31 May 2010

£1M Missing Manhole Cover Headache for Scottish Water

I recall the Beatles song a "Day in the Life" with the line about  2000 Holes in Blackburn Lancashire. Edinburgh is 11 short of that according to the Evening News.

One of the great frustrations I have is the number of missing manhole covers I see around the city.I have reported this repeatedly. The council is, rightly, spending a fortune repairing potholes but many missing manhole covers are in the middle of the street and  are often just big enough to trap a foot. I once counted 17 missing manholes in one short street off Princes St.

Hopefully this new approach  will pay off.

Cows Milk Cancer Cure

US scientists have managed to develop a vaccine for breast cancer! Over 45000 women in the UK are affected by breast cancer. Currently the US has 2 licensed vaccines against cancers - Cervical and Liver  - but these are really vaccines against the viruses surrounding those diseases. Currently Parvovirus  (for some cervical cancers) vaccines are being rolled out to school age girls in Scotland and have been for the last couple of years.  

This new development sound very interesting indeed. The key component is รก-selactalbumin, a whey protein in cows milk. So far it has been tested on mice and while a fully usable vaccine is many years off  it sounds like amazing progress.

Imagine a world free of breast cancer. Families with  mothers, sisters and daughters free of this awful disease. Families where these women live full lives and do not have to endure chemotherapy or have to worry about relapse. Developments like this really make me proud to be a scientist.

30 May 2010

Winds of Change in West Bengal

One of the longest serving State Governments in India is facing defeat at the Polls shortly. West Bengals Communists have been in power since the 1970's and a combination of corruption, incompetence and  Maoist insurgency seriously threatens their stranglehold on power.

I visited West Bengal on holiday some 18 months ago. It is a remarkable place. Kolkata is a lush and beautiful city. Residents have a rich intellectual tradition which boasts India's only Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, my favourite film maker Satyajit Ray as well as many of the finest living novelists in the English Language. Vikram Seth's "A Suitable Boy" probably being my favourite novel.

In Darjeeling the Gorkaland movement want autonomy from West Bengal. They were not asking for Independence from India just from Bengal. They want to be a State within the Federation. I wonder how much this is a desire to be free of the Communists.

Elsewhere in West Bengal Naxalites, Maoists rebels, have been continuing their activities against the government. They caused a major train derailment just the other day caused in excess of 140 deaths. The rebels deny they caused the crash blaming it on the Marxist government.

I have in the past visited Kerela in the South West of India. This paradise (see left)  had the first democratically elected Communist government in the world and boasts the highest literacy rates in India. Unfortunately it also has a reputation for being a place that, due to the industrial militancy, it is difficult to do business in. As a result its growth is falling behind other states like Tamil Nadu. This is a situation that aspirational voters anywhere cannot tolerate.

Squeezed by Maoist rebels and moderate forces appealing to the rapidly growing middle classes I wonder what the future holds for India's Communist Party in the 21st century.

29 May 2010

Euro Tat, Resignation and Peerages - Saturday Night In!

Like most Liberals I am passionately pro European but I draw the line at Euro vision. As I write this the Azerbaijani entry has finished performing and the Spanish entry has just taken the stage. I am about to switch over but out of the corner of my eye I see the rather inanimate singer surrounded by as yet static dancers dressed like toys. I have the sound off - always the best way to take this tat!

David Laws has just announced his resignation. He was caught up in an expenses story this morning in the Telegraph. At just 3 weeks this must be one of the shortest ministerial careers in history. His will be a hard felt loss to the government as he was one of the very brightest ministers. Danny Alexander is to replace him.

I was fascinated to read the list of those ennobled in the Dissolution Honours list. John  Prescott for one has  led to more than a few raised eyebrows. He apparently said "never" in the past but has changed his mind.

Others ennobled include Floella Benjamin - a blast from my childhood when she starred alongside people like Jeremy Irons on Play school and Play away - the UK's answer in the 70's to Sesame St. None of the presenters as I recall could sing in tune, a pity as all of them seemed to be appearing in Godspell, Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar at the time! God that dates me. They all also has very big hair! I'm sure she will be a useful addition to the Lib Dem Glee Club at Federal Conference.

Ian Paisley completes the set of Peerage, MEP, MP, Assembly Member and Councillor. I also think he was in Stormont before it was put into limbo in 1974 so must be the the only British politcian to serve at all of these levels.

Jack McConnell has been made a Peer also. The Bill Boards to day for the Scotsman screamed "Anger at McConnell Peerage."


I find this mystifying. He was a very able First Minister. The beef came from an unheard off SNP MSP who was ratty about McConnell still being an MSP. He forgot to say that First Minister Salmond did not resign his Westminster seat when he was elected in 1999 or in 2007 to the Scottish Parliament. Indeed he only finally ended his dual mandate 3 weeks ago. A wee bit of hypocrisy there but "Politician is hypocrite" is a Dog Bites Man story!

26 May 2010

Tackling Bed Blocking

I am writing this while taking a break from reading my NHS Board Papers, all 800 pages of them. I am not one to complain but I think I'll need a wheelbarrow to get them to the meeting!

Among the many things we have managed to achieve over the last 3 years has been to maintain and improve our performance on bed blocking where people who are fit enough to be discharged  for one reason or another simply do not move out of hospital.  Often while these patients are fit enough to leave hospital they are not fit enough to go home and resume a normal life.They may need a care package or to move into a Care Home for the rest of their lives. The reasons for these delays can vary from delays in social care assessments, to waiting for relatives from abroad to come and check out a care home before mum moves permanently - a life changing and very emotional decision.

Very close partnership working between the NHS and Council has led to our figure being slashed in the last 5 years from around 500 a month to 50 or so. Serious attention and resources have been targeted at this issue with real results.

You really don't want to stay in hospital any longer than you have to. Excellent though the care is  your chances of acquiring Infection is much higher in hospital. Others will need the acute care you no longer need and also there is the cost issue.

Bed Blocking has not been eradicated and the achievements we have managed so far have come at a price. With budgets under increasing pressure maintaining that level of performance will continue to be a challenge.

22 May 2010

Tackling Hate Crime in Edinburgh

As Convener of Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership I opened a conference on the topic of Hate Crime and remote reporting in particular yesterday. Edinburgh was the first City in Scotland to produce a Hate Crime Strategy a fact of which I am very proud! 

There have been many milestones in this campaign which is aimed at initially raising awareness of Hate Crime so that we can eradicate it altogether. To do that we need to get a proper picture of the problem, work with victims and perpetrators so we can change their behaviour. One of the problems we have is  that many minority groups  just do not feel comfortable reporting incidents directly to the Police. The Police, especially in Lothian, have a very good track  record in recent years of addressing this issue but still negative perceptions of how Hate Crimes are dealt with remain and, for the time being, we have to work around that. One of the ways we manage that is through remote reporting, encouraging victims who feel they do not want to go to a police station to visit one of our  52 remote reporting sites in various centres throughout the city working. 

These sites are situated in council offices , voluntary sector and other agencies offices. More information can be obtained at:


I believe we have made real progress in the last year but we have an immense amount of work to do if we are to eradicate Hate Crime in Edinburgh. It is a challenge but I am up for it!

20 May 2010

Action for Homeless and Older people

My principal focus this week was chairing the Health Social Care and Housing Committee at the Council. We had a very meaty agenda of policy reports, updates  and motions.

Topics varied from what we are doing with the record investment in Affordable Housing to the Homes  are  upgrading with new windows, kitchens and windows. 

Another positive development was that we have finally met our targets for moving homeless people on from bed and breakfasts for the first time. We have a chronic shortage of Affordable Housing  and a requirement to house more than 5000 people a year so we rely heavily on bed and breakfasts until we can move them into more permanent accommodation. We are playing a very difficult hand  skillfully on homelessness and I was delighted to receive a letter commending us  from Shelter this morning.

 We also had an excellent report outlining the developments in our older peoples services . We are very much in the van guard in Scotland on this front and I intend to keep us there.

Since we took power we have totally transformed our older Peoples service from an out dated inefficient system to one of the finest in Scotland. We have introduced Re-ablement -the first in Scotland and have heavily invested in Telecare. We have invested millions extra in services to address the demographic changes in the city and are about to trial community connections. I will post more on that later though.

16 May 2010

Love is in the Air

May the 16th is Akshaya Tritiya day one of the most auspicious days for Hindus to marry.  It certainly has been auspicious for the wedding industry in Mumbai where there have been 50 000 weddings alone today!

On the subject of "love in"s Lib Dem activists have backed the new Coalition deal "overwhelmingly" according the the BBC. This goes some way to filling the expected cracks facing the party exemplified by Charles Kennedy's interview with the Observer this morning.CK was critical of the direction of travel. It is very early days and there is still a need to sell this to the Lib Dem supporting portion of the public and those who may vote Lib Dem in the future. We have some time to do that but some quick wins would be welcome.

I couldn't help noticing that this was the first election I can remember where the media did not run many (or any) split stories. The theory being that a "House Divided" will fall. The split party always loses. I am struggling to recall any such stories this time about any of the major parties.

The end of a truly extraordinary week involved the Milliband brothers taking sibling rivalry to new heights by challenging each other for the Leadership of the Labour Party. Brotherly love eh! That's a subject for a future post!

Back to "old clothes and porridge" this week with various committee meetings lined up. A busy week is on the cards. Happy days.

15 May 2010

The Last Voyage of Atlantis

Today saw the start of the final voyage of the US Space Shuttle Atlantis. I was very young during the moon shots. Space and astronauts holds a special place in my imagination.  Every boy in my Primary one class got a space suit for Christmas that year!

Three years ago Edinburgh hosted the annual Interplanetary Explorers gathering. I was privileged to shake three hands that had been in space. The first belonged to a Czech who was the first non American, Non Russian in space. The second belonged to a man that had been up in Challenger just before the disaster. The last belonged to one who was on the first flight  after the Challenger disaster. What courage all of these men had but especially the latter.

My late father passed away 14 years ago today. He, like many of these men and women, was an air force pilot during his earlier life with a remarkable wartime record. Three weeks younger than John Glenn, the first astronaut to walk in space, he was told at the age of 28 he was too old to learn to fly jets and left the RAF to return to his previous career as a Civil Servant. I wonder if that very British, ultra cautious attitude to what is possible is why Britain waited until 1991 before Helen Sharman became the first British Astronaut. 

Noting the evident risks why would any one choose to step into a giant tin can bolted to the end of a supped up firework? I will leave the explanation for that to the greatest of them all.

I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul... we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.
Neil Armstrong

13 May 2010

Making it Work for Britian Must be the Top Priority

Looking at the new coalition deal Lib Dem and Tory negotiators have put together at first glance  has a number of eye catching initiatives. The implementation of Calman passing more power to Holyrood is to be welcomed. The referendum on electoral reform and the reform of the upper House also. Fixed term parliaments is also vital removing an incumbent PM's power to decide when to go will open the system up. Almost as important as electoral reform is making coalition politics obtrusively work.   Frankly we have put so much emphasis over the years on pluralist politics and coalition working making this work is vital if we are to persuade Britain to change the voting system.  

Up and down the country political parties of almost all (BNP excluded) persuasions  often form such arrangements. A classic example is Perth where there has over the years been every variety of coalition. In truth the vast majority of political decisions are made unanimously and  most politicians get along very well across party lines out of the public gaze. Why not try it at Westminster? 

I do remember in 1999 many Lib Dem activists predicting poll wipe-out if we went in with Labour at Holyrood. The result was that we got many of our policies into law and the credibility of being in government.  Our vote held up on the List at the next election and actually went up on the constituency vote. Our ministers were seen as the best that the coalition had particularly Ross Finnie who received many plaudits for his handling of foot and mouth. 

Now we have a  number of Lib Dem UK Ministers able to make  our values count at acrosss the UK. They have a huge responsibility to  those who have worked tirelessly to keep the Liberal Tradition alive during those wilderness years to make the new arrangement work. 

You wait seventy years for a Liberal Cabinet Minister at a UK level then five come along at once. Bit like the 22 bus!

11 May 2010

The End Game

Today caps even yesterday for sustained political drama. Talks on and off again with Labour then back to deal with the Tories. Before anything is finally concluded Gordon Brown resigns as PM. David Cameron heads for the Palace to kiss hands. At the time of writing Nick Clegg is finishing off his meeting with MP's, Peers and the Federal Executive with a view to forming a full term coalition with the Tories.

My understanding is that Labour were utterly uncompromising in the negotiations while the Tories had moved significantly. Labour seem to have made the same mistake that they made when negotiating the council deal in Edinburgh. They sat down and demanded all the most powerful portfolios and  we were expected to accept all their policies. We went elsewhere.

It sounds like Danny Alexander and co have negotiated a very good deal in the circumstances. I did fear that a weak coalition with Labour would be formed. Never mind who my preferences would have been the numbers would have made it virtually impossible to get anything through. We would have been back at the Polls in a few weeks. Now it sounds like we will have fixed term parliaments and a referendum on electoral reform. Much more importantly we will have strong coalition government which should put to bed once and for all the negative perceptions of PR.  For all their protestations about being progressive Labour were not. 
 For the first time since 1945 we will have Liberal values articulated round the cabinet table. Today we will go some way the breaking down some of the tribal  barriers in Britain.

10 May 2010

Talks go to the Wire

It's been  quite a day. The coalition negotiations are still ongoing. We now have concrete offers from both Labour and Tories on Electoral Reform. Gordon Brown has this evening announced he will stand down as Labour Leader which has led to the Tories up their offer to include a referendum on Alternative Vote.

The Brown resignation changes the landscape. I posted a few weeks back on Coalition forming and indicated that the personal side is as important as the political.

I am no fan of Gordon Brown but his treatment post election by the press has been appalling and unnecessary. This nonsense about squatting in No.10 is to deliberately misunderstand the constitutional position he finds himself in. Imagine having been fired in the most public fashion and then having to work your notice out  with in the public glare while every body is dancing on your professional grave. He has to stay as PM until we get another one and that must personally be a very difficult thing to do.

The Lib Dems must make this current situation work for the UK. That, more than anything, will give us the credibility with the electorate that we have lacked in the past. In many ways this is as important as achieving Electoral Reform.

A moving feast.

Hibs on their Way Back to Europe

I am delighted that the Mighty Hibernian have finished fourth in the SPL and qualify for the Uefa Cup next season. We beat Dundee United 2-0 this afternoon whilst rivals Motherwell drew with Rangers. Motherwell had earlier this week come from 4 goals behind to draw with Hibs in an amazing 6-6 draw pushing European qualification to the wire. Manager John Hughes had berated his strikers for losing a four goal lead but I am not sure that scoring only 6 goals was the nub of the problem!

I can now watch Saturdays Scottish Cup final safe in the knowledge that Hibs no longer need Dundee Utd to beat Ross County to ensure Euro qualification.

For those not in the know Hibs were the very first team ever to play a European Cup tie back in 1955 when they played Rot-Weiss Essen. We made it to the semis that year but sadly have never qualified for that tournament since.

9 May 2010

Deal or no Deal?

It has been an extraordinary few days since I last posted. On the political front it has been bitter sweet. We had disappointment at the polls; we failed to make the gains predicted by the Polls, commentators and, indeed, me. We had a net loss of seats including Dunfermline. In Scotland there was an extremely late swing to Labour.

One of the effects of this was that no party at Westminster has an overall majority. As I write this entry the Lib Dems and Tories are deliberating whether or not they can do a deal of some sort.  In my post  few weeks back on Coalitions I pointed out the importance of numbers. Many commentators have said we should form a progressive alliance with Labour to get voting reform. There are a number of problems with that, Firstly the practical one is that the numbers still don't add up to a majority. That is before we have die hard  Labour MP's who oppose any electoral reform rebelling  - which they will. Secondly Labour are promising a referendum not concrete reform. Thirdly there is the democratic element. Some commentators are saying that the county voted against the Tories in that they didn't get a majority. But using that logic they voted against Labour in bigger numbers (and, sadly, the Lib Dems in bigger numbers than that).

The Tories at present have the largest number of seats and votes unlike 1974 and they haven't lost the election as Heath had then and Brown has now. The numbers  stack up for  Lib/Tory deal but  what sort of deal - the personal side (see previous post) matters and frankly Lib Dems and Tories have a tribal dislike for each other often deeper than Tories and Labour. That may ultimately be the deal breaker.  However if you believe in a multi party approach to Westminster then you have to be prepared to deal and govern with more than one party as potential partners otherwise you might as well just become a wing of your preferred partner.

A Letter From Nick Clegg

My statement this morning on the election result
Change that works for you

Dear Friend,
Last night was a disappointment for the Liberal Democrats. Even though more people voted for us than ever before, even though we had a higher proportion of the vote than ever before, it is of course a source of great regret to me that we have lost some really valued friends and colleagues and we have returned to Parliament with fewer MPs than before.
It's clear that many people were excited by the prospect of doing something different. But when it came to the vote, they decided to stay with what they knew. In a time of great economic uncertainty I can understand that.
But that's not going to stop me from redoubling my efforts and the Liberal Democrats efforts to show that real change is the best reassurance that things can get better for people and their families.
Now we are in a very fluid situation with no party holding an absolute majority. It's vital that all political parties and all political leaders act in the national interest and not for narrow political party advantage.
During the election campaign I said that whichever party gets most votes and the most seats, if not an absolutely majority, has the first right to seek to govern either on its own or by reaching out to other parties. And I stick to that view. It seems this morning that it is the Conservative Party that has more votes and more seats though not an absolute majority.
I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest. At the same time this election campaign has made it abundantly clear that our electoral system is broken, it simply doesn't reflect the hopes and aspirations of the British people.
So I repeat again my reassurance that whatever happens in the coming hours, days and weeks I will continue to argue not only for the greater fairness in British society not only the greater responsibility in economic policy making but also for the extensive real reforms we need to fix our broken political system.
Thank you for all your wonderful support and work through the campaign. It has been a privilege to lead such a magnificent team and we will carry on the campaign for a fairer Britain.

Best wishes,
Nick Clegg Signature
Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

4 May 2010

More tales from the Stump

My friend George was telling me of a Public meeting he attended during the Hillhead By-election. This was a hard fought and  landmark win for Roy Jenkins for the SDP/Liberal Alliance. 

Roy was asked by a gentleman, with a strong Highland accent, what he intended to do about the Gaels in Partick.  Roy stated, earnestly, that he thought it was very windy up in Hyndland too! The room fell about laughing.

Pounding the Streets for Oor Wullie

I've been in Dunfermilne helping my chum Willie Rennie who is facing his first re-election having won the seat in a famous by-election a few years back.

Willie was my campaign manager when I stood for Parliament in Ochil in 2001. We had great fun then and I was so proud of him when he was elected to Westminster in 2006.

Labour are desperate to win the seat back not least as Gordon Brown lives there. They will struggle. 

In 25 years of campaigning I have never seen a candidate better suited to a seat than Willie Rennie.  He has been a tireless servant to the residents of that area. I hope, for their sake, he holds on. Dunfermline deserves an MP like  Willie.

The Big Mo - Tory Press Ignore the Rules of Physics!

There has been much talk about David Cameron having  Momentum. This has been hyped up in the last week by the Tory leaning press. Is there any substance in this? Well No! Looking at the BBC Poll of Polls he was sitting on 37% at the end of March. He is now on 35%.

Momentum is defined as Mass times Velocity. Their rating suggests they have neither the mass nor the velocity to go all the way. The Tory press are clearly trying to get a bandwagon rolling behind their favoured candidate. Trouble is that the substance belies their claims and this is the one election that the Press seems to have little sway over.

3 May 2010

Vince Goes the Extra Mile to Get the Vote Out

Out and about in West Edinburgh today. I spent hours delivering leaflets and my feet are very sore.  Only 3 more days left and the excitment is building.  

The campaign has brought opportunity's to share tales with  fellow activists. A favourite  is one  told  by Vince Cable at a dinner I was at a few years ago. Vince,  Lib Dem Economics sage and National Treasure,  represents Twickenham a seat strikingly similar to my own Corstorphine and Murrayfield ward in that both have an International Rugby stadium and both have more than their fair share of very large houses.

Vince was canvassing a road of very large houses with very long driveways. He walked up one and chapped on the door. There was no answer. The door didn't have a letter box so he left the  leaflet saying "Vince Cable called to see you" on a box that had been placed just by the front door.

A couple of days later a  letter on lavender note paper arrived for him. It read...

Dear Dr Cable
Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me. I have never had a Member of Parliament call on me before. I have been very impressed by your work as my MP and I intend to change my vote from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.
Thank you also for the gorgeous box of Orchids you left on the door step.

2 May 2010

Praise for Mandy

The Observer  has a piece on how the  international press view the election. The one that made me smile was the Spanish  journalist Eduardo Suarez who talks of his stars of the election. He says as well as Nick Clegg, whose Spanish wife did  make him a wee bit biased, his  favourite is Peter Mandelson. 

He writes...

He’s the most grotesque character.......  I absolutely adore him..... He’s just so funny. Funnier even than Lembit Opik.  

Ouch! Poor Lembit!

Scrambling and Eggs

A late night Friday night  not partying, sadly,  but scrambling up lamp posts and tying posters to them.This little bit of election tradition is either loved or hated by activists across party lines. Attempts to ban the practice have been tried and failed over the years and off course a voluntary ban doesn't work as if one lot does it then they have a competitive advantage. 

Anyho' rules state that we can't put posters up until midnight so off I trundled to assist our Constituency Party Secretary for the midnight shift. Last time she had done the midnight start she was the victim of a drive by egging. Some body managed to drive past her and successfully pelt her with an egg when she was half way up  a ladder! That takes some skill and makes the eggings we usually see seem, well static and, very unambitious. Who on earth keeps a stash of raw eggs in the car for just such a purpose? There are some weird people out there!

In the Ukraine even the MP's are getting in on the act.