Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The job market is a lottery and why employment figures are a nonsensical folly

Graduates like me have entered a volatile
and unsettled job market. And so have
It's the draw for this week's job lottery! Get your tickets out and see if your applications lead to success. You could be a winner!

Many job seekers and those looking to expand the amount of work they do always have that recurring hope that their desires, hopes and ambitions within their own career can be fulfilled. Yet despite figures out today stating that unemployment has fallen, very few people have questioned the potential devil in the detail as far as the reality of the overall situation in the economy is concerned.

According to the Office of National Statistics, unemployment fell below two million between June and August 2014. The fall between a year earlier and now is 538,000 which is the largest annual fall in unemployment since records began in 1972. Yet the economic inactivity rate is still an eye watering 22.2%. For the sake of clarity, I tried to find an official definition of what "economic inactivity rate" meant on the Office for National Statistics website, but I was not successful.

However, according to the Scottish Government website, "economically inactive" was defined as people who weren't officially unemployed, but who aren't in employment and:

- Want a job but have not been seeking work in the last four weeks; or
- Want a job and are seeking work but not available to start work in the next two weeks; or
- Do not want a job.

So let's assume that being economically inactive is defined as such. How many people fall under this category, but who cannot find actual paid work or earn a living in order to satisfy their social and economic needs? And how many people fall under this category who want to be in a job that suits their own career needs, but are being shut out? And, on another note, how many people find themselves self-employed through no choice, but to stay afloat as much as they possibly can in the stormy sea?

That's the reality and the core of the whole problem that actually exists in our country, economy and society. There are talented graduates and non-graduates of all ages with a strong bank of experience and skills who cannot find a vacancy that helps them move on in life. There is a disturbing complacency amongst nearly everybody when it comes to the overall employment and job market situation.

And it's not just the fact that there is next to no work available in many areas, but when vacancies arise and candidates fulfil pretty much the criteria in an interview which would make them a perfect appointment, they still face the likelihood of being knocked back. That's the reality today. You could have all the experience and skills in the world, but it counts for nothing if you're not "it". I appreciate that the competition for vacancies is fierce, but that doesn't compensate for the frustration and injustice that has arisen more than ever for many talented people.

The release of the latest employment figures today reminded me of an early morning telephone call to London based talk radio station LBC when I spoke to Olly Mann about my own life and career earlier this year. More people might find themselves employed by name, but not in spirit. And as I remember stating to Olly, statistics are one thing, but the reality on the ground is another.

Let's all stop being naïve, give ourselves a good damn reality check and think properly about what's really happening out there.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Alex Salmond, outgoing First Minister of Scotland - my personal tribute.

I took this picture of the outgoing First Minister
of Scotland earlier this year - he is a canny, well
liked and highly skilled politician.
If you've got no access to a television, smartphone, tablet, computer or any media then you will be one of the very few people on this planet not to be in the knowledge of what has unfolded here in Scotland over the last 24 to 48 hours. 

As a supporter of the Yes campaign,  I am personally devastated, hurt and very upset by the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum. Yet at the same time, I'm proud also. With a turnout of well over 80%, it is clear that democracy was the big winner with this referendum. But the outcome of the vote has sadly led to the forthcoming loss of quite probably one of the greatest (if not the greatest) politician to have ever led Scotland. 

When I arrived home at lunchtime today, a volcano of emotions erupted. Tears, sadness, devastation, sorrow and even anger. Yes I know the last one is very drastic, but it was inevitable. Let me add though that I wasn't angry at anybody. I was just angry that my country was never granted the ability to take it's place on the international stage as an independent country.

I slept much of those emotions off throughout the afternoon and when I woke up, I discovered that our current First Minister announced that he was to resign towards the end of 2014. Now you would expect me to feel a sense of complete and total sadness at that news, wouldn't you? Well I did feel upset for him, but the main feeling that emerged for me was a sense of relief, happiness and respect for the man who has led our nation since 2007.

Let's face it, Alex Salmond could not have done any more in his current role. He led his party to two stunning election victories in both 2007 and 2011. I have never been a member of the Scottish National Party, but my admiration for him and his party existed, especially in the latter of the two victories. At that time, I was still a Conservative member yet I can still remember wanting to see the Scottish National Party win. I was so impressed by how the party managed to govern effectively despite having to work as a minority within the Scottish Parliament in their first term of office.

Alex Salmond's party frankly deserved their overall majority in 2011, because they proved to people across Scotland and beyond that they could run an administration with competence. I don't think they got everything right, but they certainly performed well. But as far as the issue of independence was concerned, it was always going to be a big ask. Yet despite this, the MSP for Aberdeenshire East proved why he is one of the world's most skilful politicians. He outplayed Westminster and the Prime Minister from the start all the way until before the referendum vote. 

The loss for Yes is something that the First Minister should never be blamed for. Rather, he should be very proud that the Yes campaign managed to convince well over 1.5 million people in Scotland to vote in favour of independence. When you consider the overall environment in Scotland, it is an absolutely remarkable achievement. He could have very easily continued on, but I think he was absolutely right to resign. He doesn't need to put himself through any unnecessary agony, pressure or stress in the coming weeks. And he will depart Bute House with dignity and his integrity well in tact.

I think when we move on, history will put Alex Salmond in a good light. This is a man who wanted the best for his country. This is a man who was willing to lead from the front and do what was necessary to make Scotland more appealing and relevant internationally. I absolutely reject the absolutely absurd and downright malicious assertion that he was an arrogant individual. Arrogance is not the same as being assertive. He asserted himself appropriately and although he was quite mischievous at times, he was never boring and always wanted the best for the country. It is people like him that makes politics tolerable.

Despite this referendum, he is a winner. Scotland needs winners. And that's why he will always be someone that I will regard with a deep sense of affection for the rest of my life.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

It's time for an independent Scotland to take it's place on the world stage

Will my home city become the capital of a
newly independent Scotland?
This is probably going to be the most important blog post I have ever written. For many weeks, people have asked me time and time again what stance I take on the forthcoming independence referendum this Thursday. I came to the conclusion that keeping my thoughts to myself was not justifiable in the face of what is to become one of the most defining moments in my lifetime (no matter what the result is) so I've decided to share my thoughts and feelings publicly.

Let me put my cards on the table. I have never been a member of the Scottish National Party and have no desire to become a politician anytime soon. I was a member of the Conservatives between 2009 and 2012 and left the party for a mixture of reasons - losing interest in party politics in general and being unable to support many of the decisions being taken by the UK coalition government, plus it's overall performance in a variety of issues (such as failure to stay successfully on track to tackling the UK's deficit).

But also, despite initially favouring Ruth Davidson for the leadership, I felt that the Scottish Conservatives took the wrong direction when Murdo Fraser's plans for disbanding the party and creating a new centre-right political party for Scotland were rejected. I felt then that my place in the party had disappeared and let my membership expire. I am approaching the issue on Scotland's constitutional future as an individual and I am only speaking for my own self now. I'm not really left or right anymore. I see myself as more of a pragmatist if anything (some may argue that I'm more of a populist, but I don't see things that way!).

Firstly, I want to congratulate everybody, Yes, No and those on the fence on what has been one of the most enlightening and thrilling debates of all time. Political apathy has well and truly been defeated for the first time in around three decades or so and we should all be proud of that. With a turnout of well over 80% to be expected, it is clear that many people want their voices heard on what is clearly a very important issue.

Despite there being some unpleasant moments of friction between some supporters of the two sides, the vast majority of people have debated the issues in an environment of respect and dignity. Although differences of opinion undoubtedly create some sort of disharmony, it is fair to say that none of us want to live in a world where everybody agrees with each other on every single last aspect or issue in life - where's the fun in that?

On Thursday, the nation's voters will be asked whether Scotland should become an independent country. It's fair to say that both options on the ballot paper carry a mixture of benefit and risk.

Let's start with the Yes option. Nearly nobody disputes that Scotland is more than capable of being a superb, prosperous and successful independent nation and that we are more than capable of running our own country. We are a wealthy country that has been blessed with a range of resources such as our talented population, oil and water. We also appeal to many tourists as a country worth visiting. We also have demonstrated to our friends all over the world that when we hold international events in the areas of arts, culture and sport, we are world class.

And we need to do much more in order to properly reach out to all corners of the globe. We need to become the number one place for business to come and invest in - after all, investment brings employment and prosperity. Although the level of investment into Scotland has increased over the last few years, we need to do far more to achieve that goal. People get terrified of the word competition, but I think it is the reality of our world today. We need to stand up and take our own unique place in what is becoming an ever more dynamic and globalised world.

Evan Davis' excellent documentary "Mind The Gap: London v the Rest", which was broadcast on the BBC, demonstrated to me why Scotland needs to take responsibility for all of it's economic matters. Now please don't get me wrong, London is a fabulous city and I visit the city a lot and enjoy my experiences there, but it just feels like it is prioritised too often over other parts of the United Kingdom for investment and economic growth. There simply aren't enough job opportunities for people my age in Scotland, nor is there enough support to help our future generations come out of secondary or tertiary education and into a successful career and good quality of living.

People like myself have had no choice but to leave home in order to further a career. And if I'm honest, although it's great to travel around and have a different environment every now and again, I actually resent having to face the idea of having no choice but to leaving my own country in order to make progress within my own life. My friends and family live here and I want to live, work and build my life in Scotland and I seriously think that the country needs much more autonomy in order to take it's own direction economically.

But I also acknowledge that there are risks that will be taken with independence. Many people are still anxious about the currency issue and wonder whether we will still be using the Pound Sterling. However, I am very confident that whether we end up in a currency union or not that the currency we currently have will still be the one we are using in the immediate aftermath of becoming an independent country. However, I do believe that one day, like other nations such as the Republic of Ireland and Australia, we will have our own currency (such as the Scottish Pound for instance). There's nothing to fear from that - these nations and many more started out in a similar way and then over the years they used their own currency and have gone on to be successful since.

And what about the No option? Well, we will still remain a nation state within the United Kingdom as it stands today. I guess not much will change - we'll still have the BBC, have MP's representing us at Westminster and retain British passports. But as far as the constitutional issue is concerned, dare I say this but I fear that after many years of debate and ideas being exchanged and discussed that we will end up with nothing. It's all well and good to hear the three main parties who support the union propose ideas for more new powers for Scotland. But from what I've heard in the news over the last week or so, it's just not good enough.

It seems like we will only get some powers and nothing like devolution max. And what's more, that option isn't even on the ballot paper - it could have been though. Also, how will MP's and voters react in the rest of the UK? I think very few people there will happily approve of the idea of giving Scotland any more powers. Whilst I applaud those on the No side aspiring to see more devolution taking place in Scotland, I strongly think that it is not achievable. The idea of devolving more powers to Scotland in the aftermath of a No vote is politically impossible and probably won't gain approval at Westminster.

I have to applaud the current administration at Holyrood for it's competence in ensuring that policies such as free NHS prescriptions and the abolition of tuition fees for students in Scotland have been implemented - ensuring that you have appropriate policies in order to cater for the social needs of the population is vital. Although I do agree that welfare reform is necessary, I do not feel comfortable about some of the things that have unfolded. The rise in the number of food banks is troubling and the way the welfare system is run is frankly not working effectively. Also, the policy of the spare room subsidy has proven to be an absolute disaster and should never have been implemented in the first place. If Scotland's voters don't want such policies, then why should they be brought about in the first place?

On another note, I am absolutely sick, tired and fed up of listening to some people who doubt our capability to run our own nation. I feel that the decision I am about to announce has been vindicated by the events of this past week - the scare stories which illustrate that some sort of an economic catastrophe will hit our country have been nothing short of ridiculous. I'm actually really angry, hurt and very disappointed about the way my country has been treated, sneered upon and viewed over our future, because of the referendum - call me emotional if you want, but this decision is a mixture of head and heart. It's a democratic decision. The world will respect it and if we are set to become an independent country then I would expect there to be a degree of anticipation for us to take our own place in the world.

I respect the views of everyone whether they are voting Yes, No or don't intend to vote at all. I have no doubt that we all, whichever viewpoint we accept, want the best for Scotland. I absolutely condemn any intimidation, abuse or questioning of anybody's patriotism within this debate. Whilst I am more than delighted to debate the issues with anybody in a calm, constructive and dignified manner, I will have absolutely no time for anybody who is looking for trouble of any kind (and it doesn't matter what stance you take on the debate either!).

And finally, I could go on and write a book about all of my thoughts on the future of our country, but I don't have time. And you probably don't have time to read them either. Which is why I'm going to declare that after weighing all of the risks and benefits, I am convinced that the benefits of Scottish independence outweigh the risks. I am supporting a Yes vote and I'm ready to embrace the independence of the Scottish nation (if it happens).

Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

My speech on hospital radio and Victoria Radio Network

Last night, I was hounoured to be asked to speak to an audience at St Marie's Church about hospital radio and Kirkcaldy's award winning hospital radio station, Victoria Radio Network.

Have a listen to what I had to say last night - there is a speech from me and a short Q and A session. Plus, you'll get to find out what my wildest broadcasting fantasy is at the end! Enjoy!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Lack of Scottish talk radio - the REAL democratic deficit

Let's increase the variety of voices heard on the radio and faces
seen on television. Excite the listener or viewer and don't
switch them off!
Talk radio is proving to be a popular phenomenon in many different geographical areas. In the Republic of Ireland, Newstalk is their most well known independent talk radio broadcaster. The BBC focuses on talk based programming through it's own output on stations such as Radio 4. And in London, who can forget the popular LBC?

Scotland is about to face the biggest decision in it's entire history in just under three weeks from now. Much debate has been had on television screens, in town halls and on the streets of every city and town across this country. Yet, despite all this, the country can sadly not boast that it has it's own independent national talk radio station. Frankly, this is a national obscenity as well as a tragedy.

A good friend of mine and I had a deep conversation about this whole issue on the phone last weekend. Like me, and I say this with modesty, he has a constructive and analytical outlook on the referendum. Personally, I'm getting more and more fed up of seeing the same faces and hearing the same voices on my television and radio every day, particularly with regard to coverage of the Scottish independence referendum. I'm getting fed up of listening to the same soundbites from politicians on both sides time after time. And I'm also getting fed up of the petty point scoring that overshadows many broadcasts on the issue of the referendum (and on other issues within politics in general). Why can't the broadcasters and other media outlets start looking further afield to other people and commentators to seek their constructive opinions? Are people like me just not interesting enough?

To be fair, I have to feel grateful to the BBC at Pacific Quay for allowing me on numerous occasions to come onto Morning Call on BBC Radio Scotland and speak about the issues featured on their show (of which not every issue that I've discussed on that show has been specifically related to the referendum on independence). But BBC Scotland can only do so much and has to cater for all of it's listeners as Radio Scotland is not specifically a talk radio station. The advantage with having an independent national talk radio station is that it'll enable a platform for a variety of different people to come on air and put their opinion in the public domain. It's wrong to suggest that people don't care about politics. They do - for goodness sake, look at the number of people who have registered to vote for this forthcoming referendum. I know some of you will point me to Talk 107, which was a talk radio station serving Edinburgh, Fife and the Lothians in the 2000's. Sadly it's no longer around, because, in my opinion, it did not reach out to the whole nation and only broadcast to a selected part of the country - that was a fundamental mistake from the start.

If I'm being really honest, the need for Scotland to catch up with the likes of London and the Republic of Ireland in having, exclusively, a talk radio station of it's own is overwhelming. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a country that such a service does not exist in it's own entity. I hope somebody with experience, expertise and passion for such an idea can bring about whatever is required for Scottish talk radio to thrive again and contribute a fundamentally important element to the nation's media.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

My genuine fears for Scotland post-referendum

The sun will truly set one way or the other on
September 19th in Scotland.
Four weeks today, Scotland will be at a major crossroad - one direction will lead to independence and another one will lead to remaining within the United Kingdom. Either way, one side of the debate will win and the other will be defeated.

And don't think for a second that this is going to be the first of a series of referenda on Scotland's future. This is a once in a lifetime occasion which will never be repeated. The way the polls are trending at the moment suggests that the result isn't going to be a 70/30 or even a 60/40 split.

For the last few days, the result of people's emotions after the result of the referendum has started to really worry me. Many people have stated their possible intention of quitting Scotland if the result doesn't go the way they want - the results of a recent survey by Panelbase for The Sunday Times and Heart radio station suggested that around 700,000 people in Scotland could emigrate if the referendum ended up with a Yes vote and around 200,000 people in Scotland would quit the country if the result of the referendum was a No. Both figures are not small (link to article from The Scotsman website).

The biggest flaw some people complain about with the upcoming referendum is the fact that there are only two options on the tablet for voters - independence or (arguably) nothing. And the group of voters in particular that will really not appreciate this are those who wanted to vote for a possible third option where it was, for example, "Devolution Plus" or "Devolution Max". What if we end up with a No vote and, after all this long period of time debating, nothing happens? That would go down well with very few people - in June 2012, according to the results of a Ipsos MORI/Reform Scotland survey, only 29% opted for the "status quo" option (link to UK Polling Report website).

Now I know people on the No side insist that more powers will be delivered to the Scottish Parliament under devolution, but how do we really know that is going to definitely happen? The three main pro-union parties at Holyrood have all come up with different ideas and have failed to make a united agreement on what extra powers will be legislated for after the referendum. It could turn out to be their biggest mistake in recent Scottish history and the Better Together side will have nobody but themselves to blame if they lose. However, will it all depend on who wins the 2015 UK General Election? Probably.

On the contrary, it should be asked as to why the Yes side are not leading the polls with just around a month to go. I do not think for a second that anyone within Yes Scotland seem to be panicking at the moment, but time is running out if they want to have enough momentum on their side in order to claim victory. Then again, will they pull off an extraordinary victory? The Scottish National Party certainly did in the 2011 election for the Scottish Parliament, so who knows?

I also felt that the First Minister is still not setting out that unambiguous of a case for Sterling to remain as the main currency of Scotland. When I quizzed Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on this issue in Kirkcaldy last Tuesday, she gave me a really strong and, frankly, unambiguous case - maybe it should have been her debating Alistair Darling on STV over a fortnight ago.

What also attracted my attention this week was the contrast between many of the polls which illustrate that a No vote was likely and the result of a survey carried out in working class communities by the Radical Independence Campaign. They found that support for a Yes vote stood at 44%, No on 25% and Don't Knows on 31%. Take the latter of the three away and the split would be 63/37 in favour of a Yes vote (link to article from The Scotsman website). 

Now I couldn't source results of another separate survey for those that live in middle class communities, but the possible inequality between those that are well off and those that aren't well off and what both groups of people want for Scotland's future appears very disturbing and divisive to me as far as the future of Scottish society is concerned.

The last thing to consider for now is the fact that this forthcoming referendum is unchartered territory for everybody in Scotland. We have never had a referendum of this kind before and none of us on this earth can really determine what is going to really happen after the result is announced. However, I fear that the political mood of this country will become so toxic that matters could become really unhealthy and it is the responsibility of the politicians to ensure that a sense of calm resumes after the referendum.

The outcome of the vote on September 18th 2014 will go right to the wire. Put it this way, it's like a football cup final - there won't be a draw. And only one side can win this debate.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Five reasons why Glasgow should host the Olympics in 2028

Shall we do it all over again with a
Glasgow 2028 Olympic Games?
So we all know how capable Glasgow was in hosting the 20th Commonwealth Games this summer. But whether Scotland wins independence or chooses to remain within the United Kingdom, I think we should not hesitate for a second in thinking about the prospect of bringing the Olympic Games to Scotland's biggest city. Here's why:

1. Glasgow and Scotland are pretty much well organised with our provision of facilities to host events such as football, swimming and the triathlon. And we all know how magical Hampden Park became when the athletics came to town during the Commonwealth Games. It should also be noted that other cities and locations across Scotland can, like during Glasgow 2014, support the city in hosting sporting events such as when the shooting took place at Barry Buddon near Dundee.

2. Glasgow and Scotland has an advanced transportation system which caters for the needs of commuters on a daily basis. And during Glasgow 2014 there were hardly any major problems despite how busy the city became (particularly at venues where events were taking place). With the help of the specially designated lanes across Glasgow's road network, the extended timetable on the railways and extra bus services, traffic continued to flow well.

3. An Olympic Games in Glasgow and Scotland will provide even more opportunity for the city and country to grow and exceed any expectations. Although I did mention Hampden Park and the athletics earlier, there would probably be a need for a brand new Scottish Olympic Stadium in order to provide a higher level of capacity. A Scottish Olympics will provide the chance for improvements to infrastructure such as the roads and sporting facilities and also the opportunity to build other new facilities such as new hotels and retail centres.

4. Glasgow have a strong track record in hosting international events such as the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup (now known as the UEFA Europa League) finals (2002 and 2007, respectively), the annual World Pipe Band Championships and of course the recent Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. 2028 is a good year to go for in terms of bidding for the Olympics, because it allows time for the current political situation to settle in Scotland and for us to reflect and consolidate on the success of the 20th Commonwealth Games.

5. Scotland may only be a country of just over five million people, but we Scots are a very big and well known, loved and admired people worldwide. We live for the big occasion and we continuously make a great name for ourselves on the international stage as we beautifully demonstrated during Glasgow 2014. And we are also an outward looking, friendly and ambitious country so welcoming the world to Scotland will be a task that we would all relish with excitement.

So there you go. A succinct, yet thought provoking case for the country's biggest city to be the focus of the world once again. Don't call me ludicrous or blame me for writing this blog entry. We should not hold ourselves back.