Search for "10 more reasons" - Aberdeen Voice

Dec 272010
 

Without Prejudice

A request for action and an official report of complaint
10 More reasons to call off the Deer Cull

Suzanne Kelly, 20 May 2011

 

To Valerie Watt, the entire Aberdeen City Council, Ms MacDonald (Complaints) and to the Aberdeen Freedom of Information Officer(s).

Please consider this report to be a summary of my complaints against the actions of Aileen Malone, Peter Leonard, and those involved in planning the cull of the Tullos Hill Roe Deer behind closed doors. Please would the Freedom of Information Officer consider the questions contained in this report as constituting a formal Freedom of Information Request. Please could Ms Macdonald consider this report to be a summary of my main complaints against the aforementioned, to clarify our previous email communications. If anyone of these addressees needs further information, please contact me. (Suzanne Kelly, 204 Victoria Road, Aberdeen AB11 9NP)

At its last meeting in May 2011 Aberdeen Housing & Environment Committee two people requested to make deputations – they wanted to speak on the subject of the controversial deer cull the committee had proposed. Despite new information coming out (as shown in the remainder of this document), despite Community Councils being excluded from the process from the start – the Lib-Dem dominated Committee refused to hear the speakers. What were the grounds for refusing this request? There was no paper report on the deer cull – only a verbal report. The verbal report said that only £51 in funds had been offered of a £225,000 figure which the Committee had previously demanded from animal lovers. The surprise was that any money had been pledged at all: up and down the city and country, animal lovers reacted in anger to the demand for money for the lives of the deer – calling it nothing short of blackmail. The new information was never heard, and the cull is still being planned. Here are 10 reasons why the cull must be stopped now – well, if this were a democratic, fair society anyway.

1. The £225,000 ransom demand was based on a 10 year figure

In an email exchange between the Aberdeen Voice editor and head of the Housing Committee Aileen Malone, Malone admits the £225,000 arbitrarily demanded is for a ten-year period. A total of 10 weeks was given by Housing & Environment for people opposed to the cull to raise this monumental sum. I would like to ask: is it true that the Council owes a sum for previous, failed planting? I was told that £44,000 approximately is owed by the City in this regard – please clarify.

Recommended Action: Since nothing like this amount of money is needed immediately to save the deer, whoever decided this sum was needed should be called to account for themselves. If a more reasonable amount of money was required for fencing, it might have been possible to raise. But this brings up another flaw in this deer cull scheme.

2. Despite the demand for £225,000, Pete Leonard, Head of Housing (check) has written to say that a cull would still be required.

In an email to Suzanne Kelly, Pete Leonard has stated it is SNH’s position that a cull would still be required. Therefore, the demand for money made by a committee to its electorate is shown to be completely misleading.

Recommended Action: Leonard should be asked to explain why money was demanded to save deer that he said would still have to be culled. The demand for money was highly unusual to start with, but that it was demanded under a completely false pretext is further grounds for halting the cull and demanding a full investigation now be started into the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ Scheme and the related deer cull.

3. The Cull is not scientifically supported, would continue for years, and other deer would simply move into the area

The Scottish SPCA, Animal Concern, and other animal experts have stated the obvious: even if the City shoots some deer this year, others will move into the area. The shooting will have to go on for a period of years. This should be wholly unacceptable.

Recommended Action: Animal agencies and charities have resoundingly condemned the cull for a variety of reasons – but for this one reason alone, the cull should be halted.

4. The Housing & Environment Committee / Pete Leonard responded to pertinent questions far too late for either any challenges to be made to the logic behind the cull or for any relevant grant/funding opportunities to be found.

I, Suzanne Kelly, first sent questions in at the end of February which would have enabled me to see if any grants or funding opportunities to save the deer could be found. I chased my request –initially sent to all of the Housing Committee on 8 March. It was only on 29 April that Pete Leonard deigned to send a reply. This was far too late for the arbitrary 10 May deadline imposed by Housing to find funds to save the deer. The reply also left a good deal to be desired.

Likewise John Robins of Animal Concern quickly contacted the Housing Committee. He had offered them the services of an expert – totally free of charge – to give them ways to plant the trees without killing a single deer. Not only did anyone reply to him in a timely offer or even take up the offer, Pete Leonard went so far as to deny that any animal agencies or charities had approached the Council whatsoever. Robins has lodged a formal complaint on the matter with the Council.

Recommended Action: An inquiry should be held into these failures. It is one thing to impose an arbitrary deadline which we have seen has no basis in science or in finance. It is quite another to deny people the means to find funding, to offer other solutions, and to deny there was an offer of other solutions. No cull should take place at least until the facts and decision-making process of the poor handling of the situation are fully brought to light and investigated.

5. Alternatives to killing the deer exist and plentiful, are affordable – and are what the electorate demands

These include:-

There are some three dozen species of tree which deer will not eat: plant a mix of these instead

Use chemical spray deterrents on the young trees to prevent deer from eating them

Plant cheap, alternative sources of food for the deer

Use the Animal Concern offer of expert help to identify the correct options for Tullos Hill – if indeed trees should be planted there at all.

Recommended Action: Determine who, under whose instructions, and why someone from the council briefed Scottish Natural Heritage away from the non-lethal methods of tree planting. As witnessed by the 25 November 2010 letter, this is precisely what happened. The letter makes no mention of the non-lethal measures listed above – and goes so far as to reject tree guards on the grounds they have visual impact. Such guards are in use all over the city – this objection went against the city’s practice elsewhere and against any democratic decision-making system.

6. The Public Phase 2 Consultation omitted the cull – which was already being discussed. This omission was a gross violation of the public’s right to know the facts behind any consultation.

The consultation closed at the end of January 2011 – the veritable conspiracy to sway the SNH towards a cull being the only solution was in full force in November 2010. I personally knew about the consultation; I read it, and found nothing untoward in what it said. Had I known the cull was being planned and should have been mentioned (rabbits were mentioned –leading me to think all animals had been considered), I would have lodged an objection and started an anti-tree-planting campaign immediately. The person or persons who should have mentioned the cull are the same ones undoubtedly who seem to want to stop at nothing for the tree planting. It is not too far a leap to wonder if they wanted the public kept in the dark. I am told in a recent email that Pete Leonard would have had ultimate responsibility for this document, which can be found on the Aberdeen City website.

Recommended Action: A full investigation is required to find out how such a misleading consultation was written, approved and launched. No cull should take place as the public were virtually robbed of the right to protest against it. A report needs to be issued into how and why this consultation was so extremely flawed and slanted.

7. Is Tullos Hill suitable for the tree plantation being the epicentre of decades of Arson? No.

On Tuesday 16 May two more fires broke out in the area – they were part of a lengthy history of fires in the area. We know many of these fires to have been deliberately raised. The fire-fighting cost over the year is in the tens of thousands. As the area is mainly scrub brush (as well as rare wildflowers and orchids as per the Council’s own publications it should be noted) the fires can be handled far more readily than if the area were forest. The area surrounding Tullos hill includes a school, community centre, industrial area, and dwellings. Would the tree not be destroyed by fire? How would fire-raising be prevented in future? At what cost? Was Grampian Fire consulted about the tree-planting scheme?

Recommended Action: Simply do not plant trees on Tullos Hill on such a large scale.

8. Flawed logic should not dictate policy: Why is ‘a tree for every citizen’ something that must be adhered to precisely?

We apparently have grant funding – funding which according to the Phase 2 consultation covered the first three years. That statement was misleading – we are now seeking money either to shoot or save deer. If we don’t plant the trees, we lose some £300k in grants. As the money was solely for the trees, then we lose nothing by saying no to the phase 2 planting.

9. Tullos Hill already has an ecosystem – it is moorland, and moorland in this area is under threat

The City knows that the area has a diversity of plant and animal life. The biodiversity of the existing flora and fauna are as more important than changing the area to a different type of ecosystem. Again, there are rare plants and orchids; coastal birds feed in the area, and of course there are the deer which have survived for decades.

Recommended Action: set Tullos Hill up as a nature reserve. Put up signs warning motorists that deer and other animals are in the area – this is standard practice almost everywhere else that has deer. If we can’t get a grant for all the trees, either halt this project, or scale it down. There is no scientific reason why a tree has to be planted for every Aberdonian: In fact, several thousand of them have signed a petition asking not to have a tree planted for them if it means killing the deer.

10. Don’t kill the deer: The Community Councils and Residents have said so.

Torry Community Council was outraged at their 21 April meeting: they voted unanimously to write to the council condemning the cull and complaining at the lack of consultation on the matter. Nigg, Cove and other Community Councils have followed suit. The Housing Committee has taken arbitrary decisions without communicating with the elected Community Councils. There are also thousands of signatures from Aberdonians (and people further afield make several thousand more complaints) who are completely opposed to this cull. Ms Malone misled the Press & Journal’s readers when she said ‘only about one’ person in Aberdeen made written complaints to her. She privately apologised, but made no public apology to match her P&J statement. The deer do not have to die. The trees do not have to be planted. The scheme is not more important than the wishes of the electorate.

Recommended Action: The City must meet to discuss this and the preceding points, and then it surely must conclude the tree scheme is flawed, people were mislead, democratic process was not followed, the science and finances were incorrect: and that the cull must not go ahead. The actions of those who so desperately tried to push this cull onto an unwilling population must be fully analysed, and appropriate action taken against them.

 

 

Sep 202016
 

One of my more volatile investigations published in Aberdeen Voice concerns Northfield Animal Haven. One of its former Facebook page administrators, Fiona Manclark, persistently posted defamatory comments about me across social media sites – and later claimed a hacker had got into her Twitter, Facebook and email accounts and made the remarks, not her.

Refusing to delete these comments – that I was an ‘alkie’ and a liar’ – and failing to submit any evidence to back these slanderous claims, Fiona Manclark dared me on several occasions to sue her. So eventually I did. And by default, I’ve prevailed. I won’t get the requested apology as it was a default situation. But the court has awarded damages to me.

Don’t feel too sorry for her: she was given numerous chances to delete the material and to apologise, all of which she refused to do over the months – but the upshot is she is to pay me £10,000 plus costs (currently being determined).

Here’s how things built up, what happened, and in a series of articles, I will lay bare the story behind the legal action, expose more concerns about NAH, and share my thoughts at having to stop writing about NAH or Manclark while the legal action was live. By Suzanne Kelly.

Northfield Sheep to mart fb screenshotFiona Manclark was an administrator for Northfield Animal Haven’s Facebook page. I was investigating NAH; this came about after a relatively innocuous article, ‘Reputable Animal Charities Initiative’ was published in early June 2015,

The piece stemmed from a press release; the Press & Journal ran the same story.

It was merely a call for standards in the animal rescue/welfare sector – a charity sector in which more than a few scams take place.

By this time, I had heard distant rumblings about Northfield Animal Haven and the family operating it.

The response to the article from Fiona Manclark’s email was this:

“I find it disgusting and absolutely shocking at how biased this paper is. I seen the remarks that your so called journalist made on one of the animal sanctuary sites, and it was disgusting. The woman that runs the sanctuary that is so very obviously being spoken about here, works very hard and does it all herself.

“Your (so called) journalist was invited up on more than one occasion. But she never turned up at all. So how she has the audacity to speak about sanctuaries this way, without knowing the facts is not only slander, but is very very poor journalism. I can only assume that she couldn’t find the time to leave the brewdog beer for long enough.

“I really really hope that some of the sanctuaries get together and sue this paper.”

The AV Editor, acting as Moderator wrote:

“[This comment is being published in full, in spite of obvious and valid reasons why some content contravenes publication criteria, as it has been published in full on a public facebook page. Therefore it appears futile to edit – Moderator]”

I had been asking Northfield (NAH) questions by this point – but they had NOT been mentioned in the article.

It was Fiona’s bringing NAH into the context of the article that sparked off a small flood of people making contact with me.

People with past dealings with NAH or its owner Kelly Cable and/or her father Eric shared concerns about animal welfare, how funds are managed, what goes on at the farm, Cable’s past conviction for benefit fraud, and other allegations. Almost all of the concerns came from people who were fearful of the Cables discovering the source’s identity.

Considering that Eric Cable chose to mention an AK47 on a Facebook post concerning my articles, I fully understand the fear that some of my sources have.

People chose to come to me with their evidence and anecdotes; if they had been convinced by the repetitive assertions I was a liar and an alcoholic, they well might have gone to other writers instead, or not come forward at all. Manclark/the alleged hacker – if unchallenged — would have damaged my reputation personally and professionally; this will be touched on in a future piece. I asked Manclark numerous times to take down her derogatory remarks. She – or this alleged hacker – refused.

What were some of the issues I found? Northfield Animal Haven claimed to ‘rescue all farm animals’ – it had for instance a sign showing a variety of farm animals, which declared it rescued all farm animals. In reality, while one arm of this family business purports to rescue farm animals; the other arm sells farm animals at market.

Some animal lovers were horrified when they discovered they were supporting a person who was involved in rescue but who was also involved in sending animals to market – which more often than not can mean sending them to slaughter.

Kelly Cable responded along the lines that ‘everyone’ knows that she also operates a ‘working farm’ and it is not her concern what happens to animals she sells (more on these issues in further articles in this series).

As documented in a previous Aberdeen Voice article, Kelly Cable responded:

“all of our supporters are aware of what we do with our sheep”

When questioned in detail about whether or not the sold animals are killed she replied:

“I don’t send them [sheep] for slaughter the people who buy them after me probably do but I don’t personally so what I stated was fact….”

Northfield was, shall we say, creative with fundraising. Using photos of Shetland ponies and emaciated cows, NAH claimed to need funds for urgent rescue and launched online fundraising appeals. When these images were put into Google search by Aberdeen Voice and other concerned parties, it emerged either the ponies depicted were happily homed and had no connection to Northfield – or in the case of the cows – were in… America.

Cable claimed to be rescuing them:

“They dumped them in a shed I’ve been feeding them since Friday”

“Thank you if I can raise about a £1000 at least that will get them here food for a few weeks and vet care”

The truth was just a bit different back in 2011 when Lycospca (based in Lycoming County, USA) wrote about the same animals:

“Thank goodness someone saw these poor animals and called us to check up on them. The owner had grain in the barn and they were ordered to get a round bale.”

If the casual observer had read Kelly’s messages about the cows, they’d have believed she had just seen them, and that they had little time in which to raise funds. As for the shetland ponies, owners of two of these were less than pleased to find their photos had been used for NAH fundraising without their permission.

There will be further analysis and revelations in the next articles.

Manclark’s comments – a timeline:

If Fiona Manclark had been hacked, the hack went on for six months. She would also appear not to have taken down any of the offensive comments the alleged hacker made over the months until late December when my legal action against her attempted smear on me was in progress.

The alleged hacker managed to get her Facebook, Twitter and email accounts and use them to communicate with people including her friends – none of which picked up on the claim Manclark made that she didn’t know me or AV, or that they weren’t speaking to Manclark but to a hacker.

Date Poster/Author Social Media/publication Comment
02/06/15 Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Aberdeen Voice – comments on article ‘Reputable Animal Charities Initiative’ – nb this story came as a press release and was also published by the Press & Journal. I find it disgusting and absolutely shocking at how biased this paper is. I seen the remarks that your so called journalist made on one of the animal sanctuary sites, and it was disgusting. The woman that runs the sanctuary that is so very obviously being spoken about here, works very hard and does it all herself. Your (so called) journalist was invited up on more than one occasion. But she never turned up at all. So how she has the audacity to speak about sanctuaries this way, without knowing the facts is not only slander, but is very very poor journalism. I can only assume that she couldn’t find the time to leave the brewdog beer for long enough.
I really really hope that some of the sanctuaries get together and sue this paper.** [This comment is being published in full, in spite of obvious and valid reasons why some content contravenes publication criteria, as it has been published in full on a public facebook page. Therefore it appears futile to edit – Moderator]
18/08/15 Suzanne Kelly Twitter Mummyalfi (Manclark’s Twitter account name) Further to my earlier tweet, I consider calling me a liar and an alcoholic to be libel. Remove your posts, apologise
04/09/15 Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Twitter SueKelly10 (Suzanne Kelly’s Twitter account name) So sue me. You are a liar and you are an alkie, so no, I will not apologise for telling people the truth.
05/09/15 (approx) Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Facebook, Northfield Animal Haven home page (Posting as Northfield Animal Haven) Fiona here. Suzanne Kelly who “writes” for the voice. She’s Sue Kelly on Twitter and is the biggest cretin I have ever come across. She is a liar, a keyboard warrior and an alkie. Dangerous combination. And for the record, it’s me (Fiona) that is saying all of this. Not on behalf of Northfield Animal Haven, or Kelly, just on what I’ve had to witness from this thing.
08/09/15 Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Aberdeen Voice – comments on article ‘Animal Shelter Operator Is A Smooth Operator Suzanne, please do take me to court. Your reputation means everything to you?
You haven’t even been to visit Kelly even though you have been invited many times.
And you have been seen coming out (or should I say falling out) of brewdog on many occasions. So until you remove your rubbish about Kelly, I will not be removing my truths about you.
08/09/15 Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Aberdeen Voice – comments on article ‘Animal Shelter Operator Is A Smooth Operator I can’t wait to hear from your solicitor. You have been seen on many occasions falling out of brewdog, so that’s not libel, that’s the truth.
19/12/15 Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Facebook, Suzanne Kelly’s home page (Fiona or the alleged hacker) sees a comment from a man she knows on my page and comments:
“… please tell me you don’t know this ahem person”
22/12/15 (approx Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) Voice message left for my solicitor Fiona Manclark (? hacker?) tells us to ‘go ahead and sue’ – Manclark later admits to making this call, but claims she was ill/stressed at the time.

 

Aberdeen Voice has also seen Facebook discussions between Ms Manclark and others in which Manclark mentions the threat of legal action from me, and complains I sent her a profusion of private messages.

The truth is that I sent one message to her, asking her to remove offensive comments; an Aberdeen Voice editor was on copy of the message. Fiona Manclark (or this mysterious hacker) replied refusing to retract the comments. None of the people in these discussions suspected that they were communicating with a hacker; none question Manclark’s assertion to the court that she’d only heard of me/Aberdeen Voice after hearing from my lawyer.

When someone is hacked, there is every chance that their email/social media provider will at the very least send a message of concern – login from an unusual site, unusual activity on the account, etc.

When items sent or posted from a hacker haven’t been deleted, then a hacking victim would see them in their outbox, on their home page, in their twitter feed, etc. – and know something was amiss, delete them and report a suspected hack. None of this seems to fit the pattern we are asked by Manclark to believe.

The hack allegedly went on from June through December – apparently without Manclark realising it was taking place. Sometimes the alleged hacker was able to respond very quickly (see Aberdeen Voice comments for instance).

Ms Manclark recently claimed to the court that she gave all of her passwords to Kelly Cable at Northfield Animal Haven: if there were a hack, and if the police had been asked to investigate by Manclark, I wonder where the trail would have led – to some mysterious hacker, or a computer closer to home?

Then again, should we take Manclark’s word there was a hacker over this period of time using three of her accounts?

Was there a mysterious hacker with a vendetta against me with regard to Northfield that took place for months – or was this all the work of Fiona Manclark?

Fiona Manclark refused my lawyer’s first request to remove the posts from social media and apologise publically for them. When she refused, we started the legal action against her. After months of waiting to see if she would get legal aid to fight the case, legal aid was denied, and a court date was set.

Manclark wrote a letter to the court rather than appearing before it in August. In her letter she sticks to the claim she had been hacked. She claims it was reported to the police, but she never supplied evidence to back this up such as a police incident number.

She refused to help me have the police investigate the hacking claim. I was a third party victim of the hack she claims to have suffered.

The police could have investigated it – only if Manclark had been willing to co-operate. My lawyer wanted her to go to the police with me to report it, and she refused on the grounds ‘she didn’t know me’. Well, the person using her accounts certainly knew me well enough – to respond by blocking me.

It would appear from the legal decision in my favour the courts might have at the very least had their doubts as to her claims.

Manclark had quite a bit to say in her written submission to the court, which Aberdeen Voice editors have now seen. This will be the subject of the next article.

It is my understanding now that the court’s decision is absolute. It is time for Ms Manclark – or the mysterious hacker – to think about making restitution to me. My thoughts on the defamation, the legal process, and Ms Manclark’s arguments (such as they are) will be one of the articles in this series.

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Jun 192015
 

A satirical cornucopia of news stories, current events, anecdotes and statistics on the life and crimes – sorry – life and times of Donald Trump. Businessmen large and small, beautiful women, here’s all you need to know to convince yourselves Trump’s the partner for you. And – he wants to grow up to be President. Old Susannah aka Suzanne Kelly counts down.

DictionaryDonald Trump is not just another pretty face. Sure, he may have had the odd financial hiccough or two.

He may have done business with some less than savoury characters (Damian Bates of the P&J and the odd underworld shadowy figure).

But at heart he’s just a nice guy who wants to build a golf club – best in the world – that his dear saintly grandma would have loved. With no further ado, here are 19 reasons why this is the ideal business/matrimonial/golf/huntin’ & shootin’ partner for you.

  1. He’s going to stop Mexico from sending rapist druggie immigrants to the USA

In a remarkable video, Trump’s just explained how Mexico is ‘sending’ the good ole US of A people with problems. We’ve got to stop these foreigners from coming into a civilised country, riding roughshod over its laws, and taking over. If he’d have said this from his Menie estate golf clubhouse, where he flies in, having taken over two former SSSI sites and brought grief to the locals, it would have really driven the point home.

Listen to him talking about how to deal with these undesirable foreigners here:

  1. He’s into freedom of expression – unless you’re working for him and have something on your Facebook page that’s naughty and bad for the club’s reputation. How we all laughed when the highly-offended Trump International Golf Links Scotland management sacked its chef. Why did they get the hump?

The man had the temerity to have (stop reading if you are of a sensitive disposition, and skip to No 3) a shortbread that looked like a man’s private parts on his Facebook page. Sure, this was his own private Facebook page not linked to Trump, and someone else had put the offensive confection on the chef’s page, but when you’re dealing with financial titans of Trump’s moral fibre, there is no room for anything offensive. (See also No. 5 for further evidence of what is / is not offensive to publish).

The chef in question was going without his final pay for a while; he had a sick child. Was it the intervention of a local newspaper (hint: not the P&J) which was going to write further about this that helped get the chef his settlement? We’ll never know, as like anyone else who’s worked for the Donald, he may well have been gagged.

  1. The Donald can link you to some colourful characters.

While immigration from Mexico to the US is obviously a no-no to our man; Donald Trump once indicated that only Europeans should be allowed to come on over. Some of these acceptable types of immigrants and their children now do business with the man.

There is no room for racial discrimination; Trump’s been accused by others of having links to alleged criminals and organised crime figures from European as well as Asian backgrounds.

This article seems to assert there are possible links to organised crime and Donald Trump.

In this article questions are raised about Mr Trump’s links and as to whether the Scottish Government fully assessed any such issues

Aberdeenshire planning is aware of all of this; so were the Scottish reporters who granted him permission to take over Menie for his planned complex. But they decided it wasn’t relevant. There is a government/Police Scotland directive about looking out for organised crime operations – which may well flourish in property development (heaven forfend!). But as you and I know, there is often smoke without fire. I think Trump’s just vaping.

Since no laws about organised crime and what goes with it are being enforced in Scotland (in Trump’s case anyway), you’ll get to meet lots of influential people if you get in bed with the Donald.

  1. His Gran was Scottish

There can be no more persuasive argument than that Donald Trump boasts Scottish bloodlines. No wonder he’s always trying to get Barak Obama to produce a birth certificate; Obama might be one of those non-European raping drug dealers that snuck into America.

It was always something of a surprise that having The Don show up at Aberdeen Airport (estimated cost of one cancelled trip, according to the Police, cost the taxpayer £8000 in police costs) with beautiful girls, red carpets and a personal police escort hasn’t led to massive crowds waiving hankies and throwing flowers. He’s one of us after all (Old Susannah has Scottish roots too, but alas won’t be opening a golf course).

This love of all things Scottish and a disdain for third world people trying to better themselves is seen in the many ‘Made In China’ ties, shirts, souvenirs available with the Trump brand.

  1. He passes valuable skills and moral lessons to his children: Hunting is cool

Donald Jr. is a chip off the old blockhead. He is as much a conservationist as his father is an environmentalist (see No. 12). When Donald Jr posed with a severed elephant’s tail, it made some bleeding heart liberals angry.

You might think that with poachers reducing Africa’s elephant, rhino and big game population to the vanishing point that elephants were somehow benevolent creatures and should be saved. It’s just as Donald Jr. explained it in Anthony Baxter’s (see No. 20) film ‘A Dangerous Game’. If people like the Trumps didn’t go on safari with guns, Africans wouldn’t have shoes.

That kind f charity alone should convince you this is the business partner for you. Ladies will swoon at the braveness of the big hunter polishing his big gun too.

Forbes Magazine puts it all into perspective:

“First, what was with that elephant tail? Donald Jr. told me that TMZ didn’t report that Africans traditionally cut off the tail and make bracelets from the tail hair. TMZ didn’t seem to know—again, because they didn’t do any reporting—that Africans do this as a sign of respect for the fallen animal. And they didn’t report that elephants are over-populated in the area the Trumps hunted and so need to be hunted to prevent them from further destroying their habitat.

“They didn’t mention that when elephants overpopulate they literally rip down the forest. They didn’t note—and any conservation group could have told them this—the result of an overpopulated elephant herd is death by starvation and disease. Nor did they did contact the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to find out that hunting is managed scientifically to benefit all species and the ecosystem.” 

As Groucho Marx once said in Animal Crackers:

“This morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas – how it got in my pyjamas I’ll never know.” 

So here we have a family of brave, intrepid hunters risking life and limb to stop elephants in their tracks. Now that you know the real facts, and that the tail was going to be made into a bracelet to celebrate the animal’s bravery or some such, defend the clan Trump. All I can say to those who criticise them for their hunting is ‘Tusk, tusk tusk’.

  1. He’s going to be President 

It’s not enough to run beauty pageants and golf courses; it’s not even enough to be a self-awarding award winner (see no. 9)  and an energy expert. The Donald wants to be president, and apparently he’s going for it. For some reason, he feels an affiliation for America’s right-wing Republican party; I am sure this surprised you greatly.

He has a plan to stop IS/ISIS in its tracks (but we can’t be told about it yet), and he’s going to build great big walls between the US and Mexico (those pesky raping druggie immigrants don’t you know). Watch for further developments. I feel much safer knowing that one day Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin may interface representing the US and Russia. Peace in our time may be imminent.

Most of us think of him as a modern incarnation of ‘Honest’ Abraham Lincoln (except Lincoln had better hair). However, The Washington Post is not as convinced of his honesty. They write:

“He won’t feel the need to strictly adhere to, well, the truth.” 

This is a shocking statement about how he may perform in a debate, and I hope he sues them. Here’s a great profile of the future president.

  1. He’s quite the ladies’ man

The world’s most beautiful women flock to the Donald. Dreams of running their fingers through his chequebook – sorry – his hair — bring the world’s most glamourous, self-esteem-filled women running. This sex appeal will surely rub off on all who are associated with him. Perhaps part of that appeal are all those photos of him looking thoughtful and self-possessed.  You might find yourself throwing interesting shapes with your mouth as well just like he does.

  1. Trump helps liberate women by running beauty pageants

It’s nice that Donald helps the fairer sex be all they can be – objects. If that weren’t good enough, if further proof if any were needed that there is no racism in the Trump organisation – the Miss Universe pageant is open to every beautiful woman willing to put on a bikini. Miss Universe is a completely above board exercise in finding out who looks best in a gown or a swimsuit. Can you believe one year a transgender person entered? It speaks volumes for Trump that they let this happen (eventually).

One sore loser claimed the pageant was fixed! Donald retaliated in the most refined, gentlemanly way possible – he sued her for $5,000,000. Obviously a beauty pageant would never be a fix.

  1. He’s won awards including the 6 Diamond Award

Donald Trump’s businesses have won awards. Winning is everything. What helps to win awards? Being one of the people behind the award scheme of course. The well-known American Academy of Hospitality game DT’s Menie Links a six diamond award. Diamond award, diamond geezer.

The prestigious 6 Diamond award had never been achieved before.  And what makes a 6 Diamond Award more special than a 5 Diamond award? Well, it’s one more, innit? For more details of what the award is about, you could enquire on the website – where you can see the Academy Trustees. The top row has a photo of one ‘Ambassador Extraordinaire’ – Donald Trump. I’m sure they will answer all questions about how the award winners are selected.

10. Trump’s a TV star – that means he must be popular.

No doubt this will be a vote winner. ‘President Donald Trump’ – this does have a certain ring to it. Alas, though – he may not be friends with people who helped his US version of ‘The Apprentice’ along the way. And those lucky female contestants? Here’s what Trump said:

All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.

Indeed it is. I’m surprised Damian Bates isn’t worried about his lovely bride Sarah ‘Face of Aberdeen’ working so closely with this sex magnet magnate.

  1. Donald’s helping to make Neil Young’s music popular

Neil Young is an obscure Canadian musician. Trump very kindly took Mr Young’s song ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World’ and used it for his Presidential campaign song. You’d think that this would please Neil, but he’s having none of it. You just can’t please some people. I’ve no doubt the two men see eye on the major issues of the day – keeping Mexicans out of the US, building golf courses, beauty pageants, etc.

Perhaps they just need to sit down and have a chat. Word is that Neil’s desperate to do so.

  1. He will save us from Wind Power: he is an expert, and he ‘Is the Evidence’

Not content with bringing us beautiful women to look at and Chinese-made golf clothing, Trump will keep fighting to ensure that you and I have a wind-power free future. If you can believe it, the Scottish Government want to put wind farms where guests at the exclusive Trump Golf Scotland resort might have to look at them. This will be stopped at all costs. Trump was invited (naturally enough) to Holyrood for his expertise.

He explained his first hand knowledge of the effects of wind power on tourism. People apparently want a sedate, serene experience at an expensive resort, without having to look at an oversized, overblown, over-bearing eyesore. We have to pick our future: clean energy and a shift from our oil-based economy to renewables, or happy millionaire tourists. Best listen to the impartial expert.

  1. He furthers the careers of journalists

Without Trump’s complaint to the police and the subsequent arrest of journalists Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney, where would the two be now? As if getting bundled into the back of a police car for asking about a broken water main weren’t enough, Donald even agreed to be interviewed by Anthony for a subsequent documentary.

You can’t say Donald is heartless now can you? As well as helping these fledglings advance their profile, Trump is generous in his support of local press supremo, Damian Bates.

For all the information on Baxter, Phinney and the two related, award winning documentaries (note these awards were actually given out by bodies that neither journalist were personally involved in, just like Trump’s diamond award), just turn to the Press & Journal. Over the course of 5 years, 2 or three pieces appeared. Or, you can try the search feature on Aberdeen Voice.

  1. He helps people break into project planning

One day, there she was, sitting amid the costumed dummies of the Gordon Highlander Museum. The next, she’s sitting amid the costumed dummies at TGILS. Sarah Malone owes a great deal to Donald Trump for advancing her career from administrator of a museum to Vice President of a multi-million pound development.

You really don’t need much experience to take on project management of a golf resort complex. You don’t even have to know about golf. If you’re a size 10, not too tall, and have connections with the press, you too can find yourself at the helm of a project like Sarah has. You just need determination, a beauty contest trophy, and a husband in charge of a newspaper. Oh, and of course, a benevolent benefactor such as Donald has kindly been to Sarah.

  1. He helps keep extras and background artists in work 

A few years back, an angry mob protested against wind farms. They were all very much motivated in their cause – motivated by the money they were being paid by Trump to show up that is. Now he’s apparently given work to yet more up and coming actors and extras to show up in support of his campaign launch; apparently the going rate was $50.

  1. Trump knows good fences make good neighbours

When he thinks big, he things big. He plans to make a wall between the USA and Mexico as already mentioned. Sounds like a plan. A plan that he would have.

He’s got some form here in Scotland. When Susan Munro refused to sell her home to a Trump minion, Neil Hobday, who was pretending to be a tourist in love with Scotland, Trump simply got the bulldozers in. Now where her kitchen window once looked out across the fields to the sea, she sees a huge mound of earth with weeds and dying trees on it.

The newly-created mound of earth was not on any of the approved plans for the area, but he’s not one to stick to the approved plans, is he – what a loveable maverick.

He even hired environmentalists to write a report saying that the existing families were better off with these mounds of earth blocking their light and views. The experts didn’t bother to speak to the homeowners; they just wrote the report without disturbing them. How’s that for being considerate?

This wall was meant to be lowered considerably. That’s not happened, and any day now, our trusty Shire enforcers will make him comply. Sure they will. The Munros loved it when all the dirt and sand from the newly-created mound blew into their home, their garden and their automobile engines. Good times.

  1. He plants trees

Trump loves to plant lots and lots of trees at Menie. The mounds of earth he erected by Susie Munro and the Milne’s homes didn’t do enough to hide these Scottish cottages from the rich patrons he wanted to attract. So, he started planting pine trees on them. The trees, oddly enough, didn’t like growing on top of a sandy pile of dirt at the beach (when did you last see a pine forest close to the sea?)

The trees get watered by minions, the trees turn brown, the trees die and are replaced. Some might think this is spiteful, wasteful, and not fair on homeowners (or on the trees doomed to die). But you have to admit, this self-proclaimed environmentalist has planted plenty of trees.

  1. He’s got great business sense

It’s uncanny how he can make money. Despite 4 or so corporate bankruptcies leaving all sorts of small businesses and employees in the red, the Donald just keeps going. I guess we can thank his kindly bankers and benefactors to a degree, but it’s really all down to his skill.

  1. He is as modest as he is honest

On one occasion the man said:

“I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”

God only knows what the other candidates were like.

These are a few of the many, many reasons you want to be doing business with the man lovingly known as Clownface Von F*ckstick.’ Thinking of aligning with him? Go right ahead.

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Sep 122014
 

SaltireJack2By Fin Hall – Writer Photographer, Realist.

I am rapidly approaching my 62nd birthday; in fact by the time that I cast my vote on the 18th of September, that milestone will have passed.
My views on independence has never changed since I first was eligible to put a cross on my first voting paper. It has always been an easy choice to be a yes voter.

When I was 18 I voluntarily joined the army, not any of the Scottish regiments, that would involve too much, hard, physical work, but The Royal Signals, as a radio operator.

When I was filling out my application form, two things rankled me. One was the fact that it was not permissible to put the word ‘atheist’ in the box for my religion. The other being, that I wasn’t allowed to enter ‘Scottish’ in the section reserved for nationality.

I have never been anti-English, nor, on the other hand, have I ever been a Braveheart style nationalist. Both of these options are narrow minded, and potentially dangerous characteristics.

Not long after enlisting, there was an election of some sorts in Aberdeen. I remember getting my dad to vote by proxy for me, something I don’t believe one can do now. This is where I am not sure of my facts, but spurred on by the application form, I seem to recall getting him to vote for the SNP candidate. I am not sure who that would have been, but it was the start of the road to where I am now.

In the seventies when Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government ( remember them? Real labour) cheated us out of our right to devolution, by stating that we needed to get at least 46% of the population to cast their vote for the victory to be assured, I was devastated that our proud people, couldn’t drag themselves along to the polling stations in the appropriate numbers.

Fast forward to Tony Blair and his New Labour posse riding into town and delivering the promised, no strings attached, devolution referendum, the result of which is the position we find ourselves in just now. Getting the chance to decide our own future, hopefully the chance to stand on our own two, or should I say five million feet in a few weeks.

There are many reasons why I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone, I mean anyone, could even consider not voting to be 100% in complete control of their own lives, whilst still being in a close relationship with their partner.

Scotland is not, and never will be a third world country. We have no need to have to go cap in hand to Westminster, no need for charitable aid donations.

Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since then, and will develop even further in the future

We have vast oil resources, and despite the fact that Alistair Darling and David Cameron call it ‘volatile’ and that it will run out eventually, I always argue the fact that they have had oil in the a Gulf of Mexico area since 19th century and in the Middle East since somewhere in the middle of the 29th century.

I realise it is different geological circumstances, but it shows no sign of running out there.

I have been hearing this in Aberdeen since it first started coming ashore in the seventies.

Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since then, and will develop even further in the future, meaning it will be possible to get even more out. Never mind the Clair Ridge recent discovery. So why is it volatile here and not in other parts of the world? How come our oil-sharing neighbours, Norway, aren’t tearing their hair out worrying about the successful country they are?

I have friends that continuously spout out about supporting local businesses as opposed to putting money into the pockets of the multi-nationals, and then support the Better Together side of things, not getting the irony in what they are doing and saying.

By forever being beholden to a power other than our own is like living at home as an adult, in a great, well paying job, handing over all your salary to your mum, getting some pocket money back, and still having to do your own laundry and make your own tea.

In my day job, or should I say my afternoon and evening job, I am a self employed taxi driver. I have been for 37 years, and all but one of non Scottish people I have had in my cab, and discussed the referendum, have stated that they would have voted yes, or will vote yes, for those eligible.

None of them can understand why any one would vote no. They just don’t get it. In fact one Indian guy stated that independence is in their blood from birth.

The one who said she was voting no was a young English born girl of Romanian descent. Her reason was that when Romania became a free country, it didn’t fare well to start with.

this isn’t set up to be a slight on our southern neighbours, but more showing our standing in the world

I asked her if she had the chance back then, would she have voted to remain under the control, effectively of USSR? She thought I was asking a stupid, irrelevant question. Totally failing to get the point, that, because of the fall of the aforesaid communist empire, she wouldn’t necessarily be free and here in Scotland just now.

I have travelled to well over 30 different countries, and generally what happens is, that locals ask if you are English; when you point out to them that you are Scottish, a smile as wide as the Firth of Forth come across their countenance.

This happened to us in August in Northern a France, when in a pizza restaurant ( don’t ask, it was all that was open) when the owner came over and introduced himself to us, and asked that very question. When we told him we were Scottish, he apologised, and got even more friendlier.

Now this isn’t set up to be a slight on our southern neighbours, but more showing our standing in the world, despite the Better Together campaigners saying we are only good because we are conjoined to England via the Westminster umbilical cord. And despite the Better Together rampagers spreading fear and loathing about currency, our pound, pensions, (safe) health service. ( safe unless Westminster cuts funding, which they could do) and other spurious tittle tattle,every day more people are turning our way.

We are a rich and diverse country fill of artists, inventors, discoverers etc. By saying that, I am not implying that we are unique in such a thing, there are many countries the same. The only difference is that they are independent and stand and fall on their own choice, unlike us, who have the burden of paying the price of Westminster’s failings and bullying.

I am voting yes because I come from a proud country, and would like to leave the future totally in the hands of our own decisions, so my grand children and my soon to be born great grand daughter, and for generations to come, can be proud that we, Scotland the Brave, made the right decision, for the right reasons, and not immediately thinking of the penny in our pocket at thus precise moment, and not because we were fearful of being ejected from the EU the rest of the UK may vote to stay in anyway, and not because we hate anyone, but because we are a nation ready for independence and have no wish to still live with our parents, paying our board and living off handouts .

We are not a third world country, but a globally successful one.

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Jan 132014
 

Julie Thompson continues her series on photographing bands in Aberdeen taking in Malfunction and KWEEF at Downstairs @ The Malt Mill and the Complete Stone Roses supported by Dave Winston Brown at The Lemon Tree. 

malfunction1As I sit here typing these words, Christmas is past and a new year is very imminent (in, oh, 25 minutes in fact). Between these two events I have had 3 successive nights at The Lemon Tree – with a quick dash over to an album launch at Downstairs after the first of them.

The first of the 3 Lemon Tree gigs was Big Country, supported by Dave Sharp (formerly of The Alarm).

As this gig has been reviewed by Suzanne Kelly, I won’t be saying much about it.

George Mackie was the only other tog there, which surprised me. I would have expected maybe at least one of the local newspaper photographers to have been there.

Once the first 3 songs were over, George Mackie suggested we head over to Downstairs @ the Malt Mill, where there was an album launch gig for a local band, Malfunction. It turned out that he was also going to be shooting the next two nights at the Lemon Tree, so this gave me an excellent opportunity to get to know him a bit better and to get our interview done.

KWEEF, the support band, was just finishing their set when we arrived and Downstairs was looking very atmospheric – the smoke machine had been on overtime by the look of it. There was a decent sized crowd there, which was good to see so close after Christmas.

Using KWEEF for a camera settings check, I found a boost on ISO was needed – up to the scary 5000-6400 level. The images would be noisy but if a focus lock was achievable and a lucky light was shining in the right direction then I should hopefully get some reasonable results.

From a previous visit here, I knew I could get an almost drummers-eye view of the band so I decided to see how it looked from there with a fisheye lens. I think foggy might be the best way to describe it – so much so, the other side of the small stage was impossible to see.

However, it’s not often you can get close enough to the drummer for photos so I stuck around waiting for the end of the last number and a flourish from the drummer.

After a short hiatus, it was the turn of Malfunction, who were there to promote their new album.

I have to say, crowd watching is always fun at punk gigs, which is handy when you have tricky shooting conditions – you can, for example, crowd watch when waiting for the smoke to clear or even see possibly shots building up; crowd interaction with the band is often interesting.

A flashgun would maybe have made the shoot easier but, as I’d not originally planned on going to Downstairs and couldn’t use one at The Lemon Tree, I had not brought one with me.

KWEEFSome planning and patience (and a certain amount of luck) was needed for photographing the band – mostly waiting for one of the lights to swing around for illumination and hoping it coincided with a good shot and a lull in smoke output. Now I have some experience of them, a challenge like this is always good fun – it keeps you on your toes.

Malfunction will be one of 32 bands playing for the chance of a record deal at the Battle of the Bands, organised by Fat Hippy Records.

The first elimination heats kick off from the 10th January at Downstairs. The Facebook link above gives a list of the bands (4 per heat) and dates they’re playing so why not go along to provide some support.

On chatting with George Mackie I discover he has been photographing live music for some 3 and a half years now – starting with a standard DSLR & kit lens and on camera flash.

Not knowing any different at the time he took his photos in fully automatic mode. His first foray into the live music world was at a UK Subs gig in Drummonds, on a night when Dod Morrison & Andy Thorne, both established music togs, were there to shoot.

The reason he began shooting gigs? Well, I’ll let him tell you in his own words:

“There was a lack of reporting online of smaller gigs in Aberdeen that I’d attended and it annoyed me a bit. Some shows were just great but only attended by thirty people and my friends all said they didn’t know it was on blah blah, just one excuse after another. That, and reading then Explodes (now New York Johnny) lengthy write ups on his My Space page of gigs he’d attended made me wonder if we could create something ourselves; like a paper fanzine of old, but online.

“Godzilla Blues is another person who can put his learned thoughts into words and give you a detailed account of a show. Both these people are experienced musos who write as it was, not as `all the roses are blooming` type reporters.”

george_mackie_TV_SmithThis is what led to the formation of Flares n Seagulls – described as An alternative music magazine for the Kingdom of Aberdonia – where George shoots (sometimes doubling up as reviewer) the images to go with the reviewers words.

I asked him what he found the most difficult in live music photography. Frustration, mostly, when he doesn’t nail the shots he was wanting at a gig.

He’s very self critical and as a big fan of live music feels the need to justify his place in the pit by getting that 9/10 shot he was after.

One of the things he finds most challenging is when a band or artist looks disinterested:

‘Trust me, if you look disinterested on stage then it will show in the photographs. Make an effort, look good, and do those songs you practice justice. You get one chance to capture (or lose) that audience so don’t bore us with endless `banter` but lose yourself in the music, whether it be pin drop silence and an acoustic guitar or a 100 mph amp busting set. I know what set of images I’d rather look at.’

One of his early gig shoots (with aforementioned kit camera/lens & flash) was remembered when I asked about one of his more exciting shoots:

Cancer Bats and Vera Cruz at Drummonds. I’ve never seen the place rammed like it was that night and the bands and crowd were intense to the max. Loved it.”

I’ll continue with this interesting interview next time, but for now we go back to The Lemon Tree.

Dave Winston Brown was providing support on my second evening there – local lad, with a pleasant and very gravelly voice, also plays with a local band called The Smokin’ Bugler Band. I was actually quite impressed with his performance – an acoustic set which closed with a cover of the T-Rex classic, Get It On.

By this time the place was packed to the brim with Stone Roses fans, some brandishing rubber bats – no, I don’t know why, either.

Complete Stone Roses soon had the place bouncing. There is something about the Stone Roses – they have passionate fans and looking into the crowd you could see they knew all the words and were singing along.

The lighting was tricky at the start – red lighting is hard to photograph as it washes out a lot of the detail and makes the photos look mushy. This can be fixed for some images – to a certain extent – in processing.

completeSR1One of the reasons I shoot RAW files is for that added flexibility during processing. It’s not ideal though and can make for some time consuming sessions at the computer.
Quite often the only option is conversion to black & white but many people prefer colour images. It’s a fine balance to find.

One thing that is not commonly known is that photographers will spend more time working on the photos than actually taking them – a lot more time.

One 3 song shoot (anywhere from 10-25 minutes) of an active band can leave me with some 200 or more photos to pick through.

With experience, the numbers taken do decrease and the hit rate increases. Indeed I have noticed that happening – at the start, my trigger-happy self would come home with 500 or more photos per band (most of them rubbish). It can take hours to go through them all, remove the chaff and pick out the best ones. Then you add on processing time for those you finally pick out.

When our time in the pit was over, it was time to grab a drink, relax a bit and watch the rest of the show – at The Lemon Tree we hang out by the security guy at the pit entrance, where there is usually some space.

It’s not the best place for a good view of the band but you can crowd watch and – something that I think is no bad thing – become familiar to (and with) the security people at a venue. It’s just good manners after all.

Sadly, the enjoyable evening came to an abrupt end. I noticed the security man, stationed at the other end of the pit, move forward and leap over the pit wall into the crowd. He had spotted that someone was down – a woman appeared to have collapsed or fallen and was not getting up again.

CompleteSR4Up on the stage, the lead singer noticed the activity and stopped the band playing, calling for the house light to come up.
After it became apparent this was not going to be a short hiatus, the band said they were leaving the stage, as this had to take priority – full marks to them. 

An ambulance was summoned – it was very quick to arrive – but in the meantime a first-aider from the audience came forward to help and security cleared the immediate area.

It appeared that she may have banged her head when she fell, so she was taken off to the ambulance and, I assume, onward to the hospital to be checked over.

I can’t fault the reaction of the band, The Lemon Tree staff, the first-aider and the ambulance service in their response to this. Well done everyone.

The last of the three Lemon Tree events of the weekend was for Terry McDermott & The Bonfires. You can read about this, along with the second instalment of the George Mackie interview, next time.

Earlier, I totalled up the number of gigs I’ve attended and photographed since mid September. It came to 34 – all on top of my day job. I guess that explains why I was pretty knackered most of the last 3 months. Now I’m on my way up the learning curve I think I can slow down a bit. So far, January is shaping up to be a fairly quiet month, as far as gigs go.

Happy New Year to you all – I hope your 2014 is full of joy and excitement. Oh and feel free to come and say hello if you see me at a gig one day – I don’t bite, honest.

 More photos:

Malfunction/Kweef
Complete Stone Roses
Dave Winston Brown

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Mar 282013
 

I often have a wee laugh to myself when I read about the cost to the UK economy of the Royal Wedding or a public holiday. It seems that a national bank holiday costs the economy a whopping £2.3 bn according to The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), writes Duncan Harley.

Of course, if bank holidays or royals can’t be blamed for our economic ills, there is always the weather.
This week’s tabloid headlines have pointed to snow as the real culprit for the recession.
I am guessing that greedy bankers are off the hook, as are western capitalist models of economic theory!

If the snow really is to blame though, 2012 should have been a bumper year for the UK economy, as barely a flake fell during the winter months yet the economy continued to nosedive.

Spare a thought though for the people of Greek Cyprus. It’s a balmy 20C in Nicosia at present with little prospect of snow. In fact the Troodos mountain ski resort website advises, ‘Fresh snow is forecast at 0 resorts. Powder is reported at 0 resorts and 0 are reporting good piste conditions.

There seems little evidence that snow, or indeed inclement weather, has played any part in the economic woes of that country.

The banks and government of Cyprus are reported to be taking action in an attempt to stop a bank run when branches reopen at 1000 GMT Thursday March 28. The only problem may be that the money may have already moved to colder climes!

As usual, it’s the ordinary Cypriot folk who will lose out as will, of course, thousands of UK expats who had decided to retire to that island paradise and are now stuck with an EEC-led raid on savings which, according to news reports, amounts to a devaluation of capital of up to 30%.

For many Greek Cypriots who lost land and property in the 1974 war with Turkey, this must seem like yet another unfair economic body blow.

The RAF has come to the rescue of forces personnel affected by the crisis by using a Hercules Transport to fly a million or so Euros in small denomination notes from the UK to Cyprus. That’s £850000 @ 2.6 gallons per minute @ £6.27 per gallon. The flight is around 2135 miles and takes 4 hours and 8 minutes.

I can’t even begin to persuade my calculator to work out the cost per Euro per mile of this operation and I suppose a simple bank transfer was indeed out of the question due to the banks in the country being closed for a few days.

However, there is no such rescue package in place for the locals.

Rumours of money laundering via the Cypriot banks abound and there is an emerging scandal about an alleged outflow of money to Eastern Europe, just in time to avoid the bank deposit tax deadline. As is often the case, the rich may well have been forewarned, although they will no doubt claim that they foresaw the disaster and acted in a completely sensible and honest manner.

Somewhat amazingly, the Bank of Cyprus UK’s website still claims that, ‘There are a number of reasons why Bank of Cyprus UK is a safe and attractive home for your savings and a strong banking partner for your business.’

I wonder if anyone will feel able to trust the UK subsidiary of a bank which came within hours of failing, then effectively decided to pay negative interest to its investors?

According to The Guardian, the Bank of Cyprus is 9.7% owned by Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian based in Monaco whose wealth is estimated at $9.1bn. I wonder how much Mr Rybolovlev lost in the debacle?

Seemingly another Russian oligarch, Alexander Lebedev, played down the amount he stood to lose in Cyprus as no more than $10,000. ‘It’s not worth talking about,’ he said. ‘Cyprus was always a transit jurisdiction, money would pass through and then go to Lithuania, Latvia, Belize, Switzerland, everywhere.

Lebedev, the multimillionaire owner of the Evening Standard and Independent, expressed doubts that capital controls, to be imposed by the Cypriot government to stem a bank run, would work.

Certain schemes can be put into place,’ Lebedev said, ‘This is how Cyprus was making money.

Many folk in the UK would associate this process with money laundering although politicians in the ex British colony have strongly denied that that has ever been the case.

Despite such denials, there can be no doubt that there is a strong Russian influence on the Greek Cypriot economy. Indeed the picture-postcard town of Limassol has become jokingly known as ‘Limassolgrad’ by locals with around 30,000 of the municipality’s 183,000 citizens being of Eastern European origin.

Unsurprisingly, the Moscow elite are unhappy. President Putin denounced the EU-IMF plan to eviscerate private bank accounts in Cyprus as ‘unfair, unprofessional and dangerous.’ Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the move ‘outright theft’.

The Daily Beast reports, ‘what’s striking about the Kremlin’s spirited opposition to the raid on Cyprus’s banks is that the island is Russia’s preferred destination for hiding and laundering money. In effect, Putin has been standing up for the rights of Russia’s tax avoiders.

The Kremlin is reported to have been under pressure to increase its 2.5bn Euro loan to the country to bail out the economy. Since the Greek Cypriot national income is 18bn Euros per annum, even the current loan level makes Russia a major player in the cash strapped country’s affairs.

Makes you glad that that the UK is not owned by foreigners.

That is, of course, unless you count:

The Clydesdale Bank, Alliance and Leicester, Jaguar, Land Rover, MG Rover, P&O, Chelsea FC, Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC, BAA, Abbey National, British Steel, Pilkington, Boots, Harrods, ICI, Cadbury, Fortnum & Mason, Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motors , The Dorchester, Innocent, Wiseman’s Dairies and Forth Ports.

Sources:

Reasons to be Cheerful (Inspired when roadie Charley almost got electrocuted in Italy by a microphone stand while leaning over a mixing desk. Another roadie saved his life.): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasons_to_be_Cheerful,_Part_3

Snow blamed for economic gloom: http://www.nebusiness.co.uk/business-news/latest-business-news/2013/02/16/heavy-snow-blamed-for-shock-fall-in-retail-sales-51140-32819692/

Cost of public holidays: http://metro.co.uk/tag/centre-for-economics-and-business-research/

Cyprus Banks: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/26/cyprus-banks-closed-prevent-run-deposits

Money Laundering: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/26/moscow-s-mysterious-move-on-cyprus.html

Bank of Cyprus UK: http://www.bankofcyprus.co.uk/Business-Banking/

UK brands owned abroad: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2129507/Britain-sale-Uniquely-world-Britain-sold-half-companies-foreigners-And-paying-price.html

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Dec 202012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

It’s been a very busy week in Aberdeen and the wider world. Donald Trump had a full page ad in the Press & Journal mixing wind farms and the Lockerbie bomber.

Of all the ways Trump could have used his revelation that Salmond wanted The Donald to back the releasing of the convicted Lockerbie Bombing, no one could have predicted such a crass, unsuitable, insensitive ad as this – unless they worked for Trump.

Funnily enough, the Press & Journal which carried this ad refused to carry an ad opposing the City Gardens Project, or so I’m told.

This refusal was interesting, as Aberdeen Journals did manage to carry a pro-web advertisement (the so-called ‘Holiday Inn’ ad, featuring the Holiday Inn logo, yet the ad was placed without the blessing of the Holiday Inn head office, as my enquiries determined). Trump couldn’t have put in his objectionable full-page ad if the P&J had not accepted it.

Rumours fly that Trump’s right hand woman Sarah Malone may have some romantic interest with a P&J supremo. Surely not! While all this carry-on was being carried out, one Mr Bates of the P&J was praising his organ for its unflagging support of the views of ‘the little man‘.

As long as the little man in question is a billionaire, then I guess that’s true.

There are several things I was tempted to satirise this week, not least of all the environmentally catastrophic notion of extending the industrial harbour into Nigg Bay. Thankfully the Marine Protection Act is coming into force soon; this should stop such a destructive plan.

I also doubt the people of Torry will want to surrender their last remaining stretch of coastline in exchange for yet more heavy good vehicles on Torry’s streets.

Some coastal land was sold years ago, allegedly to help the council with its finances. In return, the people of Torry were going to get … toilets. This toilet scheme was seemingly flushed down the pan by the Harbour Board (which now wants more Torry property). Kate Dean was also instrumental in putting a sewage plant next to Nigg Bay; the air and water pollution aspects are well known to area residents.

The impact of more trucks and more industry in this part of the city will be bad for health, and what remaining wildlife, sea, land and air we have left. We have a bird population which is down 50% in a decade according to the latest surveys – and we’re talking about birds not found in other parts of the world.

But money and empire-building seem set to win the day again. It seems that like Menie, the SSSI at Nigg Bay has very little importance to those in power if there is money about.

However, I can’t think of much aside from guns at the moment.

I don’t feel like making any jokes or satirical remarks. It’s time for another look at what guns have done to the US, and what we can do about air rifles and BB guns here – and why we definitely need to license air-guns in Scotland at the least.

The Michael Moore documentary film Bowling for Columbine came out 10 years ago. It is a brilliant assault on those who worship assault rifles. Sadly, the NRA – National Rifle Association – is about the most powerful lobbying force in Washington, and they will not let the US tighten up gun legislation. President Obama may now have something to say about that, as this latest tragedy is causing considerable public anger.

If you didn’t know, yet another damaged soul has been able to get their hands on automatic weaponry, and has murdered in cold blood 20 children and 6 women in the US state of Connecticut. If he hadn’t been able to easily obtain automatic weapons, these children and women would still be here. That is the fact.

Some people would tell you the American Constitution clearly states people should be able to have guns. It actually says this in its second amendment:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Where do we start on this? Firstly, this was written 200 years ago – people had muskets and similar types of guns. These were not as accurate as today’s guns, and they certainly were not automatic. A lone shooter would not have been able to take out 26 people in a short span of time.

Secondly, times have changed just a little bit. The Constitution and its Amendments were written following a war of independence, in which the British sought to control the revolutionaries’ weapons. It’s no longer relevant, just as passages in the Old Testament are no longer relevant (except to the odd fanatic).

At this point many people would point out, correctly, that American and British weaponry is being used all over the world. Make no mistake, I hate that as well. The exportation of weapons to corrupt and violent regimes is unacceptable of course. But that is a different story. This is about a nation gone mad, a nation which won’t allow Cuban cigars or unpasteurised milk products.

there are counties where it is mandatory everyone carries a gun once they’re a certain age

This is about a re-imagining of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, while at the same time the main thrust of the revolution was to guarantee that all men (and women) are created equal, and shall not be deprived unreasonably of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet these rights have been trampled into the dust.

People are not free in most states to marry as they choose. People are in some places not free to teach evolutionary theory, and creationism is given pride of place in science classes. And of course, the evil, horrible plant that is marijuana is totally illegal in most places – a bit of a blow (if you will) to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ for a small minority of people who’d like to use it for recreation, pain control, nausea control, glaucoma treatment and so on.

But while the US forgets or re-writes the basics, the NRA is free to insist that the Second Amendment means everyone everywhere is entitled to have a gun. In fact, there are counties where it is mandatory everyone carries a gun once they’re a certain age.

We recently saw the reports of a girl shot by her cousin on Halloween. She’d been dressed up in black and white, and the cousin apparently thought she was a skunk.

It wasn’t the first time or the last time someone trying to ‘defend their home’ with a gun shoots relatives instead. Teens that’ve snuck home late at night have been shot dead by paranoid parents assuming burglars were about. People have also had their own weapons used against them.

The inimitable Morgan Freeman has also weighed into the debate, reminding us that the media has to take a new look at how it reports these mass killers. The killer gets tons of news coverage, and sees their picture, life and crime scene spread across TV, internet, print and radio. An old and easily disproved adage goes ‘there is no bad publicity’.

To some of these people, like the gunman in Colorado who shot movie-goers, fame indeed seems to play some twisted part in their murders. Let’s not give them any publicity by name; let’s remember instead the victims.

Yes, such a move would cost money – the US could take this from its massive defence budget

America also seems to have a twisted love affair with imagery of girls in bikinis firing automatic weapons. This is adding sex appeal to weaponry designed to take out lots of life quickly. No one needs to prove they are a good shot if they have an AK-47 – you just shoot until you obliterate the target. Anyone but me see anything wrong with this picture?

What’s the answer? I’ve no idea. But would it be so bad to start with a gun amnesty?

These have been done in New York in the past, twenty years ago in fact, by New York entrepreneur Fernando Mateo. This was an admirable move. If so much as one life was saved by this initiative, it was worth doing. With the number of illegal guns handed in at the time, it is easy to conclude that many lives were saved. Couple a gun amnesty with mandatory licensing, yearly license renewals and yearly gun checks, and you could save a few more lives.

Yes, such a move would cost money – the US could take this from its massive defence budget. They’re still not able to adequately feed and clothe all of its citizens, but according to the Huffington Post and other sources, it spent some $695 BILLION on defence in 2011. It’s hard to see how present and especially future generations are going to forgive the world’s military for all of its spending on military hardware.

So – gun amnesty, tighten up licensing, make it more difficult to get and keep guns, and finally increase penalties for anyone with illegal guns, and anyone who commits a crime with a gun. Would it solve the problem?

The NRA are masters of spin and lobbying; their famous slogans include:

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and

“If guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns.”

Students of propaganda will recognise these kinds of reflexive slogans are catchy. Catchy they are, but do they stand up to any scrutiny? Of course not.

To the former slogan, obviously, (sadly) people can kill each other in many ways. But having a gun makes it a much simpler, surer and simpler matter. Having an automatic weapon makes it certain you can kill lots of people, quickly, and from a distance. I’d prefer ‘guns make it easy for people to kill people, and the NRA makes it easy to get guns’ as a replacement slogan. Not as catchy, but it is considerably more accurate.

To the second phrase – this is an attempt, also a tried and tested propaganda method, to instil fear. ‘If I don’t have a gun, an outlaw can get me!’ is the underlying message. Here are a few words from The Survivors’ Club which should make people think twice:

“In 2008 there were 680 accidental shooting deaths in the United States, with more than 15,500 shooting injuries. Most disturbing, perhaps, is the number of children involved in accidental shootings. Every day approximately five children are injured or killed on a nationwide basis as a result of handguns. The primary cause of youth-involved shooting rests with the fact that children find loaded handguns in the home – and natural curiosity leads them down the road to disaster.

“Each year approximately 100 people are injured or killed while cleaning a firearm and failing to exercise proper caution… Many accidental shootings occur because someone believes a gun is unloaded, points it at someone and pulls the trigger as a “joke”.”
See:  
http://www.thesurvivorsclub.org/extreme/surviving-accidents/accidental-shooting

Japan has managed to outlaw guns totally – and now has c. 2 gun deaths per year. Isn’t that an accomplishment to at least try to emulate?
See:  http://www.theatlantic.com-how-japan-has-virtually-eliminated-shooting-deaths

By all means have an armed and well-regulated militia (but hopefully one that needn’t cost over 600 billion dollars a year). These killers clearly are not well-regulated, and they are not in a militia. It’s time to think again.

It’s also time for me to move closer to home, for we have some air gun issues to deal with. If you live in the area, you will know that some people have been targeting animals for some time with air guns, blinding and wounding pets. Most lately, we have a field of horses in the Bridge of Don area being used for target practice so that idiots can get their kicks from wounding innocent horses.

Do I think things will get worse? Yes. Why do I think that? Because a newish discount/pound shop is selling BB-type guns for £6, and lots of ammo. Did I ask them to please not stock these items? Yes. They refused, saying they only sell to those over 18. Do we know any people over 18 who are less than mature? I do. Please feel free to share your thoughts with the manager; this shop is a few doors down from Molton Brown.

We now have a chance to regulate these kinds of weapons in Scotland. There is no way responsible owners of such guns can logically oppose tighter registration in the face of the violence against animals and people that has taken place.

You might recall a toddler was killed by such a weapon in Glasgow, one of the main reasons this legislation is coming about. We’re not talking about something that causes a small discomfort, we’re talking about speeding projectiles that destroy tissue and can even damage bone.

Here are a few words from Animal Concern Advice Line:

”Proposals for Licensing Air Weapons in Scotland

“[there is a] very important consultation which could be used to greatly reduce the number of air weapons in Scotland. As you know air-guns are the tools of vandals and sadists who take pot shots at pet, farm and wild animals and birds.

If you have had personal experience of air-gun misuse or if you run an animal sanctuary and have had to deal with animals shot by people using air-guns please mention that in your submission… If you have a pet why not forward this message to your vet? Most vets know just how much pain, suffering and death is caused by air weapons.”

“The pro-gun lobby will be doing all they can to reduce the impact of this initiative. Please take the time to comment – it will make a difference.”

Clearly not all air-gun owners are sadists – but since we have quite a few who are clearly are, then let’s get some control in place.

Please visit http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/ to see how you can help and to read the Government’s document

Merry Christmas; Happy Holidays; Happy Chanukah – can everyone please stop shooting now?

Next week – a return to normal service.

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May 112012
 

What could have been more simple and straightforward (let alone transparent and democratic) than asking the people of Aberdeen to vote on the future of Union Terrace Gardens?  Suzanne Kelly delivers her verdict.

I gladly threw myself into the work of being at the head of an official campaign organisation (my group ‘Democracy Watch’ was one of the official campaign groups with a statement in the referendum voting pack), and I naively assumed that a simple vote with straightforward rules was imminent.

Had I known then what I know now, I would instead have joined Labour and opposed the referendum.  Here are some reasons why, and a bit of background.

After the referendum count, supporters of the City Garden Project celebrated their ‘victory’ with glee behind the scenes, then a few days later publically offered the proverbial olive branch to their opponents who wanted not only to retain, but improve Union Terrace Gardens.

‘We must work together to restore harmony, to improve the city’s garden and ensure economic prosperity’ is a fair summary of their position then.  This clumsy attempt to paper over the cracks caused by Sir Ian’s determination to have his ‘gift’ of £50 million used to fulfil his personal desires was not working on anyone.

In online social network sites, the messages from the pro CGP camp ranged from ‘ha ha you lost’ to ‘if you don’t accept the referendum results, then it’s a case of sour grapes.’

With all due respect to Crawford Langley, the elections officer appointed to run this sorry affair, the phrase ‘making it up as you go along’ sums this referendum up for me.  As an official group we were told there would be strict spending limits and a strict 300-word maximum statement.  And that’s about all any of the groups were told.

Had I known from the outset, set down in black and white, any of the positions the elections officer would later adopt and what control he would or would not have over any ‘unofficial ‘groups– then I would have saved myself the bother of wasting my time.

The playing field was never level.  The result – considering the vast sums which the Vote for the City Gardens Project group must have spent – was extremely close.  And the established press did all the cheerleading for the CGP it possibly could have.

Here are my ten reasons why the gardens referendum is invalid:

1. Spending

It was galling enough to learn that an unofficial group – Vote for the City Gardens Project –  could spend freely.  (It was even more galling to learn they could make any claim they wanted with impunity – as will be shown later).  But when it was discovered that ACSEF had been spending taxpayer money – at least £73,000 – for over a year to promote building in the garden, I realised that my group would never match the PR muscle of VFTCGP or ACSEF.

The £73,000 is referred to in an earlier article which can be found at: https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/02/the-great-city-gardens-project-gravy-train/ .

ACSEF recommended various bits of “stakeholder engagement, events management, and communication…” all geared towards building over Union Terrace Gardens.  And you and I footed the bills, which came to Aberdeen City Council via the Chamber of Commerce – with virtually none of the actual service providers (photographers, PR agencies, event coordinators) used being named in the invoices, with the exception of the Press & Journal, which earned several thousand pounds in advertising revenue.

Parties were held, photos taken, celebrity endorsements made – all before the referendum.

As to the Vote for the City Garden Project group, their spending must have been epic.  There was the lurid full-colour glossy A3 flyer, sent not only to households in the city, but in the (non-voting) shire as well.  There were radio adverts – not that we will ever find out how much was spent or who placed the ads.

We do know now that ACSEF was implicated in some of the newspaper advertising; this came about via complaints to Advertising Standards Authority about the content of the ads.  But more on that later.

The other official groups were never going to afford radio, full page newspaper ads and tens of thousands of glossy brochures (let alone the pseudo newspaper, the multi-paged ‘The Granite Web’).

2. Irregularities?

In a past Aberdeen election, Crawford Langley went to the police with suspicions over dubious postal votes.  However, in the referendum some 74 votes were used twice.  Mr Langley explained to me that some of these people wrote on their paper votes that they had also voted electronically (though I don’t know how many).

I am unable to share his confidence that everyone who voted electronically and had a postal vote in their name was not a potential victim of vote theft.  Mr Langley says that these little scrawled notes ‘negates any vote fraud’.  I however have reservations about whether or not the person writing such a note was indeed the intended voter and the same person as voted on line.  Since we had people who favoured the CGP ‘joking’ online about stealing votes, why not simply allow scrutiny of the votes (but this is a big issue as we will see later).

FACT:  In the 2005 election Crawford Langley called in the police after six people contacted the elections unit to say they did not receive their postal vote forms.

A source who wishes to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons (not least that they wish to keep their job) raised concerns to me (in my capacity as a (fledgling) investigative journalist) of potential care-home vote issues.  They believed that votes in one home were not circulated to the residents.

Crawford Langley has dismissed this possibility because the person with the concerns went to me and is remaining anonymous (as is their right).  The decision was taken not to investigate any potential residential home issues.  This decision does not sit well with me, my source, and other contacts of mine who have experience of residential homes, and I would have preferred to have the possibility investigated; only then could it have been dismissed.

3. They are all in this together

The overlap between members of ACSEF, the BIG Partnership PR agency’s work for the City Garden Project as well as its support for the VFTCGP entity, combined with the (then) City Council’s support of the project proceeding makes for some unholy alliances.

We have Gerry Brough working ‘as a volunteer’ on several of the city-led City Garden Project entities.  We have the City Council funding ACSEF.  We have ACSEF sending letters in support of the project going ahead.

For a fuller idea of who is involved with what (at least up to our elections last week), see a spread sheet which can be found at http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/ (scroll down to the ‘UTG companies and supporters’ documents.)  Note this page also has a list of the invoices referred to earlier from the Chamber of Commerce to the City for PR / events advancing the idea of building in the gardens.

4. Promise them anything

The free-spending VfTCGP’s claims were unconstrained by any standards.  The Electoral Commission have written to me confirming that they have no power over materials used in local referendum situations – had I known that fact alone, I would have opposed the referendum.

Likewise the Advertising Standards Authority had no teeth.  What claims did I object to?  The use of the tenuous projections offered by PriceWaterhouse Cooper (who earned a nice bit of change for their work):  6,500 new permanent jobs to be created and hundreds of millions of pounds to flow into our economy.

PWC are unwilling to comment as to how their projections were used in the PR material; if they stood behind these figures, surely they would have been happy to endorse them (even if this means the granite web will create more jobs than the London 2012 Olympics by several thousand jobs).  But PWC will not comment other than to say the work they did on the CGP was ‘for a private client’.

I don’t know who the private client is, but the taxpayer certainly funded at least some of the work.

5. Our press – perhaps slightly biased?

Not only were the contents of most of the Press & Journal articles I read slanted, but even the page layouts and placements of graphics were geared to supporting the project.  For instance, I complained to the Press Complaints Commission about a front page story which continued on Page 3 – Page 3 carried a box labelled ‘facts and figures’ which repeated most of the PWC claims – which I consider to be fairly far from fact.

A testimonial – i.e. a photo of a girl appeared at the top right of this page, and the quote was along the lines of ‘I was against the project at first, but now that I see how many jobs will be created, I am for it’.  As a former advertising agency employee, such heavy-handed tactics are well known to me.  But the Press Complaints Commission decided that if someone read the entire article (as unlikely as that might be), they would eventually read that the ‘facts and figures’ presented in the box were projections.

Other examples can be found here and there of press bias.  One could be forgiven for wondering if the local press were keen to please some of their biggest advertisers over the CGP, whether consciously or not.

6.  OOPS!  Misprints and gremlins

The voting packs contained booklets – 165,000 booklets were printed and distributed – containing the 300 word statements from the official campaign groups, both for and against the granite web.  Sadly, and wholly mysteriously, the Green Party content was truncated and stopped in mid flow.

How a massive print run of an extremely short booklet went to print without being proofread for such errors is inexplicable to me.  I believe the Green Party did get an apology.  Still what would the voters have thought?  That the Greens didn’t have a fully-thought-out scheme was one possibility.

I was likewise not amused to learn that online my statement at one point ran seamlessly into the rantings of one of the more vocal proponents.  I was alerted to this by people getting in touch to ask if I had somehow changed my opinion on the garden.  This error was apparently rectified.  How many people saw it, I do not know.  Mr Langley again took the position with me that since I was the only person who got in touch with him, I was the only person who noticed.  I would not have known about it at all if supporters had not brought it to my attention.

He also felt that it would have been seen only by people voting online who would already have a printed copy of the statements in their hands.  Hmm.  My position is that most people who choose to communicate electronically would be reading the electronic documentation not the booklet – and if they relied on the booklet, then they only got half of the Green position anyway.

My overall feeling is that errors were made which were rather large and which could have been avoided by a bit of diligence.  In my experience if errors occur in one part of a project, you can bet they exist elsewhere.

The next two reasons are particularly worrying…..

7. Going Postal

I deliberately asked supporters of my position to vote via the post so they could keep a record of their slip (I suggested people photocopy their vote and keep the copy for their records).  For some reason, there are -somewhere in the City offices – votes which arrived too late to be counted, even though they were there on the day.

My source says ‘tons’ of them arrived ‘too late’.  When I last heard these votes were still in store somewhere.  Mr Langley advises that it was the voters’ responsibility to ensure that the votes arrived on time, and some 300 arrived too late.

Sadly, there are always issues with the post when it comes to the city council.  It claims to have sent me letters I never got.  It likewise has apparently never received items I posted.  For instance I hand-delivered 63 postcards opposing the Tullos Hill deer cull:  Ms Watts wrote after the fact she received a total of 35 such cards, even though other people handed cards in and others still posted cards.

At the time I am writing this article, May 9, I still have not received passes sent to me to attend last Thursday’s vote count.  Something is wrong somewhere.

Did the referendum votes arrive at the building the night before?  How many times per day does post get delivered to the City?  Who brings post to the recipients?  The more people in this chain, the more essential to ensure the referendum votes were proactively sought and collected.  Whether or not this happened I do not know.  I am sure that the election officers posted my passes for last Thursday’s count in good time for them to arrive, and it was their responsibility to get passes to me. However, just as for referendum voters, something went wrong somewhere.

8.  Top Secret – the Marked Register

No one but Crawford can examine the Marked Register of votes.  Crawford is absolutely certain this would be ‘illegal’ for the referendum, although this scrutiny is standard practice for elections.

We campaigners only found out after the fact that we would not have the chance to look for unusual voting patterns, clusters, or evidence of fraud (see above).  If there was no transparency and this was somewhere communicated to me early in the process I failed to see it.

If I had known in advance that I’d have no check over how the count went, I would have again opposed the referendum.  It looks as if I will never be able to determine if there were any unusual clusters of votes at residential homes, or elsewhere.

Langley’s position is that it is illegal for him to give access in terms of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001.  Other experienced politicians and campaigners with legal qualifications take a different position.

9.  Dirty Tricks?

The Press & Journal front page article concerning Tom Smith implied that people opposed to the City Garden Project had harassed him and his family and acted illegally – specifically by hacking into his email.  At the time of writing I am unaware of any prosecution arising out of this allegation.

I will be doing a FOI request to the police (now that I am done with the election and have enough time to do so).  Mr Smith is involved in many pro CGP entities, and has much to gain by the project proceeding.  His complaint to police over harassment, email hacking and so on – came close to the voting time, and gathered a great deal of sympathy.   To me the press article mixed legal and illegal activities to paint a portrait of a devious, law-breaking pro-retain camp.

10.  Spoilt Rotten?

I know that a large number of votes were deemed by the election officer to be ‘spoilt’ – this was because people wrote on their ballot papers.  According to people present at the count, many of these seem to be from ‘retain’ voters, who wrote comments on their slips.

In an election the instructions clearly say not to make any other mark on your ballot.  The referendum instructions DID NOT have this instruction.  Apparently voters and campaigners were supposed to instinctively know that the referendum was different from an election in many important ways – but not this way.

Then again, if they have not been destroyed, somewhere in the hands of a private entity (as I understand it) are the results of the public vote on the 6 shortlisted designs.  It is a well-known fact that many people who went to the design show wrote on the voting slips to show that they wanted the gardens left alone.

We wanted the figures and information from this shortlist vote released to the public – the public paid for it after all.  However, these private individuals refuse to release the results.  These same people now seem to be the same ones arguing that to ignore the referendum would be ‘undemocratic’.

Democracy?  I don’t think so

On May 9, 2012 ACSEF issued a statement in the wake of Labour’s election success to the effect that ignoring the referendum would be ‘undemocratic’.  In this case of the pot calling a press conference to call the kettle black, ACSEF coyly ignores its unelected status, its PR tactics and its blatant lobbying – done at taxpayer expense.

There is no doubt in my mind that ACSEF members have pulled out all the stops to further the City Gardens Project scheme. The question is – will Labour do the right thing and pull the plug on this self-serving quango?  One can only hope there is a referendum on ACSEF’s future – now that would be democratic.

So – at the end of the day I personally find the referendum exercise invalidated.  The other side has ignored public opinion over the garden before.  Thankfully, the election has now returned a council which just may save our garden, our trees (which clean our air), and our money in its millions.  Here’s hoping so.

Feb 242012
 

Peter Veritas makes the case for voting “Retain”.

1.  There is a very real danger that the City Garden Project will bankrupt Aberdeen.

The City Garden Project (CGP) is planned for a greenfield site which would require substantial excavation. It is a five acre, five storey, underground construction that would span both a main road and a railway track

It’s roof would be required to hold approximately ninety thousand tons of topsoil, the same weight as the worlds largest aircraft carrier.  It is projected to cost £140M.

Union Square, which is of a similar size, was built on a flat brownfield site with good access. The final cost was £250m.

Marischal College is a much smaller existing building that was recently renovated.  No major construction was performed.  The final cost came to £65M.

Given that context, how can we be expected the believe the estimate for The City Garden Project is realistic? Should the City Garden Project experience a similar scale of overspend to the Scottish Parliament Building or the Edinburgh trams, then the shortfall could conceivably be of the order of £360M.  The city, which is already £560M in debt, would be liable for this overspend.

It could not be rolled up into the existing loan, and would require immediate payment.  Failure to cover the overspend would result in us being left with a dirty hole in our city centre.  The only options open to the council would be to auction off it’s remaining assets, such as the other parks, to property developers, and to increase council tax  massively.  Public services which have already suffered severe cuts would be totally decimated.

2.  Aberdeen has suffered badly from previous developments.

St Nicholas House, the New Market, The Denburn dual carriageway, the Denburn Health Centre, The St Nicholas Centre, and Virginia Street are all universally acknowledged as failures that now blight our urban landscape.  Aberdeen lost many beautiful buildings to clear the way for those developments.

The people who campaigned against those architectural and planning atrocities are also campaigning against The City Garden Project.  They’ve been proven right time and time again. Perhaps it’s time we listened to them?

3.  We already voted against this Project under a different name.

There is something sinister about the City Garden Project.  It was originally conceived as the City Square Project (CSP), and envisioned as a five acre flat concrete piazza.  That proposal only emerged after Peacock Visual Arts were given planning permission to embed an unobtrusive arts centre into the hillside of Union Terrace Gardens.  Sir Ian Wood pledged £50M to build The City Square, but promised to scrap the Project if the public rejected it.

That was then put out to a flawed public consultation, in which the public voted against by a substantial majority, despite the online survey mysteriously defaulting to a “yes” vote.  Sir Ian then reneged on his promise and continued to push the concept, the council ran roughshod over the electorate, and by the casting vote of the Lord Provost, consigned the Peacock plan to the dustbin.

Sir Ian has consistently stated that he will only contribute his £50M to this particular proposal and nothing else, and that if we reject his proposal then he will divert the money to Africa.  His behaviour is baffling.

4.  There has been an air of deception around The City Garden Project.

The City Square Project was rebranded as The City Garden Project.  During the Project’s second coming the public were presented with six designs and invited to vote on them. None Of The Above was not a option.

Aesthetically, the public appeared to favour the Winter Garden design.  From a conceptual perspective The Monolith design was arguably the most cohesive.
The appointed panel then refused to release the outcome of this public vote and instead selected The Granite Web, a design for which very few people acknowledge having voted, and which many people considered to have been among the weakest.

CGP propaganda has continually claimed that Union Terrace Gardens are a dangerous place, but Grampian Police crime figures reveal that they are actually among the safest places in the city centre. Neighbouring Belmont Street, which the plans propose to connect to the Granite Web, is statistically the worst area for street crime.

Under the rules of the referendum, registered campaign groups are limited to £8k spending to maintain a level playing field.  However a mysterious group of anonymous business people has allegedly ploughed £50K into sending pro-CGP propaganda to every home in Aberdeen City.  This is not within the spirit of the referendum and is arguably a breach of the rules.

It has been claimed numerous times that the 250 year old elm trees in Union Terrace Gardens are diseased, but a recent report by a tree surgeon has given them a completely clean bill of heath.  These elms are among the last surviving in Europe, and they flourish both due to their isolation from other elms, and because the pollution of the city prevents Dutch Elm disease from spreading to them.  These trees are all covered by a preservation order.

5.  Those arguing in favour of the City Garden Project are mostly connected to it in some way.

Scotland’s top public relations firm were engaged to promote the Project, which may be why the majority of stories that have appeared in the local press have been fawningly in favour of the CGP.

Those who have argued the merits of the Project, both in the press and on-line, are interconnected people with an as-yet unknown agenda.

In addition to the numerous PR professionals being paid thousands of pounds each day to present the case, there are several property developers, the owners of assorted the premises on Union Street, and various oil company executives.

No fewer than three city councillors, who backed the Project, recently announced that they intend to stand down, and have also revealed that they are planning to leave the city.  Virtually all of those involved are members of Acsef, Scottish Enterprise, the Institute of Directors, and The Chamber of Commerce.  The same dozen people feature time and time again in the groups which have come out publicly in favour of the Project.  The same people wearing different hats.

6.  The economics have no basis in fact.

Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) is intended to fund the redevelopment of brownfield sites.  Businesses which later setup in and around those sites pay increased business rates which repay the cost of the development in a similar manner to a mortgage.  The business case for this Project bends the rules since the increased rates will not be gathered for the site itself, but from two new industrial estates, located several miles away and for which planning permission has already been granted.

The 6,500 jobs and £122M of projected annual revenue are a product of these new industrial estates working at full capacity. This is almost  guaranteed to occur anyway without The Granite Web.

Furthermore, the paid author of the reports is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which has recently been fined £1.4m for audit failure.  PWC rates the TIF case at Risk Level 3, where 4 is the highest risk.

7.  To save the architecture of the Denburn Valley

None of the Granite Web mockups, artists impressions, or video, have addressed the issue of the rear elevation of Belmont Street.

This is home to some of Aberdeen’s most spectacular architecture, descending right down to the level of Denburn Road.  Architecture which will be obliterated when the CGP connects to it, some five storeys further up.

Most of these buildings are either local businesses or publicly owned concerns, and several of them have picturesque balconies below the finished level of The Granite Web.

8.  To retain our sheltered park.

Union Terrace Gardens lie in the Denburn Valley which offers shelter from the wind and urban pollution.  Raising the area up to street level would turn it into a wind trap.

The wind would howl round the concrete walkways and other architectural features of the granite web, plants would struggle to survive, and people would avoid the area, preferring instead to travel along the relatively sheltered confines of nearby streets. It’s a fallacy to claim that this development would enhance connectivity.

9.  Union Terrace Gardens have been cynically starved of funding – in order to ‘pave the way’ for this redevelopment.

Union Terrace Gardens was the centre piece of Aberdeen’s famous successes in the Britain in Bloom contest.  Over the course of the past eight years the council has cut funding, with the result that the Gardens are no longer maintained at previous award-winning levels

The beautiful Grade A listed public toilets were closed, the famous giant draught boards were ripped out, the winter skating rink was no longer installed and concerts and other public events were discontinued

A modest investment would both regenerate the Gardens, and improve access to them.  There is no need to risk bankrupting the city for what amounts to no additional benefit

10.  The curse of Corbie Haugh.

Back in the seventeenth century, the area where the Gardens now stand was a wood called Corbie Haugh. The ancient Scots word for crow is corbie and the wood was named after the crows which gathered in the grassy valley and within the bank of elm trees. The elm trees in the Gardens date back over 250 years to that eighteenth century wood.

An ancient legend, The Curse of Corbie Haugh, holds that when the crows depart, the city will be ruined. If the elms are chopped down, the crows will indeed depart, and if they city ends up burdened by an additional £360m of debt, then it shall indeed be ruined!

SAVE OUR CITY FROM DISASTER BY VOTING TO RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS.

 

Jun 082011
 

Aberdeen Council “could be liable for a reclaim of up to £120,333.91” if trees to be planted fail according to Forestry Commission Scotland. The entire ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme is now mired down in controversy, misinformation, mismanagement and cost implications  says campaigner Suzanne Kelly as she urges councillors to stop the cull plans and get the facts right.

Aberdeen City launched a scheme to plant a tree for every citizen.  This was, in  Aileen Malone’s words (at the 26 May Cults community Council meeting) a “Liberal Democrat election promise”.
This ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme had attached to it a cull of deer living on Tullos Hill.  This cull was planned as long ago as November 2010, but the City did not put it in the consultation for Phase 2, which closed at the end of January.

The Torry Community Council was likewise not consulted over any cull, and voted unanimously to condemn it.

Other community councils followed suit, protestors in their thousands registered their disapproval, and the council remained unrepentant and unwilling to consider any changes or compromise to their scheme.

I launched a formal protest following my researches.  I found no fewer than 10 main points, which I felt the Council should be called to account on.
See: https://aberdeenvoice.com/2010/12/10-more-reasons-to-call-off-the-deer-cull/

On 6 June I received Aberdeen City’s Chief Executive Valerie Watt’s response to this complaint (her letter was dated 2 June).  Perhaps the City thought this reply was going to be swallowed whole without question.

My formal reply will be sent to her shortly.

While drafting my reply to Ms Watts, one of the thousands of cull opponents came up with a startling letter from the Forestry Commission to The City:  it discredits  claims the City has put in writing.   I subsequently spoke to the author who confirmed the letter and who had some other interesting points.

This article examines the controversy and contradiction surrounding only the first two points of my complaint:  there will be subsequent coverage of the remaining issues in the near future.

Did Aberdeen City Council owe money for a previous failed tree planting? This was the first of the ten points making up my formal complaint  (The document, with responses from Aberdeen City Council Chief Exec. Valerie Watts can be viewed here: https://aberdeenvoice.com/?p=8978 )

My question:

“I would like to ask:  is it true that the Council owes a sum for previous, failed planting?  I was told that £44,000 approximately is owed by the City in this regard – please clarify.”

Council Response:

“Aberdeen City Council does not owe any amount to any organisation relating to a previous failed planting scheme.”

Forestry Commission Letter:

“ Tullos Community Woodland

“This is a failed WGS planting scheme.  The scheme failed due to inadequate protection from deer and weeds.  On the 4th November 2010 we issued Aberdeen City Council with an invoice for £43,831.90 – the reclaim of monies paid out under the above contract.  This invoice was to be paid within 30 days.  The monies have not been received.  This invoice is now accruing interest and has led to a payment ban being put in place over your Business Reference Number.”

The invoice per the letter writer was paid on 15 March 2011.  The argument could be made that Ms Watts was being truthful:  after all, no money was still owed when I made my complaint.  However – I specifically asked for clarification.  Do we really believe that the City’s answer to me was an honest clarification?

The letter from FCS can be viewed here: failed-tree-planting

The second point I raised in my letter of complaint concerned the ‘invitation’ for those concerned to raise £225,000 for alternative measures. Why ask the public to come up with a quarter of a million pounds within some 11 weeks if, as we now know, a cull was still going to be ‘required’?

My question:

“Despite the demand for £225,000, Pete Leonard, Head of Housing and Environment has written to say a cull would still be required. In an email to Suzanne Kelly, Pete Leonard has stated it is SNH’s position that a cull would still be required. Therefore, the demand for money made by a committee to its electorate is shown to be completely misleading.”

Council Response:

“The £225,000 was for alternative means of planting the trees (not just for fencing) from deer damage. To quote from the Committee minute for the Housing and Environment Committee of 1st March 2011, the additional recommendation stated

(in relation to Tullos Hill) that an invitation be extended to the individuals and organisations who have objected to these deer control measures to raise the sums necessary to provide and maintain alternative measures, including fencing and rehousing of deer by no later than 10 May 2011 (the sum to be approximately £225,000).’

“Also as stated in the minute of this meeting that prior to the division

‘The Head of Environmental Services highlighted to the Committee paragraph 3.2 of the report which advised that the progression of option four (tree planting within smaller deer fenced enclosures surrounding individual planting blocks) would not mitigate culling on Tullos Hill altogether, as a reduction cull of deer locally due to loss of habitat from approx 60 hectares of this site would still be required, in the view of SNH.’

“The whole Tree for Every Citizen Project is being funded from grants and contributions from businesses. As the majority of this funding is from the Scottish Rural Development Programme which is public money from the European Union, the EU require that best practice and best value methodologies are used. The grant rates available are based on these terms. For a tree-planting scheme on the scale of that proposed for Tullos Hill, the use of individual tree shelters or deer fencing (which still requires a deer cull to reduce the population) does not represent best value or best practice. To spend money on these alternative means would require funding that was not from the public purse.”

Ms Watts’ reply also contradicts itself in terms of the money demanded by the public to save the deer:  they were always going to kill deer anyway – whether or not the public paid up.  I can find no instance of the City counteracting the many press articles and media stories that their demand was in order to save the deer:  they had a chance to say that some killing would still be required.  They did not take this chance as far as I can see.

From beginning to end the proposed tree planting and resultant Tullos Hill Roe deer cull plan has been plagued by misinformation and lack of consultation.

These have been highlighted in Aberdeen Voice (“shhh! don’t mention the secret deer cull” and other articles) and by the BBC, STV, local radio Northsound and SHMU, and so on.   The biggest mystery remains why they will not consider any compromises.  A Forestry spokesperson confirms that our Council can plant elsewhere if they want to.

Perhaps it is time for them to consider a plantation that is not in an arson hotspot where deer currently live?

More on this issue to follow…