Tuesday, 30 December 2014

That Was The Year That Was

So farewell then, 2014. And I have to say I won’t be disappointed to see the back of it.  It’s not been the best of years for the Ranter for a number of reasons. Here are my highlights – and some lowlights…

The Good Times:
The lovely Marion who has been my rock these last few difficult months. She is the love of my life and I simply could not live without her. And her home-made soup is to die for (some say literally, but not me, oh no…)

Arranging my wedding to Marion on 14 February 2015 has been the main priority this year. Less than seven weeks to go now and the nerves are already jangling. We are almost there – but I need to work on my speech…Marion means so much to me and, as The Proclaimers sang so memorably, ‘it’s just a piece of paper but it says I love you’. She has transformed my life for the better and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Daughter Michaela giving birth to her first child. Max was born on 5 March and was six weeks premature. He was in a special unit for the first few days of his life and these were worrying times for the whole family. However, he is now as strong as an ox. Max is grandchild number four for the Auld Reekie Ranter. My family is fast turning into the bloody Waltons but I’m proud of each and every one of them.

Michaela also got engaged to her partner Sean in November. Fiftysomethings like me will recall the days when couples got engaged first, then got married and left home and then had children. The modern trend seems to be to do this in reverse! Michaela has endured some tough times in her young life so I’m grateful to Sean for making her so happy. Sean is a fellow of the Hibernian persuasion but, hey, you can’t have everything…Their wedding is set for May 2016 – around cup final day but that won’t trouble Sean’s team…

Watching my other grandchildren Jack (9), Hannah (7) and Ava (4) develop into such wonderful, loving children. No matter what goes on in my life they always give me such a great welcome and their unconditional love is something I treasure. They are a credit to my elder daughter Laura who has done such a fantastic job in bringing them up. I’m proud of her too although I don’t tell her this as much as I should.

Away from family – and on to football. Hearts turning 2014 into a year of two halves. The first six months were awful – losing the League Cup semi-final to nine man Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road on the second day of February; relegation from the top flight of Scottish football meaning Hearts would be playing in the second tier for the first time in over 30 years; the painful departure of coach Gary Locke (a died in the wool Jambo) and players such as goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald who served the club so well. The second half of the year saw Hearts with a new owner – Ann Budge who has brought integrity back to Tynecastle; a new Head Coach, Robbie Neilson and a new young and vibrant team and a playing style now based on passing the ball rather than lumping it up the park. Hearts ended the calendar year 15 points ahead at the top of the SPFL Championship – optimism has returned to the Maroon Army.

My book Hearts 50 Greatest Games continuing to sell. It’s still available in all good bookshops…

The Not So Good Times:

Where to start. The start of the year saw Michaela struggle with her pregnancy and my mother having health problems. Both had short spells in hospital. An attempt by Marion and I to get away from it all with a wee trip to Liverpool for a few days in February was met with a hurricane on Merseyside which curtailed our activities.

With workload at the office mounting, granddaughter Ava breaking her arm and tension all around, I reached breaking point in the early summer. In May I was signed off work with stress/depression. I was off for 10 weeks all told and these were difficult times. My lowest point came in June and I just couldn’t see any way forward. All sorts of thoughts entered my mind.  However, with Marion’s help, I did drag myself back from the abyss and returned to work at the end of July. Professional counselling has helped. Things are still difficult on so many fronts but I’m more focussed now on what I need to do.

My dear old mother continues to have problems, not only with her health but with utility companies who seem to be trying their level best to make her life difficult. We have done battle this year with BT, Scottish Gas and the Television Licence people, all of whom have struggled with the relatively straightforward concept of my mother’s address. I have threatened to go to the relevant ombudsman on more than one occasion. Life shouldn’t be this difficult.

Marion’s aunty, who I have a special affection for, was diagnosed with a serious illness towards the end of the year. Although she’s in her early eighties, her spirit is remarkably strong and her humorous, positive approach to life makes me feel so humble.

2014 was, of course, the year of Scotland’s Independence Referendum. A huge number of people went to the polls on September 18th. Sadly, after the Westminster establishment panicked and sent Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to Scotland as the opinion polls swung marginally to a Yes vote, the majority of Scots swallowed the London government’s ‘vow’ (with more than a little help from former PM Gordon Brown) and voted to remain ‘Better Together’. Within days, many regretted their actions. It may be some time before Scotland gets another chance like this.

Best Gig:

It’s been another great year for gigs, particularly in the second half of the year. Marion and I took in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (see below) and we spent much of the year going to gigs in Glasgow. We began the year by seeing The Beat in Edinburgh in February. In October we saw the wonderful Carol Emerald at the Hydro in Glasgow; at the end of November we went to a gig I never thought I would get the chance to see – the legends that are The Who, also at the Hydro in Glasgow. There may only be Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend left from the original line up but they are still worth seeing. We returned to the Hydro a week before Christmas to see the masters of ska music - Madness – another magnificent occasion. The best gig of 2014, though, was the now traditional Christmas visit of Bad Manners to Edinburgh. The atmosphere at the Citrus Club was a real party one as Buster Bloodvessel and co belted out the old ska classics. Brilliant.

A wee mention, too, for Colin Cloud, Forensic Mind Reader who we saw at Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth in April. He is a gifted performer and if you get the chance to see him I urge you to take it.

Edinburgh Fringe:

This year we saw the legend that is Barry Cryer along with his I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue companion (at the piano) Colin Sell, comedians Tim Vine, Kevin Day and the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue host Jack Dee. Jack’s team asked the audience for some questions as they queued to get in – the show was called Jack Dee’s Problem Page. I wrote that I wondered who the funniest comedian was at the Edinburgh Fringe and immediately thought of Jack Dee – perhaps he knew who it was. In fairness to Jack, he read out my message and gave me a name check (my brief flirtation with fame!)

Musical (not so) Youth:

Marion’s mission to convert me to the joys of musicals continues. Only the one this year though – Let It Be, The Story of The Beatles at the Edinburgh Playhouse in June. Sadly, I wasn’t overly impressed.

The Year Ahead:

So another eventful year draws to a close. It’s been a difficult one and, as I said at the beginning, I won’t be sorry to see it end. However, I am looking forward to 2015 and marrying the girl of my dreams, making some real positive changes to my professional life and hopefully seeing Hearts get promoted.

Happy New Year, folks. Here’s to a happy 2015 – it surely can’t be as bad as 2014!


Friday, 26 December 2014

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas


From four little devils angels...and the Auld Reekie Ranter. The blog will be back on a far more regular basis next year.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Letters of Complaint to the Council

1.. It's the dogs' mess that I find hard to swallow

2.. I want some repairs done to my cooker as it has backfired and burnt my knob off.

3.. I wish to complain that my father broke his ankle very badly when he put his foot in the hole in his back passage..

4.. And their 18 year old son is continually banging his balls against my fence.

5.. I wish to report that tiles are missing from the outside toilet roof. I think it was bad wind the other day that blew them off.

6..My lavatory seat is cracked, where do I stand?

7.. I am writing on behalf of my sink, which is coming away from the wall.

8... Will you please send someone to mend the garden path. My wife tripped and fell on it yesterday and now she is pregnant.

9.. I request permission to remove my drawers in the kitchen.

10.. 50% of the walls are damp, 50% have crumbling plaster, and 50% are plain filthy.

11.. I am still having problems with smoke in my new drawers.

12.. The toilet is blocked and we cannot bath the children until it is cleared.

13..Will you please send a man to look at my water, it is a funny colour and not fit to drink.

14..Our lavatory seat is broken in half and now is in three pieces.

15..I want to complain about the farmer across the road. Every morning at 6am his cock wakes me up and it's now getting too much for me.

16..The man next door has a large erection in the back garden, which is unsightly and dangerous.

17...Our kitchen floor is damp. We have two children and would like a third so please send someone round to do something about it.

18..I am a single woman living in a downstairs flat and would you please do something about the noise made by the man on top of me every night.

19..Please send a man with the right tool to finish the job and satisfy my wife.

20.. I have had the clerk of works down on the floor six times but I still have no satisfaction.

21.. This is to let you know that our lavatory seat is broke and we can't get BBC2.

22.. My bush is really overgrown round the front and my back passage has fungus growing in it.

23..He's got this huge tool that vibrates the whole house and I just can't take it anymore.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Flawless Male Logic as its best :



Woman:
Do you drink beer?
Man: 
Yes

Woman:
How many beers a day?

Man:
Usually about 3

Woman:
How much do you pay per beer?

Man: 
£3

Woman:
And how long have you been drinking?

Man:
About 30 years, I suppose

Woman:
So a beer costs £3 and you have 3 beers a day
which puts your spending each month at £270.
In one year, it would be approximately £3,240 correct?

Man:
Correct

Woman:
If in 1 year you spend £3,240 not accounting for
inflation, the past 30 years puts your spending
at £97,200 correct?

Man:
Correct

Woman:
Do you know that if you didn't drink so much beer,
that money could have been put in a step-up
interest savings account and after accounting for
compound interest for the past 30 years, you
could have now bought a Ferrari?

Man:
Do you drink beer?

Woman:
No

Man:
Where's your bloody Ferrari 
then?
 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Mind Your Language, Plze. Ty.


Today's society does like to use acronyms in everyday language. In an age of instant communication there seems to be an almost over-bearing laissez-faire attitude to the use of the English language. Perhaps it's yet another sign of my aging process but I received an email from someone the other day which they ended with TY and their name. Folk of my daughters age do not hesitate to tell me this is 'shorthand' for Thank You. Now you may think I'm being old fashioned here but this irritated me greatly. Any appreciation I may have had for this person showing a molecule of gratitude disappeared when I realised they couldn't be bothered to type the words 'thank you'.

Among the many banal comments on the social networking site Facebook, the tendency for people to type omg seems to be growing. Some people use it twice as in 'omg omg I can't believe what's happening in the X Factor.' Now to me  - and I suspect I'm not alone - this may well as well be a foreign language. My younger daughter Michaela tells me omg is an acronym for Oh My God. This appears to be yet another Americanism to have crossed the pond to our shores and is another that irritates me greatly.

Not so long ago when someone told you good news, you might expect to say "congratulations". This would be the polite way to react if, for an example, someone said that she was going to have a baby. Now it seems not only acceptable but a requirement of young people to shriek 'Oh My God!!!'  

Although the phrase has the word "God" in it, it has now become so frequently used that most people don't associate it with religion. This means people use it whether they're religious or not. Now, I'm not a religious person by any manner of means but the use of the word God in everyday language with it not having any religious meaning is another abuse of the English language. For which I blame the Americans...

Add to this the fact that most towns and cities in Scotland now have their Christmas lights adorning their High streets - six weeks before Christmas - and you may appreciate why a part of me yearns for years gone by. I write this rant after a hard day at the office, having consciously avoided heading towards the thronging masses of Edinburgh's Princes Street. Some people Leith already have their Christmas trees up and lights blazing in their windows – I kid you not, dear reader. We have not yet reached the halfway point in November. How many of those so eager to scream Happy Christmas from their houses will actually go to church services on Christmas Eve? In fact, how many go to church at all? It seems to me that many people are not celebrating the birth of Christ but the time of the year when they can spend money they haven't got, scoff food that isn't particularly good for them and guzzle copious amounts of alcohol which will inevitably lead to unacceptable and in some cases embarrassing behaviour.

I know this will come across as yet another rant from a grumpy old man. And it is. Or as my daughters may put it on Facebook 'OMG, Dad is in one of his moods again. Hope I don't c him b4 I go Xmas shopping. LOL'

But if anyone out there has a degree of sympathy for me, I would like to say thank you. Or, in today's language TY......

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Happy Birthday, Girls

A very happy birthday to two special ladies in my life who both have their birthday on Sunday.

The lovely Marion, to whom I am getting married early in 2015, with my grandson Jack:



And daughter Michaela who is now a quarter of a century old. Pictured here with George Clooney her auld father and her baby son Max

Friday, 19 September 2014

Don't Complain

The majority of Scots voted No in the independence referendum yesterday. Which is the democratic choice of more than 2,000,000 people - just over 1,500,000 voted for independence. So, to those who voted no, I say I respect your choice. Just remember:

Don't criticise the UK government - you want to be governed by them

Don't complain when the austerity cuts still to come hit us

Don't complain when Scotland's block grant is cut and the Barnett forumla is scrapped

Don't complain about the nuclear weapons 25 miles from our largest city

Don't complain that your gas or electricity bill is so high

Don't complain when fracking begins in Scotland

Don't complain about zero hours contracts and the minimum wage

You got what you wanted when you voted No so enjoy the UK election next May and the prospect of a Conservative/UKIP coalition government.

Better together indeed. Remember 18 September 2014.


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Do Our Country Proud, Scotland


Tomorrow, history could be made. Scotland's people go to the polls to vote on whether they wish independence for their country. A Yes vote will mean the end of the United Kingdom as we know it.

A few things stand out in my life as being truly memorable, days I will take with me to my grave. The birth of my two daughters in 1986 and 1989; the birth of my four grandchildren in 2005, 2007, 2010 and earlier this year. Getting engaged to the lovely Marion last year. Watching Hearts lift the Scottish Cup in 1998, 2006 and 2012. All days never to be forgotten.

I truly hope that 18 September 2014 will be another day to add to the above. I have waited all of my 52 years for the day Scotland will become an independent nation. Free of Westminster rule, of being governed by politicians we didn't vote for. I want my country to make its own decisions, to create a fairer society, to address poverty and social injustice. I want these decisions to be made from Edinburgh - not London where Scotland is out of sight, out of mind (except at election time when messrs Cameron, Miliband and Clegg click on to Google maps to find where Scotland is)

Tomorrow, Scotland gets its chance. A huge chance. A once in a lifetime opportunity to show the world we are not afraid to govern ourselves, that we are big enough and strong enough. The atmosphere this week in Scotland has been frenetic but wonderfully exciting. Imagine what it will be like on Friday morning if the result is a huge yes for independence.

Not many countries turn down the opportunity to become independent. Don't let us down, Scotland. Let's create history - for our children and our children's children. Let's do this. Vote Yes!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

No Matter, Mr Cameron - I'm Gonna Do it Anyway


 
Are you one of the millions of people who work for someone else? Work your fingers to the bone in order that someone else benefits from your hard work? Do you feel you never get the praise you deserve for your dedication and commitment, day in day out, year in, year out? It can be depressing, knowing there’s no real reward other than the salary at the end of the month – and even this is pegged to protect the profits of the company you work for. Sound familiar?

Do you ever dream of breaking away from the daily grind, the relentless pressure of working all the hours for someone who doesn’t really appreciate your efforts and for whom you’re just a small cog in a machine? Do you ever think about setting up your own business, working for yourself? Yes, it would be hard work and there may be a degree of uncertainty – but the same could be said for any walk of life. Imagine the rewards you would get knowing your hard work, dedication and courage would be benefiting you and your family and not some overlord who doesn’t really care about you and your welfare.

Now apply that to the country you live in. Its good, honest, hard-working citizens working hard in a struggle to make ends meet. But not really getting the benefits they really deserve. They are ruled by a government hundreds of miles away who don’t really care about their welfare, merely about the money being made which helps them remain in power. Imagine the benefits your country would get knowing its people’s hard work, dedication and courage was helping the country they live in – and not some other country whose government is so detached from the people who didn’t vote for them in the first place. A government which tells Scots we’re simply not good enough.

An opinion poll published last Sunday put the Yes Campaign marginally ahead in the referendum for Scottish independence – now less than a week away. This news put the cat among the pigeons at Westminster.  Britain’s Prime Minister and his propaganda machine swung into action. David Cameron immediately cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament to head for Scotland – as did his political foes Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Ask yourself how many times do you see the leaders of the three main UK political parties in Scotland other than at election time?

The quite frankly ridiculous offer from Chancellor George Osbourne – or should that be chancer George Osbourne? – of further tax-raising powers for Scotland should the Scots vote No is effectively the so-called ‘Devo-Max’ dressed up. This was something the UK government didn’t want on the referendum ballot paper. Barely a week before the referendum itself – and after thousands of people have already submitted a postal vote – it’s being offered by an increasingly desperate UK government who are now in full-scale panic mode.

The Westminster machine told major retailers such as John Lewis and Asda  - and the Prime Minister was answering journalist’s questions in an Asda store this week - to announce the cost of their goods would increase in an independent Scotland while the government-owned Royal Bank of Scotland were told to announce they would be relocating from Scotland. In truth, costs will not rise and the RBS have now said there will be no job losses and no effect on operations in Scotland – they are merely changing their registered company address as part of a contingency plan. And it’s worth considering banks and other financial institutions have larger contingency plans in place - should the UK decide to leave the European Union following the referendum on this by the end of 2017.

Aided by his advisers and knowing that a yes vote would irreparably damage his political career – eight months away from a UK general election – a Prime Minister who co-ordinates scaremongering against the people he is responsible for, and manipulates markets for political gain should be ashamed. However, history tells us the Conservatives have no shame, particularly when it comes to Scotland.

This time next week we shall know the answer to the question should Scotland be an independent country. Last weekend, the opinion polls showed Yes 51%, No 49%. Midweek, following the scare stories pedalled by the Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the leader of the Labour Party and former Deputy leader of the Labour Party – who all came to Scotland this week, panic-stricken – the polls showed Yes 47%, No 53%. However, if the Westminster elite thought it was job done then they reckoned without the guile of the Scottish people who have seen through the mistruths. As I type this, the latest poll, just five days before polling day, shows Yes 49%, No 51%.

What Scots need to seriously consider next Thursday is what kind of Scotland they want for their children and their children’s children. I have four grandchildren. I want them to grow up in a country that is one of the richest in the world and doesn’t see its wealth wasted on nuclear weapons (which will never be used), wars in which it should never be involved in and bailing out banks and financial institutions for their corporate greed.

I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where its vast natural resources – not just oil – are used for the benefit of all the people of Scotland, people of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds and political views.

I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where our nation’s wealth can protect our public services and welfare system – and put an end to foodbanks – and to make huge improvements to childcare and to the state pension for hard working people and those who have worked hard all their life and now deserve to retire without having to worry about how they’re going to pay their fuel bill.

I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where the National Health Service will not be strangled by financial constraints but allowed to flourish, guaranteeing the right to free healthcare.

I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where policies that affect every Scot are taken in Scotland and reflect Scotland’s priorities and values.

I have yearned for independence for Scotland for all of my 52 years. I passionately believe my country deserves better, much better than it gets under Westminster rule. I reached adulthood at the time Margaret Thatcher came to power and her Tory party policies almost – but not quite – destroyed the country I love.

Scotland has the opportunity of not only this lifetime but several lifetimes next week. Imagine this time next week waking up to find out the dream has become a reality. How invigorating, how exciting, how wonderful does that prospect feel?

That wonderful singer Labi Siffre had a brilliant song a few years back called Something Inside So Strong. The lyrics could have been written with Scotland in mind.

The higher you build your barriers the taller I become
The farther you take my rights away the faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away
No matter 'cause there's

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you're doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so strong
there's something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice the louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho, your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time, you squander wealth that's mine
My light will shine so brightly, it will blind you 'cause there's

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
But you're doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so strong
There’s something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we're just good not enough
When we know better
Just look 'em in the eyes and say

I'm gonna do it anyway

Don’t let this marvellous opportunity pass. There will be scare stories galore from Westminster in the days ahead. Stay strong, Scotland. Do what’s best for your country. Our country. Governed by the people of Scotland. I have always told my two lovely daughters to make the decisions they think is best for them in their lives – but don’t, whatever happens, have any regrets. If Scotland votes No then it will be too late not to have any regrets.

Despite the words of self-interest from David Cameron, Gordon Brown et al, the message Scots can send to Westminster on Thursday is ‘When you insist we’re just not good enough - I’m gonna do it anyway’

This is our moment, Scotland’s moment – don’t let it pass.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Saturday, 6 September 2014

12 Days Until the Independence Referendum and...



...a new poll by YouGov suggests the 'Yes Scotland' campaign has taken a lead ahead of Scottish independence referendum with 51% of the vote and the 'No' campaign at 49%

This excludes the 'don't knows' so it's important not to get too carried away. However, it's a significant shift in opinion, given the Better Together campaign has always been ahead in the polls, usually by some distance.

I know of two previously staunch 'No' people who have considered all the facts available to them and, in the last two weeks, have decided they will be voting Yes for independence for Scotland.

12 days and counting to what will hopefully be a historic day for Scotland.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Happy Birthday, Hannah


A very happy birthday to my lovely grand-daughter Hannah who is 7 years old today. She is pictured above with her brother and sister Jack and Ava, my fiancée Marion and the old man in the middle...

More pics to follow at www.auldyinwithacamera.blogspot.com

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cooking Up a Plan B, Darling...


 
Breakfast in the Darling household. Mr Darling cooks breakfast

Alistair: What would you like for breakfast, darling?

Mrs D: Well, I think I’ll have some bacon.

AD: I’m afraid you can’t have that.

Mrs D: Why not?

AD: It’s simply not possible.

Mrs D: But surely the bacon is as much mine as it is yours.

AD: It’s not logical for you to share the bacon with me.

Mrs D: Why ever not?

AD: It simply wouldn’t work. And now that I’ve said you can’t have the bacon, you’ll have to choose something else. Have got a Plan B?

Mrs D: It’s in my best interests to share the bacon with you. As I’ve already said, it’s as much mine as it is yours. And if I want to have the bacon I shall have it.

AD: So, you don’t have a Plan B? How about a Plan C, D, E or F?

Mrs D: I want what’s best for me. You shared some bacon with one of your former treasury colleagues the other morning – he said it was perfectly plausible and you said it was logical and desirable.

AD: My words were taken out of context. Can’t you not consider, just for a moment, that you are wrong and you can’t have the bacon?

Mrs D: I want what’s best for me. You can’t stop me having the bacon.

AD: No, I can’t but it’s just not practical. You sharing the bacon means you’re not really independent and you’re relying on me to set the breakfast agenda. That’s very much like having you cake and eating it.

Mrs D: Or bacon roll…

AD: You simply can’t stand there and say ‘I’ll have the bacon’ You have to have a Plan B.

Mrs D: There’s no need for a Plan B – that bacon is as much mine as it is yours.

AD: Have you considered the consequences if you can’t have the bacon? Will you opt for the Euro Sausage? Or create your own cereal?

Mrs D: You’ve changed your tune. You once supported the idea of us having a shared breakfast. I think you’re trying to create a climate of fear by telling me I can’t have the bacon and will have to use something like muesli instead.

AD: You seem to forget that I helped saved the local butcher when he faced bankruptcy by buying his stock of bacon. And now you expect me to share this with you?

Mrs D: Yes, and you bought the bacon when you were in charge of the breakfast budget. You put all your eggs in one basket so to speak.

AD: I must also warn you that the fine coffee you enjoy won’t last forever. There’s only so much coffee left at the local corner shop.

Mrs D: There’s a plentiful supply of coffee which will serve us well for years to come.

AD: It’s going to run out at some stage. And then what will you do?

Mrs D: What about the fresh new coffee that’s been discovered in the new supermarket?

AD: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Mrs D: Yes you do. Mr Cameron was there just the other week but didn’t want anyone to know about it.

AD: You know I’m right and you’re wrong. You can’t share the bacon and the coffee will soon run out. Why don’t you consider eggs for breakfast?

Mrs D: There’s one reason why I can’t.

AD: Which is?

Mrs D: The yoke’s on you, Darling…

Saturday, 2 August 2014

5-1 is Child's Play

Scotland's Eilidh Child won silver in the 400 metres hurdles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow during the week. Hearts fan Eilidh caused a bit of a stooshie at the end of the race by making the 5-1 gesture - like most Hearts supporters, we never tire of reminding our Hibernian counterparts of the score between the teams in the 2012 Scottish Cup final. As these images demonstrate...





Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dear Undecided Scottish Voter

Dear Undecided Scottish Voter,

Here are 12 points to think about before the independence referendum on 18th September 2014.


1. Vote!

Compared to Westminster-style politics – a few talking-heads in TV studios – the Scottish referendum debate has been lively, localised and (by global standards) peaceful, involving thousands of Scots. Chances are you’ve already participated, in which case, congratulations - there are plenty of cynics “out there” who said that people like you don’t care about politics. Now, whatever you eventually decide, you should VOTE! A high turnout will show that Scots care actually do care about their country. And spare a thought, by the way, for the millions of Scots based overseas, many temporarily, who would love to vote but can’t!


2. Do you think Britain is a fair, well-managed and equal country?

A loaded question, obviously. Despite the once-in-a-lifetime “lottery win” that is North Sea oil (half of which has gone forever, squandered by Westminster), Britain over the last 35 years has become a more unequal society. The wealth and income gap between rich and poor is back to Victorian levels. Of course inequality has grown in other developed countries too but the UK (and USA) are by far the worst examples - we can all think of parts of the UK that remained poor even during the (so-called) “boom years” before 2008. Other countries have been much smarter about sharing wealth and success. They don’t automatically blame the “workshy poor” for every economic and social problem. Do you feel personally responsible for causing the Global Financial Crisis? Well, chances are that, as a UK resident, you’re already paying the price in some way, whereas the Top 5% have seen their wealth expand dramatically since 2009. Coincidence? Hardly – it’s a matter of Westminster’s political choices. UK governments chose to allowed the financial sector to run itself (into the ground), chose to bail out banks at the taxpayer’s expense, chose to prosecute no senior bankers, chose to reduce taxation for the rich and Big Business, chose for low-wage employers to be indirectly subsidised by the benefits system. Now Westminster wants austerity – but only for the “little guy”, not the well-connected! On 18th September 2014, Scots have an incredible opportunity to say goodbye to all that.


3. Is there a better model than the UK on “how to run a country”?

Nowhere’s perfect but the most successful countries in the world, in terms of their standard of living, economic strength and social progress – are small European states such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden (“The Scandinavian model”). The UK was a success story when the British Empire was still around. Scots contributed disproportionately to that success but Great Britain’s best days are certainly in the past. Westminster government is distant, corrupt and inefficient and UK economic policy is geared towards London and SE England, the financial services sector in the City, and real estate speculation. Devolution for Scotland has seen some small successes but we could do so much more if we had 100% control of the economic levers. North Sea oil is a bonus and there’s still at least £1.5 trillion of reserves “out there” (that’s one thousand five hundred million, million pounds!). And even without oil our economy includes strong sectors such as Food and Drink, renewable energy, wealth management, life sciences and further education.


4. Scotland already pays its way.

All you hear on the BBC and other media is endless repetition that Scots get more public spending per head. What the media rarely admit is that Scots have also paid more tax per head than the Rest of UK for at least 30 years. Social spending, Scandinavian-style, won’t be cheap. But doing nothing is also expensive. Thanks to years of bad choices in Westminster, UK families now pay childcare costs of around 25% of household income (much higher than other rich European countries), while taxpayers foot the bill for the massive social problems caused by lack of spending where it would be most effective – at the pre-school stage. When it comes to the “Scandinavian model” or any other expenditure, Scots know this much: You get what you pay for.


5. Is it possible to create a better country?

Why not?


6. Voting No doesn't mean things will stay the same.

Many will vote No because they want to “keep things the same” as they are now. But big changes are already happening in the rest of the UK. Rapid privatisation of the NHS in England and anti-immigrant politics are a major departure from the values that the “old UK” used to stand for; after a No vote, the Scottish government will be pressurised to do the same. UK exit from the EU in 2017 is a distinct possibility – that would affect thousands of jobs. And UK public debt has now reached £1.4 trillion or 76% of our annual Gross Domestic Product, so it’s only a matter of time until there are bigger cuts to “good” public spending (after the 2015 General Election). But Westminster will always find money for tax cuts for the rich and Big Business, and for vanity projects such as aircraft carriers to “project British power overseas” (as if the UK’s “independent foreign policy” isn’t already dictated by the USA). A No vote will only ensure things stay the same for the “Haves”.


7. Do not be fooled by the currency debate. You’re smarter than that.

The pound sterling is just as much Scotland’s currency as it is the Rest of the UK’s. Westminster politicians who say there would be “no sharing” of the pound are having a laugh. If there’s a Yes vote, they’ll change their minds faster than a dodgy expenses claim submission. Currency unions are very common – just Google it! Do you really imagine that English businesses would willingly cough up billions of pounds a year in foreign exchange fees to trade with Scotland – one of their biggest markets – just to massage the egos and pride of a shower of here-today, gone-tomorrow Westminster politicians, most of whom already have an eye on a lucrative business career after they’ve left politics? The Bank of England has already said they will manage any currency arrangement. Currency union - it’s a case of “filling out some forms”. Other currency unions work perfectly well. Better Together only ever talk about problems in the Eurozone but these are mainly caused by the big economic differences between (say) Germany and Greece whereas Scotland and England’s economies are very similar – except that Scottish GDP per head is 15% higher if North Sea Oil is included. A UK currency union would work simply because… come Hell or high water, business always finds a way to make money.


8. And anyway… it’s about more than pennies and pounds!

It’s too bad that Westminster and “Better Together” politicians think that Scots are greedy individualists whose votes will be swayed by a few hundred pounds here or there. Maybe they’ve been looking in the mirror too long? Money’s important but it isn’t everything. What about taking responsibility for your own destiny, self-respect, not living in the past?


9. Nothing is guaranteed in life...

Independence carries a degree of risk. But choosing to stay in the UK is also risky. We already mentioned NHS privatisation, public spending cuts and possible EU exit in 2017. We already know that Westminster is mainly interested in London and SE England so it’s a fair bet that even more public spending will be concentrated there. The fact is: all countries face challenges and uncertainties, even the biggest, such as China and the USA. Fortunately we have plenty of examples of small-but-nimble countries doing very well independently, while fully participating in global institutions such as the UN, EU and NATO. Scotland would be “Better Together” with the rest of the world, not Westminster. The international ratings agency Standard and Poor’s – one of the Top 3 on whom the international financial system is based – says that an independent Scotland would receive its “highest credit assessment – even without North Sea oil”. But it’s likely that most Scots will only have heard about the biased reports that support the Better Together argument, same as in 1979 and 1997. Some things never change!


10. Independence isn't about being "anti-English".

The UK media cannot – will not – accept that independence isn’t about being “anti-English”. They like to characterise the independence referendum as a re-run of the Battle of Bannockburn. Even The Economist magazine – normally sensible – recently ran a big cover with a close-up of a tartan-clad punter in a Jimmy wig with his face painted blue. But Scots are – by and large - grown-ups who live in the 21st century. We don’t paint our faces blue (usually). We think things over then take rational – yes, “canny” – decisions. Having said that, we’re also human beings, not robots. We strike a balance between head and heart. For example, many Scots who felt proud when our national athletics team marched into Celtic Park at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in July must also have noticed that nearly all of the 70-odd countries and territories of the former British Empire have declared independence. And none of them appear to regret it.


11. Vote Yes and help save the Rest of the UK

Scotland is already different, politically, from the rest of the UK. An independent Scotland, pursuing progressive and sustainable economic and social policies, would be a great example for our friends and colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a major kick-up-the-backside for complacent Westminster politicians who truly “know the price of everything but the value of nothing”.


12. A No vote would feel like 1,000 Scotland sporting defeats

Don’t be a “90-minute patriot”. If you feel bad when Scotland lose on the football pitch, imagine that sensation multiplied by 1,000 when you wake up on 19th September 2014, you and a majority having voted No, and you hear Westminster politicians interpret the result – however close - as a 100% vote of confidence to continue with the same tired old politics of austerity, inequality and living-in-the-past. Westminster squandered the first half of the North Sea oil bonanza but there’s still at least £1.5 trillion of reserves to be exploited. The UK is badly-managed and lopsided towards London and SE England, the rich and Big Business. Do you really trust Westminster to suddenly change its ways after a No vote, or do you think Scotland could do better on its own?

Sunday, 27 July 2014

If You're Thinking of Using BT (part two)

Last September I posted a rant about BT. This was regarding my mother's change of address when she went without her BT landline and broadband services for a few weeks.

Recently, BT contacted my mother to advise her current modem - or Hub - needed to be replaced if she was to acquire the BT Infinity service which, she was told, would mean a faster and more reliable broadband service. My mother agreed and arrangements were made for a Hub to be sent and a date for an engineer to call round and set everything up. The Hub duly arrived - but, you'll not be surprised to learn, nothing else has gone right.

Despite the Hub arriving safely, BT have informed my mother they don't have the correct address details for her. Now you might think a quick phone call to BT would rectify this problem. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. A wee email, perhaps? Hah!

It doesn't help that BT's Customer Service 'help desk' - and I use the term loosely - isn't based in the UK. Going by the countless people I have spoken to in trying to resolve this matter, it appears BT's Customer Service call centre is in India. Now, the people I have spoken to have, for the most part, been friendly. But they simply don't understand the problem. My mother is in her late 70s and trying to get her message across to someone who, it has to be said, struggles with basic English is extremely frustrating and has left her angry and in despair.

I have experienced this at first hand. One person I spoke to didn't seem to know there was a city called Edinburgh and asked me to spell it for her. Others struggle to understand basic English and are clearly following a script from which they must not deviate.

BT have now advised - shockingly - that their Infinity service won't actually be available in my mother's area for some time yet. My mother was told it might be December and the person I spoke to suggested it would be no longer than eight weeks.

All told, this has - yet again - been an absolutely shocking customer experience from BT. I understand they move their call centres to India to save on costs (and by that I mean they probably pay their call centre staff less wages than they would if they were based in the UK) and they're not alone in doing so. However, customers such as my dear old mother are left angry and confused by such  incompetence. Worse still, BT have told both my mother and I that engineers have tried to visit but have found no one was in. This is blatant lies from BT and not for the first time.

As I post this, BT have still not resolved this issue. BT's current advertising campaign for BT Sport has the tagline 'you have to see it to believe it'. The irony isn't lost on my mother. Neither of us believe anything BT tell us now.

If you're thinking of switching to BT then I hope you don't have to deal with their customer service team...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Eight Months Today...

...I get married to The Guvn'r. Here's the cake I'm suggesting we have for the wedding.

 
I'm sure Marion will see the funny side. But, if she doesn't, does anyone know of a good lawyer...?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Auld Yin With a Camera


Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, I've created another blog to add to this one and the football blog.

It's called Auld Yin With a Camera and, as the title suggests, it's mainly a photographic blog where I can post various images of family and places in Scotland and afar. The link is below:

http://auldyinwithacamera.blogspot.co.uk/

Hope you can pay a wee visit now and then.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Why Scotland Should be Independent

 
 
The real question is not can Scotland be independent, but rather, should Scotland be an independent country? And, more and more people in Scotland are saying Yes. There are many reasons why Scotland should be independent.  Here are three.
 
With Yes we’ll have Scotland’s future in our own hands. 
And that means we will make better choices for people living here. We’ll be able to make sure Scotland’s wealth and resources deliver more for you and for communities across Scotland, because economic and social policy will be based on the priorities and needs of the people of Scotland. That’s much better than having bad decisions taken for us by politicians at Westminster.
With just 59 MPs out of 650 at Westminster, we can easily be outvoted – and regularly are.  We voted against nuclear weapons, post office privatisation and the bedroom tax, but we got stuck with them anyway. And, we’re regularly left with governments that we did not vote for and that means policies most of us rejected get imposed on us.
With Yes we can build a fairer country. 
The UK is an increasingly unfair country.  In fact, we live in one of the most unequal countries in the industrialised world. Since 1975 the gap between the very rich and the rest of us has been growing faster in the UK than in any other comparable industrialised country. Scotland is wealthy enough to be a fairer country – like similarly sized small independent countries.   That means we can choose to:
  • Deliver a transformational increase in childcare and early years education, to make life easier for young families and give our youngsters the best possible start in life
  • Completely abolish the Bedroom Tax and halt some of the worst and most damaging changes to our welfare system introduced by the current Tory government
  • Make savings of £600 million each year from no longer paying for things like nuclear weapons or politicians at Westminster.
With Yes we can build a more prosperous country.
More often than not, Westminster choices aren’t the right ones for Scotland.  With the full powers of Yes, Scotland can put in place policies that match our economic priorities to create jobs and grow our economy. Here’s just a few that would make a big difference to all our lives:
  • Save some of the revenues from our £1.5 trillion (in wholesale value) remaining oil and gas reserves to create a rainy day fund so that we are more financially secure in the future
  • Choose a fairer tax system so that hard-pressed households are guaranteed cost of living increases in things like their tax credits and tax free allowances
  • Introduce targeted tax policies to encourage job creation, for example, reducing the costs of small businesses employing people through lower Employers'  National Insurance Contributions
 
What’s clear is that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland.  We can all agree that the best people to make decisions about Scotland’s future are those that live and work here. Scotland’s people should be at the very heart of decisions about Scotland – not an afterthought.  With Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands we can make sure that happens.