Mike Vickers' Blog

April 27, 2019

New Sleeper – forget Brexit and arrive refreshed

Filed under: Brexit, Personal, Railways, Scotland, Travel — derryvickers @ 8:28 pm

This post is purely personal.

Scotrail, after months of work, have now got their Sleeper Fleet together and the first journey north is from Euston tomorrow evening.

The Sleeper is the way to travel for that full day’s meeting in London or Edinburgh or Glasgow. Forget the Red Eye flight where you have to turn up at the airport at 6 am. The sleeper gets you there in comfort by 8am in plenty of time for the 9am meeting. Some may say the journey is uncomfortable and I admit I occasional wake up going through Rugby when the train slows; sometimes it has even stopped for ½ hour so as not to arrive too early but that has been the exception. But the real benefit to me is that you can board the train at 11 pm and the new service offers 10am and just go to sleep and just sleep knowing that you will be at your destination on time effortlessly.

The new service offers full Scottish Breakfast rather than the current ‘packed breakfast’.

The service is extended to Fort William and Inverness during the Summer months; which means that you can enjoy crossing Rannoch Moor from the comfort of the buffet car and even an early dram ; and if you want you can travel on from Fort William to Mallaig and Skye on the steam hauled Jacobite. Alternatively, you can go to Skye via Kyle of Lochalsh via Inverness; not so, glamourous but beautiful scenery all the same, and over the highest mainline railway at Drumochter.

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-pty-pty_extension&hsimp=yhs-pty_extension&hspart=pty&p=fort+william+to+mallaig+by+steam+train#id=1&vid=9dfef8efa0bf7896e073328f8d515555&action=click

Anyway, just get a flavour of the benefits of the new sleepers at:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/27/london-scotland-revamped-train-sleeper-romance-revival

End of Personal Blog – Brexit free

April 11, 2019

Scozzese Giornale: 11 aprile 2019

Filed under: Black Holes, Brexit, Italian, Knoydart, Land Ownership, Scotland, Travel, World Class — derryvickers @ 10:23 pm

Nello scozzese Giornale di oggi: 11 aprile 2019

  1. Naturalmente,, Le Simulato foto of il buco nero in galassia M87.
  2. Macron infelice con la Brexit ritardata rischiando il Rinascimento dell’UE.
  3.  Varadkar (EIRE President) si collega al Regno Unito per rimanere nell’Unione doganale con l’UE.
  4. Traffico legato all’asma.
  5. Il volto di Bonnie Prince Charlie (non sembra che Bonnie a me).
  6. Borders Rail treni sovraffollati e spesso cancellati (sono un appassionato di treno).
  7. Un’altra storia sulle ragazze di Derry e quanto è fedele alla vita dei tempi. Buona TV ma un paio di volte è sufficiente.
  8. E in Real Homes una tenuta in Kilchoan Knoydart è in vendita per £ 5m.

Numero 8 mi interessa soprattutto perché è adiacente a/a sud della Fondazione Knoydart dove abbiamo buoni amici.

Per il blurb sulla tenuta di Kilchoan si veda https://www.onthemarket.com/details/6572192/

Ma per saperne di più della Fondazione Knoydart andare a http://www.knoydart-foundation.com/.

Il villaggio principale della Fondazione può essere ottenuto solo in barca da Mallaig.

La tenuta di Kilchoan è una tenuta sportiva; Io non sono un fan di Sporting Estates ma mi rendo conto cervo bisogno di essere colti, ma preferirei che fosse per il pasto non per lo sport.

Sarebbe eccellente se la Fondazione potesse acquistare la tenuta. Non posso che sperare.

 

BTW oggi è ancora un altro giorno in cui non abbiamo lasciato l’UE; Spero che ci saranno molti di più.

Scotsman: 11 April 2019

Filed under: Black Holes, Brexit, Knoydart, Land Ownership, Personal, Scotland, Travel — derryvickers @ 10:14 pm

In today’s Scotsman: 11 April 2019

  1. Of course, the simulated photo of the Black Hole in galaxy M87.
  2. Macron unhappy with Brexit being delayed risking EU Renaissance.
  3. Varadkar (Eire President) plugs for UK to remain in Customs Union with EU.
  4. Traffic linked to Asthma.
  5. The face of Bonnie Prince Charlie (doesn’t look that bonnie to me).
  6. Borders Rail trains overcrowded and often cancelled (I’m a train buff).
  7. Another story on the Derry Girls and how true to the life of the times they are. Good TV but a few times is enough.
  8. And in Real Homes an estate in Kilchoan Knoydart is up for sale for £5m.

Number 8 particularly interests me because it is adjacent to/ south of the Knoydart Foundation where we have good friends.

For the sales blurb on the Kilchoan Estate see https://www.onthemarket.com/details/6572192/

But to know more of the Knoydart Foundation go to http://www.knoydart-foundation.com/.  The main village of the Foundation can only be got to by boat from Mallaig.

The Kilchoan Estate is a Sporting Estate; I’m not a fan of Sporting Estates but I realise red deer need to be culled but I would rather it was for meal not for sport.

It would excellent if the Foundation could buy the Estate. I can but hope.

 

BTW today is yet another day when we didn’t leave the EU; I hope there will be many more.

March 8, 2019

This Day – 8 March 2019

Filed under: Brexit, economics, Europe, Ireland, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:07 pm

I have just watched a programme  on BBC 4 on Hadrian’s Wall and its ultimate Failure to protect England at the End of Empire.

The Roman Empire imploded and England with it, for 750 years.

Is there an analogy here on 8 March 2019 to England imploding on itself following Brexit?

From the Guardian Website.  Very little to celebrate.

 

 

March 7, 2019

Public assemblies that met, often on hills – Moots they were called. Bring them back!

Filed under: 'Moot' Local Decision Making, Europe, Personal, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 10:34 pm

Towards Local Decisions

I have copied below an article forwarded to me almost verbatim by Malcolm Fraser entitled Bring Back the Moot

You can find his full article at https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/13930/malcolm-fraser-bring-back-moot

Malcolm Fraser, architect and head of the 2013 Scottish Government town centre review, posited his “Town Centre First Principle”. [He believes that] Many authorities are doing good work in understanding and applying this principle, though he still reads horror stories of Councils moving colleges or “community campuses” out of town to lonely, disconnected places by the motorway.

He is now proposing four big measures within his underlying principle:

  1. Tax: buildings are an old-fashioned, easy to see and target source of taxation. They carry the burden of retail while digital sales get off extremely lightly, including dodging tax by moving sales offshore into low-tax havens. A simple change to a sales or consumption tax, adjusted to apply less to small retailers, would even out the burden between our high street and digital sales as well as ensuring tax was paid at the point of sale, not transferred offshore.
  2. Transport: the Labour Party proposed a five-point plan of which [he] particularly liked the idea of free public transport for the under 25s. Accessible, easily useable public transport is a key answer to a huge number of our contemporary challenges, including climate change and inclusive accessibility to the public services centres.
  3. Vacant Property: there’s great groups doing sterling work in revitalising their towns, including the pioneering West Kilbride Craft Town and the current work of the Stove Network in Dumfries, who are not only addressing the vacant shops in the town but the empty, former flats above. There is, apparently, so much need in Scotland for cheap space for artists and craftspeople, that vast old offices and industrial buildings are filled-up in our cities. We need to take the Craft/Stove model and set out how all our communities can apply it to their own towns, spreading their crafts entrepreneurs along our High Streets, into our vacant shops. And while there’s been great efforts to apply the Empty Homes initiatives to our housing crisis we should extend them: it might only cost £20,000 to bring back an empty town centre flat into use, whose occupier will support town centre shops and facilities, instead of maybe £100,000 for a green field new build. And we might note that, whereas there are upwards of 34,000 long-term empty homes in …., there are countless more above high street shops which are registered now as retail, ‘’’’.
  4. Local Democracy: finally, the lack of care in the health of our communities must be inextricably wound up with the lack of a functioning, empowered local democracy in Britain as a whole. Compared to our healthy European neighbours we, as citizens, are very remote from our politicians. We need to reintroduce a measure of power, and some funding, to Parish, Community or whatever-we-might-call-them Councils, and co-locate them with post offices, nurseries and other local services in parish churches, or old buildings revitalised by Community Asset Transfers, or devolved initiatives planned by local authorities. Medieval Scotland was full of public assemblies that met, often on hills – Moots they were called. Bring them back!

I am happy with all 4 measures but the one that appeals to me most is 4. on Local Democracy.  Local Democracy is sadly lacking in Scotland, even more than in England, and the UK as a whole is the most undemocratic in Europe.  I believe the people of towns and country need to have a real say in how they are governed; a cry of the heart I set out in a recent blob ‘Towards Local decisions’.

The best definition I have found of ‘moot’ is
“an assembly held for debate, especially in Anglo-Saxon and medieval times.”

February 28, 2019

Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Community Council

Filed under: Communications, Linlithgow, Personal, Planning, Scotland, Travel — derryvickers @ 12:10 pm

As a member of the Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Community Council I have tried to set out what I see as our role in the following Mind Map.

Double click map to bring up as full screen.

I welcome comments from other Community Councillors in Scotland and the UK more generally.

BTW Linlithgow is a lovely place between Edinburgh and Glasgow from where you can visit Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. And we are only 20 kms from Edinburgh Airport.

Find more about us @ MyLinlithgow

February 26, 2019

Planning Democracy

Filed under: Planning, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:03 am

I went to the Annual Gathering of PD last evening 26/02/19.  PD has been going for 10 years.  Why have I not come across them before, why indeed did I get an invite. I am glad I did.

Find out more on Planning Democracy (PD) at http://www.planningdemocracy.org.uk/

A few points:

  • Planning is holistic, it sets the framework for all we do. It’s about the NHS, it’s about health, I could have added its about education.  It’s no wonder it dominates the discuss at the Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge Community Council
  • Clare Symonds, the chair and leader, in her introduction came out with all the issues we know about
    • Other speakers: Andy Inch (Sheffield University), Euan Leitch (Edinburgh University Historic  Architecture), Daya Feldwick (Community Worker)
    • Held at Methodist Church Nicholson Square Edinburgh
      • Nice place – for me a good hearing loop
  • For the Planners, People are the Problem
  • More contentious to me ‘Government mistrust the People’
  • Planning is currently Market Led – this must change
  • But the Market, House Developers, has been central to SG going for the New Planning Bill now at its 2 Second Reading
    • Moving to Stage 3
  • The new bill is not right (I missed some of the reasons but it’s far too fussy)
    • Insufficient Planners to implement
    • Strategy Zones may be useful. But impact on Land Prices
    • May be better to start again
  • Council buy land at the then market price before speculators move in
  • The Skeffington Report of 50 years ago still points the way
  • Planning is to be Front Loaded but then recrimination when the Planners come up with something else
  • Local Place Plans – OK – but favouring the privileged towns
  • Main Thrust of PG is ERA, Equal Right of Appeal
    • The right for you and me to get a hearing when Builders appeal to the Government that their application has been refused by the Council.
    • PD is getting listened too after endless government engagement and deputations
  • Comments
    • Planning is Political
    • Corruption exists
    • There needs to much more constructive engagement
  • Tail Thought from Clare Symonds.  All aspects of planning are a long haul and endlessly tiring.  I’m sure John Kelly would agree!

PS I do wonder how we finished up with such attractive places as York, Chester and Edinburgh before Planning existed!

February 25, 2019

Towards Local Decisions

Filed under: economics, Music, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 5:16 pm

In a previous blog I reported on going to hear the Scottish Ensemble playing music with a political context.

Yet again the question has been raised as to whether music tuition should be free in Scottish Schools. The musical flash mob yesterday before the Midlothian Council Offices changed the councillors’ decision to keep free music tuition in the curriculum. Applause all round: Democracy triumphs.

True, but someone else suffers. Budgets are limited from many causes and it is unhelpful in my view to point fingers. One can only hope that Brexit will not make money scarcer still in this country. West Lothian I believe has come to as sensible compromise on music tuition with annual fees for those who want to learn to play for those whose parents can and free for those who can’t; but even here I understand that the number of pupils wanting to continue to play has gone down this year. And I wonder can the West Lothian Council hold its compromise. Will what’s happened in Midlothian affect West Lothian’s decision?

It seems to me that there has to be much more open discussion about priorities on spending in Linlithgow and the Community Council has a central role here supported by its Ward Councillors and the Community Development Trust should be involved. Music, Buses, Recycling, you name it, its there.

But of course, Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge is not an island; we are part of West Lothian as a whole and any such discussion on priorities needs to encompass the whole Authority. West Lothian Council will say that they involved the whole community in the last Budget Round; but I sat through the Council Meeting where the budget and cuts were discussed and seemly random dictates were instructed to council officers: cuts or no cuts to music teaching, how many recycling centres should go; which village halls should seek cash through the Community Empowerment Bill; only this week the Link Linlithgow budget is to be reduced. I believe we must do better. and Community Councils are central here.

I have no ready solution, but our communities must be much more closely integrated into the budgeting process so, at least, they understand that money is ‘limited’, and they understand why their preferred groups has less funds from the central pot than last year.

But back to our concert; you may like Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan talking about her piece ‘Babel’ and how her country is being ripped apart by political strife and how she considers that music is essential to continued humanity in her country Venezuela. Thank heavens we in Scotland ar not in this political turmoil . Having played her new piece supported strongly by the strings of the Scottish Ensemble, at the applause, she pulled a Venezuelan flag out and this brought the house down.

OK I’m sticking up for continued good music in Scotland and Montero’s will underpin why, there are many other deserving groups, Linlithgow Link is one such and I believe that our Community Council need to take a much more active part along with the Linlithgow Community Development Trust in working towards a better understand of where the balance in priorities should be in our Town.

If you want to hear more of Gabriela Montero rationale for her Babel please go to:

https://scottishensemble.co.uk/magazine/venezuelan-pianist-gabriela-montero-discusses-her-new-piece-babel/

October 14, 2018

Festival of Politics

Filed under: Edinburgh Festival, History in the making, Land Ownership, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 8:29 pm

For the last 15 years The Scottish Parliament has been holding a Festival of Politics.  The festival typically provides 20 events: talks and panels on topics of political interest both current and from the past,  local and world wide.  I have attended for the last three years and below I provide very brief summaries as to what I picked up from the 5 events I attended this year.

Red Clydesiders

Panel: Maggie Craig (Writer on Scotland); Billy Kendrick (from Dundee and it showed); Prof Ian McClean (Oxford University) and Monica Lennon MSP Chair (Labour, Central Scotland).

Introductions by all on Red Clydeside but see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red Clydeside for more.

The speakers emphasised the role of women in the strikes and the movement as a whole; MC in particular considered that the role was / is almost wholly ignored.

Religious intolerance rife during the WW1 War Years.

Names of the persona were remembered. There should be a plaque in 2019 to recognise Red Clydeside.

The real start of the Labour Party (ILP) but the Communist association had been around for some time. Council Housing after WW1 was good quality but has got worse ever since (IM).

The current problem with the Labour Party is the lack of leaders.

What Glasgow did, Dundee did it too (BK).

People Parliaments Possibilities

Panel: Birgitta Jonsdottir (Iceland, mother and political activist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birgitta_J%C3%B3nsd%C3%B3ttir); Brett Hennig (Sortition Foundation, Australian); Jamie Kelsey-Fry (professional panellist) and Shelagh Wright Chair (daughter of Canon Kenyon Wright).

BJ described drawing up the proposed constitution for Iceland; she was very proud of the work done. But constitution so far rejected by the parliament.

Current Elections ‘aristocratic’.

BK: Democracy by random selected committee (Sortition); applied in Ireland for change to Abortion Laws group assembled for a few weeks and then became the then current law.

JKF: throw out everything, economics is broken and start again even the laws; Taxation is politics. Remember the Occupation of St Pauls. All the good work being done in Madrid by new woman mayor; Frome is moving this way.

All agreed that the Young should lead the way.

 

In Conversation with Dame Margaret Hodge held in the main council chamber

Ken Macintosh (Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament)

Margaret Hodge one-time Chair of the UK Public Accounts Committee 2010-15

MH, a Jew, came out of Germany before WW2; Welcomed into the UK in London and became a Labour supporter immediately and still is; she is still an MP for Barking.

An economist by trade

She was Council Leader for Islington and remembers Jeremy Corbyn well (MP for Islington North). Corbyn is still quoting the same policies he said 20 years ago

Have never been close friends leading to Corbyn’s Anti-Semitism remarks direct at Hodge.

Not a practising Jew and critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians but still fell out with Corbyn

She managed the Public Accounts Committee through consensus. Her track record was 246 out of 247 successes. Lost the Royal Mail privatisation which she most regrets. Journalists can be on your side through good relations but its so easy to lose connections.

One needs to recognise the value of money

Auditors help Governments to set the rules then sell themselves to large companies to circumvent the rules. This is immoral.

She was persuaded to put one person under investigation under Oath but then couldn’t find a Bible. Since then she believes that putting people under Oath is correct. Money Laundering is rife.

The HMRC make tax deals but as the HMRC is not a ministerial organisation these deals remain undisclosed: this needs correction.

Governments are little better: the justification for the two aircraft carriers was not forthcoming by Gordon Brown.

Global Companies are not moral despite what they state. Needs to be one unified global set of accounts. Facebook has never been held to account.

Final words; Build Trust, Connect with People, still supports Labour values.

 

A Forgotten History: The Scottish Clearances

In Conversation with Tom Devine held in the main council chamber

Ken Macintosh (Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Professor Tom Devine: historian of Scotland – excellent speaker

Professor Stana Nenadic in attendance

The Main debating chamber was full as well as the public gallery

The Clearances: forgotten – well not by the audience!

The subject was Tom Devine’s new book on the Scottish Clearances. He frequently emphasised that his book is totally underpinned by historical research over 30 years.

TD has given as much attention to the Lowland Clearances as to the Highlands. He doesn’t dismiss the Highland Clearances but considers they have been for the last 150 years romanticised. John Pebble’s book is a good read, sold over 25,000 copies, but has a lot to answer for; Victorianism has not helped.

Tartan Products are the best-known brand worldwide. TD considers the Lowland Clearances started first and Lowland Managers migrated with the lessons they learned to the Highlands. TD considers the Lowland clearances were much more subtle; a tenancy agreement came to an end and the tenant was out. In the Highlands durcus (correct word please) remained strong and new landlords with little interest in it just deposed the crofters.

SN believes a major driver of the clearances was the landlords’ need for money to support their elevated life style (conspicuous consumption); gentrification.  Typically, families would have ten or more sons who just couldn’t be supported on the land; joined the army and were with their tenants the backbone of the imperial regiments about, Waterloo. Their tartans help builds the brand.

 

Who Owns and Stewards Scotland

Panel: Andy Wightman (the Poor had no Lawyers); Bob MacIntosh (Land Commission); Ninian Stuart (Centre for Stewardship); David Johnson (Scottish Land and Estates Commission) and in the chair Deputy Presiding Officer – Name please.

There are few owners of land in Scotland; most small farmers are tenants. Agreed that the drive must be to get more young people under 30 on to the land.

Land value is very difficult to assess; AW land value near towns gets out of control once planning permission sort.

Land Value Tax brought up, but DJ said many reasons why difficult to quantify.

House prices fluctuate widely cf Germany where prices have been stable of years; the Germans heavy investment deposited in banks which is reinvested in new businesses.

Secure Tenancy is drying up as landlords unwilling to be unable to terminate at tenancy end. Nevertheless, Land is still a free market.

Brexit will make a difference in subsidies and margins which are already very small will reduce further.

Climate change will drive tree planting and NS is keen on huts but not holiday homes.

DJ expressed the need for much better understanding across the communities

Government needs to be more active in stewardship and technology is becoming very important.

The Land Register is improving. Common Good needs to be better document (AW).

AW is looking forward to a new Land Reform Bill hopefully next years

But surprising the meeting was low key with little acrimony.

If I could have remembered the Author I would have stood up and quoted Mark Twain

“Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.”

July 23, 2018

The Shetland Bus

Filed under: Education, Orkney, Personal, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:39 pm

While visiting Burghead on the Moray coast I was reminded of the Shetland Bus.

The Shetland Bus operated during WW2 ferrying Norwegians from Norway to Shetland and materials to Norway. But as I found at Burghead – Burghead also operated a bus. To say that it was a dangerous affair was an understatement but in times of war.

You can read about the Bus at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland_bus

But for the bus run to Burghead see:

The Shetland Bus

The Memorial to the Bus at Burghead

 

 

 

 

 

About the Bus to Burghead

On the plaque

 

 

 

 

I had my own personal memory while taking the photos I stepped back to include the whole memorial and fell off the edge of the quay and hit the ground hard – luckily, I survived and was very well looked after by the Burghead Sea Rescue group. Incidentally my camera kept taking movie pictures.

I attach a couple of photos of Burghead including the Well. The Well’s archaeological significance remains unknown.

Burghead from the Headland

Burghead looking South

 

 

 

Who cut the well remains unknown

The Well

The Well Description

The Well Description

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BTW when visiting Orkney two weeks ago (see previous blog) I was reminded of John Rae, the explorer seeking the North West Passage while working for the Hudson’s Bay Company. At Stromness not far from where Rae was borne there is a monument to him too.

To John Rae Arctic Explorer

John Rae

It’s good that Scotland remembers its heroes with plaques and lifelike sculptures.

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