Monday, 17 December 2007

Tommy comes out gunning

Yesterday's news that colourful (in more ways than one) former MSP Tommy Sheridan has been charged with perjury over evidence he gave in his libel trial with the News of the World might not come as a surprise to some people.

Some might say that it couldn't happen to a nicer chap, but I certainly wouldn't want to denigrate such a fine, upstanding (and litigious) man as Mr Sheridan.

As legal proceedings are active, I can't comment on the substance of the allegations. However, I was intrigued by the statement he gave to the media on leaving the police station after being charged. In this, he said that he was the victim of a witch-hunt orchestrated by the Murdoch Empire.

I have no idea whether or not this is true, but if it is, I'm certainly impressed by the scale of the conspiracy launched by Rupert Murdoch, encompassing as it does four out of six of Tommy's then SSP colleagues in the Scottish Parliament who gave evidence against him, several other Scottish Socialist Party members who also testified, the judge at the libel trial who requested the investigation into perjury at the trial (into all witnesses, not just Tommy), the Lothian and Borders police who carried out the probe, and presumably the voters of Glasgow who failed to re-elect Tommy to the Scottish Parliament. Even by the Dirty Digger's standards, this is very good going.

But can someone supply me with a credible reason why Murdoch should go to such lengths? I can't actually work out why he would go to such trouble. Tommy Sheridan was the leader of a group of just six members of the 129-member Scottish Parliament. Even on the most optimistic scenario for the SSP in the 2007 elections, they would barely have scraped into double figures (as it was, in reality they lost all their seats at Holyrood). And, lest we forget, the Scottish Parliament has absolutely no powers over broadcasting or newspaper regulation. As far as I'm aware, Sheridan wasn't proposing to nationalise Sky Sports or ban the Scottish Sun, neither of which I suspect would have gone down terribly well in Shettleston. So what did Murdoch have to gain from destroying Tommy Sheridan?

I also note that Tommy complained about the waste of resources involved in the perjury investigation. However, try as I might, I can find no record of his impassioned protest against such waste when Tory figures such as Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken faced similar allegations.

Tommy Sheridan, you're incredible.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Danny Alexander reselected

Danny Alexander MP was last night unanimously reselected as the Lib Dem candidate to fight Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey at the next Westminster General Election. I look forward to working hard to help secure his re-election.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Rough justice?

The saga over Donald Trump's proposed £1bn golf investment in Aberdeenshire rumbles on, with the news today that the planning committee chairman whose casting vote saw the proposal rejected by Aberdeenshire Council, Lib Dem councillor Martin Ford, has been voted out of his post by his fellow councillors.

The vote was 26-10 to remove him, meaning that 32 of the 68 Aberdeenshire councillors failed to vote on this issue (I believe three were absent and 29 abstained). That level of abstention is shocking. On a relatively simple matter, whether someone should stay in office or not, councillors really should have the guts to stand up for what they believe in and vote one way or another. Regardless of what they thought of the actual decision, if they thought Cllr Ford was well within his rights to use his casting vote against the project, then they should have backed him. If not, they should have voted against.

I also think that questions need to be asked of at least 14 Lib Dem councillors who failed to back Cllr Ford. I would have thought that one of the basic elements of being part of a political group on a council is that you support fellow group members when they are under fire, especially if, as in this case, the person concerned has done absolutely nothing wrong.

The behaviour of those who failed to vote is in stark contrast to Cllr Ford's own conduct. He refused to just roll over and let his tummy be tickled by a developer promising to throw millions into his area, but instead decided that the environmental costs of the scheme outweighed the possible benefits. In doing so, he was standing up for what he thought was best for the area.

Now, I don't know whether Cllr Ford and the others who voted against the Trump scheme were correct or not. I don't know whether the economic benefits outweigh the environmental drawbacks, in particular the damage which would be done to the sand dunes by the proposed development. I do know that the people who are best placed to make that decision are the local councillors in Aberdeenshire.

That is why it is so disappointing that a few days ago, the SNP government in Scotland decided to call in the application and decide it at a national level. This is yet another broken promise by First Minister Alex Salmond, who before the elections in May was certainly making noises about placing more trust in local government. Yet the first time there's anything controversial, he decides that civil servants in Edinburgh are better placed to decide the matter than the people in the local community.

Even worse is the fact that the day before the scheme was called in, Salmond met officials from the Trump organisation, which indicates to me that he is acting at their behest in calling in the application. That creates a direct conflict of interest, which I think means that the only way the application can now be decided is through a public inquiry.

I think the only person who emerges with any real credit from this whole affair is Cllr Ford. Several of his fellow Aberdeenshire councillors don't and the opportunist scumbag Alex Salmond certainly doesn't.

LATER: I had meant to mention that Iain Dale (the Lib Dem one) has also given his views on this.

Al or nothing

Like many people, I saw only a brief clip on the news of Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. But the full speech is well worth reading, which you can do here.

Well said, Chris!

No, not Chris Huhne this time, but Chris Keating, who has posted this about the abhorrent practice of 'waterboarding'', in support of Amnesty International's Unsubscribe Me campaign.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Red card!

Imagine for a moment that you're a scheduler for a small regional television company and you have the choice of showing one of two live Champions League football matches featuring British teams, neither of which is from your region.

Do you go for:

(a) A match which is crucial for one of the British sides, which is being shown on the rest of the network of which you're part, where if that side wins they qualify for the next stage of the Chanpions League but if they lose they go out.


(b) A largely meaningless game, where the British team has already qualified and their opponents are likely to be going out, barring a freak result. This match is also being shown on your sister channel, so most people do already have the option of watching it if they want and you'd therefore be duplicating the transmission.

If your answer was (b), then congratulations, there's a job available for you at STV.

Monday, 10 December 2007

In a spin over wind power

What is it about this government that even when they're trying to do something right, they still get things wrong?

Take for instance today's announcement about wind power. As someone who thinks the UK could be doing far more to move down the road towards renewable energy, you might expect me to welcome the government's commitment to generating all electricity for domestic use from offshore wind farms by 2020. And, insofar as it goes, it is good.

But scratch beneath the surface and you soon find that it's the same old Labour bluster and spin. For a start, by announcing the proposals first in the media and then at a European energy conference in Berlin, John Hutton broke the pledge which Gordon Brown gave when he took over to make major announcements to Parliament first. That happens very frequently now, but it's still worth pointing out when it occurs.

And turning to the substance of the issue itself, the government's announcement is as hollow as it could possibly be. For a start, the 2020 ambition doesn't even seem to have the firm status of being a target, but is rather more of a hope or aspiration. But without additional government support or guaranteed supply contracts for energy firms wishing to build offshore wind farms, it's very difficult to see how those 7,000 new turbines are going to be built by 2020.

Furthermore, if it's to have any credibility, the government should really be looking at renewable energy sources as a whole, not just putting all its eggs into the offshore wind energy basket. For instance, why is there no mention of wave and tidal energy? Companies like the Inverness-based Wavegen are developing this technology and surely it would be sensible to consider this at the same time as promoting offshore wind farms, especially given the advantage which wave energy has of being permanently available, unlike wind power. And what of solar or geothermal power? I don't see any mention of what contribution they could make in today's announcement.

In his response to today's announcement, Lib Dem environment spokesman and leadership contender Chris Huhne was surely correct to highlight that projects like a Severn barrage could play a big role in generating clean energy, and also to say that there should be greater support for micro-generation in the form of a high feed-in tariff when exporting power to the national grid, as they have in Germany. In addition, the government has to make much greater efforts to promote energy conservation.

Unless it is prepared to take steps like that, then the government stands very little chance of meeting its shiny new renewable electricity target by 2020. In the absence of any firm commitments, we can suspect that this is just another example of spin from a government which is more concerned about being seen to take action on climate change rather than actually taking the decisions needed.

And this proves what exactly...?

Although I'm a Chris Huhne supporter in the leadership election, this has to be one of the silliest campaign postings there's been on behalf of either candidate. Doing a map showing that Huhne apparently has nationwide appeal won't make anyone vote for him. Chris's campaign would have to have gone seriously awry for that not to be the case. And I'm sure that a similar map could be produced for Clegg's campaign. I know it's near the end of the campaign, chaps, but try and keep up the standards.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Taking Liberties and taking action

Today I finally got around to watching the DVD of Taking Liberties which I won courtesy of Liberal England - and I urge anyone who cares about freedom in this country to do the same.

I was already aware that the Labour government's record on civil liberties was terrible, but even I had my eyes opened as to just how poor it actually is. When someone can be threatened with arrest just for having the word 'peace' written on a cake, you know the idea that the UK can be considered a country in which freedom is valued is unfortunately just not true.

Chris Atkins' film is immensely thought-provoking. It covers all the well-known cases - the Fairford protestors, Maya Evans, Brian Haw, Walter Wolfgang, etc - as well as quite a few with which people might be less familiar. For instance, the EDO protest against an arms maker in Brighton was not one I had really heard of before. It also allowed people like former Guantanamo detainee Moazzem Begg and one of the people acquitted of the so-called ricin plot to have their say.

I don't think Atkins' film actually said anything which wasn't known before. What was effective was bringing together in one place all the different ways in which Labour under Blair and Brown has been and is continuing to take away basic liberties which people have taken for granted for generations.

But despite the vast catalogue of infringements on our freedom, the basic message of the film is positive. It celebrates the fact that people can take on and beat the people who try and take away our liberties (the Fairford protestors, for instance, eventually won their case in the House of Lords).

So, while I would recommend that everyone see Taking Liberties, I would empasise that watching it is not enough. If you care about freedom in this country, then join Liberty, support NO2ID (that reminds me, I really must get around to sending off my pledge money), join one of the demos in Parliament Square, I don't mind what you do (yes, you!), but do something.

After all, it's your freedom that's being taken away.

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