Local elections 2017

The results are somewhat ambiguous.

On the one hand it’s nice that Glasgow has finally an SNP majority, and the fact that it’s not an overall majority and the party may go into a coalition with the Greens makes it in my eyes even better. On the other hand, of my other two favourite regions, Argyll & Bute saw the SNP win as well, but only just, and Perth & Kinross was a huge disappointment.

In Scotland overall, the upsurge in Tory seats is definitely worrying; that said, they’re still way behind the SNP and only slighly ahead of Labour. And the Greens gained more seats than the Lib Dems lost. (An interesting fact is that no party won an overall majority in any council.)

There were some funny moments too, like the Rubbish Party winning a seat in East Ayrshire only two months after coming into existence, and John Finnie’s tweet about the Greens now being the largest party in Orkney (they hold one seat, all the other 20 went to independent candidates).

UK-wise the picture is fairly bleak as well. Yes, it finally showed quite openly that, as John Nicolson put it, “Tories have absorbed [UKIP’s] irrationality & xenophobia, selling it to the public as strength & stability”. But the Tories didn’t win only on the strength of destroying UKIP; the only other parties who made gains were Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

Then again, local politics doesn’t mirror national politics all that faithfully. The results of 8 June will no doubt be somewhat different.

Only I’m feart they’ll be worse.

 

Chaochail Ray Collier

An rud mu dheireadh a thachair sa Mhàirt mu nach do sgrìobh mi ri linn na daoraich: shiubhail Ray Collier, fear dhe na h-ùghdaran Country Diary a’ Ghuardian. Nise, is toil leam cha mhòr a h-uile sgrìobhadair a’ chuilbh, ach tha fios gum b’ e Mgr Collier fear dhiubh a tha as fhaisge air mo chridhe, oir bha e stèidhichte ann an Alba. (Agus ’s ann tric a luaidheadh e ainm Gàidhlig an ainmhidh no an eòin mu dheidhinn a sgrìobh e.) Cuideachd, b’ e dìreach Christine Smith a lorg mi na bu thràithe agus a bha mi a leughadh ùine nas fhaide. Bidh mi ag ionndrainn na cuilbh leis-san gu mòr.

 

Sweden to reintroduce conscription

The Swedish government has decided that as from 1 January 2018, conscription into the country’s armed forces would be reactivated.
BBC: Sweden brings back military conscription amid Baltic tensions
The Local: Why Sweden is bringing back the draft
Government Offices of Sweden: Sweden re-activates conscription
It’s interesting to consider how one’s perception of conscription is influenced by one’s country of origin. The Local suggests that to Brits it may “sound archaic”, but support amongst Swedes themselves is said to be strong. Having been drafted myself in the then Soviet Bloc, I’m used to the sentiment of young men there and then: “two wasted years of one’s life”. Then again, we never expected to ever actually have to fight: we reckoned there were but two possibilities for an Iron Curtain country, peace and total nuclear destruction.

 

Mariages homosexuels en Finlande

Du 1er mars, les mariages entre personnes de même sexe se produisent au 22e pays: Finlande. Ça signifie qu’ils se produisent dans tout les pays nordiques (y compris le Groenland mais sauf les Îles Féroé).

(Et aujourd’hui, 7e mars, c’est l’anniversaire de la perte de ma virginité. Intéressant: en ce temps-là, j’avais 22 ans. Et en juillet il sera 22 ans depuis mon dernier rapport sexuel. Je serai chaste plus longtemps qu’avant le premier …)

 

35 millions de Canadiens

Apparemment, le recensement canadien n’a pas été fait en 2011, mais l’année dernière, et les résultats clés ont été publiés ce mois: il y avait 35 151 728 habitants. Je me suis étonné que le tiers des trente-cinq millions vivent aux trois villes les plus grands (Toronto, Montréal et Vancouver) et les deux tiers à 100 kilomètres (62 milles) de la frontière sud. C’est bien plus fou que l’Écosse avec sa Central Belt . . .

 

January ’17 news

The eyes of the world were unsurprisingly mostly directed at the new US president’s first days in office. He began by attacking his predecessor’s health care and climate change achievements. This failed to bring as much publicity as hoped for, so he banned entry to people from certain countries. (That would occupy journalists enough to have little time left to ponder about his following near-U-turns on the issues of NATO, Taiwan and Putin.)

Closer to home, Martin McGuinness resigned as NI deputy first minister to necessitate snap Stormont election; Theresa May realistically admitted UK would leave the common market; and the Supreme Court decided that the referendum result wasn’t binding. Not that it made much difference except perhaps to some lawyers’ wallets.

Sadly but naturally, there were some deaths: Peter Sarstedt, Gorden Kaye and Tam Dalyell.

And the number of pollution zones in Scotland has risen to 38, with Hope Street, despite its name, still topping the list. It was cold comfort to remind oneself that Edinburgh and Glasgow had more green space than any of the other 10 most populated UK cities.

 

December ’16 news

December news in February, hmm . . . anyway, here goes:

There were some minor surprises in politics. The Icelandic Pirate Party was asked to try and form a new government (but would later fail to become part of it). Donald Trump sort of broke decades lasting pretence that the US doesn’t recognise Taiwan (more publicity stunts would follow). The European Court of Justice ruled against the Snooper’s Charter (giving the UK government another bad reason respect the referendum result and leave the EU). And the SNP disclosed that despite the comtinuing devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh, the Scotland Office’s budget rose over the last five years by 20% (although a much more interesting question was how much would Derek Mackay have to compromise to have his first budget voted through Holyrood).

A sadder surprise was the death of George Michael at the age of 53 (making me look up what was it he sang at all, the biggest surprise being Freedom! 90). On the other hand, air an làimh eile, bha deagh naidheachd ann gun do chomharraich Tormod MacGilleathain an t-ochdadamh cho-là-breith aige (’s dòcha gum bu chòir dhomh The Leper’s Bell a cheannach mar faidhle Khindle is a leughadh a-rithist).

More good news were the opening of a new Edinburgh railway station and the reopening of Kelvingrove Museum’s Life Gallery (pity I may never see it again).

The sporting surprise, for me at least, was how close to each other the teams at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership were: Partick Thistle, last (ie 12th) three matches before the end of the month, got by just two wins to the 6th place and after a Hogmanay draw ended the year as 7th. Another sports-related news was Andy Murray’s knighthood; but to be honest, I admired more Lynn Faulds for rejecting her MBE – or rather, for her reasons to do so.

 

November ’16 news

Quite a lot happened during the 30 days. The bad news first.

The High Court decided triggering Article 50 must be first approved by the Parliament, and different lawyers later figured they could make some dough out of challenging whether leaving the EU means automatically leaving the EEA as well.

Even so, Brexit still has a chance; across the Pond, Trump has become US president, while Republicans still dominate the Congress. Surprisingly, he began by claiming the US would quit the TPP trade deal, which may mean the axe for the TTIP too; let’s hope the presidency won’t likewise mean the axe for the Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm.

One side effect was that the de facto final approval of the Snooper’s Charter went by almost unnoticed by the media.

Also, eight military bases in Scotland, including Fort George, were chosen for closure; CLÌ Gàidhlig did fold at last; T in the Park is to skip 2017; but the saddest day was probably the one on which we learned that Leonard Cohen had died. (This even made me post specifically about that, while the article about Fidel Castro’s death I didn’t even read.)

And of course, the first storm of the winter and the consequent floods came to the South; nevertheless, the North experienced the sunniest November on record. Which brings us to the good news.

Holyrood voted to finally put an end to the tax freeze, at least for the top four bands. Andy Murray became world number one. Kelvin Hall reopened after the first phase of its refurbishment. All three Quensferry Crossing towers are now connected. Beavers were allowed to stay in Scotland.

Across the Pond, marihuana for recreational use was legalised in the 5th and 6th US states (California and Massachusetts); and globally, the Paris climate deal came into force.

Given that Trump may yet do his best to sabotage the Paris deal, several big bad news, a few wee heartwarming ones. Seeing where the world’s heading makes one wonder whether there’s really any reason to envy the younger ones …

 

Leonard Cohen died

It may seem strange that an almost-lifelong-celibate gay like me should relate so much to songs of a singer-songwriter whom even obituaries call a ladies’ man. But then Cohen’s love songs are not of the “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah” kind. There is more love than sadness in them – but only just.

I have never considered him my favourite singer. But ever since I heard him for the first time – it was the I’m Your Man album, which luckily had the lyrics printed on the sleeve – there were a few of his songs I definitely did count among my favourites. In my early twenties these were Everybody Knows and I’m Your Man, joined in my mid-twenties by Bird on the Wire; in my mid-thirties they were Sisters of Mercy (only I twisted ‘sisters’ to ‘brother’) and Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye; now in my exile and my late forties they are Tower of Song and Closing Time.

Maybe there will be another when I find and read the lyrics of his latest – and last – album.

 

October ’16 news

For almost a half of the month I was still boozing and thus offline, but I stopped this in time to learn that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (well deserved, there is no reason why songs’ lyrics should not be perceived as literature) and that Nicola Sturgeon announced the Indyref2 bill (published a week later – it is virtually the same as the first one).

As regards culture, it is also worth mentioning that the Burrell Collection (one of the few really famous Glasgow museums I never found time to visit) closed for a 4-year revamp. As regards politics, it is also worth mentioning that proposals for Westminster constituencies’ boundary changes were published (the Tory government sticking to the idea that there are too many MPs elected by voters and too few Lords chosen by the PM).

Getting a bit more international, the EU-Canada trade deal called CETA was blocked by Wallonia but after some more negotiating signed anyway (I wonder what they promised them). Getting completely international, it was amusing to read that the Icelandic Pirate Party became the joint second in number of seats in the Alþingi (with the Greens, which too tells us how different Icelandic politics is from ours most).

What else? The minimum price saga drags on, while the one of the oil rig grounded on Lewis is over (at least as far as we are concerned), and work to spoil Edinburgh city centre has begun.

 

September ’16 news

The only really ‘new’ story was that of the first Church of England bishop’s publicly coming out.

The rest were either developments of old stories, mar an co-dhùnadh gun tèid an clàr-ola bho Leòdhas dhan Tuirc, the first charge in the Volswagen fraud, David Cameron’s resignation as an MP, and the approval of Hinkley Point C; or things which were expected, like the TV licences becoming necessary for legal watching of iPlayer programmes and the publication of Scotland’s legislative programme for the next parliamentary session.

Of course, as I said earlier, since the 15th of the month I’d been on a bender, so I have no idea what was happening during the second half of the month.

 

August ’16 news

Not a bad month for transport: the ScotRail strikes over guards were finally called off to allow further negotiations; Queen Street station tunnel reopened and so did Glasgow Subway; and the Tay Road Bridge was 50 years old. The exception was the oil rig, travelling from Norway to Turkey, which was blown ashore on a western Lewis beach instead, losing thousands of gallons of diesel and later temporarily moved to a bay on the other side of the island.

Of course, there were the Olympics in Rio, but I’m not into this kind of showbiz, so I’ve only seen Ross Murdoch qualify to semifinals and my namesake create a new British record before ending 5th – yet later with not one but two silver medals from relays (the first with 2 other Scots, or 3 if you count in Renwick). But somehow I admired no less Ieuan Lloyd, whether bottle-fliping or dabbing – and even more than all these Nick Skelton. Winning an equestrian gold aged 58 … can you beat it? (Of course, I couldn’t help noticing that Team GB ended second in the medal table, with 16 Scots getting such a disc or two.)

In other news, bha briseadh-dùil ann mu dheidhinn fo-thiotalan air BBC Alba, on a tha Urras a’ BhBC dhen bheachd nach urrain dhaibh leigeil le luchd-amhairc an roghainn a dhèanamh; Michael Russel was appointed the Scottish government’s Brexit negotiator, although the UK government later indicated they’d only pay lip service to negotiating with Holyrood; Poles overtook Indians as the largest migrant group both in the UK and in Scotland (which slightly surprised me, I thought they’d already done so); and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation named (on p 10) both ‘my’ Keppochhill and Tommy’s Wyndford among the 5% consistently most deprived areas in Scotland since 2004 (which didn’t; but it is interesting that the allegedly most and least deprived areas in Scotland are only about 7 miles distant).

 

July ’16 news

It looked a bit as if everybody – except for Glasgow Subway, which closed to be reconstructed – was in a hurry to have everything over and done with so they could go for holidays.

The Scottish Parliament was officially opened, only to be effectively adjourned for several weeks (then again I suspect they do this on a regular basis). Two days later, Nigel Farage resigned, as his “political ambition has been achieved” (good on him, if he means it). Two days later, the Chilcot Inquiry completed its report (having taken seven years to find out what everybody but Tony Blair already knew anyway). The following week, with Fox, Crabb and Gove already out, Leadsom surprisingly quit the final and two days later Cameron handed over 10 Downing Street to Theresa May (probably a lesser evil than Gove, but only just), who the next day formed a new government: nice to see Osborne and Gove go, fun (if a bit bitter) to see Johnson become the Foreign Secretary.

Westminster still managed to vote through Trident renewal (the British Empire strikes back) … and then nothing, until at the end of the month, the results of a major online child sex abuse investigation were announced* and the Right to Buy ended in Scotland (so all’s well that ends well).
 

* With Det Insp Andy McWilliam reported as claiming that “new technology meant there was no way for perpetrators to hide or erase what they had done online […] Whether they throw the computer in the bath or not, we can find what they have looked at. And we can use covert technology to identify who you are and where you are”, in other words confirming that all that hullabaloo about the Snooper’s Charter is just smoke and mirrors. Big Brother has come.

 

June ’16 news

Except for the EU referendum and its aftermath, which will probably remain not just the news of the month, but the news of the year, precious little happened, and none of it good. In Orlando, Florida, a religious maniac murdered 49 people in the Pulse gay bar; and a series of rail strikes began over disagreement between ScotRail and the RMT about more driver-only-operation trains. It seems obvious that at least one party is rather economical with the truth when describing the talks, but which one it is only the participants can know.

 

EU referendum

Once again I watched the results of a popular vote come in during the night. To begin with it was an absolute thriller, with the lead switching from one side to the other several times.

(In retrospect it seems the reason was quicker counts in Scotland, where every single local authority area voted to remain, even if in Moray only just. The turnout, however, was only 67.2%, as compared with almost 85% during the 2014 referendum.)

But by the time I had to go to work Leave was almost half a million votes ahead and before 7am it lead by about a million, with only 9 results still to come, so I surreptitiously texted Rob the result was a success. (In the end the difference was more than a million and a quarter.) To my pleasant surprise an his.

* * * * * * * *

Shortly after, David Cameron announced he’d resign; Nicola Sturgeon said a second Scottish referendum was highly likely; the pound began to plummet; people began signing a rather bizarre petition (“we lost so we want the result annulled”); some Leave proponents showed their duplicity claiming the actual leaving can wait for several years; nevertheless, EU leaders – quite rightly – refused Brexit talks before the UK triggers Article 50 . . .

. . . and my relationship with The Guardian took another turn. In 2014, with the exception of Kevin McKenna, they were just about all for Scotland remaining in the UK. Now they just about all turned pro-indy. It seems that being leftist they just love centralism: “the best option would be Scotland under the UK and the UK under the EU, but short of that let’s be under the EU rather than under the UK, because the EU is a Bigger Brother”. When this appeared as the Guardian view, I stopped visiting the site again (except for their Country diary, needless to say).

By the way, some more interesting maps and charts here.

 

May ’16 news

Of course, the main news was the elections and the aftermath. Before that, Sir David Attenborough became the latest celebrity nonagerian, and the BBC White Paper was unveiled: mostly it seemed to be about money and encroaching on the broadcaster’s independence, with some specific proposals for Scotland agus moladh airson leantainn le craoladh sa Ghàidhlig.

After the elections, while in London the Queen’s Speech allegedly included fines for companies sending spam emails without first getting consent (could it still be called spam if they did?), the new Scottish government announced that for the next eight years the operation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Network will remain with CalMac, rather than being handed over to Serco. Muirfield, however, lost its right to host another Open after a vote to remain a men-only club. (I’m not sure to which degree the following criticism is due to the unadmitted knowledge that if there was a women-only golf club, men simply wouldn’t give a damn about it.) Shortly after, the Kirk voted to allow ministers in civil gay marriages, although not gay weddings within the Kirk, and the Scottish Parliament obtained its first law-making powers under the 2016 Scotland Act.

Mostly good news, then. Not so across the Atlantic, where Donald Trump in the end won the Republican presidential primaries, and Alberta, Canada had to declare emergency in response to a wildfire which destroyed about a tenth of Fort McMurray and later threatened to come back to claim more. In retrospect this kind of puts the feminists’ (and my) obsession with the Muirfield vote into perspective.

 

Post-election

Like five years ago, I had a night shift after the election; but I had a smartphone now so I could – furtively – follow the results coming in. The first one came from Orkney: I was glad to see a resolute Lib Dem hold despite the Alistair Carmichael affair.

I won’t list here all the results that thrilled me during the night and the following day, there were quite a few and I’ve already forgotten the chronology; it’s sufficient to mention the two Glasgow constituencies I’d lived in: Kelvin an SNP hold, Maryhill and Springburn an SNP gain.

In the end I was reasonably satisfied with the final result: I concluded I preferred a non-overall SNP majority, as long as they only neeeded help from the increased number of Green seats to have one. No loss to the Lib Dem seats number was good news too; the only flaw was the surge in Tory seats. Then again, Scottish Tories today are possibly a more respectable opposition then Scottish Labour.

What surprised me was the discrepancy between constituency and regional seats, whether it was the SNP in Glasgow or the Tories in South Scotland. (A telltale graphical comparison can be found in Wikimedia Commons.) It seems that lots of voters were unwilling to give both their votes to whichever one party.

Elsewhere, Labour won in Wales, yet likewise without an overall majority, while Plaid Cymru overtook Tories as the main opposition party, and UKIP, rather than the Greens, overtook Lib Dems; still further south, Sadiq Khan was elected to succeed Boris Johnson as the Mayor of London.

* * * * * * * *

Later, Nicola Sturgeon decided she preferred a minority government to a coalition; Ken Macintosh took over from Tricia Marwick as Holyrood presiding officer; Sturgeon was confirmed as the continuing first minister and made the usual reshuffle. After all those years it’s strange to see John Swinney moved to Education, with his former portfolio divided between Derek Mackay and Keith Brown, but that’s life . . . and politics.
 

 
Some more interesting maps here; a list of gained/lost contituencies here; the best commentary I came across here (by Lesley Riddoch).

 

April ’16 news

There were hardly any to speak of, to be honest. It felt as if everybody was just waiting for May’s elections and June’s referendum.

It began with a very important news indeed: on the first day of the month, the new national minimum wage of £7.20 an hour came into effect (although not for Tommy, who’s still under 25). After that . . .

The next day Kezia Dugdale came out as a lesbian, which, considering the already self-proclaimed homosexual Mundell and Davidson and bisexual Harvie and Coburn, makes one wonder when are Sturgeon and Rennie going to jump on the bandwagon. Then nothing for almost three weeks, until the Queen turned 90 (BBC News Scotland stopped short of calling her a Scots queen first and a British queen second, but only just). And after another week the news that the Birnam Oak and Sycamore were so damaged by last December’s storm Desmond that without human aid they probably will be lost. Which only merits a note here as I’d seen them with my own eyes within one of my Dunkeld trips.

Ah well, one mustn’t grumble. The good thing was that I was able to write this post in less than a hour before leaving for a night shift.

 

March ’16 news

Several things ended in March: For the first time, a professional 9-dan go player was defeated by software. Shortly after the Budget (whose main point, according to media, was the sugar tax), Iain Duncan Smith resigned as the DWP secretary: apparently even he had finally got fed up with the way Mr Osborne mishandles the revenue. The Holyrood Parliament was dissolved before the election: it was the last session for some MSPs, including Alex Salmond, who gave his (possibly) last speech there. On the same day the Longannet Power Station, the last coal-fired one in Scotland, was switched off for good.

And then there were the deaths: George Martin, without whom the Beatles in all probability wouldn’t have been as trailblazing as they were, and Ray Tomlinson, generally seen as the inventor of one of the most important features the internet’s ever had: the email.

But Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba can be seen both as an end and a beginning, and the closure of the Glasgow Queen Street railway station’s upper level for a renovation of the adjacent tunnel is definitely more about the future than about the past. As were the approving of the Scotland Bill (which would later in Westminster become the Scotland Act ) and the Land Reform Bill by the Scottish Parliament before its dissolution.

But I’ve no idea where belongs the news that Ben Nevis is somewhat higher than we used to think.