Thursday, 23 October 2014

Scotrail Or Should That Be Dutchrail?

On Tuesday I partially drafted a post about the Scottish Government’s decision to grant the franchise, worth up to £6n over ten years, for Scotrail to a foreign company - the Dutch operator Abellio.

The main point of the post was to discuss how a foreign company could outbid our own excellent National Express or First Group and it seemed it had done so by offering cheap fares. We all know ‘cheap’ fares have to be paid for somehow and my concern was other fares would rise to compensate.

I admit I knew next to nothing about Abellio but (stupidly) trusted the judgement of Keith Brown; after all he’s the person I think would be most suitable for the position of deputy leader of the SNP.

How wrong I was.  After reading Kenneth Roy’s article in his Scottish Review yesterday morning I have deleted my draft.  

Mr Brown insisted, in the Scottish Parliament last week, that his hands were tied by Westminster legislation and he had been forced to make a decision. Delay would ‘result in massive and unnecessary costs to the public purse’.  

Whilst I disagree with Labour’s sudden desperation to have a non-profit making railway in Scotland, I find, after reading Mr Roy’s well researched article, Mr Brown’s reasons for insisting he go ahead with awarding the contract to Abellio are perhaps less than accurate. 

Every country deserves an efficient rail service.  It seems Scotland is going to have to wait another ten years before there’s any chance of that happening.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Leadership, Taxes, Lighting and Powdery Mildew

Nicola Sturgeon has been appointed leader of the SNP.  She was unopposed and her status will be made official at the forthcoming SNP conference in Perth.  Three MSPs are in the running for the deputy leadership - Stewart Hosie, Angela Constance and Keith Brown.  My money’s on Keith Brown as I think he would make an excellent deputy leader and unlike Ms Constance, who has refused to also take the role of Deputy First Minister, Keith Brown would handle that brief well.  However, it’s not down to me to decide; the decision will be made by members at the conference.

There is a lot of talk about the Yes parties joining forces for next year’s general election. I heard a little of the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme yesterday and apart from the Patrick Harvie interview, I wasn’t too impressed.  Is it a good idea? Perhaps, but I don’t think it will happen.  Too many large egos involved.

Where is Scotland going to get the money to have this social utopia?  The SNP representative mentioned taxes. Higher taxes for those who in the middle-upper earnings bracket will discourage those we need to attract from overseas and perhaps result in some leaving the country to work elsewhere. It will also discourage employers from increasing their staffing levels. What we should be doing is raising our standards of education so as the young are better prepared to enter the workplace.  

It’s been a trying couple of weeks here.  At this time of year I attempt to display my DIY skills with varying degrees of success. This year most of the little tasks have been completed but I now await the third type of under-cupboard lighting for the kitchen.  The old lights were fine but I have been unable to buy replacements recently as ‘LED have replaced standard types’ I was told.  Cue my lovely electrician who suggested a roll of sticky-backed mini LED lights. ‘Low energy and should do the job’.  They didn’t.  The light level was extremely poor. They were removed and a block of LED lights replaced them. Not much difference in the light level but plenty in the price.  So now I await the next ‘modern', low energy and money saving fittings.  No idea what they will be but until now I didn’t realise how dependent I was upon the under cupboard lighting and how dismal the kitchen is without it in evenings.

Time for a visit to the garden centre to purchase some plants for a couple of winter hanging baskets.  I usually use winter flowering pansies but last year they were attacked by powdery mildew and they transcended from two delightful displays to dead within days.  Maybe I’ll chance them again this year but I must remember the skimmed milk. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Fear - The Great Political Tool

It never ceases to amaze me how readily our political representatives offer our troops as aid workers to other countries.  

In the case of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, already there is a team of over 40 military personnel, including logisticians, planners and engineers currently on the ground in Sierra Leone to oversee the construction of the UK’s facility near Freetown and develop sites for new facilities.  These new facilities will house more than 100 members of 22 Field Hospital and provide a 12-bed treatment centre for healthcare workers in Sierra Leone.

Let’s not bother about protecting our borders. The Health Secretary doesn’t think a quick test of those arriving from the affected countries would be useful. Much better headline grabbing by sending military medics to the scene.  Our military medics are the ‘elite’ of all UK medics and as they have only one hospital in which to practice their skills nowadays - the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham - they will do a good job in Africa, but what about the problems nearer to home?

It’s very thoughtful of Westminster to be so benevolent when there continues to be a serious crisis in one of Scotland’s hospitals.  Aberdeen Royal Infirmary has had staffing troubles for many years.  I don’t know the politics of healthcare in Grampian but I do know this major hospital provides care to a widely spread population as well as the city of Aberdeen.

The Daily Mail reports the CEO of the GMC stating there is a shortage of doctors in some parts of the UK ‘especially deprived areas’.  But Aberdeenshire is not a deprived area.  It is the oil capital of Europe and very wealthy indeed.  Why wouldn’t young doctors want to live and work there?  Apart from their working environment - which is dismal throughout the public areas - the quality of life in the area is good. Seems they prefer the lifestyle of Australia and New Zealand.  Yes, we continue to give excellent training to student doctors yet once they’re qualified they’re off to the sun. A simple solution to this brain drain would be to include a clause in their training contract which states they must serve the NHS for a specific period upon completion of training or refund their training costs. 

Back to Ebola.  My friend Leggy has his take on it. I’m too old to be concerned about Ebola.  My chances of coming into close contact with anyone from West Africa is more or less nil, but as Leggy says Fear is a great political tool.  We saw how effective it was on 18 September didn’t we?


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Too Much Information

For weeks now the media have reported the IS actions in Syria.

Have they been providing too much information?  I wonder, if we knew nothing of these kidnaps and subsequent horrific murders, would these captives still be alive today?

Are we feeding the egos of these barbaric individuals with the publicity they crave?  Without the intensive, comprehensive, worldwide publicity provided here and in other Western countries there’s little doubt that they would continue with their medieval styled killings but I suggest the western media is indirectly inflaming the situation.

I have great sympathy for those families left grieving, but there’s a lot to be said for the ‘old fashioned’ method the Foreign Office used in past years, when they refused to comment on hostage situations.

As regular readers will know in the past I’ve been concerned about the amount of specific detail of our troops’ actions on the front line of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Perhaps it’s time the media were asked to tone down their reporting and stop giving these barbarians so much promotion.  

Monday, 29 September 2014

Some Musings

Apologies for not posting last week but a wee retina problem caused me to take the sensible decision of reducing time on the Mac.  Hopefully it will be sorted after a visit to the eye clinic in Ninewells later today.

Even if you’re not fan of golf, surely all Scots must have felt insulted when Alex Salmond was loudly booed while being introduced at the Ryder Cup presentation ceremony.  He was present in his capacity of First Minister of Scotland, to present the trophy to the winner’s captain - GB won if you haven’t been following it. I had no choice but hear it in every corner of a house full of ardent golf lovers.  Praise to the Sky camera crews though because they swiftly moved their cameras from the clowns to a part of the crowd where saltires were waving madly.

There’s an old saying ‘Once is chance, twice is coincidence but three times is enemy action’. David Cameron has lost another of his party to UKIP. Two in a week coincidence?  I suggest it’s bordering on enemy action.  He’s not a happy man. The Tory and Labour party infighting is becoming serious as less time is spent on running the UK.  My suggestion to him is to buckle down and stick to the schedule for more powers for Scotland; promised pre-election by Gordon Brown on behalf of Westminster MPs.  The Scots are watching. Carefully.

Last week I said a little prayer when I heard the UK has entered into battle once again. The prayer was a thank you because, earlier this month, my close family member became a civilian.  After 17 years, much of which spent in ‘worry’ mode, it’s a relief to be free. That doesn’t mean I have no empathy for the parents and close family of those troops who will be involved directly with this new war.  I do.  Yesterday I listened very carefully to various opinions and the same old phrases were churned out - ‘We must protect Britain', ‘We must help the US', ‘We must help the civilians’ etc.  Then last night on Sky News there are images of bombs being dropped on civilians according to the report.

The UK and US were instrumental in encouraging this very serious situation in the middle east, but they still want to provide more arms to the Iraqi army which, we were told some years ago, was now a powerful fighting force trained by America and Britain. It would seem courage and discipline can’t be taught.

Where are we going in this?  Who knows.  There’s talk of our involvement being long term; ten years or more.  If politicians are saying ten years were can triple that then add some.  Without doubt there will be more British casualties as our forces are not equipped for more front line duties.

If politicians want ‘to protect Britain’ there are solutions much closer to home.  We know what they are, the politicians know what they are, but they refuse to introduce stricter policies in case they offend our minority communities.  Perhaps it’s time these minority communities spoke out and said stricter measures were absolutely necessary.  All I hear is silence.

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