bookmark_borderBritish take-away food

I bought The Takeaway Secret thinking it would be a fast-food cookbook, showing you how to cook burgers, hotdogs and the like.

However, I should have read the title more literally. The hotdog on the cover does not have a corresponding recipe inside, but instead it contains loads of British take-away food recipes: Quarter pounder burger (American style), quarter pounder burger (kebab shop style), lamb döner kebab, shish kebab, kofta kebab, seekh kebab, chilli chicken chow mein, skewered chicken satay, Texas style barbecue pizza, vegetable pakora, southern fried chicken, onion rings, pakora sauce, Chinese dipping sauce, honey mustard sauce, meatball sub, BLT sandwich, lassi, Italian restaurant style vanilla ice cream, and many, many more.

It’s obviously a fairly heterogenous cookbook, but it definitely has recipes for quite a few items that I have never been able to find a recipe for.

So far I’ve only tried the lamb döner kebab with white kebab sauce, and it was lovely, almost as good as the real thing, in spite of using lamb mince.

I’m definitely going to try out more of the recipes in the future, and so will Marcel and Charlotte, I’m sure.

bookmark_borderThe Constitution of Scotland

When Scotland becomes independent, it would be a wasted opportunity if the new (or rather, reborn) country didn’t get a written constitution — the UK’s unwritten one has always struck me as a bizarre contraption.

I’m by no means the first person to have had this thought — see amongst others Better Nation and the Constitutional Convention, as well as the SNP’s ten-years-old proposed constitution (PDF). There are also some plans about crowd-sourcing a Scottish Constitution, which I might write more about another day.

Without going into the details of what it should and shouldn’t say, I have a few ideas about the length and scope:

  • It shouldn’t be too long. If it is (like for instance the doomed Constitution for Europe), it will be too specific, which means that it will need revising all the time, and by doing so, it loses its constitutional nature.
  • It shouldn’t be too specific. Apart from the problem with continuous revisions if it is, it also creates problems if external factors require a constitutional change that there might not be a political will to implement.
  • It shouldn’t be too hard to change. If it is, it will start to be reinterpreted, with the result that nobody really understands what it means. For instance, the Danish Constitution is almost impossible to change (it was last changed in 1953), and when it mentions the king, it means either the queen, the prime minister or the government, depending on the context, which isn’t ideal.
  • It should be easy to understand. Although many laws are by nature highly complex, the constitution should be a straightforward text that school children could learn and discuss at school.
  • It should make us proud. Like the Declaration of Arbroath and other such documents through the ages, a good constitution should be an inspiring document that will inspire its readers centuries for now.

If all of this seems a bit daunting, at least there are plenty of existing constitutional documents from all over the world than can be used as a basis, so it should be doable.

bookmark_borderYes Scotland

The campaign to make Scotland an independent country again was finally launched today.

It’s called Yes Scotland, and the event took place in a cinema in Edinburgh.

Here is a link to a complete recording of the launch (I haven’t been able to find an embeddable version — please do let me know if you find one).

At the same time, Yes Scotland‘s website went live. It’s a very interactive website, based on the famous NationBuilder platform.

For now, the main thing to do is to sign the following declaration:

I believe that it is fundamentally better for us all, if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is, by the people of Scotland.

Being independent means Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands.

There is no doubt that Scotland has great potential. We are blessed with talent, resources and creativity. We have the opportunity to make our nation a better place to live, for this and future generations. We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today.

I want a Scotland that speaks with her own voice and makes her own unique contribution to the world: a Scotland that stands alongside the other nations on these isles, as an independent nation.

Just follow this link and sign it!

bookmark_borderA reply to Patrick Harvie

Patrick Harvie (Green Party)
Originally uploaded by alf.melin

According to The Scotsman, Patrick Harvie (Green MSP) has a problem with the SNP’s attempts to woo centrist voters:

However, Mr Harvie fears the efforts to woo centre-ground voters could alienate many on the Left.

“The task of those who see the opportunity of independence is to inspire hope that a Yes vote will lead to the radical change we consider necessary and desirable,” he said in his submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2014 vote.

“The current ‘universalist’ approach risks turning what should be a transformational opportunity into a promise of middle-of-the-road blandness, only under a different flag. “I can’t ask people to vote for that. This debate needs to offer more.”

I can totally relate to this, but I also think it’s misplaced.

The real reason to support independence is to allow us to make our own decisions in Scotland. However, we can’t make those decisions in advance — that would be counting our chickens before they hatch.

Once independence has been achieved, I will be delighted to join Patrick Harvie and many others in the fight for ending the monarchy in Scotland, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll win that fight. However, without independence Westminster will just veto it.

Once independence has been achieved, there will be a huge argument whether Scotland should be part of NATO (like England, Norway and Denmark), or more strictly neutral (like Ireland, Sweden and Finland), and I haven’t decided yet which side I’m on. However, without independence Westminster will just keep Scotland inside NATO (and keep the atomic bombs up here for good measure).

Once independence has been achieved, we’ll have to discuss a whole range of issues that it would be futile to discuss at the moment because Westminster has the final word.

So Patrick Harvie shouldn’t ask his voters to vote for middle-of-the-road blandness à l’Écossaise; he should ask his voters to vote for an independent Scotland so that the questions that are most important to us can be decided in Scotland by the people living here, and the day after Scotland has voted Yes, he should then start changing Scotland into a better nation.

bookmark_borderColourful results from East Renfrewshire

East Renfrewshire have released detailed results from the council elections, and so I’ve created a few colourful graphs.

In Neilston, Uplawmoor and Newton Mearns North, the SNP, the Tories and Labour put forward two candidates each. In 2007, the results were SNP 1, Tories 2 and Labour 1, and the question was whether the SNP or Labour would be able to snatch a seat from the Tories. This was also the only ward with a Green candidate, and it would be interesting to see what the level of Green support would be.

Somewhat surprisingly, Labour’s two candidates got almost identical levels of support, and there was never any realistic chance of the fourth seat going to either the Tories or the SNP. The Green candidate did relatively well, beating the SNP’s Frank Rankin.

In Barrhead, the result was the same as last time — Labour 2, SNP 1, Indep. 1. However, it could have ended differently: The two SNP candidates both got more votes in the first round than Labour’s Kenny Hay. However, once the surplus votes from the top Labour candidate were redistributed, Mr. Hay leapt ahead and the SNP candidates didn’t get enough lower preferences from the eliminated candidates to make up for this, so only one of them was elected. However, the difference between Labour’s second candidate and SNP’s candidates was very slight, and the election could easily have seen two SNP candidates elected.

Giffnock and Thornliebank saw a very straightforward election result: Labour’s Jim Fletcher was comfortably ahead, and the Tory and the SNP candidate were very close and both got elected.

However, I must say the SNP and the Tories were quite lucky that Labour didn’t field two candidates, given that Jim Fletcher’s surplus was 573 votes, so a second Labour candidate would possibly only have needed in the vicinity of 500 first preferences to have got elected.

In Netherlee, Stamperland and Williamwood the Tories’ Gordon McCaskill narrowly beat the SNP’s Irene Anderson; however, this fight could easily have ended differently — there were only 85 votes between them in the end.

In Newton Mearns South, the Tories easily got two of their three candidates elected, and the real question was who would win the third and last seat — the Tories, the SNP or Labour? Labour’s Ian McAlpine was ahead all along, but he only got close to winning once he got the redistributed votes after the SNP’s Frank Angell was eliminated. The thing is that the Tories’ Alistair Haw just as easily could have been eliminated before Frank Angell, and where would his surplus votes have gone? If Tory voters prefer the SNP to Labour (which is by no means certain), that could in theory have seen Frank Angell elected ahead of Ian McAlpine.

Finally, Busby, Clarkston and Eaglesham saw the sitting SNP councillor, Alastair Carmichael, overtake both the Tories.

The Tories had put forward two candidates, but there was absolutely no way they could both have got elected.

To conclude, I think the only SNP candidate that didn’t have any realistic chance of getting elected was Frank Rankin in Ward 1 — the rest would have got elected with just a little extra luck.

The Tories were clearly putting forward too many candidates — I think they need to own up to the fact that they will never get a majority in East Renfrewshire on their own again.

Labour could possibly have got one or two more candidates elected, and I would expect them to field one or two more candidates in 2017.

The LibDems were miles away from getting anybody elected, and I think it’s a waste of their energy to put forward candidates in most wards.

The Greens did relatively well, and I would expect to put forward more candidates next time.

bookmark_border50p per unit

Brewing Widmann beer!
Originally uploaded by PhylB

It appears the Scottish Government are planning to set the minimum price for alcohol as high as 50p per unit.

Although I agree many people in Scotland have an alcohol problem, I remain unconvinced this is the answer. Some of the issues I can see arising are these:

  1. I buy very little wine in shops — normally I shop at Virgin Wines, which is based in England and therefore not subject to Scottish minimum pricing. I presume there are similar shops in England selling beer and cider over the internet, so won’t most Scots start buying their booze online? (By the way, if you want to join Virgin Wines, get in touch with me, and we’ll both get some extra wine!)
  2. It will become even more advantageous to buy wine and spirits on holiday abroad. Depending on what you like to drink, I guess the price difference will often pay for a plane ticket to Poland or other places where vodka is cheap.
  3. I like to brew my own beer, and it’s already cheaper than buying decent beer in shops. When minimum pricing gets introduced, my beer will be much cheaper than beer in shops. I have a feeling lots of students will start brewing their own beer soon.
  4. I imagine the supermarkets just across the border in England will suddenly see a huge influx of Scottish alcohol shoppers. I imagine students will hire a bus and fill it up with cheap booze.
  5. Although minimum pricing in theory should only affect the really cheap brands, anybody who’s worked in business knows that shops will make all alcohol more expensive. If they can sell cheap vodka at £15 (the minimum price for 750 ml of 40% alcohol), the average vodka that is currently retailing at £15 will of course suddenly go up to perhaps £20. The cost to an average household will therefore be much greater than predicted by the government.

Strange as it might sound, I think the minimum pricing is another argument in favour of Scottish independence: An independent Scotland could just have put up the excise duties, but that power is currently reserved to Westminster, so it’s not possible at the moment. Also, higher excise duties would have meant increased revenues for the state (rather than lining the pockets of the supermarkets, as is the case with minimum pricing), but because the state benefiting is not Scotland, the Scottish Government has no incentive to go for the excise duty option. (As far as I know, the only other place that has minimum prices at the moment is Quebec, which is politically quite similar to Scotland.)

I also have a feeling the Scottish Government isn’t altogether too unhappy about forcing supermarkets to operate with different prices north and south of the border, and border trade will reinforce the feeling that there is indeed a border already.

bookmark_borderThe evil alcohol empire

BrewDog Hardcore IPA
Originally uploaded by cogocogo

According to BrewDog (the Scottish company brewing many fine beers, such as the Punk IPA and the Trashy Blonde), Diageo (the multinational company which owns Guinness, Smirnoff, Gordon’s, Baileys and many other well-known alcoholic drinks) prevented them from getting an award that was rightfully theirs:

[…] One of the judges (seated at our table) told us in disbelief ‘this simply cannot be, the independent judging panel voted for BrewDog as clear winners of the award’.

Events took a further twist when the people who got given the award refused to accept it as it clearly had ‘BrewDog’ engraved on the trophy as winners.

On Tuesday, 2 days after the award, [we] took a phone call from Kenny Mitchell, Chairman of the BII in Scotland and Chairman of the Award Committee explaining the situation. To directly quote Kenny:

We are all ashamed and embarrassed about what happened. The awards have to be an independent process and BrewDog were the clear winner.

Diageo (the main sponsor) approached us at the start of the meal and said under no circumstances could the award be given to BrewDog. They said if this happened they would pull their sponsorship from all future BII events and their representatives would not present any of the awards on the evening.

We were as gobsmacked as you by Diageo’s behaviour. We made the wrong decision under extreme pressure. We should have stuck to our guns and [given] the award to BrewDog.


Diageo […] have now issued the following statement: ‘There was a serious misjudgement by Diageo staff at the awards dinner on Sunday evening in relation to the Bar Operator of the Year Award. We would like to apologise to BrewDog and to the British Institute of Innkeeping for this error of judgement.’

I don’t think Diageo’s apology should be accepted. Just like many other multinational companies, they clearly have lost any sense of morality a long time ago, and the best course of action is for all of us to stop buying Diageo’s products.