I am an oil tanker, Dickie Arbiter is on fire in the Gulf

Dickie Arbiter is a very nice man. He is currently publicising his auto-biography. This includes his time as Royal Press secretary. But I will always remember him as one of the two main newsreaders on Independent Radio News in the 70s and 80s. While a student, I used to mimic his machine-gun delivery of the words “Independent Radio News at nine, this is Dickie Arbiter”. One day he mixed up his words and started the news with the classic statement above. Happy days!

Submarine cables – resources on the web **Serious nerd alert**

cs sovereignThere’s a whole glorious mine of nerdy information on submarine cables available. I am a mild nerd in this area, due to my interest in my home county of Cornwall, where many submarine cables come ashore. Steven Heaton’s site is a wonderful source of information on this subject. He recently linked to the Kingfisher bulletins which fortnightly report hazards to fishing, including exposed subsea cables. There’s a whole archive going back three years! I don’t think I’ll look through all of that archive….

Another superb resource on this subject is the Flickr photostream of Global Marine Photos which has many images of marine cable laying, including the one above of the cable layer ship CS Sovereign.

Photo by Global Marine Photos

Referendum accuracy petitions should be used to educate people in the count process

The video above is one of several which have pinged off some petitions for a recount of the Scottish referendum result.

My view is that such petitions are an excellent opportunity. Here are people (who have signed the petitions) who are engaged in the electoral process and passionate about it.

They should be locked in a room for four hours with Dr Mark Pack and Colin Rosenstiel while they explain the count process to them. (Joke)

Seriously, this is an excellent opportunity to tell people about the count process.

There are many checks and balances. There are many counting agents from all sides of the contest (in this case the “yes” and “no” campaigns). They have wide access to the count, to scrutinise all activities and point out any suspected errors to the count officials.

In the case of the above video it is obvious that the lady has made a mistake and is correcting her mistake.

As for the “yes” votes behind a “no” sign at the Dundee count, this was explained by the Yes campaign in Dundee on the night:

How do I pay tribute to Alex Salmond?

A “++Breaking news” post on Liberal Democrat Voice asked commenters to “lean more towards tributes than we might otherwise”.

Well, that’s very nice. Indeed, as I try to emphasise when I criticise politicians, I am sure Alex Salmond is a very nice man indeed. I am sure that if I shared a few drams with him in the comfort of a couple of deep armchairs in a hotel bar somewhere in Scotland, we would get on like a house on fire.

But as a politician, despite deep and long thought, I have been unable to come up with a tribute to him which won’t sound sarcastic enough to strip the varnish off an old bannister rail.

So, despite starting to type one, I have not left a comment on the appropriate LDV comment thread.

He is a “respected economist” we are told. Yes, a “respected economist” who couldn’t sort out a half-decent post-independence currency solution.

He is a “great campaigner”. Yes, a “great campaigner” who lost.

He is “very popular in Scotland”. Yes, so “very popular in Scotland” that, by a margin of two to one, Scottish women don’t trust him.

Oh well, at least I have put up a nice photo of him.

Gove, then Redwood on the telly – two red flags in one day!

It is a fair rule of thumb that if the defenestrated Michael Gove appears on TV (as he did on Thursday night), it represents a bit of a red flag. If we then have, as we had yesterday, John Redwood blinking into the daylight on Sky News, then that is another red flag. The klaxons sound off. Add in orange flag-wielder Frank Field and we have a full-blown emergency on our hands. Or a “tear-arse panic”, if you prefer.

We’ve just had the most tumultuous democratic event that most British people have experienced in their lifetimes. We’ve just stepped back from the brink of a nightmare. So, I propose some UK-wide community deep breathing exercises. Politicians should get some sleep and calm down.

That very orange flagger, Mr Field, said (I think) that we are in danger of doing constitutional change “on the hoof”. Well, actually all the questions coming up have had commissions looking at them by the shedload since the time of Gladstone. The Barnett Formula has had the Lord Richards Lords select committee and the Steel commission looking at it. The West Lothian question has had the McKay commission looking at it, as stipulated in the coalition agreememt. These are well ploughed fields of thought.

It is not often that the front page of a tabloid paper, and a regional one at that, becomes a major constitutional source document. But the front page of the Daily Record of September 16th has ascended to those rarefied Olympian heights. Oxygen masks are required at One Central Quay, the Daily Record’s Glasgow HQ. I refer to “The Vow” signed by the three main party leaders.

If you read it, it doesn’t promise many hard specifics, with one or two notable exceptions. It promised “extensive new powers” for the Scottish Parliament. That’s quite vague. It assumes the continuation of the Barnett Formula, which is, admittedly, barking mad. (Even Joel Barnett says the formula is “fundamentally flawed“). It says the Scottish Parliament will have the “final say” on NHS spending.

So far so good/bad. And then Cameron ruined the whole thing by talking about “English votes for English laws”. Oh, gor blimey.

The Scottish “vow” needs to be implemented on time. That is non-negotiable. To rat on that vow would be a monumental mistake which would echo down the generations for centuries. (And you would have thought, in Clegg’s case, that he had done enough pledge signing for one lifetime).

I don’t think the West Lothian question can be realistically solved according to the same timetable. I don’t even think it needs to be solved by the same timetable. It would have been solved years ago if it was that simple. (By the way, my view on this conjoins with that of Lord Faulkner who said recently that the best answer to the West Lothian question is to stop asking it.) The McKay commission proposed not banning non-English MPs from voting on English matters. Instead it suggested this:

Decisions taken in the Commons which have a separate and distinct effect for England (or England-and-Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs sitting for constituencies in England (or England-and-Wales).

…adding this rider:

Our proposals retain the right of a UK-wide majority to make the final decisions where they believe UK interests or those of a part of the UK other than England should prevail. We expect that governments will prefer compromise to conflict.

…A nice big fudge, in other words. But, then, most British constitutional changes are huge fudges. We need more fudge and less ludicrous black/white clarity from the likes of Gove and Redwood.

I suppose, at a stretch, it’s possible that the McKay commission solution could be implemented by the same timetable as “The (Scottish) Vow”. But to try and keep Gove, Redwood, Bone, Hollobone, Laing and Co. happy on the subject at the same time (as Cameron appears to be attempting) is completely insane. We’ll all go down a dark hole and never come back up to breathe fresh air for decades.

On Alex Salmond’s departure, walking on eggshells and Clackmannanshire (check spelling – Ed)

What an extraordinary week in British politics!

I write as a lot of “++”s get used to send the news of Alex Salmond’s resignation round the world. What amazes me is that Salmond gets written up as a very clever politician. Well, he is clever in a very short-term tactical sense. But he is one of the most ludicrous small-minded point-scoring politicians I have ever known of.

The classic example is when he berated Nick Robinson last week.

As I wrote at the time, he focussed all his huge skill and energy on the low-lying fruit of attacking the BBC, while leaving the “stupidity on stilts” of his currency policy ridiculously wide open. It’s like attending to a pimple on your foot while your posterior is on fire.

I would compare Salmond unfavourably to Donald Dewar, founder of the Scottish parliament. Donald Dewar seemed quite a pleasant cove. Clever, witty and engaging. I am sure Alex Salmond is a good man and lovely in private. Publicly, Alex Salmond is obnoxious. Point scoring. Stupid accusations. Completely lacking in good grace. Ridiculous. But it didn’t do him any good. He put himself in the nation-founding statesperson class, but he simply wasn’t up to that class. I would also say that he proves how ridiculous any form of nationalism can be, speaking as a non-nationalist Cornishman. Having the best economy and society for all is the goal of any collection of people – not the narrow, binary question of separate nationhood.

I am today walking on egg-shells. I know and work with a lot of Scottish people. But I am not sure who voted yes and who voted no, so I am respecting them by not mentioning the referendum result. My admiration and, nay, love for the people of Scotland has been enhanced by all this. They have made their decision without a shot being fired and with great dignity, seasoned with their usual honesty and brashness.

Clackmannanshire. What a gorgeous name! I hesitate to say that, as it will probably come across as patronising. (Indeed it probably is patronising). But I can’t imagine a better area to be first to declare their result. Wonderful. As a tribute to the people of Scotland I present a picture taken near Alloa, Clackmannanshire above.

Last minute donation pleas – are they by chance related?

imageOn November 1st 2012 I received this email from Jim Messina, Campaign manager, Obama for America:

Paul —

In about 48 hours, we’re making our final budget decisions as a campaign.

We’ll look at what we have in the bank and match it up with what we think we need to do to win in these last few days.

If we can’t fully fund our operations at this stage, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

Every dollar that comes in is budgeted and put to use right away, down to the last penny.

According to our records associated with this exact email address, you haven’t given to this campaign yet. (Editor’s note: This was due to the fact that it is ILLEGAL for non-US residents to donate to US election campaigns).

Don’t let this election come and go without doing your part — donate $5 or more for the final push.

We learned last week that Mitt Romney and the Republicans have $45 million more to spend in the last leg of this campaign.

That’s up to $4 million more per day at their disposal than we have right now.

We are in a strong position with five days to go. But we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed so close to the very end.

There is no putting it off. I need you to get on board before it’s too late. Please donate $5 or more today:




Then this week I received this email from Adam Stacura which is remarkably similar. Are they by chance related?

Hi Friend,

You’ve already done so much to help keep Scotland in the UK. Thank you.

At 10pm tonight I’ll be meeting with my campaign team to plan the final few days of the campaign. This is our last chance to make spending decisions.

At the moment I don’t have the money I need to get a No vote on Thursday.

A donation from you before 10pm tonight will be spent this week in Scotland.

The polls show that this campaign is neck and neck. The outcome could be decided by a few thousand votes.

If we vote to stay together Scotland will have a brighter future. But if we lose, Scotland is out of the United Kingdom forever. There’s no going back.

The campaign has been built on the time, effort and donations from thousands of people just like you.

Donate before 10pm tonight so we can get the result Scotland and the UK deserves.

Thank you,

Adam Stachura

My photo above shows the “Squinty Bridge” across the Clyde

Is this Alex Salmond's "Sheffield rally moment"?

Full video here.

I couldn’t help noticing this smile from Alex Salmond (above) after he had finished responding to the BBC’s Nick Robinson, at his (Salmond’s) press conference last week.

Bear in mind that Mr Salmond was responding through an amplified microphone, while Nick Robinson could only make his responses (after his initial question) in unamplified shouts, which hardly anyone could hear. Plus there was, extraordinarily, a shipped-in audience of Yes supporters, who were, obsequiously, applauding Salmond. And it had been couched, bizarrely, as an “international press conference”, so that Alex Salmond could cut off Robinson, with the excuse that he urgently needed to address a question from Madrid.

After responding to Robinson, and receiving applause from his supporters, Salmond couldn’t resist the smile above, because he was, presumably, so pleased with himself.

…So pleased that he had deflected questions about the projected movement of the HQ of the Royal Bank of Scotland to London, in the event of a Yes vote, after it has been headquartered in Edinburgh for nearly 300 years. I mean, it’s the Royal Bank of Scotland! It does what it says on the tin. Or, at least, it has done up until now. But, oh no, Alex Salmond is really pleased with himself because he deflected all this, by demanding a full enquiry into why the news of the proposed move was confirmed by the Treasury twelve hours before its official announcement. …An enquiry which was convincingly rejected out of hand by the UK Cabinet Secretary within 24 hours.

To me, the smile you see above is unmistakable. It is the smile of a bully.

It is the smile which, I would venture to suggest, has led to Alex Salmond being described as a “man so pleased with himself that he would drink his own bath water”. And, perhaps, that smile is part of the reason why a recent poll found that, by a margin of two to one, women in Scotland don’t trust Salmond.

I would also suggest that Salmond is a man of low intellect. This is evidenced by the fact that, while he seeks the low-lying fruit of beating up the BBC, he fails to solve the “stupidity on stilts” of the currency question.

Note: The “Sheffield rally moment” referred to in the title of this post refers to Neil Kinnock’s trip and “We’re alright” cry on the eve of the 1992 general election.

#indyref – unleashing the beast

Others may disagree, but I like to think that I am normally calm and polite.

But, when I am alone with Radio 4 Today, I am occasionally aware of a beast in the car with me, shouting at John Humphrys:


And the Neverendum has most regularly brought that beast to the fore.

Alone in the gym last week, I was aware of the beast as I watched Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed on a ferry (she was on the ferry, I was on the treadmill). I’m actually sure Nicola Sturgeon is a good person with a good brain. But she has that Salmond habit (they are both fishy people) of having that little suggestion of a smirk, which says:

I am super-intelligent and you, oh interviewer, are a complete numpty and I will have to explain to you why you are a complete numpty, even though I am actually talking complete bollocks myself.

I heard the beast:

STOP SMILING YOU ******* ******

And what of Alex Salmond? Well, there the beast is not allowed to escape any more. My radio off switch is pictured below. It is a nice chunky one which can be, in emergencies, hit with the flat of my left hand, with some force. So I don’t know what Salmond is saying these days because my hand gets to the off button before he gets into his second word. So the beast hasn’t pronounced on Salmond recently. How is he doing?