Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A Malaysian Airlines 'plane has been shot out of the sky over Ukraine!

On Thursday evening we had the shocking news that a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, carrying 298 passengers and crew had crashed over the Donetsk area of eastern Ukraine. It was suggested that the aircraft had in fact been shot out of the sky, possibly either by a ground-to-air missile or by a jet fighter and today Barack Obama, President of the United States, announced that in all probability it was the result of the former, which he suggested originated in the pro-Russian rebel held eastern part of Ukraine. However, it appears that the Russian Government (or those perhaps acting on its behalf) have taken issue with certain aspects of how this outrage is being reported, by 'editing' the dedicated Wikipedia page for this incident, according to an article in the Telegraph. It may therefore be that establishing a widely-accepted analysis of what occurred will be very political as well as technical. The fact, however, that a British journalist working for the Russian government-funded RT television channel decided today to resign from her job because of what she alleges is political manipulation in the way this story is being reported is perhaps an indication that the Russian government has its "dirty hands" (e&oe) all over this! This Guardian report indicates that Ukraine rebel forces, thought to be responsible for this atrocity, are hastily covering up traces of their actions, whilst denying international access to key evidence which might establish the truth.

The Malaysian Airlines flight (MH17) was on a regular route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur; for around 100 of those passengers this was apparently to be merely a transit point for an onward flight to Australia where they were scheduled to attend an AIDS conference. Latest information is that around 200 of the passengers were of Dutch nationality, with nine or ten other nationalities represented, including Australian, British, Canadian and American. Apparently there were 10 British nationals aboard, according to the latest information I have seen.

It may be recalled that another Malaysian Airlines flight (MH370), flying from Bangkok to Beijing, disappeared some months ago, so far without trace, so the reason for its disappearance remains a mystery. This later incident is quite different in nature, but it seems that this may nevertheless be factored into potential future passengers' willingness to fly with this airline, to the extent that it is being suggested that it may not survive, given that it has apparently been loss-making for some years; many national or quasi-national airlines are loss-making, so Malaysian Airlines is not particularly unusual in this respect, but when potential customers begin to lose confidence in their likelihood of surviving a flight with it, the game is just perhaps up! Harsh undoubtedly, but understandable.

Finally, and distressingly (at a personal level), I had an exchange yesterday with a regular Twitter correspondent based locally (in Nairn) in the course of which he seemed to assume automatically that this whole tragedy was in fact a plot by the US and it was somehow responsible for it - a more deluded load of tosh I find it difficult to imagine! You can examine this whole exchange in my Twitter timeline if you have the inclination and stomach for it. I am under no illusions about the faults of US (specially under the last if not the current) administrations, but even the baleful Presidency of former President G W Bush had slightly more credibility than that of former KGB operative and current Russian President Vladimir Putin; I do occasionally watch the RT television 'propaganda' channel, but apart from sometimes interesting nature programmes, I place little credence in anything I see there. But those of a left-wing persuasion in the UK and US and some other western countries seem to be unusually gullible when it comes to the propaganda pumped out by the gangster regime which governs Russia. The resignation today of a British journalist at that channel is not the first time a western journalist working for it has found it impossible to continue to acquiesce in the lying propaganda it specialises in; only a few months ago another western journalist (of US origin on that occasion) reached her limit and decided she could no longer work for this outfit. Useful idiots have been a regular feature of those reporting or working for the former USSR and now the Russian Federation over many decades - it may not be the total "evil empire" alluded to by former US Presdient Ronald Reagan in a whimsical not-for-broadcast aside which was perhaps inadvertently spoken into a live microphone, but I am nevertheless amazed and appalled at the credulity of some left-leaning westerners who seem prepared to place credence in the most absurd notions concocted by the USSR/Russian propaganda machine, specially when it gives an opportunity to attribute the most base motives to their own [western] governments - I am not saying that western governments don't indulge in their own misinformation propaganda of course, I'm sure they do this regularly when it suits them, but is it too much to expect these left-wing stooges to apply a bit of critical analysis to the propaganda regularly pumped out by RT? I'm torn between disgust, despair and incredulity at the credulity of some of these people!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Two months tomorrow, Scotland will vote to remain in the UK!

.. or at least such is my fervent hope and, if one is to believe the regularly-published opinion polls, this is indeed likely to be the outcome of the referendum on Scotland's continuance as a component part of the United Kingdom to be held on 18th September 2014.

But it would be very unwise to be complacent. Everyone who is eligible to vote should do so, whichever way you choose to vote. The higher the percentage of eligible voters who exercise their right to vote the more accurate and credible will be the result.

I am very clear where I stand on this issue; I want Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, so I shall be voting "no" in the referendum. I am British and I wish to remain British. Obviously I am also Scottish, but I see no conflict (whatsoever) between being British and Scottish - they are almost if not entirely the same - I expect most of my English, Welsh and Northern Irish co-citizens feel more or less the same. Hopefully on 19th September we can all of us look forward to a continuing future as British citizens.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

European Parliament Election 22 May 2014 - Scotland Region candidates

The nominations for the European Parliament Election to be held in the UK on Thursday 22nd May 2014 are now closed and the candidates from the Scotland Region are as follows (listed in alphabetic order by Party):

(#) - indicates a candidate with an address in Scotland
(*) - indicates a candidate with an address outside Scotland


Britain First (Defending the Union 2014)
Dowson, James (*)
Randall, John Arthur (*)
Fransen, Jayda Kaleigh (*)
Clynch, Geoffrey (*)
Clynch, Margaret Dorothy (*)
Shepherd, Jane Susan (*)

British National Party (Because we can make Scotland better)
McDonald, Kenneth (#)
Orr, David James (#)
McKenzie Victoria (*)
Matthys, Angus Jim (*)
Stafford, Paul Brandy (*)
Fleming, Stacey Jayne (*)

Conservative Party (Scottish Conservatives Vote No to Independence)
Duncan, Ian (#)
Don, Belinda (#)
Mobarik, Nosheena (#)
Gardiner, Jamie (#)
McGill, Iain (#)
McIntyre, Stuart ((#)

Labour Party
Martin, David (#)
Stihler, Catherine (#)
Munn, Derek (#)
Murray, Katrina (#)
Khan, Asim (#)
O'Brien, Kirsty (*)

Liberal Democrats (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
Lyon, George (#)
Jardine, Christine (#)
Brodie, Richard John (#)
Holden, Jade Elizabeth (#)
Mathers, Siobhan Helenor (#)
Davidson, Euan Robert (#)

NO2EU (Yes to Workers’ Rights)
Foster, John Odell (#)
Elliott, Andrew (#)
Maclean, Murdo (#)
Morrow, Gail (#)
Smith, Brian (#)
Veitch, Richard Edward (#)

Scottish Green Party
Chapman, Maggie (#)
Booth, Chas (#)
Murray, Grace Alice (*)
Whitelaw, Alastair (#)
Thomas, Anne Katherine (#)
Parish, Steen William (#)

Scottish National Party (SNP) (Make Scotland’s Mark in Europe)
Hudghton, Ian (#)
Smith, Alyn (#)
Ahmed-Sheikh, Tasmina (#)
Gethins, Stephen (#)
Giugliano, Toni (#)
Stephens, Chris (#)

UK Independence Party (UKIP)
Coburn, David Adam (*)
Newton, Kevin Andrew (#)
Inglis, Otto (#)
Baykal, Denise Mary (#)
Hatrick, Hugh (#)
MacKay, Malcolm George-Eric (#)

Some observations:

- the candidates are in list order and MEPs from all Parties will be elected, if any are elected from that Party, in the order in which they appear in that Party's list;

- my perhaps cynical view is that candidates whose listed address is not in Scotland are purely 'paper candidates', certainly when they are placed lower in a Party's list; where such candidates are at the top of a Party's list it is an indication (in my opinion) of their expectation of not gaining a seat. Incidentally in the case of Westminster and Scottish Parliament elections I also hold the firm view that candidates need to have addresses in (or close to) the parliamentary or regional constituencies they hope to represent and regard candidates who don't as 'paper' candidates only, as I look askance at candidates who have quite obviously been 'parachuted in' simply so that a Party has a name or names standing for election.

- at the European Parliament Election in 2009, the 6 MEPs from Scotland, in the order of total votes received by the Parties concerned, represented Scottish National Party (2), Labour (2), Conservative (1), Liberal Democrats (1); none of the other Parties which stood in 2009 received sufficient votes to have an MEP elected (in strict order of the total votes received - Green Party, UK Independence Party, British National Party, Socialist Labour Party, Christian Party "Proclaiming Christ's Lordship", Scottish Socialist Party, Independent - Duncan Robertson, No2EU - Yes to Democracy, Jury Team). In 2009 there were no changes in Party representation from the previous European Parliament election in 2004;

- the existing MEPs from the 2009 election from the Scottish National Party (2), Labour (2) and Liberal Democrats (1) are standing in the top positions in their respective lists in 2014. The existing Conservative (1) MEP is standing down and is likely to be replaced by the current top-listed candidate for that Party (in my opinion), unless one of the other Parties supplants it;

- in 2009 there were 12 Party/Independent candidates, in 2014 there are 9, which is an improvement given that there are only 6 MEP positions available from Scotland, so there are at least fewer completely ridiculous and spurious candidates, even if there are still 1 or 2 who have little hope of electoral success in this election, in my opinion, but it is those Parties'/Candidates' 'time'/'money' to waste and their 'democratic right' to stand, so good luck to them all.

You can visit the Highland Council main EP election page here, which links to The City of Edinburgh Council website here, as it is they who are coordinating the candidates list for the Scottish Region constituency, and from there one may download the full candidates list (in .pdf format) that I have summarised above. I have also uploaded the same .pdf list to my own website and you may download it here too.

My earlier post about the upcoming European Parliament election is here.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

European Parliament Election 22 May 2014 - Nominations open

(Please see the UPDATE at the end)

The next election for the European Parliament (EP) will take place between Thursday 22nd May and Sunday 25th May; in the UK the polling day is Thursday 22nd May.

The UK elects 73 members of the EP (MEPs), with the country divided into 12 electoral regions (9 for England and 1 each for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). The 'Scotland Region' elects 6 MEPs. There is a useful Wikipedia page which explains all this in greater detail here.

Candidate nominations opened at 10am on Tuesday 15th April and remain open until 4pm on Thursday 24th April 2014. The Highland Council website has a page providing basic information and links (one of which currently does not work) as follows:
- Highland Council main EP election page is here;
- the 'Notice of Election' with details of how to lodge nominations for the 'Scotland Region' are here (.pdf file).

Full results of the last EP election in 2009 are in the BBC website here.

In my own little blog, I published a few articles on the last EP elections, to which you can find links below if you are interested:
- Is freedom of speech only for those people one happens to agree with? (10JUN2009);
- European elections - my thoughts on the final results (10JUN2009);
- European Parliament elections - rolling results (7JUN2009);
- European Parliament elections - 7 Jun - day 4 (7JUN2009);
- European Parliament elections - 6 Jun - day 3 (6JUN2009);
- European Parliament elections - 5 Jun - day 2 (5JUN2009);
- The moment the polls closed - the knives are out for Brown! (4JUN2009);
- European Parliament elections - 4 June - day 1 (4JUN2009);
- The European Elections voting marathon explained (3JUN2009);
- European Parliament elections - June 2009 (25MAY2009) - election literature received by me.

UPDATE (Thursday 24APR2014 22.43 BST) Nominations are now closed and I have posted a further article here, with full details of all candidates for the Scotland Region.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Ashers of Nairn in bakery tie-up with Co-op Scotmid

Scottish Co-operative Scotmid has just opened its 100th in-store bakery, this time in partnership with Ashers Bakery of Nairn, with the opening of a new in-store bakery facility at its Scotmid Balloan store in Inverness. Read more here.

According to Alister Asher, joint managing director of Ashers: "Ashers is delighted to be working in partnership with Scotmid as they expand their bakery sector. Customers appreciate local fresh bakery suppliers in a convenient location. We’re proud to be Scotmid’s 100th in-store bakery."

Scotmid's project began in April 2012 and now has partnerships with seven Scottish craft bakers (Ashers Bakery of Nairn; Aulds of Greenock; The Breadwinner Bakery of Edinburgh; Goodfellow & Steven of Dundee; J G Ross of Inverurie; Stephens Bakery of Dunfermline; and Stuart’s of Buckhaven) and in England with Bryson’s of Keswick, for its Lakes and Dales Co-operative stores in Cumbria.

Although I rarely eat bread products myself any longer (for dietary reasons), I was formerly a regular customer of Ashers here in Nairn (now only when I have guests staying with me) and can thoroughly recommend their products, from various breads to the most 'sinful' of treats and I have used their custom cake-making service on several occasions for special celebrations.

For more information about Ashers of Nairn and the location of all their other shops, you can visit their website here.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Requests to remove links by websites to whom I have linked in my websites

I have received a number of requests recently to remove links from my Spanish website (casabill.net), the reason being cited in each case was that it may have been interfering with their search engine rankings (the name of a, perhaps the most, famous search engine always being mentioned); sectors concerned have been currency-related and car rental related websites of the 'comparison' kind. I have complied with these requests for link removal, but made it very clear in my email correspondence with the firms concerned my view that whilst their attempts to manipulate search engine rankings may succeed for a while, they will almost certainly be found out by those running the search engines in question. Usually such requests for link removal have come from firms which had earlier requested that I include a link. Naturally for my own protection I am not naming the firms in question, although I have full documentary evidence to support what I write.

To be absolutely clear, my website is totally non-commercial in nature and payment for links is neither sought nor accepted if it is offered.

The point of this article is to highlight the fact that comparison websites, whilst offering nothing of their own, are obviously in the business of gleaning the small individual revenue that is generated whenever there is a 'click through' from them to one of the firms to whom they link. You will find that, if you compare different comparison websites (so to say), the firms to whom they link often overlap extensively, but the underlying financial transactions on offer (whether currency or car rental, etc - probably the same is true of insurance, but I have no personal experience of this particular comparison sector myself) may vary slightly in the prices quoted, possibly because of the different volumes of traffic generated by the different comparison websites to particular end-providers and the remuneration terms they have negotiated - and no doubt this is influenced to some extent, or is perceived to be, by a particular comparison website's ranking in search engine queries.

It so happens that I received a request for link removal this morning from a 'comparison' firm which had some months ago requested that I include a link; I complied within 5 minutes of the request being received by removing the link. Perhaps it is purely a coincidence, but I had added a link to another 'comparison' site in precisely the same sector only yesterday (after having received a request for link inclusion from them a few days earlier), so I wonder if the fact that I was now linking to a rival 'comparison' site as well was felt to be 'unhelpful' to them commercially.

I have no particular 'axe to grind', because I operate my websites and blogs purely for my own interest with no commercial gain in mind. Comparison websites, on the other hand, may portray themselves as sources of impartial advice and generally it is true they can be helpful in guiding a buyer of a service to a sensible and reasonably cost-effective provider of such services, but it is prudent never to forget that such comparison websites are commercial enterprises and different comparison websites compete against each other and others who provide similar links and that rankings in search engine queries are an important criterion for them and that whilst the search engines try to put in place measures to prevent undue manipulation of rankings, some businesses do try and 'tweak' the results in their favour, in one way or the other.

In other words, what has always been true, remains true in the age of the internet, when seeking guidance about how to spend one's money - all is not always as it seems. Remember - caveat emptor ('let the buyer beware').

NB/ This article is cross-posted from my 'Spanish' blog , 'casabill - the blog' because I think it is of general interest.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

To be clear - this joker does NOT represent me!

A message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops! This joker may represent some (a minority) of Scots, but in no way does he represent me or most other Scots! A very timely reminder. Not all of us Scots, or even a majority, are in thrall to the SNP ...

Those of us, the majority of Scots, who wish to remain an integral part of the UK need to become more vocal to correct the impression that some of our fellow UK citizens may be beginning to form that we Scots are lukewarm about what we want. Quite apart from practical considerations (currency, taxation, trade, EU membership, etc.) I am VERY emotionally attached to retaining my status as a British (i.e. UK) citizen; this has got nothing to do with me not being very proud to be a Scot, which I am, but I am also proud to be British and wish to remain so.

Don't sit idly by and accept the taunts of biased SNP supporters who try to assert that opposing their views implies that one is somehow "unpatriotic" as a Scot - we have just as much a right to our views as they do.

Apathy won't keep us British - please use your vote in the referendum on 18th September to express your view, whatever it is. Don't wake up on 19th September to find that the vote has been allowed to go by default to those favouring separation/'independence'.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Scottish Parliament votes overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage

(Please see UPDATE at end)

Today, 4th February 2014, is an historic day in Scotland, because today the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage, or more colloquially for "equal marriage". The negative amendments proposed for the 3rd reading of the Bill (formally known as the "Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill") were all rejected and the Bill, once it has been given Royal Assent, will become law.

With this vote, Scotland becomes the 17th country in the world to legislate for same-sex marriage.

As mentioned earlier, the vote in the Scottish Parliament today was massively in favour of this legislation, with 105 voting for and only 18 against (* - see below).

In a post-vote video-message the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing welcomed the vote:

- according to what Alex Neil MSP said, the Scottish Government will now be working with the UK Government at Westminster to ensure that the first same-sex marriages can take place in Scotland before the end of 2014. It will be recalled that the UK Parliament at Westminster has already legislated for same-sex marriage in England and Wales and it is likely that the first such marriages will take place there during the first half of 2014; Royal Assent for this legislation was granted during July 2013.

Unfortunately the Northern Ireland Assembly has not so far proposed similar legislation for Northern Ireland and from what I can gather has no current plans to do so, but at least in the other three parts of the United Kingdom (England, Wales and now Scotland) this welcome legislation is now almost in place - Royal Assent has already happened for the England and Wales legislation and I expect similar Royal Assent will be granted for Scotland quite soon. I mention Northern Ireland not to be negative on this joyous day, but simply to highlight that the job is not yet finished and that efforts must continue to ensure that all parts of the UK legislate for equality.

* - Once I have full details of the "105 for / 18 against" votes I will add an update at the end with relevant information.

See also:
- Equality Network: Scotland Legalises Same Sex Marriage;
- BBC: "Scotland's same-sex marriage bill is passed"

UPDATE (Tuesday 4FEB2014 22.35 CET) I now have full voting information for today's vote in the Scottish Parliament - please see full details here. The 18 who voted against the Bill were as follows:
Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Gavin Brown (Lothian) (Con)
Roseanna Cunningham (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con)
Richard Lyle (Central Scotland) (SNP)
Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)
John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Michael McMahon (Uddingston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con)
Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)
Elaine Smith (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab)
Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Dave Thompson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
(SNP - 7, Conservatives - 8, Labour - 3)
- seemingly there were 6 out of 129 MSPs who did not vote or who abstained;
- see some reactions to the vote here.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas singing from a Male Choir in Indiana




A little different and very cleverly done ...

A Joyous Christmas and a Peaceful, Happy and Prosperous New Year to all who pass this way.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nelson Mandela – Obituary


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
18th July 1918 - 5th December 2013





Rest in Peace
Late on Thursday evening I began to see messages on Twitter that 'Madiba' had passed away so immediately switched to the BBC News channel and Sky News and was in time to watch President Jacob Zuma, the current President of South Africa, making his live statement confirming the sad news that Nelson Mandela had died about an hour earlier. As he had been very ill for some time the news of his death was of course not unexpected, even more so because of his advanced age, but still made me very sad.

Quite where South Africa would be today had Nelson Mandela never existed, or had he been executed as a result of his trial in the early 1960s on charges of inciting a violent revolution (which during a famous speech in testimony before the court he did not deign to deny), but in the event he was instead sentenced by Mr Justice Quartus De Wet to life imprisonment with hard labour, so that he spent the years from 1964 to 1990 behind bars, mainly on Robben Island (a little under 7 Km off the coast, just west of Cape Town), but subsequently at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and for the final 15 months at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl in the Western Cape until his release on 11th February 1990, this having been presaged in a speech to Parliament by former President F W de Klerk on 2nd February 1990 - listen to the audio here.

I have never visited South Africa so have no personal experiences of it to offer, although it has been in my consciousness since a very early age, probably from when I was about 8 years old, after what is now known as the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960. Obviously I was too young to have formed any political views of my own by then, but I do recall that the general tenor of conversations about news events then and subsequently between my parents was that matters would "end in tears" - they explained to me a little about the apartheid system in South Africa with general tones of disapproval both at its injustice and its shortsightedness. My parents were certainly not 'ideological' on the issue, rather that they thought it was a system that could never last, specially given events going on elsewhere in Africa at the time with so many former British colonies having recently gained or being about to gain independence; certainly by the time of the dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963 and even more so when Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) declared UDI in 1965, it was accepted in our household that the whole edifice of the 'white supremacy' policies of South Africa in particular and Rhodesia also were completely inequitable and would have to change sooner or later if bloody violence was to be avoided. In the event it took almost a further 40 years before South Africa moved to majority rule, with quite a lot of violence and economic dislocation in between, but without the descent into a bloody civil war that so many had gloomily predicted.

I think it is probably true to say that the fact this disaster was avoided owes a great deal to the influence of Nelson Mandela, helped by the growing realisation amongst the more forward-looking leaders of the then South African government, P W Botha and F W de Klerk, that the political and economic isolation of the country resulting from the sanctions imposed on it by much of the international community made their political system unsustainable in the longer term. Particularly in the period leading up to his release from prison and even more so in the months and years following his release, the moderating influence of Mandela in agreeing to work with the existing government to achieve an orderly transition to majority rule and his continuing efforts at reconciliation once he became President achieved general support amongst most communities in South Africa. Who knows how that country will develop in coming years now that his moral authority is no longer available, but it is to be hoped that his legacy can endure and be built upon in a positive way, for the sake of everyone in South Africa.

You can read a fuller obituary for Nelson Mandela in the Telegraph here; there is also of course a full biography of Nelson Mandela in Wikipedia here. As I have a particular interest in rugby, I think it appropriate to include also a link to a tribute from Francois Pienaar, former captain of the Springboks when they won against New Zealand in the final of the Rugby World Cup in 1995, also this video tribute from the Springboks: