Home Tags Posts tagged with "Aberdeen"


Has the CBI in Scotland shot itself in the foot? For months, it has been posing dozens of awkward questions about the implications of independence. That is exactly what one would have expected any self-respecting business lobbying group to have done. They were intelligent questions that needed answering, the sort that many people and organisations were themselves asking.

Decision taken nationally

Decision taken nationally

However, its decision nationally to register with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of the “No” campaign has meant that it has lost its impartiality. It seems that this was a UK rather than a Scottish decision. It’s perhaps no surprise that it should have done so – its name, the Confederation of BRITISH Industry, rather gives the game away. But the fact that a growing number of members has now resigned suggests that it hasn’t taken at least some of them with it.

It’s understandable that some bodies funded from the public purse in Scotland should have wanted to distance themselves. Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland, for instance, were amongst the first to go. In a statement, Scottish Enterprise described CBI Scotland’s move as a “political decision”, leaving it with “no choice but to immediately resign”. VisitScotland also insisted that it was “appropriate to withdraw from the organisation”.

Scottish Enterprise logoOthers have now followed. Highlands and Islands Enterprise stated that its own position of the issue was impartial which led it to conclude that it was “inappropriate” for the organisation to remain a member of the CBI. And now, Skills Development Scotland has followed suit. At the weekend, three universities (Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen) and resigned they have now been by Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian. This could prove uncomfortable for CBI Scotland’s director, Iain McMillan, who sits on the advisory board of Strathclyde.

The Law Society of Scotland said it could not retain impartiality as a CBI member. Its chief executive, Lorna Jack, explained that “we do not believe we could credibly retain our impartiality whilst being a member of and actively contributing to another organisation which is formally registered with the Electoral Commission to campaign for a no vote.”

STV - one of the first to resign

STV – one of the first to resign

At the time of writing, three private sector companies – STV, Scottish firms Aquamarine Power and the Balhousie Care Group, confirmed they were quitting CBI and others may follow. Nonetheless, a spokesman for the organisation insisted that it remained “confident we have a mandate from the vast majority of our membership on the question of Scottish independence”

The trouble is that there’s no evidence of such a mandate. The organisation has not produced any supporting material to confirm that an anti-independence resolution was ever passed. It’s one reason that those members in the public and private sectors are considering the positions. And this is damaging the credibility of the CBI as a whole.

The decision has surprised even some of those who do not support the CBI’s views in general. Business for Scotland is avowedly a pro-independence body. In a column in its newsletter, it expressed its astonishment, pointing out that the CBI “did NOT have to take a view against independence.

Surprised at the CBI's decision

Surprised at the CBI’s decision

“It could have raised concerns about particular policy issues or perhaps, more constructively, have given a view on how the powers of independence could be used to grow the private sector, without expressing a definitive view on Yes or No. It could have also questioned the No campaign’s ridiculous scare stories in order to represent a balanced view. But instead, officials couldn’t help themselves. They decided to go one step further by making clear they were against independence.”

There is more than one voice speaking for business in Scotland. The Federation of Small Business and the Institute of Directors have made it clear from the start that they would remain impartial, despite being accused by some of sitting on the fence. But what that does allow them to do is ask the awkward questions of both sides. It means they can be trusted to reflect the doubts expressed by their members. It’s something the CBI can no longer do.

Easter has been slow in coming this year. The daffodils have faded, the weather turned mild some time ago, the school holidays are just about over and there’s been a quietness about the place. “Where have all the children gone?” asked an elderly neighbour of mine. And he answered his own question with a disapproving shrug of the shoulders: “They’re all playing on their computers instead of being outside in the park and in the streets.”

John Muir Photographed in 1912

John Muir
Photographed in 1912

Our hero of the moment, John Muir, would not have approved of that. This weekend we celebrate the great outdoor-man’s birthday (21st April) with a festival of special events. It’s a hundred years since the founder of the conservation movement died but the land of his birth has only recently got around to acknowledging his achievements and establishing a Trust in his honour. Our National Parks are barely ten years old.

A new John Muir cross-country trail is being officially opened on Monday, tracing the Muir family’s route from Dunbar to Helensburgh as they emigrated to America in 1849. As they passed through Falkirk they may have seen the real “kelpies”, the working horses on the canal path or in the coal-yards. This weekend, Andy Scott’s tribute to the kelpies, two 30-metre high steel kelpie heads, are to be brought to life in a spectacular son-et-lumiere show to launch the town’s new eco-park.

Red Road flats No longer part of the opening ceremony

Red Road flats
No longer part of the opening ceremony

Scotland’s other piece of outdoor theatre has had a bothersome week. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games have been forced to change their minds about their crazy plan to blow up the Red Road flats as part of the opening ceremony. The public outcry had been so noisy and so widespread – 17,000 people signed Carolyn Leckie’s petition – that the organisers concluded the plan was too divisive. So they are going to fill the 15 second gap with some other manifestation of Glasgow’s ambition to move on from its chequered past.

The SNP’s similar ambition for Scotland was on show in Aberdeen last weekend, its last party conference before the referendum on 18th September. The one-word message on the big screen was “Forward.” The Yes campaign says it has seen its support in the opinion polls rise from 38 per cent last autumn to 46 per cent today. A poll in The Scotsman puts it at a more modest 37 per cent. Another, by TNS, puts it at 29 per cent. But what is not in doubt is that support for independence is growing.

Trident - part of the negotiations

Trident – part of the negotiations

The No campaigners this week brought out the top brass of the UK military machine to argue that an independent Scotland would be disastrous for Britain’s defence capability and for jobs. The defence secretary Philip Hammond suggested that negotiations over the removal of Trident nuclear weapons from Scottish soil would be linked to other negotiations – over the currency, the share of national debt, welfare and pension arrangements – and thus would take longer than the SNP realise.

But Alex Salmond put all that down to “more of Project Fear.” In contrast, the Yes campaign, he said, was “positive, hopeful and up-lifting.” In his speech to the conference he appealed to women voters to join the Yes campaign and bring about a “transformation of childcare”. And to the Labour voters he said: “ The referendum is not about the SNP, it’s about Scotland. Vote Yes and Scottish Labour can return to its core values.”

Scotland's islands - looking for more autonomy

Scotland’s islands – looking for more autonomy

A lot will depend on the state of the economy come referendum day in September. (A lot, but not everything and it’s hard to know which way perceptions about the economy will affect the vote.) But this week, at least, we had good news. Inflation has fallen to 1.6 per cent and, since earnings are increasing at 1.8 per cent, we have living standards rising for first time since the crash five years ago. The unemployment figure has risen slightly in Scotland but, at 6.5 per cent, it’s better than the UK as a whole and is much improved on a year ago.

This week Scotland’s islanders have been on the campaign trail – if not for outright independence, then at least for more home rule. They’ve held talks with UK ministers and met the Scottish cabinet on one of its away-days in Stornoway on Wednesday. The “Our Islands, our Future” campaign want more powers for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland over issues such as energy, fishing, and the Crown Estate revenues.

Personally, I want home rule for Inch Park. It’s a cone’s throw from my house and all week I’ve been watching workmen dismantling one of its 150 year old elm trees. Perhaps it had to come down – the tree surgeons said it was rotten – but I hope the imperial government of Edinburgh City Council will plant a new tree in its place. I notice that the RSPB has announced plans to plant 100,000 more trees on its reserve at Abernethy. Maybe they could send one down to us, so that we can preserve our little bit of the great Caledonian forest.

Another battle has broken out in the energy war. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors, and the government, with a promise to freeze its electricity prices until 2016.

SSE LogoSo the old Scottish dam-builders, and their electricity board comrades in the south of England and Wales, have challenged the other five companies in Britain’s energy business to match their offer. And they’ve challenged the Coalition government by showing that Labour’s price freeze idea can work.

Meanwhile the market regulator OFGEM has cast a smokescreen across the whole battle field by recommending an 18-month long investigation into the whole business of energy supplies by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Jackie Baillie MSP Called for an energy price freeze

Jackie Baillie MSP
Called for an energy price freeze

The issue was top of the agenda at the Scottish Parliament when Labour’s Jackie Baillie challenged the first minister Alex Salmond to admit that a price freeze was the best way to protect households from ever-rising fuel bills. “Will he change his mind or will he continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in opposing a price freeze ?” she asked, three times.

Mr Salmond said the SNP government in Scotland was already cutting fuel bills by £70 a year by agreeing to switch the renewables subsidies from energy bills to general taxation. He went on to welcome the competition inquiry but pointedly added that it should include an examination of the “massive subsidy” being given to the nuclear industry.

To me, it all seems like another case of political cowardice by all the parties concerned. The cruel fact is that energy costs are going to rise as the world becomes more industrialised and more populated. Of course the public complain about it – and a quarter of Scottish households are being pushed into “fuel poverty” – but the cruel fact remains. It would be better if the politicians accepted the fact of rising prices and encouraged people to use less energy.

The Big Six  Competition investigation

The Big Six
Competition investigation

Instead, all political parties are behaving like medieval witch-hunters and are hell bent on roasting the “big six” energy companies at the stake. The very fact that there are six of them, many of them global companies, indicates that there is no monopoly. The competition inquiry will be hard pushed to find any other large-scale industry which is more competitive. Britain actually has some of the lowest energy prices in Europe. They went up just 4 per cent last year, not a great deal more than inflation. The average household bill is £1,260 a year. The profits of the energy companies are running at around 5 per cent, not a lot considering the amount of capital invested.

SSE, for instance, has invested more in energy projects and its distribution network than it made in profit in each of the last five years. But now it has given in to political and consumer pressure and been forced into a price freeze which means it can no longer continue its wave and tide development programme. It’s all so short-term and so short-sighted.

If you think the energy companies are behaving badly, consider the banks. We had another example of their cavalier approach to their customers this week in the case of North Sea oil worker Richard Durkin. He bought a computer from PC World in Aberdeen with the help of a credit agreement for £1500 with HFC Bank, part HSBC. The following day he took it back, realising it did not contain an internal modem. But the bank continued to collect his monthly payments and when he fell behind, they put him on a credit blacklist which he could not challenge.

Price of a returned laptop £250,000

Price of a returned laptop

Not only is this a scandal, but the legal system has taken 16 years to clear the matter up – finally awarding him £8,000 in damages at the Supreme Court in London. Mind you, Mr Durkin could have settled for £116,000 damages in Aberdeen Sheriff Court back in 2008 but he chose to challenge that ruling, saying the amount was too little. He reckons the litigation has cost him £250,000, leaving him a little rueful. “I’ve got mixed feelings,” he said. “But I’m glad I’ve helped the greater good with a consumer victory.”

This week the golfing authorities, almost as fast moving as the legal system, have entered the 21st century. The governing committee at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews has written to its 2,500 gentlemen members urging them to vote in favour of admitting women to the club for the first time in its 260 year history. The vote – in person only – takes place on 18th September this year. And if that date seems familiar, it’s the day Scotland decides whether it wants to remain part of Club GB or perfect its golf swing on its own.

Celtic Football Club, meanwhile, is wondering if it is to continue playing on its own or whether it can compete in a new mini-European league which has just been given the go-ahead by UEFA. It won the Premiership title with seven games to spare when it beat Partick Thistle 5-1on Tuesday night. Its arch rival Rangers still have a year’s probation to serve in the Championship league after their financial collapse and this week we learnt they are still making a loss of £3.5m a year. All this, I’m sure is worth discussing more, but I’ve run out of this week’s supply of energy.

The conclusion to Scotland’s Six Nations campaign was instantly forgettable, a bit like Dan Biggar’s short-term memory after Lions full-back Stuart Hogg caught the Welshman with a cheap forearm smash that was more Hulk Hogan than Kenny Logan.

Stuart Hogg (Pic: Glasgow Warriors)

Stuart Hogg
(Pic: Glasgow Warriors)

Not surprisingly, referee Jerome Garces decided that Hogg was going off, yellow carding him before making it red on review, a decision no-one could complain about.

In changing his mind, with hindsight but mostly with the assistance of the video replay, Garces highlighted wonderfully the benefit of a review process at the highest level of sport. The risk of a bad call on the vast majority of occasions is taken out of rugby, American football, cricket and tennis, simply by using the technology to hand.

If only football would embrace the concept, how many dubious, game changing decisions would be eliminated from what is the biggest sport in the world. But then, those who officiate in soccer don’t make mistakes, do they?

The first Grand Prix of the new Formula 1 season takes place in Australia and is, for a change drama-packed with breakdowns and retirements galore.

This was in the main due to the race being the first competitive run for the new 2014 specification cars, with the biggest and most noticeable change coming in the engine noise the cars make. I’m surprised people are critical of the sound, given that from my own experiences around F1, the first thing sponsors provide is a set of ear plugs!

Rangers progress, finally, to the semi-finals for the Scottish Cup, seeing off that mish-mash of tax inspectors, Asda staff and tradesmen that collectively are known as Albion Rovers.

Albion Rovers  Donated £10,000 to charity

Albion Rovers
Donated £10,000 to charity

The Coatbridge side kindly donated £10,000 of their hard earned wealth to Radio Clyde’s Cash For Kids appeal, a generous act, though I for one would have fully understood if they’d kept the money for one of the many rainy days that sweeps over that part of North Lanarkshire, by which I mean Cliftonhill.

The ground has changed little, or maybe that should be not at all, since I first clapped eyes on it in the late 60’s, watching St Ninian’s in the final of some Lanarkshire schools tournament.

Little had been upgraded or updated (thankfully) by the time my next memorable experience came, in the mid-80’s, which meant breaking out of the stadium having been locked in by the ‘jovial’ groundsman after overstaying my welcome while trying to make various newspaper deadlines as the local ‘stringer.’

Back to the present, and Rovers offered little in the way of resistance or threat as they had done a week before at Ibrox, which I was reliably informed, was down to the majority of their players having worked an eight-hour shift.

That isn’t really an excuse I buy, knowing the fitness levels achieved by countless amateur sportsmen. Of course, that ten grand Rovers gave away to good causes could have easily covered the cost of taking a day or shift off to prepare for facing Rangers.

As they say, sometimes charity begins in the home dressing room …

That Rangers win at New Douglas Park set them up with a Scottish Cup semi-final tie with Dundee United at ‘neutral’ Ibrox. Of course, United were none too pleased at this probability when the draw for the last four took place and complained to the SFA, who filed their protest under ‘B’ for bin.

Dundee United LogoUnited might have had a better case had they highlighted the possibility of Rangers, or for that matter Celtic, being involved in the latter stages of the competition when the semi-final and Final venues were announced, back in October.

They may also have strengthened their hand had they not asked for just 8000 tickets for the semi-final tie at Ibrox, and, had they managed to get some kind of continuity in their argument for moving to another neutral location with a 50-50 split in tickets.

Ordering 8000 tickets then demanding both clubs get an equal share? In effect, United put up a very good case for downsizing the semi-finals of Scotland’s premier knock-out Cup competition and completely underplaying the sponsor’s involvement. Just what Scottish football needs …

The irony in all of this of course was that when Hampden was previously undergoing its many transformations in 1990’s, the Old Firm contested Cup semi-finals on ‘neutral’ venues belonging to their arch rivals. And apart from Rangers manager Walter Smith’s ‘Take 2’ coin-tossing with then-Celtic assistant Joe Jordan (I might explain that one on Twitter later), there was nothing contentious about who would get what.

If only things were that simple today …


Aberdeen's first silverware (Pic: from Vimeo)

Aberdeen’s first silverware
(Pic: from Vimeo)

Is there no end to the celebration and jubilation surrounding Aberdeen’s first silverware in 19 years?

On the back of their hugely significant League Cup success over Inverness Caley Thistle at Parkhead on Sunday, the Dons fans were also congratulating themselves for the social media campaign that carried The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ into the iTunes top 5.

Aberdeen fans had subtly changed the lyrics to “Peter Pawlett Baby”, making it their terracing chant for the Final, even though Pawlett missed the final through injury.

The Human League’s Facebook page posted a message that said: “Amazing stuff you Aberdeen FC fans, simply amazing.” It was, and in the process completely blew any notion that Aberdeen or their fans were stuck in some kind of 80’s time warp …

I couldn’t help but notice Derbyshire (county cricket club) had just secured a naming rights deal around their home venue in conjunction with the UK’s national training provider for apprenticeships. So from this summer, Derbyshire will now play their home fixtures at the 3aaa County Ground.

I’m not 100% sure how 3aaa will be communicated in a sporting context, as the ‘3 A’s’ belongs to athletics, while Triple A is associated with minor league baseball.

Still, Derbyshire collect a ‘six-figure’ sum for concluding what is described as being an ‘innovative’ sponsorship agreement, in much the same way as all such deals are lucrative and innovative. Namely, the club collects the money and everyone still calls it the County Ground …

Twenty years ago fantasy football was all the rage. Today it’s called the Champions League.

The quarter-final draw for this year’s tournament left Manchester United – the English champions – and Borussia Dortmund, runners-up in the tournament just 12 months ago, as the outsiders to lift the famous old trophy.

The World Cup in a few months has a lot to live up to …

Flags of Norway and Iceland

I wondered why the Norwegian and the Icelandic flags were flying in the strong wind blowing off the Solway Firth. Was this an invasion from Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity”? Afterall, we are living at a time of changing national boundaries across Europe. But it turned out that the flags were to welcome feathered visitors to the nature reserve run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock.

Whooper Swans in Galloway

Whooper Swans in Galloway

Thousands of barnacle geese fly down to spend the winter here from Svalbard in the far north of Norway. Hundreds of whooper swans make the journey from Iceland every year. We watched as the swans were fed. The warden cast grain on the water from his wheelbarrow and the yellow-beaked birds jostled for position. At first they all faced one way, then the other and all were cautious about going near the nets where they were caught for tagging the day before.

It all symbolised for me the state of Scotland’s local government. An unlikely comparison I know. But if we take the warden to be the SNP government casting its £10.5bn funding to the 32 local councils and the whooper swans to be those councils each fighting for their “fair share”, then this is the situation we are in.

Councils Split

Councils Split

The issue has come to a head over the last few weeks, with the threat of seven local councils – and perhaps more – leaving the umbrella organisation COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and forming a rival grouping. The dissidents so far are: Glasgow, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Aberdeen and Dumfries and Galloway.

Of course, party politics is involved. Labour control half of the 32 councils, and therefore have control of the central decision-making committee in COSLA, the committee of council leaders. The other parties don’t care for this arrangement and are suggesting that decisions should be taken at the quarterly convention where they stand more chance of success.

This squabbling among the whooper swans wouldn’t matter too much, were it not taking place against an overall cut in the size of the spending wheelbarrow. There’s also a divisive public debate over the role of local government and the services they run. Not to mention a referendum over which national flag should be flying over the council chambers.

Glasgow Council - left CoSLA

Glasgow Council – left CoSLA

For the last six years councils have all faced the same way and accepted a council tax freeze imposed on them by the SNP government. Now the straight-jacket is beginning to hurt and many councils are asking themselves why they should stick with a system that limits even the 20 per cent of revenue that councils raise for themselves through local taxes. Like the whooper swans, many are now cautious of being caught in the centralising net of national government.

Those who want to keep COSLA together argue that local government will lose out if it has no collective voice. Each council will be bullied by central government in turn. Besides, negotiating pay and conditions for the 250,000 people who work for local councils is easier done through one organisation. So too is common research, or “best practice” guidance or co-operative arrangements between councils on issues such as special schools, road repairs, re-cycling etc.

This story of local government flux is often overlooked and yet it is of immediate importance to our everyday lives…..how schools are being run, rubbish collected, old folk looked after, parks and libraries kept open, businesses given the services they need to operate. It is also about democracy, giving people control over their own lives in a world which is being increasingly centralised.

Yes, birds of a feather flock together but they also have individual lives. The interplay between these two aspects of both birds and humans is still a bit of a mystery. But it is a process which has served us well and should not be given up.

Soon the whooper swans will take off for the breeding grounds in Iceland and the barnacle geese will fly back to Norway. A collective decision will be taken, but no single bird – or even a central committee of birds – will dictate when they will fly and where.

A chance to get away from it all?

As I lay in my wind-battered tent last weekend, I must admit I did not think about how the events of this week would unfold…the clash of the cabinets, the debate over North Sea Oil, the vote on corroboration. Instead I was wondering if the scout leader would call me out to help rescue a tent-full of 12 year-olds which had been struck by a blown-away tent from further up the field. Luckily, he handled the crisis by himself and I remained snug in my sleeping bag…until I too had to get up and re-peg my own tent before it blew away.

Church of Scotland LogoThe annual “Brass Monkey” camp held at Bonaly Scout Centre on the edge of the Pentland Hills really puts life in perspective. Here the concerns are high winds, rain, tents, rucksacks, meal times, wide games and watching the citizens of the future cope with life’s early challenges. All 160 scouts seemed to be having a great time, untroubled by the sterling zone, the EU entry requirements, jobs, house prices, climate change and life’s later challenges.

But hey, the life of the nation is not at all the same as “life” in general. And thank goodness for that. The Church of Scotland brought out a report this week which tires to bridge this gap between the two worlds. It appeals to voters in September’s referendum on independence not just to ask; “What’s in it for me ?” (pensions, wages, oil revenues etc ) but to consider what’s best for the country. The debate, it says, should be less about currencies and constitutions and more about social values such as fairness, equality, integrity and participation.

Two cabinets talked of  'Scotland's Oil'

Two cabinets talked of ‘Scotland’s Oil’

So how does this apply to “Scotland’s oil” ? Well, not one but two cabinets met to discuss this in Aberdeen on Monday. David Cameron brought the UK cabinet to Scotland for only the third time in its history. Ministers had before them a report from Sir Ian Wood calling for a new oil industry regulator which will encourage smaller companies to take over mature wells and squeeze the last £200bn of oil and gas from the North Sea. But it cannot be done, Mr Cameron warned, without the “broad shoulders” of UK investment.

The UK energy secretary Ed Davey also found time to pop up to Peterhead to announce that, at long last, the gas-fired power station there is to have a pioneering £100m carbon capture system installed.

Alex Salmond meanwhile staged his own cabinet meeting in a church, a few miles down the road, in Portlethen, followed by a public question and answer session. He wanted to highlight the difference between his down-to-earth “people’s government” and the posh boys from London who “jetted in and jetted out” to a meeting behind closed doors deep inside BP’s main Aberdeen office building. They were only here, he said, to keep Scotland’s oil for themselves “and squander it as they have done for the past 40 years.”

Standard Life nae mair?

Standard Life nae mair?

Back in Holyrood on Thursday, Mr Salmond was facing another foe, Labour’s Johann Lamont, who asked him how many companies it would take to consider leaving Scotland before he realised independence was bad for jobs. “It isn’t just Bathgate no more, or Linwood no more,” she said, quoting the Proclaimers, “It was Standard Life no more, Royal Bank of Scotland no more, if Scotland became independent.”

Standard Life bosses told their shareholders this week that they were planning to set up new companies south of the border and abroad if Scotland voted to be independent, because of uncertainty over the currency and pension and insurance regulations.

RBS - Record Loss but huge bonuses

RBS – Record Loss but huge bonuses

The Royal Bank of Scotland said it would have to shed jobs in Scotland, as it down-sized to concentrate on retail home banking again. It’s just reported a loss of £8.2bn for the year 2013. It’s the bank’s biggest loss since it had to be rescued by the UK government in 2008. But amazingly, it’s didn’t stop the bank paying out £576m in bonuses. Perhaps the bank is considering a move to another planet.

The SNP government was undaunted by these headwinds and it pressed ahead in parliament with its latest legal reforms. MSPs voted 64 to 5 in favour of the Criminal Justice Bill, which includes a controversial measure to drop Scotland’s unique and age-old rule of “corroboration” – the need for two distinct pieces of evidence for a prosecution to be mounted in court. Most Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MSPs abstained and called on the government to think again, as indeed has the parliament’s own justice committee and a string of senior judges and court lawyers.

So the battered tent of democracy continues to be blown to and fro. I’ll be amazed if the Criminal Justice Bill makes it through all its parliamentary stages unaltered. I’ll be amazed too if more large companies and UK government ministers don’t raise more doubts about independence in the weeks ahead. But I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t just result in more Scots saying “Yes we can ” to independence. Like those scouts at Bonaly, they won’t be put off by head winds, rain or negative messages.

The late Sir Tom Finney in action
(Pictures from his memorial site)

And the football world mourns the passing of Sir Tom Finney, aged 91.

The film footage played in tribute to Finney, his sport and his skill looked from a bygone age, unrecognisable to today’s game in more ways than one. Finney played 569 club games, all of them for Preston North End (although Palermo tried to buy him in 1952), a concept today’s footy fan may toil to get their heads around.

Sir Tom in his later years

Sir Tom in his later years

He also had a real job, a plumber to trade, although he did get a company vehicle as a perk of the job – when he was serving as a tank driver with the 9th Lancers during the Second World War.

I never saw Finney play, my knowledge limited to that crackling film, books and the opinion of those who did see him grace the international stage.

Finney won 76 caps for England, when for much of that time, Sir Stanley Matthews filled the right-wing berth. So Finney played on the left, or as an inside forward, or in the middle.

“Imagine the best players you ever saw and then think of Tom Finney as the sum total of their ability. That’s the player he was,” the late Bob Crampsey once told me. Something I still toil to get my head around …

A week after they were tonked 5-1 at Anfield, Arsenal gain a measure of revenge by knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup. While happy at his team’s performance, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was upset that referee Howard Webb didn’t award his team a second penalty after Luis Suarez was fouled by Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was as they say, a decent shout as you will see here – although maybe Suarez’s slightly theatrical neck spring put some doubt in Webb’s mind …

Brendon McCullum  Unique cricketing talent (from Vimeo)

Brendon McCullum
Unique cricketing talent
(from Vimeo)

New Zealand cricket has had some many fine batsmen, but none in the Test match arena had ever scored a triple-hundred until now.

Brendon McCullum hits 302 against India in Wellington to become the first Kiwi batsman to join that select band, but in doing so the 32-year-old became a member of an even more exclusive club. Having scored a double-ton in the First Test, McCullum becomes just the third cricketer in Test history to follow a two hundred with the three hundred in consecutive matches.

The other two? Walter Hammond and Donald Bradman. Now, is that keeping exclusive company or what …

And the SPFL has a bit of a stooshie on their hands after it was revealed that Inverness Caley Thistle would only receive 8000 tickets for the League Cup Final against Aberdeen. Not just that, it looked as if they’d be stuck in a corner at Celtic Park while 30,000 Dons fans enjoyed the run of Parkhead. ICT’s fans demanded an increase in their allocation, 10,000 was the arrived-at number – considerably more than the 1458 who arrived at the Caledonian Stadium for their Scottish Cup replay against Stranraer.

Caley Thistle LogoBy my calculations, that’s 14.58% of what they were demanding for their big date in Glasgow. See me, see arithmetic!! Of course, it was all just a misunderstanding and with no sponsors to get in the way, and a 60,000 capacity at Parkhead, Caley Thistle fans will get as many tickets as they like – which should see a 40,000 ‘sell-out.’

Yes, one tier, in the Lisbon Lions stand at Celtic Park, will remain empty. Let’s hope there are not too many high balls then. Needless to say, this ‘non-fiasco’ played into the hands of those who would have you believe that the Ramsdens Cup final – featuring Rangers and Raith Rovers – has been earmarked for Easter Road to avoid any possible embarrassment that the lower league knock-out tournament would attract more of a crowd than the SPFL’s premier cup tournament.

Some people have too much time on their hands. Obviously, me amongst them …

Graeme Obree More available to uphold the students' cause (Pic; Wikipedia)

Graeme Obree
More available to uphold the students’ cause
(Pic; Wikipedia)

And intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden is elected to the post of student rector at Glasgow University, succeeding former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, and beating cyclist Graeme Obree, author Alan Bissett and Scottish Episcopal clergyman Kelvin Holdsworth in the poll. I listened to and read various explanations as to why the former US National Security Agency contractor gained the student’s support. Some said he was a hero, others pointed to his bravery.

For me, Obree ticks both of those boxes, and a few more; a sporting hero who made cycling’s rulers rewrite their rule book, who then admitted to being gay, showing bravery with that admission, and daily with the abuse he is subjected to. And he is available at short notice, unlike Snowden, who currently is demonstrating his bravery on a daily basis hiding in Russia …

I’ve often thought the phrase of pictures saying a thousand words was commissioned by some TV exec to sell their football coverage – with this goal from Salzburg’s Jonathan Soriano being a classic example. The pictures say it all!

So it wasn’t to be for David Murdoch’s Team GB quartet out in Sochi. Still, at least there was a silver medal at the end of it. Oh, and the knowledge that in four years time, he won’t have to return as defending champion wondering if he should represent Britain or Scotland …

(Photo: Sergey Ivanov/Creative Commons)

Children now have a right to a better life
(Photo: Sergey Ivanov/Creative Commons)

At last we are doing something for our children. Ashamed at leaving a quarter of them in poverty, a fifth of them unemployed, an economy in ruins and an environment increasingly polluted, this week the Scottish Parliament took one small step towards accepting their right to a better life.

Bill passed after a marathon session

Bill passed after a marathon session

MSPs passed the Children and Young People Bill after a marathon session on Wednesday. It confirms a few policy changes announced recently, such as the extension of hours for free nursery education and free school meals for all children in the first three years of primary school.

But, more radically and more controversially, it requires health authorities and education authorities to provide a “named person” or guardian for every child in Scotland up to the age of 18.

This health visitor, and in later years school teacher, will have a statutory duty to guard the rights of the child, make sure he or she doesn’t fall through the child protection net, and be someone who the child or the worried parent or relative can turn to for advice. Right wing politicians and fundamentalist religious leaders complain that this is the nanny state going too far. They still seem to believe that children are the goods and chattels of their parents, to be brought up as they see fit.

Children need to be seen as individuals (Pic: Steve Bowbrick Creative Commons)

Children need to be seen as individuals
(Pic: Steve Bowbrick Creative Commons)

I think that most of the modern world realises now that a child is an individual person and has his or her own rights. These rights should be protected by the community at large and include the right to a decent home, an education, free time and free thought, freedom from drug or alcohol addition or physical or emotional abuse. Obligations come later.

So, good for the Scottish Parliament for setting out this principle in law. All it has to do now is to find the funds for the 450 extra health visitors required and to make sure the system doesn’t get bogged down in bureaucracy.

There was some official rejoicing this week that unemployment appears to have fallen again, down 3,000 to 195,000. However the percentage figure has gone up from 6.4 per cent to 7.1. One wise man, interviewed in the street in Govan, put the case well: “They just move the figures around from one heading to another.”

A degree is no guarantee of a job (Pic: Creative Commons)

A degree is no guarantee of a job
(Pic: Creative Commons)

There are still an awful lot of people unemployed, or in part time work. One survey found that a quarter of all graduates are still looking for work a year after leaving university and nearly half of those who are in employment are in non-graduate jobs.

We have had a dramatic intervention in the independence debate. It came in just five words from a man who didn’t even turn up to say them. But that man happens to be David Bowie, speaking through the beautiful lips of Kate Moss at the British Music Awards in London. “Scotland, please stay with us,” he/she declared. Not usually noted for his Unionist political opinions, one wonders if he was put up to it and how many more celebrities will be deployed in the battle for hearts in the next few months.

Jose Manuel Barroso  Comments dismissed as part of 'project fear'

Jose Manuel Barroso
Comments dismissed as part of
‘project fear’

His profound few words dwarfed all the others this week. Sr. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, told us it was “unlikely if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to win the approval of all 27 members of the EU if it wished to join. Danny Alexander, the chief secretary of the treasury, followed this up with a warning that the cost of a mortgage in an independent Scotland would go up by £5,000. But all of this was dismissed as part of “project fear” by Alex Salmond who said Scots would not take kindly to suggestions that they can’t be a successful independent country. “Yes we can,” he told a conference of business people in Aberdeen.

Barack Obama might enjoy the use of his phrase by a fellow politician but he might not be so pleased to learn that Glasgow University students have elected Edward Snowden as their new Rector. He’s the American security contractor currently hiding in Russia after telling the world about the USA’s electronic spying operations. By a large majority, the Glasgow students have send a defiant message to all in authority that they value their privacy and their freedom.

Eve Muirhead Bronze medal at Sochi (Pic: Wikipedia)

Eve Muirhead
Bronze medal at Sochi
(Pic: Wikipedia)

Glasgow citizens meanwhile have sent a defiant message to the authorities in the art world that they rather like Jack Vettriano’s paintings. They’ve gone to see them at the Kelvingrove Gallery in record numbers – 123,000 since September. Self-taught Vettriano is mocked by the art critics but his realistic, story-telling pictures are loved by the public and by the auctioneers.

And havn’t we done well in the Winter Olympics ? Scotland has played its parts in giving Great Britain its best medal total since 1924. England may have produced Liz Yarnold and Jenny Jones in the sledging and snowboarding events, but Scotland has triumphed in the game it invented, curling.

Blue-eyed girl Eve Muirhead and her team have won a bronze medal in the ladies curling and, in the men’s, David Murdoch’s team have reached the final, giving them at least a silver medal.

I happen to live only a stone’s slide from Thomson’s Tower built for the gentlemen of the Duddingston Curling Club who first wrote down the rules of the game in 1804. I wonder what they would have made of the ice maidens of Sochi.

Rangers Team stayed at the Carnoustie Hotel
before their match against Forfar Athletic

I think I know what BBC Radio Scotland’s Liam McLeod meant when he said during his ‘Sportsound’ commentary something along the lines that all that was left for Motherwell to do in the closing minutes against Celtic was ‘to try and soil Fraser Forster’s clean sheet.’

Robbie Shepherd 'Take the Floor' makes the journey home easier

Robbie Shepherd
‘Take the Floor’ makes the journey home easier
(Pic: Wikipedia)

As I say, I think I know what he was trying to say!

Moving on, another of BBC Scotland’s products grabbed my attention this Sunday evening with an hour of telly time dedicated to Robbie Shepherd and a tribute to him in the shape of ‘I’ll Be Looking for You.’

And where does the host of Radio Scotland’s ‘Take The Floor’ fit into my sporting day? Actually, it’s more where he dovetails into my sporting life.

Over the years, believe it or not, Robbie has kept me company on many a miserable winter journey hame from various football venues across the land, accompanied by some of the most colourful music this nation has produced with equally colourful titles such as Mrs Grieve of Howdan, Gibby Lang’s Jig, A Trip to Murcia, Tug Argan Gap and Ma’ Granny Deep Fried The Tattie Scones.

Okay, the last one was made up, as I was regularly when the signal on medium flavour in the middle of nowhere would crackle then pick up accordions and fiddles playing to a three-four beat.
Made many a trek home most enjoyable. And for that I will never have a bad word said of Robbie Shepherd.

Players rejected a pay cut

Players rejected a pay cut

Much is made of Rangers’ decision to book in to the four-star Carnoustie Hotel ahead of their league contest against Forfar Athletic. The news angle to this was of course that it came just a few days after the Rangers players had knocked back a 15% pay cut to alleviate the club’s financial strains.

Manager Ally McCoist could always point to the fact that it was part of his the preparations ahead of his team gathering another three points on the way to back-to-back championships and promotions.
He could also say, that such rest bite was nothing new. I can remember then assistant manager Walter Smith playing dorm warden at the Grosvenor back in the days of Souness, when McCoist himself was a player.

Me, I didn’t see anything wrong with a few hours in Carnoustie, just as I never did when previous Rangers squads checked in to the Moat House or Huntingtowers in Perth, or various locations in Aberdeen. After all, it was probably the one time you knew where they would be and you could have a chat with them, uninterrupted. It sounds glamorous, but being cooped up in a hotel is for most players as boring as hell and they’d do anything to break the monotony – even speak to journalists!

What's the future for the games?

What’s the future for the games?

And the Commonwealth Games Federation voices concerns about a lack of interest from member countries in hosting future Games. So far, no member country has expressed serious interest in hosting the 2022 event ahead of a March deadline.

But didn’t we know already that this was how the Commonwealth Games was going?

I think some of us realised it when Glasgow ‘won’ the bid to host the year’s games back in November 2007, seeing off the rival bids from Abuja, Nigeria and, er, Abuja, Nigeria. Halifax, Nova Scotia,
had grabbed their hat out of the ring when they took fright at the projected operating costs reached $1.7bn.

Good job Scotland’s show will come in on, or under budget … won’t it?

Won on penalties

Won on penalties

The Manchester United versus Sunderland League Cup semi-final is eventually decided by a penalty shoot-out; ten kicks taken, only three converted as United tumbled out to add to the woes of David Moyes. Naturally, as it a) involved Manchester United, b) was played in England and c) took place in a World Cup year, then this really had to be the worst penalty kick competition of all time.

Sorry, but it didn’t even come close to the example I (and Hamilton Academical doyen of all things Academical, Scott Struthers) quoted, namely Accies shoot out win over Meadowbank Thistle in the 1992 B&Q Cup semi-final.

That night at Douglas Park, of the 14 kicks taken, ten were saved and one missed – leaving the home side 2-1 winners. I am glad Scott and me could put United’s loss and that penalty kick disaster into some context – a whole day and a bit before some media outlets picked up on it. Oh, the power of social media …

Picture of elegance Norway's curling team

Picture of elegance
Norway’s curling team

In the run up to the Independence Referendum much has been made of how Scotland should be copying the financial and social model of other nations, one of them being Norway. Another part of the Scottish Governments white paper on Independence set out the case for Scotland competing as a separate nation at the likes of the Olympic Games.

Mix those two topics together and the SNP just might have lost a few votes, especially amongst the curling fraternity if Scotland standing alone, financially and sportingly means this (see pic left!)

And the Norwegians have so much going for them? Aye, right …

And well done to Coventry City boss and my old mate Steven Pressley for extending the hand of friendship to Arsene Wenger ahead of the FA Cup tie with Arsenal. ‘Elvis’ has a special bottle of single malt for the Frenchman, which he hopes Arsene will consume – before the game. Good ploy. But I fancy Steven should have bought a case and made friends with the entire Arsenal starting XI!

The house sparrow – making a recovery

The long term decline in the population of the humble house sparrow appears to have been halted. It was one of the great achievements of 2013, thanks to all those suburban gardeners. But the recovery of this little Biblical bird is slow and uncertain, just like the recovery in our economy.

George Osborne 'Not done yet'

George Osborne
‘Not done yet’

The Chancellor says he is “not yet done” with his austerity programme and the national debt will increase before it declines. But he reckons we’ve seen 1.4 per cent growth in the economy this year, the first real sign of recovery since the bankers’ crash in 2007/8. Unemployment is coming down but is still above 7 per cent (around 20 per cent for young people).

Thank goodness we have seen a return in consumer spending, for that is, above all, what is going to fire up the economy. Unfortunately in 2013 we could not shake off the 19th century belief that we can manufacture and export our way out of recession. It’s as if the other 75 per cent of the economy didn’t exist !

The heather set on fire

The heather set on fire

Another believe we have been reluctant to let go of is that climate change does not matter much. We were happy to see the government postponing petrol tax rises and taking action against energy price increases. And it didn’t occur to us what might be causing the long dry spring and summer, the strong winds and flooding in the autumn, the bush fires in Australia (not to mention the Scottish Highlands), the tornado in Oklahoma and, in the Philippines, the most powerful storm the world has ever seen.

And when disasters have been more directly man-made, we’ve convinced ourselves we can do nothing about them. As in the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh in April which killed a thousand workers, or the war in Syria which has left 100,000 dead and 2 million refugees. Where we have intervened, as in Afghanistan, we have done so half-heartedly and we are now winding down our operations there.

The White Paper

The White Paper

Here at home, this has been the year of pre-referendum nerves. The Yes camp has published its case for independence in a 650 page “white paper” promising everything from a written constitution to free child-care. The No camp couldn’t agree on a similar manifesto and have confined themselves to sniping at the SNP’s figures. The opinion polls are still showing a 60/30 split between those who want Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom and those who want independence. The remaining 10 per cent have yet to make up their minds.

Whatever happens on September 18th 2014, it will be clear that a lot of Scots want more say over the way their country is run. The Independence march and rally in September this year saw 10,000 flag-waving people – and a couple of pandas – parading through the streets of Edinburgh in a scene worthy of Sir Walter Scott. Containing this patriotic fervour will be one of the post-referendum challenges.

Another bad year for the reputation of bankers

Another bad year for the reputation of bankers

The top bankers have continued to disgrace themselves. The latest figures from the European Banking Authority show that in 2012 nearly 3,000 bankers in Britain collected bonuses worth four times their annual salaries and their average pay went up 35 per cent. These are the chaps who caused the recession in the first place and were responsible for a string of offences, including miss-selling insurance and investment “products”, breaking international sanctions and fixing interest rates. And the Scottish banks, RBS and the Bank of Scotland, have been among the worst offenders.

State Funeral

State Funeral

Even Mrs Thatcher has been turning in her grave. We gave the grand old lady a grand old send-off in a state funeral in April. The former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie died in August after a valiant struggle against cancer. The Labour party lost one of its loved ones, with the death of the Fife MSP Helen Eadie, again from cancer. The SNP also lost one of its MSPs but for quite different reasons. Bill Walker from Dunfermline was sent to jail on 22 charges of assault against three former wives.

The Catholic Church had another traumatic year, with further allegations of child abuse – this time at its former boarding school in Fort Augustus. Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to resign in February after admitting inappropriate sexual relations with young trainee priests. The Church only began to restore some respectability when it brought in a reforming new Pope from South America.

Angela Merkel Stormed back as German Chancellor

Angela Merkel
Stormed back as German Chancellor

In the world at large, we’ve seen President Obama survive the “fiscal cliff” but only just. Angela Merkel stormed back for a third term as Chancellor of Germany. South Africa has said a fond farewell to Nelson Mandela. And the Chinese have landed a spacecraft on the Moon.

Where politicians have failed, wars have continued. There are currently a dozen going on, including, of course Syria and Afghanistan but we’ve seen new outbreaks in Nigeria, Mali and the Central African Republic. And there have been dreadful acts of terrorism in Nairobi, Boston and in the streets of London where soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death by two Islamic extremists. There have been violent riots too in Cairo, Kiev and, shame of it, in Belfast where over 50 police officers were injured in August.

Scotland has had its fair share of disasters this year. It began with four climbers killed in an avalanche in Glencoe in January. Another four people died in a North Sea helicopter crash off Shetland in August. And at the end of November, a police helicopter fell from the sky onto the Clutha bar in Glasgow killing 10 people.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

But it hasn’t all been bad news. We have gloried in our sporting stars. Fresh from his gold medal winning achievement at the London Olympics last year, Andy Murray also became the first Briton to win Wimbledon for over 70 years. Hardly surprising that he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

In football we’ve been celebrating Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial career at Aberdeen and Manchester United. In science we have a new Nobel Prize winner in Professor Peter Higgs. And in music, the Aberdeenshire lass Emeli Sande stormed the Brit Awards and 16 year old Nicholas McDonald from Glasgow very nearly won the X-Factor.

The Bible story of the sparrow, of course, illustrates the point that even the rise and fall of the most ordinary and humble creature matters in the whole scheme of things. Sparrow numbers may be rising, but others are falling, like the corncrake, the skylark, the curlew and the lapwing. Every one matters. The events of the year 2013 are not confined to the news headlines. They are only the touchstones by which we can navigate though our own personal history and perhaps help us flock together.