May 022016
 

Suzanne Kelly visits Tullos Hill – years after the Tree For Every Citizen scheme saw its herd of deer destroyed to protect tree saplings, though the destruction was never going to guarantee successful tree growth. It’s not just the deer that have been destroyed. Story and photographs by Suzanne Kelly.

DSC00908If you visited Tullos before the city and its expensive consultant Jamie Piper got their hands on it, you would have found an area rich in wildlife including deer. Gorse provided habitat for deer, small mammals and birds. A huge portion of the gorse is gone – and so is the wildlife.

Paths have been excessively widened – you can now easily drive a SUV down them – and that meant further loss of habitat and path side plants and fungi.

Other councils in the UK are worried about damage to their wildlife sites; Staffordshire has a report warning of the damage caused by the tactics Aberdeen employs.

You can’t see the forest – but not because of the trees:

It’s one of the few reasonably clement days we’ve had in a while when I visit Tullos. On my walk to the entrance I am struck by how much the area has been transformed by the Wood Group building. We lost the land, houses were torn down, and we must have lot part of Tullos Hill if we lost the approach to the hill.

The city says that this path was narrow and difficult – or words to that effect. The path was far more like what you would find in an area that wanted to give habitat to wildlife rather than to make comfy recreational access at the expense of wildlife habitat. I think of the people who lived in the caravan park who would feed the deer. The people and the deer are gone now, and the Wood Group building and its parking facility tower over the cairn. This is progress.

Councillor Aileen Malone promised Aberdeen that shooting the deer, clearing the gorse, (while giving Piper £100,000 plus expenses now a five figure sum at last glance) would give us a forest. The Liberal Democrats had the twee-sounding ‘Tree For Every Citizen’ scheme as its election pledge last time around; some laugh at the fact the only pledge they did uphold was the one everyone asked them not to – killing deer to plant trees on a rubbish tip unlikely to sustain trees.

DSC00903This was my first visit to the Hill in a while; in particular I wanted to see how the trees and weeds were doing. I was struck by how wide the paths are – clearly the intention is to turn a former wildlife area into someone’s idea of a suburban recreation area suitable for vehicles.

There is the bench. There are the parking lot signs with their cheery squirrel and trees.

There is something prematurely self-congratulatory and smug about these items which is very much removed from the reality of what the hill looks like and its use for wildlife at present.

I did see one bit of wildlife – a bee was on a gorse flower. Gorse flowers year long providing food to bees; most of us seem to understand the importance of providing food for bees, which are under a variety of threats, not least loss of habitat like this. Pesticides were used on Tullos; finding a specific record of who was paid what to use which chemicals is not a simple task. Fungi which used to appear alongside the narrower paths have not been seen (at least by me) these past few seasons since the clearing and culling began.

No, I didn’t see any trace of a deer or any small mammals on the hill. There was barely any bird song, either. Some 10 years ago several species of bird were to be found; some of which were increasingly rare in the wild. I don’t’ see them nesting in this area again in numbers any time soon.

The pictures do show some trees have grown. There are also fairly new tree guards – far taller than any used previously. We were once told tree guards had ‘negative visual impact’ so we were not going to use them when we could kill the deer to stop them browsing the young trees instead. Where there are trees that have grown taller, even in the light wind on the day of the visit, they could be seen moving considerably in the breeze.

Experts previously told the city that trees which do establish will be subject to wind toss – there just simply is not good rooting material on this former waste tip – the roots won’t be sufficiently anchored to stop strong winds blowing the trees over.

how-do-you-blame-a-deer-for-this-30-april-2016-skelly2Some trees have no growth at all, despite being in intact tree guards – no deer has damaged them. On the other hand weeds choke many of the trees around and inside of the tree guards.

The city has already been warned that the job they did is not good enough for the funding received. It may not be too much longer before we see Aberdeen City hand back another tranche of money to the government for failing to grow trees on the rubbish tip of Tullos Hill.

As the old saying goes, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different outcomes’. The City planted here before. Weeds killed the trees which did not thrive in the poor soil conditions.

The City blamed deer, and instead of using non-lethal methods (tree guards, fencing, choosing plants deer would not eat), The City slaughtered over 40 animals, then planted trees again. The trees are being killed by weeds, the trees are not thriving in the poor soil conditions.

The only people thriving from this sad state of affairs are those seeking to build their reputations (despite the actual facts) by proclaiming this to be a success – them, and the ones pocketing money for expertise (?), fencing (which originally we said we could not afford), herbicides and trees.

As part of the money he earned, Jamie Piper branded the thousands of citizens who signed a petition against the scheme and the 4 community council objectors as ‘a small but vociferous minority’. Who but a small and vociferous minority now says the hill is better off than before? No one other than those who gained say that the hill looks better now and is home to more wildlife.

There is no forest, and all the signs are there won’t be one. The city may have erected a new parking lot with signs to the ‘diamond woods’ – but calling Tullos a wood is hardly trades-description accurate.

DSC00891A View from the Cairn – of Wood Group’s new HQ:

Tullos had its paths widened.

The city also seems to have surrendered an access point and a large area adjacent to one of the three ancient cairns for the footprint of the Wood Group’s new HQ (a building and car park that by all accounts are underused).

The car park looms over the cairn, and the remaining wildlife is hardly going to benefit from the air pollution resulting from the construction and the uses (even if minimal) of the new parking.

What did the City say about losing the parking and the access?

“It would appear that in recent years the Council failed to maintain the car park and that the previous owners of the land (before Argon bought the site last year) have restricted access in order to stop unauthorised encampments from occupying the land. This has resulted in the car park falling into disrepair and access to the hill becoming overgrown, although it was still possible to walk from the car park onto the hill.

Whilst the proposed office building could be constructed and site laid out with the existing public car park remaining in place, Argon expressed a desire to have the car park removed, in order to allow more extensive landscaping to be provided around the development.”
– email to Cllr N Cooney of April 2014

So, we couldn’t maintain one parking lot on land gifted to us, directly adjacent to the Hill’s entrance – land coincidentally useful for this development. However, the city is confident it will be able to maintain the new parking lot.

near the entrance to the hill 30 april 2016 skellyAs to the quality of landscaping referred to in the email; other than having the Wood Group building and its parking making a negative impact on Tullos and the cairn, it’s hard to see what landscaping they are talking about.

As an aside, the email in question admits that air quality on Wellington Road falls short of desired standards.

A new building and its parking will hardly help improve things.

A few changes, none for the better:

More trees have been planted; some of the new guards dwarf the previous tree guards. This is likely the result of a recent warning from the government to ACC that the trees aren’t sufficient either in number or condition, and there is a chance the grant may have to be returned. I wonder how much this new work has cost.

Not content with the area cleared for the tree scheme, gorse clearance continues apace. It is as if there were some pressing need to get rid of this important plant when the reality is they cannot control the trees they have planted – perhaps watching the gorse grow effortlessly is an affront to the egos involved.

gorse destruction 30 april 2016 skellyOverall the effect is one of dead and dying gorse separated from empty tree guards, all surrounded by weeds. It is as if a man balding in patches were desperately trying to implant new hair – then again, I’ve been concerned lately with the Trump campaign – and this is probably where that image came from.

If you go down to the woods today, you won’t be going to Tullos. Bring back the deer.

Remember – the people who insisted this was cost neutral and must go ahead are Liberal Democrat Aileen Malone and the rest of her party: are you going to vote Lib Dem this year? NB – the price of this ‘cost neutral’ scheme so far (less any new planting) is estimated at £600,000 – and no officer or supporter has been called to account for this remarkable mismanagement to date.

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Apr 292016
 

Dennis Robertson, Bill DeanWith thanks to Paul Robertson.

Two renowned Huntly business​men have given their backing to the SNP’s Dennis Robertson to be re-elected as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire West.

Dennis, 59, was elected to represent the Aberdeenshire constituency in the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

He has campaigned passionately for local small businesses, most recently the businesses that have been affected by the flooding in Ballater.

​Visiting local businesses on the campaign trail with local MP Alex Salmond, Dennis has now received the backing of two well known local businessmen.

Bill Dean is Managing Director of Dean’s of Huntly, who have been baking traditional shortbread since 1975 and now export to over 30 countries around the world. Bill Dean is backing Dennis to be re-elected as MSP for Aberdeenshire West.

He said:

“Over the last 5 years, Dennis has shown himself to be dedicated and passionate about making our communities a better place to live and work. 

“He has always been prepared to listen to me as a local business owner and on a number of occasions, has stepped in to help and support our business.

“That’s the kind of dedicated local MSP that Aberdeenshire West needs, and I am pleased to give Dennis my support.”

James and Irene Shearer together run the Huntly Vehicle Care Centre on Old Toll Road. The owners of the family-run​ garage and coach hire ​business are also supporting Dennis Robertson’s campaign to be re-elected as MSP.

​James Shearer said:

“​The SNP in Government has done so m​uch for small businesses like our own. The Small Business Bonus Scheme has taken pressure off our business and the money saved has enabled us to invest and expand. 

“We are also a family owned business – and it is really important to us that the future of our business – our son, Alan –  benefitted from a free university education. Our daughter had to pay the graduate endowment and I know that only the SNP will ensure that there is no return to fees for university education which places such a burden on families and our young people.”

​Welcoming the support, SNP Candidate for Aberdeenshire West Dennis Robertson said:

“I am delighted to have the support of Bill Dean and the Shearer family. ​These businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and that’s why the SNP has prioritised support for small and medium businesses. 

“If re-elected, I pledge to work just as hard for small businesses in communities across Aberdeenshire West to help them grow and expand.”

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Feb 012016
 

With thanks to Gavin Mowat, Constituency Assistant to Christian Allard MSP.

Christian Allard MSP at a Polling StationFrench born MSP Christian Allard has used a debate at the Scottish Parliament to condemn “Britain’s shrinking democracy”.

Mr Allard was speaking on a motion titled ‘10 Million Missing Voters’ where he took the opportunity to stress that “for democracy to work we need people to vote”.

According to a report by the Smith Institute, 10 million voters have been excluded from the democratic process because of the failings of the new electoral registration system.

Mr Allard praised a campaign by Shelter Scotland and the Electoral Commission to get people registered to vote because anybody living in this country “should have the right to vote”. But he also raised concerns about the “democratic deficit” in Britain in relation to EU citizens being excluded from the up-coming referendum on EU membership.

Commenting, Christian Allard MSP said:

“Democracy is not a tap – it is not a tap that you open and close hoping people will register and vote in some elections and not in others.

“Democracy is a right, it’s a human right to go and vote. This Parliament has to be very strong about that human right to vote.

“There are 18,990 EU citizens – plus me –  in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray who will be able to vote in the Scottish Parliament election in May, but who stand to be excluded from the EU referendum.

“This is another democratic deficit we need to address – Britain is definitely a shrinking democracy.

“Let us remind the UK Government and all the people living here, for democracy to work we need people to vote.”

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Sep 252015
 

YouthCouncilacycThmWith thanks to Martin Carle, Public Relations Officer, Aberdeen City Youth Council.

Aberdeen’s City Youth Council is to hold a hustings event on Monday 28th September for the upcoming local council by-elections.
The by-elections (in Midstocket/Rosemount and George Street/Harbour) are fast approaching, and the hustings event is a fantastic chance to see all the different parties involved having their say.

The event is open to the public and the information for the evening is as follows:

Location- Aberdeen City Town House
Time- 6.30-8.45pm

Light Refreshment Available.

The Youth Council has previously held a hustings for the by-elections within the Hilton and Kincorth areas in July.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Jun 112015
 
MartinFordUTGfeat

Green councillor Martin Ford.

With thanks to Martin Ford.

A range of Council improvements are on the way for Aberdeenshire residents following the agreement struck between Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG) councillors Paul Johnston and Martin Ford and the Council’s newly elected coalition administration.
The two DIGG councillors voted in favour of electing the new administration at the special full council meeting on Monday – in order to secure important Council policy changes the new administration has agreed with the DIGG to introduce.

Green councillor Martin Ford said:

“The new administration has made a formal agreement to implement a range of DIGG policies.

“Under the DIGG agreement with the new administration, the Council will in future undertake proper public consultation on its annual budget. The Council will increase the annual spend on support for active travel – cycling and walking – and bring in other measures to help reduce carbon emissions.

“There will be no cuts to the budget for community learning and development. The Council’s procurement rules will be changed to take account of wider benefits that might be secured through purchasing decisions.

“The Council will support including re-opening the Dyce to Ellon railway line in the proposed Aberdeen City Region Deal.”

Democratic Independent councillor Paul Johnston said:

“We believe the changes we have agreed with the new administration will deliver real advantages for Aberdeenshire residents.

“The DIGG has not joined the new administration. We remain an independent opposition group on the Council. We have agreed to support the new administration on a limited basis in return for policy changes and to give the Council stability.”

The two DIGG councillors and independent councillor Dave Stewart were the only three members of Aberdeenshire Council not to change their situation – remaining in opposition throughout.

The new Aberdeenshire Council administration is a Labour/Independent/SNP coalition.

Cllr Martin Ford said:

“The DIGG looks forward to working constructively with both the Council’s new administration and those who are now also, like us, in opposition.”

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May 292015
 
martin-ford

Aberdeenshire Green Councillor, Martin Ford

With thanks to Martin Ford.

Democratic Independent and Green councillors Paul Johnston and Martin Ford have reached an agreement with Labour, Progressive Independent and SNP councillors on policies to be pursued by a new Aberdeenshire administration.

The agreed policies – on improved governance, support for communities and protecting the environment – will see the DIGG councillors remain a separate group on Aberdeenshire Council, but one that will support a new administration in key votes, giving the authority stability.

The agreement paves the way for an orderly transition to a new administration in Aberdeenshire, probably within a few weeks.

It follows a series of resignations from the present Conservative-led governing group on the Council that have left it without majority support.

The extent of co-operation between the DIGG and a new administration, if elected, is set out in a letter sent out following negotiations on Monday (25 May). The letter makes clear that the DIGG are not for joining the new administration, but are acting to prevent a potential stalemate on the Council. (See letter attached)

Democratic Independent councillor Paul Johnston said:

“Given the intense speculation following a break-up of the current Conservative-led administration, we welcomed approaches to bring stability to Aberdeenshire Council and we have agreed to try and bring uncertainty to a close. Our objective is a positive change in direction and it’s clear there is agreement on that.

“We are not entering a coalition. But we will give confidence and support for a stable Aberdeenshire going forward.”

Green councillor Martin Ford said:

“Our agreement commits a new administration to working with us on agreed policy priorities. For example, improvements to public engagement including proper consultation on the Council’s budget. Support for active travel – cycling and walking – and other measures to help reduce carbon emissions. Protection of the Council’s investment in community learning and development. 

“Changing Council procurement rules to take account of wider benefits that might be secured through purchasing decisions. We believe these changes will deliver real benefits for Aberdeenshire residents.”

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May 222015
 

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

Dictionary

Tally ho! It’s been quite a week in the Granite City and wider world. Well done all you who voted Conservative!

The SNP is now on the move; not since the Covenanters has Scotland been so unanimous. A new Independence Referendum can’t be far off, so I hope you’ve all saved your ‘YES’ banners and Saltires.

Perhaps the best news is that nice Mr Farage tried to resign but they wouldn’t let him. Who else indeed could lead UKIP? Mr Fromage is indeed the man for the job, although I think they were considering a gay Romanian immigrant at one point.

That nice Mr Trump’s coyness and modesty were on display at the end of April. Well, on display in two obscure small legal notices in the back of the Evening Express.

I can’t imagine why, but the pre-application public consultations for a second golf course, 850 houses and 1900 leisure units, whatever they are, came and went with no publicity from the Press & Journal or the Evening Express. I suppose with stories vying for space, some minor issues like Trump building on the Menie Estate have to be overlooked.

‘Cow found in Field’, ‘Man wins Inverurie Rowie baking award’ and ‘three clothing stores may or may not open in Aberdeen’ trumped the Trump news. When alerted to these ads, I wrote to the contact address given for information. Sadly, the nice man hadn’t the time to get back to me. In fact he was too busy to get back to at least six other people who also wanted information in advance of the deadline in order to praise the scheme.

A cynic might think that the Trump organisation, spearheaded at Menie by the planning supremo, golf expert and beauty queen Mrs Sarah Malone Bates, were trying to sneak one over on us. But I’m sure it was just a case of not wanting to brag about these exciting plans that kept any news of them off the pages of AJL papers, except for those ads on the back of the EE.

I guess it’s now too late to get in your notes of praise for the scheme; it would be a pity if the Shire’s planning people thought that this lack of information were sufficient grounds to throw the exercise on the scrap heap. That would be just awful.

Despite having to re-write my original column ‘Hooray for the Liberal Democrat Landslide’, it’s been a great week. I’ve been part of the Aberdonian contingent at the Westworld Weekend in Crewe; the bands were Spear of Destiny, Theatre of Hate, Kirk Brandon acoustic, Folk Grinder and the Death Valley Surfers. The beer was just as impressive: bottles of Punk IPA AND BrewDog Abstracts Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18. For some strange reason the bar ran out of Punk, I can’t imagine why.

Old Susannah extended her weekend with a night of Julian Cope at the Lemon Tree, where BrewDog also flowed. Cope’s a bit madcap and a bit behind the times. He joked that it would be good if those in power tried LSD. I’m pretty convinced most of them are tripping as it is.

When you’re having a great weekend, you want to prolong it. Therefore my sincere thanks to the guy who decided to have a cigarette in his plane’s toilet when my and other planes should have been landing at Aberdeen.

clearly he was a genius of some sort

What good sport it was to circle for an extra 30 or so minutes, to be told that a plane on the runway had smoke coming out of it, and that we might have to divert.

I had the great pleasure of seeing the suspect explaining himself to the six or so police who surrounded him as my flight finally filed through the airport. A woman PC was saying:

“You have been identified as the man who was smoking in your plane’s toilet.”

I wondered whether he were a famous movie star, international scholar, or perhaps even an ACSEF member. He must have been someone very important indeed who simply needed a smoke. His slightly dirty clothes, his stubbly chin, his knuckles dragging on the floor and his simian posture were just too good a cover; clearly he was a genius of some sort, disguised as a posturing, swaggering self-centred ignorant chav.

Then he spoke and in an instant I knew I was listening to an Einstein. He answered the woman PC thus:

“You’re kidding right?”

Old Susannah is only an amateur student of psychology and human behaviour, but I am reasonably certain the police weren’t kidding. They almost seemed angry for some reason, and they didn’t at all seem the Laughing Policeman kind.

She continued:

“I am not going to search you”

I suppose he must have previously baulked at that prospect,

“but one of my colleagues may want to. Empty your pockets.”

Again confirming my assessment of the man’s undeniable wit, and reaffirming my belief in his complete innocence he said:

“You’re kidding right?”

My own acting skills are little better than novice; but surely no one could have looked as perfectly innocent as this poor man. I’m sure he was set up. The faint whiff of cigarette smoke that was in the area surely had come from one of those policemen.

Then again, if someone as important as this man obviously is, needed a cigarette, then who are the Civil Aviation Authority, the police, Aberdeen Airport, several hundred people wanting to land, and a hundred people on his plane needing to travel to get in his way? I’d feel guilty if I’d inconvenienced our man.

Besides, imagine what a good adventure it must have been for those on his flight: to be airborne and smell smoke, and see it coming out of the plane’s toilet, just like it must have been for the doomed Canadian flight several years ago that started this unfair no-smoking on planes backlash.

It’s not as if anyone circling around was getting nervous with every new announcement that we might have to be diverted elsewhere, that a plane on the runway had to be evacuated and fire was involved.

No worries. It’s not as if anything terrible ever happens to planes or at airports. There weren’t any older people getting worried or upset; there were no stressed out ground crew. Just you and your smoke. Some people just can’t take a joke though, and as a second thought, maybe next time, if they let you fly again, you might want to look into this nicotine patch business.

And so, my sincere thanks to the as-yet unnamed 31-year-old man for giving me the thrill of a lifetime. Really, if I ever get the chance to repay your kindness, I’ll do so. A mention in my humble column will have to do for now. However, if I can find out who your employers are, I’ll be delighted to drop them a suitable commendation for all the fun you provided.

Also in the news there was an election. England wants five more years of David Cameron, and somehow failed to appreciate all that Nick Clegg’s done for them. Scotland wants the SNP.

The voting public has spoken. Some people are puzzled by some of the election outcomes and how votes metamorphose into fair, democratic representation in Parliament. As I’m one of those people, herewith some timely terms for those baffled by ballot box bamboozlement.

First Past The Post: (Modern Conservative compound Noun) A system of counting election results to allocate seats in the English Parliament.

I’m sure you’re as happy as I am at how the elections throughout the UK turned out. This is down to the exciting, but fair ‘first past the post’ voting system. It’s no more complicated than understanding how the Hadron Supercollider’s quest for the God Particle demonstrates that anti-matter underpins the known universe, why you never get all your socks back after doing a load of laundry, or the arbitrary nature of the offside rule, depending on who the ref is.

For those of you slower of wit, here is a bit of number crunching:a_fair_election_result_indeed

The sad thing is that there are some sore losers out there, who would change this system. Take for instance Electoral Reform UK. This band of brigands should be rounded up, and probably will be once that nice Mr Gove gets rid of this Human Rights nonsense, see below. Here is a quote from their radical website:

“[Most] people’s votes were essentially wasted. Of the almost 31 million people who voted on the 7th, 15.4 million voted for losing candidates. That’s 50% of voters who backed a candidate that didn’t win, making the vast majority of voters feel unrepresented. That doesn’t sound like democracy to most people.”

Talk about sour grapes. I’m sure we all feel well represented. If you want to contact Electoral Reform and tell them to leave well enough alone, you can do so here, which is also where you can sign their petition asking for electoral reform. But just ignore that bit.

Still, a system that would leave the beloved Liberal Democrats out in the cold can’t be fair. Old  Susannah is every bit as upset at the defenestration of the LibDems as you might think. Once the equal partners of Dave Cameron’s Conservatives, the chargers of tuition fees, and the slayers of the vermin roe deer, it’s sad to think these noble animals have been metaphorically shot between the eyes, just as they rightfully insisted was done to some 46 Tullos Hill Deer.

If I can stop sobbing into my LibDem logo-embroidered handkerchief long enough, I’ll send a consolatory email to Aileen HoMalone and ask her for a few words on this sad defeat. But back to the fairness of the system.

Special thanks should go to the 33% of UK residents eligible to vote who didn’t do so. It’s not as if getting the opinion of a third of the country’s voters could have made any real difference, not under First Past The Post anyway.

Thank you for staying home to watch the Heartbeat Omnibus, reruns of Neighbours, playing Grand Theft Auto 27 or whatever it was that kept you from spending ten minutes to pick the UK’s future direction. I’m sure those who didn’t bother to join in had very important reasons. Just like the reasons the important man had on that aircraft to smoke in the bathroom.

Human Rights Act: (Modern European Union compound noun) A declaration of inalienable freedoms each person should be entitled to, but never is.

As far as I can work out, this is some kind of wishy-washy left-wing Liberal law from 1998 that brought in the EU’s Human Rights declaration and enshrined it in UK law. It’s even supposed to make the NHS and the Police treat people as if they had rights, even people suspected of crime, just like that guy who smelled of smoke who came out of the plane’s toilet seen by many, who could only comment ‘You’re kidding right?’.

This has been problematic and a nuisance. It’s been implemented fully, as we can see in practice all around us.

We’ve got a war on drugs, a war on terror

The parents of Ashya King were arrested for taking their son for the successful medical treatment he had abroad, because the NHS swore out an arrest warrant.

The police officers who cleverly infiltrated various legal protest groups, sleeping with and impregnating women they pretended to love were only doing their job of course, but under Human Rights law, these women, who were probably criminals anyway, seem to be able to claim damages and child support.

There’s only so much a Conservative government can stand. They’re sending top gun Michael Gove in to correct this over-application of human rights. Any day now, all these freedoms we’re enjoying, like the right to protest the elections in London free from police harassment, may be a distant memory. Too right, too. We’ve got a war on drugs, a war on terror… there’s no room for sentimentality when it comes to breaking a few bones – sorry – breaking a few criminal gangs.

These rights include:

“These rights are: Right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education. The Act also imposes a duty upon governments to provide free and fair elections.”

If you want to see how hard it is to be a police officer, and the kinds of things they have to put up with from protesters, here’s a little story. It may look like the police are harming citizens who are on the ground at a protest against the Tories, but I’m sure it’s just some form of massage therapy I’m not familiar with.

As if anyone would want to protest against the Tories: we’ve just elected them by a landslide. Apparently.

I get why our rulers want to get rid of this education nonsense and privacy stuff, but since we’ve already got a completely free and fair election system, surely they’ve no complaint on that score. So for those renegades and anarchists who enjoy these so-called rights, enjoy them while you can.

Next week: That’ll depend on whether or not the Conservatives continue to allow political satire.

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Apr 172015
 

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

Look Again (1)Apologies for the late running of this service. However, I’ve been busy getting Tullos Hill petition signatures, and writing my presentation to the city’s Petitions Committee for this coming Tuesday.

Fortunately, the brand new album from the Gerry Jablonski Band arrived to give me some new listening pleasure while I was reliving all the fun of the 2012 Tullos Hill issues.

For some reason, the blues seem particularly appropriate to some of our city’s latest comings and goings.

The city council will no doubt be thrilled that over 250 city residents on the electoral register signed the Tullos Hill petition.

They’ve signed up to get the city to stop killing the deer (at least for now – there may be very few left), and to get full disclosure of the hundreds of thousands of pounds which Aileen Malone’s ‘free’ scheme to plant trees cost us.

The signatories also request that the city seek indemnity from Scottish Natural Heritage – you may remember they made Aberdeen give them £43,800 for the last failed tree planting. This was blamed on deer browsing and on weeds.

The blame couldn’t have been related to the fact the hill’s so rocky it is unlikely any trees will withstand any high wind (in a government soil report which every supporter of killing your deer knew about). At least as my photo shows, they’ve done a bang-up job taking care of the weeds on the hill. The city’s rangers are very proud as to how much gorse they’ve been manly enough to cut and put in a wood chipper.

They’ve made it so you can see around a corner on a path they’ve widened. Result! Maybe not a great result for the wildlife, insects and birds that live in the gorse, but it kept the boys happy, and that’s what counts.

More on the Petition later – but a huge thank you from the Stop The Tullos Hill Deer Campaign to every single person who signed, shared and helped with this petition. That extends to all the people whose signatures weren’t eligible. ACC discounted hundreds of signatures. The city said some people weren’t on the electoral register (I hope everyone is registered to vote and are paying their taxes, just like our local rich do).

Also disregarded were people who live in the shire, who clearly shouldn’t be allowed to have any opinions on the city’s doings. A mere 400+ people want the city to stop this cull, the Scottish SPCA ‘said killing deer to plant trees which could be planted anywhere at all was ‘abhorrent and absurd.’

Animal welfare organisations offered to help advise on how you can have trees and deer without blasting the creatures, but that’s not much good for councillors after the hunting community’s votes. In 2012 objection to killing 36 deer was put down to emotionalism, sentimentality and other fully unacceptable traits; not to the fact the trees aren’t likely to grow.

Still, when the gamekeepers’ association also says the SNH culls are draconian, I guess that means they’re just being emotional, sentimental fools, too.

Look Again (5)

Look Again! Bruce and the Seagulls

I’m sure the petition committee members will welcome a speech from Old Susannah with unbridled joy.

I hope they remember that I may be making the presentation, but it’s the thousands of people who signed the initial petition and the 400+ people who they are answerable to. Those were the thousands of people written off in an official report as being ‘a vociferous but vocal minority.’

Old Susannah will report back well before the upcoming elections to let you know how the 5 labour, 5 SNP, LibDem, Conservative and Independent on the committee vote on the three petition proposals before them. I’m just trying to keep ‘the vociferous minority’ informed, and the objecting community councils.

As a reminder, the last time we had elections an anti-deer cull independent Andy Finlayson was voted in, defeating pro-cull, legwarmer-wearing Lib Dem Kate Dean. The LibDems saw a marked change of fortune in the Deen.

I’d hate to want our elected officials to feel hot under the collar though, or think they have some duty to listen to what the people are telling them, when non-binding, controversial guidelines from the SNH are at stake. I wonder what we’re in store for this time at the ballot box?

Mind you, I’ve not heard or seen much about the upcoming elections. There were one or television programmes which might have been debates. I just wasn’t sure if these were either beauty pageants or episodes of University Challenge. Aside from one or two newspaper articles and the occasional good-humoured post on Facebook, you’d barely know an election was looming.

Congratulations to all the parties which are keeping the electioneering so factual, dignified and honest.

I will vote, mostly because a bunch of tiresome old women back in Edwardian times made voting into a big deal. Hopefully some smart man can help me decide what party to pick, and how to mark those complicated ballot papers.

The question is how to select just one candidate from the honest, trustworthy, charismatic steadfast field? Should I vote for the people who want to kick non UK borns like me out; should I vote for the ones who want the UK to keep chipping in a little for the privilege of having Trident? Or perhaps I’ll just vote for the ones who promise to tax the rich and sell me a council house on the cheap.

Because I value safety and world peace, I’ll probably vote for a candidate who favours Trident. Trident is how the Americans keep us safe. Their missiles are right here (that makes me feel safer already).

If the US decides to push the button, then they can pretty much destroy all of Europe and make it uninhabitable for hundreds of years at least. And because we want to do our bit, the UK pays for it. After all, it’s not like we’d do anything else with a few spare billion pounds is it?

Look Again (6)

Look Again! “they may take our lives but they will never take our TOGAS”

I also value candidates who are honest rather than opportunist, and who stick to their word and their convictions no matter what, so I may go LibDem.

Aileen Malone must have known how many deer would be slaughtered for her precious trees, and how much money would be used; but good on ‘er; she stuck to her guns. Then there’s that nice Mr Clegg; he stuck to his word about tuition fees, didn’t he?

Or perhaps I’m remembering that wrong. Then again, some of the women candidates have really nice shoes. Happy voting everyone!

Unhappily, all the fun of campaigning is soon enough finished, and then we will forget all about politics again for another 5 years or so. What we really want is bread and circuses (or TV and fast food) to distract us from boring things like nuclear weaponry, torture, armed police, food banks and tax avoiders,( isn’t that right Sir Ian)?

Therefore it’s time for some cheery definitions based around recent doings in the Deen.

Look Again: (Modern Scottish compound noun) A vibrant and dynamic, forward looking (and forward looking again) visual arts festival.

Edinburgh is gearing up for another year of its Fringe, International Film, and Book festivals. Tens of thousands from around the world will enjoy over a thousand events. They will take to streets with scarcely any crowd barriers or teams of police and security guards; and somehow it still works out.

Dundee residents will quickly forget that their V&A project was millions over budget (although some of you in government knew, didn’t you?) and add another arts venue will join Dundee’s contemporary arts centre, The Discovery and The Unicorn (Dundee for some reason wants visitors enjoying themselves on its river, not just cargo ships). Aberdeen however excels at something – and that is one-upmanship.

A long time ago, art was a means of inspiring thoughts, evoking memories and feeings, stoking aspirations, and stimulating creativity. Thank goodness we’ve modernised. Our Look Again festival has reminded everyone what an art festival is really about. We had ‘top’ artists dressing up our boring, easily ignored giant sculptures of heroic figures.

Who’d have ever noticed Robert the Bruce if we hadn’t put cheeky seagull and pigeon figures on him?

Who’d have noticed a statue of some guy named William Wallace if we didn’t put some kind of dayglow toga on it?

And how else to show the kids that we’re cool and down with them other than by putting a set of giant Dr Dre’s on Robert Burns?

An outdoor arts festival is all about showing off, vibrant colours, and artwork that needs explanation and makes us ask questions like ‘why is Robert Burns holding a giant knitted ball that’s supposed to be Mercury with a big red dot on it?’ It’s about showing how clever artists are – but not so clever that every last man, woman and child can’t figure out what the artwork is supposed to mean when told.

Art festivals are whimsical, fun, vibrant, dynamic (and probably well connected). It doesn’t really matter if a person who’s painted human figures can’t do so – we can just write that off as them being an artist that is expressionist. Most of all, art festivals need to generate controversy – but not anything too bold or risqué – particularly if public money is involved.

Look Again (2)

Look Again! Public Art.

Aren’t we all wonderful? Isn’t everything bright and shiny? It was a wonderful fun festival for all the family, which avoided anything that was garish, cheap, tinny, dumbed-down, poorly-executed, forced, or which required any form of imaginative or intellectual input from the viewer.

I am sure parts of the festival were not quite as interesting as these wonderful statues, but the statues are what so subtly whispered ‘pssst have a look’ and which caught the public’s imagination.

That the public’s imagination had to be cudgelled and frogmarched around by pre-briefed, script-adhering clipboard bearers (who didn’t know how much we spent on the dressed up statues) is neither here nor there. We’ve showed our big sisters Glasgow and Edinburgh that we’re cool, we are artistic, we do festivals and we rock. Result!

I am only a foreigner here (until UKIP kicks me out in a fortnight); but in my country and in my own meagre study of art history and creating art, I had some old-fashioned ideas. These included showing respect and dignity towards the artwork created by others, be they alive or dead.

I’m sure the Wallace statue’s sculptor would have been delighted to see his masterwork turned into a figure of forced, weak laughter and whimsy.

For some reason the Gordon Highlander monument at Castlegate escaped the modernising treatment. I don’t’ know why that should have been, but surely it wasn’t because the curators of this splendid festival knew that decking this monument to a recently-closed regiment of heroes might not have kept the gullible public on side.

Maybe they’ll put paper hats on their heads and make them hold fish and chips next year; we’ll see. The absence of any material on the day to give history of the original sculptors or their subjects was a good move too; why burden people with stuffy detail when you can show them the arse of a pigeon with the saying ‘Fit Like’ on it?

The sordid subject of money should never be brought up when the arts are involved, but each ‘top’ artist who got to show their skills by decorating these statues was given a fixed budget, amount unknown. Suggestions I’ve had saying that some of these wanted to do their bit as cheaply as possible to keep profit margins up are of course just unkind.

That Aberdeen City found money in its arts budget will be huge comfort to those who missed out on any arts awards at the last round.

Equally pleased will be the photographers whose work has over time been ‘borrowed’ by the city for print and internet publication – without a cent ever being paid to the artists involved, and in many cases without even bothering to contact the artists, for whom the honour of having their work associated with ACC should be reward enough.

Let’s see what we get next year; let’s see which artists are consulted and invited. For I may well be wrong, but this festival might possibly have been the work of the usual suspects. The usual suspects have worked long and hard to make this city’s publically-funded arts scene what it is today. Perhaps they should rest from their intensive labours, and let someone else get involved.

Graffiti:

Our local graffiti artists have outdone themselves this time; they have managed to capture the whimsical, irreverent humour of the Look Again festival and combine it with political commentary! Result! The manifestation of this appeared on political party offices in Rosemount.

Persons or persons unknown decided to do away with the boring intellectual debate side of campaigning, and took the time and trouble to paint a swastika on some of our city’s office fronts. This rather charming motif shows a certain amount of historical knowledge, so hat’s off to the bright spark behind this little episode.

Mona Lisas

Not one, but two Mona Lisas – demonstrating Aberdeen’s rich Cultural heritage

Some might think this is a mindless, crude, insensitive, illogical, brutish, violent act of a coward too afraid to put their feelings into words or to do anything positive with the options at their disposal, but that’s just nit-picking. Yes, this was the act of a young folk hero or heroine, who deserves all of our thanks for their charming display.

Then again some graffiti artists are young people who, spoiled for all the exciting things they can do in this town want to paint. Don’t they know how many different shops we’ve got?

Every part of this teen-friendly town is filled with exciting free drop in centres open hours that suit teens where they can relax, play pool, use computers, do music, dance or sit around.

It must be like paradise for them, however much or little money they have at their disposal.

We clearly cannot allow graffiti as practiced by kids today; an arts festivals like Look Again and the really happening Aberdeen Youth Festival be quite enough artistic outlets for them indeed.

If we allowed young people to for instance have a graffiti wall that might lead to all forms of self-expression.

That kind of thing might lead to disrespect for our built heritage, art that was not State-approved, and all sorts of other unacceptable, non-conservative activity. It would be awful if unartistic crude adornments added to our city’s monuments and buildings; this must not be allowed. Unless it’s paid ‘top’ artists who are doing it.

I think that’s all the art I can stand for, particularly as I stood for hours trying to get into the Art Gallery’s last open night for some years. A massive 300 strong crowd was allowed inside this time!

That’s about as many they fit into The Lemon Tree (which may be just a wee bit smaller). A woman in a wheelchair waited in this queue without complaint. After all, a 300 max was for our safety, don’t you know.

The first evening event I went to at the gallery was on the theme of World War I; it was safe to say that more than 300 people were inside, and somehow no horrendous accidents occurred. But our safety mandarins got wind of how popular this was, and decided it was a job for a few crowd barriers and sensible attendance rules.

It’s amazing how our subtle safety mandarins know how to add just that bit more fun, excitement and buzz to our city’s events. What was about the most artistic thing I’ve seen this past month? Two Mona Lisas (pictured above), queuing up to get in the Gallery on its last night until in a year or so it reopens – minus its marble staircase and with a shoebox type addition on the roof. Art is amazing.

Next week – Safety, elections, NHS Grampian, and a roundup of what the city’s great and good have been up to.

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Apr 102015
 

By Duncan Harley.

vomiting_times

In an unprecedented piece of vitriolic pre-election political propaganda, the Sunday Times (April 5th) has headlined on Nicola Sturgeon’s shoe collection and her sisters job as a phlebotomist. The Header on page 14 reads “Destined to be Queen of Scots”– who famously got her head chopped off -alongside an image of the Scotland’s First Minister waving to the cameras in Glasgow.

In the background, smiling folk take photographs and a few hold up protest banners suggesting the scrapping of Trident.

Everyone, and I include the assembled press, is smiling but there is no suggestion of a light hearted wee joke in the Times article by columnist Gillian Bowditch.

Seemingly Ms Sturgeon can’t drive, has a huge collection of shoes and is a hopeless cook. She watches “City Freedom” whatever that is and likes Annie Lennox – don’t we all?

Monstrously the First Minister dropped three dress sizes during the Scottish Referendum and her father Robin was a working class electrician.

The article compares Scotland to some “Dodgy regimes in warmer climes”, a clear reference to the de-stabilising of that Arab Spring by the US and the Western Powers.

Seemingly Nicola was “politicised” by nationalists and “like Margaret Thatcher can get by on five hours sleep a night”. This despite MS Bowditch’s assertion that Ms Sturgeon “hated everything that she (Thatcher) stood for.”

Getting it both ways is the prerogative of the stupid.

With comments suggesting that Sturgeon’s sister was a phlebotomist and quotes from “One SNP councillor” saying that – and he has known her for years – “Whatever she wants, she get’s. They don’t call her Nasty Nicky for nothing. Don’t stand in her way or you’ll regret it” there is at least some vitriol in the Times piece.

So who is this Gillian Bowditch lady?

A quick check on Google reveals 13 people in the UK with the name Gillian Bowditch and advises digital searchers to click to find personal data about all thirteen.

Which one could she be?

A skint dark skinned but nice stripper from Penge perhaps, a hot dogging housewife from down under town Stroud’s red light district or a digitally challenged cross dressing midget Elvis impersonator from Motherwell West? Who can tell.

Seemingly however the real Gillian may well be a tabloid journalist who penned an article about a “Gay contender for mayor expecting baby with lesbians” in the Times of January 18th 2015.

The text reads something like:

“IVAN MASSOW, the gay entrepreneur hoping to succeed Boris Johnson as London mayor, is having a baby with a lesbian couple and plans for the child to divide his or her time equally between two households.”

““Having a child is something I really wanted to do for so long and if I don’t do it now, my chance is over. There is never a right time in anyone’s life. It’s one of these things I just have to do,” said Massow, 47, whose baby is due in August.

“Over the past year, the businessman, estimated to be worth £40m, received offers from lesbian friends to have his child, but decided to turn to a co-parenting website.”

To read the full article on-line the Times asks for money and many will feel that it is money spent unwisely.

As for the original printed article about Nicola, apart from a very few library copies, it’s where it should be – in landfill.

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Dec 192014
 

YouthCouncilacycThmWith thanks to Michael Hutchison.

Welcoming the news the news that David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon will work together to ensure that 16 and 17 year olds get the vote in time for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, Aberdeen City Youth Council Chair, Rebecca Lindsay has commented:
“This is a significant step forward for votes at 16 in all elections.”

“I am delighted that 16 and 17 year olds will have their say in Scottish and Local elections from 2016 onwards.

“There is still however still work to be done to ensure that the voting age is lowered in UK and European elections. The referendum saw young people engage and turnout in amazing numbers and helped us to get to where we are now. We need to see this as an opportunity to do that again and win the vote in all elections.

“This campaign has united the five parties at Holyrood and has seen the First Minister and Prime Minister find common ground. Votes at 16 is a cause people are rallying around and I hope that will continue.”

Martin Close, who will get a vote in 2016 elections if the proposals go ahead, added:

“I was very grateful to be one of the many 16 year olds in Scotland who gained the vote for the referendum earlier this year.

“If it is decided not to lower the voting age then I will be one of the many young people who would not be able to vote in the 2016 Holyrood Elections. It seems strange that I would be allowed to vote on such a huge matter for Scotland’s future but not get to vote in a normal election for parliament.” “Young people have shown that we are more than capable of taking on the responsibility of voting.

“It is very important that young people are given the opportunity to vote in every single election which affects our lives.”

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