Blogging from the Murcia region of Spain until I return to the Highlands of Scotland in mid-June
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Nairn - Highland Council refuse collection schedules - 2016 to 2018

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 2016 to March 2018.

NB/ For information, my earlier articles in July 2011 and November 2014 (respective links links here and here), in particular the first linked article, has somewhat more detail about what may be put in the various bins/'wheelie bins', although of course the refuse collection schedules embedded there are now out of date.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, 6 May 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016; results (constituency and regional) in Highland Region

Well, all 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament have now declared their results and as expected the Scottish National Party [SNP] have 'won', but crucially have lost their overall majority, with the principal gainers being the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party [SCUP], who succeeded even above their own expectations by pushing the Scottish Labour Party [SLP] decisively into third place.

In the 3 constituencies in the area, where the vote is 'first past the post', the results were as follows; the first shown below is the constituency in which I can vote and the other two are shown here for information:

Inverness and Nairn
- CADDICK, Carolyn Ann (SLD) - 4th (5,445 votes, 14.2%, +2.7%)
- EWING, Fergus Stewart (SNP) - 1st (18,505 votes, 48.3%, −3.2%)
- MOUNTAIN, Edward (SCUP) - 2nd (7,648 votes, 20.0%, +8.4%)
- STEWART, David (SLP) - 3rd (6,719 votes, 17.5%, −4.2%)

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
- FRANCHETTI, Leah Esther (SLP) - 4th (3,334 votes, 10.4%, −8.7%)
- MACKIE, Struan (SCUP) - 3rd (4,912 votes, 15.3%, +5.0%)
- ROSS, Gail Elizabeth (SNP) - 1st (13,937 votes, 43.3%, −5.1%)
- STONE, Jamie (SLD) - 2nd (10,024 votes, 31.1%, +8.8%)

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
- CAMPBELL, Ronnie (IND) - 5th (1,116 votes, 3.1%, +1.5%)
- FORBES, Kate (SNP) - 1st (17,362 votes, 47.6%, +1.4%)
- MACLEAN, Angela Margaret (SLD) - 2nd (8,319 votes, 22.8%, −7.7%)
- MUNRO, Robbie (SCUP) - 3rd (5,887 votes, 16.1%, +7.2%)
- STEWART, Linda (SLP) - 4th (3,821 votes, 10.5%, −2.4%)

Voting also took place in a regional 'List' system under a form of proportional representation, with the regional results where I live being:

Highlands and Islands Region (showing names only of those elected as 'List' MSPs - using the d'Hondt method of voting, the Additional Member System)
listed in alphabetic order by political party or individual name
Details of registered parties and party list candidates
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
"Ruth Davidson for a Strong Opposition"
(Douglas Ross, Edward Mountain, Donald Cameron)
- 3 seats, 44,693 votes, 21.8%, +10.1%
Scottish Green Party
"Re-elect John Finnie"
(John Finnie)
- 1 seat, 14,781 votes, 7.2%, +2.1%
Scottish Labour Party
"Choose kids, not cuts"
(Rhoda Grant, David Stewart)
- 2 seats, 22,894 votes, 11.2%, -3.3%
Scottish National Party (SNP)
"Nicola Sturgeon for First Minister"
(Maree Todd)
- 1 seat, 81,600 votes, 39.7%, −7.8%
RISE – Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism
"Scotland’s Left Alliance"

- 0 seats, 889 votes, 0.4%, +0.4%

Scottish Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
"Christians Together"

- 0 seats, 3,407 votes, 1.7%, −0.3%

Scottish Liberal Democrats
- 0 seats, 27,223 votes, 13.3%, +1.1

Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement
"Tommy Sheridan - IndyRef2"
- 0 seats, 793 votes, 0.4%, +0.3%

UK Independence Party (UKIP)
- 0 seats, 5,344 votes, 2.6%, +0.7%

Details of individual regional candidates
STOCKAN, James Wilson
- 0 seats, 3,689 votes, 1.8%, +1.8%

Turnout was 55.6%.
- full results for the Scottish Parliament election 2016 are in the BBC website here.

At a personal level, I am pleased that there are now 3 'List' MSPs representing the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party in the Highlands and Islands Region, out of 7, namely Douglas Ross, Edward Mountain and Donald Cameron - congratulations! This is an increase of 1. Other changes are that the Scottish National Party have reduced their 'List' representation from 3 to 1, with the Scottish Green Party gaining 1 seat (nb/ John Finnie was a 'List' MSP in the last parliament 2011-2016, but sat for the Scottish National Party for the period 2011-2012, then as an Indpendent for the period 2012-2016).

The only other comment I wish to make here is that whilst I am not a 'vindictive' person (I do not think), I am personally pleased and relieved that one particular person standing for the SNP as fourth on their 'List' for this area, namely Nairn councillor Liz MacDonald, was not elected; my blog article written during August 2014 (see here) explains why. In my view she has no place in public life; harsh I know, but there are certain kinds of behaviour which are completely unacceptable in a civilised society for an elected official.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

UK and EU; should we stay or should we go (*)

(* - with a hat-tip to 'The Clash')

Tomorrow 5th May we will be having elections of one kind or another in every part of the UK - regional parliamentary or assembly elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and local elections in England, plus of course the mayoral election in London, not forgetting also a bumper crop of elections to select 41 Police & Crime Commissioners across England and Wales - and by Friday we will know what the immediate fallout is. The BBC has a dedicated 'homepage' for all of these elections here. I've written several blog articles recently about the Scottish parliamentary elections in my immediate area; please scroll down if you wish to refresh your memory.

However, not much more than a month from now, the UK will hold a referendum which is arguably at least as important if not more; whether to remain a member of the European Union, or not. There are two 'official' campaign groups, supporting the 'remain' and 'leave' sides respectively and you can visit their website here (for 'remain') and here (for 'leave').

Over coming weeks in the run-up to the referendum, I shall undoubtedly be writing more on this topic in this blog, but meantime I have started the ball rolling by writing brief news updates in my own personal website here in the 'homepage', with a slightly more detailed (but also completely neutral) brief section in its dedicated EU page here (nb/ this page has existed in my personal website more or less since I began the website in its current form in 2002). In that latter page I have included a couple of relevant links which I repeat here, because they will undoubtedly be mentioned regularly in passing in media reporting as the referendum date of 23rd June 2016 draws closer:
- Lisbon Treaty Article 50;
- HM Government official EU Referendum website.

The referendum question will be:
"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"

The only other remark I wish to make at this stage is that whilst HM Government's official position is to recommend that the UK remains a member of the EU and its website linked to above reflects this, the level of 'objectivity' of the arguments advanced for this position is hotly disputed by some and I myself tend to share some of that scepticism, although I have not yet made up my mind finally how I will vote.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Inverness (INV) gets back flights to Heathrow (LHR) after a gap of almost 20 years

Whilst I think the existing flights from Inverness to London airports such as Gatwick and Luton are good, there is no getting away from the fact that flying into London or via London through Heathrow opens up huge additional possibilities, particularly as Heathrow is the UK's major international 'hub' airport. So the news that British Airways is to reinstate flights from Inverness to Heathrow after a gap of almost 20 years is unequivocally a "good thing" in my view.

I've taken a look in the British Airways website at the flights available currently (one a day in each direction) and these appear to be at pretty convenient times during the day, to suit both the business and leisure traveller. In particular, those arriving off of long-haul flights into Heathrow early in the morning will probably be able to catch the flight upto Inverness, whereas those who are leaving on a long-haul flight from Heathrow in the late-afternoon or early evening should be able to make the connection on the lunch-time flight out of Inverness in many cases. This will undoubtedly be very convenient for business travellers, but also to long-haul leisure travellers, whether travelling East or West from or to Heathrow.

The convenience for many buisness or leisure travellers of flying through Heathrow however comes at a price, so if one is not going further than London by air, or coming further, there may be little advantage in using this new service from a cost perspective, but for those coming from or going to long-haul destinations using flights via Heathrow, then the convenience of not having to transfer to/from Gatwick will be a major advantage, because it adds to be safe at least a couple of hours when a trip between the two airports is required, not to mention the additional cost, whether you travel via one of the regular scheduled coach services or take a taxi - going around a part of the M25 during working hours is unlikely to be a fast or particularly comfortable experience.

Of course some long-haul flights do go through Gatwick too, so for some travellers it may still be more convenient to take flights to/from Inverness there, but the reinstated link with Heathrow will provide much greater convenience and flexibility for many travellers to/from the Highlands of Scotland.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

How we eat, how we are taught to eat in our home environments

People's eating habits are often defined by their childhoods and whether their own parents were 'conservative' or 'adventurous' in their eating habits. I am thankful that both my parents, specially my mother, were reasonably adventurous (not so much my father, admittedly), but both were good cooks and pre-prepared rubbish was never a part of my growing up. That's another thing, my father was not a stranger to the kitchen, so whilst growing up neither me nor my brother thought there was anything remotely strange about trying out new ideas in the kitchen. Obviously I am now somewhat older, so my childhood relates to the 1950s and 1960s, and I have become aware since then that for some of my contemporaries their home environments were radically different. One's home environment as children helps to define the adults we become, for good or ill. Some of the best people, however, are those who have transcended the most difficult early years - I can't say I'm one of those, but I sure do admire those who are.

I'm often astonished at the food 'dislikes' that some of my acquaintances exhibit - and I don't mean those who are vegetarian or vegan, for example, because I've eaten some delicious food of both varieties over the years. What I do mean though is those who are unwilling even to try anything 'different' from what they have ever eaten before, or people who, for example, live in places where abundant local delicacies are available, but who studuously avoid/loathe them in favour of heavily-advertised processed food instead, because that's what they were encouraged to eat by lazy parents. It applies also, incidentally, to those who don't wish to try vegetables or fruits different from the limited range they were exposed to by their own parents in earlier years, whether it might be an avocado pear, an asparagus spear, a pomegranate or a persimmon, etc., not that there's anything wrong with a potato or a carrot, of course. One thing I just cannot understand, though, is that many children (and perhaps their parents too) seem to find perfectly ordinary, nutritious and delicious green vegetables or salads "yukky"; even from my youngest years I LOVED things like broccoli and lettuce, for example, even if it took me a little longer to appreciate the joys of a fresh beetroot. I don't recall ever being pressurised to 'like' anything (well, apart from salted herring, which both my parents relished, for some inexplicable reason, ha ha), but it was never suggested to me that I was somehow being 'brave' when given a piece of broccoli or some Savoy cabbage to eat - my own parents enjoyed eating these so I learned from them - well apart from the afore-mentioned salted herring,the problem being not the taste or even the texture, but the fine bones.

In my area, with an abundance of fish and seafood, or excellent beef or venison, for example, I occasionally encounter people who HAVE NEVER EATEN FISH, for example, not that they have tried it and found they don't like it. I recall years ago being at a dinner party not far from here and one of the other guests, having said he had never eaten fish (having been born and brought up in a small coastal town not so far from here, with a major fishing industry), relishing a delicious salmon mousse and on being told what it was, admitting to our hosts how delicious it was. So my message is - try it, you may like a food unfamilar to you, you may not, but then at least you'll have knowledge rather than prejudice to guide you.

There are of course a few foods I don't like, or in a very few cases actively"loathe" (e.g. tripe), but I have formed my views by trying them, not whining "yuk" when first presented with them, but I don't discount the possibility that at some stage in the future I might come to tolerate if not actively "like" them, hopefully not at pistol point, ha ha.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dredging planned at Nairn Harbour - Dredging News Online

I am sure many boat-owners will be anxious about this. In the long run I think it can only help matters, although I do wonder if more dredging of the harbour mouth is not required too, no doubt a very costly and probably only temporary solution, given the shifting sands over this part of the coast. I don't recall having seen dredging of the harbour mouth having been undertaken since soon after I first came to live in Nairn almost sixteen years ago. Read more here

Monday, 25 April 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016 - more election literature received

Further to my article last Saturday (click here to view) I received this morning some additional election literature from three of those standing in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election. As I had not already received anything from the 'Independent' Regional candidate I am linking to it in the image below.

Click on the image to see a larger version plus an additional image

James Wilson STOCKAN (Independent)

Click on the image to see a larger version plus an additional image

The other two leaflets were from candidates from whom I had already received literature, but you can see the most-recently received material from them at the top of the linked pages below:
- Scottish Conservative and Unionist
- Scottish Liberal Democrats

For the sake of equity, I am also including links below for election literature already received from the other candidates too:
- Scottish Green Party
- Scottish Labour Party
- Scottish National Party
- Solidarity ("Solidarity Scotland's Socialist Movement")

If additional 'election messages' arrive in coming days I'll endeavour to put them online too.

A final message - If you have a vote, please use it, however you plan to vote.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Nairn - cricket and sailing on a cool but bright Spring Sunday afternoon

Nairn on a cool but bright and intermittently
sunny afternoon in the Spring
- what could be nicer?

Sunday, 24th April 2016

Click here to see enlargements.

Click here to see enlargements.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Scottish Parliament election 2016 - election literature received

(Please see UPDATE at end)

As in some of the previous elections when I have had the time, I have found it fascinating this time to compare the different messages and ideas that the various political parties try to persuade electors to vote for. I'm also interested in their different presentational styles; some of the messages are not to my taste at all, of course, but even where this is the case some of the messages seem to me to be well presented given the limited resources they probably have available. Isn't there some saying about the Devil having all the best tunes?

The images below are of election literature which I have received through my letterbox, listed in alphabetic order. I have not received literature from all the political parties or groups standing at the election on 5th May, but if I do receive any of these in the next few days I will endeavour to include them in this, or a later, posting before the election. However I will only include literature which I receive through my own letterbox. Please note that I have 'edited' some of the images so that multi-fold leaflets show all sections the right way up. None of these modifications alters the basic message in any way I hope.

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

Scottish Conservative and Unionist

Scottish Green Party

Scottish Labour Party

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish National Party

("Solidarity Scotland's Socialist Movement")


Material from 'Independent' Regional candidate
James Wilson STOCKAN (Independent)

Click on any image to see a larger version plus additional images

For full details of all candidates and parties standing in Highland Region or its three constituencies, please read my earlier article published in early April by clicking here.

PS/ I have already cast my 'FPTP' and 'List' votes postally; those who know me would have little difficulty in divining how these have been cast, but so far as I am concerned it is not a secret either, so I am quite content to acknowledge that both votes were for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party or in the case of the 'FPTP' vote, its candidate. Little surprise there, then.

UPDATE (Monday 25APR2016 20.15 BST) I received three additional items of election literature this morning, so have published an article about that here. As one of the items received was from a candidate from whom no literature had previously been received, I have updated the table above to include it, as well as including it in the later article. The other two items were from candidates that I had already received other material from and this too has been updated into the pages linked to in the table above. The later linked article gives complete details.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

"Morality" and the law as it relates to investment and taxation

Over recent days and the past few weeks a frenzy has developed in the UK about the "morality" of investing money outside of the UK; at least some of this frenzy has been as the result of a headline- and circulation-seeking media. Much of this relates, in my opinion, to base political point-scoring, with little regard paid to the likely economic implications for the national economy if some of the wilder ideas were to be carried forward into legislation. The article which follows is largely the text of a comment I placed this evening in another blog, but I think it merits being placed here too.

If a government, any government, wants to make what is currently legal, illegal, then all that needs to happen is for a majority to vote for it in Parliament. I really don't want differing views of what is "moral" or "immoral" to have any part of this. Tax evasion is a crime and if identified can/should result in punishment. So-called "tax avoidance" (whether "aggressive", or not, although I think attempts to classify some kinds of investment thus are completely spurious) has no legal status. Something is either illegal, or it is not. A government, this one or the previous one or the next one, could easily make various things which are currently legal, illegal, if it thought it worthwhile and it could command a majority for such measures in Parliament. Obviously, current notions of "morality", not to mention "easily malleable" "public opinion" will have at least some bearing on what tax legislation may be considered feasible and/or desirable.

Tax policy is however designed primarily to raise funds for government expenditure, not as some kind of "punishment" or "moral enforcement"; it has no other purpose. Having an ISA or owning Premium Bonds, for example, is no more (nor less) "moral" than having an investment in an overseas investment vehicle, although governments have often used legislation to encourage or discourage some behaviour or other. What were formerly PEPs, now ISAs, or savings bonds, premium bonds, etc, have traditionally been used as mechanisms to encourage the "habit" of saving amongst the general population, for example. What is crucial is that if one is a UK resident subject to UK taxation that one declares all taxable income to HMRC; not to do so is to "evade" tax and that is a crime. The UK (that's to say UK-resident individuals, organisations and companies registered in the UK) is amongst the largest overseas investors in various foreign countries and has been so for many decades and probably a few centuries; this is what helps to make the UK's "invisible earnings" so crucial in balancing the national accounts in the face of a long-standing (over at least many decades) trade deficit.

Some of the talk in recent days seems to want legitimate deployment of assets of UK-resident persons/organisations/companies outside the UK to be reclassified as somehow unacceptable or actually illegal. This is to display extreme ignorance of what makes an economy function and how the UK, somehow or other (with a fair bit of "borrowing" added into the mix) "balances the books".

Most people in the UK have traditionally had either a company pension or more recently a privately-organised pension plan, unions have such mechanisms too for pensionable employees, as of course do employees of public bodies. Most such pension plans have some of their funds invested outside of the UK (although pensions of public service employees, employed in the past, are generally paid out of current government tax revenue, just as those currently employed in public service will generally have their pensions paid from future current government tax revenue rather than investment income, when they retire). Is this wrong, or "immoral"? Merely to ask this question highlights just how juvenile has been much of the commentary on "financial planning", using perfectly legal mechanisms, in recent days.

The UK economy is closely integrated into the world economy, so unless it is being proposed that exchange controls be re-established and that a “protectionist” economy is reinstalled, the idea that the restriction of investment of assets outside the home country (in this case the UK) is in any way viable is “for the birds”. Not if we in the UK wish to be able to continue to buy goods and services abroad (for example an annual holiday abroad, just as one minor example). Such a society was accurately portrayed in the dystopian nightmare world of the novel "1984". That's where the current leadership of the Labour Party (and some other ideological bedfellows, eg the SNP, the Greens and the various 'socialist' parties, not to mention "Momentum") seem to be wanting to lead us, if their rhetoric is any guide. I hope calmer heads, able to see beyond the next headline, will prevail and help us avoid the abyss these economic ignoramuses seem to want to lead us towards.