Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.
Tally Ho! I hope everyone is enjoying a vibrant, dynamic, smart successful summer with lashings of connectivity. Tartan Day in Aberdeen was good fun, and once again the gardens were used to good effect, even if they are a dangerous, dreary, dark hole filled with criminals.
There was a re-enactment of a highwayman’s trial in the Tollbooth; suffice it to say the accused didn’t get a lesser sentence for pleading guilty, his difficult childhood or drunkenness weren’t hauled up as reasons for leniency, and the sentence wasn’t a few hours of community service.
Old Susannah’s also been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which rightfully attracts talent and tourists from around the world.
For the next few weeks Edinburgh’s intriguing private spaces, as well as public areas, will be given over to performances, workshops, a book festival, art/craft, food and drink.
I enjoyed a lovely meal in the Signet Library, which is transformed annually into the Pommery Champagne bar. The public gets to see inside amazing venues like this, enjoy them for social occasions, and at the same time gets to appreciate the spaces Edinburgh has to offer. Would that we could do that here, with our empty shops and interesting spaces.
The atmosphere is friendly; there is something for everyone, and people come from around the world. My hotel, the Caledonian Waldorf couldn’t have been more elegant or more service-orientated; a minor omission of an ingredient in a meal was more than made up for by complimentary dessert wine.
While I don’t often get to live it up, when I do so in Edinburgh, the Pommery and the Waldorf – and the local BrewDog bar for a bottle of new Electric India – are the places to be. Sometimes you just need a little luxury.
It will be hard to write any form of satire this week that would be able to hold its own against the Salmond – vs – Aberdeen Council / Labour prose currently flying around town. In brief, Salmond decided to spontaneously issue invitations to the press to witness his spontaneous visit to local Bramble Brae elementary school, coincidentally where a by-election was taking place.
I’m sure anyone who wants to wander into a school will be just as welcome
He, his team and the press thoughtfully bypassed the head teacher and Aberdeen’s Chief Executive, Valerie Watts, thus saving them paperwork and worry; they just went into the school, into the class and had a lovely visit, posing for photos.
For some reason, Valerie Watt took exception to this school visit, thinking that someone should have asked her first (she probably just wanted to get her photo taken with Alex). She wrote to Salmond, and from there things got a wee bit messy, with accusations of ‘kamikaze’ councils and general name calling coming into it from Alex’s side. Sexism got a look in as well with men only and women only golf clubs adding fuel to the fire.
Barney Crockett and Salmond have locked horns. Watts should have realised that the First Minister can do whatever he feels like doing without checking with anyone; this is perfectly acceptable, and I’m sure anyone who wants to wander into a school will be just as welcome. Clearly if other by-election candidates had been creative, they could have done the same.
Rhonda Reekie of the Greens should have marched into a school for a press call; Willie Young could have found a class full of students, rounded up their parents and the press for some handshaking, and none of the pro-SNP faction would have found anything amiss I’m certain. (What the class teacher thought of this visit and if/how they dealt with it would be nice to know).
Bramblegate reminds me of a lovely pro-granite web visit some school children had back in the day just before that referendum, which also went down well with parents.
Anyway, Alex can go into schools for press calls. In contrast, it is very wrong for Councillor Martin Ford to speak to the BBC as a councillor while on Aberdeenshire Council premises. Word is that the Shire’s Chief Executive is still fuming post Panorama, and straining at the leash to give Ford a dressing down.
No answer is forthcoming yet to my email to Chief Mackenzie about where such a rule is written down, how many other councillors ask for permission for such meetings, and whether Mackenzie would then have an undemocratic power to stop such interviews/press calls as didn’t suit his purposes. Thankfully, Mackinitupashegoesalong makes certain that all councillors follow the code of conduct.
surely no councillor could possibly owe us an explanation
He pointed this out in his letter to the Petitions Committee, saying how unnecessary any public inquiry into the Trump debacle would be.
Quite right too. No doubt should any of the Shire’s councillors be found wanting in terms of obeying the code, they will be dealt with accordingly. But surely no councillor could possibly owe us an explanation for his or her conduct – other than Ford of course.
All these arguments are splashing around the Press and Journal, which has given them another occasion to get comment from UK politics’ most heavy hitters.
Only a month ago they managed to find a window of opportunity in Kate Dean’s diary to do a three page spread, so we could benefit from her words of wisdom over the failure to get the web built (which ‘we will all regret’; ‘we’ll all remember where we were when the web got kicked into touch’, etc. etc.). Now her little dog Toto, aka Kevin Stewart, has given a few words on the Alex Salmond-Barney Crocket-Valerie Watts tag team event.
Where does the P&J get these incisive commentators from? Additionally, another City Council ex, John Stewart, now in Manchester running a parade or something, says “I’m so glad to be out of it now”, demonstrating his gladness by offering to comment from the sidelines in order to snipe at Crockett. Many of us thought he was ‘out of it’ in one sense or another from time to time when he was still here.
All this fighting talk makes me think some related definitions are required, so without any further hesitation, here are some terms for this week’s definitions.
Circular Argument: (compound English Noun) An argument that is flawed by containing, as fact, the same thing it is attempting to prove, e.g. “The story I read in the Press & Journal is true because I read it in the Press & Journal.”
There are no circular arguments to be found in our part of the world, thank goodness. But sometimes I wonder – if MEMAG didn’t exist, would it be necessary to invent it?
MEMAG wasn’t needed at all really; it wasn’t like Trump was going to go against the approved plan or do anything possibly detrimental to our environment.
MEMAG has authority to prevent damaging activities
But thankfully, MEMAG was put under the Trump organisation’s financial control. Arguably, MEMAG was invented to keep the Trump organisation in check.
By holding the purse strings, by not showing up for meetings, and by in effect pulling the plug on MEMAG, the Trump Organisation was in control of several levels of the organisation set up to keep it under control.
The shire council’s Formartine Committee once had a report which read:-
“If permission is granted a section 75 agreement is imposed to ensure that the impact on the nature conservation interest is minimised and that no hard engineering works are involved in stabilising the sand dome and dune system and that MEMAG has authority to prevent damaging activities, that a rigorous landscape evaluation is undertaken and that no commitment is given to either the height of the hotel and holiday apartments or the eventual number of houses for sale, that a minimum of 40% of the energy requirement for the hotel, holiday apartments and homes is generated on site using renewable energy technologies and that the employment benefits are derived locally with preference being given to those living within the North East and those attending the proposed university course.”
In the end, the now evaporated MEMAG group was about as effective in its remit as Father Ted was when holding up placards reading ‘down with this sort of thing’ and ‘careful now’
Old Susannah will find it hard to come up with any circular arguments; but in the mean time I leave you with this thought: in order to prevent the Trump organization committing damaging activities, the Trump organization was in charge of an organisation called MEMAG which was in charge of preventing the Trump organisation committing damaging activities.
What could be simpler?
Aberdeenshire Council might be a little confused. They’ve twice written to me to say :-
“Aberdeenshire Council have not authorised any restrictions on Menie Estate in relation to statutory access rights afforded under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.” (email to me of 7 August 2013).
Result! Everything’s fine! I’ll have to make sure to tell the Menie residents and visitors this.
However, the Shire’s outdoor access person also wrote to me on 26 March 2013:-
“As noted above we are aware of a number of concerns relating to outdoor access at Menie and are currently working to resolve the issues. It is my preference to utilise my time achieving the formal concerns already raised; I suspect these concerns are shared by the residents you note in your email.
“As I hope you will appreciate the provision of access rights is not always clear and straight forward as much as we will continue to seek acceptable access rights for the residents of Menie and general visitors we also have to consider and balance the rights of the landowner to undertake their business and manage their land.
“On a positive note I would say that the land managers at Menie have indicated they are keen to resolve concerns over public access and as such we are working towards a solution that provides a satisfactory level of access whilst taking into account the concerns of the land manager and their land management activities.”
On the one hand, the council didn’t authorise any restrictions relating to access rights at the Trump estate. On the other hand, they are keen to resolve concerns over public access and want to provide a satisfactory level of access while taking in Trump’s concerns.
So – no restrictions are allowed, but the restrictions that do exist are being looked into, in other words. I trust that this shining example of clarity demonstrates that the council are completely clear, everything’s fine, and there is no need for a public inquiry.
Pre-emptive Strike: (compound English noun) to start an altercation or conflict in order to prevent being attacked.
The best defence is a good offence, and one of the high visibility adherents to this strategy is Alex Salmond. You might say he is very offensive at times. But he is rather good at well-timed pre-emptive strikes.
Trouble over wining and dining wealthy American planning applicants? Outcry at a pre-planned ‘impromptu’ visit to a school where your party is fighting a by election? Scandal over legal advice taken over EU membership post independence? Draw attention away from tiresome trivial problems by launching an attack of your own.
After Watts wrote to Salmond, he hurled in a grenade or two, calling our council ‘a kamikaze council’ for refusing to build his pal Ian Wood’s dream web. If Salmond says we’re looking disreputable, we should definitely take his expert word on the subject, which he knows quite a bit about. So the name-calling began, with Salmond using one of his favourite words ‘ludicrous’ in response to the Watts’ letter.
Old Susannah seems to remember that a Kamikaze pilot was basically a suicide bomber wishing to take out as many of the enemy as possible. I don’t seem to be following Salmond’s use of the word in the context of Aberdeen City not having a web.
The ensuing name-calling and Crockett’s defence of his one-year old council are dominating the printed press. Little issues like Alex’s own failings are being edged out of the limelight by this little contretemps. So, what, if anything, might Alex like to deflect our attention from?
Well, there was that lovely visit to Bramble Brae. Meeting Alex might have swayed people to cast their vote for him, and naturally, no other candidate was given equal time.
I guess the chance to meet Alex drove such concerns away
It might be worth asking which reporters were invited, and if they were more than just people following any story leads blindly and printing any press releases they get without question – whether any recipients to the SNP invitation contacted the opposition candidates to share this event’s details with them.
If, say, the BNP decided to drop in on the local primary children and their parents, and invited members of the press to join them on such a happy occasion, you might be forgiven for thinking that the reporter receiving such an invite might see the story differently, get in touch with the school/Watts and ask what was going on. But I guess the chance to meet Alex drove such concerns away.
Getting back to issues which Alex might be a bit coy about, which his attack might overshadow, we do have the smashing idea of setting up a national body to oversee every child. Not just children from broken homes, children with special needs, or children in need of supervision who have had brushes with the law – every child.
Some people are actually critical of this great scheme, and have foolish questions about cost, legality, human rights, potential for abuse and so on. Better send the ‘Kamikaze’ attack out first.
We still don’t know how Europe would deal with the nascent Scotland; and if Alex has legal advice, we’re not going to get to see it anytime soon. Currency, passport, border control, military issues are not thrashed out yet, and whatever side of the referendum debate you’re on, you should be happy to just trust the government about all these minor details – what could go wrong?
Arguably, these are enough definitions for now. Tally Ho!
PS – it’s not too late to get involved in the Butterfly and Moth count – which is pretty important considering all the green space we’re concreting over or clearing. Details here – http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/
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