The Courier Letters

In the endless winter of 2009-10, with the golf courses in St Andrews closed more often than at any time in the last half century, I started to write letters to the Scottish national daily newspaper, “The Courier”. With second highest readership in the country (behind the red-topped “Record”) it provided a wide and receptive audience. There is no particular form or subject speciality – I simply commented on the current events of that bleak period: the dog days of the disastrous socialist government of Gordon Brown. The letters were published at the rate of one or two per week.

Re-engage Muslim world

In the aftermath of 9/11, George Bush responded justly and proportionately by promoting the downfall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had provided a safe haven for its perpetrators. The US simply could not allow Muslim fanatics to attack the West with impunity. In a few weeks, the Taliban were driven from the Afghan capital by the Northern Alliance warlords with the support of American air power and Special Forces. From that moment on, Bush and his faithful ally Tony Blair made one mistake after another. In a fit of absence of mind they decided to further use 9/11 as an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein. Having created a complete shambles in Iraq they then turned back to Afghanistan with different but equally ill-defined objectives. They decided to impose centralised order where none has ever existed in Afghan history. We are now a situation in which we are there because we are there, and with so many British dead, Gordon Brown cannot bring himself to admit we have failed. But the war in Afghanistan is absolutely unwinnable. The sooner our soldiers come home, the sooner we can pursue new policies towards the Muslim world in place of the huge follies of recent years.

Release of Megrahi

As a parish minister in Broughty Ferry for 35 years, I remember how often parishioners, desperately ill with cancer, would confound the medical profession by exceeding the boundaries of any sensible prognosis. I find the media and political debate on the life expectancy of Megrahi totally degrading. Scottish ministers have the power to release on compassionate grounds ‘those suffering from a terminal illness whose death is likely to occur soon’. The legislation is careful to avoid prescribing any fixed time limit. Dr Richard Simpson, formerly GP and now an MSP, felt called upon to say ‘If he lives for much longer than three months, it will add to the insult to American families.” To be quite frank, I think we have heard just about enough from the vengeful American families. Let us remember that the US officer in charge of the Mei Lei massacres in Vietnam was pardoned (not just released) after serving 3 years of a life sentence. Perhaps a statistician could construct an equation to represent the American perception of how many of each nationality is equal to one American!

New depths plumbed in televised political debate

Question Time showed modern Britain at its worst. Our commitment to freedom of speech scarcely exists and the bullies both on the platform and in the audience were as repulsive as Griffin himself. Jack Straw managed to make himself look even more slippery then usual when he was asked the key question: ‘Can the recent successes of the BNP be explained by the misguided immigration policies of the Government?’ This was so obviously true that our Justice Minister had to deny it. The Tory Baroness Warsi – the only really impressive member of the panel – dismissed Straw’s fatuous denial. She rightly said there were real issues to be faced and mainline politicians must to listen to those who voted for the BNP. I think many people such as myself, with much valued Asian members already in our extended families, are still appalled by the recklessness of Labour’s immigration policies and the shocking damage they have done to the social fabric of Britain.

AFGHANISTAN

With the collapse of US political strategy in Afghanistan, we are left with no military goal beyond avoiding defeat. It is also clear that it is the western military presence that is driving support for the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus there is no alternative to a carefully phased exit combined with a new military and diplomatic strategy. We should pursue a political solution, open negotiations with the Taliban, and offer a timetable for a phased withdrawal in return for a ceasefire. There should also be a new approach to Pakistan asking for their help in persuading the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. There is a clear need to decentralize the Afghan state and move from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. In the parliamentary elections due next year political parties should be allowed to stand – at present this is banned. The Taliban should be encouraged to form a political party, which could take local power in many Pashtun areas through the political process and share in central government in Kabul. The West’s only condition should be that the Taliban pledge not to permit sanctuaries for terrorism in areas it may dominate. This will not offer either an easy or quick solution but leaving American and allied soldiers to sacrifice their lives to no purpose in the quagmire of Afghanistan is no alternative.

Meaningless ‘mea culpa’ of Prime Minister

I had never played golf in a foursomes with the elderly partner waiting for me on the first tee at St Andrews. By way of introduction he said, “I’m not good in bunkers and I don’t do sorry.” It was such a relief to play with a man who predated this ghastly age of apology—and who was also so good at slotting short putts. I think I have just about had enough of displays of public breast-beating from the likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The latest example from the PM is the Child Migrants Programme. I am sure there were shameful episodes in this experiment but what has it got to do with Gordon Brown?  If, however, he is in a confessional mode, he could apologise for the governmental child abuse which actually occurred on his watch as the result of his onslaught against marriage and the two-parent family, along with the destruction of the British education system. He could say sorry for wrecking the British economy, flogging off our gold reserves at a knockdown price, the largest public debt in our history and the destruction of our banks and private pensions. And while he is about it, he could beg forgiveness for mass immigration, waving through the Lisbon Treaty, enslaving his vast client state in a dependency culture and committing British soldiers to war in Afghanistan without decent kit.

Ignore discredited senator’s Megrahi demand

Senator Chuck Schumer has written to Gordon Brown demanding that Megrahi should be returned to prison in Scotland. The continued survival of the terminally ill Libyan is clearly a cause of consternation in the Land of the Free. However, it should be noted that Schumer’s obsession with publicity is a running joke in the US. Bob Dole once said that “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera”. Barack Obama joked that Schumer brought along the press to a banquet as his “loved ones”. Schumer schedules media appearances on Sundays, in the hope of getting coverage on a slow news day. He is also part of the powerful Jewish lobby and has a visceral hatred of Islamic people such as Megrahi. We should not give this puffed-up clown the time of day.

The debate is open to all

Recent correspondence on the subject of global warming make it sound as if the debate can only be joined by “experts” whereas it rests on three simple questions:

1. Is the world warming up?

2. If it is warming, has this been caused by man?

3.If it is warming, is this necessarily a bad thing for humanity?

Even in the unlikely event that the answer to the three questions was “Yes”, government action would still be a judgement call. As the costs of slowing down global warming look likely to be far greater than the costs of global warming itself, it is surely better to invest our resources in adapting to a warmer climate than in trying to stop it happening.

Class war electioneering

Gordon Brown is going back to the future as he prepares for a “class war” election campaign. These are the desperate, empty tactics of a failed politician with no answer to his critics who is trying to cover his tracks with smears and insults. Curiously it was the ‘filthy rich’ who were the real beneficiaries of the New Labour years and the middle classes which bore the brunt of the punitive Labour tax burden. It was their virtues of thrift and responsibility that have been under siege. It was their children who were targeted in attempts to destroy grammar and independent schools and who were discriminated against by the rigging of university admissions policies. It was their ethic of professionalism in medicine, education, and the law which was under attack by a government determined to snuff out all traces of intellectual independence. It was New Labour which was divisive and unjust and vindictive and systematically penalised an entire class of citizens.

Should this Sacred Cow be ring fenced?

Health services in all advanced economies are under increasing financial pressure as the baby-boomers hit the age of maximum health care. However, as Barack Obama has discovered to his cost, any politician who embarks on health care reform does so at his peril. The starting point for any serious debate must be the realisation that there are limits to what publicly funded health care can and should be expected to provide. Treatments now routinely demanded from the NHS are far beyond what the founding fathers’ would have regarded as an appropriate claim on taxpayer funds. We could learn from other systems which are sensibly meeting these rising costs with co-payment, user charges, and voluntary as well as compulsory forms of insurance.

Left with moral responsibility

The factors which finally tip a nation into a major war are usually a mixture of inept diplomacy, obscure fears, and bogus events. We all remember Chamberlain’s fatuous guarantee to Poland which plunged us into the Second World War and the extremely dodgy Zimmerman telegram which brought the USA into the first war. So whatever devious stuff Bush and Blair may have employed to bounce their respective countries into a war with Iraq, it was probably neither uniquely seedy nor unusually stupid. I believe the real value of the Chilcot Inquiry lies in the examination of the complete horlicks we made of the occupation. The removal of the sovereign government of Iraq left us with the full moral responsibility for the country in the immediate postwar period. It may be that Tony Blair’s unforgivable sin was to divert so much attention to the forlorn hope of obtaining a second resolution at the UN, that planning for post-war reconstruction was fatally disrupted. I suspect history will say that the worst elements of the fiasco resulted from the disastrous policy of de-Baathification and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army.

WORTHLESS DOCUMENT

After two years of negotiations and two weeks of platform rhetoric, horse trading, and street violence, the Giant Green Jolly in Copenhagen has ended up with no meaningful agreement. Of course, the scientific basis for the whole idea of global warming had been fatally undermined before the conference even started. Climategate and the Russian confirmation of the nefarious activities of the UN’s key data providers Hadley/CRU reduced the event to a farce. There had been forlorn hopes that Barack Obama would ride to the rescue with pledges of an American commitment to an economy wrecking CO2 reduction. Yet there was never the slightest chance of the President saving the collective face of the Warmists. The vast majority of his electorate believes that man-made global warming is baloney and the thuggery of Rent-a-Mob International, seen daily on US television, could hardly have been more counter-productive. Only our doomed Prime Minister, in a last desperate bid to seal his place in history, was prepared to put up billions of his taxpayers’ money and offer an insane 42% cut in UK emissions. His reward is the Copenhagen Accord, a target free bit of waffle with no legal standing. Not since Neville Chamberlain flourished that scrap of paper on the steps of his Munich aircraft has such a worthless document been brought back to the UK.

Many losers under New Labour

For the first three years of their governance Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were just feeling their way, relying on the excellent economy handed on by former Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke. So the beginning of this decade was the real launch of New Labour. In recent days Chancellor Alistair Darling has made a habit of disparaging the economic record of former Prime Minister John Major but the actual figures show that his Government’s dismal performance is much worse. Britain remains the only G20 economy still in recession during which the economy has suffered the biggest slump in modern times. Stock market investors have seen their portfolios fall throughout the Noughties, the first time they have lost money over a decade since the Great Depression But the biggest loser in the New Labour era was the embattled manufacturing sector which has fallen every year with unemployment shooting up to 2.5 million and likely to top three million. This did not happen even in the 1970s and 80s when our industrial base virtually collapsed with victims such as shipbuilding, coal mining and car manufacturing. Prime Minister Gordon Brown strains our credulity by promising “a decade of shared prosperity” in his New Year message. Only with his departure could such a dream come true.

Little chance of recouping Icelandic losses

Iceland has a population of 300,000, making it about the size of Wakefield. Until recent years, it was one of the poorest countries in Europe, dependent on whaling and commercial fishing. Yet the international financial system and our regulators allowed this volcanic wasteland to masquerade as a global banking centre. Moody’s credit agency gave it a Triple A rating, while Gordon Brown and the Bank of England endorsed the place as a safe haven for our cash. As a result, British savers and dozens of local authorities, deposited hundreds of millions of pounds with Icelandic banks offering stratospheric interest rates. Our financial wizards were, in effect, trusting the equivalent of Wakefield City Council to oversee and guarantee a group of pretend banks dealing in tens of billions of dollars. Now our irresponsible Government is trying to extract reimbursement of £3 billion from these sub-polar islanders. Since their only real assets are declining fish stocks, the odd whale, a few shaggy ponies and some lines in Nordic woollies that will be a neat trick.

False dreams of energy utopia

Ireland and Iceland were doomed the moment they were named as the offshore European Tiger economies Scotland should emulate. It appears Spain was also given the kiss of death when we were encouraged to join them on the leading edge of the EU’s conversion to renewables. Following their example, the Scottish Government promised to deliver 16,000 green energy jobs over the next decade. The problem was that these green Spanish jobs were dependent on Government subsidies and had resulted in the loss of an equal number of jobs in other sectors. With their economy in crisis, Government green job creation has collapsed, and youth unemployment has risen from 20% to 45%. All hope will finally be lost if the Prime Minister puts his seal of approval on these plans for a renewable utopia in Scotland.

Teaching’s left- wing domination

The high ambition of the incoming Tory administration to make the pursuit of excellence its educational goal in England is surely to be welcomed. The powers and protection that teachers need to keep order in class have been systematically stripped away. These must be restored and the insane European directives on human rights and health and safety permanently binned. Head teachers need greater freedom of action and frontline teachers themselves cry out for greater autonomy and less box ticking. However, progress will be stymied if this elite profession continues to be led by the collection of Dave Sparts still dominating their unions and training colleges.

Inconvenient exposure

On the back of the IPCC 2007 Report, Gordon Brown signed us up to donate $100 billion to dodgy Third World regimes to ameliorate the effects of global warming. However, last year, a whistle-blower outed all sorts of underhand attempts to hide inconvenient facts at the Climate Research Unit, chief supplier of data to the IPCC. Then the Russians confirmed endemic cherry picking in the gathering of global temperatures and the Giant Green Jolly in Copenhagen collapsed in confusion. Now we hear that the IPCC claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt within the next few years was based on nonsense recycled by the World Wildlife Fund. At the same time, their categorical statement that global warming is causing extreme weather was exposed as another kite flown by environmental extremists. To add to the merriment, the IPCC assurances that nearly half the Amazonian rain forests were about to turn into savannas was traced to the usual suspects at the WWF. It is now clear that the majority of those involved in the IPCC process are not scientists at all but politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs and green activists.

New welfare model is needed

The Attlee government’s welfare state was to be a refuge for the elderly, the disabled and the chronically sick but only a casualty-clearing station for the able-bodied. In practice it reinforced rather than abolished poverty and now half a million youngsters live in families where it is at least three generations since anyone has worked. Welfare’s children are responsible for well over half of all crime in the UK and it is clear that welfarism not only wastes resources, it wastes people. Gordon Brown has tested to destruction his idea that the solution to any social problem is to stand it up against a wall and throw our money at it. We have a moral imperative to tackle the absurd oxymoron of welfare poverty because the current set-up is clearly failing the very people it was meant to help.

Put haggis back on menu

I wish MEP Catherine Stihler well on her US haggis mission to have the import ban on our national dish lifted. American knowledge of haggis stems mainly from Sandy Lyle choosing it for the Champions Dinner at the Masters in 1989. It is reported that after Sandy described its contents in graphic detail, everyone chose something else except that perfect Southern gentleman Ben Crenshaw. The only real controversy occurred when Fuzzy Zoeller joked after Tiger Woods’ first victory that the main course would be “chitlins and black-eyed peas”. In fact, the then 22-year-old Tiger chose cheeseburgers and milkshakes instead of the traditional black soul food. The most popular menus were the fabulous Thai seafood banquet of Vijay Singh in 2001 and Canadian Mike Weir’s wild boar, Arctic char and roast rack of elk in 2004.

Is this a new dawn?

A supercapacitor in the form of plastic some five inches square and wafer-thin takes five seconds to charge from a normal power supply and can light an LED for 20 minutes. This may be the basis of the long-awaited technological breakthrough which consigns the battery to the dustbin of history. The Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College has been working with Volvo on a three-year project to use the material in their hybrid petrol-electric cars. The material charges and discharges electricity faster than a conventional battery and, since there is no chemical processes involved, it has an infinitely longer lifespan. This would drastically reduced the size and weight of the power unit required to run a car or a bus at last providing a practical alternative to the petrol/diesel engine.

Future Energy Supply in Scotland

Climategate did for Global Warming what the Pentagon Papers did for the perception of the Vietnam War in the USA: it decisively changed the narrative of the debate. The revelation of unethical behavior, errors, and serial exaggeration also cast doubt on the related myth of scarcity in the world’s supply of carbon energy resources. The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stone and we will shift away from fossil fuels later in this century without legislation or the micromanaging of our lifestyles by the state. Our political leaders should make rational decisions about a secure energy mix from fossil and nuclear fuels, binning plans for yet more of the expensive, unreliable devices already littering our beautiful land.

Retirement poverty will face baby-boomers

Millions of later baby-boomers have been unrealistic about their pensions and are in denial about their finances. The once-fashionable nonsense of using your house as your pension will fail because its value has plummeted and few actually want to move out. A quarter still have large mortgages as a result of using their house as a cash machine to help their children onto the property ladder or fund a better lifestyle. Few have saved any money and private sector pensions have been ruined by stealth taxes and face a 70% fall in annuity rates as a result of the dire era of Gordon Brown. Far from being the golden years, retirement is going to be a nightmare of bankruptcy, debt, fuel poverty, odd jobs and social isolation from friends on public- sector pensions.

Orders from too many quarters

Sandy Rutherford, that legendary Prophet of the Links, once wrote that a Scotsman needed only three levels of governance: Westminster, a local council, and the wife. After these dreadful millennium years, we are the most over-governed nation on earth with the result that no-one seems to be responsible for anything. Brussels sends down lunatic diktats, our MPs fill expense forms, Holyrood is an embarrassment, and local councils are bereft of autonomy. Our once-independent civil service has been reduced to executing knee-jerk orders from a sofa in the Downing Street bunker. During the election we will hear too much about finance and not enough about the fact that every level of government is dysfunctional.

Expand assisted suicide debate

As Jesus voiced no opinions on the subject, the debate over Margo MacDonald’s “end of life” bill has exposed the divisions within the Christian community. The Catholic Church’s implacable opposition is based on tradition and the writings of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. However, the position of the Orthodox or Eastern Church is much more ambivalent since, under the Code of Justinian, suicide is not considered a sin. The modern Kirk was greatly influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, so many agree with David Hume that it is a grave but condonable choice in certain circumstances. It would be interesting to hear the views of other faith groups, especially those of our vibrant Islamic community.

Nature of addiction rules out drug-free ideal

Heroin was first produced commercially in Germany a century ago as a substitute for morphine in pain relief and to help alcoholics and insomniacs. It is highly addictive and, while the drug itself does not cause inevitable mental or physical deterioration, the user is subject to a host of associated problems. In the early 1970s we followed the US and introduced the failed methods of prohibition, treating a medical and sociological problem as a legal one. We were misled into believing heroin addiction is curable and within the control of a user who sincerely wants to change. We should revisit our traditional system of heroin maintenance since the psychological and physiological imperatives of addiction rule out the idea of a drug-free world.

Gambling with energy security

We are groaning beneath a mountain of debt but a more serious issue is the undermining of our energy supplies by the demands of global-warming zealots. When a mathematical model has as many adjustable parameters as computer climate models, those parameters can be arbitrarily adjusted to prove any conceivable theory. Even if the Climate Research Unit whistleblower had not uncovered questionable activities in the collection of raw data, there are still huge inherent uncertainties in such data. And even if these could be resolved, mathematical and scientific doubts about the validity of the climate-change computer models render them unfit for use in policy decisions. The Scottish Government should not put vulnerable people at risk by exposing our energy security to unreliable foreign suppliers or the surreal devices demanded by a pseudo-science.

UK economy on knife edge

Gordon Brown has contrived to drag the UK through the deepest recession in history, the worst financial crisis in living memory, and has nationalised most of our banks. It would have been nice if, in return for all this chaos, the lot of the average household had improved but living standards are sliding and the gap between rich and poor is growing. I am tired of his dissembling. We require some of the biggest austerity measures in our history and the last thing this country needs is more deceit. We are perched on a fiscal knife edge for, if foreign investors lose trust and abandon us, Sterling will collapse and borrowing costs will soar. Our greatest problem is that no-one believes this Government is capable of trimming the public sector, reducing waste, and setting honest tax policies.

Exposing those dodgy deals

As early as the 1960s, the civil courts recognised the threat to privacy posed by advances in surveillance technology. The police were required by statute to obtain a search warrant before installing listening devices to trap suspects. Today, a new generation of surveillance tools has hugely expanded the ability of both government and media to obtain damning information. Prince Charles, the Climategate scientists, New Labour’s Gang of Three, and now the neo-communist wing of Unite, thought their communications were secret.  However, sending embarrassing stuff out into the ether or conducting dodgy deals in quiet offices can and will be exposed.

Cooling the nuclear rhetoric

Our experience of nuclear energy has been well documented and it clear that radiation is nothing like as dangerous as the anti-nuclear lobby and its paranoid regulators claim. As regards weaponry, nuclear bombs are difficult to make, let alone deploy, and their destructive power and radiological aftermath are grossly overstated. The risk of anyone exploding a nuclear device, even in the lunatic asylum which is the Middle East, is infinitesimally small. The billions of dollars being devoted to confronting such proto-nuclear states as Iran or North Korea, is completely disproportionate to the threat. The much-vaunted risk of a terrorist getting a nuclear weapon is so remote we would be better worrying about the proliferation of AK47s. The politics of fear pervasive in the West has its roots in a lack of scientific understanding among our governing class so total as to be a thing of wonder.

Britain will face financial firestorm

This fin de siècle Budget confirmed that Labour’s election strategy will be built on the conceit that it alone has the experience to “secure the recovery”. Alistair Darling oozed reassurance and boastful complacency as he attempted to maintain the pretence that this can be a pain-free recession. A blizzard of inconsequential measures was spelt out in mind-numbing detail while the reality of the epic scale of Gordon Brown’s failure was swiftly passed over. He inherited a deficit of £6 billion (now £167 billion); the 7th most competitive economy in the world (now 13th); the 4th most lightly taxed (now 84th). A firestorm will hit after the election when whoever is the victor will have to impose cuts in public spending of a scale and duration never before seen in this country.

Deciding our own destiny

After spending my youth obsessed with sport and dreading the waning powers of old age, I was surprised by the amount of fun to be had in later life. But, with my three score years and ten nearly over, I am increasingly aware that the next great challenge is how to maintain dignity and fulfilment in the end game. In my 35 years as a parish minister in Broughty Ferry, death was my profession so it holds no terrors but the desperate road some people have to travel is another matter. Once mobility is gone, once the simplest actions of daily life become dependent upon others, it is hard to sustain self-respect. Medical science is constantly extending our lives without offering any notion how to improve their quality, so I believe that we should be given a choice about opting out.

No excuse to close debate

The House of Lords inquiry has decided that the scientists at the Climate Research Unit behaved liked a bunch of eccentric boffins rather than conspirators. Well, that is one way of looking at the emails outed by the Climategate whistleblower but they certainly seemed to me to indicate nefarious activity. As the House of Commons select committee said in the first inquiry, at the very least the “culture of withholding information” must end. Some scientists and most members of the bien pensant believe with a conviction worthy of a medieval saint that sinful man is warming the planet. However there is clear evidence for an alternative theory and the findings of this inquiry must not be used as an excuse for again closing down the climate-change debate.

Greek warning of euro peril

Ming Campbell was my captain when we both ran for the Scottish athletics team in the springtime of life, almost half a century ago. Though a lifelong Tory, I will be placing my cross beside his name on May 6 because my vote is personal, not tribal. However, I do not believe it is our “manifest destiny” to join the euro, since it means losing our ability to set interest rates and taxes and monitor public spending. Though explicitly ruled out by EU treaties, it is clear from the Greek experience that the euro can only survive if all members share responsibility for each other’s debts. I am sure that old cynic Jacques Delors was well aware the result of monetary union would be Germany and the North forever bailing out the Club Med banana republics.

Learn to live with risk

In the 21st century, ever more information becomes available to mankind but, perversely, we are growing worse and worse at weighing risk.The SARS virus, swine flu, CJD, and bird flu were all predicted to kill millions but, after hugely expensive responses, the dangers proved to be infinitesimally slight. The health and safety gestapo are the bane of our lives but the likes of Al Gore, with his silly nonsense about global warming, are almost as bad. The peremptory lock-down of UK airspace which caused a domino effect in Europe and international mayhem was our predictable over-reaction to distant volcanic dust. We need to get a handle on the Precautionary Principle used by our bureaucratic jobsworths to ban anything even remotely risky in case they get blamed later on.

Triumph of style over substance

The American Presidential debates have their roots in the famed series of seven debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas for the US Senate. In 1940 Wendell Willkie challenged Franklin Roosevelt to a Presidential debate but the canny FDR refused. Finally, in 1960, Richard Nixon, looking like the dodgiest of second hand car salesmen, unwisely took on Pretty Boy JFK from the notorious family of Prohibition racketeers. As with most “great ideas” we transport across the Atlantic our tawdry version has retained all the smarmy evasions without the saving grace of American razzamatazz. Nick Clegg, bereft of a single credible policy, has won the hearts of British viewers who remain in complete denial of the desperate times lying ahead.

The Final Choice

In a ruling bound to affect the rest of Europe, the German Federal Court has legalised assisted death where it is carried out on the prior request of the patient. Justice Minister Sabine Schnarrenberger said, “This is about the right of self-determination and therefore a question of our right to human dignity until the end.” Germany has already taken political steps to clarify the situation and will soon have regulation similar to Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. With the UK turning a blind eye, assisted death only remains illegal in Spain, France, Italy, and other nations where the influence of the Vatican is still strongly felt. This is starting to look like a North-South European split with the Club Med nations having trouble dealing with the hard facts of medicine as well as economics.

The Breakthrough?

A supercapacitor in the form of plastic some five inches square and wafer-thin takes five seconds to charge from a normal power supply and can light an LED for 20 minutes. This may be the basis of the long-awaited technological breakthrough which consigns the battery to the dustbin of history. The Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College has been working with Volvo on a three-year project to use the material in their hybrid petrol-electric cars. The material charges and discharges electricity faster than a conventional battery and, since there is no chemical processes involved, it has an infinitely longer lifespan. This would drastically reduced the size and weight of the power unit required to run a car or a bus at last providing a practical alternative to the petrol/diesel engine.

Banality of PR government

Proportional representation comes in many forms, some so arcane that it is a challenge to select a version that does not require voters to have a degree in maths. Still, it does mean party size reflects votes received which is fine if the Liberal Democrats with 23% receive 150 seats but not perhaps quite so fine when the British National Party with 2% get 13 seats. Moreover, proportional representation makes it rare for a single party to win an overall majority so we tend to get palmed off with broken promises and shabby deals, not the policies for which we voted. And it virtually rules out the great “sea-change” elections of the kind that swept Clement Attlee to power in 1945 and Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Thus, we finish up with the same set of politicians, the same set of policies, government increasingly unresponsive to voters and indistinguishable from the civil service.

A Scientist Replies

A recent correspondent asked that “the voice of science” be not silenced over global warming so let this scientist lay out the situation for the general reader:

1. Is there an established Theory of Climate? No.

2. Do we understand fully how climate works? No.

3. Is carbon dioxide demonstrated to be a dangerous atmospheric pollutant? No.

4. Can deterministic computer models predict future climate? No.

5. Is there a consensus amongst qualified scientists that dangerous, human-caused climate change is upon us? No.

6. Did late 20th century temperature rise at a dangerous rate, or to a dangerous level? No.

7. Is global temperature currently rising? No.

We face a mountain of debt and our future energy supplies are insecure so UK politicians have more pressing problems than fanciful disaster scenarios concerning climate change.

The failure of modern state education

The Sutton Trust, the charity dedicated to promoting social mobility through education, is concerned that the Liberal Conservative Cabinet “is highly unrepresentative”. Yet it is clear that the reappearance of this educational elite in the seats of power is final proof of a self-defeating contradiction at the heart of socialism. After WWII, the Butler Education Act opened the way to tens of thousands of children who flooded out of the housing schemes and coalfields in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. However, after 13 years of New Labour, and many more years of misguided tampering with our schools and universities, that way ahead has been blocked. It is ironical that this new Tory dominated coalition is far more likely to facilitate mobility through education than Labour in any of its guises.

Peaceful Nights Ahead

In the teeth of opposition from doctors and the police, New Labour pushed through lax drinking legislation turning the night hideous in our town centres. Other nations had already found that introducing round-the-clock drinking led to a huge increase in rape and violence placing a strain on police and ambulance resources. Now the Coalition is to introduce powers to reverse this nightmare and hopefully bring back the traditional pub in which the public can socialize without fear of assault. Licensing decisions will be rebalanced in favour of local communities enabling them to reinstate traditional closing times in areas where late-night opening has caused havoc. I am sure there will be screams of protest from the drink trade but they have clearly failed to behave responsibly and it about time ordinary people were allowed a night’s rest.

Time to face nuclear reality

The vast majority of members of the U.S. and European scientific communities consider the benefits of nuclear power far outweigh the risks. It has even found support from leading environmentalists such as Al Gore and James Lovelock who prefer it to the hideous desecration of the landscape by windmills. Substituting coal for wood helped launch the Industrial Revolution. Replacing whale oil with petroleum launched the automotive and plastics revolutions.  The substitution of nuclear power for fossil fuel was delayed by the fact that both the US and UK had plenty of cheap coal, oil, and gas. Otherwise we would doubtless have gone fully nuclear decades ago, as has France, which currently sources over 80% of its electricity from such safe and secure plants.

Blame deflected by xenophobia

Just returned from a month-long, 6000-miles car tour of the USA, I am wearied by the manic coverage in the American media of the Gulf oil spill. Panicked by the constant stream of hysterical drivel from the usual suspects, the usually cool Obama has resorted to the vulgar “street speak” of his native Chicago. While the xenophobic ranting against BP has been given full play, the drilling company actually responsible for the disaster has slipped away into the shadows. Transoceanic started as an Alabama drilling outfit known as The Offshore Company but bought up the opposition, changed its name and become the world’s biggest operator. Now “based” in land-locked Switzerland for tax reasons, its drilling rigs have a troubled history – though its American connections have been conveniently forgotten.

Unaffordable public pensions

The UK’s fiscal position is unsustainable and, without radical spending cuts, we could be heading for a Grecian moment of truth. The situation is further complicated by the fact that, as Chancellor, Gordon Brown hid so many debts, such as public-sector pension liabilities. We cannot continue the New Labour public-spending delusion that the state can become an ever-larger proportion of our economy without impairing growth. The choice is no longer whether to cut, or not to cut, but which public expenditure is essential and which would be nice to have but can be binned if beyond our means. Nick Clegg has said the fabulous pensions of Brown’s client state of public-service jobsworths are unfair and unaffordable —a clear sign that they are top of the cutback list.

Aid flotilla’s war on Israel

The “humanitarian aid activists” referred to by Alister Rutherford (June 18) were part of IHH, an Islamist organisation allied to Hamas as well as Iran and Syria. They claim to do only charity work but they have been deeply involved in gun running in the past and their rhetoric against Israel has been increasingly inflammatory. As clearly seen on the video, the first Israelis who rappelled from helicopters to the deck of the Mavi Marmara were lightly armed riot police. But this attempt to use non-lethal force failed when they were overwhelmed by a crowd wielding steel rods, clubs and knives and personnel were thrown off the top deck to a lower deck. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan later strained our credulity by claiming he had no authority to stop his citizens pursuing their private blockade-running jihad against Israel.

Stripping out the inessentials

Industrial Europe is gradually being surpassed by other economies, especially in Asia, that are growing faster, producing more efficiently and at lower costs. It also has the problem of keeping afloat the Club Med banana republics foolishly allowed into the EU with their toxic fiscal systems and work-shy populations. To keep any sort of show on the road, Europe will need to ditch its cradle to grave welfarism and the chronic featherbedding inherited from its socialist past. It should also bin its crazy “20/20/20” policy, which aims to cut CO2 emissions to 20% below1990 levels by 2020 and ensure energy supplies are 20% renewable energy. This insanely expense scheme will not measurably benefit the environment while its Byzantine regulations will cause major economic damage and political strife.

A chilling insight

Like the images of Vietnam once seen nightly on US television the Wikileaks portray Afghanistan as a bloodthirsty killing field, devoid of rational justification. Only people of such catatonic arrogance and stupidity as New Labour and America’s military-politicos would have tried to build a western democracy in this medieval land. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of history knew that a western war of occupation would fail because the Taliban is a concept and not a military force. By recording our folly and failure in such detail, the logs mock the moral basis of the ‘just war’ thesis and Tony Blair’s pretentious ‘moral’ foreign policy. Not since the Somme have Western generals blundered so blindly in the dark nor have our politicians been so willing to sacrifice our troops to save face.

Blue Sky Thinking

Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, believes it is silly to ‘warehouse’ tens of thousands of convicts and that there should be a massive cut in prison numbers. This would appears at odds with the 1993 policy of Michael Howard that, “Prison works, ensuring that we are protected from murderers, muggers and rapists.” No-one would argue with the incarceration of serious offenders but most people banged up at a cost of £45,000 per annum are more of a nuisance than a danger. Many are the victims of our continued use of the failed American methods of prohibition to tackle the perceived problem of recreational drugs. It is probably a gesture to their Lib Dem partners but none the less welcome because the doubling of our prison population in the last twenty years really is nonsensical.

Bring our troops home

A famous Victorian painting by Elizabeth Butler shows a desperately injured officer approaching the lonely frontier fort of Jalalabad on his dying horse. He was the sole survivor of an entire British Army massacred by the Pashtuns in one of our forlorn 19th century attempts to subjugate Afghanistan. Our repeated disasters led to the warning being etched into the training manual of our Imperial Forces, “It is easier to march into the Hindu Kush than to march out again.” Montgomery was on much the same theme when he claimed during the Second World War that the only basic rule of modern warfare was, “Do not invade Russia.” In a fit of absence of mind, Tony Blair helped to invade a distant land and we face an enemy who can win by not losing, so the sooner the boys are brought home the better.

A light shone in a dark place

As a former parish minister deeply involved in family life I have long been concerned with the methods used by police and social workers when interviewing children. I heartily agree with Sheriff Neil Morrison that there are “serious and systemic problems” of malpractice to be found throughout the whole child protection service. In a bitter child custody case in which a man had been denied access to his daughter, the sheriff dismissed outright the wife’s claims he had abused the child. He found almost all the rules of the Child Health Protocol had been broken with the girl having been subjected to a catalogue of leading and inappropriate questions. The sheriff rightly called for the removal of the social workers and police officers involved in this disturbing case, saying it was worse that the 1991 Orkney fiasco.

Reality dawns at last

For all the talk of windmills and other devices, the U.S. Energy Department now agrees with China that the core of electric power generation far into the future will be coal. More than half of U.S. electricity comes from the black stuff and this will continue because it is plentiful, cheap, reliable and secure. Since 2008, 16 coal-fired plants have opened, 16 more are under construction, and the efficiency of such plants is set to double in the next 10 years. The goal of “clean coal” remains elusive but legislation to place serious limits on carbon emissions through schemes such as “cap and trade” looks increasingly unlikely. Scotland should note that the US, with its public as unwilling as ours to pay hugely increased power bills, has little choice but to fall back on the old faithful – coal.

Let slip the dogs of war

The first anniversary tomorrow of the release of Abdelbaset al Megrahi will see the attack dogs of a vengeful America targeting Scottish Justice Secretary Ken MacAskill. One of the disturbing aspects of this affair is the refusal of the rabid US Senate and media to contemplate the likelihood that a colossal miscarriage of justice took place. And the question facing MacAskill was not whether Megrahi would die in three months but whether he would die in three months if he remained in a Scottish jail. There was always a chance that sending the dying Libyan home to his family would reduce his stress levels, improve his immune system, and prolong his life. He has certainly received a world-class cancer treatment in Tripoli not available in Greenock and prediction in this area of medicine is hardly an exact science.

Unions must be realistic about spending cuts

Unison’s belligerent Dave Prentis has declared war on the government even though he must realise that confrontation and strikes will only produce a Grecian denouement. There are more creative ways of handling this crisis and the public service unions could take a lesson from the flexibility shown in the private sector. When the economy nosedived, many of our biggest companies introduced shorter hours, temporary plant closures or extended holidays, in return for lower wages. They had to lay off far fewer employees and were better placed to respond to the upturn. A pay cut may be painful and those iconic public sector pensions are certainly going to be trimmed but it is surely not as painful as redundancy.

Needless Desecration

Of all the nonsense seeping across the Channel from the EU, the target of producing 20% of our energy through renewables by 2020 is the most damaging. To support this fantastic figure the European Environmental Institute is demanding the government force through decisions on wind farms over the protests of local people. But even leading environmentalists such as James Lovelock argue that wind turbines are inefficient, ruin the countryside, and have little impact on our emissions. Rather than the output of 60% claimed, only 8% can be relied upon in winter months, so every wind farm needs to be backed up by a coal or gas fired station. It is heartbreaking that 400 foot monstrosities will be placed on Clatto Hill overlooking miles of Fife countryside to the benefit of no-one but the venture capitalists.

Is it worth going up?

The Butler Education Act of 1944 was the last attempt to place our children’s education above party politics and led to an astonishing burst of post-war social mobility. This ethos has now been polluted by crass social engineering with grammar schools razed, Highers and A Levels dumbed down, and the independent sector attacked. The controversial decision to allow polytechnics to re-brand themselves as universities was part of a cultural shift away from vocational training in favour of academic courses. Instead of excellent trade certificates, the middle stream of working class children are being channeled into these second rate universities to read pseudo-academic subjects. Sadly, employers will only hire the brightest people and these are much more likely to be reading Maths at Cambridge than dance and film studies at an ex-poly.

Huge hidden costs of public-sector pensions

John Hutton, the former Labour minister now chairing the government inquiry into public-service pensions, has asked for the views of every concerned UK citizen. Such an approach is welcome but the lack of transparency in reporting the real cost of these pensions during the tenure of Gordon Brown makes participation difficult. After employee contributions, the official annual cost to taxpayers for teachers and the NHS is 14% of pensionable salary and 19% for the civil service — some £15 billion. However, these figures are the result of some “Enron” accounting and the true figures are probably closer to 30%, 40%, and £30 billion respectively. In addition, since MPs’ pensions are by far the most generous of the lot, it is to be hoped our political masters will volunteer to be the first to have their benefits reduced.

Overcoming pessimism

When I was growing up in the West-Central coalfields during the late 1940s, the post-war years of rationing and shortages were brightened by a general feeling of optimism. However, by the time I left for university in 1960, the hope that things were getting better had been replaced by a pessimism which has remained to the present day. It started with population explosion, mass famine, advancing deserts, returning ice ages, thinning ozone layers, nuclear winters, acid rain and the world’s oil running out. Across the decades, doomsters such as Greenpeace and Prince Charles have added global warming, floods, pestilence, GM crops, plagues of frogs and the oil running out. Yet I have greatly enjoyed the last half century, seen improvements almost everywhere and I suspect my children will do the same in spite, of course, of the oil running out.

Moderating Western faith

When studying for the Christian ministry at Edinburgh University, I was struck by the science-friendly way most Hindu and Buddhist theologians framed their traditions. Emphasising the experiential dimension of spirituality, with its demonstrable influence on individual lives, they presented their teachings as a science of consciousness. Most had clearly studied both their own traditions and the Western Canon. They also showed respect for science and were in dialogue with Western scientists. Their ancient philosophies certainly influenced physicists such as Kelvin and Helmholtz early in the modern era and later Schrodinger, Heisenberg and Robert Oppenheimer. The faith-based claims of Western religions too often clash unnecessarily with empirical science and they would do well to show some Eastern caution and moderation

Brown’s last stand

Peter Mandelson’s malicious memoirs present poor Gordon Brown as “seriously unhinged,” using his pit-bulls Whelan and Balls to create a private insurgency in Downing Street. In a finale reminiscent of Hitler deploying imaginary armies in 1945, Brown drew up plans for a post-election cabinet containing Nick Clegg and Vince Cable. He ignored warnings from Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown and David Owen that his efforts to cling to power were a constitutional outrage, leading Mandelson to write, “I was fearful that if the denouement was delayed much longer, Gordon would have to leave Downing Street after dark.” To a national sigh of relief, Nick Clegg finally put an end to this embarrassing episode by telling him to his face that he had to go as the price of any coalition deal.

Feeding the Hungry

Wheat is the most famous “genetically modified” product of prehistoric farming and is a combination of three different wild grasses with three different genomes. Having sequenced the human genome and a wide range of other living things, scientists have finally managed to sequence wheat. In contrast to the murky world of climate science the research has been placed on the internet to allow all researchers to help produce new and better varieties. Our Green Luddites will doubtless be out in force to assist European politicians block cheaper food imports and preserve the lifestyle of the EU’s highly subsidised farmers. However, quantum leaps in yield and resistance to drought and pathogens are crucial when global demand for food is expected to increase by 50% in the near future.

Toxic organic propaganda

After lengthy trials, EU watchdogs have concluded that organic food has no health, taste or nutritional advantages over conventionally manufactured or harvested food. The old powerful weedkillers are now banned on all farms and modern versions are strictly regulated, do not harm the soil, and residues in food are undetectable. This will not stop the wealthy embracers of the organic faith from proclaiming their moral superiority or mounting further hysterical crusades to save the planet. Yet poor families should not exposed to the lies that their children will be allergy-prone and stunted from ingesting pesticides if they are not given organic food. And the hunger still endemic in our world can only be tackled if we produce food on a massive scale, using all the benefits of genetic modification, fertilisers and pesticides.

Another unintended consequence

Health spending doubled under Labour but an OECD study has found that most of this increase was wasted in vastly increased salaries for doctors and needless bureaucracy. The 2003 contracts made British GPs the most highly paid in Europe with most earning around £110,000 per annum and some as much as £1/4 million. In France, for example, the pay is just £58,000 and for much longer hours since the disastrous contract also allowed GPs to avoid all evening and weekend work. This has led to poorly trained doctors with little English being flown in at huge expense on Friday nights to provide cover after an exhausting week in foreign hospitals. The result has been unnecessary deaths and the billions spent by Gordon Brown to close the ‘health gap’ between rich and poor have actually achieved the reverse.

Why the apology?

David Cameron is to apologise for the release of Megrahi though it was recommended by the Scottish Prisons health director, the parole board, and the prison governor. It had also been requested by Nelson Mandela, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, the law faculties of the Scottish universities, the representatives of British relatives and the UN’s official observer at the notorious trial in The Hague. Any US Senate inquiry should include the original investigation and the part played by the downing of the Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf by the renegade American battlecruiser Vincennes. The grubby fingerprints of Iran and Syria are all over this unsavoury episode and the guilty verdict on Megrahi is manifestly unsafe.

Evidence the Americans didn’t want to hear?

It had long been rumoured it was company policy on all the US Transocean rigs to switch off vital warning systems to let off-duty workers sleep. Mike Williams, the chief technician in charge of the Deepwater rig’s electronic systems, has now confirmed these suspicions in evidence to a federal investigation. He admitted that the crucial safety device designed to shut down the drill shack when dangerous gas levels were detected had been disabled at the time of the explosion. The rig’s unreliable computer system had also failed to indicate that a vital valve inside the blowout preventer (designed to shut down the well) had been damaged. This is the evidence Obama and Congress had been dreading because it switches the blame away from BP to routinely lax American supervision and drilling procedures.

Even the Plants were against it

Prince Charles is such a national treasure it is sad to see him and his ambitious plans for Dumfries House become the most spectacular casualty of the property crash. The Prince had to deal with his distant cousin Johnny Dumfries, better known as the Formula 1 partner of Ayrton Senna and winner of the 24 hour Le Mans in 1988. As the Marquess of Bute, Dumfries is descended from William IV and his exceptionally clever mistress Dorothea Jordon, and thus part of the brightest branch of the “royal” tree. The Butes are notoriously good with property so it was a mistake to allow his flunkies to patronise Dumfries over the potential of an additional 70 acres next to the sewage works. In the end the Marquess trousered £43 million for some surplus property and brown furniture in a deal which made even the herbaceous border at Highgrove uneasy.

Hawking needs to do his homework

In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo, one of the most important figures in Christian history, wrote that “the universe was created with time and not in time”. His God transcended both space and time and is a concept shared by most scientists who, like me, are also Christian – but this will come as news to Stephen Hawking. He seems to believe Christians are still stuck with the old 19th century “god-of-the-gaps”, a term coined by the Scottish scientist and theologian Henry Drummond. In his new book, Hawking states that there is no gap in the scientific account of the Big Bang and the laws of physics can explain how it all went bang without the need for God. Well, there you go and I thought it was only politicians who restated their opponents’ beliefs with a nonsense version which they then proceeded to dramatically demolish!

Back to the Future

In an attempt to rescue our dire state school system the government has revived one of the best ideas from the post war period – technical schools to train craft skills. As a result of fierce opposition from the educational establishment in the 1950s few such schools were built, though Germany and other nations invested heavily in the idea. Vocational education under the last government degenerated into the usual nonsense of multiple choice tests instead of the hands-on training valued by employers. Now at 14 years of age pupils will be able to quit their failed comprehensives to study at specialist centres teaching only core academic subjects as well as vocational courses. As expected, this eminently sensible idea has been immediately rubbished by the teaching unions which should surely encourage the Coalition to press ahead.

Papal Visit

The state visit of Pope Benedict will be the first ever by a holder of his office and the first Papal visit in any capacity to these islands for almost thirty years. It should be a joyous occasion and an opportunity for Britain’s Catholics to affirm their faith and the bonds that link them to their co-religionists throughout the world. Yet Benedict will arrive at a challenging time both for his church and for religion in general with Britain being swept by an increasingly militant secularism. For example, Richard Dawkins, the belligerent biologist, can be relied upon to be at his attention-seeking worst and will make a ludicrous attempt to arrest the Pope. No matter, it will be an opportunity for us to see a major religious figure who has proved much more flexible and conciliatory than was thought possible at his inauguration.

Trust savers with their cash

In that hopeful dawn of 1997, calls were made to New Labour for an end to the compulsory purchase of annuities at the age of 75 but that was a hope too far. Gordon Brown, on the verge of becoming the greatest peace-time control-freak in our nation’s history, was never going to allow ordinary people such freedom of action. But good things come to those who wait and we finally appear to have a government capable of saying two or three sensible things in a row. If people exercise personal financial responsibility while they are working, they should not have inflicted on them policies that assume they will blow the lot on retirement. If we demonstrate that we have the means to avoid falling back on the state then we should be allowed to hand on our savings to the family and not an insurance company

Xenophobia drove Gulf claims

It is now clear that most things will be back to normal in the Gulf within a year — the beaches before Christmas, fishing in two months and the shellfish industry in two years. The oil is rapidly biodegrading and being eaten by microbes and half of the 80,000 square miles of federal waters previously closed to fishermen have already been re-opened. Scientists such as marine expert Dr Simon Boxall say, “Tony Hayward was correct when he said the spill was the equivalent of a drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool”. Another scientist, Ivor van Heerden, was quoted, “There never was an environmental disaster. There was a lot of media hype but no evidence to justify it.” The New York Times, Washington Post and Time Magazine all admit the President’s xenophobic ranting was ludicrous, but Hayward should not expect an apology.

TUC lost in space

The TUC and their Labour Party placemen claim they are opposing the spending cuts to save public services but in reality they are protecting their members’ feather-bedding. All public services, but especially quangos, local government and even the untouchable NHS harbour Gordon Brown’s client state of jobsworths known as ‘the toxic million’. Fire chief Tony McGuirk outraged the Conference by admitting that the public services are riddled with ‘bone idle people’ who wreck the productivity of the state sector. I doubt anyone would notice if the public sector had 25% of the flab removed and ring-fencing the £100 billion NHS budget simply creates a moral hazard. However the most crying need is welfare reform because the irresponsible actions of the last government left millions living in families where no-one has ever worked.

Absence of bourgeois racers

Julie Spence, the outgoing head of Cambridgeshire police, claims that “speeding is middle-class anti-social behaviour”. While I am sure there are vast numbers of plutocrats racing around Cambridge in their Lamborghinis, that is not the experience most of us have in Fife. The drivers who tailgate this bourgeois geriatric on the road from St Andrews to Dundee are usually wearing a baseball cap back to front and driving a white van.

Hospital Revamp Required

Airline pilots and professional bus and lorry drivers have jobs where fatigue can be a mortal danger and are rightly set a legal maximum of working hours. I would certainly not want my injured child assessed by a junior doctor coming to the end of the 72 hour shift which was normal when my three medic brothers were trained. Though a Franco-Scot married to an Anglo-Swede I yield to no-one in my dislike of the EU but the Working Time Directive of 48 hours is surely one of their saner ideas. The NHS had 10 years to phase in the directive and senior doctors should in any case work “out-of-hours” shifts alongside their juniors for training and safety reasons. The present mess is not the fault of the EU but of managers and consultants who prefer to organise hospitals for their own convenience rather than the health of their patients.

True Green Believers

Theologians have long warned that the belief in man-made global warming has all the characteristics of a fundamentalist, green religion. Now the Methodist Church is to adopt the IPCC report as holy writ proclaiming that “climate change affirms the triune God as creator and redeemer of the universe”. Inspired by that fine Old Testament prophet Al Gore it reels off all the familiar apocalyptic warnings of the catastrophes sinful mankind is bringing on the planet. “What is required of God’s people,” it intones, “is repentance. We must confess our complicity in the sinful structures which have caused the problem”. To avert all these disasters, the Methodist faithful will be required to create a “low-carbon economy” – presumably leaving God to smite the coal-burning Chinese.

Prayers for Fife minister

I fear Gordon Rennie’s hoary urban myth (August 21) of the nocturnal adventures during the Kirk’s Assembly week is undermined by the geriatric condition of its clerical participants. As to the sad events in the East Neuk, Mike (Erskine) was much loved by his fellow ministers in St Andrews Presbytery and had it lain within our powers, he would still be in place. We are all human and make mistakes but so often the fall-out is driven by a malicious insider and when that happens, we have no option but to send the case up to Edinburgh. Gordon is absolutely correct to say that Mike was a superb parish minister, had done excellent work in Crail and Kingsbarns and that the Kirk is short of men of his ability. It has been an absolute heartbreak for his parishioners and fellow ministers and he is very much in our thoughts and prayers as he sets his face to the future.

Crisis in climate faith sparked riot

The long-suffering faithful who still believe that global warming will destroy the planet must be in despair at the antics of rent-a-mob international in Edinburgh. In recent years, the hypocrisy of leaders of the movement, such as Al Gore, made obscenely wealthy by their salesmanship of doom, has become a major problem. Then came the outing of dodgy activity by a whistle-blower at the key Climate Research Unit casting doubt on the basic science which no amount of whitewash could cover. Finally, the Stern Report demonstrated how economically insane would be any AGW solution and the United Nations’ Climate Report was shown to be full of errors and hysteria. I can understand the frustration of long-held beliefs being undermined but having our unemployables fight with the police and smash up cities is hardly the answer.

Has the pendulum swung too far?

The news that more American women than men now earn doctorates is a triumph for the feminist movement who fought to enable women to move into “male” fields. Feminine advance was long hindered because they were silenced if they tried to promote women’s rights or concerns but today it is men who are shamed into silence. Women have made huge progress in breaking down gender roles however many of the social shackles binding men, though they were never so odious, still remain. No one would dare call a girl doing a degree in engineering unfeminine but men trying to enter childcare or primary school teaching are viewed with extreme suspicion. In some fields, especially early education and public health, the pendulum has swung too far and massive numbers of boys are now being failed by our state school system.

Prohibition aids gangsters

Former US President Richard Nixon has been denigrated for many things but his revival of the failed methods of prohibition in his war on drugs was by far his worst legacy. As a direct result, the United States is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs and 70% of that is controlled by Mexican cartels who, long ago, replaced the Colombians. However, it is not only tens of billions of dollars which flow annually across the 2000-mile border. Guns, so freely available in the United States, have simply flooded Mexico. No amount of military co-operation between America and Mexico has made the slightest difference and today the only thing the cartels fear is the end of prohibition. But decriminalisation of recreational drugs has been resisted by Anglo-American authorities with a blind zeal which must impress even the most radical Islamists

Richness of experience

The Sombre Seventies was a simply dreadful decade and it was in one of its bleakest years, 1973, that Last of the Summer Wine was first aired. I assumed it would be a short-running series of interest to future historians as symptomatic of a time when starting a family, as I was then doing, felt like an almost surreal act of faith. To generations brought up on Just William and the Famous Five, we understood these were the golden Edwardian children grown old and become the cranky pensioners of post-war Britain. We all knew a Nora Batty and her dreadful tea circle, a co-op salesman like Clegg, a scruffy anarchist like Compo and a Foggy Dewhurst lost in the twilight of the Empire. The series has come to an end but it ran on until I myself had grown old and agreed with its writer Roy Clark that the elderly are much weirder and more interesting than younger people suspect.

Let’s have drugs debate

I accept the view of George McMillan that alcohol is part of our culture but it blighted the lives of some of my most gifted relatives and I think it is the obverse side of the same coin as narcotics. I have no wish to take an ideological stance on this sensitive issue but it is the subject of intense debate among the experts so it is something lay people should at least discuss. Of course, the last government predictably sacked its own adviser and Europe’s leading authority on addiction, David Nutt, for claiming that drug abuse was a medical matter. But Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians, suggested that relaxing the law on narcotics would be beneficial to society. In this he was echoing the advice of many police chiefs, the recommendations of most medico-social reviews and was supported by Nick Green, chairman of the Bar Council.

Limitations of scientific Big Bang certainties

 
A Brief History Of Time is the only book on cosmology to attain coffee-table status though the deep scientific and theological issues it addresses are beyond most people. I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason Stephen Hawking’s book had such a wide intellectual appeal is that he is talking about God from beginning to end. In his latest book, The Grand Design, he proposes “spontaneous creation” stating, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Yet science is primarily concerned with facts, not motive and a complete scientific description of the creation does not rule out a providential account at the same time. The great physicist, Richard Feynman, was more modest stating, “I have approximate answers and various beliefs but I am not absolutely sure of anything.”

Workers saddled with tax blame

My wealthy friends live in dread of falling foul of the Inland Revenue but, as the former recipient of a lowly clergyman’s salary, I had a benign relationship with my tax man. I, therefore, have sympathy with HMRC staff attempting to cope with the chaos caused by Gordon Brown’s Byzantine tax changes especially now their own numbers are being cut. Serious problems involving the entire coding system were discovered when incoming Treasury ministers asked the revenue to check its PAYE numbers. The coalition would prefer to write off the debts but this may not happen in view of the dire state of public finances resulting from the last government’s insane profligacy. So ordinary officials will take the blame while the real culprits, who created this disaster – and the world’s most complex tax system, – are off writing their self-serving memoirs.

Curb late-night opening

While the editor is justified in warning against excessive political meddling with our drinking culture (September 18), a review of 24-hour licensing is long overdue. In the teeth of opposition from doctors and the police, the Labour government pushed through lax drinking legislation turning many UK town centres hideous at night. Other nations had already found that introducing round-the-clock drinking led to a huge increase in rape and violence, placing a strain on police and ambulance resources. If licensing decisions were rebalanced in favour of local communities, they could reinstate traditional closing times in areas where late-night opening has caused havoc. The return of the traditional pub in which people can socialise without fear of assault and allowing neighbours in the area a decent night’s rest would be in all our interests.

Scale down Afghan war

When Barack Obama entered the White House, America was losing the Afghan War with some 30,000 troops and was still losing it a year later with 70,000. Today over 100,000 US troops, thousands of mercenaries and further thousands of troops from the UK and allies are stilled bogged down in this unwinnable conflict. The only realistic exit strategy from Afghanistan is a return to the original game plan of backing those who hate the Taliban with small teams of Special Forces and air support. That was enough to remove the Taliban from government in the first place and will be enough to keep it from forming such a government again. Every escalation makes it harder to get out and small, disrupting forces will contain the problem at vastly less cost in lives and money.

Unfair Rules

The award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Robert Edwards for his work in IVF is long overdue but it is sad that the rules forbid the inclusion his co-worker Patrick Steptoe. IVF brought hope to millions yet for many years the pair faced bitter opposition to their research from the usual suspects in the churches who blocked government funding. Often decades pass before the significance of a discovery becomes apparent so that having a rule which forbids the names of deceased co-workers is manifestly unfair. It has led to such outrageous exclusions as Rosalind Franklin for her contributions to the DNA structure and Richard Feynman for his seminal work in Liquid Helium. The rule should be scrapped as happened with the Victoria Cross which was ludicrously initially restricted to live heroes since the old Queen wanted to pin on the medal.

Back to Labour bad old days

I suspect David Cameron won the next General Election on Saturday as the Labour Party allowed its union bagmen to anoint Red Ed Miliband. The last time Labour held an internal election of such consequence it opted for the sanity of Denis Healey (for deputy leader) and rejected the lunacy of Tony Benn. That contest marked the start of the fight back against the nihilism of the Left that led to Kinnock’s reforms, Blair’s modernisation and a return to power. This was the exact converse as Ed Miliband tried to make retro seem new, to make tribal introspection seem bold and to blame election defeat on not being left enough. But as a key Brown adviser in the last days in the Downing Street bunker, he wrote the fatal manifesto for that election and will struggle to produce new ideas.

Get back to basics in schools

My three medical brothers and I were well served in the 1950s by the local state school in the industrial town below our moorland mining village. We were sent out like gladiators to do battle in the university scholarship competitions, well aware that the other village families, as well as the school, were watching. And our main competition came not from the haute bourgeoisie in the private schools but from other aspirational working-class children in the Scottish high schools. Some time in the 1960s state education in Scotland lost the plot and adopted an anti-work, anti-achievement culture which crushed the hopes of both pupils and parents. Yet these great post-war schools were driven solely by the innate ability of the pupils, the quality of the staff and the peer-group culture. Surely that can be resurrected?

Communism by any other name

The disastrous Equality Act promoted by Harriet Harman has its roots in the perverse ideologies of the 1960s which have gradually poisoned our national life. When anti-discrimination laws were first brought in they were meant to ensure people were treated equally. Ironically, they now do just the opposite. Employers can now use “positive discrimination”. And public bodies will be duty bound “to reduce the inequalities of outcome resulting from socio-economic disadvantage” which is just Communism red in tooth and claw.

Fighting back against tyrants

My closing years as a parish minister were saddened by the ruination of the Kirk’s youth activities as a result of the national neurosis caused by our health and safety zealots. I am therefore delighted the coalition government has accepted Lord Young’s proposals to curtail the “nanny state” laws and regulations so beloved of New Labour and the EU. It is fabulous that the petty tyrants in our town halls who ban innocent events on the grounds that they breach red tape will themselves now face fines. Emergency workers, teachers and Good Samaritans will be freed from a compensation culture driven by “no-win, no-fee” lawyers. Ordinary people have been tormented for too long by such petulant nonsense as children being instructed not to walk under a conker tree without helmets!

The Big Society

Most people can relate to the coalition dream of supplanting the bloated, unaffordable central government of Gordon Brown by devolved institutions run by local people. The problem – familiar to parish clergy – is persuading busy people to get involved in local services such as schools and hospitals in anything like the required numbers. The other great challenge is reconciling the British to both financial pain and shrinking services which is likely to test the good will even of those who wish him well. Yet unlike his predecessor, Cameron seems comfortable in office and his natural grace has transformed the mood in the civil service after the yobbishness of New Labour. But the hard part starts here because his promise to reform the NHS and education at the same time as binning quangos and other the beurocratic jobsworths is quite a stretch.

Lost in the fog of war

The term “fog of war” is attributed to the great Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz and describes the huge uncertainty of the battlefield. Much of modern military technology, under the rubric of command and control, seeks to reduce this fog although, clearly, it cannot be entirely eliminated.When the details of this operational disaster emerged the American commander General Petraeus immediately phoned a mea culpa to David Cameron who contacted the family.The fact is that Linda Norgrove was a great adventurer and the British have a long tradition of people putting themselves in harms way for ideals and the good of others.  The UK doctor, Karen Woo, was recently executed by the Taliban and had Linda fallen into the hands of Al Qaeda’s barbarians her death would have been far more harrowing.

Climategate Fall-Out

The Second World Conference on Research Integrity held this summer in Singapore has now released a statement after consultation with the 350 delegates from 50 countries. It will form the basis of a new international agreement on the ethics and professional responsibilities of scientists in the light of recent scandals such as Climategate. In future scientists taking part in public discussions must clearly distinguish between professional advice and opinions based on personal and political views. In the past there have been too many instances when they have gone far beyond their professional expertise in making policy recommendations to governments. Studies have also shown a disturbing tendency for scientists’ views to be influenced by their source of funding and such distortion is “entirely unacceptable”.

Beware the Unintended Consequences 

William Beveridge’s Social Insurance report was published to the sound of church bells proclaiming victory at El Alamein in the winter of 1942. My father, then an army padre but haunted by the sights he had seen as a parish minister in the 1930s Glasgow slums, queued to buy a copy and read it in one sitting. By the end he knew that Beveridge, a pompous obsessive he had never liked, had made possible a postwar world free from “want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness”. And it was the principle of universality which distinguished the new model from the proto-welfare systems created by Lloyd George and Neville Chamberlain. Providing benefits for all and taxing back the excess from the wealthy is not perfect but it produces fewer “unintended consequences” than Gordon Brown’s means-testing.

Requirement for Energy Realism

Renewable energy will not meet the 40% shortfall resulting from the EU’s plan to close our older power stations far less Alex Salmond’s target of 80% of our energy needs. Solar panels have proved a costly disaster in Spain and Germany and heat pumps to extract warmth from the soil only really work in the volcanic wastes of Iceland. The Government has binned the idea of spending £30 billion on a Severn tidal barrage to produce less electricity than one nuclear power station, at 10 times the cost. And attempts to generate power from burning biomass in one of the six boilers at Drax, the giant coal-fired power station in Yorkshire, have proved totally uneconomic. Finally, increasing the number of wind turbines only increases the need for fossil fuel back-up stations resulting in no over-all saving of emissions and horrendous expense.

Electric vehicles are the future

It is in all our interests that electric vehicles provide much of future city and suburban transport in the densely populated countries of Europe. At present the cost and availability of batteries with high specific energy, power density, short charge time and long life are seriously limiting factors. I suspect we actually need an entirely new technology to provide the crucial quantum leap in storage capacity combined with much faster charging and lower volatility. The supercapacitors being developed by London’s Imperial College may be the answer since the absence of any chemical process will provide an infinitely longer lifespan. This would also drastically reduce the size and weight of the power unit needed to run a car or a bus and at last provide a practical alternative to the petrol/diesel engine.

Our Failing Schools

British children are so busy learning about community cohesion, climate change, healthy eating and sex education that they do not have time to learn how to read and write. Despite the billions poured in by New Labour, pupils spend less time on core subjects now than they did when Tony Blair warbled on about “education, education, education”. Almost a quarter of our children leave school functionally illiterate and innumerate and it is no wonder employers prefer the better-educated migrants from Eastern Europe. Most firms believe our national examinations are a farce and the larger ones are joining the universities in setting up their own tests to measure applicants’ ability. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rightly puts British schooling near the bottom of the industrialised nations and it needs to change.

Breaking the mold

In what is surely a landmark speech, Angela Merkel broke the great post-war taboo by admitting that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany had ‘utterly failed’. Until now, driven by the Hitler legacy, all German leaders have felt constrained to be politically correct and speak in positive terms of the ‘multikulti’ society. She addressed fears of national identity being lost being lost amid the mosques, burqas and ghettos of the four million Muslims who make up over 2/3 of all foreign residents. Though she allowed that Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, was part of modern Germany, she was clear that all immigrants must adapt and learn to speak German. Expressing a view which will echo across Europe she insisted, “We are bound to the Western image of humanity and those who do not accept this should not come here.”

Tuition fees are coming

The last government’s notion of getting 50 per cent of teenagers into tertiary education was as risible as the Prime Minister’s claim to have conquered “boom and bust”. It meant that drifting into college became the default option for those who did not care for the world of work and wished to put off the evil hour with some years of party fun. Now the principals of the ancient Scottish universities are supporting Lord Browne and demanding their students make a serious financial contribution to their degrees. If that encourages the less academically gifted to opt immediately for the workplace and to learn their trade on the job it will be entirely beneficial for everyone concerned. Many excellent careers such as accountancy and nursing need not be graduate-entry and in the past, industry rightly preferred a night-school HNC to a university B.Sc.

BBC’s New Guidelines

After years of outrage at its biased reporting of climate change, the BBC has finally been forced to admit that scientific issues should be part of its remit to be impartial. Editorial guidelines have been published expressly stating that global warming scandals such as Climategate must be reported and the wide range of scientific views given air. The BBC Trust is also currently conducting a separate review into the impartiality of its science coverage in general which will report in the spring of next year. However I wonder if global warming is not so deeply embedded in the “bien pensant” culture of the Corporation for it to change and give a more balanced view. A further problem is that the BBC has had a long love affair with catastrophes and computer graphics have made disasters drama-docs both cheap and highly entertaining.

A Decisive moment in Education

The Editor rightly called for a positive response to the headwinds faced by all levels of education in this country rather than the usual finger pointing and councils of despair. The Browne Review, set up by the Labour government on a cross-party basis, was a thorough piece of work and both coalition parties have broadly accepted its direction. There is a clear need for a more responsive and sustainable university sector as well as a revival of the old workplace learning and night school which launched so many careers. Shorter, more intensive courses of the kind available in the USA alongside the use of television and the internet pioneered by the Open University should also be considered. This is a moment for radical thinking. Nothing should be ruled out on a doctrinaire basis and we need to accept there will be causalities for it will get worse before it gets better.

Cutting the British coat

After a promising start, New Labour tested to destruction Ronald Reagan’s dictum “Big government is not the solution to the problem; big government is the problem.” Tens of billions of taxpayers’ money have been wasted on undeserving recipients, inefficient services, silly wars and tasks that are no proper business of the state. It is absurd that government consumes almost half our national wealth and yet I suspect that the holy grail of true public sector reform will remain out of reach in the short term. Of course the Osborne cuts are going to hurt and many people who hoped they would never have to do a day’s work in their lives are going to be gravely inconvenienced. But as Adam Smith advised in The Wealth of Nations, “Britain must endeavour to accommodate her future views and designs to the reality of her circumstances.”

You could not make it up!

At the height of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, when front-line servicemen were dying for lack of kit, over £350 million was spent refurbishing the MoD’s Whitehall HQ. And in the same breath that he refused vital funds for the troops, Defence Secretary Geoff “Buff” Hoon ordered over half a million pounds worth of abstract art for his rooms. Gordon Brown has been rightly criticized for scrimping on essential kit such as radios, helicopters and night goggles and for the rundown state of service family houses.  Yet he did not act alone and clearly the MoD civil servants were only too happy to spend money tarting up their offices which could have directly benefited our troops. I find such behaviour beneath contempt and nothing could better demonstrate the flawed set of priorities of the late and totally unlamented New Labour government.

Royal Navy all at sea.

As a “former naval person” I have watch in anguish as the Senior Service has started to self-destruct. It is madness to insist on purchasing two giant aircraft carriers when there is no money to deploy more than a dozen US-built F-35s and only one ship will be operational. In any case, most strategists believe these leviathans will be as vulnerable in any future conflict as were our aging battleships such as the Hood in the Second World War. Generations of senior officers failed to think realistically about future threats and were blinded by Gordon Brown’s cynical job creation program for his constituents. The only good news to come out of the defence review is that David Cameron is likely to replace the Trident with a nuclear deterrent at a much lower level and smaller cost.

Unreal Housing Benefit

Excessive housing benefit is a moral hazard, depriving young workers of their own home, locking recipients into dependency and channeling public funds to rent speculators. The fake hysteria produced in Ed Miliband’s Not-so-New Labour party is deplorable as is his contention that the proposed benefit cap is the “final solution” to London’s poor. To put it in perspective, let us consider how much any of us would have to earn, after tax, to pay rent of £40,000 per year. As a result of these new measures some benefit claimants may no longer be able to afford to live in central London? Well, welcome to the real world – neither can most hard-working Courier readers!

The Truth Will Out

As the scientific clique at the Climate Research Unit found, the internet emboldens whistleblowers to out an organization’s embarrassing little secrets. Now an outraged insider in our justice department has confirmed what most of us long suspected: that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was forced to abandon his appeal. The independent Review Commission found clear grounds for believing there had been a miscarriage of justice and had referred the case back to appeal. Now it emerges that Megrahi and the Libyan government had “rammed home to them” by the minister that his release was conditional on all appeals being dropped. In spite of endless government denials, it was always just too convenient and the damage this seedy episode has done to the reputation of Scottish justice is catastrophic.

Departed Sixties Icon

With the passing of Theodore Sorensen, special counsel and legendary speech writer to President Kennedy, another of the great 1960s icons departs the scene. Even the Kennedy family’s nemesis Richard Nixon admitted Sorensen’s “unfaltering ability of finding phrases that penetrate the American psyche.” He was best known for such immortal passages as the 1961 inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Only much later did we learn that it was Sorensen’s carefully worded concessions to Khrushchev’s confrontational letter which defused the Cuban missile crisis. Left to his own devises, Kennedy was less surefooted as when he assured the people of Berlin in schoolboy German that when he thought of freedom he felt like a jam doughnut.

Adoption Abuse

The coalition is to introduce a version of the Bill Clinton’s excellent provision forbidding agencies from delaying or denying the placement of a child solely on the basis of race. This has long been necessary because adoption in this country has become an ideological tool of the politically correct who insist on their version of a “multicultural” society. There is also the Catch 22 that when a couple are young enough to adopt they are shunted down the IVF route yet by the time that has failed they are classed too old to adopt. And the social workers’ claim that a black child is better lingering in our abuse-ridden “Care” system than being placed with a loving white family is just racist drivel.

Limit handouts to irresponsibly large families

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt received hysterical abuse for daring to suggest that before producing vast broods, people might consider whether they can afford them. Yet to those not living on benefits, he was merely stating the obvious and most of us confine ourselves to two or three ­children because we cannot decently rear more.  The fact that the entire welfare system is run on the basis that unlimited assistance is provided in accordance with the size of a recipient’s family is clearly a moral hazard. Of course the poor must be protected from the worst consequences of failure, but that does not absolve them from accepting some responsibility for their lifestyle choices. The crippling dependency culture will persist and worsen unless limits are set to the rewards for irresponsibility.

Sic transit gloria

I never quite bought the Barack Obama phenomenon but then I am an elderly European with an in-built resistance to high flown rhetoric and political baloney. He gave a stupendous hostage to fortune in making over 500 promises to his electorate and yet, of the 25 most significant, about 20 were ‘carried out’ or are ‘in the works’. New Labour never came near fulfilling any of their pledges but kept the British on board for 13 long years so it is sad to the Obama euphoria evaporate so soon. Like Kennedy he surrounded himself with highly-educated metropolitan elitists but JFK had the obscene wealth and gangster vulgarity which entrances small-town Americans. That other vulgarian, Bill Clinton, correctly warned, “It’s still the economy, stupid.” and those who lead the most materialistic ­society on earth must take material very seriously.

TROUBLE OVER SINGAPORE

Qantas grounded its Airbus A380 fleet after one of the superjumbo jets with 459 people on board blew out an engine on the port side damaging the wing and exposing wires. The airline claimed there had been no explosion, but it is clear an uncontained engine failure took place as witnesses both aboard the plane and on the ground reported blasts. There have been problems with the Rolls Royce Trent 900 engine and the European regulator, EAS and America’s FAA had already issued an Airworthiness Directive. Inspections had turned up such severe wear on the intermediate-pressure turbine as to make it possible for the turbine to move backwards and foul other parts of the engine. Such a directive requires immediate compliance though it is not clear if Qantas had actually done so and Rolls-Royce shares fell 5 percent on the London Stock Exchange. Airbus has delivered a total of 37 A380s so far with 13 in service with Emirates, 11 with Singapore Airlines, 6 with Qantas, 4 with Air France and 3 with Lufthansa. Singapore and Lufthansa are grounding all A380s until checks have been made but as the Emirates’ A380s are powered by Pratt and Whitley’s GP7200 engines, it is not affected.

Dignified silence of Bush

Time puts events into perspective and presidential decisions address the flying moment so that the days when Democrats could blame everything on George Bush are over. In retirement he has earned respect by remaining above the current political fray and refusing to follow the example of Clinton and Carter who rubbished their successors. Predictably, given the insanity which accompanied his election, a recent poll found that less than half of America now thinks Obama is a better president than his predecessor. The most popular T-shirt in US souvenir shops has the image of Bush and the logo, “Miss Me Yet?” This is reminiscent of the New Labour era slogan, “Don’t blame me, I voted Tory”. A graduate of both Yale and Harvard, universities into which few British students could dream of gaining entry, he was much more able than European pundits wish to admit.

Another labour for Heracles

The humiliation of Barack Obama and Gordon Brown are signs that Anglo-American voters are questioning the size of the state and the proper limits of its responsibilities. A consensus has emerged that welfarism has vastly outgrown its founding principles and become not only unaffordable, but positively damaging to national life and character. Even European nations are re-examining the post-war philosophy which accepted the state as an unquestionable source of benevolence and all-pervasive social justice. Human dignity and potential is under threat from the overweening interference of bodies such as the EU and even governments elected by mass franchise seem out of control. However the tentacles of this welfare leviathan are everywhere and, as we have already seen, attempts to dismember this toxic monster will be deeply traumatic.

The Age of Coal lives on

The World Bank has been criticised by the Greens for its global support of coal-fired power stations including those in South Africa which serve surrounding countries. Yet, the fact is that coal is cheap and accessible and coal-fired power stations are eight times more efficient in electricity generation than renewable energy projects. Far from being over the age of coal is having a renaissance and is the driving the growing economic prosperity of China, India, Brazil and other fast-industrializing nations. Cheap coal and the wide availability of shale gas make the switch to renewables a forlorn prospect except where it is politically mandated in small nations such as Scotland. World coal consumption has doubled since 1973 and, according to the International Energy Agency it will double again in the next two decades with most of that in Asia.

Financial Chickens coming home to roost

The fall-out of the decision to launch the euro without any real convergence of national economies, commercial law and interest rate sensitivity lies all around us. It is now clear that the purpose of the EMU was political, not economic because that old rogue Jacques Delors only shrugged when warned that this turkey would not fly. In fact he may have hoped that any future crisis would simply break down resistance to fiscal federalism and allow his bureaucrats to accumulate fresh power. Certainly the European Union lost its last shreds of legitimacy when it ignored the rejection by French, Dutch and Irish voters of its porous constitution. Would it not be a delicious irony if it was the Irish, the main victims of that authoritarian putsch, who finally brought down this proto-Fascist organization?

Boomers rage against the dying of the light

An unintended consequence of Obamacare is the re-examination of the cost-benefit ratios of the incredibly expensive drugs available to extend the lives of the elderly. Stanford University’s Alan Garber, the leading American authority on the funding and delivery of geriatric health care is examining outcomes at home and abroad. He has written, “If we keep paying huge prices for treatments that provide very limited benefit, we will reach the point where we can no longer afford general health care.” As a young man my father spent years as a face worker in the pits of the west-central coalfields contracting the pneumoconiosis which would kill him in his late fifties. After a much easier life full of sport and travel I have out-lived him by a decade and I feel it is more appropriate for me to “go gentle into that good night” than to start raging.

Churchillian Warning

Winston Churchill could be mistaken when it came to details but his reading of the broad sweep of events was matchless and ignoring a warning from him was usually a mistake. His grandson, Rupert Soames, an expert in power supply, has given a Churchillian shot across our bows in warning that our “renewable” energy targets are unachievable. The National Grid is about to lose almost half its capacity as the EU’s “global warming” legislation forces the closure of much of our coal, gas and oil-fired power stations. He rightly states that the refusal to even contemplate nuclear power in our headlong rush for green energy is “just too silly for words and will lead to the lights going out”. Elderly Scots are at risk in our long northern winters and the government’s duty of care to such vulnerable people is more important than pandering to the “renewables” lobby.

London Student Riots

NUS Scotland president Liam Burns pleads with the public not to allow the mayhem of the London riots to detract from the students’ cause but that is surely a forlorn hope. The most depressing picture to emerge from that day of violence was of a group of balaclava-clad Neanderthals with a mis-spelt placard claiming, “We are your future”. Alternative routes to a degree might include concentrated courses in local colleges and a return to the night-school and day-release programmes available to my generation. Or students could apply to elite American universities such as George Bush’s alma maters Harvard and Yale which offer free (“needs-blind”) classes and accommodation. Ironically, in view of the contempt they have for the former President, only a couple of thousand of our half-million students are bright enough to have any hope of entry.

Church leaders in welfare cuts attack 

As a former parish minister I find it deplorable that head-office placemen claiming to speak for the Kirk have attacked the Government’s welfare reforms. Iain Duncan Smith’s “Welfare That Works” marks the first serious attempt to reform a corrupt and wasteful benefit system that has no place in a modern liberal democracy. It seeks to create of a simple and fair structure to replace the fiendishly complex system inherited from Gordon Brown which had become a clear moral hazard. The reforms are largely modelled on the welfare programme established in the US by Bill Clinton and will ensure work always pays more than malingering on benefits. The recent descent of large sections of our society into welfare dependency is a national scandal and ideologically-driven protests from the usual suspects are unacceptable.

The Green movement is stalling

In recent years the environmental movement has been very successful in winning hearts but its “nature good – humanity bad” misanthropy has led to a failure to win minds. Also high profile advocates from Carson and Ehrlich to Prince Charles and Al Gore have been addicted to such high-flown exaggeration it has become counter-productive. The idea that there are only a few months left to save the planet is both so untrue and so discouraging that it paralyzes the very cause it is supposed to promote. And some Green obsessions have proved lethal such as the pesticide ban which led to the deaths of millions of Africans from malaria and the absurd hatred of GM crops which forced Zambians to refuse US food in 2002 leaving their people to starve. Finally, its blank refusal to even contemplate nuclear power only encourages greater use of fossil fuels which, if one believes in warmist theories, is just too silly for words.

 “Déjà vu all over again”

Recent events remind me of California in the days when Ronald Reagan first ran for office in 1966 determined to stop the endless student riots in UC Berkeley. He said, “Higher education is a privilege and not a right so these hoodlums should be thrown out. They are spoiled brats who do not deserve to be at a great state university.”  Nobody much cared when the ineffectual principal was fired but he got their attention when he proposed slashing the university budget and upping student fees to compensate. When mayhem once again broke out on campus he sent in the National Guard who arrested over a thousand rioters most of whom landed up in the Santa Rita jail. Around the same time at Cambridge University, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson sent rioting students to Borstal for three years. For decades afterwards both great institutions were peaceful.

We may regret Ryanair refusal

A few years ago RAF Strike Command “deemed commercial flights from Leuchars unfeasible” and proposals from Ryanair and EasyJet were binned. Instead RAF business managers made a forlorn effort to promote the more socially acceptable use of the base by the “niche” US golf and corporate market. Now the government is seriously considering the closure of Leuchars as an alternative to shutting Lossiemouth and Marham in Norfolk. There must be a few people in Fife today wishing that the RAF could have braced itself to discuss proposals with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Michael O’Leary.

An Inconvenient Mistake

Just as it seemed that the world was at last running out of fossil fuels, giant oil fields have been discovered off the coasts of Brazil and Africa and the vast Canadian oil sands projects have come on stream. Meanwhile, almost limitless supplies of natural gas have been discovered in shale rock fields across the United States, Europe and Asia and gas prices have plummeted. The world of energy has once again been turned upside down and experts predict decades of residential and commercial power at reasonable prices – except in Scotland. Committed to ruinously expensive renewable sources of energy, Scottish householders will suffer years of high fuel costs to pay for our government’s moment of green insanity.

Punting money around

One of the reasons my career in schoolboy football was so short lived was that under pressure my instinctive reaction was to punt the ball down the field. My sports master soon concluded I should stick to athletics.All this came back to me when I saw the IMF chucking money at Greece. Things improved for a while but soon they were back to where they were before. The IMF is now about to punt $100 billion into an imploding Ireland though one would have thought its dire crisis would make even these eternal optimists hesitate. The storm clouds are gathering over Euroland and there seems no end to the mess this pretendy currency has created.

Fond hopes in sunny Cancun

The UN has launched its latest climate jolly with 10,000 true believers listening to yet more sermons of doom and absurd prophecies of sea levels rising by six feet. Mexico’s Cancun is the chosen venue to avoid last year’s embarrassment of trying to assure political guests of global warming as their flights were grounded by an ice storm. However, the hopes of compelling countries to pay vast sums to underwrite the UN’s green wish list look as forlorn as they in the aftermath of Climategate. Europe and America are bogged down in their financial crisis while China, India, Brazil and South Africa are even less likely to agree cutbacks on their economic growth.

People want to choose 

Mary Smith’s letter (Nov 26) reinforces my belief that while most patients will never exercise the option of physician-assisted death most desperately want to have the choice. Across my 35 year career I watched parishioners of great dignity suffer the mental anguish of losing all mental and bodily control in a prolonged slide toward death. As I sat by yet another bed in yet another busy ward I would ponder what possible good was served by staff using every trick of modern medicine to prevent nature taking its course. The prayers we would make together were full of thankfulness for a wonderful life but too often they would close with that old request from Star Trek, “Beam me up, Scotty”. And I would think of that line from John Keats’ beautiful poem: “Now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain.”

Don’t burn Leuchars boats

I appreciate Ming Campbell’s efforts to retain RAF Leuchars but not his dismissal of a commercial future because of “local infrastructure and the proximity of Dundee Airport”. It is four miles from the Forgan Roundabout and the dual-carriageway/motorway system round Dundee and Leuchars railway station is on the mainline from Aberdeen to London. With a runway of some 8500 feet, the same length as Edinburgh and Glasgow, it dwarfs Dundee (4500) and Aberdeen (6000) with only Manchester and London longer (10,000). There is plenty of land for a massive extension of airport facilities and, as it can easily accommodate jumbos needing 6,000ft of runway, the trans-Atlantic trade is open. It will serve a population of over half a million including Perth, Dundee and St Andrews while the Forth Road Bridge traffic nightmare will make it attractive to most of Fife.

Another Unintended Consequence

Morgo’s Bill, the first attempt to give Scots the legal option of physician assisted death, was defeated yesterday but we have not heard the last odf this feisty and principled politician. The latest poll found she had the support of almost 80 per cent of the country though one would hardly have guessed that from the orchestrated opposition she faced.  But for the time being, the door to a merciful exit has been slammed shut on patients dying in extremis leaving loved ones who try to help facing long jail sentences. In England, legal action will not be taken against those who assist the suicide of a loved one with a settled wish to die but this rule does not apply north of the border. It is surely intolerable that Scots Law, so often the superior system, will continue to equate such desperate people with violent criminals and murderers.

Crash Gordon fooled us all

In his new book “Beyond the Crash”, Gordon Brown admits what his contemporaries at university all knew:  he was not an economist and had little knowledge of finance. This was already sadly obvious in his ludicrous belief that he had “conquered boom and bust”, his endless policy errors and his final claim to have “saved the world”. Yet at no point in the book does this deeply insecure, self-righteous man acknowledge that he must take a significant portion of the blame for the calamity which befell us. He treated the Treasury’s expert officials with open contempt and relied instead on a handful of cronies as he proceeded to wreck the best economy Labour ever inherited. The surprise is not that our pensions and public finances were ruined or that he presided over the biggest bust since the 1930s. The surprise is that he got away with it for so long.

Under the radar

We managed to recognize the poisonous nature of the EU’s pretendy currency but missed the toxicity of its demand that 30 per cent of our power come from renewables. In last week’s quietly Artic conditions the windmills stopped turning and 80 percent of our electricity came from coal and gas and the rest from French and UK nuclear reactors. The silver lining to this present shambles is that the coalition has at last admitted that wind power is hopelessly unreliable and needs fossil-fuel and nuclear back-up. They inherited from New Labour an utterly insane energy protocol and have but five years to avoid the wholesale power cuts likely to bring our way of life to a halt. It should be our highest national priority to bin their incoherent farrago of uncosted green policies which will not only fail but drive our energy bills into the stratosphere.

Shine wears off the universities

News that accountancy firm Deloitte is to hire directly from schools reminds me that some of my shrewdest home-town friends in Falkirk by-passed university in the 1960s. They went on to fabulous careers in a wide variety of specialties including accountancy and one of them, the late Scott Bell, became Chief Executive of Standard Life. University is essential for the professions such as medicine and in an era when only 5 percent of the population became students, firms used it as a recruitment filter. But the days when a degree, even in an obscure subject, was a meal ticket are long gone with almost half the population attending a “university”, pretendy or otherwise. This is surely the silver lining to the student fees debacle. The foolish will continue to riot in London but the smart will take it as a wake-up-call and consider switching to Plan B.

The Age of Coal lives on

The World Bank has been criticised by the Greens for its global support of coal-fired power stations including those in South Africa which serve surrounding countries. Yet, the fact is that coal is cheap and accessible and coal-fired power stations are eight times more efficient in electricity generation than renewable energy projects. Far from being over the age of coal is having a renaissance and is the driving the growing economic prosperity of China, India, Brazil and other fast-industrializing nations. Cheap coal and the wide availability of shale gas make the switch to renewables a forlorn prospect except where it is politically mandated in small nations such as Scotland. World coal consumption has doubled since 1973 and, according to the International Energy Agency it will double again in the next two decades with most of that in Asia.

Genie is out of the box

Fifty years ago, as a Physics Ph.D. research student, I spent my days and nights operating the early, main-frame computers blissfully unaware of what was to come. The bacillus escaped the laboratory late last century after Steve Jobs and Bill Gates launched the personal computer and Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web. For the past 20 years there has been little regulation of cyberspace but now the secrets of nation states have been exposed and an international “dirty” war is under way. Operators such Julian Assange will be nobbled and the odd victory won in a cyber offensive, but armed with “clouds” and encryption the internet will win the war. The fact is that if something is recorded or transmitted electronically, it is vulnerable to exposure and I do not believe this genie can be put back in its box.

Self-inflicted insecurity

The most dramatic recent breakthrough in the world of energy is the development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce vast supplies of shale gas. This has made the production of the gas economic and highly competitive in a world awash with shale from North America through Europe and Asia to Australia. The worldwide abundance far into the foreseeable future means we no longer need fear the strategic insecurity of being over-dependent on either Russia or the Middle East. Our real security problem stems entirely from government obsession with unreliable wind power whose turbines need the rare mineral neodymium mined only in China. This will result in endemic fuel poverty and a massive rise in of the cost of UK energy despite the fact that our overseas competitors have no intention of following suit.

Celebrity Science

I never cease to be amazed at the interest shown in the weird and wonderful scientific claims made by celebrity dim-wits in Britain and America. There are amoebae on Mars with a greater knowledge of science than such luminaries as Cheryl Cole, Naomi Campbell and Cliff Richard but their views are treasured. Thus the sad and the desperate believe magnets will help with weight loss, hologram bracelets will boost their energy and diets based on blood group are the future. Sense about Science is a charity set up to investigate such hokum and is trying to prevent the most lethal snake-oil being dispensed among the unwary. Hopefully it will also review the pseudo-science being promulgated by that Anglo-American celebrity duo, Prince Charles and Al Gore, on the subject of global warming.

Lockerbie Remembered

The Pan Am article today reminds me of my late father who was for many years the prison chaplain at Polmont Borstal and a member of the Barlinnie Visiting Committee. He said that, of course, most prisoners believed themselves innocent, but if both the other inmates and the prison staff agreed it was likely there had been a miscarriage of justice. This was certainly true of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi whose release from Greenock prison caused outrage in America though not in Lockerbie nor among the British families. He is still missed by his fellow prisoners partly because he had a huge television with satellite channels (paid for by Libya) which they piled into his suite of rooms to watch. But the real reason is that he read illiterate local prisoners their letters and crafted the most beautiful replies, full of love and longing, to their mothers, wives and sweethearts.

The Seattle One

Some criminal cases leave a nasty taste and I found the proceedings against Amanda Knox, which The Courier reviewed this morning, particularly disturbing.  She was subjected to a relentless character assassination she had no chance of fighting and the piecemeal leaking of salacious information by the prosecution was a disgrace. There was not one iota of physical evidence placing the American girl at the crime scene and the case against her struggled to even reach the realm of the circumstantial. Nothing in the facts sustains the Italian
prosecution’s belief that the murder was a she-devil’s sex game gone wrong.  That was conjecture, pure and simple.

A cold green future

Coal was our answer to a late medieval energy crisis when our population exploded and the increased use of wood made it too expensive for use in heating or cooking. Three quarters of a millennium later half of the world’s electricity is still generated by coal and over the last decade it has been the fastest-growing fuel source on the planet. China has a ravenous appetite for coal and burns half of the six billion tons used each year around the world which is one reason its price has doubled in five years. The only serious limit to its use is transport infrastructure and China is building light-rail systems simply to get passenger traffic out of the way of its coal trains.  Britian is an island of coal and our self-denying ordinance which insists that we must ignore the black stuff and rely on costly “renewables” is simply too silly for words.

 A Marxist Thought for Christmas Day

In his Christmas Day sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury over-looked one of the defining notions of Christianity – that all human beings are capable of moral choice. All of us, rich and poor, can choose to be honest rather than fiddle the system; if healthy to work rather than take charity; to have children only if we can support them. Instead the Archbishop accepted the Marxist analysis that the poor are not responsible for their circumstances but are merely helpless victims of the capitalist system. I hesitate to accuse so eminent a theologian of moral confusion but William Beveridge, founder of the Welfare state, said that such a view treats the poor as less than human. Dr William’s non-judgmental view of poverty leaves the poor stranded and it is precisely this woeful state of affairs that Iain Duncan Smith is determined to end.

Time for Reflection

The hysterical reaction to Wikileaks and the unsavory Julian Assange has prevented any sensible reflection on the incompetence of recent US and UK foreign adventures. The idiotic cable sent by US Ambassador April Glaspie to Saddam Hussein which led to the invasion of Kuwait and the horror of our 20 year involvement is just ignored. There is a similar silence over cables clearly showing Afghan President Karzai, for whom so many lives have been lost, ordering the release of his corrupt cronies. Tony Blair should be recalled and questioned about his assurance that American interests would be protected during our “independent” public inquiry into the Iraq war. If these leaks tell us anything, it is that foreign policy and war are too important to be entrusted solely to a bunch of callow politicos longing on sofas in Downing Street.

SNP will take realistic option

Three years ago, as a carefree Liberal politician without the slightest prospect of power, Chris Huhne dismissed nuclear energy as a “tried, tested and failed technology. “Today, after a bruising encounter with the hard realities of being UK Energy Secretary in the coalition government, he is a convert to the nuclear cause and will be joined sooner or later by First Minister Alex Salmond. Chris Huhne’s new proposals mark a welcome and fundamental shift away from New Labour’s renewables obsession to a more balanced strategy with nuclear playing a prominent role. A timely warning came on our recent coldest night when the power produced by the UK wind turbines fell to 0.2 per cent and we were only saved by the French nuclear reactors.

A disturbing episode

Blackburn has not had serious ethnic disturbances even though it has one of the highest proportions of Muslims in England and its MP, Jack Straw, usually speaks his mind. The former Labour minister caused outrage when he refused to ignore the elephant in the room and said that some British Pakistani men regard white girls as “easy meat”. These young men come from communities which abhor predatory sexual crime and their involvement is disturbing to all who value the skills and culture of our Asian community. But any investigation must extend to our own debauched society where highly-sexualized behaviour by even pre-teen girls is ignored, excused, condoned or encouraged.

Contentment comes with age

Having been born in 1943, the year our wartime fortunes turned at Stalingrad, I have had all the benefits of running just ahead of the Baby Boomers. This year, three quarters of a million of them will join me in retirement but only those with public-sector pensions will have the secure financial future pensioners used to enjoy. On the other hand, in all sorts of ways, being 65 is much nicer than being 25 and a lot of nonsense is talked about the joys of being young with its doubts and fears and struggles. Proust observed that there are few actions of our youth that we would not give anything in later life to be able to undo and most of us have regrets from those uncertain years. Nearly everything in my own existence
seems better today than 40 years ago and I feel gratitude for a contentment I never experienced in youth – as well as for my bus pass.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Simon Hughes, the privately educated, Cambridge graduate now deputy leader of the LibDems has demanded universities slash their intake of privately educated pupils. Yet former state school entrants like me were the beneficiaries of the British university tradition of selecting the most able candidates regardless of background. The reason I was able to go from a village in the west-central coalfields to St Andrews University in 1960 was because I had received a fabulous education at a state grammar. The lunacy of trying to send half our kids to “university” has already caused such degree deflation that employers regard A-Level results as a more reliable indicator of ability. If I was 12 years old today rather than 1955, my shrewd ex-miner father would have had me sitting private-school bursary exams and be reviewing “needs-blind” US universities.

There’s nane sae blind as them that wilna see.

Half a century ago the United Steelworkers of America won a pyrrhic victory in an iconic strike against work flexibility whose long term result was industry-wide automation. In recent years high-profile strikes across China by embryo
car-worker unions flexing their muscles against Japanese-owned firms have led to fully automated car-plants. Today London tube drivers, earning an average £45,000 per year with fabulous perks and holidays, are demanding triple pay and a day off in lieu for working a Bank Holiday. Since their job is performed perfectly adequately in many parts of the world by robots they are being marched over a cliff by their anarchistic union ASLEF. Ominously Boris Johnson has threatened to follow the example of the Paris Metro and automate the entire London tube if they wreck the Royal Wedding or the Olympics.

Africa’s Iron Lady

Dambisa Moyo is the morning star of the clever African women who will rattle the cages of the West’s white, male economic experts and moral sages in years to come. The Oxford and Harvard educated Zambian infuriated the aid industry by arguing in her first book “Dead Aid” that the tsunami of foreign money had ruined Africa. As if the African reflections of a black woman were not bad enough she has now given the West some economic home truths in her new book “How the West Was Lost”.  She fears for America if it is tempted by the toxic moral hazard of European welfarism that Gordon Brown used to wreck the  healthy economy he inherited. I am sure she will be supported by powerful (minority) women such as Oprah Winfrey but will be dismissed as a black Margaret Thatcher by the usual suspects in our bien pensant.

Sunny skies for Scotland

An intriguing aspect of the new deal between BP and the Russian oil company Rosneft is that the joint venture will be greatly helped if the Global Warming hypothesis is true. Their strategic alliance is designed to exploit the underwater petroleum reserves that are located in the Kara Sea, north of the Arctic Circle. If the sea ice does in fact retreat, the continental shelf will become much more
accessible because the Northeast Passage running along Russia’s northern coasts will widen. In the past the Arctic was far warmer than it is today and much of it was navigable as we know from the both Viking sagas and the charts
of the Chinese merchant fleets. Global Warming is usually presented as a catastrophe yet for many countries such as Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and
Scotland it has simply fabulous opportunities.

Environmentalist Vandalism

Twenty nature photographers are to spend two years on an extended photo-shoot in a government funded effort to “inspire the public about the Scottish Highlands”. Sadly so much of our uplands have been polluted with the detritus of power transmission it can no longer compete with the unspoilt scenery of New Zealand and Canada. Already the BBC has used New Zealand to shoot Kidnapped, American producers use Canada for “Scottish” scenes and even Braveheart was largely filmed in Ireland. Meanwhile, the Highlands and Islands
Film Commission is vainly pleading with Scottish Electricity not to erect their ghastly 200 foot pylons through some of our finest scenery. In the name of
environmentalism, “renewable activists” are causing such damage to the countryside that this photo shoot may simply provide a final archive of vanished beauty.

A word to the wise?

Claims that Dundee should concentrate on offshore renewables emerge just as the whole sector comes under threat from the world revolution in “unconventional” gas sources. The shale gas boom in America, Asia and Europe has already contributed to a vast drop in renewable energy investment throughout the world. Energy and climate and finance ministries everywhere are questioning whether it makes sense to continue with renewables when the situation with gas has so radically changed. Why should they invest in expensive, intermittent wind-power when shale gas and carbon captured can supply clean energy so much more reliably and cheaply? Dundee has a bad reputation for “betting the house” on passing fads and its terrible history as a one-industry town surely indicates a little caution might be in order.

Children left to suffer

There were 4,000 babies adopted in 1976 but that number dropped to a catastrophic 70 last year as political correctness rendered brain dead our hapless local authorities. Yet it is not a question of money or lack of families eager to adopt but a system which puts the weird prejudices and ­fantasies of social workers before the needs of children. It is clear that social workers are hostile to the very idea of the white middle class being allowed to adopt and prefer to keep black, Asian and mixed-race children in care. Yet most of the young people I came across in my years as a parish minister who had been raised “in care” were on drugs, lonely, depressed, on the streets or in prison. This is an utter disgrace as is the fact that one in four families willing to adopt are rejected out of hand at a time when thousands of children are waiting to be adopted.

Working class literacy

After all the promises Labour made to young people, they handed on a country where a million people under 25 are unemployed and 600,000 have not worked since school. The biggest losers in our education system are white boys from lower income groups half of whom leave primary school without a decent level of literacy or numeracy. When I was growing up 60 years ago in the coalfields, most of my pals left school for the mines or factories while the girls married young, had kids and did part-time work. However, we could all read and copies of essay-type comics such as the Wizard and the Hotspur were shared by the class during the last four years of primary school. After I and some others left for grammar school the rest of the boys spent the next three years happily immersed in tools and machinery preparing for the life ahead.

Shadows over Egypt

The West’s Arabian policy of opposition to Muslim fundamentalism and insistence on representative government is almost as incoherent as its 1960s tactics in Africa. There are long memories in Washington of the calamity that befell Iran and many have wondered across the years whether the Shah should have had more robust support. Mubarak has been a trusted partner for Israel and the West, running a balanced and stable government, containing terror threats and acting as a lynchpin of regional peace. Obama has always feared ending up as Jimmy Carter MK II and certainly, with few good options and many very bad ones, he could easily be the “president who lost Egypt”. Hysterical rejoicing from Hamas indicates they know Mohammed ElBaradei is simply not credible and blocking the Islamic Brotherhood is going to be a neat trick.

Lights in our darkness

I have the most profound admiration for the magnanimity and dignity with which the parents of Linda Norgrove accepted that her death was a “fog of war” tragedy. Linda was an outstanding academic with a First in tropical science from Aberdeen, a Ph.D. from Manchester and excellent post-doctoral research in the USA and Mexico. She could have graced the finest university departments in the land but chose instead to travel to one of the most dangerous places on earth to help the indigenous population. Scotland has a proud tradition of humanitarian
adventurers such as David Livingstone, Mungo Park and Mary Slessor who, like
Linda, lost their lives in the service of others. It was her special gift to do the best of things in the worst of times and she was indeed a bright light in the brutal darkness of Afghanistan.

Wishing he was somewhere else

Every time I see Andy Murray I am reminded of PG Wodehouse’s observation that it is never difficult to distinguish a Scotsman with a grievance from a ray of sunshine. Perhaps on Sunday Murray had reason to feel aggrieved as he was demolished by his old pal Novak Djokovic and yet again failed to win a set in a Grand Slam final. Yet there was something more ominous in his demeanour – he looked as if he had already conceded the mental battle and moved like a loser even as he came on court.  After he retired, Jack Nicklaus said he found it easier to overcome an opponent down the stretch in a Major than he did in a routine event on the golfing circuit.  The reason was that he expected to win in the pressure cauldron of a Major whereas his opponents usually felt, like
Murray, that they would really rather not be there at all.

Outstanding leadership

I absolutely agree with Professor Sarkar that the pioneering role of Bernard King and his very real achievements at Abertay should not be clouded by this present farrago. The Education Act of 1992 which gave university status to Abertay was based on the Tory conviction that competition on price, quality and access was essential in tertiary education. From the first it was a highly controversial experiment and has been blamed for the recent academic drift in Britain and dismissed as an expensive vanity. Many believe we should have continued to provide academic education for our intellectual elite while funding good vocational training locally and extending our apprenticeship system. Where the “new university” model was successful, it was almost entirely due to outstanding leaders such as Bernard King and it would be grossly unfair if his career ended on this note.

The usual Luddite suspects

Barclays and Accenture have just released a study quantifying the cost to Europe of the emissions reductions necessary to achieve its climate change targets. If the EU restricts shale gas supplies, European firms will need to spend €3 Trillion over the next decade to deliver the necessary renewable energy and low-carbon infrastructure. Meanwhile enormous supplies of cheap shale gas in America have reversed the shift of the US chemical industry to the Persian Gulf and are powering an industrial revival. China is also racing ahead in this field while India has found unlimited reserves in the Damodar basin may yet end up the dominant power of the eastern hemisphere. So it comes as no surprise that the Labour Party is calling for a halt to drilling for the gas in the Bowland Shale, the vast bed of rock running from Clitheroe to Blackpool.

Commitment Phobia

A sixth of British women living with their children’s father are not married to him and appear to believe that they are “common-law” spouses with full legal rights. Wrong!! While married women who get divorced may claim maintenance on their own behalf as well as for the children, women cohabitees can claim only for their children. They are also severely disadvantaged by having their property rights determined by the conventional laws of trusts whereas most married couples split their property 50/50. In my experience as a parish minister this
situation is rarely the girl’s idea and I have always believed it to be a “lad’s charter” permitting a cheap exit to pastures greener. The petulance of Ed Miliband and the fact that he could not be bothered to register his name on his first child’s birth certificate just encourages male irresponsibility

Renewables dream has died

Holland has decided to abandon its renewable energy targets and terminate subsidies for wind power. The Dutch have decided the EU diktats requiring 20 per cent of domestic power to be produced by renewables make no environmental sense. In addition, they have found that wind turbines cost more in subsidies than they produce and the associated engineering and maintenance problems are intractable. In a radical change of policy which Scotland would do well to note, it has given the green light for the country’s first new nuclear power plant for almost 40 years. But they have also realized that technological advances have provided the world with 250-year reserves of cheap shale gas making “renewables” yesterday’s folly.

Hard to ignore

The elephant sitting in Egypt’s Tahrir Square is the infamous politico-religious movement the Muslim Brotherhood founded in1928.  At the beginning it had strong links with the German Nazi Party, basing its Pan-Arab ideas on the concept of Gross Deutschland and actively supporting the Jewish holocaust. Arab translations of Mein Kampf were widely distributed helping to deepen and extend the hostile views already existing about both Jews and Western Christians. It holds extremely conservative views on issues such as women’s rights and demands that Sharia law be the basis of the constitution and applied rigorously to all parts of life. If the Muslim Brotherhood gains control, Egyptians will face severe restrictions not only on freedom of belief, but also on all social, political, economic and cultural affairs.

Beyond Hypocrisy

The USA has just released, after serving only four years, its home-grown jihadist Mohammed Junaid Babar whose training camp the London suicide bombers attended. This is par for the course if one remembers that the US officer in charge of the Mei Lei massacres in Vietnam was released after serving only 3 years of his life sentence. Also, just before Lockerbie, the renegade US cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iranian jet killing 290 people but America refused to apologise and even decorated the crew. American rage over the release of Megrahi goes beyond hypocrisy and clearly results from their belief that US citizen’s lives are more valuable than those of other nations.

Schadenfreude

Unworthy feelings of delight overcame me when I heard that Irving Picard, the trustee recovering funds from the Madoff scandal, is now seriously targeting the bankers. So far he has retrieved some $10bn of the missing $18bn from settlements with financial institutions, feeder funds, peddler-cronies and insiders who scored early and left. In an effort to recoup the remaining $8bn, Picard is now after the giant international banks which continued to pass on client money even after the lights flashed danger. These leading bankers made the fatal error of giving post-trial interviews where they presented themselves as much too smart to fall for the likes of Bernie Madoff. This ticked off the old rogue who faces 150 years in the subtropical humidity of the Carolinas so he is now singing like a canary and international bankers are in a panic.

American cinema reaches a new low

Whenever I think the American film industry cannot get worse they surprise me with a new obscenity such as their loathsome “Murder on Trial in Italy” about to be released. It is outrageous that this film is to be shown when the subject Amanda Knox, is in the middle of an appeal which many legal experts believe will be successful. She was subjected to relentless character assassination by the Italian media before the trial and the leaking of salacious information by the prosecution was a disgrace. There was not one iota of reliable forensic evidence placing the American girl at the crime scene and the case struggled to reach the realm of the circumstantial. Certainly, nothing in the facts sustains the film’s absurd belief that the murder was a she-devil’s sex game gone wrong and I hope the producers are sued for every penny.

Unwieldy institution

I read with despair Linda Renwick’s description of how her efforts to reach the bedside of her dying mother turned into a nightmare because of Ninewells deplorable parking. The sad fact is that the usual suspects will make the usual excuses  but nobody will take any responsibility for doing anything because the NHS is too big to care. Almost every other country in the civilised world has a health service based on charitable and municipal hospitals but dear old Nye Bevan insisted on nationalization in 1948. Sixty years later most people accept that nationalization does not work in any sphere but the leviathan is such a scared cow that even Margaret Thatcher funked its reform. So our 700 health
authorities and 5,000 quango appointees bumble on with an agency rivaled only
by the Indian railways and the Chinese Army in its size and inefficiency.

Response to critical replies

I was comparing our “nationalised” form of health service with the more responsive services in Germany, France and Switzerland rather than 19th century Britain. As for “patient survival in the UK out-stripping the US”, the five-year survival rates for all forms of cancer, for example, are 85 per cent in the U.S and 73 per cent in the UK. Breast screening starts at 40 rather than 50; is bi-annual rather than tri-annual; and an American woman has a 97 as opposed to a 78 per cent chance of surviving five years. Breast cancer drugs such as Herceptin, which can extend the life of women suffering the most advanced forms of the disease, was made available in America in 1998. However, it took a further two years before the drug was approved for NHS use and specialists estimated that, in that time, 5,000 British women who needed it had died.

Worrying trend in Quakes

New Zealand’s earthquakes originate from the collision between the Australian and Pacific plates whose boundary runs diagonally through the country. The boundary between the plates in the South Island is the huge Alpine Fault and earthquakes in this area can be very severe the last occurring in 1717 AD. There are about 200 earthquakes a year big enough to be felt by people nearby but larger ones such as Tuesday’s catastrophe were thought to occur only every other decade. Yet it is only 5 months ago that Christchurch was rocked with a 7.1 quake though as it was centred some 25 miles away, the damage was limited and there were no fatalities. There is a network of blind faults under the Canterbury Plains but the location of both the Christchurch quakes was unexpected and does not appear to match any known faults.

More to Jane than met the eye

There was much more to Jane Russell than her voluptuous figure and she was a robust and amusing woman in an age when the little “wifey” was only required to be decorative. With four brothers and no sisters she was wise to the ways of men and made the sensible decision to marry her high school sweetheart, the famous football star Bob Waterfield. Her screen career was badly affected by the long contract she signed with Howard Hughes who limited her to his choice of trashy films designed to showcase her body. As she demonstrated in later years, she would have made a fine light comedienne and remained a superb raconteur and talk-show guest well into old age. Unable to bear children, she championed the excellent Federal Adoption Amendment which allowed foreign children fathered by US servicemen to be adopted in America.

The Boomer Spring

Our soldiers came home in the summer of 1945 and this spring, 65 years and nine months later the first of the male baby-boomers joined their sisters and drew their pensions. The average boomer-pensioner can expect to live a further two decades and a million a year will survive to receive their telegram from the equally long-lived King Charles. Conceived amid the rubble of post-war Britain and brought up in a society moving rapidly from austerity to affluence, they were absolutely sure of their own uniqueness. Supported by social security and grammar schools, delighting in cheap holidays and the consumer revolution, they enjoyed comforts their parents could only imagine. Yet for all their youthful rhetoric, they developed a terrible “buy now, pay later” mentality and our two boomer-premiers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, left nothing but bills.

Green fantasies

The SNP mantra, “Scotland is poised to become the Saudi Arabia of renewables” has been examined by an international group of accounting and modelling experts. Their report called “Worth the Candle?” says similar misleading claims were made in the past about Spain and the prediction of 60,000 green jobs is simply delusional. It warns that politicians need to focus more on the scientific and technical issues as well as the environmental costs instead of losing themselves in economic fantasies. It further states that government support for the renewable sector in Scotland actually loses more jobs than it creates and the subsidies cost more than the energy produced. The report’s call for a balanced national debate on the whole issue has been met with predictable outrage by the government and claims that “The debate is over.”

China Shop Rules

Tyrants have a good record of holding on to power and most modern African dictators have died peacefully in their beds because, sadly, terror usually works. As Mugabe demonstrates, being as mad and bad as Gaddafi is no problem as long as you slaughter the opposition and retain armed thugs committed to your regime. Even Saddam Hussein was able to retain power after his humiliating defeat in the First Gulf War because he retained the loyalty of his army and his acolytes. Ahmadinejad of Iran is just as demented as Gaddafi but most people believe it would be complete lunacy to invade yet another Muslim country in an effort to eject its ruler. Colin Powell warned Bush ‘n Blair before their Iraqi adventure, “It’s ‘china shop’ rules: you break it, you own it” and who in the West would want to “own” Libya?

Tales for willing ears

Claims from renegade Libyan minister Abdel-Jalil that it was the late Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal who planned the Pan Am bombing certainly fit the forensic evidence. However the $10 million which landed in his Swiss bank account came not from Libya but Iran which sought vengeance after the USS Vincennes downed its passenger plane. The further claim that it was threat of exposure by
Megrahi which made Gadaffi force Gordon Brown to “put the moves” on Scottish ministers is conspiratorial nonsense. Megrahi is a devoted family man and the idea he would put the lives of his children at extreme risk by issuing such an insane threat to a brutal thug like Gadaffi is absurd. It is more likely that
Abdel-Jalil is an opportunistic chancer telling the Americans what they want to
hear and the likelihood of credible evidence emerging is remote.

Economic activity not the problem

Prince Charles and the “climate” lobby would have us believe that all dramatic weather events around the world are the baleful consequence of man-made CO2 emissions. The Met Office has produced “climate models” which appear to demonstrate that weather events have become more extreme as CO2 emissions doubled over the last century. The Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project has been testing this theory by using super-computers to generate a data-set of global atmospheric circulation from 1871. The project has found no evidence of an intensifying weather trend indicating that cutting carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels will not effect on our ever-changing climate. Economic activity is in fact not the problem – it is the solution because we can do nothing about the weather but can make sure we have the  resources to deal with its consequences.

Debacle in the desert

One of our “junior” diplomats and some SAS soldiers on a Libyan walk-about with multiple passports and other clandestine kit were captured by anti-Gaddafi ­farmers. Desperate appeals to the rebels by the British Ambassador Richard Northern for their release were intercepted by Gaddafi who gleefully broadcast them to the world. This is the biggest western cock-up since Jimmy Carter decided to rescue the Iranian Embassy hostages with flying incompetents who proceeded to crash into each other. But this rebellion has a long way to run and all we have done is provide Gaddafi with priceless propaganda by making the rebels seem like western imperialist stooges.

Another unintended consequence

Gordon Brown’s abolition of the married couple’s tax allowance steepened the trend of discrimination against the traditional one-earner family in the late 20th
century. In recent years the proportion of tax paid by a married couple with two children and one wage close to average pay has doubled and is now heavier than
any other country. It is a classic “unintended consequence” yet for all the hope generated by the thoughtful speeches of Ian Duncan Smith the plight of single-earner families is growing worse. New Labour’s attempt to encourage all mothers to return to the workplace was not with out its merits but it clashed
with the maternal instincts of over two million women. The most obvious improvement would be the introduction of a transferable allowance for married
couples and this need not undermine the coalition’s efforts at fiscal reform.

Do no further harm

Most people in the Muslin world live in failed states where the oppression of women is only part of a culture that stifles all progress. Turkey has long warned that the whole Islamic Crescent is dangerously unstable with its younger generation prey to profound social, economic and political frustrations. We raced to bomb Libya in support of the rebels but failed to notice that al-Qaeda welcomes such intervention because they know it back-fires. Eastern Libyans who fought” the foreign invader” in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to oust Gadaffi but they will soon return their attention to the Western infidel. The hope is that a leader such as Atatürk will appear but for now our aim should be to do no harm and to stop bombing any other Arab nation into “peace and democracy

Clerical Dress Code

The plain black preaching gown was established during the Reformation by John Calvin to contrast with the colourful finery of Catholic and neo-Catholic clergy. Preaching bands and stoles date back to 16th century neck-wear, academic hoods were added later and ministers with a Ph.D. may wear their blue doctoral gown. Chaplains to the Queen (technically “the royal peculiars” – you couldn’t make it up!), the Kirk’s old boy network, wear scarlet cassocks under their gowns and purple bibs. In the 1ate 19th century professional men
wore a starched detachable collar and some ministers began turning the collar backwards, creating the now standard “dog collar”. The last Dundee minister to regularly wear a top hat and clerical frock coat was TRS Campbell of St Andrews Church though I still wear mine on highly formal occasions.

Just as traumatic

The most powerful earthquake in modern times was the phenomenal 9.5R Chilean quake in 1960 followed by the 9.2R quake in the Gulf of Alaska in 1964. Chile makes the top ten twice more (1868 and 2010) joining Sumatra (2004), Russia (1952), the Canadian Pacific (1700), Assam-Tibet (1950) and Japan (2011). Europe features only once but the monumental Portuguese quake in
1755 led to the near-total destruction of Lisbon and the deaths of around a third of the city’s population. The resulting tsunami devastated nearby Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts resulting in first-hand accounts which advanced European scientists’ understanding of the physical world. However, in a parallel display to our world’s horrified reaction, the cultural impact spread even further inspiring sensationalist religious and philosophical tracts and some pretty weird art.

Let’s stay out of Libya

With a caution characteristic of leading African-Americans such as Colin Powell, Obama made little more than a gesture of belated support for the Libyan no-fly zone. Throughout this Arabian crisis, European leaders have looked ridiculous with Sarkozy constantly flip-flopping and Cameron sending the SAS on a ludicrous walk-about. For our PM, presiding over draconian cuts in our armed forces, to posture in favour of military intervention deserved all the derision it received – not least from America. Like Afghanistan, Libya is racked by tribal feuds and there are few reasons why a new regime should be better than that of Gadaffi and many reasons why it should be worse. The days when the British Foreign Office had the great Middle Eastern experts are long gone and Cameron should simply concentrate on disengaging from Afghanistan.

Mad-made disasters pale beside Nature

The hysteria caused by last summer’s volcanic dust cloud, harmless to planes not actually flying through the plume, showed the need for improved scientific knowledge in the UK. In Japan tens of thousands died in a natural disaster of biblical proportions and that is surely the real story not some idiotic warbling by anti-nuclear media savants. The fact is that an elderly nuclear plant due for decommission and designed for the usual limit of Japanese earthquakes withstood one twice that size and still shut itself down. A 35ft tsunami wrecked the infrastructure and the whole island was knocked several feet to the west yet the plant survived and only tiny amounts of radiation were released. Even at Chernobyl, beyond a 20 mile zone, radiation was not a problem and the real message is our helplessness faced by Nature – its earthquakes and its climate change.

The real message

Gales, snow and freezing temperatures exacerbated the struggle to provide food, water, medicine and fuel for half a million people, many of them elderly, left homeless in Japan. But there was scant sympathy from the outside world whose attention was almost totally focussed on a fictional nuclear threat grossly over-hyped by the international media. In case anyone is even remotely interested, some 8,00o bodies have been found with another 12,000 still missing and no-one was ever going to die of radiation poisoning. The fact is that an elderly nuclear plant due for decommission and designed for the usual limit of Japanese earthquakes withstood one twice that size and still shut itself down. Even at Chernobyl, beyond a 20 mile zone, radiation was not a problem and the real message is our impotence in the face of Nature – its earthquakes and its climate change.

Greedy bankers driving elderly to breadline

In 2008, Dundee’s Alliance Trust outraged Gordon Brown by pointing out that real inflation faced by pensioners in the UK was around 8 percent and rising. An OAP retail prices index “basket” needs basics like electricity and groceries (whose prices are soaring) and should not be distorted by dramatically cheaper electronics. When Brown’s boom ended in the inevitable bust he demanded lenders cut the cost of credit for young borrowers and allowed elderly savers’ rates to be slashed. Our banks and building societies treated their pensioner customers, brought up in an era when loyalty was a virtue, with scornful disdain because today, loyalty is for mugs. George Osborne has inherited a mess but nothing is more distasteful than bankers demanding obscene bonuses while driving their elderly customers onto the breadline.

Comical Ali lives

With timing not seen since Comical Ali in Iraq, US Admiral Gortney claimed, “We aren’t after Gadaffi” as the Libyan leader’s compound exploded on the monitor behind him. In fact President Obama had already proclaimed the Colonel had “lost any right to govern” though why he should be singled out from the other detritus ruling Arabia is unclear. It is also a vivid sign that whatever warbling comes out of the Western capitals, when nasty stuff is lobbed into North Africa it is going to fall where it will and collateral damage is inevitable.

Starting to feel lonely?

Not since Suez have we looked so inept and exposed with our military chiefs in open revolt and everyone, including President Obama, starting to run for cover. Libya is a divided land with Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west and tribal disputes in the middle so the revolt is not a clear fight between tyranny and freedom. Turkish Premier Recep Erdogan and Europe’s shrewdest leader,
Angela Markel, say it will end in tears and have united to prevent the fall-out
landing in NATO’s lap. Russia compares it to the crusades; China calls it a re-run of Afghanistan; Africa and the Muslim world are outraged while Brazil and India fear we are out of our depth. All that is known about the Libyan rebel leaders indicates they are anti-western to the point of supporting terrorism so there are even parallels with Northern Ireland. Local boys from Leuchars are flying into danger and most of us would prefer caution rather than grandstanding from our politicians and a more reliable ally than France.

Let’s wake up from the green dream

Global warming hysteria is dying down as polls, news coverage, policy u-turns and lack of government interest mirrors a steep decline in public concern about climate change. Climate fatigue, public dismay at costly “renewable” energy schemes and the refusal of the US China and India to harm national interests are seeing green policies binned. Changes are so gradual and even the slight warming of the 1980s/90s has ground to halt so unless significant warming appears soon, the “catastrophe” game is over. It is also clear that the Fukushima incident will force the two greenest industrial nations, Japan and Germany, to replace their lost nuclear power with coal and gas-fired plants. Sadly the Scottish government’s commitment to expensive and unpopular green schemes could wreck our economic recovery and cause great distress among poorer pensioners.

Blunder in Kashmir

In every classroom of my 1940s primary school hung a wall map of the world, one third of it coloured pink to show our Empire which was then a source of great national pride. Today things are very different and our 21st century prime ministers vie with each other over sham apologies for everything from the Irish potato famine to slavery to Kashmir. But history should be judged by the standards of the day and compared to our Belgian, French, German and Italian counterparts our Empire was a model of enlightenment. It left dynamic modern democracies such as America, Australia and Canada as well as India where the English language is a great help in their economic contest with China. Any prime minister diminishes himself when he speaks ill of Britain abroad and Kashmir is only one of many “frontier” problems, including the Balkans, which are intractable.

Hailing the deceased

I recall on one occasion many years ago I was taking the funeral of a Broughty Ferry gentleman who in life had been a disciplinarian and a bit of a trial to his
poor wife. I was with the undertaker in the lead mourners’ car following the hearse with the immediate family sitting behind us as we drove past Grove
Academy. It was lunch time and groups of teenage pupils stood on both side of the road and, to the horror of the undertaker and myself, solemnly gave the Hitler salute. Fortunately it prompted only shrieks of laughter form the back of the car and the voice of the grieving widow saying say, “How did they know?”

Eurozone morphing into Grossdeutchland

Portugal and the other Club Med banana republics defied gravity for years by spending more than they took in taxes until finally the Recession blew down their house of cards. In the euro zone a pattern has emerged where a country appears on the “at risk” radar, insists it is fine, has its debt rating downgraded, its bond yields soar and it capitulates. These are the observations but the underlying problem is the difficulty a nation state has in mitigating its debt crisis within the straitjacket of the European currency union. Germany might bail them out but it will demand centralized budgets and interest rates which will lead to the virtual absorption of some EU statelets in Grossdeutschland. Lisbon’s call for help is not the end of the crisis but the beginning of a new phase and if Spain is the bond markers’ next target the monetary union is in deep trouble.

Nuclear energy’s Pearl Harbour

Pearl Harbour was first seen by the US as a catastrophic set-back but later it seemed less so for it made clear the battleship was obsolete and eased the transition to carriers. In the same way, Fukushima may eventually be seen in a positive light by the nuclear industry because it will force a “reboot” and ease a switch to cheaper, safer reactors. It has been increasingly obvious that solid-fuel uranium reactors, rushed into production with all sorts of quick-‘n-dirty designs, was old technology which needed be replaced. In the short term, both nuclear and renewable energy are probably doomed in a world soon to be awash with reliable and inexpensive shale oil and gas. But in the longer run, modern versions of the thorium liquid-fuel reactors now being developed in China and India will make a significant contribution to world energy.

Radiation linked to health benefits

Anti-nuclear activists claim Chernobyl killed one million people, will kill millions more in the future and provide chilling photographs of deformed Russian babies. But Professor Gerry Thomas, of Imperial College, examined the health effects of Chernobyl for the UN and found “absolutely no evidence” for an increase in birth defects. The UN’s Committee on the Effect of Radiation reported only 134 seriously affected, 28 of who died, 19 died later but not from radiation poisoning and the rest recovered. The UN reported the greatest problem was the “victim” culture caused by endless media exposure which led to morbid health concerns and reckless, even suicidal behaviour. This mirrored the findings of Japan’s Atomic Bomb Disease Institute that high exposure was indeed fatal but human beings also showed extraordinary tolerance to radiation. In fact, Nagasaki survivors with moderate exposure gained overall general health benefits and doctors suspect that irradiation destroyed latent viruses in their bodies.

A dearth of presenters

The Masters reminded me how much I still miss Henry Longhurst just as I mourn the loss of David Vine from Ski Sunday and Bill McLaren from international rugby. I felt the same way when the Antiques Road Show replaced that tremendous old buffer Arthur Negus with Michael Aspel and even Fiona Bruce is not quite the same. Inthe 1960s “Civilisation”, the very sight of the patrician Kenneth Clark was culturally uplifting while Niall Ferguson’s scruffy repeat is too much like Top Gear. However Michael Portillo has shown that hidden talent exists so that Gordon Brown, if he fails to get the IMF job, could perhaps host a series such as “Granny Bigots”.

Family breakdown cause of poverty

Historians are likely to see the collapse of traditional family life as being the most disturbing feature in the social landscape in Britain at the turn of the 21st
century. The New Labour era saw the number of births to unmarried, often early teenage, girls rise to almost 50 per cent and over half of all teenagers will see their parents split up. The personal grief which lies behind these bare statistics is heartbreaking and we know that the children of a single parent are much more likely to fail at school. They are also much more likely to be unemployed as an adult and as result are at far greater risk of alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide. Marriage stabilizes and strengthens families and the endemic family breakdown found in Britain lies at the heart of the social devastation in our most deprived communities.

Right of Passage

When I came in to the ministry 40 years ago parishioners were afraid they might die of cancer. By the time I left they were afraid they might not and survive to get dementia. We all hope to depart before that dread disease kicks in but longevity is a mixed blessing and 40 per cent of us will find our brains starting to self-destruct in our 80s. Already almost 15 per cent of pensioners have Alzheimer’s disease, which is only one of many forms of dementia, and as the Baby Boomers age these numbers will soar. I find it intolerable that my children will sacrifice family life tending me as I morph into a zombie before I pass on to the ultimate horror of an NHS psycho-geriatric ward. These wards made me a firm supporter of Margo’s Bill and while I never deny anyone a stay there if that is their wish, I fail to see why they should deny me a merciful exit.

Gay clergy row escalates

The debate on gay clergy was halted during the Kirk’s 2009 General Assembly when a gagging order was imposed and the issue kicked into the long grass for a couple of years. A Special Commission of the good and the anodyne was set to report this year but has come to no very firm conclusion so the issue will once again land in the outfield. The fact is that discrimination against gays is absolutely illegal in the UK jobs market and surveys find this legislation is supported by well over 90 per cent of the population. Most mainline Protestant churches in North America, Scandinavia, Germany and Holland have gay clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships and the Kirk is out of step. It is unacceptable for a national church to refuse to obey the law of the land and those who cannot live within a broad church should leave a form a more exclusive sect.

Osborne ring fences African aid

Any economist suggesting that aid is ineffective and wasteful is inevitably vilified as mean-minded and selfish and if one is also a Christian cleric the vitriol is all the greater. Yet Dambisa Moyo, the first great black African female economist, insists that aid has fostered dependency and corruption, perpetuating poor governance and poverty. And for decades, international development experts such as Peter Bauer have argued that only trade and individual effort will create and spread wealth in the 3rd world. To me official aid smacks of neo-imperialism – keeping the natives in their place – and European guilt about trade barriers we erect to protect our farmers from competition. In some African counties, it accounts for most of the national budget and a disgraceful amount is returned to our fashion houses by despot’s wives on shopping sprees.

Trouble in the Cathedral

The key relationship in a church is the “organist-minister” and if that turns sour, the minister is deep trouble as can be seen in the present barney at Glasgow
Cathedral. I was incredibly lucky to inherit Alex Perry in Broughty Ferry for whom I had a huge affection and professional admiration and we remained as thick as thieves for 35 years. The Kirk’s job training is extraordinarily perfunctory and it is not emphasized that the organist is your partner and if there is any external criticism, you go in to bat for him. Having said that, Laurence Whitley is the outstanding preacher of his generation and a gentle soul much loved in earlier posts including assistant at Dundee St Andrews. I also served in Glasgow and was well aware that the Cathedral Kirk Session had many very fine people but that it did attract some who would start a fight in an empty room.

Green Luddites

Greenpeace has successful obstructed a patent being given to a German scientist who has developed the first clinical applications of stem-cell technology for Parkinson’s disease. Green activism has always been deeply misanthropic and its callous disregard for humanity and human suffering is clear in this campaign to kill off stem cell research. One of the European Court’s advocates general has ruled against the use of embryonic cells putting an end to attempts to repair diseased hearts, damaged spines and blindness. The judge has elevated the highly controversial “precautionary principle” to absurd limits which take no account of the philosophical, moral, human and economic issues at stake. The Court of Justice is likely to rubberstamp this merciless folly oblivious to the harm being done to millions of people whose health would benefit from these technologies.

Planning a Mafia hit

UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox will meet senior U.S. commanders today to draw up final plans to finish off Colonel Gaddafi in an act of state sponsored assassination. International law prohibits such acts but the UN Charter also prohibits interfering in the territory or affairs of another state and we can see how much respect that is paid. Although U.S. law prohibits the use of assassination, American presidents have routinely authorized such attacks on foreign leaders including Castro, Allende and Gadaffi. In 1986, with the connivance of Margaret Thatcher, US warplanes targeted Gadaffi with laser-guided bombs but only succeeded in killing his baby daughter. This glorious action has gone down in the annals of Anglo-American military history and gives credence to the Islamic view that the West is ruled by a bunch of gangsters.

Teacher struck off for lifting the lid

The greatest problem faced by teachers in state schools today is the endemic lack of discipline and the attitude that they are there to be challenged, mocked, and abused. A tough miner’s son like me could have been a handful but in the 1950s there was a shared concept of reasonable behaviour which united teachers, parents and the police. Leaving the west-central coalfields for the superb state grammar in the nearby town I joined other bright working-class kids absorbing middle-class behaviour and ambition. Recently there has been no lack of trendy initiatives designed to remedy state school problems and lift the life chances of children from the industrial graveyards of Scotland. Everything in fact except what was vital for my escape: iron discipline, a strong work-ethic and the “three Rs” as the door-opening passport to a fulfilling life and career.

Cut links with Pakistan

It is risible to believe that bin Laden’s presence – living openly in a mansion a few miles from Islamabad and beside its West Point – was unknown to Pakistan’s security services. Instead of insisting Pakistan close down its terrorists, George Bush and Tony Blair ousted Iraq’s Saddam Hussein – a secular leader and bitter foe of all Islamic fundamentalists.  Pakistan is a failed state with nuclear military power to which the West sends obscene amounts of money as “aid” – much of which leaks into the coffers of terrorists. Its only aim is to ensure that Afghanistan is allied with Islamabad against India when we finally pull out but opposition from Russia and Iran will ensure that does not happen. It is high time we started a “constructive disengagement” from Pakistan and the corrupt political and military elite which has hosted our main adversary for the last 10 years.

The Shale Gas Revolution

It was thought that natural gas could only be extracted when, it had accumulated in underground reservoirs but a far greater quantity is actually trapped in the rock itself. Major technical breakthroughs will allow almost unlimited amounts of cheap gas to be extracted from the world’s vast reserves of shale, our commonest sedimentary rock. Since most of the process takes place underground, its “footprint” is far less than that of oil wells, open-cast coal mines and our wind-farms with their transmission clutter. Those hoping the green lobby would rejoice that this will lead to the end of fuel poverty in the poor North and to industrial advance in the poor South will be disappointed. The very last thing greens appear want is cheap, reliable, plentiful energy and they are pressuring the EU to apply the same unscientific opposition used against GM crops.

Do as I say, not as I do

In Washington, Prince Charles’ first post-wedding appearance included his usual rant on agriculture’s “umbilical dependency on oil” and nature’s “doomed life-support system”. At the “Future of Food” conference his claim that organic farming will “increase agricultural production and eliminate hunger” caused a disloyal degree of scepticism. An African-American delegate later said “The Prince’s “sustainability” sounded like a few rich white folk telling a lot of black
folks that the planet needed them to stay poor.” He noted that the Prince “had
flown in to bestow on us his surplus grace in a private jet” which did not strike him as an example of “making it cool to use less stuff.” The Prince, however, had already departed in a motorcade including a giant Cadillac, a Mercedes-Benz SUV, a Jaguar, a Chevrolet Suburban and a Chrysler 300.

The unacceptable escape route

The US state of Indiana has just passed a Bill to allow some 2/3rds of parents to claim an educational voucher to allow their children to attend schools of their choice. The voucher, which equates to the cost of educating a child in a state school, is weighted so that the poorer the family the more the voucher is worth. Predictably, the teacher unions hate it but the state Governor is unperturbed by their opposition which he recognises is not always driven by concern for the child’s welfare. Why, he asks, should wealthy parents be able to buy their way out of state education but the poor are trapped in schools with dire standards and deplorable discipline? In the UK, much is heard about parental choice and schools freed from the dead hand of council control but the obvious escape route of “vouchers” is rarely mentioned.

Generation Chasm

Technology is turning the early 21st century generation gap into a chasm and
nowhere is this more obvious than in our judges’ incomprehension of the internet’s power. Our judiciary clearly believes its writ is universal as shown by Justice Eady’s pompous “contra mundum” injunction prohibiting publication of photographs worldwide. Pandering to the wealthy by awarding them “gagging orders” simply sends the internet rumour-mill into overdrive and gives it a spurious plausibility it does not deserve. Wikileaks, the Climategate whistleblower and even unwise royal phone calls have given ample warning that the famous will either have to behave or develop a thick skin. The overweening
Human Rights’ clause on privacy looks increasingly foolish in an age when, for good or ill, the internet is beyond the control of any national judiciary.

Dannatt’s Reforms

The Military Covenant is to become a statutory obligation and battlefield casualties will be given priority when it comes to health care and their families given decent housing. Leaving it as a “gentleman’s agreement” assumed the government would be composed of gentlemen and New Labour demonstrated how naive and foolish that assumption was. Service families were outraged when an MOD civilian secretary was awarded £450,000 for a sore thumb while the tiny awards made to crippled soldiers were clawed back. It is a triumph for General Richard Dannatt, widely credited with having restored army morale by opposing Gordon Brown’s shambolic underfunding and conduct of the war. In a hissy fit, Brown vetoed his promotion to Chief of Defence Staff and his peerage but he deserves lasting credit for this reform which will steady the Army and its families.

Presumption of guilt

It is said that those like me who attended a Southern Californian college in the years before Vietnam were as close to heaven on earth as humanity is ever likely to get. I have an abiding affection for America but sometimes, such as when the subject of guns comes up or I glimpse a “perv walk”, I feel we have no point of contact. As a Franco-Scot, I am under no illusions about the expectations of powerful public figures such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn but the scenes in New
York were disturbing. Anglo-American debate on male sexual mores means that presumption of innocence is lost in accusations against men in general and anyone accused of rape in particular. His treatment by the judiciary has been peculiarly demeaning with cameras recording his unshaven, hunted look in court and the evident glee that he is now on suicide watch.

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