Friday, 19 September 2014

reflecting on the Scottish referendum: Scotland has decided, and further powers will be devolved.

I voted yesterday, in the Scottish independence referendum. 

It seems like the campaigning about it has been going on for at least a year, and the wait for the referendum itself has been going on for as long as I have lived in Scotland (and probably much longer than that).

I know a lot of people enjoyed the debate, and a lot of people have been glad to see public interest in politics. Personally I thought it was a shame that both campaigns used negativity. There were good reasons to vote both ways, and I would rather have seen those highlighted. Instead, both sides were guilty of scaremongering, both sides have accused the other of lying, and it's really hard for people to know what's true.

There's a lot of distrust of Westminster based politicians in Scotland, and with good reason. Scotland, like many other parts of the United Kingdom, is widely overlooked, and was memorably used as a test bed for the poll tax in the past. Obviously that test didn't work so well, because they rolled the poll tax out. Oops. Now lots of people are finding it hard to believe that Westminster politicians will live up to their promises of more devolved power.

Anyway, Scotland has spoken, and decided to remain in the union. But a large minority wanted independence, and they are understandably upset this morning. That large minority may not have won the referendum, but it is because of them that Westminster has promised increased devolution. They should be proud of themselves for that.

This morning some right wing Westminster politicians are decrying the devolution of further powers to Scotland, and they are entitled to their opinion. Further devolution will be negotiated, and will not just be to Scotland. Wales should also get more powers, and it is right that England will have things which only English MPs can vote on, especially if we are to disentangle our welfare systems. I am really excited about what further devolution might look like, and glad that David Cameron has talked about giving more powers to cities too. I think that if the UK gets this right (and that is going to take a lot of talking, and some compromise), we could provide a template for other countries. One about working together, respecting opinions, and being inclusive.

There are hurt feelings on both sides this morning - Yes voters because they had hoped for a chance to do things differently, and they don't trust Westminster politicians; English unionists because they just like things the way they are. I hope we can overcome those differences in the weeks and months ahead, and work together, to make things better for everyone.

Other posts you might like:

Thursday, 18 September 2014

going back to school with Getting Personal

OK, so this is a little bit late, and I'm sorry about that, but perhaps if your children are finding it tricky settling in to a new class, these could perk them up a bit... and they'd also make good birthday presents.

I should note that I'm not being paid for this post, but I did get the stuff for free, and what great stuff! I got one present for each of the children, so let me tell you about them:

First up I got a notebook for the big girl. She loves to play schools, and a notebook will encourage her to do more writing, which is always a good thing, right?  This one is a cute design and is totally personalisable. We've put her name on it, and an encouraging message. This is one of LOADS of notebooks, many of which are beautifully personalisable, which you'll find over at the Getting Personal website.  Here's the link for notebooks.

As you can see, she's a big fan, and look! The owl matches her school uniform.  The notebook costs £5.99, is lovely quality, and ringbound, and it arrived in just a few days.

Next up we got a personalised book on starting school for the little girl. It's got a cute bunny on it, and her name on every page (sometimes several times). It is suitable for boys and girls, and the story is not bad. Not on a par with The Gruffalo, but fine. She absolutely loved being able to spot her name on every page.

Now the little girl is 4, and if we lived in England she'd be starting school this year. I would say that this book is about the right age for her now. We live in Scotland, and she's got a year left of nursery before starting school, and I'm glad we've got the book now. It's good for working up to the idea of her being in school (which I'm sure will be fine, but starting nursery was sooo hard for her).  The book costs £9.99, and you'll find it here. It took just over a week to arrive.

The little girl was too busy reading the book to pose with it, as you can see, so I've used the stock picture from the website so you can see what it looks like.

Last up is the pencil case I got for the boy. It is HUGE! Much bigger than it looks on the website, but it seems well constructed, and the boy has whisked it straight off to school. He loves it. He reckons he'll be able to get the contents of his school drawer into it.

This is one of a few different pencil cases available from Getting Personal, and you'll find them all here.

I can't be completely sure, but I think the pencil case was sent to us from China. It took over a fortnight to arrive, so don't leave it until the last minute!

To tell the truth, I approached Getting Personal to ask if I could do this blog post, because I am a big fan. All their stuff is well done, and high quality. I especially love their personalised calendars, which make excellent Christmas presents (if, like me, you're already thinking Christmas presents). You'll find lots of calendars here.

Have you bought anything that was personalised?  What did you get?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

liking cats more than dogs

Someone suggested I write a blog post about dogs and cats, and which I prefer.

They suggested it so long ago, that I cannot remember who it was, but I'm going to admit now that I've avoided writing it because I don't want to bug dog people, because I know that dog people really love their dogs.

My Mum and her dog c1971
I don't.

I grew up with dogs and cats. To start with we had Horace. I say we, but Horace was Mum's dog. He was a good, happy dog, who got lots of walks, until I was born. Then he was a very unhappy dog.

I am told he used to pee all around my bedroom while I was in my cot. When I was older, he would obey none of my orders, and would not leave the house unless my Mum came too.

I didn't dislike Horace, but I didn't like him. 

After Horace, my Dad (who doesn't like pets) must have refused another dog. We did have a guinea pig and a rabbit, but that didn't work out so well, so we left it at that.

When my Mum remarried we gained some cats. Her new husband had cats! Fripp (for Robert Fripp), and Joe (Cocker). Joe was a manky tom cat who set to work impregnating the neighbourhood, but Fripp was neutered, and black, and fairly tolerant. I loved that cat.

Mum got a new dog: Billy, half alsatian and half mad, Billy was a big slobbery mess of a dog who irritated the heck out of me, and never got enough walks. I was relieved when we had to let him go.

Britney, my sister's cat
When I was in my teens Joe went missing and Fripp died. We got more cats, some from Cats Protection, some from the people who seek you out if they know you're a cat person. There was Mary and Britney, Cerys (the one eyed git), and one whose name I forget, because he didn't live long, but he had a moustache like Freddie Mercury, and was one of the friendliest cats you could meet. I cried for him when he died. After I left home Mum got Danbert as well, diabetic, but not letting it hold him back, until it did. Now she only has Britney left, and she's a grumpy old thing.

As for me, I moved in with my friend Annabel, and her collection of lovely cats. I befriended her new kitten Cairo, and loved the way she would parade along the back of the sofa, until she fell off.

I didn't get a cat of my own until we moved to Largs. We weren't settled enough in most of the places we've stayed, and they wouldn't let us have one in Suffolk (because of the small children), so I wasn't expecting to get one here, but we moved in in January, called the Cats Protection League in February, and a week later, we had a cat.

He is the best cat ever.

He is an enormous ginger cat who thinks he is a lot tougher than he is, steals whatever food and drink he can find, and loves to be with the family.

He has no discernible purr, but he can meow if he suspects it is within two hours of feeding time.

He doesn't sit on laps, but enjoys resting on green cushions or blankets. If you make the mistake of using a green cushion yourself he will stare at you disdainfully until you relinquish it.

He's called Katsuma, and he is a daily reminder that cats domesticated themselves. They may not have a dog's IQ, but they're the kind of creature I'd rather live with.

What about you? Dog person or cat lover?

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 14 September 2014

voting on Thursdays: Why Thursday anyway?

The people of Scotland will decide whether Scotland becomes independent on Thursday. Which begs the question... Why do we vote on Thursdays anyway?

Kezia Dugdale - picture pinched from her
webpage here
I have been impressed with Kezia Dugdale during the Scottish independence referendum campaign. There haven't been enough women involved, at a high level, and I thought she equipped herself well in the debate with Elaine C Smith (the actor, who did not know what the white paper said), and has generally been eloquent, polite, and thoughtful in an ongoing debate which has become increasingly nasty. I can see why she is seen as a rising star in the Labour party.

The other day, she was saying that we need to move on from elections on a Thursday, which made me wonder why it is we do vote on Thursdays?

I found out so you don't have to. 

Back in the day, when people worked Monday to Friday and stopped work at 5pm, the idea was that people would vote on Thursday, then count and announce results on the Friday, the new prime minister would choose their cabinet over the weekend, and they'd be good to go on the Monday morning.

But that's not all there is to it. Thursday was also a good day because it was often the day chosen for half day closing of shops (remember that?), so people could more easily get to vote. Conversely, Thursday was often market day, so people would be in town anyway. Also, holding the elections on a Thursday was seen as reducing the influence of religious leaders (being far from Sunday), and was considered the most sober day of the week (as people were generally paid on Fridays).

Things have changed, and, in particular, we now have the internet, which could surely be useful for voting? So perhaps Thursday is not the best day any more? Still, we stick with it. In fact there hasn't been a vote on another day since the 1930s (a Tuesday in 1931). Other countries now vote on a Sunday, and in the US they have used voting machines, which make for faster counting, but carry some problems (as Scandal makes clear).

More on this here.

What electoral reforms would you like to see?

Other posts you might like:

Update on the little girl's arm: She is healing well, and has ditched her big old white plaster for a much smaller pink stookie. She no longer has to wear a sling and she's a lot happier. Next appointment in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

offered more childcare: white old men in politics and the things women want

It seems to me that whenever there is a political decision to make, politicians start talking about more free childcare.

Apparently, this is to get the 'woman's vote'. Well, I'm a woman, and free childcare does not float my boat.

I'm not saying it isn't a good thing for lots of women having to work to keep (overpriced) food on the table.  For them cheaper childcare would be good in the short term.

But I think that the endless push for more free childcare is bad for two reasons:

  1. It undermines the value of childcare by families, which in turn undermines the value of childcare altogether, and keeps wages in that sector low.
  2. It ignores the benefits of caring for our children ourselves, not just in the short term, with the long lasting benefits of breastfeeding babies past the first few months, but also in the long term. All studies show that children do best when they are looked after by people who love them.
Money is important, of course it is. We need to keep ourselves fed, housed, and watered. But working as a waged employee is not the only way to earn money. And there is also nothing wrong with working as a team to look after your family, and earn money.

Childcare is considered a womens issue because it is mainly women who do paid work around childcare, or who work unpaid, caring for their children, grandchildren, and other family members. 

Some people argue that women are more caring, and so naturally fulfill these roles, but the advances of men into the domestic sphere in recent years (it is not unusual to see a Dad at a toddler group any more, although he might be the only one), have suggested that that is wrong

I think that most families make decisions about childcare based on practicality. For us, like many other people, my husband could earn more than me, and was willing to put in more hours away from the children. His career has taken off while I have been caring for our children, which is great, but means I'm unlikely to catch up, especially considering that employers don't think a lot of the experience I've gained in this time (in negotiation, overcoming obstacles, tenacity, juggling projects, time management, etc).

There are issues here about the long hours culture we have at the moment, wherein people are expected to show their willingness to work long hours, when actually, it would be better for everybody if people were rested. If an employer needs a job done for 50 hours a week, then they need 2 members of staff (at least one of whom could have flexible hours), not one frazzled one. There are also issues around the fact that men tend to get paid more than women. Men's work valued more. Address these and childcare may become a moot point.

The fact is that even with lots of childcare, there needs to be an adult in the family who can look after the children when they are sick, when others need to work at tricky times, and in the holidays. Childcare is rarely sufficient to meet these needs, and even if we reduce the long hours culture there will be people who need to work awkward hours.

Of course, there are other reasons to be annoyed at the offers of childcare; lots of people don't have children, so are not interested at all (saving the fact that they'd like to live in a world with nice people in it, presumably). But the main thing is that this is what is trotted out as a womens issue! Every time! This isn't a womens issue. This is just an issue. Women's low wages, and the low opinion of women's work in and out of the home are issues, as is the long hours culture, and the inflexibility of employment, so it seems a boss is doing someone a big favour to let them attend their child's assembly. Violence and social control of women are issues, especially in Scotland, where the Government ran a campaign warning women that drinking too much could lead to their getting raped just a few years ago.

The Better Together campaign may be getting a lot of flack for their awful advert, featuring the woman who was too busy ironing to think about the referendum, but both sides are run by white old men, and both sides are patronising to women.

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 7 September 2014

thinking about financial independence: The Scottish referendum and the future of the pound.

There are lots of things that are of concern to both sides in the Scottish referendum debate which is going on at the moment. Some things are less worrying than others. To be honest, there seems to be plenty of scaremongering which is best left alone.

When there was a fuss in the news about the future of the pound in Scotland, I thought that that was another one of these things where the No campaign was trying to cause a stir over not much.

I was wrong.

If Scotland becomes independent, the UK would be foolish to maintain financial union.  They would have no control over Scotland's finances, and all the main parties have stated clearly that they would not maintain the financial union. With a general election on the horizon in England, they're unlikely to change their minds.

But so what? Scotland could keep the pound, and just connect it to the English pound. This has been done before. Alternatively Scotland could use the dollar, or look into joining the Euro (although I can't see that one getting very far).  We could even create our own currency if we want to. The money in our pocket is not the issue that matters here.

Scotland is a fairly well off part of the UK. There are three primary income sectors. Firstly the gas and oil sector, which is subject to fluctuation, and we cannot guarantee the income it could generate. Secondly, the financial sector (so we should have some useful expertise), and thirdly, a really strong university sector, but that relies on people coming in from outwith Scotland to generate funds.

Scotland could generate income well, but she has an ageing population and also believes in more public spending than the rest of the UK. The ageing population is a problem everywhere, although there's a higher proportion of older people in Scotland (is this because we export our young people?).

Borrowing is an important consideration for all of the UK, but If Scotland needed to borrow she'd be in a worse position than the rest of the UK, having no track record - no credit rating. We would be able to borrow less, and would need to pay more.

The SNP have described continuing complete financial union as Plan A. The main UK parties have rejected plan A. So what's plan B? And can Scotland afford it?

What do you think? Please note that any nasty comments will be removed, so just be nice :-)

Other posts you might like:
Her Dad wraps ribbon
around her cast, ready
for a party.
Update on the girl's arm: She fell down the stairs this morning, it was terrifying, but she was fine. It sounds more dramatic than it was, it was only a couple of steps, but it was very scary. I cannot wait 'til she gets her next appointment on Tuesday. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Friday, 5 September 2014

choosing a favourite Beatle

Picture of my Mum, in her
Two Virgins top, taken by
my sister.
Which is your favourite Beatle?  I know that half of them are dead, one is Thomas the Tank Engine, and the other one is Paul, but let's imagine that they're back in their hey day and pick one.

Back in the day, my Mum tells me, there were only two options - you could be in camp Paul, or camp John. George and Ringo were just not on the table. Mum was, and still is, a big fan of John. Can you tell?

Nowadays though, you can be a fan of whoever you like, and I'm plumping for George. Apparently, I'm not alone. There's a quiz here, to guess your favourite Beatle, and the comments would suggest that there are a lot of George fans out there (or that George fans are more likely to comment).

The Beatles may have been the first, but there is still the idea that each personality in a boy band is a different 'type', and fans still pick one. Believe me, I spent a whole day painting 'I <3 Harry/Zayn/Louis/Niall/Liam' (or 1D for those who hadn't chosen a camp yet) on young girl's faces at a school fair recently. 

The Beatles provide a good example of the types.  There is:

John: Troubled rebel, life and soul of the party, sexy and wild. See also Robbie Williams, Liam Gallagher, and Harry Styles.

Paul: Clean cut boy next door, well behaved. See also Ronan Keating, Gary Barlow, and Liam Payne(?).

George: The alternative one, often a bit quiet, not quite fitting in. See also Shane Lynch (although not quiet), Jason Orange, and Tony Mortimer.

Ringo: The sweet one. In Ringo's case he was painted as being a bit dim, well, he was the drummer, but also lovable. See also Steven Gately and Mark Owen.

Some bands also have a token minority person, see Zayn Malik in 1D. No boy bands have a gay one on purpose as yet, as far as I know. Steven Gately was pretty effectively locked into the closet, and if there is a gay or bi one in 1D, they are yet to admit it.

So, who's your favourite Beatle? And, do you have any favourites from other boy bands? Which 'type' are they?

Other posts you might like:

Update on the broken arm: She is so bored of the cast, but did get it signed this week by her favourite teacher, who sadly, has had to leave :-( Hopefully we will get a lighter cast next week.