Post Referendum Reform

Well I wasn’t on-message over the Scottish referendum.  On the post-referendum reforms, however, I’m just undecided.

Nick Clegg suggests that we should start by implementing the recommendations of the McKay Commission. I’d probably agree with him if I could get my head round what those recommendations would mean in practice. Until  a Peter Snow has explained them to me with the aid of digital 3D diagrams, I don’t relish the prospect of going canvassing and trying to argue the virtues of a Legislative Consent Memorandum.

On the other hand, the McKay Commission proposals are the least risky reform on the table, the others being radical reforms to remedy, what is in reality, one of the least significant imperfections in the democratic process. McKay’s solution to  the West Lothian Question may be inadequate, but I think I prefer a weak nutcracker to a destructive sledgehammer.

The constitutional issues I care about are, unsurprisingly, reform of the House of Lords, a fairer voting system, a written constitution and more power for local democracy.  So, I support Miliband’s proposal for a Constitutional Convention.  I’ve signed Unlock Democracy’s Petition.

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The Scottish Referendum

My husband and I disagree on the subject of the referendum.  He, a Canadian of Scottish descent, believes wholeheartedly that Scotland should vote No.  I, an Englishwoman with no Scottish connections whatsoever, am undecided but veer towards Yes.

The fact is that I can’t possibly know how I’d vote if I lived in Scotland, but I think the prospect of living in a smaller, more egalitarian society with a fairer voting system and no Tory party would have enormous appeal. On the other hand the dire warnings about the effect of independence on Scotland’s economy might sway me and I would not be reassured by Salmond and crew underplaying the difficulties ahead.

I’m certain that the rhetoric by the No campaign about what our country has achieved ‘together’ would have the opposite effect to the one intended. I find it very distasteful that David Cameron, the descendant of slave-owners, claims the abolition of slavery as one of Great Britain’s achievements.  It is a mitigation of our slave-trading past, but it is not something to be proud of. And his claim that the Enlightenment was kickstarted by the UK is just ignorant.

I’m also certain that the decision this Thursday is one for the people of Scotland and them alone.  I wish them success whatever they decide.

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Bats in the Attic

A minor complication in renovating our house has been that we are a bat roost. Our bats needs come first, by law.

In fact, there is only one bat  — a male pipistrelle who uses our loft as a roost during the breeding season, away from the wife and kiddies. The mating season has just started, so he has left, but will probably be back next year. 

We had minor storm damage to the roof from Hurricane Bertha, but despite the absence of Sir Nick (named after a cousin who is a bat expert), we still had to get permission from Natural England to replace a missing tile and a damaged chimney cowl.

Our liaison with the world of battery has been through Samantha the batwoman, who turned up a few weeks ago with 35 baby bats (known as pups) in boxes, which had to go everywhere with her while she was nursing them. She caught Sir Nick (the name was her suggestion since she knows of my cousin — the world of bat conservation is not large) and brought him downstairs to  introduce him to us. He looked rather cross, but bats do anyway.

We got emergency consent from Natural England for the roof repair, but they will eventually send us full guidance, which we will be bound by law to obey.  I’m hoping we will be allowed to store our Christmas decorations in the loft because this isn’t a large house and I can’t think where else to put them.

Almost everyone I’ve told about our bat has gone ‘ew’ or expressed sympathy, but we are feel rather proud of being a bat roost and Samantha’s visits have been fun.  We’ve joined the Bat Conservation Trust.  Natural England has been informed that we are ‘bat friendly’. Which is a slightly odd bit of personal info for a public body to hold on one, I think.


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Some notes on retrofitting.

We’ve decided not to put solar panels on the roof.  We had decided to go ahead with them because of the profits from the FIT, but then we were driving back from Bude over the moor and seeing our house from a distance below us, we realised that we can’t bear to cover up our beautiful Delabole slates.

The loft already has plenty of insulation.

We have uninsulated cavity walls, but the result of a scoping survey was that the house is unsuitable for injected insulation because there is too much rubble in the cavity. 

The quotes for double glazed wooden sash windows were not as eye watering as I had feared, but we still decided not to go ahead. There was no way we’d see our investment back in our lifetime, and I prefer to be able to hear the birdsong in the garden.   If we do find it draughty in winter, we will consider secondary glazing.

That leaves the floors, which are suspended wood over a ventilated crawl space. Rather than get the floorboards up we caulked the gaps and laid new wool carpet over an insulating underlay made by Axminster from recycled materials. As far as I can discover, carpet and insulating underlay is not included in the Green Deal, which seems unfair to Britain’s struggling carpet industry.

So, no solar panels, no cavity wall insulation, no double glazing and no underfloor insulation. I guess we’ll just have to invest in thick jerseys. We do have an efficient combi boiler (running on oil) and a wood-burner, plus by the time we’ve cleared our fifth of an acre garden we’ll have about three years wood, our tree feller says more.

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The Green Deal flops again

The Green Deal Home Improvement Fund has been cancelled with effect from today because an increase in demand has quickly exhausted the fund.  Anyone who has got a green deal assessment done in the last few weeks, thinking they could get cash back from the fund, is out of luck.  I’m one of those people.

We moved into our house in Devon a couple of weeks ago and immediately set about renovations.

We had a Green Deal report last week.  It was not completely useless: We already have two surveys, one saying that the house is solid walls, the other that it is cavity walled.  The GDA (Green Deal Assessor) climbed into the loft and confirmed that it is in fact cavity.

But when the report arrived it contained the inaccuracies that are so common in these reports. It stated that our normal thermostat setting is 21° when it is, in fact, 18° and there were a couple of other errors.  Without the errors, no improvement that could be made to our house would qualify for a Green Deal loan because the savings that could be made on our fuel bills would not be greater than the repayments on the loan. So GDAs are forced to finesse their reports to make the Green Deal look workable.

The Green Deal should be scrapped entirely.  It has been an abysmal failure.

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How many British victims?

I keep reading that there were ten British victims on flight MH17, but also that two of them — Andrew Hoare and John Allen — had children who died with them.  Both men are described as married. So, unless the children were step-children (even though not described as such), they had British citizenship too, even if they had dual nationality through their mothers and were not travelling on British passports. 

Surely that means there were fifteen British victims, including Friso and Jasper Hoare and Christopher, Julian and Ian Allen?


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The perils of being a trailing spouse

When a couple emigrate it is usually because one of them has a job offer, or sees better career opportunities abroad.  It is rarer for both of them to be in that position. The other partner is called ‘the trailing spouse’ and it is in the nature of things that, even nowadays, the trailer is usually a woman.

My own eight year stint as a trailing spouse is about to come to an end, with no more harm done than a weight problem caused by lack of winter exercise and a loathing for snow that will probably last the rest of my life, but for many trailing spouses the risks are high.

They will often have to give up career opportunities at home in order to allow their partner to pursue his abroad.  In the host country, their qualifications and experience may not be easily translated into an equivalent job and career.  This can lead to isolation, loss of sense of identity and depression. Many get round the problem by taking a career break to have children, but this means they have even more difficulty getting back into the job market later on.

But, the difficulties they face assimilating may be as nothing compared with the obstacles if they decide to return home. If their partner refuses, then marital breakdown is on the cards. Alternatively, the marital breakdown occurs first and they then want to return home where they can resume their old lives and careers. Either way, they are likely to find that their financial security and custody of their children is dependent on the family laws of the host country.

There is a regular stream of women in this position who seek advice and support on the ex-pat forum that I contribute to. Thanks to the British press, most people are aware of the difficulties a woman may face getting custody of her children in a Middle-Eastern country where the law gives men most of the rights. But, it is less well known that most American states will be reluctant to allow a child to be removed from the USA, or in some cases from the state itself.

Canadian courts seem to be more sympathetic, but one member of the forum was recently advised by her lawyer that, if she returned to the UK, her support payments might be reduced or cut off, because the court would see her decision as a willful reduction in her employment prospects compared with a recommended move to Alberta.

A trailing spouse with children may find herself effectively trapped in the host country until her kids are of age, by which time her chances of career fulfillment and home ownership in her home country are permanently damaged.


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