Category Archives: Uncategorized

The world’s most advanced digital society – Estonia

Estonia is the fastest growing and most advanced digital economy in Europe. Six years after gaining independence from Russia in 1991, Estonia had put 97% of its schools online. By 2000, Cabinet meetings were paperless. In 2002 the Government had established eResidency, and a free Wi-Fi network covering most of the populated areas. The country has pioneered digital signatures, border queue management, international student admissions, e-business registration, mobile banking apps, new forms of crowd-funding, brands without logos, and easy access to healthcare facilities to empower and benefit its citizens.

e-Estonia means a land without queues or lines, voting in elections from your own living room, filing your income tax return in just five minutes, signing a legally-binding contract over the Internet from anywhere in the world via your mobile phone, and checking vital company, property and legal records online. These are just a few of the services that Estonians take advantage of on a regular basis. Interaction among government agencies, and between the government and citizens, has been completely transformed in e-Estonia, making bureaucracy virtually a thing of the past, the running of all levels of government more efficient, and communities better, it is claimed.

This transformation has resulted in:-

  • Unprecedented levels of transparency and accessibility in government
  • Safe, convenient and flexible exchanges of private, government and corporate data
  • A healthier, better educated population with good access to social services
  • A prosperous environment for business and entrepreneurship

The e-Estonia digital society is made possible largely due to its infrastructure. Instead of developing a single, all-encompassing central system, Estonia created an open, decentralized system that links together various services and databases. The flexibility provided by this open set-up has allowed new components of the digital society to be developed and added through the years. It is that power to expand that has allowed Estonia to grow into one of Europe’s success stories of the last decade.


“The disruptive innovation from Estonians is thus not technology itself, the innovation lies elsewhere – in the process of bringing businesses and government together to help all people, young and old, to benefit from digital services options available. Already for 17 years, Estonians have a digital ID and can use this to sign and time stamp documents, including private contracts, apply for different public services, pay fines and taxes, query the registries, change their services packages and simply send encrypted e-mails. Digital ID is an integral part of all ID cards, since 2001. Digital identity is created at birth, by the way, automatically and in the background when a doctor enters the details of a birth into medical records, without the doctor hitting one additional button to undertake this task. They are a civil registry manager, but they do not even notice. The parents can then later on, using their own IDs, add a name to the baby with an already created e-identity. They can then start applications for social services and kindergarten places if they wish, from their maternity hospital room. A new digital citizen is born. We save 2% of our GDP by never visiting any public office and we have very few bank offices left in the country. Postal ones have been replaced by automatic delivery lockers, too. A delivery announcement is routinely an sms. You may notice – I am here not talking anymore of public service. The laziness of people to go and queue allows businesses to save huge costs by offering digital, automated solutions without facing the risk of losing their client base.” Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Estonia will be holding the Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of this year.

Related/of interest

‘A trip to the Faroe Islands, located between the Shetlands and Iceland, revealed something more ambitious and successful. There, 98% 4G LTE coverage is backed up by an islands-wide fibre network. Coverage extends out to the 200 mile fishing limit – to include the Faroese fishing fleet and passing cruise ships – and also a mile up in the air to cover helicopter routes.

Faroese Telecom provides the world’s best mobile broadband. According to Chief Executive Jan Ziskasen, “In South Korea, allegedly the world’s number one spot for 4G connectivity, the average speed is about 60Mbps. We are in the process of overtaking that as the average speed here is approaching 100Mbps. Once we launch the 800MHz – a long-range frequency – the islands will have a theoretical speed just below 1Gbps and that truly is speed in your pocket.” The population of the Faroes is 49,000 people.’

Lesley Riddoch: The UK Government has failed on Broadband – here’s how to fix it.


The battle of Grangemouth, Ineos, the Forties pipeline and Apache Corporation

Lawrence & Wishart

Read about a catalogue of assaults on the trade union Unite at the Grangemouth refinery in 2013.  Workers were forced to accept cuts in their pay and conditions as the Swiss firm’s owner Ineos threatened closure of the complex. To maximise profit, workers’ pensions were attacked, as well as their terms and conditions of employment.

BP sold the Forties oilfield to Apache in 2003, then divested the Grangemouth refinery to Ineos in 2005. Now Ineos plan to purchase the Forties pipeline system. Originating at Apache’s Charlie platform, the pipeline carries 30% of the UK’s total oil production. It reaches land, buried in Cruden Bay, to run 105 miles south to Grangemouth.

‘This is a story of a fight for working people told from the workers’ point of view.  I commend this enthralling book to everyone’ – Jeremy Corbyn

Written by the Grangemouth convenor, Mark Lyon, and published in association with Unite the Union, ‘The Battle of Grangemouth’ is a vital story in challenging times. It demonstrates why – now more than ever – being organised is vital for the defence of basic rights at work.

Pat Rafferty, regional secretary of Unite thinks we need a national debate as Grangemouth oil and chemical complex owner Ineos confirms that it is in discussion with BP about buying the Forties pipeline system. If the deal goes through, Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe will control two pieces of vital national infrastructure.  “There are serious concerns about the welfare of employees who would be transferred as part of any deal. We need a national debate now,” says Pat Rafferty. “Do our politicians believe in an economy where power is widely held and used for the benefit of us all or are they happy with power in the hands of a tiny minority whose biggest concern is their own personal benefit? Is it right or sensible to give the power to turn off the taps- and bring the entire country to a standstill – to one private company, with no democratic involvement or oversight?”

Union fears over pipeline talks: Greg Russell.    Ineos buys North Sea oil fields in £1bn deal.

Forties riser mist


Grangemouth is still suffering from poor management. The site’s future is unclear.

The BP pipeline originates at Apache’s Forties Charlie platform.

Forties Charlie

Do not forget the eight Chinese dragon ships transporting ethane into Grangemouth from the North American shale fields.  Ineos Grangemouth plant rated poor for pollution two years running

Fracking company Ineos Upstream has submitted a scoping requests for fracking sites on Barmleymoor Lane at Marsh Lane near Eckington in Derbyshire, and Common Road near Harthill, Rotherham. These are the first sites in Ineos’s exploration plans for its million acres of fracking licences. A recent Ineos exhibition in Marsh Lane attrached a large counter demonstration of local residents outside the venue. Ineos is also planning to carry out seismic surveys across its licence areas and is targeting 500 square miles of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire first. Ineos has contracted Fisher German Priestner as their land agent to gain access for the surveys.  Ineos plans for fracked gas at Grangemouth under fire. Underused crackers and fast-tracked frackers – Ineos at Grangemouth. Forviemedia WordPress blog from 2015





Balmoral estate hosts World Nomad Games

World Nomad Games

I suggested to my gymnast granddaughter that she emulate the archer quine (pictured), with a view to participating in the bow-and-arrow display at the Games, but she said that her ticklish toes would make the feat impossible.

‘Girl in traditional dress performs an impressive display’: photograph © Viktor Drachev TASS/Getty Images

There was an early tourism boost for Aberdeenshire as the World Nomad Games were staged on the Royal Deeside estate of Balmoral this spring, Scotland’s first turn at hosting the event. The Games were organised by Aberdeenshire Inspired and funded by the Scottish Government. The decision to bid and then extend invitations – to all diasporic nations sharing long nomadic histories – came about after the President of the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan visited Aberdeen in the autumn of 2016. With twenty-five golds, hosts Kyrgyzstan topped the medals table at last year’s Games.

“In the modern world, people are forgetting their history and there is a threat of extinction for traditional cultures,” said Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev. “Nomadic civilisation is a good example of sustainable development, which is what all of humanity is looking for today. The Games were designed to unite nations.”

Two thousand competitors from forty countries pitched up for the Games in Scotland. A hippodrome was built in the shadow of Lochnagar, beloved mountain and haunt of Prince Charles. A traditional yurt village was constructed on the site where the Braemar Gathering takes place in September every year.

The Games featured unorthodox disciplines and ethno-sports, such as hunting with golden eagles and throwing bones. The highlight was the horse-riding competition, Kok-boru, a tradition which dates back to when men brandishing sticks on fire used to hunt animals that preyed on their livestock. Fire wards off evil spirits. As part of the Games programme, visitors to the Games were encouraged to rewild with reindeer, beavers, lynx and wolves in the Caledonian forests, or to tramp on the Cairngorms mountains.

More fierce – if not fiery – competition was evident in the stick wrestling, an event in which two competitors tried to gain control of a small stick. The Scottish entrants excelled at the caber tossing, as expected, though the event was cancelled after several teams visited the Lochnagar Distillery prior to the tossing. The Army teams from nearby Ballater won both the tug-of-war and the polo competitions. The Royal Family sponsored a special game – riders on horseback tried to capture a dead goat, then hurl the decapitated carcass into a goal. Security was strict due to the Castle venue, and protest threats from animal rights activists.

Within the grounds of Balmoral, there were concerts for spectators, a nomads cinema, processions, stunts involving camels and yaks, husky racing, tent erection displays, belt wrestling, Bedouin dancing, rolling Easter eggs and pagan face-painting.

The opening ceremony for Scotland’s World Nomad Games was at Crathie on April 1st.

I thought that this article would crash my spellcheck; the only words it has challenged are ‘quine’ and ‘caber’. A quine is a lass, a girl.  A caber is a big stick, a telegraph pole.

Lonely Planet photographs

TRT World

Davide Monteleone works on independent projects using photography, video and text


Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access pipeline

Standing Rock

At Standing Rock in North Dakota, Native American elders fighting the Dakota Access pipeline have extinguished the Seven Council Fires, which has been burning for months at the main camp.  Young Native water protectors have relit a new fire, the All Nations Fire, part of the continuing resistance to the $3.8 billion pipeline.

The water protectors are calling for global mass mobilisations as the US Army plans to approve the pipeline. It threatens their vital water supply from the Missouri river. In April 2017 Bakken oil was flowing through the pipeline under Lake Oahe near the Reservation.

The Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo are among companies funding the pipeline.

These cities are pulling billions from the banks that support the pipeline.

Amnesty International has dispatched human rights observers to monitor the repression of Native Americans

Standing Rock Protesters React to Life Under Trump: Rolling Stone. President Trump has reversed previous policies and given the Dakota Access {and Keystone XL} pipelines the go-ahead to expand.

Court proceedings continue to rage in the battle over the pipeline that has drawn thousands of protestors to North Dakota. As law enforcement officers and Indigenous activists face off near the construction site, the conflict plays out in real time on social media, capturing international attention.  The main resistance camp set up by the water protectors has been largely vacated after protesters were ordered to leave the camp.

Profile: Dakota oil pipeline: Greg Russell writes in the National daily newspaper.

The Standing Rock fight isn’t just about the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s also about cultural theft, colonialism, and white supremacy.

Posts on Dakota Access ignored cultural considerations

Spiritual wounds from Dakota Access Pipeline protest won’t soon heal.






‘I, Daniel Blake’ film review

From Facebook page


Bankers trouser huge bonuses as foodbank use mushrooms.

I Daniel Blake was a carpenter..

After working as a joiner in Newcastle for most of his life, widower 59 year old Daniel Blake suffers a heart attack and needs help from the State. His consultant and GP say that he is not fit to return to work. The shambolic Department of Work and Pensions declare him fit and able to work, making him claim Jobseekers Allowance, seeking jobs he is unable to do on computers that he has never used

I, Daniel Blake

When a monastic cemetery was unearthed during excavations on a medieval site in Aberdeen last year, wags queuing at the local Halls of Plenty joked that the bones they’d found had been assessed and the monks passed fit for work. Presumably they were supposed to apply for jobs as skeleton staff.

‘Looking for non-existent jobs.. it humiliates me. You lose your self-respect, you’re done for’ – I am Daniel Blake.

Daniel Blake’s cardiac consultant and GP say that he is not yet fit to return to work. Unqualified, untrained Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff declare Daniel to be able to work and force him to claim Jobseekers Allowance. He befriends Katie, a single mother with two young children. They find themselves in limbo, caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare of welfare failure. Both Dave Johns as Daniel and Hayley Squires as Katie produce stunning performances in the lead roles of this new Ken Loach film.

Ken Loach abandoned self-imposed exile to deliver ‘I, Daniel Blake’, fifty years on from Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow (1967).

On November 9th judges ruled in favour of a family that have been forced to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ on a room used for medical needs, overturning a Court of Appeal decision made two years ago against Jacqueline Carmichael, who has the skeletal disorder spina bifida. The judges decided that it is “irrational” to argue against the extra bedroom for a hospital bed at her flat in Southport.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is especially topical given that a £75million performance-driven tax credits contract is to be cancelled. Awarded by HMRC to Concentrix to save £300million a year, it imposed sanctions, arbitrarily signing claimants off for suspected fraud and other ‘offences’, draconian measures cloaked in Orwellian jargon. ‘Mhairi Black calls for new law to prevent repeat of Concentrix tax credits scandal’ – Andrew Learmonth

A National Audit Office report says that the DWP has failed to achieve value for money from the health and disability assessments it had contracted out to Atos, Maximus and Capita. Giving evidence to a committee of MPs, the three companies have been forced to admit regret at the poor quality of their work.

Once contracts rely on target-drives and monetary results, a deliberate bias is created. Private companies administering State services – what should be critical safety nets – are an essential part of Austerity UK, the vile war being waged against the poor and the vulnerable.

A stereotypical drunk Scot and a gaggle of partying Geordie girls bring levity, yet spoil a scene when I, Daniel Blake could have broken from its predominantly ‘cubicle setting’, missing an opportunity for a display of mass solidarity. Though depicting suffocation and dehumanisation well, the box-type locations continue until the film reaches a rather disappointing ending. The accompanying photograph (above) is from SUWN. Regular screenwriter Paul Laverty based his devastating script on extensive interviews and research including spending a day with SUWN activists on the streets of Dundee; everything you see in the film happened to someone in real life.

Dr Tony Cox was arrested for ‘breach of the peace’ when trying to accompany a vulnerable claimant to her Work Capability Assessment, despite the woman’s statements in Tony’s defence. Tony was giving his time to help someone through the thicket of punitive government bureaucracy. Found guilty, on July 21st 2016 he was sentenced to serve a 150 hour community payback (sic) order.

The anger over ‘I, Daniel Blake’ needs to turn into action – here’s how it can: Sarah Glynn

Loach and Laverty can boast a wonderful track record of collaboration; they are responsible for some of the most moving and powerful dramas of the last 20 years, two decades of (en)countering austerity as crass benefit porn has flourished on screen. A Scot, Laverty’s outline for ‘Carla’s Song (1996)’ caught Loach’s attention to begin the partnership. The script introduced a Glasgow bus driver who befriends a Nicaraguan woman and visits Central America. Peter Mullan’s performance in ‘My Name is Joe’ won him the best actor at Cannes in 1998. In 2000 ‘Bread and Roses’ told the stories of a group of Los Angeles janitors who become activists to fight their exploitative bosses. Martin Compston played a youngster on a Greenock housing scheme trying to help his Mum in 2002’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’.  ‘Ae Fond Kiss (2004)’ brought us a love story set within Glasgow’s Pakistani community. ‘The Wind that shakes the Barley (2006)’ documented the early days of the Irish Republican movement and won the duo their first Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The second Palme D’Or winner, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, proves that their work is as essential to our struggles now as it ever was. The film catalogues frustration; it’s a searing indictment of neoliberal Britain. Tears will well as you watch the film; by all means scream at the eye-wateringly serious – dozens suffering sanctions have been driven to suicide. But tears and anger are not enough.

Footnote: in a new collaboration auguring well for the future, Scots writer Jenni Fagan has turned her debut novel ‘The Panopticon’ into a script. It is set to be realised on film by Jim Loach, Ken’s son.



CAP in handouts; murdering birds on the moors


Images: Bennachie hill range from the skies


‘The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a disaster, essentially a £50 billion welfare system for the landed gentry and other big landowners across Europe. You would think that leaving the EU could actually be a positive thing for agriculture. Free from the shackles of CAP, we might get a fairer system. Right?


‘A UK agricultural policy that doesn’t subsidise the rich’ – Alex Scrivener


50% of Scotland’s hill farmers only survive thanks to Working Tax Credits, the CAP payments IT system has buckled, becoming a processing shambles, and overall debt levels in the farming sector have reached a record high. At the beginning of December 2016 it emerged that another blunder had occurred issuing farm subsidy payments. Farmers and crofters have been overpaid during the UK Government’s £300million cash advance loan scheme.  ‘Responsibilities’ – Alec Finlay

Scottish tenant farmers call for sale of Highland sporting estate to be put on hold  Loophole in bid to punish landowners for killing birds of prey

Doffing caps, Tillypronie Estate Trusts received £385,279 from CAP in 2014 for “first afforestation of agricultural and non-agricultural land”. The 6000 hectare estate in Aberdeenshire is up for sale, complete with grouse moors and valued at £10.5 million.

A Scottish land owner has claimed £3 million in CAP subsidies from the European Union last year – more than anyone else in the UK. Frank Smart owns land near the town of Banchory on Deeside. He is what’s known as a ‘slipper farmer’, buying farms along with their subsidy entitlement, and then leasing them out to be farmed by tenants.



Brigadista Ale

brigadista ale V9 arial FINAL accented

From across Europe, and indeed the world, ordinary men and women answered the call to defend the Popular Front newly-elected Spanish government, the Second Republic. From lands far away, to a country which few knew much about, came the volunteers to join what became known as the International Brigade(s). The Brigaders were poets, writers, revolutionaries, railwaymen, adventurers, idealists, builders, nurses, dockers, miners and dreamers. What happened in Spain should have served as a warning to the rest of the world; dark times were upon us.

This being the 80th anniversary of La Guerra, the International Brigade Memorial Trust and HOPE not hate have come together to commission something they hope will serve a valuable and timely reminder to the history of the men and women of the International Brigade – an ale of all things, made by Blackhill Brewery , a microbrewery in County Durham. Blackhill’s real ales are named after Durham coal mining seams. Owner Chris Graham was inspired by working as a coal miner for twelve years.

‘Life is a rollercoaster at the moment. We were asked to produce a commemorative ale for the Spanish Civil War, which we readily agreed to; lo and behold, Brigadista Ale was brewed. A tiny idea has grown huge, and we are overjoyed to be part of something so massive. We do supply locally and do swaps, but don’t often go far afield, so the orders from London and Reading made us think, then came emails from Ireland, the Channel Islands and Spain, which proved to be more of a logistical challenge. Just as we got our heads around the fact that we finally had a website, we had to learn all about blogging. With Twitter brought into the equation; Wow! so many followers in such a short time. Brigadista Ale is brewed to commemorate and educate. And to be enjoyed.’  Chris Graham

Monies raised from the sale of the Brigadista Ale and its associated products will go towards keeping alive the memory of those volunteers, facing great hardships, who went to Spain and confronted fascism.