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

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Hiring a car using a British driving licence - procedures are changing

(Please see UPDATE at end)

If you are going to be renting a car any time after 8th June 2015 using a British driving licence, then you need to be aware that things are changing.

There are new DVLA procedures for when you are hiring a vehicle from next Monday (8th June), whether you are renting it in the UK or abroad. The paper counterpart is being abolished on 8th June 2015 and from then, in order to be able to hire a car, etc, in the UK or abroad, the car rental company will need to check on-line that your licence is valid and that you are not disqualified.

Until now they might have asked to see the paper counterpart (as I usually rent from the same company in Spain, they just ask to see the photo-card licence, but they never actually look at the paper counterpart or at least I don't recall them ever doing so in the last few years although I keep it in the same licence wallet as the photo-card); now you need to generate a code to give to the car rental agency so they can check it on-line if they wish. However, as the code is valid only for 72 hours (see UPDATE at end), you will need to do this within that time period and the code generated may be used once only and is 'case sensitive' - so there's a lot that can go wrong, if the desk clerk keys the code wrongly. Obviously if you will be renting a vehicle only for a part of your trip, you will still need to go on-line to generate the code within 72 hours (see UPDATE at end) of when you will be hiring it, so you need to think about this if you will be away from your usual internet connection during that critical period.

I'll be renting a car from my usual firm at the end of this month, so I've checked my details on-line with the DVLA and all seems to be in order. Here are a couple of links that may be useful in helping you to follow the required procedure:
- How to share your driving licence information (you can download a .pdf guide here).

To generate the required code, visit this page:
- DVLA’s Share Driving Licence service is available - and click on 'Share Driving Licence' - you need to know your driving licence number, your NI number and your postcode to use the service.

In theory it seems relatively straightforward, if an infernal pest. Good luck to all who need to use this service, including me!

NB/ This article is cross-posted from my other (Spanish) blog, because of its general applicability.

UPDATE (21JUL2015 RST/UTC+2 15.35) On 10th July the British Government (DVLA) published an amendment to these regulations (link - click here), extending the driving licence check code period from 72 hours to 21 days, a much more sensible and practical time-limit, to avoid last-minute panics just before people are about to travel and perhaps require to hire a vehicle.

Monday, 23 March 2015

In Scotland? Vote tactically in May 2015 General Election - Keep SNP Out!

As I indicated in an article here posted during February 2015 (link here), I indicated that it is my intention to vote "tactically" at the forthcoming general election in May 2015 and that in the context of my own constituency this means I shall in all probability vote for the Liberal Democrat candidate, based on my own assessment of the political dynamics of this area, with the aim of trying to ensure that the SNP does not win here.

Recently I have 'liked' a Facebook group called Scotland's Big Voice ("SBV" for short), which like me has the aim of thwarting the disaster that too many (or any) SNP MPs at Westminster would represent, plus the aim of removing the SNP as Scotland's government at next year's Scottish Parliament election and obviously I would be happy to see that happen too. There's an interesting analysis of the SBV here in the website.

For the General Election in May 2015, SBV have drawn up a 'wheel' of all Scottish constituencies with suggestions of how people should vote tactically to minimise the number of SNP MPs elected and I am happy to say their assessment of my constituency (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey) tallies with my own. Below is the full chart:

- obviously to make this work effectively, people will to a greater or lesser extent have to vote "through gritted teeth" for a Party they might not normally choose to vote for; in many constituencies this will obviously involve a vote for Labour, anathema for me of course, or indeed for the Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidate, which for some natural Labour supporters would be similarly unpalatable under normal circumstances. But we are not in normal circumstances - if you want to maintain the long-term integrity of the United Kingdom and retain Scotland's position within it, some discomfort for a good cause will be essential if we are to prevent the SNP continuing its machinations to tear our country apart. Once the SNP is consigned to the trash-heap of history where it belongs, normal political business can be resumed.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Wind farms - a misplaced "in-", hopefully just poor sub-editing

The British government announced funding decisions a few days ago for wind farms in Scotland, with 11 projects gaining approval, however a major project in the Outer Moray Firth was not one of those to be approved.

My own views on wind farms are fairly simple - unlike many people I find the turbines and their towers quite elegant, when seen from a distance (as I do from my home and indeed did from my previous home too), although I am very doubtful of the wisdom of investing so much, specially because it is so heavily-subsidised with public money, in this rather unreliable method of generating electricity. One hears it is becoming more cost-effective (I heard someone say in support of it on television a few evenings ago when this funding was announced, that it is now competitive with nuclear power generation, but I don't know if this is true or not, and I suspect that the person interviewed and making that claim had a pecuniary interest in the wind-farm industry), but the harsh reality, which cannot be explained away, is that when the wind isn't blowing the turbines don't turn and no electricity is generated, so alternative methods of generating electricity must be maintained for 100% of wind-farm generation capacity. That is the truth.

Anyway today is Tuesday, so it's Nairnshire Telegraph time again; this is our local weekly newspaper, but unfortunately does not have an on-line presence. In its main editorial today it covers this story, specially as it means that a local former oil-rig manufacturing facility, now unused for some years, will miss out on what some had hoped would be a new use for the site just west of Nairn. Generally, I share the views expressed in the Nairnshire, although unfortunately what I suspect is a small sub-editing error has crept into the article, specifically in the penultimate sentence of the final paragraph, where I feel certain the that the phrase "bigger and more inefficient" should more logically have read "bigger and more efficient", or possibly "bigger and less inefficient":

- editorial appearing in "Nairnshire Telegraph" 3rd March 205
(Unfortunately our local weekly newspaper in Nairn
does not have an on-line presence.)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Who ya gonna vote for? (GE May 2015)

For some months the pace has gradually been accelerating with the pieces being moved on the political chess board and for the next now slightly less than three months we are all likely to be bombarded with claim and counter-claim by the different parties for our votes.

Whilst our 'first past the post' (FPTP) electoral system for UK general elections does usually provide a clear result, the last time in 2010 it did not and the polling information recently seems to indicate that it may provide a similarly inconclusive result this time too. A bid by coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, to have a form of proportional representation ('Alternative Vote') put into law was decisively rejected in a referendum held during 2011. Personally I am very pleased that it was rejected, because I think the introduction of an Alternative Vote for general elections would have institutionalised coalitions, which I think would have been retrograde for our politics - I prefer to see the governing party, whichever it is, given a reasonably free hand to pursue its policies so that the results, good or bad, and who was responsible for them, can be more clearly seen and attributed.

In my particular constituency (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey) our current MP is a Liberal Democrat, the quite prominent cabinet minister in the coalition government, Danny Alexander MP. Anyone who has been reading my blog over the years will know that I am definitely not a Liberal Democrat, nor am I a supporter of this political party, but I am happy to acknowledge that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has been a moderate success and that Danny Alexander MP has played a fairly prominent role in this success, being No.2 in the Treasury and generally supportive of government policy. More recently he, and other Liberal Democrat MPs, have been keen to differentiate themselves from their Conservative colleagues and I think this is perfectly understandable ahead of the 2015 general election. I am, at the very least, grateful that we have had at least a partially-Conservative government these past almost five years, so that more rational policies have been implemented when compared with the many idiocies and plain incompetence of the previous awful Labour government. However, it is possible that a heavy electoral price may be exacted of the Liberal Democrats, according to the opinion polls, for their participation in the coalition government. I think this is grossly unfair, because at least they have helped save us from the disaster of another Labour government, something I am very happy about.

Nominations for the May 2015 general election have of course not yet closed, but so far (as at the time of writing) the 3 major UK national parties, Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, plus the SNP and and the Green Party have chosen their candidates, but there may well be more candidates declared before nominations close. You can see the currently-known candidates in the YourNextMP website here:
- Alexander, Danny (Liberal Democrats);
- Hendry, Drew (Scottish National Party [SNP]);
- Mountain, Edward (Conservative Party);
- O'Reilly, Isla Macleod (Scottish Green Party);
- Robb, Mike (Labour Party).

Normally my voting decision would be pretty straightforward, I would vote for Edward Mountain for the Conservatives or perhaps abstain; basically I am a Conservative, but am no longer a member as a result of earlier anti-gay policies during the leadership of William Hague MP and his successor Iain Duncan Smith MP and, to a lesser extent during the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives of the late David McLetchie. However, although I have not rejoined the Conservatives as a member, their earlier anti-gay policies have been abandoned and replaced by an altogether more positive range of policies and actions, even if some of their MPs and MSPs remain as anti-gay as ever they were; within Scotland (the area that obviously concerns me most directly) there are a number of similarly and notoriously anti-gay SNP MSPs, a fact that the SNP doesn't really like to talk about and whenever the topic has been raised by me in the past I have been howled down by irate SNP supporters (aka 'dupes' and/or 'shameless apologists)'. Their are fewer similar Labour and no or almost no Liberal Democrats, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, there are other issues beyond 'gay rights', I readily accept, but this is a matter of such fundamental importance for basic human rights that I make no apology for awarding it a certain prominence - tough if anyone reading this takes issue!

Beyond that of course, I am for free enterprise and against any form of 'socialism' or 'collectivism' because 'socialism' and similar philosophies have produced such abysmal results wherever in the world they have been tried, it really is the archetypal 'dead parrot' of political philosophies so far as I am concerned! (with acknowledgement to 'Monty Python').

Anyway, where does this leave me and my voting decision for the forthcoming general election? I could vote for the Conservative Edward Mountain quite happily, but being realistic he is likely to garner only between 13 and 16% of the vote (worst and best case scenarios based on recent history) and is 'highly unlikely' to be elected as our next MP, even if he manages to increase the vote somewhat; that is the harsh reality, sadly; here is the result at the 2010 general election to illustrate this. So under an FPTP system those 6 to 7 or 8,000 votes are effectively wasted. The two likely realistic alternativea to the Liberal Democrats in this constituency are Labour or the SNP (formerly we had a Labour MP and our current MSP is from the SNP, for example); I would find either very unpalatable, but based on recent opinion polls the main 'danger' seems to come from the SNP and I certainly wish to avoid that outcome at all costs - so my present intention would be, through somewhat gritted teeth, to vote for Danny Alexander of the Liberal Democrats. The question that those who would normally vote Conservative need to ask themselves is - do you really want to see the SNP (or potentially Labour) win in this constituency? Given that it is highly unlikely (i.e. next to impossible) that a Conservative can realistically have any hope of winning here, would you rather have one of the unholy duo of the SNP or Labour win or would it not be less unpalatable to have a Liberal Democrat instead? Honestly? I know some will find my arguments anathema - but don't come complaining to me on the morning of Friday 8th May 2015 if instead we have an SNP or Labour MP, when some of the usual 6 or 7,000 Conservative votes could have been more usefully directed to the Liberal Democrats. I have never met Edward Mountain and if I thought he had a realistic chance of winning would happily vote for him, so I hope he will forgive me for writing so candidly about my feelings.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

My attitude to "junk" and unsolicited mail

Like most folks, I receive my fair share of junk and unsolicited mail of various kinds; one good thing that has come out of the economic downturn that has affected many parts of the world since 2007/2008 is that the volume of spurious commercial junk mail has lessened considerably.

Another major category of unsolicited mail is political leaflets. For some years I have "immortalised" these in my blog, irrespective of the source, because although I have quite partisan political views, I see no reason not to acknowledge in my own fashion all such propaganda. However, my strong feeling is that I cannot imagine that anyone's voting decision has been or will ever be swayed by political leafleting. So the question is, why do political Parties utilise their funds in this way? I can only imagine they have been seduced by the peddlers of dreams, because I doubt there is much empirical evidence that this expenditure has much if any effect

Saturday, 31 January 2015

My take on the "Gay Pardons" campaign

A campaign to "pardon" about 49,000 men who were convicted under laws outlawing male homosexuality (no such law ever existed for females) has recently begun to achieve a much higher profile than formerly, specially since the brilliant code-breaker Alan Turing was the object of a public "unequivocal apology" by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP in 2009, then in 2013 he was granted a Royal Pardon by Her Majesty the Queen. Alan Turing died by suicide in 1954, after having been convicted of "gross indecency" in 1952 and offered a choice of prison or "chemical castration" as punishment for his crime (i.e. what was considered a crime at the time).

The basis of the campaign, apart from being a desire to right a wrong, or "gross indecency" (geddit? -Ed) in fact in the law then and its application, is because it is contended (rightly in my view) that every person convicted under this unfair law was just as wronged by it as was Alan Turing. A new film production of the life of Alan Turing, called The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch who plays the role of Alan Turing, has obviously raised the profile of this historic injustice.

So, what do I think of all this? Well I am generally in favour of the campaign, although I have certain reservations about it and similar pardons for other historic injustices. Specifically, Alan Turing was driven to commit suicide in 1954 by the atrocious treatment meted out to him. Comforting as it may be to some of his family now living for this recognition of the wrong he suffered, he is himself no longer in a position to care one way or the other. A wrong has been done which can NEVER be righted, however many times a government of our time says "sorry" or Her Majesty grants a Pardon, no doubt issued on the recommendation of the government in place in 2013 under David Cameron, as it tries to make amends.

The same applies to any of the other 49,000 who are, like Alan Turing, dead. If any of these individuals are still alive then a Royal Pardon might have some real value to them, but for those of them who are dead it serves no real purpose, other than to try and salve the conscience of "the country" collectively. As readers here know, I am a cynical soul, so I cannot refrain from pointing out that one of the principal reasons, in my opinion, for waiting until most or all of these individuals are dead is because compensation claims can be avoided. Granting the Pardon during a person's lifetime would almost inevitably leave the government open to substantial compensation claims.

I feel the same about other historic apologies or Pardons where those directly affected are no longer alive (e.g. US citizens of Japanese descent automatically interned during WWII without looking at individual cases, similar internments of German citizens here during WWII, including some Jewish people who had fled Germany to save their lives).

No, what would be of more value, would be cessation of certain government policies today that are just as awful, for example the repatriation of asylum seekers who are gay to countries where homosexuality is not tolerated, with the near certainty that such people will be abused or in extreme cases even executed in their home countries:
- Two gay asylum seekers deported from UK (a case from 2008);
- Ugandan woman branded by iron over sexuality faces deportation from UK (a case from 2011);
- Report tells Home Office: Don’t ask gay asylum seekers ‘sexually explicit questions’ (report from October 2014).
(Whilst I accept it may be difficult to ascertain fully if claims by an asylum-seeker that he or she is homosexual and in genuine fear of returning back to their home country for that reason are true, we know enough about the policies and practices in many of the relevant countries to be sure of what would probably happen if their homosexuality were to be discovered; telling someone to "behave discreetly" so as not to draw attention to himself or herself is laughable and insulting. It seems that the desire of mainstream political parties of the left and right to placate the "anti-immigration lobby" and political Parties such as UKIP is perhaps making our government blur the lines of what is acceptable.)

In summary, it is all very well for our government to issue rather meaningless apologies and Pardons to people who are for the most part dead, but a more concrete illustration of a real change in behaviour would be the righting of current rather than historic wrongs as they relate to homosexuals. In other words, by all means Talk the Talk, but you must also Walk the Walk.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Paris Terrorist Outrage

(Please see UPDATE at end)

An attack on well-known satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has killed at least 12 people, including the editor and 3 other cartoonists and 2 police officers, with at least 4 seriously and a number of others less-gravely injured. It has been reported that two (later amended to three) gunmen used assault-rifles to kill those in the office before engaging in a gunfight with police outside and using a vehicle to escape, later found abandoned in a northern Paris street. The magazine obviously lampoons many targets, but it seems clear that its satirical cartoons mocking Moslem extremists have provoked this latest awful outrage. Free speech must be defended and maintained and terrorists not permitted to prevail!

Fuller details may be read in the BBC website here, with a regularly updated news and comment feed here.

I have added this awful outrage to the permanent memorial page in my personal website; the list of crimes marked there grows ever longer unfortunately.

UPDATE (Sunday 11JAN2014 14.15 GMT) Events moved swiftly after the first killings on 7th January, so this update attempts to summarise concisely the events of the next two days until resolution of the initial and later outrages was achieved. Summary - death toll in 4 separate locations; 17 victims and 3 of the terrorists. It began on 7th January with an attack on well-known satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were killed, including the editor and 3 other cartoonists and 2 police officers, with a further 11 injured. The attack was carried out by two Moslem extremist gunmen and after a hide-and-seek operation across a wide area north-east of Paris, two were cornered in a printing works in Dammartin-en-Göele (Seine-et-Marne) and very close to the main Paris airport of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle two days later; they were killed by police when they exited the building firing weapons. On 8th January a police officer was shot dead in the Paris suburb of Montrouge by one or two terrorists. On 9th January, two different terrorists took hostages in a Kosher (i.e. Jewish) grocery store, resulting in the deaths of 4 of the hostages. One of these two terrorists was shot dead, the other has escaped and is being searched for although various reports indicate she may already have left France and perhaps have travelled to Syria. Free speech must be defended and maintained and terrorists not permitted to prevail by intimidating us into silence!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Murder in Nairn - 10 years on and still no resolution

Later this week, on 28th November 2014, will mark the the 10 year anniversary of the murder of banker Alistair Wilson on his doorstep in Nairn; to date the murder remains unsolved and, at least publicly, there is no information about what the motive may have been, far less who may have committed the murder.

Police Scotland, according to this BBC News report, are expected to make a further appeal for information from anyone who may be able to provide it, with a view to making material progress in apprehending the murderer.

You can visit the page for this unsolved crime in the Police Scotland website here:

Alistair Wilson

Anyone with any information in connection with the murder of 30-year-old banker Alistair Wilson should contact Police Scotland on 101, or Crimestoppers in confidence and complete anonymity on 0800 555 111.
My most recent previous article on the murder is here. There are links to all my posts on this murder, so close to where I live, in the right-hand column under the heading 'Murder in Nairn' articles.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Nairn - Highland Council refuse collection schedules - 2014 to 2016

You can download a calendar of the refuse collection schedule for your street/area within Highland Council by visiting its website here. Enter your area/town by clicking on the drop-down menu in the "category" box and your town and/or street name (leave out 'street', 'avenue', 'terrace' etc, insert only the actual name) in the "keywords” box. Once you find your area, you can download the collection schedule, which will be in .pdf format. Currently available are refuse collection schedules for the period April 2014 to March 2016.

NB/ My earlier article in July 2011 (link here) has somewhat more detail, although of course the refuse collection schedules embedded there are now out of date. Since then, Highland Council has reorganised its website considerably and the way this information may be found has changed, as described above.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Referendum on Scottish Independence - 18th September 2014 - the result

The referendum held yesterday to decide whether Scotland would remain a part of the United Kingdom, or whether it would become a separate/independent country has now concluded with the final result being announced officially earlier today. In brief the "Yes" campaign has been defeated and therefore Scotland will remain a part of the United Kingdom, a decision that pleases me greatly. The results for the "no" vote were 2,001,926 votes (55.3%), with the "yes" side of the debate receiving 1,617,989 votes (44.7%). However, there are going to be significant constitutional changes both in Scotland and in other parts of the UK (specially as they affect England) that if successful are likely to ensure that this ugly problem does not rear its head again anytime soon and that people's reasonable democratic expectations are addressed throughout the whole country. The "Devolution settlement" concocted by the last Labour government in 1997/8 was defective and has in my opinion led us directly to this impasse and its current efforts to deny English voters sole say in domestic English matters, for purely partisan political reasons, must be resisted at all costs, otherwise the amended settlement currently being negotiated is unlikely to be very durable. Whatever else may be said about this referendum exercise, it has on the whole been conducted in a civlised manner, with only the 'aggressive' tactics of some of the "yes" supporters marring this; it seems clear that many countries around the world have looked on with some amazement both that such a referendum for a part of a country to 'secede' was ever held in the first place, specially in a country that has existed for so long and been as stable as the United Kingdom, but that it was actually permitted in the first place, not to mention that it was mostly carried out in a peaceful, civilised manner. It was also completely honest and transparent, as all elections have been in this country for a very long time, so the pre-referendum agreement of all to accept the result will be honoured without question. What this really shows is that the home of modern democracy, the UK, has demonstrated once more how secure and self-confident we are in our democratic beliefs and credentials. Full results of the referendum can be found in the dedicated BBC website page here.