Mar 092021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

It appears Marischal Square is nothing like the money-spinner city taxpayers were promised.

Within that glass box building, one of the most repugnant carbuncles to disgrace Aberdeen in recent years, government, multinationals and food businesses are enjoying sweeteners in the form of rent holidays, discounts and more.

Figures obtained through Freedom Of Information requests reveal that, to date, these sweeteners amount to nearly £4.5m.

Other costs have been estimated by the ‘We Campaigned Against Marischal Square’ group, which like Aberdeen Voice, has been fighting for data from Aberdeen City Council under FOI law.

We Campaigned posted:

“By my reckoning, since opening, MS has COST US £18 million so far. It’s taken in around £3 million and we have paid Muse/Aviva rent > £15 million plus we’ve spent around £3 million in operational costs.

How do we stop this financial mismanagement? Can we hold anyone to account? (We also have £1.3 BILLION debt to pay back the bond – interest payments of £40 million per year).”

Should the council have decided to go into the commercial rental sector with a new build? Did it have the expertise in house?

At one point the city claimed it had no idea of the amount of rent each individual business was paying, and that only Muse knew this.

If true, it’s a shocking dereliction of fiscal responsibility. Effectively, it makes freedom of information requests hard to successfully lodge, as Aberdeen Voice and ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal Square’ have found.

The following companies moved in. The list shows the value of their sweeteners. 

Tenant / Approximate sweetener total
Aberdeen Journals Ltd / £1,710,630
Tony Macaroni / £225,000
Chevron / (£285,270 min, £570,540 max) £427,905
Ernst & Young / £570,420
Mitchells & Butlers / £187,500
Tenaris / £116,215
KPMG / £266,535
Scottish Ministers / £582,905
Costa / £59,800
National Westminster Bank / (£193,847 min £ 243,306 max) £218,576
Prezzo / £46,200
Mackies / £38,200
TOTAL = £4,449,886.00

Aberdeen City Council was less than forthcoming with this information Only after the Information Commissioner’s office interceded did they release the information.

Anyone wanting to see the actual heads of terms agreements for the rents showing duration, other perks granted eg. carpeting allowances and free parking, size of space rented, etc, will find this hard-fought-for information here. 

As an aside, when finally handing this information over, the city tried to claim the documents were so large that they could only pass them over if Aberdeen Voice opened an account with ACC.  This nonsense was quickly countered. An account with ACC to access its FOI documentation or make requests is not required.

The ‘too large documents’ were under fifty pages in total.

The city is competing with the private sector in creating this building, just a time when Brexit impacts and the changes in the oil industry reverberate. Sir Ian Wood is busy trying to convince central government to build yet more offices and industrial space in the city. Doubtless he’ll get his way.

The businesses that moved out of existing spaces to Marischal such as KPMG leave behind empty office space and take income from the private sector.

In order to compete with the private sector in a market where office space is hardly in short supply, ACC uses the taxpayers’ largess to dole out the sweeteners.

Aberdeen Voice will try to determine whether the city is giving any further rent breaks or sweeteners to their Marischal Square tenants

The businesses forced to close, yet forced to pay for Aberdeen Inspired/business rates may look with some justified envy on the treatment given to national chains, multinationals and Aberdeen Journals Ltd.

Damian Bates, disgraced former Aberdeen Journals Ltd empresario, alluded to the fact the city was already subsidising its rent at Lang Stracht.

Why a genuine news corporation would be willingly indebted to a government with so many stories that should be robustly investigated is not a mystery – the city used to spend quite heavily on advertising in the rags.

However, the P&J and EE no longer refer to Marischal Square as ‘controversial’ and seem happy to sing its praises.

The city recently said it is £30,000,000 in debt.

Many consider this figure to be considerably lower than the reality. Where it will be in a year’s time is anyone’s guess – but if it is banking on Marischal Square, it’s doomed.

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Mar 022021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Marc Ellington, musician, philanthropist, climate change activist, author has passed away. He leaves behind his family and many friends.

Dr Ellington, or Marc to his many friends, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist.  He occasionally performed with his lifelong friend Richard Thompson, and with Fairport Convention. 

Marc had not often performed in recent years, but joined Richard on stage at the Royal Albert hall in September 2019 for Richard’s 70th birthday party show along with many members of the Thompson family, and artists including Dave Gilmour, and Harry Shearer.

Marc and his wife Karen lovingly restored Aberdeenshire’s Towie Barclay Castle and gardens.  From its great hall he worked on his many projects. 

He founded and ran the charity The Scottish Traditional Skills Centre.  The Centre ran some of the first-ever courses on how climate change threatens our cultural and built heritage. 

Presentations were made by experts from various disciplines including the Met Office, focusing on historic properties and sites such as Skara Brae. 

The Centre ran courses for professional and amateur alike including topics such as gardening, dry stone walling, and property repair.  Perhaps its greatest success was running courses for young people with a variety of needs. 

Young people learned from different specialists about the environment, wildlife, botany, and enjoyed hands-on activities from dry stone walling to building lean-tos at locations such as Fyvie Castle grounds. 

Passionate about Aberdeen city’s and shire’s architectural gems, Marc edited The Lost City: Old Aberdeen by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson. 

Marc knew any number of little-known historic jewels, and greatly enjoyed showing these off to his guests.  He was a keen student of the area’s history, not least its importance to folk music from the past through artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Along with Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell Marc Ellington was an editor on the book, Scotland’s Secret History: The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky.  The book paints a vivid picture of whisky’s history and the Cabrach. 

He was instrumental in the creation of a memorial cairn in the Cabrach dedicated to those from the area who lost their lives in WWI and subsequent conflicts.  Whisky giants The Gordon family were the main funders. 

Marc said:

“Each and every aspect of the construction of the cairn has involved members, both young and old, of the Cabrach Community working closely with master craftsman Euan Thompson.

“As well as being one of the finest memorial cairns to be built in Scotland in recent years, this is an outstanding example of what a local community, working together with energy and determination, can achieve.”

Marc spoke at an exhibition of international artists in 2018 held at the Glenfiddich Distillery. 

He talked about the role art plays – or should play – in education and in our culture.  As part of the speech he applauded the creators,  rebels, movers, and individuals who stand up for what is right, who follow their passions and dreams.  Indeed, this was how many saw him.

As the historic landlord in Gardenstown and Crovie, he was shocked when in 2015 salmon farmers were illegally shooting seals from the land in order to stop them eating salmon. 

He was actively involved with stopping the destruction of wildlife, and cared deeply for the sea and marine life.

He acted as announcer and master of ceremonies for the annual Portsoy Boat Festival, often sailing his craft to the harbour. 

Marc never missed a chance to help people when it arose; he always had a hilarious, apt anecdote for whatever social situation he found himself in. 

He sought to impart his passions for the environment, culture, history, music and arts, and succeeded in influencing many.  He is greatly missed, but his music and his many accomplishments will continue to influence.

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Mar 022021
 

Suzanne Kelly updates her piece Trump Menie:  Wildlife Shot, Carcasses Dumped in Hole with quotes from experts, and shows how this destruction of wildlife fits the pattern of business at the club. 

Trump International Golf Links Scotland at Menie is killing wildlife, and may be ignoring good practice with its horrific open stink pits filled with decaying deer and birds.

NatureScot told Aberdeen Voice it has concerns at Trump’s decision to kill wildlife and leave it rotting in open holes, saying: 

“the disposal of carcasses in a water-logged, open burial pit is not in line with good practice.”

In early February 2021 a concerned member of the public who discovered a stink pit on the Trump Menie Estate alerted Aberdeen Voice.  They sent us photographs of the ‘worrying’ pit filled with deer and birds decaying in oily, stagnant water.

For a resort given a ‘Six Star Diamond award’ for its excellence (Donald J Trump was on the award body’s executive board coincidentally), and given Trump’s infamous ‘sh*thole countries’ remark when he was president, this disgusting, wildlife destruction is beyond the pale.

The practice of having stink pits is, shockingly, not illegal. 

The pit is used to destroy wildlife.  Animals are killed, then the rotting carcasses are left exposed to attract animals that feed on carrion.  Those animals are then destroyed too. 

There are reports of area pet cats that went missing and never returned.  We await comments from Trump on this point.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: 

“We have been made aware of the matter and no criminality has been established.”

The spokesperson from NatureScot also said:  

“We cannot tell from the photographs provided whether an offence has been committed. However, the disposal of carcasses in a water-logged, open burial pit is not in line with good practice… we would urge anyone who suspects that a wildlife offence has taken place to report their concerns to the police.”

John Robins of Animal Concern commented:

“From the photographs I have seen it is obvious that deer and several species of bird have been deliberately dumped in this pit. I have dealt with cases before where animals have been killed for scraping at the grass on golf courses in order to find worms to eat.

“There is absolutely no good reason to kill animals on a golf course.

“Indeed I’m sure most golfers would appreciate catching a glimpse of a deer or seeing some birds while they are out on the course.

“I hope the Trump organisation give a full explanation for the presence of this mass grave on their land and then make a commitment not to allow any further persecution of wildlife on all their landholdings in Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for the RSPB found nothing amiss; they said: 

“.. what is shown in the photographs does not appear to be illegal, despite how unpleasant it is, so we cannot comment on this.”

Trump’s long-running contempt for nature:

From the outset the Trump organisation did what it wanted to at Menie.  Anyone wishing to ask the Trump organisation why it feels the need to destroy wildlife can contact the club by phone here 01358 743300, or by email here  admin@trumpgolfscotland.com

Should any reader get a response from the Trump organisation, we would like to hear it.

The environmental monitoring was a sham.  When the Scottish Reporters weighed up evidence on Trump’s proposed course, Aberdeen-based Professor Bill Ritchie said the course would not impact the environment if there was monitoring. 

As readers of Aberdeen Voice may know, he led the environment monitoring group called MEMAG.  MEMAG fell apart on Ritchie’s watch and no agency did anything to save it.  Ritchie has never responded to any of Aberdeen Voice’s requests for comment.

Two SSSIs are gone forever.  Further examples of the Trump organisation acting as if laws didn’t apply to it are many. 

Menie’s two Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSIs) had the highest level of legal protection an environment can get.  The sites, the only moving sand dune system in the UK, were destroyed, and virtually nothing was done to stop it.

Planning permission was frequently ignored. 

Trump has ignored/overstepped planning permission several times, and has at least ten retrospective planning approvals.  From our observations, this is not the same consideration Aberdeenshire shows to others who fall foul of planning.

Countryside access is ignored. 

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water across Scotland. 
Over the years, Aberdeen Voice reported numerous ways this was ignored at Menie to Aberdeenshire Council’s relevant officers.  Nothing we reported was ever remedied. 

Gates are permanently locked shut, such as the one between Trump’s parking lot and Leyton Farm Road. 

Plants have been put in place which block peoples’ access around this gate and elsewhere.  Anyone with a bicycle, pram or disability is not getting through or around that gate.

Waste management has been irresponsible. 

Mountains of mixed waste existed on the estate.  I took these photos following information from an environmental campaigner in March 2013 . 

Chemical containers, plastics blowing across the land and the scale of the waste was staggering.

Animals are being destroyed; chemicals are used on the greens (per previous AV articles), the SSSIs are destroyed.  None of the promised benefits (thousands of permanent jobs, tourism money) appeared. 

How long can it be before the area is entirely destroyed and housing springs up?

Footnote:
I dedicate this piece to my sources to whom I am grateful.  In particular there are three wonderful dear friends who bravely fought to help the situation at Menie and made a difference, but who can no longer fight.

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Feb 262021
 

It’s back to business for convicted sex-offender Aberdeen City Councillor Alan Donnelly. His suspension from his role as a councillor ends 3rd of March. Suzanne Kelly writes.

Alan Donnelly was convicted in December 2019 for a November 2018 sexual assault on a young male waiter while attending a civic function in his capacity as councillor

He was given interim suspensions on full pay before a Standards Commission for Scotland hearing was held which allowed him to continue as a councillor.

In November 2020, two years after the assault, Standards declared that a further four month suspension was all the stricture required.

Standards justified their decision saying Donnelly was cooperative, had no previous referral to Standards, and had not received a custodial sentence. The Standards hearing panel could have removed him had they chosen.

Donnelly’s first hearing date was postponed on health grounds His attempt to likewise put off his November 2020 hearing failed.

Perhaps not even Standards could justify another postponement on revelation that Donnelly had enjoyed several holidays while suspended.

In response to the hugely unpopular decision, a formal complaint was made to Ethics Standards in Public Life. Ethics’ role had been to issue a report to Standards before any hearing could be set.

The complainant asked:

  • Why did it take Ethics until June 2020, six months after Donnelly’s conviction, to issue a report?
  • Why did Ethics decide not to give the victim an opportunity to make a statement?
  • Does Ethics took sexual assault seriously?

Ethics found its officers acted properly. There is no avenue for appeal.

Ethics claims it had to determine whether Donnelly was perceived as being a councillor when attacking the young man at a social function.

Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting

Donnelly’s city council register of interests clearly reflected he attended in place of Councillor Lumsden.

Instead, Ethics waited weeks to hear what the venue managers thought.

ACC Councillor Jennifer Stewart was quoted in the local press saying the sexual assault ‘didn’t sound too bad’. The victim could have been approached for comment, but they were excluded from proceedings.

During its investigation, Ethics was so deluged with complaints about Donnelly it refused to hear anything further.
Had they not shut the public out, they might have learned of a 2001 incident.

While in an ACC social work post, Donnelly reportedly took a sex offender to a bar against rules and was disciplined for it. Standards might not have concluded Donnelly’s improper conduct was a ‘one off’ had this information been presented.

Apparently one sexual assault on its own is not deemed sufficient to stop someone serving as a councillor.

On the 10th of March, Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting. The meeting was originally set for March 3rd  – the final day of Donnelly’s period of suspension.

However, council business manager Ryan Houghton arranged a postponement, ostensibly relating to central government’s imminent budget announcement.

Donnelly is expected to vote with the reigning Labour/Tory coalition just as he did in 2020 in a meeting that took place the day before his suspension.

Donnelly was a Tory and part of said coalition until he went ‘independent’ coinciding with the sexual assault conviction.

The Labour councillors in this unholy alliance are suspended from the party for defying orders and aligning with Tories. To say that Aberdonians are looking forward to the May 2022 elections is an understatement.

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Feb 212021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

As seen in our earlier article https://aberdeenvoice.com/2021/02/acc-taxi-driver-grant-handling-to-be-investigated/ , central government is giving £1500 one-off grants to eligible taxi drivers who have lost trade during lockdowns. 

Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities are distributing the funds to drivers who answer a series of questions online, submit ID, and supply bank account and sort code details.   

In Aberdeen, things are not quite so straightforward.

Aberdeen City Council’s handling of the grant is being reviewed by central government and data protection agencies following Aberdeen Voice’s investigations. 

Drivers here are told they can only apply electronically, must open a user account on the city’s website to access the application, and must submit a bank’s official statement showing a month’s worth of transactions.

A central government spokeswoman said: 

“The requirement for the bank details is an SG condition but that is just literally account number and sort code so people can be paid into their account.  Our guidance states that drivers must provide bank account details and local authorities can request appropriate additional evidence to determine eligibility.”

As a Glasgow city council spokesman we contacted added: 

“The webpage doesn’t say that transactions within the account have to be shown, only the name, address, account number and sort code. A bank statement with redacted transactions is therefore acceptable.”

A spokeswoman from the Information Commissioner’s office said unofficially that she would redact transactions if asked for a statement.

ACC will neither back down from nor explain its position. The type of statement an account holder can print off themselves is not accepted; the bank must issue an official statement to satisfy ACC.

Should anyone think it is not a big deal to hand a month’s worth of financial transactions over to ACC, AV is pleased to remind readers that in 2018 ACC was investigated for a massive data breach when it sent personal details such as salary and NI numbers to third parties. 

In 2019, it was reported by Jon Hebditch of the Press & Journal that the city’s computers were hacked no fewer than 15 MILLION TIMES.

Why does ACC need to see what a driver is buying and where they are spending their money?  

A driver approached us who sent in their unredacted bank details and they advise they have had two attempted identity thefts following their application.  Of course, this may be wholly coincidental, but it highlights the need for privacy.

Many banks, mobile companies, credit card companies will sometimes ask for details of a previous transaction in order to verify the identity of a phone caller.  Anyone who gets hold of a bank statement can make an identity theft bid.

Data protection laws say personal data must not be collected unless it is required for a specific transaction, and must be destroyed once it is no longer needed.  Once a driver proves who they are, their eligibility and their bank name, account number and sort code, there is no need for that driver’s financial transactions to be seen by anyone.

The question is, why does Aberdeen City Council think knowing a driver’s bank transactions is any of their business or relevant for issuing a grant once the driver establishes identity and eligibility?

Many drivers are understandably unhappy then that ACC wants sight of the applicant’s individual bank transactions.  Derek Davidson told AV: 

“I wasn’t aware transactions could be redacted. My understanding was that if you did this it could affect your claim being processed.”

Who in ACC will see this data and whether or not it will be destroyed as soon as it is no longer needed are unclear. 

What is clear is that ACC does not need to see any personal transaction details to pay people money they are due. AV is trying to get the council to remove this intrusive, potentially illegal invasion of privacy.

After several attempts by AV to get ACC to explain its invasive requirement, we have received a list of rules and regulations, and an assertion that central government did not specify how to handle the roll out. 

The city was asked if it will now follow Glasgow’s example (other councils allow redaction too, we understand) and let drivers conceal their individual bank transactions.  No answer to this simple question was offered.

If the city does reverse its policy, we will advise.  However, as ACC is dragging its feet since it was first approached, and we know drivers are in great need of the money, it may well come too late. 

An Information Commission Office spokeswoman commented:

“As mentioned we can’t give a judgement before knowing the full facts and being able to establish formally what information the council wants, how it is being used, what their privacy policy states etc.  If someone complains to us then we would look at the detail and possibly make further enquiries if necessary.

“As per our statement,  if people are concerned about how their personal data is used they can raise it with ACC and then the ICO.”
 
We urge anyone with data protection issues to issue a complaint both to ACC and the Information Commissioner – here is the link again to their complaints procedure:  https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/, and here is ACC’s chief executive’s email address:  chiefexecutive@aberdeencity.gov.uk

AV will be happy to hear from anyone impacted by the issues arising.

Aberdeen Voice maintains that the city’s press office has the ability to check with every department, and could have learned more about the issue if it needed to. 
 
We will try to find out why it chose not to do so and why it is choosing to doubt AV’s story.
 
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Feb 092021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Many area taxi drivers are suffering.

Not only has lock down stopped most of the journeys people would have made, but the city’s draconian and Byzantine laws, which stopped city businesses making and receiving deliveries and which created arcane one-way traffic systems, prevented people from making swift in-and-out taxi journeys to buy essentials. 

Now the city seems to be fumbling on a new front.

The Scottish Government recently announced a scheme to help with £1500 one-off grants. 

The central government website says:

“If you are eligible for a grant your local authority will get in touch with you, starting from week commencing 18 January 2021.  You do not need to contact them.”

Derek Davidson, 57, of Bridge of Don, has been a driver for 21 years.  Mr Davidson told Aberdeen Voice:

“The grant will help drivers pay fixed costs such as car loans and insurance which were not included in the grants given by the U.K. government. The Scottish government were clear that these grants would be administered by the council and paid out by the 31st January.”

Three key points from the Scottish government website are: that an applicant’s council will need your bank details, that the scheme started week commencing 18 January, and that correspondence can be by phone, email or letter.

An Aberdeen City Council told Aberdeen Voice otherwise, claiming:

*  the scheme only started on 26 January.

*  an official bank statement be supplied – despite a driver’s private financial transactions having nothing to do with their eligibility.  A print out from logging into your account is not acceptable. 

Applicants should not need to supply more than their bank name, sort code and account number once they have proved they are eligible and submitted ID. 

This official bank statement requirement will also delay payments while applicants write to their bank to get an official statement (many banks convinced customers to opt out of paper statements long ago for environmental and cost-saving reasons).

ACC demands that all correspondence be handled electronically. 

As Mr Davidson points out – not everyone has email and not everyone has a home computer. 

Once an applicant gets the official statement from their bank, they apparently need to scan it to comply with ACC’s email only directive.

ACC seems to require drivers to open an account on the city’s website before they can even access the application form. 

(NB The Scottish Information Commissioner is looking into ACC’s attempts to make FOI requesters sign up – those who want to make requests should insist on the freedom not to sign up, and/or use the website whatdotheyknow.com to lodge FOI requests.)  

This extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy will mean every time a user is logged in, a trail of what they have accessed on the ACC website will come to exist. 

Not everyone who does FOI requests or who wants to apply for a grant they deserve wants ACC to be able to know what they are looking at for instance. There is no legal requirement on those who want to correspond and do business by letter to fall in line with ACC.

If, as some correspondence sent to drivers indicates, avoiding paper, letters is somehow a Covid-19 safety measure, then surely school teachers and staff must not touch any paper either.

Mr Davidson said:

“I’m not sure why the council would need to see the drivers’ bank statements as it is an invasion of privacy in my opinion. All they needed was our sort codes an account numbers. It is also wrong that people are excluded if they don’t have an email address.

“The council undertook to administer the grants and should have had adequate procedures in place to ensure every driver was included. I’d be interested to know what happens to any unclaimed money.

In terms of eligibility, our tax records show we have been paying our way as taxi drivers and that should have been all the proof they needed for distribution of the grants.”

Central government advises it will look at how ACC is handling the administration of this grant.

ACC doubled-down when AV requested clarification on why they seem to diverge from the central government’s information on the grant.  A spokesman said:

“The terms agreed through Cosla and SLAED is for all Local Authorities to administer the funds through an online application process – every local authority has done so.

“The application form was published on the council website on 26 January [2021] and we contacted drivers the same day.

“Local authorities are required to be assured of the validity of any supporting information requested in determining eligibility for a grant.

“Every local authority requires details of the applicant’s bank statements to verify this is a legitimate applicant and not a third party using the licence and name of a driver. The Council has a privacy notice for the data handling process in respect to the scheme which is published on the website.”

AV will update further once central government advises. We will be happy to hear from any drivers who are impacted.

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Jan 222021
 

“Crazy how white Republicans got other white Republicans scared of Muslims and Mexicans when all along they needed to be scared of other white Republicans…”
– Cyrus McQueen, author, Tweeting Truth To Power: Chronicling Our Caustic Politics, Crazed Times, & The Great Black & White Divide.

“Anti-vax conspiracy theories and COVID-19 denial are gateway drugs that introduce well-meaning people to the far right. Before they know it, large numbers are hooked on QAnon.”
– George Monbiot

Trump spent decades inciting violence, culminating in rioting and deaths in Washington DC on 6 January 2021. Now he says he won’t condone violence (or is that what he’s really saying?)

Suzanne Kelly, Aberdeen Voice contributor and campaigner explains why the leopard has not changed his spots.

Armed, angry white men and women were invited by Trump to a rally in DC. Trump told the mob to march on the capitol and he’d be with them (he wasn’t).

The warning signs were ignored. The violence was pre-planned, orchestrated. The National Guard was held at bay. Five people are dead, more were injured.

Trump watched the violence unfold on TV; he would not speak to aids or answer requests to stop the forces he invoked.

His after-the-fact denunciation of ‘political violence’ is perversely being taken as a call to arms by the extremists – who are openly calling for more such events. His impeachment is essential; he is a danger to us all.

Signs of his disordered mental state, his contempt for people and the environment were visible at Aberdeenshire’s Menie Estate before his election. Aberdeen Voice, Tripping up Trump, Aberdeenshire councillors including Martin Ford, Debra Storr, Paul Johnston and film maker Anthony Baxter all could have attested this man was the last person to be put in charge of a multicultural country.

Aberdeen Journals Ltd told you Trump was going to bring 6,000 permanent jobs and millions into the local economy annually and ‘enhance’ the irreplaceable environment.

Fast forward, and there are less than 93 permanent jobs, the course is permanently in the red, and the unique SSSI areas are destroyed.

Aberdeen Voice’s many calls over the years to local and national officials and official bodies as to where he got the money for the purchase from fell on deaf ears.

Here are some of my thoughts on why Trump is in power, why people still believe him, and what we need to address in order to stop more carnage.

Trump: the most damaging, divisive president ever.

It takes honour and integrity to own mistakes and Trump has neither quality. His youth included allegations of draft-dodging (he was healthy enough despite alleged bone spurs to play collegiate basketball) and sending in ringers to take exams in his stead.

He is credibly accused of preventing non-white people from obtaining leases for his Manhattan properties. He wanted the innocent, framed ‘Central Park Five’ to be executed.

His fondness for capital punishment saw him reinstate the death penalty; as rights watchers will tell you, many US death row inmates were denied due process, have mental health issues, and some have been found to be innocent after their execution. Some were black – convicted on circumstantial evidence by all-white juries.

Trump has invoked violence many times, whatever he may be saying now.
Trump told an assembly of police that it was OK with him if they harmed suspects.

He called for hecklers at his rallies to be ‘roughed up’.
He called journalists – the very people tying to tell the truth about the man –‘enemy of the people’ and said they should be ‘roughed up’.

When I spoke on The O’Reilly Factor about my petition to ban Trump from the UK under our hate speech laws, I was cut off before making many of my points and with no warning: but the last point I got in was that Trump planned to execute terrorists and their relatives. I still can’t believe this didn’t shock more people.

America is supposed to stand for justice, not ex-judicial execution of innocent people.

Trump is a racist (the KKK endorsement of his 2016 bid for the presidency is a clue); he lacks empathy, and will deceive without remorse. He has no regard for law, fairness or human life. He frequently calls for violence and fails to speak out against it when it comes from the far right and the white supremacist: his lack of condemnation encourages them.

Hate speech, racism, neo-Nazism: how the ignorant, angry and easily-led are funnelled

Claiming Muslims should be banned from air travel ‘until we figure out what the hell is going on’, Trump threw unjust suspicion on Muslims, including the seven to 14 million Muslim Americans.

This was not a dog whistle; this was Trump prejudicially linking all Muslims to terrorism. Those who thought my desire to ban him for hate speech might do well to remember his ban which unfairly harmed many. And as any observer of American terrorism can confirm, most of America’s terrorists have been white males.

Hate crimes are at their highest levels for 16 years according to the FBI.

Responding to Trump’s many calls to hate and violence, people like William Celli decided to build bombs to target Muslims. Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Hispanics have led to many assaults; in one case two suspects told police ‘Trump is right’.

Trump fanatic and would-be bomber Cesar Sayoc targeted Democrats and CNN. His defence lawyers wrote that:

“in this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump.”

Sayoc ‘Found light’ in Donald; sadly, so do many disaffected people, opportunist evangelical preachers, the NRA, GOP climbers, and racist groups like the KKK.

David Duke is the ridiculously-titled ‘grand wizard’ of the KKK. It endorsed Trump as their presidential candidate, and Duke said the Charlottesville rioting which took Heather Heyer’s life was ‘a turning point’.

From the time Trump said of the white supremacist march ‘there are fine people on both sides’, he’d given a clear signal he would condemn neither violence nor racism. He deliberately fanned those flames, even if he didn’t manage to overthrow the government.

It’s Christianity Jim, but not as we know it.

There is no doubt that MAGA rallies created a community of like-minded Trump followers. These events called together every person who wanted a saviour, and the extremist evangelists used the far-right version of Christianity that these Trump acolytes had been raised on.

Artwork showing Trump as a Christ-like figure (as if); photos showing Trump surrounded by adoring televangelists – all this helped those who were already trained to be obedient to their preachers be obedient to the man their preachers endorsed and called saviour. It made Sayoc a terrorist.

The lunatic hypocrisy of claiming to be a follower of Jesus while simultaneously toting semi-automatic weapons, chanting ‘lock her up’, assaulting rally hecklers, and calling for death to the press doesn’t occur to any of these people. Their preachers are asking for donations, not soul-searching.

Here is a hilarious take on her absolute madness of Paula White 

Compliant? The evangelical child in some of these sects grow up believing by constant reinforcement they are the only people who will be saved, that the superior race is white, and the superior sex is male.

Home-schooling is prevalent, and I believe plays more of a part in the radicalisation of people than many will admit.

The girl children? Many are trained to be subservient like our rushed-through newest Supreme Court Justice Coney Barrett. For many extremist evangelists, girls are to get married, be servants and be fruitful and multiply. Sex before marriage is strictly out.

Arranged child marriages are common; tales of survivors of forced marriage can be found in harrowing accounts captured by Unchained At Last. 

All these QAnon extremists protesting about invented satanic child abuse? They need look no further than child marriage, legal in 46 states. When was the last time a QAnon protestor targeted this abuse?

Do these evangelists and Trump really believe one of their key recruitment planks – that all abortion is wrong? Trump asked his girlfriend to get one. Trump also raped Ivana per her written statement by the way. Very Old Testament.

If I had my say, every school age person would spend at least a few months in a non-home-school setting to mix with children of other backgrounds. Ensuring no one is schooled only in a vacuum might help end the vilification of other religions, other races and nationalities.

If nothing else, the evangelical girl child could be shown it is illegal to be married off against her will, and she can have a career other than as a mother.

And if I ran the world, there would be no marriages in America for anyone under 18, and all parties under age 21 would have to be seen alone before the ceremony to confirm they are not being coerced, and offered support if they are.

Women used as cleaners and evangelical baby-making machines are what perpetuates this extremely closed, insurrectionist-producing system, in my fact-based opinion. And people like the Haushultz family would not have any children in their care ever

Tele-preachers and the NRA also insist an AK is a ‘God-given right.’ The hell it is.

Gun culture: how the NRA fuels paranoia.

A Senate subcommittee declared the National Rifle Association to a Russian asset, awash with Russian money. NRA chiefs gave illegal operative Russian Marina Butina and Putin pal Alexander Torshin access to members of Congress.

What was once an educational tax-exempt organisation now pumps tens of millions of dollars into Congress, some of that from Russia.

It will not brook any changes to US gun law. NRA-funded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented the Senate from voting on bipartisan gun law bills. Did America’ founders know automatic weapons existed – yes, as the NRA says, claiming all guns should be legal.

Did the founders have weapons that could kill 58 and wound 527 others from a great distance as we tragically saw in Las Vegas? No.

Should every incel, every angry racist own an assault rifle?

The NRA says yes.

The parents and loved ones of the over 40,000 shot in 2019 and 2020 say no.

In terms of ‘cancel culture’ – gun deaths cancel thousands of voices each year, and Mitch McConnell cancelled the Senate’s right to even vote on the matter. If he were confident the American people and the Senate did not want gun laws changed, he would have let the two bills be heard.

There is supposed to be a well-regulated militia: instead we had teen Kyle Rittenhouse driven to a protest by his mother where he killed.

‘Do you wanna be in my gang?’ Psychological manipulation.

Lonely? Friendless? Not promoted at work? Involuntary celibate? QAnon wants You.

A whole world of similarly-damaged souls awaits and you will be welcome, whether or not you’re a preposterous self-styled shaman who live streams from mom’s basement. If you’re feeling the financial pinch, it can’t be because of people like Trump, paper billionaires whose many bankruptcies have sent small businesses to the wall; it must be because a woman or a non-white person ‘took’ your job.

It is easier and cheaper to get recruited by QAnon than it is to either get mental health help, get involved with making positive change, or make real friends in the real world. The USA needs urgent medical health care reform, the kind Trump has tried to dismantle.

I have done as much of a dive into this culture as I care to. In fringe websites the insurrectionists share whispers of violence to come on Biden’s inauguration day.

Some think Trump is the messiah. They are happy, some of them, to wear Nazi regalia – and in doing so align themselves with the horrors visited on adults and children alike, despite QAnon using the fictitious pizzagate child abuse conspiracy as a recruitment tool.

The message seems to be that Nazi concentration camps were either invented or the children abused and murdered on an industrial scale somehow don’t count (viz the detestable ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt and Nazi symbolism worn by the insurrectionists).

However, invent a child abuse scandal now 100% discredited involving Satan and Hilary Clinton, and crying people will take to the streets holding signs about pizza parlours and baby-eaters while sporting a swastika tattoo.

These people don’t seem aware Trump did all he could to catch teen beauty queens naked at his pageants, or that he’s accused of many cases of sexual assault. There is no logic, no joined up thinking.

These echo chambers that sprang up following Q Anon’s overdue defenestration from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook reinforce the camaraderie, the anger of these misfits. They goad each other into more and more extreme views and actions. Something needs to be done.

As I am writing, Reuters confirmed that the mob intended to ‘capture and assassinate’ members of Congress. We must find, arrest, try every single one of these people.

Hate Speech.

Enacting laws concerning hate speech – like the UN and many countries have will help stop the abuse which has led to violence throughout this country’s history.

This is nothing to do with freedom of speech. The right to free speech has many exemptions. The founding fathers foresaw some of the potential future misuses – but none of them can have dreamed of it being used to remind Jewish people of the horrors of Auschwitz.

Trump spurred me to try to ban him from the UK under our hate speech laws. As a New Yorker living in Aberdeen, watching this man being treated as a star made me feel ill.

I knew of his discriminatory policies, his greed, his xenophobia. I didn’t care if I looked like a fool. Over 586,000 people agreed with me and we got a debate.

Who knows? We might even have got the Home Secretary to apply the law to a billionaire that had already been applied to more than 100 other hatemongers.

In the end, the night before the debate, MP Paul Flynn, slated to chair the debate decided to call the press to slate my petition (without letting me know he was doing so). ‘We might make Trump a martyr’ he told me. Parliament did deliver a good smackdown – but the Home Secretary did not apply the law to Trump.

JK Rowling made a joke about the petition at a New York literary gathering.

I was invited to write a riposte piece, and I did so, even knowing all of Harry Potter fandom would attack me to support her. I wonder if she sees the difference between hate speech and free speech now; I’d like to hope so, having been the target of hate speech herself of late.

What I didn’t get is that in her books the magical government was being taken over and most people were afraid to stand up to the spread of hate speech, but there you go.

Every time someone flies a confederate flag; every town that has a memorial to a civil war figure who tried to preserve slavery is a declaration of hate to black citizens from white supremacists. Every glorification of those who slaughtered Native Americans is a hate crime. I can’t shake the feeling that while all this division rages, the billionaires are laughing at the rest of us.

Billionaires like Trump (wherever his money is actually coming from; happily, there are signs it may be drying up).

If a Native American child or an African American child cannot wear their hair in a way reflective of their culture in school, then why are we letting people wave symbols celebrating slavery or concentration camps in gestures designed to intimidate and provoke fear and anger? I don’t understand.

The speech turns to violence, and these symbols have power.

If anyone wants to cry how unfair it is Trump’s been removed from social media for repeated rule breaking, fake news and hate speech, think again. He’s deliberately gagged people with lawsuits, confidentiality agreements (even extending to cooks in Scotland) and used his massive press connections to mock and ridicule opponents from Biden through to farmer Michael Forbes.

Can we please make Justice blind again?

Some of the argument against doing so aside from Flynn’s Chamberlain-esque appeasement was ‘Trump may be president someday’.

This alarming use of future potential is seen in America, where it gets many privileged white male offenders released from serious charges eg Brock Turner.

What if we had banned him from the UK? Would the GOP still have seen him as being presidential material? Perhaps not. Would things have been worse had the UK banned Trump? Worse how? – I’d like to know.

We’re seeing more flawed illogic applied to the insurrectionists by their sympathisers in the GOP: ‘Don’t impeach Trump, it may make insurrectionists angry’.

They are already angry. And armed. The law is not supposed to care how rich you are or if applying the law equally to all will make white supremacists angry.

The self-styled shaman is being given the organic meals in prion he demanded because of his ‘religion’. Meanwhile, as noted by various Native American groups, when Native people wind up in US jails, they are absolutely laughed at and ignored.

Symbols of hate belong in the trashcan.

The confederate flag shows the bearer approves of slavery, and wants it back.

Statues of confederate generals towering over parks and town centres show deference to the people who tried to preserve slavery and contempt for descendants of slaves.

A swastika patch or tattoo, or a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt shows the world the bearer hates everyone who’s not a Nazi.

A MAGA hat suggests the wearer wants to ‘Make America Great Again’. It shows support for a KKK-endorsed white supremacist who ridicules minorities and incites violence against virtually everyone who is not a white male. It is the symbol of the Trump rally, a sign you would suspend your logic and values (if any) to be part of a mob.

The far right, the conspiracy believer, etc have also commandeered symbols of the crusaders, arcane symbols and invented symbols. This is all part of the ‘I need to be in a crowd and be one of the mob’ mentality we saw running through the Capitol.

Can we chuck these and other such inflammatory, hate-provoking emblems now? Other countries have.

We don’t need miseducation.

If there were a better, balanced system of education that also taught tolerance and life skills (I mean, we even have people who now believe you can fall of the edge of our flat world), we would all be better off.

It would not be so easy to convince people that Bill Gates is a reptile from another dimension who is trying to forcibly inject nanobots and trackers by unleashing a fake virus scare.

When I was in school, I remember ages devoted to names and dates of the Revolutionary War. About a quarter of that amount of time was spent on the history and culture of the rest of the world. Mistake. It was later I learned of the atrocities committed against Native Americans (including by Lincoln) and slavery.

When we studied slavery in school – and this I remember to my dying day: we read two different accounts of women who had been plantation slaves.

One was entitled ‘Lordy Them was Awful Days’ and she told of being whipped and salt being rubbed in her wounds. The other woman said slavery wasn’t so bad: I kid you not. And then we moved on.

It was as if every coin has two sides – a flaw seen in current day news reporting.

Slavery does not have another side. We also had in our textbooks the horrific photos of lynched black Americans, with white people standing under them socializing. Did my teacher explain how horrific this was? If so, their words are lost on me though that photo remains burned in my head.

Do the confederate flag-wavers even know what the reality was for so many? Do they even want to? A better, complete education that shows America’s many flaws could help. Teach logic, how to frame arguments, critical thinking, and how not to be a racist.

What are we going to do today? Pending violence.

As mentioned, I’ve been going on these twisted far-right sites to see what is going on. These people do think, as reported in the news, that Trump wants more violence and has sent secret messages to QAnon in his latest word salad of a speech.

They and others point to his saying ‘I cannot emphasise that there must be no violence…’ as a call to arms.

With Trump having established that he is barely literate, we don’t know what he actually meant. Hilariously, he says he can never condone violence, despite having called for violence on many occasions.

However, the conspiracy theory force is strong with these insurrectionists.

Some claim he tapped out in Morse Code the letter ‘Q’. Really? The man can’t spell ‘coffee’.

These people are looking for signs. If you look for signs, the brain will find them even where they don’t exist. A decent education could have taught the ‘I saw the Virgin Mary in my slice of toast’ brigade how the mind works to create images and patterns, but there you go.

These people want a violent, bloody revolution. They want to take over America. They are using internet sites to make their plans. Many of them are police and/or former armed forces members (we need a Venn diagram of white supremacists who have been in the police and who have needlessly killed non-white suspects).

Some of their helpers are congresspeople. They cannot win, but they can certainly harm and kill.

Ignoring them and hoping they will disappear is not an option. I am not an expert, but I think my suggestions have some merit for the future. The present needs to be the focus now.

In my opinion, we need to: immediately declare QAnon, the KKK, other hate groups terrorist organisations and remove terrorism supporters from Congress. Any congressperson/police officer who gave the insurrectionists help must be removed from office and charged.

No one gets into Congress without going through the metal detector. No guns get into Congress.

Every single insurrectionist from Trump down to the last one needs to be charged with all applicable charge from sedition and insurrection through destroying federal property.

We need to shore up what the 1st and 2nd Amendments mean.

We need to change the laws so there are no more Kyle Rittenhouses.

Anyone who is in QAnon or the KKK is not fit to be in law enforcement or law-making, and needs to be removed from office. We need more scrutiny of how these ideas are getting into the heads of the violent, and address the root causes (extremist evangelism, poverty, poor education etc).

We cannot just forget this happened and heal without cleaning up the source of infection and getting rid of the poison. We need to have Biden and Harris stabilize our country and Make Hate Hateful Again.

Unfortunately, we need to do this about 80 years ago at a minimum. But let’s start today.

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Jan 102021
 

 Further to Part I of these two articles, when a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work. The city went to SUSTRANS representing ‘we have a problem’ and it secured £200,000. By Suzanne Kelly.

In Part I of this series a timeline showed different stories as to who owned the land in question. Lawyer, and then councillor and finance committee convener Willie Young said at different times he didn’t know who the landowner was, or that his dad was the landowner.

The press reported that Young and his wife were the owners according to Registry documents.

In this part of the story, Aberdeen Voice comments on emails recently released by ACC as well as those previously leaked and published.

We also acknowledge the huge amount of work done on this issue by others including the Stop the Desecration of Marischal College Facebook page, and we include their recent synopsis of this bizarre tale.

The emails:

Below are images of some of the emails and commentary, both officially released and leaked, on ‘Wallgate’. Aberdeen Voice will be happy to receive further material and is continuing its Freedom of Information efforts.

I) ‘WE have a problem’ – on 3 February 2016 someone at ACC wrote to SUSTRANS to say ‘we have a problem’ and ‘our head of maintenance has advised there is no budget to carry out these repairs which could be £250,000…’

The recipient at SUSTRANS would have concluded that as the council says it has a problem, it has no budget, it is the party seeking repair funds, etc, that the responsibility for fixing the wall was the council’s.

The council keeps a spreadsheet showing every single property it owns; Aberdeen Voice has a 2012 copy and can confirm no entries exist on it for 2012 concerning Wellington Brae.

Was even this quick, simple search conducted before an email was sent to SUSTRANS from Aberdeen saying ‘we have a problem?’ Did anyone use the council tax rolls and contact the people living at the property to ask them about ownership?

It would be good to know how the author of this email to SUSTRANS decided to word their appeal- its tone is that the problem is Aberdeen’s.

There was no uncertainty over ownership expressed, just the assumption Aberdeen needed to find the money rather than a private landowner. It is also worth noting that the report brought to councillors to accept the money that was solicited from SUSTRANS in February was not presented to them until 24 May 2017 – fifteen months after the money was requested.

Will the email author’s line manager go back and check whether or not similar representations have been made to seek funds from external sources to repair properties that the city did not own?

How was the decision made to conduct the survey, to commission the in-house 12-page detailed Bill of Quantities report made in May of 2016 (which conveniently matches precisely the estimate for repairs presented to SUSTRANS in February), and who approved this budget to pay for a survey of benefit to private landowners?

II) Leaked email – Young is well aware of, and is briefed on, the approach ACC made to SUSTRANS. At least three different ACC personnel have, according to this email, been in touch with Young.

The writer says Young gave the verbal go-ahead for the project in his council role. Young is being asked for written confirmation.

We are still not at all certain why, with his legal background, Young apparently did not caution those on the project to cease any work until it was determined who was responsible for paying for the work at the moment he was approached for his permission.

Young asked for information to be re-sent to him in a paragraph: as the scheme involves SUSTRANS paying for the stonewall work, Young will have been in receipt of correspondence/data/reports/financials concerning SUSTRANS funding in the form of documents sent by email on a matter that concerns his family’s property.

Even if you disbelieve the authenticity of this email, Young later confirms officers approached him about the scheme – wouldn’t he have asked for some detail and background then, not least to find out why it was decided he was the landowner.

III) leaked email – According to this Young, who is addressed as Councillor, has the plans and is checking with his solicitor as to whether or not he owns the land.

IV) Leaked email – indicates Councillor Young issued a verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae 28 October 2016.

Many public and private entities have ethics charters and anything that could be a conflict of interest or potentially fraudulent or reputation-damaging must be raised, and if a decision to proceed is taken, this must be formalised and approved.

We note that Willie Young contacted ACC’s Monitoring Officer for advice – more on that appears later in this piece.

The question here is did no staff member or officer working on this project who were asking Young for approval as a private landowner think to raise any ethics/conflict of interest concerns?

Did no one question whether it was appropriate that ACC staff and resources were deployed to help private landowner Young (or his family) to obtain the SUSTRANS grant? Would this help be given to other private landowners who weren’t on the council?

We asked SUSTRANS to comment on the city’s ARS report which said:

“Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”

We have have had no response as yet; this piece will be updated when they respond.

V) ACC recently-released email – The landowner has verbally given permission.

From mid-September 2016 it appears the city acted as if it were aware who owned the land – quite possibly they knew earlier looking at the leaked emails. Who is going to do the ‘rubber-stamping’ at ACC to approve this?

In a private organisation, seeking external sources of funding, issuing tenders and evaluating bids are meant to follow strict protocol, and any expenditure over a certain threshold is meant to be carefully scrutinized for internal control as well as external legal requirements.

Representatives of legal, finance and executive teams would all be expected to read detailed reports then either object or sign off before any such moves were made. This would extend from the first email sent to SUSTRANS through sealing the deal.

It is also noteworthy that the company initially appointed after the tender for the wall work went out of business and did not have much if any relevant experience. Perhaps Audit Scotland needs to visit Aberdeen’s procedures – again.

One further thought: a verbal agreement, in legal circles, is said to be ‘worth the paper it’s written on.’

VI) ACC recently-released emails from the latest FOI – How could the Head of Maintenance be ‘adamant’ there weren’t any funds? Couldn’t they have applied to Finance for either guidance on what to do or for more funds?

The path could have been closed until the new fiscal year opened – not ideal, but April was not that far off, either: during which time the mystery of who was responsible for the repair could have been determined.

Finance could have authorised emergency finance or an advance on the next quarter’s budget; You can think you have no funds for your department for important projects – but how can you be certain – or even ‘adamant’ you have no possibility of getting any finance without asking Finance to confirm?

In the private sector, such an approach would certainly lead to a member of the finance team asking the relevant questions – such as who owned the land.

VII) ACC recently-released email shows SUSTRANS awarding £200,000 on 25 November. Formal paperwork is coming – this will presumably require the landowner(s)’ signature(s). Who signed/approved for the landowner?

Young says:

Asked to comment to Aberdeen Voice on 14 October, Willie Young wrote (which was not received on the day, but re-sent when requested on 22 November):

“You ask if it was an ethical use of my position at ACC. As the freedom of information report and the Council enquiry report shows officers of the Council did not act within agreed protocols and this led to a situation where a report that should have come to committee did not appear.

“As for my position I was convener of the Finance committee and any report would have gone to the Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee not my committee so in answer to your question my ethics was never questioned by the Council nor was a matter ever passed to the Ethical Standards Commission, the monitoring officer for ACC is on record as saying that I did not have a conflict of interest.

“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer.

“As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors. The Councils own report and the FOI clearly shows that the Council requested that this work was undertaken without speaking to the owner of the land and without being in a position to know who owned the land.

“Disappointingly this matter was not even discussed by Officers with the convener of Communities Housing and Infrastructure.  It was not for me to determine who owned the land it was for the Council to determine who owned the land and contact the land owner requesting permission.

“The report which went to council confirms the council failed both those tests.”

“In respect of your final question regard complaints I can categorically say without fear or favour that not one single person complained to me about the wall before or after Storm Gertrude.” 

The City’s Report should they have closed this case? Details hidden from public.

The Audit Risk and Scrutiny Committee reported on 26 September 2017 decided Young was ‘placed in a vulnerable position’; the Chief Executive apologised for this. This internal exercise resulted in a decision which reads in part:

6.18 “Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”

4.67 “It was appropriate for Councillor Young to seek advice from the Monitoring Officer in order to address any perception that he was conflicted in his interests.”

4.68 “The Monitoring Officer has stated that based on the information available to him at the time, Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner.”

and paragraph 7.9 “Councillor Young’s actions did not contravene the ICT Acceptable Use Policy as the emails did not concern any confidential information, were not protectively marked, and had been addressed to Councillor Young.”

Questions arise:

6.18 quotes a claim that ‘SUSTRANS would have made the grant whoever owned the land’: Aberdeen Voice awaits SUSTRANS’ comment. Was a repair notice served on the land owner, if so when? Would a land owner approaching SUSTRANS have had to commission and pay for a detailed survey such as the one ACC had deployed resources to?

4.67, 4.68 – At what point did Young approach the Monitoring Officer – when did Young decide the perception of conflict existed and why did it exist for him? What did Young tell the Monitoring Officer that led to the conclusion there was no conflict of interest to address?

Did the Monitoring Officer proactively look at all the angles of this situation or just what Young presented to them? Why does the MO feel they have to say their conclusion was based on the information available to him at the time – has more information come to light, and if so, did it change this position?

7.9 – How is it ‘acceptable use’ of ACC computers, office and equipment to conduct business as a private landowner? These lines between councillor and landowner should never have been blurred. It is risible to think that using the address ‘Councillor’ automatically absolves Young.

Section 2 of the Audit Risk & Scrutiny report is withheld from the public for ‘data protection reasons.’

On the case: The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ Facebook page.

AV notes the Facebook page Stop the Desecration of Marischal College has been instrumental in researching the Wellington Brae saga. In the past it has shown that claims Mr Young made concerning the Marischal Square development were unfounded.

Young once claimed that if the unpopular project went ahead, the city would be penalised by developer MUSE to the tune of £100 million. Summoned to appear before the Standards Commission, he was cleared of lying on grounds the information given to him by officers was inaccurate.

Déjà vu. (Young apparently did not find the concept of a £100 million penalty to be extreme, and did not question the information he passed on to the public).

The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ posted this summary on 22 November:

“Willie stated on Twitter today that no one from the council contacted the Wellington Brae landowner until August 2017. He added that it was shocking.

“What’s shocking Willie is between March 2106 and April 2017 you were aware the council had checked the land registry and believed (as per the records they obtained) that you were the landowner.

“What’s shocking is you were asked numerous times by various officers to confirm that you were the landowner and for whatever reason decided not to even though – as you said last week on this page – you were a lawyer by trade and skilled in commercial negotiations.

“What’s hard to believe, particularly after August 2016 when you were told Sustrans had agreed to fund £200,000 of repairs and after you were shown and asked to approve the landscaping of the land above the wall, that you didn’t mention this to your father over Sunday lunch.

“Knowing the wall’s maintenance was the landowner’s responsibility one might have thought a saving of £200,000 might be worth mentioning.

“What’s more the August 2017 contact date Willie assured is right, is in fact wrong. In April 2017 he confirmed to the BBC that his father owned the land in question.

“What is most interesting though is when asked if anyone was sacked Willie said ‘no, but they should have been.’

“There is little doubt the council’s governance could and should have been better but Willie has no one to blame but himself for not realising £200,000 of public funding to fix and landscape a wall and land his family owned would come back and bite him.

“To now publicly say officers should have been fired is not only a cheap shot but serves to minimise his own culpability in this whole sorry affair…”

  “You can’t help but feel if this had been anyone else’s wall the outcome would have been rather different.”

Jan 102021
 

With thanks to David Forbes.

Saltire Awards Achiever Volunteer, Lucas Mackenzie, 13, from Tillydrone, Aberdeen is fundraising for Local voluntary led charity Future Choices, but isn’t asking for your donations directly.

He’s launched an online shopping fundraising effort which enables members of the public to help Future Choices’ users by simply shopping as they normally would after registering with shopping websites Easyfundraising and Amazon Smile

Once registered,  members simply do their normal shopping and a small percentage is then donated to the charity by the retailer – not the customer.

Lucas stated:

“To be fundraising in this way is really good as it actually raises money without the buyer giving any extra. So it’s a win-win all round.”

So far Lucas has raised around £26. He has produced an information film which can be watched on the following link; https://youtu.be/DmIHu_vf0ZM

David Forbes, chairman of Future Choices and Lucas’s mentor added:

“To have Lucas leading this unique fundraiser is these most challenging times shows real determination to still help and support the most vulnerable.”

There is a Facebook page so that the public can keep up to date with the ongoing project.
https://www.facebook.com/ShoppingFundraiser/

Dec 132020
 

A Night At The Museum Storybook Glen.

Continuing a tradition stretching back nine years, Aberdeen Voice presents Suzanne Kelly’s annual Christmas-time satire covering the vibrant and dynamic goings-on in The Deen, the shire and the wider world.

Angus was running late for his new job.

Courtesy of Universal Credit, the acclaimed petrochemical engineer was ‘retraining’ as a security guard. 

He was at a wooden bus stop waiting for his bus to Story Book Glen.  Nearby hung a poster – ‘Fatima’s Next Job Could Be in Cyber, Only She Doesn’t Know It Yet’ read the kindly, helpful advert, featuring a ballet dancer who obviously should give up her dancing to become a government computer spy.

If Angus got lucky, he too might be retrained in cyber.  But first, he had to prove himself to Universal Credit to get that £80 a week payment.  His bus arrived after an hour or so, and off he went.

It was getting dark as he got off the No. C-19 bus on the outskirts of The Deen; the city lights were coming on, showing how vibrant and dynamic the city looked.  From afar.

Wandering through the Maryculter streets he arrived at his work placement.  ‘WELCOME TO STORYBOOK GLEN – no dogs allowed’ read the sign at the entrance, where a man sat waiting for him.  There was a papier mache castle wall with an archway; it was as pretty and as well built as any of the Barratt Homes he’d been walking past.

The little old man, smelling a bit like Buckfast Angus thought, thrust a flashlight and some keys into his hands.

“Hullo!  Ye must be thon work experience loon, Aye? Weel, welcome tae Storybook Glen,” he said, gesticulating around him as the sun continued to sink. 

“Ere’s yer keys.”

The wizened old man led Angus to a little wooden hut; in it were a wooden chair by a solitary window, a tiny fridge, and a heater.  Before they went in, Angus looked around and in the distance he could see the figures of several nursery rhyme characters as the sun continued sinking, like the feeling in his stomach.

“Did ye tak yer passport like we tellt ye tae?” the man asked; he seemed a little tipsy.

“Sure, have it here.” Angus replied, assuming it was needed for tax or ID purposes.

“Good, good – keep it on ye fer noo.  Noo ye micht get some tresspassers; some n’eer do wells were through the ither year, paintin punk rock slogans on oor statues – caused a fair stooshie,” the man warned. 

“Aa ye hae tae dae is tak a walkie roon’ noo an again, an hit onyhin ye see o’er the heid wi yer flashy, ken?  And bide oot o’ trouble!”

‘What trouble could I possibly get into around here?,’ wondered Angus ‘this will be a boring but easy way to earn ma minimum hourly wage so I can pay my council tax off soon.’

The man thrust a paper bag with a bottle in it into Angus’ hand.

“Noo, fae time tae time ye micht hear some funny stuff gan on, aye, and see even funnier stuff” said the old man.

“Tak a scoof ‘o this an’ athin will be fine.  There’s some o’ ma homemade mushroom pate in tha fridge along with half a bottle o’ Fred Wilkinson’s Tullos Hill Red – help yersel.  Ahm awa noo; see ye in the mornin’ – if ye’re still aboot.” 

And laughing to himself, the little old man hobbled away through the fake castle entrance away from Storybook Glen and out of sight.

An owl hooted.  Angus looked in the bag at a bottle that read ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin.’ ‘Ah fine; this job will be a breeze’ he thought, and with that he set himself down in the chair in the tiny guard’s booth.  He helped himself to the amazingly delicious homemade wine and pate, had a swig of Penguin, and started to doze off.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus woke with a start some hours later; the owl hooted.  He shivered and got up to turn on the space heater.  As he turned to go back to his chair, his eyes glanced at the window and he froze.

Looking back in on him were a pair of giant reptilian eyes.  He dared not move.

“Hullo!  Hullo!  Dinna be feart; Ah’m nae gan tae hurt naebody.”

Angus blinked, but when he looked again, the thing was still there, and was trying to open the door to the guard hut. 

It had a round face.  It looked like – but no it couldn’t be –

“Onywye. Fit Like?  Ah’m Barney” the thing said.  It stood in the threshold now; a giant lizard that looked like –

“You’re Barney.  Barney the -the-“ Angus stammered lost for words

“Dinosaur, aye, it’s often been said” said the beast with a chuckle an swish of its tail.

Grabbing Angus by the arm (Angus had just enough time to grab his flashlight and bottle) Barney took Angus out of the hut.  An eerie green glow illuminated Storybook Glen now, and Angus could see Barney was wearing a chain of office.

“You’re a talking dinosaur.  You’re Barney the dinosaur.  And – you’re purple – how is this possible?”

“Why am I purple?  Well, when ye start oot as Labour, but form a coalition with the Tories, the red and the blue get a bittie mixed up, and ye get purple.”

(Angus had actually meant how had a Barney the Dinosaur statue started walking and talking). 

“Weel ma loon, let ma lead ye doon the Storybook Glen gerden path and Ah’ll tell you aa ye need tae ken, and introduce ye to the rest o’ us.”

“Rest of you?” Angus repeated weakly as Barney led him away from the hut.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

“Ye’re here on an affa special nicht” Barney said, elated.

“Ye ken, Storybook Glen Cooncil has won nae jist ane, but twa awards!  The hale o the Glen is celebratin’ the nicht!”

Angus was being led down the garden path.  Soon they came to a 6’ high wooden soldier which stood at tollhouse.

“HALT!  Who goes there?” Demanded the soldier; it had very red cheeks and a mop of blonde hair. 

“Passports out!  Non-Storybook Glen characters this way – take off your shoes, belt, coat, take any computers out of bags, only one flagon of mead per person do you have any cigarettes to declare –”

“Ah Boris, it’s me – Barney,”  the purple dinosaur laughed at the guard.

“We surely dinna hae tae go through aa that, div we?  This is ma new pal Angus, oor new security guard.”

“Well OK then,” said Boris.

“I’m a tough negotiator.” 

And Barney and Angus were waived past the checkpoint.

Beep!’  ‘Beep!’ 

“Bleeping ~&!!&! bleep!”

Barney and Angus were approaching what looked like 4 tiny yellow cars driving around in a circle.  Elves driving them were waving their fists, honking their horns and shouting at the other drivers.

“It’s a one wye system ya bamstick!”

“Ah’m only gan one way ya gluepot!” shouted another elf

An older elf was in her yellow car sobbing; 

“Ah jist wanted tae dae ma shoppin’; I canna go a bike or walk, ken?  Aa thon one wye signs hiv  me gan roon in circles fer oors!  Ah jis want tae ging hame!”

And sure enough, the little path they were on was covered with one-way signs, do not enter signs, and a sign which read ‘Storybook Glen Fun Beach next left. No left turn’.  Dotted around were wooden bus stops and 136 wooden benches.

Barney puffed out his Devonian-era chest and said:

“Storybook Glen may yet win anither award for this An’ aa. Ah’m richt prood. Ess is how we fecht the dreaded plague here in the Glen.  We canna hae fowk jis drivin intae toon an’ parkin’ cars tae ging intae shops; it’s nae safe. Abody should be on bikes.  An’ it’s only cost £1.76 million pieces o’ gold tae get it sortit oot.”

Angus took a swig.

“Do you ride a bicycle then?” asked Angus, feeling sure Barney could not manage such a feat – knowing there were many others who could not either.

“Oh aye, yer yer a funny guy, eh?” Barney replied nodding his head,

“Me on a bike? Are ye wise min? Ah’ve got ma ain Barneymobile wi’ a chauffeur.”

Barney pointed to a large marquee in the distance; it was lit up, as were its customers apparently; the shouting and carrying on could be heard faintly on the air.

“At’s far we’re heidin,” said Barney, dragging an unwilling Angus along,

“Jist one mair stop tae mak.”

Heading down the path, Angus could make out in the green glowing light which filled the glen one brick house, a wooden house, and a big pile of straw.

“That’s …. surely not?” Angus stammered, seeing three little pigs; two were patting a sobbing pig on the back.  Angus took another swig.

“Aye, yer richt enough. Come an’ meet some o’ ma constituents, The Three Little Pigs.” Barney replied, anticipating Angus’ question.

Wordlessly Barney and Angus now stood in front of the pigs.  The sobbing pig looked up at Angus

“Stewart Milne Home, eh?” Angus commiserated and the pigs nodded.

“Come on an’ hae a drink lads, it’ll gee ye up a bittie” Barney said to the pigs, who immediately perked up. 

And soon Angus, Barney and the three little perky pigs were heading to the giant marquee.

Angus could barely hear Barney, who was telling story after story, as a terrible din rose from the marquee, which Angus soon realised was a big beer tent.  A huge roar went up; Angus peered inside.

The place was filled with storybook characters brought to life; swigging flagons of ale, Jaegerbombs, and Buckfast.  There were banshees screeching; elves dancing on tables, screaming, laughing and hugging.   Above hung a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Seven Dwarves Incorporated Trades of Storybook Glen Annual beer tent – An Inspired idea’

Dwarves mixed with trolls and witches; in a corner sat Little Jack Horner, eating a Christmas pie.  Angus swore he’d never drink again as he took another swig of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin. 

Beer flowed, shouts were heard, everyone hugged one another.  Barney took Angus by the shoulder and they entered the crowded tent.  A witch at a table stopped them at the entrance.

“Good evening.  Do you have reservations?”

‘Quite a few’ thought Angus.

“No” answered Barney.

“Good – I hate all that red tape.” Answered the witch.

“Are you in a bubble?” she demanded.

“Course Ah am, Ah’m wi’ the Cooncil.”

Barney and the witch both laughed.

“Right then, have a great time, social distance or wear a mask if you feel like it, and hug the nearest strangers if there is a goal scored in the football match on the telly. 

“We canna stop ye daein ‘at can we, ken?” She said, forgetting herself and lapsing into her default Doric.

Passing it off as humour to hide her embarrassment, she continued in her adopted, more ‘professional’ tone:

“We close at the stroke of midnight, except if we don’t.  The big award ceremony celebration starts at 11”

“Come an’ meet some o’ ma fella cooncillors.” Barney said.

“Sit doon an’ A’ll get the drinks in – nah, dinna sit there –“ Barney said, grabbing Angus away from a tall bald man and plonking him in a chair next to a man in a suit. 

Angus was introduced to him as being Wee Willie Wilkie.

Angus took another swig of his Penguin.  And with that Barney started to make his way through the throng to the bar, using his tail to sweep the crowd out of his way.  Angus was left at the table.  ‘I am definitely asking for a pay rise’ he thought, taking another sip of Penguin.

“An then –” cackled the bald man,

“then when Ah wez on me holidays, Ah got them te gissies another suspension!” 

He leaned forward on the table, and the others laughed and nodded approvingly.

“An then…” he continued, hushing the approving chuckles of agreement.

“Then Ah got them te postpone the hearing fre a furtha month. Another month on the payroll!” 

He nodded confidently and the others smiled and cheered.

“What’s all that about?” asked Angus to no one in particular as the bald speaker polished off flagon after flagon of wine.

Wee Willie answered him.

“That’s Donnelly Wonnelly Puddin and Pies. He assaults the unwilling and always denies. 

“He gets away with lots of things – like taking sex offenders fer drinks in shady bars in STorrybook toon, and taking cash fer upgradin passengers tae first class on Thomas the Tank engine trips an keeping their gold. 

“Nothing touches him, he doesn’t even get his wrist slapped, and if he does get into trouble, the judges say ‘it’s just a one off’ or ‘it didn’t seem like an assault to me’, and away he goes on holidays. Unlike poor me.”

Angus felt revolted and was glad Barney stopped him from sitting next to Donnelly.  Donnelly Wonnelly continued:

“Aye man, but get this,” he threw back his head howling with laughter,

“then at the hearing the convener sez the assault wez ‘a one off!!’”

The whole table – except Angus – erupted in laughter and they clinked their glasses and toasted Donnely Wonnelly.

Wiping a tear of laughter from his eye, Donnelly addressed Wee Willie,

“Ahm sorry aald mate, Ah divvent mean te celebrate me victories when Ah knaa yee hev yer problems.  or should Ah syah ‘Wall te Wall’ problems!” 

Everyone at the table laughed again – except Wee Willie and Angus.  Willie shook his head and sighed.

“Well, at least the wall’s paid fre noo . Forst , Humpty Dumpty sat on it an had a fall, then Storm Gertie made it fall in.” Donnelly said.  

At that several eyes silently met each other around the table, almost as if they didn’t believe Gertie was responsible.

“Yes, go on, laugh if you must. But it was not as easy as you might think to remember whether I owned the wall, whether I didn’t own the wall, whether I owned the wall with the wife, whether the city owned the wall, or me or my da or-“  Willie stammered

“Aye,” interrupted Barney, who was back with drinks, plonking a steaming tankard of something or other in front of Angus. 

“Some of’ us drink tae ferget; but Wee Willie, you dinna need ony help at aa, div ye?  How’s the amnesia?  Cleared up noo?” 

A few at the table laughed; Willie blushed.

“Dinna worry yersel aboot it Willie; that’s aa fergotten”. 

“Handy though that ye didnae hae to pay 200,000 pieces o’ gold tae get it fixed.  But this ither business needs tae blaw ower, then ye can come back in aboot the body o’ the kirk.”

“What has to blow over, Barney?” asked Willie,

“You mean when I told the peasants we had to build Marischal Square Castle or that they would have to pay a billion pieces of eight in penalty?”

“Nah, nae thon” said Barney.

Ye mean that I’m in the Labour party but support the Tories?” asked Willie.

“Nah, ‘at’s nithin; hisna stopped the rest o’ us.” 

The table laughed.

“You mean when I didn’t know who owned that wall but I gave verbal permission for the repairs, that I sent and got emails aboot it using my council email and held meetings in my council office aboot it? 

“Maybe you mean when I accidentally leaked some information about yon Marischal Sq? Or-”

“No Willie – Abody likes to mix a wee bit o’ business wi’ council business” said Barney

“Ah mean this fortune cookie Covid-19 racist cairry on.  We hae tae hing fire til ‘at aa blaws ower.  Ahm thinkin we’ll get oor pals at Inspired tae dae some’hin in the Storybook Glen Press. Gie fowk some’hin else tae spik aboot.  Mibbee some good news aboot the ‘Inspired indoor Christmas fayre’. 

“We’ll hae thoosans o’ fowk come in aboot tae shop – and they’ll be gled we stopped them gan intae aa the wee shoppies.  Some’hin’ lik ‘at. But dinna worry Wee Willie; anither wikk or twa, and it’ll be aa business as usual again.”

Everyone at the table chatted to each other, growing increasingly drunk. Angus, who was feeling somewhat left out of the conversation, decided he really wanted to do the rest of his security guard rounds – and to get some fresh air out of the stifling, noisy, crowded tent. 

After he finished whatever was in his tankard that is.  Soon he was ready to go, but feeling somewhat worse for wear.

“Barney, ladies an gents; I really must go do my rounds” Angus said.

“Maybe I’ll be back here though before closing time.”

“Cinderella will arrive around 11pm; myek sure yee are heor fre tha – she’s got summat ta celebrate – we’ve won awards –  and that’s why so many of weh are oot the neet – though Ahm not heor in me official capacity, yee knaa” said Donnelly, and the table laughed.

Angus got up, wove his way out of the crowd, and found himself in the night air once more.  He had another hit of Penguin.  Somewhere an owl hooted.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus felt dazed; ‘Well, at least things can’t get any stranger’ he prematurely told himself as he wandered down a further path.

He heard a whirring noise, and stumbling towards it, found himself face to face with an imp hard at work on a spinning wheel.  On the creature’s left was a huge pile of sh*te and straw which he placed on the spinning wheel; on the right was a tiny pile of gold, falling from the wheel. There was also a giant pile of books.

“I’ll bet ye canna guess ma name!” The creature said in a smug, satisfied conceited manner.

“Err, yer Damian Bates, disgraced news editor who used his job to further his wife’s business aspirations.”

“”$!”%!!! ye little sh*te” said the outraged creature,

“I’ve rebranded!  I’m Trumplestiltskin!” said the thing angrily, spinning harder than ever.

Angus picked up a book; the cover read ‘Shirk in Scotland:  Thon Real Deal, Ken’; over it was a sticker saying ‘SALE NOW ON: ONLY 1 GROAT OR 2 EGGS’

“Ah’m a Spin Doctor!  If aince on a blue moon Shirk says or daes some’hin’ that could be taen the wrang wye,  it’s ma job tae spin his sh*te intae gold.

“Like, fan Shirk cages immigrant bairns -he micht be cooking them fer aa I ken- I spin for him an’ tell fowk that nasty trolls fae abroad are tryin tae sneak intae Storybook Glen. 

“Hiv ye nae read any o’ the stories I wrote aboot fit a topper o’ a boy Shirk is?  Did ye nae hear aboot thon time he rearranged some o’ his paintins in Turnberry Glen Castle? Amazin!  Fit a guy! 

“Anither time, he tellt me personally – he likes eatin ornery grub like hamberders and cofvefee!  Can ye believe Ah got these amazing insights!  I really ken the loon! He’s  ane o’ wer ain, ken? 

“Ah’m ees best pal!  Lik Brithers! He took me tae farawa lands in a flying machine aince.

“Ah hae a Ferrari.  Ye needin a copy o’ ma book?  It’s chock-a-block wi smashin stories lik thon.  A could gie ye a signed copy fer jist one egg if –“

“Wait a minute” Angus interrupted “Just who is this Shirk guy?”

The imp was astonished and stopped his monologue.  Jaw dropping, he said:

“Well if ye dinna ken, jis follae the path on the richt.  Tak a far richt turn, an’ hud gan as far tae the richt as ye can. Ye’ll find Shirk.  He’s wi ma bonny wife richt noo – She’s ca’d ‘Fee-earner’.  Just tell them Ah sint ye! 

 “Then I ken ye’ll be back ta buy ma book!”

Angus, feeling a desire to be away from the imp, made his excuses and headed away down the right-leading path, taking one further swig of Penguin from the now half-full bottle.

After a time, Angus saw a clearing up ahead on the extreme right.  As he got closer, he heard bellowing- then a golf ball whizzed past his ears.

“ANOTHER HOLE IN ONE FOR ME, FEE-EARNER – I’M MAKING GOLF GREAT AGAIN!”

Angus reached the clearing. 

An enormous ogre stood in a golf swing pose. 

Its skin was bright orange with bright pink lips on a misshapen mouth.

White circles were around its beady black eyes.

It was as wide in the stomach as it was tall. 

Before Angus could recover himself, an ear-splitting shriek went out, and an ogress grabbed Angus by the arm.

“EEEEK!  FA ARE YOU?” the ogress shouted.

“FIT YE DAEIN HERE?  ARE YE FAE THE PAPERS?  THEY’RE AA OOT TAE GET ME AN SHIRK, KEN? AND IT’S NAE FAIR!” 

She had brown hair teased up into a ridiculous do, wore impossibly high heels, which kept sinking into the grass, and from her shoulder hung a banner which read ‘FACE OF THE GLEN – 2010.’

Angus found himself dragged in front of the Ogre, who wore a red baseball hat with the initials MSGGA.

“Look fit ah’ve foon, Shirk” she said to the golfing ogre.

“WHO IS THIS GUY?  WHADDYA WANT? AN AUTOGRAPH?  A MSGGA HAT? GONNA VOTE FOR ME AGAINST THOSE COMMIES?” it bellowed.

“Er, my name is Angus, and some guy named Trumplestiltskin told me I should come and say hello.”

“WHO? OH YOU MEAN FEE-EARNER’S HUSBAND, THAT WRITER GUY -WHAT’S-HIS-NAME.  HE BETTER BE SPINNING ME SOME GOLD.”

“Aye, too richt boss”, crooned the ogress, pointing to her oversized feet spilling out of her high-heels,

“Thon ‘Jimmy Choomaker and the Elves shoes’ dinna come cheap.”

Angus’ curiosity got the better of him, and taking a swig from the bottle in his tightly-clutched paper bag asked:

“Why de they call ye ‘Shirk’?”

“BEATS ME!” Bellowed the ogre, lining up another golfball

“SOME PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO BE AN OGRE. SOMETIMES THEY EVEN WANT ME TO LISTEN TO SECURITY BRIEFINGS.  DON’T THEY KNOW I’M BUSY?  DID YOU WATCH FOX LAST NIGHT?”  he asked while swinging at the ball, which flew off into the sky,

“ANOTHER GREAT SHOT!  MAKE GOLF GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE STORYBOOK GLEN GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE ME A HAMBERDER FEE-EARNER!”

Angus felt a strong desire to get away, but what to his wondering eyes did appear but Santa Claus, a team of reindeer pulling his flying sled, which landed on the edges of the clearing.

Santa was not what Angus expected:  he was tall and thin, and looked a bit like Sir Ian. Santa approached.

“Shirk, wonderful to see you again, and you too Fee-earner.  I’ve got a few presents for you,” Santa said, pulling some brown envelopes out of his sack. 

“Ah, just look at all these trees, glens and glades.”  Santa smiled, waving his hand towards the trees and a sand bank.

“Isn’t it a pity” said Santa slowly,

“that the Sandman no longer has environmental protection on his sand dunes?  Who could have seen that coming?”

Fee-earner laughed.

“Between that ‘unfortunate’ loss of protection, my connections and your, errr, obvious charisma, this will all be Stewart Milne homes before you can say ‘Jack Swinney be Nimble’.”

“THANKS SANTA! THIS IS MUCH BETTER THAN THAT DIPLOMA THINGY YOU TRIED TO GIVE ME A FEW YEARS AGO.  DID YOU BRING ME ANY KFC?  HUNGRY!”

“Yes, well. I wanted to-” but before Santa could finish his thought, shots rang out from several directions. 

Donner and Blitzen fell over dead in their tracks.  Dasher was wounded.  Angus took a big sip.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!” said a little donkey clutching an AK47, “Daddy I killed them!  I’m a hunter daddy, a big scary macho hunter!”

“JUNIOR, THAT’S NICE NOW RUN ALONG AND PLAY, DADDY’S BUSY.” Said Shirk as his son, the ass, who was visibly crestfallen, “NOW THERE’S A GOOD BOY, GO RUN ALONG AND MAYBE FIND SOME SHEEP YOU CAN SHOOT TOO.”

“I got one! Kill! I got one! A Tree for every citizen!  Kill!”  Another hunter emerged from the glen. She was a tiny little witch with a pointed hat.

“Damn those deer!  They eat plants!  Kill!  Kill!”

“JUNIOR, TAKE YOUR FRIEND AILEEN MALICE WITH YOU AND GO KILL STUFF SOMEWHERE ELSE, I’M BUSY”

Shirk dismissed the pair who wandered off together.  Soon other shots rang out as the pair disappeared into the trees.

“Don’t worry about those deer” said Santa coldly,

“No one is irreplaceable.  I’ll just be off now though, plenty of ‘gifts’ to be delivered at the Awards Ceremony, not least to the people behind the Storybook Glen incinerator and the Storybook Glen harbour expansion.  Shouldn’t we all be heading there now?”

And as everyone always obeys Santa, off they headed back to the beer tent.  Angus had some Penguin.

*                                       *                              *                                     *

Shirk, Fee-earner and Santa all headed back down the path towards the beer tent.  Angus followed behind.

“PSST!” Angus heard a voice,

“Come here fer a second”

Angus found himself face to face with three fish.  What three 2-metre-long fish were doing in this place he had no idea.

“Ye must be the new security guard” said the first fish.

“Ok, I’ll bite – who are you?” Angus asked.

“We’re the three fish. Naebody kens ower muckle aboot us, tho there’s mony a tail, maistly codswallop, but on a scale of 1 to 10 we dinna gie a dab” said the first fish, floating above the ground.

“Ye see we’re actually the legendary Black Fish.  Ye ken? – fish that were caught and landit, but nivver declared tae the Storybook Glen tax mannie.  A big ‘net profit’ ye micht surmise. There wis heaps o’ gold in that back in the day.”

“Still is” said the second fish.

“T’wis the Crookit Man fa steert thon up, Ah’m tellin ye.” said the third fish, which inexplicably wore a bowler hat. 

“Them fa land black fish ayewis say it’s by accident – but we ken it’s daen on porpoise.”

Angus, who found himself transported from Universal Credit minimum wage security guard to grown man talking to three giant hat-wearing talking fish who was about to catch up with ogres and Santa, found himself finally lost for words.  He had another swig from his bottle.

“Ye ken the story” said the first fish: “There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile?  That guy.  Affa fishy indeed.”

“Need tae watch thon crooked mannie lik a hake” said the second fish “He’ll come bearing gifts an’ acting like yer best pal.  Ye’ll fa’ for him hook, line an’ sinker if ye dinna look oot.”

“Aye,” said the second fish, “he stitched ma mate up like a kipper.”

“What’s your names?” asked Angus.

“Ah’m Gil” said the first fish.

“And this is Finn, an’ Ray.”

“Well, thanks for the warning and all, but I think I need to go get a drink.”

“Sorry we canna jine ye.”said Finn.

“Gil drinks like a fish, an we’ve aa been barred.  Thinks he’s the life and sole o’ the party.”

“Always legless” said Ray,

“And Ah dinna like pubs; Ah aye feel oot o’ plaice – lik a fish oot o water.”

Angus, who feared he had a haddock coming on, had had enough. 

“Bye then chaps; I’d best get my skates on.  Bigger fish to fry.  Sea you later.”

“Whale meet again!” chimed the three fish.

And off Angus hurried to catch up with Shirk and his party, taking a quick sip from his bottle on the way.

*                                            *                                    *                                       *

The Seven Incorporated Dwarves tent was heaving.  A space had been cleared in the middle of the tent when Angus arrived.  His friend Barney sidled up to him and thrust a further tankard of drink into his hands.

“Been haein a fun wi Shirk an’ Suntie Claas Ah hear” smiled Barney, who was now clutching a brown envelope. 

In fact Santa was working the room, handing out brown envelopes large and small.  Just then, to Angus’ astonishment, Santa pulled off his beard, which had been a disguise, and his Santa hat.  He put on a tall, black hat, which was crooked.

“The crooked man” muttered Angus to himself.

“What wez tha, Angus?” asked Donnelly Wonnelly tucking something into his suit jacket pocket.

“Er nothing.  I-“

But Donnelly wasn’t listening and a sudden blast of trumpets made even the drunken revellers hush.

“Ladies, Gentlemen an’ Cooncillors” Barney addressed the room; he was now in a spotlight talking on a mic. 

“Here she comes noo; the fairest in aa the land:  Give it up fer SNOOOOW WHITE!”

A hush fell over the room as Snow White glided to the centre of the room.

‘She looks just like Melania Trump’ Angus thought, although he didn’t recognise her at first with so much clothes on.

“Ladeees and Gentlemen.  I am Snow White.  Whiter than White.  White Power.  Obama he had never been born – no birth certificate.  My husband Shirk is going to make Storybook Glen Great again!  Be best!”

Huge cheers rang out in the tent.  She continued, but it was clear she was a bit tipsy.  Suddenly as Shirk tried to take her hand, her mood changed abruptly.

“I really don’t care do you?  F Christmas!  Who gives a F about Christmas! I-“ Snow White growled, as she was suddenly being dragged away by footmen. 

“I have more to say!  I am brilliant like Shirk!  I have Epstein Visa!” she bellowed as they took her away.

Barney swiftly recovered the event. 

“OK, Movin richt along noo, here she is:  oor ain Cinderella, an’ AWARD-WINNING COUNCILLOR OF THE YEAR!  Welcome Jeanny Ling!”

The crowd shouted wildly and applauded as a pumpkin coach drawn by six hydrogen-powered cars pulled up next to Barney, who helped the beautiful award-winning Cinderella out.

“Well, this is the best thing that has ever, ever happened!” 

“I WON!  I won an award as best councillor!”

The crowds chanted ‘Jea-nny!  Jea-nny! Jea-nny!’ as she held the shining golden trophy aloft.

“Ah micht nae be Labour richt noo, but Ah’m an AWARD WINNER!” Jeanny told her admirers,

“Aye, thon prestigious, fee-charging, private thinktank, the LGIU decidit to mak me – ME! The top cooncillor!”

Barney handed her a bouquet of flowers; Angus thought he saw a bulging brown envelope inside of it.

“Tae show oor gratitude, Ahm hopin ma fella Storybook Glen cooncillors will be a-signing up fer some o’ the LGIU’s braw workshops – there’s a bargain course ‘how to deal with difficult people’  for jist 540 pieces o’ eight.  Some o’ ye micht need ‘at if yev hid ony doins wi Donnelly Wonnelly or Wee Willie!”

The crowd guffawed except Wee Willie, who was busy live-tweeting the event, pretending not to notice the slight.

Angus started to have his doubts about the integrity of his new-found pals.

Jeanny continued: 

“Ah hope ye’ve aa got yer memberships; maybe cometime ye’ll win an AWARD as weel – jis think foo happy the peasants will feel aboot ‘at  – or think they feel, Ah should say.  Costs Storybook Toon Cooncil next tae ni’hin for the annual membership fees – but we canna tell ye foo muckle.”

“And this prestigious LGIU award is sponsored by CCLA.  And fit’s the CCLA?” Jeanny trilled,

“A charitable investment fund!   AND..” she waited for cheers to die down.

“Last year CCLA had a turnower o’ 33 million gold coins!”

The applause was thunderous; streamers and balloons fell from the sky.   Brown envelopes were flying like confetti.  The Crooked Man had left the Santa suit he’d been wearing across a table; he was now talking to a few men in suits.

Angus felt a touch on his arm.  It was the witch from the table at the doorway.

“Here dearie,” she crooned,

“Ye look a wee bit peaky.  I’ve something tae mak ye feel better.”

“Is it a magic potion?” Angus asked.

“Well, dearie in a wye it is” and she pressed a small but thick brown envelope into his hand. 

“Time ye wis back doon tae yer guardhoose.”

She snapped her fingers.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

“Huzzaat?”

With a jolt Angus was awake.  The sun was coming up.

Next to him on the desk was the now-empty dish of home-made mushroom pate and the empty wine bottle. There was still a slug of Penguin left.

“You wakkint?”

The old man who’d helped him last night was knocking on the window of the guard hut; his face was beaming. 

“Ony bother last nicht?”

Angus took a few moments to recover his senses. 

“Err, all fine last night, nothing to report.”

“Smashin,” said the man with a twinkle in his eye.

“Morn’s nicht again then, Aye?”

“Err.. sure” said Angus, gathering his things. 

“Mind if I take the rest of this Penguin with me?  I’ll bring you some ‘Sink the Bismarck’ tomorrow.”

“Ach, ‘at would be affa good o’ ye”. said the man patting Angus on the shoulder.

“Ah think me an’ you’s gan tae get on jist rare.”  

Angus turned to leave and was walking away when the old man caught his arm. 

“Ye fergot this, pal.” said the old man, and he thrust a brown envelope at Angus, who swiftly put it in his inside pocket.

Angus took a further swig from the bottle, patted the envelope through his jacket and headed to find the bus back home.  Somewhere a sleepy owl hooted.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

From Aberdeen Voice, Old Susannah, and the fictitious, unrelated to any plaice, place, person or persons, Storybook Glen and its fake inhabitants – MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY 2021, and Good Health!  Wear a mask.

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