Mike Vickers' Blog

February 26, 2015

David Hume Institute – Politicians & Professionals series

Filed under: DHI SPIF, economics, Education, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 12:17 pm


A series of five lectures given by the five Party Leaders in Scotland at this time.

The four I went to were in order Ruth Davidson for the Conservatives, Patrick Harvie for the Greens, Jim Murphy for Labour and Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP.  I missed Willie Rennie for the Lib Dems.

How did their policies for Scotland compare.  Well they had a surprisingly lot of common round.

  1. Murphy and Sturgeon were singing from the same song sheet on education and levelling the playing field; even Davidson considered Scotland needs to be more meritocratic; children from the poorer areas of Glasgow need to have the same opportunities as the rest.
  2. Further Education should be equally prised as Higher Education
  3. Scotland needs to get people back to work: Murphy, the unemployed while Sturgeon the Mums – she advocates Child Care to do so
  4. Murphy and Sturgeon were again singing on a Fairer Scotland.  Harvie brought up employers reneging on conditions in the work place
  5. Both Harvie and Murphy attacked zero hours contracts
  6. All except Sturgeon seemed to agree that Scotland is too centralised and power needs to be distributed. Sturgeon however did mention the Community Empowerment Bill before parliament at this time and she did recognised that for education there is a balance between the centre and the councils – is education ring fenced or not
  7. The oil is a dying commodity but we should be harnessing all that expertise in Aberdeen
  8. Of course there were differences: Davidson is for cutting taxes rather than Scotland going Nordic, Murphy reminded us of the Mansion Tax and 50p in the £ for high earners while Sturgeon said that the Smith Commission would help but not enough of tax raising under Scottish control.
  9. Davidson was the only one to talk about defence but even she didn’t tackle Trident nor was she pressed by the audience
  10. Harvie made the point that people now look at life as a ‘hotel’; you take the room, pay for the service and move on; and I would expect all four politicians would agree with this sentiment in their own different ways.
  11. As Harvie said in respect of the Bedroom Tax there was a high degree of unanimity between Labour and SNP  in Scotland and agreement on the way forward could have been reached a lot earlier if the two parties hadn’t automatically taken up their usual antagonist positions.  It may be time for the Scottish Parliament as a whole to take a more active part in moving Scotland forward without the need for usual party warring.

So what about the performers themselves

  1. Patrick Harvie in my view gave the weakest performance possibly because the Greens politics is all things to all green thinking men.
  2.  Jim Murphy was not consistent in his delivery trying to tackle all Scottish problems as he sees them in the 45 mins allotted – he is of course on an uphill battle in trying to win back Labour voters and may well have been tired.
  3. Nicola Sturgeon gave the most polished speech (and was the only one on time!) and stood up to answer questions, but maybe somewhat complacent – her time will come when she has to put her policies into practice – I noted already a careful keeping of her power dry.
  4. To me Ruth Davidson was the easiest to listen to and faced the audience all the time and her position is somewhat easier as as she recognised the Scottish Tories have a long way to go and she will be considered to have succeeded if she makes any headway in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon – An Educational System for Everyone- the Foundation of a Fairer Scotland

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Left Politics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 12:14 pm


Nicola Sturgeon at the David Hume Institute

The fifth and final lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, gave a very polished lecture and answered the questions with verve and composure.

But what did she say; well not that much.  Sturgeon focused, as her title suggested, on education in Scotland limiting her scope and the questions arising:

  1. The Education system in Scotland at present is not fair.  Opportunities for children favour the better off.  This is shown in children’s vocabularies – those from the poor schools are 13 months behind those from the well off.  The lower 20% do ½ as well as the well off.
  2. Education is not just for its own sake;  the economy is dependent on a qualified workforce.
  3. Scotland as part of the UK is suffering from the Coalition’s austerity programme –all three main parties in Westminster are equally culpable.  Against this, Scotland is doing its best to mitigate the effect of the austerity.
  4. Scotland has more university places per head of population save only for Finland
  5. Scotland has introduced its Curriculum for Excellence and this is going well.  Nevertheless Scotland is happy to learn from elsewhere – witness Sturgeon’s recent visit to Blue Gate Fields junior in Tower Hamlets.
  6. Head Teachers will be required to undergo retraining and achieve new qualifications; focus on ‘Doing rather than Being’
  7. Scotland is targeting from the early years and is introducing Child Care to get the Mums back to work
  8. Education is not just 5 to 18 but is life-long and adults also need to learn
  9. Scotland also recognises the need to bolster Apprenticeships and these have risen by 1/3 over the last 5 years.  The Government has taken on the Wood Report in full
  10. In questioning she emphasised that Councils are responsible for education in their regions and recognised that 2 Councils had reduced school hours and teachers employed.  The Government was in negotiation and in any case a Council’s educational budget is ring fenced.  Sturgeon stated that there is a balance of responsibility between Central Government and the Councils – and I got the impression that the point of balance could change!
  11. The Governments policy is free school meals for all – there should be no stigma to the less well off
  12. Sturgeon recognised the problem of private schools but the playing field has to become level.   I did not catch her solution
  13. Teaching is not just the prerogative of the school teachers but the parents need to play their part.  Communities need to help here and Sturgeon mentioned the Community Empowerment Bill going through Parliament at this time (though such help must tend to upset the level of the playing field)

Sturgeon finished by emphasising that she is passionate about education and  that the inequality in Education has to be sorted; in her view everyone needs to be brought up to the same level for Scotland to prosper economically and to flourish.

February 22, 2015

Scottish Ensemble – Queens Hall – 21 February 2015

Filed under: Music, Scotland — derryvickers @ 11:15 pm

The Scottish Ensemble is always great – as they say Re-defining the String Orchestra

They are led by the music director and lead player on the violin – Jonathan Morton.

4 1st Violins, 4 2nd Violins, 2 Violas, 2 (but this time 3) Cellos and one Double Bass.

A interesting feature is that the violins and violas stand while playing.

This performance was titled Sax Serenade with the saxophone played by Amy Dickson – an Australian now living in London –Ms Dickson is going and will go a long way.

The first piece was by Glazunov – Saxophone Concerto and Amy Dickson played wonderfully – it stuck me that the saxophone can play the sweetest of sounds; I’m all too familiar with the sax of the jazz club.

The second piece was Chamber Symphony in C minor by Shostakovich – a good piece with spiky intermissions.

And back to the sax – this time a Soprano Saxophone with a piece by a Georgian Giya Kancheli – Night Prayers – starting very quietly but reaching a crescendo before subsiding with treble tape accompaniment at the start and end. This piece I understand was discovered by Amy Dickson – always looking for classical pieces for her instruments

Finally Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings – an easy flowing piece with a very well-known 2nd movement. Great cello solo bits by Alison Lawrance. All reminding me of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings until I remembered that Tchaikovsky came first!

The real pity is now that we have to wait till the autumn before we can hear them again.

For snippets of the Scottish Ensemble in action watch:


Or more specifically Seavaigers composed recently by Sally Beamish

February 19, 2015

Scotland’s Future Sharing in Growth and Prosperity – Jim Murphy at the DHI

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Left Politics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 8:36 am

Jim Murphy at the David Hume Institute

The fourth lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Jim Murphy provided a somewhat erratic lecture; he would have been better if he had not had to refer to his notes so much; he was more relaxed in responding to the questions.

His central theme was ‘Inequality’ in Scotland and how Labour would change / mitigate it.

  1. Inequality is corrosive
  2. Inequality spans the whole life from school onwards.  In the poorest schools only 1 in 5 pupils gets more than 5 O grades.  Only 200 pupils in total  from the poorest families in Scotland get to University
  3. The poor live 9 years less than the richest
  4. The Pay of Glasgow workers is down £1,800 in real terms since the crash.  Families in work have to rely on food banks to survive
  5. We can’t afford so many jobless workers; their tax is needed to cover the growth in pensioners and to fund better schools for the poorest.  But it’s not just the money it’s to give people dignity.
  6. 74,000 workers in Scotland are on zero hours contracts
  7. Labour in power would tackle the 20 schools in the poorest areas – not only to bring on the pupils but also their mums so that they can help their children with their homework
  8. Politicians need to be honest and tough to come up with the money.  There’s the Mansion Tax for houses valued at 2million or more; 50p in the £ for the high earners; tax on bonus.  But the middle class though will not be affected – Murphy mention the middle class a number of times (whether he felt in talking to the DHI he was largely talking to ‘the middle class’)
  9. The cash from Taxation will flow from the South to the North and may be from the West of the Cities to the East but Murphy sees no real fight
  10. Scotland has to recognise that North Sea Oil is a dying commodity but we need to cash in on expertise such as Oil Platform decommissioning
  11. More generally science and technology needs boosting from primary school onwards.  It is essential that Scotland remains well educated – world competition is inexorably growing
  12. One 1% of university graduates set up their own business after graduation
  13. Social care needs to move from the hospitals to the home
  14. Democracy needs to be devolved to the Cities
  15. The Financial sector remains a key industry for Scotland – it was only the tiny section of the top executives that created the bank collapse.  In questioning Murphy said the Labour government had had no option but to bail out the banks.

Murphy summed up his ethics as Social Justice and growth in the economy, not only for us but for our children.

Inequality is the ‘flavour of the month’  of all political parties and not just in the UK but throughout the Western World; as Murphy says help for the poorest has to be funded from somewhere but whether Labour’s somewhat Robin Hood approach would deliver the funding remains unclear.

February 11, 2015

Bank Scandals breeding New Politics

Filed under: Corporates, Politics — derryvickers @ 4:08 pm

Strong language in yesterday’s Scotsman by Peter Jones

‘If Green did not know what it was doing, he is culpable. If he did not inquire, he is negligent. A chairman’s legal duty, certainly on behalf of shareholders but sadly not on behalf of honest customers it seems, is to make sure that the full-time executives are generating profits, but doing so legally and decently so there is no future retribution that could damage shareholdings.

I’m sick of this stuff. I’m sick of hearing about rich people avoiding and evading tax. I’m sick of rich companies paying next to no tax and bleating that they are doing nothing illegal. And I’m sick of hearing about powerful people presiding over these malpractices and swanning ever onwards and upwards to yet more power and riches.

It damages society because every pound of tax that these people don’t pay is a pound more that has to be extracted from you and me. Most of them have benefited from an education system and a health service, from roads and a justice system, from defence forces and a democracy, all of which has to be paid for by the taxpayer.

What miserable, warped, corrupt, mentality assures them they should be free of this tax burden that weighs down folk like you and me? If they won’t pay their due tax, why should we?

To read the lot go to


It may ever have been thus, but By Gum its coming out now

The Mailed Fist is no Answer to Putin’s Old Traditions – Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, History in the making, Politics, USA, War — derryvickers @ 12:04 pm

Merkel, Putin and Hollande

Merkel and Hollande have been to visit Putin on the Ukraine.

Merkel is a realist and reckons there is no quick answer but it should be by negotiation.

Picture: AP

I can do no better than to commend an article by Allan Massie in today’s Scotsman – 11 Feb 2015


As Massie points out the West is not blameless in this respect and I can only note that the UK was not invited to join the table.

And as Massie says we both have a common enemy.

February 10, 2015

Tim Benton – Can we do it sustainably

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Sustainability, World Class — derryvickers @ 5:28 pm

A lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 9th February 2015

Tom Benton is Global Food Security Champion He made a number of critical points on world growth and how and if it could be sustainable

  1. There are 805 million in the world hungry; there are 1 million people in the UK in food poverty
  2. All of us eat the wrong food. 2/3 of the food eaten is wheat, rice and maize; if we include sugar, barley, soya, palm oil and potato we get up to 86%
  3. The world population will increase from the current 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050
  4. Food for Europe comes through the Suez Canal – an interruption in flow and Europe would be in crisis – there aren’t enough ships to go via the Cape
  5. The World will be 4* hotter; it’s not the average temperature that matters to growing plants it’s the maximums which could 6* or 7* above the average – at 35*C maize will not grow
  6. 70% of water used for agriculture; 1 kg meat takes 10/12 tons of water for production; a green bean from Kenya takes 1 gallon of water
  7. Eat local food , it saves water and carbon
  8. After continuous increase in crop yields now starting to drop off
  9. Need to reduce demand for food
  10. 1/3 of food wasted – 3 for 1 but best by today.
    1. The need for supermarkets to always have food available requires that they have 200% resilience
    2. Our food laws have stopped recycling of waste
  11. Health cost is £2,500 per person per year in the UK
  12. 50% of Chinese heading for diabetes
  13. In 2050 we will be eating more than the World has produced so far; needed 120% more water 40% more crop land 10% less forest
  14. Loss of biodiversity
  15. Agriculture produces more carbon than cars
  16. A plea for more horticultural research
  17. Food sales dominated by Marketing and supermarkets. Remember that supermarkets provide the food that we want to buy. The answer is a change in us not the supermarkets – if we change our eating habits then supermarkets will change what they sell.  A bottom up approach is needed
  18. During WW2 we got it right

February 6, 2015

Whatever happened to Politics of Hope – Patrick Harvie at the David Hume Institute

Filed under: Corporates, DHI SPIF, economics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:49 am

The third Lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Harvie provided more of barn-stormer than a lecture; he was better and easier in discussion.

The points he concentrated on were:

  1. The people and organisations that were prospering before the Crash have been the ones that have continued to profit since – it’s the rest of us who haven’t.
  2. The Crash has allowed employers to renege on conditions in the work place.   Wages in real terms have deteriorated – workers must pay to seek retribution at industrial tribunals. What is required is bringing back democracy into the work place – Union rights (a la Germany)
  3. Oil is a bubble – it is grossly overvalued – it must stay in the ground rather than its exploration and extraction receiving tax breaks
  4. Energy creation should be distributed to the local authorities and to the communities themselves (I remembered the smell of the Local Gas Works I used to pass every day going to school as a child!)
  5. The Greek election is a beacon of hope in politics rather than of despair. A break from the cry of ’Business as Usual’ so dominant since the Crash
  6. The Referendum was a lost opportunity
  7. People now looking at life as a ‘Hotel’; you take the room, pay for the service and move on. There needs to be a real revival in the community – Eigg as a community
  8. But he confessed he has no answers to his points
  9. Harvie is for proportional representation
  10. Politicians should work together across parties. In this respect Westminster works a lot better than Holyrood. The Bedroom tax legislation would have been resolved in Scotland if the SNP and Labour hadn’t spent so much time in bitter dispute even though both agreed on the way forward
  11. He is against outsourcing government business to consultants who could gain from the advice they gave
  12. The differential between the highest and lowest in any company that was 20/30 is now 200/400 and has to come down to 10/20.

I agree with much of what Patrick Harvie said in his talk and in the following discussion. There is no doubt that there is a disconnect between politicians and the public, those with wealth continue to prosper, and a change of heart back to a more connected community environment is essential.

But I would need a lot of convincing that the Green Way would automatically deliver the Political Hope that Harvie hopes for.

Mike Vickers

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