Being Burns Night tonight a quick check on what the Scottish parliament might be recommending for our supper seemed appropriate. And not a lot has changed since our last look – for example ..
Motion S5M-09862: Angus MacDonald, Falkirk East, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/01/2018
Trio of Success for Falkirk District Butchers: That the Parliament hails the success of three butchers from Falkirk district at the recent Scottish Craft Butchers Savoury Pastry products awards; congratulates Thomas Johnstone Butchers, which is based in Falkirk, on winning two prestigious Diamond awards for its pies and sausage rolls, Patricks of Camelon, on winning a Gold award for its Scotch pies and Silver for its sausage rolls, mac‘n’bacon pies, chicken pies and hand-held steak pies, and the Grangemouth-based Richards Family Butchers on its Scotch pies winning Silver …
These congratulations do seem rather one-eyed in their hailing since it was, after all, a competition for Scottish butchers. And it would be reasonable to assume that all the winners would have been from Scotland. But more importantly these frequent parochial motions at the Scottish parliament do bring into question the point of funding a house of expensive politicians that are clearly lacking enough serious business to fill their time.
Earlier this week we had reports of the First Minister, no less, tackling that key issue of state – the times that the Union flag can be flown on official buildings. Even though this was later revealed to be a decision made in 2010. Yet it is still the case that no one from the SNP can logically explain how a party committed to Scottish independence can also be in support of giving up this same independence to Brussels via the EU.
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
After years of discussion and division all twenty local authorities within what is currently Yorkshire have agreed that they will establish a single devolved unit.
Perhaps spurred on by the results of the recent public votes in Barnsley and Doncaster – where 85% voted for a Yorkshire wide solution – the local politicians have finally set a target of 2020 for a new single body to start. Even though this would mean that the Sheffield-Rotherham regional body – not due to start until May 2018 – would only last for two years.
The new Yorkshire authority would not have anything like the powers of Scotland or Wales but would serve a population of around 5.4 million – more than either of them. In fact Yorkshire’s population would put it at 25th in the European table of countries – ahead of Ireland for example – and at around ten times the numbers in Jean-Claude Juncker’s Luxembourg.
With Christmas and New Year just memories, our democratic representatives are, mostly, back at their day jobs again while our Whitehall civil servants work (!) on their own private agendas.
So this week in Downing Street our Prime Minister carried out the traditional reshuffle of the table seating plan of that limited pack of Right Honorables making up her Cabinet. The spin machines claim that these changes were significant but few seem to agree. In reality the changes look pretty limited with the only obvious trend being more power to MPs who have, so far, been working against a successful exit from the European Union.
Now a successful Brexit is not the only political issue – but it is the most far reaching. And, considering how little has been achieved in the 565 days since that clear leave referendum vote, a cabinet less committed to the cause is not a good sign. Overall the latest news just seem to confirm that Theresa May is not sufficiently in control of the situation to be an effective leader. And that the outcome of the Brexit talks increasingly seems be that the EU will impose costs and trading penalties that the UK is then pushed into agreeing.
Possibly Mrs May’s hope is that the EU will break up under its many pressures and so let the UK off the hook. But that is very unlikely to happen in the remaining time frame. And as a result we, the people, are likely to be worse off than if there had been a clean break last year or if the vote had gone the other way back in 2016.
After the shock success of the DE election prediction Grandad has had no option but to reassess his views. So now we are totally confident that suntan lotion, cold beers and loaded barbecues will be all that we will need for the next three months or more.
Meanwhile the politicians, civil servants and assorted activists can roast in the flames of the hell that they have created. Another fine mess where the UK political establishment is floundering around in La La Land while being attacked from both within and without. A farce where no one makes any useful progress and the only certainties are more taxation and broken promises.
What next? The EU asked to appoint a competent negotiator to act on our behalf – with Guy Verhofstadt as acting Prime Minister? Excalibur is found in a lake and used by Cornwall to declare independence? Greece finds a hidden stockpile of bullion and pays off all its debts? Tony Blair descends on a golden cloud and saves us all? Who knows …
While most of our elected representatives have been on family holidays or important overseas study tours a few have been busy jostling for leadership of the Labour Party.
A contest that seems to have become a contest between old labour and even-older labour policies. In fact one of the few modern elements has been the repeat of Ed Milliband’s ill-fated strap line – Your Next Prime Minister. Otherwise it was the familiar messages about renationalisation, stopping privatisation and spending money that we don’t have.
But looking at the two candidates it is hard to imagine either of them ever being put in a position to implement any of their declared policies. One seemingly out of touch with anything outside his dogmatic bubble throughout the last forty years. [Who is Anton Deck? Was something on in Rio?] While the other is apparently unaware that it was strongly Labour constituencies – including his own – that were most in favour of Brexit and who is now calling for delays and a second referendum.
So once this contest is over the Labour Party will have gained many more activist members – but in Parliament it will still be lacking the influence its numbers should command. So then we are left hoping that the Conservative Party takes decisions that meet the voters’ mandate and protect the nation’s interests; while resisting the vested interests of lobbyists with deep pockets.
But that may be a little too much to hope for …
We can now announce the results of our inaugural Whitehall Farce Award for long-running bungling ineptitude within Whitehall and its offshoots. And in the end the runaway winner was that first nomination – the Proposed EU Referendum. So despite challenges from High Speed Rail 2, Runway 3 Heathrow, Northern Powerhouse and Nuclear Energy there was a clear-cut and undisputed winner.
However our awards ceremony planned for tonight has had to be canceled after our organisers – the events arm of the Grandadz charity – mislaid its funding. There had been rumours circulating for several weeks that there were problems. But the charity’s boss, Carmen Bataneyelid, had reassured us that everything would be fine and all the key figures would be there for a glittering evening of fine dining and entertainment.
Certainly the promises of a five course organic, halal, kosher vegan banquet and a rare live performance by Coldfeet did sound very appealing. But alarm bells should have started to ring when the Royal Albert Hall called to chase a missing booking deposit. However Ms Bataneyelid reassured us and them that this was just a misunderstanding and that an envelope containing the cash would be delivered shortly by a old man in a grey shell suit. We were all very upset to find out later that the old man had been robbed when he stopped in Westminster for a fair trade macchiato. A matter that warm-hearted Ms Bataneyelid did not report to the police to avoid any further distress to the old man and any bad publicity for the charity.
The next day Ms Bataneyelid and three of her assistants had to fly to Zurich to discuss setting up a Swiss branch of Grandadz and to collect some donations from reception at the Hotel Baur au Lac. But it seems that they did not board their flight back to the UK. We have not been able to contact them since. With no venue confirmed and unpaid caterers we decided to cancel the 2015 award ceremony and send the award to the Referendum Office by second class post. Hopefully the 2016 award ceremony will turn out better … and that Ms Bataneyelid and staff are able to return safely very soon.
It is now just a memory but during the 1950s and 60s Brian Rix was the actor-manager behind series of long-running comedy plays at the Whitehall Theatre in London. Their showing on BBC TV followed by movie versions made Whitehall Farces a popular British genre of the time. So in commemoration of this fine tradition we now launch the Whitehall Farce Awards for any long-running bungling ineptitude within Whitehall and its minions.
And the first nomination in the Political Confusion category is the proposed EU Referendum. This nomination excels in its category for a range of compelling reasons. First the single referendum question has had to be changed – the original one was deemed biased. Second the Leave campaign is supported by two separate groups – one backed by UKIP and the other including the only UKIP MP. And only one of them can be the official Leave group. Third the Stay campaign is also split – with the SNP refusing to be in the same group as the Conservatives. Fourth there is no agreed date for the vote; only that it will be held some time before the end of 2017. Fifth there is nothing to actually vote on – through the vagueness of our Prime Minister’s issues with the present EU agreement. Sixth EU members have demoted the British issues to the very end of their agendas given their reduced importance and a lack of any firm proposals.
In short the handling of the EU Referendum by Whitehall meets all the comedic requirements of a far-fetched fictional script – but in real life. For more details and opinions read …
Details of any further Whitehall Farce Award nominations will be reported as they emerge and the winner will be announced on 13 December 2015 at our glittering awards ceremony.
This weekend could see a new high for the ever-growing number of high street and online bookmakers. And by far the biggest event is, of course, today’s Grand National at Aintree – where £150 million is expected to change hands; much of it on favourite Shutthefrontdoor.
But there are plenty of other sports that the bookies are also covering this weekend. The Oxford-Cambridge boat race will be broadcast this afternoon to a estimated audience of 100 million world wide. Many will be hoping that favourites Oxford win. Meanwhile a small but dedicated band of cycling Grandads will be following their own grand national on Sunday with the 113th running of the Paris to Roubaix race. Taking over 6 hours and with 27 sections of cobbled cart tracks this race attracts a huge global audience. With Britain’s Bradley Wiggins starting as second favourite in his last race for Team Sky the bookies could be in for another boost.
And it’s not just sports events that are keeping bookmakers busy. With only a few weeks to go to the UK General Election plenty more cash is coming their way through bets on the outcome. And it will be interesting to see if their predicted results turn out to be nearer than the opinion polls. Coral are forecasting that the seats to be won on 7th May will be – 285 Conservatives, 264 Labour, 45 SNP, 27 Liberal Democrats, 7 UKIP, 2 Greens and 2 Plaid Cymru. But I wouldn’t bet on it ..
500 years ago exactly the armies of England and Scotland fought out what was possibly the largest battle ever seen in Britain. The attacker was King James IV of Scotland who, with aid from the French, tried to open a second front and divert King Henry VIII of England from his campaigns in France. But Henry instead relied on Thomas Howard, the 70 year old Earl of Surrey, to take charge in his absence. Howard mustered forces in London and then marched north to Pontefract, where he held a Council of War and was joined by men from Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. From there it was on to Durham and the border country where the two armies met at what is commonly called Flodden Field.
The outcome was a disaster for Scotland with around 10,000 dead out of over 30,000 including King James IV himself, his son and, it is claimed, members of every noble family in Scotland. In contrast English losses were around 1,700 dead out of an army of about 20,000. Not only had the Scots lost, but they had lost to the English reserves. As a result the Earl of Surrey added the slain Scottish Lion to his coat of arms and the lament The Flowers of the Forest was written to commemorate the Scottish losses.
Today the battle’s 500th anniversary has become a pawn in a series of manoeuvres – and tourism promotions – with the vote on Scottish independence as the underlying political prize. The pro independence side are hoping the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn (24-Jun-2014) will swing things their way but the 70th anniversary of D-Day (6-Jun-2014) and the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One (28-Jul-2014) are likely to be equally well supportive of the pro United Kingdom case. Hopefully which ever side wins the decision will be based on something more relevant than past fights.
But once this northern diversion is played out then the English can concentrate the main event – reminding the French about the 200th anniversary of Waterloo (18-Jun-2015) and the 600th anniversary of Agincourt (25-Oct-2015) …
To paraphrase an early item – after the age of empire it must be very easy for some Whitehall departments to forget that the British government is no longer … the world’s policeman. So today Whitehall is hyper-active over the latest barbarity in the Syrian civil war. It is so high on the agenda because it fits the myth that Britain still has a world role. The same world role it had back at start of the 20th century.
But in reality Britain’s political, financial and military capabilities have been eroded over the intervening decades. Two World Wars, colonial independence and the rise of new industrialised nations have all contributed to the substantial slide from power. But today’s politicians seem incapable of limiting their involvement to the much reduced parts of the world for which they remain legally responsible. And these days that’s not a lot. But still the Falklands, Gibraltar, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Pitcairn, Saint Helena etc form a wide enough geographic spread of responsibilities to keep our reduced military forces occupied – especially with our UN commitments. And that should be a big enough responsibility given our poor financial position.
So will Britain’s politicians tell the military to take action against the Syrian government? Who knows – the British people will have no say either way. And would these same politicians take the same actions if similar events took place in, say, Russia or China? I leave you to draw your own conclusions.