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Isle of Benbecula
By-Election: Benbecula and North Uist
Ward 2 – Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
I wish to record my appreciation to all those who have supported me throughout this by-election campaign, in particular my election agent Roddy MacKay and those who followed me on my Facebook campaign page and who decided to vote for me. My other campaign strategy was not so successful, in terms of turnout, but sincere thanks to all those who attended meetings which I organised at the seven different venues throughout the mainly remote and dispersed locations served by this Ward.
My capable opponent Roslyn Macpherson was also kept busy during this campaign, and I hope she will not be too despondent. I was in a similar position in 2012 when not elected, but in my case it was only a temporary set-back. If at first you don’t succeed … keep trying. This was my motto.
I have already been asked about key policy issues which I intend to pursue, now elected to serve as a councillor. Much of my campaign has focussed on changes to services provided at Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh, and the need for consultation with local stakeholders before any significant changes are implemented. This remains one of my key objectives, as clearly any reduction in NHS “care of the elderly” beds in the hospital, has direct consequences for services provided by the Comhairle. Another is to discuss and pursue the need to look at conditions of service for Home Care staff: in particular the continued use of zero hour contracts.
The Scottish Government agenda, “shifting the balance of care” is in practice about developing and sustaining community care services, in particular our Home Care workforce, working now round the clock, seven days a week, to support the elderly and most vulnerable in their own homes. The voluntary sector also has an increasingly significant role to play in complementing and supporting statutory services. My involvement with Tagsa UIbhist constantly reminds me of this.
Finally, listening to the numerous and varied concerns of our scattered communities on matters such as public transport, waste disposal and recycling, street lights, road safety, road gritting and fuel poverty will remain a priority, and my eyes and ears on these matters will be the respective community councils as well as individual constituents. The newly formed Association of Community Councils, Uists and Barra, is becoming an increasingly powerful voice, and forum for consultation, as we move forward facing further rounds of budget cut backs in local authority services over the next two years. My attendance at meetings of the respective community councils and the Association of Community Councils, will be given priority.
I consider it an honour and privilege to be voted in to office to serve as a councillor until the next elections in May 2017. I will endeavour as an independent councillor, with no party affiliation, to work co-operatively with all other Councillors and Officers of the Comhairle, to best represent the needs of all our citizens.
Prior to the last election we were told by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron that a coalition government/hung parliament could only bring disaster to the country and that only a strong majority for either Red or Blue was the way forward. Regardless of your thoughts on the policy of the existing government there is no doubt that the current government functioned in terms of passing policy and I would have thought that as a country we are certainly no worse off than we were in 2010.
Whilst this obviously contradicts the myth that coalition governments don’t work, it also illustrates that a check is provided to the dictatorial style of politics pursued by both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, where they both effectively bypassed parliament and pursued individual, not necessarily party agendas. Goodness only knows the oppressive measures that David Cameron would have introduced had he not been reined back by his coalition partners.
As the election beckons we are again bombarded with much hot air and hypocrisy regarding coalitions as both local and national politicians tells us who they will or won’t play with. The reality of this can be seen in the various coalition administrations throughout Scotland. The City of Edinburgh is a Labour/SNP Coalition, East Ayrshire Council is an SNP/Conservative Coalition and South Ayrshire Council is a minority Conservative Council in partnership with Labour.
Given our outdated first past the post version of democracy the political parties will have no choice but to work with whatever the electorate gives them. If this then leads to a Labour/SNP coalition it could then be argued that at least there may be one socialist in the cabinet.
The first past the post electoral system has for years benefited the Westminster elite, along with the main two political parties. It is now somewhat ironic that they are the very ones complaining that a very small percentage of Scottish Voters could hold the balance of power and unfairly affect policy throughout the rest of the UK. This just again serves to highlight that our parliamentary system is elitist, outdated and centralised. One can only hope that the new powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament will provide a catalyst for reform throughout the rest of the UK.
I was pleased to see that Mark, our Tory representative, unlike other candidates, appears to be now focussing on issues relevant to Westminster. I do think however that it is disingenuous at best for him to claim that raising the Tax threshold was Tory Policy, this was a Liberal Democrat Policy delivered as part of the Coalition Government. However he is more than welcome to take credit for the Bedroom Tax which was indeed Tory policy and despite Liberal Democratic objections, pushed through Government.
Liberal Democrat PPC Western Isles
The Western Isles electorate is seeking to recruit an individual to serve as their Member of Parliament for a period of five years. Current annual salary is £68,000 plus expenses.
Once elected, the successful candidate’s main duties will be to create much ill-feeling and resentment between the Scots and English peoples through continually asserting that the London-based UK government is responsible for every ill, real and imagined, affecting the Western Isles. They will also be required to assist their parliamentary superior, Mr Salmond, by massaging his weighty ego and licking his substantial posterior.
A current driving licence is not a requirement for this employment: all travel expenses, including air fares, taxis and replacement bicycle chains will be refunded by a generous UK taxpayer. Opportunities may also arise for the successful candidate to make some easy money in the London property market, once again funded by the UK taxpayers’ generosity.
Previous experience in communicating through the Icelandic language would be a preferable though not essential qualification, as free training will be provided by the UK taxpayer.
The ideal candidate must also have a proven track record as a highly-proficient bulls*****r (more politely described as a frequent tweeter) and accomplished freeloader. A self-assured arrogant nature would be a distinct advantage, as would the bearing of a confident public speaker – even if only to show their own ignorance and prejudices.
Black, Irish and Labour Party candidates need not apply for this position.
CVs to be forwarded by April 10th for May 7th commencement of employment.
Compiled and contributed by Iain M Macdonald
Many MPs bought London properties with the help of the taxpayer when the previous expenses system allowed them to claim back mortgage payments. When those claims were banned following the expenses scandal, they switched to letting out their properties, in some cases for up to £3,000 a month.
Despite that income which only was possible because of the public funds used to pay their mortgages, some MPs have been exposed as claiming expenses for rent and hotels in the capital.
Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee for Standards in Public Life, told Channel 4 that MPs should be seen by the public to be upholding the spirit of new expenses rules. The rules state MPs must not “exploit the system for personal financial advantage”.
He said: “It’s not always just about exactly what the rules say. It is about you taking personal responsibility that public funds are used in a proper and appropriate way that your constituents would be comfortable with. I’m sure we will hear all sorts of sob stories about why it’s justifiable to do what they’ve done. But they must know in their heart of hearts that the public will see this as MPs on the make.”
MPs’ expenses: 46 claim in London despite owning a property
Analysis shows the expenses claims cost the taxpayer more than £1.3m since 2012, write Guy Basnett and Paul McNamara.
Our investigation found many of the MPs bought their London properties with the help of the taxpayer when the previous expenses system allowed them to claim back mortgage payments.
But when those claims were banned following the expenses scandal they switched to letting out their properties, in some cases for up to £3,000 a month. They then started claiming expenses for rent and hotels in the capital.
MPs are permitted to claim more than £20,000 a year in London rent, and £150 a night for hotels. The practice is allowed under rules set by expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), that oversees what MPs can claim. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by any of the 46 MPs.
Our investigation raises questions about whether the new Ipsa expenses system allows taxpayers’ money to be used appropriately, and whether MPs can still gain. The list of 46 MPs include 25 Conservatives, 14 Labour, and four from the Liberal Democrats.
Labour’s shadow culture minister Chris Bryant claimed expenses of £35,350 in 2012/13 and 2013/14 to rent a London flat – despite already owning a penthouse in the capital. He bought the property in 2005, claiming around £1,000 a month in mortgage claims. But when the rules changed he let it out. Estate agent brochures show the two-bed apartment with a private lift and porter has since been marketed for rent for around £3,000 a month.
Conservative MP and former health secretary Andrew Lansley jointly owns a flat in upmarket Pimlico with his wife, bought with help from mortgage claims. But since 2013 he’s claimed £7,440 to stay in London hotels. The MP for South Cambridgeshire does not let his flat out, but has instead made room for his daughter who has used the property to launch a business.
Jim Murphy, the Labour party leader in Scotland, owns a property bought with help from the taxpayer just two miles from the Palace of Westminster, which he let out. Over two years from 2012/13 he claimed £39,372 to rent another London flat for himself.
Liberal Democrat former defence minister Sir Nick Harvey bought a house in Lambeth in 2002 and claimed expenses to help him pay his mortgage. However, after mortgage claims were banned he moved out and let the house to tenants. He then rented a separate flat in the same area, and has charged the taxpayer £39,772 in expenses claims in 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil jointly owns two properties with his wife in Scotland. He also owns a London flat in Lambeth, bought under the old expenses system, just a 15-minute walk from the houses of parliament. But in three years since 2012/13 he claimed £42,177 to stay in hotels in Westminster.
Former chairman of the Committee for Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, said MPs should be seen by the public to be upholding the spirit of new expenses rules. The rules state MPs must not “exploit the system for personal financial advantage”.
Sir Alistair told Channel 4 News: “It’s not always just about exactly what the rules say. It is about you taking personal responsibility that public funds are used in a proper and appropriate way that your constituents would be comfortable with. I’m sure we will hear all sorts of sob stories about why it’s justifiable to do what they’ve done. But they must know in their heart of hearts that the public will see this as MPs on the make.”
Last night MPs said new Ipsa rules banning mortgage claims forced them to let out their second home to be able to afford mortgage and associated costs. Others said they switched to renting or staying in hotels to try to minimise costs.
Sir Nick Harvey said: “This situation is not of the MPs’ choosing. MPs have been obliged to let out their own properties since 2010 because the new rules say they cannot claim mortgage interest – only rent. Letting income covers the mortgage and other outgoings and is of course taxed. It is not MPs’ fault that the rules compel them to rent a separate flat to live in.
“In some cases this may even cost the taxpayer more than leaving them in their own home. Changes made with the best intentions sometimes have unintended consequences, as you have highlighted.”
Mr MacNeil said current expenses rules were to blame and that MPs should be allowed to claim for flats they own, as they did in the past. He said: “Ipsa should stand up to media pressures and enable MPs to take up cheaper accommodation alternatives in London, something that they currently do not support in regard of own flats.”
Mr Lansley said he normally commuted from his home in South Cambridgeshire and only stayed overnight in London hotel about once a month. He said he always sought to minimise costs to the taxpayer and his expenses claims are entirely within the rules.
He said: “My expense claims have always sought to minimise the cost to the taxpayer. My relatively few overnight stays in London (barely once a month in the last year) meant that my expenses claims would be lower for occasional hotel stays in sitting weeks than for the costs of maintaining a flat in Westminster. I have not claimed any expenses in relation to our London flat in either of the last two years. Its occupancy during this time is not therefore relevant to parliamentary expenses.
“I live in South Cambridgeshire and commute from there each day. I have only stayed in hotels during parliamentary sitting weeks when I was required to stay very late for business. By staying in a hotel only on the nights required, rather than maintaining a London flat, I have reduced my expenses claims for accommodation (to £5,490 in 2013-14 and to £1,950 in 2014-15).
“My claims are entirely in accordance with Ipsa rules. As you will have seen from Ipsa’s statement, they have confirmed this to be the case. I have secured no personal financial gain from the Ipsa expenses arrangements. Any suggestion to the contrary is clearly false, unsubstantiated and therefore malicious.”
Both Mr Bryant and Mr Murphy did not respond to a request for comment.
People who boast must expect to attract a degree of scrutiny which they might otherwise avoid. So I doubt if it was terribly wise of Angus Brendan MacNeil MP to draw attention to the frequency and nature of his Parliamentary contributions.
Fortunately, access to the House of Commons Library is not required in order to check claims against reality. The excellent web-site www.theyworkforyou.com carries everything that is reported in Hansard and confirms that Mr MacNeil’s name has appeared on 1657 occasions over the past five years.
However, further scrutiny reveals that several hundred of Mr MacNeil’s “interventions on behalf of his constituents,” as he describes them, involve him saying nothing at all. These are generally the more sensible ones. The most frequent entry against his name is: “Angus MacNeil rose….”.
His favourite technique is interrupting other people’s speeches. I found one example where the diligent MP for Goole had secured a debate on “mobile phone coverage in East Yorkshire and Lancashire”. Mr MacNeil chalked up nine interventions including three of “Angus MacNeil rose….”; one “Good on you”; one “Will the Hon Gentleman give way?” and one “The Hon Gentleman is too young for that”. Scarcely a day’s work to be proud of!
In one short debate, he interrupted other speakers 23 times, including seven “Angus MacNeil rose…”. This may be great fun between tweets for our easily amused MP but it brings absolutely no benefit or enlightenment to his constituents. In contrast, Mr MacNeil hardly ever makes a speech of his own, which involves stringing a few thoughts together.
The ‘theyworkforyou’ web-site goes all the way back to 1935 so it is possible to examine the contributions of previous MPs for the Western Isles – compare, contrast and weep! I noted that Donald Stewart, in his 17 years as an MP, chalked up 1465 “name-checks” – fewer than Mr MacNeil boasts of in five.
I wonder how many of the SNP old guard in the Western Isles, never mind the electorate as a whole, think that we are better served by an MP whose only claim to fame is that he keeps “rising” in order to interrupt people, and very rarely says anything of substance about the many needs of the Western Isles.
UPDATE – The comhairle leadership has spent a fruitless day making a ludicrous attempt to try and gag me about the role of very senior comhairle people trying to influence some of the less worldly-wise members of community windfarm companies. They want references to their director of development removed from the tale below about how Donald Maciver, the windfarm project manager, was shafted by his neighbours in Tolsta for being honest (see below).
My legal adviser told me it was “amateurish and sinister” for any authority to ask a journalist to remove part of a news story it does not like when it has already willingly provided a response to allegations properly put to it. “They have no case. They are bullying you. You should tell them to get stuffed,” he said. So I did.
The comhairle does not want the public to know that certain councillors and top officials are plainly rooting for the American developer, 2020 Renewables, and simply don’t want a better deal for that community. Why? The more the top brass at the comhairle continue these Stalinist tactics, the more we have to conclude that there is some hidden link between the comhairle leadership and 2020. It might take a while – but I will get to the bottom of it.
The project manager of an island windfarm company was sacked for putting a single sheet of paper from his local community council into envelopes with his employers’ circular.
During his appeal against losing his livelihood, Donald Maciver from the Isle of Lewis discovered his alleged misdemeanour had been secretly upgraded to gross misconduct without his knowledge and his sacking was confirmed.
After threatening to haul the bosses of the community company before an employment tribunal, Mr Maciver has now accepted a substantial sum to drop proceedings just before hearings were to begin.
The close-knit community of North Tolsta on the east of Lewis has been split for some time since Mr Maciver was disciplined for enclosing the page from the community council with the circular on the grounds he had not sought authority to do so from the directors of Tolsta Community Development Ltd (TCDL).
As Donald Maciver appealed against being disciplined, it emerged that the community company had hired a lawyer in Orkney and was flying a highly-paid human resources consultant from Glasgow to try and back up their case against the suspended project manager.
One villager, who asked not to be named, said: “We wondered why the TCDL directors were trying so hard to sack Donald. They spent thousands of pounds of our money to try and get rid of him because he was asking too many questions but it was clear to everyone that they had no case.”
Bosses at TCDL have steadfastly refused to answer questions on why Mr Maciver was really sacked. There is mounting suspicion in Tolsta it was for pointing out that a deal to place turbines near North Tolsta to be operated by an American-owned company called 2020 Renewables Ltd was not as good a deal for the Tolsta community as was achieved by other island townships.
The villager said: “Most of the people round here know that was the real reason and the silly charge of putting a single sheet in an envelope was just an excuse. They thought they had him. Five out of the six TCDL directors are or were crofters and they do not seem to have declared their interest that they could financially benefit if an expected deal is done for grazing land to be released to that company.
“We believe there are conflicts of interest which should have been declared to ensure this matter was dealt with properly and fairly.”
Energy company 2020 Renewables Ltd won planning consent for the 42MW wind farm from the islands council which will involve 14 turbines at Druim Leathann to the west of Tolsta. The company has proposed paying community benefit worth at least £294,000 per year. However, other schemes on the island are known to pay out nearly £100,000 for just one turbine. For example the Point and Sandwick Power community-owned scheme will be generating over £1 million for their community, and that is with just three turbines.
There have been ongoing rumours in North Tolsta that senior figures at Western Isles Council were also pushing for Mr Maciver’s sacking. It is understood a councillor was unhappy when Donald Maciver told of his concern the windfarm deal was a poor one for the community. There have also been various claims suggesting that council director of development Calum Iain Maciver, who is from the Tolsta area, had recommended sacking the project manager.
That speculation forced Western Isles Council to issue a stern denial that its leading lights were in any way officially involved. Its spokesman said: “Neither the comhairle nor the director of development have provided any advice to TCDL in relation to Mr Donald MacIver, or in relation to any staffing issues.
“Neither the comhairle nor the director of development are party to any form of partnership arrangement between TCDL and 2020 Renewables, or with any other entity.”
One well-informed local observer said that he had it confirmed that Donald Maciver had won a five-figure sum to drop his case against the community company. He said: “Donald may have even won up up to £50,000 by all accounts and I say good luck to him for what these people – his own neighbours – put him through.
“If the case had gone to a tribunal, TCDL would have gone down in history as a laughing stock. Their own legal advisers obviously told them to throw in the towel.”
TCDL directors William Angus Macritchie – and two others who are both called Murdo Maciver – failed to respond to questions as to whether they have authority to apportion Tolsta turbine community funds to paying lawyers and HR specialists to pursue or defend an employment dispute or whether they have conflicts of interest.
Company secretary Murdo Maciver declined to comment on whether Donald Maciver was really sacked for putting a community council newsletter in a TCDL envelope. His statement said: “Tolsta Community Development Ltd has no comment to make and for legal reasons we are unable to discuss the matter.”
Donald Maciver, who is now working on the mainland, would only say: “I have been told that I am not allowed to discuss the outcome of my case against TCDL with the press.”
The economy is picking up – and that’s official. Apparently, the new way that analysts check whether people are doing well financially is checking what they do in the bathroom. Specifically, it’s about which loo paper they buy. Makes perfect sense to me.
The loo rolls are in the furthest aisle from the door in most supermarkets and after you’ve picked up a trolleyful of luxury pizzas, curry sauces and must-haves like Pinot Noir then you may be wondering if you have enough in your account for the over-priced quilted stuff that smells very nice indeed.
Then you wonder why buy it anyway because it is far more likely to bung up your drains and then you will have to call a plumber out and they are not cheap and … well, I could go on. However, if you know that there you have enough in the bank to hire a big, strapping man to come and stick a rod down your drain then you will get the luxury one because it is so lovely and soft when you, you know, er, blow your nose.
David Cameron suggested he’s getting a wee bit fed up of being Prime Minister and will stand down, just as long as he gets voted in in May. So we may all decide that we should think about spending a few bob more in case he’s right about all that austerity being behind us.
Talking of what goes on in bathrooms, when the forces of law and order are diverted from their important tasks, such as pointing speed guns the way of unfortunate motorists, we should know why. So when I heard police were called to a house in Stornoway last week, I fretted.
A friend lives at that address and he’s at a very funny stage just now. Having showed no signs of joining the Free Church, he is certainly now at an age when it is fashionable in these parts to do just that. Yet he is so happy he sings wherever he goes. That’s a worry.
When someone goes around with a big grin from ear to ear, you can’t help but wonder what they’ve been up to. When Mrs X and I were all lovey-dovey back in the day, she warned me not to smile so much stravaiging down the street in case anyone figured out why. Obh obh, heaven knows I’m miserable now.
Just a joke. Didn’t mean that. At all. Hi, hon. Love you – and all that sklooshy stuff.
After the officers had proceeded from the locus in a westerly direction I rushed round. Himself insisted there was no problem. There would be no further police action. He didn’t want to explain why the plod had grilled him in his dressing gown – not to some guy who writes for a newspaper anyway.
The good news, concerned reader, is that after extensive enquiries, I discovered why the police acted promptly. Neighbours had reported that someone was getting a doing. Horrific sounds emanating from the house suggested that either someone was being thrashed or a clowder of cacophonous cats was being strangled.
Had the doors not already been ajar, the law would undoubtedly have booted them into firewood as they rushed to potentially halt a homicide. “Hullo, control. No sign of the householder. We are going in.” Darting from room to room, they eventually realised the shrieks were coming from the loo, so in they boldly barged. And there they found the cove – singing in the bath.
Singing is a word I use here both lightly and carelessly. Neither tuneful, rhythmic nor in any way melodic, what was emerging must have sounded like the inside of our henhouse the night that wild mink got in. The alarmed neighbours had taken took no chances and rightfully called the Old Bill. Yet it actually was He Who Must Not be Named warbling loudly and probably using his loofah as a makeshift guitar.
He admits to trashing Hotel California, being Born In The USA but, despite reports of high-pitched screeches, strenously denies making a mockery of anything which may originally have sounded like Kate Bush. Yeah right. The neighbours must really have heard real cats then.
People do the strangest things in the bath. A lady of a certain age was apparently reading that Queen Elizabeth I and, of course, Cleopatra used to bath in milk to make themselves beautiful.
So she rushed off to Tesco and told the manager she wanted 40 gallons of milk delivered. He was amazed but agreed. Did she want it pasteurised, he wondered. She replied: “Oh no, a ghraidh. Just past my neck will be fine.”
Outer Hebrides Tourism Community Interest Company
Graduate Tourism Development Officer (Food and Drink)
Job for 12-month period
Locally-sourced or produced food and drink is a key asset for tourism in the Outer Hebrides, and its development and exploitation is recognised in Tourism Outer Hebrides 2020 as an opportunity to increase visitor numbers and spend.
We are now recruiting a Graduate Tourism Development Officer for a 12-month period. The post is part of the ScotGrad Graduate Placement Programme and is part-funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and European Regional Development Fund.
This is exciting opportunity to work with the OHT to help develop and promote the great locally produced food and drink available in the Outer Hebrides. Click here for more information.