Tuesday, 30 December 2003

Prisoners' Dilemma

You've got children. They're at a state school. You want to take the family on holiday, but all the best deals are outside the school holiday period. Increasingly people - no, not you of course - are breaking the "rules" and going away during term time. It can save you 40% off the holiday price, and it may soon get you a criminal record:
Parents in Scotland could be fined as much as £1,000 or be sent to prison for up to a month - or both - if they take their children on holiday during term time, it emerged yesterday.

The Scotsman has an editorial (the 2nd one on the link) about this today:

... in many modern jobs, holidays rarely coincide with traditional school terms (which are based on agricultural seasons). Perhaps the long-term solution is to review the pattern of school terms and make them more flexible.
The question is: Why do all the schools have the same holiday periods? It's not as if many Glasgow children rush off to bring in the harvest once school is out for the summer. Surely this is just another example of what happens when (almost) all the schools are run by the state. We don't need a "long-term solution" in the form of a "review"; we need immediate action. Once again we can see why schools should be privatised. With hundreds of schools owned by many different entities it would be inconceivable for them to ignore the market demand for varied school holiday times. The state is not your friend.

Pay for your own games

It's not often that I agree with SNP politicians, but Peter Wishart MP is absolutely correct on the question of London's Olympic bid:
Mr Wishart said: "I have no problem with London hosting the Olympic Games in 2012, indeed I would support it. But I am strongly opposed to the UK taxpayer underwriting the entire cost, regardless of what that cost may finally be - and particularly when there is a danger of the London bid soaking up Lottery funding from Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. If London wants the Olympics, London should take financial responsibility"

"We already have the example of the Millennium Dome - where Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England were expected to pay the price."

Mr Wishart also reminds us of something to which I have seen no reference in the London media, namely that the decision to construct the new Edinburgh Parliament building was taken at Westminster by the UK Government.
"However, when the old Scottish Office (i.e. the pre-devolution entity) decided on the Holyrood project, Scotland is expected to pick up the tab, despite the fact the decisions were taken under the authority of the Cabinet in London."
Scottish voters had always assumed that our new Parliament would meet in the already available Royal High School building on Calton Hill.

So yes, if London is mad enough to want to host the Olympic Games it should fund them itself.

New links

I have added a couple of new links from this site.

First there is Eursoc, a useful source of information about the Frankenreich.

Then I have added a link to One Hand Clapping, the website of the Reverend Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister in Tennessee and a former US Army artillery officer. I recommend reading this post on possible US responses to a terrorist nuclear attack.

Monday, 29 December 2003

Schools need shareholders, not "charters"

I read that the teachers' trade union wants a new charter for pupils:
The document proposed by the EIS would cover areas including equality, access to teachers and the right to be taught free from disruption by unruly pupils.

The union wants children to be at the centre of the decision-making process.

This sounds like more of the politically correct nonsense that we expect from unions. What on earth does "equality" mean in this context? And who's stopping children from having "access" to their teachers at the moment? No one, I suspect. Freedom from disruption, on the other hand, is a fine idea, but the only problem is that it's incompatible with the very politically correct climate that teachers have done so much to create. Schools need to be free to get rid of disruptive pupils. They also need to be free to set the curriculum and to get rid of bad staff. That means employing professional not unionised teachers. In other words we need to privatise the lot of them.

Friday, 26 December 2003

Some modest suggestions for membership of the Scottish Cabinet

Scotland has produced quite a few well-known entrepreneurs who are often on the news these days. There's Brian Soutar of Stagecoach, Sir Tom Farmer, founder of Kwik-Fit, and Tom Hunter now of the Entrepreneurial Exchange.

Our most outspoken businessman is surely Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn Products

Tiefenbrun’s success has been hard won. Too hard won. "I’ve put my life into this company," he says. "But if I had the chance to do it again, I’d say no.

"In fact I think I’m going to write a book. I’ll call it Shafted: Being In Business In Scotland."

Tiefenbrun is an outspoken critic of a government and public "who don’t understand and don’t care" about the decline of British manufacturing.

So how "outspoken" is Mr Tiefenbrun?
"But business is tough. It’s like pushing water up a hill. We’ve got an ever increasing cost base, the corporate tax regime is iniquitous, and the planning system has crippled us for years. Then there’s about 40,000 pieces of f***ing legislation that have come in under this government, all 40,000 of which are a pain in the f***ing a***.
Furthermore:
"The thing is, we’ve paid millions of pounds in taxes over the years. And what has the government ever done to support industry? It’s p***ed the money away. They’re spending £40m to build a pedestrian bridge across the Clyde. They don’t even have a minister in Scotland specifically for industry, let alone manufacturing."
Having met Mr Tiefenbrun a couple of times I have to say that he's toned down his thoughts on politicians a little bit for this interview!

I don't really approve of there being a Minister for Industry, but Ivor's our man for the job if we must have one. I suspect that he would scrap those "40,000 pieces of f***ing legislation" by lunchtime on his first day in office and then retire.

While we're at it, let's bring Precious Ramotswe over from Botswana and put her in charge of the Justice Ministry.

Quote of the day

"It was all part of this terrible attack on people by those who had nothing better to do than to give advice on all sorts of subjects. These people, who wrote in newspapers and talked on the radio, were full of good ideas on how to make people better. They poked their noses into other people’s affairs, telling them to do this and to do that. They looked at what you were eating and told you it was bad for you; then they looked at the way you raised your children and said that was bad too. And to make matters worse, they often said that if you did not heed their warnings, you would die. In this way they made everybody so frightened of them that they felt they had to accept the advice."
... as spoken by Mma Precious Ramotswe in Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith.

Note this:

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom."
I had already read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, McCall Smith's first book about Detective Ramotswe, and the theme of individual responsibility and personal freedom jumps out from almost every page. The heroine and her husband-to-be are both self-employed entrepreneurs with a deep respect for independence and a healthy distrust of politicians and government employees. Christmas has resulted in my now having the next four books in the series. I have little doubt that the libertarian theme running through McCall Smith's delightful books is one reason for their tremendous popularity.

Wednesday, 24 December 2003

Same old Labour

Professor Sir Donald Mackay has written an interesting analysis of Labour's economic policy - old and new:
One of the most influential economic tracts of the 1970s was entitled: Britain’s Economic Problem - Too Few Producers. Written by two Oxbridge economists, it argued that the UK’s poor economic performance was largely a consequence of a structural imbalance between the market and non-market sectors of the economy.
Prof Mackay thinks that Labour hasn't learnt the lesson of the 1970s. The same "structural imbalances" have returned.

The Labour government, thinks Prof Mackay,

... needs structural reform of public services to accompany increased funding, and a realisation that squeezing the market sector is no substitute for such reform. That simply compounds the underlying problem of how we can generate the additional resources to finance improved non-market services. Hence the borrowing spree on which the Chancellor is now embarked.

The experience recalls unhappier times. A friend summed it up neatly. Having listened to my lamentation, he remarked sagely: "New Labour - Same Problem."

Of course I think that only a tiny proportion of government activity can be justified - almost all of those "non-market services" should be, well, marketised. If the state is to continue to fund "public" services there is no earthly reason why it should also operate them. The running of schools and hospitals must be taken out of the hands of state employees if we are ever to see any improvement in Britain's education and health.

Another institution bent on self-destruction?

On Monday I wrote about the ban on a CD that mentioned Jesus. Readers will probably not be surprised by the angry comments in these letters in today's Scotsman. As Derrick McClure puts it:
This goes beyond mere ineptitude; it is one of the most crass, pathetic and shameful gestures ever reported of any public body in Scotland. The highest principle the clowns in the Scottish Executive and the hospital can think of is that of not giving offence.

Well, I am offended.

I suppose we could argue that the hapless hospital official who banned the CD was simply reflecting the values of his political paymasters, but what are we to make of a church advertising campaign that replaces Jesus with Santa Claus?
It's a traditional nativity scene with a difference. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds are all there in the stable - but the manger is occupied by a baby Santa Claus.

But one senior Scottish churchman is not amused that Santa has ousted Jesus from the crib.

The Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke, former Episcopalian Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, says the advert - which his own church has backed - will confuse people rather than help them to understand the Christmas message.

He said: "They have replaced the baby, who is essentially a historical person, with the mythological figure of Santa Claus.

"It will confirm what lots of non-churchgoers think about Christmas - that it’s a happy children’s fairytale."

A culture or a religion that does not stand up for its own values is doomed.

Monday, 22 December 2003

The attack on Western culture continues

The latest unlikely battlefield is an Edinburgh hospital:
THE Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh yesterday confirmed it has banned the distribution of a charity Christmas CD because it mentions the baby Jesus.

More than 150 copies of the disc, featuring traditional and new festive songs, were donated to the hospital to help raise the spirits of children receiving care over the festive period.

But hospital managers refused to pass it on, saying it could offend those who were not of a Christian faith.

Except of course this battlefield is not unlikely at all, is it? Any institution that is in receipt of the Blair pound is fair game in the relentless battle against British traditions, a battle that is obviously more important than music for sick children.

Sensible people like the well-known Muslim leader Bashir Maan are concerned:

"If somebody doesn’t want to listen to this, they don’t have to. This is political correctness gone mad," he said. "It is going too far and it is going to be counterproductive."
With all due respect to Bashir Mann this type of "political correctness" is not mad at all when we consider its purpose. It is designed to destroy our belief in liberal values and to render us helpless against the onward march of the servile state. British people have traditionally kept quiet in the face of provocations - until a breaking point is reached. Then, we get very angry. Bashir Mann probably realises that minority groups may be unfairly blamed when the backlash against political correctness finally explodes, as it will. We should be clear that political correctness is a virus that has infected large numbers of self-hating members of the West's own thinking classes. That's where the sickness must be acknowledged, rooted out, and utterly defeated.

What next?

Now it looks as though the starting date for the construction of the Scottish Parliament building may have been faked:
The Holyrood project was hit by a fresh political scandal last night when it emerged that construction companies were told they had to fit in with Labour’s election timetable if they wanted to win the main building contract.

Sir Robert McAlpine, one of the companies in the running for the contract, was told to make sure work appeared to start on site before the 1999 election so Labour politicians could claim the credit during the campaign.

Of course the Conservative-supporting McAlpine company didn't get the contract despite being the lowest bidder.

It's becoming difficult to keep up with the endless revelations that are coming to light in the public enquiry into this fiasco. Here's an interesting list of observations from today's Scotsman

• The reinstatement of Bovis for the main construction contract.

Bovis had been dropped from the shortlist by a panel of professionals on cost ground, because the company’s tender was too high. Yet Bovis was brought back unexpectedly by Barbara Doig the project manager and the company went on to be awarded the multi-million pound contract.

No-one has adequately explained why this happened.

• The decision to allow Bovis to change its tender.

Bovis had demanded hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide a parent company guarantee, a condition which made its bid one of the most expensive. This demand was dropped at the final interview and the company was awarded the contract, changing the basis on which it was judged by the Scottish Office.

Again, no-one has adequately explained why this was allowed to happen.

• The apparent breaking of EU tendering rules by failing to debrief McAlpine.

EU tendering regulations require public bodies to offer a debrief to losing tenderers.

This was not done by the Scottish Office despite several requests from McAlpine.

• The selection of Enric Miralles as the lead architect without adequate insurance.

Firms entering the design competition had to provide evidence they could secure public indemnity insurance of £5 million. Mr Miralles failed to do so but still ended up winning the Holyrood contract.

The way things are going I wouldn't be too surprised to see some statue toppling by irate Scottish taxpayers.

Friday, 19 December 2003

Come back Jim Callaghan, all is forgiven

Well maybe not, but it is looking rather like the 1970s again:
The International Monetary Fund says the Chancellor’s gamble that tax revenues will rise enough to pay for an extra £34 billion in borrowing over five years could backfire.

It accuses him of being over confident that the growth will produce enough extra cash to put Britain’s finances back in the black.

It's just as well that the Conservative "opposition" sees what's wrong with the economy, isn't it? But what's this:
The attack came as the Tories claimed that thousands more key public sector workers will find themselves sucked into paying the top 40 per cent rate of tax in the next ten years and find themselves forced to pay for Mr Brown’s "wasted" spending.
There are two things to note here. First, as I have written before, public sector employees don't actually pay any tax at all - their income tax is merely a bookkeeping entry in the government's accounts. The net pay of state workers is extracted by taxes (forcibly) levied on those who work in the private sector. Second, just how many government employees are going to vote Conservative anyway? It is in the class interest of public sector workers to increase the state's exploitation of the productive private sector. Surely the hapless Mr Letwin should be speaking on behalf of overtaxed non-state workers if the Tories are going to get anywhere.

Merry Eurocentrically Imposed Midwinter Festival to you all!

A few weeks ago I wrote about how profit-seeking capitalists were defending Christmas - unlike Scottish politicians. Today Bill Jamieson is making the same point in the Scotsman:
This year, the Scottish Parliament, in what many will regard as its most oafish and ridiculous pronouncement yet, has banned traditional Christmas cards bearing the seriously provocative message "Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year".

A simple message of goodwill, you may think. Think again. This message has been dropped for fear that it might be offensive to people of other faiths. Officials ruled that the message must not appear on cards sent out by MSPs or Scottish Executive officials. The wording, they say, is not "socially inclusive".

Hang on a moment: what's with this "officials ruled" business? I suppose that it could be argued that it's OK for "officials" to impose regulations on cards sent by their junior staff, but what right do they have to tell elected politicians what to do? It looks likely that "officials" may be responsible for wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on the Scottish Parliament building project and now they have the nerve to make their own Christmas Midwinter card policy. In a spirit of goodwill I say: "String 'em up." And I don't mean the cards.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Congratulations...

... to these pilots who commemorated the 100th birthday of flying in an appropriate way:
The team set off at 0730 GMT from Prestwick Airport and recorded 100 take-offs and landings in continuous circuit flying to Islay.
Although I share their taste in whisky there's never any sadness in going to my old hometown of Prestwick!
Speaking during the marathon effort, Mr Mitchell joked: "Sadly it looks like we'll make it back to Prestwick. We were hoping to get stuck on Islay tonight and stay at the Ardbeg Distillery."
They should have picked up a few bottles while on Islay.

On the subject of aviation, I note that on Tuesday the Transport Secretary announced huge expansions at Britain's airports. This controversial decision hit the newspapers on Wednesday just as they were carrying aviation-friendly stories on the Wright Brothers' anniversary. A coincidence, of course. Or more New Labour news management?

Happy birthday

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first flight by a powered aircraft:
Aviation enthusiasts across the world are celebrating the centenary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight.

It is 100 years since Orville Wright took to the air in the 'Flyer' for a flight lasting 12 seconds that carried him just over 30 metres.

What would Orville and Wilbur have made of the changes since then?

Tuesday, 16 December 2003

And who'll pay for this?

In the previous post I called for public servants to be held responsible for their actions, or, indeed, non-actions.

The enquiry into the Scottish Parliament building fiasco is being conducted a few hundred yards from here. There has been a £360 million overspend (so far), not to mention the cost of the enquiry itself. A million here and a million there - soon we'll be talking real money. Can we expect anyone to be held personally liable? As in actually having to compensate the taxpayer in hard cash? Somehow I don't think so.

Here's what the First Minister says of the enquiry:

"The purpose of the investigation should be to produce a clear public record of events and a set of recommendations for future large-scale public construction projects. I envisage that the report of the investigation would be submitted to the appropriate Parliament Committee to allow further additional scrutiny at that stage.

"People in Scotland rightly expect answers to all of their questions about the way in which the cost to the public purse has escalated, and the decisions and actions which have contributed towards the position in which we now find ourselves."

"Clear public record", recommendations" and possibly even "additional scrutiny".

Here's my recommendation: Find out who screwed up and make them pay for it.

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Not when it's the government.

I feel sorry for this guy:

Michael Dewar, managing director of engineering firm Dewar Associates, has been fined for being a day late with VAT payments, despite being owed nearly £40,000 in government contracts.

HM Customs and Excise levied a £1,300 penalty after Dewar failed to pay his VAT bill on time. Separately, Glasgow’s publicly-funded Housing Association told him he will have to wait for £38,000 owed to him, because the body will be out of funds until next year.

I understand fully that Customs and Excise is run entirely separately from the Housing Association, but it's a bit much for politicians to make a fuss about late payments in industry when they are at least as guilty themselves.

Why was the Housing Association commissioning work while not having access to the funds necessary to pay its suppliers? The public "servants" responsible should be held personally liable for such errors just as would a private-sector businessman.

Monday, 15 December 2003

Scotland's finances

It's that question again: Is Scotland subsidised by England? According to the Scotsman, the answer is yes:
SCOTLAND is being subsidised by English taxpayers by a record £8 billion a year, according to a major new report published yesterday.

Some £39.4 billion was spent in Scotland in 2001-2, but the amount raised in taxes was just £31.4 billion - leaving a deficit of £8 billion.

Obviously Scotland is an economic basket case.

Well, maybe not. First of all these figures exclude the tax revenue from North Sea oil. Although I don't believe that oil should be taxed by the state, we live in a society that accepts such taxation. The North Sea is treated as a separate UK territory in the government's revenue accounts. The oil revenue is counted as "British" but not "Scottish", nor indeed "English". This is bizarre. The overwhelming majority of the oil lies in Scottish waters, no matter how the boundary is drawn. The only reason that these figures attract so much attention is because there is a possibility, however remote, that Scotland may at some time chose to become independent. Almost all of the oil tax revenue would then accrue to the Scottish government, assuming it's not pinched by Brussels of course. That would bring the deficit down to £3 billion.

But now let's look at the expenditure side. Spending on public "services" is £1,000 more per head in Scotland than in England. That's a £5 billion bonus for Scotland. But it doesn't do us much good, does it? Despite the additional spending, health services and education are attracting more criticism than in England.

We could cut our £8 billion deficit down to £3 billion by reducing per-capita expenditure to English levels or by counting the revenue from the oil off the Scottish coast. A £3 billion deficit is less than our proportionate share of the UK deficit recently announced by Gordon Brown. Cutting expenditure and reallocating oil revenue brings us into surplus at a time that the Chancellor is borrowing £37 billion for the UK as a whole.

In Scotland on Sunday Andrew Neil cleverly points out that Brown's accounting is somewhat suspect:

His figures look even worse when his Enron-style approach to the nation’s finances is taken into account. When you include all the borrowing Mr Brown has shoved off-budget on to public agencies like Network Rail and various private finance initiatives for public investment - all underwritten by government guarantee - then another £45bn or 4% of GDP is missing from the Chancellor’s accounts.

The bottom line is that, for all Mr Brown’s boasting, Britain’s national debt as a percentage of GDP is already over his precious 40% limit and fast rising to the high European levels he affects to abjure. If the Tories were not so innumerate and inadequate they might have been able to point this out on Wednesday but the response of the shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin, had all the force of a wet noodle.

How that affects Scotland's balance sheet is not clear. Scotland currently produces 8.1% of Britain's GDP with 8.6% of the population - an underperformance of 6%. But the British figure includes London, which produces one of the highest per-capita GDP figures in Europe. The Scottish economy certainly needs improvement but I think that things aren't quite as bad as some have suggested. Let the Scottish parliament be responsible for all taxes raised in Scotland and then have a massive cut in wasteful state expenditure. Too much public expenditure has produced a dependency culture that we need to end. Scotland has the potential to prosper.

Friday, 12 December 2003

Globalisation in action

It looks like a quick visit to Glasgow is called for.

Indian whisky from the Amrut distillery has arrived in the city:

And they plan to sell their whisky in Scotland. Talk about coals to Newcastle. It's not so much Whisky Galore, more a case of Whisky Bangalore.

Just a few bottles of the stuff have arrived at the Pot Still, in Glasgow's city centre, where the owner Ken Storrie has held blind tastings for a few specially selected customers.

This seems fair enough. After all, Glasgow is the Curry Capital of the UK.

A sampler of the Indian whisky said:

it's far too strong, there's nothing subtle about it and it's far too sharp.
That's OK: sometimes I need a curry like that.

Farewell to the Glorious Twelfth

All those EU-loving SNP and LibDem politicians in the Scottish Highlands must now face a reality check:
Legislation due to come before the European Parliament in the new year would change the rules governing products of animal origin intended for human consumption. It would mean wild game would have to be certified as fit and healthy before being shot and then be inspected by a vet to ensure that no "abnormalities" occurred as a result of the hunting process.
Either thousands of highlanders will be retrained as travelling grouse inspectors or another major Scottish industry will be wiped out by our friends in Brussels. Guess which outcome is more likely.

Of course, the Tories aren't surprised by this, are they? Well, this is from Struan Stevenson, a Scottish "Conservative" MEP:

This proposed new legislation beggars belief and is clearly a step too far, given that pheasants and rabbits fetch little more than £1 when sold on to a butcher.
Actually, what "beggars belief" is that Mr Stevenson hasn't realised by now that this is just what most of us expect from the EU. Instead of spending another few thousand pounds of taxpayers' money on his next trip to Brussels I suggest that Mr Stevenson invest 45p on a copy of today's Scotsman and read the article by Bill Jamieson who discusses the ultimate EU threat:
In truth, no amount of red-lining or haggling over this problematic constitution is going to save us. At least the Conservatives have half grasped what is required. And that is not "renegotiation" of the 1972 European Communities Act. It is its total repeal.
Grasp the whole thing Mr Stevenson:

First they came for our fish. Now they come for our game. Next they'll come for our oil.

Thursday, 11 December 2003

Corresponding

Freedom and Whisky readers continue to be disproportionately represented in the letter columns of the Scotsman.

Good.

Today it's Andrew Duffin's turn.

It's that West Lothian Question again

The Tories want to restrict the rights of Scottish MPs by banning them from legislating on English matters:
The new Tory leader, Michael Howard, has branded it "a constitutional outrage" and suggested a "certification" system which would ban Scots MPs from voting on legislation which the Speaker had declared to be English-only.
Quite right too. And most Scots agree with this suggestion:
Most Scots think Scottish MPs at Westminster should be banned from voting on English-only issues, according to a new opinion poll.

... the new poll shows 51 per cent of those surveyed say Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on English matters.

I have been unable to locate the details of the poll but, if I remember correctly, there was a sizable "don't know" component thus giving a considerable lead to those calling for the restriction of Scottish MPs voting rights.

I fail to understand why the News's Ian Swanson rejects Mr Howard's proposal:

There is, of course, a simplistic attraction in saying English MPs should decide English issues.

But Mr Howard was not so keen to propose the same solution for Scotland in the days before devolution, when he was part of the last Tory government and his party was vastly outnumbered among Scottish MPs.

Instead, the Tories at that time stressed that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom and its laws were made by the UK parliament - the fact Scots MPs might vote overwhelmingly the opposite way on almost every occasion was irrelevant.

Devolution was instigated to correct the "democratic deficit" whereby Scotland's domestic laws were made by a Westminster Parliament dominated by a party that had been rejected in Scotland. It is now proper that the powers of Scotland's MPs be restricted to non-devolved matters and that they take a corresponding pay cut. Mr Swanson says that there:
... could be an English Grand Committee to discuss English-only matters or extending devolution south of the Border, so regional assemblies can take over responsibility for some of the key decisions for their areas.
But there's no sign that English people want regional assemblies and what is required is more than banning Scots MPs from discussing England-only matters - they shouldn't be voting on them either. Mr Howard's proposal seems to fit the bill admirably.

Wednesday, 10 December 2003

Now read this - if you can

Labour's worst crime in these parts has been the destruction of the Scottish education system:
ALMOST half of all pupils failed the national writing test this year at the completion of the curriculum for children aged five to 14.

An astonishing 49 per cent of second-year pupils were below the expected standard in the key skill as they prepared to embark on Standard Grade courses.

The news of serious literacy problems in Scotland follows this year’s English Higher results, which revealed that four in ten candidates failed the qualification. One in four Higher entrants scored less than 30 per cent

The education minister has the nerve to boast about these figures because they are better than last year!

We once led the world in education and it's no surprise to read that a business spokesman said:

the results were damaging to children’s prospects in life and to Scotland’s chances of forging a buoyant economy in the 21st century, when unskilled and low-skill jobs were departing overseas.
How is it that Scotland once had a highly admired national school system? Back in those days the political and academic establishments believed in excellence and didn't hate western culture and achievements. It was recognised that children differed in ability but the system allowed for that. Nowadays, excellence is "divisive", the values of the enlightenment - forged here in Scotland - are rejected in favour of an unworkable multiculturalism, and, as for children: All Must Have Prizes.

Scottish educators? Bah! Privatise the lot of them.

Flags and anthems

I can see that this proposal will cause a hell of a row:
IMMIGRANTS living in Scotland who want to become British citizens will have to swear an oath of allegiance before the Saltire, under government plans revealed yesterday.

The new citizenship ceremonies are to be tailored to reflect the part of the United Kingdom in which they are performed, with the Scottish flag and the anthem Flower of Scotland being given prominence north of the Border.

It is surely wrong for Flower of Scotland to be used on such occasions, and not only that it sounds best when accompanied by a large, live pipe band. There are some good arguments as to why Scotland should become an independent country and also good arguments in favour of the continuation of the United Kingdom. The fact is though that the people of Scotland have always voted for unionist parties and therefore our new countrymen are becoming citizens of the UK, not of Scotland. God Save the Queen is the appropriate anthem for these ceremonies. There is nothing wrong with the Saltire being displayed along with the Union Jack at citizenship ceremonies held in Scotland. Similar dual-flag arrangements would of course be appropriate in the other parts of the UK. Failure to get this right will lead to the sort of disagreements that I wrote about recently in connection with sporting events.

(From the Herald:

SCOTTISH councils could drop God Save the Queen and the Union flag from the government's proposed civic ceremonies for immigrants wishing to become British citizens. Instead, the Home Office suggested last night, Scottish local authorities might be able to use the Saltire and Flower of Scotland.)

Tuesday, 9 December 2003

Can't spell, won't spell

Oh dear. Here we go again:
EDINBURGH City Council has been left apologising again after a series of spelling errors appeared in the newsletter it sends to more than 200,000 city homes, only days after it was forced to reprint its official Christmas card because of misspellings.
It does seem extraordinary for Edinburgh City Council to be issuing a newsletter with so many place names in its territory misspelled. I am not surprised to read that blame is being passed on to the printers. Surely someone in the City Chambers should have proofread the paper before it went out. And note the comment of the councillor in charge of this fiasco:
He said: "It’s one of these things that are embarrassing, but amusing.

"An anorak from my own community council raised the matter with me."

To think that these councillors are in charge of educating most of Edinburgh’s children. Perhaps the “anorak” should take over the schools.

Monday, 8 December 2003

Vive la France

Or as Le Monde might put it: Vive la France libre. With thanks to the Mises Institute.

Wrong kind of rail company?

I had planned to mention this a few days ago but was reminded of it today when I read that train fares in Scotland may rise by as much as 6%

From the original article:

A MAJOR row over the spiralling cost of Scotland’s railways was brewing last night as ScotRail accused Network Rail’s "overblown" cost estimates and "excessive bureaucracy" of jeopardising future expansion.
It looks as though the train operating companies are being overcharged by Network Rail:
Mr Cotton (of ScotRail) will say that ScotRail has repeatedly had to rescue station improvements rather than let them "fall by the wayside on the basis of exorbitant cost estimates" provided by Network Rail.

Mr Cotton will point to work such as the replacement of automatic doors at Glasgow Queen Street, Dundee and Ayr stations being completed by ScotRail for £32,000 - less than half the £72,000 quote by Network Rail’s contractor. Platform lighting at Annan station in Dumfries and Galloway cost ScotRail £18,000 rather than the £55,000 estimate, and anti-trespass and vandalism work totalled £88,000 rather than £330,000.

I note that Network Rail says that: "Looking to apportion blame helps no-one." Nonsense. Apportioning blame is just what's needed. Why am I not surprised to note that the expensive Network Rail is a nationalised entity whilst it's the privately owned ScotRail that is able to improve our stations at reduced cost?

Saturday, 6 December 2003

Is Scotland "socialist"?

On Thursday I wrote about a recent survey published by Reform. This has attracted quite a few comments.

Geoff Matthews points out that the differences of opinion between Scottish and English people on the tax question were “small enough as to mean no difference”. I agree. What’s interesting though is that most political commentators see Scots as being considerably more socialist than people in England. This is not the first survey to challenge that belief.

Patrick Crozier sees a “gap in the market” for my views. I do my best, but the survey suggests that it’s the political and media establishment that needs re-educating rather than the electorate. That may prove somewhat difficult.

Neil Craig notes the Scots “tradition of financial stringency”. I think that Neil is quite right to draw attention to this in connection to the McLeish affair and indeed to the Scottish reaction to the Parliament building fiasco. As far as Glasgow’s latest £40 million boondoggle is concerned: Will the cheques bounce before the bridge does?

Yes, the underlying cause of Scottish “socialism” is probably a rejection of pretension rather than a love of statism as a quick glance at Burns may confirm.

Stuart Dickson says that Scotland does not have five and a half socialist parties but only one.

There’s not much point being a blogger if I can’t go over the top now and again! I am a libertarian, or “classical liberal”, and strange folk like myself believe that the only legitimate function of the state is that of protecting citizens against those who initiate force or fraud. That means eliminating perhaps ninety percent of government activity. On that basis perhaps I should have said 6 socialist parties! I do of course accept that there’s a world of difference between the SSP and the mainstream parties but I note that Scotland is now said to be the country with the largest state sector in the EU. Reducing taxation would therefore make us more European. On the constitutional question I am a British federalist. I think that defence should continue to be organised at the UK level, quite possibly with an increase in expenditure. The traditional local regiments should remain. Just about everything else should be devolved to the three nations and the province.

Gordon and David bring us back to the question of Scotland’s “socialists” and just how many there are. It’s the task of Scottish libertarians to demonstrate that liberty is in the interest of the vast majority of Scots, although maybe not those drawing a hundred grand in salary and expenses at our Parliament. It would give hope to the most deprived in our society, create more opportunity for all those youngsters who seek careers outwith Scotland and attract entrepreneurs to come here from other lands. A free and libertarian Scotland is the only one in which we could say “A Man’s a Man for A' That”.

Another F & W reader writes

This time it's to the Scotsman. Neil Craig writes about windmills and reactors.

An open letter to Her Majesty The Queen

This letter has been sent by F & W reader David Ellams:
Your Majesty,

I have seen a report in one of the weekend papers that you have received many appeals from British Subjects to veto the proposed EU constitution, and apparently your position is that it is up to your ministers to decide such matters.

Well, it that is your position, it is my duty to advise you that you are mistaken.

Just like your subjects, you are bound by the terms of Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights (1689).

Magna Carta requires that the monarch guarantees the liberty of the subjects, while the Bill of Rights prevents their being handed over to the government of any foreign power.

The raison d’etre of the EU is the destruction of the nation states of Europe, and the creation of a single country that spreads from the Atlantic to the Urals.

No group in our society, however exalted its members might be, has any authority to ignore, amend or overturn Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights.

For that reason, should Parliament pass any bill which accepts the EU constitution as binding on the British people, you are legally and morally obliged to veto it.

The Royal Prerogative may not be used “innovatively”, i.e. against the interests of the British people. Should any minister or ministers use the Royal Prerogative to sign any treaty to enforce the EU constitution as binding on the British people, you are similarly legally and morally obliged to veto it.

You are now the only person in this country with the authority, and the power, to protect and preserve our constitution and our liberty. The survival of our country, your subjects, and your crown is now in your hands. Please preserve and defend them.

Yours sincerely,

David Ellams

Thursday, 4 December 2003

A Belgian mystery

Our friends in Brussels value Scottish banknotes higher than English ones! Fainting in Coyles wants to know why. It's a good question. I vaguely remember reading that Scots notes exchanged at a better rate in Zurich when North Sea oil was first discovered. That surely can't be the reason now, especially as the EU is probably going to pinch the oil anyway! Perhaps the Flemish bank worker was trying to make amends for the recent Scottish catastrophe at the nearby Amsterdam Stadium...
Fiscal responsibility

The Policy Institute has published Paying Our Way: Should Scotland Raise Its Own Taxes?

The conclusion:

Greater fiscal powers for Scotland are not only feasible but may be inevitable
Correct on both counts.

Scotland and taxation

We all know that Scots are inveterate lovers of big government and taxation, don't we? Let's look at Table 3 on a new survey published by the Reform think tank:
"I would be willing to pay more tax to increase spending on public services"
Percentage agreeing:
UK50% Scotland 57%

So the Scots do want more taxation than the average person in the UK, and by a margin of 7%.

But now look at this question:

"If the government reformed public services and cut waste it could make services better and reduce tax at the same time"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 78% Scotland 75%
Now Scots are only 3% less keen on reform than the UK sample.

How about this one:

"Public services need reform more than they need extra money"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 78% Scotland 76%
The gap's down to 2%.

Another one:

"In the modern world it is important for a country to keep taxes low to remain competitive"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 76% Scotland 77%
Now Scots want low taxes so as to be able to compete!

Next question:

"Taxes have gone up but services haven't improved much and there is a lot of waste"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 82% Scotland 84%
We're more doubtful about the "benefits" of increased spending than the average person in the UK.

Finally:

"If taxes are cut the economy will grow faster, which will mean higher living standards AND more money available for public service"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 62% Scotland 74%
So Scots are the supply-siders of Britain!

This is not what we have led to believe. In many respects Scots are more cynical about government spending than people in the UK as a whole. What we need is political leadership that acknowledges this fact. The question that needs answering is this: Why does the Scottish Parliament contain five and a half socialist parties?

Fewer links

I have noticed that links that I have made to the Glasgow Herald no longer work other than on the day of publication. It looks as though this has been the case since the Herald upgraded its website and started to charge £1.95 for access to backdated articles. In future therefore I shall not link directly to Herald articles but may copy small extracts under the “fair use” principle. This is a sad development. As an unreconstructed capitalist I do of course accept that the Herald has every right to operate its website in any way it chooses. I do think however that the paper is making a mistake. How many people are going to pay £1.95 to read a newspaper article?

The rival Scotsman has an excellent website with full access to backdated issues. I presume that the Edinburgh paper wants to attract as much attention as possible through the internet and I note that it carries advertisements on its individual news pages, not just on the homepage. The Scotsman has won an award as “Britain’s Best Daily Newspaper Website”.

It looks as if the Sunday Herald is not operating this new policy. Good. As far as the Herald itself is concerned I find it rather disconcerting to read that paid access to its backdated articles ("Scotland's national news archive") is “governed by and constructed in accordance with the laws of the State of Michigan”.

Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Dead Ringers

I was fascinated to read this story in the Daily Record:
A FAKE village has been built for the Queen's visit to Nigeria this week.

She will even meet BBC actors posing as locals in a market.

And real residents of the poor farming area will be kept hidden from her during the walkabout.

Well, well. I am pleased to announce that Freedom and Whisky has obtained a world exclusive. Someone has sent me copies of the plans for the forthcoming royal opening of Scotland's new parliament building.

To avoid any untoward embarrassment for Her Majesty, a group of performers has been hired to play the part of MSPs at the state opening of the Scottish Parliament.

Diminutive Edinburgh-born comedian Ronnie Corbett has graciously agreed to perform the role of First Minister, Jack McConnell.

Another son of Edinburgh, Rory Bremner, will take the place of Liberal Democrat leader and Minister for Enterprise, Jim Wallace. Bremner said: "If Jim can pretend to know about enterprise then surely I can pretend to be a politician."

Turning down the pleadings of the lady members of the Scottish Socialist Party that he perform as Tommy Sheridan, Sir Sean Connery, another Edinburgh local, has unsurprisingly agreed to fill the role of leader of the SNP. (John Swinney has recently been heard demanding that his fellow nationalists refer to him as "Sir Sean Swinney".)

In an unexpected development, the BBC's James Naughtie is to perform as David McLetchie, Conservative leader. Perhaps Jim is finally getting a wee bit fed up with New Labour.

For reasons that I have been unable to fathom, Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark has been suddenly removed from this project. She had been expected to play the part of independent MSP Margo McDonald.

I have also discovered that changes have been made for the post-opening celebrations. These will now take the form of an extended pub-crawl of most of the Old Town's drinking establishments. The Duke of Edinburgh is reported to have said: "Bloody good news. Those clowns couldn't organise a piss-up even though they occupy the site of a former brewery."

Monday, 1 December 2003

Anthems: part 2

The other day I wrote about national anthems. Now, Allan Massie has joined in the debate and also finds himself in the unusual position of agreeing with Labour's Mike Watson. Mr Massie has this to say about the response of the "stupid party":
I said the Scottish Tory response was both ignorant and stupid. The stupidity is evident. The Tories defend the Union as a partnership between four nations. That partnership, since devolution, is taking a new form. If it is to survive, then the distinction between what is Scottish and what is British (a distinction now enshrined in the Scotland Act), what English and what British, should be made clear and unmistakable. That distinction is blurred when one of the constituent parts of the Union assumes an identity that properly belongs only to the United Kingdom; and this is what happens when England use the British national anthem as the anthem of England.
and:
The Tory stupidity rests in their apparent inability to see that Lord Watson is making a pro-British point
Absolutely correct. It is sad to have to note that unionists in Scotland are so often their own worst enemy. These questions of national identity matter a great deal. Back to Mr Massie:
Of course it is in itself a small thing, but it is symptomatic of a larger assumption: that there is no essential difference between the United Kingdom and England, no distinction to be made between being English and being British. That assumption may seem perfectly natural to the English so great is their preponderance, but it is a source of irritation to many people in the other countries of the Union.
If Scots ever chose to go down the road to independence it will largely be the result of the stupidity of British unionists.

Sunday, 30 November 2003

Capitalists: defending Scottish culture

We all know that big multinational companies are destroying local and national traditions with their relentless homogenisation of products and globalisation of the world's economy. We also know that this trend can only be resisted by the heroic efforts of disinterested politicians who are free from the blandishments of self-interest. Well, don't we?

No, actually.

Last week the Scottish Parliament attacked our traditions:

THE Scottish Parliament has axed Christmas.

Holyrood chiefs don't want the word Christmas to appear on any of their official greetings cards for fear that non-Christians may be offended.

And if MSPs insist that the word is printed on their official cards, they will only see it in small print.

So much for Scotland's politicians defending our culture and our history.

What, then, of big business? I visited my local pub yesterday and the staff were busy putting up the Christmas decorations. The pub has recently been acquired by a large, capitalist, profit-oriented company. The supposedly evil and tradition-destroying multinational owners had sent an E-mail to the pub manager reminding him that Christmas decorations had to be on display from this weekend. Were any customers offended? I think not.

St Andrew's Day greetings to Dundee

Readers may have noticed that I'm not a fan of state-run education. For those not convinced I urge you to read Independence or Stagnation? by Dennis O'Keeffe and David Marsland. Look at the Civitas website for details.

Nevertheless, I must commend the University of Dundee, which has been rated best university for science:

Dundee University was given a further accolade as a centre for medical excellence yesterday after being named the best scientific institution in which to work within the UK and the third-best outside the United States.
This is not the first time that Dundee has been recognised:
The accolade can be added to the one the university received recently from the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, which showed research papers published by scientists at the University of Dundee over the ten-year period to April 2003 were quoted more frequently by other scientists than papers from any other university in Europe.
"Best in UK." "Third-best outside the US." "Most quoted in Europe." That's very impressive and perhaps all the more pleasing for a city that's often treated as the poor cousin of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Even Dundee's prestigious neighbour, St Andrews, should take note.

Friday, 28 November 2003

Which anthem?

I rarely agree with Mike Watson but he is on to something here:
MIKE Watson, Scotland’s former sports minister, yesterday called on the English rugby team to come up with its own national anthem - because God Save The Queen "gets up the noses" of the Scots and the Welsh.

Lord Watson, the Labour MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, said that while he congratulated England on their rugby World Cup success, he disagreed with the decision to play the British national anthem before their matches.

The Conservatives are correct in stating that matters of this sort should be left to the relevant sporting authorities.

Nevertheless, as Watson says:

"But at a time when I think there is greater warmth felt towards England in Scotland, I don’t think the English help when they breast-beat before matches singing an anthem which is not the anthem of England. It does get up the noses of people in Scotland and Wales when England effectively suggest they are the UK. It’s that sort of attitude that doesn’t help break down the rather negative feelings some people in Scotland have towards England."
I have noticed that Scottish pub customers will very often support English club teams when they play against teams from elsewhere in Europe. The same neighbourliness is not extended to English national teams precisely because of the "England equals the UK" attitude that is pervasive in the London-based media.

Note these letters, in particular the first one:

Susie Glover (Letters, 25 November) records her distress at Scottish attitudes towards the English. It would be sad if she has experience of this at a personal level, although I suspect not.

I feel she is wrong to say that there is widespread dislike in Scotland of English people. It is more likely a well-founded resentment of the overwhelming tide of Englishness which washes over us all day and every day from all sections of the media.

Switch on Radio Scotland and, while the headlines are often read by native Scots in their own accent, it is an English-accented announcer who reads us the main news about "Pethsha" and "Ahba-deen". We resent the implication that such an accent is superior.

Mr Ribet's views are very widely held in Scotland. I believe that the United Kingdom will need to extricate itself from the European Union in the near future. That will be all the more difficult if the various nations that make up the UK fail to respect each other's identities.

Wednesday, 26 November 2003

And about time too

It looks as though the 7:84 Theatre Company may be on the way out:
THE FUTURE of one of Scotland’s longest-established theatre companies was under serious threat last night as the Scottish Arts Council said it would no longer guarantee the group’s £200,000 annual grant.
This outfit is one of the most pernicious in the land:
7:84 was founded with an explicitly socialist and idealistic goal of taking political theatre to the people.
That's exactly what it has done for 30 years and I would guess that its performances have played no small part in attracting so many young Scots to socialism.

The company's title reflects their claim that "7 % of the population of Great Britain owns 84% of the capital wealth." Much analysis has been made of such claims since that statistic was published by the Economist in 1966. Nowadays we know to make allowances for movements between wealth groups over a whole lifetime, to take account of income as well as capital, to recognise the fact that most shares are owned by institutions that are in turn investing on behalf of the broad mass of the population, to calculate the capital value of taxpayer-financed, inflation-linked public sector pensions, and to work out the capital that would be required to fund millions of welfare recipients over their lifetimes. The 7:84 people also fail to distinguish between economics and politics. Economic wealth is the result of freely entered into contracts unless politics interferes. Perhaps one of their writers could come up with a performance that examines the consequences of 67 politicians in the Scottish Parliament having total political control over 5 million subjects.

Employers and employees

The Channel 4 News last night contained an item about the problems facing defined benefit pension plans. Increasing longevity and falling stock markets were blamed. No mention was made of Gordon Brown’s removal of tax credits for pension schemes or of the huge amount of extra red tape that Labour has imposed on business. We certainly weren’t told that public sector pension plans continue to expand whilst benefiting from inflation linking at the taxpayers’ expense.

We saw an interview with the chairman of Unilever PLC who was explaining that his company plans to increase contributions to its pension scheme. The reporter asked: “You think that some costs should be passed on to the employees, don’t you?” The chairman confirmed that employee contributions would go up in addition to those made by the company. Big mistake. The chairman was made to sound like some evil exploiter who was unwilling to pay for his workers’ well-earned retirement. What he should have done is to point out that employee’s total remuneration is determined by the marginal productivity of the worker. It makes no difference to the company whether such payment is made as salary, “employer” pension contributions or, indeed, “employer” national insurance contributions. Dividing contributions into “employee” and “employer” is a con designed to mislead workers.

Tuesday, 25 November 2003

More from the Libertarian Alliance Conference

In the first photograph LA Director Dr Chris Tame presents the Liberty in Action Award to Dr Robert Lefever.

The second photograph shows Dr Tim Evans, LA Public Affairs Director, presenting the Liberty in Theory Award to Professor David Marsland.

Monday, 24 November 2003

Real liberals

I took this photograph yesterday at the Libertarian Alliance conference in London. The event was held at the National Liberal Club.

The Grumpy Liberation Front speaks out

Stuart Crocket may seek Europe's help. His human rights have been attacked. Perhaps, he thinks, it's time to sue:
Now, true to form, Stuart Crocket is threatening to take his golf club to the European court for banning him from the clubhouse.

Crocket’s reputation as a stickler for golfing rules and regulations has resulted in the 79-year-old being allowed to play Glen Golf Club, North Berwick, but ordered to keep away from the facilities.

The feisty former accountant is not even allowed to use the toilets at the club despite his advanced years.

The ‘tee-but-no-pee’ ruling has - perhaps predictably - incensed Crocket, who claims it is a breach of his human rights and has vowed to take the case to Strasbourg.

Goodness me. The golf club is perfectly entitled to make its own rules, pick its own members and throw them out if they don't comply. Assuming that's what's happened here, nobody's "human rights" have been abridged and Europe should keep its nose out.

Nevertheless, it does rather look as though Mr Crocket may be a bit of a character:

The player said Crocket was a "dangerous guy". "He gets this bee in his bonnet and that’s him away. He’s well known for his obstinacy all round the town in shops and whatever."

Club officials at Tantallon would certainly agree. While at the club, Crocket made 170 complaints in a year and was hauled up for making "excessive, improper and unnecessary" use of the club suggestion book.

He also annoyed members by tipping off the Lord Lyon that the club crest had not been properly registered in accordance with the rules of heraldry.

Actually, I'm beginning to warm to Mr Crocket. Suggestion books should be used, and the Lord Lyon, King of Arms is not to be mocked, for he has the power to:
erase unwarrantable arms, and to "dash them furth of" stained-glass windows, break unwarrantable seals, and, where the Fiscal or complainer moves for forfeiture, to grant warrant for seizing movable goods and gear upon which arms are unwarrantably represented.
In other words the Lord Lyon is a fellow Grumpy Old Man, and, just occasionally, I feel a wee bit grumpy myself.

North Berwick is a fine town with few of the problems that face so many other places. Things could be worse. Perhaps it's time for the Glen Golf Club to readmit Mr Crocket.

We are grumpy and we are proud!

Clear these Caledonian carpetbaggers from this chamber now!

It looks as though the Tories may be showing some sense - at last.
SCOTTISH MPs would be banned from voting on English affairs under controversial plans being drawn up for Michael Howard’s first election manifesto, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

Under the radical move, which would see the Commons sit as an English parliament, the Speaker would be required to rule on whether bills are relevant to Scotland. If they were not, Scots MPs would be ordered to leave the chamber.

This is well overdue and it was indeed a "constitutional outrage" that Tony Blair was only able to get his foundation hospital scheme through the Commons with the aid of Scottish MPs whose own constituents are unaffected because health is a devolved matter for Scotland.

Scotland on Sunday claims that the Tory plan:

is itself highly contentious because it would mean the creation of two classes of parliamentarian.
Rubbish. There are already two classes of MP: those who can only vote on matters relevant to their own constituents and those who are able to interfere with things that are none of their goddamned business. It is perfectly appropriate for Scots to be represented at Westminster. Their numbers should be in proportion to our population and not reduced below that level because we now have a Parliament in Edinburgh. But it is essential that our MPs should only debate and vote upon subjects that are not devolved to Edinburgh. It follows from this that their salaries must be adjusted downwards.

The old days

I took this photograph inside the fire station at Prestwick Airport. The work was painted by some of the firemen who used to work at the airport. In the background one can see the old pre-1960s terminal building.

Friday, 21 November 2003

Pull the finger out

Today I read of yet another example of our inability to organise a proper infrastructure:
GROWING fears of gridlock on the west side of Edinburgh today prompted demands for government action to prevent traffic grinding to a halt.

Up to 20,000 extra jobs could soon be located along the A8 corridor, but the road system is already struggling to cope with existing commuters.

There is a huge amount of investment going on to the west of Edinburgh, in particular the construction of the new world headquarters for the Royal Bank of Scotland. The neighbouring airport is getting busier all the time with our first scheduled transatlantic flights starting next spring. I wrote the other day about the endless delays in opening the new Edinburgh Park railway station. Why do transport links take so long to get built?
The Royal Bank headquarters, employing more than 3000 people, is due to open in 2006, but trams serving the west of the city won’t be running until 2009 and a rail link to the airport is scheduled for 2010.
It's all very well to call for "government action" but it's government bureaucracy that's behind all of these problems. When I lived in London there was a plan to resignal the Central Line. If I recall correctly it was to take 10 years to complete. I seem to remember someone pointing out that the Victorians had built the whole line in three years! We should be building the necessary transport links to be ready before the opening of these new developments.

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

Freedom, Whisky and Truth

A very Scottish row has broken out about our national drink:
At a crunch meeting behind closed doors at the Glasgow offices of Morrison Bowmore, senior executives from all of the major distillers rallied behind the industry’s representative body, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), saying it still had a "significant role to play" in the resolution of the issue.
So what's causing all this angst?

The giant of the distilling world, Diageo, has decided to alter the ingredients of Cardhu, its hugely popular malt whisky. Hitherto, Cardhu was a "single malt", that is it came from one distillery. The Cardow distillery can't keep up with demand and Cardhu is to become a "vatted malt" containing five separate whiskies. Diageo protests its innocence:

"Pure Malt" may not be a familiar term to many Scotch whisky drinkers. But we didn’t invent it – it has long been a recognised expression within the whisky business, meaning that there is no grain spirit in the product. Another term for Pure Malt is Vatted Malt, but this does not translate easily into other languages.

It is not a blended whisky either, since this involves combining malt whisky with distilled grain spirit. Neither is it a ‘single malt’, which is a term meaning that the malt whisky is from one distillery only. As we have explained, Cardhu Pure Malt will contain other Speyside malt whiskies including malt whisky from Cardow distillery (formerly known as Cardhu, but will deliver the same pure Speyside flavour and style. This means that we can supply much more of it to those overseas markets where it has become a firm favourite.

The rest of the industry has "united against Diageo over its decision to relaunch Cardhu as a "pure malt"." I think that they are correct. As Diageo acknowledges, the term "Pure Malt" is not a familiar term to consumers. If I were to see a bottle describing itself as "Pure Malt" I would have assumed that it was the product of one distillery. Unsurprisingly our politicians have got involved although Tony Blair is "not entirely sure this is a matter for government." Diageo seems to agree for they have stated that: "ultimately, the issue had to be resolved by the SWA."

Hopefully this can be resolved by the trade association without resort to lawyers and courtrooms, thus demonstrating that private arbitration can resolve complex matters.

Alternatively, a few cases of pure, single, vatted, and even blended whiskies could be sent round to the editorial suite of Freedom and Whisky where rigorous adjudication would take place. I'll drink to that.

Let's hear it for the customers.

Yesterday I wrote about the problems of the NHS, noting that more spending was not the solution. Today this Scotsman editorial makes the same argument:
The NHS will not be reformed through management from the centre or through massive public expenditure increases alone. This recipe has already been tried in Scotland to no avail.

Only by empowering the patient, and then letting hospitals and primary care units respond to customer direction, will the NHS improve delivery.

I think that we'll wait a hell of a long time before hearing Scottish Labour using the word "customer" in the context of the NHS.

Free Life

Free Life, the journal of the Libertarian Alliance, is now available in an attractive new pdf format. Go to the site of editor Sean Gabb. Click on "Free Life Magazine" for the latest issue.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Another day, another tax demand

Melanie Reid is on of the Glasgow Herald's regular commentators. In other words, she is a leftist. So it's no surprise that when she writes about the NHS today she calls for yet more spending:
Having paid once, through taxes, we are being asked to pay again on an arbitrary and emotional basis; and how much better it would be, by far, to pay more in tax and avoid such inconsistency.
The "paying again" bit refers to spending on medical research by charities. In Melanie's world it's much better to forcibly make people pay tax than let them contribute voluntarily. None of this is very surprising in the Herald.

On second thoughts though it's only 47 miles from Glasgow to Edinburgh. One would have thought that Herald commentators might have heard of The Scotsman. Perhaps they may take a sly peek at their rival now and again. If so, surely they can't have missed the regular articles on the Scottish NHS by Fraser Nelson, the political editor of the Edinburgh paper.

Mr Nelson has written about the NHS in the current issue of The Spectator:

Imagine a British National Health Service flowing with French or German levels of funding. This dream, we are promised, will soon be delivered in return for higher taxes. But for the impatient, there is a solution: visit Scotland.

For some time now, NHS Scotland has been living in Tony Blair’s promised land, enjoying European levels of health spending. Its NHS budget of £1,300 per head is a full 21 per cent higher than England’s. But instead of being an alluring example of what lies ahead, Scotland warns of disaster. Next year, it will claim two records: for Europe’s highest state health-spending and its lowest life expectancy. It is living proof that the NHS system does not work.

Not that this means anything to Scotland's governing clique:
At every criticism of their health policy, Labour MSPs in the Scottish Parliament point to this extra money, as if this was an end in itself. Labour, they say, has brought more doctors, nurses and investment. This is indeed true — but the staggering truth is that NHS Scotland has not improved as a result.
This is not a new message from Mr Nelson. He has been writing about Scotland's "European" levels of health spending for quite a long time now and has consistently exposed the lack of return from all that money. Now it seems that English NHS expenditure has also reached the promised targets and there is no reason to think that things will turn out any better down south than in Scotland. Fraser Nelson understands that the NHS itself is the problem, not a lack of resources. Melanie Reid hasn't even heard that this debate is going on, never mind coming up with any new contribution.

Decommissioning windmills

Here is a letter in The Scotsman from Neil Craig, a regular contributor to F & W's comments section.

Conference reminder

There's still time to register for the annual conference of the Libertarian Alliance that will be held in London this weekend. As there are only a few days to go, register by e-mail and pay when you arrive.

Monday, 17 November 2003

Why are we waiting?

An opinion piece in today's Edinburgh Evening News complains about the state of Scotland's planning system. A few days ago the Scotsman's Bill Jamieson was telling us of the problems that he was subjected to by his local planners:
Put out the flags. Work finally starts this month on Inverogle Cottage, my derelict wee house in Lochearnhead. What I thought would be a straightforward process of planning permission (eight weeks at most) and a building warrant has taken eight gruelling, nerve-wracking months.
Business too suffers from the planning system:
According to the "system", no planning application should take more than eight weeks to complete. But, according to Gerry More, a senior executive of Cala Homes and one of the authors of the CBI report, most businesses now expect planning applications of any size to take two years to process.
And if you think it's only greedy capitalists who lose out, think again:
Ten years ago, land would account for between 7.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent of the value of a new house. Nowadays, it could be anything between 25 per cent and 50 per cent.

It’s hard not to disagree with Stewart Milne’s blunt conclusion: "It’s crazy when you end up in situations where people are buying properties where 50 per cent of the value is going towards the land. The one thing we’ve got in Scotland is an abundance of land for the size of the population we’ve got."

So it's not only an out-of-control money supply that's behind the spiralling cost of housing.

The latest infrastructure fiasco in the capital involves the "new" railway station at Edinburgh Park:

Plans for a station at Edinburgh Park were first floated more than five years ago, yet it took until August 2001 for agreement to be reached over owner-ship of the site and another year for the project to get planning permission.

Council leader Donald Anderson admitted he had been "driven daft" by the hold-ups over Edinburgh Park station, which has had its opening delayed by at least six months. Despite assurances early last month that it would be complete by October 29, officials at New Edinburgh Limited (NEL), the owners and developers of Edinburgh Park, have admitted it is still not finished.

I wonder if Councillor Anderson has noticed that's his own Labour Party that is responsible for all of these bureaucratic hold-ups. Someone needs to pull the finger out.

Something to look forward to

Like most sensible folk, I know that all that Kyoto Protocol stuff is anti-capitalist propaganda. But suppose, just suppose it’s all true. There is an upside:
WINE lovers will be able to buy their first vintage of Scottish wine within the next 50 years, say scientists.

Using computer models, the scientists at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, in Bracknell, say Britain will enjoy rising temperatures within the next five decades, possibly up by 2C, making it possible for viticulturists to develop vineyards north of the Border.

So global warming might be OK after all.

Not all of Scotland would benefit.

However:

Dr Elaine Booth, research officer at the SAC in Aberdeenshire, specialising in crops and soil research, suggests the drier east coast would be more suited to vineyards.
No problem: the rest of the country can continue to produce whisky and Irn-Bru.

If I keep eating my greens I may be around in 2050 to enjoy the odd bottle of Cote du Forth or Chateau Cowdenbeath.

Sunday, 16 November 2003

Eat your greens - before the food police pay a visit to a dinner table near you

Yes, that's the headline for this story in Scotland on Sunday:
Deacon, the Scottish parliament’s first health minister, says the Executive is already engaged in an "impressive range of work" to improve the country’s diet, including the creation of food co-operatives, breakfast clubs for schools and healthy-eating advertising. But she said that can only go so far.
But of course. We can't have politicians running around with nothing to do, can we? So we'll have to go further:
Deacon says if high nutritional standards for school meals cannot be achieved voluntarily, "the Executive may need to consider whether to use the force of law".

Deacon adds: "The Executive must also work with the UK government to address the enormous power of the multinationals and the force of their advertising, particularly the way they influence young people.

"Again, much can be achieved through dialogue and voluntary agreements, but legislative measures should not be ruled out."

Ms Deacon then goes on about "curbs", "action", "changing the contents of tins" and "changing the eating habits of the nation". And how is this to be achieved? Our brave politician is already thinking ahead:
There is no quick fix or simple solution and the Executive deserves credit for the start it has made. But as work progresses, it is to be hoped that our nation’s leaders are prepared to consider the full range of options on the menu of possible solutions."
So what final solution could there be? For a start that word "menu" needs to go. We can't have the people deciding what they want to eat. That way lays chaos and anarchy. There is a better way.

I note that over in America Wal-Mart has cancelled the testing of Radio Frequency Identification Devices following a consumer outcry. Use of these RFIDs has become very controversial in the US. But here in Scotland we're not troubled by any of that outmoded, eighteenth-century constitutional privacy nonsense, are we? Let's lead the world in the War on Obesity. It's time for Scotland's own RFIDs. We need to put a Real Food Identification Device inside every apple, lettuce and carrot. Then we must all be fitted with internal sensors to make sure that we are eating in the manner prescribed by Ms Deacon. Once a week we shall be herded along to our wonderful new Parliament building to be internally monitored to ensure foodalogical correctness.

A CHIP IN EVERY SCOT: now there's an election-winning slogan for you!

Graduates, plumbers and entrepreneurs

Here's yet another call for Scotland to increase its output of graduates. We all know who is going to be pleased by the advice of Richard Florida:
His comments will be welcomed by university chiefs who reject the idea that we are training “too many graduates and not enough plumbers”.
There's nothing at all wrong for more people to go to university as long as they are willing to bear the full economic cost of doing so. Of course in Professor Florida's native America it's normal for students to finance much or all of their own higher education. That's probably why American graduates are associated with economic growth and why so many of them want to work in the private sector. Simply expanding the ranks of taxpayer-financed students encourages the very dependency culture that is at the root of so many of Scotland's problems. What we really need is a few more entrepreneurs and I don't really mind if they are college dropouts like Bill Gates or Michael Dell.

Friday, 14 November 2003

Travels with two cameras

I brought my old Yashicamat 124G roll film camera out of retirement last Sunday.

This first photograph shows the seafront at Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife. The famous Anstruther Fish Bar is just along to the right.

The second one is a 35mm photo of the River Tweed at Peebles:

Thursday, 13 November 2003

Throw them in!

I have no idea whether the redundant US Navy "ghost ships" that are to be dismantled at Hartlepool present any real danger to the public. The town’s MP Peter Mandelson thinks not. Friends of the Earth and other "environmentalists" are in full protest mode. The local ship recycling company Able UK Ltd talks of creating at least 200 new jobs and I imagine that the contract has preserved many existing jobs as well.

Last night I watched a story about this affair on the Channel 4 News as the first ship arrives in the UK. The "environmentalists" were given a great deal of coverage. The lady presenter then introduced the boss of Able UK as: "Perhaps the only man in Hartlepool who wants the ships here." Somehow I don’t think so.

There are 200 new jobs at the yard and there’ll be extra jobs at suppliers, as well as money flowing into local shops and other businesses. Perhaps Channel 4 imagines Hartlepool to be some sort of remote Victorian relic of the industrial revolution with undernourished workers running around in clogs and all the money from the contract flowing to the yard owner. I think that some burly members of the Hartlepudlian working class should toss a few "environmentalists" and southern TV folk into the town’s dock.

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

A joke - or is it?

As seen on The Daily Reckoning:

"WHAT IS POLITICS"


A little boy goes to his dad and asks, "What is Politics?"

Dad says, "Well son, let me try to explain it this way: I am the head of the family, so call me the president. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so call her the government. We're here to take care of your needs, so we'll call you the people. The nanny, we'll consider the working class and your baby brother, we'll call him the future. Now think about that and see if it makes any sense."

So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what dad has said. Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So the little boy goes to his parents' room and finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny's room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning the little boy says to his father, "Dad, I think I understand the concept of Politics now." The father says, "Good, son, Tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about." The little boy replies, "The president is screwing the working class while the government is sound asleep. The people are being ignored and the future is in deep doodoo."

Tuesday, 11 November 2003

Why not in Edinburgh?

Tony Blair has stirred up a hornets' nest:
Government plans for a new Supreme Court could undermine the independence of Scots law, legal experts claimed yesterday.

And the move could be unconstitutional if the new court is seen to be part of the England and Wales court system, it was argued.

The Faculty of Advocates is up in arms:
The faculty said it had "serious concern" that the Supreme Court plan, as drafted, fails to respect the independence of Scots law under the 1707 Act of Union.

Any court with jurisdiction in Scotland cannot be a part of the England and Wales court system, and the faculty warned: "The constitutional significance of this cannot be overstated.

"Any attempt to create a Supreme Court which did not comply with these requirements would be contrary to the constitution of the United Kingdom, and any purported act in, or affecting, Scotland in such a court would be unlawful and of no effect in Scotland."

I'm pleased to see that Scotland's lawyers are objecting to Blair's constitutional coup d'etat.

The editorial in The Herald says that:

The threat of crisis can be avoided by the prime minister taking up the faculty's suggestion to put the supreme court firmly out of the reach of government, perhaps by giving it a home outside London and having it sit on a UK-wide circuit; certainly by creating a body at arm's length from the administration to disburse funding.
That seems reasonable. Come to think of it I don't imagine that the Act of Union makes it unconstitutional for English cases to be held under Scots law. No one would have imagined such an eventuality. So why don't we set up the new UK Supreme Court here in Edinburgh, under Scots law? What could be wrong with that?

The Campaign for Real Education

Here's another call for a degree of privatisation in education:
Private schools should be given the chance to provide "state" education, a prominent figure in UK education claimed yesterday.

Pauline Davies, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association, said independent schools want parents to be able to put the cost of a state education towards a place in an independent school.

You've got to laugh when a local government education spokesman (Labour of course) says:
... there were no failing local authority schools in Scotland.
Eh! So how come the Labour leader in Dundee is sending her son to a private school?

I note that the Executive rejects suggestions that the private sector is no more expensive than state provision:

The cost of fees at a private day school is about £7,000 a year at secondary level and more than £5,000 at primary.

This year, Scottish Conservatives claimed that, while the Executive gives authorities £4,500 for each pupil, £1,500 was lost in bureaucracy.

A spokeswoman for the Executive rejected the Tories’ claims, insisting that authorities had to retain funds to pay for nurseries, special-needs education, school transport, school meals and education psychologists.

This completely ignores the question of economies of scale. The private sector supplies a very small proportion of the education "market". Imagine what the cost of food would be in Tesco or Safeway if groceries were also obtainable free from a National Food Service. "Free" at the point of consumption that is! Prices in private shops under such a food regime would be far higher than at present. Once education is solely provided by private institutions costs will plummet. If we must have taxpayer-funded education let's at least give the job to those best able to do it. Privatise the schools now.

Kilts reprieved

As reported here by Rab The EU has now backed down and agreed that kilts are not skirts.

I found this interesting:

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, stepped into the row when he learned about it yesterday, ordering Executive officials in Brussels to clarify the matter with EU bosses.

The Office of National Statistics also got involved, and Eurostat agreed to send out the amended forms.

I'm no fan of McConnell but he has kicked some EU ass and got this sorted. Tony Blair please note.

Monday, 10 November 2003

Three letters

The Scotsman carries three letters today about the economy.

Douglas Taylor warns:

What will happen when the boom in job vacancies for welfare liaison officers and senior administrative co-ordinators, that Bill Jamieson refers to (Opinion, 31 October), dries up? Our economy is more dependant on the public sector than is the rest of the UK. So when government spending meets its day of destiny, with the need for a country to pay its way in the world, Scotland’s economy will be disproportionately hard hit.
As Mr Taylor points out, we don't need the advice of leftist economists such as Paul Krugman. We've got quite enough of them here already. Yes, bring back Adam Smith.

Judith Begg writes:

Too often, economists, and indeed politicians, discuss economic policy with out reference to the reality of making it happen, and in the belief that the workforce can be directed to operate in the desirable manner on demand.
The only "direction" that the workforce needs is the one given by its customers in an unregulated market economy. I'm not sure that's what Ms Begg has in mind.

Allison Hunter makes this observation:

For instance, he (Paul Krugman) argued that Scotland could model itself on the economies of the states in the US, without acknowledging that they have a much higher degree of fiscal autonomy than Scotland does.
Not only does Scotland lack fiscal autonomy but so also does the UK itself. A US state may decide whether or not to impose a sales tax - some do, some don't - but the UK must levy VAT as a condition of being a member of the EU. The UK and Scotland need full fiscal freedom.

Minding one's own business

In Scotland on Sunday Peter Oborne laments the forthcoming departure of Michael Portillo from British politics. Perhaps it's our fault, he suggests:
Do we make too many demands on our politicians? Ever since he first rose to prominence as an ambitious young Thatcherite 20 years ago, Michael Portillo has been subject to endless attack, probing and exposure.

His private life - in particular some homosexual experiences when he was a young man - was for many years the object of innuendo and exposure.

Well, sorry, it's not our fault. We pay so much attention to the "private" lives of politicians because they interfere so much with ours. If politicians didn't run schools we wouldn't pay so much attention to which schools their children went to - see the previous post. When they stop telling us what to eat we'll let them get on with their private lives. If politicians are necessary at all - and that's by no means certain - they should limit themselves to helping us defend ourselves against aggressors and do nothing else.

Our own Diane Abbott

This time it's the Labour leader in Dundee:
THE Labour leader of Dundee City Council was condemned last night for sending her child to a £7,000-a-year private school despite running an administration whose schools have recorded some of the worst exam results in Scotland.
Note how one Labour "insider" responds to the outcry from parents:
The Scottish Labour Party last night refused to be drawn on the subject. However one party insider sought to put distance between the party and Shimi.

The insider said: "It’s utterly and entirely reprehensible to use someone’s child as part of a political attack. But I think that a lot of us could see why people in Dundee will be disappointed to hear of this."

This is nonsense. The Labour party uses children for political purposes all the time. Why else is it against the use of education vouchers and home schooling? It's because Labour wants to maintain control over children through its friends in the schools. This is what one of Labour's victims has to say:
Another parent asked not to be named out of fear that she and her son, who attends a Dundee high school, would receive a "hard time" from teachers at the school who were members of the local Labour Party.
We need to get Scottish children out of the grasp of these socialist "insiders" now. Let's privatise all of our schools immediately.

Nuke Brussels now!

This time they've gone too far.

Tony Blair must act today.

All Scotsmen have been insulted:

EUROCRATS have ruled that the kilt is "womenswear''.

Spaniard Pedro Solbes, an EU commissioner, insists our national dress should be listed as a skirt on official forms.

And kiltmakers could be fined up to £1000 if they don't comply.

They have taken away our freedom but they won't make us wear skirts!

Saturday, 8 November 2003

Friday, 7 November 2003

Scotsman letter from Neil Craig

Here is another letter on education from a Freedom and Whisky reader.

Another menace that needs to be banned

The Blair government prefers to ban weapons instead of bringing perpetrators to justice. We have seen this with guns and now, as David Carr has pointed out on Samizdata, the same "logic" is being applied to fireworks:
If, as Mr.Watson avers, unruly teenagers are using fireworks as weapons, then the problem is not a lack of law but a notable and palpable lack of enforcement. If the police are either unable or unwilling to enforce the laws that already exist then why does Mr.Watson or anybody else assume that they will suddenly spring into action to enforce new ones? The problem is not that the state has 'come down hard on misuse' but, rather, that the state's agents clearly cannot be bothered to 'come down' to any measurable degree at all.

I therefore predict that the new regime of which Mr.Watson is so proud will make not a jot of difference. The thugs who terrorise their elderly neighbours with firecrackers will simply carry on regardless and that will cause a whole new round of hand-wringing and cries of 'something must be done'. Sadly, it will add impetus to the already vocal lobby demanding the nationalisation of fireworks or their outright prohibition. As with firearms, rather than bring the full force of the law to bear on those who misuse, it is easier to simply abolish all use. This is another 'thin end of the wedge'. Not because it achieves the desired objective but because it won't.

Mr Carr is quite right, though if it is Labour's policy to crack down on all potentially anti-social devices we must pay attention to this story:
The controversial deal to select Holyrood as the site of the Scottish Parliament was cooked up in a chance meeting on an evening commuter train to Glasgow, it emerged yesterday. John Clement, a surveyor and property fixer, found himself squeezed next to Anthony Andrew, a senior Scottish Office civil servant, when he travelled through to Glasgow one evening in late September, 1997.
So it seems that we are spending £400 million on a Scottish Parliament building as a result of a "chance meeting" on a train. Clearly this sort of thing can't be allowed to happen again. BAN TRAINS NOW.