Dec 022014

ArchieonIce2With thanks to Phil Moar.

Business organisation Aberdeen Inspired welcomed a very special visitor as it officially launched its outdoor ice rink in Union Terrace Gardens.

Oliver Constant, an ARCHIE Foundation ambassador, along with his mother Anne and two sisters, Hannah and Holly, were the first to don their skates and take to the rink to mark its opening.

Oliver and his family have been receiving support from The ARCHIE Foundation, the official charity of the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital and were able to try their hand at a spot of ice hockey on the new rink with members of the popular Aberdeen Lynx ice hockey team.

The rink, in a new location this year within the gardens, will be open from noon to 8pm each day between now and January 4. Admission will cost £3 per person, including skate hire, with that entire entry fee being donated by Aberdeen Inspired to the children’s charity.

The attraction forms part of a programme of Christmas events devised by the business organisation as it aims to meet its goal of increasing footfall to the city centre alongside contributing to Aberdeen’s Winter Festival offering.

Gary Craig, Aberdeen Inspired’s chief executive, said:

“The ice rink was such a success last year that we’ve brought it back again alongside extending the length of time it is within the city centre to allow even more people to enjoy it over the festive holidays.

“The rink will offer fun and sparkle in the run up to Christmas and New Year and we’d encourage friends and families, from Aberdeen and the north-east, to come down, don a pair of skates and get into the festive spirit.

“We’re delighted that the rink is in a new home this year within Union Terrace Gardens, adding a fresh feel alongside allowing businesses in a different part of the zone to benefit from the positive impact that an attraction such as this can bring to the area.”

David Cunningham, chief executive of The ARCHIE Foundation, said:

“This is an amazingly generous gesture from the businesses of the BID district and Aberdeen City Council. The ice rink is very popular and great fun, and now every skater will be helping The ARCHIE Foundation to make a real difference for the sick children of the north east and northern isles, over the festive season and in the future, through our ‘High 10 for ARCHIE’ appeal.

“They can’t all say thank you individually, but on their behalf we can and we are all extremely grateful.”

Spearheaded by Aberdeen Inspired, the ice rink has been brought to the city centre in partnership with Aberdeen City Council which has contributed £30,000 to the total cost of £132,000. The council has also contributed a further £42,500 towards additional festive activities within the area.

This total, coupled with Aberdeen Inspired’s £102,000 contribution towards the ice rink, marks a significant investment by both organisations into this year’s festive line-up of events.

Lord Provost George Adam said:

“Thanks to partnership working residents and visitors to the city will enjoy an array of festive activities which compliment Aberdeen’s Winter Festival.  

“I am delighted to see the ice rink return as it was such a huge success last year. Aberdeen City Council is delighted to lend its support.”

The ice rink is the main highlight of a comprehensive programme of events by Aberdeen Inspired, with a line-up of festive films at the Belmont Filmhouse, alongside a range of activities to be run in tandem with the rink in Union Terrace Gardens all being made available for those visiting the city centre and BID zone throughout December.

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district and driving footfall to the zone.

For further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired visit

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Oct 172014

Old Susannah aka Suzanne Kelly gets to grips with grippy politicians and businessmen both sides of the pond.

cultural hubIt was an interesting week as ever in Aberdeen, as this photo from our trendy, hip, happening cultural hub shows. Yes, it sensibly closes by 6pm, after all, culture shouldn’t overlap regular working hours. In the door of the former 1-up record shop, a blackboard helpfully tells people what is on in Aberdeen. With cutting edge technology like that, it really is a wonder that we didn’t win City of Culture.

I’m told that some of you  young folk use something called ‘the internet’ when you want information as opposed to going to the exterior of a closed shop to look at a blackboard – is this true?

In other news, Spear of Destiny came to the Moorings last Saturday; and all was largely marvellous. You never know who you’ll bump into in the Moorings, or who’ll bump into you. Very hard.

A bespectacled baldy man made a spectacle of himself as he stumbled into my friend and I not long after we arrived.

This was no mean feat as we were standing well out of the way of the crowd against the wall by the pinball machine, and he had to cross the floor to get to us before he careened off in the other direction towards the loos. I thought he must be tripping (or at least that seemed his intention); if it had been accidental, I’ll avoid whatever he’d been drinking.

For that matter, an ‘excuse me’ was a bridge too far for our man as well, but then again he looked so very cool that he probably didn’t want to spoil his manly style by an admission of fallability. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a deliberate attempt to recapture playground (or prison) glory days on his part, but surely not. Obviously it wouldn’t have been someone with a grudge.

Whatever the poor lad’s problem was, perhaps it will peter out. But nothing was going to spoil that evening, and nothing did. The little stumble was reported later, well after a most enjoyable night.

Elsewhere in the Granite Deen, our councillors are considerably more sure-footed, keeping us right. These well-balanced people have voted to tear down Victoria Road School, which otherwise would have been doomed to some community-buy out scheme or other, and the building re-used for the benefit of the locals. Not a good way to make as much profit as possible, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In truth, I can’t say the councillors all voted to tear the school down. Some such as Jim Kiddie, voted to keep the building. Clearly he’s not as quick on his feet as Torry Tory councillor Alan Donnelly, who voted to demolish. I’m sure the grateful public will thank Alan appropriately.

Not all the councillors voted to demolish it’s true – one managed to not vote at all. Labour’s Yvonne Allan decided it was best to represent her local constituents by – not voting at all.

This must have been a hard decision to stand up for the people who have nothing to say on the issue. Torry locals who wanted the site saved signed petitions in the thousands. And we all know what a petition gets you these days in Aberdeen. More on all this after the next Torry Community Council meeting, which promises to be quite a love-in as the harbour board’s plans for Torry domination – sorry improvement – will also get an airing.

For some reason, David Cameron seemed eager to distance himself from Lord Freud’s rational ideas

Things are equally as cheerful on the national scene, where well heeled Lord Freud bravely spoke out against the money-wasting benefits system. We’re actually still supporting people who have different abilities, physical and mental challenges as if they were worth paying a full day’s wage to.

For some reason, Lord Fraud is softening his stance at present, but he had this to say initially:

“Now, there is a small… there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it’s working can we actually…”

If you haven’t guessed, with this sympathetic approach to giving people a living wage, Freud is our Welfare minister. And let’s face it – we have to admire his way with words.

I am trying to think hard if there are any other groups of people who don’t deserve a full day’s wage because they don’t do any proper work. If I do come up with any suggestions, I’ll lay them at Freud’s door.

For some reason, David Cameron seemed eager to distance himself from Lord Freud’s rational ideas.  I believe this is the same David Cameron who has done so much good for the disabled and ill with his ATOS assessment schemes.  I wonder why Cameron is against Freud – given Cameron’s track record, maybe Dave thinks £2 an hour is far too much salary.

But at this rate there will be as little room for definitions as there is for wildlife in the schemes being hatched. Therefore, on with a few timely terms.

Transatlantic Trade And Investment Partnership (TTIP): (Modern English collective noun) a suite of trade deals between the EU and America beneficial to business.

It’s such a shame that in the 21st century people are still so resistant to change. There were actually people protesting against these schemes last weekend in several capital cities.

People are always afraid of what they don’t understand, it’s a human weakness. Therefore, it’s best we allow the EU and US governments to just keep the details of these schemes under wraps; no sense upsetting people. Just because the governments involved won’t let you vote on these agreements or let you know exactly what’s in them is no reason to think there’s anything undemocratic going on.

The Independent, a left-leaning, anti-capitalist UK publication, has printed some hurtful claims about these agreements.

I just hope that no company’s profit margins suffer because of the piece.  Sure a few minor changes to the NHS, taxes, corporate domination over soverign governments, increased spying on private communications will take some getting used to, but I’m sure something good will be on telly to take our minds off of it.

Child Poverty Map: (Modern English compound noun) An interactive map created by End Child Poverty, showing the UK’s disadvantaged children by geographic area.

I think it’s very helpful that this interactive map has been created; now we know what horrible, dreary areas we should be avoiding. Here are a few stats for Aberdeen areas, which for all our oil wealth clearly demonstrate we still have child poverty issues.

Perhaps workhouses would help, coupled with Lord Freud’s helpful suggestion that a £2 per hour wage is too good for some of them.

Westminster Parliamentary Constituency: Aberdeen North
Number of children in In-work poverty 2013: 2,287
Number of children in Out of work poverty 2013: 1,402
% of children in low income families AHC, 2013: 23.89%

Westminster Parliamentary Constituency: Aberdeen South
Number of children in In-work poverty 2013: 1,410
Number of children in Out of work poverty 2013: 618
% of children in low income families AHC, 2013: 14.39%

Map DataMap data ©2014 Google

If only there were some wealthy people around here who had some money to donate; Wood I could think of anyone who cared about the less fortunate.

I’m sure our council does the best it can with its finances, but you have to prioritise things. We’ve got hungry consultants to pay for (isn’t that right Chris Piper?), after all, those deer aren’t going to shoot themselves, and nothing is more important than trying to grow trees on a windswept garbage tip.   PricewaterhouseCoopers has to put food on the table as well, and we didn’t even give them a million pounds last year.

There was always for instance the chance that Victoria Road school could have been given, as requested, to the locals to run as a community centre; people old and young could have used it as a resource. Not that I’m suggesting we should have done anything radical or trendy like having a food bank. Not in good old Torry, where the money flows like the effluent from the sewerage works we were gifted with a few years back.

Now the city, the harbour board and Scottish Enterprise want to gift us with a much larger industrial scale harbour, and all it will cost us is the remaining open free public spaces Torry has. But it will create jobs, so we’re told (never mind the air quality, house prices and quality of living). Then perhaps some of these little urchins can start earning their keep.

It’s not as if we are planning to school them for anything other than vocational work in the energy sector (that’s if they’re lucky).

So please do have a look at the child poverty map.  Another thought comes to mind – if we’re to keep having Primark priced clothes at our disposal, then we may want to start getting some of these poor kids into factory work over here, that would be more jobs creation. Happily, I’m sure we have people already looking into this.

Next week (perhaps) a further look at NHS Grampian, The latest in Union Terrace Gardens, etc. Or perhaps a word on UKIP hopeful, who starved over 200 sheep to death – possibly while testing out one of UKIP’s future plans for us.

PS – for some reason, people are saying the distance from Haymarket to Waverly stations in Edinburgh is the same distance as Aberdeen’s train station to the inaccessible, dank, under-used Union Terrace Gardens.

The distance is just under a mile and a half between the two Edinburgh destinations, some 2,400 metres. Here, the distance is between 700 metres (from the closest point) ranging to 1,000 metres to the gentle, sloping entrance by the theatre, filled with druggies, drunks and other undesirables. The Edinburgh train journey between the two stations takes 5 minutes.

A journey from Aberdeen station to a proposed new station in UTG (which would be the thin edge of the wedge to building in our gardens) would be less than 45 seconds. But you’ve got to have your connectivity, don’t you – otherwise we’d have people walking around. Some might say Edinburgh is a city that requires a bit of walking, but we don’t want that sort of thing here.

There seem to be some groups wanting a train station in the gardens: I can promise any councillors reading this, there are many people and a group or two who definitely won’t sit by for such a nonsense, even if NESTRANS were to want to spend millions on a station so close to an existing one. Do keep that in mind, won’t you?

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Oct 102014

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

DictionaryHope you’re enjoying the weather. The trains Stopped running further north, streets are flooded, and it’s chaos. Thankfully, none of the building we’re doing in the remaining greenbelt will have a negative impact on the ability of the soil to soak up the rains.

A mere 3,000 new homes in Countesswells  on what’s currently open land won’t make much difference to the environment and flooding; congratulations to the planners and developer (S Milne). Don’t worry about any additional road traffic either, the AWPR will have us all sailing down open roads very soon.

I wish an artist would make us a rendition of what the granite web will look like when it rains hard like it did on Tuesday. No doubt the levels of underground parking replacing the soil wouldn’t cause any  flooding.

In fact, the granite web would be great fun when the ground and ramps are frozen over, and we’d all sitting outdoors watching open air theatre.

Make no mistake, as sure as it will rain again, a certain billionaire hasn’t forgotten that web, and neither has his equally kind-hearted, socially-minded altruist friends. As long as the web story continues dominating the local printed press, the web  won’t be forgotten here. either.

Many other developments are afoot here in the dynamic Deen. The plan for the city’s museum to have its marble staircase hacked up, and a giant box put on the top of the building is going ahead. I guess those developers and architects who think this looks wonderful went to different art schools than I did. I’m sure it will be iconic.

Funny, London’s Tate decided not to ruin its beautiful original building; instead it renovated a disused building when it wanted to expand. If only we had some brown field land in the city centre that should be regenerated to really bring the city back to life. Can’t think of a single site though.

And it’s farewell to Victoria Road School in Torry. Councillors met in secret to vote on axing the site; so no real change in transparency there. Let’s see who buys the site, what they paid for it, and what will take its place.

The Harbour Board are so very keen on turning Torry into an extension of the industrial harbour may well have a hand in this. It will be for our own good when Nigg Bay is taken off our hands, and more lorries travel our roads. It will be a breath of fresh air. Or maybe not. But no doubt it will mean more jobs, the rallying call of all local development.

Never mind the fact we have plenty of work and low unemployment; if you want to build anything, just say you’re creating jobs, and permission arrives on a silver platter.

Some had the temerity to register to vote in the referendum

Moving vibrantly and dynamically along, it’s wonderful to see that everyone’s getting along so well after the referendum. People are respecting each other’s opinions and positions; and intelligent debate continues to dominate the social media sites.

Perhaps the only thing that Old Susannah finds more heart-warming than the post-referendum bonhomie is the riveting, electric Lib Dem party convention. And do those guys know how to party!  Nick Clegg was so cool that he wore dungarees one day!  I guess that sort of thing impresses most of you young people.

However, Kyle Joseph Wagner, a local writer and bon vivant had this to say:

“Nick Clegg delivering his conference speech yesterday in jeans and a navy-blue shirt with the top two buttons undone is funnier, sadder and more pathetic than any attempts I could make to take the p*ss out of him.”

I think Kyle is just jealous, but there you go. More on the wonderful work the Lib Dems did at their conference shortly, especially the important news that Clegg wore a suit on Wednesday – how dynamic is that?  He can be both cool/casual and businesslike and strong. I may yet swoon.

With all the excitement – party conferences, glass office buildings and so on, a few timely definitions seem called for.

Tax Evasion: (modern English compound noun) – the use of legal or illegal means to avoid paying duty on income.

I can’t possibly express how happy I am that poll tax dodgers may yet be called to account for their crimes against humanity. Some had the temerity to register to vote in the referendum. Thankfully, this might lead to these hardened criminals being found and forced to pay their just dues to society.

Perhaps these unwashed lawbreakers could learn a thing or two by looking to our betters for a good example and moral guidance.

Sir Ian Wood is a prime example of a man who pays his fair share. The Wood Group may be saving a few million by paying some of its workers via offshore companies, but that’s just good business senses.

SIW has £50 million sitting in a charity bank account free, but that’s going to eventually help Africans, who as we know need to grow more tea (perhaps he can help clear some of that pesky rain forest in the process). We’ll wait and see what he does.

Stewart Milne still has contracts worth some £10 million with the city

Good thing there aren’t any pressing issues in the African continent that could use any of his ‘venture capital (ist)’ brand of assistance. There’s little glamour in disease or starvation, and if you feed people, you probably won’t get much of a return on your venture capital investment. – if there’s no eventual return, why donate money?

Another shining example of paying one’s fair share can be found in Stewart Milne. No word yet on whether he’s paid the city back the money he owes. Like me you’re probably thinking it’s we who should be giving Milne money, but in fact he owes us some £1.7 million.

I’m sure he had a great reason for this transfer, even if to us less wealthy people it seems like a transparent ploy to avoid paying what he owed the city. Actually, after he appealed all the way to the highest court in the land, even the law couldn’t see why he needed to do that transfer, and he was ordered to pay the city some profit and interest.

I’m sure that with this newly-found enthusiasm for cracking down on tax avoiders, the police and local government mandarins they’ll be straight onto the rich who owe us a few million pounds eventually. But let’s go for the poll tax dodgers first; there’s no sense in upsetting of our wealthy worthies.

Since we’re on the subject of how cleverly the police can find the poll tax avoiders, I thought I’d let you know that alas!  They are unable to find any trace of the investigation they were meant to do when the Kate Dean administration sold parcels of land for peppercorn prices. Audit Scotland couldn’t decide if it was incompetence or fraud at work; the value was c. £5 million pounds, and the police were going to investigate.

Doubtless there were excellent reasons why our cash poor city was slashing services while doling out real estate parcels like sweeties; I’m sure it all made great commercial sense. To someone. Note: Stewart Milne still has contracts worth some £10 million with the city, awarded just around the time he was given that valuable land. Something about ‘leveraging’ comes to Old Susannah’s mind, but that can’t be right.

The courts are so stretched that we’re considering lopping off a few human rights and old legal rights that are way out of date (corroboration, evidence, little things like that).

The police claim to be so stretched they couldn’t possibly implement any form of control over air rifles, wildlife crime, burglaries and so on. Still, there is time to spy on private people’s emails and calls, and to infiltrate protest groups. I guess you have to figure out your priorities. But we’ll find time and money to go after the poll tax avoiding rabble.

of course nuclear energy is a big part of the solution

So let’s name and shame the people who didn’t chip in all those years ago. We had a fair taxation system, based on everyone paying a tax based on the value of the place they lived in.

This was also a great way to get those pesky older people out of valuable houses that they’d saved up for and bought; if they had been silly enough to buy a great home then the poll tax was going to make them pay for it.

Perhaps we should bring this tax back? Our council tax is great as far as it goes, funding all the great schemes we’ve paid for over the years – but I think that extra few drops of blood could be extracted if we went back to the poll tax. No tax payment, no vote. Now that’s democratic.

Clean Energy: (Modern English compound noun) Forms of energy which have little or no elements of waste, pollution health risk or environmental damage from their extraction through to their end products and waste materials.

One thing we can all be proud of is how we’re tackling our energy problems, and of course nuclear energy is a big part of the solution. We have had great successes around the world in Russia and Japan for instance, and if the odd trace of radiation from Chernobyl wound up in the Scottish Highlands, that’s no big deal.

Here in Scotland we have our own Dounreay plant a shining example of clean energy at its finest.

Granted, at present, a ship carrying ‘intermediate level’ radioactive waste from Dounreay caught fire, and is drifting around. An oil rig has been evacuated. But no fear: Police Scotland are monitoring the situation. (I particularly like the energy efficiency in sending these concrete-encased blocks of radioactivity sailing round the world, down road networks, and over rail lines. I’m sure this is all quite green).

Some detractors might have a criticism or two of this great plant; for instance the MOD was accused of covering up information on radioactive leaks. I’m sure they’d never do such a thing; here’s an article that I find very reassuring.

And here are some further articles that are nothing to worry about from Rob Edwards. So a few trucks were carrying radioactive waste when they were meant to be decommissioned, no harm done. And if further information is being kept secret, why worry. If we needed to know, they’ll tell us.

Remember, nothing can go wrong with nuclear power. Neither the police nor the MOD would lie to you; there’s no reason to think they would. But just in case something does ever go wrong, we can always ‘duck and cover’.

A Man For All Seasons: (English Idiom) a person who is very successful in a variety of activities / situations. See also Nick Clegg.

Nick Clegg is surely our man for all seasons. This week he’s been leading his party’s conference with stirring speeches and setting the tone. He’s been making pledges for people with health problems to be seen more quickly – if only he had some power and could implement changes like that now.

But not only is he going to buy more with less tax money, he’s shown a few attractive sides to his personality that we’d not seen before.

Earlier this week, he shown us that despite his talents and position, he’s really one of us. He’s not just the unshakable, constant tough and attractive guy we all think he is. As mentioned earlier, he actually appeared wearing jeans. Some of the buttons on his casual but smart top were unbuttoned as well; he really knows how to let his hair down, and is just like us.

Then just when you think you know the man, he comes back to speak wearing a suit!  It was as if he was taking control; it was a very masterful moment, and I’m glad I’ve taped his performance to watch again and again. It’s amazing someone can have such diametrically opposed sides.

Then again, it was the same Mr Clegg who promised there would be no tuition fees when he got voted in as part of the LibDem/Conservative coalition that’s steered the nation to the great place it’s in today. I guess he doesn’t like to brag too much about his past successes. Either that, or there were too many to mention.

He told his party conference in Glasgow he would not “seek to distance” the Lib Dems from the coalition’s record. Well, he wouldn’t, would he?

And then, just as you think Nick is happy to be associated with the coalition which he is in, he makes a wee remark  that make you wonder if that’s true. Case in point comes courtesy of the guardian:

“Nick Clegg has instructed his leading ministers to “brutalise” the Tories …In a sign of how coalition relations have descended into trench warfare in the run-up to the election, the deputy prime minister has told senior Liberal Democrats to reach out to “soft Tories” by saying that the chancellor is taking Conservatives back a decade to the era of the nasty party.

“The instructions from Clegg, who accused the Tories of “beating up on the poor”, came as the opening of the Liberal Democrat conference was dominated by speculation about future coalition partners if voters elect another hung parliament in May’s general election.”

I’d be the last person to say that Clegg changes his positions as often as he changes his clothing, particularly as he looked so cool in those denims. Still, I sometimes wonder if the Lib Dems are every bit as consistent as they seem to be.

But all this talk of Nick is making me overheated. I’ll be off to BrewDog for some liquid refreshment to cool down a bit. But happy birthday to the Aberdeen BrewDog bar, and many more.

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Oct 102014

1476404_561458237274267_1571602989_nAberdeen Inspired will once again be bringing festive cheer to the heart of the city, with plans for an ice rink in Union Terrace Gardens. With thanks to Paul Smith, Citrus:Mix.

Last year around 2,000 skaters took to the ice and the pop-up attraction is back by popular demand, in partnership with Aberdeen City Council.

The rink will be open from December 1 through to January 5 at its new home in the gardens. Last year the Castlegate was the venue.

Craig Stevenson, the Aberdeen Inspired director with responsibility for the organisation’s events programme, said:

“We decided to bring an ice rink back to the city centre last year after a long absence and the response was phenomenal. It created such a buzz and brought a real sense of fun to the Christmas period.”

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district and driving footfall to the zone.

Craig Stevenson added:

“Aberdeen Inspired’s overarching aim is to bring more people to the business improvement district and the ice rink was a huge success from that perspective. We have moved to Union Terrace Gardens this year to add a fresh feel and to allow businesses in a different part of the zone to benefit from the positive impact.

“In saying that, the benefits last year were seen throughout the city centre and not just around the Castlegate. By bringing thousands of people to the heart of Aberdeen it helps support our members but also adds to the atmosphere and feel-good factor surrounding Christmas in the city.”

The length of time the rink will be in place has been extended this year to allow more people to enjoy the attraction over the festive holidays. Admission will cost £3 per person, including skate hire, and all proceeds will once again go to charity. The rink will open from 11am to 8pm each day.

For further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired visit

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Sep 262014

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


Tally Ho! For a city with no beating heart and collapsed lungs awaiting a granite web transplant, Aberdeen is somehow managing to hold its own on the cultural front. The Techfest 2014 events are very impressive and are still ongoing. Aberdeen gets ready to welcome Billy Connolly next week; if the city isn’t rolling out the red carpets, it should be.

The Big Yin will be at the music hall; tickets sold out instantly. Post referendum, this will be quite a show. That underused shady green garden is going to have an Oktoberfest. It’s all happening.

Referendum fallout is everywhere, and shows no signs of abating. Both Yes and No camps still cry foul; queens are accused of purring; political parties are accused of breaking their promises, something I can assure worried readers will never happen.

Two years on, and Aberdeen’s own referendum on Union Terrace Gardens show no sign of abating, either. The P&J, Tom Smith, ACSEF and Sir Ian Wood are still banging on about how a granite web is the city’s only salvation and how it must be built over our only existing city centre green space (coincidentally owned by you and I, and worth tens of millions).

The canals of Venice. The Eiffel Tower.The Taj Mahal. The granite web to nowhere. Yes, that would have worked. These tenacious people of course have no selfish interests as they campaign on and on and on.

In the news this week are various movements – various ‘isms’. Women are bleating on about wanting rights. Campaigning journalists closer to home are drumming up support for their advertisers’ projects – sorry – important local causes. Time for a look at some of these ‘isms’.

Feminism: (Modern English movement) – belief that women and men should have equal opportunities, equal rights and equal pay.

Well, I am just a weak, helpless female, so I got one of my male colleagues to explain to me what’s wrong with this feminism business. Apparently, it’s all about unshaven women who want to look like men, or something like that. It’s just too complex for me.

On the other hand, I did some research. You will be surprised to learn that there may indeed be instances where there is a small amount of discrimination.

For reasons known only to herself, actress Emma Watson – actress and academic scholar is trying to tell us that feminism isn’t a dirty word. For some reason, she thinks that women are not treated as well as men. I wonder why she’d come to such a wild conclusion; she’s probably just looking for headlines.

Of course Watson may object to a few inconsequential facts. Women around the world do not earn as much money as male contemporaries for the same work. Women are being forced into marriage around the globe including here in the UK. There is also the small matter that in the western world, a mere one in 4 women can expect to experience some form of sexual abuse or violence.

Women are being trafficked against their will to be used as prostitutes. Police routinely ignore women’s pleas for help with domestic violence, and yet another woman in the UK was killed by a stalker the police had been warned about many, many times before.

That ought to prove that women aren’t subject to exploitation

In short, I’ve no idea why Emma thinks that campaigning for equal treatment of women in society is something we need to do. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if she turned her efforts to something worthwhile, like backing the Aberdeen City Garden Project?

To disprove Watson’s case, some charming, anonymous people have started a countdown online as to when they plan to release nude photos of her. That ought to prove that women aren’t subject to exploitation to everyone’s satisfaction. Releasing any photos will also put her back in her place, intimidate her, and then we girls can forget all this silly feminist stuff.

For further examples of the fair treatment the fair sex gets, the 25/9 P&J carries a tale we can all have a good laugh along with.

Offshore worker Andrew Thomas has unfairly been put on the sex offenders’ register for a whole year, and will have to do some community service. He was just being a lad after all when he snuck into his female offshore co-worker’s room, set up a phone to spy on her, and saved photos of her changing and washing. It’s even funnier because he pretended to be her pal.

Any red-blooded offshore worker would have done the same. Spoilsport Kerry McKnockiter doesn’t get that this was just good fun, and somehow feels she’s been violated. Go figure. At the same time, a man who grew something called ‘marijuana’ at his home has rightly been locked up for 12 months, a splendidly fair sentence, and a great use of taxpayer money. Good on us.

As to this equal pay business that feminists want resolved, what do you need money for once you’ve got a husband, hopefully the richest one you could snare? I’d recommend pretty young girls enter beauty contests – look at the great catch Sarah ‘Face Of Aberdeen’ Malone landed when Damian Bates married the lucky girl?

Still, some women insist on working, taking jobs away from our boys. It’s only right that girls don’t get the same money as men do; after all, they’re not as strong or as smart as men are. All public sector pay was meant to be levelled out years back; this is still in progress. In fact, Torry was once asked to sell huge tracts of land it controlled to help Aberdeen City level out its pay issues.

If Old Susannah recalls correctly (remember, I’m just an old woman) – the city made a fine job of equalising pay – by lowering the salaries of some men, rather than raising women’s pay. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. More on all this here. Of course pay and pension are still wee problems (well, if you’re a girl anyway) today. All I can say is ‘calm down dear, it’s only your living wage.

We’ve had wimmin academics heckled, threatened with rape and other forms of violence.

It couldn’t be that the ‘writers’ are slavishly regurgitating whatever press releases it gets

I guess when you have extremist feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez (a foreigner, note) who wanted Jane Austin put on a bank note, then trying to frighten the weaker sex is a good strategy to get them in line.Perhaps a nice cup of tea and a pat on the head is all that these feminist type ladies and Emma Watson need.

That, and perhaps a box of chocolates and a new hat.

Yellow Journalism: The use of sensationalism, bias, and exaggeration in order to attract and/or influence readers.

“There are no concrete plans to breathe new life into the heart of Aberdeen – two years after the city Garden Project was controversially scrapped.”

– So wrote the P&J’s Dawn Morrison this week for the P&J’s Wednesday cover story, dramatically illustrated with an ornate gold picture frame with nothing inside of it. I’m sure this factual, un-emotive opening sentence will have us girls weeping into our ice-cream tubs.

I’m equally sure that, coincidentally of course, some of the P&J’s biggest advertisers do indeed have concrete plans for Union Terrace Gardens.

Well, perhaps granite-clad concrete is what they want, but there are some people who just want that green space taken over, which will magically put the business rates in the area within the reach of local shopkeepers, will reduce the unfair advantages multinational competitors have over homegrown businesses (buying power, advertising, brand recognition, and of course the use of cheap if not slave labour abroad to create projects).

It’s also very reassuring that all P&J writers, off their own bats of course, use the exact same description for Aberdeen – breathing new life into it, its beating heart, etc. etc.

It couldn’t be that the ‘writers’ are slavishly regurgitating whatever press releases or directives they get. It wouldn’t be like helmsman Damian Bates to dictate to his minions what to write, what not to write about (Anthony Baxter and his Trump-related documentaries for instance) or how to write it.

A google search on ‘breath new life’, ‘heart’, ‘Aberdeen’ and ‘Ian Wood’ will give you all the breathing, beating and throbbing you could ever hope for. It’s just amazing everyone uses the same metaphors – not that these stirring words and phrases are getting at all tedious or worn out, mind you. This whole business may have started with Sir Ian himself; and a regular breath of fresh air he is, too.

The P&J is a bastion for free thinking, freely-writing intrepid investigative journalists whose high ideals lead to balanced articles such as this empty picture frame one. Some might think that such a blatant piece of editorial belongs tucked away inside the issue, but that’s another matter. Some also think that the press shouldn’t exist to serve its advertisers’ interests or indeed the financial interests of the people who edit the news. But that is, I suppose, nit-picking.

Alas, that’s all there is time for this week; I feel the need to shop coming on, and my weakly female constitution can’t possibly continue without a new pair of shoes to cheer me up. More next week.

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Sep 122014

Policing in Britain is changing, and not for the better. Almost every newspaper seems to carry a new tale of corruption, custody death, wrongful arrest, over-policing, wrongful stop and search, ignoring reports of crimes, criminalising young children and/or institutionalised racism within the police are some of the worrying developments. When police are caught in misdeeds, sometimes of enormous magnitude, there seems to be immunity – they are the police after all.

The suggestion is not that all police are corrupt. The questions that need to be addressed include the increased powers the police have been given, often under the sweeping broad brush of ‘preventing terrorism’, how they are doing their job, and what the scope of investigation should be. Additionally, Police Scotland seems to be granting itself the right to carry guns on routine patrols.

This has happened in the Highlands without recourse to elected officials and institutions, let alone seeking a mandate from the people who are largely against this change. There are far too many problems for them to go unanswered or the situation to go unchecked. ‘Protect and Serve’ is becoming a thing of the past.  We need to talk about the police. By Suzanne Kelly.

UTG event entry securityIntroduction.

This series will look at some recent police scandals, both high and low

Police decisions, police powers (and the misuse of same), institutionalised racism, custody, cover-ups and illegal activities will be addressed.

This first in the series will look at what should have been a simple, brief (less than a few hours in duration) bright and breezy event in Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens: the Queen’s Baton Commonwealth function.

This is on the one hand a very minor chapter in the problems we have with the police. On the other hand, it illustrates what some of the underlying serious issues are.

A walk in the park?

On 30th June 2014 Aberdeen was filled with police and private security. If you tried to go about your lawful business on Union Terrace such as going into your hotel or a restaurant, you were prevented from doing so before your ID and your story was checked out by private security or police. High steel partitions blocked anyone from looking into Union Terrace Gardens.

If you wanted to see into the gardens, you may as well have tried to look over the Berlin Wall. If you wanted to go in the gardens – which are common good land, owned by the people and merely managed by the city on the day? If you had a pet, a drink, or heaven forbid a plastic folding chair, you would not even have been allowed to queue in the serpentine crowd barrier maze at the only entrance that hadn’t been blocked off.

I witnessed people turning away in disgust and disappointment. What was going on?

This level of security was laid on to protect the Queen’s baton, a former commonwealth winner, some musicians and local dancers for a two hour concert. Some would say this was slight overkill. On another level, this was a display of police power over the law abiding individual, a removal of basic rights without sufficient cause, and an expenditure that was far from justified.

Fun for all the Family?

Aberdeen City  Council’s press announcement started out cheerfully enough:

“An exciting programme of dance, music and song will showcase the cultural vibrancy of Aberdeen as the Queen’s Baton Relay’s journey across the city culminates with an end-of-day celebration in Union Terrace Gardens, on Monday 30 June.”

The press release soon gets ‘round to the details of what  you are going to give up, like it or not, for this brief event and other concurrent events such as an international market and a parade or two (my comments in square brackets):

“To support the safe management and delivery of this event, a secure event arena will be constructed in and around Union Terrace Gardens from Sunday 29 June. On Sunday [29 June] the east side footway on Union Terrace will be closed to pedestrians to allow the construction of temporary fencing to ensure public safety, to protect the balustrade surrounding the gardens and to create a corridor for emergency services.  

[This temporary fencing/secure arena was a steel curtain over 6’ high – cost:  unknown at present. Why does a little local event need a secure arena?  In the event, it was clear that it didn’t. The city made a meal out of claims the balustrades around the park are unsafe during a referendum on building a horrendous giant, purposeless granite ‘web’ over the gardens. Thankfully this £140 million pound plan eventually met its match. The city finds the balustrades dangerous when it suits them; they are otherwise unguarded, repair specifics remain unknown, and the city happily allows market stalls in the arches directly under the deadly balustrades.]

“…In the interests of public safety, the pavement on Union Terrace will be available for through foot traffic only – no viewing will be allowed from this area. [First of all this was untrue:  No one was allowed to walk down Union Terrace:  it was completely shut off for free access.  I witnessed people being asked to explain why they wanted to walk down this hotel and restaurant lined street. It had been turned into an ‘overflow area’ – which proved to be wholly unneeded. ]

“Union Terrace Gardens will be closed to the public on Monday 30 June to allow preparation work including the construction of a stage. It will re-open at 5pm. [it is a large park; there would have been every chance to have people use the park, but avoid the stage-construction area. But that is far from the worst unnecessary use of muscle in this poorly managed event].

“To ensure public safety the following temporary road closures will be in place [a host of road closures were done for some parades on Union Street lasting a few hours, the baton ‘celebration’ caused closures spanning at least two days for an event which lasted a few hours, and for a market.  How public safety would have been jeopardised is unclear.  What is clear is that ‘to ensure public safety’ is now a stock phrase used whenever the police want carte blanche to carry out any operations, big or small.]

“The public is advised that:

  • there will be no disabled parking in the gardens but disabled spaces will be available at the Denburn car park on a first come, first served basis; [it is just as well the event was so very poorly attended]
  • there will be a disabled viewing area near the front of the stage on a first come, first served basis;
  • both auditoriums in the gardens and on Union Terrace are standing only – no chairs or picnic style furniture will be allowed; [a great boon to the infirm; did the police fear a plastic chair fight? Was the performance of a local choir going to be so inflammatory that rioting would break out?]
  • No animals including dogs except guide dogs will be allowed in Union Terrace Gardens or on Union Terrace during the event; [People were turned away who had dogs with them, they hadn’t seen the city’s press release and sought to use the gardens as per normal. They were in violation of now law, but this arbitrary whim stopped them exercising their rights.  I do like this phrase though ‘no animals including dogs’:  one might think it was given that ‘no animals’ included dogs.  One might also wonder if someone had planned to take their Shetland pony, cats or goldfish.]
  • the public drinking byelaw in Scotland has not been relaxed for the purposes of this outdoor, family event so no alcohol will be permitted within the event arena;
  • keep your belongings safe and close to you and ensure handbags are fastened securely;
  • the weather is changeable so remember to wear appropriate clothing; [for those Aberdonians who need nannying for a two hour event in the city centre]
  • there are no catering facilities at the evening celebration; [off topic, but this was hardly festive, was it?]
  • Aberdeen City Council, Police Scotland and event stewards reserve the right to refuse entry to anyone deemed unfit to participate safely in the event. [no explanations needed; the police and private stewards could have refused anyone entry for any reason at will.]”

The business of security.

It would seem these days that no event in Aberdeen can take place without crowd barriers, private security stewards and a host of police on foot, in cars and vans, and on horseback – and a stack of rules. It is the same in some other cities as well, but this over-policing is very much an Aberdeen phenomenon.

UTG security wallIt is no surprise that the International Festivals for literature, film and performing arts thrive in Edinburgh, not Aberdeen: you would be hard put to have our police allow swarms of tourists to wander vast areas, drink at tables outside pubs and restaurants in busy streets, crowd small public squares and in general allow crowds to freely move.

Local residents may remember the enjoyable Jubilee Tea Party (thanks to the Bothwell family) in Union Terrace

There was a good deal of rain, but lots of music, food and fun: over 3,000 people attended – more than this brief event by all accounts, as the Union Terrace overflow area went virtually unused. There have been other recent events that went off smoothly without as much security.

What entities were responsible for agreeing to the level of security hired in, the police man-hours approved, the steel barrier erected the night before, the decision to turn Union Terrace into an overflow area for 8000 people? Who approve the budget, and how much was actually spent?

One thing is certain, whether on policing, police overtime, and/or private security steward costs:  some stakeholders must have made a fair bit of money for this overly-secured event.

Private security firms are gaining more and more foothold in the public policing sector – running prisons, providing security, escorting prisoners to trial and running young offenders homes: there are millions to be made in the larger arena of private security, and the outcomes are often not good ones. More on that in a future piece.

Another Freedom of Information Failure.

Not a single entity involved in planning the baton event is willing to put its hands up and say how the security arrangements grew so gargantuan, how much of the taxpayer’s money was wasted, how it was agreed to temporarily take away our rights to go about our business and walk our streets or use our gardens.

The City Council, Police Scotland, and the Games organisers were all asked to supply their answers to straightforward questions about budget, numbers of police and private security used, how the private firm was chosen, and so on. Not one of these entities is letting the requested information out.

What correspondence took place to allow this event to be blown out of all proportion?  Aberdeen City Council at present finds it far too wide a question to answer. They were asked questions in mid-July, and there has been no movement from their 24 July position:-

“Under our duty to advise and assist, we would like to take this opportunity to advise you that the following question will likely be refused by ACC under Section 12 – Excessive Cost of Compliance  – of the FOISA, as the relevant services are concerned that the scope of this question would likely exceed the £600 limit.”   (Email from ACC to S Kelly)

The City has recently admitted in a separate FOI request that it has NO document management policy in place, despite there being a statutory duty to have one. Lack of suitable procedure in place notwithstanding, precisely  how a half-day event would have generated so much paperwork that in this electronic age it is not possible to supply the relevant correspondence for less than £600 is hard to understand.

Still, my group and I saw at least 20 police of different ranks, several cars and vans, and at least 20 private security guards. If the lowest-paid police officer is on £ 23,493 pa , the lowest-band for sergeants is £ 36,885 (£768/week), and the lowest pay for an inspector is £ 47,256 (£984/week), we can do some estimations. If that lowest paid officer was on an hourly rate it would be c. £13.97 (£489/week).

Even assuming no overtime rate was paid, then if 20 police spent say 2 hours before the event, 2 hours at the actual event, and one hour after the event (and that’s being rather conservative), then 20 officers at £13.97 per hour for 5 hours equates to  £1397 in salary.

If they had one sergeant and one inspector, at 5 hours that would be £105 for the sergeant and £140 for the inspector.   This minimum total salary figure would then be £1642. The odds are that the real cost will be far, far higher for the police – once we’re finally told what it is.

The police were once forced to disclose that it cost the taxpayer thousands when Donald Trump cancelled a visit to Aberdeen:  the actual cost of police escort from the airport to a hotel or his Menie Estate therefore must be considerably more.  However, the police have never had to explain this further.  How the police manage to skirt many Freedom of Information Requests will be looked at in a future article in this series.

Aside from the cost, it is undeniable that police were milling about to ensure the safety of a stick and some performers from threats such as pet dogs and plastic chairs, while elsewhere in the city crimes go uninvestigated, and people are told ‘there is nothing we can do’ by police when it comes to investigating thefts. Something is wrong. We do need to talk about the police.

Attendance estimates? An 8,000 over-estimate

On the day, people were harassed for trying to get into restaurants and the hotel on Union Terrace. The police had set up an arbitrary no-go zone.

UTG security railings

This was, one has to assume, based on the bizarre projection (god knows made by whom) that some 10,000 people would want to listen to Giz Giz, and see the stick.

Apparently the gardens would close after hitting 2,000 attendees, and up to 8,000 people would be so eager with anticipation for this event that they would want to fit into the giant metal fence enclosure created on Union Terrace with a giant screen on which they could see that baton, or listen to those singers.

It would be interesting to know how those claiming their desire was ‘to ensure the public safety’ thought corralling up to 8,000 people in a giant outdoor wire pen with only one access point was a great idea, or that having only one entrance to the garden open was clever.

One might have thought that some of the dozens of under employed police and guards near HMT could have manned an extra entrance or two rather than standing around idly.

It would be interesting to know how much the giant screen [which Orwell would have shaken his head at] cost the taxpayer as well.

The group I was with on the perimeter of this circus peered down into that veritable cage, and didn’t see a single person. We asked one of the private stewards (who seemed as bemused as we were and agreed it was overstaffed as events go) about it; they had a counter in their hand.  When asked how many people had gone into the overflow area, by the time the event was more than half finished, the steward replied:  15.

Fifteen people in the overflow area; and all around it probably as many more were trying to exercise the freedoms the police had decided to take from them to stage this non-event.  Even those who enjoyed the event would have to admit this was a hugely over-policed, vastly overly regulated waste of resources, namely taxpayer money.

But it served its purpose.  Police Scotland had succeeded in:

*  demonstrating their absolute power over the legitimate rights of ordinary citizens trying to go about their normal, legal business;
*  overestimating greatly the crowd size and security needed – and getting the stakeholders (ACC, games organisers) to allow them to run the show, serving to increase their perceived power and importance;
*  making decisions  impacting on the public purse without the need to explain or justify their obvious overestimation of any possible rational risk assessment;
*  having a hand in recommending private security stewards which were vastly overstaffed on the day;
*  making those who did want to attend the event comply with unnecessary, draconian demands and ingraining obedience above freedoms;
*  having a  hand in unnecessary road closures and having their advice taken, seemingly without question by the local organisers;
*  exercising an apparent desire to take more control than necessary from the public, and having this go unquestioned.

Are the police seeking to get more and more control over our movements, or did they genuinely think that terrorists were going to come to Aberdeen to make a show of power at an event of nearly no significance? If so, what was the evidence?

If security was their one and only goal, which I am sure is the argument they would make, then you have to wonder about the wisdom of corralling people into enclosed spaces with only one access point.

If anything like 4,000 people had gone into the Union Terrace enclosure, and a problem had erupted, it would have resulted in serious injury from any panic as people sought to get out of the space:  this is a very basic safety observation, backed up by past events – and yet not one the police identified. Safety? To some it might seem more like exerting control for the sake of it.

As someone put it to me on the night, ‘they do take the jolly out of everything.’

This has been a brief look at excessive use of muscle and expenditure at our expense. In fact, some of it might seem comical in a way. The following articles in this series will seem far less so.

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Jul 172014

Suzanne Kelly aka Old Susannah gets to grips with current events in the Granite City and wider world as Commonwealth Game fever hits the deen.

DictionaryTally ho! I’ve been doing a bit of travelling lately; I’ve even gone to places so remote that  the Scottish referendum vote isn’t the only subject of conversation. I was on a journalism course, and some very odd ideas were put to the students.

It was suggested that the news  has a responsibility to investigate and report on stories instead of pandering to advertisers and the wealthy. (No, I didn’t see anyone from Aberdeen Journals Ltd. there).

Like everyone else, I could barely contain my excitement when the Torch arrived in Aberdeen.

I saw a restaurateur on the day; he was extremely excited indeed, as the police and security in their wisdom blocked off the street his restaurant was on.

Of course there are a few minor things going on in the deen, like 33 year old Pauline Judge walking scot free from a jail term for distributing child porn images and reports of two girls having their drinks spiked in a local bar.

But no matter, everyone is looking with awe (or something more akin to shock) at the beautiful parade uniforms Scottish athletes will wear in the Commonwealth opening ceremony, is it possible that we should be paying more attention to other issues? Certainly not. However, here are a few definitions for your consideration.

Parade Uniforms: (English Compound Noun) costumes used for marches, displays, events to signify important traits such as nationality, importance, grandeur, pride.

As you’d expect, the main talking point of the week is the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Scotland kit.  It’s breathtaking and memorable while making a statement. Some would say it’s as breathtaking  as being punched in the gut. Visually striking? Unkind critics compare it to being ill on a chintz sofa after downing a bottle of mustard for a drunken bet.

As to this outfit  being  memorable;  well, I suppose a hernia operation  is memorable as well.  I for one think this makes a great statement, and I’m not alone in that. The other person who agrees with me is Jilli Blackwood, the designer who posed for the papers in an equally stylish, classic outfit.

In this all-inclusive age I think it’s wonderful that we’re giving national commissions to people who have no sense of colour.  Competing nations will quiver in fear as our men in blue floral big blouses and sickly mustard orange kilt socks parade. Yes, this tartan and floral mixture conveys the power, strength and winning spirit we want to demonstrate to the competition.

Commonwealth Games: (English Modern compound noun) Collection of sporting events held every 4 years between nations of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Old Susannah understands that some people will spend most of their lives trying to run, jump, skip, or play volleyball better than anyone else in the world. The only thing more wonderful than that is that there are people who will feverently hope the nationality of the world’s best is the same as their own nationality.

To some people this might look like nationalism. But we know it’s all good-natured fun, fun that must be taken very seriously indeed.

having Atos as the partner will let the world know that Atos are really a nice bunch of kind, gentle people

We’ve got the parade uniforms to show the world what we’re all about. I’m sure we’re all equally thrilled about this latest development in the happy progress of the Glasgow games. Sadly, there are a small number of petty people out there who would nit-pick the tiniest details.

Kevin McKenna of the Observer is one such mean-spirited soul:

 “..what a mess they have made of it so far. Events such as this seem to attract a specific strain of humanity: that which is happiest in a uniform, a name badge and making life as difficult as possible for those they are paid to serve. The controversy over the parade uniform is the least of it.

“These people seriously thought it desirable to blow up some of the city’s unlovely but iconic high-rise flats as the centrepiece of the opening ceremony. …despite having had years to prepare for the day, their bizarre ticket-issuing policy led to an online meltdown.

“Driving through one of Glasgow’s edgier neighbourhoods the other day, I encountered evidence of perhaps the most crass and ill-judged action of the Games organisers: the decision to accept Atos as one of the main partners for Glasgow 2014.

“Atos is the outsourcing conglomeration whose fit-for-work tests on behalf of the Tory-led Westminster administration would have been deemed to be unrealistic by the Spartans. …To witness Glasgow 2014 banners bearing the hated Atos logo hanging from lampposts in these streets is simply an insult to residents who have been treated so inhumanely by this shower of government-appointed bovver boys.

“Perhaps when the true extent of the emergency funding of Glasgow 2014 is revealed afterwards we will also get the chance to ask the organisers to justify this decision.”

I’m sure the idea to have an explosion at the opening ceremony was just a bid to make people from war-torn countries feel more at home. I’m equally sure that having Atos as the partner will let the world know that Atos are really a nice bunch of kind, gentle people, and not the barbaric, unscientific, dishonest, cruel, life-ruining profit-driven paperpushers that they might  be mistaken for.

Such a shame that people like McKenna think that these issues are more important than winning medals.

It would be very wrong indeed for anyone to point out that most Commonwealth Games to date have lost colossal amounts of money. If some few millions go missing here, or are spent on some over-inflated construction deals, it will be worth it if ATOS and Scotland’s partnership gets the recognition it deserves.

But the Commonwealth Games in modern times are far greater than an excuse for countries to come together to compete against each other. Just consider the money involved.

Commonwealth Games Values: (Modern English Compound Noun) – the principles and tenets espoused by the Glasgow 2014 Committee.

You have to hand it to them; here is the official mission and value statement from the Games’ website:

“Our mission is to organise and deliver the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in a way that fully realises the aspirations of the Glasgow Bid and the contractual obligations of the Host City Contract, on time and on budget.

“Our Vision is to stage an outstanding, athlete centred and sport focused Games of world-class competition which will be celebrated across the Commonwealth, generate enormous pride in Glasgow and Scotland, and leave a lasting legacy.”

“Our Values – Ours is an inclusive organisation which epitomises the values of integrity, responsibility and endeavour and in which all our people are valued. We will engage our Games partners in the spirit of trust and openness. We will be passionate in our work, and encourage flair and creativity in all that we do”

I have to conclude the bit about ‘integrity and responsibility’ don’t apply to Atos.  As to the bit about the budget, well, Game costs, and here’s where you start paying:

“The OC [organising committee I suppose] has revised its Games budget as a result of the revised security budget which was approved in December 2012.  As the Police Service of Scotland will now have jurisdiction over these resources – and the associated £90 million budget…” 

Yes, that security budget appears to be £90 million pounds. If all of Scotland’s 5 million people attended, the organisers would spend £18 on security for each person.  I’ll bet you feel safer already (and that’s before you get to my photos from the Torch’s arrival in Aberdeen).

If security is only costing us £90 million, then what are the rest of the games budgeted as costing?

“… the OC’s budget is revised.  It now stands at £473m, of which £372m is provided from public funds. £100m will be generated by the OC from commercial activities including ticketing, sponsorship and broadcast rights…” (Ibid.)

Old Susannah is not sure why the police budget is spelled out as £90 million, when in the same paragraph sums of money are shown with the small ‘m’.  Be that as it may, there is a little table showing that the Scottish Government is throwing in a mere £302,117,278 pounds and the city of Glasgow will put in a modest £69,568,337.

It does my heart good to know that those kids queueing up for food bank meals, the pensioners who will be cold this winter, and those workshy people with serious illnesses will be able to watch the Games, knowing it only cost in the region of £371,685,615 – or £441,253,952 in total, or £88 for every living Scottish resident to hold these games.

Bread and circuses – what more can we want? (And no, you can’t have your £88).

And while we’re on the subject of smart, unobtrusive security that doesn’t overwhelm events, let’s look back fondly on the day the torch came to the deen.

Commonwealth Torch: (Modern English Compound Noun) A piece of wood making its way, lit on fire, through Scotland to show the world the Commonwealth Games are about to commence.

UTG security wallThe Stone of Scone, the Royal Jewels… nothing can touch the security that surrounded the day our beloved Torch arrived in Aberdeen. You may not have actually seen the torch, but you would have seen the giant screen, the cordon around UTG of steel barriers.

You would also have seen the serpentine crowd barriers put up to the only entrance to UTG we were allowed to use, it could have held hundreds, but I never saw more than say 20 people in it at once.

Perhaps if they had let people sit down on chairs during the hours of exciting festivities, they would have had more people.

UTG event entry securityI will try and find out, but it’s likely the city will have paid for all the policing, security, crowd barriers and anti-personnel missiles used to make this the relaxed, social, fun event it was. More here, including helpful information for Aberdonians that the weather here can be changeable. The things you learn.

Closing Union Terrace itself was a stroke of genius; the police/security estimated this would be needed when the gardens reached over 3,000 visitors, and 10,000 people would come to watch the giant screen.

Funny,  none of the police seemed to want to comment, but some of the paid security were unfairly critical of the extent of the security used. Obviously we did not allow anyone to bring plastic folding chairs into UTG – a riot would clearly have ensued. Likewise no catering was involved, and obviously no pets could be brought to this highly prestigious, fun, family event.

I’m sure it was all planned perfectly, with just the right amount of inconspicuous security. Others might wonder whether this was an excuse to test what level of security the public will put up with, to see how far policing can go. Some might wonder whether this was a sad display of over-inflated ego and pomposity on the police’s part.

UTG security railingsWe must remember how important this event was, and using this level of security for a stick of wood, for a few people in silly looking kilts and the odd pole vaulter, then were do we go when we need heightened security for real?

Is the idea to make local governments spend this kind of money on security for events (however important or unimportant), thus creating new marketing opportunities for Rapiscan Sytems and their ilk? Are we going totalitarian? Answers in an encrypted email please.

Since ‘transparency’ is one of the goals of the organisers, no doubt they will answer my questions about money, uniforms and security any day now.

Until then, happy Commonwealth Games.

Next week:  Big brother is watching, and keeping data permanently – all in the name of merchandising. More on this Inspired level of snooping then.

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Jun 132014

Old Susannah’s news round up of current events local and larger, online and offline. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryNow that summer has arrived, things are heating up, at least in Aberdeen Town Hall, and on Facebook. There are a mere 99 days to go before the referendum on Scotland’s future. I for one will be sad to see the end of the friendly debates, good humoured disagreements, and logical discourse.

One or two interesting memes have made the rounds on Facebook (memes are digital posters, usually pictures and text, trying to prove something, to mislead, or just to promote laughter. Hard to tell with some of them what the desired result is).

More on that later.

Rick Mayall has passed away; an alternative comic who packed a heck of a lot into his 56 years.  The Young Ones, Bottom and The New Statesman were among his great comic works.

If you missed The New Statesman, it followed the life of the fictional MP Alan B’Stard.  B’Stard the MP was elitist, completely dishonest, devious, greedy, self-centred,  egotistical, ambitious beyond his talents, and cared for no one but himself.  As such, it will be hard for any of us today to imagine such an MP  could exist, but it was a hilarious series at the time.

Enjoy some of Mr Mayall’s best moments here.

In a surprising development – literally a development – those nice people at Muse want to move the goal posts on their St Nicholas House project. Actually they don’t want to move the goal posts; they want to move (or remove) bits and  pieces of Provost Skene’s House to make their shiny new office complex even more spectacular and original than it already is.

Provost Skene’s House is after all not as pretty as a glass box, and it’s very inconveniently located. You might think that since 2,500 people all contributed to a public consultation that this is a bit late in the day to start dismantling Provost Skene’s footprint. After all, it’s not as if a public consultation in this city would ever be disregarded.

Of course, there was the biased ‘consultation’ on the short list of 6 designs for Union Terrace Gardens; we were not allowed to vote for leaving the gardens alone.

Then again, there was the consultation for 6 possible routes for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. Tens of thousands of pounds were spent on roadshows displaying the proposals, the public voted on these routes – and then at the end of the day, a brand new route was invented to cut through the greenbelt (what’s left of it) and chosen with no public say.

Then there was the public consultation on planting a tree for every citizen.

The slight problem there was that the city planned in advance to exterminate a herd of deer to plant the trees on a rubbish tip where a previous attempt had failed and cost £43,800, and the city decided  not to burden the public with these minor details during the consultation, and when the fact came out at last, they refused to listen to the 3500 people and community councils that objected.

Sustainable Development refers to building thousands of homes in boring greenbelt land

Yes, a consultation is an important exercise to go through here in Aberdeen. If you do want to comment on Muse’s plans for Provost Skene’s house, I’m sure your views will be listened to (I’m sure this consultation will be different); you can do so here (just put in reference number 140755.

The responsible department is aptly called ‘Planning and Sustainable Development’.

The word ‘Planning’ refers to all the well thought out, expertly organised projects that never deviate from the approved designs (from the council house car garages that were too small to get out of your car if you drove into them to the approval of hundreds of homes by the Haudagain Roundabout).

Sustainable Development refers to building thousands of homes in boring greenbelt land while the city centre disused brown field sites sit empty, adding character to the area. So what if there are no thoughts given to infrastructure and the roads come to a standstill? We will be a sprawling (urban sprawling) metropolis before you know it.

There is the little matter of our air pollution continuing to worsen, our C02 production is increasing, and our health suffering.   But we’ll be making money.

But there is some good news:  Michael Gove is going to punish parents if their children are not ready to learn and don’t show respect!   Result!

Even better, we are going to teach children British Values (perhaps this term will need its own column to be sufficiently defined). It’s hard to understand why young people don’t respect authority figures. A few teachers have turned out to be child abusers, woeful incompetents and/or would-be brainwashers, but that can’t be the cause of any disrespect or mistrust, can it?

Perhaps we could ask some of our MPs why young people have problems respecting authority figures.  We can’t ask UKIP Man Colin Brewer why he recommended putting disabled children down as if they were deformed livestock; he’s passed away.  It would have been nice to get his perspective on respect.

We could have asked Maria Miller, former MP and Culture Secretary for her expert opinion on youth culture – but unfortunately she’s spending more time with her family after deciding to resign, coincidentally she was involved in an expenses fiddle, and allegedly intimidating a journalist.

 this book has something to do with ideas like truth, justice, racial equality and fairness

We could ask elder Statesman Tony Blair to write something up on the matter; after all, his creative writing flair turned a fairly tame dossier into a terrifying call to war, when he did a bit of editing, and told us that Iraq was able to hit us with chemical weapons within 45 minutes (Perhaps I shouldn’t include the Iraq War – look how well that turned out for the Iraqi citizens after all).

Pity no one ever found those weapons of mass destruction that were meant to be pointing at us.

There are, as you can see, plenty of role models to inspire young people to respect authority figures. Let’s punish those parents, and ban a few books while we’re at it. Gove of course has got rid of a few books of late from the curriculum, including some obscure work called To Kill A Mockingbird.

Apparently this book has something to do with ideas like truth, justice, racial equality and fairness. Doubt there is room or need for such a book these days.

Anyway, on with some definitions, based on some memes doing the rounds on Facebook

Simile: (Eng. noun) comparison between equal items – such as ‘breakfast is to morning as lunch is to afternoon’

It’s great when you come across really clever memes using simile for comparing things.  One such meme that has been doing the rounds for at least 15 months is pictured below. The source of this one is difficult to pin down, but surely it can’t be anyone connected with either advertising or the tobacco lobby.

The idea is that putting images of diseases caused by smoking on cigarette packs is exactly the same as putting pictures of animal experiments on cosmetics labels, or obese people on fast food wrappers, or deeds of crooked politicians on tax returns.

As really clever as this might seem at first, alas!  There are just a few problems with the simile being used.

In the first place, if we are to look at cigarettes, cosmetics, fast food and politicians, you might conclude that only one of these things is: a.  always damaging to your health, b.  harms those around you, and c.  has no redeeming health benefits at all.  (No, I don’t mean politicians, I mean cigarettes).

It has been possible for decades to buy cosmetics that aren’t tested on animals, and Europe has pretty much called time on animal experiments for cosmetics (but note – dogs and other animals are often made to inhale tobacco smoke in remarkably cruel, unnecessary experiments).

Moving swiftly along, fast food and alcohol are not instantly harmful (but should be ingested in reasonable quantities), but as the WHO will tell you, all smoke is hazardous not only to the smoker, but those around them. Sorry, this meme may look very clever at first, but it is completely illogical.

Then there are rather more sinister memes. Two London murder victims are compared side by side.

Why was there no monument for one, and for the other all sorts of awards given to the relatives? How unfair this looks at first glance.

The two being compared are murdered black UK citizen Stephen Lawrence, and murdered UK soldier Lee Rigby. Both were innocent of any wrongdoing; both were brutally, senselessly murdered.

How unfair that Lawrence’s memory and family were treated differently – or so you were supposed to think. Happily, the men who executed Rigby were immediately caught and brought to trial. What this little, innocent-looking meme conveniently overlooks is that Lawrence’s family, witnesses and friends were put through hell by the police.

The investigation overlooked vital clues, which were allowed to be destroyed by those implicated. The police spied on and tried to discredit witnesses.

The cover-up that was attempted was thwarted in no small part by the courage and dedication of the Lawrence family. Perhaps the nice people who created this meme just didn’t know about the Lawrence case background? After all, they have a lovely-sounding name, ‘Britain First’.

Britain First: (English proper name) – a social media force known for racism.

The D-Day anniversary came, and with it came stories of heroism, the scale of the human tragedy of battle – and memes from Britain First. Many people shared these memes without checking what group was behind them, and in doing so swelled the Britain First viewing figures and popularity stakes.

Thankfully we now also have on Facebook ‘Exposing Britain First’ – a group combating the propaganda war that Britain First is waging.  Old Susannah finds Britain First using WWII commemorations just a bit confusing: Britain First seems to want us to overlook the small fact their racist, nationalist values are exactly what the soldiers Britain First posts about were fighting against.

Unionist Alliance: (English fictional proper noun) – a supposed group of organisations opposed to Scottish Independence.

This meme popped up on Facebook, using what looked like logos from a wide range of groups from the BNP and UKIP through the Conservatives, LibDems and Labour.

It was headed Unionist Alliance.  People saw this and shared it, with suitably outraged comments against Labour for joining this alliance – only it doesn’t exist.

I tracked down the originator, who then told me ‘it was an illustration’ and not a real alliance.

Pity those who saw it didn’t have that information. The Labour Logo was also altered in this odd meme. Labour are looking into it, as may be other parties.

Wimbledon Rules: (Eng. compound noun) – rules for those attending tennis matches on how to dress, act and not to wave banners or flags.

So – what’s wrong with Alex Salmond waving a giant saltire when Cameron can wave a flag at the Olympics?

Alas, they are different events with different rules. So, comparing what’s allowed at Wimbledon with what’s allowed elsewhere isn’t particularly logical.

I guess the creator of this one, who hasn’t answered my messages yet, will let us know if he was in the dark about the Wimbledon rules, widely publicised at the time of Salmond’s social gaffe.

So – be careful what you believe, who’s trying to get you to share their memes, and do look into things before jumping to the conclusions you’re being led to.

Next week: Send in any memes you want to have looked at; there are plenty out there.

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Jan 242014

Voice’s Old Susannah writes from New York and looks at the ‘Deen from a slightly different perspective. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryGreetings from New York, which I guess is also a bit of a city of culture like Aberdeen is. A foot of snow fell here yesterday, which has led to strange sights. Trucks spreading salt and grit were immediately deployed to major highways and bridges. Ploughs worked round the clock clearing the major roads, then the smaller ones. Most schools were closed almost immediately after the snow was forecast. Things got stranger though.

City and town governments worked to ensure public pavements were cleared. Police were out warning motorists which streets shouldn’t be used yet, and news broadcasts gave on the spot updates.

Furthermore, recorded messages went out to all residents, telling them not to go out if they didn’t have to, advising of changes in trash collection times and so on. These recorded messages reminded people of both emergency and non-emergency telephone numbers.

Neighbours telephoned each other to see if anyone was in need of help or food. People got out and shovelled snow, ensuring that the walkways were all clear. New York, it’s a helluva town. I fondly remembered the past Aberdeen City administration, which ran out of grit, which it said was very expensive. Good times.

Perhaps a few New York and Aberdeen comparison related definitions are called for, all things considered I think New York City and State could learn much from  Aberdeen City and Shire.

Municipal Park: (Eng. compound noun) open ground, forest, beach, and other areas owned, run and managed by the public sector.

Long Island is a long, thin island perpendicular to New York. It may be fairly built up close to Manhattan with Queens being densely populated, but there is still scope for development. It has over 60,000 acres of beach, forest, meadow and woodland people can roam. However, I took a long walk on a beach, and I hardly saw any other people: this means land is being wasted.

There is a famous green space called Sunken Meadow, but I can’t find word of any plans to raise it to street level and build a public square on it.

Even without building a granite web, monolith or glass worms being built, tourists and locals seem to want to spend time playing, walking, exercising and indulging in sports in outdoor locations. Much of this land has been designated ‘protected open space’, which means no one can build on it, even if they have lots of money. I guess Long Island is closed for business and not very forward looking.

Donald Trump bid to do some work at Jones Beach

There is no local development plan created by planners and builders, and taxpayers seem to get a say what will happen.

Of course planning should be left to professional house builders, unelected groups like ACSEF and elected officials who instantly become planning experts after elections, just like we do back in Aberdeen.

Long Island has a private trust which works with the government to protect the green spaces; somehow these people cling to the idea that green spaces are good for tourism, public health, surrounding businesses and air quality.

Donald Trump bid to do some work at Jones Beach; initially an art deco building was going to be redeveloped. For decades there was a public restaurant on the beach, and Trump was going to come in, dig several more underground stories (on the beach, which sounds really exciting), and modestly call it ‘Trump on the Ocean’.  But Hurricane Sandy was given as the reason for the project falling through.

Oddly enough, other local businesses and structures managed to come back from the storm, but it proved too much for Trump. According to the Huffington Post at the time:

“The billionaire real estate mogul has abandoned plans to build a controversial $24 million catering hall called Trump On The Ocean because it’s, well, on the ocean, Newsday reports. Developers and state park officials are calling it quits on the restaurant, which was planned for New York’s Jones Beach park, citing concerns over future storm damage after the current foundation flooded.”

So, it seems that building on sandy coastlines that are occasionally hit by storms can be difficult, and moving sand and storms are sound reasons for Trump to cease construction plans and abandon promised developments. I’ll be glad to be back in Aberdeenshire where such a thing couldn’t happen.

Meanwhile back in the Deen, officials have commented on the news that the remains (legs actually) of deer were found on Tullos Hill and on Kincorth Hill earlier in January. The police were swift to correct a source who reported five deer had been killed on Tullos Hill; it was only four – you’ll all be as relieved as I am to know it’s a mere four, not five butchered deer.

With regards to the deer leg found on Kincorth Hill though, things get stranger. The person who found the leg ran into someone who claimed to be a ranger – but the ranger service claim no rangers were in the area.

it preserved the original external wall with its interesting architecture

Whether the deer were chased with dogs, shot, or otherwise killed and how much suffering was involved remains a mystery, but no doubt our ranger service and police will pull out all the stops to find out what’s going on and protect our wildlife.

You know, the wildlife that had no ‘natural predators’ according to our city officials and Aileen Malone, so that they had to be shot for the trees to be planted. At least we’ll soon have a beautiful source of lumber –  sorry community forest – that deer can live in, created by killing the existing deer and removing most of the gorse they could have potentially hidden in from whoever is killing them.

So, another ‘Well Done’ goes to those on the tree scheme. Cheers chaps. No doubt you’ll get some more awards soon.


Old Susannah visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the admission fees are optional, and dozens of schools were visiting. Oddly, there was construction work taking place to keep the building in good repair. There had been an extension built; this was a high ceiling extension with one glass side; it preserved the original external wall with its interesting architecture, yet made a nice large space for modern art.

It would of course been much more hip and happening if they had plunked a giant rectangular building on top of the existing structure, but it took Aberdeen to think of such a concept. In fact, the whole area is part of a historical district and local residents participate in preserving and celebrating the area.

Strangely, this was a natural evolution based on the artists who practiced in the area, the galleries, the high quality of the architecture and so on. If New York were better organised though, it would have a few dozen different groups, quangos and initiatives assigning names to different quarters arbitrarily, and then changing these names around every time a new shop or gallery opens or (more likely) closes.

See you in Aberdeen’s cultural quarter when I’m back – I’ll just have to figure out if it’s still on Holburn Street this week, or if the powers that be have moved it back to the HMT area or not.

I’ll definitely be in the Merchant Quarter to soak up the promised café culture.

“Described as the “beat and soul of Aberdeen” it offers some of the best dining experiences in Aberdeen, contemporary clothing shops and live music venues.” 

There are dozens and dozens of small museums in New York State; many of these smaller ones are run by volunteers, and supported by private and public funds. Even the less profitable museums are retained because they are cultural assets. In short, these places and their collections should be sold to make more money. Raynam Hall for instance is a small white colonial house with exhibitions from the Revolutionary War.

Fundraising would not have worked here in one of Scotland’s richest cities

It’s small, there are no rides, and there’s not even a giant parking lot. The permanent collection will never be broken up, and for some reason local schools make cultural trips and take students to see Raynam Hall and other museums as part of their education. Sounds expensive to me.

Back in Aberdeen, we realise the value of our culture. We sell it. Thomas Glover House wasn’t pulling in enough money, so in 2012 its trustees sold furniture. As the Scotsman reported:

“Councillor John Reynolds, a former Lord Provost of Aberdeen who is one of the Glover house trustees, explained: ‘There was no money coming in and the curator had to go and the place had to close. And for the last two years the building has just been kept wind and water tight.

‘We had two options – either to sell the building or negotiate with the council for them to take it over. And that is where we are this moment in time.”

Mr Reynolds continued:

“We had to clear the place to save on the business rates which were quite exorbitant. We sold some of the period furniture – none of it Glover’s – which we had bought for the house and we put the important items we had collected into storage’.”

By the way, Glover was a little-known figure who opened up a small country named Japan to the western world; he was also involved in founding a small company called Mitsubishi. The house has been closed for two years. Yes, I guess in a poor city like Aberdeen John Reynolds was right – there were only two options – sell parts of the collection or close.

Fundraising would not have worked here in one of Scotland’s richest cities; applying for grants and loans from public and private sectors here and in Japan would not have been an option, either. Better not to have tried. But there is good news.

Glover made history; he introduced two cultures to each other, brought new art and design to the west, and made numerous contributions to Japan and Scotland. Therefore it is only fitting that his old house is to be relaunched as:

“a temple of good economic relations between Scotland and the Land of the Rising Sun.”

So, forget the Glover-related history, artwork, culture, etc. What we really need is a temple to economic relations.

If there is one thing that we do worship in Aberdeen, it is economics. Pity they didn’t think of turning Glover’s house into a temple to money earlier; no doubt that would have got the attention of Aberdeen’s great and good. Perhaps a Temple to Mammon could be built over UTG as well. There’s no word yet what form of worship will take place in the ‘Glover Temple to Economic Relations’, but I’ll keep you posted.

when the structures have sufficiently rotted, the land can finally be used for new offices or housing

In summary, New York has many small museums which get grants from the public and private sectors. School visits to these places help support their upkeep, and children get to experience the past and their culture first hand – they should of course be learning how to pass exams instead.

Such museums preserve aspects of culture and history, instead of being ‘forward looking’ and take up valuable land which could be developed instead.

By contrast, Aberdeen, the would-be city of culture, is a bit light on such field trips, has high business rates, and allows people to flog the contents of its historic buildings which are left to rot like Glover’s house and Westburn House; in a few years, when the structures have sufficiently rotted, the land can finally be used for new offices or housing.

New York’s government supports museums large and small, and I’m not at all sure if they even have a version of ACSEF at all.  Aberdeen instead pours money into worthwhile successes like ACSEF, which have the talent that’s made our retail sector what it is today.

We spend our tax money on really important things like bidding to be City of Culture and paying consultants to come up with great new city of culture proposed events like ‘gigs on rigs’ and the concert on the Dee which was to feature ships’ horns, water and horses, while our existing museums close.

It’s worth mentioning that there is one organically growing sector with a geographical area not planned out by ACSEF or Inspired: The Beermuda triangle is a reality. BrewDog and the Moorings started it with their copious selections of great craft brews; Six Degrees North and latterly Casc have opened their doors to take advantage of the growing interest in beer and the resultant potential for revenue.

This happened without any ACSEF think tanks, no outside consultants, and not even Rita Stephen. We’ve got a mini cultural/retail happening, and it’s happening because of a few innovators.  Who knows? Maybe the Beermuda Triangle will make it onto the official ‘quarters’ map one of these days.

Newspaper: (Eng. plural noun) a printed publication containing current events, stories; recent history as well as advertisements and editorials.

Old Susannah has been keeping up with the exciting news from Aberdeen as well as the more mundane New York goings on.

Here in New York, the papers vary widely in political outlook, making it very confusing to know what you should think on an issue. The New York Times, Newsday, The New York Daily News, The New York Post and a few other such minor publications vary widely in outlook, and not too many of these have lots of cute pictures of babies or newlyweds taking up the first few pages of the news.

The stories in newspapers such as the NYT and Newsday can’t be up to much; most of their pieces are available free online. You can subscribe to Newsday for instance and get both a paper copy and the full online version for just about the same cost of getting the web content of the Press & Journal (now a bargain at 1 year: £129.99).

Worse still, most of the New York newspapers print letters from readers on different sides of an issue, thus confusing readers. I can find no traces in New York’s newspapers of ‘Happy Tots’ competitions, and no articles at all about the important work ACSEF does or what its members’ opinions are. It’s as if the New York papers don’t pay attention to the important international news at all.

All in all, we have two interesting cities with coastal areas, meadows, forests, interesting architecture, and a mix of cultures. One city preserves its green spaces and historic buildings at all costs, spends money on ensuring children’s education includes culture, history and arts, has a wide range of newspapers giving different points of view, and favouring citizen-led initiatives to naturally shape policy and where culture and arts evolve naturally with public and private support.

Here’s hoping that New York will forget all that nonsense soon, and start thinking like our quangos and governments do here.

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Jan 162014

1003366_10201330766168277_548936980_nSuzanne Kelly interviews controversial local campaigner and activist Chad West-MacGregor

Chad MacGregor is a young local activist who supports the Conservative party and who campaigned for building in Union Terrace Gardens.

Following recent developments, he met with Suzanne Kelly for an interview.


Chad MacGregor may be known to those who follow political issues in Aberdeen; he is something of an activist for his young age. He was a supporter of the Granite Web scheme, and organised last year’s ‘protest against Aberdeen City Council.’ He is an outspoken campaigner, and has lately been working on a few projects for the Tory party, such as a website.

He hails from Torry, has lived and worked in the US, and for the record it happens that he is gay.

He has courted controversy online and is very outspoken to say the least. His language online can be provocative and peppered with four letter words. However, this hardly marks him out from the millions of other internet users in his age group.

So how did he find himself the subject of two Press & Journal articles, following his tweet which referred to SNP celebrity supporters as being ‘lefty Z-list celebrities?’ How accurate are these articles, how newsworthy are they, and could there have been any ulterior motive in their publication? What are MacGregor’s actual views, given that the internet has a host of contradictory, often inflammatory and offensive remarks attributed to him?

Chad’s activism has been known to me for some time now; his stance on the future of UnionTerraceGardens is pretty much in direct opposition to mine. I have seen contentions remarks – and a dubious image or two on his Facebook page, and elsewhere on social media. Quite frankly he is, on the face of it, someone I’ve not been able to understand.

One social media site has comments under his name with a photo, and other sites have completely contradictory opinions also attributed to him. However, I’d not given him much thought, until the Press & Journal ran two articles this week.

The first article came out on 6 January; it was written by Frank Cassidy. In part it reads:-

“Chad MacGregor, who claimed to be the party’s campaign manager in the city, branded presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli and actor Alan Cumming “lefty, Z-list celebrities” on Twitter.   The former Aberdeen Youth Council member went on to accuse comedian Janey Godley, a former Scotswoman of the Year nominee, of being a poor role model for her daughter, Ashley Storrie, after she waded into the row. Mr MacGregor removed his Twitter profile last night after rejecting Mr Singh Kohli’s request for an apology.”
– Press & Journal 6 January 2014

If the above paragraph made me wonder, then the follow-up article by Kenneth Watt forced me to do some research. On 7th January Watt wrote:-

“The Conservative group on Aberdeen City Council was said to be “all over the place” last night as a split emerged following online comments by a local party member… Group leader Fraser Forsyth insisted at the time that Mr MacGregor was not a party official. However, a new Aberdeen Conservative website launched yesterday, names Mr MacGregor as a campaigns organiser for the local executive committee.”
– Press & Journal 10 January 2014

MacGregor’s politics and views are more often than not the polar opposite to mine. However, these two stories and the paragraphs above made me wonder about a few things. A search of the internet made things more confusing: contradictory posts on a host of issues, the twitter messages, all of these pointed to a young man who ran hot one day and cold the next, who had great political ambition one moment, then appeared to be shooting himself in the foot the next. Who was this guy?

If he is a party official of some sort (and he is pictured, as a student, visiting the PM as part of a delegation), then his actions recalibrated the definition of self-destructive. I sent him a tweet.

An Interview with Chad:

In the past when I have uncovered political figures in contradictory or compromising statements, the responses to my contacting them tend to be dismissal and deflection, lack of response, and on more than one occasion threats of everything from legal action to my being reported to the Scottish Football Association (a long story). Chad however got straight back to me after I tweeted.

I sent him a list of some of the inflammatory, contradictory and just plain bizarre comments I’d found attributed to him. Was he going to sue or threaten? No, he suggested we meet to discuss.

I asked whether or not he was a party official.

“I am just a volunteer; I’m studying design and I’m good with computers. I made a website.”

We talk about the website Kenneth Watt referred to, which is not an official Conservative party site. It does list MacGregor as part of this grassroots group’s executive. The website clearly explains:-

“We are a voluntary organisation within the city which is solely funded by local party membership, subscriptions, donations and fund-raising events. We are open to all and everyone is welcome to join us or attend our campaigning or social events. We support the Scottish Conservative Party in a number of different ways.”

The Watt article doesn’t really explain what the website is about. Then again, the Watt article doesn’t tell you who Kenneth Watt is. Perhaps all P&J readers know that Watt is a Labour party member who, like his former Youth Council peer MacGregor, is a fairly active campaigner on local issues.

“The Press & Journal seems biased – Ken is a Labour man. After the second (Watt’s) article, people asked me ‘Why is Kenneth writing for the P&J?’ (The paper was hardly on Labour’s side over the web or in the present). I am most disappointed this made headlines; it must have been a very dry time for news.”

I think this is a very interesting question indeed, and one that made me wonder about the slant of this whole story, which after all is that a young activist conservative unionist tweeted that ‘Z list’ celebrities were being brought out to support the SNP, and that many tweets followed. It was hardly the twitter storm of the century. Indeed, neither side of the tweets show their authors in a great light.

Jane Godley’s tweets are certainly no more befitting a SNP spokesperson’s than this twenty-something activist with no official party role. She displays a good command of some four letter words and seems to have got stuck into the fray – but this is not reflected in the P&J articles.

However, if MacGregor was a party official of some sort, then age notwithstanding, he’s posted some extremely unwise remarks that would have reflected badly on his party. I ask if he wants a career in politics.

“Who would want to be a politician? If I were a councillor or someone who had a role, I’d have an obligation [about what to tweet and post]. I don’t see why anyone would want that kind of scrutiny. But I do think everyone should be active. These are times of austerity and drastic changes. Many people have become disillusioned.”

Cautionary Tales:

We talk about some social media sites. Either the man has some mental health issues and holds opposing views at the same time, or someone has made at least one or two fake accounts in his name in the past.

“I wrote to one of the social media sites when I learned about some of these posts, but have heard nothing back.”

It seems clear that there are comments out there attributed to him, which have nothing to do with him; he is concerned about them, and is continuing to try and do something about them. I contacted one of the social media sites in question on this matter, and likewise have had no response.

Why a Tory:

Chad was raised in Torry, where there is one elected Tory city councillor. It is not exactly the hotbed of conservatism. Chad explains that when his mother was struggling to bring up her children, it was a Tory party member who gave her practical advice and helped her find the best solutions for the family; he still feels that loyalty.

Don’t believe everything you read

We have two Press & Journal articles; one written by MacGregor’s fellow former Youth Council member who is active in Labour. The article makes no mention of this political affiliation and the clear conflict between Conservative and Labour inherent in Watt’s approach.

But then again, the P&J doesn’t see fit to explain the cosy relationship between its editor Damian Bates and his wife’s role at Trump International Golf Links Scotland: there are no stories about the problems on the estate, no stories on Trump’s beleaguered empire, and nothing but praise (6 out of 6) for the club’s restaurant.

The Watt article quotes several Tories as to what MacGregor’s role is, making it seem as if the party cannot even get that right. The website Watt refers to makes all quite clear; the website address was not part of the story, making it a bit difficult for people to easily get to the heart of the matter.

In the Cassidy article, the author claims in the paragraphs previously quoted that:

“Chad MacGregor, who claimed to be the party’s campaign manager in the city”

MacGregor made no such claim. If journalist Cassidy could not understand the difference between the website Chad worked on and the Conservative party, it is worrying.

Cassidy also claims that Chad removed his twitter profile. It is still there for all to see, complete with some choice words from some of the celebrities. For that matter, if Chad chooses to see these people as ‘Z list’, as a private person who is also a political activist, who is to deny him that right?

Chad and I are very different, but it has been an interesting meeting. I don’t agree with his politics nor he with mine – but this very odd, skewed P&J reporting has us both wondering. Precisely what the P&J is attempting to do in this case is a good question.  Perhaps they will explain once this piece is published.

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