Monday, 22 October 2012

Indy And the Tellers of Doom

Have you signed the Declaration yet?

The independence referendum is still two years away but already those pro and anti are getting stuck into each other.

As a Green independence isn’t normally the first thing I think of when asked about political priorities. I’m also not one for flags. I may have been rooting for Shetland Jumper James on the Great British Bake Off but even I thought the Union Jack cake was a bit of a flop.

Those who like flags and identity have already decided how to vote. But there’s a good chunk of people who honestly don’t know and remain to be persuaded. My pitch to them at this early stage is simply that it’s surely better that Scots take decisions affecting Scotland. I’ve always liked the idea of decentralising decision-making so that people are more involved in what’s going on.

We have a parliament that decides how to spend £33bn a year. Why shouldn’t it be allowed to decide how it gets that money? We have a UK parliament that uses a first past the post system so routinely Scotland doesn’t get the government it votes for. Our priorities are different and we have immense opportunities coming up that we should be allowed to take full advantage of.

I’m looking forward to a deep and meaningful discussion about where power lies over the next two years. I hope soon I’ll be able to stop reminding people who are currently in the No camp or No-leaning that we’d still have elections in an independent Scotland; many seem to assume a Yes vote automatically triggers an SNP government. It doesn’t.

Take today’s Sunday Post. A mighty organ that still reaches the masses. If only it would give up on the anti-wind farm agenda. Or at least balance its coverage rather than continually lapping up the words of Donald Trump and Tory MEPs like they were Ma Broon’s homemade broth.
Crivvens. Nuclear 'safe and clean'?

In their handy guide on how the Yes and No sides see a variety of issues they claim the following under the heading Environment:

“An independent Scotland is committed to ending Scotland‘s reliance on nuclear power. The SNP has ambitious targets to generate most electricity from renewable sources.”

In fact, the power mix would be up to the government of the day. The Nats are happy to extend the life of Scotland’s ageing nuclear plants and Labour want to build new ones. The Nats’ targets are to generate from renewables the equivalent of Scotland’s electricity consumption - that’s a far cry from being mostly reliant on renewables.

“Reliance on renewable sources will mean more intrusive wind turbines and tidal barriers. This will damage the Scottish tourism industry.”

Intrusive? Aren’t they in remote places or, increasingly, out to sea? Tidal barriers? I can’t think of any planned. Can you? And they will damage tourism, will they? How do you know? They haven’t so far and in fact there are people like me who actually get a kick when they’re on a bike ride to the Borders and see a row of turbines in the distance. Better that than some smoke stacks.
Turbines on my horizon. Devastating.

It’s a shame this is all that is said about Environment. No mention of how capitalising on our massive renewable energy potential can reduce our carbon emissions and no mention of how removing Trident and banning other nuclear-powered submarines from our waters would prevent a potential environmental disaster on our shores. We would also have the opportunity to use taxes and regulation to ensure polluters pay and environmental responsibility is rewarded.

Like I say, for me this is about where power lies. I don’t think I’m the only one who flags at flag-waving.

Bags Of Optimism Required

Plastic bags. They’re either the scourge of the planet or a harmless symbol of convenience, depending on your point of view. Just to be awkward I’m somewhere in the middle.

I’d like it to be easier not to use them. I see the Federation of Small Businesses has urged the Scottish Government to postpone a proposed 5p tax on single use bags as their members have concerns. I’m sure those concerns can be resolved.

I won’t go into the usual environmental background about the harm that plastic rubbish does - there’s bags of it (ho ho) - but I do wish government would shift the guilt away from ordinary punters and onto the big businesses that condition us into such unsustainable practices.

I’ve just read a great wee book called Requiem for a Species. It’s not exactly Chucklevision. But still great. Basically, damaging climate change is incredibly likely and it’s too late to do anything. Scientists can recommend actions till they’re blue in the face (or red due to the heat) but politicians will always water them down for fear of losing votes. The author, who also wrote Affluenza, talks about our “fetish” for growth and the way individuals are made to feel bad.

This hit home the other day in a certain supermarket whose bright orange carrier bags yell that they’re made of 50 per cent recycled material. What about the other half I wonder. I was buying a lemon and a bottle of wine. (Typical middle class Green. Yes the wine was Fair Trade and yes the lemon was organic and unwaxed.) I had to practically fight off the assistant who tried to bag my purchases. I would manage fine with my work bag and a deep jacket pocket I explained. (Typical bloke. What could possibly look unkempt about waiting for a bus with a bottle of wine poking of your raincoat pocket?) By contrast the shopper in front had loaded up a trolley with a dozen orange plastic bags of groceries and I watched as they wheeled them out to their car and lifted them into their boot. You’d expect me to roll my eyes and tut. But no. My thought instead was why hasn’t this person been conditioned into keeping a couple of small boxes or sturdy bags in their boot that they can reuse?

Part of the problem is supermarkets. They’re convenient to the point that you’re encouraged to load your trolley with piles of stuff you never intended to buy and then at the checkout you can fill as many bags as you need. It’s not in the retail behemoth’s interest to make you think about the carrying device on the way in. Don’t worry your pretty little head, we’ll help you scoop everything up at the end. And speaking of scoop, don’t forget the 2 for 1 in our ice cream aisle…

If governments truly recognised the damage done to the environment and people’s pockets by food waste they’d regulate the supermarkets that suck up the majority of our hard-won earnings. They’d enforce responsible retailing.

Instead it’s easier for them to give our money to a PR firm to punt the kind of individualised guilt that lets the culprits off. The Sunday Herald seems to have launched a monthly supplement full of this kind of thing - sponsored by a government agency. It even contains a sentence: “In fairness the supermarkets are doing their bit. M&S and Sainsbury’s have updated their guidance on when we can freeze their products.”

In fairness? In fairness! What was it that champion of retail Bernard Black said in Black Books? Don’t make me sick into my own scorn.

The supplement also highlights these guys who are trying to live without too much plastic in their lives. A noble cause but that’s exactly my point. We shouldn’t need martyrs who have to work hard at making responsible purchases of everyday household goods. We need to encourage more refill facilities for bulky items like washing liquids. And we need to force the big retailers to take back all packaging so they realise the scale of the problem and change their ways.

I bought loo roll the other day. Wrapped in plastic and on the back there’s a friendly symbol of an almost closed loop and a message saying the wrapping can be recycled at a store where facilities exist. Such facilities don’t exist at the store where I bought it. So, in the bin it goes where it’ll end up in a hole in the ground giving off greenhouse gases twenty times worse than CO2. (I know, I said I wouldn’t go into the eco background but it‘s bubbled to the surface like a pocket of, er, methane.)

Even worse it might end up going to a proposed incinerator along the A1 on the doorstep of Sunny Dunbar. Yup, if all else fails, burn stuff. That’s a good solution.

But never mind flimsy plastic bags or bog roll wrappings, the piece of recycling guilt that will probably tip me over the edge is our old telly. It’s a proper cathode ray thing and as documented on this blog a few weeks back it went kaput. The other day a friendly looking leaflet came through the door telling us about the wide variety of materials we can recycle at the local recycling centre. Tellies are included so I should do the decent thing instead of what everyone else seems to do - leave it out on the street in the hope it gets nicked or smashed and removed by council cleaners.

But because we’re already doing our bit (as very occasionally encouraged by government PR fluff) and don’t have a car I don’t see how I can get the telly to the recycling centre which is two miles away on a busy road. I even phoned Lothian Buses to ask for advice but they warned me I wouldn’t be allowed to board a 113 with my recycling as tellies contain “dangerous gases”.

The council offers an uplift service but it’s £22.50 and I’m damned if I’m going to shell out for a service car users get for free. To make the point maybe I’ll liberate a shopping trolley from the nearby evil plastic bag proliferating supermarket and wheel my TV the two miles along the busy road to the recycling centre. Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do. While wearing slippers and a bathrobe. And swigging from a bottle.

You can make me recycle but you can’t guilt trip me into it. I intend to enjoy this.

Just Call Me 'Two Jags'

I see MMR uptake rates in the west of Scotland are up. Now there’s a riveting first line of a blog. Of course it wasn’t that long ago that simply mentioning the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination was tantamount to witchcraft. Parents were whipped into hysteria thanks to fraudulent doofus Wakefield. Not that the scaremongering has gone away - check out “Doctor” Trump here.

If I’ve learned anything since becoming a dad three and a half years ago it’s that it’s positively sickening watching your bundle of joy being jabbed with a syringe. Our bundle had her MMR the other day. Wife-features had cunningly scheduled it for one of my rare days off. Hip hip… I’m on holiday! Hip hip… And I get to take my baby for a controversial injection! Hooray?

There was a bit of an explanation while we waited at the shiny new “Primary Care Centre” in the Honest Toun. (Why can’t they call these things Health Centres? Do you get Secondary Care Centres? And if the GPs are Primary what does that make A&E?)  

“Now, darling, we’re going to get some medicine to keep you healthy and strong. You’re at nursery now, mixing with lots of other kids, so we need to fight the bugs we all have.”

I felt like a great big fibbing liar whose pants fire was visible from space but in the end Hard As Nails Nipper sat calmly on my knee not flinching in the slightest while a doctor and a nurse jabbed her arms in a pincer movement. Two jags but zero tears. Cue stickers and a lolly, and off we go home for spaghetti hoops on toast and Finding Nemo on DVD. Overcompensating? Most certainly not.

I will remember until my dying day the look she shot me when the nurse gave her an injection during the bird flu fluster a couple of years back. Her head swung round and her big baby blue eyes burned holes in mine. You monster!

But never mind the effect on the child, good grief. What about me? You have no idea the steely determination required to witness my own child being needled, given the way injections utterly floor me.

I’m not squeamish. Far from it. I can happily watch a syringe going into my arm but I guarantee you a few minutes later the room will spin and I’ll probably pass out. It’s happened in the dentist’s chair and while giving blood. Even more hilariously I once had to fill a dozen vials with my blood as part of a potential bone marrow donation. Years before I’d signed up to join the Anthony Nolan register and out of the blue they said I was a possible match for someone seriously ill. They sent a package for me to take to my GP who would then extract a bucket of my life force for further testing. Sure enough after the first prick the room swam. We resumed a short time later, doing both arms so I wouldn’t end up lopsided. I still remember the nurse saying “what lovely big veins”. I swear she was salivating.

Then, weighing a lot less, looking grey and struggling to stand up straight, the GP put the tubes of crimson gloop into the pre-prepared jiffy bag and handed it to me. The instructions said I had to post them. I tottered through the streets of Inverness to the post office carrying my silver package covered in warning signs at arms’ length like some sort of bomb. When I slid it across the counter the post office mannie asked if the contents were valuable. I said I wasn’t sure. It’s just a few pints of my blood. But on the other hand it could help save someone’s life.

This was obviously too much information so he stamped something vague on a label, gave me a receipt and off I staggered. I think I went to a café and ate black pudding.

In the end I didn’t have to go through with the GIANT NEEDLE INTO YOUR ACTUAL SPINE as I believe marrow transfusions require. I hope the person in need got what they needed. This chap from the Daily Record had a similar experience. I’d heartily recommend you put your name forward to Anthony Nolan if you haven’t already.

Meantime I will continue to pin hopes on someone inventing a way of giving blood or receiving medication that works using osmosis rather than piercing skin with a pointy thing. Uh-oh. Feeling queasy. Down I go again….

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Lot Of Bottle

Alcohol. The solution to and cause of all life’s problems. I think Alain de Botton said that. Or maybe Homer Simpson. Some baldy guy anyway.

My thoughts have yet again turned to stiff and soft drinks. On alcohol I note the Scotch Whisky Association is taking the Scottish Government to court over its plan for minimum pricing. It’s not a giant Alka Seltzer that will clear Scotland’s national hangover but is a small measure we’d be daft not to take. Research suggests it will save hundreds of lives and prevent thousands of hospital admissions every year.

I’m probably what the opponents of minimum pricing would call a moderate drinker, and do you know, I have no problem with my booze costing more.

The other day Wife-features scolded me for buying “non-essential” alcohol. I admit it was an impulse purchase. I spotted Noilly Prat vermouth on the shelf in the local wine shop and remembered we had none in the drinks cabinet and that it had been months, possibly over a year since I last stirred up a decent dry martini. We had a friend visiting for the weekend and as I was already buying gin…

I’m comfortable with booze being a treat as it can so easily become a crutch. Anything that steers our culture in that direction has to be welcomed. And I’m particularly conscious that our three and a half year old Bairn already knows how to clink glasses and go “cheers” to mark special occasions. I’d rather her memories of me weren’t all with me holding a dram or plinking two olives into a Gibson.

On soft drinks I note a selfish move similar to big whisky’s minimum pricing challenge is underway in the States following the perfectly reasonable idea by the authorities to limit huge servings of fizzy pop - or soda as they cutely call it over there. Who on earth drinks more than half a litre of Coke in a sitting? And the companies suing claim they’re worried about their reputations. I wonder if they thought how stalling a public health measure would look?

Finally for now on soft drinks I feel a small battle coming on with the company responsible for “Simply Fruity”.

We were out for a stroll in Dalkeith Country Park recently (£4 entry fee, amazing if slightly wobbly tree top trail, lots of sweet chestnuts falling in the massive forest) and stopped at the tea room for a cuppa. I usually take a bottle of tap water on our walks but on this occasion we bought a bottle of what appeared to be fruit juice.

Upon closer inspection here’s what “Simply Fruity” contains:

5% fruit juice (blackcurrant and apple)
Citric Acid (excellent limescale remover)
Natural Flavourings (these are food essences and contain no nutrition)
Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame K) Each is 200 times sweeter than sugar, which makes 400 times. There are claims that aspartame gives rats tumours but the FSA seems OK with it.

Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate - described as a skin, eye and respiratory irritant - and Dimethyl Dicarbonate - a bug killer)

Stabiliser (Carboxymethyl Cellulose - the thickening used in KY Jelly)

Contains a source of phenylalanine (Pain relief created by genetically engineering e-coli bacteria. Yum.)

And who makes this rollercoaster ride of a refreshment?

AG Barr.

I thought they made things in Scotland from girders. They certainly have a brass neck targeting kids with a cocktail of chemicals called “Simply Fruity”. Simply not on. I shall be taking them to task. Better have a stiff drink first.