Monday, September 22, 2014

What I Did At the Weekend...

Yesterday, the band were playing at the "Steeple 200" celebrations in Falkirk. As the name implies, it was a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the building of the Steeple in the town centre. This involved the band parading in the town, a couple of plays, a few musical acts. The grand finale was a performance by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, in which we featured in two numbers. It was awesome.

Here's the video.


So, the much-delayed reaction to the result. I think this post actually gains from the delay, as there have been some recent developments that are very interesting (at least to me), which I can now cover here. So, this post will be split into three parts: my initial reaction, my later thoughts, and some thoughts about what happens now.

Initial Reaction

I rather wisely went to bed on Thursday not long after the polls closed, and woke up at about 6am on Friday, just in time for the decisive result from Fife that took No over the line. As anticipated, my reaction was mixed: disappointment on one hand, and yet a certain quiet relief on the other. After all, independence was the less certain path, so it wasn't too terrible to avoid it. Plus, this way I don't need to explain to my mum that I had helped abolish her country.

So, that was that.

Two other things struck me. The first is that just as the vote for independence would have been historic, so too is the No vote - this is actually the first time the people of Scotland have voted to be part of the UK. In 1707, Universal Suffrage wasn't a thing, so the decision was taken by an unrepresentative parliament; this time, it was by the people. Since we are a democracy, that also makes it, by definition, the right decision.

My second thought was this: Alex Salmond said that this should settle the issue for a generation; David Cameron said it should settle it "maybe for a lifetime". I'd actually go further than that: unless something dramatically changes - be it a huge and visible rise in pro-Independence support, revelations of a rigged vote, or a sudden "miraculous" find of enormous oil stocks in the Clair oil fields in the next three months - this should basically settle the issue forever. I don't really want my grandchildren to have to go through all this again if it's just going to be a rerun with the same result.

The Winners

There are several people and groups who have really gained my respect in all of this:

  • The people of Scotland. The process has been horrendously difficult at times, but it's also been overwhelmingly peaceful. And to have a referendum of this sort, with an 85% turnout and to do it with almost no trouble, is impressive.
  • Our 16- and 17-year-olds. At the time, I opposed the vote being extended to this group, but I was wrong to do so. They've very clearly showed that they are more than capable of understanding the issues, of engaging in politics, and in playing a full role in proceedings. We should roll the franchise out to them across the country as soon as possible.
  • David Cameron. (Hey, I didn't say I liked the guy, only that he's gained in my respect!) Probably the biggest winner in all of this, he gained respect firstly by accepting the mandate to hold the referendum and enabling the process, then by having the wisdom to stay largely out of it. But where he really gained my respect, and a small measure of fear, is in his statement after the No victory - by tying "the vow" for greater powers for Scotland in with "English votes for English Laws" he has rather spectacularly managed to spike UKIP's guns and out-maneuvered Labour. I'll come back to that.

The Losers

There are four groups who have really lost my respect as a result of the referendum:

  • The BBC. The thing about bias at the BBC is that it's like one of those optical illusion posters - you don't see it until you see it, nobody can point it out to you, but once you do see it, you can't unsee it. (Unfortunately, there's another thing to note: it doesn't actually matter if it's there or not; what matters is whether you see it.) Well, I saw it, pretty damn clearly. And so now I don't trust the BBC for their news output. Because if they'll lie about this, what else might they lie about?
  • Labour. Especially in Scotland, the Labour party has lost a huge amount of my respect, both for campaigning hand in hand with the Tories, but mostly for the manner in which they have campaigned. I don't deny that there were massive uncertainties associated with independence, but to hear them tell it we would have suffered Armageddon on Friday had things gone the other way. So much of what they told us was so utterly untrue that, again, I doubt I will trust them on anything again.
  • Better Together. The result was a No, but that's a long way from saying Better Together won. They were horrendous, and turned what should have been a sure thing into high drama. Their campaign was shockingly bad.
  • Gordon Brown. Conversely, Gordon Brown did, probably, win the day with "the vow". He is, indeed, the saviour of the union. Unfortunately, he has been tricked and allowed himself to be used to set a trap for his Labour party (again, I'll come back to that). But the saddest thing about all this is that in the days since he has been making all sorts of pronouncements about "his promise", not realising that the moment the polls closed he reverted to simply being a minor Opposition back-bench MP.

Later Thoughts

Unfortunately, since the referendum result I have been becoming increasingly angry about the whole thing. It's not the result, which I'm at peace with, but rather the antics that have followed.

Firstly, there was the disgraceful incident in Glasgow on Friday, in which a lunatic fringe of No thugs attacked an until-then peaceful Yes gathering. My guess is that this was actually part of the lunatic fringe of Rangers supporters who haven't had a decent fight in a couple of years, but it doesn't really matter: we were poised to hold our heads up high for a peaceful referendum, and they marred the day. (It was also rather shocking that the Daily Mail actually managed to report it better than the BBC. But I guess they do the sensational as a matter of coarse. (Pun intended.))

But then there has been the undignified squabbling over "the vow". Now, I had expected this from Labour and the Tories, as David Cameron sprung his trap for his enemies. But to see Alex Salmond wade in with his pronouncements was less expected, and less agreeable. (It's also why AS isn't on my list of winners, above.)

(For myself, I don't care about "the vow". I never cared about more powers for Scotland, but was all about the quest for better governance. Independence wouldn't have magically given us that, but it would have made it easier. But this squabbling is exactly the sort of shoddy operation that I'm trying to get away from!)

The Tory trap, though, is a thing to behold. They're about to lay out a big package of powers for Scotland, matched with an "English Votes for English Laws" proposal. They'll then quietly instruct a subset of their backbenchers to tactically abstain, so that the Labour party hold the decisive vote on the issue.

This will then create a dilemma for Ed Miliband: if he allows the move through, he critically weakens any incoming Labour government with a small majority (because they won't be able to legislate on England, and thus on health, education...). If he blocks the measure, then he's the one who has broken "the vow" to Scotland and will be punished up here (there's nothing we can do to the Tories anyway)... and he also loses support in England for blocking such a popular measure.

I don't know if DC is a first-rate scholar of Machiavelli, or if he's just really lucky. Either way: well played, sir.

So, What Next?

I had toyed with joining the SNP on the day after a No vote - I didn't feel I could do so while the campaign was live, out of respect for my mum, but once independence ceased to be an issue it was an option.

However, in the event of a No vote my focus has shifted again. As a result of that vote, and since I have no desire for a re-run, I'm back to seeking the best for my country, where "my country", now, is definitively, the UK. But since the SNP are local to Scotland, that would seem to create a contradiction.

On the other hand, the Labour party, especially in Scotland, is a disaster area. I'm not sure whether the thing to do is to smash it and start over, or whether it might be possible to reform it and thus redeem it.

Either way, the first thing to do is to break their complacency in Scotland. For the past decades, the Labour party have been shockingly complacent about Scotland: it didn't matter what they did, because they'd get 40+ MPs from up here.

That needs to stop. If we drive them down to 20ish, then that will force a wakeup, and might start things going in the right direction. And, fortunately, it sounds like there's a movement starting within "The 45" (as they now call themselves) to arrange tactical voting for the SNP come the general election. If they turn out in numbers, they have the ability to take any constituency in the country. It's a long-shot, but it just might work.

(Now, if we could just get our English friends to do the same, and throw their weight behind the Greens...)

So, that's the next step, I think.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Just Sick

I appear to have come down with a cold, which has kicked me right in the head. So I'll not be reacting today.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Vote Is Cast

With luck, this should be my second-last post on the topic of Scottish Independence until 2016 (and even that only if there's a Yes). I'll be as glad as everyone else at that - it's of huge importance right now, but it does get rather repetitive, especially when you're rehashing the same arguments over and over again.

Anyway, I went and voted first thing this morning, as is my wont. It's a Yes from me, though I must confess that it scares the hell out of me. As I said, I might be quietly relieved to lose this one.

One thing I'm very glad of is that there is no exit poll being conducted. I know that the media would probably like to have a break-down of what groups went which way, and the people who study polls would no doubt be fascinated (and, of course, if we do it again...). But...

One of the fears as regards the outcome is the result might be very close, and that the losing side might therefore seek retribution. And if it's know that, say, English voters voted in sufficient numbers to turn a Yes into a No (or any similar minority, for whichever switch), then that could lead to that group being targetted.

I would very much hope this is a groundless fear (especially since I hope for a clear result, one way or the other), but I do think it's better never to know. Let's hope we can then accept the result, whatever it is, and get moving forward together.

(For what it's worth, my expectation is that No are likely to win, probably with a 55/45 split or thereabouts. I'm hoping also for a turnout of 94% or higher, partly because the higher it is the more accurately is represents the actual will of the Scottish people, but also because my understanding is that that would make it a record-breaking turnout.)

For me, for now, it's all over. And I'm glad. But roll on tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tomorrow's Possible Results, from worst to best

I'll be glad once this referendum is all over. Some time in the last week, we reached a point where further talk became pointless - people are now sufficiently entrenched in their positions that they're stifling any notions of debate. (And I should note that it appears the "Yes" activists have been the worse for this - the scenes at Ed's walkabout in Edinburgh yesterday were particularly shameful.)

There are, of course, several possible outcomes from the vote. The polls suggest that the most likely is a wafer-thin win for the No camp, though I have absolutely no confidence in those polls - I suspect the extremely large turnout coupled with the huge number of voters who have never voted before will make a mockery of their calculations of the margin for error. So I don't think anything from an 80/20 split for No right through to an 80/20 split for Yes will surprise me. (Though absolutely any Yes will be a shock, given the momentousness of the decision. But shock isn't the same as surprise.)

Anyway, here's my gut feeling for the possible results, ordered from worst to best:

The Worst: Shenanigans

Be it corruption in the way the votes are tallied, any significant doubts or legal challenges of the result, or attempted intimidation or other interference in the process, the absolute worst possible result would be if this was not, or was perceived not to be, a fair vote.

Fortunately, I don't consider this particularly likely, as we're generally pretty good about the mechanics of democracy, but I list it for completeness.

A Low Turnout

Again, I consider this one so unlikely as to be barely worth mentioning, but a low turnout would be a real problem. Ideally, we want as close to a 97% turnout as possible (that being the percentage of the electorate registered to vote, and so the theoretical maximum). A low turnout would automatically bring the result into question, which would be a bad thing.

(Of course, this is actually several results in one, since the low turnout would be combined with some other result. But I'm sure you got that.)

A Narrow Yes

Probably the worst of the likely results (and, indeed, probably the second most likely result), is a narrow Yes. This gets worse the closer the vote - a Yes win by a few hundred votes would be horrible, while a Yes win by a couple of percent would be slightly less bad. But any Yes win that doesn't see them carry a majority of the electorate (and possibly even a little beyond that), would horribly divide the country. It might be the will of the people, just, but it's not really any basis for setting up an independent country.

An ultra-narrow No

Next worst is a very narrow No, being one where the result hinges on a few hundred votes. I think any win by 51/49 or more would be okay, but anything in that extremely tight region would probably lead to unrest and recriminations.

A Landslide No

However, the next-worst option swings pretty strongly the other way - a landslide for No. That is, a 65/35 split or more. The problem with that scenario is that it will likely lead to the Establishment congratulating themselves on a job well done, going back down South, and forgetting about all this entirely.

The problem with that is that there really are lessons that need to be learned from all this, and whatever happens there needs to be at least some change. If a landslide No leads to them just forgetting about it, the lessons won't be learned... and in a few years we may well be back here again.

The Big Two

At this point I have to confess that I am genuinely torn as to what the best possible outcome could be. After all, independence genuinely would be a huge, very risky step, where the status quo is a relatively known quantity. So it wouldn't be wise to have no doubts. However, I do also genuinely believe that the status quo is fundamentally broken, and I see no possibility of fixing it. So it's a known quantity... but it's a known bad quantity.

On balance, I really have to put the Yes win at the top, given that that's how I'm voting. But I might be secretly relieved if it goes the other way.


Second Best: A Narrow No

This one is anything from a 51/49 split up to a 64/36 split - enough to avoid the problems of the ultra-narrow No, while also not being enough for the Establishment just to forget about us.

The hope here is that this will lead to some genuine introspection and reform in Westminster (and especially the Labour party). I'm not in any way convinced by the 'promise' of new powers, nor am I particularly interested in new powers anyway. In fact, I'd go further - much of what the papers have been talking about in the last couple of days definitely should not happen, it being a manifestly unfair deal for the rest of the UK. What I am interested in, and what would actually be ideal, is real reform of Westminster. Sadly, I don't think we'll get it, or at least not enough of it.

And Best: A Landslide Yes

If we're going to have a Yes win, I really hope it's as dramatic as possible. Not because I have any interest in gloating over those who will be (rightly) gutted at losing their country, but rather simply because the greater the margin, the clearer the mandate for this to happen.

Unfortunately, of all the results this is the one that I think is least likely (well, other than the 'shenanigans' and 'low turnout' options). For it to happen would require the polls to be completely useless and for the 'hidden' voters to be vastly skewed to Yes. While I consider the first of these very likely, I have no idea about the second.

So, take a deep breath, because tomorrow is going to be a long day...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Targeting Qualification

I meant to post this on Monday, but it slipped my mind.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch the Germany/Scotland match on Sunday, as we've cancelled our Sky subscription. I suppose I could have gone up to BtW, but I was hampered by not really wanting to. Still, by all accounts it was a fairly creitable performance, and although the defeat was unfortunate, it was hardly unexpected. Besides, at only 2-1 it was not the humiliation that might have been feared.

Still, it does leave Scotland playing catch-up in a fairly competitive group.

In order to qualify, I think we need to do all of the following. A failure at any point probably puts it beyond us.

  • We need to beat Georgia at Ibrox on the 11th of October. This will be a tough game, but it's certainly doable.
  • We need to beat the Republic of Ireland at Parkhead on the 14th of November. This will be one of our biggest tests, but it's a must-win.
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar at Hampden on the 29th of March. This should be a gimme, but with Scotland you never know - we have a really nasty habit of playing badly against the 'minnows', perhaps out of a delusion that we're not minnows ourselves these days.
  • We need to beat Georgia in Georgia on the 4th of September. This is our best chance of getting those last few points we need - if we fail to win this match we'll need something away to the Republic of Ireland or Poland, or at home to Germany, all of which will be much tougher prospects.
  • We need to beat Poland at Hampden on the 8th of October. This will be the other great test of the campaign, but again is a must-win.
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar in Portugal on the 11th of October. If we get this far with even a chance of qualification, it would be tragic to lose it on the last day. Unfortunately, by then it may be out of our hands.

That gives us six wins, for a total of 18 points. That should be enough, since Germany are likely to win the group with near-maximum points, and the second-place teams also auto-qualify. (The best third-place team also qualify, with the other third-place teams going into play-offs. However, I don't rate our chances of getting through a playoff, so we should really target second in the group... which will be a big ask.)

Of course, absolutely none of those results can be taken for granted. Even Gibraltar should not be taken lightly - you still have to beat the team in front of you. And I don't think we should expect to get anything away from home against Poland or the Republic of Ireland - our best hope there is to make sure we win our home matches, and hope they draw their two against one another.

It's going to be a tough group to qualify from, but I think it's also our best chance in a long, long time. So, here's hoping.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Who's Afraid of the Bad Wolf?

And so, after too many years away, Doctor Who came roaring back.

At the time, I had almost no reaction to the casting of Christopher Eccleston, simply due to not being at all familiar with his previous work. I was rather more concerned about Billie Piper as the companion, although in the event she was fine. Indeed, it turned out that they could not have picked a better actor to spearhead the returning series - although Eccleston is third in my rating of the 'new' Doctors, what's more due to Tennant and Smith grabbing the #1 and #2 spots rather than CE dropping it. (It remains to be seen where Peter Capaldi will sit in the list. At the moment, he's #4.) I was, of course, somewhat disappointed he didn't return for the 50th Anniversary celebrations in any capacity, in fact being the only living Doctor to have no involvement, but that was of course his choice.

I do have a confession to make though: I almost dropped the new "Doctor Who" after two episodes. I felt that the first, "Rose" was really cheesy (especially Auton-Mickey), and although the second episode has grown on me in repeat viewings I didn't rate it at the time. Had it not been for an excellent third episode, it might have been gone. Which would have been a shame, since the second half of that first new season is probably the best it has been - after "Father's Day" it really didn't look back, and the two-part season finale is pretty much perfect.

The Ninth Doctor story for this month is "The Beast of Babylon", by Charlie Higson, and it is the best to date. This one is actually slotted in to the episode "Rose" - after Rose declines to join him, the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS and then comes back, and it fits into that moment. It features a new, short-term companion, a trip to Babylon, a fair amount of action and comedy, and even some musing on how and why the Doctor chooses his companions. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and as I said was the best of the bunch to date - knocking the Fourth Doctor story off that perch.

And this month's novel, "Only Human" by Gareth Roberts, is a good one, too. This one is set in the latter half of that first season, after Jack joins the team. And, again, it features a good amount of action, the trademark banter that made that TARDIS team work so well (and, especially, the 'happy' Jack from "Doctor Who", before he moved to "Torchwood" and become all morose). And it also manages to explore a big theme, about what makes a human, whether they can be 'improved', and whether that would really be a good thing.

I highly recommend it - as with the short story, this novel is the best to date, this time knocking the Sixth Doctor novel into second place.

And so September has been a good month for the Doctor. Next up is David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, my favourite of the 'new' Doctors and my second favourite overall. So that's something to look forward to.

#47: "Only Human", by Gareth Roberts

Monday, September 08, 2014

No Pressure, Kid

So, apparently the Duchess of Cambridge* is expecting again. Therefore the Guardian is asking: "Will a new royal baby save the union?", thus completing their transition from being a quality newspaper to being a poor imitation of Heat magazine.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

(Presumably, if said child does indeed save the Union they'll name it Gordon after the saviour of the world. In which case I hope it's a boy...)

(* Edit: I've just been reminded that, technically, her correct title in Scotland is Countess of Strathearn. Oops.)

A Good Day's Work

The band were out doing a fundraising day on Saturday. I hadn't been looking forward to it, but in the event it turned out to be a really good day. We played four half-hour performances spread across the full day (the first just after 10; the last just before 3), ran a stall for raising funds, and made just over £1,000 from the day. Which is fantastic.

But the real highlight of the day came in the sheer size of the band. This was the first time our many learners had been out at a real event, and as a consequence we fielded 17 pipers and 8 drummers! (What's more, we were missing two of our stronger pipers and two of our key drummers. So if we field a full complement that 25 becomes 29 and should actually be better as a result.)

Before we started the day, I took some of those learners aside. At that point we were missing four of our main pipers (two arrived later). I pointed out to them that because of the numbers involved it wouldn't be possible for the stronger players to cover for them, so I really needed them to bring their 'A' game. It turns out that I needn't have bothered - apparently, they had had no notion of doing anything else, and so for the most part you probably wouldn't have known that we had a band mostly made up of kids on their first outing. I like to think the pipe major was quietly impressed.

And so that was that. For the past several months I've known we've had a lot of youngsters with potential coming through. Saturday was the point when that potential started to pay off for us. And if things continue in the same vein then today's youngsters with potential will, a little ways down the road, be a skilled piper (or drummer). And with five such pipers and a like number of drummers, that's a foundation on which we can build a band that can really go places.

And why not?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Hopes for the Nineteenth

Things are now getting quite tense in the Referendum - first the first time a poll has put the "Yes" camp ahead (but a bit later than expected, and still within the margin for error), the debates are over and seem to have gone in favour of "Yes" on balance, the presence on the street strongly favours "Yes"... but there's also the suspicion that there may be a silent majority out there planning to vote "No" who just don't feel the need to shout about it (and fair enough). All of which means that it looks like it's there for "Yes" to win the vote, but there's still a long way to go.

But that's not really what this post is about. Rather, this post is about the day after, the 19th. The thing is, although I'm intending to vote Yes, the reality is that I won't be too unhappy if the vote comes out "No". Whatever the result, I can get on with my life and things will be, mostly, fine (despite my previous post about the nightmare scenario).

I do, however, have three hopes for the 19th, which apply whatever the result:

  1. Whatever the result, I really hope there's no suggestion that the process itself has been anything other than fair and impartial. Unfortunately, I have seen some suggestions that there might be some manipulation (probably of postal votes), although thus far this has been confined to the lunatic fringe. But "Yes" or "No", it's much more important that the mechanisms of democracy run correctly, so that we can get on with things in the days ahead. (It's probably needless to say, but I'm not actually worried on this point. It's vitally important, but I think everyone involved is aware that it's vitally important, so we'll be fine.)
  2. Whatever the result, but most especially if it's a "Yes", I really hope the result is clear enough to settle the matter. Although legally 50% of the vote +1 is enough to swing it, that's not really a good basis on which to forge ahead with independence. Ideally, I would much prefer the "Yes" camp to target a majority of the electorate (not just those who actually vote) in order to carry the country with them. If the turnout is indeed the 85% that is projected, that would mean a 59% share of the vote. (Of course, I'm sure the "Yes" campaign would both like as big a share of the vote as possible, but will also accept any win whatsoever. That's just the nature of the thing. But I'd be happier with a clear result.)
  3. Whatever the result, let that be the end of it. If the result is a "Yes", then I really hope this leads to Scotland and the UK proceeding to negotiate in good faith for the best for both countries in order to split as amicable, and fairly, as possible. If the result is a "No", conversely, I really hope that this will indeed take the question off the table for a generation (at least 20 years) - I really don't want to have to have referenda every few years until we give the 'right' result. "Yes" or "No", whatever the people have said by the 19th is the right result. (Of course, both sides have said that they would indeed abide by the result. But there's always a gap between saying something and actually doing it.)

Anyway, that's where I am at the moment. We'll just need to see what the next 12 days brings...

Update on Goals

250 days done. Time for another update.

  • Weight: Okay, time for the white flag. This one hasn't moved, and doesn't look like it's going to move any time soon. I'll need to rethink my whole approach to this I think.
  • Work: Ever since I got back from my holiday to Barcelona, work has just been tough. I'd been back less than a week before I felt like I hadn't been away at all, there have been problems that just refused to get fixed... It's just... difficult. That said, I've just had a fairly stellar week, so maybe, just maybe, that's turned the corner. In any case, there's nothing really needing fixed here, as such, just continued hard work.
  • Books: I remain well ahead on this goal. I'm currently at 46 books read, compared to an "on track" number of 41 (-ish). I've actually finished two of the sub-lists, and am caught up or ahead on all of the others. The only thing of note is that the remaining books from The List for this year are quite long, which means I may have to go some to stay up to date there.
  • Games: I've fixed the date for the "Ultraviolet: 2XS" game, though it looks like that will fail to attract a quorum. I've also scheduled a bi-weekly D&D 5e game to play through the "Lost Mine of Phandelver" adventure from the Starter Set that promises to be quite good. As an added bonus, that game has added a new player we've not seen before - always nice to see the group attract new people.
  • Maintenance: The bathroom ceiling is finished, as is the cleaning of the carpets. Success! Unfortunately, we now have a leak in our bedroom ceiling which will necessitate a repair job. I'm hoping to tackle that when I get some time off in October.
  • Computer: This was completed last time.
  • Money: This is now done.

And that's how things stand at the moment. I'm reasonably happy that the Books and Work goals should complete successfully; they just need to remain on track from here on out. However, it looks like the Game and Weight goals will fail, which is unfortunate but understandable. The Computer and Money goals are complete, which is good, and the original Maintenance goal is complete too - it's just a shame I've had to re-open that one, though I do hope to get it sorted again fairly soon.

The next update should be on the 27th of October. That will also be the last before the end of year review, as there's little point in updating two weeks before the end. By October I should have the Maintenance task completed (again), will know one way or another about the Game task, and should still be on track with the Book and Work goals. The big issue is the Weight goal, but I'd be surprised to see any movement there.

#46: "Reign of Stars", by Tim Pratt

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A Crazy Idea: Free Bus Passes for the Unemployed

One of our less-heralded bits of social policy is free bus travel for the elderly. I'm not sure how this works in England, but in Scotland the way it works is that people aged 60 and over are given a pass for free travel; when they get on board a bus they show the pass to the driver and are issued a ticket, the cost of which is then charged back to the government. It's a nice simple scheme, one that's cheap to provide (because the state only pays for travel that's actually used), and one that makes a significant difference to the lives of those who use it. Suddenly, older folk have the ability to get out and about, which can serve to encourage them to do so, thus in turn improving their health and well-being. Huzzah!

Okay, here's a crazy idea: expand the exact same scheme to the unemployed.

The idea would work like this: when a person goes to the Job Centre to sign on, they are provided with a pass for free travel, valid for a period of six weeks (actually, six weeks and a day). Six weeks later, if they don't yet have a job, the pass is reissued for the same period again (and repeatedly, until they find a job and so no longer need it). The rest of it works as does the current scheme: they get free travel on the buses, with the companies involved recharging the tickets back to the government.

This has several benefits:

- Firstly, and most obviously, it makes it easier to find and get a job - given the ability to travel freely, a person will be able to look in a wider area for a job, and will be able to travel to interviews without cutting into their very-limited JSA. (This last is especially important if you have several interviews and aren't terribly likely of getting any of them. Paid for by the individual that could quickly rack up the costs.)

- Secondly, it helps to mitigate the cycle of helplessness that the unemployed, and especially the long-term unemployed, can fall into. If you go day after day with no reason to leave the house, that quickly becomes no reason to get up, which means no reason... it can become increasingly hard to break that cycle. But given free travel, that opens up a whole range of free activities that could be enjoyed - you might not have a park/museum/art gallery in walking distance, but I bet you have one that can be reached by bus. (That's obviously a fairly trivial example, but the phenomenon is real. And while this won't break it by itself, it should help.)

- Thirdly, it just makes the whole business of life that bit easier. It's just that much easier to go to the doctor/dentist/supermarket/whatever with access to the bus than it is if you have to go on foot.

- Fourthly, it's a practical help for people rather than just a cash payment. That's actually quite important, as much of our assistance for job seekers tends to be of the form "here's a handout; now go and get on with it". (That's an exaggeration, of course, but it's not without truth.) Sometimes, it's better to just give someone a ladder, rather than giving them the money for one and pointing them at B&Q.

There are, of course, significant problems with the scheme: I have no idea what it would cost; I have no idea whether it would be practical to issue large numbers of short-term passes; and it does nothing for the fact that there are too few jobs out there. (Oh, and there's a problem where a person might get a job just before their pass expires and then not have the money to actually get to that job until they've had their first pay. But that problem actually already exists.)

But, hey: I did say up-front it was a crazy idea.