to 'lower' her rather  strident voice.

Maybe it will make a difference - who knows - but it just goes to show how image conscious many politicians are these days.

I'm Afraid Not

A piece of string goes into a pub and asks the bartender for a cold beer.

The bartender replies, grumpily: "We don't serve beer to pieces of string".

So the piece of string wanders off, feeling thirsty and rejected, when he bumps into another piece of string.

"Where are you heading?", asks the first piece of string.

"I'm off to the pub to get myself a cold beer", says the second piece of string.

"You're wasting your time, they won't serve you", says the first piece of string.

"Oh they'll serve me alright", says the second piece of string - who starts tying himself into all kinds of contortions and then rubs his behind furiously on the ground.

The second piece of string then goes into the pub and asks for a cold beer.

The bartender answers menacingly: "Aren't you a piece of string?"

"No", says the piece of string.

"I'm a frayed knot."    

Action 4 Equality Scotland

A reader from Edinburgh has been in touch - about transferring her equal pay claim to Acion 4 Equality Scotland from one of the trade unions.

The reader says she is fed up at the lack of information - and the lack of any real enthusiasm from the unions when it comes to equal pay.

Can I transfer my claim to Action 4 Equality Scotland ?- the reader wishes to know.

Well the answer is Yes - that's easily done - all you need to do is to send me your details - full name, job title, employer, home address and post code.

By dropping me a note at - markirvine@compuserve.com

Or you can simply ring the Action 4 Equality Scotland office in Edinburgh - 0131 652 7360.

Either way it's a bit of a skoosh.     

Drowning Not Waving

Today's papers are full of stories about Labour's desperate attempt to re-launch its Scottish election campaign.

Where there's life there's hope - as they say - but even though it's Easter weekend I can't see Scottish Labour coming back from the dead.

The Labour party has no clear message for the voters - beyond we hate the Tories - which is hardly likely to deliver electoral success.

The lesson of history is that parties that broaden their appeal  are the ones that win election victories.

Labour has withdrawn into its comfort zone - which is where its Scottish leader has failed.

When Margaret Thatcher fought her way to government in 1979 - she picked a fight with Labour on its own turf - 'Labour isn't working', council house sales and trade union power.  

When Labour finally came out of the doldrums under Tony Blair in 1997 - New Labour promised a new approach and a new deal - 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime', 'A hand up, not a hand out' and 'Say what you mean, mean what you say'.

Now all we have is - 'Labour hates the Tories' - and occasionally the SNP as well.

The truth is that a party with such a dispiriting message - doesn't deserve to become the government of Scotland.

And I hope that's what the voters decide on 5 May.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Holy Willie's Prayer

Here are the words to Holy Wilie's Prayer - written by Robert Burns in 1785.

Holy Willie was a religious hypocrite - who preached one thing then did another - quick to see wrongdoing in other people's behaviour - but never his own.

A modern parallel in 21st century Scotland are trade union bosses - who preach to the rest of us about equal opportunities - and equality at the workplace.

Yet the trade union don't reflect the diverse views or make up of their ordinary grassroots members - whom they claim to serve.

As everyone knows, the trade unions in Scotland are slavishly pro-Labour - they discriminate in favour of their own 'chosen race' - by acting as Labour-only 'closed shops' when it comes to recruiting people to senior leadership positions.

Scotland will be a better place when the trade unions recruit good people - at every level - who reflect the mixed views and different outlooks of the wider membership.

Not just the small band of activists who support the Labour party - which is what happens now.

Holy Willie's Prayer

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel',
Sends aen to Heaven an' ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie or ill
They've done afore Thee!

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an' grace
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place.

What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation?
I wha deserv'd most just damnation
For broken laws,
Six thousand years 'ere my creation,
Thro' Adam's cause.

When from my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung'd me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain'd to their stakes.

Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a' Thy flock.

O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an' swearers swear,
An' singing here, an' dancin there,
Wi' great and sma';
For I am keepit by Thy fear
Free frae them a'.

But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust:
An' sometimes, too, in worldly trust,
Vile self gets in;
But Thou remembers we are dust,
Defil'd wi' sin.

O Lord! yestreen, Thou kens, wi' Meg
Thy pardon I sincerely beg;
O may't ne'er be a livin' plague
To my dishonour,
An' I'll ne'er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.

Besides, I farther maun avow,
Wi' Leezie's lass, three times I trow -
But Lord, that Friday I was fou,
When I cam near her;
Or else, Thou kens, Thy servant true
Wad never steer her.

Maybe Thou lets this fleshly thorn
Buffet Thy servant e'en and morn,
Lest he owre proud and high shou'd turn,
That he's sae gifted:
If sae, Thy han' maun e'en be borne,
Until Thou lift it.

Lord, bless Thy chosen in this place,
For here Thou has a chosen race!
But God confound there stuborn face,
An' blast their name,
Wha brings Thy elders to disgrace
An' open shame.

Lord, mind Gaw'n Hamilton's deserts;
He drinks, an' swears, an' plays at cartes,
Yet has sae mony takin arts,
Wi' great an' sma',
Frae God's ain priest the people's hearts
He steals awa'.

And when we chasten'd him therefore,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
And set the world in a roar
O' laughing at us;
Curse Thou his basket and his store,
Kail an' potatoes.

Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray'r,
Against that Presbyt'ry o' Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord mak it bare
Upo' their heads;
Lord visit them, an' dinna spare,
For their misdeeds.

O Lord my God! that glib-tongu'd Aitken,
My vera heart an' flesh are quakin,
To think how we stood sweatin, shakin,
An' pish'd wi' dread,
While he, wi' hingin lip an' snakin,
Held up his head.

Lord, in Thy day o' vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in Thy mercy by them,
Nor hear their pray'r,
But for Thy people's sake destroy them,
An' dinna spare.

But, Lord, remember me an' mine
Wi' mercies temporal and divine,
That I for grace an' gear may shine,
Excell'd by nane,
And a' the glory shall be Thine,
Amen, Amen!

A bit of a skoosh

Kenneth Clarke is justice secretary in the Westminster coalition government - a staunch Tory and former minister in Margaret Thatcher's government.

But that doesn't make him a bad person or a bad politician - not in my book anyway.

Not least because he appears to be drawing on his life experience and a degree of common sense - in dealing with the prisons service in the rest of the UK.

Clarke is planning to publish a bill next month aimed at reducing the number of criminals being sent to prison - and curbing re-offending.

Clarke says it is pointless to continue with a policy that simply warehouses thousands of offenders - without tyring to turn them away from a life of crime.

Prison - says Clarke - should be reserved for serious offences and crimes of violence, but it's not the place to be dealing with people who have drug and alcohol problems.

Sounds to me like Clarke is a supporter of one of New Labour's better slogans - 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime' - which helped propel Tony Blair to power in 1997.

If you ask me the three Labour MPs - Eric Illsley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine - who were sent to jail for fiddling their expenses - have all got off rather lightly.

Six months or whatever they serve in jail time is not much of a deal for the public - especially when they are not dangerous villains.

Stupid and greedy maybe - but not a danger to the public.

So while I agree with the decision to deny these MPs their liberty - a better result would have been a tough community sentence - where they would have been forced to repay their debt to society in the public eye.

Instead the taxpayer is paying the cost putting a roof over their heads and feeding them three square meals a day - for which they have to do precisely nothing in return - except watch TV and play snooker.

To my mind Kenneth Clarke is on the right track - and so is the outgoing Scottish justice secretary - Kenny McAskill - who hit the nail on the head when he said that short-term prison sentences are - 'a bit of a skoosh'.

He's right you know - though up until then I hadn't heard the 'skoosh' word for ages.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Spending Public Money

I received my postal ballot voting pack today - for the elections to the Scottish Parliament and the referendum on AV.

Trouble is that the the voting slip for the Scottish Parliament elections - was not included in the pack.

And on checking with Glasgow City Council - which is responsible for sending the packs out - the Scottish Parliament voting slip is being sent out tomorrow - in a separate mailing.

Now why the council should be sending out two separate mail shots when only one would do - is a mystery.

The person at the other end of the phone could not explain the reason.

Is it just madness, a job creation exercise - or yet another example of a council spending public money - as if there was no tomorrow?

Who knows, but if I find out - I'll let you know.

Scotland Will Be Free

Tom Nairn - the historian - once said:

'Scotland will be free when the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.'

Now I don't know many ministers and I don't often read the Sunday Post too often - but I think I know what Tom Nairn was on about.

Scotland has been held back by the 'Holy Willies' in our midst for far too  long - the two-faced hypocrites scorned so effectively by Robert Burns in his famous poem - Holy Willie's Prayer.  

But who are the Holy Willies of today - who preach one thing then do another? 

My nomination goes to the trade union bosses who slavishly support the Labour party in Scotland - when it's perfectly clear that the majority of union members don't support the Labour party.

Ordinary union members are just like everyone else - they support the SNP, Lib Dems, Green Party and Conservatives - as well as the smaller socialist parties and independent figures like Margo MacDonald. 

Yet the trade union movement - at senior level - is stuffed to the rafters with Labour hacks who see no irony in preaching to the rest of us - about equal opportunities and equality at work.

The reality is that the trade unions run a Labour only 'closed shop' - because there's not a senior figure in the Scottish trade union movement - who doesn't 'belong' to the Labour party.

Now that can't be democratic or fair - because trade unions are supposed to 'reflect' as well as 'represent' the members they claim to serve. 

So I say Scotland will be free - when our trade unions actually practice what they preach - by recruiting non-Labour figures to their senior ranks.      

The Best Medicine

Laughter is the best medicine - so they say.

And if you are in need of a good laugh - and a good night out - I can thoroughly recommend The Stand comedy club.

Now The Stand has two venues at the moment - one in Edinburgh and another in Glasgow - with a third apparently opening in Newcastle later this year.

I've been to both and had a great time - but if you're at all shy or can't take a good slagging - then my only advice is not to sit too near the front. 

The Glasgow Comedy Festival has just ended - and the Edinburgh Festival is on the horizon - but The Stand has has shows on throughout the year.

Check out the different venues at - www.thestand.co.uk

Private Eye

The latest edition of Private Eye has a great story about the hypocrisy of people who attacked Nick Clegg - for his recent speech on using family connections to gain an 'unfair' advantage in the jobs market.

"WHAT A CHEEK!" roared the front page of the Daily Mail as it castigated Nick Clegg for criticisng 'unfair, informal internships' as a barrier to social mobility.

"It emerged that his millionaire father had secured him the internship that launched his career and a titled family friend helped him get his first proper job, " the paper sneered.

A reminder: Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, got into journalism by working as a messenger boy on the Sunday Express during his school holidays and then bagged a traineeship on the daily title during his year off before university. How dod he get such lucky breaks? Well his father Peter just happened to be the showbusiness editor.......

Meanwhile the Guardian's Comment is Free site was hosting a debate on the same topic: "Is Clegg right to brand family connections an unfair way of launching your career? Did a family member help you get your first job? Would you help family members gain entry to your, or a friend's professional sphere if you could? Where should we draw the line between family values and nepotism that entrenches inequality? That is, of course, the Comment is Free site moderated by Isabella Mackie, who just happens to be the daughter of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger."    

Enough said.

Empty Slogans

I've just read an election leaflet from my local Labour party candidate - and it doesn't half send out a dismal message. 

'Only Labour can defend public services from Tory cuts' - screams the headline.

Despite the fact that this is an election to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood - not a general election to the  Westminster Parliament which took place last year - in May 2010. 

No wonder the Scottish Labour campaign seems to be falling apart - its central message is dire, dispiriting and negative - in effect calling for support on the basis that Labour hates the Tories, presumably better than anyone else.

Now this is childish nonsense - Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council, for example, was perfectly happy to rely on Conservative councillor votes - to put the present administration into power in 2007.

What happened to Labour's implacable 'anti-Tory' stance then? 

'Tory cuts' is an empty, meaningless and confusing slogan.

Because Labour would also be making major cuts in public spending - had the party been returned to power at the May 2010 general election.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Newsnet Scotland

Newsnet Scotland has published my recent thoughts on COSLA and the council tax freeze - see post dated 18 April 2011: 'The Mouse That Roared'.

The Newsnet Scotland site has lots of interesting articles on all kinds of subjects - including a comprehensive coverage of the Scottish election campaign.

Have a look and see for for yourself at - www.newsnetscotland.com

Edinburgh Male Claimants

Contrary to what was said in my recent post about male claimants - a dispute has arisen with Edinburgh City Council about the claims submitted by male janitors.

The council is now taking the view that these posts are not covered by the recent settlement - because in the council's eyes they are classified as former APT&C posts - not former Manual Worker posts.

Now this is a moot and very contentious point - because for many years Edinburgh's  janitors were very clearly classified as former Manual Worker posts.

At the moment the council is digging its heels in - but discussions are continuing in the hope of finding a resolution.

If the issue is not resolved - then the janitors claims will be joined to the Court of Session hearing which is due to take place from 14 to 17 June 2011.

Moonlighting MPs

Gordon Brown (GB) - former PM and sometime MP for Fife - is apparently being touted for a job as Managing Director (MD) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Nice job - if you can get it - since it comes with a salary of £270,000 a year - though it's not clear if you can accept the post and still hold on to your day job as an MP.

But if I were GB, I wouldn't be getting my hopes up - because he has to be nominated for the job by his successor - David Cameron (DC)- which seems a tad unlikely.

And DC has repotedly said that GB is not the "most appropriate person" to lead the IMF - because he would not admit the UK had a "debt problem".

DC apparently the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

"I haven't spent a huge amount of time thinking about this but it does seem to me that, if you have someone who didn't think we had a debt problem in the UK when we self-evidently do have a debt problem, then they might not be the most appropriate person to work out whether other countries around the world have debt and deficit problems."

From that I think it's safe to say that GB shouldn't be packing his bags for Washington DC - anytime soon. 

PS - don't you think there are too many acronyms in this post?

Facing the Music

Former Rangers player - Billy Dodds - wrote a searingly honest article in the Sunday Herald at the weekend.

Without pulling any punches - he told the Rangers 'fans' behind the sectarian singing at football games - that if they really care about the club - their behaviour has to stop and 'stop now'.

Good for him.

Because that's exactly what these people need to hear from their football heroes - past and present.

Too many people associated with Rangers FC want to make excuses for this vile behaviour - by trying to divert attention away from the real issue by saying that the club is being singled out.

But the death threats revealed today against the Celtic manager - Neil Lennon - put this issue in its proper context.

Public displays of hatred by football fans fuel intolerance and encourage violence - and that is simply not acceptable in this day and age.

So as the headline in Billy Dodds article said - 'Rangers fans must face the music'. 

South Lanarkshire

South Lanarkshire Council is up to its old tricks again.

Here's a copy of a recent FOI Review Request - which I've had to submit because the council has refused to provide the information requested - first time of asking.

Despite the fact that the Scottish Information Commissioner has already decided - in relation to a previous case - that the information requested does not constitute 'personal data'.

Now this issue is right on the doorstep - and in the faces - of South Lanarkshire MSPs and MPs - and some of the Labour politicians have been very vocal recently in criticising the Scottish government over FOI.

Yet - so far at least - none of these Labour MSPs and MPs have been very interested in the behaviour of their own local council - when it comes to FOI and equal pay.

So if you get the chance to put the politicians on the spot - during the Scottish election campaign - then seize the opportunity with both hands!

And let me know what your MSP or MP has to say.

South Lanarkshire Council
FOI Review Request Team

By e-mail to – foi.reviews@southlanarkshireuthlanarkshire.gov.uk

Dear Colleague

South Lanarkshire Council – FOI Review Request (SCP 35 to SCP 54)

I refer to the letter from South Lanarkshire Council dated 19 April 2011.

I am asking for a review of the Council’s initial decision because the issue of whether the information requested constitutes ‘personal data’ has already been determined - in a previous and almost identical appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

The case involved is recorded by the Scottish Information Commissioner as Decision 056/2011: Mr. Mark Irvine and South Lanarkshire Council: Numbers placed at specified points in pay structure.

I look forward to hearing from you soon and confirm the details below of the specific information I am asking for in this Review Request. Please send this to me by e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards

 Mark Irvine


Original FOI request

How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 35?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 36?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 37?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 38?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 39?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 40?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 41?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 42?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 43?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 44?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 45?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 46?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 47?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column point 48?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 49?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 50?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 51?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 52?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 53?
How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 54?

Short Shrift in Edinburgh

A number of readers from Edinburgh have been in touch - asking why the outstanding male claims have been settled - but not the 'equal value' claims from former council workers on former APT&C grades.

The kind of jobs involved are social care workers - catering managers, previously known as cooks-in-charge - and so on.

Well the answer is that the delay is down to Edinburgh City Council's intransigence  - because this ability of former APT&C workers to bring an equal pay claims was demonstrated long ago.

An Employment Tribunal in Edinburgh in the summer of 2008 decided that former APT&C workers - were able to compare their earnings against the much higher earnings of traditional male groups - such as male refuse workers and gardeners.

In fact the Employment Judge described Edinburgh City Council - as trying to defend the 'indefensible'.

But the council decided to waste even more public money by appealing that decision - to the Employment Appeal Tribunal - where it lost again.

And then the council decided to appeal even further to the Court of Session - where the case is due to be heard from 14 to 17 June 2011.

So, Edinburgh City Council is responsible for the delay - no one else.

Let's hope the Court of Session gives Edinburgh's case short shrift - and follows the lead of the previous ET and EAT hearings.

Think of a Number - Any Number

The Labour party's mad claim that 'knife crime' costs the NHS £500 million every year - continues to unravel.

The madness was started by Scottish Labour's justice spokesperson - Richard Baker - but has since embroiled party leader - Iain Gray - and his 'de facto' deputy - Andy Kerr.

In Andy Kerr's case things have spiralled even further out of control - with a local election leaflet claiming that the NHS spent £3 billion a year - on treating knife crime victims in Scottish hospitals.

Now £3 billion is getting on for 10% of the Scottish Parliament's total annual budget - which illustrates just how crazy this whole business is - and Kerr's team has since been forced to withdraw the figure.

But the contagion continues as party leader - Iain Gray - sought to defend the £500 million a year claim in a Newsnight Scotland interview last night.

Today's newspapers bring more bad news as one of the original sources of the £500 million claim - stepped up to the plate and disowned the figure.

Dr Christine Goodall  - a consultant surgeon from Medics Against Violence - told the Scotsman that she had no knowledge of the figure - "I don't know where Richard Baker got it from", she said.

Oh dear - someone needs to get a grip - and fast.

Because this relatively minor issue is beginning to make  Labour's election campaign look completely ridiculous.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Windy Rhetoric

Today's newspaper reports suggest that some teachers in Scotland - may actually be living on a different planet to the rest of us.

As Glasgow prepares to host the annual conference of the NASUWT this weekend - the Scotsman reports that the union is calling for teacher workloads to be reduced - because their jobs are so stressful.

The NASUWT says that without more support - there will be increasing stress, mental health issues and absenteeism.

NASUWT general secretary - Chris Keates - is quoted as saying "Teachers' pay and conditions are being singled out in a deliberate, calculated and vicious way to balance the books of the Scottish Government."

How's that for hyperbole? 

Here's something I wrote about the McCrone Agreement several years ago - the reality is that teachers are much better off than most other Scottish council workers - none of whom enjoy the luxury of a 39-week working year.

"Windy Rhetoric and McCrone"

"Union leaders are turning into such delicate creatures these days. Never slow to offer free advice to everybody else on the planet on how to run their affairs, they are becoming incredibly sensitive even to mild criticism. Take the biggest teaching union, the EIS, whose leader, Ronnie Smith, railed at critics of the McCrone Agreement recently at his union's  annual conference.

Normally mild mannered, Ronnie must have had three Weetabix for breakfast that morning, since he weighed into what he called the ‘enemies’ of the McCrone agreement, the ‘wreckers’ who have accused teachers (collectively) of giving little in return, so far at least, for a mammoth 23.5% pay rise over 3 years.

Professor Gavin McCrone, eponymous architect of the new deal for Scottish schools, came in for special treatment being scolded severely and awarded the dunce’s hat for saying uncomplimentary things about the implementation of his now famous agreement.

To recap, a key feature of McCrone is a guaranteed working week of 35 hours from 1 August 2001 addressing the long hours culture teachers have complained of for years; poorly quantified, unregulated work such as marking and lesson preparation, often done after normal school hours.

So, from last August Scottish teachers have a new 35-hour week, yet will still be contracted to deliver a service for only 39 weeks of the year. A good deal for teachers’ obviously, whether it’s fair and represents wider value for public money is another question entirely.

Union bosses may not like people standing up for the public interest, or asking why teachers deserve such special treatment, but as any good teacher knows an inquisitive minds should be encouraged. Accusing Professor Gavin McCrone of not knowing what he’s talking about and resorting to ad hominem attacks is a poor example to set school students.

The bottom line is that 39 weeks x 35 hours equals a working year of 1365 hours within which teachers are being guaranteed blocks of time for classroom teaching, lesson preparation and marking. So, having addressed the biggest concern of teachers by effectively eliminating after hours work, the unions still want their members to be guaranteed a working year of 39 weeks.

The jury is still out on whether teachers try to have it both ways, but the McCrone reforms are about a better education service and better outcomes for children and parents by changing the culture in schools. Restoring professionalism means the deal has to cut both ways if the public interest is to be served; rewarding staff well is important but only part of the equation.

The point lost on the teaching unions is that no one is really bothered about the fine detail of complex negotiations. What they can see is the big picture and what difference £800 million of public money is making in local schools.

McCrone was sold as a fresh start for Scottish education and a move away from old attitudes. A better education system ought to mean more teaching, more effective teaching, new ideas, innovations, different ways of doing things and looking at issues from other perspectives, especially parents and young people.

No other council workers received anything like the teachers, which begs the obvious question: exactly what was the inflation plus element designed to achieve?

Maybe, new McCrone based initiatives will come to the fore in the weeks ahead to inform public debate. McCrone was intended to strengthen the management role of head teachers and provide stronger local leadership. It was also intended to have teachers working more flexibly.

Why not have progress reports from each school on the benefits of McCrone and an indication of how the big issues will be tackled? Incorporating parents’ evenings into a 1365-hour 39-week working year look and sound like a Spanish practice to anyone with an ounce work experience and common sense, unless there is a quid pro quo.

The Scottish Executive has committed £200 million towards free care for the elderly from July 2002, much less than the cost of implementing the McCrone agreement. But ministers will at least be able to point to the benefits of the new service and the improvements in care for older people. So far, that’s a lot more than can be said for the difference that McCrone will make in Scotland’s schools.

Thin-skinned teaching unions may dislike awkward questions, but modern public services should be able to explain what they are doing with the extra cash instead of hiding behind gobbledegook about McCrone milestones.

Unless teachers’ leaders can demonstrate that in return for this pay rise members’ are putting something in, there is a real danger that public opinion will sour against a profession which already claims its standing in society has fallen."

Newsnight for Laughs

I don't normally watch Newsnight Scotland for laughs.

But last night I nearly fell off my chair listening to Labour's justice spokesperson - Richard Baker - trying to defend his claim that 'knife crime' costs the NHS in Scotland £500 million every year.

Now 'knife crime' is a serious business, but making ridiculously exaggerated claims about its impact and cost - doesn't help anyone decide how to tackle the problem.

A chap from Straight Statistics - Nigel Hawkes, I think was his name - was interviewed before the Labour spokesperson.

Nigel proceeded to drive a coach and horses - followed by a double decker bus - through the claim that £500 million was an accurate cost to Scotland's NHS.

Nonsense said the straight talker from Straight Statistics, couldn't possibly - not even in your wildest dreams - be any more than £10 million a year. 

Still a lot of money - but 50 times less than the wild claims being bandied around by Labour's Richard Baker. 

Somehow I think we're going to hear more on this issue - as the boffins get to work.          

'Play it Again Salm'

So the Scottish Sun has come out in support of Alex Salmond for First Minister - which is not a great surprise the way the election campaign is going.

But you've got to hand it the the sub-editors - 'Play it again Salm' is a clever strapline - one that brings a smile to your face - even if you're not a fan of Alex Salmond, the SNP or the Scottish Sun.

The best headline ever in the Scottish Sun - which I sadly failed to get a copy of at the time - was the one dreamt up by some wag after Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat the mighty Glasgow Celtic - in a Scottish Cup match, if I remember correctly.

The strapline used by the sub-editor on that occasion has gone down in newspaper history:

'SupercaleygoballisticCelticareatrocious'.

Mary Poppins - eat your heart out!   

More Union Cock-Ups

A number of readers from Midlothian have been in touch - because their trade union apparently failed to register their equal pay claims with the Employment Tribunal.

The members involved have been told that their claims are now time barred - and cannot  proceed any further - which came as a great shock after all this time.

So far, the union has failed to accept any responsibility - and the members are now considering legal action against the union to recover their financial loss.

Now you would have thought that a big trade union - with huge resources - would just put its hands up in a situation like this - and agree to compensate its low paid members who can ill afford to be out of pocket.

But no - not so far at least.

Even though whatever has gone wrong is down to the union and not the members - who are simply fighting for their right to equal pay.  

Setback in Glasgow

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has issued a written decision in the Glasgow 'Compromise Agreement' case.

Unfortunately the decision has gone in favour of the employer - which means that the EAT agree with the original Employment Tribunal decision - that the 2005 Compromise Agreements remain valid.

The decicion is a big disappointment and affects only those people who signed a Compromise Agreement with the council - before raising an equal pay claim. 

There are 42 days within which to consider any appeal - and an assessment will now take place on whether there are sufficient legal grounds to appeal further.

As regular readers know, council workers who signed these Compromise Agreements played no part in selecting the lawyers involved - since they were all hand picked by Glasgow City Council.

Nor did the lawyers involved give any practical advice on the content of the Compromise Agreements - or on the real value of these claims - which is why people are so angry.

Because they were encouraged by the council - and the unions often - to believe they were getting a good deal - when in fact they were being offered much less than half of the true value of their claims - in many cases.

 If any readers wish to read the full EAT decision - you can access this on the EAT web site.

All the other Action 4 Equality Scotland cases involving Glasgow - and the council's WPBR (Workforce Pay and Benefits Review) - continue in the Glasgow employment tribunal.  

More news will follow.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Say YES to AV

The best advert for saying YES to AV in the May referendum - is to cast your mind back to how things were under 'first past the post' (FPTP).

For example, before Scottish councils were elected under a single transferable vote (STV) form of proportional representation - Glasgow relied upon FPTP to elect local councillors.

In 2003 the Labour party had 71 councillors out of 79 - almost a clean sweep - or 90% of the total number of seats - but based on only 47% of the popular vote.

Nowadays that's changed out of sight because of a fairer voting system - other parties are now represented in significant numbers - which broadly reflects their share of the popular vote.

And that's how it should be - because 'first past the post' means that seats are won on a minority share of the vote - often as low as 35%.

Which is why AV is an improvement on the present system - because the winner has to get more than 50% of the votes. 

The old system favours the establishment parties - which is why the Labour and the Tories were standing shoulder to shoulder earlier today - when John Reid and David Cameron held a joint press conference to oppose voting reform.

The fact is that proportional representation (PR) of one kind or another - has been adopted by every newly emerged democracy over the past 25 years - notably in the former Soviet states of central and eastern Europe.

The reality is that FPTP has had its day - and that's why Scotland should say YES to AV.

The Scottish Parliament exists today - only because everyone agreed that the old, FPTP voting system was completely discredited - and had to go.

The Mouse That Roared

COSLA - it seems - has finally found its voice with a belated intervention in the Scottish election campaign.

But is it a case of too little too late - because COSLA has been losing credibility for years - see post dated 16 April 2011: 'COSLA isn't working anymore'.

The Convention's chief executive - Rory Mair - has spoken out with a 'plague on all your houses' blast at Scotland's main political parties.

COSLA says their election manifestos are - 'unambitious, largely irrelevant and financially unsound'.

And in a nice 'Rolf Harris' touch Rory Mair received the backing of no less an authority than own his brother - Colin Mair - who happens to the the chief executive of the Improvement Service - another publicly funded body which supports the work of Scottish local government.

Now all of this is fine and dandy - but lashing out at the last minute and in all directions - is not going to win COSLA any friends - or influence the policy debate.

Where have the political leaders of COSLA been all this time?

For years they've been happy to go along with the council tax freeze - because it's widely popular with the voters.

Not one council has defied the Scottish government over the past four years over the policy - but now COSLA tells us they're fighting mad.

Aye right - I'll believe it when I see it.

Significantly there's not a word from any elected council leader - in today's media coverage - it's the highly paid 'professional' staff who are speaking out.

If I were still in the trade unions business what I'd be asking is:

'How come the Scottish government is able to give a 'no redundancy' pledge while making 10% cuts in its spending budgets - yet Scottish councils can't match that pledge - while making only 3% cuts in their budgets?'

Now if we started getting a straight answer to that question - then we'd have a real debate.

More Kind Words

Another regular reader from Edinburgh has been in touch - regarding settlement of the long-standing male claims.

"Well done to you and your team, Mark".

SR.

Brief and to the point - but none the worse for that.

The advice to Action 4 Equality Scotland clients is to sit tight - the settlement process is underway - and there's no need for you to do anything.

More news will follow.

The Wrong Kind of Jobs

'What do we want - more jobs! When do we want them - now!

Er, except when it's the wrong kind of jobs apparently - according to Scotland's teaching unions, anyway.

Following in the footsteps of other public in institutions which have blamed - the 'wrong kind of snow' and  'leaves on the track' - as an excuse for travel chaos - the Scottish TUC will presumably hear more this week from the teaching unions about the 'wrong kind of jobs'.

See post dated 15 April 2011: 'Inward Looking and Conservative'.

Scottish Labour have come up with a policy designed to tackle poor literacy and numeracy levels - and the 13,000 schoolchildren who leave primary school every year - unable to read and write properly.

Yet the proposal to create another 1,000 teaching jobs to tackle the problem - hasn't won favour with the Scotland's teaching unions - because it will upset the sensitivities of experienced teachers, apparently.

Now this seems more than a little crazy to me - I would have though the prospect of 1,000 new teaching jobs would be a cause for celebration to the unions.

So I will be following events closely in Ayr this week - where the STUC is holding its annual conference - to see what light the delegates might shine on this rather strange affair.