NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney

Well, did you see The Great Debate? The BBC did their best with the five Scottish party leaders at the lecterns and Sarah Smith presiding over them all.

Nicola Sturgeon could not have been looking forward to it. She looked knackered and her dislike for Ms Smith has been well-documented.

I can’t see Smith and Sturgeon sharing a jar of sweeties in the green room, as one presenter suggested they might, before they went in front of the cameras to outline their plans for the future of 21st century Scotland. They don’t really hate each other, she opined. Really?

I am a big bit sceptical of politicians and their plans and a great believer in change for the good arriving on the scene of its own volition.

Change for the good doesn’t need a huge campaign or trumpets and flags to announce it. A good story makes itself.

It is made more than welcome when it arrives, which in Scotland today isn’t often and it certainly hasn’t been there for the past 12 months of coronavirus.

The electorate are not stupid and will embrace change for the good without having it rammed down their throat from the start of Good Morning Scotland until the end of  Sky News at Midnight.

So, what was all the fuss about? The leaders of the five political parties in Scotland were going to slag each other off in front of the television cameras for the first time in history.

And the vultures on the political desks of what’s left of our sadly depleted and embarrassingly biased  press,  and ever burgeoning media and new-fangled podcasts,  would be sitting poised and waiting to listen eagerly.

Not for the politicians’ pearls of wisdom to drop from their lips however but for the inevitable gaffs that would cause delight and derision in equal measure to be heaped on them.

It was obvious from the outset though, that like so many events from football and rugby matches which we are told are “going to be great” that this debate was destined to be a huge disappointment.

And maybe even an occasion for the seldom utilised off button on the TV to come into play.

People usually watch Master Chef or Mastermind at this time of night, don’t we?

And, who is that guy and what party does she represent must also have been on our own little Question Time agenda.

The truth is that we would have been better served watching Master Chef than listening to this debate.

It threw up nothing new to the initially avid watchers, who were by now making coffee and raiding the biscuit tin in search of something more exciting.

So, who were these people? Who do they think they are?

We all knew Nicola, of course, having seen her on television every day of the week doling out the bad news about Covid while slipping in the odd political comment before thanking the front line NHS workers and social care staff from the heart of her bottom.

Referee Sarah Smith, pictured left,  told Nicola and the four others that they would all be treated equally and given 45 seconds to introduce themselves and state broadly who they were and what policies they will put before the punters come election day on May 6.

Sarah is personable unlike the real life referee on the park who was Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader who is what we all thought – a wee pipsqueak who would merit all the opprobrium in the world being heaped upon him were he ever to appear at fatal Boghead.

The only interesting piece of news from Douglas Ross was that his wife was a policewoman (not a police officer by the way) but a police woman, and that his sister is a school teacher.

What he didn’t say was that were he to be elected to parliament that would make all three of them from the one family possessors of sinecures in the public service and benefiting from the perks and pensions that go with that.

No wonder Anas Sarwar, the recently elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, told Ross to grow up, which unfortunately was the closest we came to fisticuffs.

Sarwar is the kind of politician we have all been looking for, a man who is both intelligent and articulate; who knows how to keep the heid and is rich enough to put his hand in his pocket if a campaign begins to run out of money.

Sarwar is Mr Commonsense, a moderate who embraces policies on housing, health, education, social care and social work, employment and so much more. A modern man who can multi-task.

He was brave enough to stand up and tell the BBC viewers and his opponents that he wasn’t the least bit interested in independence, nor would he be until the urgent matter of the Covid pandemic had been fully dealt with to the public’s satisfaction.

Willie Rennie, of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, like Anas Sarwar, has expressed disgust that the SNP continues to press on with its referendum campaign while nearly 10,000 families are mourning loved ones who have died in the pandemic.

And so many people are still in hospital while others suffer continue to suffer from long Covid.

Once Scotland gets beyond that there will be no going back. One interesting LibDem proposal is to raise the school enrolment age to seven. Gaun yersel then Willie. There will be a big debate to come about that.

And last but  not least, although that’s most probably where they will end up in the polls now that Alex Salmond and the ALBA Party have arrived to plead for all those SNP1 ALBA2 voters, we have Lorna Slater.

Feisty is Lorna. She’s a climate change proselytiser if ever I saw one, and she is good at it, but I can’t see the voters in the housing schemes falling in behind her at a protest march.

Lorna is fed up – tell me about it – with the fact that there are not enough women on the Holyrood benches.

She believes we need more black people in politics and more disabled people, and for the old, financially safe white men  who occupy positions of power to get out the road and allow the new generation to get on with saving the country.

So, how did we rate the performances? I gave first place to Anas Sarwar (Labour), second place to Willie Rennie (LibDem), third to Nicola Sturgeon (SNP); fourth to Lorna Slater (Greens), and fifth to Douglas Ross (Conservative). Sarah Smith gets nine out of ten for refereeing but, in truth, her services were never really called for.


Where does all the money go?

Glen Sannox

There was a man who built a boat to sail away and it sank.

That’s a famous line from The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy.  Substitute SNP for man in that first line and it brings to mind – well to my mind anyway – the SNP’s disastrous venture into shipbuilding, which is costing the Scottish taxpayers £ millions generations to come.

The delivery of two overdue and over-budget CalMac ferries has been delayed again as the shipyard building them struggles to recruit extra staff, even though they have been looking as far away as Romania.

Ferguson Marine hoped to take on 120 extra workers to enable seven-day working but last weekend the new shift had only 29 staff in place.

The nationalised yard confirmed the delivery timetable had slipped by seven weeks due to Covid-related issues.  The difficulties in recruiting skilled workers could lead to a further delay.

Ferguson turnaround director Tim Hair said it was not possible at this time to say with certainty when the ferries would be delivered.

Which brings to mind other lines such as When the Boat Comes In and When will we see you again?

The ferries were originally due to enter service on the Arran and Skye/Outer Hebrides routes in 2018/19.

But the work repeatedly fell behind schedule and costs rose, with the Inverclyde yard’s owner the former Dumbarton businessman Jim McColl and government-owned CMAL, which procures ships for CalMac, blaming each other for the problems.

The Port Glasgow yard went into administration in 2019 with the ferries still far from completion, and was later taken over by the Scottish government.

Under a revised delivery schedule given in August, the first ferry – Glen Sannox – was to be completed between April and June 2022 and the second ship between December 2022 and February 2023.

But in a new update to a Holyrood committee, Mr Hair said recruitment uncertainty meant “it is not therefore possible to provide a definitive schedule for completion of the vessels at this time”.

Despite the latest delays Mr Hair said the yard remained “on track” to deliver the ferries within the “remedial work” budget of between £110m and £114m.


How the costs have added up

  • £97m – original fixed price contract for design and construction
  • £110m-£114m – estimated cost of “remedial work” to finish the ships after the yard was nationalised
  • £45m – Scottish government loans to Ferguson prior to its collapse, which are now “written down”, an assumption they will not be fully repaid
  • £4.3m – “exceptional costs” as a result of two yard shutdowns during the Covid pandemic

Mr Hair said an unforeseen four-week shutdown in January was needed to adapt the yard’s facilities to comply with revised Covid regulations.

The lockdowns have also led to a large amount of holiday time being accrued by the workforce, which will add another three weeks to the delivery plans.

So, the ferries will be ready just in time for the re-elected Scottish Parliament to reconvene at Holyrood.

No wonder Nicola wasn’t looking too keen on that in the Leaders’ Debate the other night.

She must be relieved though to know if that does happen then her old shipmate Derek Mackay, the SNP’s Cap’n Whitewash, won’t be around to accompany her up the companionway.


Health boards make me sick. Not just me though. It appears from recent reports that their cack-handed and secretive ways of going about their business can lead to loss of life.

Take NHS Highland, for example. Staff say they have seen no positive changes at the health board after a “culture of bullying” was exposed more than two years ago.

Had it been the other way round and some individual employed by them had broken the rules then I am certain that matter would have been dealt with immediately.

But NHS Highland, whose tentacles stretch to the borders of West Dunbartonshire, have failed to react to the recommendations of an independent review panel set up as part of a “healing process” said employees were still reporting bullying behaviour up to last year.

The panel has now made a series of recommendations to NHS Highland, one of which is to make an offer to apologise again to affected staff.

The IRP has published two reports on the progress of the healing process, which has been funded by the Scottish government.

The process offers current and former employees four options, which include “being heard”, an apology and access to psychological therapies.  They can also opt to have their case heard by the IRP.

In the first of its two new reports, the panel said it had heard testimonies referring to an organisational culture in NHS Highland which was “centralist and dictatorial” with little delegated decision making.

This had left senior clinical leaders and their managers “feeling disenfranchised and disempowered”.

Board members should get their finger out and deal with this matter expeditiously. Their behaviour is despicable in that it must place a great deal of pressure on those employees who were bullied.




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