Monthly Archives: October 2015

More Boulton bumble

Provided we bear in mind “news” amounts to no more than an edited version of as much “truth” as they feel we need to be told, we can’t go far wrong. Just keep digging for more.

And nowhere more so in the Murdochian edits of what might be in the “public domain”.

Which brings me to Adam Boulton’s Sunday Times slot. This week cozying up to the clichéd Elephant in the Room:

Not satisfied with eliminating the budget deficit, Osborne is bent on re-engineering Britain as a high-pay, low-welfare, low-tax economy. To this end, he is calling the shots on cutting tax credits. As a result the new government faces the biggest crisis of its short life.

My main gripe there is the “high-pay” thing. Evidence needed, Mr Boulton.

The official plaster-of-Paris fig-leaf applied to the offence is the (wait for it!) “national living wage“:

… a new, compulsory living wage from April 2016.

It will be paid to workers aged 25 and above. Initially, it will be set at £7.20 an hour, with a target of it reaching more than £9 an hour by 2020. Part-time and full-time workers will get it.

It will give a pay rise to six million workers but is expected to cost 60,000 jobs and reduce hours worked by four million a week, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

On paper it looks too-good-to-be-true:

_84182518_minimum_wage_gra_1_624

Note the weasel-word: “forecast”. Note, too the wide variation of what it might mean. And — since we live in an age of recognising the cost-of-everything, but the value-of-nothing (especially the value of words, promises, pledges, aspirations, whatever) — what imposts it lays on employers. It should also lay a burden on government, to ensure it delivers, and on that ground, one has one’s doubts:

The National Living Wage’s introduction could mean an increase in black market payments to workers, a hospitality industry spokesman has said. 

Many employers will have to increase salaries when the new £7.20 an hour measure comes into effect next April.

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said it would have major implications for hotels and restaurants.

He told the BBC’s Inside Business programme there was a risk of more workers being paid “cash-in-hand”. 

Mr Neill said that while the hospitality industry was “in a much more difficult place than others”, various sectors were looking at “how we’re going to deal with this and, actually, how can you pass on the cost”.

To clarify: there are just two ways of “passing on the cost” —

  • billing the customer and end-user,
  • or diddling the employees, cooking the books, and by-passing any charges and taxes on employment (especially, social security payments).

Are we all sure:

  • the latter won’t happen?
  • or that official inspection will be adequate to sort out the rogue employers?

But, where I’m sitting (quite comfortably, thank you for asking), that’s not the Bigger Picture.

What that glossy incremental line-graph, an ever increasing basic pay-packet, ignores is the way it will primarily mean no more than absorbing the next wage-bracket above minimum into the “national living wage”. In theory, and on paper, the employee currently just above the £7:20 per hour rate should see a proportionate increase — so the current £9 per hour wage should rise by 25% by 2020 (say to £11:20 per hour), to match the increase in minimum.

Better believe it!

For, unless there is real pressure from the employees, that simply will not happen. Fair dos, there may be nugatory increases. But, without proper trade union pressures — precisely the thing this government is dead-set to eliminate — there won’t be justice done.

Which has other implications.

Especially for productivity, which is where — for the last decade — we have catastrophically failed.

Oh, and haven’t we heard of Adam Boulton’s high-pay, low-welfare, low-tax economy somewhere before? Something along these lines:

In bringing about economic recovery, we should all be on the same side. Government and public, management and unions, employers and employees, all have a common interest in raising productivity and profits, thus increasing investment and employment, and improving real living standards for everyone in a high-productivity, high-wage, low-tax economy

Now where was that? Ah, yes! The Conservative manifesto, foreward by Margaret Thatcher, for the 1979 General Election.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., History, Sunday Times, Tories., Trade unions

Pishmonger

There are nasty nodules of the net where only the brave should venture.

Nowhere more so than those involved in “politics”. And the most viperous dank holes there involve gun-toters, nazi-apologists and (recently added) Scots Nationalists. Those, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

In passing, Carl Hiaasen’s recent column on concealed-carry on Florida campuses should be a must-read.

One particular vile toad is the ““: reverend simply because he is self-ordained (it’s one of those American mail-order jobs). Campbell’s Scottish connection is a quarter-century past: his present is in that Caledonian idyll more usually recognised as Bath, Avon, England. Anyone who hasn’t encountered his festering swamp, Wings Over Scotland, is well-advised to stay away: it’s declared off-limits by the politburo of the SNP.  Think Guido Fawkes without its occasional sources, or even the most basic wit. The Wings-over-Scotland window-licking commenters exceed any bounds set by Fawkes or the Daily Mail.

Here’s one recent example of the genre:

Pishmonger

One sentence. One crashingly-banal error. Can an established “fact” be “questionable”?

That used to be task one in the comprehension test of English GCSE papers: “Quote one fact from the passage”. The National Curriculum, you see, is quite hot on determining “fact” and “opinion”.

And, as of my clipping that, 130 cybernats had piled in to comment on it. All, it seems, ignorant of a basic distinction.

Evo

 

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, education, smut peddlers, SNP

Adopts Mrs Merton voice …

So, David Cameron, what first attracted you to Michelle Mone as your new entrepreneurial czar?

Mone

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Filed under Conservative family values, David Cameron, sleaze., Tories.

My post-box is green

I’m trying to manipulate Famous Seamus‘s second most-famous quote:

Be advised my passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised. to toast the Queen.

The prompt was the piece Leo Benedictus did for The Guardian, over the weekend:

Last week, Hong Kong said goodbye to one of the last vestiges of imperialism by covering up the royal insignia on its green post boxes. But is there ever a point when this kind of history is worth preserving?

Perhaps you know that things are healing when, after centuries of violent tyranny and pillage, the British empire comes down to arguing over postboxes. In Hong Kong, where 59 of the old colonial postboxes remain, the postal service has announced that it plans to cover the royal insignias with a metal plaque – in order to avoid “confusion”. (The boxes have already been painted green and had the Hong Kong Post’s logo added to them, so you would have to be very confused indeed not to realise what they’re for.) Hong Kong postbox fanciers say that the insignias are “part of Hong Kong’s heritage and daily life”, and plan to protest on Saturday.

So are they right? At what point does a bitter colonial history stop needing to be expunged and become, well, just history, that needs actual preservation? Look around the world and you’ll find few clear answers.

VR boxThat is illustrated nowhere better than by standing on the bridge at Belleek. You can see where the tarmac subtly changes colour and texture between the jurisdiction of the County Fermanagh and that of the County Donegal. Behind is the 30 mph sign, ahead is one for 80 km/hr.

Leave the A47, and head down the N5 for Ballyshannon, and it’s not far before you spot one of the relics of imperialism: a post-box with Queen Victoria’s monogram and crown, painted green. There’s even a precious few of the classic Penfolds around (one was — perhaps still is — in Clonakilty, county Cork).

I once bought a Donegal tweed hat in Belleek — it was indeed my “End of Empire hat” (which I eventually lost in the Grand Hotel, Scarborough). I was invited to do the transaction in euros. It’s called “peaceful co-existence”: something that the two administrations, the two cultures of the island of Ireland, especially the Unionists of the North, are still stretching to achieve. It’s a characteristic in much of Andy Pollack’s writings, not least the piece he had on his blog-site in AugustThe Republic is now a warm place for Protestants, which has finally made it to the print-copy of the Irish Times.

When David Cameron announced:

“The general election will be held on May 7 and until that day I will be going to all four corners of all four nations of our United Kingdom with one message — together we are turning the country around”,

I was sure that would no more likely embrace Belleek than Muckle Flugga. I was not disappointed.

But a pity: had he gone, he might have learned something.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, Northern Ireland, travel

Michelle Thomson and associates: a timeline of infamy

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Thanks to Herald Scotland, we are now getting a chronology of who did what to whom, and when. We know some of the why — the love of money is the root of all evil — and some of the how.

It all started in July 2012. Solicitor Christopher Hales, one-time partner in Grigor Hales, solicitors, of Dalry Road, Edinburgh, was inspected by the Law Society. As a result, questions were raised over thirteen bits of property business. A month later the inspection report went to the Law Society guarantee fund sub-committee (GFSC), and in September 2012 the GFSC suspended Hales’ certificate to practice, and proceeded to prosecute him before the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

Then everything goes into slo-mo. When there’s a serial bureaucracy as Byzantine as this one, what else can we expect? Except for one small, but worth-noticing detail: in October 2013 Sheila Kirkwood  was appointed secretary to the GFSC. What we see in this sorry saga is how close the circles of power and influence are in modern Scotland. As Thomas Dibdin had it, in a broader context:

O, it ’s a snug little island!
A right little, tight little island!
Search the globe round, none can be found
So happy as this little island.

For Mrs Kirkwood was well-ensconced inside the SNP tent:

the Law Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack, took the unusual step of arranging a hurried press conference to defend her organisation’s handling of the affair, and the conduct of Sheila Kirkwood, who is secretary to the society guarantee fund sub-committee which handled the Hales case but had delayed handing the papers over to the Crown Office.

It emerged that Kirkwood was, with her husband and fellow solicitor Paul Kirkwood, a founder of the pro-independence campaign Lawyers for Yes, and as an active nationalist had attended dinners for Thomson’s pro-independence campaign Business for Scotland. Kirkwood had also “liked” Thomson on her Facebook page.

Don’t skim too lightly over Lorna Jack, either. She has a small plate-load of public appointments, courtesy of the the SNP government.

In 2014 the glacier started to move:

  • On 14th January, a full eighteen months after that first inspection, the Council of the Law Society lodged a complaint with the SSDT requesting an investigation into Hales.
  • On 13th May, Paul Marshall, the Law Society fiscal attended the SSDT hearing on the Hales case. The “accused” (or whatever periphrasis one prefers) Hales responded by e-mail to say he accepted the “averments of professional misconduct”.
  • In July, now two years into the epic, the Law Society published “interim findings” and a statement that Hales “must have been aware that there was a possibility that he was facilitating mortgage fraud”.  Ian Smart has a superb account of these doings on his blog, nicely explaining what mortgage fraud involves, and stating

 

Mr Hales was found to have assisted in mortgage fraud in no less than thirteen transactions for which he ultimately appeared before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal on 13th may 2014 and was then struck off as a solicitor.

It’s all in the judgement which, despite its length I encourage you to read in full. Numerous examples of failing to inform lenders of undisclosed deposits, including examples of Mr Hales personally returning these to the purchasers, and several examples of back to backs, all equally undisclosed to the lenders.

But Mr Hales was not the principal actor here, he was simply the facilitator.

The principal actor, time and time again, was a woman referred to in the judgement as Mrs A. Sometimes she acts directly, on others she provides a third party deposit in exchange for a “fee”.

  • On 31st October 2014 the SSDT published its annual report, which mentions the Hales case.
  • On 18th December, in a regular quarterly meeting, Ian Messer, the Law Society’s director of financial compliance, “informally” told the Crown Office about the Hales case, apparently not including the names of the clients, or presumably fingering “Mrs A”. Which is odd because of whom we now know “Mrs A” to be: a poster-girl for the SNP, a prospective parliamentary candidate, and more. Ian Smart, again:

in May 2014, when the Tribunal decision was issued, Michelle Thomson was something approaching a national figure as one of the public faces of the SNP front organisation Business for Scotland. Indeed, at first appearance, one of the few genuine business people involved with that organisation, most of the others being little more than jumped up PR men. If her up to the neck involvement in mortgage fraud had come to light just three months before the referendum this would have been disastrous for Yes Scotland, for the SNP by association, but most of all for the economic credibility of the Independence cause. 

There’s the hint of the cleft inside the SNP: between the “business-friendly” Alex Salmond wing, and the wannabe social-reform clique around Nicola Sturgeon. To illustrate that further, we’d need to look at the T in the Park bung: as Deep Throat said, “Follow the money”, as we observe the Salmond ☞ Dempsie (partner of Angus Robertson MP)  ☞Hyslop (which ought to bring us to the other lingering SNP stink on education)  ☞ Geoff Ellis (Salmond’s guest at Ryder Cup) right little, tight little Syphonaptera.

Which almost brings us up to date. This year, 2015, we find:

  • On 28th April Ian Messer again finding it necessary to mention “informally” this Hales case at the next quarterly Crown Office meeting, again — it seems — not naming the key names.
  • On 7th May, the good citizens of Edinburgh West, kept in ignorance of what was transpiring “behind the arras”, elected Michelle Thomson as their SNP MP.
  • On 1st July, having taken a “detailed look” — well, after three years, thats about right — at the Hales case, the Law Society asked the GFSC for approval to refer it to the Crown.
  • Following which, prontissimo, on 3rd July, the Law Society formally passed the SSDT’s Hales report to the Crown Office, so at long last all the names are in the frames
  • And on 9th July, the Crown instructs Police Scotland to investigate Hales’s property transactions.

 

By whatever Murdochian means, by the back-end of September 2015, the Sunday Times had that SSDT Hales Report, and the Scottish edition (27th September) went big on naming Michelle Thomson.

Four days later Thomson “surrendered” the SNP Whip, pending police investigations. That was fortunately coincidental for First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who had to answer opposition questioning on 30th September:

… she knew nothing of the allegations until they were reported in the media. But she added: “I am in no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if the allegations — and again I stress the word allegations — are proven to be correct, they will represent behaviour that I find completely unacceptable.”

This is what is known as “throwing someone under a bus”.

The ripples were still spreading:

  • On 1st October. Lorna Jack is promising the Law Society will look into why it took so long for the Crown to be advised of the whole Hales mess, and also whether there were any untoward connections between Kirkwood and Thomson.
  • On 6th October Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland appeared in the Scottish Parliament:

Mr Mulholland said: … “The police have been instructed to investigate the property transactions related to that finding resulting in the solicitor being struck off.

“Police Scotland have a duty in any criminal investigation to follow the evidence and where that takes them.

“So, if during a police investigation evidence arises that other persons have been involved in criminality and fraud, or whatever crime the police have uncovered evidence of, then Police Scotland, I have complete faith in them, they will act and do the right thing as will the Crown.”

After the Lord Advocate’s appearance, Aamer Anwar, the lawyer acting for Michelle Thomson, said: “Following the Lord Advocate’s statement we must reiterate that we have advised Mrs Thomson that it would be inappropriate to comment on such matters and you will appreciate that she has already volunteered to assist Police Scotland with their investigation, despite no requirement to do so.

“Michelle Thomson maintains that she has always acted within the law.”

Ian Smart’s conclusion minces no words:

… unless the findings of the SSDT are wholly inaccurate, and you will note that the facts were agreed by Mr Hales, Thomson personally is toast. The sentencing guidelines are here. It qualifies for what is commonly known as exemplary sentencing so she’ll probably get several years in jail giving rise to an interesting by-election.

Faced with that lawyerly prognosis, the defendant has just two options:

  • take an overnight valise to the sentencing;
  • book the first flight out to northern Cyprus or Caracas.

The Thomson can may come, and may go. What will linger is the cesspit aroma that prevails in a one-party state (and Scotland is on that festering wikipedia list). It would be instructive to take all the names in this post, and locate their connections on a spider-chart. Be assured they would all link.

Such is the nature of power in a right little, tight little society.

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Filed under Scotland, Scottish Parliament, sleaze., SNP

Where are the scuts of yesteryear?

That previous post, and the St Andrews fauna, brought to mind this:

King’s Lynn, North Wotton, Wolverton,
Dersingham! Dersingham!
Snettisham (or rather Snet’sham),
Change at Heacham …
Sedgeford, Docking,
Stanhoe, Burnham Market,
Holkham and
Wells-on-Sea!

As redolent to me as any verse of The Slow Train:

The Great Bean-counters of British Rail did for the first bit, the original Lynn & Hunstanton Railway from 1862, as late as the back-end of the 1960s. The eighteen-and-a-half miles of the West Norfolk Junction Railway had closed for passenger business in 1952, when it was still running Victorian gas-lit carriages wheezed along by antique steam locomotives. After the East Coast  Floods of 1953 there was deemed no possibility of it ever having an after-life.

There are so many “what-ifs” in that. Today, a “heritage railway” operating such rolling stock would be a national treasure. Had the original concept of a coastal loop, joining all the small resorts of the Norfolk coast, ever been realised we might today have something even better than Belgium’s Kusttram.

My memories — and I must be one of an diminishingly few who can recall, however dimly, that journey — are precise.

cover170x170Why was it necessary for the name of Dersingham to be bellowed twice? I still hear it in the fastnesses of a sleepless night, with the rising inflection on the middle syllable. Did that somehow echo down to Jon Hendricks’s pale imitation: New York, New York, a city so nice, they had to name it twice?

Snettisham is, if at all, known for the astounding hoard of gold torcs first ploughed up, then properly excavated, over a quarter of a century. Now starring at the British Museum and Norwich’s Castle Museum.

Then there were the bunnies.

Wolferton was, and is, something of a railway oddity.  I speak not of the incongruity, Wolverton, that is the tight curve on the old LMS line through Milton Keynes. Instead I recall the elaborate mock-Tudor confection that the Lynn & Hunstanton Railway devised to serve Sandringham House. To us lesser-breeds, endured to standing on open platforms in the northeast winds that make Norfolk in winter and early spring a place of cold comfort, Wolverton was a place of mystery and wonder. The station was always immaculate, the canopies white with recent paint — why did a place so small, so remote, deserve or demand such an extended shelter? —, planters and flower beds in abundance. Was there — there surely had to be — a majestic royal privy, the bluest of bloods alone for the relief thereof?

wolferton_station_9

As the train huffed-and-puffed north out of this stately pleasure-dome, the embankments became sandy and rabbit-infested. And I mean dozens of the little buggers.

Since the Heacham-Wells link died in 1952, my memory must pre-date that. The rabbits were despatched between 1953 and 1955 by farmers wilfully introducing of Myxomatosis.

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Filed under History, Norfolk, railways, social class, travel

Andy Wightman tells the tale: bunnies and brassies

I reckoned that Wightman’s The Poor Had No Lawyers would be my reading for the weekend. I over-estimated my ability to deal with his thorough-going detail. For here we have a “dense” text — dense in the best sense of the word. Wightman is scrupulous in detailing and referencing his arguments.

So I’m currently heading into the middle of the book: chapter 12, Who Owns Scotland. That means I’ve scaled the foothills, and followed Wightman’s exegesis of  land-grabs:

  • feudalism;
  • the Reformation, and how that meant Church lands were acquired by you-can-guess-who;
  • the devices and desires of lawyers, working assiduously in the interests of you-can-guess-who (with many a crumb falling into their maws from the rich man’s table);
  • what, in English terms, would be enclosures, but for Scotland is the way commons were appropriated by you-can-guess-who, at the expense of the vast majority of the populace.

Those are Wightman’s Big Four land grabs, to which in chapters 8 and 9, he adds:

  • the way the assets and properties of the burghs of Scotland were acquired by devious means and to the benefit of you-can-guess-who;

and how, having run out of local realms to conquer,

  • “the sixth land-grab — colonial adventures”: there was land left to plunder beyond Scotland’s shores and Scotland’s land-owners were enthusiastic participants in the imperial century following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo [page 87].

That one gives Wightman the wry opportunity to reward his readers with the final bit of imperial pink to be imprinted on the world map:

On 18 September 1955, Captain Connell of HMS Vidal, acting in pursuance of a royal warrant , led a naval expedition which landed on the rock, planted a Union flag, affixed a bronze plaque and formally annexed Rockall to the British crown. Lieutenant-Commander Scott announced to his two companions on the rock and to the bemused puffins, guillemots and other seabirds in the area, ‘In the name of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, I hereby take possession of this island of Rockall.

The three men stood to attention as the flag was raised and HMS Vidal sailed past and unleashed a twenty-one gun salute as the final act of territorial annexation in the history of the British Empire drew to a close.

Compare that with wikipedia on the same incident. I was greatly disappointed to find that fine naval vessel (all 1,940 tonnes displacement, with no fewer than four 3-pounder “saluting guns”)  was named, not for the distinguished American ironist, novelist and essayist — which would be too, too, sweetly appropriate — but after an influential surveyor or explorer of the Royal Navy… the nineteenth century surveyor Alexander Thomas Emeric Vidal. [Just as well I proof-read that: the ever-interfering spell-check had rendered his middle name as Emetic. Still …]

Perhaps the brightest moment (though I have hopes for the 200 pages yet to come) in Wightman’s ruthless dissection of all that was and is adrift with Scottish land-holding is this:

Another celebrated case concerned what was then known as the Pilmour Links and Commonty in St Andrews and is now better known as the Old Course, the most famous golf course in the world. In 1797, the Town Council was bankrupt and sold the town common to Charles Dempster, a rabbit farmer. The local inhabitants were furious at the fact that their historic commonty was to be turned into a rabbit warren. They obtained legal ruling that they had a customary right to play golf and to destroy the rabbits. This led to a series of ‘community riots’ and twenty years of legal and physical war between the rabbit farmers and the golfers before the golfers prevailed and secured their rights. Without this action and the legal decision that upheld the townspeople’s common rights, there would probably be no golf links in St Andrews today.

In which case, the Lady in my Life would have been standing on a bunny-burrow last Friday:

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