Archive: Glenrothes

It was revealed yesterday that Gordon Brown will spend part of his summer doing voluntary work in Kirkcaldy, the town where he grew up which forms the major part of his constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. It is also my home town.

Some uncharitable people have suggested that his job may involve digging holes, something he has done quite enough of as Prime Minister. More cutting might be the observation that voluntary work is the only sort of work you’ll be able to find in Kirkcaldy.

A couple of weeks ago, The Times ran a piece about the economic woes which have hit Kirkcaldy which was a talking point among some of my friends. Aside from apparently inventing the demonym “Kirkcaldians” (I personally prefer “Langtonian”, named after the town’s old nickname, the Lang Toun), I think the article is largely a fair and accurate reflection of the town.

I have written before about the sorry state of the Mercat, the town’s main shopping centre which used to house my former workplace, Woolworths. Over the difficult Christmas period the Mercat went from bad to worse. But it gets just a passing mention in the Times piece, with its mere eight or more empty units.

Apparently there are thirty empty units in the High Street. There is a particularly dire section in the middle of the pedestrianised zone, where three shops in a row — which used to be the Link, Adams and Icon Clothing — now lie empty. What remains has been criticised for exhibiting the characteristics of a clone town (PDF link). Beyond that, particularly in the west end, what isn’t a chain store is most likely a pawn shop or a charity shop.

Perhaps this is not particularly unusual. The death of the High Street has been widely advertised, so this is not a problem unique to Kirkcaldy. The Times article briefly touches on the retail park. It sits on the north-western edge of the town, well away from the centre. But it is currently being expanded, a development which feels like a desperately-needed shot in the arm for Kirkcaldy.

The problem is that it just is not enough. Indeed, the clamour over the few new jobs that are available serve to bring into focus just how dire the situation is. I have lost count of the number of people that I know of applying for the same few jobs.

A new B&Q has opened, although the old one closed. A number of my former colleagues at Woolworths have ended up working there. PC World is another new store at the retail park. But so many people I know applied for jobs there. A friend who got an interview there was told that they had been bombarded with over 700 applications.

If you got rejected by PC World, you could always try applying for a job at the new Toys R Us. The only problem is that they apparently had 3,000 applications. Only a lucky 350 got an interview, with just 40 places going.

An Argos Extra has also opened up. They held an assessment day at the Jobcentre a couple of months ago. I saw it with my own eyes as I walked past it. There were two queues coming out of the Jobcentre, one in each direction. I have been told that the larger of the two queues stretched all the way to the police station, which sits at the opposite end of a street which is the best part of 200 yards long.

The store has been open for just over a week now. The good news on that front is that my friend, who transferred to work there from the existing High Street store, reports that sales have been very encouraging. Whether that is simply down to the excitement of something new opening in Kirkcaldy remains to be seen.

As for the Jobcentre itself, that continues to hire new people, including one of my friends. What they’ll do with the new staff when demand for the Jobecentre’s services is not so strong is unclear. But at the moment that feels like a distant possibility anyway. Whenever I went there I was often told they were short staffed.

In the Times article, there is a quote about the Jobcentre by a man called Tam Collins: “they expect you to stack shelves at Asda.” I got exactly that when I visited the Jobcentre. Going there is a fruitless task which I have now given up.

The Asda is a new store which has opened up in neighbouring Glenrothes. It is probably the most exciting thing in terms of employment to happen in Glenrothes for years. That is another place where a few of my former Woolworths colleagues have ended up. In a way they were lucky — Asda received over 7,000 applications for that one store.

Meanwhile, the town’s largest employer, a call centre called MGt, has recently shed 65 jobs as a result of the closure of Setanta. 65 looks like a small number compared to the amount that are already looking for work. But MGt has provided a lifeline to Kirkcaldy in terms of employment since it set up around a decade ago. Today it has around 1,000 people on its books. I dread to think what Kirkcaldy would be like if it wasn’t for MGt. That even MGt is downsizing is ominous.

But that sums up Kirkcaldy. It lost its way after the industrial decline of the previous fifty years. Now if you want a job in Kirkcaldy you need to either work in a call centre or in the precarious retail sector. And even then, good luck to you. After my previous experience of working in retail, I am avoiding it if at all possible.

Seven months since losing my job at Woolworths, and over a year since I graduated, I still haven’t found a full time job (although I’m lucky to have found bits and pieces of freelance work). I have well and truly hit the buffers, and I am now starting with a blank sheet of paper to decide on my next move.

One of my biggest mistakes was to focus my search too narrowly on a small geographical area. I certainly didn’t bet on finding a job in Kirkcaldy — it was bad enough before and clearly getting worse. But I planned on finding something in the eastern part of the central belt — somewhere within an area encompassing Fife, Dundee, Perth, Stirling or of course Edinburgh. No luck yet. I will have to broaden my search further and hope that something comes up, or hope that I will be able to rely on freelance work in the long term. I wouldn’t like to bet on relying on getting a job at a call centre in Kirkcaldy.

It is sad that Kirkcaldy is like this. This is the town of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics who looked out onto the bustling Firth of Forth, full of trade ships, and was thereby inspired to investigate sources of wealth. Today he would only be inspired to investigate the weed growth in the derelict former workplaces.

Sadder is the role of Gordon Brown. Surely, some people say, if there was one man who could save Kirkcaldy, it would be the Prime Minister and former Chancellor, who grew up here and depends on the residents’ votes. Some are truly furious about it.

Others, as the Times article notes, inexplicably give him and the government the benefit of the doubt. Talking to people, it is genuinely true that there are people in Kirkcaldy who believe that Gordon Brown is a competent leader who has somehow been stitched up. Even for failed leaders, the halo effect is still in evidence.

That is the irony. The people of Kirkcaldy are probably the one set of voters in the country that Gordon Brown can afford to take for granted. Could it be that having the local man as Prime Minister has exacerbated Kirkcaldy’s problems?

It would indeed be harsh to lay the blame wholly at Gordon Brown’s door. Kirkcaldy had problems before, and most of what has happened in the past year can be put down to the global recession.

But the Labour Party is supposed to look after the interests of people who live and work in towns just like Kirkcaldy — a former industrial town that slips ever-further into the mire, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. On the evidence I see with my own eyes, the Labour Party have failed us.

I have felt very sad about the demise of Woolworths ever since the business began to unravel in front of my eyes around two months ago. I was not sad so much because of my job — I was planning on leaving after the Christmas period anyway. I was just sad to see Woolies go because I was genuinely fond of it as a shop.

I always quite liked the idea that I worked for Woolworths, which had been one of my favourite shops as a child. Kids loved Woolies. I heard a story from another store about a child who enquired to his mother, “Is this Woolies branch closing as well?” When she said they were all closing, the child burst into tears. When I was on the tills during the closing down sale, I heard another child say, “Don’t give us any change!”

My personal affection for Woolies is more surprising because there wasn’t even a branch in Kirkcaldy when I was growing up. There had been a branch at the east end of the High Street, but it had gone by the time I could have any memories of it. It was one of the branches that were sold off in the 1980s.

Today the building houses the Kirkcaldy Indoor Market. But is still very recognisable as a Woolworths, with that classic design of the entranceway that was used for so many Woolworths branches up and down the land.

In the 1990s, there was a small Entertainment-only branch of Woolworths in Kirkcaldy that was more or less in the centre of the High Street. But it closed long before I was old enough to have an interest in buying music, and I have no memory of being in the store at all. That unit has since been an Our Price, a Ponden Mill and latterly a bicycle shop which I think has now closed down.

No, my memories of Woolies came from nearby Glenrothes. I have relatives in Glenrothes, and we would frequently visit, often popping into Woolworths on the way back. When I was a child there was something magical about Woolworths. Maybe it was all the pic ‘n’ mix sweets that I was seldom allowed to buy. I still remember the quaint stickers that used to adorn the pic ‘n’ mix stands — “Please buy before you try” and messages like that.

I always used to wonder why Kirkcaldy didn’t have a Woolies store. It made Glenrothes seem like such a superior town. When I had my job interview at Woolworths, I was asked what I liked most about Woolworths. My answer spoke about how I thought Glenrothes was a better town than Kirkcaldy because it had a Woolies. It must have sounded like I was taking the piss, but it was true.

Woolies finally arrived back in Kirkcaldy in 1998, and it was a large store at that. It filled part of a huge unit that Tesco had recently vacated, having just bought Wm Low whose Kirkcaldy store was judged to be in a better location. From then on, Woolies was always a trusty destination particularly when I had to buy gifts. It is no surprise that Woolworths made most of its profits at Christmas, because in Kirkcaldy at least it was more or less the only place you could find a decent selection of chocolates.

Woolies was also unquestionably useful for other odds and ends. The problem was, you couldn’t always quite tell what odds and ends you would find there. Quite soon after I started working there I clocked that customers were frequently unsure about what Woolies actually sold. I was as well. Even after working there for two and a half years, I would still sometimes be stumped by a question a customer asked about the products we sold, and I would have to go on a wild goose chase to find out if we stocked it.

The store’s role as an events retailer also meant that the range would radically change throughout the year as a matter of routine. Cleverly, shelf space was reserved for seasonal goods. The cycle went from home stuff in January, to gardening in the spring, to back to school in summer, to Hallowe’en stuff in September and October, onto Christmas stuff from then onwards. Tough luck if you wanted to buy a bird feeder during winter though.

Woolworths made a name for itself as a place where you could buy bits and bobs. If you wanted to buy something but weren’t sure where to get it, you could pop into Woolies. This meant that people had an affection for Woolworths — it was that useful shop where you could get your bits and pieces.

But it was also deeply dangerous territory for a store to occupy. Customers would sometimes pin all their hopes on being able to find an obscure household object in Woolies — and would become angry if we didn’t sell it. Then, as widespread access to the internet became a reality, you no longer had to search for your obscure items in Woolies. You could just search Google for them instead.

Meanwhile, all too often people wouldn’t know what Woolworths actually did sell. I primarily worked on the stationery department, but before I worked at Woolies I doubt I would have been able to tell you that it sold stationery. I certainly wouldn’t have bought my stationery from there before I started working there. I shopped at Stationery Box or WH Smith for my ringbingers and refill pads instead.

The sheer variety of goods sold by Woolworths also meant that it had multiple rivals on the High Street, each of whom focussed on a niche that they could specialise in. HMV sold a better range of entertainment products. You could go to Dunelm Mill for your household goods. Around half a dozen phone shops surrounded our back door. There were at least two greetings cards shops a stone’s throw away. The Works had some art and craft stuff. Even for toys you could go to Argos. Apparently Wilkinson destroyed Woolies down south. And of course, Woolworths competed with the major supermarkets on almost everything.

It seemed as though Woolworths needed to bring a better focus to its product range. But at the same time, it was difficult to see which departments could be safely ditched. DIY-type stuff could have been a prime candidate, but at the same time there was nowhere else on the high street (certainly on Kirkcaldy High Street) where you could buy that sort of thing. Entertainment could have gone due to poor sales, but it propped up an important arm of the Woolworths business, Entertainment UK.

I thought it would have been a good idea for Woolworths to position itself as a shop for kids and their parents. That would have brought most Woolworths departments — confectionery, kids clothing, toys, even home goods — under a clearer focus. In a way, I think Woolies had already become that store, but it didn’t have the bravery to properly market itself as such.

It is too easy, though, to blame Woolworths’s demise on the eclecticism of its range. Analysts may have bemoaned the way Woolies stocked Monopoly boards under the same roof as screwdrivers. But that doesn’t explain why one of the healthiest stores on the High Street just now is Poundland, which is like a jumble sale in comparison to Woolies. Plus, the thesis is fundamentally incompatible with the never-ending rise of the supermarket.

My next and final post in the series will look at some of the blunders of Woolworths and what life as a Woolies employee was like in the final few months.

The shock is not so much that Labour won. I had a feeling in my water as long as a month ago that Labour might win, even when the bookies and the pundits were saying otherwise. But the scale of Labour’s victory must have shocked everyone.

Yesterday, the BBC’s coverage began on the premise that it was “too close to call” or that, if anything, the SNP had squeaked it. Jim Murphy was making his excuses early (and doing a fairly good job of it, it has to be said). Coming towards midnight, it became clearer that Labour had won. The SNP were saying they hoped to have halved Labour’s majority.

Even with that knowledge, the scale of Labour’s victory when it was finally announced amazed me. The SNP hadn’t even halved Labour’s majority. In fact, Labour’s vote actually went up from the 2005 General Election result. The only real consolation the SNP can have is that the swing was 5% from Labour to the SNP. Even so, that looks minuscule compared to the swing of 22.5% achieved just a few months ago in Glasgow East.

There are all sorts of reasons why the SNP will be disappointed with this result. First of all, Glenrothes must have been a target seat for them anyway, even before this by-election was announced, with the SNP having won the similar Fife Central seat in the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. When Labour was in its trough of popularity, the SNP must have thought Christmas had come early.

Labour’s campaign had seemed like a total shambles. I do not live in the constituency so I haven’t seen any of the literature, but I have heard some bad things about it. Sarah Brown’s well-publicised visit to Cardenden was a complete botch job, and Gordon Brown’s visit to a cafeteria wasn’t much better.

Labour did not need a superstar candidate either. Lindsay Roy is a very nervy and uncomfortable performer on the television. However, it looks as though that actually played into his hands. Labour emphasised the fact that Lindsay Roy is not a career politician, and his track record of being out in the “real world” helping out Fife’s schoolchildren must have gained him a few votes.

As an aside, I doubt that Lindsay Roy actually wanted to become MP. He certainly didn’t look overjoyed at having won, and even after it was clear that Labour had won his body language seemed pretty negative to me. I have heard it said that Lindsay Roy wanted to retire from headteaching anyway and that he saw this as the ideal opportunity to get an early retirement. He probably thought he had no chance of winning.

There is also the fact that the SNP Scottish Government was still in its honeymoon period. Some people are reluctant to say that the honeymoon is over, but there is no doubt that this is at least a slap in the face.

Let us not forget that one of the SNP’s flagship policies was designed to please Fifers in particular. The SNP must have thought that the abolition of bridge tolls would have secured a few votes in Fife. Glenrothes in particular is within comfortable commuting distance of both Edinburgh and Dundee, meaning that many residents will be frequent users of both the Forth and Tay Road Bridges. The fact that the voters of Glenrothes in particular have given the SNP the cold shoulder is a major snub.

Nationalists may counter that Fife is fertile territory for Labour. Time and again I saw pundits on the television saying that Labour benefited from a “halo effect” spilling over into Glenrothes. Fifers, apparently, are proud that Gordon Brown is Prime Minister.

Let me just say, as someone who has lived in Fife all my life, that this is a complete load of tosh. Since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, I have never heard anyone say that they are proud that the PM is a Fifer. In fact, I have sometimes heard people wonder out aloud how it could possibly be that Kirkcaldy can have such high unemployment when the Prime Minister represents the constituency. (I once heard someone say, referring to the perceived unwillingness of Gordon Brown to help his local area, that Kirkcaldy has the highest rate of unemployment in the country, although I doubt that.)

Fife is not Labour loopy. Yesterday there was the opportunity for three of the four constituencies in Fife to be represented by a party other than Labour, leaving just Gordon Brown’s seat in tact. That didn’t happen. But the fact is that the Kingdom of Fife has the capacity to elect any one of three parties. As such, Glenrothes’s decision to vote for Labour should not simply be batted away because it was supposedly as “safe seat”. According to Alex Salmond, there is no such thing as a safe Labour seat these days, and Glenrothes certainly wasn’t one for the reasons outlined above.

The SNP may complain about the negativity of Labour’s campaign. But they should be alarmed that it worked. In retrospect, the decision of the SNP to select Fife Council leader Peter Grant as candidate must be seen as a major tactical error. The Labour Party was able to tap into some real dissatisfaction that people have with Fife Council at the moment.

Because of the complexities of this situation, it is not exactly clear what message the voters were sending out. There is no doubt that there was a message of some sort. But was it a verdict on the Labour government in Westminster? Was it a vote of confidence in Gordon Brown? Was it about sending a message to Holyrood? Or was it about punishing the leader of Fife Council?

Whichever, the SNP should take this seriously. I have no reason to doubt that they will, and the reaction from SNP members’ blogs is sober and reflective (see, for instance, Richard Thomson). There was some real evidence that the SNP were becoming complacent with their position. In the run-up to the election it was looking as though the SNP was giddy on power.

Alex Salmond’s supreme confidence was completely misplaced. And his attempt to attach himself to Barack Obama’s election as US President was crass in the extreme. Voters can smell this sort of thing a mile off, and I’d be amazed if it didn’t cost the SNP votes.

It is no longer enough to rely on the dissatisfaction with the Labour Party that many people have. With Labour’s vote having gone up, it’s pretty clear that they benefited from some serious tactical voting, with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems being squeezed. If this election shows anything, it is that while Labour are unpopular among many voters, the SNP are also loathed among many others.

A word on the Lib Dems, who must be very disappointed. For the second Scottish by-election in a row, they have come in fourth and lost their deposit. Glenrothes is practically sandwiched in between two Lib Dem constituencies — Dunfermline and West Fife and North East Fife. While there is no reason to automatically assume that the Lib Dems should therefore win Glenrothes, they must be disappointed by their complete inertia just now.

It is tough for smaller parties in by-elections anyway. But the current political climate cannot be doing them many favours. Despite PR, Scotland is beginning to look a bit like a two party system. In the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, one of the biggest changes was the almost complete disappearance of the small parties. Now it looks as though both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are wilting in a highly charged political atmosphere that pits the SNP versus Labour, leaving little room for much else.

Given that the news and most of everyone’s thoughts on current affairs are currently dominated by the problems in the global financial system, it is easy to let relatively minor things like a by-election slip your mind. But when I turned my thoughts to the upcoming Glenrothes by-election and politics in general a few days ago, it struck me that the political narrative is quite different to the way it was, say, a month ago.

It’s funny. When the credit crunch was only a moderately bad pickle, Gordon Brown seemed like an incompetent, bumbling fool. Now when it is full-on, sirens wailing, women-and-children-first time, that has changed.

He is not quite a god, but people are no longer questioning his leadership all the time. People have noticed that he seems more confident. He certainly seems to have a spring in his step. He has even been cracking jokes! And people laughed at them!

When it was only Northern Rock that had gone belly-up, Gordon Brown was regarded as an idiot. Now they’ve all gone belly-up, he is a genius! I am being facetious, although Jeff has pointed out the conflict of interest that is at play here.

Because while it was cheesy and I didn’t like it, the “it’s no time for a novice, ZING!” line worked. It made you think about who else might be in charge and no matter how bad you think Gordon Brown is, in a lot of ways it plays into the conservatism that is part of human nature. Better the devil you know.

There has been some talk about an apparent rebound in Labour’s popularity. Anthony Wells adds a significant note of caution to that.

It’s been suggested that Labour’s polling boost is confined to its heartlands. That would usually be bad news for Labour. But if it’s true that Labour’s boost is amplified in Scotland, that could potentially bring them right back in the hunt for Glenrothes.

I imagine SNP activists have always approached this by-election believing they have a fight on their hands to win the constituency. But they will surely be hugely disappointed if they lose.

For one thing, this constituency must have been on their radar anyway after they won the roughly analogous Fife Central seat in last year’s Scottish Parliament election. Then the SNP spectacularly won the Glasgow East by-election. This by-election came at a time when Labour were at their lowest ebb.

The ‘dithering’ image that Labour have built up over the past year or so was not helped much by their apparent decision to delay the by-election for as long as possible. And their choice of date (only recently announced, but rumoured for a long time) of 6 November looked an awful lot like they wanted to bury the bad news under the aftermath of the US Presidential election. They might as well have just written “we’re gonna lose!” on their election literature.

But now the decision to delay is looking a bit smarter to me. It’s really interesting because I think previously the general view was that the UK as a whole had fallen out with Brown in particular, but Scotland fell out with Labour as a whole. And the SNP’s honeymoon period in the Scottish Parliament made that double trouble for Labour. Now it looks like all of those trends may be reversing somewhat.

The rebound in Labour’s popularity and the renewed confidence in Gordon Brown’s leadership bodes well for Labour. Then there is the fact that, as Anthony Wells pointed out, there is little space for opposition parties to grab many headlines at the moment.

Of course, there are still almost four weeks to go and a lot can happen in that time. And the fact that the SNP still have a great chance of winning Glenrothes, ostensibly a safe Labour seat (no matter whether or not the SNP took Fife Central last year), shows how far Labour have fallen.

Nonetheless, today I think Labour have a much better chance of winning Glenrothes than they did, say, a month ago. And according to this blog, the bookmakers have moved away from an SNP win recently.

Last week Ofcom gave ITV the go-ahead to cut regional output by 50%. Today ITV have duly gone and cut 1,000 jobs, almost half of which will come from regional news. ITV plc looks set to reduce the number of its regional news areas from 17 to nine.

It does make you wonder about the future of regional television, if it even exists. I have personally never been a fan of regional television, and I say that even having lived all my life in a very distinctive part of the UK. I might be the wrong person to ask though. I’m no fan of the “idiot box”. Next year, when F1 finally goes back to the BBC where it belongs, I will probably be able to say that I do not watch commercial television at all.

But regional television, it is fair to say, is not exactly pain-free viewing. More often that not, you can tell the programmes were made on a minuscule budget, and they are generally pretty naff.

Of course, back in the day, most ITV programmes were “regional” in the sense that they were made by one of the ITV franchisees. But the best programmes went out on the network and were therefore aimed at a national audience, with UK-sized aspirations and UK-sized budgets. As such, programmes that were aimed to serve a particular area were, almost by definition, sub-standard. I do wonder quite what the point of such programmes is.

It is slightly different for regional news. I can understand the appeal of having a separate bulletin dedicated to the news in a particular area. But the thing is that the regions are always too big for the bulletins to have a truly ‘local’ feel.

The ITV region I live in, STV Central, stretches from approximately where I live to Fort William while encompassing the massive populations of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde. Watching the bulletin, you would get the impression that hardly anything ever happens outside of Glasgow apart from the politics stuff which happens in Edinburgh. Even many of the political programmes, both on STV and BBC Scotland, are made in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh. If you live anywhere else, it can feel pretty alienating.

The BBC has never even attempted to split Scotland up into regions and Reporting Scotland essentially aspires to be a national news bulletin. The problem with even this is that there either isn’t enough news to report or there isn’t enough budget. Even Scotland, with its large area and separate institutions — most importantly, the Parliament — apparently doesn’t have enough going on to properly justify taking up 30 minutes of the schedule.

Whenever I watch Reporting Scotland, they seem to spend about five minutes per programme trailing what’s coming up later in the programme. Around five minutes into the programme, they are already talking about sport. And then they are normally only talking about football. Jimmy McPhee is in the airport today ready to depart for his meaningless match. Big whoop!

Another problem with regional news — especially on ITV — is the fact that the regions do not seem to be very logical. I’ve already talked about the huge area covered by STV Central. At some arbitrary point in Glenrothes, probably depending on how far behind the hill you are, you stop receiving STV Central and start receiving STV North / the old Grampian. Why is that then? Is Glenrothes more relevant to Aberdeen than to Glasgow? That’s not clear to me. Bearing in mind the fact that much of the population of Glenrothes is or was Glasgow overspill, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Of course, that is nothing compared to the abominable “Border” region which straddles England and Scotland and takes in the Isle of Man for good measure. That is an anachronism if ever there was one. You can tell the ITV regions were originally drawn up about sixty years ago because that would never wash today. I am no nationalist, though I am a little bit of a conspiracy theorist, and one has to wonder if it was a deliberate choice to have one ITV region that took in these three political entities — a 1960s equivalent of saying “North Britain”.

It is probably wrong for me speak for residents of the ITV Border region when I don’t live there, and I can well believe that there are many people who, having grown up with Lookaround, feel very attached to it. But for me, if I lived in the south of Scotland, with legislation affecting my life being made in Edinburgh, I think I would prefer to get my news from a Scottish city rather than Carlisle.

Of course, as Cllr Fraser Macpherson points out, that situation will be even worse under ITV’s new proposals. If ITV get their way, the Border and Tyne Tees regions will be merged. So Scots living in the Borders will not be getting their news from Carlisle — they’ll be getting their news from Gateshead.

The problems of the ITV Border region are recognised, with the existence of a ‘Border Scotland’ opt-out. From what I gather, this incorporates a news segment dedicated to Scotland and editions of Scotsport. What a faff that is though. Would it not just be more sensible to go the whole hog and recognise Scotland as a distinct entity? Every so often SMG express an interest in buying the Scottish bit of the ITV Border franchise. I kind of think they ought to get on with it, particularly if it’s only going to merge with Tyne Tees otherwise.

There are two big reasons why the situation is such a mess. One is geography. I am sure there are bureaucrats somewhere or other whose dream is for the ITV regions to be transformed so that they match the government office regions of the UK. At least that would be neater, and at least that way Scotland would have its own ITV region.

The problem is, those pesky hills get in the way. There is a clever map of the ITV regions on Wikipedia, and as you can see you can’t actually draw many meaningful borders between regions. The map looks like a mess.

The big reason, though, is of course money. Maybe back in the 1960s and 1970s owning an ITV franchise was a license to print money. Today, ITV leaks money like a sieve. Richard Havers traces the change back to the introduction of satellite television. This sucked advertising revenue away from ITV and spread it thinly across hundreds of smaller channels.

Since then, the ITV companies have merged and merged and merged until they became CarltonAndGranada before becoming the ITV plc we all love to hate. Scotland was not immune either as Scottish Television swallowed up Grampian to become SMG (now STV Group) and subsequently almost merged with UTV.

It now no longer makes financial sense for ITV companies to pour money into making news programmes. Economies of scale dictate that the regions will become fewer and bigger until they cease to be regional at all (and as I argue above, perhaps that has already happened).

I think it is time to give up on the idea of regional news programmes, at least on ITV (though Scotland can probably sustain it thanks to its status as a nation, relatively large population and separate political system). But if regional news must stay on television, perhaps it would be better to think of it as a public service that the BBC alone should carry out. I know that ITV is a PSB too, but they are considering giving that up because they think it costs them too much now. The writing is on the wall.

Besides, if I want to know the local news, where do I go? I certainly don’t watch Scotland Today if I want to find out what’s going on locally. I would buy The Fife Free Press or just visit a local news website. These options are probably far more cost-effective way to get local news.

Apart from that, dare I say that local news might be one arena where people turn more and more towards citizen journalists?

Now that there has been some time to allow the result of the Glasgow East by-election, I feel like posting some thoughts that are less drunken and kneejerk than my previous post. Originally this was going to be one post, but I ended up blabbing for almost 3,000 words so I have split this into three separate posts which will appear one-by-one over the coming days.

First of all, I’ve spotted a few people south of the border wondering about the impact of the result on the union. For instance, Jennie at The Yorkeshire Gob, Jonathan Calder at Liberal England.

I might be on my own here, but my impression is that people in Scotland simply are not asking that same question. I must say that, as far as I can see it, the Glasgow East by-election result could hardly mean less for the union. Although the SNP are proud — and rightly so — of their victory last week, the reality is that this was much more of a Labour loss than an SNP win. Deep down, I think the SNP know that too.

I read (or heard, I can’t remember) a good analysis of Labour’s current woes. I have completely forgotten where I saw this, but the analysis was this. While the people of England and Wales have fallen out of love with Gordon Brown, the people of Scotland have fallen out of love of the Labour Party.

As regular readers may remember, I have from time to time been quite exasperated at how much people (perhaps particularly people south of the border) are still prepared to give the Labour Party the benefit of the doubt time and time again. I think now I understand why. The Labour Party in Scotland acts differently to the Labour Party in the rest of the UK. It’s certainly perceived differently.

Here in Scotland, voters smell the stench of corruption in the Labour Party. When you bear this in mind, as Holyrood Watcher points out, it’s not so difficult to understand why Labour lost in Glasgow East.

It is not just financial wrongdoings either — it’s a sense that Labour took its core voters for granted. There is a mega mega backlash against Labour in its core constituencies in Scotland.

Take my part of the world, Fife, as an example. Until recently, Fife was completely red apart from in the slightly more rural north-eastern part where Menzies Campbell enjoys a healthy majority.

That changed in 2006 when the Liberal Democrats took the Dunfermline and West Fife seat in a by-election, overturning a significant Labour majority. That was an election that Labour shouldn’t really have lost. But the loss was just blamed on Iraq, or whatever, and people shrugged their shoulders and carried on.

Then last year in the Scottish Parliamentary elections the SNP pulled off a surprise by winning Fife Central. It wasn’t the safest of Labour seats, but it was still a sign that Fife wasn’t quite the Labour heartland it used to be.

That was in the Scottish Parliamentary election. But if I remember correctly, the SNP are fairly confident that they will win the roughly corresponding Westminster constituency of Glenrothes. I have relatives in Glenrothes and apparently there is a lot of support for the SNP there.

Assuming the Lib Dems cling on to their two other seats in Fife, that would leave Labour with just one seat in Fife — Gordon Brown’s in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, where I live. Given the massive unpopularity of Gordon Brown at the moment, any “halo effect” there might have been will probably have vanished, and who is to say that the SNP cannot win here? Come the Westminster election I am planning to vote for the SNP to get rid of Labour.

And here is the thing. The SNP can probably count on much of its support for this reason. It is an anti-Labour thing rather than a pro-SNP thing. That can be seen from the fact that (according to my line of events anyway — your mileage may vary!) the ball was started rolling by the Lib Dems.

For a while I thought that the significant anti-Labour vote would mean that whichever party was in the best position to beat Labour in a particular constituency would grab the votes. Come the Scottish Parliamentary election it didn’t quite work out that way and the only real beneficiaries were the SNP.

I guess in the end the Lib Dems were unable to gain in the same way for a number of reasons. First of all, the media coverage made the election into a Labour vs. SNP battle pretty early on. Also, the Lib Dems did not run a great campaign from what I could see, and I never thought Nicol Stephen was up to much as leader.

Also, the Lib Dems were tainted by association. It was difficult for them to capitalise on the anti-Labour vote when they were having to spend the election campaign defending their record as part of a coalition partnership with Labour. That’s why the SNP capitalised on the Labour backlash and the Lib Dems didn’t.

In case you were wondering, this is an even more quiet place than usual just now because I have exams at the moment. Sorry I’ve not been more active at replying to comments in recent weeks. I found the first exam more stressful than I should have, so I decided to take today off to relax. So it’s a good opportunity to stick a lazy post up here.

I’ve been tagged by a meme twice in recent weeks. One of them will be more exciting for you readers, and I have been meaning to write a post like that for about a year anyway. But I will do this one first because the other one will take a bit of preparation. Because I need to preserve all that brain power for the exams.

This is from Angry Steve. I can’t actually see what the common theme that runs through this is. Still, if you have been tagged in a meme and you don’t take part the punishment is fifty lashes in the blogospheric dungeon. So here goes.

1. The rules of the game get posted on the beginning.
2. Each player answers the rules about himself [or indeed herself].
3. At the end of the post, the player tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they’ve been tagged and asking them to read his [or her] blog.

What I was doing ten years ago:

According to my excellent maths skills, I was 12 years old. So I was probably being exceptionally annoying at primary school. I was probably preparing myself mentally for arriving at the big school with all the big bullies.

Five things on my To-Do list today:

Well, I am posting this last thing on Saturday. So here is my to-do list for Sunday.

  1. Watch the GP2 race
  2. Go for a walk round the park
  3. Watch the Spanish Grand Prix
  4. Begin revising for my next exam
  5. Uh, go to bed

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Given that I would be financially secure, I would ditch all of my formal commitments and get round to all of those leisure activities that have been building up. The pile of CDs that I bought way back in October and still haven’t had the time to listen to. The DVDs. The books I bought for my summer reading in 2006 and the books that have been added to that pile since. The issues of The Economist which I unwisely purchased a three year subscription to before realising that I didn’t have the time to read a single bloody issue.

Three of my bad habits:

  1. Weighing up the possibilities for so long that the opportunity completely passes by
  2. Eating too quickly
  3. Fingernail biting

Five places I’ve lived:

  1. Glenrothes
  2. Kirkcaldy

Uhh… and that’s it.

Five jobs I’ve had:

  1. Lifting furniture about for an antiques shop run by a family friend
  2. Sales assistant at Woolworths

Uhh… and that’s it.

Five books I’ve recently read:

Hmm difficult one. I don’t often get a chance to read a full book (I think my pace is about two per year). But I have read most of a few books at university so I’ll put the details here.

  1. The Economic Development of Modern Scotland, 1950-1980, Richard Saville (ed.) — Skim-read many chapters for my exam on the Scottish Economy. It’s not very “modern” any more though — it was published in 1985 (no modern perspective on oil, little if anything about electronics, poll tax what poll tax?). Good chapters on the Highlands and Islands Development Agency and the Scottish Development Agency though. Shame they never came up in the exam!
  2. The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan — Food for thought for proponents of “more democracy”. I thought it would be really useful for my dissertation. It was kind of, but I enjoyed the read more for the bits that weren’t much to do with my dissertation.
  3. A Logic of Expressive Choice, Alexander A. Schuessler — A theory on voting behaviour and things like that (cases which should be collective action problems but aren’t). It gets a bit technical towards the end, but the early chapters are fascinating to read. If you want to know why the US President is just like a can of Dr Pepper, this is the book for you!
  4. Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner — Finally something I read in my spare time. Quite fun to read.
  5. The Worldly Philosophers, Robert L. Heilbroner — I found this book very boring; it took me over a year to read. It’s okay when it’s talking about people you’ve heard of. But in the chapters about people I’ve never heard of, it was a real struggle to read.

Five people or communities I’m going to tag:

Well first of all, bollocks to leaving a comment as per rule 3 at the top. It’s bad enough tagging someone as it is. I will tag five people here and if they notice it they can carry on the meme if they wish.

  1. Colin
  2. Jeff
  3. Mat
  4. Rhys
  5. Sarah