Carmichael explains why he voted ‘no’ on the Official Secrets Act ammendment – The Vole stands firm

Alistair_Carmichael_at_Glasgow_2014Clearly our recent posts about Alistair Carmichael and the Official Secrets Act vote have caused enormous interest. We are a little blog run from a burrow at the back of Stromness that normally gets a few hits a day but over the last week it has been something like 10,000. We are all thrilled. Mrs Vole has put out the flags and the volets are bragging to all their children.

We are glad that Alistair Carmichael has responded with his rationale for the vote.  Various people have been kind enough to send us what he said to them  and we thought it appropriate to quote him in full. I can understand why he did not want to contact me himself, I am only a vole and so not entitled to parliamentary representation until ARS (additional rodent system) is adopted, a policy no party has yet suggested.
This is what Carmichael said,

“The vote concerned was a proposed amendment to the Official Secrets Act which would have created a defence for anyone charged with unlawful disclosure under that act. The defence was for the accused to show that the disclosure was made in relation to an official enquiry into child sex abuse. I voted against it because a disclosure of this sort is already permitted and therefore a defence is not necessary.

As the Solicitor General explained in the House of Commons, “The Official Secrets Act is intended to protect certain classes of particularly sensitive information such as security and intelligence matters, and it provides for a number of offences that prevent current or former Crown servants or government contractors from disclosing certain information without lawful authority. It does not prevent protected information from being disclosed to an officer of an official investigation or inquiry into historical child abuse.”

I understand that this issue will have come to your attention through an anonymous blog from a nationalist campaign group. The same story is being used by SNP activists in other parts of Scotland so it is obviously part of a concerted campaign of misinformation.

Having worked with the victims of child sex abuse, both as a lawyer and as an MP, I have seen for myself how it can ruin lives. I also know how difficult it can be to get victims to come forward and I am afraid that suggesting that there is a barrier to proper investigation where none exists will make that more difficult still.

This was not an amendment to “allow investigation of historic child abuse cases” as the headline in the article states. There is nothing in law that prevents such investigations taking place.”

And Peter Kennedy has commented on the previous post, kindly providing us with part of Carmichael’s text and saying that as a family lawyer, he believes that he is right.  We respect this and accept that our statement saying that Carmichael blocked the investigation was rather crude. Indeed, there is nothing to block an investigation from taking place and one has now been created.  The question is about what would stop potential witnesses giving evidence to it. Under normal circumstances, I am sure Peter Kennedy is right, it is widely understood that there is no duty of confidentiality more important than the protection of the child.  These are not usual circumstances.

The need for a specific defence

This vote was about creating a particular defence for government employees who may have been involved in cover ups who now what to speak up – people who want to give evidence to the Inquiry but are nervous about doing so in case of getting prosecuted or persecuted. .  Some of them clearly feel that this specific defence is needed even after the assurances have been made by the Home Secretary. When questioned by Keith Vaz on 17th March 2015,  she said  that she ‘hopes and expects’ that those who contravene the Official Secrets Act will not be prosecuted, but it must be for Justice Goddard and the Attorney General to decide.” It is clear from her reply, that if people did speak to the inquiry without due authority or if that had been refused,  they may actually break the law and so be at risk.  They would be dependent on assurances being made not to prosecute. That would not make this vole feel safe. Nor indeed does it work for many Special Branch officers, watch what John Mann said in the House of Commons as he supported the amendment.

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The Tim’rous Beastie stands up to Carmichael

The Tim’rous Beastie explores what Mr Carmichael has done in office!

As the General Election looms closer and the papers are full of ifs and buts concerning our future, I wanted to look back instead and ask a question probably more relevant to Orkney than anywhere else in the UK : is Alistair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Liberal Democratic party, the same man and the same party I voted for in 2010? Let’s face it, most of us aren’t that interested in politics and in the end we vote for the person who we think might do a good job, might represent us well, and might carry through on their party manifesto. We don’t envy MP’s their job- the endless meetings, discussions, writing, travelling and speech-making, but eventually this all boils down to laws passed or not, the taxes we pay, and how we’re governed. And surely £67,000 p.a. isn’t bad recompense? ( waste-site attendants start at £17,000, bin-lorry drivers £20,000, teachers £22,000, nurses £23,000,G.P’s £55-£82,000). In 2010 I optimistically put my faith in Nick Clegg and my cross against Mr carmichael’s name -should I do the same in two month’s time?

In their last manifesto, the Lib Dems said:

  • No to renewing Trident. And in 2007 Mr. Carmichael did vote against renewing Trident. But on January 20th this year, no Scottish Liberal Democrat was in Westminster to vote on renewing Trident; in fact only 10% of Lib Dems turned up at all. The motion, brought by Plaid Cymru and the SNP that “this House believes that Trident should not be renewed” was rejected by a huge Conservative majority ( 364 to 37).
  • Better IT procurement. Although it looks like this may be one area where Mr Carmichael has borne fruit, in that some of us MAY get super-duper faster fibre-optic broadband ( although some islanders would just be glad to see the common or garden kind since they got cut off by the storms), nationally the Lib Dems have been part of a government that has continued to waste BILLIONS on the failed NHS scheme originally introduced by Labour. Other costly IT debacles have been the breakdown of the Child Support Agency, chaos in the Passport Agency, tax credits left open to fraud, late payments from the Rural Payments Agency, and difficulties in tracking foreign national prisoners. Why didn’t they just offer extra pocket money to get some S1 pupils in for the jobs? We all know our kids can run rings round us in I.T.

THE MONEY WASTED ON I.T. AND TRIDENT EQUALS EXACTLY THE AMOUNT OF THE UK DEFICIT, so when Alistair Carmichael says they have brought the deficit down, what he means is they have used austerity measures to cut public services so they’re obviously saving money, but how much more cost effective would it have been to get decent IT systems and stop funding Trident; and more to the point, how much more humanitarian would it have been? ( What the Lib Dems USED to stand for).

Is the Lib Dem record better in other areas? Their manifesto said they would reform banking by introducing a banking levy, breaking up the banks, building up business finance sources and founding a UK Infrastructure Savings Bank. Please tell me if I have missed any of this, but I cannot recall one single instance of any of these coming to fruition. Not only did I not notice any major revolution in banking, but Mr Carmichael himself voted against a banker’s bonus tax ( 2011)! They were also to tackle tax avoidance- hmm, oh yes, Google, Amazon and Starbucks were Very Afraid- and they possibly didn’t mean to tackle to tax avoidance of friends, e.g. Samantha Cameron whose company has just opened a tax avoidance office in Luxembourg, or those in political parties with HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland. And that “Mansion Tax” for homes worth £2 million? Mr Carmichael voted against it! ( 2013)

Personally, I was interested in green and social justice issues: so where are the prison reforms, the refurbishment money so shipyards can switch to building renewables, the green energy deals, the greener buses, the bringing back into use of 250,000 empty houses, the scaling back of right-to-buy council houses?

The housing crisis, and I mean affordable housing, continues apace, with the only saving coming from demanding that any spare rooms in existing council housing be given up! Not only has there been the sheer failure of ambition and imagination in this area, but such meanness of spirit and heaping of blame onto hapless council tenants that this alone could cost the Lib Dems dear, equalling in public disgust the hated Poll tax of the Thatcher government. Despite Mr Carmichael voting for this policy, no less than Shirley Williams called it a “big mistake”.

What else was on the Lib Dem agenda?

  • Scrapping university tuition fees

I was furious when Labour continued its derailing of State-supported education (begun with the PFI in the schools building programme) by introducing university tuition fees. The Lib Dem pledge to reverse this was one of my major reasons for supporting the party. Well we know what happened to that one. And despite voting against raising tuition fees three times in 2004, by 2010 Alistair Carmichael himself had changed his tune, voting in favour instead. As a former teacher myself who benefitted from free higher education, now the parent of a 1st Class Honours and Masters graduate repaying two loans at a cost of £300 per month from a salary of £24,000 I find the monetisation of education absolute anathema, and totally unforgiveable. Enough said.

  • Keep the Post Office and retain 51% of Royal Mail in public ownership

Vince Cable was replaced by Danny Alexander as punishment for not only reneging on the above, but selling it off cheap. What a convenient scapegoat. When I wrote to Mr Carmichael about this issue, he openly admitted he had changed his mind in privatising the Royal Mail. WHY?

Let’s look at some other “victories” which Alistair Carmichael claimed in a recent email to us, his constituents.

Raising the personal tax allowance to £10,000, meaning a tax cut of £700. Sounds good doesn’t it, an extra £58 per month, but the Taxpayers Alliance have stated that other taxes will have increased 300 times by the time of the General Election, including the all-pervasive VAT which increased from 17.5% to 20% in 2011, an increase Mr C. voted strongly in favour of! ( For the average income this alone knocks out half the advantage of the personal allowance rise, while for the lower income it severely effects spending power as a bigger proportion is spent on taxed goods. ( Institute of Fiscal Studies). If anyone has ever studied VAT, I would like them to explain to me how governments ever got away with this one! Add on the massive fuel hikes we’ve seen ( and the much heralded 5p cut for the Highlands and Islands proved laughable as the petrol companies immediately raised the price to compensate), and frozen wages, and I would bet that very few people would have seen any benefit.

£2000 worth of free childcare. Again a headline grabber, but you have to drill down into the figures and system of payment to understand this one. That figure is only available if you spend £20,000 on child care, and if you are in a two parent household, and if you are both working.

Created 1.7 million jobs in the UK. Again, we have to question this- what kind of jobs? As they have mostly been in the private sector, how has the government “created” them? By cutting public services, by keeping the minimum wage low, by reducing benefits, by draconian sanctions for those seeking work who miss appointments? ( Public Sector Employment, 2014)

And I’m afraid it really did sound hollow when Alistair Carmichael claimed the glory for introducing votes for 16 year olds. Yes, Simon Hughes was the first to debate the idea in 1999, but the Lib Dems have always failed to convince parliament until the SNP demanded it for the Independence referendum. I remember a debate in Stromness a few years ago on this very issue, and someone saying they though it a vile and cynical tactic on behalf of the SNP! But now, Alistair Carmichael claims it was the one “good thing” that came out of the referendum…how times change. Yet how he can say this but at the same time vote for ending support for some 16-19 year olds in training and further education ( 2011), and against using public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed ( 2011), only his conscience must know.

And finally, each of us has to examine our own conscience this May. In my opinion, the Liberal Democrat Party have sold themselves and those that voted for them down the river in a very leaky boat. Nick Clegg has failed miserably to hang on to any worthwhile principles, so Boris Johnson could quite happily sling a range of insults ( Cameron’s “lapdog”, Daily Mail 2013, Cameron’s “prophylactic device” Telegraph 2014,“who is Nick Clegg and what does he do?” Conservative Party Conference 2014). …) and know there would be no defence. In the recent TV debate, perhaps he thought by saying sorry for his “mistakes” we would forgive and forget. His main argument in asking for our support in government seems to be that the Lib Dems have ameliorated Tory policies, and would continue to do so. Really? While he and Alistair Carmichael may once have been a supporter of Liberal principles, I have shown that when actually in government they are too weak to stand up for them. They have endorsed so many Tory policies that they could design a UK model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

My conscience says no deficit reduction is worth sending people to foodbanks; to calling a low wage/ zero hours contract “employment”; to forcing the mentally ill and physically disabled to be subject to work-placement harassment ; to turning a blind eye to the ever widening gap between the haves and have-nots. So I’m sorry, because I really believed your manifesto five years ago, but I’ll not be fooled again.

The Trow wants a Firm Manager for Scottish Labour

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Now my old friend, the Trow tells me that what Scotland needs is a firm leader. Now, I am not happy about giving Murphy any publicity in case it makes him more credible, and here in Orkney it’s Carmichael that’s the issue. I could not resist tho when the Tim’rous Beastie sent this through with the morning gull. He was a bully then and looks like he is a bully now. Aye! That’s what we want. Where is my cereal bowl?

Ma Hedgehog gets Radically Independent

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Vole’s old yamil, Ma Hedgehog sent this report from the Radical Independence Campaign Conference. Watch out Carmichael, she is coming for you.

A week’s a long time in politics, they say and it seems that two months or so is a lifetime in this case. On the walk towards Glasgow riverside on this November Saturday our pace quickened and our excitement mounted – there was something in the air. It was early, still only 9am and already the crowd was assembling, lit – up energised people coming together for the Radical Independence Conference 2014. The Armadillo was the venue, with a capacity of 3,000 – the event was sold out. Last years conference had been held in The Marriot Hotel with delegates numbering around 800, a good start. Now though, something wonderful was happening; you really would have thought we had won after all! Continue reading

My Island Dream – The Tim’rous Beastie

Rackwick, Hoy
Rackwick, Hoy

At this time a year ago, my father died and Christmas was a time of closing the door on the world. But the support of family and friends was of huge comfort to me, and as we approach again this normally festive season, I wonder about those who don’t have such support here in Orkney, or are so worried about money that it certainly won’t be a time of celebration. This is the second Christmas we will have had a Food Bank: doesn’t this seem appalling in such a supposedly well-off, caring community as ours, one that according to a poll published earlier in the year is rated as the happiest and most satisfied? There is a long and proud record of Orkney giving to all sorts of charities at home and abroad, yet under our noses there is child poverty, fuel poverty, a rise in enquiries to CAB on debt; we need social workers, foster carers, mental health carers, drug and alcohol councillors; there is the weekly “walk of shame” in the Orcadian.

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