Monday, September 29, 2014

Are you affected by investments in Storefirst Limited storage pods?

The article that was here has been removed following a complaint from Storefirst's solicitors.

You can view their letter here (the lawyers direct dial and email have been removed).

The original article asked if anyone had any experience of investing in Storefirst and whether the company had broken their lease agreement after the two year guaranteed period expired. I would still be interested to hear from anyone who has any experience with this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I have not pressed the button on joining the SNP

As I write the membership of the SNP stands at 57,243 - up from 31,601 before the referendum. People are still signing up in their hundreds every hour, but so far I have resisted the urge. Why? because I don't think their policies are enough to make enough of a difference to real life in Scotland. What we need is system change not regime change. And that means no more of the neoliberal consensus that the SNP is part of.

Even though the outcome of the referendum, and the way the Better Together campaign conducted themselves sent my socialist nerves jangling, I don't think that committing to more-of-the-same at Holyrood is the way forward. I don't think that many of the Yes activists do either. The SNP at Holyrood is a very disciplined political machine and it remains to be seen how that will change with an influx of new members and a change of leader.

The SNP is not a progressive party. Here are some examples of their non progressive policies:

  • The number of university students from low income households has dropped over the past ten years. Funding cuts to further education colleges has further reduced access to higher education for young people from low income families.
  • The SNP does not support a reinstatement of the 50p rate of tax for high earners.
  • Proposing to reduce corporation tax, when this is a tax already being avoided by many multinationals.
  • The council tax freeze has caused local authorities to cut funding to voluntary organisations providing care services to the elderly and others.
  • Wanting to get rid of Trident while maintaining a nuclear cover through NATO membership.
  • The SNP do not believe in redistribution of wealth and want to tackle poverty through economic growth. Much of that initial growth seems reliant on the oil industry. Yet, if we burn that oil we submit our planet to the effects of climate change, which will make the world's poorest countries poorer still.

These are all fairly intractible problems for me and explain why, for now, I am not lining up to join the SNP.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The referendum aftermath. #the45

I have not said anything since the referendum took place because I wanted to take time out to reflect on the issues. Now that things have had a few days to settle my thoughts are becoming clearer. These are the main things in my mind at the moment.

It was not a clear, once and for all, victory for the No campaign.
They may have got 55% of the votes, but the majority of working age people voted Yes. This means that the demographic will move in and in ten year's time there will be a majority for independence.

It was a dirty fight.
Leaving the issue of the behaviour of the mainstream media aside, there were three activities by the No campaign which I found reprehensible:

Changing a No vote from a vote for the status quo to a vote for devo max after the postal votes had been cast and so close to the polling date that their proposal could not be investigated or challenged.

Better Together phone canvassers from England (they could not get sufficient volunteers in Scotland) phoning Scottish pensioners and telling them that their pensions and bus passes were at risk if the vote went in favour of independence. Most of these volunteers were Labour Party members.

It was a fight for preservation of the political class
Labour Party members campaigning with Conservatives, and even the National Front (in Aberdeen). The main focus seeming to be to retain a voting block of Labour MPs from Scotland - but to what end? Simply the Westminster political elite doing a bit of job preservation.

Where do we go from here?
Six months ago I did not mind which way the referendum went, but as it came closer I realised that the future of our country and the future of my children is best served by decision making about Scotland taking place in Scotland. The question is how to achieve this. As I am writing the SNP is on track to become Britain's largest political party. Huge numbers of Yes support rs are joining and this will give the SNP the ability to run a massive campaign for the next Scottish Parliamentary election. I have an urge to get involved in active politics too, after a few years away, but I don't agree with the SNP's central emphasis on sovereignty. Moving from one group of leaders to another will make no difference.

At the moment we have a great national consciousness of politics, but we need to move from this to wresting power from the state and back into the hands of ordinary people. What we need to come out of this referendum process is a mass participatory democracy. Scottish Labour are currently promoting a scheme which claims to do this, but without any real power, because the real power comes from ownership. Yes, I know that sounds very "clause 4", but it's plainly true that real power lies with those who control the means by which money is made: banks, investment funds, oil companies and our currently centralised state (which is itself a supplier of infrastructure). Until this power is broken we will continue to have an increase in inequality between the poorest and the richest in society.

To move power to the hands of ordinary people would require more than a change of government. It would require a change in values across the whole of British and Scottish society. A move away from the extrinsic values of status and wealth to intrinsic values like community and self fulfilment (the sort of values that Are also central to Christianity). In the mean time we need to look at promoting collectivism (social enterprise, cooperative business models and other ways of working). Those of us with pension funds might be able to pressure our pension trustees to invest in businesses which promote this type of cooperation. In banking we need to look more at the mutual model. For example, the Airdrie Savings Bank is a proper bank, but run on a mutual basis.

Above all we need to challenge the power of the state to tell us what to do. We need to start holding politicians to account, and we can start by ensuring that they carry out their promise of more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Political parties
Now, on the issue of political parties, some friends are surprised that I am not a member of the Green Party. This is with good reason. Although I care deeply about the environment, I think the pressure on the environment is the result of our economic system which needs to continue growing to pay debt interest. This is a circle that spirals on forever. We need,to break that and I know the Greens agree. Where I disagree with a lot of Green Party activists is that they appear to not have a real understanding of poverty. It might be great to eat sustainable sour dough artisan bread and locally produced organic food if you have good job and a comfortable home in Portobello, but if you live in Muirhouse this is cloud cuckoo land. The real cause of poverty is economic and fiddling at the edges will not cure this, whether that is the SNP's sovereignty or the Greens' sustainability. This is why, at the moment, I will not be joining either, but will be looking to get involved in something to advance these issues.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A very interesting observation about the referendum. #indyref

Everyone on my social media feeds who is saying that they are fed up
with all the referendum talk or that it has all,got a bit too heated
is a No voter. In my "real" life, everyone who is saying there is far
too much talk about the referendum or that it's all "getting a bit too
heated/passionate" is also a No voter.

Perhaps a psychologist could explain this?
May be something to do with cognitive dissonance.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Escaping from o2 to 3 in Edinburgh

Since June the quality of service from o2 in central Edinburgh has declined dramatically. At times I have been unable to send texts or make calls. The data connection regularly drops to G or E even though the signal is strong. Outside Edinburgh there have been similar problems with data connectivity between Edinburgh and Livingston patchy and unpredictable. One direction it can be 4G all the way and in the other only G. Other users have been reporting this on Twitter for the past few months, with Tescomobile and Giff-Gaff customers visiting the Edinburgh Festivals complaining too (they both use the o2 Network).

The problem seemed to start when o2 introduced 4G. I understand that they did not gain any additional spectrum and have had to implement this on their old 900MHz band. It could be that this has been more technically challenging than they expected or there may be compatibility issues with some handsets. It is not very clear, but an inability to send texts at certain times has been another factor that caused me to go looking for another provider. On one occasion I was unable to make any outgoing calls so couldn't contact my kids, who were on their way to meet me.

My iPad has 3G capability and I have a PAYG SIM card in it from the the 3 network. Over the past year I have noticed that in some places the 3 network gives me 3G, but o2 does not. These places include Kirkwall in Orkney and Cowdenbeath in Fife. I have never been in a place where o2 had a signal but 3 did not, but I have been in places where neither had a signal but Vodafone did. The problem with Vodafone is that they charge a lot for data and their actual data speeds don;t seem to be as good as o2 or 3 in the tests I have read.

So after several months of difficulty with o2 I decided to switch to 3 simplay because it could not be any worse. I went into the shop and bought a SIM card on a 12 month contract for £15 a month. This gives me 200 minutes of calls with unlimited texts and unlimited data. It also includes calls to 0800 numbers and 20GB of data per month plus calls home free of charge from selected countries (although not many in Europe). They allow the use of the WiFi hotspot but with a limit of 4GB per month.

I got the PAC code for my number transfer and did it the same day in the shop. Two days later it had not worked so I phoned up and it turned out it hadn't been actioned. They did this on the Friday and on the Monday my phone went dead. I put in the new SIM card and was able to make calls (with my correct number showing in caller ID) but not receive incoming ones. By the end of the day this had fixed itself, although the phone identity in settings is still showing the temporary 3 number. The period of no service during the change over was about eight hours.

The results so far are promising. At home and in central Edinburgh I am getting 4G with download speeds of 31mbps and upload of 15mbps. However, this often reverts to HSDPA, which is giving me 15mbps download. In comparison I was getting 21-24mbps on o2 4G (when it worked). Driving to and from Livingston I have a strong signal all the way with data showing as H the whole way there and back.

Overall, it seems like good value and the coverage is better in the places I use it. Coverage in rural areas might be a challenge though.

Oh, and Hutchison 3G is a Scottish company registered in Glasgow.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why I am voting Yes in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

From the beginning of the Scottish independence referendum campaign I have been a reluctant Yes voter. I don't think that independence should be necessary to make Scotland a better place, but if we really are "better together" then we would have been better by now. 307 years is a long time to be getting it right, but that is how long it has been since the Union of the Parliaments. The reason it has never worked properly is simply the distance (geographical and cultural) between Scotland and London. Anyone who has worked in London will tell you that the people are great, but they have a very enclosed view of the world. Most have no concept of how far away Scotland is or how large it is. They tend to view Scotland as a county somewhere in the north. Lack of education on the whole of British history and the continued concentration on London as the centre of the country have cultivated this view over many years. Even the BBC weather map has an unfortunate perspective applied to it that makes Scotland seem small. Yet, those of us who live here seem to have greater optimism about making the world a better place.

When I announced on Facebook that I was voting Yes it was greeted with incredulity by some of my friends. Partly because of my long standing assertion that the final vote will be No (not long ago I predicted a 60%/40% No vote) and partly because I seem like such a sensible, level headed person.

In spite of this I am voting Yes and here is why.

Firstly, I just can't approve of sending any more young Scottish men to fight in foreign wars that we had no say in getting involved in. London decides these things and Scottish opinion is poorly represented in that decision making. Yet, Scotland provides a disproportionate percentage of front line troops. If these decisions were made closer to home they might be made better. They certainly couldn't be made any worse.

Secondly, the No campaign have shown no evidence of the additional powers they are offering the Scottish Parliament. They could have already drafted legislation but haven't. They have not been specific about what powers they would be offering. These promises made in the heat of the campaign could easily evaporate afterwards.

Thirdly, the retribution from back bench Tory MPs will be severe. Expect big public funding cuts here next year as Scots are accused of being "subsidy junkies", when we actually pay more tax per head of population than the English.

Fourthly, I think a parliament with full powers elected under proportional representation will mean that people are better represented. At the moment a Green voter gets good representation in Holyrood but not in Westminster. Scottish Conservative voters get poor Scottish representation at Westminster with only one MP. In an independent Scotland these minority views will get greater representation.

Fifthly, and leading on from my last point, I think we will get more radical policies to fight poverty and social injustice in an independent Scotland because there is a greater collective will here to make that happen.

There are some reasons I might have voted No and these are the things that make me a sceptical yes voter.

Firstly, Alex Salmond. I first met Alex when I was attending Scottish Constitutional Convention meetings in the 80's. I find him a fairly inoffensive man, but many in Scotland really dislike him, and his involvement post referendum could be divisive. I considered this and concluded that Alex will be dead in thirty years - Scotland won't. That may sound really callous, but I can't let feelings about one person cloud my decision on the wider issues. Following a Yes vote the Scottish political parties would need to realign, and my hope is that new credible leaders would emerge on the left and we would get a more radical government.

Secondly, Labour. As a Labour voter and former party member I find it hard to vote against the party. However, their main reason for supporting the No campaign seems to be to secure the Scottish Labour vote as a way of getting a parliamentary majority in Westminster. This would be fine if Westminster was likely to deliver. It seldom does. I also feel uncomfortable with London Labour's new found unionism. It used to be an internationalist party, now it seems to be veering towards a sort of jingoistic British Nationalism - no doubt due to pressure on the labour vote in some areas from the fringe right wing parties. I know that many within Scottish Labour are unhappy with this.

I have been looking at the polls and listening to what people are saying around me, and have been surprised. Over the past few weeks I have seen a number of people in my social circle move from voting No to voting Yes. What seems to be happening is that they are choosing to ignoring the detailed argument on economic questions, or the Salmond issue, and look at broader questions of values and making decisions closer to home, by the people who live here.

Last night when I was mowing my lawn I realised that the next time I am doing it the lawn could be in a separate nation.

On the evening of the referendum I will be in Edinburgh at a concert given by the English folk singer Kate Rusby. Because being an independent nation does not mean we can't be together.
Surely the best of both worlds?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Returning to blogging

In my last article dated 3rd May I explained that I was giving up blogging for the time being, but that I might return in the future.

Having considered all the options, and with the amount of interesting things going on and the number of technical tips I have not been able to share I thought I would make a tentative return. I have updated the blog template and I have given greater prominence to the disclaimer which accompanies every article. I encourage  you to read it here.

For those of you who don't know, Ecalpemos is the word "someplace" spelled backwards and is derived from the name given to a house in the novel "A Fatal Inversion" by Barbara Vine:

The day before she left he thought of a new name for his house. For some days he had been mulling this over, trying to come up with something more interesting than Wyvis Hall. Myopotamus Manor, which had occurred to him, was just a joke. He began anagramming, twisting letters round, keeping in mind where they had been going, where Mary was still going... Ecalpemos. He asked the others what they thought Ecalpemos was. 'A Greek island,' said Mary. 'Not an island,' said Rufus. 'More like a mountain. A volcano.' 'Or a resort on the Costa Brava.' 'You just made it up,' said Rufus lazily. 'It does sound rather like a community. Oneida, Walden, Ecalpemos.' `It doesn't sound in the least like Oneida or Walden. I know what it is, it's like Erewhon: that's "nowhere" backwards.'…..
…... Ecalpemos is "some place" inverted.' `Well, well, very clever. Don't you find 'some place' has too much of an American flavour?'
`I don't give a sod about that,' said Adam. 'It's not being called “some place" anyway, it's going to be Ecalpemos.' Which thereafter it always was.  (From A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine)