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Archive for August, 2012

August has been a pretty good month for the Glasgow teams in Scottish football.

A heavy early season travel schedule and a host of injuries have not held Celtic back. Neil Lennon’s men have successfully negotiated the qualifying rounds of the Champions League to take a place in Europe’s elite top 32, with six group games against some big names now to come. And the Scottish champions have collected seven points out of nine to lead the SPL with a game in hand.

The city’s second club Partick Thistle sit at the top of the first division after three straight wins, giving early season hope that Glasgow derbies might once more be on the fixture list next season. It would be great to see the Jags back in the top flight again.

And down in the third division, new club Sevco, who are now apparently known as “The Rangers” have made a half decent start to life in league football. OK, they stand only a point ahead of Glasgow amateurs Queen’s Park. And that point was gifted to them by a referee in Berwick who saw an offence that no one else in the ground did, robbing football’s longer serving Rangers of a deserved win. But, all in all, it is still a decent start for a brand new team.

“The Rangers” can look forward to a quarter final tie in the Ramsden’s Cup – for those unfamiliar with the name that’s the one where Premier League clubs are excluded to give the wee diddy teams a chance. And “The Rangers” will also have a chance to test themselves against Highland League champions Forres Mechanics in the Scottish Cup.

I must mention here that Queen’s Park too have made cup progress, knocking Premier League new boys Dundee out of the League Cup. Beating a team three divisions above them was a tremendous result for the Spiders.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the new team parachuted into the League ahead of many long established sides though. Several of the players TUPE transferred over from former club Rangers FC (in administration) have now walked away from the club, although fortunately for them Kirk Broadfoot is one of them. Kirk hasn’t got another club; it seems he was just finding life in the fourth tier of Scottish football tough. Well, let’s face it, he’s not very good.

And despite owner Charles Green’s talk of billionaires queued up around the block, there has been no additional investment in the new club as yet. Makes you wonder how they manage to sustain a wages bill that must be many times higher than the rest of their bottom division rivals put together.

Green is also expected to spend on a host of new players before their transfer ban kicks in – the world’s strangest ban as it starts after the transfer window closes.  I hope they are remembering to pay their tax bill too.

It has recently emerged that rookie manager Ally McCoist owns a block of shares in the new club. That might well make him less likely to be fired of course, which is good news for all of Scotland’s clubs as he struggles against the tactical masterminds in Division Three.

Meanwhile the winding up of the former football club seems to be taking much longer than expected. Still, there are still a whole host of legal issues to be settled – not least the recently announced Lord Nimmo Smith led investigation into many years of improperly registered players. Many people may think that the old club ended its life with 54 league titles – if they include the one shared with Dumbarton. But the final number could go down by a fair few once the inquiry is over. Lance Armstrong won’t be the only one who has a few honours taken away from him due to cheating.

And who knows what liquidators BDO will find when they finally administer the last rites to the former football club.

So there is much to look forward to as season 2012/ 13 gets into full swing. What’s the odds on three Glasgow league winners? Celtic, Partick Thistle and “The Rangers” as champions perhaps? Well here/s hoping for two out of three.

But football might look very different come next season. Talk of league reconstruction began around the time that Sevco was looking for a league place. Total coincidence, I’m sure. And apparently there is now a desire to reduce the number of divisions from four to three. Would anyone be surprised if Sevco gain from this – as another coincidence of course …

One Campbell Ogilvie has been quoted as saying that the new league set up will be designed for the benefit off all clubs. But then do we believe him? After all the SFA President is a former employee of the former club that is about to be investigated for cheating. Indeed he was not only the man responsible for registering the contracts under question, he also benefitted very substantially from tax free EBT payments himself.

But I’m sure Campbell will be able to act impartially, After all if he had a conflict of interests he would have resigned by now. Wouldn’t he?

I look forward to discussions on the way ahead for Scottish football. I’m sure many arguments will be raised for larger leagues – arguments that apparently only hold validity now for some strange reason …

And I’m really looking forward to Champions League nights at Celtic Park as the cream of Europe comes to visit. Beats the Ramsden’s Cup hands down, doesn’t it?

 

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Scotland has a new Mental Health Strategy.

The Scottish Government’s strategy for the period 2012 – 2015 was launched earlier this month. There was none of the fanfare that usually accompanies these launches, although that might be due to the timing: mid summer, in a parliamentary recess and post Olympics.

The document was finalised following extensive consultation with user and carer groups, and the Scottish Government is to be commended for producing a strategy that takes on board many of the issues that were raised. User and carer involvement is, quite rightly, at the centre of the strategy, which is very much a working document rather than a lofty statement of ambitions.

The overall tone is of building on successes while recognising that there are also weaknesses to be dealt with. It is realistic, and in times of declining resources it simply had to be. There are no promises of massive new investment in mental health – but then did we really expect there to be?

There is a lot about self management and preventative action, what people can do to improve their own mental health and the challenges that issues like unemployment and poor physical health can play. The recovery approach and anti-stigma work will also continue.

The strategy recognises that measures to improve quality of life can also improve the mental health of many people. It sees that medical treatment is only one part of the fight against mental illness. And it also accepts that government is not the only agency with a role to play here: many of the services that play such important roles are delivered by other public sector bodies and often by the voluntary sector.

The Strategy outlines 36 Commitments from the Government across seven key themes, which emerged from the consultation process. These are:

  1. Working more effectively with families and carers;
  2. Embedding more peer to peer work and support;
  3. Increasing the support for self management and self help approaches;
  4. Extending the anti-stigma agenda forward to include further work on discrimination;
  5. Focusing on the rights of those with mental illness;
  6. Developing the outcomes approach to include personal, social and clinical outcomes; and
  7. Ensuring that we use new technology effectively as a mechanism for providing information and delivering evidence based services

So what will we see happening in the world of mental health over the next few years?

The very first Commitment is that the Scottish Government will commission a 10 year on follow up to the 2004 Sandra Grant Report, which reviewed the state of mental health services in Scotland. This will be carried out next year for publication in 2014.

The detail of who will carry out this major review and with what exact remit will come later. This is the strategy after all, and the fine print on how it is implemented is to follow. But we can expect service user and carer involvement in the review, and it will provide another opportunity for us to put forward our perspective.

There is a Commitment to involve families and carers more fully in policy development and service delivery. This is to be welcomed and discussions have already started on how best to progress this work. It is fair to say that many carers’ organisations are not experts in the mental health field and focus primarily on the carers of those with physical illnesses. It is also the case that many partners, parents and friends of those who have mental illnesses would not call themselves carers: they provide support and love but don’t necessarily see themselves as care givers. This all needs to be carefully thought through – but many of the national mental health voluntary organisations offer support to carers as well as to those with mental illness and are therefore well placed to help shape the discussion.

E-health is an area where much progress is being made and the Commitment to develop a Scotland-wide approach to improving mental health through new technology is to be welcomed. There is much that can be done through better use of technology and I look forward to seeing some innovative ideas emerge.

There are several Commitments relating to children and young people, including better support for parenting programmes, developing specialised services for children in care and reducing the number of young people admitted to adult mental health wards. These are all positive developments and the priority given to addressing mental health issues as early as possible is an encouraging step.

And Commitments relating to older people include greater use of psychological therapies and better integration with general adult services. While there is a necessary focus on tackling dementia in service delivery it is good to see a recognition that this is not the only challenge that older people can face.

Work to identify new models of crisis care is an important Commitment. This will involve investigation of home treatment and other service delivery models, recognising that hospital admission should not be the only option available. There are several voluntary organisations that will have an interest in this area of work, and several other European countries already offer a crisis house model.

There are also Commitments relating to specific areas like alcohol and mental health, work in prisons, veterans and also better linkage of mental health services to local government, which is especially important as health and social care systems are integrated.

The final Commitment made is that systems will be put into place to co-ordinate, monitor and performance manage progress against all of the commitments made. This is not to be a document that gathers dust on a shelf, but one which really does drive progress. The method by which this work is carried out, and of course how progress is reported, will be important.

My overall response to the Strategy is a positive one. The commitments on service user and carer involvement and the emphasis on self management are welcome. There is, of course, an important role for primary care services in mental health, but there is also a great deal we can do in communities to reduce the likelihood of hospital admissions.

Mental health issues blight the lives of many people, and can have a big impact on their families and friends too. There is much that can be done to make life better, and many of the positives from this new Strategy involve designing new services that better meet the needs of those affected.

I’m looking forward to seeing a great deal of progress being made over the next few years.

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Rape Is Always Wrong

I don’t often write about sexual matters. But recent remarks from two male politicians on the subject of rape have made me really angry. It’s this kind of stupidity that gives men a bad name, and it is worth pointing out that the vast majority of us disagree fundamentally with what Todd Akin and George Galloway have had to say.

Few of us on this side of the pond will have heard of US politician Todd Akin before his recent remarks. I doubt too many Americans were aware of him either. But we know who he is now.

Akin, in case anyone hasn’t heard, was talking about abortion and was asked about women who become pregnant through rape. A difficult issue of course, so Akin made up an answer. Doctors had apparently told him that women were unlikely to get pregnant through “legitimate rape” as their bodies shut down, he explained.

Now let’s ignore the junk science in this answer. Let’s ignore the complete ignorance and the attempt to justify it by claiming that it came from a doctor.

What the hell is “legitimate rape”?

Is Akin trying to parse rape into categories? Some that are real and some that aren’t? Is he attempting to justify rape in some circumstances?

Sorry Mr Akin. Any time a man forces a women to have sex without her consent it is rape. It is always wrong and it can never be legitimate.

Now George Galloway MP is not one to stay away from a controversy. I agree with an awful lot of what he has to say most of the time, but he does have a bad habit of attracting publicity for the sake of it.

In a podcast Galloway turned to the subject of rape in the context of the accusations made in Sweden against Julian Assange. I’m not going to comment on the specific allegations against the Wikileaks founder. I don’t know if they are legitimate or a plot to get him. That’s not the issue here; it’s Galloway’s comments I’m going to discuss.

George Galloway stated that a man doesn’t need specific consent every time he has sex with a woman. If a couple has consensual sex and then the woman goes to sleep, the man is entitled to assume consent is ongoing, he claimed. It may be “bad sexual etiquette” to penetrate her while she is asleep but not rape.

Sorry George, this is nonsense. A sleeping women can’t give consent. And sex without consent is rape.

The fact that a woman has consented to sex once does not confer some sort of ongoing rights to a man to do whatever he likes. This sort of stupidity would take us back to the days when a husband could not ever be deemed to rape his wife because marriage was assumed to give unlimited consent to sex.

Let’s be absolutely clear here. Sex without consent is wrong. If a women says no it can’t ever mean yes. If a women says nothing it doesn’t mean yes. Even if a women changes her mind and says no during the act it still means no.

Rape is always wrong. That shouldn’t need to be said but it apparently does.

 

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No, the First Minister hasn’t actually been trying to outdo the Mayor of London in the crazy stunts stakes, entertaining as that might be to watch. It’s a metaphorical tightrope that Alex Salmond is walking. And it involves the seemingly endless argument over how many questions will be on the Scottish Independence referendum ballot paper.

It is likely that the whole technical debate about the mechanics of the referendum will be over within the next couple of months. And while political anoraks find the whole thing fascinating, even we are looking forward to its resolution so that we can get onto the real debate about the future constitutional status of Scotland.

Now let’s begin by stating the obvious. Alex Salmond is a nationalist. He leads a party whose primary purpose is to achieve independence for Scotland. And that is what guides all of his political thinking. He is not content to be leader of a devolved administration as part of a United Kingdom; he wants Scotland to stand alone.

But Salmond, love him or hate him, is an astute politician. He in many ways represents the split within SNP ranks between the fundamentalists who believe that independence is everything and must be achieved in one fell swoop, and the gradualists who believe that a longer term approach will eventually lead to the ultimate aim.

And that’s exactly why Alex Salmond is currently in the position he is in. His gradualist views are in the majority within his party and he lives daily with the paradox that his job is to make a devolved administration work well while arguing that separation from the UK is necessary. His supporters will argue that this tactic has been successful in gaining public support, as he has converted a minority SNP government into a majority one.

Salmond now has a mandate for an independence referendum. And in my view that means a simple, straightforward question should be put to Scottish voters: become independent or remain within the UK.

And if Alex Salmond thought that he could persuade a majority of Scottish voters to back independence then this single question is exactly what he would want to see.

But the polls show support for independence well below the levels where a win for Salmond is likely. Now I know that two years is a long time and a lot could happen before the likely 2014 referendum date. But Salmond isn’t one to leave things to chance.

That’s where the whole devo max/ devo plus/ independence lite argument comes into play. Now there is no worked up scheme for any of these terms that we hear about in the media so often. They have simply come to represent a position where the devolution process is continued and further (unspecified as yet) powers are given to the Scottish Parliament, but while Scotland remains as a part of the UK. And the polls suggest that, without knowing the details, a majority of voters would back this option.

So if Salmond agrees to devo max on the ballot paper he won’t get independence it would seem. But if he isn’t going to win a single question referendum anyway, would more powers for his government not be a nice consolation prize? And, to a gradualist, also mean another small step towards the long term goal?

But the leader of a pro independence party cannot publicly argue this position. It would be an implicit acceptance of defeat. He would be acknowledging that he cannot win a majority for independence.

And that’s where the balancing act comes in.

Alex Salmond has been very careful never to rule out a third option on the ballot paper. He, naturally enough, has continued to argue for independence – but not in the manner that the fundamentalists would like to see.

The longer the debate goes on, the less radical the SNP’s vision of an independent Scotland is portrayed. We are told that the queen would be head of state, we would continue to use the pound, be tied to Bank of England interest rates, remain in the EU and possibly NATO too, watch Eastenders and other British tv programmes and be part of some sort of “social union” with the rest of the UK, whatever that means. So the distance between full blown independence and a fudged solution is lessening as time goes on.

Now back in January the Scottish Government issued a consultation document called Your Scotland, Your Referendum. It asked for views on the organisation of the referendum, and this included consideration of a possible second question. The crucial sentence was:

“The Scottish Government’s position remains that it is willing to include a question about further devolution on the lines of “devolution max” if there is sufficient support for such a move.”

We are back to the tightrope. The Government doesn’t really want a second question but would concede one if the notion has support, it says. And if it is politically expedient, of course.

Over the summer the responses to the consultation document have been analysed. Some sort of summary will be published over the next month or so. And Alex Salmond will have to take the difficult decision about whether to support the inclusion of a devo max question or not.

A large number of consultation responses along those lines would give him an easy out. It might not be my view, he would argue, but we represent the people and so we have to listen … I could write the speech for him now.

I’ve always argued that referenda are for settling fundamental constitutional questions. That’s why we don’t have many and they are reserved for the most important issues. And this one should be about the basic question alone – should Scotland leave the UK to become an independent country or should we continue to be part of the UK? Any further consideration of devolving more powers is a discussion for another day.

Will Alex Salmond stand firm in his belief that he can win a one question referendum on independence? Or will he concede that is unlikely and include a third option to muddy the waters? We will find out over the next few weeks.

 

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Reflecting On London 2012

So the Olympics are over and the competitors, coaches and spectators will all be heading home. It’s been quite a seventeen days in London and the various other venues, but what’s the overall assessment of London 2012?

Organisationally, there were fears before the Olympics started of security chaos and gridlock on the streets of London. But neither of these has come to pass and the games have seen no major incidents. Indeed the smooth running of virtually the entire tournament is a triumph for the organisers.

Danny Boyle’s expensive and much talked about opening ceremony seemed to be enjoyed by most people. A few right wing Tory MPs didn’t like it, so he must have done something right. Paul McCartney was a bit off key but apart from that it went well. The closing ceremony last night was somewhat bizarre, and I’m not sure too many of us followed what it was supposed to represent. The music was very much a mixed bag too, but Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend showed them all how to play to a crowd in closing the gig.

Many people have been introduced to a variety of sports over these games. I’ve heard a lot of comments about beach volleyball, although I’m not sure all were related to the sporting aspects of the contest. But has there ever been so much talk of cycling as there has over the past couple of weeks? And who knew what a keirin or an omnium were before the Olympics?

There were some strange events in the games of course. I still find it difficult to take BMX seriously as a sport. Why not skateboarding and rollerblading too? Or under 4s cycling with stabilisers? Synchronised swimming is still just plain silly and what exactly is the point of dressage?

Some moments of controversy are part and parcel of any large sporting event. A few drugs tests were failed this time, but not too many. Some badminton players were sent home for trying to lose in order to get a more favourable draw. There were strange decisions from boxing’s judges as often happens, and in the professional sport as well as the amateur version. And a British cyclist used the rules to his benefit by “falling “in order to get a race restarted. I have a feeling we might have heard a lot more about that one if a rider from another country had performed the same trick.

The host nation has done exceptionally well in these games, finishing third in the medals table, behind only the USA and China. That’s a great achievement, even with home field advantage. There were many successes in the sports where we anticipated medals – sailing, equestrian and cycling – but there were also less expected triumphs too, like golds in taeqondo and shooting. And the athletes got their fair share of success in the latter stages of the games too.

Mo Farar’s two amazing long distance triumphs were highlights of the games for me. Jess Ennis defied all of the pressure on her as the face of the games to win gold. Nicola Adams winning the first ever women’s boxing gold was a historic moment. Andy Murray defeating Roger Federer in the singles final was a great achievement. Glaswegian Michael Jamieson winning a silver medal in the swimming in a final shown live on the big screens at Celtic Park was superb. And the achievements of Chris Hoy in the velodrome will live long on the memory.

The Olympics by its very nature is an international competition and there were many outstanding moments involving competitors from overseas.

Michael Phelps’ exploits in the swimming pool left him with a career medals haul that many decent sized countries would be delighted to have. This is the last time we will see the great man competing and it was fitting that he finished off with yet another gold medal in his final race.

Kenya’s David Rudisha set the only individual world record on the track with his victory in an amazing 800m final. He dominated one of the finest middle distance races ever seen and made himself a star with a tremendous run. And Kirani James earned tiny Grenada’s first ever medal by winning the 400m, becoming a national hero in the process.

But there is only one contender for the outstanding athlete of the games title. Usain Bolt showed that he is still the fastest man around. His double double – winning both the 100m and 200m at successive Olympics – is an amazing feat that had never been achieved before. But Bolt triumphed with apparent ease. He also anchored his country to a sprint relay gold with a world record thrown in. And his laid back personality as much as his amazing athletic ability makes him a superstar.

BBC’s coverage of the games has been pretty damned good. Wall to wall television and options on the red button to watch just about every event possible – the type of thing that Sky does so well. And their presenters have generally done a good job, knowledgeable and insightful yet managing to avoid too much jingoism. Well, apart from Mark Lawrenson of course. The British successes were celebrated with glee, but the fine performances of the games’ many other stars were also covered in depth. And Michael Johnson adds such a dignity and depth of knowledge to the athletics coverage.

The economic case for the Olympics was that the capital investment would bring in revenue in the form of tourism and consumer spend. I’m sure figures will be presented in due course to show exactly how much was contributed, but there are also reports of losses elsewhere. It seems many who may have otherwise come to London have been put off by the perceptions of crowds and transport chaos, and that non Olympic tourism revenue might be well down on what might normally be expected over the summer.

As ever politicians were keen to get themselves involved. David Cameron attended a fair few events which Britain seemed to do badly in. After talk of his becoming a jinx he seemed to disappear entirely – no bad thing really. Boris Johnson was always on hand to do something silly though. He seems to thrive on being seen as a fool, but he knows that it works for him.

So what will the legacy of London 2012 be? Will all of the youngsters who are currently discovering a newfound interest in sports get the encouragement they need to keep at it? Will funding be put in place to improve sport at school level? The short term noises coming from the politicians are encouraging – but action over years rather than months is required if real long term improvements in participation rates are to be achieved.

Will the many excellent sporting facilities created for the Olympics continue to be used? Twenty years on, several of the Barcelona games’ venues are standing derelict. That must be a warning to those in charge: ongoing work is needed to secure a legacy. Capital investment on its own simply isn’t enough.

Before these games started it is fair to say that there was a lot of cynicism around. A great deal of money was spent on sports facilities at a time of massive cuts elsewhere. Around £9 billion in public money was reportedly spent on the games in total. But, if a weekend poll is to be believed, a majority of Britains see the investment as worthwhile.

In organisational and sporting terms London 2012 has been a success. And the public in general has become very much caught up in events over the past seventeen days. A worthwhile exercise then? In many ways it’s a yes. But let’s wait until the final economic figures are in before declaring the final result.

 

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The two men at the top of the Con – Lib Dem partnership have had a falling out. But what exactly does this mean for our coalition government? And can Nick Clegg survive yet another failure in government?

The cause of the disagreement is reform of the archaic House of Lords. Now that’s something I am on record as supporting – although personally I would abolish the damned thing and replace it with an elected second chamber as part of a wholesale constitutional revolution that ends with a written constitution.

But even Nick Clegg’s modest proposals for a partially elected Lords are too much for many Tory backbenchers to support. And that’s despite the fact that they were all elected on a manifesto that said, “We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords”.

But when it came to the crunch, David Cameron had to tell his Deputy that there was no way he could get those Tory MPs to support Clegg’s proposals.

Now it is worth dwelling on this for a moment. The Prime Minister could not command the support of all of his MPs for a policy that was part of their election manifesto. Such a spectacular failure of leadership should be a matter of great debate in the country – but luckily for Cameron has the human shield Clegg to take the flak for him.

In response to this lack of Tory backing for his plans, Clegg has announced that his MPs will not back a Tory proposal to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, which has annoyed Tories as they would be the main beneficiaries of a boundary review. This tit-for-tat move puts a strain on the coalition, but there is no appetite on either side for any sort of radical change.

Cameron does not want a general election any time soon as his party trails in the polls.  And for Clegg the position is even worse: he is trapped in the coalition for simple reasons of self preservation – an election would see his party wiped out at the polls on any set of boundaries. No, for now at least, the coalition will survive.

So where does this latest climb down leave Nick Clegg? He failed in a referendum to persuade the electorate to introduce a form of proportional representation – long the holy grail for Lib Dems. He has led his MPs through the voting lobby to support Cameron’s Tories on a series of issues that he would normally have been expected to oppose. And now his Lords reform Bill will be shelved before parliament even gets to discuss it.

Nick Clegg currently leads a political party that has little public support, has performed poorly in elections this year across the UK and is heading for political oblivion.

Clegg was once the man who dominated television election debates. The politician with the highest opinion poll satisfaction ratings. A man who led his party into government for the first time in generations.

But now he is a lame duck politician.

Clegg has sold out whatever principles the Lib Dems once had for a few seats in the Cabinet. He has backed the Tories to introduce stringent public sector spending cuts, to butcher the NHS and to impose misery on millions through benefit “reforms”. And he has achieved little that his own party can call achievements in return.

Very simply. Nick Clegg has failed. The only question now must be when the Lib Dems will decide to replace him as party leader.

 

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The eighth annual Celtic Quick News Open was held at the lovely Aberdour Golf Club in Fife last week – and it was another great day. Here is a quick summary of the day, with links to all of my photographs at the bottom.

Waiting by the first tee.

Registration, and is that jelly and ice cream??

A former Celtic captain with a CQNer

The weather was pretty good but the dark clouds did gather

That bunnet doesn’t look too battered

Jobo Baldie shows exactly where his fine tee shot landed

Burnt tangerine??

Who’s that watching from the Clubhouse?

The evening started with a birthday presentation to one of the organisers, Taggsybhoy.

The new Champion makes his acceptance speech

Paul67 talks of internet bampots

The team winners with the Cerlticlover trophy

Big Yogi was on top form and had everyone laughing.

Thanks to the organising committee for all their hard work, and to everyone who attended, making this be best day of the CQN year. All of the photos can be found at these links:

Day:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordon_j/sets/72157630919628684/

Night:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordon_j/sets/72157630916662584/

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