Tuesday 26 February 2008

TV on the bus?

Slightly confused by the bus I got into town today - because it had a tv on it. Who decided that buses need tvs? What is the point when buses have those great big glass windows to see the world as you go by. Don't like the view? Windows too dirty or steamed up? Read a book or a paper.

More, clean, buses; ones that are disabled and buggy-friendly would be good. Replacing the scuzzy buses on routes like the 240 and 262, which run from Lanarkshire into the city, would be a positive move.

I'm sure those in the ivory towers of First HQ think this makes buses all super-exciting and modern, but to me yet another propaganda screen (strangely showing pictures of people running) is not really making much of a contribution to improving public transport.

Top twenty-five put downs

This article on the BBC website today made me giggle. There are plenty more throwaway lines, not least from programmes like Fawlty Towers and Blackadder, that could've been on there (Baldrick: Morning, Mr. B. Blackadder: Leave me alone, Baldrick. If I wanted to talk to a vegetable, I would have bought one at the market.)

My favourites from the list are:

Statler and Waldorf - The Muppet Show
Statler: "Wake up, you old fool, you slept through the show."
Waldorf: "Who's a fool? You watched it."

Arnold Rimmer - Red Dwarf
"Look, we all have something to bring to this discussion. But I think from now on the thing you should bring is silence."

(no prizes for the first person to use the Rimmer one against me!)

Romance in the freezing north

Forgive the self-indulgent bit of fluff that follows - I read the Sunday Times style section and it may have melted my brain a wee bit...

In a break from the hectic present buying/overpriced dinner in a busy restaurant tradition that has sprung up around Valentines day, my other half came home the other week with a radical suggestion: no presents or flowers, but instead two nights in Fortrose.

A quick google revealed that his suggested destination, The Anderson had been well reviewed by Joanna Blythman and had a fine selection of Belgian beer (I started packing as soon as I read that!).

Inverness was pretty chilly, and a lot of the local attractions are seasonal (boat trips, some museums), but we did find plenty to do. The Black Isle Brewery welcomed us with open arms on Friday morning for a tour and tasting, and we also had a good look around the very interesting Museum and Art Gallery. On the last day, we went along to Cromarty to see the lighthouse. I'm not quite sure why I wanted to see it, but I was determined to go!

Our attempt at seal and dolphin spotting on the Friday didn't go so well - while Inverness was sunny, by the time we got across the bridge to North Kessock the fog had descended. I'm sure I heard the dolphins sniggering out there...

It was nice to get a proper break away with Joe, and all the better for seeing a bit of Scotland I'm not so familiar with. Definitely to be recommended.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Buzz Off

Reading this article about mosquito devices reminded me that I've been meaning to blog on this issue for a while. I feel deeply uncomfortable about them. These devices aim to disperse young people from areas by emitting a high frequency noise only discernible to those under the age of 25. There is no means of discriminating between young people who are causing trouble, or those who are just going about their business. It affects all young people who can hear, from 25 year olds with jobs and responsibilities right down to babies

The article claims that there are more than 3,500 devices around the country (not sure if they mean the UK or England and Wales), which seems excessive. That surely means that there are 3,500 no-go areas for young people. Punishing all young people for the bad behaviour of a few is extreme and unjust.

The Children's Commissioners for England, for Scotland and Liberty have started a campaign against this, and I hope it's widely publicised and supported. I intend to write today to Kathleen Marshall to give my support, and would encourage everyone reading this to do likewise (email: Kathleen Marshall and Professor Sir Albert Aynsley-Green)

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and a public figure I have a great deal of time for, says in the article:

"What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children? Imagine the outcry if a device was introduced that caused blanket discomfort to people of one race or gender, rather than to our kids"

She's completely right.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Honesty will put people off

I'll admit to a bit of a sigh of exasperation when I read this article on the BBC website, which reports on the claim that having to publish expenses claims will put people off entering politics;

Greater transparency over MPs' expenses could put people off standing for Parliament, Commons authorities say.

Resources boss Andrew Walker said rent, phone, food and other bills could offer a "peephole" on MPs' private lives.

I had two gut reactions to this; firstly - g
ood. Politics has far too many people already in it to make a quick buck. Money should never be what attracts a person into a career in public service, not least as it opens you to corruption from the outset. I didn't stand for election to make money, and that that's how things have remained (if you want info on how much ordinary Councillors actually earn, it's here).

Secondly, scrutiny is good. Elected politicians are paid for by the public purse, and it's only right that the public should know how that money is being spent.

The Scottish Parliament, after a few early slip-ups (step forward Henry McLeish and David McLetchie), has made it's MSPs accountable down to the bottle of milk and the newspaper through public publishing of allowances paid. If you want, you can check through every MSP in Scotland. You can find out that Wendy Alexander for reasons unknown bought several copies of the same book. You can discover (and ponder why) Pauline McNeill paid minimal rent on her West End office in the last session. It's all in there.

So why doesn't Westminster follow the Scottish Parliament's good example? When even the much maligned European Parliament has made moves recently to improve it's systems of accountability, you can see how far Westminster is lagging far behind. All moves to improve access to allowances information tend to be fiercely resisted. Why? The only plausible reason is that MPs have too much to lose financially from public disclosure of their spending.

You might wonder where I think Glasgow City Council fits in all of this. Well, we do have to at least complete a declaration of interests. Mine is here. Personally, I don't think that's enough accountability, and I believe Council should also follow the example of the Scottish Parliament.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Child poverty under Labour - action needed, not words

Sorry for falling off the blogging wagon there - I've been pretty busy with things both political and personal. Wedding planning is finally getting underway; there may even be a date by the end of the week!

I read an article recently in the Herald about child poverty under Labour. While they promised to eradicate child poverty in 1997, this is still very far from being achieved. What annoys me most is that Labour politician in Glasgow still pretend to care about this. If they really cared, then surely they'd be taking action, opposing the obscene sums of money wasted on war and nuclear weapons. Instead, they tinker with the tax system and they wring their hands.

Committee chairman Mohammad Sarwar, Labour MP for Glasgow Central, said: "The cycle of deprivation must be broken if we want to reduce child poverty.

"While we are pleased that some progress has been made in the past 10 years, much more must be done. There are 250,000 children still living in poverty in Scotland today so action is urgently needed."

Livingston MP Jim Devine spoke of constituents holding down jobs in a hairdresser or filling station who were still unable to put food on the table, saying it was scandalous that anyone in employment remained in poverty.

Mohammad Sarwar has been an MP since 1997, Jim Devine only since 2005. I'm sure they mean well. Urgent action, however, leads you to think of something far faster than ten years.

There are lots of things that can and should be done to end child poverty (Save the Children campaign on many of them). Some things could be changed right now - to take an example from the article, equalising the minimum wage (already a policy held by the SNP). Age discrimination is accepted by most reasonable people to be wrong, yet the UK Government continues to stagger the minimum wage for young people. These are the current rates:
  • £5.52 per hour for workers aged 22 years and older
  • A development rate of £4.60 per hour for workers aged 18-21 inclusive
  • £3.40 per hour for all workers under the age of 18, who are no longer of compulsory school age.
The difference between £5.52 and £3.40 is massive. Why would someone under 18 - who may have left school and have children - go out to work for the minimum wage (and pay for childcare while they're at work) when they could bring more money into the household by staying on benefits? Where is the incentive to work, when someone doing the same job as you is being paid more than £2 an hour more? I have never understood why this should be so; I wonder whether any Labourites out there can tell me.