Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stop the Shipment

I've just signed an on-line petition regarding the shipment of arms currently trying to get to Zimbabwe.

This ship carrying arms, including 3 million rounds of ammunition, bound for Zimbabwe is currently trying to find a way of delivering its deadly cargo. It is highly likely that these weapons will be used to fuel violence, killings and intimidation in Zimbabwe’s growing political crisis.

The Chinese ship, carrying 77 tonnes of arms and ammunition has been forced to leave the South African port of Durban after dockers refused to unload the shipment and a judge ruled that the weapons could not be transported across South Africa.

The ship is now trying to find another dock in order to unload its weapons and transport them to landlocked Zimbabwe. These 6 containers of arms must be offloaded from this ship and immediately impounded to stop them being sent to Zimbabwe. There is only a matter of days to stop this arms shipment. Please help stop this shipment.

Click here to sign the online petition to help stop the Zimbabwe arms shipment. The International Action Network on Small Arms will deliver the petition to the chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the governments of countries in the region with a port, including Angola, DR Congo, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania.

This shipment should never have been authorised in the first place. All governments must take action to strengthen controls on the international arms trade to prevent irresponsible arms deals such as this one fuelling conflicts, poverty and human rights abuses around the world.

Will I or Won't I Vote?

There's a question I never thought I would ask myself. With the elections only a week and a bit away I don't yet know whether or not I will be voting. I know that I won't be voting for a specific candidate - the Conservative Party have put two leaflets through my door since last year's election, both this week and one which was missing its second side. I just can't bring myself to vote Lib Dem even though the candidate is a good guy. I just wouldn't even consider voting for UKIP. So I have no candidate to vote for.

The question now is do I walk to the polling station and spoil my ballot paper? Part of me says absolutely I have to do this - voting isn't only a right, it's a duty and if we don't vote as individuals we have no cause for complaint. The other part of me isn't so sure. If I feel that the political system doesn't care for me, offer me a candidate I want to vote for or does anything to inspire my action why should I offer the victors legitimacy?

If I spoil my ballot paper (carefully, these people know how to claim a spoiled ballot paper as a legitimate vote) I have taken part in the election, increased the turnout yet my protest is not registered. If I don't show up then the turnout reflects my lack of support for any of the candidates. Although I will be classed as lazy and uncaring. I am neither, I wrote to my councillors this year about an issue which I felt strongly about. One replied saying she agreed completely with me but nothing else, one sent me a copy of the council's press release on the issue and the third didn't bother to reply. I copied this letter to the leader of the council, I didn't get a reply. Who is lazy and uncaring? Me or them?

Still, the thought of not using my vote is alien to me and now I'm left with a really difficult choice. Will I or Won't I vote this year?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Over-commercialisation, surly service, annoying neds - Welcome to Scotland

Like most people I don't pay attention to the tourist attractions near where I live and work. I walk along the Embankment at 5.30 every night and get grumpy with the tourists stopping to look at the big building across the river. Why are so many people interested in the Houses of Parliament? It was the same when I lived in Glasgow. A view of the Campsies from the living room window? Unimpressive. Less than an hour to Loch Lomond? Dull. When I was home for a few days last week we decided to be a bit touristy and go for a day out to Loch Lomond and Luss.

And we were faced with somewhere we wouldn't want to go back to. We got to Balloch and were faced by a hideous over-commercialisation of one of the most beautiful sites in Scotland. Noisy buskers, fairground rides, hot dog stands, a "petting zoo" (why show your children the nature in front of them when an animal in a cage will do?) and buildings along the shore spoiling the bloody view. We endured the spectacle of a sheepdog chasing a group of ducks around squealing children and a forest of mirrors.

The loch itself had rubbish floating in it and there were no walks signposted around the shore. I accept that there has to be some degree of commercialisation with gift shops/tea shops etc but it seems that the Loch has become the backdrop to a funfair rather than the main focus of the area.

So from a disappointing Balloch we moved onto Luss. Which was much nicer. Kind of. We went into the only pub in the village for lunch. Messy tables, scowling waitress, being told they couldn't make a cappuccino for us yet the people at the next table getting theirs and a half hour wait for a sandwich all made this a less than welcoming establishment. Although the food was really nice.

Then to a little walk along the pier, where a gang of neds were throwing each other around, drinking cheap lager, swearing loudly and slagging off the area. They weren't being aggressive to other pier users but their presence did make others feel uncomfortable and several people turned on their heels and left the pier. Couple this with the abuse that (another) gang of neds were shouting at a group of young asians Luss wasn't really that appealing either.

The tourism industry should be alive and vibrant in Scotland, but from what I saw our natural resources just aren't being cared for and developed properly. I hope that the powers that be aren't just relying on a good reputation. It won't last long.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Commemorating Rwanda

Today is the 14th anniversary of the first day of the genocide in Rwanda. In just 100 days nearly 1 million people were murdered. The victims were mostly Tutsis, but there were many Hutus who stood up against the genocide murdered as well.

In 1994 the international community, despite the pleas of UN commander on the ground Romeo Dallaire, stood by and did nothing to stop the frenzy of violence.

The genocide is not over though. Approximately 21,000 survivors are still without shelter, women and girls raped are being denied justice and are dying of AIDS, and doubts exist over the role of the gacaca (local courts)and their ability to deliver justice.

We must remember the victims of the genocide in Rwanda, and use these memories to push our government about tackling genocide in Darfur and Burma.

Useful Links

Survivors' Fund
Hope Survivors Foundation
Romeo Dallaire Speech

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Olympic Torch

I have very mixed views on the protests surrounding the Olympic torch relay through London today.

China is undoubtedly guilty of mass human rights abuses, some of which - including the silencing of protests on Tibet and the treatment of construction workers - have been exacerbated rather than eased by the Olympics being awarded to Beijing.

It's quite obvious that the IOC should never have awarded the Olympics to China in the first place.

Having said that - I feel very uneasy about the protests that are taking place today. I believe firmly that the Olympic ideal can and does exist. I always cry at the opening ceremony especially when all the athletes come in and the torch is lit. There are thousands of competitors from across the world who have been working for years to achieve their goals, and more importantly there are thousands of young people who want to look ahead to London 2012. By attacking the torch and trying to douse it no damage is being done to China - only to the participants and viewers of the Olympics. By refusing to attend the opening ceremony Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are showing a huge lack of respect for those representing their own nations.

I'm also quite concerned about the police presence for what was - in essence - a publicity stunt for a foreign nation and sponsors of the Olympics. I would love to see that many police on the street catching muggers. Miraculously all the paperwork that normally keeps the cops busy was missing today and they were free to rugby tackle demonstrators. Always a good show.

Like I say - I'm a huge fan of the Olympics so to see it brought into disrepute the way it has been today is a sad event. I hope that Tessa Jowell and Gordon Brown took the opportunity to strongly condemn his it government's behaviour to the Chinese Ambassadoe - but I very much doubt.

For a great piece defending the protests go to today's Sunday Times.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Clashing Calculators

I'm wondering how long it will take the SNP to realise that you can't continue to cut taxes, freeze taxes, cut charges and not face the bitten arse of cutting services too.

As regular readers and friends will know I'm in a constant state of flux on my opinions on independence - I think Scotland could be a successful independent country, but I'm yet to be convinced of the need.

I've been really impressed by some of the work of the new Scottish Government and I think Alex Salmond is genuinely the best person for the job of First Minister, but over the past few days doubts have started to creep in. While I'm generally against prescription charges I'm unsure about the wisdom of gradually abolishing them. If 92% of prescriptions are free anyway is it such a big thing? Would the return of free eye tests not be a more useful first move?

I'm also quite disturbed to find that the Scottish Government is abolishing the ring-fenced funding for CVS and Volunteer Centres and passiing the buck to local authorities instead. Local councils are forced into a council tax freeze - the last thing they need is more fiscal responsibility passed onto them.

And the reporting of John Swinney's meeting with Yvette Cooper is concerning. Taking aside the fact that Alistair Darling, not Yvette Copper, is John Swinney's counterpart if this BBC report is true it just reinforces the belief that the SNP want to do a load of cool things in Scotland, but won't take responsibility for the payment of it.

The SNP have some great policies, and I strongly support their principle of social justice and equality, but these policies have to be paid for. By Scotland. Until the SNP government takes the tough decisions rather than just the popular ones it will appear less like a government and more like an Opposition party getting one (or several) over the actual government.


As pointed out by Jeff in the comments, eye tests are already free in Scotland. So apologies for getting that one wrong. My point remains the same - just with a different viewpoint. It's probably more important to ensure that the 30.1% of children not currently registered with an NHS dentist are given the opportunity than to abolish a charge with less than 10% of users pay. Will try to get my facts straight next time.