Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Land tax - its time has come?

The LibDems have just published an interesting discussion paper on local government finance policy.

Raising income tax has become increasingly toxic in Britain. All parties are fearful to even talk about raising it. This means that as governments have increased spending the only way they can politically raise more money is through higher borrowing and increasing indirect taxation, which hits the poor harder than the wealthy. 

At the same time raising local government finance and funding for the needs of rural communities have both become increasingly difficult.

The LibDems are great believers in communities and providing them with the opportunities and resources to manage their own affairs. In their paper they argue localised control of resources is crucial for supporting and delivering the right policies and better outcomes for communities.

They set out a four pillar approach for local government finance built on income tax, property tax, fees & charges and special local measures with an equalisation mechanism rum by central government to share resources between areas.

Amongst some of the interesting proposals they discuss a hypothecation of locally-raised income tax revenues as a step towards a locally administered income tax.

They also discuss a revised form of property tax to make it more efficient (through basing it on undeveloped land values), targeting wealth and re-localising control of rates.

Central government would retain a fund to support local needs and innovation through combinations of direct grants and matching funds to local authorities and other local bodies.

At the centre of these proposals is giving local authorities a much freer hand to raise reasonable revenues for local resources. This would be based on a wider and more diverse revenue basis, including the abilities to borrow and for investment according to local requirements.

Whether these ideas are the answer I cannot say but I believe they are a very welcome discussion and ideas worth exploring from a party which has always punched above its weight in idea generation.

I would like to see the Scottish party develop this thinking further.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Are free prescriptions holding Scotland back?

I heard on the radio today that people in Scotland are three times less likely to get access to a new cancer drug than neighbours in England.

Apparently the gap between England and Wales is even greater.

People in Scotland and Wales will be asking why their chances of accessing an important cancer drug are so much worse than in England?

In recent times there has been controversy as Scotland has abolished prescription charges, seeming to be offering a better health deal than in England and Wales.

However, there are some aspects of medical care where the offering outside of Scotland is better than north of the border.

For example, Polyclinics are being developed in England in a number of suburban areas.  These are clinics where a wide range of services including diagnostics can be delivered without the need for an overnight stay.  They are often attached to a hospital.  This is an important development and promises to make a big improvement in the provision of health care.

Are free prescription charges holding Scotland back in any way?

So much depends on prioritisation and the allocation of resources in healthcare as it does in other walks of life.  It is an interesting question nonetheless. There is always likely to be a cost in offering a service like free prescription charges.  It may be that advances in primary care or cancer treatments could be amongst them.
I have heard it argued that having free prescriptions is actually quite a cosmetic policy – a piece of window dressing that doesn’t do much for the fundamentals of healthcare.

Before their abolition, most medication was available for free.  Kids, anyone in full time education, OAPs and anyone on benefits got their meds for free anyway.  Add to that anyone with a ‘lifetime’ prescription and the number goes up again.

Free prescription charges have been a good thing but it may be that we find there are better ways to support the nation’s health.

I don’t know the answer to this and I will read with interest anything else that comes up, but I think it is important that free prescriptions do not become a sacred cow and we ask the question from time to time!    

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Roundup of Scottish blogging

As some of you will know, Scottish Roundup does a sort of "What the Papers Say" of the Scottish blog scene every week.

Loads of bloggers take it in turns to reveiw the Macblogosphere once a week - which is quite vibrant.

I did it this week - my debut review.  there was quite a lot going on!

You can read the roundup here

Have a read and discover some first rate bloggers, if you don't know them already.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Nick Clegg - grace and resilience under presssure

The Cleggster visited Edinburgh yesterday and I was lucky enough to get a chance to hear him speak.

He started by saying that it has been a tough time for the LibDems since entering coalition government with the Conservatives.  And it has been tough nowhere more than Scotland.

With this in mind it was interesting to see what Clegg had to say and what reception he got from Scottish LibDems.

He got a laugh when he pointed out that the universally inoffensive party has become universally offensive.

Nick said he had often asked himself, "could I have done something different, should I have done something different?"

He concluded no! He pointed out that there were parts of Britain where there was an intense and profound enmity towards the Conservative Party and the LibDem business arrangement with them in this parliament was a real turn-off to voters.  This was true in Scotland but also in wales and may parts of northern England.

The same would be true in reverse with any alliance with the Labour party.  The real tribal hatred of Labour and socialism was deeply ingrained across large swathes of the south of England and parts of the midlands.

Peacetime coalition was a really mind blowing concept for many in our highly polarised political system.

And the LibDems face bile daily from certain newspapers who used to ignore or patronise the LibDems. "We’ve messed up the mental map of both the Guardian and the Daily Mail," he said.

The subtext for the hour Clegg spoke and took questions soon developed.  It was firstly the need to show grace and resilience under pressure; and secondly the need to connect with the day to to day concerns of men and women and not get carried away by political hobby horses.

It was important to remember that everything the LibDems will achieve has to be in coalition with others with just 8% of the MPs in the House of Commons.  "After all we did not win the General Election."  There has to be compromise and pragmatism to get things done.  But Nick has always been an advocate of working with others and pluralism to achieve benefits for the people.

There were some who ranted seeing every compromise as a betrayal but this was not realistic and was often tribal posturing by those stuck in that polarised model of the political process.

Nick argued passionately it was about having a focus on what difference we make to peoples' lives.

The coalition and the cuts

He also reminded the audience that the coalition was formed in the midst of an economic emergency.  We had to start to deal with the deficit because if, as a country, we could not remain masters of our own destiny then very quickly we would have found ourselves subject to enormous uncontrollable international forces that could threaten to destroy our economy.

That was why it was so important to start the programme for government by dealing with the deficit.

There was an argument going around that there was an agenda of public sector cuts being promoted by a right wing ideological faction in government.

He reminded us that the alternative Labour plan involved £14bn of cuts, compared with the coalition plan of £16bn!!  And that the proposed spending cuts would take public sector spending down to 41% of GDP and this was still 5% more than when Tony Blair took over as PM!

On the economic question Nick Clegg was at his most impressive when talking about what he saw as the complete collapse of the way we have been running the UK economy since the mid 1980s.  As an idealised view of financial services relying on city as an engine of growth; complete with very high levels of both government and private debt.

This created an illusion of prosperity.  There is a need now, he argues, to develop a new vision for what the new economy looks like based on green sustainable industries and producing goods and services for which there is a demand.

Rebuilding trust

Someone pointed out to Nick that "we’ve lost the trust of the people" and asked, "how can we rebuild that trust?"

Clegg was very realistic in his answer

1. We can't reconstruct trust overnight

2. We need to explain why we have done what we have done

3. We need to explain what we are trying to do for long term benefit of society and the economy.

4.  We need to deliver on the four priorities the LibDems set at the General Election in 2010.

5.  In this way people can understand the overall purpose of what we are trying to do.

What did he feel the LibDems had delivered in government?

Nick showed confidence and self belief and a wide grasp of his brief.

Firstly, in terms of the four key LibDem priorities he picked out what was being delivered on:

  • Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket. - the raising of the tax threshold to benefit the lower paid
  • A fair chance for every child. - which in England and Wales has meant targeted resources to nursery education and the pupil premium
  • A fair future, creating jobs by making Britain greener. - this has seen enormous progress, the 'Green Deal' which is intended to revolutionise the energy efficiency of British properties and the commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30%, and our input into the Cancun conference. 
  • A fair deal for you from politicians - the agenda of reform including the House of Lords and role of MPs. 
Secondly, look out for how the Green agenda develops and we take tax reform forward and some important developments to take banking reform forward.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly to Nick Clegg I felt, he picked out three key achievements

  • We have 1/4 million more apprenticeships than under Labour - thanks to Vince Cable
  • We have restored the earnings link with pensions thanks to Steve Webb
  • We have started to reform the income tax threshold.
Indeed Nick picked out Steve Webb, the pensions minister, as an expert in the field who has been winning praise from all sides for what he is doing with pensions!

On Scotland

Nick was effusive in his praise for Willie Rennie, the Scottish LibDem leader.

As well as praising his energy he noted Willie was a brilliant example of the graceful resilience he called for.

Nick said the thing that Willie was doing particularly well in this regard was not to rant, or to be negative but to keep asking questions of the Nationalist administration at Holyrood.  Question how things will work, how they will be implemented, how much they will cost and where the money will come from?

Already there was a sense that when Alex Salmond climbed down from wrapping himself in the Saltire and engaged in the detail of substantive questions that made a difference to men and women there were gaps.  Particularly, in this term there is a need to move the focus away from constitutional questions that delight political obsessives and towards what it will mean for ordinary men and women of Scotland.

A note of optimism

Nick struck a note of optimism towards the end of his talk.

Membership has begun to rise again, albeit slowly.  The LibDems were beginning to win local by-elections again in some parts of the country.  The opinion polls are seeing a slight uplift.

More people are saying quietly on the doorstep that the LibDems are doing the right thing.  Not always of course - there is hostility in a way the LibDems have not been used to but there is an improvement in the air.

The significance of this was that Nick felt some LibDems have been left shell shocked by a tough year but it was time to get back on the front foot.  There would be challenges but there were more open ears than perhaps many realised - to someone who communicates what they are doing and why with grace and resilience.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Why Edinburgh City Council has an extremely effective administration

Just one final reflection on the council by-election in Edinburgh last week and I think this is important.  The idea that the LibDem led council is a bad administration is a total myth and bears no relation to an examination of the facts.

Over the weekend I have talked with a number of people close to council affairs.  Since 2007 the LibDems have in fact run the city extremely well but what they have failed to do is be political and have at times lacked an eye to the politics of some of the situations the city council has faced. 

Just to pick a few key points

The LibDem have put the council back on a firm financial footing after replacing a disastrous Labour regime last time who left the municipal finances in a parlous state!

This council administration has been enormously successful with its housing policies.  They have started the first council house building for decades, have improved the conditions of the existing housing stock and homelessness is falling.

They have transformed care for the elderly and the vulnerable for the better.

They have also increased recycling massively – by close to 50% and its getting better all the time.

In addition there has been some real added value capital investments bringing a variety of  deliverables to enhance communities across the city - in terms of education, leisure and community facilities.

And there has been more progress in terms of education, economic development, and council administration.  No doubt I will get the chance to write more about some of these over the next few weeks.

No doubt there are other factors the council's opponents will wish to throw into the pot to form parts of a heated debate between now and next May.  But the fact remains that far from being unsuccessful this has been an extremely effective and  positive administration for Edinburgh that has achieved a lot and made enormous progress across the board.

Friday, 19 August 2011

LibDems get a kicking

The LibDems took a kicking in a council by-election in Edinburgh yesterday.  LibDems taking a kicking in Scotland?  No change there then!  But this election was interesting for a number of reasons.

  • First it was an STV election so we see how the second preferences redistributed.
  • Second the ward was basically a 5 way dead heat last time!  
  • Third the LibDems are in power with the SNP in the city
  • Fourth the ward is right in the heart of the controversial Edinburgh Trams project and there was an anti trams independent.
The by-election in Central ward was caused by an SNP councillor resigning as he is going abroad to work.

There was a strong Conservative candidate who fought the election for Holyrood in May.  There was a feisty and high profile Independent fighting on the red hot issue of the Trams.  Going on second hand reports from the hustings there was a weak SNP candidate who should have been favourite.  Again, from second hand reports the Green, LibDem and Labour candidates all had their strengths and weaknesses and showed promise – the LibDem and Greens were first time candidates I believe.
  • The LibDems, Conservatives and Labour have all supported the Trams.
  • The Independent is anti-tram.
  • The SNP have positioned themselves as anti-tram though, as part of the administration, have voted for it but they distance themselves from decisions and the running of the transport brief.  

The basic numbers are these:

Last time
SNP 20%, Con 20%, LD 20%, Lab 18%, Green 17%

This time - First preferences
Con 837 (24%) SNP 797 (23%) Lab 682 (20%) Green 494 (14%) Independent 394 (9%) LD 251 (7%)

Second stage
LibDem votes then redistributed largely to the Tory and to the Green

LD Redistribution
67 to the Tory, 28 to SNP, 34 to Labour, 82 to the Green

Con 904, SNP 825, Lab 716, Green 576, Ind 402

Third stage
The Independent votes then redistributed to the Tory but with healthy numbers to the SNP and Green too.

Ind redistribution
139 to the Tory, 68 to SNP, 29 to Labour, 59 to Green

Con 1043, SNP 893, Lab 745, Green 635

Fourth stage
More Greens transferred to Labour than SNP

Green redistribution
67 to Tory, 188 to SNP, 223 to Labour

Con 1110, SNP 1081, Lab 968

Fifth stage
More Labour votes transfer to SNP but a surprisingly high amount go to the Tory.

Labour redistribution
154 to Tory, 287 to SNP  

SNP 1368, Con 1264

SNP Hold

A strong showing by the Tories, but with a good, known candidate.  Alright for the SNP and Labour advancing on 2007, but Labour should be disappointed they cannot do better.  The SNP nearly lost what should have been an easy win, but a stronger candidate would probably do better.  A poor result for the Greens and a disastrous one for the LibDems where they are being crushed between the rocks of the Coalition, the Trams and an unpopular council.  And will there be any anti-tram independents across the city next May?    

(Numbers sourced from @BritainVotes live feed)

Why the unemployment stats are baloney

The monthly unemployment stats were released this week.  Unemployment has gone up and the economy seems to be stagnating. 

One thing gets my goat about these figures. I read a lot of lazy journalism with such a shallow understanding of the employment situation in this country that it is meaningless.  The unemployment figures are therefore just a load of old baloney and commentaries are pants.

Then I read a great New Statesman post on Wednesday that explains what the situation is and quantifies it.  It is perfectly understandable and not over long - read it here.

The key points are these:
  • Unemployment in the UK is 2.49m or 7.9%

  • There are also 1.26m involuntary part-time workers.  These are part-time workers who want/need a full time jobs but cannot find one.  They represent 16% of the UK's 7.9m part-time workers. The number of involuntary part-timers has increased by 17% over 12 months. 

  • There are 601k temporary workers who could not find a permanent job (as opposed to those who did not want one) This is an increase of 5.8 % over 12 months. They represent 37 % of the UK's 1.6m temporary workers. category.
    Also women and young people are being particularly badly affected by unemployment at the moment.

    Female unemployment is 1.05m.  Youth unemployment is 949k.

    Women make up 65 % of the public sector workforce, so are being hit hardest just now by public sector cuts.  Women bore the brunt of redundancies with 69,000 made redundant over the last three months, this is up 41.5 % over 12 months.  (Though presumably men bore a heavier burden during the first part of the recession in 2008 onwards when the private sector was hit hardest)

    There is a real crisis of youth unemployment.  The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds not in full-time education is 18.8 %.  There is a risk that it will rise further as Scottish Higher and A-level students enter the labour market for the first time - and many fail to get into university as many are oversubscribed in the rush to gain places ahead of the introduction of fees in England and Wales.

    To understand unemployment in a time of stagnation you also need to understand under employment - ie all the people doing part time work or temporary contracts because full time work is not there.

    If you take these together this means 4.351m people are unemployed or under employed at the moment.  And this is without taking account of anyone who has replaced a well paid job with a much lower paid job.

    (ie Middle managers or professionals who now find themselves working in a supermarket, doing a much smaller and lower paid job for a small company or have started up as self employed after losing a job and are not earning much.)  This category is difficult to quantify but if we could it would probably take the unemployed and underemployed category over 5 million!!!

    This is the true size of unemployment.

    And the crisis in youth unemployment and the challenges for many women are the key themes.

    This is without addressing the issues of the long term unemployed, regional variations around the UK or any disproportionate affects on particular industries. 

    Thursday, 18 August 2011

    Be awkward, be courteous, be accurate...

    I have just spent a very entertaining hour listening to Tam Dalyell – veteran Labour politician and asker of the West Lothian question.  He treated his attentive audience to a romp through conspiracy theories and remembrances of Prime Ministers past.  

    Tam came over this evening as caring passionately about his country – both Scotland and the United Kingdom, and caring passionately about the institution of parliament and the democratic process. 

    He has made a career out of being his own man and a thorn in the side of the establishment as he holds them to book for standards of integrity.

    Dalyell is polite, his mind is sharp and he is blunt and clinical in the conclusions he draws.  Among these stark comments he made the following bold assertions tonight. 

    • Scotland is on a motorway to independence with no exits.
    • Tony Blair is by far the worst Prime Minister of Tam’s political life and lied about commitments he made to George Bush.
    • Michael Foot would have made a rather good Prime Minister.
    •  Mrs Thatcher lied to scupper a peace deal to allow her to press on with the Falklands war.
    • Al Megrahi is innocent of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing and Britain complicit in a cover up.

    He was speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival having recently published his memoirs.  He was affably and skilfully interviewed by James Naughtie of Radio 4’s Today programme for the hour long session in front of a rapt audience.  Naughtie carefully drew out all the good bits without allowing the evening to get bogged down on any one topic.

    Tam’s eyes lit up like a little boy when he can enter into the detail of documentation, timing and the paper trail of evidence that exposes the great and the good.  Dalyell’s style is to be polite, dignified and with a clinical relentlessness as he chases his pray.  Never confrontational or aggressive Tam has entitled his autobiography the Importance of Being Awkward.

    Baited by Naughtie on his relationship with Mrs Thatcher, Dalyell insisted there was never any enmity between them, merely that he was always polite and accurate in his questioning.

    Indeed, Dalyell seeks a certain straight line logic in his pursuit of the truth, missing perhaps a greater truth sometimes.

    What do I mean by this?

    Does it matter that Mrs Thatcher avoided going down a road marked Peruvian peace deal?  She knew that that was probably a distraction and the war needed to be won and the Belgrano removed as a threat irrespective of its exact position or direction of travel at any one time.

    Similarly is it really that significant that Tony Blair had probably made detailed undertakings to support Bush in Iraq when they met in Texas?  Now, I thought then as I think now that going to war in Iraq was wrong – both politically and morally.  However, it seems to me that on a matter such as this it is perfectably understandable that a Prime Minister would take a view and that is the direction in which he leads!  

    Far more interesting was the idea that the modern British Prime Ministers have no military experience and are far looser with sending troops into action than previous generations who have served in combat.  
    Tam also spoke a little of Lockerbie, a case riddled with conspiracy that he has investigated over the years.  He is adamant that Megrahi is innocent and he believes that Abu Nidal and the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine are responsible – presumably with a connection to Iran. He states that $10million was deposited in the PFLP bank account 2 days after Lockerbie in December 1988!

    Dalyell was not adamant about everything.  He says he was wrong to support Michael Foot for leadership of the Labour Party and that he should have supported Dennis Healey.  Paradoxically he said Foot would have made a good Prime Minister based on his ability to delegate effectively!

    Perhaps one of the most interesting questions to an audience in Edinburgh in 2011 was Tam Dalyell’s attitude to Scottish devolution.  He said his view was the same in 2011 as it had been in 1978. Devolution once given inevitably will lead to Independence.  This is because parliaments always want to gather power for themselves.  He feels this is a bad thing.  Strangely I thought he is strongly a fan of the EU but does not seem to carry his views to the logical conclusion that Europe will want more power and will seek to take them from the UK.  In this regard I don’t think Tam is right on the inevitability of anything.

    He raised another interesting point – what happens when England says no?  He meant England will lose patience as Scotland unpicks the union – even in trivial ways – and will accelerate independence for us.  But equally England could say no to many of the Devo Max solutions which involve ‘sharing’ sovereignty with Scotland.

    Undoubtedly Tam Dalyell is a man of enormous integrity and great intellectual energy.  A real big beast and character of Scottish politics, but enagaging as he is, I don’t remember him ever being truly that influential and I think there are all sorts of little holes in his thinking.

    Tam finished by quoting Harold MacMillan, who he had a very high regard for.  Tam was interested in ‘events dear boy, events’.  Perhaps this is the truth. He is happiest exposing some indiscretion or inconsistency around a major event rather than solving the problem and dealing with a complex situation.

    Tuesday, 16 August 2011

    David Cameron’s not had a good week!

    Dave has not had a good week.  At this moment of crisis for the country I feel he has come up rather short.  His handling of the crisis from the start has been far from sure footed.  This started with his initially slow reaction from holiday, through responses which seem a little knee jerk and have ended in an unconvincing tone not quite connecting with the people.

    There has been no ‘People’s Princess’ moment or set-piece like ‘Thatch’ the Leaderine, scarves flowing in a tank like a latter day Boudicca.  Even Gordon Brown – brilliant yet dysfunctional - had something of the ‘cometh the man, cometh the hour’ about him when he bounded around the G20 stage in London, leading the world in its moment of financial crisis.

    I do however have some sympathy with Dave over the Big Society (whispers – am I allowed to admit that).
    The idea was to transfer power from central government to local government, support co-ops and mutuals, provide more open and transparent ground and encourage active involvement in communities.

    As a Liberal I think that is all good.

    As a Liberal I want to balance the values of liberty, equality and community.  I want to intervene where we need to, to allow this.  For me this means dispersing power and fostering creativity.  As a Liberal I see the role of the state being to enable and to allow people to take part in the decisions that affect their lives – not control them!!

    So the Big Society concept is a good thing.  It is the basis on which the LibDems and the progressive Conservatives can do business (and remember – it is a business arrangement!)

    But the problem is, the Big Society itself has been rather nebulous and I don’t think the Conservatives get it anyway.  So it withers on the Tory vine.

    I believe there has always been much more to it than a front for cuts – socialists don’t get that!
    A rotten time for Dave though to try to introduce such an idea when he is having to introduce deep public sector cuts to see off the sovereign debt crisis!

    So, even though there is something of the school bully about Dave there is something quite interesting trying to get out.

    That’s another reason why it has not been a good week for him.

    He has pleased the right wing and the Daily Fail by wittering on about banning social media (the thin edge of an extremely dangerous wedge), toying with bringing the army onto the streets (wouldn’t work, ask the people of Northern Ireland) and generally talking tough (upsetting the police authorities as he went).

    It has been a bit knee jerk and I think Dave is going back to the right wing core and leaving considered Dave - who has a feel for the breaks in our society - behind.   

    Considered Dave, potentially, has it in him to lead at a time we need to stand back and act effectively.  Right wing Dave can’t.

    It is a cliché, but we need to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.  I know – this turned out to be an empty phrase you say.  But it doesn’t mean it isn’t what we should be doing.

    Our government needs to engage the problems unearthed by the rioting with emotional intelligence.

    We should take advice! And that includes taking advice and input from Americans who have some comparable experiences.  We can also get advice closer to home.  The Liverpool Matrix project apparently has some valuable lessons and Strathclyde Police have a great track record of dealing with gangs and youth violence and civil disorder.

    Indeed, we need to understand why the cities of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stayed calm. How did the great conurbations of Yorkshire and the North-East stay out of trouble?  And why were there no problems in Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton?

    I don’t know what the answer is but I have been mightily impressed by the credibility of those calling for the whole community to be involved in the solution to our social problems.

    This is about getting close to the people and working with them.  I read that where city authorities have been successful at dealing with problems they have involved the council, schools, local health and social professionals, community and outreach workers and the police.

    They have sought to understand, relate and communicate with people.  And, at the same time, emotional intelligence is about assertively drawing some clear lines about what is acceptable and where the lines are!
    As well as getting close to individuals and communities we need to be tough on gang culture and bad things that come with it – the casual violence, the lack of respect for people and property, sexism, bullying and extreme homophobia.

    This emotional intelligence and holistic approach seems to be at the foot of why things worked in Strathclyde – maybe it can work for Dave?    

    Monday, 15 August 2011

    Jupiter Artland - a hidden gem

    I had not heard of Jupiter Artland until a couple of weeks ago.  It is a sculpture park set in the grounds of Bonnington House at Wilkieston just outside Edinburgh.

    The result is really rather stunning and thought provoking, the works of art fusing effortlessly with the environment.

    Part parkland, part woodland, this perfectly formed space enjoys spectacular views over West Lothian.  North to the hills and the unmistakable silhouettes of the Forth Bridges, south-east to the Pentland Hills and all around rolling farmland.  The house itself is also very handsome.  The setting and the views are in fact amongst several surprises as West Lothian is not often thought of as a beautiful county.

    The Wilsons, who own Bonnington House, have spent several years putting together a collection inspired by the landscape and the environment, with spectacular results.

    The visitor walks through a trail finding surprising and striking creations in first one clearing, then another.  Sometimes abstract, sometimes almost realistic but always with a twist and a thought.  The park features many works and several working artists.  Some have been made in residence at Jupiter Artland while other pieces have been brought in.  However, they are always constructed to meld into the park almost organically.

    As one artist put it, it was important to see the land in the round, to see Artland as a concept rather than simply 'a parking lot for exhibits'.  I liked that description.

    The visitor must pick their own highlights but I was taken with a caged vortex, 5 rather sinister weeping girls and the massive spiral earth mounds musing on the cycle of life and the cell as an essential building block of creation.

    I described this as a hidden gem because I was not aware of Jupiter Artland before and it is visually striking, beautifully presented with excellent facilities and provocative.   It is an essential visit around Edinburgh whether you are an art fan or not.

    Have a look at their website if you want to see more...

    Saturday, 13 August 2011

    David Starkey digs a hole!

    David Starkey digs a hole for himself and keeps digging!

    As one of the comments says, "Starkey is like Enoch Powell - an educated bigot!"


    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    Police and thieves in the streets

    Police and thieves in the streets, so goes the lyrics of the Clash song!  In many ways 2011 seems like a re-run of 1981 to me.  Royal wedding, mass unemployment and riots in English inner cities.  Or is it?

    I read an excellent blog earlier this week from Dave Hill in the Guardian.  He pointed out that the riots produced a predictable polarisation of views.  The right condemn criminality, give uncritical support to the police and show a contempt for diagnosing the events in reference to any wider social and economic context.

    The left give an insistence that the events must be understood with reference to a social and economic context, whisper darkly about historic tensions with the Met and draw causal links with current government policies such as public sector cuts and the removal of the EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance).

    What struck me was how these riots, although sparked by tensions in Tottenham over a young man shot by police in controversial circumstances, became a semi orchestrated series of looting sprees and serious outbreaks of civil disorder.  At the root was organised theft of training shoes, HD TVs, Mac Books and Jewellery. 

    There seems little causal link with government policies or a general malaise in society.

    This is different from 1981 where general alienation caused a wave of serious mass riots in a series of English cities.

    While there seems to be a whole matrix of reasons driving this disorder what really seems to be driving it is gang culture and hatred of the police.  If we are to listen to the interviews with the rioters, or read their texts, or even their tweets it is all about getting 'dem feds' and comes with some real vitriol.  I also read about gangs in London in particular making schools tough places to maintain any authority, or leaving social workers in fear or even policemen.

    The point is this issue has been there for a long time through this government and the last, through global economic meltdown and through boom time.  The links of causation as a protest against the government just aren't there.

    Interestingly Diane Abbot seemed to think relations with the police while imperfect had improved in recent years.  Nevertheless, gang culture and kicking out at authority, the police in particular, seem sensible choices for some of the causes of the chaos.  I'm sure alienation, including economic alienation is part of this and there is plenty of evidence that civil disorder increases in periods of austerity.

    Its just that there hasn't been enough time for things this government is doing to work through the system to a large degree.  This is a breakdown which has been there for some time.

    The polarised name calling helps no one.  The predictable trotting out of second rate socialist theory is self righteous and boring and was lined up before anything happened.  We need a little time to stand back and understand the reasons for all of this in each city.

    A lot of the solutions will come from the street workers and outreach teams getting their hands dirty with the people involved.

    Then Tony Blair's catch phrase actually isn't that far off what we need to do - be 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime'

    But lets not fool ourselves, a lot of what happened this week was a load of scallies getting free stuff!