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Archives for March 2009

What has your local MP done for YOU?

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Graham Stewart | 09:59 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009


It's easy to be cynical about MPs but they haven't exactly covered themselves in glory of late, what with claiming for their bathplugs and hubby's adult entertainment!

Now, we had an MP-bashing session on Friday's programme, so this morning we wondered whether there was a more positive story to tell about our elected representatives. I'll admit, I wondered whether it was going to be a slow hour, but in the end we had plenty of people coming on to praise their MP — and some of them weren't even close relations!

So what has your local MP done for you? Beth in Shetland told us that she calls her MP, Alasdair Carmichael, "the little bulldog"! Apparently that was a compliment. Lillias in Edinburgh emailed to say that her man at Westminster has give her a great giggle during these dark times. His name is Nigel Griffiths. I have no idea what she means. And Tom in Alness said his MP even helped him appeal against his failed driving test. Now, that's service for you!

So has your MP ever helped you? Or do you take the view that they're all out for themselves?

Does it matter if Scotland's financial institutions remain independent?

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Graham Stewart | 09:58 UK time, Monday, 30 March 2009


First HBOS, now the Dunfermline.

Dunfermline flagThe Bank of England used new powers under the Banking Act to rush through a deal and prevent Scotland's largest building society from going bust. And so, as the BBC's Robert Peston was first to reveal this morning, the Nationwide will take on the Dunfermline Building Society's branches, good loans and deposits. The Treasury will take £1bn of commercial property lending and acquired mortgage debt.

The Chancellor Alistair Darling says the Dunfermline would have needed between £60m and £100m to keep it going because of its exposure to risky assets and the Treasury says full nationalisation of Dunfermline wouldn't have provided "value for money".

But the Dunfermline's chairman, Jim Faulds, disputes those figures and was furious when he spoke on BBC One's Politics Show Scotland yesterday (the interview is 35 mins into the programme on the iPlayer link), accusing the Treasury of "sacrificing" the business.

The Nationwide says it's "in a unique position by virtue of its size and financial strength, to provide support to Dunfermline." It expects to retain the 245 who work in Dunfermline's branches (though 289 head office jobs aren't so certain), and has said that the 140-year-old brand will remain intact.

So, as we discussed on today's Morning Extra: Does it matter if the Dunfermline remains independent? Or is this a bad deal for Scotland? Continue the debate by posting your comments below — and do read Peston's blog entry on "How Dunfermline fell" for more analysis.

Should we give our MPs a pay rise?

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Graham Stewart | 09:41 UK time, Friday, 27 March 2009


Eric Pickles on Question Time

Did you see Question Time last night on BBC1? The Tory chairman Eric Pickles was jeered by the audience when he tried to justify his MP's expenses. He claims a second home allowance despite living only 37 miles from Parliament. Once described as "jovial and blunt-speaking" by The Guardian's Nicholas Watt, Mr Pickles told the audience that commuting wasn't practical:

"I was leaving home at 5.30 in the morning to guarantee I was going to be there and I wasn't getting back until about 12 or 1 o'clock in the morning. Now you can do that once or twice, you can do that for a while but you've got to understand the House of Commons runs like clockwork..." To which the Green Party's Caroline Lucas said: "So does the rest of the world actually!"

Now, let's be clear. Mr Pickles hasn't broken the law, he hasn't even broken any Parliamentary rules. Furthermore, he's never claimed his full allowance and anything he has claimed he's published on his website (if you want to see what your MP claimed in 2006/07 click here). So is it fair to be so critical of Mr Pickles? Or is he guilty of greed?

Of course, Mr Pickles isn't the only one. Yesterday we heard how Parliament's standards commissioner has decided to investigate a complaint about Labour minister Tony McNulty's second home expenses.

So what should we do about it? The former MP Matthew Parris told us on today's Morning Extra that we should scrap most expenses and pay MPs £140,000. It wouldn't cost us any more because, according to the last figures to be published (in October 2007), the average expenses claimed by each MP is already £135,600.

And our final caller this morning, Douglas, said they should be paid even more! He said: "I think people running the country are more important than footballers."

What do you think?

Are we serious about booze?

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Graham Stewart | 10:05 UK time, Thursday, 26 March 2009


Alcohol PAWe all know Scotland has a problem with alcohol, but it's often difficult to quantify. Well today we're able to put a figure on it: £5bn. That's what both drug and alcohol abuse is costing the Scottish economy every year. An Audit Scotland report out today says drink claimed 1,399 lives last year, while there were 455 drug deaths. Yet we're spending three times as much money treating drug abuse than alcohol-related problems.

So do we treat alcoholism seriously enough? Is there enough advice and treatment out there? And when it comes to prevention, what should our politicians do? They're struggling to agree on proposals from the Scottish Government to introduce a minimum pricing scheme, so what would your solution be?

They do hear your comments, so please leave them here...

The very definition of fame

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Graham Stewart | 23:16 UK time, Sunday, 22 March 2009


Having presented Morning Extra for almost 10 months now, I'm considering early retirement. They say it's always best to leave on a high and that pinnacle in my career was undoubtedly confirmed on Saturday.

Yes, dear reader, I was '28-across' in last week's Daily Record "Big Prize Crossword".


I've been immortalised, at last, as... a crossword clue! It doesn't get any better than this. (Well, apart from being '1-down' perhaps.)

Granted, it's not quite the same as being immortalised as a statue — although I have asked Jeff to have my bust mounted on a plinth outside Pacific Quay — but it beats winning a Sony Radio Award! Now I can walk past the likes of Edi Stark with my head held high. She may have a string of Sonys to her name, but has she ever been '28-across'? No, of course she hasn't!

When a friend alerted me to my new-found fame, I waited for the punchline. "What's the clue?" I said. "Annoying loud whine? Irritable noise?"

But no, I was just plain old 'Radio presenter (6,7)' — high praise indeed given that many prefer to preface that with the words "excuse for a".

Of course, it's not all about me. Perish the very thought! I feel that by lending my name to a clue I've given something back to the community. As one cheater — sorry, 'contributor' — on a certain crossword help site said: "For 76 down, Graham Stewart will give you the required T."

That's how useful I've become. By lending a "T" to the intersection between two clues I may have been the difference between failure and a fat £500 cheque for some lucky reader. Surely the very definition of "public service"?

One thought haunts me though. This is apparently the second time my name has been used as a clue in the Daily Record crossword. So, either the compiler is a big Morning Extra fan... or I'm considered so obscure that my name is a sure-fire way of stumping everyone! Hmm... probably best you don't answer that one!

A peer challenge to facilitiate the use of joined-up and meaningful community engagement

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Graham Stewart | 10:02 UK time, Thursday, 19 March 2009


Yes, we've been talking gobbledigook on today's Morning Extra.

Council leaders in England have compiled a banned list of the 200 worst uses of jargon, with "predictors of beaconicity" and "taxonomy" among the worst horrors.

Of course, you know that we like to take a bottom-up, evidence-based approach on Morning Extra in what is hopefully a win-win situation for all stakeholders. So I cautiously welcome examples of bad practice in the terminology department from all service users of this blog. So plant a seedbed with your participation in our comments section below. And you can also empower yourself by taking part in our "Council Jargon Quiz" (or should that be a 'peer challenge'?)

Naturally, any criticism of poor use of language by Radio Scotland presenters will be scaled back as it does not fit in with the core message of excellence of which we are attempting to promote. I thank you.

How do we keep the lights on?

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Graham Stewart | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Torness exterior

Does Scotland need nuclear? My colleagues on Good Morning Scotland have been broadcasting from one of the country's main nuclear power stations, Torness, this morning. And we're continuing the debate on today's Morning Extra.

Stations like Torness are due to be decommissioned in the next few years. So that leaves us with a choice: do we remain committed to nuclear as part of our energy mix, as Labour have been arguing, or do we say no to nuclear and put all of our faith in the renewables revolution?

You can call me on 0500 92 95 00, or leave your comments here.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of Gary Robertson interviewing the Scottish Labour leader, Ian Gray, live from Torness earlier this morning. I'm pleased to report that Gary resisted the temptation to press any buttons!

Gary in Torness

Am I keeping you awake?

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Graham Stewart | 11:09 UK time, Sunday, 15 March 2009


Nightworking scene

A small minority of listeners report that they fall asleep to Morning Extra on a regular basis, though I like to think that's restricted to those of you who work nightshift and it's no reflection on the programme. Mind you, either way, it's nice to provide a service!

If you can stay awake long enough, that's what we'll be discussing on Monday's Morning Extra. In another of BBC Radio Scotland's Investigations, our reporter Ken MacDonald looks at how working nights can affect your health — and I want to hear your experiences.

My only experience of working overnights was in the late 1990s when I presented the weekend 'Scottish Night Network' programmes on Scotland's local commercial radio stations. Now, I'll grant you that playing records on the wireless isn't exactly hard work, but it can still get boring nonetheless and come 4am I used to find myself nodding off during longer tracks such as Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Blur's "Beetlebum" (there's a song you never hear anymore — I wonder why?!)

Thankfully, the silence after the song faded out was sufficient enough to startle me out of my nap, just in time to lunge foward and splutter some half-garbled rubbish into the microphone (alas, some things have never changed.) However, my successor — we'll call him 'John', for that was his name — wasn't so fortunate. On one occassion he never rose from his nap and listeners were treated to the sweet sound of prolonged silence. Apparently listening figures had never been so high. Alas, the poor boy never worked in radio again, although at least he was as fresh as a daisy when he eventually woke-up to receive his P45! (Readers will be reassured to learn that John now answers emergency 999 calls.)

But should we blame him? A recent BBC Horizon programme highlighted the dangers of playing with our bodyclocks. As well as the health hazards of working nights, experts also reckon that we're more likely to have a heart attack at 8 o'clock in the morning and most likely to crash our car on the motorway at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. (Luckily, the only thing John ever crashed was the intro to Kate Bush!)

I was also happy to hear one expert on the programme say that the reason teenagers won't get out of bed in the morning is nothing to do with laziness and everything to do with the unique nature of young people's bodyclocks. Some schools are even considering a change to the daily timetable to take account of this. So if my mum's reading this post, there you have it: I wasn't a layabout all those years after all! I'm now putting my faith in the scientists to come up with an equally convincing theory to explain my continuing inability to get out of bed at the age of 33. I'm optimistic.

Anyway, the programme's available to watch on the BBC iPlayer until 21 April. I highly recommend it.

But, back on topic: Is the 24-hour society destroying our health? Are employers failing in their duty of care for us? And is it naive to think we can change this? Post your experiences here and call me Monday morning from 8am. If you're awake, that is!

The internet bandwagon

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Graham Stewart | 09:58 UK time, Friday, 13 March 2009


I admit it: I'm addicted to the internet. Like our addiction to the mobile phone, I find it almost impossible to imagine how we coped before Google. Of course many of you continue to cope without it, as you were quick to tell us on this morning's programme. But Hamish in Ayr told us he felt "forced" into using the web, especially for booking flights with a certain airline.

That's why Morning Extra remains primarily a phone-in programme. It's the one communication tool, more than any other, which nearly all of us have access to. Sure, it's nice to receive texts and emails, but nothing beats hearing a voice to convey people's passions, their frustrations and their joys. That's what makes good radio.

Which is precisely why I don't get the current obsession some radio presenters have with the internet bandwagon that is Twitter. Twitter is a bit like this blog, except that all posts (or 'tweets' as they're known) are limited to a maximum of 140 characters. More analysis here.


Twitter has its uses, including the potential to reconnect voters with their political representatives. You can now follow the moves of US President Barack Obama and check what Gordon Brown has been up to. And BBC News Scotland has it's own useful update on the latest stories (although I personally prefer using our RSS feed).

But... is there any point in radio presenters using it? At a recent radio event for students I was taken aback by the excitement Twitter was generating — not among the students, but purely among some of my industry colleagues. Two of them in particular were showing off their iPhones and bragging about all the 'tweets' they were following. One turned to me and said: "Aren't you using Twitter on your programme, Graham?"

"Eh, no," I sheepishly replied, feeling like some kind of luddite. I may be wrong, but I imagine most of our listeners have no interest in Twitter. As a fellow presenter friend of mine said to me the other night: "Why doesn't this industry just concentrate on making good radio, rather than obsessing over the latest internet fashions?"

He may have a point. A host I know on one of Scotland's biggest commercial radio stations updates his Twitter almost continuously. Yet there are only 386 people 'following' him. That's a tiny audience compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who tune into his radio show every week.

So, I'm in a dilemma: do I tweet? Or is tweeting just for twits?

Now, if you've read this far down you're clearly not a part of the digitial generation that's lost the ability to concentrate! That was the subject of BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme last night and a topic for conversation on today's Morning Extra. So tell me, is the internet making us stupid?

Slopping out

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Graham Stewart | 10:14 UK time, Thursday, 12 March 2009


Slopping OutSo far £11m has been paid to more than 3,700 prisoners after a judge ruled their human rights had been breached by slopping out their prison cell toilets.

While there's a one-year time bar for such claims in England and Wales, a House of Lords ruling in October 2007 said claims in Scotland could date back to 2001, when human rights laws became operational.

Both Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister, and Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, say they want to see an end to this anomoly (although only Westminster can change this by amending the Scotland Act). But, on today's Morning Extra, the solicitor Tony Kelly told us this is all about politics. He says the arguments were well debated years ago, the politicians were well aware of the position and now they're conveniently blaming everyone apart from themselves.

Your comments please.

Plane stupid or plain sensible?

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Graham Stewart | 10:02 UK time, Tuesday, 3 March 2009


planestupid.jpgPlenty of robust debate on today's programme. Mark Hesling from the protest group Plane Stupid was taking your calls on this morning's direct action at Aberdeen Airport.

One of their aims, of course, was to start a debate, which they've clearly succeeded in doing. Though many of you contacted us to ask why we give such groups the oxygen of publicity. Jim in Aberdeen texted to say: "The Plane Stupid protesters must be rejoicing you have given them a whole hour of prime time to justify their criminal acts."

It's an interesting point... which you can argue by posting your comments below.

Is rugby too dangerous for our schoolchildren?

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Graham Stewart | 11:10 UK time, Sunday, 1 March 2009


Rugby kids

On Monday's Morning Extra we're asking: Is rugby too risky a game for youngsters in its present form? Or is our culture too risk averse?

In a BBC Radio Scotland Investigation, Edi Stark looks at the rise in rugby-related injuries. Four Scottish schoolboys have suffered catastrophic spinal injuries since 2007. One of them is quadriplegic after breaking his vertebrae in a match between Edinburgh schools Merchiston Castle and Stewart's Melville College in September 2008. He's speaking for the first time about the effect it's had on his life.

We'll also hear from the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), headteachers and spinal injury specialists.

Are these recent injuries just a blip or a trend since the professionalisation of the game? And should the government be encouraging rugby in schools without good research on sports injuries?

You can call us on Monday morning from 8am on 0500 92 95 00 and make your point live on-air. Responding to your calls will be Colin Thomson of the SRU, whose remit includes schools. Or, alternatively, leave your comments here.

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