Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Scottish Spring Conference

In due course I'll post a full account of last weekend's Scottish Spring Conference in Aviemore but not the gory details of the late night relaxation in the bar of the Cairngorm Hotel (Don't worry Caron - your secrets are safe with me!). I simply have not had a spare minute since getting back on Sunday night.

The one comment I shall allow myself for now is that I feel that this has been the biggest and best Scottish Conference which I've attended, and that everyone who I've spoken with feels, like me, that we are greatly uplifted by the weekend.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Aviemore here I come!

It's the Scottish Lib Dem Spring Conference in Aviemore this weekend so I'm heading up to help with the set up tomorrow. You see our Conference Committee Convener, Helen, has been laid low with pneumonia. She is, thankfully, out of hospital and on the mend but her Medics and friends have warned her that she must take things easy at Conference - I threatened to tie her to a chair if she does too much. With the Committee's other Vice Convener unable to attend due to Council committments lucky old me gets to be the one running about like the proverbial fly with a blue backside.

There are good things about Conference too, like meeting friends from all over Scotland and socialising into the wee small hours, the chance to engage in heated debate, attending many interesting and varied fringe events (and not just for the free food and drink) and, of course, the Scotch Whisky Association Reception. Cheers!

However, there is someone who makes the Conference happen and who does the hard graft to make sure everything runs smoothly and that's our Conference & HQ manager Suzette.
We don't often thank our party staff for their hard work and tolererance so I would like very publicly to say: Suzette many, many thanks for all your hard work. We really do appreciate it!

Monday, 12 February 2007

Scottish Lib Dem visit to European Parliament

As part of my day job I organise (subsidised) trips to the European Parliament in Brussels for members of the Scottish Lib Dems. generally we have a three day trip with time spent in Parliament as well as time for shopping, sightseeing & socialising. Most people report that they enjoy these trips. Ask Catherine about the one in October '05 - that's when we started dating!

I'm looking for expressions of interest for a trip which I'm going to pencil into the diary for the week commencing Monday 4th June. I'm sure there are going to be a whole load of new Lib dem Councillors who could do with a wee break after the hectic campaigning and new experience of being elected.

If you would be interested in joining me, indeed watching me do the equivalent of herding cats in a thunderstorm, please get in touch.

Come to your own conclusions

My local MP is Brian Donohoe (Lab - Ayrshire Central) was fulminating, in the local press, recently agaist the proposed Edinburgh & Glasgow airport rail links and also against the new Borders rail line.

This is from a man (remember he's a Labour MP) who drives around the constituency in a 4 litre Daimler with personalised number plates. He is also an avid user of BA flights to get to and from Westminster when the Caledonian sleeper service would seem a greener option. His other claim to fame is setting up the all party group on Coronation Street.

Nuff said methinks.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Welcome to the world Cameron Carruthers

Just got home and got the wonderful news that Catherine's sister Margaret has given birth to a wee baby boy, named Cameron.

My love & best wishes go to Mum, Dad and big brother Conrad ( who celebrates his second birthday on Sunday.) on the birth of your son and Brother.

I'm not often moved to tears but the message from Catherine caused tears of joy.

Cameron, hello, welcome and I can't wait to meet you.

Bated breath

The Lady who lives in Kinross-Shire has an elder Sister who is heavily pregnant (can you be lightly pregnant?), indeed was due to give birth a week past Thursday. News reaches me from TLWLIK that she is not coming to Irvine tonight (sulk!) but for the best of reasons - elder Sister's waters have broken and a little Sister or Brother is soon to be expected for our incredibly cute nephew Conrad.

I'm now all on tenterhooks waiting for news but, most importantly, I hope both mum and baby are safe and well.

Cynical old me.

I'm must be getting cynical. My reaction to the fact that most Scottish Labour-run councils have set below inflation council tax increases, was: "Oh, it's an election year isn't it." If they retain overall control of any Council (current predictions are 1 - North Lanarkshire) they will be squeezing the Council Tax payers until the pips squeak -again!

South Ayrshire Council is the only one in Scotland which has overall Tory control. As an excellent warning to the electorate on what happens when you vote Tory, they are putting up Council Tax by 3.5% (one of the highest in Scotland), giving senior Officers pay awards of up to 10% and making up to 150 lower level staff redundant.

Jings, crivvens & help ma boab!

Standing at the back door having my usual ciggie this morning I casually glanced at my calendar and realised, with a sense of bladder weakening terror, that i'll know my fate regarding election to North Ayrshire Council in a mere 12 weeks today as the Council elections are being counted electronically on the day after polling day.

Between then and now I have to deliver many thousands of leaflets. Then of course there is all the rest of normal election stuff. Not forgetting my duties as Scottish Parliament PPC for Cunninghame South, my day job with Elspeth and, very importantly, finding time for the Lady who lives in Kinross-Shire, who also happens to be standing in a winnable ward for Perth & Kinross Council. Then there's the small matter of being in Aviemore for 5 days next week for Scottish Spring Conference - NO SNOW PLEASE!

A positive aspect of all this activity is that my home town of Irvine has likely never seen so much Lib Dem campaigning - I just hope that all this work will bear fruit at the ballot box and I can be the 1st Liberal elected in Irvine for over half a century. My grateful and heartfelt thanks go to the small, but perfectly formed, team who are helping out. But, sometimes, just sometimes, I think: Can I have my life back please?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Sleep stealing Scotrail

Like many others in my hometown of Irvine, I commute to Glasgow on a daily basis. The price is high (£127-50 a month) and the outward bound services rarely run to schedule in the mornings. This I can, and do, live with but their latest nonesense has me ready to blow a gasket!

Up until the Christmas and New Year break my normal morning train was the 08.17, a six carriage unit which has a scheduled arrival in Glasgow Central at 08.52, getting me into my office for 9am. Each and every time I have taken this train since starting back on the 8th of January it has been a three carriage unit. Now six carriages of passengers will simply not get onto a three carriage train and every time I have taken this train I have had to stand all the way from Irvine to Glasgow as have numerous fellow commuters. Indeed I have often seen it so packed that it must be a breach of health & safety rules and people are physically unable to get on at Paisley, which is the last stop before Glasgow.In order to avoid this discomfort I started taking the 07.59 service, which does have six carriages, but found it equally busy and usually have to stand all the way on this one too. To ensure that I can at least get a seat I now find myself taking the 07.43 each morning. By my reckoning that's two and a half hours sleep a week that First Scotrail owe me. Before anyone says stop moaning and go to bed earlier - I've tried it and it doesn't work. I'm a night owl and bed before midnight (for sleeping purposes) = insomnia.

The real point I'm making is that without a by your leave and without telling passengers, First Scotrail have reduced a service and breached their so-called Customer Charter, which states that passengers should not have to stand for more than 10 minutes.

Monday, 5 February 2007

The end of a friend

Yesterday I decided that I'm finished with the Sunday Herald. It's been coming a long time now and as I've been a loyal reader since it's inception in February 1999, it's feels a bit like losing a close pal. But I've had enough, as we say in this neck of the woods, I'm fair scunnered. It used to be a moderately left-of-centre newspaper but generally politically balanced. But for months and months all that seems to happen is the Lib Dems and Labour take a battering, indeed it feels like reading the "Sunday Gnat". Yesterday's enormous article by Alan Taylor about the Heid Gnat being the straw and camel moment.

I quote: "If Salmond is to lead the Nationalists at Holyrood after May 3 he must come from third place to first in order to eclipse a LibDem majority of 4500 and thus win the Gordon seat on which he has set his heart. Nor can he expect any help from the Tories, who four years ago finished second, and Labour, who came fourth with almost 3000 votes. Indeed, it is perhaps fair to surmise that the enemies of the SNP, and of Salmond and independence, will do everything they can to ensure a LibDem victory, even to the extent of standing aside."

What utter balls! The Tories and Labour standing aside - sheer claptrap! We will squeeze their voters very hard in our determined fight to beat off this chancer who wants to represent two different sets of constituents in two different parliaments. This man Taylor doesn't even have the courtesy to name the sitting MSP! I've been up to Gordon many times over the last 4 years and I know what a first class MSP NORA RADCLIFFE is and how hard she has worked for her constituents over the last 8 years. I'll certainly be going back as often as I possibly can over the next few months and doing my bit to re-elect oor Nora.

I'm really going to miss Tom Shields' Diary - it was almost worth buying the paper for his wit and wisdom alone.

Why Meadow won't play Caley Thistle

The magnificent mighty Meadow won their Scottish Junior Cup 4th round replay against Lochee Harp on Saturday by a comfortable 5-0 margin. We now face a last 16 home tie against Pollok. As predicted I saw none of it, being in transit between Edinburgh, Perth & Irvine, not arriving home until nearly nine pm.

For clarity it's probably worth explaining why Irvine Meadow will never play Inverness Caledonian Thistle, or Rangers, or Celtic etc. Here in Scotland we have two entirely seperate Football Associations with members of each association being barred from playing the other's teams unless in a "friendly". There's the Scottish Football Association (SFA) and the Scottish Junior Football Association (SJFA). The SFA, as I'm sure you'll be aware, is the Scottish Equivqlent to England's FA. The SJFA is nothing to do with under 16's or anything of that ilk and the players are paid professionals, mostly part time. Many, many famous footballers and managers started or ended their careers in the Juniors with, probably, the most famous being Bill Shankly who started his football career with the, now sadly defunct but wonderfully named, Glenbuck Cherrypickers. Local rivals to "The Glens" were the equally wonderfully named Rankinston Mountaineers. The penchant for unusual names continues to this day. Here's a selection: Linlithgow Rose, Jeanfield Swifts, Craigmark Burntonians, Lads Club, Hermes, Hill O'Beath and Auchinleck Talbot.

If you would care to know more about the Meadow, who were founded in 1897, why not have a look at their website

Friday, 2 February 2007

Go, go, go the 'Dow!

My beloved Irvine Meadow XI FC are in a replay of their Scottish Junior Cup 4th round match tomorrow.
They came back from 3-0 down away to Lochee Harp last Saturday to rescue a 3-3 draw, playing on a pitch which one of the lads described as "like playing on porridge".
So good luck to the lads for tomorrow especially since they have the potential to go all the way in the Cup this season.
The only downside is that I won't be at the game because I've got a meeting of the Scottish Lib Dem's Executive Committee at 10.30 tomorrow morning, in Edinburgh. We'll probably chunter on until around 12.30, especially if the author of Caron's Musings is there, then have some lunch before heading to Irvine. Even with impeccable driving of The lady who lives in Kinross-shire, we'll never get to Irvine before the game is over. Ah well, the price of politics and love.

Riga no more

Some months ago Ryanair launched a new route from Prestwick International to Riga. Well, I'm on a bit of a Eastern Europe discovery time at the moment (Poland twice last year and plans for Prague, Gdansk & St Petersburg this year) so I was a happy bunny indeed with this news, went and bought the Rough Guide to The Baltic States and started planning a pre-election weekend break.

All was fine and well until Ryanair decided they were going to sue the Government over extra security costs. Well that did it! The Lady who lives in Kinross-shire took one of her stands and issued her equivalent of a Papal Bull on them - no more flying Ryanair for us. Ergo no visit to Riga for me.

At least Wizz fly from Prestwick to Gdansk, but I've been told no holiday, except in respective wards where the "holiday" will consist of leafletting, canvassing and more leafletting, until after the council counts May 4th.

Contacting Ryanair

Working in a Parliamentary office we regularly get complaints about airlines from constituents. In the case of Ryanair it's often difficult to get through to someone directly.
Sharon Hodgson (Labour MP for Gateshead East) wrote to the Guardian the other day with contact details, which I'm delighted to circulate further:
Caroline Green is Head of Customer Services (sic) and her direct email address is: (Please don't send mindless abuse).
The direct dial number for their head office is +353 1 812 1212
Hope it's useful.

It really gets on my (Prest)wick

Why on earth do the folk who own Prestwick Airport & certain budget airlines insist on calling the damn place "Glasgow Prestwick International"? The place is 50 minutes by rail from Glasgow and is in the middle of God's Own County (Ayrshire).

It's typical of some airlines to try and make the punter think that they are flying into the centre of their destination when they are actually landing a fair old distance away. Another fine example of this cobblers is calling Charleroi by the name of Brussels South. I've suffered that overpriced and monotonous coach journey into Brussels too many times for it to be fun.

Whilst I'm ranting about airports I must comment on that utterly stupid slogan they have at Prestwick: "Pure Dead Brilliant" - Glasgow patois. Well here's some more - Aye Right! Pure dead s***e more like. Another attempt to con the unsuspecting traveller that they're arriving into the middle of the metropolis.


In listing some of my Lib Dem committments I forgot the two most important. The lady from Kinross-shire, who brings sunshine into my life, happens to be a Lib Dem activist and Council candidate & I work as Liaison Officer to Elspeth, our Scottish MEP. That'll be me in the doghouse then.

The Horseshoe

When all this Libdemmery (Regional Party Convener, Local Party Convener, Council Candidate, Holyrood PPC, Scottish Conference Committee Vice Convener etc.) gets too much I repair to a legendry Glasgow drinking emporium in Drury Street by the name of the Horseshoe Bar. This establishment is a magnificent example of the so-called "gin palace" style of pub and is one of the few pubs I know where "aw Jock Tamson's bairns" can happily rub shoulders. A fine example is my own little group; a ship yard draughtsman/project manager, a kitchen porter, a bank manager, a butcher, a pub manager and a pol all happily meet and chat for an hour or two about all subjects under the sun. What have we got in common? Well, I suppose our mutual enjoyment of a couple of drinks in that particular pub, but not much else other than an absolute passion for "the beautiful game" - fitba!
We've got Celtic, Rangers, Arsenal and Irvine Meadow fans and we'd argue a black craw white on the silliest, most trivial of points and, even after the most heated discussion, be able to come away as still friends and feeling a little more relaxed and part of the human race.

So, next time you're in Glasgow, have a wee trip along to the Horseshoe and, even if you don't get drawn into a discussion, just enjoy the surroundings and soak up the atmosphere.